Jute fury blows up on executives
Panja briefs coalition cabinet
Delhi stage fright on post-summit show
Prisoners of silence raise voice
Calcutta Weather

Howrah, July 7: 
The fuse that ignited the Baranagar Jute Mill powder keg in January exploded in Howrah Jute Mill today, but a section of workers saved the lives of two senior executives who were beaten unconscious by a group of employees.

General manager M.K. Pandey and personnel officer Umesh Nagar were punched, slapped and hit with iron rods and bricks at Howrah Jute Mill this morning, according to an FIR. Both of them have been rushed to a nursing home and Pandey’s condition was stated to be critical.

The disquiet in Bengal’s dying jute industry had erupted at Baranagar mill in North 24 Parganas, where two officers and a worker were killed, and spread to Hooghly’s Ganges Jute Mill, where a worker died in police firing last month.

Tension had been brewing at the 111-year-old Howrah Jute Mill, now owned by the Mall group, for the last six months over the deployment of staff in the spinning and preparing section.

While the workers had been claiming that their workload had multiplied after the staff strength in the department was reduced, the management maintained that it was only the surplus staff that had been transferred. The mill employs over 4,500 workers.

Matters reached a flashpoint this morning when a team of officials visited the department to find out whether the demands of the workers were justified.

According to the FIR lodged by company at the Shibpur police station, Pandey, accompanied by Nagar, went to inspect the weaving section of the mill around 6 am. Forty minutes later when they came out, they were confronted by a large group of workers from the spinning and preparing section. “It was clear that the mood of this section of the workers was belligerent,” said human resource development advisor Sunil Sarkar, who filed the FIR.

The complaint said about 50 workers surrounded the officers, charging them with overworking them. As tempers frayed, the workers started pushing the two around. The two officers then ran towards the labour office, thinking that they would get protection from the guards there. But before they could make much headway, the workers pounced on them and started beating them up.

However, as the officers fell down, workers from the other sections of the mill rushed to their rescue. After a scuffle, the workers managed to rescue Pandey and Nagar who were unconscious.

The belligerent section of the workers then went on a rampage. They returned to their own section, roped in about 1,000 more workers and went round the factory, asking others to go on a strike.

It was at this time that the police arrived. This seemed to anger the workers more and they went on a rampage again. The police finally had to burst teargas shells.

“In the last 14 years, since the mill was taken over by us from Jardine Henderson, we have had no major problem,” Sarkar said. “True, there was tension in the past few months, but what happened today was totally unexpected.”

Industry minister Nirupam Sen condemned the assault on the officers, saying that it was “regrettable”. He, however, added that the “workload on the employees should not have been increased by the management”.

The Howrah district secretary of the Citu, the dominant union at the mill, said: “We, too, condemn the attack on the officers. But this is a malaise that has afflicted the jute mills all over the state and it calls for a larger solution.”


New Delhi, July 7: 
Efforts to bring back the Trinamul Congress into the NDA gathered steam with George Fernandes dusting the red carpet in anticipation and rebel MP Ajit Panja submitting a “situation report” to the coalition’s Big Three.

Panja apprised Fernandes of the situation in Bengal. “I have understood that all Trinamul workers and elected representatives, except Sudip Bandopadhyay and Mamata Banerjee who are undecided, want to come back to the NDA,” Panja was quoted as having told Fernandes.

“I personally feel that the Trinamul should be included in the NDA,” Fernandes later said.

In his talks with L.K. Advani, Panja brought to the home minister’s notice the Salt Lake stadium arrest scandal. Panja said he called on Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee as well. Asked what was their reaction, he said: “Naturally, at such meetings, they do not indicate their mind.”

He, however, appeared happy at having got appointments with the senior NDA leaders. “When Mamata, Sudip and I were together and sought time with the Prime Minister, we used to get it immediately. Even now, I get appointments immediately, even though I am now independent of them,” Panja said.

Panja’s flurry of activity in the capital comes amid reports that Mamata — among the first to support the Centre in the standoff with Jayalalitha — was not keen on Delhi accommodating him after Trinamul’s return.

Asked if he was expecting a Cabinet shuffle, Panja said it was the Prime Minister’s prerogative. He declined to give credence to reports that Mamata has worked out a deal with the NDA.

But the NDA appears to be keen to stitch together its old alliance. Fernandes, while welcoming Trinamul, also held out an invitation to the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the estranged partner of the ADMK front in Tamil Nadu, to join the ruling alliance at the Centre.

PMK chief S. Ramadoss was unhappy with ADMK chief Jayalalitha for her rejection of his party’s demand for a Rajya Sabha seat. The arrest of M. Karunanidhi and two Union ministers, which Ramadoss criticised, alienated him further from Jayalalitha.

Justifying his desire to reinduct the PMK and the Trinamul Congress, Fernandes said: “In politics, parties adopt various means and go in various directions. We have worked together, stayed together (in the NDA) and fought elections together.

“If a certain party has tried an experiment by remaining away, we should not make it a ground to keep them at a distance,” Fernandes told a television channel.


