Delhi help to rebuild US-hit nuclear plant
Vajpayee tells Vietnam of spontaneous joy
Central team cries massacre
Merger climbdown averts Samata split
Steep power tariff hike on the cards
Safety chart for Sagar pilgrims
Govt set for Wednesday shutdown
Buddha takes ethics fight to hospitals
Fishermen protest
Buried remains of missing boy

 
 
DELHI HELP TO REBUILD US-HIT NUCLEAR PLANT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
Hanoi, Jan. 8: 

Uncle Sam meets Uncle Ho in discos

Apocalypse Now is a disco now.

It started life as Francis Ford Coppola’s grim Vietnam epic, in which special agent Martin Sheen is sent into the heart of Cambodian darkness to kill errant American colonel Marlon Brando. But in the Hanoi Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is visiting currently, ‘Apocalypse Now’ is a happening disc — where the only thing apocalyptic is underground and trance remix, imported fresh over the Pacific.

Three decades after the war, Uncle Sam is meeting Uncle Ho everywhere in Vietnam — most eagerly in the discs.

Apocalypse, after all, was then.

In the New Century disco in downtown Hanoi, the Vietnamese red flag with the gold star joins the American star and stripes on the ceiling. Under their benevolent gaze, scores of early-teen Vietnamese girls and boys sway to Iglesias Jr.

In Magic, toughies — both male and female — with half-jackets branded SECURITY watch for trouble like hawks for prey as the bold and the beautiful shake their legs and their hair, occasionally dyed platinum blonde.

The post-Ho Chi Minh Communist leadership in Hanoi is trying hard to marry two conflicting positions: the quest for foreign capital to push through economic liberalisation and maintaining the socialist structure.

Over the past decade, Vietnam has been able to normalise its relations with the US in a big way. The two sides not only restored their diplomatic ties five years ago but also managed to bring Bill Clinton over end of last year. Clinton was the first serving American President to visit Vietnam.

War memorials are prominently displayed, as are the “American-killer” medals of former Viet Congs. But Hanoi has also signed a free-trade agreement with Washington which may bring an additional $1.5 billion every year to its foreign reserves.

The main challenge before the ageing leadership in Hanoi now is striking the right balance between liberalisation and holding onto political authority.

Vietnam, according to many, is the new “Tiger” of Southeast Asia, waiting to leap out of its cage. But the impact of the landing, particularly on the political structure, remains a major worry.

The party organ — the only newspaper in the country is still under strict state-control — continues to caution people not to deviate from socialist ideology or to forget Vietnam’s glorious past.

Beijing is a role-model for Hanoi. Chinese goods — mainly the competitively-priced bikes, garments and textile products flooding its market — pose the main challenge to domestic Vietnam products.

But like Beijing, Hanoi, too, wants to pursue a liberalisation process as long as it is in the country’s interest and does not pose a threat to the political structure. “The policy of Doi Moi or economic reforms is not only to create wealth, but also to maintain equality,” says Le Dang Doanh, president of the Central Institute for Economic Management, one of the main Vietnamese think-tanks on economic issues.

Foreign investors, several Western countries and Vietnam’s fellow-members in the Asean are watching out for the new steps the leadership will announce at the party congress in March.

The state sector in Vietnam makes up for 42 per cent of the country’s GDP and provides employment to 15 per cent of its total employment share.

Le Dang Doanh said 40 per cent of the public sectors was profit-making, while another 40 per cent was breaking even and only the remaining 20 per cent was running at a loss.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE TELLS VIETNAM OF SPONTANEOUS JOY 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
Hanoi, Jan. 8: 
On a day when Delhi entered into an agreement with Hanoi that could lead to the re-construction of a Vietnamese nuclear plant dismantled by the US, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told the leadership in Hanoi that he comes from a generation “consumed by the cause of Vietnam”.

Vajpayee and his delegation members insisted that the cooperation in the nuclear field was “only for peaceful purposes”. It will entail supply of equipment for the Dalat Nuclear Plant, about 300 km from Saigon — better known now for its lush green 18-hole Golf Course rather than the nuclear research institute.

Vajpayee described science and technology as the “backbone of any modern society” and assured that India was always ready to share its expertise with friends like Vietnam. He also said that as part of defence cooperation, Indian troops were training in Vietnam in guerrilla warfare.

