Subhas rap for Cabinet leak
Finance firm duo held for peddling false dreams
Govt falters on flood-fight deadline
25-year-old super-tanker explodes mid-sea
BJP gives Mulayam lead in heartland
Surprise bonanza for madarsas
Jogi goes global to raise dream capital
Deposition spotlight on Devyani
Nepal lakshman rekha for foreign media
Entry & exit drama in Speaker race

Calcutta, June 13: 
The ministry sub-committee of the CPM is miffed with transport minister Subhas Chakraborty for “briefing” newspersons on the agenda of the sixth Left Front government’s first Cabinet meeting on June 6.

The matter is likely to be taken up at an appropriate party forum and Chakraborty may be asked not to overstep his brief again. The sub-committee is in charge of monitoring the activities of CPM ministers in the Left Front government and comprises — besides chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — other important ministers like Nirupam Sen, Suryakanta Mishra and Chakraborty himself. Most sub-committee members are also part of the powerful CPM state committee.

The first step the party took, after coming back to power, was to tell its ministers not to speak to the media about changes in policy and other important decisions taken by the government.

The CPM, say ministers, has always frowned on some Cabinet members’ penchant for shooting off their mouth in front of the media. Besides, during the later years of Jyoti Basu’s reign, it was only Bhattacharjee — who was then in charge of the information and cultural affairs department — who briefed the media about what transpired in ministerial meetings after taking the chief minister’s permission. The Cabinet met once every month, on an average, during Basu’s 24-year-tenure, officials said.

Chakraborty, after the June 6 Cabinet meeting, was asked by the media about what had been discussed inside. To be fair to him, he did try to get off by talking of his department’s plans to streamline transport in the city. But he told the media about what was on the agenda of the Left ministers’ meeting before requesting them not to “ask anything more” about it.

And, while speaking of his plans to smoothen transport, he also labelled surprise checks on roads “bourgeois stunts” which did not have any effect in the long run. He did not take anybody’s name but it was clear that Chakraborty was referring to finance minister Asim Dasgupta’s penchant for hitting the road to take care of the city’s unruly traffic.

Chakraborty’s utterances made several of his ministerial colleagues from the CPM unhappy. They fear that Chakraborty — whose utterances in public and to the media have often embarrassed the party — has returned to his pre-election ways when he kept the CPM on tenterhooks amid speculation that he was going to join an anti-Left forum.

Wary of the damage he might inflict on the party — and the toll it might take on the government’s performance — his colleagues would not like to take chances with Chakraborty, who is known for his forthrightness. Hence, the decision to speak to him and request to toe the media-shy line the party prefers, they explained.

CPM men shot at: Four CPM workers, including a local leader Ganesh Singh, were shot at by PWG activists in Ramachandrapur village in Midnapore, reports our correspondent. The condition of Singh is said to be serious. Combing operations have been launched but no arrests have been made so far.


Chinsurah and Calcutta, June 13: 
The Criminal Investigation Department today arrested two senior executives of a finance company on charges of cheating hundreds of depositors in the state, especially in Hooghly district.

Police said the company, Toubro Infotech which has its head office in Chandigarh, had floated tax-free bonds and advertised its credit rating without proper authorisation. The firm lured people by offering them abnormally high rates of interest on their savings.

Acting on a complaint filed by a Behala resident, officials from the CID today arrested the company’s branch manager, Sukumol Sarkar, and Pranab Kundu, who was in charge of agents, from Toubro’s city office on Lenin Sarani.

DIG (CID) V.V. Thambi said Toubro Infotech had floated tax-free bonds that showed an ‘A’ credit rating without getting the necessary evaluation done. “They had recruited 30,000 agents and had mentioned in their souvenir that a depositor’s money will become four times in seven years and eleven months,” Thambi said.

“The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) complained to the police today against the company,” he added.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta warned the people not to invest in schemes floated by Toubro Infotech. The government had been informed about the company’s dealings and inquiries in Hooghly and Behala gave it sufficient cause to suspect wrongdoing. “They are duping people by making false promises,” Dasgupta said.

