Planters force bandh amnesty
Farakka fault sparks power shock
Buddha sounds Naxalite alert
Coal captive freed
Body found
Atal flashes secular signal at home & host
Court lifts cloud on Jaya contest ‘bar’
Mamata pledges cyber-Calcutta
Scramble to step into Vincent’s shoes
Death term off in IPS lynch case

Siliguri, April 11: 
Faced with growing resentment among tea garden workers who make up the core of its supportbase in the hills, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) today exempted tea and cinchona plantations from the ambit of the bandh.

The hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong have 72 tea gardens and a dozen plantations of the cinchona from which quinine is extracted.

As the indefinite bandh entered its third day, 30 tea gardens in the region defied the GNLF diktat and resumed work. Plantation workers cutting across trade union affiliation reported for duty.

Unwilling to alienate the workers, most of whom are daily wage labourers, leaders of the GNLF branch committees of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong decided to exempt the gardens from the bandh.

This being the “first-flush” season, tea garden workers earn several incentives for the quantity of leaves plucked per day.

The GNLF’s Darjeeling unit chief, Deepak Gurung, however, did not give any explanation on why they had taken the decision. “The party had earlier decided to observe the bandh in the plantations for three days only,” Gurung said.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee called up GNLF chief Subash Ghising and requested him to call off the bandh. “I told him that the police had arrested most of those who had made the attempt on his life, so why is he persisting with the bandh,” Bhattacharjee said.

But the GNLF refused to budge from its stand. “Unless all the masterminds are nabbed along with the sophisticated weapons used during the ambush on Ghising, the party will not review its bandh decision,” Gurung said.

Though the tea sector, which directly and indirectly employs a large chunk of the hill population, heaved a sigh of relief at the GNLF’s decision, industry insiders are concerned about the adverse impact of the bandh on the first-flush season.

“We are worried about the cash crunch that is going to result because of the bandh. With the bandh still in effect for transporters, banks and markets, how can we despatch finished first-flush tea to Calcutta and other places? The cash flow will completely dry up and we will not be able to pay wages to the workers,” Darjeeling Planters’ Association secretary Ranen Dutta said.

Dutta added that the loss of three working days had severely affected the quality of the first-flush leaf, which yields the finest quality of Darjeeling tea. “We have already lost three plucking days. Unless the bandh is lifted soon, both the tea industry and the hill economy will be crippled,” he said.


Calcutta, April 11: 
The districts have been reeling under a severe power crisis over the past six days following a drastic cut in supply from the Central sector.

The National Thermal Power Corporation’s Farakka generation plant has been forced to shut down one of its giant 500-mw units due to a sharp drop in the level of the Ganga.

This evening, the shortfall in the districts shot up to nearly 100 mw. The situation could have been worse but the six 210-mw units in Kolaghat and the two 210-mw units at Bakreswar came to the rescue. “At Farakka, the water available after supplying to Bangladesh was less than the required quantum. So, enough water could not be drawn by the pumps to build up the steam at 500şC to move the turbines and cool the system of the plant. So, one 500 mw was shut down on April 5,” a senior official of the power department said.

As a result, the NTPC’s Farakka plant has not been able to supply more than 200 mw to 250 mw to the state electricity board against the normal supply of about 600 mw.

However, the situation is likely to improve from tomorrow as more water was made available for the Farakka plant today. “The boiler of the 500 mw unit which was shut down was lit up tonight and is expected to pick up generation by tomorrow morning. The situation will improve provided the Kolaghat and Bakreswar units do not develop any snags,” an official said.

Officials said the state electricity board was caught unawares by the sudden shut-down of the Farakka unit on April 5. “We were really worried as we had only four units operating at Kolaghat. We revived the two units over the past three days to boost the supply of power in the SEB grid. Another 82.5-mw unit, which was shut down for repairs, was also started up at Bandel,” a power department official said.

The power deficit in the districts over the past five days varied between 400 mw and 200 mw. The situation improved this evening after generation was stepped up at the Kolaghat plant.

Sources said that owing to the problem of availability of Ganga water, power supply had also been affected in Bihar. The problem in that state is more acute as a 500-mw unit at NTPC’s Talcher plant has not been functioning for over a month, an official said.

Apart from the generation problem at the Farakka plant, supply was also affected because of excess withdrawal of power by Orissa and the DVC, the official said.


Calcutta, April 11: 
Six People’s War Group supporters have been arrested for last night’s murder of a CPM leader in Bankura as chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said Naxalites would be tackled with an iron hand.

