Transfer tick-off for crime bust
Bhutan troops to purge rebels
Singh protest puts Sonia in bind on Enron
Atal announces tax holiday for quake-hit Kutch
Love-line spill angers Aamir
Defence staff merger plan irks officials
Regent role under scanner
Nepal consul plea for peace and prayer
Laloo rejects front minus Cong
Dove family awaits Pervez

Calcutta, June 3: 
The recent transfer of two police officers in the coal belt of the state has displeased some of their colleagues as they are believed to have been “punished” for trying to crack the coal mafia-police officer nexus.

Police authorities, however, claimed that the transfer of Amitabha Som, officer-in-charge of Andal police station, and Gour Mukherjee, his counterpart in Ranigunj, was a “routine change”. Police superintendent Manoj Malaviya said: “I have no information about the nexus between the police and coal mafia. The policemen have been transferred as per schedule.”

But the disgruntled officers are not ready to accept this statement. They alleged: “The two officers tried to curb illegal mining and refused to keep their superiors’ request and seized a huge quantity of smuggled coal within a short time. That is why they have been removed.”

The district police headquarters issued an order (Org. No.-1819/RO. DOA No. 219, date-22.05.2001), asking the two officers to join the District Intelligence Branch (DIB). They were transferred along with 22 others.

A police officer said: “Transfer to DIB from a rank of OC is a punishment. We have not found any ground for the transfer of these two efficient officers. At least, their performance does not support the authorities’ decision.”

Mukherjee was transferred “as he was caught red handed while helping the coal mafia”. “But his service record does not prove it,” said an officer in Ranigunj who has worked with Mukherjee for long. Other officers added that he was pushed to DIB for intensifying highway patrol. He started checking every truck coming from coal-crime hotbed Jamuria. Last month, he warned the mafia to stop their trade immediately.

After joining Andal police station on August 8 last year, Som seized 223 trucks carrying coal without official papers and arrested 16 persons involved in smuggling within nine months.

Authorities at Eastern Coalfields Limited were reassured. In a recent letter to Som, deputy chief mining engineer M.K. Roy had said: “I must thank you for the drastic action you have taken to stop illegal mining. Today, I inspected the site personally and found no illegal mining. I would request you to keep vigil.”

Police officers, who preferred anonymity fearing a backlash, said Som was punished after his superiors found two trucks, cleared by the Andal police station, carrying coal illegally. “But Som did not have any role in this. He was a victim of conspiracy,” one of them said.


Siliguri, June 3: 
Bhutan has deployed more than 3,000 troops along its border with Assam and West Bengal in a bid to stop infiltration by Northeast militants and drive out those holed up in its territory.

A Royal Bhutan Army official said 10 new camps have been set up along the 250-km border to check intrusion. “Three battalions were deployed along the kingdom’s southern border with Assam and West Bengal in May,” the official said.

The deployment was aimed at “neutralising the presence of the guerrillas of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). This is a pressure tactic to force the rebels out of Bhutan. But we have not yet decided whether to mount an operation and attack the militant hideouts in our territory”, he added.

“We have exhausted the option to settle this problem through negotiations. We have asked both the Ulfa and Bodo outfits to get out of our kingdom. We have tried to cut off their supplies and have taken action against Bhutanese nationals helping them. But nothing seems to have worked. So now we have to use force,” the Bhutan army officer said.

Fearing a militant exodus, Indian authorities have deployed troops along the Assam-Bengal-Bhutan border tri-junction along the Sankosh river in Jalpaiguri.

“We apprehend that the militants under pressure from the Bhutanese Army might try to set up hideouts in the jungles on the Indian side. The Buxa Tiger Reserve could be used to set up camps. Though we have managed to cut off their supply lines in the Kalikhola area, the militants have opened up new supply lines further west,” said an Indian army officer.

He added: “We have recced the belt recently to understand better the lay of the area in case operations are mounted to flush out the militants. However, the presence of the army in the sensitive and strategic tri-junction has so far deterred the militants.”

With pressure mounting on the outfits, the Ulfa and the NDFB have threatened violence in the kingdom and said they will counter any Bhutanese or joint Indo-Bhutanese military offensive together and will continue to use Bhutan for “territorial advantage”.

These two groups, not known for their camaraderie, have more than 30 big and small camps in southern Bhutan which house more than 600 guerrillas. Besides, these camps are used by Ulfa to train militants of the separatist Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), which is active along the border in north Bengal.

Bhutan army sources said a recent security review weighed the options before the government and decided on military action.


New Delhi, June 3: 
Sonia Gandhi is in a bind over the demand for a judicial probe into the Enron deal due to opposition from Manmohan Singh and N.K.P. Salve.

Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is waiting for Sonia’s signal to implement the Madhav Godbole committee report that has recommended a judicial inquiry into the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

If Sonia vetoes Manmohan and Salve, there will be a question mark over the continuation of the Democratic Front government in Maharashtra. Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party has made it clear that it will part ways in case its alliance partner, the Congress, favours a probe.

There is a sharp division in the Congress over the Enron deal. Madhavrao Scindia, Pranab Mukherjee, Motilal Vora, Murli Deora and Arjun Singh are in favour of the probe but Manmohan is reluctant as the deal was struck during his tenure as the Union finance minister. Salve, then, held the power portfolio.

Party leaders said the “image-conscious” Manmohan would take offence though there is nothing that could go against him in the probe. He had reportedly not even attended the Cabinet meetings in which Dabhol power project was discussed.

Sonia, who chaired the meeting on Enron, has decided to ascertain the views of the Maharashtra Congress unit. “She will go by its opinion,” a source close to Sonia said.

A section of the Maharastra party unit wants Sonia to take an aggressive stance and queer the pitch for Pawar, who was instrumental in getting the deal through.

“In case of a judicial probe, three leaders, Pawar, Bal Thackeray and Atal Bihari Vajpayee are going to be the worst affected. Since the trio is a known enemy of the Congress, why should we shield them?” a senior leader from the state, who called on Sonia to press for the probe, asked.

But another section of the party is opposed to it on the ground that the Congress-NCP alliance would fall through. “The Deshmukh government is doing a fine job. Why should we rock the boat? Secondly, what kind of signal would we be sending to the MNCs and investors?” a party MP asked.

But Pawar’s detractors in the state Congress are getting restless. According to them, the leadership should either work for a merger with the breakaway group or take on Pawar to end the confusion over “two Congresses”.

Going by the present mood, the merger is unlikely as Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar continue to make Sonia’s foreign origin an issue.


Bhuj, June 3: 
Sighting “signs of life” where he had seen destruction a few months ago and a few black flags, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today announced a five-year excise holiday on products made in quake-ravaged Kutch.

Addressing a public meeting after flagging-off a train on the Bhuj-Gandhidham section, Vajpayee announced the five-year tax holiday and urged industrialists to avail the benefits “which will help rebuild Kutch”.

With the announcement, Vajpayee conceded a major demand of the Kutchchis. The Prime Minister also assured assistance to rebuild and rehabilitate the quake-affected area.

Laying the foundation stone for a 500-bed hospital-cum-medical college, razed to the ground on January 26, Vajpayee said the Centre has decided to exempt excise duty on industries in the district.

The state government had also demanded tax holiday for “speedy development and rebuilding of new Kutch”.

Earlier, chief minister Keshubhai Patel had announced that the state government would exempt sales tax in the district if the Centre granted “our long-standing demand for excise exemption”.

Vajpayee praised the state government for its “sincere effort to rebuild Kutch”. However, in the same breath, he advised it “to speed up its pace of rehabilitation work”.

Vajpayee admitted that he had received complaints of discrimination in the distribution of relief materials, but said: “I do not believe that these complaints are true. People become more humane during calamities.”

The Prime Minister, however, said the report of a team of MPs who visited Kutch has also listed such complaints. He assured that he would address “any genuine complaints”.

Taking a dig at the Congress, which greeted the Prime Minister with black flags, he said: “It is not the time to indulge in politics. Election is the right time to fight. It is the hour of crisis when we should forget our differences. Those who showed black flags should cooperate with the state government in rebuilding Kutch, which is a challenging task thrust upon us by nature.”

The bandh called by the Congress and two local organisations received mixed response. Residents, unhappy with the rehabilitation package announced by the state government, also sat on dharna at two places.

Referring to his invitation to Pakistan’s chief executive, the Prime Minister said: “India always wanted better relations with its neighbour. That is why I have invited Pervez Musharraf for talks with India. I am happy that he accepted my invitation. I am confident that something concrete will come out of our talks.”

He said India was ready to discuss every issue, including Kashmir, because “we are on solid, logical ground”.

Recalling scenes of the destruction when he visited Bhuj after the earthquake, Vajpayee said: “Here in this very place (where there was the Civil Hospital), I have seen destruction. Today, I am seeing signs of life everywhere.”

About 187 people, including patients and staff, died on January 26 in the hospital premises.


London, June 3: 
Aamir Khan has rapped his English leading lady in Lagaan for revealing too much about the film, which he has been promoting in Britain prior to its worldwide release on June 15.

