Panel to monitor labour pangs
Bill lined up to ban tuitions
Debt-trap alert in CAG report
Asim pill for sick PSUs
Mob burns pilgrim train
Graft clean-up drive reaches districts
Big Two pitch for popular government
MLAs cut brave front, pass buck to Delhi
US glosses over Pervez status
Mamata rally showdown with Panja

 
 
PANEL TO MONITOR LABOUR PANGS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 22: 
Prompted by the bloodshed at the Ganges and Baranagar jute mills, the government has decided to set up a high-powered committee to “resolve problems in worker-employee relations”.

Disclosing this in his budget speech, finance minister Asim Dasgupta said the committee, which will comprise representatives of the government, chambers of commerce and trade unions, will “sit regularly”.

He said the committee will pitch in whenever a labour dispute arises, “whether at the time of setting up new industries or during the running of the units”.

The apex committee would also fulfil Citu’s demand, which had pressed for a high-powered autonomous panel to look into industrial relations in the state.

After his budget speech, Dasgupta told reporters that the government’s objective was to ensure that the unemployment problem can be progressively reduced.

“Our target is to generate employment for six lakh people during the current year. While one lakh jobs can be created through the existing employment generation plans, we will set up 30,000 self-help groups which can absorb around three lakh people,” Dasgupta said. The finance minister claimed that the all-India average growth rate for employment (2.44 per cent) was lower than that in Bengal (2.51 per cent).

The budget has set aside Rs 20 crore for a venture capital fund to promote entrepreneurship in the small-scale sector. The budget also proposes to set up technology parks for the small industrial units to have access to knowledge and application of modern technology.

Dasgupta sought private sector participation in its endeavour to generate more employment through rapid industrialisation in the state and rationalisation of agricultural marketing.

He invited private investment in infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and public transport.

The government has decided to lease out some state transport corporation buses which are more than eight years old to a cooperative of unemployed youths and other agencies so that they can run these vehicles on a contractual basis.

However, the lease will be subject to an agreement that it will be the cooperative’s responsibility to repair the buses and also pay the corporation an agreed sum of revenue.

   

 
 
BILL LINED UP TO BAN TUITIONS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 22: 
Government teachers will not be allowed to take private tuitions.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta today announced in his budget speech that the state will soon introduce a Bill to ban private tuition by teachers.

The move is being seen as an attempt at improving accountability among teachers and ensuring better academic standards.

Nearly 4.75 lakh whole-time teachers working in government and semi-government institutions from the primary to university levels will not be permitted to take private tuitions if the Bill comes through.

The government spends the lion’s share of its education budget towards paying the salaries of teachers in state-funded schools, colleges and universities. Over the past few years, the education department has been flooded with complaints about teachers who are more keen on taking tuitions than taking classes.

“The government will now take legal steps for implementing the decision,” Dasgupta said.

Added school education minister Kanti Biswas: “A similar ban has already been imposed in Tripura and we are confident that the teaching community in our state will extend their support to the government,” he said.

Dasgupta said accountability of teachers was crucial for quality education. “Let the students learn their lessons in educational institutions. Why should they depend on private tutors?” he asked.

The minister, however, said the majority of the teachers were committed to their profession and it was only a small section which neglected their duties. He hoped that there would be a substantial improvement in academic standards in the state-funded institutions if teachers are made more accountable.

Teachers’ bodies, affiliated to both the Left and non-Left organisations, took exception to the government’s decision.

“We welcome the government’s idea to stop private tuition. But we will have to sit with the government for further discussions as far as the framing of a law is concerned,” said Anil Bhattacharya, general secretary of the CPM-controlled West Bengal College and Teachers’ Association.

The West Bengal Headmasters’ Association, an anti-Left organisation, came down heavily on the government for taking such a decision without consulting the teachers’ organisations.

“Students have to rely on private tuitions because schools are not properly run. The government-aided schools have poor infrastructure, classes are not held regularly and above all the syllabus is unscientific. The simple reason why students have to rely on private tuitions is because the education imparted in the government institutions is insufficient,” said Prithwis Kumar Basu, the general secretary of the organisation.

   

 
 
DEBT-TRAP ALERT IN CAG REPORT 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, June 22: 
Asim Dasgupta placed his 15th budget today stating a Rs 8 crore deficit. The finance minister has also projected a better future of the state’s finances next year due to broadening of the tax base and higher compliance.

But the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), which is yet to be made public, depicts a sordid state of West Bengal’s financial position.

