Daughter waits for ‘angry’ father
Alert miners save 68
Consensus on twin calamity panels
Damage bill doubles
Atal puts off Japan tour for quake
Rao son held in Rajnikant case
Peace map for restive north

 
 
DAUGHTER WAITS FOR ‘ANGRY’ FATHER 
 
 
FROM SALMAN RAVI
 
Dhanbad, Feb. 3: 
Five-year-old Seema doesn’t know why people have gathered at the pit head of Bagdigi colliery, her father’s workplace. But tears pour down her cheeks as she sees her mother lose consciousness repeatedly. “Papa kaam par gaye hain, maa kehti hai woh hum sab se gussa hokar chale gaye hain, ab nahin lautenge (papa has gone for work, mother says he is angry with all of us and is not coming back)”, she says.

Seema’s father, mining sirdar Dayanand Rana, is among the 30 coal miners trapped in the Bagdigi mine since yesterday afternoon. The chances of his survival are minimum.

Seema doesn’t know all this. “I know he will come back. He can be angry with me and mother but not with my younger brother Sona,” she says hopefully. Her brother keeps asking her: “Where has papa gone? When will he come?”

Every household in the colliery area is in mourning. Even families whose members are not trapped inside the mine have switched off their television sets, radios and stereos.

“It was a black day for us,” says Sayeed, brother of mining sirdar Abdul Hameed, who is inside. Hameed had joined duty after three days. “He had gone to Giridih to negotiate the marriage of his eldest daughter. Everything was finalised and he was very happy when he returned on Thursday. Since he returned very late that night, all his children — four daughters and two sons — were fast asleep. The next morning he left early for work before meeting his children,” Sayeed recollected. Along with two brothers, he has been waiting since yesterday afternoon outside the mine, hoping that his brother is alive.

The family members of Abhay Kumar Updhyay, the colliery manager, have not told his 14-year old son Abhisek the truth about his father.

“Abhisek and his mother could not overcome the shock after hearing news that Updhyay was trapped inside. To console them we said that he was safe and was helping rescue others,” says Anand, the manager’s brother.

“I am here since yesterday afternoon. I am not going home as I have to face them. What do I tell them?” he asks.

Anand said his brother had been apprehensive about the safety of the Bagdigi mine. “Last Sunday he told us that water was seeping through and that it had become unsafe. He feared a Gaslitand-like tragedy at Bagdigi and it happened. He said he had already pointed it out to top officials of the colliery, but no steps had been taken.”

Anand was echoed by Sayeed who said that Abdul Hameed had exchanged heated arguments with a senior officer who had said he was unable to provide more safety.

“When he told us about the fact, we advised him to take leave. But he said that since he was already on three days’ leave, it would not be wise for him to take more leave as he would be needing them at the time of his daughter Parveen’s marriage,” Sayeed said.

All miners are praying for the well-being of their trapped colleagues.

“We can only hope for a miracle. It is only in God that we believe,” says Anand, who waits with a heavy heart as the sun descends on the Bagdigi colliery.

   

 
 
ALERT MINERS SAVE 68 
 
 
SALMAN RAVI
 
Dhanbad, Feb. 3: 
Between them, cableman Ramesh Kumar and electrician A.B. Banerjee saved 68 lives.

The miners, who would have been trapped with the 38 miners at Bagdigi colliery yesterday if not for Kumar and Banerjee, were working in seam no. 8 when the tragedy occurred.

“I was working on the 13th curve of the eighth seam when I saw Banerjee shouting at the top of his voice. ‘Water has gushed into the seventh seam, run for your lives!’ he shouted. We ran in panic. All the 35 members of our group came to the surface on the lift and told the senior officials about the mishap,” says Ramdhari Prasad, a miner loader.

While those with Banerjee got on to the lift trolley, the miners accompanying Kumar had a close shave with death. “I had entered from the west zone and had gone southwards to repair a cable. When I reached the curve of the ill-fated seventh seam there was a powerful explosion which shook the entire mine. The tremors were alarming. Then I could feel the sudden gush of air. I realised a rush of water had displaced the air,” he said. Kumar then ran as fast as he could to alert other workers working in the seventh seam. There were 33 workers there and approaching the left trolley was not possible. Then they pulled off mission impossible.

“We had only one option left and that was to climb up through ‘tramming road’. By that time we could feel the water flowing in very near us. But we ran for our life,” said Sheikh Badshah.

“Somehow we could reach the eighth seam. Some of the older ones among us like loader Lalu Chaudhary had given up and could not climb any more. We helped him. Time was running out by then as the water had almost inundated the seventh seam. Had it not been for Ramesh, we would have met a similar fate,” says Sheikh Badshah, breaking down.

The miners who made it to the surface safely then ran to inform everyone at the colliery about the occurrence. For at least two hours, there was practically no effort to rescue the trapped miners. “Everyone was nervous. We were taken aback and could not react immediately. It was only after the arrival of the senior officers that two pumps were installed.”

