Samir arm-twist charge on minister
Police trace Ghising strike blueprint
Buddha promises infotech school boom
Outcast breaks barriers to resurrect history
Govt puts Balco under audit scanner
Advani shuts Hurriyat out of truce talks
Azhar’s catwalk with a cause
Jammers silence sound of cells
Crossfire over Kutch & Kumbh
Amnesty yanks covers off wife-torture shame

 
 
SAMIR ARM-TWIST CHARGE ON MINISTER 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
Breakaway CPM leader Samir Putatunda today accused a state minister of threatening members of his new outfit with “dire consequences” even as the ruling party claimed that those who had quit were now returning to the mainstream.

Speaking to reporters at Press Club, Putatunda alleged that minister for Sunderbans development Abdul Rezzak Mollah was “threatening” those who had joined the breakaway Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS).

“Mollah has been continuously threatening our party workers ever since we floated the outfit,” Putatunda said.

He added that the party was forced to cancel a meeting in the Canning area of Sunderbans today following threats from Mollah and his associates.

Putatunda claimed he had with him documents containing party leaders’ observations about Mollah’s alleged involvement in criminal activities.

“At least 70 party (CPM) workers were murdered in South 24-Parganas during the past 12 years and the party knows well that some of its leaders are involved in criminal activities,” he alleged.

Putatunda’s wife, Anuradha, who was present at the conference, said PDS workers will meet chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to demand protection.

Asked if they would move the Election Commission, PDS president Saifuddin Chowdhury said they were considering the proposal. “But before that, I appeal to the CPM leadership to stop the reign of terror on PDS workers,” he said.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas brushed aside the charges, saying he did not feel it necessary to reply to “baseless and irrelevant allegations”. Mollah, busy campaigning in the Sunderbans, was not available for comment.

Biswas contended that many CPM workers who had joined the PDS now wanted to return. He said a list of those who wanted to come back to the CPM fold was being drawn up for scrutiny.

Biswas claimed that in Nadia district alone, seven of the 12 workers who had left CPM now wanted to return. In South 24-Parganas, 66 of 88 wanted to come back, and in Murshidabad, three of about a dozen wanted to return.

While levelling the threat allegation, Putatunda also refused to return the party properties in his possession, including a jeep, a mobile phone and a computer. He refuted the charge that he had taken Rs 42,900 from the CPM for his trip to Cuba. “The party spent on my trip as I was representing it in Cuba,” he said.

The PDS has decided to enter into an electoral understanding with Congress and field candidates in all 294 Assembly seats under the banner of Secular Democratic Front.

   

 
 
POLICE TRACE GHISING STRIKE BLUEPRINT 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, March 7: 
Investigators today claimed that the masterminds of the strike on Subash Ghising had given finishing touches to the February 10 ambush that very morning at Dimple Dewan’s residence here.

Present at Dimple’s Pradhan Nagar house that day were the key conspirators — Vijay Dewan alias Dhiren Rai, Deven Gurung alias Dipendra Rai and the slain militant, Kamal Thapa alias Thapa Bhai.

Logistics of dual strikes, one on Pankhabari Road and another on the Hill Cart Road or along National Highway 51 were given final shape, police claimed.

An official connected with the special investigation team told The Telegraph that Dimple, among the first to be arrested, has been “squealing” in a phased manner. “We have now been able to piece together the plot from information gathered in bits and pieces from the seven suspects arrested so far. Though Dimple has been singing in a phased manner, she given us some vital leads,” he said.

According to the official, Gurung is now in the custody of Nepal police and he could also shed light on the conspiracy to eliminate the Gorkhaland leader.

The official said both Dimple and Sharan Dewan, who, the police claim, is one of the brains behind the ambush, had confirmed during interrogation that the three key conspirators had met at Dimple’s house in Siliguri on the morning of February 10.

“Once Ghising’s arrival was confirmed, the logistics of the ambush — codenamed Operation Pankhabari — was given its final shape. While Vijay and Gurung left for an undisclosed destination, Kamal Thapa joined the strike unit at Phankabari. Both units were kept informed about Ghising’s movement over cellphones,” the official said.

Gurung, a resident of Mirik in Kurseong, is a dealer of precious Tibetan stones and gems. Vijay, Dimple’s husband, and he had drawn up the blueprint of the ambush. Both hold dual citizenship of India and Nepal. While Vijay holds a Nepal citizenship in the name of Dhiren Rai, Gurung goes by the name of Dipendra Rai in the kingdom,” the official said.