A Hooghly district official said that unsuspecting investors had fallen prey to the smooth-talking marketing agents hired by the firm. “A large number of people have invested a fortune in the company only on the basis of assurances from the agents. The agents, mostly local unemployed youth, have been lured by huge commissions and other attractive perquisites and are desperate to expand their business,” he said.The marketing staff, too, had to make a substantial investment of Rs 1,000 each to get the appointment.

Officials said the investors, most of who had put in their money either in the monthly income scheme or bought redeemable preference shares, had no idea that no formal record of their investments were maintained.

A visit to Dhaniakhali, Makalpur and other areas of Hooghly revealed that the agents do not have any permanent office.


Calcutta, June 13: 
The government today extended its self-imposed deadline — for the second time in a week — to mow down the illegal bheris which were primarily responsible for the flood waters staying on in North 24-Parganas for over a month last year.

A meeting, at which chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Nirupam Sen were present, arrived at the decision following the administration’s failure to finish the clean-up drive within the stipulated time.

The drive, which began on the Ichhamati at the beginning of this month and targeted other rivers in the Nadia-North 24-Parganas belt like the Padma, Jamuna and the Kodalia, was initially to end by June 10. It was later extended to June 20 as the first 10 days’ work was not encouraging. Today, Mandal admitted that the government was being forced to extend the deadline by another week.


Mumbai, June 13: 
A supertanker, twice as big as an aircraft carrier, sank off the Indian coast early today after a mid-sea explosion split the vessel in two, Coast Guard officials said.

The ship had 42 crew on board, 38 of whom were rescued by two merchant vessels nearby. A sea and air search is on for the missing four.

Heng San, a 25-year-old large crude carrier, run by Ocean Tankers of Singapore, sank after midnight, 389 nautical miles west of Mangalore.

The tanker was empty and bound for the United Arab Emirates, where it was to load cargo.

Coast Guard officials said an explosion in one of the cargo tanks blew a hole in the ship, sinking it. The vessel weighed 2,41,000 deadweight tonnes, when fully loaded.

The cause of the explosion is not known. But it was so powerful that it blew up the deck and most cargo tanks, gutting and splitting the ship in two.

London-based Lloyds Shipping Intelligence said the sinking ship had sent out a distress call, picked up first by the Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre in Norway.

It immediately alerted MV Cloverly, a merchant vessel, barely 23 miles from the sinking tanker, which in turn informed MV Aztec, another ship nearby.

The two ships together rescued 38 crew members. The Norway centre also alerted the Indian Coast Guard. It contacted a tanker, MT Probabaro, sailing in the area and asked it to join the search. It also alerted naval vessels, which pitched in.

Indian naval aircraft joined the search this morning. No bodies were found. A Coast Guard spokesman said they are not sure whether the missing people are alive.

The rescued crew members include 30 Chinese, seven South Koreans and a Myanmar national. The captain of the tanker is among those rescued.

There wasn’t any Indian among the crew, Coast Guard officials said. It is not clear where the rescued crew are being taken.

Coast Guard officials said they was no oil-spill as the tanker was empty.

A shipping ministry official, however, countered this, saying a supertanker consumes 100 tonnes of fuel a day and might have been carrying 2,000 tonnes of fuel. The tanker’s engine fuel might have caused a spill.


New Delhi, June 13: 
A survey carried out by the BJP has placed the Samajwadi Party ahead of the others in the race for numbers in Uttar Pradesh.

BJP sources in the state said their projection was that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party would finish first with 115 to 120 seats, followed by the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with about 100 seats each. The BJP’s tally includes that of its existing allies — the Loktantrik Congress Party, Kisan Mazdoor Bahujan Party and the Samata Party.

According to the projection, the Congress could secure between 40 and 45 seats, Kalyan Singh’s party 20 to 25 and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) about 20.

The survey indicates a hung House with no party or combine anywhere within striking distance of power. In a House of 403, a party or combination would require at least 200 elected members to stake claim to form the government.

Pyarelal Khandelwal, the general secretary in overall charge of elections, claimed that his feedback was that the BJP’s graph was “not sliding as fast as is being propagated”. A random survey in districts like Lucknow, Kanpur, Bhadohi and Deoria showed that “people appreciated the work done by our government”, he said. “This is not to say there’s no anger against us,” he added. “But there is no anti-BJP wave either.”