The miners have been sore with the working conditions. Workers said the incident was a result of authorities not adhering to basic safety norms like providing cap lamps and carving out emergency exits inside mines. “Many of those trapped did not even have cap lamps and proper helmets. Some of them could have surely made it to the surface if they had their lamps working,” says Gopal Bahadur.

The workers further alleged that they had been pointing it out to the authorities that water was seeping inside the mines over the last 10 days. But the management did not pay heed.

   

 
 
CONSENSUS ON TWIN CALAMITY PANELS 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 3: 
The Centre today agreed to create a permanent mechanism to manage large-scale natural calamities by setting up a national committee of experts on disaster management and an all-party national committee to monitor relief and rehabilitation operations.

These decisions were taken today at an all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee amid criticism that the Gujarat government failed to quickly respond to the devastation caused by the killer quake and the allegation that the BJP was trying to politicise relief and rehabilitation work.

The suggestion to set up a permanent national committee to manage devastating calamities was made by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, while CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechuri proposed creating an all-party national committee to help and monitor relief and rehabilitation work for the quakehit. The suggestions, which received unanimous support, were accepted by the Prime Minister.

While the government has not fixed any time-frame for setting up the expert committee, the national committee of political leaders would be set up within the next three to four days.

Yechuri, sources said, criticised the handling of the relief work and also the government’s decision to impose a 2 per cent surcharge on income tax as it hit the poor people. But the Prime Minister and the finance minister told him that taxpayers were not poor as poor people did not pay income tax.

Opposition leaders refrained from criticising the government in the meeting. However, some parties had earlier decried the government for not consulting them before deciding on the surcharge and amending the guidelines to the MP’s local area development fund to enable them to contribute their entire allocation of Rs 2 crore for the quake-hit.

The Prime Minister hoped that the national committee of political leaders would be able to evolve guidelines and decide the criteria for declaring a natural calamity as a “national calamity” so that appropriate help from the government could automatically follow, Mahajan said.

Sonia said her party and Congress-ruled state governments were gearing up to meet the challenge posed by the earthquake. Yechuri, who had led a party team to the affected areas in Gujarat, said there was no shortage of relief material but aid could not reach the needy because of lack of coordination. He suggested that the Centre and the neighbouring states should be involved to expedite relief work.

Telugu Desam leader K. Yerrannaidu urged the Centre to consult state governments apart from parties and agencies to prepare natural disaster management manuals and action plans, as has been done in Andhra Pradesh, which is affected by cyclones.

   

 
 
DAMAGE BILL DOUBLES 
 
 
BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 3: 
The state government today put the toll of Friday’s earthquake at 16,403 on the basis of body count. The number of injured is estimated at 60,0000.

Home minister Haren Pandya said the damage to properties in eight major towns and rural areas was estimated to be Rs 20,875 crore — almost Rs 10,000 crore more than what the state government had initially estimated.

The government expects to clear debris in all places except Bhuj by Monday evening. It has cleared all debris in Ahmedabad, where four persons feared killed are still missing.

Appealing to the people not to pay heed to rumours about another disaster, Pandya said: “We are doing our level best to restore people’s confidence, which has been shattered.” The Kutch district collector Kamal Dayani has been transferred to Gandhinagar.

In Ahmedabad, the civic authorities have shortlisted 21,000 buildings which will be inspected by groups of “independent experts”. “There will be no local builder, engineer or architect in the teams,” Pandya said.

More than 50 teams from Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune and Indore have been set up. After examining the buildings, the experts and civic authorities will “issue return certificates to residents”.The certificates will cover three categories — buildings that are fit for living, damaged buildings where people can live after repair and unsafe buildings.

The state government also announced that families of the schoolchildren from Anjar who died while hoisting the Tricolour on Republic Day and families of government and panchayat employees who died on duty will be given Rs 50,000 in addition to ex-gratia that was announced earlier.

Asked why the Kutch district collector Kamal Dayani was transferred, chief minister Keshubhai Patel’s principal secretary said Dayani was the only senior officer when the calamity took place. He is a quake victim himself and his house has been damaged.

“So we transferred him to the industry department in Gandhinagar,” he said. Vadodara collector Anil Mukhim has replaced Dayani.

   

 
 
ATAL PUTS OFF JAPAN TOUR FOR QUAKE 
 
 
PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 3: 
After playing it by the ear for nearly a week, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to put off his visit to Japan and Malaysia early next week in view of the earthquake.

During the week-long trip, Vajpayee was to visit Malaysia from February 7 to 10 and Japan from February 10 to 14.

Vajpayee consulted with foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who is in Cairo, on the impact of the last-minute cancellation. Assured that both countries will understand Delhi’s compulsion, Vajpayee asked foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh to convey the decision personally to the ambassadors of Japan and Malaysia.

Indian ambassadors in both countries have informed the foreign ministries in Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur about Delhi’s decision and the reasons behind it.

“In view of the extensive loss of life and property due to the earthquake, the Prime Minister has decided to reschedule his official visit to these two countries to a later date,” foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said. He added: “The governments of Malaysia and Japan have been informed and they have expressed full understanding of the decision.”