A day after the murder of CPM district committee member Sibram Satpati, Bhattacharjee said the Naxalite outfits had begun spreading their wings in Bankura, Midnapore and parts of Purulia. They were smuggling in arms and ammunition from Bihar, he added. “It is very unfortunate that the Trinamul Congress is maintaining links with extremist forces,” Bhattacharjee said.

Satpati (48), who was the president of Sarenga block panchayat samiti, was shot dead outside his house around 8 pm yesterday.

The CPM had called a 12-hour bandh today to protest against the killing, which came a day after a party leader was gunned down by suspected Naxalites in Garbeta area of Midnapore.

Bhattacharjee said the administration will take all steps to counter the Naxalite threat. The PWG has distributed leaflets in Bankura, warning the people against voting.

“I have told senior police officers to keep the district force on alert,” Bhattacharjee said. “No one has the power to disrupt the elections.”

Chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen has sent reports to the Election Commission on the killings in Bankura and Midnapore. “What I have gathered is that both killings were premeditated and we are taking them very seriously,” Sen said.

J. R. Bhagat, inspector-general of police (western range), who has been camping in Bankura, said the PWG has been growing in influence in Bankura. He felt that the PWG had targeted Satpati for tipping off the police about its activities in the area.


Burdwan, April 11: 
A coal company employee was rescued and four of his abductors arrested less than three hours after they kidnapped him last evening.

The incident has belied the district police claim that they had busted an inter-state kidnapping racket in this coal belt following massive raids and arrests over the past three months.

Superintendent of police Manoj Malviya said the kidnap was an “ominous sign”, more so as Assembly elections were round the corner. “We have to intensify our drive against coal belt crimes,” Malviya said.

Robin Dey, an employee of J.K. Company, a Kanpur-based coal trading concern, had come to despatch goods at a siding at Modern Satgram in Jamuria on Tuesday afternoon. As soon as he reached the siding around 5 pm, the gang of six pounced on him mistaking him for the manager. Then they forced him into a waiting jeep.

Before whisking him away, the kidnappers left a mobile phone number to the person accompanying Dey and asked him to get in touch with them with a ransom of Rs one lakh.

“I received a telephone call around 5.30 informing us about the kidnap. We asked the caller to come to the police station and narrate the incident,” said Amitava Konar, officer-in-charge of Jamuria police station.


Murshidabad, April 11: 
Police today recovered the body of Khalek Sheikh of Kirtaniyapara village. Four persons have been arrested on charges of murdering Sheikh.

The body had been missing since October, when he was suspected to have been killed.

Rajesh Kumar, superintendent of police (Murshidabad), said the arrested persons were professional killers operating in the district for several months.

Acting on a tip-off, police exhumed the body from a field in the presence of an executive magistrate. Kumar said the arrested people confessed that they had agreed to kill Khalek for Rs 50,000. However, the killers were paid only Rs 3,000, he added.


Tehran, April 11: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today used Iran’s parliament to refurbish his secular credentials, saying India drew its strength from different religions, particularly Islam which is “part and parcel of our national and social life”.

“Islam has made a significant contribution to the development of our culture. We do not consider any religion foreign to us. For nearly thousand years, Islam has been the part and parcel of our national and social life,” Vajpayee told the Iranian Majlis.

The Prime Minister, the first from India to address the Majlis since the 1979 revolution, spoke in Hindi from a written speech, standing for nearly 40 minutes as he had to wait for the interpreter to translate his speech in Persian.

Asserting that secular values were part of India’s civilisation, he said: “The mellifluous call of azaan, the bells of our temples and churches, the invocation of the Guru Granth Saheb and the Dhammapada all blend in a melodious symphonic offering to the almighty.”

Vajpayee informed the Majlis that his parliamentary constituency, Lucknow, was “one of the holy centres of Shia tradition”.

“Since the days of my youth, the Muharram processions have made a profound impression on me. I was moved by the story of the supreme sacrifice of Imam Hussain at Karbala,” he said, prompting a generous hand of applause from the lawmakers.

The Majlis warmed to their guest from India as he laced his speech with quotes from the Persian poet Hafiz and paid respects to the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Vajpayee’s remarks were significant as they were directed as much to his hosts as to those in India, particularly the Sangh parivar which considers Islam a foreign religion.

The Prime Minister could not have chosen a better venue to project his secular image. The 290-member Iranian Majlis is where the pro-reformist President Mohammed Khatami draws over 70 per cent of the support to usher in significant changes in the country’s political, economic and cultural structures.

Though similar in form to other parliaments, the semi-circular House does not have any particular seating arrangement for Khatami’s supporters and his opponents.

