State struggle shadow on office arson
Ghising refuses to blink as EC flashes hill alert
Medicine debut for IIT
CPM siege on police station
Arms ban in violence belt
Atal adviser heads for Denmark
Kargil ‘replay’ on eastern frontier
Norway push to power project
Telengana threatens to split Desam
Confusion clouds militant arrest

 
 
STATE STRUGGLE SHADOW ON OFFICE ARSON 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, April 16: 
In a throwback to the GNLF’s violent agitation for statehood in the mid-eighties, unknown miscreants set on fire a building within the Ramam hydro-electric project complex, 28 km from Darjeeling, this morning.

Darjeeling superintendent of police Sanjay Chander said the accounts section and the office of the project manager were set ablaze.

“The fire engulfed the entire building which housed the accounts section and the project manager’s office around 3 this morning. It was completely gutted. The blaze destroyed important contract and accounts documents. We are trying to ascertain the motive behind the fire,” Chander said.

He added that a vacant forest ranger’s residential quarters was set ablaze at Takdah around mid-night.

The spate of fires in government properties across the hills has baffled the government. The administration sees the emergence of a pattern reminiscent of the arson during the Subash Ghising-led Gorkhaland agitation in the mid-eighties.

The GNLF had then systematically destroyed state-owned properties, especially those located in remote and inaccessible regions of the hills. GNLF militants had destroyed hundreds of forest bungalows, office buildings and log cabins.

“A pattern is clearly emerging from these suspected cases of arson. We have beefed up security following these incidents. With most of the security forces involved in maintaining law and order in the more vulnerable areas, miscreants are taking advantage and indulging in acts of sabotage,” Chander said.

“The administration, especially the security forces, is already stretched. Most of them have been deployed for mobile duty. We are handicapped in some ways in providing protection to properties in the remote areas,” he added.

Earlier last week, unknown criminals torched a divisional forest manager’s office in Kalimpong, a forest godown at Lava, both in Kalimpong subdivision. This apart, a powerful blast had rocked Darjeeling town on Friday, injuring two suspected arsonists who may have been trying to plant a bomb at the newly constructed circuit house.

The circuit house which was torched by GNLF militants in 1987 was rebuilt in the early 1990s.

In another incident, a CPM supporter from Khamjhora under Bijanbari police station bordering Sikkim, who reportedly sustained bullet wounds on Saturday, died at Thew Sir Tashi Namgyal Memorial Hospital in Gangtok this morning.

Chander said the CPM worker, Karkda Bahadur Adikary (55), was shot at during a gambling dispute on Saturday. Because of the bandh, his family members took him to Gangtok.

Collision deaths

Seven persons were killed and 10 injured when a hill-bound North Bengal State Transport Corporation bus collided with a trailer-truck on National Highway 34 last night.

Additional superintendent of police Ajay Kumar said the accident occurred around 11 pm. Four persons died on the spot while the the rest succumbed to injuries in hospital this morning.

   

 
 
GHISING REFUSES TO BLINK AS EC FLASHES HILL ALERT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
As the Election Commission singled out Darjeeling as a flash-point, the GNLF hardened its stand and said there was “no question” of calling off the indefinite bandh.

In New Delhi, chief election commissioner M.S. Gill said he was extremely worried about the tension in the Darjeeling hills and the bandh which had vitiated the atmosphere there. “There is concern about the prevailing situation in Darjeeling where a bandh is going on for several days now,” he said after a meeting with his fellow commissioners, J.M. Lyngdoh and T.S. Krishnamurty.

Gill said candidates in Darjeeling were finding it difficult to participate in the poll process. No nominations were filed today, the first day of the submission of candidature papers.

Two rounds of talks between district magistrate Anil Verma and the GNLF failed to break the bandh deadlock. “A GNLF delegation met me this afternoon. Under instructions from the state chief election officer, I had written two letters to Subash Ghising to seek the GNLF’s cooperation in carrying on with the poll process. Though the GNLF leadership responded by meeting me this afternoon, they were non-committal over the bandh issue,” Verma said.

