Wildcat strike at oil nerve centres
Woman shot dead over family dispute
Pollution board raises stink
Haldia mishap
Sangh issues stern shake-up call to Atal
Gujarat waits for Clinton boost
Pak border claim draws India fire
Sonia turns to new battleground
BJP claims feelers from Cong camp
Spy frame-up proof in book

 
 
WILDCAT STRIKE AT OIL NERVE CENTRES 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 3: 
The city and the districts face an acute scarcity of petrol, diesel, kerosene and cooking gas as the Citu-led Indian Oil Corporation Shramik Union has been on flash strike since last morning at the company’s installations.

Loading of petrol, diesel and kerosene has stopped at Indian Oil’s installations at Mourigram, Budge Budge, Siliguri and Rajbandh. Bottling of cooking gas cylinders at the Kalyani and Durgapur plants have also come to a halt, a spokesman for the company said.

The Citu-affiliated union is demanding the immediate implementation of the agreement on wages signed between the management and 20 labour groups in January, the spokesman said.

Shramik Union members gheraoed Indian Oil executive director M.C. Sachdeva in his office at the company’s headquarters in Dhakuria yesterday and today.

“The Intuc-led employees’ union had opposed the agreement. Subsequently, the management referred the case to the Central labour commissioner where it will come up for hearing on April 10. The agreement cannot be implemented until the case is settled with the CLC,” the spokesman said.

The Citu-led employees’ union, which is not recognised, had initially called a strike on March 21 and then deferred it to April 5. “But, suddenly they (Citu-led union) began a wildcat strike without any notice from yesterday. It is illegal,” said an Indian Oil official.

The company has informed the state government about the strike. Transport secretary D.M. Kanwar said tonight that food commissioner Ajoy Sinha, along with officials from the labour department, was trying to work out a solution. The labour department is likely to convene a meeting on the issue tomorrow.

An Indian Oil official said that as a result of the strike 80 per cent of the 420 petrol pumps belonging to the company’s dealers in the state have already been severely affected. Eighty-five of the 420 pumps are in Calcutta and its suburbs.

Indian Oil supplies 80 kilo litres of petrol, 200 kilo litres of diesel and 35,000 cooking gas cylinders to Calcutta every day.

Petrol, diesel and kerosene arrive in Calcutta from the company’s installation at Mourigram in Howrah. Cooking gas cylinders come to the city and the districts from its bottling plants at Kalyani and Durgapur. The supply of petrol and diesel to north Bengal is looked after by the Siliguri installation.

“If the strike goes on for another couple of days, there will be a severe crisis of petrol and diesel in Calcutta. Kitchens will also have to do without cooking gas and kerosene,” said Joydeb Sarkar, general secretary of the West Bengal Petroleum Dealers’ Association.

Sarkar said that as a result of the strike, hundreds of oil tankers have lined up the roads leading to the installations in Mourigram, Siliguri and Rajbandh.

“When faced with this kind of situation, we normally take help from other oil companies like Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum. But this time, they have not been able to help us much as they are facing similar industrial relations problems,” an Indian Oil official said.

“If the strike continues, bus mini-bus and taxi services will be affected during the next few days. Supply to essential services like the fire brigade will also be hit,” sources said.

   

 
 
WOMAN SHOT DEAD OVER FAMILY DISPUTE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 3: 
A 41-year-old housewife was shot dead by four assailants last night in her residence at Jogacha in Habra area of North 24-Parganas.

The victim, identified as Sapna Chowdhury, was taken to a local hospital and later shifted to R.G. Kar Hospital where she died of wounds.

Her husband Sagarlal Chowdhury, a former employee of Indian Oil, is in hospital with serious injuries.

Preliminary investigation revealed that a family feud could be the reason for the attack. “We are getting details of the family’s background,” a police official said.

Around 10.30 pm yesterday, when Sapna along with her husband and two daughters were getting ready for dinner, the door-bell rang. The moment Sagarlal unlocked the wooden door, the criminals barged in and aimed their revolvers at him. The assailants opened fire from point-blank range.

Hearing the noise, Sapna rushed out of the dining-room. Seeing her, the trigger-happy criminals fired at her. The bullets pierced her chest and shoulder.

The four men walked out of the house before the neighbours realised what had happened. The operation lasted less than a minute.

Once the neighbours reached the Chowdhurys’ residence, they saw Sapna and her husband lying in a pool of blood. They first took the couple to the Habra hospital, where the doctors referred Sapna to a city hospital.

