Bangla sneak-in peaks as guns fall silent
Left and Right meet on Red Road
Arsenic taint on half of Bengal
Body kept in patients’ ward
AIDS victim’s baby denied treatment
Criminal shot
Socialite nails prime accused in Jessica Lal case
Samajwadi plans pre-emptive strike
TN police chief backs officers
Delhi stamp on Bengal luxury tax

 
 
BANGLA SNEAK-IN PEAKS AS GUNS FALL SILENT 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDER
 
Calcutta, July 5: 
BSF personnel on the porous Bangladesh border do not view the silence of the guns as a sign of peace. In fact, they do not rule out a repeat of the May clash with the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) which led to the massacre of 16 BSF men.

The stringent security measures notwithstanding, a large number of Bangladeshis are sneaking into India through the porous border.

Last month, more than 1,000 Bangladeshis were apprehended at various pockets on the Indian side of the border and deported to Bangladesh by BSF personnel. More than 4,000 Bangladeshi infiltrators have been deported since January.

The Intelligence Bureau has asked the Centre to take stock of the situation and beef up security on the border.

“The influx of Bangladeshis is no doubt steadily increasing. It is very difficult to stop their infiltration as the border is extremely porous. But we are determined to stop their influx by increasing security,” S.P. Kakati, IG, BSF, said.

BSF personnel have identified Boyra, Bithari, Petrapole and Haridaspur as vulnerable points through which Bangladeshis have started to sneak in under cover of darkness ever since the border dispute came into prominence. Security along most of the infiltration pockets is being monitored by BSF men after news trickled in about the steady rise in infiltration over the past few weeks.

Recently, a group of Bangladeshis accosted at Haridaspur revealed during interrogation that they were heading for Calcutta. “Most of the members were women and were hoping to work in the city as maids. Whenever we come across such cases, we put the state police on alert,” a senior BSF official said.

Fazlur Akhtar and his 15-member group entered India through the Petrapole border in the first week of May and boarded a train to Sealdah station. However, they were arrested at Bongaon. When the BSF tried to deport them, BDR personnel resisted. Intelligence reports state how BDR personnel try to stop BSF men from deporting illegal Bangladeshis.

“Even last year, about 359 infiltrators were stopped from being deported by BDR personnel, manning their end of the border in Meghalaya. They claimed these people were not Bangladeshis. Later they had to relent,’’ Kakati said.

Smuggling and dacoity on the porous border has compounded BSF’s problems.

“After the recent skirmishes with the BDR, smuggling was controlled to a certain extent. But it seems the smugglers are back in business,” a senior official said.

Last week, BSF personnel recovered drugs worth several lakh rupees from a gang of peddlers near Haridaspur.

The BSF warned the state police about their movements. “After interrogation, we learnt that these peddlers used to run an organised network from Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh to the heart of Bangladesh,” a BSF personnel said.

Besides drugs, firearms are also being smuggled in and out of the country. In January, a group of men arrested near the Petrapole border were carrying firearms which were made in Munger in Bihar.

“Interrogation revealed that they were part of a gang of dacoits which entered India on a regular basis,” says Kakati.

On Tuesday, regional director of the Narcotics Control Bureau R.K. Sahoo met the BSF top brass. The two are learnt to have discussed key issues relating to the trans-border drug menace.

   

 
 
LEFT AND RIGHT MEET ON RED ROAD 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 5: 
Bengal’s communists will share a platform with the saffron brigade at a function tomorrow to celebrate the birth centenary of Jan Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mookerjee.

Higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty will be present along with Union minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar and several other BJP leaders to garland Mookerjee’s statue on Red Road.

The BJP-led Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Smarak Samity is jointly organising the programme with the state government.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has taken the initiative to send a Cabinet minister to participate in the function, sources said. “The chief minister wants me to represent the government in tomorrow’s programme,” Chakraborty confirmed.

