8 o’clock tryst with destiny and superfast counting
Booth boycott in terror terrain
Violence rocks repoll, one killed in Pingla
Bush’s feel-good envoy puts India on radar
Laloo goes to people with court relief
Brother’s bond for Hindujas
Apolitical women join empowerment drive
Sightings trigger search for caracal
Narmada water fails to slake parched throats
Goans chase Canadian dream

Calcutta, May 12: 
Tomorrow, at 8 am sharp, when counting begins, it will mark an end to the cumbersome process of tallying millions of ballot papers. It will also be the end of a long, nail-biting wait for the final verdict.

Poll personnel and election agents will just have to jot down votes cast electronically from the voting machine displays and tally them in the end to get to the result.

Counting will take place in 96 centres in the state. Eleven of them are in Calcutta, including the Alipore Survey Building and the Netaji Indoor Stadium.

According to chief electoral officer (CEO) Sabyasachi Sen, counting will begin with postal ballots. “This will take some time as there are several formalities involved,” Sen said.

The actual process of tallying the votes for each candidate will begin when each voting machine is held up in full view of the election agents and the count-display button is activated.

The voting machines will then serially display the number of votes each candidate has got, each figure showing up after a beep and staying on display for about 15 seconds.

The numbers will be copied and tabulated for each booth. This will be very different from the days when ballot papers were retrieved from boxes, unfolded, sorted and then counted.

If the agents raise no objections, the tallied results will be sent to the returning officers’ table. He will have the master table of votes polled from each machine and will make the final count.

“Results of seats which have fewer candidates will be declared earlier as the counting process will speed up in these constituencies,” Sen said. He expects the results to be out by evening.

A massive security arrangement has been made around the counting stations. There will be gun-toting para-military personnel inside the counting rooms as well as around the premises.

“I am also seeing to it that standby generator sets are placed in all the centres so that there is no interruption during the counting process,” Sen said.


Bishnupur (South 24-Parganas), May 12: 
There were 943 of them, but not one broke ranks to vote as repoll was held at Uttar Kastomohan village in Bishnupur (East) Assembly constituency.

This was their way of protesting against the “mafia raj” and “continued police inaction” in their village.

At the end of the day, when no one had turned up to vote at booth 47 in the Uttar Kastomohan Free Primary School despite desperate pleas by candidates, polling personnel and policemen roped in a mentally unsound person to cast the lone ballot.

Repolling was ordered in this booth and seven others following charges of rigging and violence on Thursday.

The district administration and CPM leaders appeared “most worried” over the Uttar Kastomohan boycott.

“We are upset at the way the villagers boycotted today’s repolling despite our assurances to look into their grievances. This will send a wrong signal to the people of Bengal,” said Sujan Chakraborty, CPM leader from South 24-Parganas.

Utpal Mukherjee, additional district magistrate, South 24-Parganas, who was also camping in the village for the entire day, said police had tried their best to convince villagers to vote but to no avail.

The villagers were determined. “We are left with no option but to stay away from the repolling process to protest against the reign of terror unleashed by dons in connivance with police in the village,” alleged Samar Duari, a resident of Uttar Kastomohan.

Villagers claimed they had been spending sleepless nights after Sagar, a ganglord from neighbouring Amgachia village, unleashed terror on polling day.

“Sagar and his associates attacked us with bombs and firearms after polling began on Thursday but no policeman came to our rescue,” said Susanta Naskar, a teacher of a primary school. “But police started harassing us when two antisocials were lynched by a mob,” he added.

Women appear to be the main target of terror. “We are fleeing from homes as antisocials here always make us their primary targets,” said Bisakha Bhowmik, who has now put up in a neighbouring village. She said they cannot return to their homes until “protection is given to us”.

She said boycott was the last weapon to “make the administration swing into action”.

Villagers also submitted a memorandum during the day demanding “immediate shifting” of some “corrupt” policemen from Bishnupur police station.

Subir Chatterjee, presiding officer of booth 47, had to idle away time with four other polling officials throughout the day as no voter turned up. “We are feeling bored since we have nothing to do,” said Chatterjee.

Asked if they had prevailed upon the mentally unsound person from the Kastomohan village to cast his vote, he said no.

