Contai tormentor held in night raid
Flood-fight delay
Advani gets Atal’s powers at last
Nepal editor’s arrest linked to Koirala criticism
Britain sounds alert on kingdom
Cock-and-bull slur on captain
Jayalalitha in jumbo thanksgiving
BJP divided over Ajit inclusion
Palace on Wheels cousin rolls
Hoax e-mailer in police net

Contai, June 7: 
The “terror of Contai” has finally been arrested.

After a three-week hunt, police got their hands on Seikh Munna, the dacoit who unleashed a reign of terror in this town in Midnapore district, last night.

Tipped off that Munna was hiding in a house in Bishnupur, a team of officials from the Midnapore and South 24-Parganas police rushed to Khariberia village and arrested the criminal. Arms and ammunition and a costly chain were recovered from him, said Midnapore superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal.

“Munna tried to escape after we surrounded the house from four sides. But he had to surrender as a huge police contingent had gathered,” he said.

Yesterday, three of Munna’s associates — Kuddus, Kader and Mujibar — were arrested from Digha in an operation led by additional superintendent of police (Midnapore) Abhijit Sengupta. “These three persons disclosed Munna’s whereabouts. We recovered the motorcycle used by Munna and television sets looted by him,” Maliwal said.

Munna and his gang had committed at least a dozen dacoities in Contai town over the past three weeks. A rickshaw-puller, Ektar Singh, was killed and a sub-inspector of Contai police station received bullet injuries in an encounter with Munna and his gang a couple of days ago.

Munna’s father is a rickshaw-puller in Contai. He used to live in their Dhandighi residence near the town. But he left Contai about five years ago for Mumbai and learnt the criminal trade from gangsters there.

Munna returned to Contai a few months ago and teamed up with his former associates with whom he had committed dacoities in Contai, police said.

Enraged by the series of dacoities, a number of political parties, including the Trinamul Congress and SUCI, had given a bandh call in Contai town a few days ago. Block development officer Shraboni Dhar and sub-divisional officer Tapas Biswas conducted night patrols following the bandh.


Burdwan, June 7: 
The memories of last year’s floods still raw in their minds, residents of Burdwan town are bristling with anger after the irrigation department began a flood prevention exercise so close to the monsoons.

Engineers have begun lining the embankments of the Banka river, which caused last September’s floods in the town, with boulders to prevent erosion of embankments.

Residents feel the work should have begun long ago. Local people said the main problem with the river is its shallowness, caused by siltation over the years.

“Isn’t this a farce? Lakhs are being spent on the boulders when it’s already begun to rain daily. What is the use of only making the embankments sturdy when the river is heavily silted?” said Nirmal Chowdhury, a resident.

Sub-assistant engineer of the irrigation department, Biswajit Banerjee, admitted that work on the embankment had been taken up at the wrong time. “We did not initially want to take up the job as we knew it would be futile to embark on any flood prevention work. We will try to complete it as quickly as possible,” he added.

An irrigation department official of the district said on condition of anonymity that the contractors’ lobby put pressure on the department to begin work even though monsoon was near.

“This way more than the required quantity of boulders can be used as a heavy spell of rain will wash them away,” the official said, adding that tonnes of boulders which have fallen into the river over the years is one reason why the river is becoming shallow quickly.


New Delhi, June 7: 
L.K. Advani has almost become the deputy Prime Minister, by default.

While Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gives his operated knee a rest at Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital, the surgery today having gone off successfully, his home minister has been given unbridled powers to call Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings and take decisions.

Senior ministers have been known to officiate in many countries, including India, in the past. But, for the BJP-led government this will be a first.

Last time, when the Prime Minister went to Breach Candy for a knee operation, no one was left in charge, much to the chagrin of Advani’s supporters. Consequently, Cabinet meetings did not take place.

However, this time round wisdom seems to have dawned on the government and the Cabinet secretary has sent a missive (letter No 1/36/1/2001-Cab) dated June 6, to all members of the Cabinet, stating: “The Prime Minister has directed that urgent matters requiring the decision of the Cabinet or Cabinet committees will be presided by the home minister in his absence for medical treatment.”

