Myth-breaking diagnosis puts onus on govt
Dacoits run riot after identity gaffe
Deer-hunters back in Nepal on hitmen hunt
Bengal first, budget later
Govt claims disease ebb
AIDS explosion alert
Hint of power battle in truce
Delhi heat on Pak after Blair terror ban
Colonel killed in ambush
European alert on Assam tours

 
 
MYTH-BREAKING DIAGNOSIS PUTS ONUS ON GOVT 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, March: 1: 
Case I — The government promised a cotton mill in Bengal Rs 10 lakh as equity to satisfy a condition imposed by NIDC for the grant of a term loan. But “the processing of this matter took three years”, by which time NIDC had shifted to consultancy and the original loan could not be sanctioned.

Case II — When a major group “indicated disinterest” in running one of its textile companies and withdrew all support, a new promoter was “willing to contribute to equity and inject funds”. But the group refused to respond, and the process of inducting a new promoter “was effectively stalled”.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may have made a headway in winning the public relations battle but the war has to be won in the government if his plans for Bengal’s resurgence are to succeed.

A Reserve Bank-sponsored study has given a clean chit to the labour force in the Bengal — always blamed for the state of the industry in the region — and cites lack of coordination between different government departments and delays in decision-making, mismanagement and problems of policy for industrial sickness in the state.

The study on industrial sickness in the east by two professors of the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, Sudip Chaudhuri and Anindya Sen, points to the jute industry in its heydays to exonerate the labour force. “When the (jute) units were running as healthy concerns, there were few worker-related disputes,” the report points out.

“We have seen that labour problems start only after the unit becomes sick and the workers’ dues are not paid,” said Sen. In most cases, it was found that the management deliberately made the companies sick, or it was the result of wrong decisions.

The problem, they feel, essentially lies in “lack of coordination” between different state government agencies and “delays in decision-making”.

“While the representative of the government of West Bengal might give an undertaking to the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) that uninterrupted power supply would be forthcoming, the WBSEB would be discontinuing power supply or threatening to do so,” the report states to highlight the lack of coordination.

They felt mismanagement of sick units had “taken various forms”. In the case of one ferro-alloy firm, the economists found “clear evidence of the promoters trying to deliberately mislead the authorities for their ends”.

The duo also blame the Centre for industrial sickness in the region. “The Central government’s decision to liberalise imports affected a number of industries adversely,” they argue. In the cotton textile industry, “cheap imports from Southeast Asia” posed a serious threat to domestic units. In the iron and steel industry, “clandestine imports of fresh CRCA strips in the guise of rejected strips” led to such a drastic fall in conversion charges that it became difficult for domestic units “to even cover the direct cost of production”.

Once a unit slipped, it was difficult for it to regain its footing because of a high interest rate regime which made loans expensive. “The genesis of sickness,” the report states, was often found in “cost and project overruns”.

The duo did not spare banks and financial institutions. Given the task of “reviving sick units, they have generally not been successful in their endeavours”, with working capital often not forthcoming “at critical junctures”.

According to Chaudhuri, “The basic problem in reviving sick units has been the way of implementation of the Sick Industrial Companies Act (SICA) and the functioning of the BIFR.” The report doesn’t recommend the scrapping of SICA. Rather, it calls for amendment of SICA to address the existing deficiencies. “The responsibility of corporate reorganisation should not be left to the defaulting debtor firms. The government and the creditors also have a big role to play,” says Chaudhuri.

The study criticises the “rigid and formal” SICA-BIFR system for causing “tremendous delays in decision-making” and failing to prepare rehabilitation schemes for the sick units. Besides, it notes the failure of BIFR in “exercising the power given by SICA” and “changing dishonest and inefficient management for the survival of sick companies”.

The study has urged for a time-bound functioning and introduction of professional management in BIFR to ensure that it meets its objectives. The report also recommended setting up of an asset management company under the Centre and the RBI to decide the future of sick companies.

   

 
 
DACOITS RUN RIOT AFTER IDENTITY GAFFE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Raidighi (South 24-Parganas), March 1: 
Villagers of Kaultala gheraoed a police party early this morning mistaking it for a dacoit gang, giving the real culprits the chance to slip away after looting about Rs 1 lakh in cash and jewellery from a house.

A gang of 10 armed men raided the house of Dilip Mazumdar, a local businessman. The masked men, who forced their way in after threatening the residents, asked them to hand over the keys and even beat them up for not being prompt enough.

The residents raised an alarm while the gang was leaving, drawing the attention of neighbours who came running. The incident happened very close to the police station.

