Big bite of prime time for CPM
Mega-plan to lure tourists
Cops hurt in dacoit chase
Hill police swoop on Subba ‘fundraisers’
Ghising loyalists in protest stepdown
Murder needle points at Naxalite
Rajarhat flat allotment raises eyebrows
Ex-defence chiefs in arms crossfire
Cong dares Atal on referendum
BJP in rally double flip

Calcutta, April 6: 
The Election Commission has allotted the CPM the biggest time slot to campaign over Doordarshan.

The party has been given 200 minutes to campaign on the national and regional network of the government-controlled channel. Nine recognised parties in Bengal will begin their campaign on television on April 23 and continue till May 8.

The commission’s decision is based on electoral performances in the last Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in 1996 and 1999.

The Congress has got the second-largest slot of 155 minutes. Though the Trinamul Congress did not exist during the 1996 Assembly elections, it has been allotted 100 minutes following its excellent performance in the last two Lok Sabha elections.

Among other recognised parties, the BJP will get 80 minutes, the Revolutionary Socialist Party 60, the CPI 55, the Bahujan Samajwadi Party 45, the Nationalist Congress Party 45 and the Forward Bloc 45.

The Commission has assured the state government that 170 companies of paramilitary and armed police personnel will be deployed during the elections. The state government had sought 190 companies from outside the state.

According to communication received at Writers’ Buildings today, 95 companies of Central forces and 75 companies of armed police personnel from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan will be sent to Bengal.

State chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen said college and university teachers would not be appointed on poll duty this time. “We are not keen to deploy even school teachers unless it is necessary in some places,’’ he said.

Sen said the commission’s directive was to engage as many Central government employees as possible. But the number of such employees available is far less than the requirement.

“We require about 2,50,000 poll personnel, of which 15 per cent are reserved for emergency deployment, for polling in 61,500 booths and counting,’’ Sen said. Fewer people will be required for counting as electronic voting machines will be used.

Crackdown on criminals: Sen has officially communicated the commission’s directive to organise police raids on criminals hideouts and seize illegal arms.

The police has also been directed to keep close watch on movement across the border so that outsiders can be blocked from rigging the polls. The police has also been urged to boost its intelligence network so that subversive activities can be detected.

Graffiti drive: The commission has banned graffiti on the walls of heritage buildings. “The commission will punish anyone defacing heritage buildings with election graffiti,’’ Sen warned.

Sen had taken a special initiative to clean the walls of Calcutta University Science College buildings and a state-run homeopathy college in Rajabazar.

“Keeping public premises clean is the duty of the government. I wonder why the authorities remain silent when the walls of their buildings are written on. They should at least inform the chief electoral officer about the defacement,” Sen said.


Calcutta, April 6: 
This is the state government’s answer to private tour operators.

Bengal plans to tie up with different states — it already has an arrangement with Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh — to help tourists from here travelling to these states. Equally, Bengal will help tourists from other states when they come visiting.

For instance, if someone from Bengal wants to go to Uttar Pradesh, all he has to do is contact Bengal tourism which will guide him about the trip. If it cannot actually book hotels from here or buy the tickets, it will at least guide the tourist to an agency in Uttar Pradesh which will do the needful.

“This service will be available in states with which we will sign the tourist exchange agreement,” said D.K. Pal, general manager of West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC). “We have already signed MoUs with two states. We are holding discussion with the tourism departments of Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. We expect agreements to be signed soon,” he added.

The government took the step after receiving complaints from tourists who had been duped by private tour operators in other states.

“We have taken several steps to protect the tourists from being cheated by travel agents and have prepared a list of reliable agents and operators,” said tourism minister Manab Mukherjee.

“We have also realised that those who travel in other states face some problems. Tourists from other states also face some problems here. Our move is to help the tourists to travel in peace and without any anxiety,” the minister added.

The state government will collect details of package tours and their tariffs from other states. Similarly, it will pass on Bengal’s tourism information to states with which it has tied up.

