PSUs under women’s panel scrutiny
Beijing seeks Delhi hand
Weather plays spoilsport in Atal retreat
Sagar sounds Ayodhya temple alert
Missing youth body found
Naxalite turf war spills over
Trinamul for ‘killer’ ouster
CID probe into Raidighi murder
Buddha gift to Malda
Revival pill for Bankura

New Delhi, Jan. 13: 
Almost all public sector undertakings have been put under the microscope following a spurt in cases of sexual harassment and a flood of complaints to the National Commission for Women.

MTNL, Hudco, Bhel, FCI, ITDC, Air-India and Indian Airlines are just some of the PSUs that have come together to try and make the workplace gender friendly. Many others participated in the first two meetings organised by the women’s commission to tackle sexual harassment and alert PSUs not following the Supreme Court’s guidelines.

Every Friday on the dot of four, employees, officers and managers of a reputed PSU gather to discuss gender issues, particularly problems of sexual harassment. “The entire office work is re-designed that day so that people can attend the evening meeting,” says women’s commission chairperson Vibha Parthasarathy.

Hudco has organised “floor meetings” to discuss not just sexual harassment, but other issues the women employees want thrashed out. These range from flexible timings to having a lady doctor, a common room and transport facilities on late night shifts.

Worried by the surfeit of sexual harassment complaints, Parthasarathy organised two meetings, in groups of 20-25, of public sector employees at her office. Instead of a one-sided lecture, there was a monologue.

The outcome vindicated part of the opinion shared by many women’s organisations and activists who have maintained that the Supreme Court guidelines against sexual harassment are not publicised to get the best results.

Hudco’s chief vigilance officer S. Baliga told compatriots at the meeting that her company had set up a women’s welfare committee as early as 1993. The committee was reconstituted following the apex court’s order on stopping sexual harassment in the workplace.

Parthasarathy said her office receives complaints of sexual harassment from every sector and they are increasing by the day. “We have complaints from hospitals, schools, colleges, journalists as well as public and private sector employees,” she said.

During her two rounds of discussions with PSU chiefs and employees, Parthasarathy confirmed that many sexually harassed women are still not speaking up. Deepti Bhagat, vice-president of ITDC, said the PSUs were merely paying lip-service on the issue and there was little awareness among the majority of women employees in her company. She said the general impression of the male employees is that the charges are motivated.

The participants felt there was still an unstated segregation between male and female employees. Women were kept out of one PSU’s annual target production party. “Very often, women officers are not invited to get-togethers where the male officers drink — thereby missing an opportunity of interaction,” says a member of the women’s commission.

Parthasarathy said the allegations that are coming from students of schools and colleges are particularly “horrifying”. The commission will next focus on the educational institutions and the private sector. “The problem is equally rampant in multinationals and the private sector,” she said.


New Delhi, Jan. 13: 
Chinese leader Li Peng is using his visit to create the right atmosphere and boost Sino-India relations.

He is sweeping most contentious issues under the carpet and selling his idea of “multipolarity” in a world dominated by the US. He spoke of taking relations between Delhi and Beijing to new heights, adding that problems from the past should not remain stumbling blocks to the future.

There is already a structured relationship in place and a plethora of committees and working groups involving the two nations, including a joint economic group, a group that deals with security dialogue, a joint working group on the boundary dispute and a committee of experts.

But Li is not here to add to the structured relationship. He said it was his “pressing task” to achieve better understanding and trust.

In his address at the India International Centre auditorium, Li stressed: “We are required by reality to elevate China-India relations to a new height in the 21st century. As our common ground far outweighs our differences, the Chinese and Indian people have ample reason to become good neighbours and friends.”

Li was not forthcoming on whether China wanted to speed up what India believes is a rather tardy approach. It was probably in the context of the boundary tangle persisting for decades that he said: “We hope that farsighted statesmen of our two countries will demonstrate courage and make efforts to resolve these problems and differences.”

However, Li did not refer once to China’s special relationship with Pakistan. He also did not say anything on terrorism or proliferation, issues that India has been raising at every forum.

The Chinese leader, who is second to President Jiang Zemin in his country’s pecking order, today described India as an “important” neighbour.

Delhi is pleased with Li, but not to the extent of throwing caution to the winds. The timing of his visit suggests that the Chinese fear that all may not go well between Beijing and Washington during the Bush regime.

Given the Bush administration’s fondness for the National Missile Defence system, misunderstanding between the two permanent members of the UN cannot be ruled out in the near future.

