CM shame notice to Opp
Son-in-law hacks woman
Govt on killer disease alert
Tremor twist in Pak prisoner release
Astrologers spark surge of panic
Tax holiday plea to pick up quake pieces
Caste war in carnage belt
City shelter for Bhutan leader
Move to calm Cong’s PMK jitters
Deadline for mahajot fencesitters

 
 
CM SHAME NOTICE TO OPP 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Feb. 9: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said in the Assembly that Trinamul Congress legislators would have to “hang their heads in shame” after the CID completed its probe into the mystery “massacre” at Chhoto Angaria on January 4 even as the investigating agency arrested a CPM worker, Manwar Dangi, in the case yesterday.

Bhattacharjee urged the Trinamul to give up its “politics of violence” and settle issues across the table. “I am always ready to sit if you restrain yourselves,” he told the Trinamul MLAs.

His address was disrupted by Congress and Trinamul members, including Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Sanjay Bakshi, Gautam Chakraborty and Tapas Roy, who continued to raise slogans against the chief minister and his government.

“Don’t shout. Just wait for some time and let the CID submit its report. You will have to hang your heads in shame,” Bhattacharjee said. Incensed by the remark, the Opposition legislators immediately walked out.

Earlier, leader of the Opposition Atish Sinha had criticised the government for its “failure” in tackling law and order in the state. He alleged that the administration had failed to restore peace in Garbeta.

Bhattacharjee said the Trinamul was triggering violence. “They are creating violence and killing people. The have joined hands with the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation which is backed by the Ulfa and ISI and is creating violence in north Bengal,” he said.

The CID hopes to make a breakthrough shortly in the Chhoto Angaria case. The department’s Midnapore unit officer, P.K. Maity, said they expected Manwar to unravel several mysteries during interrogation. Maity said that acting on a tip-off, a team of CID officers and a contingent from the Garbeta police station raided Dangarpara village where they found Manwar.

Officer-in-charge of Garbeta police station, Nikhil Bose, said though Manwar was not named in the FIR lodged after the Chhoto Angaria incident, he was accused in other related cases. He said local CPM workers had tried to resist Manwar’s arrest. Confirming that Manwar was a CPM worker, secretary of the Midnapore unit Dipak Sarkar, said: “If Manwar is guilty, then he will have to be punished. The party has nothing to do with it.”

BJP leader of Midnapore, Ramaprasad Tewari, alleged that the police were not arresting the real culprits. “Only petty criminals are being arrested and the real culprits are being shielded by the police,” he said.

Basu in Bakreswar

Jyoti Basu will inaugurate the third unit of the Bakreswar Thermal Power Station on Sunday.

The power department has requisitioned a helicopter to ferry the former chief minister.

The power and science and technology minister, Mrinal Banerjee, will accompany Basu. Basu had laid the foundation stone in late 80s.

   

 
 
SON-IN-LAW HACKS WOMAN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bishnupur (South 24-Parganas), Feb. 9: 
Tension gripped Kasthamahal after a 61-year-old woman was murdered on Diamond Harbour Road over a property dispute.

Police suspect that Parijan Bewa, a resident of Rathtala, was murdered by her son-in-law, Asgar Ali Sheikh, as she refused give him a share of her property.

Sheikh, who was divorced from his wife Asia, had stayed the night at his in-laws’ house. This morning, he followed Parijan and Asia to the bus stop and struck at them with a sharp weapon. Parijan died in hospital.

   

 
 
GOVT ON KILLER DISEASE ALERT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, Feb. 9: 
Unnerved by the spate of deaths caused by the mystery disease, the state government today said it would tackle the situation on a warfooting.

“We are seriously concerned about the mysterious disease stalking the region. Certain preventive measures have been taken within Siliguri and its adjoining areas,” urban development and municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya said.