So, when the police reached the spot as soon as they were informed, the villagers mistook them for dacoits and began heckling them. It took another police party from the police station to convince the villagers that they had got the wrong men. But in the chaos, the dacoits managed to escape with their booty.

Today’s incident comes close on the heels of last night’s multiple dacoity when gun-toting burglars looted seven houses in Baruipur. Several villagers were injured after they were beaten up by the gang. No arrests have yet been reported in this connection.

Police said they would soon catch the real culprits as the gang which raided Mazumdar’s house was from a nearby village.

But Shyamal Mondal, a local Trinamul Congress activist, summed up the villagers’ disillusionment with the police. “They only say they will nab the dacoits but never succeed. A few days back, burglars looted several houses in the Sonarpur area, but till date police have not been able to make a single arrest,” Mondal said.

But the additional superintendent of police (rural), Rajesh Kumar Singh, said: “We are making continuous raids in the area and hope to arrest the culprits soon.”

   

 
 
DEER-HUNTERS BACK IN NEPAL ON HITMEN HUNT 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, March 1: 
Having twice failed to nab the attackers of Gorkhaland leader Subash Ghising, the special investigation team (SIT) has launched yet another operation in Nepal to arrest the suspects who are believed to be holed up at a hideout run by Maoist extremists in the Himalayan kingdom.

Nepal police confirmed tonight that three men of Indian origin were arrested three days ago and they will be handed over to the team from India. However, they refused to say who the men were and what they had been arrested for.

The SIT investigators have begun the operation — codenamed Deer-III — in the eastern hill district of Ilam.

An official connected with the SIT told The Telegraph: “Interrogation of the five people arrested so far, including Dimple Dewan, has revealed that one Mohan Gurung, an area commander of the Naxalite Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) based in eastern Nepal, and former GNLF militant leader Sharan Dewan had chalked out the ambush plan in Siliguri and Kurseong as early as in January this year,” the official said.

He added that Dimple’s husband, Vijay Dewan alias Dhiren Rai alias Indra Kumar Dewan, was also part of the conspiracy.

Sources said that Mohan, Sharan and Vijay, along with Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation leader Chhattray Subba and MCC activists held frequent meetings at several towns on the Indo-Nepal border like Kakarvitta and Chandaguri.

Sharan had headed the Kurseong unit of the Subba-led Gorkha Volunteer Cell, the GNLF’s militant wing, during the Gorkhaland movement spearheaded by Ghising in the eighties.

Dewan has over the years maintained close links with Subba, who too had come out of the GNLF.

After being denied a ticket to contest the first-ever polls to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988, Sharan unsuccessfully fought for the Kurseong seat and left Ghising’s party. A resident of Kurseong, Sharan joined the local unit of the Congress only to switch over to the Trinamul Congress in January.

The SIT official said: “We believe that both Sharan and Vijay are holed up in an MCC hideout in Ilam run by Mohan Gurung. While Sharan and Vijay did not take part in the actual ambush, they were the main conspirators. The blueprint of the plot was drawn up at Dimple Dewan’s Pradhan Nagar residence in Siliguri and at a travel agency in Kakarvitta. Dimple’s husband Vijay played a vital role in the planning process. Both he and Sharan went into hiding on February 11, a day after the ambush.”

The SIT officer claimed to have specific “leads”. “We failed to flush out the militants earlier as our Nepal counterparts did not cooperate. The Nepal police wanted us to give them the location of the hideout so they could arrest the men themselves. However, since the Maoist extremists virtually run a parallel government in Jhapa and Ilam, Nepal police do not dare enter the area,” he said.

   

 
 
BENGAL FIRST, BUDGET LATER 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 1: 
Confronted with a volley of questions on why she was not present in Parliament during yesterday’s budget presentation, Mamata Banerjee today said that she had left Delhi with “due permission”.

Mamata took pains to explain that her leaving the capital on the eve of Yashwant Sinha’s budget had nothing to do with the proposals but was prompted by political expediency.

“The Left Front has already released its list of candidates for the elections. We, too, have to draw up our own programme,” she said.

Mamata’s absence from Parliament yesterday had drawn snide remarks from CPM Politburo member Biman Bose. “Why did she leave Delhi without attending the budget? Why isn’t she reacting to it?” Bose said.

But an unfazed Mamata said she had asked party MP Sudip Bandopadhyay to state the Trinamul’s reaction to the budget. Asked whether she was unhappy with Sinha’s proposals, especially the ones on labour, the Trinamul leader said: “Not at all. Whatever has been said about my being enraged with the Union budget is baseless.”

Mamata scoffed at allegations that her railway budget had a bias for Bengal. She claimed that the NDA partners who had initially spoken out against the budget had changed their opinion once they went into the details.