However, the lone voter, Rabin Naskar, said he was called to the booth first and then asked to cast his vote.

“How was I to know that others have boycotted the repolling?” he said.


Calcutta, May 12: 
Violence erupted in Bishnupur in South 24-Parganas and Midnapore as voters cast the ballot in 90 booths where repoll was ordered.

Tension also ran high in finance minister Asim Dasgupta’s constituency, Khardah, with both the CPM and Trinamul trading charges and blows.

Police fired six rounds to disperse warring CPM and Trinamul Congress supporters in Bishnupur.

A CPM sympathiser was killed at Pingla in Midnapore in a post-poll clash — the only incident of violence reported from the trouble-torn district.

Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee told reporters this afternoon that Mamata Banerjee’s car was intercepted and detained by the SDPO, Belghoria, when she was going to Khardah with the party’s polling agents. “She was asked to leave Khardah at once or face dire consequences,” Banerjee alleged.

Chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen said he had requested the state home secretary to inquire into the incident.

Banerjee also alleged there were incidents of bomb-throwing and booth-capturing in Khardah shortly after repolling started.

Trinamul supporters were sore when police arrested five of their partymen and detained two Tata Sumos they were travelling in on charges of visiting a number of booths without having the necessary papers.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas complained that Mamata had visited a number of booths in Khardah and tried to vitiate the polling process.

“She has violated election norms by moving around the booths along with her party supporters. She can’t visit any booth either in Khardah or Titagarh because she is neither the sitting MLA or MP, nor the candidate from any of the two constituencies. Therefore, we have lodged an official complaint against her,” Biswas said at the CPM headquarters this evening.

Polling was very low in Titagarh where Central forces prevented CPM MP Tarit Topdar from entering a booth when he came along with his partymen to supervise the poll process.

However, total repolling in the state touched 60 per cent, Sen said.

Beleghata blast

Five persons were seriously injured in an explosion at Chowlpatti Road under Beleghata police station this afternoon. Three of them were admitted to NRS Medical College and Hospital while two others were rushed to a local nursing home.

Police said the five were making explosives inside a shanty to disrupt tomorrow’s counting process when a bomb went off. Tension gripped the area after the blast. Senior policemen led by DC, eastern suburban division, Mihir Bhattacharya, rushed to the spot.


Washington, May 12: 
The Bush administration is delighted that deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage completed a difficult mission in New Delhi with finesse and sensitivity.

As Armitage travels back to Washington, the assessment here is that he virtually achieved the impossible by enhancing America’s stock of goodwill in India during a brief stop of 24 hours.

“He (Armitage) has been very active in India,” US state department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters as the deputy secretary wound up his discussions with Indian leaders.

“The Indian government told us they appreciated Armitage’s presentation and they looked forward to further exchanges,” the spokesman added.

The state department added its bit to the euphoria created in India by the deputy secretary’s remarks on Pakistan when it denied yesterday that a mission similar to the one by Armitage was being mounted to Islamabad.

Boucher was pointedly asked if such a mission was on the cards since Pakistan too was a nuclear power. He replied that he had not even heard of any such discussion.

The controversial National Missile Defence (NMD) plans were at the centre of Armitage’s talks with Indian leaders, but it was his carefully measured references to Pakistan which caught public attention.

Contrary to the widespread interpretation of Armitage’s remarks in New Delhi, he did not, in fact, stop short of naming Pakistan as a rogue state.

He dutifully stuck to the letter and spirit of his department’s latest report on the patterns of global terrorism which describes Pakistan as a mixed bag. In briefings here on the annual report, US officials have extolled Islamabad’s cooperation with Washington in fighting terrorism and at the same time expressed concern about support to the Taliban.

The report also said for the second year running that the “focal point for terrorism” had shifted from the West Asia to South Asia. Armitage said as much in different words.

During a week when the Bush administration invited Pakistan’s foreign minister to visit Washington, it would be an insult to Armitage’s intelligence to even suggest that he would say anything that seriously upsets Pakistani sensibilities, that too from Indian soil.

But by reiterating the Bush administration’s carefully constructed formulations on Pakistan and terrorism to the uninitiated in India, the deputy secretary scored major brownie points for America without actually giving away anything. Indeed, he doused the embers of resentment against the Bush missile proposals by pandering to the wishful thinking among the Indian public on Pakistan.