Li today emphasised that China has never considered India a threat, nor did his nation intend to pose a threat to other countries or seek any sphere of influence. “We feel propelled by history to build on the existing basis laid down by our ancestors and add new chapters to China-India friendship.”


Bali, Jan. 13: 
It could have been the perfect holiday for Atal Bihari Vajpayee. And it was, almost.

No snake tried to sneak into the Prime Minister’s room at the Oberoi, as at Kumarakom in Kerala where he holidayed recently. The closest to danger Vajpayee came to was the Kintamani volcano, which last erupted in the 1970s. But, like Kerala where a cyclonic storm brewed through his week-long stay, the weather god was not with him.

After a successful visit to Vietnam and Indonesia, Vajpayee arrived on this island — a popular international tourist spot — yesterday afternoon to rest in the tranquil breeze of Bali before returning to the political cauldron of Delhi.

The forthcoming Vishwa Hindu Parishad dharam sansad or the question of issuing a passport to the militant Kashmiri leader, Ali Shah Geelani, were perhaps farthest from his mind as he enjoyed the Bali governor’s reception.

There was a freak shower in the evening and, even though dark clouds covered the sky sending swimmers back to the safety of their rooms from the choppy sea, there was hope that the morning after will be better.

It was. The clear daybreak prompted the Prime Minister to take a walk on the private beach of the hotel. The sun came out, nice and bright, but not for long. Intermittent rain did not deter Vajpayee from going ahead with his scheduled programme, though.

At his villa-suite, he received a delegation of local Indians. Later, he drove down to the Gandhi Ashram at University Udayana with the minister of state for foreign affairs, Ajit Panja, in tow and garlanded the statue of Gandhi.

It continued to pour, but the Prime Minister visited the famous Pura Tanah Lok temple built on a coastal searock on Bali’s west coast. He went around the recently-renovated pagoda-like temple, but could not see what most tourists go there for: the sun setting into the Java Sea.

Bali is the Hindu enclave of Muslim-dominated Indonesia. The streets are lined with beautiful buildings — a fusion of Hindu and Buddhist architecture. The strong Indian influence is apparent in names like Devi or Subrata and Maya or Devabrata that are commonplace.

The holy trinity — Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva — is worshipped with a pronounced bias for the last, but not the way it’s done in India. Idol worship is not common practice, though images are found in some temples. Before a meal, every household makes an offering on a banana leaf to Dangyani — the patron God of Bali.

Once, farming was the islanders’ main occupation, but tourism is now the bread-earner.

Tourists planning to come from India had better pick up a few words of Balinese. Don’t let your child look at the waiter and say susu, for he may be served milk instead of being guided to the toilet. Terima kasih, pronounced teri maa kyasi, is not a question about your mother’s health, but means ‘thank you’.

All words are not alien, however. Selamat dating is ‘welcome’ and maaf is quite close to ‘maafi’ when you have to say sorry.


Sagar Islands, Jan. 13: 
If the Sangh parivar is running the show at the Maha Kumbh, its detractors seem to be enjoying the upper hand at the Ganga Sagar Mela here.

Mohanta Gyandas Maharaj of Pancha Ramananda Akhra, Ayodhya, the chief priest at the Kapil Muni temple, today launched a scathing attack on both the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, though the two Sangh outfits are keeping a low profile here.

“They are creating trouble in the country on the plea of building a Ram temple. It’s a hoax and they intend to drive away the poor from Ayodhya,” Gyandas told reporters.

Referring to the VHP’s plan to start an agitation over the construction of the Ram temple, Gyandas said: “What is the need of this stir?”

However, he added, that the temple should be built, if only to “stop politically motivated disturbances in the country” and added that the Centre should change its policy in dealing with such touchy issues.

Gyandas felt that men like Ashok Singhal should take into account “the interests of the country” while implementing the VHP’s temple agenda.

“The BJP government is communal and maintains an outward show. It should remember that temple construction is not a political issue,” he said.

Gyandas’ comments drew sharp protests from the VHP volunteers who have opened a small office in the island in connection with the mela. No Bajrang Dal supporters could be seen.

The mela made a low-key start this year with a number of pilgrims complaining about poor sanitary arrangements and accommodation problems.

“The West Bengal government, despite all the hype, could not provide accommodation to the pilgrims. I and 10 members of my family had to spend last night under the open sky in freezing cold,” Brajesh Sharma, a municipal officer from Ludhiana, said.

“I have no other option but to go back without taking the holy dip.”

Badal Bhattacharya, another pilgrim from Naihati, North 24- Parganas, has decided to go back as soon as possible.