This year’s CAG report has taken serious note of the “misappropriation of funds” in the functioning of the state government. According to highly-placed sources in CAG, the report has also clearly indicated that the state “may enter into a debt trap” given its high exposure to different kinds of borrowings.

The sources added that these observations, which are usually mentioned in the report in a “toned down fashion”, have been explicitly included in this year’s report with “very strong comments”.

For the first time, the CAG reports have been printed in Bengali and the reports have been submitted with the finance department in March 2001. This has led to questions about why, then, weren’t the reports tabled before the budget.

A senior official in the CAG said: “Except the civil report, the other two reports — the ones on revenue and commercial activities — are lying with the government since March and these reports could have been tabled. But it seems that the government wasn’t interested in going public before the presentation of budget.”

According to CAG sources, the “strong comments” on the state’s finance have prompted the government to delay tabling of the report.

“This is not the first time the government has done this. Last year also they took time and placed all the reports together, around two-and-a-half months after we submitted them,” the official added.

Last year, the CAG took “serious exception” to this delay in making the reports public and had instructed the government this year to place the reports one by one as and when they received them. But the government has defied the diktat yet again.

   

 
 
ASIM PILL FOR SICK PSUS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 22: 
Finance minister Asim Dasgupta said the government may think of putting the resources of sick PSUs in the state to other use if they fail to turn around in five years.

He said the 49 sick undertakings might have to change their product portfolio. But if that fails to revive the units, then their resources will be used for other purposes, he added.

Eighteen state undertakings, however, have already turned around, he said.

The government has provided Rs 100 crore to help the closed units reopen. The sole objective, he said, was that workers of the closed mills will not be jobless. This itself will resolve most industrial disputes, he said.

The state has had to reckon with worker unrest after four jute mills closed down in North 24-Parganas in the past two months.

   

 
 
MOB BURNS PILGRIM TRAIN 
 
 
FROM DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Uttarpara (Hooghly), June 22: 
A difference of opinion over giving right of way to a pilgrims’ special from Punjab waiting at Uttarpara during the peak office-hours today triggered a clash between pilgrims and daily passengers.

Uttarpara residents tried to drag out passengers and set the train on fire after some of the pilgrims stabbed a Howrah-bound commuter from Uttarpara and beat up another. Residents fought a pitched battle with the police and severely damaged three compartments after their demands that the “errant” pilgrims be handed over to them were turned down, bringing train services on the Howrah-Burdwan main line to a halt for over three hours.

Today’s incident was reminiscent of the violence at Uluberia station two years ago when residents tried to snatch zari-workers from Mumbai away from the clutches of the police. The workers were being brought back to the city en route Bangladesh on the charge that they were Bangladeshis staying illegally in India.

Today’s was also the second major incident of violence in Hooghly district this week; on Wednesday, casual labourers of the ailing Bansberia Ganges Jute Mill clashed with police, forcing the latter to open fire in which one worker died and seven others were injured.

The Uttarpara clash began almost 35 minutes after the pilgrims’ special crept into platform no. 1 around 8.40 am. It was held up for over half-an-hour as railway officials decided to allow the office-time suburban trains the right of way.

Pilgrims waited but the delay — the train was stopped for some minutes at Mogra, a few stations back, for the same reason — led to rising tempers. And, when an Uttarpara resident, Bimal Ghosh, boarded the pilgrims’ special to take a short-cut to a Howrah-bound local train waiting at platform no. 2, an altercation ensued.

One of the pilgrims brought out his sword and slashed Ghosh’s wrist; Ghosh was thrown out of the train, blood oozing out his hand, and had to be admitted to Uttarpara State General Hospital. Another resident was beaten up as well.

Rumours soon took over as Calcutta-bound commuters were treated to stories of how several Uttarpara residents had been bashed up by passengers from the pilgrims’ special; the situation ultimately took a turn for the worse as office-goers chose to vent their anger on the train.

A large mob encircled the train and tried to drag out some pilgrims who tried to bolt the doors. The mob, which had grown to about 3,000-strong by 9.45 am, then targeted the train itself. Three compartments bore the brunt of the assault and the glass panes of the engine were broken. Not satisfied with that, the angry mob squatted on the tracks and forced railway officials to detain the train.

With the situation growing uglier by the minute, district administration and railway officials rushed to the spot. Forced to retreat initially because of inadequate force, they returned with reinforcements and arrested two pilgrims for the assault; a lathicharge ensued as the mob tried to snatch them away from the police.