A day earlier, Armitage had done the same thing in Seoul. He countered opposition in South Korea to NMD by indicating that Washington may resume support for Seoul’s “sunshine” diplomacy of engaging North Korea.

Bush had earlier expressed himself against it by even publicly disowning his secretary of state Colin Powell.

It is clear from the Boucher’s briefing and public statements in New Delhi by the ministry of external affairs as well American officials that India did not give away anything at the talks yesterday.

Indeed, public criticism of the new US defence and non-proliferation proposals last week tempered the government’s attitude and concretised a stand which was in conformity with New Delhi’s decades-old national consensus on disarmament.

At the end of a week of hectic speculation, India and the US are, therefore, back to square one, except, of course, that India is now on the radar screen of US foreign policy.


New Delhi and Patna, May 12: 
The Supreme Court today directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) not to arrest Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Laloo Prasad Yadav in the fodder scam criminal cases scheduled to go to the special bench in Ranchi.

The order came on a CBI petition seeking to cancel a stay of Patna High Court. The court had declined to transfer a few related cases to Ranchi, especially after the creation of Jharkhand, saying that Laloo would then have to be tried for alleged crimes in the jurisdiction of the new state also. However, fodder scam related cases involving the jurisdiction of the Ranchi court were allowed to go on as the apex court said in its brief order that “such cases in the Ranchi court” could proceed uninterruptedly.

The bench also issued notices to Laloo, another former chief minister, Jagannath Mishra, and other respondents on the CBI’s petition asking why the cases should not be transferred to Ranchi. In the interim order, the bench said that “meanwhile, we direct that no respondent shall be arrested”, making it clear that Laloo, Mishra and others would not be arrested.

As news of the ruling reached Patna, cheer spread in 1, Anne Marg, chief minister Rabri Devi’s residence. A smile breaking out on his face, Laloo hailed the judgment as a victory of rule of law in the country. He set out a relieved man for Sitamarhi, where at least 20 people were killed in a hailstorm on Thursday. “Now it is time for me to go to the people and stand by them,” he said.

But his worries were far from over with the RJD rebels, led by Ranjan Yadav, stepping up efforts to dislodge the Rabri Devi government. Undeterred by the court relief for Laloo till the end of the summer vacation, RJD (Democratic) leaders reached Patna and spouted shrill rhetoric on development.

As Ranjan Yadav and other rebel MPs landed at the airport about an hour after Laloo had left, the crowd roared in defiance against the RJD. In receptions hosted at street corners, Ranjan declared a no-holds-barred struggle against the Rabri regime to usher in “an era of growth and development”.

Hailed as “Vikashpurush”, Ranjan accused Laloo of turning the government into a “bhrastaraj” after promising “bhotkaraj chotkaraj (government by popular vote is government for the poor)”. He blamed Laloo for the state’s bifurcation and ignoring Bihar’s development. “After bifurcation, it was I who went from door to door appealing for an economic package. It was I who went to districts to convince people about the need for a more concerted effort for developm-ent. Instead of supporting me, he sent goondas in Jaynagar where I was stoned,” Ranjan said, amid slogans of “Laloo Yadav down down”.


New Delhi, May 12: 
Two Hinduja brothers, Srichand and Gopichand, were today allowed to go abroad by the Supreme Court, while the third, Prakashchand, was held back as a “guarantor” in India. The two brothers were asked to return by August 20.

The apex court ordered the trial court hearing the Bofors kickbacks case to cancel Prakashchand’s bail and have him arrested if this condition was not met.

A division bench of Justice M.B. Shah and Y.K. Sabharwal directed Srichand and Gopichand, both British nationals, to furnish a bond of Rs 15 crore each. The sureties in the form of bank guarantees were ordered to be furnished in the special trial court. The bench made it clear that it was an interim arrangement and the brothers should show up for trial by August 20.

Srichand Hinduja was at the centre of a recent controversy in Britain over allegations that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s closest political ally, Peter Mandelson, had acted improperly in an application for a British passport by the business tycoon.

It was later revealed that Hinduja was with national security adviser Brajesh Mishra when he called on Blair to discuss nuclear issues.

