Trial by fire for love-letter courier boy
Cong leader shot dead
Labourers assault doctors
Indian Oil staff stopped at gate
GNLF renews bandh threat
Quake done, Bill ready to party
Sonia suspends Tehelka charge
Biswas beats drum, Buddha confesses to failures
Naidu dinner damper
Repeat visit raises village hopes

 
 
TRIAL BY FIRE FOR LOVE-LETTER COURIER BOY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bolpur (Birbhum), April 5: 
Relatives of a 14-year-old girl beat up a boy one year her junior and burnt him with a lighter, accusing him of delivering love letters written to her by a local youth.

Police said Paritosh Mondal, a Class VII student, was admitted to the Bolpur health centre with severe burn injuries. His condition deteriorated today.

As soon as news of Paritosh’s worsening condition spread in Bolpur, angry residents marched to the police station and demanded the attest of the girl’s father, Biswanath Das. An FIR has been lodged by Paritosh’s family.

“We have received the complaint. The girl’s father is absconding. After receiving the complaint from the boy’s relatives, we raided the girl’s house several times since yesterday. But we could not find Biswanath. We are searching for him,” said Ajoy Chakraborty, officer in charge of Bolpur police station.

Residents of the area said that on Tuesday, the girl’s family members grabbed Paritosh when he was passing by their house. He was pulled inside and locked in a room, they added.

“Initially, they (the girl’s relatives) beat up Paritosh mercilessly. Then they burnt his hands and other parts of his body with a lighter. We can’t believe that a civilised family can torture a little boy in this way for a small offence,” said Sudhin Saha, a resident of Bolpur.

Tension gripped the locality as residents demanded that police take immediate action against the Das family.

“The Das’ had no right to beat up the boy. If Paritosh was really found to be guilty, they could have informed his parents,” the residents added.

Prasanta Das, the girl’s uncle, alleged that Paritosh was found delivering the letters over the past few days.

“We had first caught him a week ago when we told him not to bring the letters. We caught him again on Tuesday and found a letter in his pocket. It contained filthy jokes,” Das said. He, however, denied that Paritosh was beaten up or tortured by them.

Narayan Mondal, Paritosh’s father, said he and his wife learnt about the incident from the local residents.

“We rushed to their house. We found the house locked from inside and the Das’ kept on beating my child even as we stood outside. We could hear Paritosh crying loudly. We repeatedly requested them to release my son. But they were adamant and even threatened to kill me and my wife for asking them not to beat our child,” Mondal said.

Paritosh was later rescued by the people who took him to the health centre.

The residents threatened to approach the human rights commission and demand strict action against the girl’s family.

   

 
 
CONG LEADER SHOT DEAD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Kandi (Murshidabad), April 5: 
The crime graph in Murshidabad continued to soar with the murder of a Congress gram panchayat member this morning.

Kamalakshya Pandey, 35, was shot dead in front of the house of Atish Sinha, leader of the Congress Legislature Party.

The panchayat member was dragged out of Sinha’s house, where a meeting was being held on the preparations for the Assembly elections, and shot dead.

Murshidabad superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar said preliminary investigations revealed the involvement of supporters of a Naxalite faction in the murder. No one has been arrested so far.

Though a resident of Durgapur village, Pandey had won the last panchayat elections from Santoshpur village which is a Naxalite-dominated area, Kumar said.

In his complaint to the police, Sinha said Pandey had come to his house for an urgent meeting in the morning. Around 9.30 am, Sinha had to go out on personal work and he said he would be back soon.

“I was hardly a few metres away when I heard the gunshots. They (the killers) were four in number. They dragged Pandey out of the house and opened fire. Two of them caught Pandey by his hand and the others fired at his head and ears,” Sinha said.

The assailants, who were shouting “Inquilab zindabad” overpowered four cyclists and fled on their cycles. “Pandey was a very dedicated and tough member of the party and this could be one of the reasons why he had been the target of attack before the elections,” local party supporters said.