Admitting that the killer disease had struck the region as early as in January, Bhattacharya blamed the district authorities for keeping the government in the dark. “It was a grave lapse on the part of the district health official for failing to inform the government in time about the initial outbreak of the disease. There were some deaths attributed to meningo-encephalitis at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in January, but unfortunately I was not informed,” he said.

Bhattacharya said a vector control team from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will reach Siliguri tomorrow to assist local civic authorities in implementing preventive measures.

The minister said the Siliguri Municipal Act will be amended to give the corporation more teeth. The Mosquito Control Act, presently enforced in CMC areas, will be extended to Siliguri after the law is amended.

Bhattacharya said a task force headed by the Siliguri Municipal Corporation mayor, Bikash Ghosh, and made up of district medical and administration officers will monitor the disease. The team will meet every morning to review the situation, he added.

Boat capsize

At least three persons, including two children, died when a barge they were travelling in capsized in the Ganges near Katwa ferry ghat in Kalna today, says our correspondent from Durgapur.

   

 
 
TREMOR TWIST IN PAK PRISONER RELEASE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 9: 
India decided to release 160 Pakistani fishermen from prison less than a month after the Bhuj Central Jail collapsed in the earthquake and many of its inmates, including some Pakistani nationals, went missing.

“India informed Pakistan today of its unilateral decision to release 160 Pakistani fishermen who are under detention for having illegally entered Indian waters,” foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said. He added that Islamabad has been asked to make “urgent arrangements for their repatriation”.

It was not clear whether Delhi was responding to Islamabad’s “goodwill gesture” of sending three planeloads of relief material for the Gujarat earthquake victims.

On the one hand, the release of the fishermen could be an opportunity to match Islamabad’s generosity. On the other, it might have been forced by the quake.

Till a few weeks ago, the Bhuj Central Jail had 268 prisoners, of whom 59 were Pakistanis. When the jail’s walls collapsed in the killer earthquake on Republic Day, 184 inmates fled. Some of them were Pakistanis.

Many fugitive prisoners returned on their own after a few days. Ten Pakistanis were caught and brought back to jail, some of them from very close to the international border. Others are still missing.

The foreign ministry spokesman did not specify if all the fishermen to be released were housed in Gujarat jails. He maintained that from time to time, Pakistani fishermen who stray into Indian waters are released as a “goodwill gesture”. Even after the release of the 160 fishermen, there will be others still housed in jails across the country.

There are over 54 Indian soldiers and 975 civilians in Pakistani jails. Delhi claims that there are nearly 127 Indian fishermen in Pakistani jails. Last year, the two sides had freed some fishermen and agreed to expedite the release of others. The Indian gesture today may be matched by a similar one by Pakistan soon.

Diplomatically, the Indian “goodwill gesture” comes in the wake of the telephone conversation between Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Though the two only discussed the Gujarat tragedy, Musharraf followed it up a few days later by offering to invite Vajpayee to Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute and normalise relations.

India maintains that for the stalled talks betwen the two sides to resume, Pakistan will have to create the right atmosphere by reining in militants operating from its soil.

Musharraf ‘dream’

Musharraf said he would like to be remembered as the leader who resolved the Kashmir dispute, PTI adds from Dubai. The Pakistani ruler also hinted that there was a “change” in the attitude of Indian leaders on the issue.

“I certainly would like to go down in history and it will be a dream to solve this longstanding dispute,” Musharraf said today. “I feel it is too early to be over-optimistic but I see a change in the statements and attitudes of Indian leaders. I also see a change in their public attitude and the attitude of their media,”he added.

   

 
 
ASTROLOGERS SPARK SURGE OF PANIC 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 9: 
There was no ‘strong earthquake’, not at 5 pm, nor later in the day, but an astrologer’s prediction managed to rock this city nonetheless.

After last night’s tremors here, measured 5.3 on the Richter scale, an astrologer predicted that a strong quake was likely to rock Gujarat around 5 pm. This, coming on top of the 15 minor tremors — but all measuring above 3 on the Richter scale — since last night, was enough to cripple the city for yet another day.

