Nearly a year ago, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) had asked the BSF to dismantle a footpath, considered the flashpoint, in Bangladesh territory under India’s “adverse possession”. The BDR moved in and ringed the BSF outpost at Meghalaya’s Pyrdiwah, where the footpath was being carved, after waiting in vain for an Indian response for 10 months.
A border agreement between the two countries prevents “defensive construction”, which covers roads, in areas “under adverse possession” — diplomatese for occupied territory.
The footpath issue was first raised in last June through a letter between the security personnel of the two sides. A month later, it was again referred to by the BDR during a flag meeting.
After a few months, the BDR asked the BSF to stop work and get back with a response by March 15. On April 16, when reports crossed the border that the footpath had been completed, the BDR stormed the area.
The BSF eventually tore down the footpath — but a few days after the issue spun out of control and 16 Indian jawans were killed.
The initial Indian inaction will not absolve the BDR if it is unable to disprove allegations of brutality and mutilation of the BSF jawans’ bodies. (Post-mortem chart on Page 6).
Intelligence sources said in Shillong the BSF deputy commandant, B.R. Mondal, was killed by the BDR in the presence of a Bangladeshi legislator in Kurigram. The sources said that BSF wireless monitors picked up messages saying ‘shoot him, don’t waste time’ and ‘aro ano’ (bring more).
The BSF claimed that the footpath was not a road and it was being constructed by villagers. However, security forces along border areas usually step in even if civilians start construction in sensitive territory.
Moreover, though the BDR stormed Pyrdiwah and outnumbered the BSF, there was no violence in the area. It was only after a BSF team tried to lead an assault on the BDR outpost at Baroibari in the Assam sector that the bloodshed occurred.
The BSF has pulled back from Baroibari, senior officials said. At Lyngkhat near Pyrdiwah, however, reports of a heavy build-up by the BDR have alerted the Indian forces. Villagers said Bangladeshi troops and civilians were moving close to the controversial footpath.
Swept up in a storm of protest cutting across political barriers in the House, the government, which had shown restraint over the past few days, talked tough today but refrained from giving the full story.
Foreign minister Jaswant Singh today accused the BDR of “intruding” into Pyrdiwah and iterated that it was the “unprovoked and unwarranted” action of the Bangladeshi security forces that led to the violence. But he was quick to point out that these developments would not affect the “strong and friendly” bilateral ties between Delhi and Dhaka.
Singh stressed on the marks of torture on the bodies of the BSF jawans and said a strong protest had been lodged with the Bangladesh government. “Criminal adventurism is a crime. India will not accept defilement of men in uniform. We will not take it lightly,” he told the Rajya Sabha.
He denied charges of intelligence failure, saying the “question simply cannot arise”.
Singh said his Bangladeshi counterpart Abdus Samad Azad had yesterday phoned him. This was followed by another call by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Hasina expressed regret at the unfortunate incidents and promised a “thorough investigation”.
Hasina, facing an Opposition backlash over several issues, including the border flare-up, is compelled to walk a tightrope vis-a-vis Delhi.
The Congress relented after Vajpayee assured Sonia that the government was open to all options, including setting up of a joint parliamentary committee to probe the Tehelka exposé, after crucial finance Bills were passed. Today’s understanding will allow the budget to be passed after discussion.
According to sources, Telugu Desam leader N. Chandrababu Naidu played an indirect role in ending the stalemate. Naidu kept in touch with Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi on a day-to-day basis since the JPC demand paralysed Parliament after it reconvened on April 16. Balayogi, a Desam nominee, expressed his displeasure over the way the railway budget was passed without discussion — an unprecedented step in parliamentary history.
Sources said during his meetings with government representatives, Balayogi threatened to stay away from the House when the general budget was taken up if the government went ahead and passed it without discussions.
The government had been opposing a JPC probe because the arithmetic was against it. If a JPC of 45 MPs were to be set up, 21 would be from the ruling alliance and 24 from the Opposition as the NDA is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha.