Kajal Ghosh, who was with Pandey at the meeting, said: “I was sitting very close to Pandey. The gangsters threatened me at gun-point and said they would kill me if I uttered a word. I shut my eyes in fear.”

The Congress has called a 12-hour bandh tomorrow in Kandi to protest against the murder. They have also demanded immediate arrest of the culprits.

“The people of the locality are terrified after the death of Pandey. Law and order in Kandi has deteriorated sharply. We cannot allow this to continue before the elections,” Sinha said.

   

 
 
LABOURERS ASSAULT DOCTORS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, April 5: 
Seven doctors and two medical staff at the subdivisional hospital here were mercilessly beaten up by construction workers this afternoon.

The doctors, part of the hospital’s inspection committee, were overseeing construction work on the new block within the hospital premises. The building, costing Rs 4 crore, is being sponsored by the World bank under the Indian Public Project-8.

Hospital superintendent Vijay Thapa said trouble started when the inspection team of five doctors raised questions about the quality of the construction work.

“The doctors suspected sub-standard construction and asked the labourers to stop work. A mob of around 100 workers, egged on by the contractor and the site engineer, attacked the doctors with iron rods and batons. The doctors, along with two of their colleagues and a couple of medical staff, were injured. Of the seven doctors, I. Banerjee, Sudhin Das, Saibal Dutta, T.K. Ghosh and Pulak Saha sustained serious wounds,” Thapa said.

Banerjee, who suffered a fractured arm, alleged that the attack was a “pre-planned one” .

“When the contractor’s workers were asked to stop work, some 200 armed labourers appeared from nowhere. They surrounded us, hurled abuses and beat us with rods and batons. The contractor and the engineer instigated the workers,” Banerjee said.

Additional superintendent of police, Siliguri, Ajoy Kumar said 12 people, including the contractor and an engineer, had been arrested. A hospital staff who was found damaging a scooter was also held.

   

 
 
INDIAN OIL STAFF STOPPED AT GATE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 5: 
Citu workers of the Indian Oil Corporation today prevented employees from attending office at the Dhakuria headquarters even as the strike at other installations in Bengal entered the fourth day.

Only M.C. Sachdeva, executive director in charge of the eastern region, was allowed to attend work, a senior Indian Oil official said.

“Nearly 1,000 employees gathered in front of Indian Oil Bhavan in Dhakuria in the morning. They put up a barricade at the main gate and prevented employees from entering. The employees waited about an hour before dispersing. A complaint has been lodged with the Lake police station,” the official said.

The Citu-affiliated Indian Oil Corporation Shramik Union is demanding immediate implementation of the all-India agreement on wages and other demands signed this January.

The strike has pushed the city and the districts to the brink of an acute scarcity of petrol, diesel, kerosene and cooking gas. Loading of petrol, diesel and kerosene have stopped at Indian Oil’s installations in Mourigram, Budge Budge, Siliguri and Rajbandh. Bottling of LPG cylinders at the Kalyani and Durgapur plants have also come to a halt, an IOC spokesman said.

The company was able to bring in about 16,000 cooking gas cylinders from its plants in Balasore and Patna. “Important customers like the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and CSTC were supplied petrol and diesel from other oil companies like Bharat Petroleum and HP,” an official said.

   

 
 
GNLF RENEWS BANDH THREAT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, April 5: 
Slogans of “SP and DM go back” rent the air as the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) observed “Gorkhaland Divas” in Darjeeling today.

At a public rally organised by the GNLF branch committees of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong at Chowk Bazaar in Darjeeling, the leadership called upon the hill residents to brace themselves for the party’s proposed indefinite Darjeeling hill bandh from April 9.

GNLF Darjeeling unit chief Deepak Gurung alleged that the police had failed to arrest the masterminds of the attack on Subash Ghising. “Unless the police arrest all the key masterminds, the party will be left with no other alternative but go in for its indefinite bandh programme,” he said.

