Buddha revives slam-Centre line
Sikdar overture
Penalty provisions in harassment Bill
BJP favours early polls in heartland
Challenger for Manipur crown
Cyclone taunts Gujarat
Naidu bid to boost morale
Caste war rerun on Jaya terrain
Raiders in uniform cross border
Workers ‘missing’ in distillery collapse

Barrackpore, May 27: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said his government would fight against the BJP-led dispensation in Delhi in every respect and will find out alternatives to combat the policies of the NDA.

“We will not bow to any pressure from Delhi in any respect. If they try to close down industrial units in the state forcibly, we will oppose it at any cost,” he announced.

Bhattacharjee was addressing a victory rally at Anandapuri Ground in Barrackpore this evening. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta, PWD minister Amar Chowdhury and local CPM MP Tarit Topdar also spoke on the occasion.

Bhattacharjee today took to the “old CPM line” of a crusade against the Centre to convince people that it will be difficult for the Left Front government to solve the unemployment problem due to the Centre’s policies.

“Fifty-six coal mines, a number of NTC mills and jute mills will face closure within this month. Instead of providing jobs to one crore unemployed as promised by Delhi, the Centre is practically intensifying the problem of unemployment by closing down these units,” he said.

He also challenged the Centre’s decision to close down the public distribution system (PDS). “The Left Front will fight against the Centre, against their decision, and force them to maintain the PDS,” he told the crowd.

Bhattacharjee had desisted from a trenchant attack on the Centre till the elections. With the Left Front resuming power for the sixth consecutive term, he has made it clear that there will be no let up in the CPM and the Left Front’s old policy of fighting against the Centre in all respects.

He sought support from the people to renew the tirade against the Centre. “It is you who can strengthen us in continuing our fight against the BJP-led coalition,” the chief minister said.

Keeping to his style of self-criticism and the slogan of better education and health care, Bhattacharjee said the government expected sincere service from teachers and doctors. “The government has assured your salaries and we demand service from you,” he said.

“Conditions of state-run hospitals are deplorable. Why should we allow such a pathetic state of affairs to continue in our hospitals?” he said. “We have increased the number of schools during our 24-year tenure. But we have to improve the quality of teaching in the government-run schools, too.”

The victory rally was delayed by rain, but a patient huge turnout greeted Bhattacharjee. Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty skipped the rally, though his name was announced in Ganashakti as one of the speakers.


Haldia, May 27: 
Mamata Banerjee looks set to finally bring the BJP-led Centre and the Left Front closer, if Tapan Sikdar has his way.

Sikdar, Union minister and Mamata’s bugbear in the state BJP, today promised to nurture a new era of cooperation between the Centre and the state in the “interest of the development of Bengal”.

Sikdar’s declaration drew a reciprocal assurance from local CPM member of Parliament, Laxman Seth. Both agreed to work together for development irrespective of political differences. The exchange of assurances came at a meeting here on the eve of the inauguration of a telephone exchange built at Rs 10 crore with French technology.

Sikdar cited a reason for his change of heart. “Mamata’s policy of criticising and non-cooperating with the Marxist government has proved a failure. This has led to her downfall and the rise of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee,” he said. “No development work is possible without the help of the state government. How is it possible to do something for West Bengal and yet criticise the state government?”

Seth appreciated the offer. “Tapanda is right. Full cooperation between the state and the Centre is required for ushering in a new era in Bengal. I want full support from Tapanda and his party for the success of Haldia Petrochem and development of Haldia port,” he said.

Earlier, fielding reporters’ questions, Sikdar said Mamata can never “enter” the National Democratic Alliance again.


New Delhi, May 27: 
The Bill on sexual harassment at workplaces, which will be drafted by the National Commission for Women (NCW), will have penalty provisions which could range from demotion to compensation liability.

Other penalties on the drawing board are denial of promotion, punishment transfer, warning and reprimand. “The offender could also be made to say sorry — it could be a kind of semi-public apology,” said NCW chairperson, Vibha Parthasarathy. The issue of punishment has come up repeatedly during the NCW’s interactive sessions and a solution will come only after the Bill starts taking shape, she said.

“There will also be other agencies like the National Human Rights Commission and NGOs which will lay down separate guidelines for the Bill,” says Parthasarathy. Sexually harassed women have turned repeatedly to the NCW and the NHRC for intervention and justice.