He admitted that the dual citizenship issue has now become a stumbling block become the SIT. “The Nepal police are touchy about handing over any of its subjects. However, a SIT unit will reach Nepal’s Ilam district tomorrow to cake charge of Gurung. We hope to piece together the remaining missing links in the ambush,” the investigator added.

Confirming that militant Gorkha leader Chhattray Subba was still being sheltered by Naxalite guerrillas in their hill hideouts in Ilam, the official said: “Though we had made initial contacts with the GLO chief, we have not been able to bring him overground. We have time and again been discouraged by our Nepal counterparts to venture into the MCC-dominated region where Subba is holed up. The Nepalese police themselves do not dare venture into these areas, where the Maoists virtually run a parallel government.”

   

 
 
BUDDHA PROMISES INFOTECH SCHOOL BOOM 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
The state government today held a brainstorming session to figure out ways to boost information technology (IT) education in Bengal.

Addressing the fact that Bengal lags way behind many states as far as IT education is concerned, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sat with senior ministers to set in course an immediate plan of action.

After holding talks with higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty, technical education minister Bangsagopal Chowdhury and municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharjee, the chief minister agreed to set up 200 IT schools in the private and the joint sector.

“The southern states begun IT schools much earlier and introduced capitation fees for admission. But we have begun only after the Supreme Court laid down specific norms about the fee structure of private colleges,” he said.

“We will at the same time introduce IT in general degree courses with the help of private companies,” he added. These diploma courses will increase IT awareness among general stream students, the minister added. At present, Bengal has about 112 colleges where engineering, electronics and IT are taught.

The state government, while increasing IT schools in all districts, will develop four centres at Salt Lake, Durgapur, Kalyani and Siliguri as IT education habitats. “We have the Institute of Computer Engineers and Webel already involved in opening up new schools. Besides we have spoken to IBM and the Tatas who have shown a keen interest in helping us achieve excellence in IT education,” Chakraborty said.

   

 
 
OUTCAST BREAKS BARRIERS TO RESURRECT HISTORY 
 
 
FROM KUMARESH GHOSH
 
Pathra (Midnapore), March 7: 
Clutching a bilwapatra (bel leaf), Yasin Pathan joined thousands of devotees on the banks of the Kangsabati for Shiva’s abhishek.

As the sound of conch shells and hymns filled the morning air, sweetened with incense, the emaciated school peon stood happily, watching eleven priests perform the puja that he had made possible.

Seven Shiva idols belonging to the ninth century were returned to their temples today after they were renovated. Pathan has over the years saved 34 temples, ravaged by nature and thieves, from ruin.

The good work attracted the notice of the Planning Commission, which contributed Rs 20 lakh for the renovation. Pathan paid for the abhishek ceremony out of his own pocket.

Even at the time when the Babri masjid was being demolished at Ayodhya in 1992, Pathan had been at work trying to protect the temples here.

Labelled an outcast and barred entry into the village mosque, the unfazed school peon organised youths from both communities under the Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee to prevent further damage to the temples.

But renovation of the temples — examples of splendid medieval architecture — was essential to keep out thieves who were regularly raiding them for relics which they sold for a fortune.

Pathan’s efforts were rewarded in 1994, when the Centre honoured him with the Kabir Award. He met the then deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Pranab Mukherjee, who sanctioned Rs 20 lakh for the project and asked the Archaeological survey of India to take up renovation of some temples.

The idols were shifted out to other temples for the interim period only after Pathan promised that he would pay for the abhishek ceremony when they were brought back.

The poor school peon managed the cost, happy to have saved at least some of the temples. The Archaeological Society has now promised more money for renovating other temples.

“IIT Kharagpur has helped us to prepare the Archaeological Map of Midnapore and the state government has agreed to set up a tourist circle for Midnapore district with their headquarters here,” a beaming Pathan said.

He has authored a book on Pathra’s historical relics, which the Indian Council of Historical Research has agreed to publish. His extraordinary labour of love has also been recorded on celluloid in a film directed by Films’ Division director K.G. Das.

   

 
 
GOVT PUTS BALCO UNDER AUDIT SCANNER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 7: 
Stepping up efforts to end the controversy over the Balco sell-off, disinvestment minister Arun Shourie today asked the Comptroller and Auditor-General to scan the deal.

The striking Balco employees sprung a surprise by offering to allow skeleton staff to resume work. The workers, who have been on strike for five days, made the offer to keep the aluminium smelters from shutting down which would have caused extensive damage.

