Booster dose to shake up weak units
Subhas steam for Mamata Mail
Five in net for gang fury
Another hill CPM worker gunned down
Shah sermon to increase varsity teaching days
Ridleys on chopping block
Set a thief to catch another
Rattled Raja of Bihar dials dissidents
Enron in propaganda power play
Delhi & big brothers wade into rough seas

Calcutta, March 5: 
The West Bengal government today announced a new set of incentives and support measures for viable rehabilitation of closed, sick and weak manufacturing industrial units in the state.

Addressing a news conference, industrial reconstruction and power minister Mrinal Banerjee said: “Very few states in the country have an incentive scheme for sick units. There was no such comprehensive scheme in West Bengal. We have also come up with a new category of units, which we have coined as weak.”

There are more than 200 sick and closed units in the state.

Banerjee defined a weak unit as one that is not less than five years old, has incurred cash losses for two years and has defaulted in payments to secured creditors or in payment of statutory dues on account of gratuity, provident fund, employees state insurance, sales tax, municipal/local body tax, workers’ dues and dues to power supply agencies in any four or more quarters in a block of two successive financial years.

The government will grant a capital investment subsidy on additional capital investment in revival of sick and closed units. It will also grant this subsidy on the transfer value of fixed assets of closed units taken over by new entrepreneurs seeking their rehabilitation up to limits ranging from Rs 1.5 -2.5 crore.

Interest subsidy will be granted up to 50 per cent of the interest liability to a limit of Rs 1 crore per year for periods ranging from five to seven years, on loans required to be invested in revival of sick units. The government will also waive the duty on power consumed by these units for periods ranging from three to five years.

The government will also provide a subsidy for use of piped gas up to 75 per cent of the investment in converting manufacturing operations of these units under revival, up to a ceiling of Rs 10 lakh and reimbursement of 20 per cent of cost of gas used in the converted operations, up to five years.

The government will allow remission of stamp duty and registration fee up to 50 per cent for purchase of fixed assets of closed units by new entrepreneurs or promoters seeking their rehabilitation.

Banerjee said the government has also come up with special support measures for these units. These include unblocking of idle and surplus land assets by permitting their disposal to generate resources for investment in revival or for relocation.

These units will be allowed to reschedule arrears in sales tax dues through grant of soft loans. Similarly, they will be provided the facility of rescheduling electricity arrears through grant of soft loans to cover the shortfall in meeting negotiated settlements with power supply agencies.

The state government will also provide bridge loans on soft terms to cover gaps in means of financing in deserving proposals seeking revival of these weak units.


Calcutta, March 5: 
Mamata Banerjee today turned to Subhas Chakraborty for help in starting the rail service between Digha and Tamluk because efforts are on to “prevent me from introducing the train before elections”.

“Subhasda, please ensure that I can run the train before the polls. After all, it is a development work for the state and I don’t want to mix politics and development,” appealed Mamata at a function in Sealdah this afternoon to inaugurate the 150-metre-long subway which connects the station with B.B. Ganguly Street.

Transport minister Chakraborty, who is also the most influential CPM dissident, responded positively.

Ignoring the party diktat not to praise Mamata publicly, Chakraborty said: “Mamata has done a lot for the betterment of Calcutta. It is not important to me which political party or government or political leader is working for the people. To me it is more important to work for the development of the state as well as Calcutta.”

In a dig at the ruling Left Front, he added: “If you are really interested in development of your state or city, you have to work hard. Merely sitting on plans and schemes will not help in any way.”

Mamata said that the train between Tamluk and Bajkul had already been flagged off. “I can run the train up to Digha any moment. But some people are organising movements to raise demands like the naming of stations on the Digha-Tamluk line. But the railway ministry is not involved in the naming of stations which is the job of the state government. Still some people are organising movements on the issue because they don’t want me to introduce the train before the polls,” Mamata said.

“Many people criticised me for mentioning the train in my budget though the tracks haven’t been laid as yet. The work on the tracks will be completed within a month or so and I have to wait for another year if the train is not kept ready in the budget.

The railway has completed its work on the Digha-Tamluk route very quickly. When I was placing my budget, our officials were busy running the train on this route as an experiment,” she said.

Apart from seeking Chakraborty’s “cooperation” in removing the obstacles, Mamata also urged the minister to take up a number of issues related to railway affairs with the Left Front government. “Please try to be more active and take up the issues relating to railway affairs so that both the state government and the railway ministry can do something jointly for Calcutta,” she said.