For Advani, who many BJP hardliners would like to see formally anointed deputy Prime Minister, this is the nearest yet to the pinnacle of power. Sources said Advani had been given charge of the Cabinet mainly because the situation in Nepal “is fluid” and might need quick decision-making in the near future.

Niggling problems with other neighbours like Bangladesh and Pakistan remain, which too could “need immediate decisions”.

Besides, since the monsoon has just begun, flash floods and subsequent central interventions might also become necessary.

Advani had been put in charge once before when the Prime Minister was travelling in West Asia and it had become necessary for the Centre to take a decision on whether or not to recommend President’s rule in Bihar. Vajpayee had then sent a fax message authorising Advani to act on his behalf. The decision to recommend President’s rule had proved disastrous for the government since President K. R. Narayanan sent it back.

Top officials, however, felt it was unlikely that Advani would activate any of the economic committees of the Cabinet during this period as finance minister Yashwant Sinha, too, was out of the country “also on medical leave”.

Economic controversies such as rows over the telecom policy or disinvestment have seen the Cabinet most divided in the past few months.

BJP snubs Sena

The BJP today virtually ruled out an additional Cabinet berth for its ally, the Shiv Sena.

“Ram Jethmalani was a minister even before getting elected to Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra with Sena’s support,” Pramod Mahajan said. He was responding to questions on Bal Thackeray’s demand for a Cabinet berth in place of Jethmalani,, who was dropped from the BJP-led NDA government.


Kathmandu, June 7: 
The guard stops you at the gate of the Kathmandu police headquarters in 350-year-old Hanuman Dhoka Square. While you wait, a Royal Nepal Police constable runs up to the officer on duty with a slip that has your name and organisation on it in Nepali and English. Once cleared, you climb the grimy stairs to the second floor waiting room. To wait longer.

The police inspector announces that the “VIP” detainees are having lunch. Forty-five long minutes later, you are led to the “VIP” cell —- a seven feet by 10 feet cell. The lone barred window in the cell overlooks the front courtyard of the 15th century Hanuman Dhoka Palace of the Shah Dynasty — the scene of the gory Kot carnage of 1846.

The “VIP” detainees — editor Yubhraj Ghimire, managing director Kailash Sirohiya and director Binod Raj Gyawali of Nepal’s largest circulated language daily Kantipur — are sitting on the bare floor.

The three, picked up by plainclothes policemen armed with arrest warrants from the Subidhanagar office on the outskirts of Kathmandu yesterday, were this morning handed other arrest charges. They were earlier charged with treason for publishing an “anti-monarchy” article written by an underground Maoist leader.

A stoic Ghimire, who has worked with The Telegraph, says the arrests are the outcome of the ongoing confrontation with the Girija Prasad Koirala-led Nepali Congress government.

“It is not the first time that we have carried a bylined article by the underground Maoist leader Dr Baburam Bhattarai. Bhattarai’s articles are regularly carried by other dailies in Nepal. But never before were arrests made. It is our newspaper’s policy to carry “uncensored” articles on the op-edit page,” he adds.

Terming the arrests as vindictive, Kantipur news editor Narayan Wagle claims the government was looking for a chance to act against the publication.

“We had carried two front-page editorials demanding the resignation of the corrupt and inefficient Koirala government. One was published in January, criticising the government’s failure to contain the guerrilla Maoist organisation, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which attacked the Dailikh police outpost and gunned down 32 police personnel,” Wagle said.

“We had carried another front-page editorial exposing the Koirala government’s corrupt dealing in the Lauda Aircraft case. We had questioned the role of the government in leasing the aircraft from the Australian firm for the Nepal national carrier - the Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation,” the news editor said.

The article had highlighted the discrepancies in the deal after the Commission of Investigation of Abuse of Authority questioned Prime Minister Koirala on the issue.

The Nepal media has lodged a strong protest against the government’s efforts to gag the press. In a statement today, the Federation of Nepalese Journalist Associations, an umbrella organisation of journalists, said: “We are shocked.... The arrests have come as a major attack on the freedom of press in Nepal.... It is impossible to run a democracy by gagging the press.”

