School-shelter plan gathers dust
Police chief appointment in tribunal
Molest rage sparks campus unrest
Manipur mutiny rocks centres of power
Ceasefire fury simmers in Assam
Truce rift between BJP and Samata widens
Thackeray sour send-off for Atal
Pak leader in freedom cry
Tough knee test for globe-trotting Vajpayee
BJP minister for Mamata return

 
 
SCHOOL-SHELTER PLAN GATHERS DUST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 18: 
The government does not seem to have any idea of what happened to its ambitious plans to make relief shelters out of primary schools though West Bengal may be staring at another round of floods with the monsoon working overtime.

The primary and secondary education department, which provided money to the zilla parishads of nine flood-prone districts, is yet to receive any report on the progress they have made on the work.

Taken aback by the ferocity of the floods in some of the districts and the time the water took to drain off — particularly in North 24-Parganas where the water stayed for about a month — the government decided to identify some primary schools and make relief shelters out of them.

It was decided that the primary and secondary education department would give money to zilla parishads of nine flood-prone districts, including Murshidabad, Birbhum, Nadia and North 24-Parganas, which bore the brunt of the floods last September and October.

Each zilla parishad was asked to select five one-storeyed primary schools. “They were told to select schools which were situated in low-lying areas,” a senior government official said today.

The plan was to construct another storey above the 45 single-storeyed schools — five schools each were selected in nine districts — and make them high enough to accommodate people displaced by the rising water-level if floods struck again.

Accordingly, the primary and secondary education department gave each of the nine zilla parishads Rs 27.5 lakh. “The money, Rs 27.5 lakh for making five single-storeyed buildings double-storeyed, was thought to be enough,” an official said.

But the department, till date, is yet to receive formal progress reports from any of the nine districts, a senior departmental official said.

“Sitting at Bikash Bhavan and Writers’ Buildings, it is very difficult to gauge the amount of work done,” he added. What has increased the creases on officials’ foreheads is the existing cyclonic depression over many of the flood-prone districts.

With a big question mark hanging over these school-cum-relief-shelters, the relief department has been forced to bank heavily on its own shelters again, officials said.

Work on constructing 66 additional relief shelters — the department already has 110 such enclosures — is progressing well according to plans, the officials claimed. “Work on about 30 of those shelters has been completed and the department is now into constructing the rest,” one of them said.

A section of officials said the delay by the zilla parishads was waiting to happen. “They don’t have enough engineers and lack necessary seriousness of purpose and infrastructure to spend a large sum of money and complete any work within a given time-frame,” explained an official.

Primary and secondary education department and relief department officials are meeting district magistrates at Writers’ Buildings tomorrow to discuss the situation. Relief department minister Hafiz Alam Sairani and the chief secretary are expected to attend the meeting.

   

 
 
POLICE CHIEF APPOINTMENT IN TRIBUNAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 18: 
The commandant-general (homeguard), Manas Chakroborty, today filed a writ petition at the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) protesting the appointment of Dinesh Vajpai as the director general and inspector general of police (DG-IGP), superseding three senior officials.

Vajpai joined as the DG-IGP on May 24, after the post fell vacant on the retirement of Dipak Sanyal.

In his petition, Chakraborty alleged that Vajpai was elevated to the post by skipping three IPS officers of DG rank. The petition also accused chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, chief secretary Manish Gupta, home secretary Sourin Roy and four others, including Vajpai, of violating the directive of the Supreme Court.

The directive specifically says that the DG and IG of a state must be from the rank of a DG. The court issued the directive in 1999 after an additional director general (ADG) filed a case against the Karnataka government.

Vajpai joined his present post from the post of the police commissioner, a rank equivalent to that of the ADG.

There is, however, no clear guideline in this regard and it depends on the government what rank one should be awarded, a senior official explained. CAT has fixed June 20 the next date of hearing.

   

 
 
MOLEST RAGE SPARKS CAMPUS UNREST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Santiniketan, June 18: 
Tension gripped Visva-Bharati University after some local youths teased a girl student of Binoy Bhavan last night and then went on the rampage to teach her colleagues a lesson for resisting them.

The boys from Balipara began making advances at the girl outside the Binoy Bhavan canteen. The students told the youths to leave the area: they did, but not before promising to “teach them a lesson”.

A group of 30-35 boys attacked the boys hostel with sticks and iron rods late in the night. They ransacked the furniture, breaking chairs, tables and bed, and smashed cycles belonging to the students. They then began hurling bricks at the students, four of who were injured.