The Left Front government is participating in a programme to celebrate Mookerjee’s birth anniversary after a decade.

Asked if he did not mind sharing the platform with BJP leaders, Chakraborty said: “I am attending the programme on the chief minister’s directive. I don’t know whether any BJP leaders will be present there or not.”

Bhattacharjee had himself boycotted the programme at Netaji Indoor Stadium, where Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was present, to launch the birth centenary celebrations last year. Bhattacharjee was deputy chief minister then.

His absence had sparked a controversy, with Vajpayee criticising the deputy chief minister for staying away from a programme organised to pay homage to a “great son of Bengal”.

Sikdar and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had been quick to label the absence as an affront to a great leader.

Officials at Writers’ Buildings today said the chief minister wanted to avoid a repeat of the controversy.

“This is the concluding session of the centenary celebration and Bhattacharjee does not want the Opposition to make an issue out of the Left Front’s absence from tomorrow’s meeting,” an official of the information department said.

A Left Front minister will join in Mookerjee’s anniversary celebrations tomorrow after more than a decade.

Ministers used to be present for the function on Red Road on July 6 every year since the statue was installed in 1983.

But the practice was discontinued in 1990 when Kanti Biswas took over as minister for information and cultural affairs after Bhattacharjee resigned from the Cabinet.

State BJP leaders welcomed Bhattacharjee’s statement. “We must congratulate Buddhadeb babu for breaking a decade-long practice. We are happy that the Left Front has lately realised Mukherjee’s contribution to the nation,” said BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan. He demanded that July 6 be declared a national holiday as mark of respect to Mookerjee.

   

 
 
ARSENIC TAINT ON HALF OF BENGAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 5: 
Arsenic poisoning appears to be taking its toll on the state. Twenty-eight persons have died of arsenic poisoning and 62.85 lakh people in the state are living in the “risk zones” where the ground water is arsenic contaminated, public health engineering (PHE) minister Goutam Deb told the Assembly today.

Replying to questions raised by Debaprasad Sarkar of SUCI, he said an all-party parliamentary team would visit the affected areas on July 13. Deb said eight of the 18 districts in the state were affected by arsenic contamination.

The Centre had informed the state that it would no longer provide funds to tackle the problem, he said. “We have already spent Rs 100 crore from our end to supply safe drinking water in the districts where the ground water is contaminated. It’s not possible for us to spend more,” he said.

It might not be possible for the state to complete three major projects in Malda, North and South 24-Parganas since the Centre had decided to withhold funds, Deb said. All the three projects were approved by the Centre, which has spent Rs 200 crore to contain arsenic pollution. Without Delhi’s help, it would be difficult for the state to help people living in high-risk zones in 1,707 villages in 67 blocks spread over eight districts.

He said the state had to seal 1,967 tubewells in eight districts as water was contaminated. The government had tested water samples from these districts and found most of those contaminated.

   

 
 
BODY KEPT IN PATIENTS’ WARD 
 
 
FROM ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
 
Behrampore, July 5: 
Patients at Behrampore State General Hospital have had a decomposing body for company over the past three days.

A mentally-challenged patient Surajit Pal, 41, from Bongaon had died in room No. 8 of the hospital on Tuesday morning. But neither the police nor the hospital authorities took the initiative to shift the body from the bed. No post-mortem was conducted either.

Pal, who was lodged at the Alipore Special Correctional Home in Calcutta, was admitted to the Behrampore Mental Hospital in January 2000. He was shifted to the general hospital last week after he suffered a head injury.

Hospital superintendent Pachugopal Ray said the body was kept on the bed because the hospital does not have a morgue. Patients have spent the past three days holding their noses. The decomposing corpse also set off a nurses’ agitation, but the body was not shifted till this evening.

But the body continued to be where it was, till late on Thursday evening.