Chakraborty, who attended the function as chief guest, expressed satisfaction over completion of the subway, which has been constructed for Rs 6.5 crore.

“I’m really pleased to see such a beautiful subway of international standards and I’m also grateful to the organisers of the function for inviting me here,” he added.

Though Chakraborty praised Mamata, supporters of his trade union, Citu, held a “silent demonstration” at Sealdah station during the inaugural function. The Citu-controlled railway hawkers’ union put up placards, posters and banners highlighting some of their major demands.


Calcutta, March 5: 
Five persons were arrested today for yesterday’s dacoity at Majerhat village in Diamond Harbour.

Police said the arrests were made after night-long raids in adjacent hamlets.

On Sunday night, about 50 armed men raided 22 houses and looted cash and jewellery worth several lakhs. At least 15 people were wounded in the attack.

Officer-in-charge of Usti police station, in South 24-Parganas district, Arindam Acharya said: “We are continuing raids in different villages, especially in Yarpur where the dacoits usually take shelter. We are also interrogating the arrested persons. More arrests are likely to be made soon.”

However, Gyasuddin Molla, pradhan of Serakol panchayat and a Trinamul Congress leader, said: “Police are arresting innocent people who were never involved in any crime. The actual dacoits are roaming around in front of the police but they cannot arrest them as they are under the shelter of CPM.”

“We are telling the police to take special measures to stop dacoities in the area, but they have not done anything. Almost every day, there are incidents of burglary and snatching in Usti. The area becomes dangerous after sunset. We have requested the subdivisional police officer and other officers, but no one has paid heed to our request,” Molla said.

The Trinamul leader alleged that some police officials were hand-in-glove with the gangsters and the people manning the police stations have been posted for years.

Kids’ pool

Children will now have an exclusive swimming pool. Sports minister Subhas Chakraborty will inaugurate a pool at Adarshanagar in Behala where at least 200 children will be able to learn swimming. The pool has been built on a 10-cottah area and Rs 20 lakh has been spent on it. The project has been jointly financed by the government and some private entrepreneurs.


Siliguri, March 5: 
Two days after the murder of a couple of CPM cadre were murdered at Rongbuk-Cider tea estate, another party worker was gunned down at Nimu bustee in Tukvar valley below Darjeeling town this morning.

Darjeeling superintendent of police Sanjay Chander said: “Some unidentified gunmen shot dead one Naren Rai, a CPM activist, at Nimu bustee in the Tukvar valley area around 9.30 am. Rai was on his way to attend a party meeting when the attackers struck. Rai was first attacked with khukris and then shot dead.”

Rai, a local tough, was notorious for being a terror in the area.

Chander added that police are still not sure about the identity of the assailants. “Raids are on to nab the culprits,” he said.

The killing, coming on the heels of Saturday’s murder of two CPM workers, has sent shockwaves through hill residents, who fear a burst in revenge killings.


Midnapore, March 5: 
Governor Viren J. Shah today urged vice-chancellors to give serious thought to the declining number of teaching days in universities in the state.

Voicing concern at the functioning of the universities, the Governor asked the vice-chancellors to take immediate steps to increase the number of teaching days in their institutions.

Shah, who was speaking at the sixth convocation of Vidyasagar University here this morning, said: “I have been informed that in this university, actual classes are held on only 172 days in an academic year on an average. This means that students here are not taught anything during the remaining 193 days. I do not know if this is a general norm. But I would request the vice-chancellors to give this matter a serious thought and to analyse if the number of classes is sufficient to provide quality post-graduate and under-graduate education in different specialised fields,” the Chancellor said.

Shah also expressed concern at the varsities’ failure to generate their own funds. Urging the universities to draw up resource mobilisation schemes, he said it is going to become increasingly difficult to receive enhanced funds from the government.

“I have repeatedly mentioned in different academic fora that the universities have to ensure a certain amount of financial self-sufficiency in their own interest. While financial discipline and accountability is essential, generation of financial resources is also a prime requirement,” he said.

Considering the rapid and far-reaching changes that are taking place in various science disciplines, Shah urged the students to impart knowledge to the common people.

“While you should ensure your own academic and economic enhancement, you should simultaneously do your best to ensure that the fruits of development percolate to every citizen of this country,” the Governor said.

The Governor’s sermon notwithstanding, few students were willing to commit themselves to honouring the pledge they took today while getting their degrees. Shah’s query “how many of you will remember the pledge taken today?” found only a few students raising their hands.