Those who were aware of the ‘prediction’, refused to stay in their offices. Such was the power of the prophecy, that one of the leading media houses and an advertising agency gave their staff the option of going home before 5 pm.

Said Ramanbhai Maipal, a tea-stall owner: “If the tremors don’t kills us, the astrologers will. But then, who has the courage to take any chances now?”

Reports from the Met office are also not very encouraging. The worst, according to them, may not be over yet as the tremors last night had the “capacity” to badly affect life and property within a radius of 200 km from the epicentre, which was 20 km away from Bachau.

Worse, there is no saying when the tremors will stop and Gujarat’s nightmare will end. The aftershocks, says the Met office, are nothing unusual and can be felt even months after a major quake. Tremors continued for six months after the quake in Uttarkashi and Latur was still shaking 15 days after being razed by one the worst earthquakes in the country.

So, it will still be a while before normality returns to Gujarat. Last night’s quake only managed to set back the recovery process.

   

 
 
TAX HOLIDAY PLEA TO PICK UP QUAKE PIECES 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 9: 
The Centre will consider Gujarat’s proposal for a five-year tax holiday in Kutch — the region worst affected in the quake — to help rebuild and revive the economy of the district. The state has also sought special economic zone status for Mandvi and Murdra, the two important port towns in Kutch.

State industry minister Suresh Mehta took up the matter with Union information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj during her tour of the six worst-hit areas in Kutch where Mehta is supervising the relief operations.

Swaraj, who is also a member of the Empowered Group of Ministers formed by the Prime Minister to monitor rehabilitation work in Gujarat, said: “I will take up the issue in the meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers and also discuss it with the Prime Minister.”

She assured that there would be no let-up in relief work. She felt that most people whose houses had been destroyed would prefer to live in tents before pucca houses were built. Mehta, she said, had demanded more tents, and she had assured him of adequate supplies.

The minister gave full marks to the Keshubhai Patel government which, she said, had done “excellent work” given the constraints. Those who have criticised the state government for “lack of coordination and delay” actually do not understand the magnitude and complex nature of the tragedy for no one can understand it without seeing the ground situation.

She denied any “communal bias” in the distribution of relief material in the quake-hit areas. “All such reports are baseless and untrue,” she said, adding that initially there might have been some delay in distribution of relief, but now with proper coordination between the NGOs and the government agencies, work has been streamlined.

“Actually, what I saw was a picture of communal harmony,” said the minister. In some of the makeshift hospitals run by the RSS and the VHP in the Kutch that she had visited, Muslims were also being treated, she said.

NID relief blueprint

The National Institute of Design is working on a blueprint to help rehabilitate the people of Kutch, a region famous for its wooden craft, block printing, bandhani, embroidery and rogan printing.

With their specialised skills as designers, the NID students and faculty members feel they can help Kutchis in income generation activities by providing institutional support to revive their traditional craft.

Prof S. Balram, who, along with other NID graduates, is working on the blueprint, said the students can also work with structural engineers to help design buildings suited for the region which falls in quake zone 5.

“We are interested in long-term solutions for the quake-prone areas,” says the professor. He plans to start some income generation programmes for the local craftsmen there.

With the use of new techniques and some innovation in design, the institute can be a great help to local craftsmen there. It can use its worldwide contacts to find buyers for handicrafts produced by the craftsmen, he said.

Balram is looking forward to February 19 when the institute reopens. He can then involve more students in implementing the blueprint that he is preparing in consultation with NID.

   

 
 
CASTE WAR IN CARNAGE BELT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Feb. 9: 
Two members of the CPI(ML) Liberation were killed today in a group clash at Sikrahata village in Bhojpur district, reviving the protracted war between Ranbir Sena supporters and CPI(ML) activists.

Armed Sena cadre attacked a group of backward caste members in the village in Etari block this morning when the latter were returning from Muftibazar. The attackers fired a volley of shots on a group of five men. Two of the five belonged to the backward Benia caste and the others to the Mahato caste.