The Visva-Bharati authorities lodged a complaint with Bolpur police station, following which one Ujjal Mazumder, a panchayat member of the BJP, was arrested.

Nibir Ghosh, a student of Binoy Bhavan, said: “Yesterday, around 7 pm when we were sitting at the canteen discussing the coming exam, the power suddenly went off and we heard a girl shriek. We found that some local youths were teasing her. We protested and drove them away. But hours later, they returned with around 35 boys, armed with sticks and iron rods. They attacked our hostel. We dialled 100 for police help, but by the time they came, the youths had fled.”

Bibek Mahato, one of the injured students, said: “This incident has upset our concentration. We want full security.”

Prof. Dilip Kr. Sinha, the vice-chancellor of Visva-Bharati, said: “The students of Binoy Bhavan have came to me and spoken about the incident. The incident is a serious matter. Our security officer has already lodged an FIR. I have spoken to higher officials about the incident. I have requested to them to take proper action against the guilty persons.”

Sujit Sarkar, subdivisional police officer of Bolpur, said an inquiry is on into the incident.

   

 
 
MANIPUR MUTINY ROCKS CENTRES OF POWER 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Imphal, June 18: 
It was anger against betrayal and deceit. The thousands who took to the streets in protest against the Centre’s decision to extend the ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) were led by a common fear: that the truce without territorial limits was a step towards Manipur’s disintegration.

Union home minister L.K. Advani was painted as the main villain of the crisis. The protesters’ ire was not directed against any community but against the Centre and the state’s elected representatives. They also condemned NSCN(I-M) leader Thuingaleng Muivah.

Demonstrators, shouting anti-India and anti-NSCN-IM slogans, carried the seven-colour national flag of the erstwhile all-Manipuri kingdom as they marched towards Raj Bhavan this morning with effigies of Central leaders and Muivah. They played on drums, mridangas and bells as they carried the effigies on their shoulders, imitating the funeral procession of Manipuris.

Policemen who tried to block them were told: “You are also Manipuris. Don’t try to stop us today. The land for which we are fighting today also belongs to you.”

For the first time in the agitations, the protesters marched without fear even when security personnel fired in the air. Only when the CRPF, guarding the chief minister’s office, fired upon them could the mob be controlled.

“Let us target the 60 MLAs. We elected them but they are busy fighting for power instead of guarding the state’s territory,” a youth shouted in front of Raj Bhavan. Another youth shouted: “Come on friends, let us burn the Assembly and the offices of political parties.” Another protester asked: “Where is the BJP’s office? Let us finish it first. They are the ones who have created the present situation.”

The office of the Manipur State Congress Party was the first to be set ablaze. Those of the Congress and the Manipur People’s Party followed. The Samata Party and CPI offices, near Congress Bhavan, were only damaged.

The Assembly and the Speaker’s official residence were the next targets. Suddenly the protesters turned towards the Babupara VIP colony, where they burned many legislators’ houses and the chief minister’s office.

The All-Manipur Students’ Union (Amsu) and the All-Manipur United Clubs’ Organisation, in a joint statement, termed today’s incidents as unfortunate. They appealed to the people not to indulge in violence.

Amsu today asked the state’s 60 MLAs and three MPs, including Union minister Thonoujam Chaoba Singh, to resign within 48 hours. Another students’ organisation, the Manipuri Students’ Federation, has asked the three constituents of the NDA in Manipur — the BJP, Samata Party and the Manipur State Congress Party (Chaoba) — to give an assurance that the Centre would revoke the ceasefire by June 30.

The MSF warned that if these parties did not get the truce extension revoked before the deadline, they would not be allowed to function in the state.

This correspondent was inside the Imphal city telecom office when the chief minister’s office, just opposite, was attacked. The mob broke the iron gates, then rushed inside to burn the building along with the adjacent residence of the Governor’s adviser K. Kipgen.

At this point, the CRPF fired directly on the protesters. As soon as the firing started, nearly 30 people, including two women, ran inside the telecom premises. The CRPF men came out on the road, firing. This correspondent had to open the back-door of the telecom office to let them in. One of them, a young boy, was bleeding from a bullet wound in his leg.

After nearly half-an-hour, Manipur Rifles personnel reached the CTO office and the people were transported to a safer place. Journalists holed up inside could not go out of the building before the Manipur Rifles men arrived as the CRPF jawans were firing away and looking for protesters.

