Quake-struck & Calcutta on Clinton’s April agenda
Rail baton back in Nitish hand
Brief break in House shutdown
Tiger growls at Atal aides
Sangh turns rebuilder
Swoop on child abusers
Police run out of gas
Road robbers on loot spree
Student dies before exam
Teacher in ambush net

 
 
QUAKE-STRUCK & CALCUTTA ON CLINTON’S APRIL AGENDA 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, March 20: 
Former US President Bill Clinton is likely to visit Calcutta on April 6 as part of his week-long tour of India beginning early next month.

Clinton’s visit tentatively begins on April 3. Besides Calcutta, he is expected to visit Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and earthquake-affected Gujarat.

The former President’s main objective of coming to Calcutta is to visit the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa.

South Block today announced that foreign minister Jaswant Singh will be leaving for the US next month for talks with secretary of state Colin Powell.

Singh will meet with Powell and other senior officials of the George W. Bush administration between April 5 and 7. This will be his first formal interaction with the Republican administration since it came to power in Washington.

Though he is out of power, Bill Clinton’s forthcoming visit to India is being considered an important event by South Block mandarins.

Clinton, who is considered a friend of India both in the country and elsewhere, is credited with bringing Indo-US relations back on course along with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

It is primarily because of Clinton’s visit to India last year that relations between Delhi and Washington were strengthened.

Though this will be a private visit, the Indian government is planning to extend all courtesies and help to Clinton during his stay here.

While in India, Clinton will meet Vajpayee and other senior members of the Indian leadership and also interact with captains of Indian business and industry.

The government is aware that though Clinton stepped out of the White House after completing his second term, he remains as charismatic as ever.

Strong security arrangements will be made for the former president and great significance attached to his visit even if diplomatically it may not mean much.

Soon after the Gujarat earthquake, Clinton had spoken to the Vajpayee to express his sympathies for the devastation and offered his help in a manner that Delhi felt was required to rehabilitate victims of the quake.

Subsequently the former US President became a member of the American-India Foundation, which plans to work towards the rehabilitation of 100 devastated villages in Gujarat.

   

 
 
RAIL BATON BACK IN NITISH HAND 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 20: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee appears to have closed the door on Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

Agriculture minister Nitish Kumar, who had blasted Mamata on Sunday for “enacting a drama”, was today given additional charge of the railway ministry, even as efforts were on to pacify Samata Party rebels against Kumar and two other ministers rejoining the government.

Kumar, who withdrew his resignation yesterday along with Samata ministers Digvijay Singh and V. Srinivas Prasad, held the railway portfolio before it was given to Mamata. The Trinamul chief had pulled out of the government and withdrawn support to the coalition last week, demanding the resignation of George Fernandes as defence minister.

Last night, Kumar hosted a dinner in a bid to placate the six rebel MPs who had yesterday threatened to split the party protesting the three ministers’ somersault. The dissidents appeared to have softened their stand after the dinner.

Reacting to the objection raised by the rebels, Kumar said there was only one disgruntled MP (read Prabhunath Singh) who was in the habit of criticising “and we ignore him”.

Dissident MP Raghunath Jha, who had attended the rebels’ meeting yesterday, distanced himself from Prabhunath today, saying: “The party is one and united.” He added that Prabhunath’s statements were his personal views.

Seeking to downplay differences among the MPs, Kumar and minister of state for railways Digvijay Singh said separately that there was no crisis in the party and the parliamentary party was “intact”.

Commenting on the dissident MPs’ demand for a cleanup of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), senior Samata leader and National Democratic Alliance convener Fernandes said: “I will try to persuade them.”

Earlier in the day, Fernandes called on President K.R. Narayanan but declined to divulge details. Party sources, however, said it was a courtesy call as Fernandes, after stepping down as defence minister, had not met the President, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces.

Assembly furore

The Gujarat Assembly today witnessed noisy scenes over the Tehelka exposé with the Congress staging a walkout after being denied permission to raise an issue regarding Bangaru Laxman.

Congress member Naresh Rawal said the disgraced former BJP president “has become a byword for corruption” and suggested that he “should be disqualified” and the Assembly should recall the Rajya Sabha member. There are legal provisions to “disqualify such corrupt representatives who unfortunately represent Gujarat in the Rajya Sabha”, he added.