   

 
 
QUAKE DONE, BILL READY TO PARTY 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, April 5: 
Straddling two different worlds, Bill Clinton arrived this evening in Mumbai on the second leg of his humanitarian tour, refocusing the world’s attention on Gujarat’s earthquake and carving a new post-retirement niche for himself.

Besieged back home by his latest trouble over his controversial decision to pardon felons just before leaving office, the former US president turned the media’s attention away from him — at least for the time being — to the sufferings of tens of thousands of quake victims in the worst-hit Kutch district.

In the process, he has earned goodwill and support in a country whose emigrants, with their ballooning Silicon Valley affluence, are emerging as a major factor in US politics.

Clinton came on a week-long visit, which will now take him to Calcutta and Delhi, as chairman of the new American-India Foundation, formed by wealthy Indian-American entrepreneurs, executives and doctors.

The group has set a goal of raising $50 million — $ 7 million of it already collected — to rebuild 100 of the 1,000 villages destroyed by the January 26 quake.

“His visit has reminded the world of one of the greatest tragedies in the past 100 years. The state, especially devastated Kutch, is definitely going to benefit from this,’’ Kutch district collector Anil Mukim said.

“The Gujarat earthquake was slipping from people’s memory when Bill Clinton came in. His visit has definitely refocused the world’s attention on the tragedy,’’ said Peter Popham of The Independent, part of the international media contingent covering Clinton’s visit to Bhuj.

Clinton arrived in Mumbai, his second visit in a year, in the evening after holding talks with several NGOs in Ahmedabad during the day on how to rebuild Kutch.

As the six-feet-two American leader, with a silvery mane of hair that added another inch or two to his towering figure, emerged from his chartered Indian Airlines aircraft, he was received by Maharashtra minister of state for home Kripashankar Singh and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar.

Clinton was driven straight to Taj hotel, where he met Pawar, vice-chairman of the National Disaster Management Committee set up by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to rebuild the quake-hit region.

For Clinton, it will, however, not be a “work only’’ trip to the country’s entertainment capital. He will be wining and dining, too.

Clinton will have lunch with Dhirubhai Ambani and his sons, Mukesh and Anil, at their palatial home, a skyscraper called Sea Wind, in the financial capital’s upscale Cuffe Parade.

While it is a rare gesture on the part of a former US president to accept an invitation from the Ambanis to come to their house for lunch, it shows the clout of the country’s richest business family.

Clinton is set to spend his evening tomorrow with the who’s who of Mumbai, including captains of industry and the cream of film and fashion industries, invited by the American-India foundation for a dinner at the Taj hotel.

Among the invitees are the likes of Adi and Parameswar Godrej and the Bachchans, the Roshans and the Dutts of Bollywood. Actress Raveena Tandon made the list apparently because of the national award she won.

Taj had lost out to Oberoi, where Clinton as president had stayed during his visit to Mumbai last year. This time, it is leaving no stone unturned not just to make its “honoured’’ guest’s stay comfortable, but memorable.

A city sculptor is working overtime to complete a half-bust clay statue of the American leader. The statue shows a younger Clinton, with a bewitching smile on his lips.

“Presidents come and go, but the image of Clinton will stay on because of his captivating charm and youthfulness,’’ Binay Wagh, the artist, said.

   

 
 
SONIA SUSPENDS TEHELKA CHARGE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 5: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has abandoned the Tehelka charge. She will not address five public meetings in Nagpur, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Lucknow and Jaipur that were scheduled through the second week of April.

Ostensibly, the reason for cancelling the rallies is Sonia’s “pressing engagements” in connection with the Assembly polls in five states. But party leaders admitted that it had to do with “Tehelka fatigue”.

More important, the move is aimed at paving the way for the Congress’ return to Parliament though the Vajpayee regime has not conceded any of its demands on the defence exposé.

A Congress functionary close to Sonia claimed that her programme was “tentative”, but many in the party disagree. They said Sonia’s visit to Hyderabad on April 8 was final. “There was a doubt only over the Lucknow rally. As far as selection of candidates are concerned, the excuse is lame as everyone in the party knew about the schedule,” a party MP said.