“The number of complaints, no doubt, has been going up, even though it may not match the proportions of rape and dowry,” says Parthasarathy.

The Supreme Court’s preventive guidelines, laid down three years ago, have not specified any punishment for the offenders and is an issue the NCW is pondering how best to tackle.

“Deciding on punishment is difficult since the form of the offence could range from whistling to an outright, ugly sexual gesture,” says Parthasarathy. But suggestions have cropped up during the NCW’s interactive sessions with various public sector undertakings.

For now, the NCW is culling material that will form the basis of the Bill — the experiences of women employees in the workplace and in cases of sexual harassment, the response of the managements to the incidents.

The Supreme Court guidelines had asked institutions and managements to set up complaints’ cell and committees for probing the charges and initiate action.

Since November last year, the NCW has been holding monthly discussions with the officials and employees of the PSUs, including nationalised banks, to get to the root of the problem and assess the impact of the court guidelines.

“Out of 20 PSUs, who were approached, 19 turned up and the dialogue spread over 100 sessions worked extremely well,” says Parthasarathy.

Next month, the NCW will start a similar dialogue with the corporate sector, and if possible, the unorganised sector. Dealing with the corporate sector, the NCW believes, will be tougher.

“Here, employees are wary of speaking out against seniors as there is no security of tenure and victimisation is much more simple,” says the NCW chairperson.

In the case of the unorganised sector, there is a possibility of holding public hearings, where women could share their problems with the commission.

Parthasarathy believes there is still a “culture of silence” holding back women from telling their experiences.

Many PSUs have set up committees, in accordance with legal guidelines and some “sensitive” managements have also set up counselling centres.

“Our dialogue with the PSUs has been extremely reassuring, indicative of their will to understand the issue and do something,” says Parthasarathy.


New Delhi, May 27: 
With the VHP set to revive its clamour for a Ram temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya, in February 2002, on the occasion of Shivratri, the BJP is veering around to the view that Assembly elections should be held in Uttar Pradesh this year itself, before “the situation could go out of hand”.

In its dharam sansad last January, the VHP had set a one-year deadline for the Vajpayee government to “remove the hurdles in the path of temple construction” — a warning which meant it should introduce a legislation in Parliament to facilitate the task for the Sangh’s militant arm. If this was not done, the VHP had warned, it would lay siege to Ayodhya on the occasion of Shivratri in February.

“Our feedback is the VHP is going in for a centralised confrontation next year on the lines of what they had done in 1989 and finally in 1992 when the disputed structure was brought down,” said BJP sources. The “centralised confrontation”, sources said, would be preceded by the Ram jap programme which will begin after the rains and see karsevaks chanting shlokas in Ram’s name all over the country.

The Ram japs, said BJP sources, was meant to revive the sentiments in favour of a temple.

Such a scenario, BJP sources felt, had the potential to create a major law and order problem for the UP government. But the BJP, they admitted, would be placed in a piquant position because “being in government it cannot support such an agitation and neither can we oppose it and be seen as openly giving up our ideology and a major cause”.

The other consideration weighing in favour of an early election, said sources, was the assessment that chief minister Rajnath Singh had managed to retrieve some of the ground the BJP had lost during his predecessor, Ram Prakash Gupta’s tenure.

“The advantages must not be dissipated,” said sources. Singh, they said, had at least managed to give an impression that he was “strong” and so was his government. “Thanks to this impression, our existing allies have not deserted us and what more, we are in a position to attract new allies,” claimed sources, referring to the prospective BJP-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance.

The chief minister, they claimed, had also managed to keep the RSS on the “right side” and ensured the Sangh cadre would work for the BJP during an election. “They may not be 100 per cent enthusiastic but at the state level they are happy with Rajnath Singh. At the district level, they are neutral because some have not been represented in government committees. At the lowest level, they are unhappy because they feel they have not been shown respect by petty government officials and thanedars. The result is that the RSS will give at least 60 per cent of its strength in the Uttar Pradesh polls,” said sources.

The strategy, sources said, would mainly aim to consolidate upper caste votes, especially the Brahmin votes. BJP sources conceded that the presence of Priyanka Gandhi during the Uttar Pradesh campaign may “disturb” the Brahmin votes, especially those that belong to the Saryupari sub-caste, which is dominant in the Avadh and eastern regions.