At a banquet organised at the Presidential Palace this evening, Vajpayee regaled his hosts with quotes from poems by Ho Chi Minh and drawing a parallel between the independence struggles of the two countries. “What energised India’s liberation movement, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and Vietnam’s epic battle for independence and re-unification under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, was the same universal ideal — freedom from alien rule.”

The Prime Minister added: “My generation was consumed by the cause of Vietnam. We took it to the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement and other international fora unmindful of the consequences.”

Vajpayee told the guests about the spontaneous joy on Indian streets the day in April “over 25 years ago” when Vietnamese troops entered Saigon to “complete the liberation of South Vietnam from foreign occupation”.

But he stressed that all that was part of history now. Though a “stirring” episode, it was “still in the past”, Vajpayee said, adding Delhi admires Hanoi now for the “rapid strides” it is making towards a future.

The Prime Minister’s carefully chosen remarks indicate that though India and Vietnam share a strong historical bond, the two sides should now look for areas of cooperation which benefit both countries politically, economically and technologically.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai said: “Before the solidarity between our two peoples was a key factor contributing to victories of our struggles for independence. Now cooperation between our two countries is indispensable in an era of intense economic competition.”

The two countries want to get on with the present.

Vietnam is not only a ready market for Indian goods, but also provides Delhi the opportunity to consolidate strategic depth in Southeast Asia.

Hanoi, on the other hand, wants to tap India’s expertise in technology. Delhi announced a Rs 100 million grant for building a software research centre in Vietnam.

   

 
 
CENTRAL TEAM CRIES MASSACRE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
The NDA team, which visited “the massacre site” in Midnapore’s Chhoto Angaria village this morning, has come back convinced that law and order in Bengal was a “fit case for promulgation of Article 356”.

BJP MP Vijay Goel, the team leader, told reporters that the incident warranted a CBI probe “as there have been attempts to cover up the massacre”.

“We will urge the Centre to order a CBI inquiry if the state government does not take the initiative,” he said. “I have no hesitation in saying that a mass killing has occurred here. We have got ample proof, but the unfortunate part is that the district administration has taken it too lightly.”

The five-member team started early in the day. Accompanied by Abdul Rahman Mandal and his wife Anisha, who were the first to file an FIR alleging their house had been torched, the team went around collecting evidences and even came up with blank cartridges, a burnt piece of human flesh and a bloodstained axe.

When Ashim Ojha, a local Trinamu leader cried out saying he had found a severed arm inside Mandal’s granary, Goel ran to the spot. “Yes, this axe might have been used in hacking Trinamul supporters,” he said.

Goel claimed that district superintendent of police Gaurav Dutta had admitted there was a massacre. He said Dutta conceded that 79 spent bullets had been recovered from the site and also confirmed that eight of those named in the FIR were absconding.

He said the team had found bullet marks on the door and walls of Mandal’s house and blood patches on the floor.

“The local police, however, has so far done nothing to undertake a proper inquiry. Neither forensic experts nor sniffer dogs have been brought to the site. We cannot give the state police unlimited time,” Goel said.

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam said they were convinced that the “mass killings were at the behest of the CPM cadre”. “If Article 356 could be invoked in three states following the destruction of the Babri masjid in which only four persons were killed, why should it not be invoked here?” he asked.

Asked how the Centre could invoke President’s rule in the state when the NDA lacked majority in the Rajya Sabha, Goel said: “We will make the recommendation. It is for the government to find out ways to implement it.”

After it returns to Delhi, the team will submit its report to NDA convener George Fernandes and acquaint home minister L.K. Advani with “the alarming law and order situation and breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state”.

The members thanked the Congress for supporting them in their crusade against the CPM’s “terror tactics”.

“Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has already supported the demand. We will expect him to take up the matter with Sonia Gandhi,” they said.

   

 
 
MERGER CLIMBDOWN AVERTS SAMATA SPLIT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 8: 
The crisis in the Samata Party ended in a whimper following a patch-up formula worked out by George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar at Mysore, where the party’s two-day national executive meeting began today.

The proposed merger of the Samata with Janata Dal (United) has been shelved for the time being. Following this assurance, five of the six rebel MPs, who had opposed the merger and had threatened to boycott the national executive, decided to attend the meeting.