The apex court said in its interim order the brothers’ counsel should attend every hearing and not seek any adjournment to prolong proceedings. The trial court was ordered to proceed ignoring Delhi High Court’s remarks against the Hindujas when they sought to go abroad.

The order came on an appeal by the Hindujas’ counsel, Kapil Sibal, a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha. Sibal suggested that one of them, possibly Prakashchand, could be “retained” in the country if the court wanted a “guarantor” so that an interim solution was found to the legal wrangle. Accepting the suggestion, the Supreme Court ordered the two brothers to be present before the trial judge whenever required.

“If there is any violation of conditions imposed today, it will be open to the special judge to pass appropriate orders to cancel the bail of P.P. Hinduja,” the bench said. The court added that after the two brothers returned, Prakashchand could move an application to go abroad and one of his siblings could be kept as a “guarantor”. It posted the case for further hearings on August 7, when the issue of grant of permanent relief to the Hindujas would be taken up.

Yesterday, the apex court had asked the CBI to file an affidavit detailing the trial proceedings. The investigating agency, in its six-page affidavit today, said Prakashchand, being a Swiss national, could not be extradited without his consent under Swiss laws, and hence he could not be allowed to go abroad. It said the lower courts had rightly denied permission to the other two brothers to go abroad.

The Hindujas were denied permission first by the trial court. The Delhi High Court also turned down their appeal.


New Delhi, May 12: 
Women’s organisations not backed by political parties have become active partners in the Vajpayee government’s year-long programmes celebrating 2001 as the year of women’s empowerment.

“This is the first time that the government has involved non-government organisations so actively,” says Jyotsna Chatterjee of the Joint Women’s Programme (JWP), a committee set up by the government to monitor the programmes. Chatterjee is also a member of three sub-committees dealing with different aspects of women’s empowerment.

However, not all women’s organisations are keen to be associated with the project — especially the CPM-backed All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), which has kept a safe distance. So has the CPI-backed National Women’s Federation of India. These organisations hold the Sangh parivar guilty of pushing women back into the kitchen and have little faith in the government’s professed commitment to women’s empowerment.

“We will have to see who are in the committee and what their policies are,” said AIDWA member Kalindi Deshpande. She added that the government often uses non-government organisations to further their own credentials.

“So, we will have to look very critically at all issues — what the government means by women’s empowerment — before taking a decision to be part of the programme,” Kalindi explained.

The AIDWA has not received any letter from the government yet. “We had been part of the National Commission for Women when it was formed. Subhashini Ali, former CPM MP from Kanpur, had joined the commission but quit later because of differences on the functioning of the organisation,” Kalindi said.

Other women’s organisations, however, have started working in tandem with the government. The JWP, which is equally critical of the Sangh parivar’s agenda on gender, is willing to test this programme out. “The slogan can be successful only if it is put into motion with the correct inputs,” Chatterjee said.

The 10-member committee has asked all state-level women’s commissions to take the slogan of women’s empowerment year seriously and chalk out programmes.

The subjects to be covered are political and economic empowerment of women, education, health and environment. Yesterday, Delhi Commission for Women, along with JWP members, discussed the issue of political empowerment.

“We are planning a seminar in which there will be an interface between political leaders and women activists,” Chatterjee said.

The dearth of women’s representation at all levels of political hierarchy has been discussed by political parties though many of them are not ready to back the 33 per cent reservation Bill for women in Parliament and Assemblies.

The basic idea is to tap the leadership potential in women and sharpen their skills for entry into an active political arena.


Bhopal, May 12: 
The entire forest department has thrown its might behind an effort to track down a puny two-and-half-feet panther-like animal.

The department’s efforts are not misplaced as the tiny animal was considered to be extinct for two decades. Ecstatic forest officials are launching a search with wildlife experts and researchers in the semi-deciduous forests of Madhya Pradesh after a research student from the Indian Institute of Forest Management here spotted the animal this March.

Standing at two-and-a-half feet and stretching about that long from nose to tail, it is perhaps the smallest member of the panther family. It can leap 12 to 14 feet to prey on flying birds. It has triangular cocked ears with tufts of fur sticking out at the pointed ends and its small tail has a black circle at the end. Its body peaks at the haunches, much like the cheetah’s. But it can’t roar; it purrs like a domestic cat.