“I have come here with a five-member family, but cannot stay any longer,” he said. “The area where we are staying is full of human excreta.”

Bhattacharya said that considering the number of pilgrims who converged at the mela every year, it was surprising that the state administration had not thought of building “permanent lavatories”.

But not all salvation seekers complained. Some even had a word of praise for the organisers. Raj Kumar, who’s physically challenged, said he was lucky to reach the Sagar Island.

“I think Kapil Muni will help me regain strength in my legs so that I can stand on my feet again,” he said.

When told about the grievances, Alapan Bandyopadhyay, district magistrate, South 24-Parganas, denied that the pilgrims had been provided with poor accommodation. He, however, ordered health officers to improve sanitary facilities.


Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
Tension ran high at Baruipur in South 24-Parganas after police recovered a mutilated body from an open field near Chhoani village on Friday afternoon.

The body was identified as that of Sabed Ali Sardar, 21, who had gone missing from his home since January 10. Basudev Das, officer-in-charge of Baruipur police station, said the body bore multiple injuries and was highly decomposed.

Das said police are looking for one Nadeem Piada who has been absconding. “We have information that the deceased along with another youth Nadeem left home in the early hours of January 10. Since then both were missing. We suspect that Nadeem must have fled after killing Sabed,” he added.

However, officials are yet to unearth the motive behind the murder. They also do not rule out the possibility of a love-triangle behind the killing.

The deceased’s elder brother, Javed Ali, who lodged a complaint with the police, also could not say why his brother disappeared from home. The police are yet to arrest the culprit involved in the killing of a child at Nikarihata village in South 24-Parganas. Sariful, son of a local CPM leader, was burnt to death yesterday when residents set fire to a cluster of 11 huts belonging to CPM supporters.

A police picket has been posted in the village.


Patna, Jan. 13: 
Taking their turf war beyond Bihar, the Maoist Communist Centre and People’s War Group could soon find themselves sucked into a bloody confrontation over territory in rural Midnapore and Purulia.

The rivalry between the two Naxalite outfits has been growing in the jungles of Belpahari and remote areas of Purulia near the Ayodhya hills. While the PWG has given a call to “wipe out the MCC”, the Maoists have accused their rival of conspiring with the ruling CPM-led front to thwart the MCC.

However, both outfits would have preferred not to cross swords in Bengal. “It would have been better if we had avoided a replay of the Masaurhi-type clashes (in Bihar),” said a campaign leaflet distributed by the MCC in Purulia, Midnapore and Bankura. The clashes in Masaurhi, which continued for about eight months in 1998-99, claimed at least 40 lives.

An intelligence report sent to the state police headquarters from Masaurhi, Jehanabad and Gaya suggests that the “rival Naxalites have temporarily suspended their animosity”.

According to the report, a large chunk of PWG workers have shifted to Palamau and its neighbouring Bengal districts. The Bihar rivalry of the Naxalites is now confined to the PWG and the CPI(M-L) Liberation.

However, sources say the PWG-MCC war in Bengal is not just a spillover. Both outfits have made a dent in the kendu leaf trade unions in Purulia, Midnapore and Bankura districts. Trade of kendu leaf, used for making bidis, sustains the rural economy of Midnapore and Purulia as well as that of Bankura.

The MCC has long played the role of arbiter in labour disputes between kendu leaf contractors and labourers who pluck the leaves. But about a year ago, the PWG, reborn after the decimation of the erstwhile Party Unity, entered the territory, sparking the turf war.

The PWG, in one of its leaflets, even ridiculed the MCC for suggesting a division of territory. “We don’t believe in any policy of distributing territories. The PWG believes any revolutionary organisation can move into any area to implement its policies,” the leaflet said.

Both outfits oppose the CPM-ruled government and have been campaigning in villages against the “jungle committees” set up by the Bengal government.

The MCC claims to have taken up the cause of small and marginal farmers of Jhargram in Midnapore. The outfit also has bases in Belpahari where it has been “championing the cause of tribals” displaced by the mining industry. On the other hand, the PWG’s Krantikari Kishan Samity claims to have made inroads among tendu pluckers of Purulia and Midnapore. Two months ago, some MCC men who were meeting in Sushniyogi village of Simulpal were handed over to the police by villagers. “It was a PWG conspiracy,” said an MCC spokesman.


Asansol, Jan. 13: 
The Asansol Trinamul Congress leadership today appealed to Mamata Banerjee to expel Bina Kedia from the party for her alleged involvement in the murder of a businessman from Madhupur in Bihar.