For nearly an hour before the Prime Minister arrived, the Majlis debated various cuts on water and sewage taxes. Black turbaned clergymen were few among the legislators. Most wore western clothes, and a few women in chadars could be seen.

Majlis Speaker Hojjetoleslam Mehdi Kharroobi sat with his six deputies beneath an imposing portrait of Khomeini. A few minutes before 11 am, he left his seat to receive his Indian guest.

The Prime Minister received a standing ovation from the 200-odd parliamentarians present.

He walked down the aisle and then took a seat on the front row before the Speaker. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh sat next to him.


Chennai, April 11: 
Madras High Court has ruled that Jayalalitha faces no disqualification in contesting the Assembly polls, sending a wave of relief through the ADMK ranks.

Judge Malai Subramaniam said conviction and sentence were inseparable. Since the sentence had already been suspended by the high court, the conviction also stood suspended, he added.

However, a hint of ambiguity remained with the judge leaving it to the Election Commission to decide on accepting the nomination papers. But the Jayalalitha camp interpreted the ruling as one which removed a hurdle before her for contesting the elections.

Jayalalitha had moved the court for a stay on her conviction in two Tansi land cases by a special judge. She had been sentenced to two prison terms of two and three years. The Election Commission can bar candidates who have been convicted for offences which carry prison terms of over two years.

The high court had earlier stayed the “sentence” against Jayalalitha. However, since the status of the “conviction” was not clear, she moved the high court for a specific stay.

The court today dismissed the plea for the stay, saying it was not empowered to suspend a conviction decided under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

However, Jayalalitha got more or less what she wanted with the court saying that “when a sentence is suspended, the conviction is also deemed to be suspended”.

The judge said: “It is the sentence that disqualifies but not the offence. I do not think that there may be any disqualification for a person to contest in the election. In this case, the sentence of imprisonment has already been suspended. Under such circumstances, in my view, there may not be any disqualification for Ms Jayalalitha to contest in the election.”

However, the judge said the proper forum for addressing the grey areas was the Election Commission and not the court.

“Her (Jayalalitha’s) apprehension was that in case she was disqualified from contesting the elections, her valuable statutory right would be affected and, hence, had sought suspension of conviction. Her counsel had also dealt with in detail about the leniency shown to sitting parliamentarians and members of the legislatures under Section 8 (4) of the Representation of People’s Act. All these aspects have to be placed before the Election Commission and not before the court,” the judge said.

As soon as the implications of the ruling sank in, supporters of Jayalalitha started celebrating their leader’s “victory”.

The DMK-led state government is expected to appeal against the ruling. But unless the apex court decides on the appeal fast, the high court’s ruling will stand. Nominations will open in a week.


Calcutta, April 11: 
Mamata Banerjee intends to ban processions in the city on weekdays and earmark Shahid Minar for political rallies to maintain “work environment” if the Trinamul Congress comes to power in the state.

“Political parties will be permitted to take out processions only on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays,” says the party manifesto that was released today. The party, however, does not intend to “curb any democratic movement”.

“Our government shall work not for eight hours but for 18 hours if necessary ... to rebuild Bengal which has lost her pristine glory under the CPM’s 24-year rule.” The manifesto promises to make Calcutta a hi-tech city like Bangalore and Hyderabad and give top priority to improving roads, traffic and supply of drinking water. But it will not put any “burden of water tax on the common man”. The party also proposes to set up 1,000 info-tech centres in the state.

Making a firm commitment to ensure “rule of law and protect the basic fabric of our Constitution”, the manifesto promises the state police “an improved socio-economic package to redress their long-standing grievances”.

Mamata envisages a “healthy industrial atmosphere” in which “special endeavour will be made to improve management-labour relationship”.

The document speaks of a committee to look into problems of industry, but vows “not to resort to any anti-labour steps”. “Our government will also make every effort to recover outstanding provident fund and ESI dues ... Gratuity laws will also be amended in favour of employees,” it says.

Trinamul is in favour of introducing English from Class I. The party has vowed to free the “entire education system, educational boards, school and college service commissions from political interference”. In the health sector, it wants to introduce “health cards as well as mobile medical clinics”.

The manifesto says Trinamul will try to “woo talented individuals from abroad and other parts of the country to contribute to the state’s development”. The party also intends to set up a separate secretariat for north Bengal.

CPM slams manifesto

The CPM has described the Trinamul manifesto as “a list of false hopes and promises” and accused the party of keeping options open to rejoin the NDA. CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said the party had not uttered a single word against the BJP in its manifesto, which, he said, showed that it was keeping its options open.    