It is a caracal — biological name: felis caracal, Persian name: Shiagosh. It is not to be found in any zoo today. Africa has listed it as a highly endangered species. There is a law protecting them in Iran. No one knows whether it exists in Afghanistan. The only other country recorded as its habitat is India — Kutch, parts of Punjab and central India — where it had not been seen here for over 20 years.

Realising that the animal was on the verge of extinction, the Centre issued a stamp with its picture in 1976. It also mentioned the caracal in appendix I of the list of endangered animals, still hoping that perhaps the strain was not wiped out.

The animal was last spotted around that time in Shivpuri, in the Chambal range of north Madhya Pradesh, by principal secretary of forests J.J. Dutta. In the mid-eighties, chief conservator of forests H.S. Pabla found a caracal skin in the Panna Tiger Reserve.

There were no official records of caracals till this March, when Shekhar K.S., a research student working on a project on rare animals, spotted the cat one night in Chhatarpur, bordering Uttar Pradesh.

“We had been travelling in the forests for 20 days. That day was particularly tiring. We had not halted for two days and travelled 250 km through rough terrain,” Shekhar recalled, speaking to The Telegraph. “Suddenly the headlights of the jeep flashed on this animal. My assignment is on rare animals, and I could have sworn it was a caracal. It happened all in a flash. Being a shy animal, it retreated and vanished. I asked everyone travelling with me, including my driver, just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. They had all seen it. The description fit perfectly.”

The institute’s administration officer, S.M. Hassan, immediately relayed the sighting message to all concerned in the forest departments. Villagers in Chhatarpur told forest officials that, indeed, lately they had seen such an animal in the forests.

“This was during Holi, the fields were ripe with peas and wheat. The birds flocked the field, there were snakes and mice. It was the right time for the caracal to come into the fields because all the prey were there,” Hassan said.

Enthused by this finding, forest guards kept watch through the nights — the caracal is a nocturnal animal. “But they saw nothing. There were other wild animals, but not the caracal,” Hassan added.

“Initially, though excited, nobody really believed it,” said Shekhar, adding how the enthusiasm slackened. “It’s no big deal if you see a bear or a tiger, but if you said you’ve seen a caracal, it’s a mistake.”

But three weeks later, a team of scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India, on a mission to Bhind in the northernmost district bordering Uttar Pradesh near Etawah to take stock of Nilgais, spotted a caracal on a bird-kill. The second sighting brought back the zest for the search.

“We know nothing as yet. We don’t know how many of them are there. We first have to make a map,” said a cautious state wildlife warden.

The department has marked a thousand kilometres of thorny deciduous forests from Satna to Shivpuri and Bhind for the search, beginning next month. Caracals do not live in dense forests; they prefer thorns and scrubs. So, the forest department will skip the lush green forests of southern Madhya Pradesh. Tribals, old forest guards and hunters will be recruited to boost the hunt.

Shekhar has also finally got his due. He has been entrusted with research and interviewing the erstwhile rajas who trained cheetahs and caracals to hunt.


Dhandhuka (Ahmedabad district), May 12: 
Last year, chief minister Keshubhai Patel was gifted an empty vessel by an angry Dhandhuka woman who spent three hours every day filling water for her family from a well that was the only source of water in the town.

Last month, he returned the vessel, now full of water, to the same woman at a grand function to announce the arrival of Narmada water in Dhandhuka.

But women continue to queue up at Mota Kunwan, the old well that is the lifeline of the town of 50,000. At any time, there are about 60 women struggling to draw the fast-depleting water from the well.

Dhandhuka was to get “adequate pipe water supply” from the Rs 600-crore pipeline project meant to quench the thirst of parched Saurashtra. Narmada water has reached here, but in the absence of a proper distribution network, supply has been irregular and inadequate and has made no difference to the lives of Dhandhuka residents.

Harjibhai, a labour contractor, fumes: “We are not influential people like others in the town who get water once in a four days.” He is a resident of Meerawadi, a locality that gets water supply once in eight days. Dhandhuka municipal authorities, however, claim that they are supplying water every alternate day.