“We will collect the money from tourists here for any particular package and send it to the state concerned. It is the responsibility of that state to help the tourist avail of the package,” Pal said.

“If someone does not want to go in for a package tour and wants to travel on his own, even then we will assist him to get accommodation,” he added.

According to a recent survey by the tourism department, 70 lakh people from Bengal tour different places every year. Around 20 lakh domestic tourists visit the state.

“If tourists do not feel insecure and do not have to bother about accommodation, and the nitty-gritty of travelling then it is bound to be a boost to tourism,” Pal said.

“Besides, if everything is taken care of by the government, then tourists feel even more secure. So, all the states which enter into the pact will benefit,” the WBTDC general manager said.

To attract more tourists, the state has urged the Centre to declare the Dooars as a special tourist zone. The state believes the region has tremendous tourism potential and can draw in a large number of foreigners.


Calcutta, April 6: 
Six policemen were injured today while chasing a group of armed dacoits fleeing after looting a wire-factory at Bamunmura under Barasat police station.

The dacoits, however, managed to escape leaving behind their vehicle on the Barasat-Taki road. Police impounded the lorry and recovered the loot.

According to police, a group of 12 dacoits armed with bombs and sharp weapons came to the wire-factory in a lorry and broke open the main door. Sanjay Jha, the security guard, was injured when he tried to resist the looters.

The dacoits tied Jha and the other three securitymen to iron posts. The miscreants then loaded their vehicle with aluminium and copper wires from the factory.

On hearing the hue and cry raised by the factory guards, members of the local resistance group rushed to the site.

Sensing trouble, the dacoits hurled a bomb at the members of the resistance group, which found itself helpless against a dozen armed dacoits. The resistance group then informed Barasat police station.

Eight policemen in two jeeps rushed to the factory. However, the miscreants managed to flee before the police could arrive.

On being informed by members of the resistance group that the dacoits had fled towards Bashirhat, the policemen followed the miscreants.

Additional superintendent of police Praveen Kumar said that after few minutes policemen spotted the lorry in which the dacoits had fled from the factory.

When the police gave chase, the miscreants started hurling bombs at the police jeeps. The additional superintendent said the policemen had to slow down when a bomb exploded on the bonnet of one of the jeeps, smashing the windscreen. The dacoits then opened fire at the policemen, which resulted in six policemen, including sub-inspector Asit Sinha, receiving splinter injuries.

The other jeep then took up the chase. After driving a few metres, they found the abandoned lorry parked on the roadside, from which the policemen recovered the looted wires as well as sharp weapons.

“We are conducting extensive raids in nearby areas to track down the culprits. Already their identities have been established and we believe that they are hiding in neighbouring areas,” the police official said.


Siliguri, April 6: 
Two GNLF workers suspected to be involved in raising funds for the Chattray Subba-led Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation have been arrested by the Darjeeling police.

Superintendent of police Sanjay Chander said Kamal Giri, a resident of Samsing, and Hemant Chhettri, a GNLF panchayat pradhan from Jaldhaka’s Paren area — both in Kalimpong sub-division — were arrested on Wednesday night for extorting money from businessmen to fund the GLO.

“Giri, a disgruntled GNLF worker, and Chhettri were running an extortion racket by threatening businessmen to part with huge sums,” Chander said. “They have revealed during interrogation that they joined GLO chief Chattray Subba immediately after the Tinkataria shoot-out between police and suspected Naga rebels deep inside the Jaldhaka jungles on November 12 last year.”

Chander said police also seized from the nabbed rebels a list of 10 affluent businessmen of the Darjeeling hills. “The duo revealed that they had planned to extort Rs 30,000 each from them. They also confessed handing over huge sums of money to the GLO chief last December to procure sophisticated arms and ammunition. We also recovered some blank GLO letterheads bearing Subba’s signature. The two were arrested after the GLO chief revealed their names to us during interrogation,” he added.