As news of the murder reached the district headquarters in Barasat, senior police officials led by additional superintendent Praveen Kumar rushed to the site.

Local residents alleged that anti-social activities had increased in the area over the past few months. They demanded the immediate arrest of the assailants and a police picket.

Ramesh Nandi, a resident of Jogacha, said: “The (Chowdhury) family has been living here for the past five years. We do not have any information about any family feud.”

“Anti-social activities are increasing day by day. Police are aware of the soaring crime graph in Habra and its nearby areas. Surprisingly, no action has so far been taken to arrest the local hoodlums,” alleged Biswajit Das, a resident.

No arrests have been made as yet. Superintendent of police Kuldeep Singh said: “The motive behind the murder is yet to be ascertained. A massive manhunt is on to track down the culprits. We are raiding different hideouts.”

Mother suicide: A 24-year old woman committed suicide with her four-year-old son in Sonarpur. Police have arrested her husband.

The victim, Malati Jha, lived with her husband Shewcharan, a driver, and son Sourav in a rented house.

   

 
 
POLLUTION BOARD RAISES STINK 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, April 3: 
The West Bengal Pollution Control Board today filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that toxic tanneries should be shifted only after the effluent treatment plant is ready.

On January 30, the Supreme Court had ordered that the tanneries should be shifted from eastern Calcutta to the leather complex coming up near Bantala. The government said the common effluent treatment plant (CETP) would become operational by 2003 and until then, it would take some temporary steps to check pollution.

The government decided to provide the toxic plants with mobile chrome recovery units and equalisation tanks as suggested by the Central Leather Research Institute.

The pollution control board says that “it is practically impossible to store raw effluents in equalisation tanks till the CETP is built and becomes operational”.

Arguing that the temporary measures would not help check pollution, the affidavit claims that the entire city would stink of “offensive malodour” if raw effluents were stored in equalisation tanks till January 2003. Besides, the board claims, if the organic waste is stored even for five to 10 days, toxic gas would come out.

The board added that the government did not consult it while deciding on the steps to be taken following the apex court’s order. The case is coming up tomorrow before the division bench of Justice M.B. Shah and Justice S.N. Variava.

“In our opinion, this is not a technically feasible proposal,” the board states in its affidavit. “In reality, the raw effluent generated from the tanneries operating from Calcutta Leather Complex will be discharged directly into the storm water canal.”

The affidavit says the waste water flowing out of the more than 500 tanneries “ultimately finds its way to the storm water canal without any treatment”.

“If the tanneries are shifted to CLC, raw effluent containing high concentration of pollutants will mix with water from the storm water canal which will be utilised on the way to the Kultigong river by cultivators for agricultural purposes and also in the fisheries. This will create serious environmental problems in downstream areas,” the board said.

   

 
 
HALDIA MISHAP 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Haldia (Midnapore), April 3: 
The wife of a teacher at Haldia Institute of Technology was today run over by a lady faculty member.

Radharani Das, a teacher at the institute, was taking her daughter to school when she met Papia Manna, who was also taking her daughter to school. Das offered the Mannas a lift. However, as she drove her car out of the garage, she lost control and ran over her own daughter and the Mannas.

Papia died on the spot. The two children are battling for life at the Haldia hospital.

   

 
 
SANGH ISSUES STERN SHAKE-UP CALL TO ATAL 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, April 3: 
The RSS has given the BJP a wake-up call by serving a virtual chargesheet against it on the cover of the latest issue of Panchajanya, the Sangh mouthpiece.

Posing a question in bold red letters, Kidhar Chalee Bhajapa (Where is the BJP heading?), with a mugshot of new party president K. Jana Krishnamurthi, Panchajanya listed the following charges against the BJP and the Vajpayee government: credibility undermined in the aftermath of Tehelka, indiscipline in the state units, lack of clarity on economic issues, vacillation on Hindutva, failure to project the party’s achievements forcefully, no coordination between party and government, and a mismatch between the need for good governance and the present-day difficulties.

A signed piece on the edit page, Dhwaj jhuke nahee (The flag should not fly half-mast), by Panchajanya editor Tarun Vijay seeks to stir both the government and Krishnamurthi. He began his article by claiming that the BJP’s best critics have always been its own members and sympathisers, for whom the party’s “ideology and ideals” have always been “greater” than any individual — a clear dig at Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“There was Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, there was Deendayal Upadhyaya, both of whom died in martyrdom, but their ideas and ideals lived on and sustained the party organisation,” he wrote.