GNLF’s Kurseong unit vice-president N.B. Khawas said after the meeting that there was no question of withdrawing the bandh now. “It is only a matter of coincidence that the bandh has coincided with the poll process. We have no intention of obstructing the poll process. Let the administration arrest all the masterminds of the strike on Subash Ghising and we will lift the bandh immediately,” Khawas said. “The administration has to first nab all the conspirators and then think of holding elections in the hills.”

Verma said security has been tightened to ensure that candidates can file their papers. “We will provide armed escorts to candidates to facilitate them to file their nomination by April 23. Candidates will be escorted from their homes to the returning officer’s office at Darjeeling and Kalimpong,” Verma said.

Central forces

The government has demanded at least 170 companies of Central forces. Worried about the lack of security forces to man all 62,000 booths in the state, the home department expressed concern about ensuring peaceful polling.    

 
 
MEDICINE DEBUT FOR IIT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
IIT Kharagpur, the oldest and largest of the six IITs in the county, is introducing a three-year master’s programme in medical science and technology to cash in on the huge spin-offs available from a fusion of clinical practices and basic sciences in the new era.

Medical graduates and engineers will qualify for the course, which will offer a masters degree in the discipline. However, initially it will only be open to medical graduates.

According to Amitabha Ghosh, director, IIT Kharagpur, the new course has been formulated after a long gestation period in which experts met eminent doctors, surgeons, geneticists and medical researchers.

“The exchange of ideas have convinced us that this course will not only open up new avenues of valuable work for medical graduates who prefer research to clinical practice, but also put India on the world map when it comes to exploiting medical technologies,” Ghosh said.

He maintained that thrust areas in the new medical research would be genetic engineering, molecular biology, material sciences, telemedicine, fibre optics, nutritional sciences and plant-based products, cryobiology and biomedical instrumentation. Claiming that IIT Kharagpur was fully equipped for its new role, Ghosh said: “Institutes like MIT or Caltech not only impart engineering education, they are also known for their excellence in fundamental science.”

Asked if medical graduates would prefer the new course to MD programmes, B.K. Dhindaw, dean (postgraduate studies), said the issue had been discussed at the national advisory committee that formulated the new course and it was felt that the programme would attract talents coming out from medical colleges where research activities were encumbered by practical difficulties.

S. Saha, the chief of West Bank Hospital, Howrah, who also attended the news conference, said the R&D coming out from new course at IIT Kharagpur would cater to a niche market in the country.

   

 
 
CPM SIEGE ON POLICE STATION 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Serampore, April 16: 
CPM supporters gheraoed Jangipara police station this evening demanding the arrest of Trinamul Congress supporters who had allegedly ransacked their party office on Saturday.

On Friday, two Trinamul supporters had been lynched at Jagannathpur village in Jangipara allegedly by CPM activists. On Saturday, Mamata Banerjee had gone to the area.

The two killed were identified as Haradhan Singharoy (45) and Dayal Singharoy (38), who were brothers.

District Trinamul president Dilip Yadav said two more party workers were beaten up by CPM men at Jangipara on Monday. They have been admitted to Chanditala hospital.

SP (Hooghly) N. Ramesh Babu said preliminary inquiry revealed that the Singharoys were attacked following a land dispute with tribals and the incident had no connection with poll graffiti as the Trinamul was claiming.

He said five people have been arrested so far. All of them belong to the CPM.

Anil Biswas, CPM state secretary, however, denied involvement of his party supporters in the incident. “It was a clash between the Trinamul and BJP supporters. While the Singharoy brothers belonged to the BJP, the other group comprised Trinamul activists. They clashed over a plot of land,” he said.

Weapons factory raid

In a pre-election drive against use of illegal arms, police raided an unauthorised factory at Khargram in Murshidabad and seized a number of firearms.    

 
 
ARMS BAN IN VIOLENCE BELT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, April 16: 
With 25 days to go for the Assembly elections, the district administration today issued prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CRPC, barring people from carrying arms.