Congress leaders are intrigued why Sonia is hesitant to lead from the front when Vajpayee is struggling to maintain NDA unity in the aftermath of Tehelka.

The Congress also does not want to disrupt proceedings after the Lok Sabha reassembles on Monday. Rather, it plans to corner the government on a range of new issues, such as the Ketan Parekh bank scam, infighting in the PMO, phone-tapping, Kashmir and the Exim policy. On the face of it, the Congress wants to score brownie points by projecting itself as a “responsible Opposition” party and it does not wish to precipitate a constitutional crisis by blocking the passage of the Union and rail budgets.

The Congress strategy now hinges on the Assembly polls — it hopes to turn the heat on the Vajpayee government after the election. It is confident of wresting Assam and Kerala, and winning in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal with major partners ADMK and the Trinamul Congress respectively.

However, the Congress volte face on stalling House proceedings is likely to create more bad blood among the Opposition ranks. With the Left parties upset over the Congress alliance with Trinamul in Bengal, the prospects of floor coordination between the Congress and the People’s Front, comprising the Left and the Samajwadi Party, have receded.

Sonia’s single-minded thrust for the Delhi throne became clearer as she swallowed humiliation today to offer truce to K. Karunakaran, who had levelled serious personal accusations against her. Sonia granted a ticket to his daughter Padmaja and accommodated three more of his nominees to bring his group’s tally on a par with A.K. Antony’s.

Karunakaran expressed profound gratitude to Sonia and denied the remarks. Sonia, too, did not press for evidence, terming it as a “closed chapter”.

   

 
 
BISWAS BEATS DRUM, BUDDHA CONFESSES TO FAILURES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 5: 
It’s official now. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today owned up to a long list of the Left Front’s failures at a function where his party colleague Anil Biswas released a document highlighting the CPM’s “unprecedented success in the past 24 years”.

“Of course, we have some weaknesses too. But we are not afraid of discussing them before the public,” Bhattacharjee said. According to him, the Left Front has slipped in the fields of education, healthcare, agriculture and law and order.

The chief minister’s candid confession was in sharp contrast to Biswas’ document released at the party’s Alimuddin Street headquarters. Nowhere in the document does the CPM state secretary touch upon the government’s failures and lapses.

Releasing the document, Biswas said it will be the CPM’s main campaign tool for the polls.

But the chief minister said there was enough room for the Left Front government to improve the functioning of government hospitals, schools and to educate the police force to develop better relations with the public.

Though Bhattacharjee pinpointed the Left Front’s failures in the past 24 years, he did not go into the reasons behind them.

He claimed that the literacy rate in Bengal was 72 per cent, when the census had put the figure at under 70 per cent.

“Whatever the figure may be, the literacy rate in our state is more than the rate at the national level,” he said.

“But the quality of teaching at government-run institutions... is poor. We have not given adequate emphasis to teaching of science and technical education. Now we are trying to improve technical education in our state.... We are trying to introduce computer training in at least 100 schools,” he said.

“Though we have achieved massive growth in agricultural production, we have failed to develop an industry based on agriculture involving the cooperatives. This could have increased the scope for employment,” he said.

Bhattacharjee blamed the police administration for failing to develop good relations with the public. “I think it will take time for the police to develop good relations with the common people,” he said. The chief minister had for long been urging the police force to upgrade their communication skills, but to little avail.

At a number of public meetings, Bhattacharjee, after taking over as chief minister, had also criticised the health department.

“Conditions of government hospitals are not at all satisfactory. Often people find it difficult to get admitted there. Despite this, about 70 per cent of the people in our state receive treatment at government-run hospitals,” he had said at public meetings.

   

 
 
NAIDU DINNER DAMPER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, April 5: 
Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has urged the National Democratic Alliance to put an end to its anti-Tehelka campaign.

