The Enron story, after the lights went out
Cauldron of strife boils again in Manipur
Sen turns tuition heat on teachers
Infiltration rocks history panel
Abracadabra! Azhar is back
Calcutta Weather

Anjanvel (Maharashtra), June 24: 
In the dark starless night sky, the six lifeless chimneys stand tall like ghosts, the red lights on their crowns blinking. In the unlit street below, a middle-aged man pants uphill, with a heavy suitcase and a bag slung over his shoulders.

Jasbir Singh, a mechanical foreman with B6, a European joint venture building jetty and breakwater for Enron’s mega power plant, has been sent home, packing.

Enron is folding up its operations, bit by bit.

The contract workers, many of them skilled technicians like Singh, are leaving, one by one, as quietly as they can, often under cover of darkness.

The carcass of India’s first major directly invested foreign project lies rotting in Anjanvel, one of the three hilly villages the US energy giant had picked in coastal Ratnagiri district to build its plant. The project courted controversies one after another as it came up, finally pricing itself out of the market.

As the state government and Enron wage their courtroom war, dozens of workers are waiting for their employment numbers to be called — and then, shown the door.

As Singh, from Himachal, picked his way through the rain-slick maze of newly built roads to the bus stop on a long journey home, Vinod Kumar, another foreman at B6, sighed with relief.

It had been a close call for Kumar that morning. “The number called for firing today was 1515. Mine is 1516,” said the 48-year-old man from Rajasthan, forcing himself a smile. “I wish they wouldn’t call my number next.”

Starting as a misnomer, Dabhol Power Corporation, the Enron subsidiary — which was located away from Dabhol, but had borrowed the place’s name nonetheless — has long been a boon to politicians, but a curse to the villagers. Its shutdown on May 29 spelt doom for the area, as its opening had.

After losing their land and river to the project, the villagers are now on the verge of losing whatever benefit the project has brought to the area. The sprouting of shops, hotels and autorickshaws that came with the project are beginning to melt away.

After years of haggling, the three local panchayats — Anjalvel, Veldur and Ranvi — that had made way for the plant and township, had just begun to receive the millions of rupees Enron owes them in property taxes. “Enron has given us Rs 12 lakh in property taxes, and was to give us another Rs 13 lakh next year. Who’s now going to give us the money we badly need to build and repair roads? People are not going to believe us if we say Enron hasn’t paid us,” Nanda Rohilkar of Veldur said.

Worse, the project has created a rift in close-knit rural communities, a chasm hard to bridge. To break the anti-project agitation in three villages, Enron Virodhi Sangharsh Samity secretary Baba Valekar said the influential in the villages were handpicked and showered with “small benefits”.

Ambaji Dabholkar of Veldur had his trawlers leased to the US company, besides being awarded a labour contract. “We were not against the project. So, I had no reason to reject this offer,” Dabholkar said. The result: Valekar, who is Veldur’s sarpanch, has an enemy in his deputy, Rohilkar, who is a supporter of Enron.

“This company played us off against one another and we fought and fought. They came between the communities and destroyed the peace,” Valekar said.

Sanjiv Khandelkar, vice-president, community relations, at Dabhol, refused to comment on the allegations. An Enron spokesman in Mumbai, Atul Setalvad, said: “About 5,500 jobs will be affected. Enron can’t help it. These are all contract workers.” He declined to make any other statement.

But Dabholkar, the Enron-appointed contractor, has an immediate worry. The wives of some labourers he had sacked last week came crying to him today, some with skinny babies on their hips.

“They asked for alternative employment and money to buy rice. I gave them some money today. But how can you give these fishermen jobs when the catch has come down considerably due to overfishing at sea,” Dabholkar, who is also a fish merchant, said. “Let Enron go, but someone else come in its place to take care of these people.”


Imphal, June 24: 
The Prime Minister today tried to calm the nerves of Manipur but ethnic strife and anger at the Centre threatened to fan the dying flames as more tribes condemned the territorial extension of the Naga truce and reports of a night-long clash trickled in.

Heavy fighting between the NSCN (I-M) and the Kuki National Army (KNA) was reported from Chandel, an interior district of Manipur. Police refused to confirm or comment on reports that clashes broke out last night near Machi village and lasted for about 10 hours. Unofficial sources said both sides suffered casualties.

The turf of the Kukis, who live in the Manipur Hills, overlaps with the Naga-contiguous areas in the state. The clash of territories has been the source of hostility between the two.

