Ghising at home, bandh on hold
Tremors elbow out truce session
Sonia carries quake clash from PM panel to House
Guardian angels in shock school
Calcutta Weather

 
 
GHISING AT HOME, BANDH ON HOLD 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Feb. 18: 
Hill residents today heaved a sigh of relief as the Gorkha National Liberation Front welcomed its chief Subash Ghising back to Darjeeling by putting the indefinite bandh on hold for 30 days from tomorrow.

The GNLF, however, said the bandh will be re-enforced if the district police fail to arrest the “actual culprits” behind the assassination attempt on Ghising “with their arms” in 30 days.

Ghising reached home around 12.30 pm after eight days in a Siliguri nursing home. He was quietly moved out at 10 am under unparalleled security cover.

A 15-car convoy with armed guards escorted Ghising, who had a close shave when his motorcade was ambushed by suspected Gorkha Liberation Organisation militants on Pankhabari road in Kurseong. Today, his convoy took the Hill Cart Road to Darjeeling.

The hunt for the ambush masterminds —- reported to be holed up in Nepal —- continued with the crack team shifting its area of operation. Having drawn a blank in Chandaguri area of Jhapa district, the sleuths are focusing on the hill district of Illam.“We did not get any positive result in Chandaguri... the militants have given us the slip and may have moved up to the jungles in Illam bordering Darjeeling,” an official connected with the team said.

He said the team had uncovered a plot to assassinate Ghising’s aides while questioning the five arrested suspects. “We stumbled upon a plot to assassinate Ghising’s aides, including the GNLF leader from Lolegoan, Tshering Sherpa... We have also recovered a hit list from the conspirators,” the official said.

The sleuths are on the trail of another “prime suspect”, Sharan Dewan, head of the Kurseong unit of GNLF’s militant wing in the violent mid-eighties. He switched political affiliation and has been missing since the attack on Ghising. Sources having access to the suspects, including Dimple Dewan, said they were being forced to name a particular political party.

   

 
 
TREMORS ELBOW OUT TRUCE SESSION 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
A day after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that a decision to extend the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir would be taken today, the government deferred a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) which was scheduled to review the peace initiative begun in November last year.

The official reason for the sudden postponement was the “undue long time” being taken by an all-party meeting on disaster management.

The CCS meeting was to be chaired by Vajpayee and attended by Union home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes, foreign minister Jaswant Singh, finance minister Yashwant Sinha and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra,

The decision came on a day when the political temperature in Jammu and Kashmir rose as JKLF chief Yasin Malik and All-Party Hurriyat Conference leaders Abdul Gani Bhat and Syed Ali Shah Geelani were detained and the army admitted to “controlled firing in air” at Hygam.

Apart from discussing the ceasefire and the public unrest in the state over the killing of six persons by security forces last week, the CCS was to have taken up the issue of providing travel documents to Hurriyat leaders for their proposed visit to Pakistan to hold talks with militant groups.

The “preventive detention” of the leaders in Srinagar may have played a part in the government’s surprise move. Government sources said both Malik and Bhat would remain under detention till the unrest in Srinagar ended.

The official reason to postpone the CCS to a later, as yet unannounced, date appears too simplistic. The Prime Minister had hinted that the government was having second thoughts on extending the ceasefire a third time.

It is believed that both Fernandes and Advani conveyed their displeasure over the “ground situation”, which is being interpreted as going against the spirit of the ceasefire. The rationale behind such a thinking is that Pakistan-backed militants have not eschewed violence and the killing of innocents continues.

On the other hand, the government is also taking seriously Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin’s threat that terrorists would target families of security personnel in Kashmir.

Despite having reservations about the ceasefire, the home ministry had “gone along” in January with the larger view in government that the truce be extended. Those reservations hardened with reports of militants having consolidated themselves.

Besides, intelligence inputs since Vajpayee declared the Ramzan ceasefire indicate that terrorist outfits, which have rejected the government’s peace initiative, will continue to target security forces and civilians alike.

Home ministry officials said if “the situation is allowed to drift, it will be difficult for the security forces to regain control” in the Valley.

Initially, the army was upbeat about the promises the ceasefire held. But, of late, the army brass have maintained a “studied silence” over terrorist operations. Army sources said the number of security personnel killed since the ceasefire came into force has gone up substantially.

“The LoC has been quiet. But the ceasefire has given the militants time to regroup. They might strike in a big way in the summer,” an officer said.

   

 
 
SONIA CARRIES QUAKE CLASH FROM PM PANEL TO HOUSE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
The Congress plans to move an adjournment motion on the Gujarat earthquake in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, capping an offensive that saw Sonia Gandhi raising the issue at a meeting convened by the Prime Minister today.

Sonia referred to the alleged communal and political bias in distribution of relief in Gujarat at the meeting of the National Committee on Disaster Management, headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayee assured her that “strict vigil” would be maintained to ensure that “no discrimination will be made”.