New Delhi, July 7: 
India’s refusal to be drawn into a slanging-match with Pakistan over Kashmir notwithstanding, the Prime Minister’s media managers are against a joint news conference on the outcome of the Agra summit.

Musharraf has indicated that he would like to address the media in Agra after the talks. Though South Block does not have any problem with this, officials are a little worried whether this would mean that Vajpayee, too, would have to be present at the media meet. This is something Vajpayee’s managers would like to avoid.

“There is very little that we have in common. Why make the differences more glaring?” asked an official in the PMO. He argued that as most questions are likely to be on Kashmir, an issue where little progress is expected, the joint news conference could turn out to be a disaster. However, a lot will depend on whether Musharraf insists on Vajpayee’s presence.

During the Lahore talks, Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif had jointly addressed a brief news conference. But the decision to do so was taken after the two sides had put in place the Lahore Declaration in which several steps were outlined for normalisation of relations.

If the Agra summit ends on a positive note, it might give the neighbours an opportunity to come out in public and, perhaps, also address the media.

Indications are that at the end of the summit, the two countries may issue a statement and, irrespective of whether Musharraf addresses the media, the Indian side will have its separate briefing.

A day after Islamabad charged Indian security forces with repression in Kashmir, home minister L.K. Advani stressed on the need for both countries to give up their path of confrontation and embark on a course of cooperation.

The Pakistani statement yesterday was seen here as an attempt to up the ante. The foreign ministry reacted to the charges by saying not only were they untrue, but the entire world was aware of the real situation in Kashmir and the reason for the violence there.

India’s mild response to the harsh Pakistani attack indicated that Delhi was in no mood to enter into a controversy a week before the Agra talks.

Advani strengthened this view further. “Across the world, people who have fought each other bitterly have gradually started realising that everybody benefits through cooperation,” the home minister said. “If India and Pakistan, too, embark on coordination and cooperation and give up confrontation, everybody would be benefited,” he added.

Making clear India’s determination for peace with Pakistan, Advani said: “It is unusual that our government wishes to have friendship with a country that threatens our security most.”

Hurriyat meet

Musharraf said in Islamabad tonight that his meeting with Hurriyat leaders in Delhi depended on the Indian side as it seemed to be a little “hesitant”. “We have invited the Hurriyat leaders…. But I really don’t know. I am not sure, it depends on the Indian authorities whether they permit them to meet me or not,” Musharraf said.


Agra, July 7: 
Suman Purohit weeps in anger as she talks about her husband, flight lieutenant Manohar Purohit, a prisoner of war living an anonymous and lonely life in a Pakistani prison since 1971. As she talks about her forlorn existence, “made miserable by both Pakistan and India”, hundreds of placard-waving men and women join her in her cry denouncing Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Pervez Musharraf, the summit talks and “the futility of war”.

They want Pakistan to release “with honour” the 54 PoWs languishing in jails since the 1971 war. They also want the Pakistan President to apologise, officially, for Kargil.

As the summit draws tantalisingly near, scores of people trying to “expose the duplicity and hollowness” of the two governments have joined in Suman’s struggle, giving the Agra administration nightmares.

“We want to break the silence of decades,” says B.K. Singh, former vice-chancellor Kanpur University, as sweaty school children, powerful advocates, respected academics and social workers jostle for space at the district collectorate.

Coming together under the banner of Pehchan (identity), these individuals have vowed to protest “until somebody notices just what a farce is being propagated in the name of peace”.

Brijendra Rawat, general secretary of the Agra Bar Council, is peeved at the way everyone is getting excited about the wrong things.

“Everyone is excited about what Musharraf will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, where his chicken will come from and how his mouth freshener will be specially flown in from Pakistan,” he fumes. “No one is talking about the families of these PoWs and Kargil war widows and what they are eating. It is time the Indian government got its priorities right.”

Agrees B.K. Roy, the man who has organised Pehchan and got the protesters under one umbrella. “We will hold these rallies and dharnas everywhere, we will not let it escape the attention of either Vajpayee or Musharraf. Consequences be damned,” he says.

Neetu Singh, the wife of a Kargil martyr, and one of the 14 war widows in Agra, who decided to join Pehchan only yesterday, quips: “Let us talk about issues and events that have troubled us and continue to trouble us. Let us talk about what is needling us and not the President of the United States of America.”

Many others who are trickling into the “agitation to speak up”, say that at least the people of Agra should not remain mute spectators at the “roadshow of international diplomacy”.

“It is okay to talk in five-star hotels as the world watches you,” says Prakash Mehta, a school teacher, “but what we want is that the two leaders should step out of their air-conditioned suites and go to the homes of the families of the PoWS. Some of them live a few hundred paces away from where Musharraf would be staying.” Explaining why he joined, 14-year-old Prabhat, a student of St Andrews school, says: “I have seen Suman auntie crying all the time, I don’t understand why they don’t let her husband out. It is not difficult to do that, is it?”




Max: 32.7°C (+1)
Min: 26.8°C (+1)

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 94%
Minimum: 74%


9.8 mm


A few spells of light to moderate rain
Sunset: 6.22 pm
Sunrise: 5.01 am

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