   

 
 
CEASEFIRE FURY SIMMERS IN ASSAM 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, June 18: 
A replay of the Manipur conflagration loomed large in Assam as the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad today threatened to launch a mass movement if the Centre failed to revoke the extension of the Naga ceasefire to Assam within 10 days.

In a protest letter to Union home minister L.K. Advani today, the students’ organisation said the extension of the ceasefire beyond Nagaland “is counter-productive and disruptive to the unity of the region and country” and “against the interest of the people of Assam. We demand reconsideration of the decision immediately, otherwise the people of the state will resort to a mass agitation”, said the letter signed by AJYCP president Apurba Kumar Bhattacharjee and general secretary Dilip Kumar Saikia.

Bhattacharjee did not rule out a “Manipur-like explosive” situation in Assam if the Centre failed to roll back the extension. “We are not against peace in Nagaland but it should not be at the cost of peace in Assam or other states,” he added. The AJYCP leader said the so-called peace process in Nagaland was a Centre’s ploy to divide the people of the Northeast.

“If the Centre is so interested in bringing back peace to the Northeast, why hasn’t it entered into a ceasefire with the Ulfa or the NDFB?’’ he asked.

“The Centre has been objecting to Ulfa’s demand for sovereignty but the NSCN(I-M), too, has not given up its demand for an independent Nagalim,” he added. The Centre’s attitude was not satisfactory, Bhattacharjee said.

The All-Assam Students’ Union also warned the Centre to “desist from anti-Assam moves”.

AASU president Prabin Boro and general secretary Amiyo Bhuyan said though the students’ organisation welcomed the move to bring back peace in Nagaland, it was opposed to any “compromise on Assam’s territorial integrity”.

   

 
 
TRUCE RIFT BETWEEN BJP AND SAMATA WIDENS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 18: 
The BJP is once again in a spot over its decision to extend the ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) without “territorial limits”. Its ally, the Samata Party, is unhappy with the decision and yet another ally, the Janata Dal (United), is unhappy with the Samata for shooting its mouth off over the ceasefire.

“There are differences and some parties are deliberately fanning these,” said BJP spokesperson Sunil Shastri.

Protesting against the ceasefire, the Samata has demanded an all-party meeting of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to thrash out the issue.

Mohan Prakash, Dal (U) spokesperson, while sparing the BJP, has rapped the Samata for messing up the situation in Manipur and forcing President’s rule. “And now it has hastily criticised the Nagaland ceasefire,” Prakash added. Skirting the BJP’s role in the Manipur rigmarole, he said the MLAs should have been allowed to form the government to prevent a critical situation.

For the BJP, there is almost no respite from the allies with one crisis after another hitting the stability of the alliance. The wounds of the BJP-Samata rift over government formation in Manipur have not healed, but there is another equally grave crisis to keep the bitterness alive.

Shastri refused to label the Samata as one of the parties “spreading disinformation” on the ceasefire. He was quick to add that the matter would be discussed at the NDA meeting and the alliance would remain as cohesive as before.

But with Manipur coming to a boil and other states getting restive, the BJP will have a hard time pacifying the Samata, which has a political stake in Manipur and the Northeast.

Congress for review

The Congress today attributed the violence in Manipur to the Vajpayee government’s “lack of experience” and said the Centre should review the ceasefire.

Expressing concern over the developments in Manipur, AICC spokesman Jaipal Reddy asked the Vajpayee government to reconsider the ceasefire beyond Nagaland to remove “avoidable doubts” in Manipur and Assam.

Reddy lamented that Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi was not consulted. “We had opposed expansion of ceasefire beyond Nagaland because we knew that it would create avoidable doubts in Manipur and Assam....Now the people in Manipur are deeply convulsed....We demand that the government reconsider its decision on the ceasefire,” he said.

Reddy said the Congress’ fears had come true as doubts were created in Manipur and other parts of the Northeast about the Centre’s motives and reiterated the Congress’ commitment to the cause of territorial integrity of Manipur.

   

 
 
THACKERAY SOUR SEND-OFF FOR ATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, June 18: 
Barely a day before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee leaves Breach Candy hospital for his New Delhi home, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray called the leader’s upcoming meeting with the Pakistani chief executive a “futile exercise”.

“We should not expect too much. Nothing is going to come of this meeting with Pervez Musharraf,” Thackeray was quoted as saying by Dophar Ka Saamna, the afternoon edition of the Sena mouthpiece he edits.

Thackeray’s remarks were published in the Hindi tabloid edition of the Saamna and not in the Marathi broadsheet morning edition which Vajpayee is not in a position to read himself.