The spokesman added that India will work with the two governments to “identify mutually convenient dates for the Prime Minister’s visit as early as possible”.

Though there had been speculation about the possibility of Vajpayee’s visit being called off, officials went ahead with the drill required for the VVIP visit till this morning. A “bandobast” meeting, where accompanying mediapersons are briefed about important details like the venue of departure or climate conditions of the countries of visit, was also held. The decision was announced later in the afternoon.

It appears that ultimately domestic consideration rather than prospective diplomatic brownie points prevailed.

Many in the BJP felt that Vajpayee should take the lead in supervising relief operations in Gujarat. His recent visit to Lucknow, his constituency, also came up for mild criticism in some quarters. The stress has been on “austerity measures” which led to the cancellation of a number of official visits, both within and outside the country, and other official functions.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan told reporters that the Prime Minister had postponed his visit “so that he can be in the country to monitor and supervise rescue and relief operations in Gujarat”.

The visit was important. Japan is India’s largest aid donor and Japanese investment in the country totals over Rs 10,000 crore. A Prime Ministerial visit to Tokyo from Delhi was also long overdue as the last was undertaken in June 1992 by P.V. Narasimha Rao.

Relations between the two sides, that had soured following India’s nuclear tests, started to improve with Jaswant Singh’s ice-breaking visit to Japan in November 1999. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s visit to India in August last year normalised relations to a large extent, but Vajpayee’s visit was required to finally seal the new partnership.

Malaysia, too, is an important player not only in the Islamic and developing world, but also in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). The Vajpayee government is laying special emphasis on the region and the Prime Minister had already travelled to Vietnam and Indonesia last month as part of his “re-visit the East” policy. Malaysia would have formed part of that exercise.

   

 
 
RAO SON HELD IN RAJNIKANT CASE 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, Feb. 3: 
Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s son P.V. Ranga Rao was arrested here today after southern superstar Rajnikant filed a complaint of cheating against him.

Ranga Rao and his personal assistant Gopala Krishna Reddy, arrested yesterday, were remanded in judicial custody for 15 days. Ranga Rao was rushed to the Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences after he complained of weakness.

Joint commissioner of police S.V. Ramanamurthy said cases had been registered against Rao under Sections 420 and 406 of the Indian Penal Code.

Rajnikant had complained to police that Rao had taken Rs 2.06 crore from him promising to make a film, but nothing came of the venture. Asked to return the money, Reddy issued a cheque which bounced. Later, Rao issued another cheque, which also bounced.

Rajnikant approached chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and Narasimha Rao, who told him he had nothing to do with his son. He filed a police case in the last week of January.

Police seized documents worth Rs 1.5 crore from Reddy’s house and Rs 10 lakh in cash and jewellery from Ranga Rao’s house.

Last year, Ranga Rao and Reddy approached Rajnikant, a devotee of Raghavendra Swamy, the late godman of Mantralayam in Kurnool district, claiming to be devotees. They said they wanted to make a film on the Swamy and asked the star to act in it.

Rajnikant refused, but promised to fund the film which was to have a prominent Bengali actor and actress in the lead roles, according to the Tamil star.

Rajnikant said he had issued a cheque worth Rs 1 crore on September 15, 2000, for the purchase of material and as advance payment to the film crew. On September 19, he issued another cheque for Rs 70 lakh as advance payment for studios. The duo took a third cheque worth Rs 36 lakh to pay for office maintenance and publicity.

But when there was no sign of any work on the film, Rajnikant demanded his money back. Reddy issued a cheque on November 30, which bounced. The next cheque, issued by Rao, also bounced.

   

 
 
PEACE MAP FOR RESTIVE NORTH 
 
 
PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Falakata (Jalpaiguri), Feb. 3: 
Aware of the growing alienation among Rajbanshis, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today appealed to them to shun violence and see reason.

“We understand that our Rajbanshi brothers have made certain demands about protecting their land, culture and language. These can be sorted out in a peaceful manner,” he told a huge gathering at the Town Club grounds here after opening the third Teesta-Ganga festival.

The chief minister, struggling to contain the violence unleashed by militant Kamtapuris, directed his appeal at Rajbanshi youths.

“Differences can be sorted out through discussions,” he said. “Let the Kamtapuris (read the Kamtapur People’s Party, which is spearheading the agitation for a separate state for Rajbanshis) be bothered by what they are doing. But our Rajbanshi brothers should not be swayed.

“Rajbanshi youths should find out who are creating the problems as only a handful of Kamtapuris are trying to misguide the masses,” he told the gathering.

Bhattacharjee said his government was willing to address their problems. “People are identified by their culture and language. We respect the Rajbanshi culture as a distinct one.”

But he added that their demand for recognition of the Rajbanshi language should be left to linguistics experts. “We have accorded recognition to the Santhali language. And if experts decide that the Rajbanshi language is distinct, so be it.”

Skirting the statehood issue, he focused instead on North Bengal’s stunted development. “We have our shortcomings, but we sincerely want to develop North Bengal,” he said. “Our Rajbanshi brothers should realise that.”

   
 

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