With the Left Front releasing its election manifesto today, the Trinamul has swung into action. Mamata held a series of meetings with aides on seat adjustments with the BJP. She announced that the Trinamul will come out with a joint manifesto with the BJP.

“Yesterday, we already had a round of talks with the state BJP leadership. More rounds of talks are expected to be held before we finalise anything. My list of candidates is almost ready,” Mamata said.

The Trinamul leader said she was still hopeful of a mahajot with the Congress and was prepared to concede a few seats.

Mamata said she would not attend the March 4 convention called by the rebel Congress group led by Sougata Roy where several MLAs are expected to announce their decision to the Trinamul.

   

 
 
GOVT CLAIMS DISEASE EBB 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, March 1: 
The government today claimed that the killer disease stalking the town was now under control, prompting a collective sigh of relief from the residents who had spent close to a fortnight in fear.

No deaths or new cases have been reported from Siliguri and its adjoining areas in the last four days.

Minister for urban development and municipal affairs Ashoke Bhattacharya said this evening that though 10 people suspected to have been infected with the disease are still undergoing treatment at North Bengal Medical College and Hospital (NBMCH), there has been no increase in the toll.

“In the past 100 hours, there has been no addition to the toll in the mystery disease. Of the 10 patients being treated at NBMCH, six are responding to treatment. Four of the infected persons are still being kept at the special ward of the hospital. The condition of one, a woman patient, is critical. The disease is, however, under control now,” he said.

The minister added that while the mortality rate of the disease was 100 per cent in the initial stages, it had now fallen to almost 40 per cent. “Several patients are recovering. We expect they will be released shortly. As a precautionary measure, we have instructed all patients not to leave Siliguri or seek treatment elsewhere. Doctors treating them will conduct regular check-ups at a special out-patient wing,” he said.

The health department will conduct medical check-ups of all employees of Medinova nursing home, where the first strains of the malaise were noticed earlier this month.

“Most victims were either staff members of the nursing home or indirectly connected. We want to conduct medical check-ups on the remaining employees to ascertain that none of them is affected. I appeal to the public to show compassion for the affected families. We have received some appalling reports of social ostracism. This is inhuman,” the minister said.

Bhattacharya said that NBMCH, which had been concentrating on treating patients infected with the killer disease, would soon resume normal functioning. “We have to reward some doctors and nurses who braved contamination and worked tirelessly. Those who betrayed their medical ethics will be dealt with severely. The health department is preparing a list of all such house-staff, interns and other employees at NBMCH,” Bhattacharya said.

   

 
 
AIDS EXPLOSION ALERT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 1: 
Two new HIV positive persons are being detected on an average every day at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine.

This startling increase in incidence of infection with the virus that leads to AIDS was revealed today by the head of the virology department of the school, D.K. Neogi, while speaking at an interactive session on the “violence of prostitution”, organised by Sanlaap, an NGO.

“Since 1987, the cumulative number of HIV positive persons in Bengal has grown to over 2,500,” Neogi said. Though this number is not large compared to other states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the fact that the number of detections in the early years was 10 annually, rising to 100 and now is at two a day is enough cause for worry. “About 85 per cent of the infections have been through heterosexual sex, mainly with sex workers. The infected have got the virus either in Calcutta, or while working in Maharashtra or Gujarat,” he said.

According to his findings, the rate of infection among sex workers in Calcutta and its neighbouring areas has gone up from 2 per cent in 1995 to 13 per cent in 1998, and lately to as high as 27.3 per cent, belying the estimates of the well-known Sonagachhi intervention project.

The school is the official referral centre for HIV/AIDS in the state, where persons suspected to have the virus are sent for confirmatory Western Blot tests by the various state government hospitals.

“Some NGOs claim that there has been a decline in the infection rate among sex workers. But how are they claiming this? Where are they conducting the tests?” Neogi asked.

At the session, Indrani Sinha, the secretary of Sanlaap, which is an NGO working for the rights of women (including sex workers), said that the legalisation of prostitution would not be of use.

“The women would be as vulnerable as before, and pimps and brothel keepers would also get a licence for their illegal activities,” she said.

The session was held on the eve of a unique “Millennium Mela” being organised by the Durbar Mahila Samanyay Committee at Salt Lake stadium beginning on Saturday.

The three-day mela is expected to be attended by about 3,000 sex workers from 12 countries. One of the issues to be taken up is the legalisation of prostitution and the formation of trade unions.