Vijay, who was embroiled in an unseemly controversy as a jurist for the National Film Awards for allegedly having pushed through the Hindutva line during jury deliberations, endorsed the Tehelka sting operation. “Some people may call it a conspiracy, others may dismiss it as journalism, but Tehelka has definitely undermined the BJP’s credibility. To overcome the crisis, some harsh truths have to be said, some hard facts have to be grappled with and some ruthless steps have to be taken.”

He goes on to say that for the BJP, the party and power are “mere means” to achieve the greater goal of nationalism. “That is why even a small lapse is seen as a fatal mistake by the party worker,” Vijay said.

He alleged that the times were changing and the attitude and image of the present-day ministers, MPs and MLAs neither enhanced the BJP’s stature nor inspired confidence among the cadre. Vijay lamented that far from being a “party with a difference”, the BJP happily gave up its pet issues like abrogation of Article 370, ban on cow slaughter, propagating Hindi and other local languages and introducing a common civil code.

“Keep quiet my friend, this is not the time to raise such issues. This is a convenient way of sweeping these issues aside. Some people, maybe some writers, may be silenced, but time does not remain silent. The BJP leaders’ main problem is that they cannot take any form of criticism. The ministers and leaders have become intolerant of even friendly advice. And this a sign that things have gone wrong because this is a manifestation of arrogance.”

He invoked a quote of former RSS sarsanghchalak Rajju Bhaiyya — “Oh God, give a man everything but spare him from arrogance” — for the benefit of the BJP leadership.

The Panchajanya editor then slammed the government for its economic policies, a favourite pastime of the Sangh. “The market is inundated with Chinese goods, but is anyone worried? If American apples are sold in the Delhi market, what will be the fate of Himachal’s fruits? Such questions may not be to the leadership’s liking, but they will be forced to reckon with them and search for answers,” he stressed.

Welcoming Krishnamurthi’s anointment as BJP chief, Vijay, however, said he would be able to work effectively only if the others were united in the “endeavour” to give the BJP a new face and form.

The subtle, but persistent, pressure on the government from the Sangh has been interpreted by the BJP in two ways: one, to force the Prime Minister to concede some of its demands, notably dropping PMO officials, Brajesh Mishra and N.K. Singh, or, at least, whittling the former’s mandate; two, to bring Vajpayee down a peg or two in the cadre’s esteem.

   

 
 
GUJARAT WAITS FOR CLINTON BOOST 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, April 3: 
Bill Clinton’s visit to quake-ravaged Kutch as a representative of the American-India Foundation is expected to speed up rehabilitation and reconstruction with the active and long-term involvement of the NRI organisation.

The former US President will touch down at Bhuj town and go to Anjar, where nearly 400 schoolchildren died on January 26 while participating in a Republic Day function. Clinton is said to have expressed a desire to visit Anjar, where he will inaugurate a memorial. He will also visit the worst-hit Ratanal village.

Relief is expected to receive a boost as the foundation plans to help with the rehabilitation of 100 villages, for which Clinton helped raise funds. The money will be channelled through selected NGOs. In all, the foundation promises to mobilise Rs 50 million “to rebuild” Gujarat.

In the first phase, 40 villages will be adopted. The foundation is also keen on rebuilding the destroyed Bhuj hospital.

Clinton will be accompanied by leading consultants and experts in disaster management, who are willing to offer their services. “We plan to set up a permanent office in Gujarat to monitor rehabilitation. Ours is a 10-year term project,” foundation vice-chairman Mike Patel told reporters here today.

Refusing to comment on the pace of rehabilitation, he said: “We are not here to criticise the government. We are here to assist the government and help in rehabilitation of quake-ravaged Kutch.”

Patel, however, clarified that the foundation’s funds will be handed over to select NGOs, not the state government. The reason, he said, “is that we want to be a partner in the process which is not possible if we hand over the money to the chief minister”.

The foundation has short-listed nine NGOs in Gujarat whose representatives will meet Clinton on Thursday morning in Ahmedabad. Clinton will meet chief minister Keshubhai Patel and visit Gandhi Ashram before leaving for Mumbai the same day.

   

 
 
PAK BORDER CLAIM DRAWS INDIA FIRE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, April 3: 
India today took strong objection to Pakistan’s attempt to re-open the Jammu and Kashmir issue by describing the international border as a working border.

