Mamata unlocks door with sorry
Blast raises ghost of 1975
Minister as rash as auto-rickshaw
Break for babus, 15 days a year
‘Suicide’ note under scanner
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi and Calcutta, June 17: 
Behind the flurry of statements by heavyweights in the BJP-led coalition that the doors are open for Mamata Banerjee to return lies a meeting where the Trinamul leader came as close as possible for her to say sorry to George Fernandes. And, behind the near-apology lurks the suggestion that the gentle nudge to Mamata might have come from Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself.

Since that meeting earlier this month in Delhi, Fernandes and his Samata Party colleague Nitish Kumar have said Mamata is welcome to rejoin the NDA. Nitish Kumar has gone a step further and said he is prepared to give up the railway ministry if Mamata is keen on getting it back, which apparently she is. Nitish Kumar first said this on a trip to Bengal. Today, he repeated it in Lucknow.

Samata sources said Fernandes conveyed to his colleagues that Mamata was “repentant” for what she had said about the former defence minister “in the heat of the moment” and reportedly stopped just short of a formal apology when she called on him. Sources said the Trinamul chief sought to explain to Fernandes that the decision to quit the NDA and team up with the Congress was “purely on account of electoral compulsions and not with an intention to settle personal scores or hurt any leader”.

Following this, Fernandes, who is also the NDA convener, prevailed on his party colleagues not to oppose Mamata’s re-entry. At least two senior Samata MPs, Raghunath Jha and Prabhunath Singh, had publicly spoken out against Trinamul’s reinduction on grounds that Mamata left the coalition after making an “issue” of Fernandes’ resignation from the Cabinet because he was named in the Tehelka tapes.

Samata sources said despite the unhappiness in the party over Mamata’s reinduction, Fernandes decided to “forget and forgive”. “His priority is to keep the NDA government intact and if Trinamul’s re-entry shores up the numbers, he will have no problem,” they said.

The Samata Party’s understanding is that it was the Prime Minister who initially suggested to Mamata that she ought to make up with Fernandes if she was serious about coming back. Mamata had first called on Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani before phoning Fernandes to set up an appointment.

With the change of heart in Fernandes, BJP sources said a “major hurdle” in the way of Mamata’s return was removed. “As the NDA convener, there is no way Vajpayee could have over-ruled his objections and brought in Mamata. The fact that Vajpayee has allowed Fernandes to continue as the convener despite the Tehelka tapes shows he really values him,” a source said.

Neither the BJP nor the Samata could say when Trinamul’s reinduction would take place. Samata sources believe that the much-awaited Cabinet expansion would take place between July 18 and 22, just before the beginning of the monsoon session.

“It is hoped that by then the political realignments would fall into place,” one of them said, referring to the re-entry of Trinamul and the Pattali Makkal Katchi and the formal split in the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Within Trinamul itself the view is gaining ground that the party need not wait until the Uttar Pradesh election to rejoin the NDA. Trinamul’s general secretary Dinesh Trivedi said: “The Uttar Pradesh election will have no bearing on national politics. And it is quite possible the BJP will fare better than most analysts expect.” He refused to comment on the possible return to the NDA.

“She will only go where prestige and honour lie. She is the last person to compromise her dignity,” said a leader close to Mamata.

That she sees her future — at least in the short term — in the NDA and not with the Congress is evident from the way she has tried to make up with leaders of the ruling coalition. The latest instance is her silence on the statement Advani made before the Liberhan Commission, refusing to accept the disputed Ayodhya structure as a mosque. A senior Trinamul leader said: “Mamata is unlikely to get into any communal thing at the moment.”


Dhaka, June 17: 
Saturday’s bomb blast in the ruling Awami League’s office threatened to push Bangladesh towards bloody political chaos ahead of a general election as outrage over the incident erupted on Opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia.

At least 22 people were killed and over 100 injured in the explosion that ripped through the Awami League office at Narayanganj, 15 km from here. Four women and a child died in the blast. The local member of parliament, A.K.M. Shamim Osman, was among the injured.

Police detained two men and a woman as suspects. One of the suspects has been identified as Liton, who reportedly belongs to Freedom Party, which was founded by some former military officers who led the 1975 coup in which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was slain. No details about the two other persons were disclosed.

“They (opposition) are engaged in the politics of blood. They are threatening to stage a repeat of 1975,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament.

The police and intelligence agencies said the bomb was “planted to kill Osman and his men”. Speaking from his hospital bed, Osman said: “I was the target. I’ve survived. But the conspirators will now target Sheikh Hasina. Please help her to stay alive.”

The blast brought down the under-construction tin-shed building, where the Narayanganj chapter of Hasina’s party had just shifted its office.

The violence touched off nationwide protests as angry Awami League activists took to the streets. At one stage, the anger turned against the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main rival of the Awami League.

BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia accused “armed Awami League activists” of erecting roadblocks to prevent her from driving to the southern districts. All roads leading out of Dhaka were closed to Khaleda’s motorcade, her party leaders said.

Iron scraps, tree logs and abandoned cars were used to make the roadblocks, BNP secretary-general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan said. He alleged that Awami League activists fired on Khaleda’s motorcade at a place outside Dhaka forcing her to return to the capital. The Awami League has denied the charge. But the government faces more unrest as the BNP called a two-day general strike on June 19-20 to protest against, what it said, the ruling party’s anarchy and attack on its leader.

The blast came less than a month before Hasina steps down on July 13, making way for the election, due in October, to be held under a caretaker authority.