Though residents felt the pilgrims should have allowed them to pass through the special train, an Eastern Railway spokesperson said the pilgrims had booked the entire train and allowing outsiders in was their prerogative.

The situation returned to normal only around noon when the pilgrims’ special left for Howrah.

Home secretary S.N. Roy said the police were probing the incident. Earlier, a Sikh delegation led by Sukant Singh met Roy and sought his intervention to book those guilty.

   

 
 
GRAFT CLEAN-UP DRIVE REACHES DISTRICTS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 22: 
In his campaign against corruption in public institutions, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has brought zilla parishads under the purview of the state vigilance commission for the first time.

However, the government is not keen to set up Lok Ayuktas to deal with corruption charges against people’s representatives at all levels, according to the latest annual report (for year 2000) of the vigilance commission. The report will be placed during the current budget session in the Assembly.

The commission felt that different agencies through which large amounts of public money were being spent on various development work should be brought under its ambit. “People’s confidence (get) shaken when (they find) that erring officers and employees responsible for misusing public money are not punished,” the commission said.

As the workload will increase manifold once zilla parishads come under the commission’s purview, the government has created three new posts: one at the level of district judge and two at the level of deputy secretaries.

The report indicates a marked improvement in curbing corruption in government offices. The commission recommended departmental proceedings on corruption charges against 166 government employees last year against 53 in 1999.

The commission asked the government to take action against 60 officers and employees compared with 44 in 1999. Of them, eight were government doctors, six engineers, five WBCS officers and one an IAS officer.

However, the commission’s report pointed out that most departmental authorities had ignored its recommendations and did not take action against their corrupt staff.

The report revealed that only 12 employees were actually punished last year. Of them, four were gazetted officers and five non-gazetted officers. At least four of the accused officers were dismissed from services.

The commission alleged sustained inaction on the part of some departmental authorities to institute proceedings against officers chargesheeted on corruption cases. According to the report, in 35 cases, departmental authorities either ignored or remained indifferent to taking action against their officers despite the commission’s advice.

Explaining how the lackadaisical attitude of senior bureaucrats prevented action being taken against erring staff, the commission alleged that in most cases, papers, documents or preliminary reports required for investigations were not supplied for years despite repeated requests by the commission.

   

 
 
BIG TWO PITCH FOR POPULAR GOVERNMENT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 22: 
As Manipur limped towards normality, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani met this evening to take stock of the situation in the strife-torn state.

Restoration of a popular government was the “only means” of bringing it back on the rails, they concluded. Home ministry sources said the Centre’s top two felt “no state would like to be indefinitely governed by the Centre”.

Sources also said that Advani, who has convened a meeting of the Manipur political parties tomorrow, will use the occasion to “test the political waters” and assess the prospect of a “credible and stable” government to “restore the people’s faith in the political system”.

BJP sources, however, said their reading was that time is “not yet ripe” for a government to come into place in Manipur after the charade which saw successive dispensations overthrown, legislators switching sides by the minute and NDA constituents settling their own scores.

In fact, the party national secretary in charge of Northeast, Padmanabha Acharya, conveyed to Advani in a one-to-one meeting at North Block today that the Centre’s first priority should be “restoration of peace and order rather than swearing in a government”. BJP sources said the suggestion was based on the feedback from the Manipur legislators who had come to Delhi.

However, the perception shared by government sources was that with so much public ire vented against Governor Ved Marwah as well as Vajpayee and Advani — whose effigies were burnt on Imphal’s streets — the Centre must be “seen to recede in the background”.

More so when the ceasefire extension was there to stay and unlikely to be revoked. Bringing back a popular government was seen as the only way of “diluting” the “negative impact” of the Bangkok-accord and “reestablishing the Centre’s credibility and legitimacy”, said sources.

The BJP suggested to Advani that the Bangkok-accord between the Centre and the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) should be amended to insert a clause stating that the ceasefire extension in Manipur had “nothing to do with the territorial integrity of any state”.

Such a clause will go a long way in allaying the doubts and fears that had crept into the minds of the Manipuris about the Centre’s “suspect motives” and the BJP’s “hidden agenda”, the party felt.

Acharya told reporters later the amendment that he suggested was: “Let the integrity of the states not be eroded in any way or affected by the extension of peace talks outside Nagaland.”

Acharya indicated the Centre may convene another meeting of the chief ministers of the states where the ceasefire is operative, namely Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Advani had convened such a meeting on March 3. Acharya said a fresh one was necessitated by the “sea-change” in the political scenario of Manipur and the change of government in Assam.

