Three a crowd in Mamata’s Bengal
Cop dies in Dal lake strike
President potshot at Advani gift
Ministers & cows under one roof
Wheat price reports rattle Badal
7 CPM activists on Naxalite hit list
Police kill picnic bus robber
Paddy farmers reap problem of plenty
Hill Opp.decries Delhi talks
Mission to cage monkey

 
 
THREE A CROWD IN MAMATA’S BENGAL 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Phurphura Sharif (Hooghly), Jan. 24: 
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today said only the CPM and her party will exist in Bengal after the Assembly polls.

“People in our state are determined to cast their votes either for the CPM or the Trinamul,” she said.

Two Congress MLAs, Satya Bapuli and Abdul Karim Chowdhury, joined the Trinamul at the open session of the party’s minority cell here.

“Bapulida and Chowdhury joined us and there are a number of Congress MLAs who will also join our party before the polls,” she said.

Addressing a rally for the first time at Phurphura Sharif, a Muslim pilgrimage site, Mamata came down heavily on the CPM, saying it often played the “minority card” to woo the Muslims.

A principal ally of the BJP, Mamata told the predominantly Muslim gathering that the CPM had done nothing for the minorities and “neither will they do anything for you in future”.

“Not a single madarsa was set up during the CPM regime and the communist government had failed to solve the unemployment and housing problems of the minorities and backward classes in their 24-year rule,” she said to a thunderous applause.

The NDA leader said the concept of a minority community on the basis of religion had undergone a change. “When I go to Kerala or Assam, I am a minority there. So are the Malayalees and Assamese in Bengal,” she said.

Addressing nearly a lakh-strong crowd, Mamata said: “I have not seen a red flag in your locality when I was coming here. You are with us and will be with the Trinamul till the election Don’t be afraid as the CPM will try to terrorise you before the election like they did in Keshpur, Garbeta and Pingla.”

Referring to the Chhoto Angaria incident, Mamata said: “They have killed our people and made their bodies disappear. They have done so out of fear because they did not want to be exposed as killers.”

“But, think about the Bhikhari Paswan case. The CPM will be exposed as they were in the Paswan case after the CBI took up the inquiry,” she added.

Mamata was, however, silent on her demand for the imposition of President’s rule in Bengal before the polls. She only said the people of Bengal will give a befitting reply to “CPM-unleashed terror” in the coming polls.

Mamata said she will take all measures to stop division of anti-CPM votes. She also justified her proposed move for a mahajot with the Congress and the BJP.

“The CPM shook hands with the BJP to oust Rajiv Gandhi from power. So there is no fault on our part if we shake hands with the BJP or Congress to remove CPM from power in the state,” she added.

Supporters had streamed into the paddy field, where the meeting took place, since morning. The area is a Trinamul stronghold and controlled by Ali Akbar Khondokar, MP from Serampore constituency.

The meeting place as well as the approaching roads were resplendent with Trinamul flags, banners and festoons.

Apart from Mamata, party leaders, including Khondokar, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Ranjit Panja and Sultan Ahmed spoke at the rally.

   

 
 
COP DIES IN DAL LAKE STRIKE 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Jan. 24: 
Barely a day after the ceasefire was extended by a month, a massive explosion rocked the Dalgate area in the city this morning, killing a police officer.

Ram Munshi Bagh police station house officer Ghulam Hassan Shan died on the spot as an improvised explosive device went off when he entered a urinal on Boulevard Road to ease himself.

A girl, injured by splinters, was rushed to hospital. Shan’s body was first taken to the police control room, and then to his native village.

Police said militants struck again at Nowpora in the city this afternoon, gunning down Tariq Ahmad Sheikh.

The killings occured even as a general alert was sounded in the Valley to enable smooth conduct of the Republic Day functions. Troops sealed off Bakshi Stadium, where the main function will be held on Friday morning, and searched areas around the ground. Residents were subjected to identification parades.

The shops in the city downed shutters in the afternoon and most vehicles went off the roads as tension ran high after the All-Party Hurriyat Conference asked people to observe Friday as a “black day”. It has also called a general strike.

A civilian, identified as Samandar Khan of Dudhall village in northern Kupwara district, was killed in a shooting incident last night.