In a letter to Comptroller and Auditor-General V.K. Shunglu, Shourie asked for officials to be assigned to go through the sale records and conduct an audit of the disinvestment in Balco.

The Centre has sold 51 per cent stake in the company to Sterlite Industries for Rs 551.50 crore. The sale sparked a controversy with the Opposition alleging that the public sector unit was undervalued.

Questions have also been raised over whether the Centre has the right to transfer mining leases in tribal areas to a private company.

Shourie had promised an audit of all disinvestment decisions by the CAG once they had been implemented. Officials said his letter today was a follow-up to this announcement.

While the audit decision was expected, the union’s offer to keep its plant smelter alive was not. Balco union officials in Korba said: “We held a discussion at the core committee of the Balco Bachao Sanyukta Abhiyan Samiti and, after that, with the management last night and decided to provide them manpower today to keep the plant cells alive.”

Balco Bachao Andolan leader Brhama Singh said workers deputed to help out “will do the job without taking any payment and the employees going inside will not mark their attendance”.

The management had given a list of 125 workers needed to keep the plant “alive”, he added.

But the general manager (personnel and administration), Shaheer Ahmed, said the Balco management had yet to make up its mind on the offer.

Another official said: “Although we needed manpower since the second day of the indefinite strike, we have to consider whether we can allow them inside the plant considering safety aspects.” Following the shutdown, Balco had incurred a loss of Rs 2 crore, he added.

While restraining the Chhattisgarh government from snapping essential services to the Korba plant, the Supreme Court iterated that only the apex court would deal with the selloff controversy.

The order, issued by Judges B.N. Kirpal and V.N. Khare, came on a fresh application by the Centre that the state was helping workers disrupt the functioning of the aluminium plant.

Reacting to the restraining order, an elated Shourie said he “hoped the Chhattisgarh government will now see reason”.

The judges, who heard the case at Kirpal’s residence this evening, however, allowed the Chhattisgarh revenue court to sit in judgment on the notices it had issued the Centre and Sterlite officials.

The revenue court is pursuing charges that the transfer of mining lease on tribal land to Sterlite violates law.

But the Supreme Court asked the revenue court not to issue any final judgment while the apex court was considering the intricacies of related issues. The next hearing on this petition will be on March 12.

   

 
 
ADVANI SHUTS HURRIYAT OUT OF TRUCE TALKS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 7: 
Emboldened by muted criticism from the Opposition, L.K. Advani today had no hesitation in admitting in the Rajya Sabha that the ceasefire had not really checked the killings in Jammu and Kashmir.

The home minister said the government had plans to hold talks with militant groups and, without going into details, dropped enough hints that the All-Party Hurriyat Conference was still part of its agenda.

Advani took advantage of the fact that the proposal to extend the truce had earlier been ratified in all-party meeting. He made it clear that the Centre had done nothing that was not discussed with Opposition parties.

Even its ally, the Shiv Sena, which has a known critical standpoint on the ceasefire, lacked punch as Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam did not try to put the government on the mat.

The home minister, who did not have to broach the embarrassing subject of lack of intelligence inputs, blamed Pakistan for sponsoring cross-border terrorism. “We want Pakistan to exert pressure on militant groups to stop the sponsorship of terrorism in Kashmir,” he said.

Advani ruled out the possibility of any tripartite talks to end the violence. He insisted that the Hurriyat could at best play the role of a broker and that Pakistan and India — if and when they sat down for dialogue — would only face each other across the table.

Putting forward his arguments for the ceasefire, Advani said that during the truce period, militant raids may not have decreased but there had been hardly any shelling across the international border and the Line of Control.

When asked whether international considerations had outweighed other factors, he parried the question.

The home minister argued that before each declaration of ceasefire, views of the military establishment had been both sought and carefully considered. The happiness or the unhappiness of the army had been taken into account before going ahead with the ceasefire strategy, he maintained.

Besides, the army still retained its powers to go out and strike at targets if they feared being attacked, Advani said, adding that it was not as if the army had been disarmed.

With House members agreeing across the political spectrum that Kashmiris themselves had welcomed the ceasefire policy, Advani said the people of the state were hardly involved in the current military operations. It was the mercenaries who were behind the recent raids and planning and executing them, he said.

The home minister said as many as 370 incidents had taken place this year which had resulted in the death of 38 security force personnel, 74 civilians and 78 militants.

In 169 incidents of militant attacks in February, as many as 20 security force personnel, 50 civilians and 54 militants were killed, he said.