BJP sources said the party’s main goal in Uttar Pradesh was to “somehow” bridge the gap in the tally projected for itself and the Samajwadi.

They said the party would try to recompense the loss of more backward-caste votes after the exit of Kalyan Singh by roping in caste-based parties like the RLD and the Apna Dal which represent the Jats and Kurmis. “Even if they don’t add substantially to our vote percentage, an alliance with these parties will, at least, ensure that the votes of these castes do not split,” the sources said.

There is a perception within the BJP that its biggest drawback is the lack of Kalyan Singh. “Between 1984 and 1989, he built a constituency of the more backward castes like Tellis, Koeris, Kumhars and Mallahs. In one stroke we have lost all of them. The five per cent drop in our vote percentage between the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha election is proof of that,” the sources said.

BJP strategists are planning to stem the flight of the upper castes. “The Brahmins, Thakurs and Banias are notorious for being on the right side of power and right now these castes do not see the BJP as the best candidate for forming the next government. So they are gravitating towards the Samajwadi or the BSP,” an MP said.

He said in his own constituency, dominated by the upper-caste Bhumihars, prominent BJP members were flocking to BSP leader Mayavati with the assurance of delivering a chunk of the upper-caste votes to her solid Dalit base.

“Mayavati’s unshakeable Dalit following is like an investment for the upper castes to build their own fortunes. The BJP has no such fixed caste loyalty any more,” the leader said. BJP sources said Mayavati has given a “pro-upper caste” signal by toning down her rhetoric and identifying “winnable” Brahmin and Bhumihar candidates from the Congress and the BJP to fight on a BSP ticket.


Lucknow, June 13: 
BJP chief minister Rajnath Singh has announced a feel-good package for the state’s madarsas and teachers of Arabic and Persian, risking censure from the Sangh parivar.

In a clear sign that the BJP is gearing for Assembly elections, Singh initiated an allout effort to woo the minority community by benefiting madarsas, which will get Rs 1 crore as “government assistance”.

Announcing the package, Singh also made it a point to steer clear of the Sangh allegations about madarsas being the epicentre of ISI and anti-Hindu activities.

Though the chief minister was vehement that “no political motive” should be read into the largesse, neither the minorities nor the Opposition parties seemed convinced.

The surprise bonanza includes setting up of a Madarsa Education Board and institution of an annual award for proponents of Arabic and Persian literature that will be funded by the Madarsa Vikas Nidhi.

The board will rectify anomalies in service rules and pay scales of the teaching and non-teaching staff of all such religious schools. It will be empowered to recognise madarsas to enable them to receive government grants.

Singh has stated that madarsa teachers will have parity of scales with teachers of Sanskrit.

The Government Arabic College in Rampur will be upgraded to a university along the lines of the Sampoornanand Sanskrit University at Varanasi.

Singh has also promised to constitute an 11-member board in a week’s time to look in- to the problems faced by madarsas.

The board’s recommendations on what ails the institutes will be submitted to the government in a couple of months.

Madarsa teachers have been promised medical benefits along with the scope of getting earned and maternity leaves.

A “full time” registrar, who will soon be appointed to the Madarsa Board, will keep tabs on the state of madarsas and their needs.

Singh has also promised to enact a new law, the Uttar Pradesh Arabic and Madarsa Education Act, to “streamline the functioning of madarsas”.

Maintaining that the government “doesn’t believe in caste or creed”, Singh said he will promulgate an Ordinance soon on the new Act.

The chief minister has also accepted the long-standing demand of madarsa teachers to modernise the syllabus and hold examinations as per schedule “just like in other schools”.


New Delhi, June 13: 
History’s lesson is not lost on Ajit Jogi. As the first helmsman of a nascent state, he does not want to do a Muhammad bin Tughlaq — build a new capital and live to repent it.

The Chhattisgarh chief minister has decided to take professional help and floated a global tender, inviting responses from the world’s best in architecture and city planning for his new capital.