Digha, March 5: 
Olive Ridleys, an endangered species of turtle, are being slaughtered in thousands in villages around Digha and Ramnagar for meat.

Known as the “poor man’s meat”, the turtle’s flesh sells at Rs 20 a kilogram in Thakurchak, Gharichak, Botipur, Nayaputall and other villages.

B.S. Ray, nature lover and scientist, said if the present trend continues, the species will become extinct in this part of the world in a few years.

“We get a good catch of fish but these days, a sizeable part of our net is full of Baligar (the local name of Olive Ridleys). We know it is illegal to catch the turtles but there are so many of them, it is a waste of time to sort them out and throw them back in the sea” said Digambar Paira, a fisherman.

The fact is that fishermen are unwilling to set the turtles free. They take them home because families and friends enjoy having the meat. The turtles also sell like hot cakes, bringing the fishermen much-needed extra cash.

Olive Ridleys have come in large numbers this year. “They have not been found so profusely in earlier years,” says Paira, who goes out fishing in the deep sea from Batipur near Digha. Hundreds of fishing trawlers fan out every morning from Digha, Junput and Sankarpur in West Bengal and Bhograi and Shyamraipur in Orissa.

Turtles usually live long. Being amphibious, they can survive for long both under water and on the ground. So the fishermen often tie the trapped animals to cots in their homes or drop them in ponds with their legs tied up. The turtles are hidden so that police nor forest officials cannot find them during raids.

The forest department has put up large hoardings on Digha and Sankarpur beaches, warning people against catching the endangered species. But despite the threat of heavy penalty, the turtles continue to be killed as the authorities look the other way.


Murikhaoa (Indo-Bangladesh border), March 5: 
It’s a pitch-dark winter night, the mercury hovering around the 6 degree Celsius mark. Thirty hardened criminals assemble at the Toffandangi madarsa, half-a-kilometre from the border with Bangladesh and barely 200 metres from the Border Security Force (BSF) outpost in Phasidewa.

The group, whose members are among the most notorious cattle-lifters in these parts, has assembled for a special “assignment” for the night.

But, for a change, they are not on the wrong side of the law. These history-sheeters have been “employed” by the police to act as “spotters” for patrol teams on the lookout for the criminals’ counterparts across the border.

Sudhana Bhattacharya, the officer in charge of Phasidewa police station, said: “To check the growing menace of cattle-lifting in the area, we have adopted a unique method of employing these hardened criminals. There are some 80 known cattle-lifters operating in the area. During moonless nights, these history-sheeters have to report to the police at a particular spot.

“We have been housing in the madarsa 30 known cattle-lifters, all hardcore criminals, for the past 10 days as cattle-lifting trends to rise during the dry season. With festivities round the corner, cows in particular are in great demand across the border. Rustlers find it easy to drive the stolen cattle across the border as the Mahananda river bed is dry at this time of the year”.

But Bhattacharya refused to say whether the police were using these thieves to catch other thieves.

“We house them at different madarsas along the border where they spend the night under strict police watch. This way we are trying to prevent these criminals from helping the Bangladeshi cattle-lifters who cross over into the border villages to steal cattle. Most of these men are the local contacts and guides for the Bangladeshi gangs. They help them drive the stolen cattle across the border in exchange for a considerable cut,” Bhattacharya added.

One of the criminals, however, admitted that they were helping the police nab gangs from Bangladesh.

“We usually accompany police night patrols to the border villages to spot Bangladeshi gangs,” he said.

Explaining their modus operandi, the criminal said: “We used to operate in gangs of 8-10 members. We stole the cattle from villages away from the border and hand them over to our Bangladeshi counterparts for a considerable cut, ranging from Rs 700-1,000.”

The criminal remained tight-lipped on whether some local policemen or BSF personnel are involved in the racket but said the gangs had to bribe the Bangladesh border police officials to “look the other way”.

“We had to pay them on a regular basis. They charged a huge cut for every consignment of cattle rustled into the country,” he added.

The 35-year-old thief, who claimed he has left the trade for the more-dignified farm sector, said the gangs operate with impunity because of the indifferent attitude of the BSF personnel manning the porous border in the Darjeeling district.