It was the fourth such explosion in recent months. A blast killed three people at a meeting of the Communist Party in Dhaka on January 20. Another bomb ripped through a Poila Baishakh musical function, also in Dhaka, on April 14, leaving 10 people dead. In an explosion on June 3, 10 more were killed in a Catholic church.


Calcutta, June 17: 
It may be too early for milk and honey to flow in the promised land of the New Left, but rice and sugar could be on their way — if you are an auto-rickshaw driver.

Much like the auto-rickshaw army he was trying to court, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty today jumped the new government’s reform traffic signals and promised three-wheeler drivers subsidised rice and sugar.

Chakraborty, known for once promising to streamline the plying of the ubiquitous auto-rickshaws, got a deafening applause from the drivers. But the show of generosity at the anaemic state’s expense also ignited calls for similar doles for more under-privileged sections and left Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government wondering what Chakraborty was talking about.

“I don’t know what Chakraborty has said but subsidised rations are meant for those living below the poverty line,” state food minister Kalimuddin Shams said.

Shams added that anyone earning less than Rs 1,000 a month falls below the poverty line. But, according to Chakraborty’s scheme of things, drivers earning less than Rs 3,500 a month will be entitled for the rice-and-sugar package.

“Those auto-rickshaw drivers whose income is less than Rs 3,500 per month will be entitled to draw an additional quota of sugar and rice from ration shops at a price less than the prevailing rates,’’ Chakraborty told an “awareness meet” of auto-rickshaw drivers.

Cheap-grain politics does not mix well with the McKinsey-cum-Microsoft economics of Chakraborty’s chief minister, who will find it difficult to stick to his reform roadmap if a part of his team veers off without notice. The transport minister has already ruffled feathers in the new dispensation for speaking out without authorisation.

Chakraborty’s benevolent pledge has also whetted other appetites. Citu secretary Mrinal Das demanded tonight that rickshaw pullers and cycle rickshaw operators also be provided with subsidised rations as they earn less than the auto-rickshaw drivers.

Defending auto-rickshaw drivers, Chakraborty said they are not permitted to take more than four people but passengers forcefully get into the vehicle. “What can the auto drivers do?” he asked.

As several hundred drivers and owners cheered, Chakraborty said his department would allow auto-rickshaws to “ply as usual”.

But Chakraborty had a word of caution for his audience. “Nobody is above the law of the land. My only request to auto-rickshaw drivers is that they should not blatantly violate traffic rules,’’ he said. “The other day I saw an auto-rickshaw driver take a sudden U-turn in the middle of a busy street. I felt bad. I appeal to the drivers to stop such acts.”

The minister asked the owners to register their vehicles before September7. “If you fail to get documents cleared within the specified date, police will be forced to seize your vehicles.’’


New Delhi, June 17: 
Take a break, all “stressed-out” and “stretched-out” babus.

The Establishment has suddenly woken up to find that “stress” and “strain” resulting from the rigours of work are taking a heavy toll on bureaucrats’ health leading to burnout or poor performance.

To keep the babus in fine fettle, the ministry of personnel, public grievances and training has suggested that government servants be allowed to take mandatory earned leave of 15 days a year.

Bureaucrats on deputation to the Centre are elated and so are subordinate officials belonging to the Central Secretariat Service (CSS). The department of personnel and training (DoPT) recently mooted a suggestion that All-India service officers and those belonging to the CSS cadre be, as a right, granted at least 15 days’ earned leave during a calendar year.

“In order to ensure that government servants don’t fall prey to various stress-related diseases, a suggestion was made to allow them to avail of at least 15 days of earned leave as is prevalent in any large private-sector establishment,” a senior DoPT official said.

“There are officers who have not been allowed to avail of earned leave for years together. They deserve a break at some point of time, otherwise output will suffer.”

Over the past few years, several bureaucrats and subordinate officials working in high-profile ministries like home, defence, finance and commerce have been victims of stress-related ailments. Some suffered cardiac arrests and sought premature repatriation to their parent cadre or preferred transfer to a “softer” ministry or department where the job would be relatively tension-free. A couple of years ago, the DoPT had sent a note to then Cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar, pleading implementation of measures that would help the bureaucrats.

Under the provisions of the Central Civil Service (Leave) Rules, 1972, leave cannot be claimed as a matter of right. Authorities empowered to grant earned leave are vested with the power to refuse or revoke leave applications if the “exigencies of public service so require”. Instructions issued by the DoPT from time to time have stressed that it was not possible to grant leave to officials simultaneously as there was “every risk of depletion of staff and dislocating the work of an establishment”.

A senior DoPT official said: “It is indeed desirable in the interest of public services that government servants take leave at suitable intervals and return to work relaxed and refreshed so they can perform better.” The department has also suggested that the leave-sanctioning authorities should “encourage” government servants to take leave periodically, preferably annually.

In cases where all applications for leave cannot be granted at the same time, the leave-sanctioning authority should draw up a phased programme to grant leave by turns. The bottomline is that leave should not be denied to any employee, especially those in the last 10 years of their career.


Calcutta, June 17: 
Police today scrutinised a six-page note to make sure that Jaya, wife of assistant commissioner Phatik Chandra Dutta, who died of gunshot wounds, had actually written it, and whether the couple’s death could be put down to “pure suicide”.

Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner of police, said: “The report will come out soon.”

The police are also going through 46-year-old woman’s medical reports.

The reports and the statement of the couple’s younger daughter confirmed that Jaya was suffering from physical ailments and had been short-tempered for the past few years.




Maximum: 26.6°C (-7)
Minimum: 25.3°C (-2)


32 mm

Relative humidity

Max: 98%
Min: 91%


A few spells of light to moderate rain.
Sunrise: 4.54 am
Sunset: 6.20 pm

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