He told his dinner guests — home minister L.K. Advani and former defence minister George Fernandes — last night that the rallies organised to counter the Opposition charges on the defence deal revelations were turning out to be counter- productive.

“It is just a case of dog bites man or man bites dog. The result is one and same,” he said.

The ruling alliance held a rally in Hyderabad yesterday which wound up in 90 minutes after starting 45 minutes behind schedule. Advani spoke for barely 15 minutes.

Most had come to attend the rally from the outskirts of Hyderabad. “I don’t know anything about Tehelka. I followed my husband who came to the city for some work,” said Narasavva of Rudraram village in Ranga Reddy district.

“We were brought by our legislators who told us we would see Delhi. But there is no Sonia Gandhi here,” said a farmer from Medak, the seat of BJP MP Narendra.

The crowd started leaving the venue minutes after Advani began his speech. They did not even seem to be interested in local leader Venkaiah Naidu’s speech.

Though the Desam did not participate in the rally, it had mobilised the crowd and brought people over in 2,000-odd lorries to the Nizam College grounds.

The Central leaders spent the afternoon at the Ramoji FilmCity with Naidu’s mentor, Ramoji Rao. They urged him to impress upon Naidu to join the Union Cabinet.

   

 
 
REPEAT VISIT RAISES VILLAGE HOPES 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ratnal (Kutch), April 5: 
It’s 8 pm, almost six hours after Yasiben Ahir saw Bill Clinton when he came to her village, 25 km from Bhuj. But her face still glows with pride when she describes how she saw the former US President right in front of her damaged house.

“I do not know what he said. He was standing right here, looking around curiously,” she says. But it hardly matters if she did not understand what Clinton said. What matters is that “such a big leader came to see us. It makes me feel honoured like never before”.

Other leaders had been to her village after the earthquake — Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani, chief minister Keshubhai Patel. They came, made speeches and promises. But Clinton did not make any speech. Nor did he promise anything. Yet, his visit has raised expectations that he is going to do something for the village.

“He has not promised anything to us. But we know he has some plans,” says Trikanbhai Chhanga, a taluka panchayat member. What makes Chhanga and other villagers so optimistic is the fact that Clinton visited the village twice. While returning from Anjar, he got off his car and went right to the centre of the flattened village. The villagers believe the second visit only shows Clinton’s “keen interest” in their village.

The 6,000 families here are still waiting for some donor agency or NGO to adopt the village. To rehabilitate the entire village, 1,800 houses will have to be constructed. No single organisation is likely to be able to bear the cost. “That is why when the American-India Foundation brought the former President here, we thought they wanted to do something for the village and we expect them to come up with some proposal very soon,” says Ranchodbhai Ahir, a villager.

The people here are happy that the American-India Foundation had brought Clinton to the village though it has no links with the US.

They gave him an embroidered item made by a village woman. It shows Clinton in a cheerful mood.

“I cannot promise you anything now,” Clinton told them. “But I will keep coming. We are working out something for the village but I cannot disclose it now. The only promise I can make is that it is not my last visit. It is my first visit,” he told MLA Basan Ahir, who is from the village.

During the 15 minutes that he mingled with villagers, Clinton enquired about handicraft, speciality embroidery for which Kutch is famous all over the world and the problems of marketing them. He was curious to know about rehabilitation and rebuilding of houses and the total damage to the village. “Besides, he wanted to know how we plan to remove the debris,” said a villager.

Says industry minister Suresh Mehta, who is from Kutch: “Though Clinton has not promised anything, his visit has certainly raised the morale of the people. And that is no small thing for a demoralised people.”

Clinton lauds NGOs

Clinton, who promised to provide technical expertise to the Gujarat government for building quake-resistant houses, appreciated “the good work” being done by NGOs and asked them to prepare a blueprint for developing infrastructure for health, education and sanitation.

Clinton, who called on chief minister Keshubhai Patel and Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari, advised Patel to develop a “housing code”.

He also promised the chief minister that he would help Kutchi craftsmen by marketing their products in the US.

   
 

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