Those of the other sub-caste, the Kanakubjiyas, are still largely with the BJP thanks to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is also one of them.

To fine-tune the “woo upper caste” strategy, Singh has been advised by the central leaders to take the “appropriate” steps: “He should give the impression that he is a ruthless ruler who will not tolerate corruption and such things. He should sack a couple of corrupt officials, drop one or two ministers and stage more encounters. Then the right message will go to our core voters,” stressed sources.


New Delhi & Calcutta, May 27: 
BJP ally Manipur State Congress Party (Chaoba), led by Union minister of state for food processing Thonoujam Chaoba Singh, has decided to stake claim to form the Manipur government in an attempt to defuse the state’s political crisis.

On the eve of a crucial meeting between the BJP central leadership and the Samata Party in Delhi, Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA), the breakaway BJP faction led by K. Dorendra Singh, mounted pressure on the BJP high command to push through their demand to install a PDA government in Manipur.

Thirty-six PDA MLAs went into a huddle at Manipur Bhavan this morning and shot off a letter to BJP chief Jana Krishnamurthi, reiterating full support to Singh.

Gangmumei Kamei, spokesperson of the five-party alliance, which includes the MSCP (C), said it has authorised Singh to convey to the BJP leadership decision.

“Singh will present his views at tomorrow’s meeting where he will demand the PDA take over of the reins of the state,” said Kamei. He reminded the BJP of its “responsibility” towards small states.

According to sources, the defiant MLAs are ready to quit the BJP if they are not allowed to form the government.

However, following the MSCP (C)’s decision to form an alternative government, an emergency meeting of the BJP’s central executive in Imphal authorised working president V. Hangkhalian to convince the rebel legislators, camping in Delhi.

The MSCP (C) said a political vacuum has been created after the fall of the Radhabinod Koijam government as the single largest party at the Centre has decided not to lead government in the state. The party, which is the second-largest partner in the PDA, argued that, in the prevailing situation, it should be allowed to head an alternative government.

But Koijam said he will fight to restore the Samata-led government. “We will not end in a whimper,” he said. He is here for tomorrow’s BJP-Samata meeting.

The BJP MLAs, who reached Delhi yesterday, have met Janata Dal (United) leaders, Union ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav, as well as Nationalist Congress Party chief P.A. Sangma.

Monday’s meeting will take place in an atmosphere of distrust as the Samata feels that the BJP did not honour its part of the agreement.

The BJP leadership, which refused to back its Manipur unit, is believed to have assured the Samata of imposing President’s rule in Manipur.


Ahmedabad, May 27: 
The cyclonic storm on the Arabian sea, which kept people in Gujarat’s coastal areas on tenterhooks for the past few days, has moved 100 km northwards and has “slightly intensified”.

The cyclone, lying 400 km south off Porbandar, is expected to hit the Gujarat coast, anywhere between Veraval and Naliya, on Monday night or Tuesday morning, local Met director R.K. Kankane said.

Even if the cyclone peters out or skirts the Gujarat coast, heavy rain can be expected in Kutch, Jamnagar, Porbandar, Junagadh and Diu. The spate of sea will be high to very high, though the eye of the cyclone has blurred, Kankane said.

“Great danger” signals have been hoisted in Jakhav and Okha ports and from Dwarka to Veraval. Local cautionary signal no. 3 has been hoisted in the coastal belt from Kodinar to Umargaon.


Visakhapatnam, May 27: 
Calling upon the Centre to decentralise power, Chandrababu Naidu today launched a three-day exercise to boost his party’s morale in the wake of the setbacks to the BJP-led coalition in the Assembly polls.

The Telugu Desam’s Mahanadu — a convention coinciding with the birth anniversary of the party’s founder N.T. Rama Rao — is expected to address the concerns of the rank and file who fear the anti-incumbency spillover effect on the coming panchayat polls. Naidu is under pressure to tackle the demand for a separate Telengana state. Opposing the bid to bifurcate the state, the chief minister tried to seal cracks within the party by offering incentives to the region.

“Some politicians are trying to mislead the people. But we are convinced that overall development is possible within the framework of an integrated state,” he told 6,000 delegates packed inside a huge, air-conditioned auditorium.

