Fight to save flood barriers
Violence hits potato growth
HC relief to freedom fighters
Drug sentences
Tension in Asansol
Traffic plan
George-ally Atal hits party hurdle
All’s well in Gujarat, PM told
VP banks on UP to unsettle Delhi durbar
Stars chase Sun shine

 
 
FIGHT TO SAVE FLOOD BARRIERS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
The ongoing drive to give several south Bengal rivers a new lease of life by demolishing illegal fisheries and brick kilns from their beds is just “the tip of the iceberg” as far as flood control is concerned.

Even as 62 such encroachments were removed from the Ichhamati bed in the Bongaon area, irrigation engineers pointed at the sorry state of river embankments that were potential flood threats in south Bengal.

Though the officials lauded the initiative taken by the state government, they pointed out that the embankments, which are mostly the irrigation department’s property, are under attack by brick kiln and fishery owners. “If the government can maintain the present attitude and tempo, we can expect some results in the long run,” the officials felt.

“There is a saying in the department that the embankments are public property eight months a year and the irrigation department’s when the floods hit,” a senior department official said. In the dry season, people breach these embankments to bring in water for inland fisheries. On the other hand, tonnes of soil are dug out of these flood barriers for brick kilns and for constructing houses. “This practice is encouraged by local power brokers such as panchayat functionaries,” the engineers pointed out.

This situation is the bane of irrigation engineers who are heckled and even manhandled when the weakened embankments breach during the floods.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who is in charge of the drive, said he was aware of the situation. “We will look into the entire scenario after June 10, when the current operation is completed,” Dasgupta said on today.

The minister said eight teams comprising irrigation, police and other district officials worked on a 10-kilometre stretch of the Ichhamati since the morning. “We have to clear encroachments along a 25-kilometre stretch of the river,” he said.

The minister pointed out that the operation passed of peacefully on its first day. Villagers volunteered to demolish the dams.

   

 
 
VIOLENCE HITS POTATO GROWTH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
Sustained political violence in the potato growing areas of Hooghly and Midnapore districts last year is one of the main reasons for a low yield this season, leading to the skyrocketing prices.

Potato is being sold at Rs 6.50 per kg against the expected price tag of Rs 4 in Calcutta.

The agriculture department and wholesale stockists of the crop say that repeated clashes between the Trinamul Congress and the CPM have disturbed potato cultivation in trouble-torn Arambagh, Khanakul, Pursura and Goghat in Hooghly and Garbeta in Midnapore — the main potato-growing areas in Bengal.

Armed clashes, loot and arson for the past one year have created panic among farmers. Besides, there has been a shortage of funds for the farmers.

Last year, there was a bumper crop and the price had plummeted to Rs 2.50 to Rs 3 per kg. However, this year, the 330-odd cold storages in West Bengal, which were supposed to load nearly 40 lakh tonnes of potato in March, loaded only 25 lakh tonnes.

Moreover, a poor yield of potato in Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh has led to a large-scale exodus of the crop to those states.

   

 
 
HC RELIEF TO FREEDOM FIGHTERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, June 1: 
A recent Calcutta High Court ruling is likely to benefit hundreds of freedom fighters of West Bengal.

The persons who had been given the Tamrapatra for taking part in the freedom movement but were not paid pension by the government, can now file cases before the court to get their dues.

Many people from Burdwan who took part in the Quit India Movement had applied for pensions. But the state government was yet to consider their cases due to lack of proper documents.

The court held that a Tamrapatra was more than a document in regard to the selection of freedom fighters for paying pensions. The verdict was delivered on a petition filed by Kali Pada Khanra, who alleged he was denied pension though he had furnished the citation of his Tamrapatra.

Justice Amitava Lala directed the state to pay the pension to Khanra on the basis of the citation. He also directed the government to pay the petitioner pension arrears since January 1981.

   

 
 
DRUG SENTENCES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
Three persons were convicted under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act by the Barasat court.

Special judge K.K. Bakshi sentenced the three to 10 years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1 lakh each.

The Narcotics Control Bureau had arrested Sher Singh from the Sodepur bus terminal in 1999 and recovered 200 gm of brown sugar. The others, Swapan Sardar and Saukat Ali Gazi, were arrested by Barasat police the same year.