Thackeray’s remarks struck a discordant note as the BJP has planned to “celebrate” Vajpayee’s release tomorrow with colourful balloons.

The PMO sought to play down Thackeray’s remarks, saying they were his “personal opinions”. “Everybody has his own opinion on the Kashmir issue, but nobody is saying we should not talk,” a Vajpayee aide said.

The Sena chief accused Musharraf of indulging in “doublespeak” on Kashmir. “On the one hand, he is talking peace. On the other, he is saying he is not going to compromise on Kashmir,” he said.

Under the circumstances, Thackeray said, the meeting would turn out to be futile. “Whoever comes to power in India thinks he is going to solve the Kashmir problem. But how can he do that when Pakistani leaders go by their old policies on Kashmir?” he asked.

BJP leaders said they would release 300 multicoloured balloons into the air tomorrow to wish Vajpayee good luck. They also planned to string a kilometre-long banners from Breach Candy to Haji Ali on the way to the airport to say goodbye. The cloth banners will feature 2,000 messages from people and celebrities wishing the Prime Minister. The hospital’s nurses will say a prayer before waving Vajpayee goodbye.

A hospital doctor said Vajpayee, who had his right knee joint replaced on June 7, was doing well, walking three times a day with a walker. “He is just fine and has no complaints,” the doctor said.

An aide said Vajpayee, who cleared several files in the last few days, would attend his home office after he returned to the capital. “He will work there till he gets the green light from his New York-based surgeon Chittaranjan Ranawat to step outside,” he said.

   

 
 
PAK LEADER IN FREEDOM CRY 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
Karachi, June 18: 
Pakistan Muslim League leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has suggested giving independence to the Indian side of the Kashmir Valley.

The former interior minister said though this was his personal opinion, he would present it before the party. “The final decision will be taken by the party,” he said, “and if the party does not agree”, he would accept its decision.

This is the first time that a prominent politician like Hussain has come out publicly with this idea. The Punjab lobby, to which he belongs, generally considers Kashmir a disputed territory and its leaders advocate plebiscite.

“The UN resolutions on Kashmir calling for a plebiscite in the valley have lost their usefulness. They have, in fact, lost appeal and become a useless piece of paper,” Hussain told reporters at a reception arranged by the party’s senior vice-president for Punjab, Humayun Akhtar Khan, at his residence in Lahore. The Pakistan government has not yet reacted to the proposal.

Hussain said Jammu and Ladakh should be handed over to India, the valley given an independent status and Azad Kashmir (the Pakistan side of Kashmir) should remain with Pakistan.

“I will definitely put the suggestion to debate before the forthcoming central working committee meeting,” he added.

He said the Kashmiri people wanted freedom and would agree to any acceptable formula for a meaningful solution to the festering problem.

According to him, a fresh initiative was needed as the conventional point of view had failed to deliver.

“We should change our priorities according to our needs. And Pakistan should do it for the collective good of all of us,” Hussain said.

Hussain said he was the first politician to advocate Pakistan chief executive Pervez Musharraf’s meetings with politicians for consultations on the Pakistan-India talks.

Referring to his meeting with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as Pakistan’s interior minister during the second PML government, Hussain said the Libyan leader had told him that the UN resolutions on Kashmir had lost their significance. Calling for an open debate on his country’s stance on the issue, he said: “We should change our strategy if required.”

PML president Mian Azhar, however, said his party still supported plebiscite in Kashmir.

   

 
 
TOUGH KNEE TEST FOR GLOBE-TROTTING VAJPAYEE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 18: 
The dates of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Pervez Musharraf summit may be linked to how fast the Prime Minister recovers from surgery. But strong knees are what he needs if he has to cope with the hectic schedule chalked out for him this year.

Going by the schedule, Vajpayee has to travel abroad at least thrice in the next few months. This includes a visit to the US, Australia and Russia. Plans are afoot to throw in a trip to Japan, or China, and even Nepal. He would also have to host a number of visiting dignitaries, including Chancellor Schroeder of Germany.

Indications are that a formal announcement on the dates of the summit will be made simultaneously from Delhi and Islamabad after Vajpayee returns to the capital. He is scheduled to be released from Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital tomorrow and return to Delhi in the afternoon.

The summit with Musharraf only seems to be the beginning of Vajpayee’s hectic diplomatic interaction in the coming months. The Prime Minister has already paid official visits to Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran and Malaysia this year. But as if to make up for lost time, his advisers have drawn up a tight schedule where he will have to go abroad a number of times in the coming months.