In Jogi’s scheme of things, there is no place for the second best. His dream capital should have the best of the world’s capitals, from the classy Washington, Tokyo, Singapore to the orderly Islamabad, Colombo and our own Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar and Itanagar. The entire township is to be quake-proof, eco-friendly, laced with motifs of tribal art and endowed with state of the art facilities, ranging from mass transport to shopping malls.

The buzz about a new township near capital Raipur has spread fast with companies from France, US, Germany and Italy showing keen interest in the multi-crore project. Jogi is tight-lipped about the cost, only making it clear that neither the Centre nor the state would have to bear the burden. “We will develop it in a such a way that the entire exercise becomes a profit-making one,” he said.

Jogi was tempted to go ahead with his vision of the new capital, but checked himself. “It is a mega project, so I have decided to leave it to the best hands,” he said. But the state government would be giving “suggestions”.

Maharashtra’s Sitco, which has several achievements like Navi Mumbai and the Backbay Reclamation projects under its belt, has been appointed the consultant for the project.

Jogi is calling the proposed township “New Raipur” for the time being, but he has asked historians and experts on Chhattisgarh culture to rack their brains for a name in keeping with the cultural and historical tenor of the tribal-dominated state.

Jogi’s dreams are not restricted to a super capital. He wants to develop waterways in the landlocked state. A feasibility report, prepared by Coal India, has indicated that the Mahanadi and Godavari can carry steamers to Paradip port.

Underlining the need for waterways in a state gifted with a range of minerals, Jogi said: “Unless we are able to transport them cheaply, we would not get the best dividends.”


Kathmandu, June 13: 
Traumatised Nepal may have to spend yet another agonising weekend waiting for the “truth”. Contrary to expectations, the probe panel’s report, which is expected to be complete tomorrow, is unlikely to be made public before Monday.

Unconfirmed reports said Devyani Rana, girlfriend of Crown Prince Dipendra, has refused to depose before the inquiry commission, citing security reasons. Sources said the panel has instead contacted her through Nepal’s embassy in India, and Devyani has been asked to give in writing details about the nature of her relationship with Dipendra and whatever information she had about the June 1 carnage at Narayan Hity palace.

Media reports quoting Nepal embassy sources said: “Devyani has refused to appear before the panel in view of the tense situation in Nepal and apprehensions about her personal safety.”

A Reuters report quoting a government official said the commission could submit its findings without her input. “The panel’s brief is to investigate what happened, not why it happened,” the official was quoted as saying. “That will come later.”

The two-man commission headed by Chief Justice Keshab Prasad Upadhaya and Speaker of the House of Representatives Taranath Bhatt has until tomorrow to complete its investigations. Besides surviving members of the royal family and the doctors treating them, the panel has also interviewed Supriya Shah, who was once Dipendra’s girlfriend.

Explaining the reasons for the possible delay in making the report public, official sources said: “Most probably, the report will not be made public before the ceremony marking the 13th day funeral rituals of King Birendra, which falls on Saturday. With Sunday being a public holiday, it is likely that the report will be made public only on Monday.”

Another source hinted that the committee wants more time as it is trying to gather information on at least 10 people with whom Dipendra had spoken over his mobile phone before the massacre. Local media reports said Devyani’s telephone number was one of the last 10 called by the crown prince before he went on the drunken rampage.

The probe panel finished interviewing witnesses and other people today and received the forensic report and other technical data. Its report is likely to be submitted to King Gyanendra tomorrow. However, once the report is made public, the G.P. Koirala government may take stringent measures to ensure that there is no violent reaction on the streets. Political analysts fear that the Maoists could trigger unrest as they see in the new royal dispensation a serious threat to their survival.


Kathmandu, June 13: 
Nepal has begun tracking the movements of foreign journalists amid growing resentment about the role of the international media, which, people feel, has dramatised the palace tragedy to serve its own interests.

With the anger on the verge of spilling over, the government today appealed to the local and international media to refrain from disseminating “insubstantial and false” information based on “guesswork and imagination”.

The ministry of information and communication has asked all foreign mediapersons to accredit themselves with the department. Special media passes were issued today to foreign correspondents.