The sources added that the skirmishes had begun five days ago with the Kukis trying to recapture Tongilong village on the Sita-Ukhrul road. The village, initially Kuki dominated, was captured by the Nagas during ferocious fights in 1993-94. The KNA is said to have chased the Nagas out of the village and torched their houses on June 21.

The Kukis have warned of violence if the “limitless truce” was not withdrawn in a representation to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The sentiments were reflected at an all-community meeting at Churachandpur where the tribes asked the Centre to review the ceasefire. Home minister L.K. Advani had yesterday told political parties from the Northeast that the fallout of the truce would be reviewed. But he was non-committal on whether the extension of the truce itself would be reviewed.

Vajpayee today assured an all-party delegation from Manipur that the “review” would be expedited but the ambiguity remained. A PMO spokesman said the Centre would speed up the “review of various aspects arising out of the ceasefire,” almost echoing Advani word for word.

Vajpayee will hold another meeting with the Manipur parties on July 8 when Advani returns from abroad. The state’s legislators, at the receiving end of a public backlash and facing social boycott, have threatened to resign en masse if the issue is not settled by July 31.

The spontaneous anger and the resolve of the people to oppose the extended truce were evident today when youths, at the forefront of the protests, managed to collect generous donations from a door-to-door drive in every locality.

The issue also spilled across the border with Manipuris in Bangladesh expressing concern. The Bangladesh Manipuri Chhatra Samiti condemned the killing of 14 people in firing on June 18 here and demanded withdrawal of the truce extension from Manipur.


Burdwan, June 24: 
State commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen is ready to sacrifice a seventh term for the Left Front to discipline teachers and bring them under the private-tuition ban. And he has an alternative employment opportunity for the jobless youth; they should fill up the tutor vacuum to be left behind by teachers employed in schools and colleges.

“At the most, we are going to lose the teaching community’s votes and will not be able to form the government the next time,” Sen said, in the process admitting that a large number of teachers were traditional Left supporters and the front would risk losing their support if it implemented the proposed ban on private tuition by teachers of government.

After inaugurating a cancer-detection centre and old-age home set up by local physician Sanat Saha here today, Sen said the government was committed to implement the proposed legislation. The government was not spending sleepless nights over losing teachers’ support, he said. The government could not jeopardise the interests of the majority to protect a small minority, the minister added.

That a legislation to ban private tuition by teachers of government or government-aided schools and colleges was in the offing was indicated in the state’s annual budget tabled in the Assembly on Friday.

The proposed legislation has generated debate, within and outside the Left Front, with teachers’ fronts claiming that the government would not be successful in implementing it because of the support the tuition system enjoyed even from students and their guardians.

This is Sen’s second frontal attack on West Bengal’s teaching community after the Left Front was voted back to power in May. Earlier this month, the legislator from Burdwan (South) had chosen his hometown — and a Left Front teachers’ front meet — to take teachers to task for their errant ways. He warned them of stern penal measures if they continued to take their job lackadaisically.

The large number of jobless youth would also benefit from the proposed legislation, Sen said today. “The jobless can fill up the vacuum left behind by teachers once the private-tuition ban is implemented,” he explained.

This is also Sen’s second suggestion to jobless youth. Earlier, he had asked them at another function — also in Burdwan — to go in for entrepreneurship and not wait endlessly for jobs.

Sen, however, gave one benefit of doubt to the teachers. “No, they are not as irresponsible,” he replied, asked whether he apprehended teachers would victimise students if they stopped attending their private-tuition classes.


New Delhi, June 24: 
The chairman of a committee appointed to review the functioning of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) has offered to withdraw after its members decided to submit a “part-report” on the insistence of two historians with links to the Sangh parivar.

Normally, this would not mean much in the council that has seen some of the dirtiest non-academic mudslinging among historians in recent times. But A.K. Ray, the review committee chairman, is a former Indian Foreign Service officer, who belongs neither to the Left nor the Right.

He was given the task in 1999 — after the Vajpayee regime took over — and was asked to review the functioning of the ICHR since 1972 because he was not politically inclined.

Ray has written to the Union human resources development minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, offering to withdraw. Last week, Ray also wrote to the minister saying Devendra Swarup, former lecturer at New Delhi’s Dayal Singh College and a former associate of the Deen Dayal Research Institute, an RSS outfit, who has no locus standi in the committee was attending its meetings and influencing its deliberations.