   

 
 
AIDS VICTIM’S BABY DENIED TREATMENT 
 
 
FROM TARAK NATH DEY
 
Baruipara (Hooghly), July 5: 
One-and-a-half-year-old Subhojit, whose father Ranjit Patra died of AIDS only a couple of days back, is being denied medical treatment at the government-run health centre at Sibtala. The baby’s mother is also infected with the killer virus.

The Patra family was ostracised by the local people after it was let out that Ranjit Patra had been infected with the dreaded virus. Patra, who was a jewellery artisan in Mumbai, had contracted the disease about six years back.

“He used to frequent brothels in Mumbai. I got married to him three years back. Unknowingly, I also get infected,” said 26-year-old Mithu, the wife of Ranjit.

“But what has my poor baby done? In his case it has yet to be confirmed if he had been infected with the killer disease,” said Mithu, sobbing inconsolably.

The other day she had taken her baby to the health centre with a disposable syringe as advised by a local physician. But the nurse at the health centre “refused to push the injection as she knew I was an AIDS victim”.

“I am aware that my days are numbered and nobody, not even close relatives, will come to the rescue of my baby the day I die,” she said. She is eager to know if any medicine has been discovered to save her life so that she could look after Subhojit.

Denied a check-up at the local health centre, she had recently been to the Calcutta Medical College Hospital where her husband had been under the treatment of Dr Kanai Banerjee. “Only there I came to know that Dr Banerjee had died about six months back,” she said.

She is now planning to seek the intervention of the local panchayat so that her baby gets proper treatment and she can lead an undisturbed life. She is still hopeful that some non-government organisations might come forward to rescue her child.

   

 
 
CRIMINAL SHOT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Barasat, July 5: 
A businessman from Ashokenagar, Shanku Ganguly, was shot dead this morning.

Shanku, who had criminal records against him and was wanted by the police, was shot thrice from point-blank range by a gang of eight miscreants.

Superintendent of police, North 24 Parganas, Kuldip Singh, said: “Shanku was killed by his rivals. A few months ago, Shanku’s associates had brutally killed a member of the rival gang.”

Police sources said that the assailants arrived around 9.30 am at Shanku’s office and dragged him out before pumping in three bullets and fled.

   

 
 
SOCIALITE NAILS PRIME ACCUSED IN JESSICA LAL CASE 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, July 5: 
The Jessica Lal murder case got a fresh lease of life today when socialite Malini Ramani testified that accused Manu Sharma was present at Tamarind Court when the model was shot dead.

Saying she could identify the person who had asked her for drinks at the party where Jessica was killed, Malini pointed at the accused and said: “He looked just like him.”

Jessica had been shot dead at Tamarind Court, within Qutub Colonade in south Delhi, on the night of April 29, 1999. It was alleged that the accused, Manu Sharma, killed her after he was refused drinks as the bar had closed.

Malini said she had seen the accused again in a police station on May 8, 1999, a week after the murder when she was arrested in a case under the Excise Act.

Malini, whose mother Bina Ramani owns Qutub Colonade, is the sixth witness in the case. Barring her and first witness Deepak Bhojwani, the remaining four have refused to identify the prime accused.

The case started losing ground when star eyewitness Shayan Munshi turned hostile and said Manu did not shoot Jessica.

Then, Shivdas Yadav, who had told police that he had seen the shooting, said in court that he was not present in the cafe when the murder took place. He said he was on the terrace when he heard the shots.

Karan Rajput claimed he was not even present in Delhi on that night. Earlier, he had told the police that he saw Jessica being killed. Another witness, Parikshit Sagar, denied in court that he had met Manu on the night of the murder.

It was expected that Malini, too, would turn hostile. But her testimony today has come as a big boost for the prosecution.

“In the year 1999, we used to have parties in Qutub Colonade. Liquor would also be consumed,” said Malini. On the night of the murder, a farewell party was being held for Malini’s stepfather George Mailhod, who was going abroad for five months. Jessica was serving drinks at the bar.