The man on the street is shy of commenting on the arrests. “Yes, I feel the government is trying to settle scores with the newspaper as it has the tendency to openly attack the government. But on the arrests, I would rather not comment,” said Binod Lama, a taxi driver.

But political leaders cutting across parties have condemned the crackdown on the Kantipur. The spokesman of Nepal’s main Opposition party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), Pradip Nepal, said: “This is the first deplorable assault on press freedom in Nepal. It is anti-democratic and unconstitutional.” The CPN(UML) has demanded the immediate release of the three.

A statement by rebel Nepali Congress leader and former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has exposed the divide over the issue even within the ruling party.

“I am shocked to learn of the government’s intervention in the nation’s premier publication. At these tragic and disconcerting times when the entire nation should be held together by any means, this intervention to me strikes as shocking. I demand the immediate releases of the arrested persons,” he said.

“One should not forget that freedom of the press is an inseparable part of democracy,” the former Prime Minister said. The attempt to muzzle the Kantipur has also been condemned by the Rastriya Prajatantra Party.

But the Koirala government has defended its action. “If a publication like Kantipur publishes anti-monarchy articles by Dr Baburam Bhattarai and if it is charged for it, then I have nothing to say,” minister for information and communication Shiv Raj Jhosi said.


Kathmandu, June 7: 
Fearing fresh violence in Nepal, the British embassy in Kathmandu has issued a security alert to its citizens holidaying or staying in the trouble-torn Himalayan kingdom.

A security advice faxed to all hotels in the country has warned British citizens to exercise caution while moving around within the country.

“You might be aware that certain international media stations, including the BBC, are now broadcasting what are claimed to be first hand accounts of the tragic events of June 1. These accounts suggest, as initially reported, that the late King Dipendra was responsible for the deaths of the royal family,” the release this evening by the consular section of the British embassy said.

“This news may possibly be a catalyst for further demonstrations and street violence and British citizens are advised to exercise caution in moving around Kathmandu and other towns in Nepal. British citizens are advised to avoid crowds and demonstrations. Curfews may be imposed at short notice,” the statement warned.

Indian paramilitary forces have been put on high alert along the 1,690-km border with nepal, adds PTI from Delhi.

A close watch was being kept by paramilitary forces along the border and vehicles crossing over were being monitored, home ministry sources said.

Probe report

Chief Justice Keshav Prasad Upadhyaya, the man appointed by the new king to head the inquiry into the palace massacre, has said investigations could take longer than expected. The official investigation was to start on Friday.

“I think it will be difficult to complete the investigation in three days,” he told Reuters. “If we don’t finish in time, we may have to request for a short extension.”


Kathmandu, June 7: 
A drunk Dipendra pumped bullets into his father, King Birendra, thrice with an assault weapon and shot Queen Aishwarya and the other royals, a survivor of the macabre palace shooting told a crowded news conference today.

But opinion in the angry kingdom in mourning is divided over the latest eyewitness accounts of Capt. (Dr) Rajiv Shahi, also a royal relative.

The younger generation is refusing to buy the theory that Dipendra is the murderer. “You want us to believe this cock-and-bull story that the then crown prince single-handedly wiped out his entire family, leaving alive his cousins and distant relatives,” fumed Kamal Thapa, a 20-year-old garment merchant.

“The secrecy surrounding the carnage is killing. Now, before the high-level probe constituted by the new king and the government, we have this eyewitness coming out and trying to give credence to the earlier version of the carnage to the public,” Thapa said.

“What we learnt from Indian television channels was that Dr Shahi, the son-in-law of Dhirendra Shah, the youngest brother of the late King, only gave a statement but refused to answer reporters’ questions. There are too many loopholes.”

Suneet Dhakal, a 33-year-old executive, said it was impossible that an “intoxicated” man could fire two guns with such accuracy. “Though Dipendra was a sharp-shooter, still, in his condition, only targeting his immediate family somehow does not sound right,” he said.

“I personally suspect this is part of a greater design to cover up the worst regicide in history.”

Purna Subedi, a postgraduate student of Tribhuban University, minced no words when he said he didn’t believe Shahi’s eyewitness account.