   

 
 
TENSION IN ASANSOL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Durgapur, June 1: 
Tension gripped Asansol tonight as police fired more than seven rounds to quell a mob in the communally sensitive Rail Park area.

An armed constable was arrested for allegedly sparking the unrest. Five policemen were injured as the mob pelted stones.

Additional superintendent of police (Burdwan) Neeraj Singh is camping at the spot. Two companies of RAF were deployed in Jhingri Mohalla, known as a den of criminals.

   

 
 
TRAFFIC PLAN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, June 1: 
State urban development and municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya today announced a series of developmental programmes for the commercial hub of north Bengal.

At a news conference today Bhattacharya announced that the Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority would take up projects to ease the traffic congestion.

The minister admitted that rapid urbanisation has created “bottlenecks” in the town and resulted in a chaotic traffic situation.

   

 
 
GEORGE-ALLY ATAL HITS PARTY HURDLE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 1: 
A section of Union ministers is believed to be against the Tehelka inquiry commission coming out with an early report though Atal Bihari Vajpayee would like the panel to submit its findings soon, preferably by the middle of this month.

BJP sources said the Prime Minister feels that if the Venkataswamy Commission, which is investigating the disclosures made in the tapes, gives a clean chit to George Fernandes and Bangaru Laxman, who quit as defence minister and BJP president respectively, both can be reinducted. Vajpayee would like to take back Fernandes in his Cabinet with the same portfolio while Laxman could be suitably “rehabilitated” in the party on the strength of his Dalit antecedents.

However, it is learnt that home minister L.K. Advani and foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who has been given charge of defence, are against the early release of the report. “It is highly unlikely,” was all that law ministry sources would say when asked if the interim report would be placed by mid-June.

Vajpayee, BJP sources said, wants Fernandes back in his Cabinet for two reasons. “The Prime Minister probably feels he was the most reliable trouble-shooter the NDA had so far. Second, an out-of-power Fernandes can only spell trouble for any government dependent on his support,” sources argued.

Apart from being Vajpayee’s main trouble-shooter, the sources added, Fernandes was also his “most effective shield” against internal pressures from within the coalition and the BJP itself. It was Fernandes who had come to Vajpayee’s rescue whenever BJP hardliners, aided and abetted by the RSS, had tightened the screws on the Prime Minister as and when they felt he had “deviated” from the ideological agenda.

Sources claimed that though Advani tried hard to fit himself in Fernandes’ mould — for instance, by mediating between Vajpayee and the Sangh after ideologues like Dattopant Thengadi got tough with the government — the Prime Minister was not “entirely comfortable” with it.

Advani’s growing grip on Kashmir affairs and the perception that he had laid the ground for the withdrawal of the ceasefire and the initiative to hold talks with Pervez Musharraf have also apparently not gone down well with Vajpayee.

That, coupled with Advani and Jaswant working in tandem on Kashmir and isolating Brajesh Mishra, have been read as “ominous” portends by Vajpayee’s well-wishers. “Given the fluctuating realignments, Fernandes’ return would bring the Prime Minister immense relief,” sources said.

As for Laxman, a section of the BJP feels he ought to be “rehabilitated” before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections to take the sting off the Opposition’s propaganda of the BJP being “anti-Dalit”.

   

 
 
ALL’S WELL IN GUJARAT, PM TOLD 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 1: 
Two days before the Prime Minister’s tour of Gujarat’s quake-devastated areas, state officials today gave Atal Bihari Vajpayee a thorough briefing on relief and rehabilitation efforts.

The underlying note was that four months after the calamity, everything was hunky-dory. Vajpayee was told that despite the “adverse” media reports, “the reality was very much different from perceptions”. Among those who briefed the Prime Minister was P.K. Lahiri, principal secretary to the Gujarat chief minister, L. Mansingh, chief co-ordinator (Kutch), and P.K. Mishra, chief of Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority.

BJP sources said Vajpayee sought the official appraisal because charges of tardy relief and rehabilitation work in the Kutch region were levelled not just by the Opposition but the party’s own MPs.

A couple of months ago, two BJP MPs from Kutch — P.S. Gadhavi and Anant Dave — had called a news conference to hammer home their grievances against the BJP government in Gujarat. They accused chief minister Keshubhai Patel of “discriminating” against their region while doling out relief packages.