Sources said the government could now allow a discussion on a JPC knowing that it can shoot the proposal down in the Lok Sabha, where the NDA is in a majority.
But with the Congress condition of a JPC before it allows any discussion in Parliament holding up some key finance Bills, including the budget, Vajpayee wrote to Sonia late last night seeking her party’s cooperation.
Sonia responded immediately. “I... completely share your concern about the current impasse in Parliament. This year’s budget has so many negative aspects that its discussion is not only a constitutional formality but a practical imperative,” she said.
Sonia appealed to Vajpayee to reconsider the government’s stand and agree to a JPC and take “appropriate initiative for evolving a mutually acceptable solution”.
Vajpayee wrote to Sonia again today, appreciating her stand and suggesting that they meet.
Madhavrao Scindia and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi accompanied Sonia for the 20-minute meeting at Balayogi’s chambers. Pramod Mahajan assisted Vajpayee.
The Prime Minister later told reporters that Sonia had “responded positively” and said “we still stand for JPC but in the national interest we shall see that the budget is passed”. He said the “government will take a final view on the issue (JPC) with an open mind as and when it is raised in the House”.
“Where is the question of stalling Parliament when the government has said it has an open mind on JPC?” Sonia said.
Union home secretary Kamal Pande had said yesterday that the Bangladesh government was “unaware’’ of the BDR action. However, reports from Bangladesh suggest that BDR chief Major-General Fazlur Rehman had met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina immediately after sections of the force “moved into’’ Pyrdiwah, and kept her informed of the developments.
Rehman, according to sources in Dhaka, briefed several ministers in the Awami League government, including the home minister. He had apprised Hasina of the situation unfolding along the border in general and Pyrdiwah, a slice of territory in “adverse possession’’ of India, in particular.
In an interview to a local daily, Manab Jamin, on April 21, a senior BDR officer is quoted as having said that Rehman had discussed with Hasina the Pyrdiwah problem and the BSF move to construct a footpath there.
Hasina apparently approved of the BDR decision to move into Pyrdiwah to prevent the BSF from surreptitiously laying claim to the territory. Maps in possession of Dhaka and Delhi show Pyrdiwah as Bangladesh’s but in “adverse possession of India”.
The report quoted Rehman as saying that he got the impression that Hasina was “all along’’ with him as she was a “patriot’’.
Another Bangladeshi newspaper, Prothom Alo, said in a column today that a day before the BSF moved into Baroibari, which is Indian territory “in adverse possession of Dhaka”, the home minister, Mohammad Nasim, addressed a public meeting in Dhaka singing paeans to the BDR. The daily quotes Nasim as saying: “Our brave BDR jawans have taught India a stern lesson.”
In the backdrop of Nasim’s comments at the rally, the columnist has asked whether he had prior knowledge of the April 18 troop movement from Madhupur cantonment in Mymensingh district towards Baroibari. The BSF had moved into the area to pressure the Bangladeshis to vacate Pyrdiwah.
Nasim expressed regret over the killing of the 16 BSF jawans at Baroibari only after the Awami League secretariat asked him to.
Contrary to what spin doctors in Dhaka claim, Rehman is understood to have “good relations’’ with the Awami League government. He was a mukti joddha (freedom fighter) in the 1971 War of Liberation and had undergone training at an Indian intelligence camp in Chakrata. In fact, on March 31, he helped organise a rally for an association of freedom fighters in Dhaka.
“There is no substance in the claims being made by certain quarters in Delhi that Rehman is pro-BNP (the main Opposition party) or was collaborating with it,’’ a Bangladesh observer said.
Five days after the massacre of the jawans in Baroibari, the BSF chief’s preliminary report has indicated that the operation to move into the area was ill-planned.
He is understood to have said that adequate number of jawans and a matching firepower had not been mobilised before the BSF entered Baroibari.
The BSF troops were vastly outnumbered by the BDR and the Bangladesh army and easily overpowered.
A day before the verdict is out on the fate of her twin nominations, a jittery Jayalalitha today sprung a last-gasp surprise, jumping into the fray from two more Assembly constituencies.