Aamir, who is making his debut as producer, expressed shock when quizzed about the cricket match between the English soldiers and Indian villagers which ends the story, set in the small village of Champaner in the princely state of Avadh in 1893.

He was clearly upset that Rachel Shelley, who plays one of the two female leads, had also disclosed some crucial lines of dialogue in her article.

“That is unfortunate,” commented Aamir, who is exceptionally well-behaved for a Bollywood star. “She shouldn’t have.”

At one point, the English heroine (played by Shelley) tells the hero, Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) that she loves him in Hindi — “Main tumse pyar karne lagee hoon. Haan, Bhuvan, main tumse pyar karne lagee hoon.”

Aamir said he would rather that the cricket match, which the British and Indians play as a sort of duel to settle their scores, had been kept secret, along with some of the romantic dialogue. Revealing too much about a film spoilt the enjoyment for an audience, he argued.

“For me as a member of the audience, I don’t want to know too much about it. It’s much more fun that way. Why are we releasing the film then? We could print copies of the script and hand them out,” he declared crossly.

Shelley’s Guardian article, written in diary form, is a tedious whinge about the lack of facilities on the shoot from the non-appearance of hatpins to a self-indulgent account of her tummy problems.

But according to Aamir, “most” of the British actors had enjoyed working in Lagaan.

Whether by design or accident, none of the 15 British actors, including Paul Blackthorne, who plays Captain Russell, the commanding officer of the British cantonment in the film and its principal villain, were invited to support Aamir during his UK promotion.

Aamir said, however: “It was a very good experience working with the Britishers; (they were) very professional.”

The Rs 25-crore film is one of the most expensive made in India. The casting for the British actors was done in Britain and the period wardrobe, including the leading lady’s corset, was flown from London.

Aamir said he considered Lagaan to be the first serious attempt at a “cross-over” film by commercial Indian cinema. The English actors had been coached to speak some dialogue in Hindi, but English was spoken, too, in Lagaan.

The 30 prints being sent to the UK would all have sub-titles. He had resisted advice, though, that the length should be trimmed from 3 hours and 42 minutes, which he admitted was long for a Western audience. “But I would like the British audience and audiences all over the world to see an Indian film in its pure form with the music, the song, the lyrics.”

On June 9, Aamir will be making his first trip this year to Bhuj, where 350 cast and crew set up camp for six months and where shooting ending six months before the earthquake. Both the Indian and Western crew had raised funds for people they got to know and befriend during filming. “I had promised them I will show them the film,” he explained.


New Delhi, June 3: 
The defence ministry has proposed bringing a section of the civil service under the control of the army, leaving about 150 bureaucrats and a host of subordinate officials belonging to the Indian Defence Estates Service (IDES) seething in anger.

Defence minister Jaswant Singh is understood to have taken a stand that the IDES be merged with the Military Engineering Service (MES). According to highly-placed sources, Singh discussed this proposal with chief of army staff General S. Padmanabhan and defence secretary T.R. Prasad on May 29.

The move to merge the IDES with the MES has several implications. First, the municipal governance and management of defence lands will be entrusted with the army. This function is being discharged by members of the IDES, a “lesser known” organised civil service. “That the army should take over both civil and civic administration in the cantonments and also deals with intricate land management laws and procedures appears to have baffled senior IDES officials,” a defence ministry source said.

The sources said an immediate problem the government will face is filling up the posts in the defence ministry currently occupied by IDES officers. “There is also the question of training and expertise in the complex areas of urban governance and land management in which the olive greens have no expertise. Besides, how does the government expect the bureaucrats to suddenly develop engineering skills?” a defence ministry official asked.

The administration of cantonments — altogether 62 nationwide — is looked after by cantonment executive officers of the IDES cadre which came into being in 1951 when it was called the Military Land and Cantonment Service. Following the replacement of the Cantonment Authority, as it existed during the Raj, by the Cantonment Board after Independence, the official component of the board was to be in majority. But through an executive order, the number of official and elected members on the board were kept on a par. The functions of the board are municipal in character and it is essentially a local self-government body.

The IDES cadre also provides defence estate officers (DEOs) responsible for management of defence lands throughout the country. Sources said the tussle for control over defence lands has been on for quite some time. Time and again the army has been demanding the DEOs be placed under its administrative control. The defence ministry has resisted this move on the ground that the DEOs are “independent representatives of the Centre to keep watch” over the management of defence lands.

The sources pointed to the “friction” between the armed forces and the IDES, particularly over the issue of revenue being generated from the Santushti shopping complex in Delhi which was built on defence land some years ago. “The armed forces want to control the management of land which so far was under public scrutiny because they were being overseen by the IDES,” an official said.