The remarks infuriated BJP members, leading Speaker Dhirubhai Shah to reprimand him saying that “this House is not supposed to discuss such things. I have not allowed you to raise such an issue”. This prompted the Congress members to walk out, shouting: “Bangaru Laxman chor hai.”

   

 
 
BRIEF BREAK IN HOUSE SHUTDOWN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 20: 
The Lok Sabha today passed a vote-on-account for the general and railway budgets before adjourning for the day amid bedlam with the Opposition demanding the government’s resignation.

Though the stand-off between the government and the Opposition continued over the Tehelka expose, the latter today agreed to allow passage of a vote-on-account to meet government expenditure beyond March 31 to avert a constitutional crisis.

This year’s budgeted expenses have sanction till March 31. To spend any money beyond that date, the government has to either pass the budget for 2001-02 or clear a vote-on-account for the interim period.

The Rajya Sabha, which also adjourned amid pandemonium, is expected to pass the vote-on-account tomorrow. Both Houses will adjourn on Friday before it breaks for a three-week recess.

The vote-on-account was passed by voice vote without any discussion even as Opposition members stormed the Well of the Lok Sabha reiterating their demand for the resignation of the NDA government.

Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi adjourned the House till tomorrow immediately after the approval of the money Bills.

The vote-on-account for the general budget empowers the government to withdraw up to Rs 1,19,411 crore while the one for railways enables withdrawal of Rs 11,802.72 crore.

Had the money Bills not been cleared before March 31, the government would not have been able to draw from the consolidated fund to pay salaries and meet other expenditure for three months from April to July till the budgets were approved.

After the Houses were adjourned, members joined the shouting match outside Parliament. Some sported jackets with slogans against the Congress and its president, Sonia Gandhi.

Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha president Shivraj Singh Chauhan led the shouting brigade of the BJP, but was countered by Opposition members led by Raghuvansh Prasad Singh of the RJD and Suresh Kurup and Subodh Rai of the CPM.

   

 
 
TIGER GROWLS AT ATAL AIDES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, March 20: 
Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray today jumped onto the Opposition bandwagon and demanded removal of the two prime ministerial aides embroiled in the Tehelka controversy.

In a signed editorial in Saamna, the Sena mouthpiece, Thackeray asked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to drop national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and officer on special duty N.K. Singh pending the judicial inquiry ordered.

Thackeray, whose party is a member of the ruling National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, said Vajpayee should also ensure that Ranjan Bhattacharya, his foster son-in-law, had nothing to do with the functioning of the PMO.

[However, the Sena tonight clarified that the Saamna editorial calling for the resignations of the PMO officials did not contain the views of either Thackeray or the party.]

The Sena chief’s sudden public stance appears to be part of a plan to keep the Prime Minister under pressure, while keeping the party’s options open to ally with any new dispensation.

Immediately after Tehelka went public with its videotapes, the Sena chief had called for an inquiry, but desisted from targeting Vajpayee. He had declared that Vajpayee need not resign, a stance he has not changed so far.

Both Mishra and Singh have denied the graft allegations on the Tehelka tapes. A PMO spokesman denied that Bhattacharya was involved in decision-making.

“...if Brajesh Mishra, N.K. Singh and Ranjan Bhattacharya are under suspicion, they must be removed immediately,” the Sena chief said in the editorial.

Thackeray was especially critical of Mishra’s role as the national security adviser. “What role has he been playing as the national security adviser? He has been criticised time and again for lapses ever since he took charge.”

The Sena chief questioned Mishra’s handling of the Indian Airlines aircraft hijack from Kathmandu to Kandahar and his role in the Kargil fiasco.

“Strictures have been passed against him (Mishra) in the Kargil episode. The national security adviser was not available to make a decision when the Indian Airlines aircraft was hijacked from Nepal,” Thackeray said.

Thackeray also questioned Vajpayee’s decision to choose Mishra and Singh as his aides. “Why choose people whose functioning are criticised all the time?” he asked.

   

 
 
SANGH TURNS REBUILDER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 20: 
Not so long ago, the RSS had flagged off a violent movement to destroy the Babri masjid. Today they want to piece together stone by stone statues destroyed by others, not so different from themselves.