Her nominations to Bhuvanagari in the northern belt and Pudukottai in the central region were, however, filed by loyalists who reportedly trooped into the offices of the returning officers and browbeat them into accepting the papers.
But Jayalalitha’s purported “contingency plan” is fraught with risk. Election Commission sources in Delhi said the papers could be considered invalid as the ADMK chief is unlikely to have taken a mandatory oath of affirmation.
Nominations can be filed in absentia only in cases where a candidate is behind bars or undergoing treatment in hospital. In both instances, a designated returning officer visits the candidate and administers an oath of affirmation in view of the “special circumstances”.
Neither of these conditions stands true of Jayalalitha, who is busy canvassing in Kanyakumari district. If her papers are to be valid, she should have taken the oath by 3 pm. There are no reports confirming this.
Jayalalitha’s mentor M.G. Ramachandran had similarly filed his papers from faraway Brooklyn Hospital in the US. Indian embassy officials had then been deputed to administer him the oath of affirmation.
A question mark has been looming over Jayalalitha’s candidature from Krishnagiri and Andipatti — from where she filed nominations earlier — because of her conviction in the Tansi scam. According to the poll panel, no person convicted for over two years can contest elections. But the final decision lies with the returning officer.
The decision on Jayalalitha’s nominations will be known tomorrow. State election commission officials remained tight-lipped on the day’s developments. All they said was: “It is for the returning officers concerned to decide on the matter. Period.”
The officers’ decision will be deemed final since courts have made it clear they would not intervene once the election process begins. Jayalalitha’s loyalists have, however, not given up hope. They argue that she has already taken the candidate’s oath twice, first in Krishnagiri and then in Andipatti. Therefore, there is no need for her to take it the third time even if she was filing nomination in absentia.
There are fears of a violent backlash if Jayalalitha’s papers are rejected tomorrow. Chief minister M. Karunanidhi, who also filed his nomination today, said the police would discharge their duty and provide adequate protection to the public in case the ADMK cadre run riot.
Court blowThe Supreme Court has dismissed a petition filed by Jayalalitha challenging the use of electronic voting machines in Tamil Nadu. It termed the use of EVMs “perfectly valid”, saying it did not understand why they could not be used.
“I will wait till April 26 for things to become clear. If a compromise isn’t reached by then, I will make everyone realise what an ‘alliance’ is. The dirty game that the pro-alliance leaders of both parties played was very unfortunate,” he said.
In his campaign against the alliance, Ghani Khan found an unlikely supporter in dissident Trinamul Congress leader Ajit Panja who said the veteran Congressman should have been given a “free hand” in selecting candidates in Malda. Panja felt the tangle over the Englishbazar seat was uncalled for as Trinamul, during the past two Lok Sabha polls, had not fielded candidates against Ghani Khan.
Trinamul has fielded Krishnendu Choudhury from Englishbazar. Choudhury is the chairman of the municipality there with BJP support. In an angry letter to AICC general secretary Kamal Nath, Ghani Khan has questioned the Congress’ alliance with a party which can take the support of the BJP.
But state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee stepped up the heat on Ghani Khan, saying he would not campaign in any constituency where the two parties had failed to reach an understanding.
In Malda, Congress activists have already begun writing anti-alliance slogans on the walls. “We have been told to do so by Barkatda,” they said.
Before leaving for Kaliachak to campaign for his brother, Abu Hassem Khan Chowdhury, Ghani Khan said: “The alliance-makers didn’t spend much time on candidate-selection. So I don’t have much to say about the result in Malda.” The veteran leader got very sore after Trinamul fielded candidates against his brother and sister.
A chemical engineer from Calcutta’s University College of Technology, Bhattacharjee, 59, was the spirit behind the uranium project in Jaduguda. He was director of Barc’s chemical engineering and technology group before his present assignment.
Bhattacharjee reportedly belongs to the key group of scientists and engineers who helped develop the weapons technology. He was awarded the Padma Shri.
Now that you are in the hot seat, are you tense?