“Captain Shahi’s eyewitness accounts of the Royal carnage is full of holes. He has not come clear on how he himself came out unscathed. Then he happens to be a close associate of Prince Paras, who, so far, in the public eye is still the main suspect behind the carnage,” Subedi said.

“Another disturbing factor in the whole massacre drama is that how come only the late King Birendra’s immediate family members were killed and none from the present king’s family?”

But many have resigned themselves to live on with the agonising memory that the crown prince massacred his family in a drunken frenzy.

“If the eyewitness accounts are true, though unbelievable, we have to live with such a dark memory of our history. One reads of such regicides only in history books. It is, indeed, shameful and sad that a prince so popular could turn out to be a cold-blooded killer. But life has to go on. Things will normalise once the probe reports on the carnage are made public,” said Devraj Cinturi, a government employee.


Kochi, June 7: 
It is a thanksgiving as massive as the victory ADMK chief Jayalalitha had in the recent Tamil Nadu Assembly polls. An elephant, no less. And the beneficiary is the famous Sree Krishna temple at Guruvayoor in Thrissur district of Kerala.

During the last two days, temple authorities along with representatives of the governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been making hectic preparations to facilitate Jayalalitha’s unique thanksgiving.

By all indications, the Tamil Nadu chief minister is to make the offering at Guruvayoor temple on Sunday. Kerala minister G. Karthikeyan has been deputed by the state government to oversee arrangements during her visit.

According to sources at Guruvayoor temple, Jayalalitha decided to make the offering following advice from her astrologer, Unnikrishna Panikker, who has been in her service for a long time.

Panikker, who hails from Parapanangadi in Malappuram district , had apparently predicted ADMK’s victory in the elections and had told her that the grace of Guruvayoorappan would be one of the factors helping her to achieve this. He had also instructed her to make the offering of the elephant.

The elephant that is being offered is named Kirangade Kannan and was bought by Jayalalitha from Mohandas of Vadakkencherry in Thrissur district. The elephant is nearly 12 years old and was brought from Arunachal Pradesh two months back.

Tamil Nadu officials have already got the necessary government clearances to make the offering.

These include a clearance from the forest department stating that no torture has been inflicted on the animal and a certificate from veterinarians that it is in good health.

The temple authorities require an ownership certificate along with these clearances.

According to temple authorities, clearances are being pushed through with clockwork like precision and the Tamil Nadu chief minister would have no problems in making the offering.

After propitiating Guruvayoorappan, Jayalalitha also proposes to visit the Hanumankavu temple at Alathiyur near Tirur in Malappuram district and also Raja Rajeshwara temple at Talipparamba in Kannur district.

The deities at these temples have also apparently showered their blessing on the ADMK chief.


Lucknow, June 7: 
Sharp differences have cropped up within the BJP and its allies over the inclusion of Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in the NDA. Inspite of the talks “progressing” in Delhi, the situation has taken a different, and rather difficult, turn in Uttar Pradesh with Loktantrik Congress Party (LCP) chief Naresh Agarwal opposing the alliance.

“Our opposition can go to any extent,” Agarwal, a key player in the state with 22 MLAs, threatened. Though he was quick to point out that he had no problems with Singh joining hands with the BJP, he said he will scuttle Singh’s efforts to use the BJP platform for his call for a Harit Pradesh.

Taking a tough stance on Harit Pradesh, which Singh wants to carve out of Uttar Pradesh, Agarwal said the alliance with the RLD will not be at the cost of yet another bifurcation of the state.

“We will not let the BJP to send any proposal to the Centre on this demand,” Agarwal said.

Chief minister Rajnath Singh, too, acknowledged the differences within the ruling alliance when he said: “Yes, we have difference of opinion on the matter, but we will sit together and reach a consensus. Our allies will definitely be taken into confidence.”

The issue of joining hands with the RLD, however, took a curious turn when state BJP chief Kalraj Mishra said the BJP was ready to go alone in the polls. Refusing to comment on the RLD alliance, he said the BJP will get a majority on its own.

Mishra, however, toed the RLD line by maintaining that the BJP as a party “agrees” with the concept of smaller states.

Denying that there was infighting in the BJP, Mishra said the BJP was ready for the Assembly polls.