In an official press communiqué, the government said: “As the overall good of the Nepalese and their feelings would have been hurt had false, misleading and unsubstantiated details concerning the tragic and unimaginable incident that took place at the Narayan Hity Royal palace on June 1 been disseminated by the indigenous and foreign communication media, all indigenous and foreign media have been requested to refrain from disseminating unsubstantiated and false information on the basis of guesswork and imagination.”

This apart, leaders of various political parties criticised the international media for their “inaccurate and malicious” reporting on the palace massacre and the events following it. Lambasting the international media, the Indian press in particular, the leaders said: “Not only did they report inaccurately, they also overlooked the sentiments of the Nepalese people.”

Former foreign affairs minister and spokesman for the Opposition Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) Kamal Thapa said: “The international media has been reporting without understanding the sentiments and sensitiveness of the Nepalese people, the socio-dynamic complexities of the Nepali society and the sensitiveness concerning the Nepali media.”

Criticising the Indian media for its “irresponsible reporting” without verifying hard facts, Thapa warned that such acts would ultimately strain bilateral relations. “If the Indian media fail to restrain themselves, then it could affect the bilateral relations between the two countries in the long run,” he said.

Placed under an informal censorship, sections of the local media have taken to bashing their Indian counterparts and their own leaders for speaking in Hindi, and not Nepali, while giving interviews. The use of Hindi “weakened” Nepali nationality and sovereignty and all leaders should use English for such interactions, said a paper.

The Nepalese media had been silent for a week, refraining from publishing any speculative reports. But some vernacular dailies are now carrying theories of conspiracies and are even blaming the G.P. Koirala government and the palace for trying to hide facts from the public.

Indians living in Nepal, too, have vehemently criticised the role of the Indian media in “sensationalising” the massacre.


Calcutta, June 13: 
The race for the Bengal Assembly Speaker’s election took a new turn today with a Congress MLA filing his nomination despite his party’s decision to back the Trinamul Congress nominee, Abdul Karim Chowdhury.

Mahababul Haque, Congress MLA from Kharba in Malda, surprised partymen when he joined the fray for the election that will be held tomorrow.

Haque’s nomination was proposed by A.H. Khan Chowdhury, brother of Malda warhorse, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury. It was seconded by district Congress president Sabitri Mitra.

The Congress and Trinamul were getting ready for a bipartite meeting to discuss floor coordination for the monsoon session when Haque filed his nomination, letting loose a high-voltage drama.

Soon after he had joined the race, Haque had to pull out, under pressure from Congress Legislature Party chief Atish Sinha. Trinamul legislators also did their bit to persuade him.

Some hours later, two Trinamul MLAs, Sougata Roy and Sadhan Pande, virtually dragged him to reporters to make a formal announcement about his withdrawal.

“I filed the nomination without knowing that somebody from the Trinamul with the support of our party has already entered the fray. I wanted to contest this time as a mark of protest against Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim’s partisan attitude in not providing facilities to Opposition MLAs. We have virtually no accommodation in Calcutta when the House is in session, let alone medical facilities,” he said.

He added that he would formally announce his withdrawal in the House tomorrow before the election process begins.

“But Haque’s withdrawal is not valid as there is no provision for this in the rules,” said Assembly secretary Manorajan Sarkar. Haque’s name will figure in the ballot paper along with that of the two other contestants, Hasim Abdul Halim and Abdul Karim Chowdhury.

Reacting to Haque’s filing of nomination papers, CLP leader Sinha said the party had expressed its regret to Trinamul. “We have already pulled up Haque for doing so without permission from the leadership,” he said. But he ruled out any disciplinary action against the MLA.

Reciprocating Sinha’s gesture, Pankaj Banerjee, leader of Opposition, said his party was willing to ignore the issue as Haque had already withdrawn his candidature. “This should not have happened. But the matter ended after Haque apologised,” he added.

Left assessment meet

All the newly-elected 199 Left Front legislators, including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his other Cabinet colleagues, will meet on June 19 at the Alimuddin Street headquarters where the leadership will assess their performances and advise them on how to function in the monsoon session of the Assembly, beginning tomorrow.    

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