I can’t afford to be tense. You may have increased workload, but you should never be tense because you have to make right decisions.
How does it feel to be the director of Barc?
It is a hot seat. But sitting in it, you get professional satisfaction. You feel your work, your contribution to the organisation have been acknowledged.
You are from Calcutta?
Yes, but I was born in Bangladesh, in Dhaka.
You did your schooling in Bangladesh?
No, in Calcutta. I enrolled in a Bengali-medium school after we came to Batanagar from Bangladesh in 1950 as refugees. Things had become too hot for us in Bangladesh and our neighbours had said they could not protect us any longer.
So your family had to leave?
Yes, suddenly. In fact, we had only two days to leave. We could not sell anything, but left everything behind. My father was a zamindar of sorts. He had a friend in Batanagar and he suggested that we move there.
How old were you then?
Only seven-and-a-half years. But I still remember our palatial house in Bangladesh, where we would organise Durga and Kali pujas, where buffaloes and goats would be sacrificed during the pujas.
What did your family manage to bring to Calcutta except, of course, memories?
Nothing. Only memories. My father had about Rs 1000 on him when we reached Batanagar. He had a tough time.
How did he manage?
It’s a long story. In Bangladesh, my father had never had to do anything for a living, but in Batanagar he found a job as handler of finances of a company. He was hired because he was trustworthy.
Did he always insist that you toe his line too?
Oh yes. Trustworthiness is an asset of our family. He would always say ‘Don’t forget you are my son’.
Did his advice help you when you joined the country’s premier nuclear establishment, where many things are shrouded in secrecy?
Yeah. I have kept the trust put in me.
What earned you the top post? You have always been so low-key that not much is known about you.
Barc —- and the nation —- is the focus of our attention. We cannot talk about ourselves or publicise what we are doing. My scientists know what they are doing is classified. They can get professional satisfaction, but no publicity.
But don’t you think that they too deserve public recognition at times?
Not really. They should get recognition in terms of quicker promotion and advancement in their career. It may be a bottleneck, but that is how it is.
Can’t it be frustrating for these bright minds?
May be for some. But most of them realise the importance of their work and they are not frustrated. They accept the way things are. They know what they are doing is challenging and this keeps them busy. They understand why they are not sent abroad to read their papers or attend seminars.
How long did it take to develop the nuclear technology that we have today?
It took 13-14 years to get the first results. But this was not too long because other countries have also taken 15 years or so to develop it.
There were moments of despair?
I wouldn’t say that. But we consistently made mid-course corrections. We had nobody to help us.
Not even friendly countries like the Soviet Union or Russia?
No, not anyone. Nobody would give us the technology. It is totally indigenous, developed with no outside help, from A-Z.
Is our technology different from that of other nuclear powers?
At least four other countries have similar technology, including Germany and UK.
When did you join Barc?
Who was the director then?
Dr Homi Bhabha.
Did you have a chance to meet or talk to him?
No, I was too junior at that time. Moreover, as trainee, I was staying in Bandra, where our training school was, and not in Trombay, where Dr Bhabha was. By the time we came out of the school in August 1966, he was dead. But we feel his contribution to this day.
You mean Barc is just following in his footsteps?
Essentially yes. We are only making some changes here and there.
Was he never wrong?
On the contrary, he was 100 per cent right. If he had been alive today, he might have asked why we could not achieve the result 10 years earlier. But after the 1974 blasts, we encountered problems we had not foreseen. No one helped us and we were virtually cut off from the rest of the world in terms of nuclear technology.
Where would you place India in terms of nuclear muscle?
In terms of technological capability, we are on a par with the developed countries. It is accepted worldwide. We have technology at the front end and the back end. Our nuclear fuel cycle technology is complete. We are not dependent on anybody.
Since our uranium deposit is limited, you are reprocessing plutonium and recycling it. You are also trying to overcome the problem with thorium. But where is the technology for full-fledged reactors based on thorium?