   

 
 
HINT OF POWER BATTLE IN TRUCE 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, March 1: 
Union home minister L.K. Advani is upset because Manipur’s new chief minister, Radhabinod Koijam, did not consult him before announcing a month-long unilateral ceasefire against insurgents.

But government sources said Koijam, who heads the Samata Party unit in Manipur, could not have declared the truce without the blessings of other “power centres” in the A.B. Vajpayee government. Local Meitei-Naga politics is also being cited as a factor influencing the decision.

The chief minister has urged militants to stop extortions, kidnappings and violence during the pre-Holi ceasefire.

He warned that police and paramilitary forces would retaliate if attacked.

Koijam added that the Cabinet would review the state’s law and order on March 6 or 7 — one week into the ceasefire — before deciding whether to extend the truce.

Government sources said Koijam did not consult the Union home ministry although paramilitary forces and the army are engaged in anti-insurgency operations in the state.

Officials are pointing fingers at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) which, besides Jammu and Kashmir, has been taking a keen interest in the Northeast, especially Nagaland where a nearly four-year-old ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak- Muivah) is on to work out a political solution.

The NSCN(I-M)’s demand for “Greater Nagaland” includes parts of Manipur, which has a sizeable population of Thangkul Nagas.

The army had announced a 15-day suspension of operations against militant outfits in Manipur, effective from today. The army and paramilitary forces are part of the Unified Command which oversees counter-insurgency operations.

Sources said that since the state police apparatus is in a shambles and counter-insurgency operations are planned and supervised by the Unified Command, the chief minister should have informed, if not consulted, the home and defence ministries.

“The Centre has not declared a ceasefire. Central forces are involved in counter-insurgency operations. On what authority does the state government declare a month-long truce?” an official asked.

Koijam’s ceasefire declaration might have other implications, sources said. “Certain decision-makers have a perspective entirely different from the home ministry on peace initiatives in the Northeast.”

They believe that the ceasefire in Manipur, where about 17 “underground” outfits operate, could pave the way for a broadbased truce in the region.

The “ceasefire” initiative in Manipur, where the NSCN(I-M) has a considerable presence, could influence the insurgent outfit’s thinking in the future.

   

 
 
DELHI HEAT ON PAK AFTER BLAIR TERROR BAN 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, March 1: 
Encouraged by Britain’s decision to ban some key outfits responsible for violence in Kashmir, India today appealed to the international community to express its resolve to fight terrorism and turn the heat on countries like Pakistan which allow such outfits to operate from their soil.

The Tony Blair government had yesterday announced that it was banning terrorist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the LTTE, Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Federation. It did not comment on any of the countries which support terrorist activities.

However, Pakistan-based groups that were branded “terrorist outfits” today said they were unconcerned about the label and were unrepentant about their “freedom struggle” in Kashmir.

The ban is an attempt by London to set in place a countrywide anti-terrorist framework. None of these groups will now be able to run offices, raise funds or campaign for any cause.

India welcomed the Blair government’s decision. But it wants the world community to go a step further. “All methods and practices of terrorism are criminal acts, entirely unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked in their support. Countries that offer encouragement and support to terrorism do share a responsibility for this scourge,” a statement issued by the foreign ministry said.

The satisfaction that Delhi has expressed over UK’s decision is clearly with an eye to turn the heat on Islamabad. “We believe this measure ... will contribute significantly to strengthening the international community’s resolve to combat terrorism. It underscores a recognition that terrorism is a threat to all democratic societies, world-wide,” the statement said.

One of the key countries whose support is being sought by India is the US. America had earlier banned the Harkat-ul-Ansar, but the group wriggled out by changing its name to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and continued with its activities in the embattled Valley.

Though a number of groups active in Kashmir are on the US watch-list, they have not yet been outlawed by Washington. A fresh announcement in this regard is likely to come in April and South Block feels the British government’s decision might influence the George Bush administration.

During his London trip last year and also during the return visit of his British counterpart Jack Straw, home minister L.K. Advani had stressed on the need for London’s strong action against these terrorist outfits as they were also based in Britain. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh had also raised the issue during talks with the British foreign secretary.

India is satisfied because its stand has been vindicated. “The Government of India continues to cooperate actively on a bilateral plane and in multilateral fora with countries that share our abhorrence of terrorism. We urge all nations to accede to relevant international conventions against terrorism and to support India’s initiative for the early finalisation of a comprehensive convention against terrorism,” the statement said.

Pak budget fears

Pakistan voiced serious worries today at the nearly 14 per cent hike in India’s defence outlay, saying it would raise tension in the region. “This is a cause of serious concern not only to Pakistan but should be cause of serious concern to the international community,’’ foreign secretary Inamul Haque said.