According to sources close to Nitish, incumbent president Jaya Jaitley was re-elected on the basis that Kumar’s nominee will head the Bihar unit, which is the mainstay of the party. The party had almost split last week when six rebels had a parallel meeting at Patna and elected Raghunath Jha as the Bihar unit president. The official meeting had authorised Nitish to nominate anyone of his choice.

Nitish supporters were planning to get Jaitley replaced as president, but the Jaitley-Fernandes duo cornered Nitish by “organising” the rebel MPs against the agriculture min- ister, said a source in the Nitish camp.

Jaitley was “unanimously” re-elected president. Fernandes earlier told reporters in Mysore that two nominations were withdrawn but did not name the aspirants who pulled out. The party president would be chosen by consensus, he added.

After the announcement of the results of the election, Jaitley thanked the national council for reposing their faith in her again. “The doors of merger with the Samata along with other parties are open. We don’t have a closed mind, but we have not talked to anyone,” Fernandes said, without ruling out merger options.

Nitish proposed Jaitley’s name. Sources said Fernandes and Jaitley had filed their nominations for the post, but they withdrew before the council began the meeting.

Playing down the crisis in the party, Fernandes said at the outset of the meeting that there was no proposal before the party for its merger with any outfits, including the Dal (U). “There was no crisis in the party, it is (the crisis) a media creation,” he said.

He claimed that the rebel MPs had not served any ultimatum to him on the merger issue and that the MPs’ arrival here had been delayed as the fog in Delhi had affected flight schedules. The rebels had yesterday given a week’s time till January 14, for Fernandes to sort out the contentious issues.

“We have accepted the request from Fernandes to attend the Mysore convention as he has assured us that our views (on merger with the Dal (U)) will be respected,” rebel MP Jha said.

Asked how they changed their decision, Jha said Fernandes had made repeated requests, “who rang us up a number of times from Mysore to withdraw our boycott decision”.

   

 
 
STEEP POWER TARIFF HIKE ON THE CARDS 
 
 
BY SUTANUKA GHOSAL
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
The West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) has proposed a 31 per cent increase in tariff which, if approved by state electricity regulatory commission, will hit 25 lakh domestic consumers.

The power board aims to mop up an additional revenue of Rs 506.21 crore by revising tariffs for all categories of consumers.

The per unit rate according to the existing tariff structure is Rs 1.93. The proposed tariff asks for Rs 2.53 per unit from a consumer — a hike of 60 paise. The board wants to earn Rs 501.58 crore from sale of 1,978 million units. In the existing tariff structure, the board mops up Rs 382.80 crore by selling the same number of units.

However, the power board has spelt out certain slabs according to which energy charges will be fixed. For the first 75 units, the energy charge will be Re 1 per unit, an increase of 11 paise. For the next 105 units, the rate will be Rs 1.30 per unit, Rs 1.80 for the next 120 units, Rs 2.60 for the next 600 units, Rs 6.55 for the next 150 units, Rs 7.95 for the subsequent 300 units. Consumption above 1,350 units will cost Rs 4.10 per unit. These rates are applicable in non-municipality and non-corporation areas.

For consumers in corporation and municipality areas, the energy charge for the first 75 units will be Rs 1.05, Rs 1.35 for the next 75 units, Rs 1.90 for the next 150 units, Rs 2.70 for the next 150 units, Rs 3.50 for the subsequent 450 units, Rs 6.90 for the next 150 units, Rs 6.25 for the next 450 units and Rs 4.65 for units above 1500.

The current tariff proposal has introduced the concept of fixed and variable charges in respect of certain categories of consumers. As the concept is being introduced for the first time, the proposed fixed charge in respect of certain categories of consumers is a nominal amount, which can be increased gradually.

The state electricity board has decided to mop up Rs 256.36 crore by selling 543.16 million units to non-domestic commercial users. The board now earns Rs 179.78 crore. Similarly, for low and medium voltage consumers, WBSEB proposes to get Rs 1082.95 crore as compared to Rs 795.03 crore by selling 4,017 million units.

For the high-voltage bulk supply (5/11/33KV) consumers, SEB has proposed to mop up Rs 1019.73 crore as compared to Rs 873.91 crore by selling 2504 million units.

As tariff has not been revised for more than 20 months, the board has requested to the regulatory commission to sanction some relief by passing an interim order. With the proposed average tariff for all consumers being at least 15 per cent, the board has requested the commission to grant an interim increase of 15 per cent.