“At the 11 June meeting of the current session of the ICHR review committee held at the office of committee member Professor Makkhan Lal, I was shocked to notice the presence of an outsider, viz. Devendra Swarup, who has no locus standi whatsoever in the committee. On the preceding occasion also, i.e., on June 8, I had noticed the presence of two outsiders. I could have requested all these gentlemen to withdraw but I refrained from doing so as their presence appeared to be on invitation, and I did not wish to create an unpleasant as well as embarrassing situation,” wrote Ray.

“On both occasions, it was evident that matters which would go into the ‘part-report’ had been discussed with them before my arrival.”

The ICHR has been a hotbed of politics, a battleground for academics of the Left and the Right, with each side trading allegations of favouritism and corruption.

Apart from Ray, the members of the review committee are historian Sibesh Bhattacharya, S.N. Prasad, former director of the National Archives and Makkhan Lal, director of Delhi Institute of Heritage Management and Research, a Delhi government outfit.

ICHR sources said Ray and at least another panel member are peeved that Devendra Swarup and S.P. Gupta, an archaeologist, work like extra-constitutional authorities in the council.

Some officers have been urging Ray to go public, but he has studiously avoided going to the media. In a letter to Joshi last week, though, he minced no words. “The result (of the interference) is that there has been a breach of confidentiality and faith... I am afraid I cannot allow the drafts due from me to be treated as if they are public documents....”


London and Calcutta, June 24: 
As one cricket captain, who supervised India’s most famous Test victory, was struggling with the bat in Zimbabwe, his predecessor, who is linked to the greatest infamy heaped on the game, quietly stepped back on the greens in the game’s nursery — probably for a fleeting moment.

Mohammad Azharuddin resurfaced in deepest Surrey last Sunday to don the whites for the first time since he was slapped a life ban for match-fixing after the explosive CBI report in November last year. Playing in a charity match, the stylish right-hander rattled up 39 runs.

A spokeswoman at the Royal Surrey County Hospital said tonight: “The appeal is called Abracadabra and it’s for a children’s ward. We have child patients aged nought to 16 and the target is £1.5 million.”

Azhar turned out in the “celebrity” match on behalf of a man called David English, who is well known for organising charity games. Azhar’s friend, Moni Varma, boss of Veetee Rice, who once clubbed together with fellow Indian entrepreneurs to gift a Mercedes to the former captain, said: “This is just a one-off game.”

On the other side of the globe, Sourav Ganguly’s woes were welling up after his dismal batting set off a slide that snatched a golden opportunity from India’s grasp to win its first overseas (outside the sub-continent) Test series in 15 years. A sombre Sourav shared the trophy last Monday with a beaming Heath Streak, whose men had levelled the series by beating India at Harare, again. Today, in a tri-series limited overs match at the same venue, Sourav failed with the bat but scored with the ball as India notched up a nine-wicket win over host Zimbabwe.

Azhar might have recreated the magic with the willow but he will have to do more than utter “Abracadabra” to wish away the life ban.

Varma said: “He is very upset and is intending to sue the Indian cricket board.” Varma quoted the former captain as saying: “Cricket is the only thing I know and they have taken away my earning potential without proper evidence.”

It has been pointed out that Ripley, where the charity game was held, is the birthplace of the singer Eric Clapton. A line in one of his songs was adapted in The Sunday Telegraph: “Azhar — we’ve got you on your knees.”

This is not the first time Azhar has padded up for charity. After floating an event management firm in partnership with wife Sangeeta Bijlani, he organised a charity fashion show in Hyderabad in March this year to raise funds for the quake-affected artisans and children of Gujarat.

Azhar, who has refused to hang up his boots and challenged the ban in court, has repeatedly evinced interest in resuming his career that was cut short when he was on the threshold of a major personal landmark: his 100th Test.

But the clouds of corruption are still billowing as The Sunday Times reported that bookie Mukesh Gupta, the suspected fountainhead of much of cricket sleaze, is planning to write “an explosive book about his role in match-fixing”.

Quoting Sir Paul Condon, chief of ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit, the newspaper said, “it promises to make his fortune and cause further damage to the reputations of many prominent players”.

Condon also said that “the forthcoming appeal of former Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin against his life ban could be important.

“The CBI have voluntarily associated themselves with the case and I think they are looking forward to showing off all their evidence. They are offended at suggestions they misled people about what Azharuddin said to them.”

According to the report, other evidence relating to foreign players could also come out. “It could provide an interesting twist to the story,” Condon said.




Maximum: 33.7°C (-3)
Minimum: 25.9°C (-1)


5.7 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 97%
Min: 75%


A few spells of light to moderate rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 4.56 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm    

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