   

 
 
COLONEL KILLED IN AMBUSH 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, March 1: 
A colonel, his security guard and three civilians were killed in a militant ambush at Janglat Mandi in southern Anantnag district today.

A brigadier and three army personnel were critically injured. The civilians died when troops escorting the motorcade returned fire, police said. One civilian also received serious injury.

Late this afternoon, militants attacked the heavily-guarded motorcade of Brigadier Bikram Singh, who heads a sector of the Rashtriya Rifles involved in counter-insurgency operations in south Kashmir, police sources told The Telegraph.

Colonel J.P. Janu and his security guard were killed on the spot, while the brigadier and three armymen were critically wounded.

Sources said militants hurled a handgrenade and opened indiscriminate fire with automatic weapons on the motorcade from a close range and later escaped.

The troops returned the fire, resulting in the death of two persons, Moulvi Mohi-ud-din and Mohammad Shafi, on the spot. Two others who received serious bullet injuries were shifted to hospital. Another person, identified as Aijaz Ahmad, later succumbed to his injuries. Police, however, said Mohi-ud-din was a suspected militant.

Senior army and police officials rushed to the spot. The injured armymen, including Brigadier Singh, were immediately shifted to the hospital in Anantnag. However, as his condition deteriorated, Brigadier Singh and three injured armymen had to be airlifted to the Srinagar base hospital. A report this evening said Brigadier Singh, who was the army spokesman during the Kargil war, has been airlifted to Delhi for specialised treatment.

Paramilitary reinforcements were rushed to Janglat Mandi locality, which was cordoned off. Massive searches were mounted by the BSF and the CRPF.

Only last week, heavily armed militants had ambushed a police vehicle at Kokernag in the same district, killing the station house officer and his five police personnel. The incidents follow the recent three-month extension of the unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir.

The bodies of the two civilians were handed over to their relatives by the police this evening.

Nearly 5,000 people took out a procession in Anantnag town protesting against the killing. The protesters shouted pro-freedom and anti-ceasefire slogans.

A local resident said over telephone that tension had gripped the area following the exchange of fire. Authorities have made elaborate security arrangements in the tension-ridden town.

A report from Jammu said militants ambushed a police party at Basholi village in Kathua district, killing two policemen on the spot and wounding six others. The two seriously injured policemen were shifted to Jammu.

The police said militants hurled grenades and fired with automatic weapons at the policemen who were escorting a cash van. Senior district police officers have rushed to the spot with reinforcements. The area is being searched.

   

 
 
EUROPEAN ALERT ON ASSAM TOURS 
 
 
BY MONIDEEPA CHOUDHURI
 
Guwahati, March 1: 
In a major setback to the state government’s efforts to promote Assam as a major tourist destination for footloose Europeans, three countries have warned their citizens not to tour the militancy-ravaged state.

Though the state government insists that the law and order situation has returned to normal, not everyone is convinced.

Governments of United Kingdom, France and Switzerland have advised tourists against visiting Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Nagaland.

The “warning” has been posted in the official websites of the departments handling foreign affairs of the three European Union countries.

The website of the foreign and commonwealth office of United Kingdom says: “...we advise against all holiday and other non-essential travel to Manipur and Tripura as well as Assam (particularly in the run-up to elections in early 2001). While foreigners are not the targets of violence, attacks can be indiscriminate.”

The official Swiss and French sites have also put up similar warnings. Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Mizoram, however, have been listed as “generally safe.’’

Marie Baran, Press attache at the Swiss embassy in New Delhi, told The Telegraph over telephone that Geneva’s views were only “recommendations” to travellers intending to visit the Northeast “in view of the political unrest in the region. It has no legal basis, but then tourists visiting these areas do so at their own risk,” she added.

Fabienne Couty, Press counsellor at the French embassy in New Delhi, said the recommendations are based on “various sources like experience, contacts, newspaper reports, Indian administration and consultation among various European countries.”

The “negative projection” of Assam has come as a big blow to the state government’s “special drive to promote exotic natural tourism ... to the outside world” as mentioned in the AGP-led government’s performance budget on tourism for the year 2000-2001.

In the three-decade-long insurgency in Assam, only one foreigner has been killed by militants though he was not a tourist. In 1991, Russian engineer Sergei Gritchenko was abducted and killed by the Ulfa.

Amar Bora, president of the All-Assam Tour Operators’ Association, said the association, in a letter dated January 12, 2001, had informed Union tourism minister Ananth Kumar about a Japanese embassy security warning to all Assam-bound Japanese tourists.

The association requested the minister to take necessary steps so stave off such “alerts.”

   
 

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