District magistrate M.V. Rao said the order was put into effect in view of the continuing violence in the district since January.

“Belpahari, Garbeta, Keshpur, Pingla and Sabang are still tense. Elaborate measures have been taken to ensure free and fair elections at all the sensitive zones in the districts,” Rao said.

Midnapore has been allotted 17 companies of the Central paramilitary forces. Other districts have been given a maximum of 11 companies, Rao added.

   

 
 
ATAL ADVISER HEADS FOR DENMARK 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, April 16: 
The Prime Minister’s media adviser and journalist, H.K. Dua, is slated to go as India’s ambassador to Denmark while former foreign secretary K. Raghunath is tipped to head the mission in Moscow.

The two are among a series of ambassadorial postings cleared by the government in the last few days. Another key posting cleared is that of India’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, where Hardeep Singh Puri, currently the deputy high commissioner in London, is likely to take up his new assignment.

The ambassador’s post in Copenhagen, though politically not that significant, has traditionally gone to career diplomats. The current ambassador in the Danish capital, Sashank, will return to headquarters to take up the post of secretary (east) in the foreign ministry. Though Dua may be satisfied with his ambassadorial post in Copenhagen, it was definitely not his first choice.

Ministry insiders said the Prime Minister’s media adviser was keen to go to Hague as the country’s ambassador. But since the post had already been given to Shyamla Kaushik, the government decided to reward Dua with a posting at another European capital.

For Raghunath, a return to Moscow as ambassador will be a sort of a homecoming since he had served there earlier. But even for the former foreign secretary, Russia was not the first choice. He was slated to go to Berlin as envoy, replacing Ronen Sen who in turn was to move to London as high commissioner.

The Centre’s decision to give a year’s extension to Nareshwar Dayal, however, blocked the expected flow and Sen was stuck in Berlin, ruling out Raghunath’s chances of replacing him. India’s current ambassador to Russia, Sati Lamba, is scheduled to retire in July this year.

Unlike Copenhagen, Moscow has been a post where many political appointees have been posted. One of them was former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, who was sent to Moscow as ambassador by Indira Gandhi.

Though Moscow has lost a bit of its sheen post-perestroika, for Delhi it is still an important posting and an experienced hand like Raghunath is expected to do well there.

The ambassador’s post at the WTO in Geneva was in the past held by the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the incumbent was attached to the commerce ministry.

South Block has now managed to wrest away the seat from the IAS and give it to an Indian Foreign Service officer. Hardeep Puri, a senior diplomat, is felt by many to be the right choice for the post with his past experience of having headed many important negotiations on WTO matters.

Nirupom Sen, ambassador to Oslo, is returning to headquarters and will be asked to head an important division in South Block as additional secretary.

He will be replaced in Oslo by Rajiv Bhatia, who is now the ambassador in Nairobi. Satya Pal, the deputy permanent representative at the United Nations in New York, will succeed Bhatia.

   

 
 
KARGIL ‘REPLAY’ ON EASTERN FRONTIER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, April 16: 
Bangladesh Rifles forcibly took possession of Pyrdiwah village, 5 km from Dawki near the Indo-Bangladesh border, last night.

According to reports, the village which has a population of around 700, witnessed an armed intrusion of the BDR and the Bangladesh army at 11.30 pm.

This was preceded by a heavy exchange of fire between the BSF and the BDR for over 18 hours. BSF staff officer C.R. Chauhan said 35 rounds were fired by the BDR and about 15 rounds by the BSF. He claimed that the situation was back to normal.

Chauhan said that a flag meeting between top BSF and BDR officials was held today but it did not yield any result.

However, eyewitnesses claimed otherwise. Spokesperson for traditional institutions John Kharshiing, who was visiting the area, termed the situation as “Kargil-like”. He was on his way to the Pynursla market. He said all the villagers had fled their homes.

People are living in “inhuman conditions” on the high cliffs, Kharshiing said. He said local sordars took them to a place close to the village to show the BDR jawans patrolling the area.