We have to separate plutonium and recycle it. If you don’t reprocess, you cannot go beyond 10,000 mw because our uranium source is very limited. Eventually, we will have to fall back on thorium. We have to develop technology to extract power from thorium. We will have to design reactors based on thorium.
How long will it take to develop the technology?
It will take a little bit, may be four or five years. The basic technology is already with us. We have a reactor in Kalpakkam dedicated to thorium use. But it has to be done on a larger scale and that’s our main priority.
You see thorium as the only answer to the fuel problem?
Absolutely. India has the third-largest thorium deposit in the world after the US and China. It will last us centuries.
But there is a growing trend against nuclear power plants in the West, especially in European countries. They are scaling down operations.
They are not building new reactors because they don’t need any more electricity. But they are extending the lives of the existing ones. But in many Asian countries like South Korea and China, they are putting up several power plants. It is wrong to say the number of plants is coming down because some western countries which have already met their electrical need are scaling down operations.
You mean we should have more nuclear power plants?
Definitely. We need more power for growth of industry. So, nuclear power is a big advantage.
But these plants are producing more and more nuclear waste, which is a growing concern in the West.
This is misinformation. It all started because the nuclear powers started their programmes not to produce electricity, but to build weapons. They competed with each other and produced warheads of megatons especially since their delivery system was inaccurate. So, they produced huge waste and that became a major problem.
But now, the warheads can be very small, but equally devastating because the delivery system is more accurate. With the development of technology, the number of tests has also come down because you can simulate the tests on computer and find out the yields. So, waste is not a major problem now.
But what’s happening in the third-world nuclear states?
You don’t need so many warheads. Now let’s talk of electricity. We are producing 2,700 MW from nuclear sources, less than three per cent of the total electricity generated. The beauty of the nuclear power is its fuel element is very small, so the waste is also less. It goes down further if you reprocess the plutonium and separate the uranium. We are using this technology in Tarapur.
How dependable is the computer simulation since there are conflicting reports?
It depends on how accurate your mathematics or computation is. If your math is proper, there is no need for ground testing. It is simply not necessary.
But should a country like India close its options for underground testing?
No. But if it is below a certain range, simulated tests can be done in labs and it is allowed.
So, no more Pokhran is required?
It’s a decision taken by the country’s leadership and I don’t want to comment on this.
But having bombs is not enough if you do not have an adequate delivery system.
But this is not our job.
You are doing what you are supposed to?
Coming back to your organisation, how did things change at Barc in the past three decades or so?
We have come a long way, both in terms of basic science and technological development. It was not there when I joined. We are now well-regarded not just in India, but internationally.
You have evolved over time?
You have used the right term because an institution like this can evolve only over time. We are continuously improving, on our reactors and other things.
Q: Barc has now been declared a nuclear weapons lab. Does it compare with other such labs like Los Alamos in the US?
A: No, ours is not a weapons lab only. We also work on the weapons system.
Q: Like the Tata’s once-famous slogan —- “We also make steel”.
A: (laughs) Yes, weapon is our job, but one of our jobs. In fact, it is a negligible part of our work. Barc is perhaps the only lab in the world involved in a wide spectrum of research. Unfortunately people associate Barc only with nuclear weapons.
Q: But does it compare with labs like Los Alamos?
A: It need not.
Q: Is it an advantage or a disadvantage?
A: It is an advantage because ours is a poor country. Why should we invest a lot of money only in weapons research?
Q: But then your attention gets diverted, it is not focused.
A: No, our only aim is to maintain a minimum deterrence and then do other research.
Q: But that is not the case in the West.
A: That’s because they wanted to be superpowers. That was their objective and I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Q: Barc is essentially an R&D lab, but you are producing radio isotopes for nuclear medicine as if you were a production unit and doing a host of other things that no other weapons lab does.
A: I agree that ours is an R&D lab. At the same time, our job is to see India is a strong nation, not just in terms of nuclear weapons, but in terms of electricity, health, agriculture and food. We are doing research on all these areas. It is the only multi-disciplinary research institution in the country.
Q: You mean it is your strength and not your weakness?