The GNLF leadership has, however, rubbished the police claim that Giri and Chhettri were fund raisers for the GLO. Deepak Gurung, GNLF Darjeeling unit chief, said police were trying to “show” a few arrests and strengthen the “GNLF insider angle” behind the attempt on Subash Ghising by arresting two extortionists.

“The arrests are just an eye-wash,” he said. “Police have failed to come up with concrete results and are coming up with flimsy theories,” Gurung said. We have reasons to believe that the two had been running an extortion racket taking advantage of the GLO’s December 31 ultimatum to the GNLF leadership. But it is hard to believe that they had been financing the GLO.”

Gurung said the two may have “forged” Subba’s signature. “It’s a serious crime and they should be punished. (But) we have doubts that the two are any kind of the financiers we are looking for. While the key financiers are still at large, police are going around arresting small fries. Police have to nab the big guns,” he said.

Gurung hinted that the GNLF — which has three sitting members in the Assembly — might stay away from the coming polls. The party is also yet to announce the names of its candidates.

“How can the party even concentrate on the Assembly polls when the masterminds behind the attack on Subash Ghising are going around scot-free and that, too, armed to the teeth with sophisticated weapons? We have information that these people (the masterminds) have stockpiled over seven AK-series rifles, five carbines and a huge cache of ammunition,” he said.

“The situation in the hills is not conducive for conducting polls. First let the state government arrest all the key culprits and seize the weapons, then we can think of the Assembly polls.”


Siliguri, April 6: 
There was near-revolt in the Kalimpong unit of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) with six councillors and a legislator quitting their posts till “doubts” raised on the unit chief’s links with the assassination attempt on Subash Ghising were cleared.

The lone councillor who did not resign was K.N. Subba.

In their resignation letter to Subash Ghising, the leaders said that they had decided to relinquish their responsibilities from all party posts following media reports that unit chief C.K. Pradhan was involved in the attack on the GNLF chief.

The reports have created a controversy and raised “doubts” regarding the role of Pradhan in the February 10 attack on Ghising on Pankhabari road near Kurseong, they said.

“Till such doubts are cleared, we have decided to relinquish all party posts... (but) will remain ordinary members of the party. We do not want to function under any leader accused of... (being) behind the attack on the party president’s life,” the councillors said.

Pradhan was not available for comment. “The councillor has gone to Gangtok for a day or two,” was the reply from his residence.

Party legislator from Kalimpong Gaulon Lepcha, Kalimpong unit vice-president Dawa Pakhrin, party councillors Dawa Sherpa, Tshering Sherpa Bhakta Jairu and Kalimpong secretary and councillor Roshan Rai and joint-secretary Prakash Dahal were among those who resigned.

Sources said Pradhan had pulled down posters the councillors had put up at Kalimpong bazaar to explain their reasons for quitting. Those close to the Kalimpong unit chief told The Telegraph that Pradhan would float a new party soon.

“The GNLF councillors have ganged up together to oust CK (as Pradhan is popularly called) from the president’s post, but the GNLF rank and file is with CK. The majority of the Kalimpong municipal councillors and party workers are with us. It was a plot by the councillors to implicate the party Kalimpong chief to politically wipe him out.... CK commands tremendous popularity in the Darjeeling hills. We will hold a meeting of the party at Kalimpong on Sunday to chalk out our next course of action,” the leader said.

Sources said CK’s name had figured in GNLF’s list of people it suspected to be behind the attempt on Ghising. Besides CK, there are seven Hill Opposition leaders in the list.


Kandi (Murshidabad), April 6: 
A Congress-sponsored dawn-to-dusk bandh to protest against the murder of a party worker brought life to a halt today but passed off without violence.

Gram panchayat member Kamalakshya Pandey was shot dead in broad daylight yesterday in front of the house of Congress leader Atish Sinha. Pandey was going to Sinha’s house to attend a meeting for the coming polls.

“Police are yet to arrest the miscreants,” said Sinha, leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.

Rajesh Kumar, superintendent of police (Murshidabad), said a massive manhunt had been launched to nab the culprits.