Bina, who was arrested on Friday, was produced in the sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court today and remanded in police custody for four days.

The police said the murdered businessman, Sushil Bathwal, had come to Bina’s house on December 1. He was scheduled to go on a business trip to Nepal along with her husband, Shyam. But Bathwal never returned. When his wife, Vimla, got in touch with Bina, she was told that Bathwal did not come to her house. Suspicious, Vimla lodged a complaint .

The police raided Bina’s house and arrested her. Her contradictory statements made them suspicious, said a police official. After interrogation, she reportedly confessed that Bathwal had been murdered and his body thrown into a well in her house. When the police went back to her house, they found the well which was filled with garbage.


Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
The Criminal Investigation Department of West Bengal police will probe the murder of CPM leader Kalipada Haldar who was allegedly killed by Trinamul workers at Raidighi in South 24-Parganas last night.

State director-general of police Dipak Sanyal said today that a CID team will shortly visit the area.

According to local policemen, the three persons detained in connection with the murder are being interrogated.

“We hope to arrest two or three persons in a day or two on the basis of statements of those being interrogated,” a senior police official said.

The CPM leadership today observed a 12-hour bandh in the area protesting against the murder. An uneasy calm prevailed in the area with shops, business establishments and schools remaining closed. However, no violent incidents were reported till late this evening.

Local CPM workers took out a procession in the area demanding the arrest of those involved in the murder.

“The Trinamul Congress has unleashed terror in the area in connivance with a section of the police,” a CPM leader of the area alleged.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas had said yesterday that Trinamul workers had hired killers to eliminate Haldar because he was emerging as a threat to the Trinamul.

Haldar was gunned down near Chapala Bazar in Raidighi. The killers also chopped off his head to ensure that he was dead.

Trinamul leaders, however, refuted the allegation and said Haldar was a victim of the growing in-fighting within the CPM. “The CPM is a divided force here with hardliners taking on the moderates,” a Trinamul leader said. He alleged that the police were harassing Trinamul workers by raiding their houses at odd hours every night and interrogating women members when the men were away.

Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy said party workers would gherao district officials if the police continued to harass “our innocent workers”. He said party leaders from the city will visit the area early next week.


Malda, Jan. 13: 
Putting an end to the 25-year-old controversy, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today announced the setting up of the district’s first sub-division at Chanchal and not at Shamsi. “We (the government) will start setting up various offices for the purpose from April 1 ,” he said.

The chief minister came here today to attend a party meeting.

Addressing a huge gathering at the Math Bhat ground Bhattacharjee said that the government had taken the decision for setting up the sub-division way back in 1986, but regretted the delay.

The implementation of the decision had to be postponed after some residents of Shamsi moved court demanding the sub-division to be set up at Shamsi and not at Chanchol.


Purulia, Jan. 13: 
In an effort to kickstart the faltering economy of Bankura and Purulia, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has promised to remove hurdles before prospective investors and create an atmosphere conducive for business.

At a meeting with members of the Bankura Chamber of Commerce last week, Bhattacharjee heard their grievances and assured them he would do everything to help revive the stagnant economy.

The chief minister expressed concern at complaints from potential investors that they faced threats from extortionists whenever they wanted to set up a plant here.

Bhattacharjee summoned the superintendent of police and instructed him to protect the entrepreneurs and be harsh with the culprits.

The chief minister also directed the district magistrates to allot land to those ready to set up units in the “no-industry” districts.

Bhattacharjee agreed with the businessmen that employers should have the final say in recruitments. Jobs should be offered on the basis of merit and not merely because the person was a “son of the soil”, the chief minister added.

The entrepreneurs said they were happy with Bhattacharjee’s “broad and realistic stand and a genuine desire to do something” for the two backward districts.

Bhattacharjee urged the investors to set up engineering colleges in the region. While Bankura has one engineering college, set up three years ago, Purulia has none.

Apart from the newly built Rs 22-crore plastic factory at Barjora in Bankura, a downstream project of Haldia Petrochemicals, there is virtually no industry in the region. Both Bankura and Purulia have some rice and oil mills run by wooden ghanis. The chamber has also obtained an assurance from the chief minister on getting incentives in this sector also from the “liberated industrial policy” of the government.

The meeting also stressed on the need to exploit the minerals, found in abundance, in these two districts.

Bhattacharjee announced that an industrial growth centre would be set up in Purulia for which the government is on the lookout for a 100-acre plot.

During his trip to Purulia, a Rs 10.5-crore MoU was signed between Agridev and the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation.


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