A: Absolutely. We have all kinds of experts available under one roof and they can solve all the problems.
Q: How secure is Barc in light of the Los Alamos episode?
A: As secure as it can be. We very religiously follow the security drill and securitymen are doing a good job.
Q: But US spy satellites are watching you. There is no way you can hide from them.
A: Yes, but they can pick up only the outside movements.
Q: Inside, you believe you have no Lees of Alamos-type. You trust your men? (Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese-Chinese, was accused of passing on classified US nuclear information to China, but he was cleared of some of the charges)
A: Of course. They are all dedicated scientists and engineers. They are trustworthy. We are not unduly worried. We have never had any such incidents. No one has ever attempted this.
Q: Or rather no one has ever been caught?
A: It is not a question of catching someone. We have our internal system of checking and assessing people.
Q: What happened after hackers broke into your website, into your system?
A: Hackers could not break into our system. They hacked what was publicly available. They could not do any damage to the organisation. Do you think we keep sensitive information on the public domain?
Q: One last question. You lead an organisation that makes weapons of mass destruction. Are you religious?
A: We don’t make weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear energy has many other applications as well.
But to answer your last question, I am not religious. I don’t go to temples, but I believe there is somebody above all of us.
A division bench of Justices A.P. Misra and Umesh C. Banerjee directed the state to pay them their “entitlement by reason of the revision made available from August 1, 1987”. The employees will receive their arrears from that date.
The Bengal government had re-designated the lab assistants in colleges and physical instructors as demonstrators and instructors and described them as teaching staff. However, the revised pay scale applicable to the teachers eluded them for almost 15 years.
A single-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court had upheld the case of the employees, but the appellant bench of the high court rejected their contention.
On appeal, the apex court set aside the appellant bench’s decision and restored the order of the single-judge bench. “The criteria of fixation of pay scale is dependent upon the placement of the personnel concerned. In the event the place is in a teaching post, obviously one expects to get a pay scale fixed as a teacher and not as a non-teaching member of the staff,” the apex court said.
Senior counsel A.K. Ganguly, appearing for the employees, argued that the state government re-designating them as “instructors” from “assistants” was a “hoax” as it was “otherwise meaningless” in terms of salary and pay structure.
The apex court observed that “it is rather a strong criticism”, but accepted the counsel’s contention as “justifiable”.
The apex court pointed out that the state government had on May 2, 1988 directed affiliated universities to take necessary action to confer teaching status on lab and physical instructors, while their case was pending before the high court.
The subsequent government order issued on July 27, 1988 had declared that the instructors were “members of the teaching staff”.
“A teacher cannot possibly be allowed a pay scale of a non-teaching post. The same is contradiction in terms and we need not dilate thereon,” the judges said, while allowing the appeal.
The state government had sought the Election Commission’s ratification for a month’s extension for Sanyal as the Assembly polls are scheduled to be held on May 10.
State chief secretary Manish Gupta today said the Election Commission initially did not have any objection to Sanyal’s extension. The commission, however, sent the state’s request for clarification to the Union home ministry, which is the overseer of the service rules for IPS officers.
The ministry sent a note to the Election Commission last week, turning down the extension. Gupta clarified that the service rules for Central government officers had been amended following the extension of the retirement age of state government employees from 58 to 60 years.
“Under the new retirement age, the Union government had decided not to grant extension to its employees beyond 60 years,” Gupta said.
In all probability, Ajoy Prasad, senior additional director-general of police (organisation), will officiate as the director-general of police of West Bengal from May 1.
Prasad has mostly spent his career either in the districts or with the Central Reserve Security Force in West Bengal. He will be a relatively new face in the corridors of Writers’ Buildings.
Though Prasad is a temporary arrangement, R.C. Sharma, additional director-general of police (intelligence), is slated to be the next state police chief. Sharma, who is the seniormost after Sanyal, will have to cool his heels till the new government is sworn in.
The state government had asked Sanyal about three months ago to shift to the Public Service Commission. But Sanyal refused.