Two of those fired upon — Ramkumar Gupta and Lakhanlal Gupta — died on the spot. The others were rushed to hospital. One of the injured, who was rushed to the Patna Medical College, was said to be in a critical condition.

Police sources said the Ranbir Sena had reignited caste passions to make their presence felt in Etari block.

“We have been the target because we are fighting the feudal mindset of the Sena activists in the district who have unleashed a reign of terror in the district with the co-operation of the ruling party,” said Prabhat Kumar, CPI(ML) office secretary in Patna.

Ever since the Mianpur massacre in July last year, which led to the arrest of many hardcore members of the organisation, the Sena has been maintaining a low profile. It has been content with sporadic killings of its Marxist enemies in Ara.

Sources said the Sena had recently held a secret meet in Danapur and decided to strengthen its organisation.

   

 
 
CITY SHELTER FOR BHUTAN LEADER 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Bagdogra (Darjeeling), Feb. 9: 
The Bhutanese government today allowed the 53-year-old Teke Nath Rizal, founder of the pro-democracy movement in the Himalayan kingdom, to leave the country for medical treatment.

Rizal, the most prominent political detainee in the Buddhist country, flew to Calcutta, accompanied by his wife and son, for treatment of several ailments.

The permission given to Rizal to leave the country has surprised lakhs of Bhutanese nationals of Nepali origin living in exile in north Bengal and eastern Nepal as, after the pro-democracy leader was released “unconditionally”, the government had asked him not to dabble in politics.

Rizal was a member of the elite “advisory council” to King Jigme Singye Wangchuk prior to his arrest for alleged anti-national activities in eastern Nepal on November 15, 1989. Rizal, who had been a prominent “courtier” at the royal palace, had languished in several jails in the kingdom for over a decade. “Ever since my release on December 17, 1999, on the occasion of the State Day, I have been seeking an audience with King Jigme Singhe Wangchuck but to no avail,” he told reporters at Bagdogra this afternoon.

“I had been staying in the capital, Thimpu, for the past year since my release. Due to deteriorating health I have been given permission to go to Calcutta for medical treatment. Though several organisations have been pressing for the treatment of ailments I picked up during my decade-long imprisonment, the government has all of a sudden allowed me to leave the country,” said the pro-democracy leader.

“I do not want to make any political comment, lest it gives a wrong signal to interested quarters,” said Rizal, who was apparently not willing to jeopardise the ongoing bilateral talks between Bhutan and Nepal over the repatriation of more than two lakh Bhutanese refugees living in eastern Nepal.

“I have spent too long a time in solitary confinement and am not sound physically and mentally. I am happy that I have been allowed to leave the country for treatment. What I want to clarify is that I will continue to work for my people, my country and my king. Please do not ask me political questions at this stage. I have been advised by the doctors in my country to seek better treatment in your country and that is all,” he added.

While representing the people of southern Bhutan in the king’s advisory council, the pro-democracy leader had launched the Bhutan People’s Forum for Human Rights in the mid-1980s.

   

 
 
MOVE TO CALM CONG’S PMK JITTERS 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN AND RASHEED KIDWAI
 
Chennai & New Delhi, Feb. 9: 
The Tamil Maanila Congress appears resigned to a life with the ADMK-led front in spite of the entry of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and is trying to convince the Congress to do the same.

TMC chief G.K. Moopanar, who met Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi today, is learnt to have told her that both parties should swallow the “PMK bitter-pill” and remain in the Jayalalitha camp instead of forging a third front.

Explaining Moopanar’s rationale, a senior TMC leader said in Chennai: “Moopanar is realistic. He has burnt his fingers with the third front once. At that time, Sonia did not listen to us. It’s understandable if she toys with such an idea now because of the intrusion of the (pro-LTTE) PMK. But then the Congress does not have much to lose as it is only an Assembly election, whereas our very future is at stake. If we don’t perform reasonably well, we will have to shut shop.”

CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury, who, too, called on Sonia, underlined the need for an anti-DMK-BJP alliance in Tamil Nadu.

On the other hand, Tamil Nadu Congressmen asked Sonia to part ways with the ADMK as it had unilaterally announced the tie-up with the PMK.

The Congress president, however, is in no hurry to act. Party sources said she would wait for Jayalalitha to announce seat-allocation before taking a final decision.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who addressed reporters along with Moopanar, said a representative will be sent to call on Jayalalitha and find out about her deal with the PMK.

A Congress leader said though state president Elangovan is arguing for a third front, the plan will not take off because Moopanar is opposed to it.

“Without Moopanar, the idea of a third front will not work. And joining the DMK-BJP front is unthinkable. Moreover, Jayalalitha is fast emerging as a clear winner. I’m sure madam (Sonia) will see the writing on the wall and agree to stick with the ADMK.”

For Moopanar, the ADMK’s tie-up with the PMK is a big setback. Jayalalitha had turned down his demand for power-sharing and then gone ahead and forged an alliance with the PMK.

If he stays on with the ADMK, Moopanar will also have to swallow the humiliation of having to make do with a considerably less number of seats than he had been bargaining for. In the last elections, the TMC had contested 40 seats and won all but one of them.

Though Jayalalitha had earlier indicated she would give the TMC as many seats this time, the entry of the PMK has changed the equations.

PMK chief S. Ramadoss is said to have told Jayalalitha that he should get as many seats as the TMC apart from getting the chance to form a government in Pondicherry.

The ADMK will have to contest at least 150 of the 234 seats to give it a chance of forming the government on its own. If the PMK and the TMC get 25 seats each, the Congress will have to be satisfied with around 10 seats.

   

 
 
DEADLINE FOR MAHAJOT FENCESITTERS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CPORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 9: 
The Trinamul Congress is mounting pressure on pro-mahajot Congress legislators to join the party before the Assembly session ends on February 24 if their plea for an alliance is turned down by the high command.

Trinamul feels legislators of the two parties can sit together in the House as the main Opposition. This will also frustrate any move by the Congress to disqualify the MLAs concerned under the anti-defection law before the Assembly elections.

Trinamul leaders today met former state Congress chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury to accelerate “the process of coming together of Trinamul and pro-mahajot MLAs to launch a united fight against the Marxists without any further delay.”

They said Mamata Banerjee is under pressure from political outfits and individuals seeking entry into the proposed mahajot to provide them tickets for the elections. An inordinate delay by Congress legislators will only make things difficult for her.

While some Congress MLAs are in favour of joining the Trinamul before the polls, others would like to float a separate platform and have seat adjustments with the party. This option, however, will work only if the state Congress decides not to put up its nominees in the constituencies concerned.

The legislature party seems to have become more inclined towards an anti-CPM mahajot after 19 MLAs petitioned Sonia Gandhi to allow them to enter into an electoral understanding with Trinamul.

Congress legislature party leader Atish Sinha today told the Assembly the Marxists would be “nowhere in the state if there is a one-to-one fight against you”.

“People have become disillusioned with the CPM’s rule for the past 24 years. Obviously, the party’s days are numbered in Bengal,” Sinha said during the debate on the Governor’s address.

The coming together of Congress, Trinamul and BJP legislators at a dharna yesterday in support of the Kamtapur People’s Party’s (KPP) demand for recognition of the Kamtapuri language is also a shot in the arm for the pro-mahajot section.

The dharna was staged after state CPM secretary Anil Biswas criticised Mamata for her meeting with KPP chief Atul Roy in Delhi and her decision to support the demand for recognition of the Kamtapuri language.

PCC vice-president Saugata Roy, who took part in the dharna, saw no harm in it since it was held to support the KPP’s demand for an economic package to ensure north Bengal’s development.

   
 

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