BJP under Cong fire

After Ayodhya, the Congress plans to take on the Vajpayee government over its Kashmir policy, seeking an explanation from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the extension of the Ramzan ceasefire. The principal Opposition party today denied foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s claim that the government had consulted the Congress before arriving at a decision.

The Congress’ Kashmir group met last night to formulate a response to the truce extension. Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmad Patel and Shafi Qureshi unanimously agreed that the Vajpayee regime lacked a cogent Kashmir policy.

   

 
 
PRESIDENT POTSHOT AT ADVANI GIFT 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Jan. 24: 
President K.R. Narayanan was to receive a book on Delhi from home minister L.K. Advani. Usually such events are non-events, but the President saw to it that it becomes the talking point.

It was a simple ceremony to gift Narayanan The Millennium Book on New Delhi in the presence of Vice-President Krishan Kant and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee this evening. Narayanan had graciously permitted the home ministry to host the presentation function at Rashtrapati Bhavan’s ornate Ashoka Hall.

So, after a brief introduction on the genesis of the book — Advani had hit upon the idea when he first saw the murals on the ceiling of his North Block chamber — the home minister tore open the cellophane cover and gifted the “lavishly illustrated” book, published by Oxford University Press and edited by former home secretary Balmiki Prasad Singh and diplomat Pavan K. Varma, to the President. Both smiled profusely and turned for the fantastic photo op.

Even before taking his seat, Narayanan deftly passed on the book to a pleasantly-surprised Vajpayee. It was then Kant’s turn to receive a copy and, finally, Advani handed over a third one to Vajpayee who promptly — and fairly — passed it to Narayanan. The Prime Minister even browsed through a few of the glossy pages. So far so good. And then the ceremony became the talking point.

In a short and crisp extempore, quite characteristic of the way he delivers speeches on important occasions, Narayanan reviewed the book, saying: “There is little on democracy in India and there is nothing substantial on the architectural splendour of Delhi. The capital city deserves a national theatre, a concert hall, a museum to house its cultural greatness and certainly a big airport. Its environment should be purified and beautified.”

Vajpayee put on a smile, and so did Advani even as the import of Narayanan’s five-minute speech sunk into the audience — Cabinet ministers, VIPs, senior bureaucrats and a section of Delhi’s glitterati.

Clearly, the President had been briefed well in advance on the contents of New Delhi and he was none too pleased to find that there was no mention of how the city, “a monument to our genius and representation of our destiny”, had grown to become the seat of Indian democracy.

   

 
 
MINISTERS & COWS UNDER ONE ROOF 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Gandhinagar, Jan. 24: 
All BJP ministers in Gujarat will rear cows in their official bungalows to “set a noble example” for people.

Come February 1, the 36 ministers in the Keshubhai Patel government will turn their official bungalows into cow shelters.

With Gujarat facing a severe drought again, the government, which has set up a separate portfolio — cow protection — wants to ensure that no animal perishes for want of fodder and water.

“To inspire people” to protect cattle, the BJP ministers have been asked to rear at least one cow in their official bungalows. Home minister Haren Pandya, who also holds the charge of cow protection, has already turned his official bungalow to a mini-cattle camp.

Speaking to reporters after the Cabinet meeting, the chief minister said: “All ministers have been asked to rear a cow in their residences from February 1. I am also going to have one in my bungalow.”

The ministers will have to feed cows in their residences for five months till the onset of Monsoon for which they will not receive financial assistance from the government.

However, those willing to set up cattle camps will get incentives. Elaborating on the scheme which is called “Campaign for the protection of cow progeny”, the home minister said “we want to send a message and inspire the people” to protect cattle, which will be affected by the drought.

“It is a symbolic gesture to involve the people and NGOs by setting an example,” said senior BJP leader Bharat Pandya, who maintains that if the BJP ministers rear cows in their bungalows, it will be easier to mobilise people, NGOs and industrial houses to do their bit to protect cattle.

While announcing the scheme, the chief minister said: “Funds will be no constraint. Those willing to set up cattle camps will get incentives. Any amount of money will be pumped in to protect cattle.”

To begin with, the state government has earmarked Rs 1 crore for the purpose. Those setting up cattle camps will get Rs 10 per cattle. Permission for setting up cattle camps will be liberally granted. The only condition is that water should be available where the cattle camp will be set up.