Candidate count dropsThe number of candidates for the ensuing Assembly polls is going to be far less than in the last elections in 1996.
Today, when the filing for candidature ended at 3 pm, 1,822 people had filed nominations. In 1996, the final list of candidates in 17 districts and Calcutta was 2,035.
This time, each person filing a nomination has had to pay Rs 5,000 as deposit instead of Rs 500 as in 1996. The increased amount was introduced in the Lok Sabha polls in 1999.
Chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen said the final list of candidates will be put up on April 26 after scrutiny and withdrawals are over. “I appeal to all candidates to canvass for votes in a peaceful manner. They should allow their adversaries to seek votes without hindrance,” he said. The CEO, who was in touch with parties or candidates every day, will, however, convene an all-party meeting after April 26.
In a two-page letter faxed to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on April 18, a copy of which was forwarded to Union home minister L.K. Advani, Ghising, in his capacity as the chairman of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, has requested Bhattacharjee to immediately hand over the case to the CBI.
The chief minister said he had not received any such letter from Ghising. “I have no knowledge of such a letter or demand. I have been on the road campaigning for the past few days and have not seen the letter, if at all it has been sent. I will only be able to comment after I go through the letter,” Bhattacharjee told reporters after an election rally in the evening.
Charging the state home department with protecting the culprits, Ghising says in the letter, a copy of which is with The Telegraph: “The state police have been conducting their interrogation in a half-hearted manner. The information gathered from the arrested culprits was not followed up and acted upon. The police are keeping under wraps the names of the main conspirators and masterminds disclosed by the arrested persons during interrogation.”
“Directly or indirectly, the authorities are trying to save the real conspirators. Appropriate penal charges of abetment of crime has deliberately not been filed to save the main conspirators,” he added.
Ghising said a CBI probe was necessary because on the day of the attack, “very surprisingly, the Darjeeling district magistrate, superintendent of police, the deputy inspector-general of police (Jalpaiguri range), the inspector-general of police (north Bengal), the circle inspector, Kalimpong, the additional superintendent of police (Kurseong) and the officer-in-charge of Kurseong police station were all absent from duty. This was more then a mere coincidence”.
Maintaining that the prime plotters had not been arrested and neither had the sophisticated arms and ammunition been recovered, Ghising accused the government of failing to take any initiative to break the deadlock. “Neither did the state government engage the three GNLF branch committees in any kind of official dialogue either at Calcutta or elsewhere nor did they send any competent representatives to Darjeeling to break the impasse,” he said.
Ghising said the CBI was the only competent agency to effectively investigate and take action in such cases. “This is necessary because most of the criminals involved in the incident have already taken shelter in neighbouring Nepal. The state police authorities have admitted that liaising with their Nepalese counterparts is a major difficulty. The culprits may in future try and take shelter in either Bangladesh or Bhutan,” the letter says.
GNLF general secretary and executive councillor Dawa Pakhrin and his colleague Roshan Rai were driving down National Highway 31A when they said the assailants struck at a desolate point between Singtam and Rangpo. The two men, who were travelling in a three-car motorcade, were returning to Darjeeling from Gangtok .
“Around 12.30 pm on Sunday afternoon, the criminals rained bullets and pushed down boulders from the steep mountain side. A large boulder smashed into the windscreen of our Zen, shattering it completely. Roshan, who was at the wheel, somehow managed to control the car and we escaped. When our security guards, following us in two Gypsies, returned the fire, the miscreants slipped away,” Pakhrin said.
Unwilling to name the attackers, he said: “All that I can tell you is that I am on the hitlist of anti-GNLF forces as well as a dissident GNLF leader. It is for the police to establish who was behind the assassination bid.”
Sikkim inspector-general of police Omha Hung Subba, however, ruled out an ambush and said preliminary investigations suggested that the stretch on the highway where the incident took place was a “rolling-stone” zone and a loose boulder may have hit the vehicle. Superintendent of police (East Sikkim) Akshay Sachdeva echoed Subba and said that the GNLF leader may have “panicked” after the boulders fell.