“Though we have not been able to arrest any person named in the FIR, preliminary investigations reveal that supporters of a Naxalite faction were involved in the murder,” he said.

Kumar, who held a meeting with senior officials during the day to take stock of the situation, said a team will be sent to neighbouring districts to track the killers.

Congress leaders, criticising the district administration’s failure to contain violence ahead of the polls, said they will send a deputation to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee demanding immediate arrest of the culprits. Sinha today urged the district police to deploy a special force till the polls.

In another incident, dacoits looted 19 houses of adivasis at Kadamete village. The dacoits came in boats and looted goods worth Rs 1 lakh. They also beat up the family members.

Villagers, irked by police inaction, blocked roads in Berhampore for over three hours, disrupting traffic. Later, they picketed the Berhampore police station.

Kumar said the gang members have been identified and “arrests are likely to be made soon”.


Calcutta, April 6: 
Seven advocates of Calcutta High Court have filed a petition before a division bench seeking intervention of the judiciary into the state government’s decision to allot Rajarhat township flats to members of a certain community.

The petition contended that the state government’s move was made with an eye on votes from that community in the coming elections and it was against the code of conduct framed by the Election Commission.

The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice G. Gupta asked the petitioners to serve copy of the matter to the Election Commission and fixed the hearing date next week.

In their petition, Harihar Debnath and six other lawyers said this was the first time a government had decided to allot property among people of a particular community. “This decision goes against the secular character of the country,” they said.

The government had advertised in a daily newspaper in the last week of March that flats in two housing societies at Rajarhat will be distributed to members of a particular community. Most Opposition leaders described it as an “illegal election gimmick”.

The minister in charge of housing, Goutam Dev, said the government had taken the decision to allot flats to minority communities. “The word Muslim was published by mistake (on part of) department officials,” he added.

But his statement failed to satisfy some people. “A locality should not be identified as belonging to members of a particular community,” a citizen said.

A government spokesman said 12 buildings will come up on 84 cottahs of land at Rajarhat and flats will be allotted to 125 families belonging to the minority community.

The State Minorities Development and Finance Corporation will disburse loans. None of the state leaders criticised the move.


Calcutta, April 6: 
Two former service chiefs, Shankar Roy Chowdhury and Vishnu Bhagwat, today contradicted each other over “dependence on middlemen or agents” in purchasing huge contingent of arms and ammunition from abroad.

They were addressing a seminar jointly organised by the DYFI and SFI at Calcutta University.

Roy Chowdhury said many arms companies didn’t open offices in India. They often engage Indian companies for marketing their products in the country.

“I think this is not bad. But there are many agencies or persons who are not authorised by any foreign arms makers to operate in our country. Still they function illegally and try to convince our government officials. This is bad and should be stopped immediately,” he said.

However, Bhagwat said: “There is no need to entertain any middlemen or agents with regard to purchase of arms from foreign countries.

“If our country has an honest political set up, we will not need to entertain such agents or middlemen,” he observed.


New Delhi, April 6: 
Buoyed by a string of pre-poll surveys forecasting rout of the National Democratic Alliance, the Congress today accepted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s challenge to treat the elections in five states next month as a “referendum” on the Tehelka revelations.

The party threw a counter-challenge to Vajpayee, asking if he would resign if the election results went against the ruling alliance.

With Tehelka having brought into sharp focus funding of political parties, the Congress snatched the initiative in putting in place what it called a more transparent method. Manmohan Singh, known for his squeaky-clean image, was put at the head of a seven-member committee to work out the operational details of a “new, more transparent and more publicly accountable mechanism” for financing routine activities of the AICC down to district-level committees and elections.

In a display of new-found alacrity missing until Tehelka opened up a window of opportunity, the Congress pounced on the statement by Vajpayee at a rally in Bangalore yesterday that he would treat the coming elections as a referendum on the revelations made by the website.