In the current tariff filing, the board has revised the loss estimates to 39.2 per cent for 1999-2000 based on available studies.

The tariff proposal presumes a subsidy support from the state government of Rs 350 crore in the financial year 2000-2001.

The total revenue required by the board to reach a zero-deficit level is Rs 3,294 crore. The board says the revenue required from sale of power is Rs 3180.76 crore, from non-operating sources Rs 113.24 crore. Revenue that will be earned from existing tariff is Rs 2315.36 crore while the state will provide a subsidy of Rs 350 crore.

   

 
 
SAFETY CHART FOR SAGAR PILGRIMS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
The government has made elaborate arrangements to ensure the safety of pilgrims during the Ganga Sagar mela that begins from Saturday and will continue till next Monday. About five lakh pilgrims are expected to visit the mela.

The South 24-Parganas district administration has prepared a navigational chart to avert river accidents. This will enable ships to steer away from danger zones in the river.

Superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal said: “We have taken the help of Calcutta Port Trust to prepare the chart as they have vast experience in this regard. Thirty divers, including six from the navy, will be deployed to rescue pilgrims. The rest will be recruited from among the local residents who have thorough knowledge about the depth of the river at different places. Besides, 11 floating control rooms will monitor the entire area.”

Closed-circuit television sets will be placed at four vulnerable areas, including Kachuberia and Lot 8. Last year, only two such sets were put up.

More than 2,600 police personnel, including 71 women, will be pressed into service during the mela. The women force will be led by additional superintendent of police Damayanti Sen. The force has been directed to crack down on eveteasers and pickpockets.

The number of police pickets has been increased this year with 11 pickets being set up on the mela ground. Each picket will a have a force of 10, including two officers.

Seventeen mobile police vans from Sagar Island to Behela will control traffic to help the pilgrims on their journey. There will also be 14 police assistant booths from Bishnupur to Sagar.

The SP said rallies and meetings on the mela ground will not be allowed. “Like last year, Motor Vessel Rajagopalachari will be available to pilgrims for travelling to and from Lot 8 and Kachuberia.

District magistrate Alapan Bandyopadhaya said the pilgrim tax will remain the same as last year at Rs 5 per head .

The DM said two canals have been dug up and two more fibre glass tanks will be set up during the mela to combat fire on an experimental basis.

He added that the State Surface Transport Corporation has been entrusted with collecting payments for advertising on the ground. The district administration handed over the authority to the corporation in lieu of Rs 1 lakh, the DM said.

Sources in public health engineering department said arrangements for the supply of drinking water, construction of offices and shades and other essential work have almost concluded.

   

 
 
GOVT SET FOR WEDNESDAY SHUTDOWN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
The state government is set for a “shutdown” on Wednesday when its employees join an all-India strike to protest against the Centre’s policies on disinvestment and lay-offs.

Public transport, civic amenities and hospitals are, however, outside the strike’s purview. Fears of state-run transport being unavailable was set aside by general secretary of the All-India State Government Employees’ Federation Sukomal Sen.

“Buses and trams are not within the protest’s purview. But hospital staff and employees of fire services will work on that day as volunteers and will not sign the duty registers,” Sen said.

The staff of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and other municipalities will function as usual, the trade union leader added.

The Writers’ Buildings, the New Secretariat and the government departments in Salt Lake will be deserted. No business will be conducted as the office staff will not come for work but for demonstrations in various parts of the city.

With drivers, who chauffeur ministers and bureaucrats, being a part of the day-long agitation, the state government will make alternative arrangements for the babus to attend work.

“We will use police vehicles and private transport to get to work,” a senior official in Writers’ Buildings said.

The strike will not affect revenue collection as the excise and toll staff have been asked to report for duty by the federation. The Governor’s personal staff and the Raj Bhavan’s lift operators have also been asked to be on duty.

   

 
 
BUDDHA TAKES ETHICS FIGHT TO HOSPITALS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today cracked the work culture whip once again in an effort to revamp the functioning of state-run hospitals.

At a meeting with health minister Partha De, the health secretary and all superintendents and principals of medical colleges, Bhattacharjee made it clear that things will have to change for the better.