“No new slaughter house will be sanctioned between February to June — five months during which Gujarat is likely to face severe drought in second consecutive year. This is to ensure that no farmer sells his cattle because of fodder and water scarcity,” the home minister said. He added that the state government will ensure that all drought-affected talukas set up fodder banks.

The cow protection portfolio was created after the VHP held its eighth dharam sansad here two year ago.

   

 
 
WHEAT PRICE REPORTS RATTLE BADAL 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Jan. 24: 
The Centre will soon announce the minimum support price for wheat this season. The price is likely to be fixed at Rs 625 per quintal.

Alarmed over reports that the Centre would not hike the minimum support price for wheat, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his Haryana counterpart Om Prakash Chautala, had rushed to the capital yesterday to impress upon the Prime Minister to reconsider the decision before today’s meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.

Badal said while Punjab’s demand for fixing the wheat price at Rs 735 has not been accepted by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the meeting has ensured that talk of deducting Rs 60 from last year’s minimum support price has been put to rest. “We have put our case forcefully and expect the Centre to announce Rs 625 as the minimum support price,” he added.

As the largest producers of wheat, both Punjab and Haryana have considerable stake in its minimum support price as it can have widespread political ramifications in the region.

The Centre has been mulling a stop to the annual increase of the minimum support price of wheat since stocks started piling up in the central pool and farmers resorted to selling their stocks to the government not as a last resort but as a preference customer.

The region has witnessed widespread agitations last year when the Food Corporation of India refused to lift paddy due to its bad quality and overflowing godowns.

This year, too, Punjab farmers are agitating following a bumper potato crop in the absence of a minimum support price.

Farmers in Jalandhar recently off-loaded thousands of tons of potato on the streets to protest the government’s refusal to buy the commodity.

On January 22, they disrupted a rally organised by Badal in Amritsar. Over 40 farmers were arrested, dealing a severe blow to the ruling Akali-BJP coalition which has been projecting itself as pro-farmer.

   

 
 
7 CPM ACTIVISTS ON NAXALITE HIT LIST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jhapur (Midnapore), Jan. 24: 
Claiming responsibility for the murder of a CPM activist here yesterday, the PWG has threatened to kill seven people for their “involvement in the Chhoto Angaria massacre”.

The PWG declared through pamphlets distributed this evening that yesterday’s strike was a “retaliatory action” against the “massacre” in Chhoto Angaria, five km from Jhapur.

The pamphlets said the Naxalite organisation has shortlisted seven CPM functionaries and “vowed to kill them”.

The remote village, dominated by the BJP and more isolated than Chhoto Angaria, was deserted today with all the inhabitants fleeing after yesterday’s killing.

The FIR has named 10 people, most of who are PWG activists. But the names of two Trinamul Congress and BJP supporters also figure in the report, the additional superintendent of police (headquarters), S.S. Panda said.

Nobody has been arrested yet. “We could not arrest anybody in the Chhoto Angaria incident till now. How could we arrest persons involved in the killing yesterday?” the police officer asked.

A big contingent of police is camping in the area. The police said the CPM activist was killed yesterday when PWG supporters hiding behind a bush fired on a motorcycle-borne group.

The CPM claimed that PWG activists continued to fire intermittently at the village. The police, however, said that this could not be confirmed.

Chhoto Angaria residents said they were worried over the decision of shift a police camp to Tildanga village. “Most of the persons named in the Chhoto Angaria incident belong to Tildanga village. Instead of arresting them, the police are arranging to give them protection through shifting this police camp,” Ashim Ojha, Garbeta secretary of the Trinamul said.

Murder arrest

Alamgir, nephew of Forward Bloc MLA Md. Mannan, was arrested in Rampurhat in connection with the murder of Madhab Mondal, a Trinamul supporter.

The incident took place yesterday when Alamgir and his friends allegedly sought money from some people.

Madhab refused to give any money, resulting in a quarrel. Later, Alamgir and his friends took Madhab from his house to a distant place and stabbed him, police said. The other accused, Mrityunjoy Das and Tamal Mal, fled. Sisir Das, sub-divisional police officer of Rampurhat, said the police are looking for them.