Talking to reporters after their one-and-a-half-hour meeting with Vajpayee, Lahiri said: “The Prime Minister had received feedback from various sources, including a parliamentary committee and another team led by Justice Verma. So he wanted to check out things for himself.”

Sources said the other cause for worry was the threat of a bandh call on the day of the Prime Minister’s visit by a non-political outfit, Group-2001, in the four main quake-hit cities — Bhuj, Anjar, Rapar and Bhachau. Lahiri and his colleagues said the strike might be withdrawn as some of the long-standing demands of the victims had been met.

The government, they said, had agreed to their demand for a 400-sq.-metre plot for construction of new houses and said it would reduce the development charge for the land allotted from Rs 300 per square metre to Rs 100. The administration also said it would give a compensatory seed amount of Rs 12,000 to each victim to help him put up a temporary house, provided it was not on government land.

Vajpayee, the officials said, intervened briefly to make the point that relief and rehabilitation work needed “regular and close monitoring” and even suggested that there should be no overt ministerial interference.

Vajpayee, they added, cited his own example to say that though he could have visited the affected areas earlier, he waited for four months so that “the operations did not get disturbed”. Vajpayee’s other proposal, they said, was to involve Hudco in a bigger way.

   

 
 
VP BANKS ON UP TO UNSETTLE DELHI DURBAR 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, June 1: 
Thrice every week, the dialysis research unit at Apollo Hospital in New Delhi has a VIP guest — Vishwanath Pratap Singh. There is no fuss — the staff at Apollo are used to him — and the intrusion of security staff assigned to the former Prime Minister is minimal. Singh has a room to himself and is surrounded by sophisticated medical electronic equipment. When he is on dialysis, Singh can use only his left hand. He lies on a bed with its headrest raised. A table is brought up to his chest. On it, Singh works on an IBM Thinkpad laptop connected to a telephone. The frequent clicks on the mouse suggest he is surfing the net. “I am ok,” he says in this interview to Sujan Dutta the day after the Lok Morcha (People’s Front) adopted a common minimum programme. “I have to come here every alternate day. So, one day I struggle for my life and the day after I struggle for the people.” With so much of his time being taken up in hospital, it is little surprise that he draws upon medical metaphors to explain himself. “Liberalisation is like blood pressure. There is a minimum and there is an optimum. We have to decide how much we want.”

TT: The People’s Front has just adopted a common minimum programme. How do you think the front is shaping up? How will events unfold for it in the next six months?

Singh: The major event will be the Uttar Pradesh elections. This round of Assembly elections has been a setback to the NDA. Mamata has left it and the DMK, which was an important member, has not fared well. The most important election will be UP. And, if in UP, the BJP loses ground, which it is most likely to, then the NDA partners will start thinking whether remaining with the BJP is a liability or an asset. After the UP elections a lot of things will happen.

How restive are the NDA partners?

Quite a bit. Because they find they have to be answerable for the anti-poor, anti-farmer and anti-youth policies which they are not practising.

Can we take the partners one by one. What do you think the TDP will do?

I think it will be a general effect on all of them. The BJP itself is not improving in its states. They will start thinking how much they can give. Certainly they will lose all the minority votes.

What will UP throw up?

I think a minority party will be number one — Mulayam Singh. I mean it will be the largest party.

So you are reconciled to a hung Assembly?

A: Let us see... there is still a lot of time

The face of the People’s Front now is Jyoti Basu. Having won the elections in West Bengal and defied the logic of anti-incumbency for so long, do you think Basu will help attract constituents of the NDA?

Jyotibabu is the chairman and Mulayam Singh the convener. Jyotibabu is respected by everyone. But it will be the compulsion of the NDA partners that will decide whether this government will survive or not.

You are depending more on the push factor than the pull factor?

Yes. The pull factor — Jyotibabu — will always be there. But by their own compulsions, they will come out of the NDA. What they do next I cannot say at the moment — whether they form their own axis or join the People’s Front, we will have to see.

You think it probable that they will form their own axis?

There are many possibilities. I would not say more than that. These would be valid questions after the result of the UP elections. There will be a big impact of UP on BJP.

Is it feasible that the People’s Front will make much headway without tying up in some form with the Congress?

The major concern of the Front is to resist the anti-poor, anti-farmer and anti-youth policies. That is the main agenda. Forming a government cannot be the sole objective. What assumes importance is the education of the people. A programme of mass contact has to be drawn up.