Acharya also proposed broadbasing the composition of the ground rules for the Peace Monitoring Committee, constituted by the home ministry, specially for Nagaland. At present, the committee only comprises bureaucrats and armymen.

The BJP secretary has requested Advani to include “well-minded civilians” from groups like the Naga Ho-Ho and Mothers’ Organisation.

The committee was to oversee the ceasefire in a state like Manipur, home to several insurgent groups apart from the NSCN(I-M) — the People’s Liberation Army, Manipur National Liberation Front — and had a mixed population. “In between the two Naga-dominated areas of Ukhrul and Chandel there are Meithi-majority areas where the NSCN(I-M) doesn’t exist but other militant groups may. The ceasefire would not be operative in such areas and the non-NSCN(I-M) outfits will not be bound by its rules,” explained Acharya.

   

 
 
MLAS CUT BRAVE FRONT, PASS BUCK TO DELHI 
 
 
FROM SAUMITRA BANERJEE
 
Imphal, June 22: 
From winning hearts to losing homes, Manipur’s MLAs have travelled a long way in the brief span of a few days since the Centre decided to extend the Naga ceasefire to the state.

Driven from their homes which were burnt to ashes, beaten and kicked by angry mobs and now facing the prospect of a social boycott, legislators here are charting a new course to keep their political prospects alive.

On the surface, it is bluff and bluster. “We couldn’t care less,” said state BJP legislator Bhubon Singh, a day after the All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU) and The All Manipur United Clubs Organisation (AMUCO) — the outfits spearheading the anti-ceasefire extension agitation — threatened to virtually banish them from the state.

“We are answerable only to the people. Who are the AMSU and the AMUCO to boycott us?” echoed another legislator, Gangmumei Kamei of the Federal Party of Manipur.

Ask any of them what they feel about the charge that they have “let down the people”, and fingers are promptly pointed at the Centre.

“For many years we have been giving resolutions to Delhi, saying that the ceasefire should not be extended, but it is the Centre that finally let Manipur down,” said Kamei, expressing a view widely shared by almost all legislators. “Burning down the Assembly building and attacking us is grossly unconstitutional. It is the Centre that should be facing the fire.”

But there is a fear lurking among the MLAs today. Having turned down the demand for their resignation by the agitationists, they know they have to act fast to regain the political initiative.

No one, for even a moment, believes that tomorrow’s meeting in Delhi with Union home minister L.K. Advani is going to lead to a rollback of the Centre’s decision.

“Even if we do not achieve anything, we are compelled to convey the message of the people here to the Union government,” admitted Manipur People’s Party chief O. Joy Singh before leaving for the capital this morning.

“We will tell the home minister that the decision should be reviewed or else there will be more problems here. But I have to say that we don’t know what to expect.”

Neither can the MLAs brush off the charge that while they kept pulling each other down as well as successive governments leading finally to the imposition of President’s rule, the state suffered.

“It is like Nero fiddling while Rome burnt,” said an AMUCO leader. “Our politicians have been too self-seeking to work for the people. The only thing they were bothered about was getting the loaves of office and they forgot to come to the aid of those who elected them. Even our MPs did not press the ceasefire matter strongly with the Centre.”

For the moment, they have bought some time. The July 31 deadline given to the Centre to review the ceasefire decision or accept their resignation letters may not have been accepted by the agitationists but it is still a “face saver”, many of them believe.

But beyond that, if there is no review of the situation, the options will get further restricted. “It is a catch-22 situation,” admitted an MLA.

“If after the deadline there is nothing positive happening for the state and we still do not resign, then most of us are bound to lose the next elections. On the other hand, by giving in to the agitationists’ demand, we, in effect, are accepting blame for what has happened and end up prolonging President’s rule in Manipur.”

While curfew came to their rescue in the days following Monday’s conflagration, the MLAs are now hoping that the five weeks left for their deadline throws up some answers for their survival.

Amsu arrests

More than 10 Amsu activists, including Amsu president O. Shyamchand, have been arrested this evening.    

 
 
US GLOSSES OVER PERVEZ STATUS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, June 22: 
Two days after General Pervez Musharraf became Pakistan’s president, the US has decided that the designation which he uses to exercise power is not something over which the Americans should lose their sleep.

The state department’s deputy spokesman Phillip Reeker told reporters yesterday that the issue of how to address Musharraf following his new incarnation has not been “the highest priority of our day”.