In September, Vajpayee is scheduled to travel to New York to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. He may stop over at a European capital or visit an African country or do both either on his way to New York or while returning from there.

In October, the Prime Minister is scheduled to play host to European leaders during the next round of India-European Union Summit in Delhi. The first meeting was in the Portuguese capital Lisbon last year.

Vajpayee will then leave for Australia for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. He may arrive a little before the session begins for separate bilateral talks with Australia as Canberra is keen to improve ties with Delhi. Though foreign minister Jaswant Singh is in Australia now, a prime ministerial visit would go a long way to put relations, strained since the Pokhran nuclear tests, back on track.

In November, Vajpayee is scheduled to visit Russia for a summit meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian President was here last year. As per the agreement between the two sides, a visit by the head of the Indian government is due this winter. The proposed summit has special significance as many feel Delhi has been moving closer to Washington.

A year-end visit is expected from Chancellor Schroeder. Berlin is an important Western country and a key member of the European Union. A visit by the German head of government was being planned for quite sometime, but because of a variety of reasons had not materialised.

As if this was not hectic enough, Vajpayee’s advisers also did not rule out a visit either in November or December this year by Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji. If that happens, Beijing is also keen on a back-to-back visit by the Indian Prime Minister.

If this looks unlikely, there is a possibility of a visit to Japan. The Prime Minister was to travel to Malaysia and Japan in early February, but had to call off the trip after the devastating earthquake in Gujarat. Though Vajpayee visited Malaysia last month, due to the political uncertainty in Tokyo, a visit to Japan has not been worked out so far. It may well be finalised now.

A positive outcome of the summit with Musharraf would also brighten the chances of the stalled Saarc summit being revived. The summit has not taken place since 1998 and many of the members are now keen that it be revived at the earliest.

Depending on Nepal, which will be the host of the next summit, a meeting of the heads of governments of South Asian nations may take place in Kathmandu by the end of the year.

   

 
 
BJP MINISTER FOR MAMATA RETURN 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, June 18: 
Satyabrata Mukherjee, the Union minister of state for chemicals and fertilisers, today distanced himself from the opposition of a section of the state’s BJP leadership to Mamata Banerjee’s return to the National Democratic Alliance.

“The NDA has to decide whether it will accept Mamata’s re-admission. But we should not be unnecessarily critical about her,” the BJP leader said this afternoon.

Mukherjee said NDA convener George Fernandes has welcomed the Trinamul Congress chief’s possible return and had also endorsed railway minister Nitish Kumar’s offer to give back the portfolio. “Then, why should we be so critical about Mamata?” he asked.

Mukherjee, who met several key BJP functionaries during the day, appeared unhappy with Tapan Sikdar, the Union minister of state for communications, and state unit chief Asim Ghosh for their anti-Mamata campaign ever since she pulled out of the coalition. Without naming Sikdar or anyone else, Mukherjee said he did not subscribe to their views.

BJP vice-president Kailashpati Mishra has already said the party is not against Mamata’s return. He also discounted the claim of some state BJP leaders that nearly 90 per cent of party workers in the districts were against Mamata returning to the NDA fold.

BJP sources said the party’s pro-Mamata lobby would gain strength now that Mukherjee has backed her return. They said two district chiefs have resigned in protest against the way in which some leaders are busy bashing Mamata instead of revamping the party organisation.

State BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan, however, said the party would send a report to the Central leadership on the issue. “Our views have to be considered even if Central leaders are keen on re-admitting Mamata,” he said.

Mamata has convened an emergency meeting at MP Akbar Ali Khondekar’s residence to discuss the issue. Earlier, she held a meeting at MP Ranjit Panja’s residence.

Panja said this evening that Mamata was serious about taking a decision. “The issue has to be clinched shortly as a majority of the MPs are inclined to rejoin the NDA,” he said. “We will fail to protect our workers who are being attacked by the CPM in the districts if we stay away from the BJP-led coalition.”

Dissident MP Ajit Panja, who has lined up a convention at Mahajati Sadan on June 30 to mobilise support for rejoining the NDA, today received a shot in the arm after leaders from Howrah and Hooghly promised to attend the meet.

Ranjit Panja options

Ranjit Panja today said he had kept his options open on joining his brother and rebel MP Ajit Panja if he quit the party. “I can’t say what I am going to do then,” the MP from Barasat said when asked whether he would join his brother. “I will do what I then think best.”    
 

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