Samskar Bharati, a cultural outfit of the RSS, wants to rebuild the priceless statues pulled down by the Taliban. The Bamiyan Buddhas razed to the ground in Afghanistan will be cloned in Kulu valley of Himachal Pradesh.

“We are going to get sculptors and artists from all over the country to replicate the statues,” says Ameer Chandra, organising secretary of Samskar Bharati.

They have chosen a monolith stone of the same size and a team of 16 sculptors and artists, led by Samskar Bharati’s Delhi chief Advait Gannayak, will begin work on the project on Buddha Purnima.

Despite the RSS’ known opposition to “videshi” culture, the Samskar Bharati turns a tolerant face to the public. India, its activists say, has always given shelter to the persecuted and will continue to do so. The Samskar Bharati is so ambitious about its project that it said it will try to retrieve a part of the “debris” left by the demolished statues.

Gannayak was a student of Santiniketan and Baroda School of Art. He is also a senior member of an organisation that had attacked Jatin Das two years ago and the organisers of an exhibition the RSS found offending.

“It is sweet irony that Samskar Bharati is outraged by the Taliban, considering it had attacked Arpana Caur’s gallery which was exhibiting M.F. Hussain’s lithograph showing a woman at the tail of Hanuman,” says Ram Rehman of Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat).

The lithograph was titled “Hanuman rescuing Sita”. The title, however, was not given by Hussain. “The RSS was offended because it showed a nude woman,” said Rehman.

Raghu Vyas, senior member of the Samskar Bharati, had led a mob on the rampage and slapped cases against Arpana Caur.

Whatever its track record, the Samskar Bharati has now decided to play the role of the high priest against cultural vandalism. Chandra said the project of rebuilding the Bamiyan statues will gather momentum at the organisation’s celebration of the Bhartiya new year next Monday, marking the beginning of the Indian calendar

“We are going to welcome the dawn of the Indian new year on the banks of Ganga in Varanasi,” said the Samskar Bharati’s organising secretary.

   

 
 
SWOOP ON CHILD ABUSERS 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA
 
Panaji, March 20: 
A Briton and a Goan were arrested yesterday on charges of sodomy and sexually abusing minors.

Seventy-one-year-old Briton, Midleton Colin John, residing in Maria Guest House at Benaulim, was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting and having forceful anal intercourse with two minor boys from Nepal, an official police release said.

In another case of paedophilia, 63-year-old Goan, Lawrence Fernandes, was arrested from Verem in North Goa district, the police added.

Since the early Nineties, paedophilia has been a growing concern in the state. The police had then accidentally stumbled upon the activities of an international paedophile operation — involving people from about half-a-dozen countries — being conducted in the guise of a “home for homeless” children in the suburbs of Margao town.

For long, the government has maintained that this was only a stray case. But citizens’ campaigns have kept up the pressure on the police and other officials, compelling action.

Recently, a filmmaker made a video film on paedophilia in Goa, while citizens’ groups charged that the official network had connived in allowing a couple of jailed suspected paedophiles to flee before facing prosecution.

In Monday’s case, the police acted against John following a complaint lodged by Bernadict D’Souza of “Child Line”, a nationwide network that helps children in distress.

John has been visiting India for the last 20 years and had been to Nepal recently from where he brought the boys aged between 13 and 14. They were staying with him at Benaulim, a former fishing village in South Goa which has turned into a tourist centre.

The Briton was arrested on the suspicion of having physical relationship with the children and a case has been registered under Section 377 of the IPC. The police have sought 14 days remand for conducting investigations.

Fernandes is accused of having oral and anal sex with a 15-year-old boy from Orissa. He is believed to have been employed earlier as a male nurse in the Institute of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour at Altinho.

The boy was one of the labourers from Orissa he had employed for repair work.

About eight days ago, he started to lure him into his house with chocolates and money. “During the last three to four days he forced the boy to have oral and anal sex with him,” the police said.

The victim revealed the episode to other labourers who complained to the police.

   

 
 
POLICE RUN OUT OF GAS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chinsurah, March 20: 
Police in the crime-prone Hooghly district have been severely hit by a drastic cut in fuel allotment.

The government has reduced diesel and petrol allocation to 10 litres per vehicle per day. Earlier, unlimited supply was allowed.