Reeker was peppered with questions at the department’s daily briefing on developments in Pakistan, especially those stemming from the decision by India and China to recognise Musharraf’s elevation to the presidency.

He evaded a direct answer on how the Americans would address Musharraf, but avoided referring to him as president at any time. Reeker all along referred to Pakistan’s new head of state merely as “General Musharraf”.

But the sum and substance of his briefing on Pakistan was that the US was not planning any additional sanctions on Pakistan because of the dismissal of the elected president and the decision to dissolve parliament.

“We already have sanctions as a result of the move from before in terms of the undemocratic actions...This simply exacerbates that direction,” Reeker said.

It was also made clear that deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage had expressed “a desire to rebuild cooperative relations with Pakistan”.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Abdul Sattar had met Armitage after secretary of state Colin Powell had been misled into endorsing Musharraf’s time-table for democracy hours before the “second coup” in Islamabad.

“We have had a long history with Pakistan. It is very important that we develop a relationship with Pakistan based on our two countries and our relationships”, Reeker said of Sattar’s meeting with Armitage and earlier with Powell.

“But clearly, democracy is an aspect of that. And we have expressed for a long time now our concerns about the original actions taken by General Musharraf 18 months ago, and our hopes to see Pakistan return and make progress on the path back to democracy...We will need to see some steps in the right direction as we try to re-evaluate and rebuild cooperative relations with Pakistan.”

An indication of how important such relations are for the US was apparent when Reeker was asked about Pakistan funding, arming or training the Taliban in Afghanistan. The deputy spokesman simply refused to criticise Pakistan.

He said Sattar expressed Pakistan’s desire to help the US “in the realm of issues like Afghanistan”. Reeker added that it was not for the US “to buy or make anything of” the explanation that Musharraf’s change in status was essential to make his trip to India more meaningful.

   

 
 
MAMATA RALLY SHOWDOWN WITH PANJA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 22: 
All seven Trinamul Congress MPs have reaffirmed their faith in Mamata Banerjee and left the decision to her on possible return to the NDA.

The move is being perceived as a setback to the rebel MP Ajit Panja who has lined up a convention of party dissidents at Mahajati Sadan for June 30. Determined to counter this, Mamata has also planned a rally on the same day to protest yesterday’s police firing at Bansberia in Hooghly district.

“We are not in a hurry on NDA return and the decision on this score is entirely left with Mamata who is our leader,” said party MP Bikram Sarkar said tonight. He said she is working overtime to see if the entry to the BJP-led coalition is possible “keeping the party’s prestige intact.”

Sarkar was, however, unable to attend tonight’s meeting of party MPs at a dinner hosted MP from Srirampur, Akbar Ali Khondakar.

Sarkar said he had spoken to Mamata last night expressing his inability to attend the dinner meeting. “I have decided to skip the dinner because of my daughter’s illness,” he further said.

Trinamul sources said the party’s possible return to the NDA figured prominently in the meeting where Mamata had explained her difficulties in taking a “hasty decision” on this score.

“I am facing pressure from 60 party MLAs who have already decided to coordinate with the ally Congress on the floor of the Assembly on anti-Left Front issues,” Mamata was learnt to have told the MPs. At this, those present , including Ranjit Panja, Ajit Panja’s brother had supported Mamata and they would go by the decision taken by her.

Meanwhile, Mamata’s “showdown” with Ajit Panja on June 30 is being viewed by dissidents as an attempt to shift the focus of the rally held by the rebel MP at Mahajati Sadan.

Trinamul rebels are particularly furious as Mamata’s rally, which will begin at Subodh Mullick Square and wind up in front of Metro Cinema, as it is being called to protest “inhuman torture” of jute workers by the management 10 days after the police firing at Ganges Jute Mill. Mamata herself will be present at the rally.

“What is the point shedding crocodile tears over jute workers 10 days after the incident. The rally is simply being organised to shift the focus from our indoor rally at Mahajati Sadan,” a dissident said.

Trinamul’s labour arm president, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, said that the June 30 rally was not an attempt to divert the attention of the people from Panja’s rally.

“We had initially planned the rally on July 1 but Mamata told us to bring it forward by a day as B.C. Roy’s birth anniversary falls on that day,” said Chattopadhyay.

Trinamul committee formed in Jharkhand: Mamata today formed Trinamul’s state committee in Jharkhand and appointed Karan Chandra Maradi as its president.

Talking to newspersons, Mamata said that after West Bengal, Orissa, Assam and Tripura, Jharkhand is the fifth state to have a full-fledged Trinamul state committee.

   
 

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