“Lack of proper BSF patrolling and the virtually unguarded border make cattle-rustling child’s play. There are only four-odd BSF border outposts in the Phasidewa police station area. Rarely have the BSF personnel challenged us. They would only shout ‘Kaun hai!’ and if we did not panic or make a run for it, it was smooth sailing. We just had to drive the cattle across the dry Mahananda river bed into Bangladesh”.


Patna, March 5: 
A rattled Laloo Prasad Yadav today for the first time sent feelers to “billi” and “kacchua” — the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief’s favourite expression to describe the rebels in his party.

One day after 45 MLAs and four MPs stayed away from Laloo’s mega rally at Gandhi Maidan here, the usually unflappable Raja of Bihar met or called up all the ministers and MPs who had played truant.

Laloo even spoke with Ranjan Yadav, the party’s working president and architect of the biggest rebellion to hit the RJD since its inception in 1996. The RJD chief was told that he would have to drop some key associates from the Rabri Devi Cabinet before truce talks could begin.

The dissidents want Laloo to drop a Brahmin minister who is very close to him and a Koeri minister who became prominent after switching over from the Samata Party.

But Laloo is not in a hurry to act. He has got hints from the rebel camp that Ranjan is not in a rush either because he first wants to consolidate his position.

The rebels who skipped the grand rally yesterday had threatened to float a new outfit within a fortnight.

Though Ranjan has been silent, his confidant Nagmani announced that an alternative government would be formed with support from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

State BJP president Nandkishore Yadav described Ranjan as a man of action, not words, and said the BJP would extend him unquestioned support if he donned a new mantle.

Asked by loyalists why he was not axing Ranjan, Laloo shot back: “Kacchua marne ke liye, gardan nikalna chahiye ki nahi ?” (If you want to kill a turtle, you have to wait till it sticks its neck out.)

Ranjan, the rallying point of the rebels, has not officially attacked the RJD leadership yet.

The RJD chief told his associates that the best way to avert a crisis is to bide time and “let the turtle relax and stick its neck lazily out”.

The Ranjan camp is basking in the success of keeping so many party leaders away from the rally, but plans to push the agenda of development further. “If he is angry, let him hit back and we are ready with a weapon”, said an MP in the rebel camp.

Laloo’s argument of the need for unity to fight multinationals during his conversations with the rebels today did not cut any ice.

Finance minister Shankar Prasad Tekriwal sniggered: “First let Bihar bail itself out of the crisis. The question of saving the country from the clutches of multinationals would come later.”

Irrigation minister Jagtanand Singh avoided Laloo, claiming he was sick.

Ap logon ko nazarandaz nahi na kar rahe hain (We are not ignoring you, are we?)” Laloo asked one of the two Rajput ministers in his wife’s government.

Surprised by the rebels’ response, the RJD chief was boiling with anger. Classic Lalooesque wit was suspended for some time before he found it again. “Before the battle of Kurukshetra, there have to be the subplots of Abhimanyu and Shikhandi. How can you win the war without these?” he quipped as his supporters looked disoriented.

The indomitable Laloo even made a proposal to rename Gandhi Maidan as Kurukshetra maidan.

Addressing supporters at the maidan yesterday, Laloo said in reference to the rebels: “Hamari billi, aur ham se meow (I nurtured them and now they have turned upon me).”

He called Nagmani “a snake without the jewel”. “He is just a snake under the grass,” Laloo said, provoking laughter.

But it is clear Laloo does not see the dissidence as a laughing matter this time.

He has instructed a senior minority leader to find out how many legislators from his community, except Shahabuddin, are with Ranjan.

The BJP’s offer of support has sent the RJD back to its favourite whipping boy — the RSS. “It only proved what our national president was trying to say. An RSS conspiracy. But we want our old leaders to get back to senses,” said Shivanand Tiwari, RJD national spokesman.

But the Ranjan camp appears to have reached a point of no return, with the low-profile professor appearing determined to take on the Raja of Bihar.


Mumbai, March 5: 
The middle-aged man is unmistakably an Indian politician, in a white kurta worn under a sleeveless cotton jacket.

He stands in front of a microphone haranguing, his eyes flashing, teeth gnashing and clenched fist raised in anger. A few shadowy figures hover in the background, presumably his supporters with their hands and flags raised in support.

“The power of propaganda has a new tariff,” bellows the Enron Ad, caricaturing politicians opposing the US company’s high-priced electricity.

As politicians sling mud and blame each other for the economic and legal mess they have landed the state in over the project, Dabhol power company, Enron’s subsidiary, has launched a “counter-propaganda”.