   

 
 
POLICE KILL PICNIC BUS ROBBER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
Burdwan’s most wanted robber fell to police bullets this dawn in a gunbattle lasting over half-an-hour after his gang waylaid a tourist bus and truck on a highway.

Besides Abdullah, the kingpin, a gang member died in the encounter with the police on the Burdwan-Kalna Highway in the Memari police station area. The police said two dacoits were killed and three policemen injured in the exchange of fire.

The confrontation comes amid a controversy over the directive of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to the police to shoot criminals without being constrained by human rights considerations.

Superintendent of police Manoj Malaviya said Abdullah and seven associates had gathered at a deserted stretch of the unlit highway at 1 am.

The gang blockaded the road with logs and forced a truck carrying vegetables to stop. They looted the truck after throwing out the driver and the helper.

The next vehicle to fall into their trap was a tourist bus carrying 70 passengers from Naldia on their way to a picnic spot in Kalna.

Brandishing revolvers, Abdullah’s associates opened the door, ordered the passengers to keep quiet and hand over valuables.

Malaviya said that since the area was vulnerable to highway robberies, the local police had been directed to patrol the stretch regularly.

One such patrol force, led by assistant sub-inspector Mohammed Shakauddin, was passing through the area when the robbers had blocked the vehicles.

The patrolling party ordered Abdullah and his associates to surrender. But the notorious crime lord with 10 dacoity and murder cases pending against him was in no mood to listen.

The gang fired at the police and lobbed smoke bombs in an attempt to slip away. Shakauddin, under orders to prevent robberies at any cost, directed his men to return fire.

The policemen shot back with their service revolvers.

As bullets started whizzing past them, the petrified passengers of tourist bus ducked under the seats.

A bullet hit Shakauddin on his left arm but he continued firing from his service revolver. Two of his colleagues suffered bomb splinter injuries.

Once the firing stopped, Shakauddin asked over wireless for reinforcements. Later, he found Abdullah and one of his associate lying in a pool of blood. Five gang members managed to escape.

Thief lynched

A thief was lynched to death at Benepara in Pandua in Hooghly district yesterday while he was fleeing after grabbing a purse of a goldsmith.    

 
 
PADDY FARMERS REAP PROBLEM OF PLENTY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
Thousands of farmers all over the state have been badly affected by the poor procurement price for paddy that has been prevailing for almost one-and-a-half years now.

They have been forced to resort to distress sales to keep their hearths and homes going.

The low prices have also taken their toll on those connected with buying and selling of the cereal.

About a month ago, a trader in Memary, Burdwan, took his life after his business failed. He was a middleman who used to procure paddy from farmers and sell it to mill owners. For a long time, the owners were either not buying or were doing so at a price so low that the trader’s debts kept on mounting.

Officials in the agriculture department said prices had fallen by 30 per cent, from Rs 650 a quintal two years ago to Rs 450 a quintal about a week back.

“The fall in the price has been due to a bumper crop in 1999-2000 and a resultant glut in the market,” explained state director of agriculture N. Trivedi. “West Bengal has had a surplus of about 25 lakh tonnes. This excess production continued in 2000-2001 as well, despite the floods.”

As it is, Bengal is the highest rice-producing state in the country and used to supply to other countries like Bangladesh and states like Bihar and Orissa. “But even these states have had a good crop and have not had the need to buy from us,” the director said.

To compound this problem, “white rice produced in Thailand is finding its way into the Bengal markets.” This rice, officially meant for shipment to Nepal, is also coming into the state from Bangladesh, he said.

The parboiled white rice from Thailand is cheaper than the Bengal variety by Rs 2 a kg in the retail market, though as good in quality. “As much as 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of this rice is unofficially available in the state,” Trivedi said.

The state government has taken several measures to help farmers. The most recent has been to raise the procurement price to between Rs 520 and Rs 525 per quintal. “This, we have been doing for the last one week,” the official said.

The Centre and the Border Security Force have been informed about the smuggling of rice from Bangladesh. “Regarding the rice entering our markets while in transit from Thailand to Nepal, we cannot provide any proof to the Centre. The BSF, however, says it has increased its vigil for supplies arriving from Bangladesh.”