Ashwin Thakkar , president of Dhandhuka cloth merchant Association, stands up for the government. “We have seen the turn around for the first time in 50 years. We tasted Narmada water for the first time in life. It was a dream come true,” he says.

In a town where water is a precious commodity, women like Meenaben, who spends hours everyday to fill her vessels from the well, try to earn some money by selling water to government offices and some families.

“We spend at least Rs 1,000 every month to get sweat water,” says Jayantilal Gandhi, a co-operative bank officer. “People have no choice. Either they have to send their women to collect water from the well or pay for it.”

Even the quality of the water supplied is “questionable”, residents say. The Narmada water often gets mixed with gutter water as most of the new pipelines have developed cracks. Leaking pipes can be seen everywhere. Harenbhai Joshi, a resident, says: “It is not that the government has not done anything. It has fulfilled its promise. Narmada water has reached but only to be wasted.”

The water that the Gujarat State Water Suppply Board is supplying is untreated. The water treatment plant set up at Pipli was shut down immediately after it was inaugurated by the chief minister on January 16. Dhandhuka municipal administrator A.D. Goswami admits leakage in new pipelines. But he claims that the pipelines are in “testing stage” and, therefore, “there is nothing unusual about pipes bursting because of high pressure”.

Goswami says a new pipeline network is being laid to give 300 new connections, after which civic authorities plan to supply water daily. That is not all. The administrator promises to develop Dhandhuka as a “model town”.

“You come here after two months and you will see a new face of the town. There will be wide roads, sodium lights, artificial lake and all that makes a town beautiful,” he promised.


Panjim, May 12: 
As Canada opens its doors to settlers, Goa, the land from where huge droves have migrated for centuries, is looking hopefully at this new Mecca of migration.

“Upto 40 per cent of our clients are of Goan origin,” says Mario Lobo, of Inter-Connections Consulting India, a private firm that promises to smoothen the route to applying for immigration to Canada. Lobo says Goans in the Gulf, Pakistan and East Africa are shifting to Canada in search of a better life.

“Goans can adjust anywhere. They’re the venturing type too. First, they went on board the ship, then they went to Africa, then the Gulf, and now it’s the West,” he says. English-speaking skills and easy adaptability help them adjust faster, he adds.

Alli Amlani, president of the Ontario-based Inter-Connections Canada Inc, whose firm is currently promoting the immigration, says that after China, India has the largest number of migrants to Canada. “We’ve been doing work in Goa since 1988. We have had a number immigrants, particularly from the Catholic community,” he adds.

Amlani, who himself migrated from Nairobi to Canada, estimates that his firm alone must have processed some 8,000 applications. Some are from Bombay or Karachi or even East Africa.

However, shifting to greener pastures comes at a price. Application and right-of-landing fees are approximately $1,500 per adult, payable to the Canadian government. “High-end businessmen (who would need to undertake a preliminary visit to Canada to check out things there) could have to pay $5,000 to 6,000. Partial services could cost $500. Our regular service costs $2,250,” Amlani says.

He adds that anyone wanting to enter Canada can do so as a refugee, on the business category, on a family-class (spouses, parents of those already in Canada), or as independent skilled workers (professionals, engineers, accountants, sales persons, purchase officers, and so on).

But, he says, the immigration law is soon expected to change. “Until now, migration was based on a candidate’s profession. But that is going to change.” Each case, he says, is assessed to let people know whether they have a good chance of migrating. “Some are doing quite well here and we don’t want to push people from the frying pan into the fire.”

Amlani said one unique feature of the Goan society is that it’s common to find families where both spouses tend to work. “For (new) single-income earning families, survival is near impossible,” Amlani points out.

He argues that working couples can manage, even assuming they are getting the minimum wage at $7 per hour or $14,000 per year. That would cross the $24,000 needed for a family in Canada. “Many start earning $10 per hour too,” he says.

Amlani contends that globalisation means that migrants need much less time to settle in Canada. “In my time, it took four years to settle into Canadian life and get a job. Today, the settlement time can be as low as one year,” he claims.

Canada is 25 per cent larger than the US, but with a population of only 29 million. Even then, migration is not easy, the services agents point out. Each year, one million apply, but barely one-fifth of that number get to migrate.


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