Taking out ads in newspapers and magazines, the American power company is warning consumers against the politicians “holding people of Maharashtra to ransom”.

Employing a byzantine web of logic, Enron blames Maharashtra State Electricity Board for the company’s failure to provide power cheaply.

“The Dabhol power tariff is not expensive if the plant is used to its rated capacity. But MSEB, Dabhol Power’s only customer, draws much less....the lower the offtake, the higher the tariff rate,” an ad said, urging people not to “let myth cloud reality”.

Another ad, part of the ongoing campaign, seeks to portray Enron as a responsible corporate citizen. The company, accused by the government and activists of milking the state dry, says it has built roads, schools, training institutes and hospitals, taking Ratnagiri district, where its plant is located, into a new, industrial era.

“No man’s land six years ago,” the ad says, referring to pre-Enron Ratnagiri. But now, “a hub for the future”.

The campaign hopes to achieve what a whopping $60 million could not do for the company.

Enron told the US Senate that it had spent the amount “educating” state politicians and people about what’s arguably India’s most controversial infrastructure project.

Enron has repeatedly denied Opposition charges that the money was spent on paying off different politicians.

The project, the country’s first major direct foreign investment, was cleared by the Sharad Pawar government in 1994, only to be scrapped and then renegotiated by the Shiv Sena-BJP government which had used it as a major poll plank to come to power in 1995.

The Vilasrao Deshmukh government ordered a review of the project recently, calling the rate of Enron-generated electricity too high.

An Enron spokesman refused to disclose today the money involved in the present ad campaign or how long it would continue. “We cannot reveal our plans to the press,” he said.

But clearly, the company is not counting solely on ads to bail it out of the present controversy.

Tired of getting “bad press”, the company took a team of reporters on a weekend trip to Dabhol, where it sought to present its “welfare” side.


New Delhi, March 5: 
Differences have cropped up between India and two of its close friends in the West —- the US and Britain —- over the interpretation of the United Nations’ law of the sea.

Delhi feels the law makes it explicit that any activity carried out in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by vessel of a foreign country needs prior approval.

The two western governments argue that vessels conducting military research need not take permission before hand.

An exclusive economic zone comprises waters within 200 nautical miles of a country and its outlying islands.

A US naval research vessel, Bowditch, and a British navy ship, HMS Scott, had entered India’s EEZ last year between November and December. Indian authorities have sought an explanation from the two governments about the “unauthorised presence” of their vessels in India’s EEZ.

But both countries have stoutly defended their positions and pointed out that the activities carried out by its vessels were permissible under the existing international law.

Having lodged its protest with the two governments through their missions, India has decided to play down the matter to ensure that it does not snowball into a fresh controversy.

Officials of the British and the American governments also pointed out that the matter was “now a closed chapter” and despite the difference over the interpretation of the UN Law of Sea, neither side was willing to drag it any further.

On November 28 last year, the US naval vessel Bowditch was detected 30 nautical miles east of Car Nicobar island. When the Indian navy wanted to know what it was doing there, the ship indicated that it was carrying out oceanographic survey.

Within a week, a British Royal navy vessel, HMS Scott, was detected by the Indian coast guard and navy about 190 nautical miles from Diu, off the coast of Gujarat.

When it was challenged by the Indians, the ship indicated that it was carrying out “military survey for the British defence ministry”.

On January 12 and 16, it was again detected from Porbandar in the Indian EEZ.

The matter was duly reported to South Block and a protest was lodged by India to the American and the British governments for the activities of their vessels in Indian EEZ without prior approval of Delhi.

Gordon Duguid, press secretary in the US embassy, said: “Under the UN Law of the Sea, vessels conducting conducting military research do not have to get prior notification.”

Similar views were expressed by British High Commission spokesman Gerry McCrudden.

“The HMS Scott was conducting a military data-gathering operation. The British government is clear that there is no requirement under international law for prior notification or permission for such data-gathering unless it takes place within another state’s territorial sea,” he said. The territorial sea comprises waters 12 nautical miles from a country’s coast.

Asked whether this could lead to a situation which may affect bilateral relations with India, a British diplomat pointed out that such a possibility was dim. “There was no confrontation as such. The Indians were aware of their presence and we were not trying to hide anything.”

He pointed out that differences between the two sides arose over the interpretation of the UN sea law.

Asked what happens if the difference persists, the diplomat said: “I guess we just have to agree to disagree or try to remain in dialogue to resolve it.”


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