“The party began at 10 pm and was over by 1.45 am. I went with a friend, Sanjay Mehtani, to the restaurant to look for something to eat. Jessica, Shayan Munshi, my electrician, and a couple of waiters were present at the cafe,” Malini said.

A number of people present in the party was enquiring about the food and drinks, but Malini told them that the bar had closed and there was nothing to eat.

According to Malini, it was around that time that four or five men walked into the cafe. One of them, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, asked for whisky. He was in his mid-twenties and was on the plump side, she said. He kept asking Jessica and Malini for drinks and the two kept saying that drinks could not be served.

When he offered to pay for the drinks, Malini said: “It does not matter. I will not give a sip even for a thousand rupees.” To that he retorted: “Could I have a sip of you for a thousand rupees.”

Malini told the court that irritated, she walked out of the cafe. After a minute-and-a-half, Shayan came running to her and said Jessica had been shot.

Beside Manu Sharma, some big names facing trial in this case are Amardeep Singh Gill, a former Coca-Cola executive, former Rajya Sabha member D.P. Yadav’s son Vikas, former President Shankar Dayal Sharma’s relative Shyam Sundar Sharma and former cricketer and film personality Yograj Singh.

   

 
 
SAMAJWADI PLANS PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, July 5: 
Samajwadi Party legislators are thinking of resigning en masse from the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in case chief minister Rajnath Singh decides to extend the term of his government by another six months after October.

The resignation of 107 MLAs may create a serious constitutional problem for Singh, who, BJP sources say, is inclined to defer elections until March 2002.

It is understood that the other two main Opposition parties — the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress — are not in favour of such a move.

The Uttar Pradesh government’s standpoint is that though the last elections were held in September-October 1996, an Assembly could not be formed for almost six months because no party secured a majority. It was only in March 1997 that the BJP and the BSP arrived at a coalition arrangement.

So, the official line — also endorsed by the Election Commission — was that the Assembly’s five-year term began “constitutionally and legally” only six months after the elections.

The Opposition, on the other hand, argued that because the MLAs were sworn in immediately after the results were notified and began drawing their salaries and other perks, they could not enjoy an extended tenure of five-and-a half years.

“It would be an unprecedented move which will certainly be questioned by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) because there is no fiscal provision to keep the life of an Assembly going beyond the stipulated five years,” said Rajya Sabha MP and SP vice-president Janeshwar Mishra.

“What happens in this case? Will the MLAs continue regardless of whether they are paid a salary or not?” he asked.

A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in Allahabad High Court, challenging the validity of the government’s stand.

SP sources said a decision on the resignation was likely to be taken shortly after various inputs were taken into consideration. “We have to see if it will have an adverse fallout or not. This will have to be weighed against the real possibility of the Assembly functioning without an Opposition. It means if there are half a dozen police firings, no questions would be asked and the government would sail through comfortably in the legislature,” sources said.

On the other hand, there was a feeling within the SP that if the initiative was taken “at the right moment”, it could generate the “desired” momentum for the Assembly polls. “Six months would be treated as a big bonus by the ministers and MLAs,” said sources.

The BJP itself is split on the timing of the election. Party sources said home minister L.K. Advani was keen on bringing it forward to October before the paddy crop was harvested. “Harvesting will throw up a lot of problems because there will be no takers for the surplus crop. Farmers will feel shortchanged and probably take to the streets. Advaniji wants the government to be spared this situation,” sources said.

The chief minister, his Cabinet and the legislators of the BJP and its allies, on the contrary, were of the view that an extended period may help them retrieve some lost ground so that if they did not emerge as the single largest combination, they would not be relegated to the third or fourth place.

Singh’s moves to enhance teachers’ salaries in consonance with the Fifth Pay Commission recommendation and set up a panel to look into the question of a separate reservation quota for the more backward castes were cited as examples of the beginning of a “turnaround” in the ruling coalition’s fortunes.