The party convention will debate 42 resolutions and several proposals on district development programmes suggested by party supporters during the last 15 days. Prominent among the proposals are those for the districts in the Telengana region. The party bodies have complained of negligence and delay in some programmes in the belt. Naidu did not elaborate on future ties with the BJP-led coalition but stressed that regional parties would continue to play a crucial role in coalition governments at the Centre.

Naidu demanded greater fiscal autonomy for states, transfer of Centre-sponsored schemes to the states and more flexibility for state government in implementing development projects.

Balance sheet

In keeping with its corporate style of functioning, the Telugu Desam announced that it had collected Rs 4.77 crore as membership fees and Rs 54.96 lakh as donations from party legislators and sympathisers during the financial year to March 31, 2001.

Last year’s expenditure was Rs 1.40 crore, while Rs 3.4 crore has been deposited in fixed accounts.

Following in the footsteps of the Left parties, the Telugu Desam has asked party officials and elected representatives to donate 10 per cent of their income to the party fund. Responding to the call, supporters today donated as much as Rs 50 lakh within 45 minutes.


Chennai, May 27: 
Caste feuds could put the southern districts of Tamil Nadu on the boil, yet again.

The Thevar community went on rampage today following the garlanding of a statue of Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar with chappals. Buses were stoned and traffic was thrown off gear as followers of Muthuramalinga Thevar turned violent while protesting against the alleged desecration of his statues.

Tension prevailed in the region and police pickets have been reinforced.

For the Jayalalitha government, which came to power on a massive wave of support from the Thevars, a prominent OBC community in the southern belt, the incidents could prove an acid test of its political will.

Statues of Thevar and B.R. Ambedkar have often been flash points provoking clashes between the Thevars and the Dalits.

Among the Dalits, the Pallar sect does not exactly hold Ambedkar in as much reverence. But the Thevars find it convenient to provoke the Pariar sect by desecrating Ambedkar’s statues.

Muthuramalinga Thevar, a revered leader of his community, was an admirer of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose and, actually, not an anti-Dalit chauvinist as is generally made out by detractors.

This morning, a Thevar statue in Rajapalayam town was found garlanded with chappals. Police rushed to the scene. But the damage was done.

Scores of Thevars took to the streets and there were spontaneous road blocks. Buses were damaged in stone pelting and they were hurriedly withdrawn. Shop-keepers downed shutters.

The Pudhiya Thamizhakam, a party enjoying the support of the Pallars, fought the recent elections as a constituent of the DMK front and lost all its seats. It is not clear whether it would stick to the front or align with the ADMK.

The region had witnessed days of mindless caste clashes a couple of years ago. The clashes had been triggered by the decision of the DMK government to name a transport corporation after a Dalit leader.

The government, subsequently, had decided to drop all references to political or community leaders from the names of districts and transport corporations.

It was MGR who had begun the practice, and the DMK decision was seen as a roll back of an MGR measure. Now, the ADMK government has decided to revert to the names given by the MGR government.


Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), May 27: 
Birju Rajbhar, Makhan Majumdar, Sunita Devi. They are our people. Dhakia, Ramnagara, Ghunhan. These are our lands.

Today, both the land and the people, tucked away on the Indo-Nepal border, are at the mercy of the Royal Nepalese Army. Unfortunately for these people — mostly Bangladeshis rehabilitated on the outskirts of Pilibhit in 1966 after they fled during the Pakistan war — there is neither escape nor return.

Emboldened by the marginalisation of these villages by the administration, the Nepalese incursions inside the Indian territory have increased.

Makhan Majumdar, living in Dhakia for the past 35 years, says: “The Nepalese army comes here at will, especially in the areas that are closer to the boundary. They shoot our people at the slightest provocation and regularly beat them up. Our women are not safe.”

There have been four major incidents in the last 10 months. In July, a 22-year-old man was shot by Nepalese jawans nearly 5 km inside Indian territory. Four others were taken hostage and released after paying a ransom.

A month later, a bus-load of Indian passengers crossing over to Nepal were looted. The Nepalese passengers, however, were identified and spared.