He said that two BSF men have been taken captive by the BDR. He was also told that the BSF camp adjacent to the boundary pillar was encircled by the BDR. At the time of the incident about two dozen BSF jawans were in the camp. But no senior officer was present.

A BSF Gypsy was spotted being driven into Bangladesh.

Till late this evening there was no report of its whereabouts, Kharshiing said. He termed the episode as a well-planned “intrusion” by the BDR.

Senior BSF officers were not in the station when the incident occurred. When the BSF office was contacted no one, except staff officer Chauhan was available for comment. Additional district magistrate H. Shangpliang visited Lyngkhat today. A Meghalaya police battalion was sent to Pyrdiwah to tackle the situation, sources added.

   

 
 
NORWAY PUSH TO POWER PROJECT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 16: 
After mediating in war ravaged Sri Lanka, Norway is now turning towards strife-torn Kashmir not to help India and Pakistan resume their stalled dialogue but for a joint $1 billion hydro-electric project at Swalkot.

The two countries are likely to sign an agreement on the project during Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stolenberg’s visit beginning later this week.

Though he arrives here on April 19, Stolenberg will spend the first day in the country interacting with officials of the Norwegian embassy in Delhi and media persons accompanying him. He will be given a formal welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt the next morning.

After that he will visit Rajghat, receive foreign minister Jaswant Singh and call on President K.R. Narayanan. His formal interaction with his Indian counterpart and host Atal Bihari Vajpayee is in the evening which will be followed by delegation-level talks between the two sides and a banquet given in his honour by the Indian Prime Minister.

The ambitious hydro-electricity project at Swalkot, is scheduled to be built jointly by the Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Corporation and a consortium of Norwegian private companies. The firms to be involved are General Electric of Norway and another company, Stadkraft and Anlegg.

India’s past experience in involving foreign companies in the power sector in Jammu and Kashmir has not been satisfying. In the early eighties, it entered into a joint venture with France for the Dulhasti project. The enterprise ran into several problems and had to shelved for a few years before the leadership of the two countries intervened to revive it. However, Indian officials are optimistic about the venture.

The Norwegian leader, who will also visit Agra and Bangalore during his stay, will meet representatives from Wipro and Infosys — two leading Indian firms in the information technology sector. In Delhi, he would inaugurate a Norwegian film festival at India Habitat Centre and address a seminar on peacekeeping operations. He will leave for Mumbai on April 23 to catch the flight back home.

Over the past few years, Indo-Norwegian relations have shown signs of moving forward. The two sides started foreign office consultations in July 1999 which were followed by delegation-level talks between the two sides.Trade between the two sides now stands at $176 million and South Block is hopeful that in the coming days it is likely to go up considerably.

Officials say that in the future, most of Norway’s investment will be in the energy sector. Sources, however, said there is a possibility that the two sides would cooperate in the field of information technology and in areas like shipping, fishing and water management.

   

 
 
TELENGANA THREATENS TO SPLIT DESAM 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, April 16: 
Dissidence erupted in the Telugu Desam Party with deputy Speaker K. Chandradeskar Rao threatening to resign and float a new party, the Telengana Rashtra Samiti, by this month-end.

This is an attempt to protest against the injustice meted out to Telengana and breaking the promise of a separate statehood to the region.

Since the late seventies, autonomy to Telengana was promised by the Congress and the Desam regimes but nothing has been done till date.

Rao belonged to the group of 75 legislators who were hand picked by chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu for the Assembly in 1993 and again in 1999. He was the first Desam leader to shoot off a protest letter on the eve of the power tariff hike last year. Since then he skirted any attempt to meet the chief minister.

The growing dissidence in the Desam is not only aimed at Naidu but also his style of functioning and his coterie of ministers and bureaucrats.

The minorities and the Reddys have already distanced from the Desam. During the 1999 elections the Desam survived not on its own strength but on the popular wave in favour of the BJP and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Naidu also managed to survive the onslaught of the Congress which lost nearly 43 seats with margins of less than 500 votes and another 57 with margins of less than 1,500 votes.