As defence minister, Sharad Pawar had tried to take over some of the unused defence land, particularly in Maharashtra, for building activity. This led to a furore forcing Pawar to abandon the plans.


Kathmandu, June 3: 
Few in Nepal are buying the official version put out today that an automatic weapon exploded causing the royal tragedy and are putting the roles of the Regent, Prince Gyanendra, and his son, Paras Bikram, through scrutiny.

A late-night state-run Radio Nepal broadcast announced that the condition Prince Dipendra has worsened, but the general perception in Kathmandu is that he is dead.

Most people believe that it is only a matter of time before the government makes the announcement, possibly on the third or fifth day after the tragedy. “The initial element of disbelief has now given root to a belief that the injured Crown Prince is being made the scapegoat in the massacre,” said a Nepal intelligence official.

Initial reports had said that Paras was the only one to escape Friday night’s firing.

The question most are asking is why the world was made to believe that Prince Dipendra had killed eight members of the royal family, only for the Regent, Prince Gyanendra, and deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel to contradict it today.

“Once the official version was that Prince Dipendra was the culprit and now they want us to believe that it was a mere accident. The theory that an automatic weapon accidentally went off killing the entire clan is just beyond our comprehension. There is more than meets the eye,” said Dinesh Thapa, one of the slogan-shouting protesters outside the palace this evening. He and his colleagues were demanding that the killers of the royal family be hanged.

In the slogan itself lies the suspicion that the killer was not Dipendra but someone else.

Seeing that the family of Gyanendra is the beneficiary from the tragedy, the needle of popular suspicion turning towards it. “We perceive a more dubious plot in the whole massacre. Hamro Raja hamro Rani ko hatiyara lai dhanda dhinu parcha (those who betrayed our King, Queen and the nation should be brought to book),” Thapa added.

Nepal’s main Opposition party, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), tonight demanded an impartial probe into the assassinations, adds PTI.

The “truth” must be brought before the public, the party demanded. “There must be an impartial inquiry into the unnatural, unanticipated, serious accident which took place at the royal palace. It has created confusion at home and abroad. The facts and the truth must be brought to the public,” CP(UML) leader Madhav Nepal said.

He also demanded that the people be kept informed about the condition of Dipendra, lying in a coma in hospital, and other injured members of the Royal family.

Earlier, a CP(UML) spokesman said: “The people of Nepal do not know what happened inside the palace. It is the responsibility of the government to tell us.” As Nepal was a constitutional monarchy, it was for the government to decide on the course of the investigation, the spokesman said.

A central member of the ruling Nepal Congress, Shailaja Acharya, asked the government to place all the facts relating to the gruesome incidents before the people.

Papers burnt

Angry protesters burned Indian newspapers for carrying reports holding the Crown Prince responsible for the deaths of the king, queen and six other royals.

Crowds seized Indian dailies from newspaper stalls and distributors and set them on fire.

The protestors’ anger appeared to have been fuelled by their own government’s reluctance to offer a full and credible account of the circumstances surrounding Friday night’s deaths.


Calcutta, June 3: 
The Royal Nepalese Consulate General here today appealed to the one-lakh strong Nepalese population in and around the city to remain calm and pray for the departed souls of King Birendra, Queen Aiswarya and other members of the royal family.

Acting consul-general D.P. Bhandari said: “We are shocked at the demise of the king and the queen. Today, more than 300 people, mostly Nepalese, have signed the condolence register kept in our office. I have appealed to all to maintain peace and tranquillity.”

The people queueing to sign the register were equally shocked. Deepak Thapa, a final-year B.Com student from Pokhra, said: “I could not believe my ears when I heard the news. My uncle and grandmother live in Pokhra. Till today we have not heard from them. We are worried. I plan to go to Nepal on June 12 to meet my relatives and see the situation with my own eyes.”

The consul-general also calmed fears of prospective tourists and relatives of those already there about a breakdown in law and order. “The present situation should not mar the tourism prospects of Nepal. Usually tourists go there in April-May. So tourists season is almost over. Those who are still there are facing no problem because there is no law and order problem.”

But tour operators are in a fix as several persons who had purchased tickets for Nepal are asking for a refund.


New Delhi, June 3: 
The People’s Front has unveiled a common minimum programme that ruled out the Congress as an alternative to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. The real alternative, the programme said, could only be provided by the third front.

The snub to Congress drew an immediate rebuke from Laloo Prasad, a powerful player in the earlier avatar of the front. Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesman Shivanand Tiwari said in Patna the only agenda of the new front should have been the ouster of the BJP-led government at the Centre, which was not possible without the Congress’ help.