New Delhi, April 11: 
With Vincent George going on leave, jockeying has begun in the Congress to be “madam’s eyes and ears”.

The powerful private secretary of the Congress president was forced to vacate the ante room in 10 Janpath after the CBI slapped a disproportionate assets case against him. Though Sonia Gandhi was reluctant to remove him, she did not reject the leave application in view of the BJP’s onslaught to counter the Tehelka heat.

Congress sources say P.P. Madhavan, officer on special duty with the leader of the Opposition, is one candidate who could step into George’s shoes. Madhavan is also close to Priyanka Gandhi. Some sections feel Pulak Chatterjee, a 1968 batch IAS officer from Uttar Pradesh cadre, should replace George. But so far, Chatterjee has been concentrating on his official role as secretary to the Opposition leader.

Sources close to George are confident he would return once he is cleared. But in the adjoining 24 Akbar Road headquarters, many see his exit as an opening to get closer to “madam”. Already, a number of executive and political personalities are trying to get into the slot that made George the unofficial number two in the party with the clout and power to overrule chief ministers and working committee members.

Old family retainers Satish Sharma and Makhan Lal Fotedar are eyeing the post of a political secretary. Though Sonia is against appointing any one as political secretary, partymen are trying to convince her on the need for such a post for better coordination with party workers.

Fotedar has been drafted into the party’s central election committee. He was the brain behind Sonia’s visit to the Mahakumbh that sent positive signals to the heartland’s upper-caste voters. He was also seen with a sulking Karunakaran after the former Kerala chief minister’s daughter Padmaja was denied an Assembly ticket.

Sources say success in Kerala can help Fotedar consolidate his position in the organisation. But Fotedar’s biggest drawback is that he was part of the breakaway Congress (T).

According to party leaders, AICC general secretary Ambika Soni should be the hot favourite if Sonia does opt for a political secretary’s post. For all purposes, Soni is performing that role, meeting leaders from all over the country and preparing briefs and notes. She heads the Congress president’s office, which makes her a formidable candidate for the number two slot.

But the slot seems to be slippery and vulnerable, too. The late Jitendra Prasada was twice made political secretary under Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao, but it did not help him when he decided to take on Sonia in last year’s organisational polls. Prasada polled less than two per cent of the votes cast.

Lily file traced

The petroleum ministry today traced the file pertaining to allotment of a petrol pump to Lily George, wife of Vincent George, which was “missing”.

“We have asked her to explain whether the grounds on which she was allotted a petrol pump still hold good and the reply should reach the ministry by April 30,” petroleum minister Ram Naik told reporters.


New Delhi, April 11: 
The Supreme Court today reduced the death sentence on a convict and upheld the life term on another in the sensational V.K. Mehta murder case, 17 years after the deputy commissioner of police and two constables were lynched by a communal mob in Calcutta.

A three-judge bench of Justice K.T. Thomas, Justice R.P. Sethi and Justice S.N. Phukan said “most of the participants” in communal riots were “by and large illiterate people”. The judges reduced the death sentence of Nasim to life imprisonment and confirmed the life sentence of another convict, Lokeman Shah. Calcutta High Court had sentenced Nasim to death.

Mehta, DCP (port), and the two constables were killed while tracking criminals in the labyrinthine bylanes of Garden Reach after a police encounter with underworld gangs of the area took on communal overtones. One of the main accused, Mohammed Idris, died in police custody.

“The person who joins the unlawful assembly should have been aware of the facts which rendered such assembly unlawful,” the judges said. “If he knew that an unlawful assembly had been formed with a common object and if he has chosen to join it en route to its destination, the person joining midway can also be fastened with the vicarious liability under section 149 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), unless he drops himself out before reaching such destination.”

Giving reasons for reducing Nasim’s sentence, Justice Thomas, writing the judgment for the bench, said the accused had no previous animosity with the deceased but only acted in a fit of fury blinded by communal frenzy.

“It was an unfortunate plight of the people who are ignorant about the real sublime thoughts of religions that they threw themselves into the cauldron of communal delirium which was burning up to a boiling point,” the bench observed. That was the time when the minds of the rioters turned demented and no sensible thoughts would enter into them, Justice Thomas said.

Thomas said leaders and society have not “played their part” to teach that religion is not meant for killing fellow human beings. “If ignorance had prompted people to take cudgels in the name of religion for indulging in carnage or murders, they are no doubt liable to be convicted and sentenced for the offence committed by them.

“But we have great difficulty to treat such a case as rarest of the rare cases in which the alternative sentence of life imprisonment can unquestionably be foreclosed.”


Maintained by Web Development Company