But haven’t we seen continuity in economic policy irrespective of the political formation in power at the Centre? Whether it is the Congress or the United Front or the NDA...

But what has it led to? I am for the middle path. Liberalisation is neither a devil nor a god. They made it a god. Use it as a servant. Liberalisation is like blood pressure, you see. Somebody asks how much blood pressure is good for a patient. There is a minimum and there is an optimum. So, to suit our needs, you have to fashion it (liberalisation) like China has done for itself. I mean, if you have to wear a hat of liberalisation, please wear one that fits your head. The immediate effect of liberalisation has been on farmers. I think industry will survive. There is a setback to the small-scale sector and there is terrible dislocation but sooner or later they will pick up.

But farming has got its rigidities. It cannot change so fast. This market thing is the biggest fraud in agriculture. This is an international fraud that is being practised in agriculture in WTO. Subsidies do not have a place in the liberalisation programme. But the amount of subsidies that America, Europe, Australia and Japan give is much greater than the (value of) all the agriculture produce of India — $363 billion. If they (the developed countries) accept market economy — which they do not — then we will be selling in their country. The government should tell them: you first follow the market principles. Whatever your wonder drug may be, it is the impact on the patient that matters.

Is a consensus on economic issues actually possible? Is there a consensus in the People’s Front?

Yes, there is.

Can this consensus be enlarged to include some of the NDA partners?

I think so. Even Chandrababu (Naidu) expressed doubts over the WTO regime in agriculture.

What about the Congress?

(Sniggers)...I don’t know, I don’t know. Because it has authored many of these policies. It is in a dilemma. And its attack will not be credible. Now it is trying to do something. They have laid the foundation and the BJP has built the building. Between them, what will they say?

How long will you give this government?

Let us see...

Six months?

I don’t apply my mind to that. Unless the people become alert there will not be enough pressure. The key to all this lies in people pressure.

   

 
 
STARS CHASE SUN SHINE 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, June 1: 
Cannes may be an annual snub to Indian cinema, but in parts of Africa, Amitabh Bachchan is more famous than Tom Cruise. The Japanese are said to be addicted to extravaganzas from Chennai — especially Rajnikant.

Cheered on by such statistics, the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) — an association leading members of the industry like Yash Johar, David Dhawan, J.P. Dutta and Ramesh Sippy created to “propel Indian cinema beyond its shores” — is on its way to host its second awards abroad on June 16.

After the Millennium Dome in London last year, the venue is Sun City in South Africa, a place known as much for its exotic — some say excessive — architecture and international beauty pageants, as for its community of committed Hindi movie viewers.

The idea of hosting such an award proves again that Bollywood has arrived abroad. Indian movies seems to be doing very well at a number of places — the UK, West Asia, South Africa.

The film industry reportedly grosses an annual turnover of $200 million internationally, sells 600 billion tickets worldwide and produces 800 movies a year.

The figures, however, hide an insecurity. Bollywood feels that despite its booming popularity in terms of returns, it doesn’t have the recognition due. Hence, Indian awards at an international venue.

The awards this year will be an appropriately big event. If Bollywood is everywhere abroad, Sun City is its “spiritual home”, claims Viraf Sarkari, director, Wizcraft International, which is putting together the show. The function — with its usual nominations of “best actor” and “best actress” and the very Indian categories of “best negative role” and “best comic role” — will have the biggest Bollywood stars, including Hrithik Roshan, Karisma Kapoor and Urmila Matondkar on stage. Also performing will be Taz (Stereo Nation), a British-born Indian billed the “prince of pop fusion”. There will be a sprinkling of Hollywood stars for international flavour.

“Our aim is to showcase Indian cinema internationally and to provide a platform to present the best in the Indian film industry to a global audience,” said Sarkari.

Actress and former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen says: “I have been part of this industry for more than six years now and increasingly one realises that Indian films have not been able to achieve the status they deserve internationally. IIFA provides an ideal platform to prove to an international audience that our talent and quality is second to none.”

Last year, at the Millennium Dome, while Amitabh Bachchan officiated at a special ceremony, there was a pile-up of international stars — martial arts superstar Jackie Chan, Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie and singer Kylie Minogue were rubbing shoulders with the Indian contingent of Sanjay Dutt, Raveena Tandon, Sonali Bendre and the works.

   
 

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