Only a few of Naidu’s critics are surfacing in view of the vicious grip the Desam boss has over the party as well as absence of political acumen of any senior leader to run the party.

Two senior leaders, K. Vidhyadhar Rao and B. Gopalakrishna Reddy, tried to mobilise a group in the party but were brutally crushed by Naidu. Gopalakrishna Reddy lost his Assembly seat due to sabotage by Naidu in 1999. Since then he has almost been isolated in the party.

A senior Desam leader said if there was a strong opponent to Naidu about 85 to 100 legislators would support the new leadership. Naidu regularly monitors the partymen and initiates steps to quell any revolt in the Desam.

“Naidu thinks that he alone works and is always right. There are many who differ. But lack of a charismatic leadership has kept us glued to him. NTR’s son Harikrishna has disappointed many,” says a party leader.

But for the ensuing panchayat elections, the Congress campaign has failed to make any dent in the Desam popular base. But the Left campaign aimed at the middle-class is worrying Naidu because they had supported him in the last elections.

With fresh taxation anticipated in the guise of “user charges” the chief minister will have to wield his magic wand in yet another game of tricks in the political arena.

   

 
 
CONFUSION CLOUDS MILITANT ARREST 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, April 16: 
Controversy surrounds the “arrest” of Khalistan Commando Force chief Wassan Singh Zaffarwal from a roadside hotel near Amritsar bus stand on April 11.

While the government has described it as “an arrest”, senior police sources said it was mere “eyewash” as the militant, who had sought political asylum in Switzerland, had “given himself up”.

“There is no doubt that many terrorists are willing to come back to Punjab as the demand for a separate nation of Khalistan scarcely exists in the countryside now. They have families here and would like to get reunited with them. Whether Zaffarwal was “arrested” or he “surrendered” is immaterial. What is important is that people who had once terrorised the state are willing to join the mainstream,” a senior officer said.

Zaffarwal’s mother, Kulwant Kaur, who had been waiting for her son for years after he joined Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s group, is elated at the turn of events. “This is our government. If he had not returned now, he would have never got a second chance,” she said.

Zaffarwal’s village, Chaudharpura Dera in Gurdaspur, has turned into a VIP village. His house has been given a fresh coat of paint and family members, who were earlier shunned by most people, have become the most sought-after in the district. Those who would keep a distance from them are now making a beeline for “information” on Zaffarwal.

“My son has left terrorism and now wants to spread his word by democratic means. He should be welcomed back,” Kulwant said.

Zaffarwal’s “arrest” has put the Parkash Singh Badal government on a sticky wicket. While Badal’s detractors have started questioning the prudence of stage-managing the arrest, a debate is raging whether Punjab police, which allegedly had information of his whereabouts and had been “following” him, failed to arrest him when he landed at Amritsar airport over a month ago. That Zaffarwal was made to talk to reporters and give clarifications about his whereabouts and whether he was arrested or had surrendered has added to the controversy.

“We received information about Zaffarwal’s entry into Punjab from newspaper reports. What is intriguing is the way one of the country’s most wanted terrorist was allowed to leave Raja Sansi airport without being challenged. It is a complete failure on the part of those responsible for security at the airport. If they cannot be hauled up for reasons best known to the government, we cannot be blamed either,” a police officer said.

The police are apparently split on the “arrest”. While one section feels he should be tried and punished for terrorising the state, another feels that with only seven cases against him, it would be difficult for them to keep him in jail for a long time.

“Let us face the fact. Will we be able to get witnesses to testify against him? In any case, many of them have either died or are untraceable. Many are also likely to change their statement or turn hostile,” an officer said.

The issue has revitalised the Congress. The party has said that the episode had exposed the Badal government’s proximity to militants. The rehabilitation of hardcore militants Amarjit Singh Chawla as Punjab public service commission member and Virsa Singh Valtoha as Punjab short service commission member, the Zaffarwal incident has provided another stick to the Opposition to beat the government with.

   
 

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