   

 
 
AZHAR’S CATWALK WITH A CAUSE 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, March 7: 
If Mohammed Azharuddin chose an iftaar to end his self-imposed sabbatical, he has opted for a catwalk with a cause to begin his long march back to the celeb circle.

The former cricket captain’s lawyer told reporters here that the Azhar-Sangeeta Management Services would organise a fashion show on March 11 where “top designers and models” like Wendell Rodricks, Gitanjali Kashyap, Manish Malhotra, Madhu Sapre and John Abraham would participate.

This is the event-management company’s first big show since it was launched in November 2000. Azhar, who plans to contribute Rs 50 lakh for the quake affected, would hold more such shows down south to raise money for the quake fund, his lawyer said.

The disgraced cricketer had gone into exile following the life ban, but resurfaced at the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen iftaar, where he shared a table with the Andhra chief minister. Later, his presence at Chandrababu Naidu’s iftaar had stirred up a controversy, with Naidu claiming that he had not invited Azhar.

The lawyer’s announcement came after Azhar filed a writ petition in the city civil court where the cricketer questioned the validity of former CBI joint-director K. Madhavan’s appointment as inquiry commissioner in the match-fix scandal.

In a special application before the court of sessions judge J. Shyam Sunder Rao, the cricketer’s counsel, T. Jagdeesh, also sought copies of the BCCI resolution banning him for life.

The judge directed the counsel for both the BCCI and Madhavan to file their counter-affidavit by March 20.

Jagdeesh contended that details of Madhavan’s appointment were not found in the earlier affidavits and asked the judge to tell the board to furnish a copy of the documents.

Azhar’s earlier petition in January challenging the life ban had charged the board with bias and said that the match-fix probe was not carried out in a transparent manner.

Azhar said Madhavan’s appointment as inquiry commissioner was “illegal and arbitrary”. He also questioned the method of enquiry and said it “was not at all open, transparent, fair and independent.”

   

 
 
JAMMERS SILENCE SOUND OF CELLS 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, March 7: 
Where the stick does not work, technology does. Tired of asking MPs not to bring their cellphones to Parliament, the presiding officers have installed jammers in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The General Purpose Committee of the Lok Sabha had earlier recommended banning cellphones inside the House, but in vain. Not only did the members continue to bring mobile phones, they did not even bother to switch them off.

On February 19, cellphones rang six times while President K.R. Narayanan was addressing the joint session in Central Hall and even as the national anthem was playing, embarrassing the Speaker, Rajya Sabha chairman and the Prime Minister, among others. Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar was one of the MPs who forgot to switch off his cellphone.

Since the deactivators are portable, they can be put up in the Central Hall when there is a function or a joint session. There is no plan to instal the device, costing Rs 75,000, in the Central Hall permanently as it would inconvenience members who want to use the cellphones for urgent discussions.

The deactivators will not hamper the frequency of phones used by the Special Protection Group (SPG), in charge of the security of VIPs, or cellphones used in the offices in Parliament complex. The jammers will not disturb the telecast of television sets installed in Parliament either.

The decision to instal the jammers was taken by Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi and Rajya Sabha chairman Krishan Kant after discussions with leaders of various parties, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said.

A trial run of the jammers, developed by Hyderabad-based Astra Microwave Products Limited, was conducted yesterday. The device was installed in the Rajya Sabha at 11 am and in the Lok Sabha at 3 pm.

“We experimented yesterday and checked if they cause problems for microphones, television sets and the emergency system. But they don’t,” Mahajan said. He added that all parties had agreed to the proposal.

When reports of cellphones ringing during the President’s address at the start of the budget session appeared in the media, the Astra Microwave Products Limited wrote to the Speaker, offering its technology to help maintain decorum in Parliament. Presiding officers of both Houses fell for the proposal.

   

 
 
CROSSFIRE OVER KUTCH & KUMBH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 7: 
The BJP today slammed Sonia Gandhi for criticising the Centre on “flimsy” grounds while the Opposition took on the Vajpayee government for its “failure” to handle the Kargil war and relief in Gujarat.

Moving the motion of thanks on the President’s address in the Lok Sabha, BJP member Vijay Kumar Malhotra claimed that the Congress’ kisan rally was a flop and alleged that Sonia misled fa-rmers on the import of foodgrain.

Malhotra said the Congress had won only one of the 11 by-elections held recently and added that Sonia’s “bid to politicise” the Gujarat quake, the farmers’ issues and her “half-dip” in the Kumbh would not yield results.