   

 
 
TN POLICE CHIEF BACKS OFFICERS 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
Chennai, July 5: 
The Tamil Nadu government is unlikely to take action against police officers in a hurry despite the Centre’s insistence in its warning. The state director general of police, A. Ravindranath, said here this morning: “The Union home ministry’s letter is still being studied. I can tell you my men behaved professionally.”

Ravindranath was talking to journalists informally at the airport. Chief minister Jayalalitha, too, had come to the airport to see off former Governor Fathima Beevi, who resigned in the wake of the controversy surrounding Karunanidhi’s arrest. (Jayalalitha also refused to speak to the press in the secretariat at Fort St George).

Beevi, too, refused to say anything beyond “I will pray for the people of Tamil Nadu”. She did not appear to be sarcastic. Some of the police officers named by Karunanidhi as he narrated how he was arrested have denied they were present at 21 Oliver Road, Karunanidhi’s house, on Friday night. Karunanidhi had named officers Mohammed Ali, Sarangan, George, Prabhakaran, Murugesan, Shanmuga Rajeswaran and Christopher Nelson.

George, the joint commissioner (Chennai central), Shanmuga Rajeswaran, deputy commissioner, Sarangan, a superintendent of police, and Nelson, a joint commissioner, denied they were in the team that raided Karunanidhi’s house.

The team that carried out the operation was led by deputy inspector general (crime branch, CID) Mohammed Ali.

Cong protest

The Congress plans to take up with President K.R. Narayanan the manner in which Beevi was removed, reports our correspondent from Delhi. The party has also objected to Union law minister Arun Jaitley’s decision to release “confidential” communication between the Governor and the President to the press.    

 
 
DELHI STAMP ON BENGAL LUXURY TAX 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 5: 
Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta today secured federal legitimacy for his Great Wall against imported products through his 10 per cent luxury tax when he, along with several chief ministers, persuaded the Centre to appoint a committee to examine the principle that recognises the states’ rights to impose taxes on imports and services.

These taxes will be brought within the ambit of the proposed VAT (value added tax) regime.

“We have agreed to set up a committee of state and Central committees to examine the issue of states imposing VAT-able taxes on services and imports,” Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha told reporters after a marathon six-hour meeting with chief ministers and finance ministers.

VAT-able taxes permit discounts based on earlier taxes paid down the production and marketing chain.

The committee will also work out a formula to compensate states for their loss of revenue arising from the introduction of a nationwide VAT regime for all taxes on goods and services by April 1 next year.

While all states will have to implement the new tax regime by that date, northeastern, hill and newly-created tribal states will be given a one-year extension on the deadline.

Today’s meeting also decided that the Centre would cut grants and withhold central funds to Pondicherry and Daman and Diu if they fail to ratify the consensus decision taken at an earlier conclave of chief ministers to create a uniform sales tax regime throughout the country. The two Union Territories have been given time till the end of the month to fall in line.

Dasgupta, who heads an inter-state committee on VAT, said the refusal by these two Union Territories to join the others meant neighbours like Tamil Nadu and Andhra would lose revenue heavily. “This would force the two southern states to break our ranks and the whole system would then collapse,” he added.

The meeting also decided that the Union government would amend the Central Sales Tax Act and introduce permanent account number (PAN) as a common business identifier for VAT to check tax evasion.

“The necessary amendments to the Central Sales Tax Act is ready and, hopefully, they will be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament,” Sinha said.

After consulting states, a new all-Indian stamp Act has also been drafted which is designed to rationalise stamp duty rates and simplify procedures, Sinha said.

The states also agreed on a time schedule for fine-tuning classification of items coming under VAT by July 31. A format for VAT will be ready by August 15; by the end of October, the states will prepare legislation to introduce VAT.

However, several contentious issues remained unresolved including concerns over VAT on farm sector products. Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala said the imposition of VAT on farm products could be politically difficult as most farmers in the country subsist on marginal holdings.

   
 

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