Vajpayee’s statement has taken observers by surprise with pre-poll surveys predicting dismal prospects for the NDA. Even setting aside Tehelka, the BJP could at best have hoped to be among the also-rans in the five states — Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Pondicherry — going to polls.

Congress spokesperson Jaipal Reddy said the party “welcomed” the Prime Minister’s statement. “We accept his challenge and are prepared to treat the polls as referendum.”

Vajpayee had made such a statement earlier also. “This shows he is out of sync with ground reality,” Reddy told reporters.

Reacting to the NDA decision to cancel the rallies planned to counter the Tehelka impact, the Congress leader said the campaign had met with a “disgraceful” end as the BJP was disowned by allies.

He said the Congress would go ahead with the rallies and public meetings planned to demand the resignation of the Vajpayee government.

“The Congress president called upon party workers to organise rallies and public meetings at district and block headquarters and at municipalities throughout the country in protest against the continuance of the NDA government,” he said.

Reddy said Sonia Gandhi will address some of the rallies in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Haryana. He said reports received by the headquarters here from the states suggested that Congress rallies had evoked a “good response”.

The first phase of the agitation is over and the party will kick off the second from April 15 in major cities.

Reddy said the Manmohan Singh-led committee had been constituted to follow up on Sonia’s intention proclaimed at the Bangalore plenary last month to have a transparent system of financing party activities. The committee held its first meeting today.


New Delhi, April 6: 
One day after the BJP announced that the Vajpayee government would review its decision to hold “Tehelka counter-offensive” rallies across the country, the party hurriedly back-pedalled today.

Spokesman V.K. Malhotra denied that he had said the rallies would be called off. He claimed that the Mumbai meeting — slated for Sunday — was called off because the BJP and Shiv Sena could not find a “mutually acceptable” date.

Yesterday, Malhotra had said the BJP was planning to wind up its campaign against the exposé because “Tehelka was no longer an issue”. Party sources pointed out that allies were unwilling to participate in the rallies.

The Prime Minister would address a rally in Lucknow on April 15, the spokesman said today. But sources confirmed that it has been converted into a kisan rally at the suggestion of allies.

“They seemed reluctant to be associated on the subject of corruption, but on farmers’ issue they willingly joined hands,” a source said. Parties like the Indian National Lok Dal and the Lok Janshakti have promised to drum up support for the Lucknow show.

Meetings at Vijayawada, Hamirpur, Bhopal, Raipur, and Ranchi will be held as scheduled. L.K. Advani, George Fernandes, Sushma Swaraj, M. Venkaiah Naidu and Yashwant Sinha will address the rallies. The dates for the Jaipur and Bhubaneswar rallies will be finalised soon, Malhotra said.

A schedule for the post-April 15 meetings would be worked out at an NDA meeting soon, the spokesman added.

Asked if the outcome of the Assembly elections would be a referendum on the Tehelka exposé, as Vajpayee had said, Malhotra did not give a straight answer. “We will improve our situation and if we do, it will be a verdict on Tehelka. But I am not in a position to comment on what the Prime Minister has said.”

In Chandigarh, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj defended Vajpayee, saying there was no need for the Prime Minister or the National Democratic Alliance government to resign. “Not a single minister has been charged with taking money in the tapes,” she asserted.

Sushma denied that the NDA was falling apart after the scandal erupted. Asked why the Telugu Desam did not participate in a rally to counter the allegations, she said the Desam was not part of the NDA government and was supporting it from outside. She also refuted charges that the Shiv Sena was trying to move away from the BJP. “The Sena,” she said, “has always been with us.”

The minister said she did not doubt the veracity of the Tehelka tapes but was only concerned about possible ulterior motives behind the exposé.

“If the probe set up by the Centre reveals that the tapes are genuine and there was no ulterior motive other than exposing the system, then the journalists responsible for bringing to light corruption in arms deals should be patted on the back.”

Sushma said the inquiry should try to find out whether the tapes were tampered with. “If no tampering has been done and it is an exposure of the system, then it is a wake-up call for the country,” she said.


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