Three more people were “abducted” and kept in a prison at Mahindranagar in Nepal for six months. Six persons were taken away by the Nepalese army from Pillar no 28. They were released in the first week of May. Those who were released say they were let off only after they shelled out Rs 5,000 each. Earlier, a local businessman, Rishi Pal, was kidnapped and released reportedly after he paid a ransom of Rs 2 lakh.

At Pillar no 28, the fear among the villagers is palpable. The elders don’t speak a word against the Shahi Sena and the youngsters have to be coerced before they speak up.

“They come almost every fortnight,” says Krishna Mistri, looking around furtively. “They eat our chicken and drink our liquor. They trouble our women and kick us around. After that, we are made to carry them on our shoulders back to their posts at the Sukla Fanta sanctuary.”

Adds Birju, a resident of Ramnagara: “We are very scared. The Shahi Sena knows there is no one to protect us.” Birju says it has become “impossible” to live in the border areas. “Nothing is safe,” he says.

In fact, the 105-odd families of Dhakia and Pillar no 28 had decided to either “retaliate or hang themselves”. “It was too shameful for us,” Jagdish Yadav, a resident of Pillar no 4 says. “The women were getting molested and the men were being robbed of all their dignity. We couldn’t take it anymore.” Villagers claim that women are forced to grant the marauding jawans sexual favours in lieu of “safety”.

However, the administration has maintained silence all along. District officials are scared to act as they feel it is an “international” issue.

Defending the Pilibhit administration’s non-action, S.B. Shiredkar, superintendent of police (Pilibhit), says: “We really have no knowledge about these incidents. The Nepalese officials say that these men were kidnapped because they were poaching inside the sanctuary.”

However, the blood stains or the fear among the people are unexplained. “The Shahi Sena has its own way of investigating things,” is all Shiredkar will say.

But Majumdar has his own explanation. “We are bad investments for the Indian side. We have no money to bribe the policemen and no votes for the politicians. We are totally expendable. The only people to whom we seem to be of some use is the Nepalese army.”


Unnao, May 27: 
“Where are the others?” Ram Asray wails as he looks at his fractured legs.

Eleven of Asray’s colleagues are dead. Many more, he says from his bed at the Unnao District Hospital, have “disappeared”. They were trapped inside the storing unit of Unnao Distilleries and Beverages Ltd when a fierce storm last night ripped through the roof and brought down one of the walls of the country liquor manufacturing unit.

A magisterial enquiry has been ordered into the deaths and a compensation of Rs 2 lakh — Rs 1.5 lakh by the factory owners and the rest by the government — has been announced.

However, what factory workers want to know is what happened to the 25 others who were trapped inside the store house. Half of the debris has not been cleared and many fear that there are some who are still trapped.

While not denying that there could have been about 40 persons working inside the store house when the storm came, SP (Unnao) Anand Swarup said the number of dead could not be more than 11. The workers, on the other hand, claim that the figure is an understatement. Factory owners Tilakraj Sharma and Hari Jaiswal have gone underground.

At the factory, the gates have been bolted for “outsiders”. After a lot a cajoling, a security guard on duty says on an average 25 to 30 persons work at the storing unit on night sifts. There were a few more yesterday who had barged in for shelter after they realised the storm was strong enough to blow them away.

He admits that there could be “a few” trapped under the rubble of collapsed walls. “Aaj to Sunday hai,” he says with a straight face. “No one will come.”

Outside the hospital, Krishna Kant Shukla, a worker who brought in one of the 11 corpses for autopsy, says: “The company doesn’t want to pay compensation. We were at the bottling unit which is next to the store house when it happened. We know many more are dead.”

Angry labourers who gathered at the hospital say they were asked to leave when the bodies were being cleared by cranes. Many among them claim to have seen a truck with some bodies speeding off at 1 am. “What happened to those in that truck?” asks Shukla.

At the hospital as a “factory babu” approaches his bed no. 47, Asray quickly whispers that he needs security and some money. “I have already spent Rs 1,000 and the doctors say I need much more. No one from the factory has promised me anything yet.”

As the babu nears Asray’s bed, he says: “The story about the truck disappearing is true, you will find out.”

The workers are not sure about receiving any compensation. “Only two of those killed were permanent staff, the rest were contract labourers,” says Narayan, another worker. “Sometimes they are not even mentioned in the roster. It is difficult to prove how many were there. It is our word against theirs,” he adds.


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