A special cell comprising the health secretary, the directors of medical education and health services and other officials was formed during the meeting to monitor the functioning of the state’s medical services.

The cell has been empowered to make surprise checks and ensure that proper work culture was being maintained. The cell has been asked to submit a status report every month to the chief minister. “You will have to get rid of your old habits and instead be punctual and attentive towards patients and their relatives. Do not forget that you work in a hospital and not in a run-of-the-mill government office,” the chief minister said.

After the state government’s attempt in getting its employees to join work on time and make an effort to work, Monday’s meeting was the beginning in getting the health services included in the exercise.

Bhattacharjee swung into action after discovering that a large chunk of complaints before the public grievances cell pertain to the health department.

He noted that most complaints were against the lack of medicines, lack of attention and facilities.

Jyoti Basu, too, had pulled up the health minister for the pathetic medical facilities that the state provided.

At today’s meeting, the chief minister made it clear that he did not want to hear complaints from the public.

“I know you have problems. But the state has provided you with modern equipment, manpower and other infrastructure. Why should I have to hear allegations from patients?” Bhattacharjee asked.

Health department sources said that a senior doctor had raised the question of lack of disciplinary measures against doctors who had been officially reported against. The senior physician pointed out that though disciplinary measures had been recommended against them, the culprits often secured promotions.

On hearing this, Bhattacharjee asked for a list of blacklisted doctors who had managed to secure rewards.

The chief minister reminded the superintendents and principals that they had been given a lot of administrative powers to act on their own. He asked them to take firm action and report to him if they faced opposition from any quarter.

Bhattacharjee said his government would not tolerate any agitations and demonstrations inside hospitals. “Their demands can be placed in any other way,” he said.

Bhattacharjee added that he did not want to hear complaints that patients had to buy medicines from private shops.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, De said his department had taken a lot of steps to improve the state-run hospitals.

“We are going to take some more measures to further improve the situation,” the health minister promised.

   

 
 
FISHERMEN PROTEST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Jan. 8: 
Members of the Federation of Fishermen in Burdwan have launched an agitation to protest against the Centre’s proposal to allow foreign trawlers to operate in Indian seas and rivers.

The federation members observed a 24-hour hunger strike today and will organise a strike on January 18.

Speaking at a function last week, state fisheries minister Kironmoy Nanda said the Left Front government supported the strike and the agitating fishermen. “We are against the Centre’s pisciculture policy and we will launch a movement to prevent foreign trawlers from fishing in Indian waters,” Nanda said.

“We have won the national productivity award for 10 consecutive years. But still the Centre has done precious little to help improve production. At present, West Bengal produces 11 lakh tonne of fish against the demand of 12 lakh tonnes. During the recent floods, the state suffered a Rs 400-crore loss in the field of pisciculture,” he added.

Assistant director of district fisheries directorate, Kalyan Ghosh, said pisciculture is carried out in 20,500 hectares of water tanks and ponds in Burdwan. The annual fish-yield of the district is 15,000 tonnes, he said.

   

 
 
BURIED REMAINS OF MISSING BOY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Tension gripped Belpukur village in Kulpi, South-24-Parganas, after the body of a 17-year-old boy was exhumed today.

The boy, identified as Krishnendu Patra, was a student of Class IX of Nischindupur High School. His father, Aribanda Patra, is employed with Calcutta police.

Superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal said Krishnendu had been missing since August 31. The boy had left home as usual but did not return. After a frantic search, his relatives lodged a complaint with the Kulpi police station the next day.

But it was only yesterday that tractors ploughing the village fields came upon tufts of hair. Their suspicion aroused, the farmers immediately contacted Krishnendu’s family members who informed the local police and also the district administration.

The body was exhumed today in the presence of police and district officials. It was later sent for post mortem.

Asked whom they thought could be behind the grisly murder, police sources said that from the very beginning they suspected one of Krishnendu’s classmates, Prasanta Paik.

Prasanta, who was very close to Krishnendu, has been missing from the village for a long time. Even his relations cannot say where he has gone, police said. “Of course, more truths will come out after interrogating Prasanta,” a senior police officer said.

“We are also interrogating the other classmates of Krishnendu and the teachers of the school if they can throw any light on this incident,” Sanjib Basu, the additional superintendent of police (rural), said.

“We hope it will not take much time to break through the real mystery behind the murder,” Basu added.

   
 

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