Many police stations in the district have been forced to resort to “foot-patrolling”. This means that they are now able to cover only a fraction of the area patrolled earlier.

Residents fear that this will lead to a spurt in dacoities and other crimes. With Assembly elections round the corner, the administration is worried about the fallout of the decision.

The government move is part of its austerity drive to cut down costs.

Hooghly superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu has written to the home department about the problems being faced by the force and has requested it to increase the quota immediately. There are 22 police stations in the district.

Officials in Writers’ Buildings said similar complaints were pouring in from other districts. “We have already brought it to the notice of the finance department. We will convene a meeting of superintendents of police shortly to review the situation,” an official in the home (police) department said.

“We have received complaints from officials in all 22 police stations in Hooghly regarding lack of fuel. They have been writing to me time and again asking for an increase in fuel quota,” Ramesh Babu said.

He said the administration owed local petrol pumps Rs 5 lakh and its owners have informed in writing that they will not provide diesel to police vehicles unless the dues are cleared.

Intelligence reports suggest that criminals are taking advantage of the policemen’s mobility problem. The reports warn that criminal activities are bound to go up in vulnerable areas such as Arambagh, Dadpur, Goghat, Khanakul, Pursura, Rishra, Konnanagar and Panduah.

“Even when an incident is reported, the police say they do not have enough fuel to reach the spot,” said advocate Sanathan Ghosh of Singur, a town about 20 km from the district headquarters.

The government today sanctioned another post of additional superintendent of police as part of its move to beef up the administration in the rural belt of the district. The additional SP (rural) will be based in Arambagh.

   

 
 
ROAD ROBBERS ON LOOT SPREE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, March 20: 
Road robbers looted Rs 3 lakh in cash and valuables from passengers of a Calcutta-bound bus last night.

As the bus coming from Raigunj in north Dinajpur reached Durgapur under the Itahar police station area, the dacoits whipped out revolvers and bhojalis and went on a looting spree. They also snatched gold chains and bangles worn by women.

Two passengers, Sukumar Pramanick and Bidyut Saha, were hit on the head with revolver butts when they tried to resist. They fell unconscious prompting the other passengers to part with their belongings.

The gang of eight stopped the bus at Bangar near Itahar and escaped. After the dacoits decamped with the booty, the driver drove to Gajole police station in Malda and lodged a complaint around 10 pm.

Police said no arrests have been made till this evening. They added that preliminary investigations revealed that the gangsters were residents of different areas in Malda district.

Police said the dacoits were in no hurry and looted the passengers for over 45 minutes. The two injured passengers were cloth merchants who were going to Howrah to buy stocks. The dacoits looted Rs 80,000 in cash from them.

North Dinajpur superintendent of police A.K. Roy said an inquiry had been ordered into the incident. Roy said the dacoits had boarded the bus from Raigunj. He added that an inquiry had also been ordered as to why a check post set up particularly to prevent dacoities remained unmanned last night and the bus could get past it without a hitch.

The post has policemen with metal detectors and they check long distance night buses on the national highway. “But no one was present to man the checkpost last night,” Roy said.

   

 
 
STUDENT DIES BEFORE EXAM 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, March 20: 
A higher secondary candidate died of heart attack as he was about to enter the examination centre here today.

Board officials said that Subhajit Ghosh (18), a student of Siliguri Boys’ School, fell unconscious at the gate of the examination centre at Margaret school, minutes before the Bengali paper began. Today was the first day of the examination. He was rushed to Siliguri sub-divisional hospital where he was declared “brought dead”.

His family members at Hakimpara said that Subhajit suffered from epilepsy. He was allowed to sit for the exams as the “attacks became infrequent”, his parents added.

   

 
 
TEACHER IN AMBUSH NET 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, March 20: 
As the GNLF reiterated the threat to resume the hill bandh from Monday, police claimed to have made a significant breakthrough with the arrest of an Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League leader.

Mohan Sharma, a teacher and a pro-Gorkhaland leader opposed to Subash Ghising, was picked up from Pachayang secondary school in Sonada under Darjeeling subdivision last night.

Superintendent of police Sanjay Chander said: “We believe Sharma is one of the masterminds of the attack on Ghising. We are now on the verge of cracking the case.”

   
 

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