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had written to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee about 20 days ago, urging him to take steps to raise the procurement price, agriculture secretary Sumantra Choudhury said on Monday.

Trivedi explained that the chief minister’s rationale had been that the Prime Minister had intervened in Punjab and released funds to the Food Corporation of India so that the price could be raised. “But so far, there has been no response.”

In the meantime, over one lakh hectares of rabi cultivation land has been converted to other crops like oilseeds and wheat, Trivedi said. “At the advice of the agriculture department, panchayats have asked paddy cultivators to switch to other crops, and they have responded. About one to two hectares per farmer have been converted.”

   

 
 
HILL OPP.DECRIES DELHI TALKS 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Jan. 24: 
Opposition parties in Darjeeling have termed next month’s tripartite meeting in Delhi to review the hill accord as a “pre-poll stunt” engineered by the Left Front government and the hill council run by the Gorkha National Liberation Front.

The meeting, called by the Union home ministry and scheduled to be attended by GNLF leader Subhas Ghising and representatives of the state government, will discuss additional empowerment of the council in Delhi on February 7.

The meeting is likely to discuss the council’s demand for inclusion of the Darjeeling hill areas in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Such a step will confer “tribal” status to the areas under the council’s purview. The schedule grants regional autonomy to tribal areas of the Northeast.

However, opponents of the GNLF — such as the eight-party combine, the Gorkhaland United Front (GUF); and the four-party alliance, the United Democratic Front (UDF) — have accused the Left Front government and the GNLF-led council of scuttling the Gorkhaland demand.

The GUF feels that the state government and the council have timed the proposed talks to divert the attention of the Centre from the demand for statehood.

“Ghising’s talk of the Sixth Schedule status for the Darjeeling hills is aimed at diverting the Centre’s,” GUF spokesman D.S. Bomzan said.

“The state government and Ghising are trying to hoodwink the aspirations of the Gorkhas of Darjeeling. All the deaths and destruction the hill people suffered during the 28-month-long GNLF-sponsored violent agitation will go in vain. On one hand, the GNLF is fooling the people with its renewed demand for statehood. On the other, it talks about tribal status for the people,” Bomzan added.

“The Darjeeling people will never be able to accept the Sixth Schedule status. We condemn the move and oppose it. The Gorkhas will not rest till their demand for Gorkhaland is achieved,” he asserted. Echoing Bomzan, the UDF termed the meeting an outcome of an “unfortunate political hypocrisy and betrayal of the Gorkha community”.

UDF coordinator C.R. Rai said: “Though the Gorkhaland demand is the oldest, the Centre has ignored it and created three new states, dashing the hopes and aspirations of the Gorkha people. The talk of increasing the powers of the hill council is pointless when the people want a separate state.”

The UDF leader said: “The council has totally failed and it is the biggest obstacle in the way of the Gorkhaland demand. While the three GNLF branch committee presidents met the Union home minister, Ghising is harping on the Sixth Schedule status. It is a ploy to nullify the statehood demand.”

Ghising should scrap the 1988 Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Accord and take up the statehood issue with the Centre at the coming talks.”

   

 
 
MISSION TO CAGE MONKEY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Uttarpara, Jan. 24: 
The Wildlife wing of the state forest department swooped at Uttarpara today in an attempt to cage a female langur which has been attacking residents since last week.

Forest ranger of Calcutta-Howrah range R.N. Chattopadhyay said: “We will first try to cage the langur. If it fails then tranquilising bullet will be used.”

Once caught the langur will be kept in quarantine for observation and treatment at Deer Research Centre in Salt Lake before it was released in a forest, he said.

“We have so far caged about 400 langurs from different parts of Calcutta and Howrah in the last three years. In most cases it was found that scarcity of food and security of their babies had been the cause of their aggressive behaviour,” Chattopadhyay said.

Panic-stricken residents first lodged complaint at the municipality against the langur menace but as the civic authorities had no idea on what to do with a rogue primate, they approached the police. Officer-in-charge of Uttarpara police station Raghunath Halder said “as under Wildlife Act it was forbidden to kill a langur I made contact with the forest department on Monday”.

Over a dozen people had been bitten or attacked by the langur.

With the help of district intelligence branch officials the langur’s habitat has been traced and a cage has been placed on the roof of a house.

   
 

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