Besides Gujarat, the violence in Kashmir, the Ayodhya dispute, disinvestment and the opening-up of the farm sector are key issues that will pit the Opposition against the government during the budget session.

The session is loaded with economic business, but politics will dominate in view of the Assembly polls in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Pondicherry.

The Lok Sabha will be adjourned tomorrow after President K.R. Narayanan’s address to the joint session of Parliament on account of the death of Jitendra Prasada, who was the sitting MP from Shahjahanpur.

The budget will be presented on February 28, while Mamata Banerjee will unwrap her second railway budget on February 26.

The Opposition also plans to corner the government over the PMK’s exit from the NDA.

However, the Opposition ranks are sharply divided. Sonia failed to convene a meeting of non-NDA parties after toying with the idea. The Samajwadi Party, the NCP, the Forward Bloc, the RSP and others will be targeting the Congress chief over her failure to take the Opposition along. Sonia’s managers today said she was in “touch” with Opposition leaders but refused to name them.

The Congress will try to join hands with the Left Front on disinvestment in public sector units like Maruti Udyog Ltd. But the Congress and the Left have different views on WTO-related legislation.

Parliamentary affairs ministry sources said the government will treat 36 Bills as top priority during the session. They include the women’s reservation Bill and the Lok Pal Bill to ensure probity in public life by bringing into its ambit the Prime Minister.

Congress floor-managers said they would demand an undertaking that the Uttar Pradesh government would make a fresh notification in the Babri Masjid demolition case in the wake of the court’s directive to set aside the trial of L.K. Advani and seven others.

Before the disaster council meeting, Sonia released a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, saying that during her visit to Gujarat, she received many complaints from victims that they were not getting relief because of their caste and religion.

She said the overwhelming need in the state was for shelter. “It must be provided before the onset of summer,” the AICC chief added.

   

 
 
GUARDIAN ANGELS IN SHOCK SCHOOL 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 18: 
Ketaki Sinha went to school on Saturday. But in the mostly empty classroom, where the teacher finally did not show up, she did not feel out of place. Giving her company were three other parents who had accompanied their children to school.

Parents in quake-stricken Gujarat have started sitting through classes so that they can take their children back safely home after school gives over. Some schools have made it mandatory for parents to accompany children till the “situation is more normal”.

The government has, however, declared that education will be put back on rails in two months. But for a state still trembling from the Republic Day killer, this is nothing but a “fanciful dream”, NGOs and educationists say.

Post-quake, in most villages in Kutch and Bhuj, there are no schools. Where there are schools, there are no teachers and where there are both schools and teachers, there are no students.

Given this, the government will have to do more than declare that children will be handed education kits and taught in tents, NGOs say. Promising to set up tent schools when it has not managed to supply enough tents to shelter the homeless is nothing but eyewash, they add.

The Unicef has pledged an additional 350 tents, but even this is not enough as the shortfall is 60,000. Besides, the problem of getting education back on rails “goes much beyond making arrangements for tents”, Unicef official Catie Blanchet says.

For the Unicef, which is working closely with the government to “restructure” education, the biggest problem is “getting teachers together”. Says Blanchet: “Unicef is making this a priority. We first have to identify teachers as many existing ones have either died or migrated. Then we have to help them become teachers again. Many have broken down mentally. After all, they too are human beings.”

Others feel the whole procedure adopted by the government to restart schools and colleges is flawed. Says Father Cedric Prakash of the St Xavier’s Society for Social Service: “In most of the 100 villages our volunteers went to in Kutch, we found children still very tormented. Most were so afraid that they were not able to concentrate on their studies.”

Prakash feels children should be “prepared psychologically” before they are put through the rigmarole of exams and lessons again.

Postponing exams by a fortnight will hardly help as the fear psychosis has destroyed children’s orientation, he adds.

Another NGO, Childline, feels that along with the students parents have to be rid of their fears. “If parents refuse to send children to schools as is happening now, what is the use of starting schools in tents?” a Childline worker asks.

Social worker Sharad Saxena says most municipal schools have reported minimum attendance and the government should not be misled by attendance in elite private schools.

“When you talk of restructuring education you must talk for the 90 per cent, not the top 10 per cent,” he adds.

But government officials dismiss the “psychological” factor as secondary.

“Once children start coming to school, everything will get back to normal,” says an education department official. “In three months all students of Gujarat will be attending classes, whether in tents or buildings.”

But NGOs are not so confident. “Schools are reopening but very few parents are sending their children to schools,” says a Kutch Navnirman Abhiyan worker in Bhuj.

“From the way things look, if the government doesn’t take urgent steps for both mental and infrastructure rehabilitation, it will take at least six more months for the education system to get back to normality,” he added.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:32.6°C (+3)
Minimum: 18.5°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 89%
Min: 42%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 19°C.
Sunrise: 6.11 am
Sunset: pm
   
 

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