The Islamabad foreign office had issued a statement last week criticising Delhi’s decision to carry on construction work in the “working boundary” between the two countries and accused Indian security forces of “unprovoked firing” along the Line of Control (LoC).

India denied Pakistan’s allegation and claimed that its security forces had been acting with “great responsibility and displaying exemplary restraint”.

Delhi also rejected Islamabad’s terminology of a “working boundary” between the two sides. “The term could not be applied to any part of the India-Pakistan boundary, including the boundary between the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan,” foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said.

“The construction of defensive structures along the international boundary in Jammu and Kashmir and in other sectors is undertaken by our security forces from time to time,” Jassal said.

“The nature and type of structure is obviously based on security requirements. In this context, Pakistan’s infiltration of terrorists into the state of Jammu and Kashmir has to be taken into account. Our forces will continue to construct such defensive structures as are needed,” the spokesman added.

India argues that there are three segments in its boundary with Pakistan. These are the international boundary, the LoC, and the Actual Ground Position Line.

According to South Block officials, Pakistan questions the international border and terms it as a “working boundary” to augment its argument that the entire Jammu and Kashmir is disputed.

However, Pakistani officials contended that the working boundary terminology was accepted by the international community. “India’s position on this is not tenable and we are sure it will not get support from any quarter,” a senior Pakistani diplomat said.

The diplomat pointed out that the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was posted along the “working boundary” as well as the “LoC”. He argued that if it was a settled international border there would not have been any reason for international observers to be present.

For Delhi, the UNMOGIP is a contentious issue. India feels that the UN observers posted in Jammu and Kashmir after the UN Security Council resolution of 1948 have become irrelevant after the Simla Agreement of 1972 between Indian and Pakistan. The agreement termed the disputed border between the two sides as Line of Control.

As both sides are party to the agreement, India argues that there is no need for UN observers in Kashmir. However, while Delhi feels the UNMOGIP does not serve any purpose, it is reluctant to ask the United Nations to wind up the office, fearing it would bring back the focus on the Kashmir issue at international fora.

For Pakistan, the continuance of the UNMOGIP strengthens its argument that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed state and the UN group gives it hope of the international community’s involvement in the dispute.

The controversy has been reopened at a time when talks of resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue are doing the rounds and there are indications that the foreign secretaries of the two sides may take the opportunity of a Saarc meeting to return to the negotiating table. Pakistani officials allege that India was trying to break the status quo following the “restraint” shown by Pakistan.

   

 
 
SONIA TURNS TO NEW BATTLEGROUND 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 3: 
An alliance in Bengal sewn up, Sonia Gandhi has begun battling on the Kerala front, where the party’s central election committee today cleared 81 of the 88 seats.

Senior Congress leader K. Karunakaran today walked out of the election committee meeting after Sonia deferred the decision on giving a ticket to his daughter Padmaja.

Sonia asked party general secretaries Ghulam Nabi Azad and Oscar Fernandez to visit Karunakaran’s house and bring him back to the meeting. The octogenarian leader agreed after getting an indication that his daughter would be accommodated. However, till late night, there were no firm indications that Padmaja would be given a ticket.

Congress leaders said it was ironical that Karunakaran was insisting on a ticket for his daughter. A report submitted by him had asked the leadership to curb the practice of giving tickets to relatives of party leaders, which had led to the debacle in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi in 1993, they pointed out.

In Kerala, there is a no-holds-barred fight between three groups of the state Congress. Karunakaran wants a seat for his daughter, the chief minister’s post for his MP son Murlidharan and tickets for dozens of supporters.

Sonia, however, overruled him and tried to strike a balance among the Karunakaran group, the A.K. Antony faction and the third faction represented by Ramesh Chennithala. The Congress chief has made it clear that the party will project Antony — “Mr Clean” —as the chief minister.

Sonia also had a difficult time pacifying A.R. Antulay, who threatened to resign as head of the Congress minorities department. Antulay was upset over the non-representation of minorities in the screening and selection panels.

Sonia asked Fernandez to issue a circular, but Antulay is still sulking, pointing out that the directive was not being followed in Assam.

The minorities department chief wants Sonia to ensure a 20 per cent quota for Muslim candidates in Bengal and Kerala. In Assam, he is hopeful of getting 35 per cent of the seats for minorities in view of the demographic representation in the state.

   

 
 
BJP CLAIMS FEELERS FROM CONG CAMP 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 3: 
The Bengal BJP today claimed to have roped in hundreds of workers and party functionaries from both the Congress and the Trinamul Congress in the wake of two parties forging an electoral alliance for the coming Assembly elections.