On the rumoured tiff with Rajnath over his nomination to the Rajya Sabha seat, Mishra said it was all a “figment of imagination,” and a “media creation”.


New Delhi, June 7: 
Foreign travellers — the cashcows of modern tourism — finally seem to be falling for the romance of a holiday on luxury trains. And India is ready to cash in.

After the phenomenal success of Palace on Wheels run by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, its Gujarat counterpart has started a Royal Orient Express. Other plans aimed at foreigners are soon to be put on track.

The Railway Board is collaborating with the state tourism development corporations as well as private institutions to start as many as nine luxury trains across the country. By conjuring up novel experiences for tourists, it is not only providing the much-needed thrust to the slow coach of tourism, but also lining its pocket.

It is learnt that Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation is likely to start a luxury train that will snake through the vast state soon. Another entry into the sector will be the British Great Scotsman, which will tie up with Sterling Resorts and Indian Railways to begin a service in Tamil Nadu. Negotiations have started on these schemes.

After a sluggish start, business has picked up, even for the Royal Orient. The GTDC general manager said 12 groups from abroad have already booked slots for the coming season.

The trains run from September to April, with an off-season discount in the first and last months for the round trip that lasts seven days. On an average, they can carry 100 passengers. Apart from sleeping chambers and private lounges, the trains have two restaurants and a bar.

Enjoying a plush maharajah-style life does not come cheap and payments have to be in cash. Palace on Wheels is seen as a premium product and a holiday costs on an average Rs 96,000 per head. In comparison, the Royal Orient Express trip comes at a bargain price of Rs 60,000 plus per head. There are other combinations also arriving at different package tariffs.

But for the travellers hungry for an experience of India, including its famed hospitality, the deals are lucrative. For less than a lakh of rupees, one gets a glimpse of famed tourist destinations and cultural events, ritzy accommodation and gourmet meals accompanied by fine liquor. Personalised service is also laid on.

Much of the credit for the deluxe ambience goes to Monica Khanna, who runs the design studio, Form & Function. Khanna was commissioned to do over the Palace on Wheels two years ago. For Rs 70 lakh, she gave the train the treatment. It meant in-depth research on the cultural heritage of Rajasthan and colour schemes, boning up on technical knowhow about electrical lines and plumbing and working in the sweltering summer heat in the Ajmer workshop of Northern Railways.

She created a theme-based design. Opulent sleeping chambers and lounges are named after erstwhile princely states. The two restaurants are called Maharaja and Maharani. She introduced Mughal motifs, including 140 fabricated pelmets embellished with zardozi embroidery and silk carpets.

The decor makeover success of Palace on Wheels brought GTDC knocking on her door. Khanna was initially commissioned to do the bathrooms, ceiling treatments and bar of the Royal Orient Express in 2000 for Rs 45 lakh. She chose from the rich Gujarati design vocabulary to create the right effects. The GTDC’s contribution to the effort: some old paintings. Pleased with the results achieved by Khanna, the GTDC is spending another crore to do up the whole train.

Khanna’s ability to design restricted spaces and impart a luxurious feel has won her many admirers and everybody in the trade is queuing up for a contract.


New Delhi, June 7: 
Think before sending a crank e-mail next time. Because this is what happened to Joseph Jose, a bank employee in Delhi, who mailed one to a newspaper office.

In the first-ever hoax e-mail message in the capital, the Cyber Crime Cell (Crime Branch) got the better of the bank employee — Jose was arrested today.

The e-mail read: “Make sure that Connaught Place does not open today the 6.6.2001 for any commercial activity, there are at least six bombs in the whole place and sophisticated heat detecting devices capable of mass destruction. The BSF camp was a curtain raiser...You have more than just enough time to stop it while you can... Make Sure...”

After receiving this information, the police swung into action. About 500 policemen supported by two CRPF platoons, the bomb squad and the dog squad combed Palika Bazar and Central Park, searched restaurants and parking lots for explosives, only to realise that it was a hoax message.

A trap was laid to nab the culprit. The telephone number used for sending the e-mail was identified and, finally, Jose was tracked down. Police searched his residence and recovered a computer used for sending the message. Jose confessed that he sent the e-mail from the Internet account of a company.


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