“We do not agree with the political draft of the Lok Morcha which has clubbed the Congress, with the BJP,” said Tiwari, whose party shares power with the Congress in Bihar.

The document, released by front chairperson Jyoti Basu in Delhi yesterday, said: “By pursuing policies that negated the ideals of the freedom movement and compromising with communal forces, the Congress has forfeited its position to protect India and transform its future positively.”

The front underscored its own credentials as a viable political alternative. “Our front is based on a common minimum programme which would provide the basis for giving the country a new direction,” the programme said.

“Our main concern now is with the Uttar Pradesh elections,” Jyoti Basu said while releasing the document. “If we can gather our forces together, it will not be difficult to defeat the BJP in the state.”

The front is banking on the Uttar Pradesh elections which, it hopes, would open up fresh possibilities for a third alternative. The front is now limited to the four Left parties, the Samajwadi Party and former prime ministers V.P. Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda. But front leaders are hopeful of roping in some NDA partners, too.

“There are 22 parties in the NDA and we have never said all of them are communal. What they have done is strike opportunistic deals with communal parties for electoral gains,” CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said.

The front maintained that its doors were open for any party that was not communal, but dodged a direct reply on the entry of Laloo. “He has to agree to the programme,” Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said.

Laloo, who was an active partner in the United Front, has not attended a single meeting of the People’s Front till now. Besides the differences on the Congress, reluctance on the part of Mulayam and the CPI leadership is also standing in the way of Laloo’s entry.

Mulayam and Laloo, both champions of the cause of Yadavs and Muslims, parted ways over the issue of relationship with the Congress. The CPI is cut up with Laloo because he had refused to give the party the number of seats it had wanted in the last Assembly elections in Bihar.


Lucknow, June 3: 
Vikas Singh’s 14-year-old peace parikrama has ended abruptly in a Pakistani jail.

Now his only hope lies in a world-watched peace mission that will see Pakistan chief executive Pervez Musharraf travelling to India sometime soon, feels his father Surendra Singh.

“Vikas’ wanderlust has landed him in trouble once again. The only one who can help him now is General Musharraf,” said the worried father. Vikas was sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment on charges of illegal entry on May 31 by a Pakistani court.

Surendra has written to the ministry of external affairs and is heading for Delhi to meet the Pakistani high commissioner. “If everything fails, I will seek an audience with Musharraf and his wife, wherever that might be,” Surendra said in desperation. Rumours of Musharraf’s intended trip to Lucknow to meet up with old friends and relatives has “brightened up chances of the meeting”.

Vikas, an engineer from the Benaras Hindu University where he was also the boxing champion, started his peace mission in 1987 by setting off from Delhi on foot for Bangladesh. The globe-trotter has been touring the world since in a modified bicycle that doubled up as a trolley which someone gifted him in Philippines. Vikas has already taken his message of amity to 62 countries. Pakistan, “as it was so important to sub-continental peace”, was to be his last stop.

Back at his home in Ashiana Colony here, there is a palpable pall of gloom that permeates the locality. Mother Vidhya said: “His only fault was his zeal to spread the message of world peace. Why are the Pakistanis treating him like a terrorist? If India can make so many goodwill overtures, why can’t Pakistan make one? Why can’t they let my son off?”

Vikas was arrested by Pakistani officials in April after he had sneaked across the Afghanistan border into Tirah, a north-western frontier tribal town. He had failed to get a Pakistani visa in Kabul.

Reporting Vikas’ arrest, a foreign agency quoted a Pakistani court official as saying: “He (Vikas) had criss-crossed the rugged mountains to secretly enter into Pakistan after he was turned back by authorities at the main Torkham border checkpost earlier.”

Pakistani agencies refused to relent even after Vikas showed them “evidence” and souvenirs gathered from 62 countries where he had been on his mission.

Vikas’ family had received his last letter on April 19 from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, saying he was on his way to Pakistan. Ironically, Vikas had expressed fear that the Pakistan leg may not be “that easy”.

Explaining Vikas’ motivation to undertake the tour, his younger brother Vivek said: “Vikas had this terrible desire to break what he called the monotony of life. He was always looking for adventure, he also wanted to see his name in the Guinness book.”

Before pessimism and hopelessness could seep into any member of his family, Surendra added with a brave face: “Even Ramji came back after 14 years in the forests. We know Vikas will come back soon.”

The Singhs are hoping that Musharraf, who is a keen follower of sports, might just take a lenient view of Vikas’ failed adventure. At least for the sake of peace.


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