The state BJP leadership said it had received feelers from at least eight out of 17 Congress MLAs who may be denied party tickets as a result of the Congress-Trinamul alliance.

Union minister of state for communication and state BJP leader Tapan Sikdar told a news conference this afternoon that a section of state-level Congress functionaries and some councillors from Calcutta Municipal Corporation have also got in touch with the BJP leadership.

Sikdar, however, said all those who join the party will not be nominated by the BJP this time. The BJP leader said the state election committee will meet tomorrow to finalise the list of candidates, which has to be ratified by the central leadership.

“We have specific information that a good number of Congress functionaries are upset at the way the (Congress) high command has made an abject surrender to Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee for forging an electoral alliance,” he said.

BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan claimed that several leaders from the state Congress’ minority cell had also contacted the party during the last few days.

Sikdar admitted Manoj Poddar, son of the late Congress MLA from Jorasanko, Deoki Nandan Poddar, into the party by offering him a ticket for the Jorasanko Assembly constituency in central Calcutta. Congress sources said Manoj switched over to the BJP after he was denied the Congress ticket from Jorasanko.

Asked about the party’s overtures to Trinamul, Sikdar said at least a dozen Trinamul functionaries, including the Purulia Municipality chairman, had joined the party.

However, both Congress and Trinamul leaders discounted Sikdar’s claim and said no one had approached the BJP. “Cornered over the Tehelka episode, the state BJP is desperate to divert people’s attention by indulging in falsehood,” said Congress leader Kumud Bhattacharya.

Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy added that no important leader of his party had switched over to the BJP.

In another development, to check dissidence, the state BJP has decided to offer key posts to those who have stopped coming to the party headquarters to protest Sikdar’s nominee Asim Ghosh being made state unit president.

“We will soon present some of our dissidents to show you how they were engaged by Mamata to break the party on the eve of its organisational elections last year,” said Sikdar.

   

 
 
SPY FRAME-UP PROOF IN BOOK 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, April 3: 
The spy who never was is set to spill the beans in a tell-all novel.

“It will be based on fact. It is about my nightmarish experience,” says senior Indian Space Research Organisation scientist S. Nambinarayanan, framed for leaking space secrets in the 1994 Isro spy scandal but later cleared by the CBI.

Nambinarayanan was recently awarded Rs 10 lakh interim damages by the National Human Rights Commission for gross violation of human rights. The Kerala government and the Intelligence Bureau have been directed to take action against officials involved in framing him.

A separate civil suit filed by Nambinarayanan against the Kerala government for compensation of Rs 1 crore is being heard in a court in Thiruvananthapuram.

The spy thriller could well unravel the mystery behind the 1994 scandal which baffled everyone from scientists to commoners. “There is certainly more to it than meets the eye,” says Nambinarayanan, who lived out the ordeal with stoicism and prayer.

But the bespectacled Nambinarayanan, who resembles a physicist with a flowing white beard, refuses to give the denouement away. All he says is his novel will be corroborated by evidence.

“I have done my own investigation,” says Nambinarayanan, whose career as deputy director of Isro’s Liquid Propulsion Centre in Thiruvananthapuram went into a tailspin after a charge of spying was brought against him by Kerala Police and the IB.

The centre, where the scientist worked, was involved with the indigenisation of the cryogenic engine project.

India began working on its own engine after Russia reneged on a deal under pressure from the US, which believes Isro is helping with the country’s missile programme.

In October 1994, Kerala Police claimed to have unearthed a spy ring with the arrest of a Maldivian woman, Mariam Rasheeda, who tried to ensnare India’s top space scientists. The IB suspected the hand of major international space players in the “scandal”.

The police then charged Rasheeda with collecting vital information on India’s space programmes through Nambinarayanan.

The charge was later rubbished by the CBI, which probed the case and recommended that it be withdrawn from the chief judicial magistrate’s court at Ernakulam.

“I was just trapped. There was nothing against me. Right from the beginning, I had the conviction that my name would be cleared,” says Nambinarayanan, recalling the physical and mental torture he went through at the hands of investigators. But what hurt most was the charge of treason against him.

Nambinarayanan says the case, besides causing trauma to him and his family, ruined his career.

“But for this, I would have been among the top five in Isro,” regrets the scientist who has put in 30 years of service.

Nambinarayanan is now working as director of advanced technology and planning.

   
 

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