The Opposition, led by the Congress, castigated the government for “discrimination” in the distribution of relief along caste, religious and political lines in Gujarat and alleged that rescue operations in Kutch were stopped “abruptly”.

Objecting to Malhotra “misleading” the House, Congress MP Shivraj Patil pointed out that Sonia had only repeated what quake victims told her when she visited Gujarat.

When Malhotra criticised the Congress chief’s reported statement that Vajpayee did not know how to run the government, Patil protested loudly and said she had not named the Prime Minister.

Congress MP Sushil Kumar Shinde said the political leadership and the intelligence set-up were caught unawares when the Kargil intrusion took place.

Shinde added that the country’s economic situation was “grave” and the budget was aimed at benefiting the rich and the multinationals at the cost of the common man.

Earlier, the treasury benches were embarrassed when Malhotra moved the motion of thanks and Telugu Desam Party member S. Venugopalachari, who was to second the motion, was missing. Opposition members said this was “grossly irresponsible” and raised questions about the rules.

Amid the din, Sushil Kumar Shinde stood up and offered to second the motion. But Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi allowed Malhotra to start his speech. The Desam member walked in just after Malhotra started speaking and Balayogi told him to second the motion after he had finished.

Malhotra claimed the country had “progressed” under the BJP-led coalition despite economic sanctions imposed after Pokhran-II, the Kargil war, the Orissa supercyclone and the Gujarat quake.

As he tried to put the Opposition on the backfoot for assailing the government on attacks on minorities, quoting from reports of the National Commission for Minorities, Congress member A. C. Jose and CPM’s Premajam charged him with painting a distorted picture.

   

 
 
AMNESTY YANKS COVERS OFF WIFE-TORTURE SHAME 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 7: 
It is an impassioned call for ending global violence against women.

Released by Amnesty International on the eve of the International Day for Women, Broken Bodies and Shattered Minds catalogues the horror of violence suffered by women in the hands of not just strangers, but their near and dear ones.

“In India, studies have found that more than 40 per cent of married women are repeatedly kicked, slapped and sexually abused by husbands disaffected with cooking, cleaning and often because of jealousy,” it states.

The report could not have been better timed, feel women’s organisations fighting for 33 per cent reservation of seats in Parliament and Assemblies. “It exposes the fact that hidden behind all programmes and policies formulated by all governments is a lack a political will to ensure protection for the girl child and women,” says Jyotsna Chatterjee of Joint Women’s Programme.

In 1998, India said there were as many as 6,929 dowry deaths, cutting across class, caste and religion. “Although no one knows the number of Indian women beaten, burned or otherwise physically abused for not bringing enough dowry, the government’s own statement gives us some indication of its extent,” says Amnesty. And this, despite an anti-dowry law.

Women’s organisations have been underlining the rise in all forms of violence against women, an observation corroborated by the Amnesty report. Taking into consideration the spiralling graph of crime against women both within and outside homes, the government has planned a series of Bills that they hope will act as a deterrent.

But the Amnesty report has strong words against legal redress, not just in India but across the globe. “Governments the world over have failed to provide legal succour. Inadequate laws and institutional failings abound,” says the report.

Showing that the statistics of violence against women spill over from one country to another, Amnesty says: “Violence against women feeds gender discrimination and serves to reinforce it.”

According to World Bank reports, 20 per cent of women around the world have been physically assaulted, sexually abused. In a capitalist country like the United States, a woman is battered every 15 seconds.

In India, women’s organisations echoed Amnesty’s scepticism. The Vajpayee government has declared 2001 as the year for women’s empowerment. But it has done little to stop the grinding wheel of gender discrimination.

Census commission official J.K. Banthia recently expressed apprehensions about a further fall in the male-female ratio. “Despite so many programmes for the girl child, we have not been able to ensure her survival. Even if she survives as a foetus, she is killed after being born,” says Chatterjee.

If foeticide and infanticide are tarring India, African countries are continuing with the practice of mutilating female genitals. The Amnesty report says such practices abound on the pretext of cultural and social traditions.

The picture that comes through the report is as stark and relentless as it moves from West to East, from North to South. In the US, domestic workers without legal status are treated as forced labour. In the United Kingdom, in one year alone — 1987-88 — 2,000 cases of physical assault and sexual violence were reported among domestic workers.

In Saudi Arabia, domestic workers from south-east Asia cannot leave the house even if they are desperately looking for help. “Women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to go out in public without being escorted by a male relative,” the report pointed out.

   
 

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