Subhas-baiters load gun for stadium trial
Fresh Bengal initiative on IISCO revival
US firms’ offer for Sagardighi
House reporters move to gallery
Wet coal turns too hot for NTPC
Undertrial dies in Alipore jail
Agra sweats under security raincoat
Verbal volleys in D-day dress rehearsal
Opp. marches to Centre tune
Advani seeks place in summit

Calcutta, July 9: 
Even as Subhas Chakraborty shows signs of emerging unscathed from the stadium incident, detractors of the sports minister appear to be marshalling their forces to corner him at Wednesday’s meeting of the North 24-Parganas district secretariat to discuss the CPM’s poll performance.

On a parallel track, government and CPM officials said they are trying to find out why the two police officers acted on their own in raiding the Salt Lake stadium on June 26 to arrest four criminals, keeping their superiors in the dark.

“What is alarming for both the government and the party is the realisation that the officers carried out the raid on a government property on their own without bothering to keep their superiors informed. The chief minister, who oversees police affairs, did not have any prior information about the sensitive raid,” the officials said.

The CPM leadership has got tough with some of the district unit’s bosses, without whose consent the police could not have raided the stadium, and forced them to drop the demand for a re-allocation of the sports portfolio.

With chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, state party secretary Anil Biswas and Biman Bose, all politburo members, taking a “realistic” view in light of the inquiry findings so far, sources said Chakraborty is likely to survive the storm.

Sources said the nominee projected by the district unit for replacing Chakraborty met with “stern disapproval” of the top bosses, including Bhattacharjee and former chief minister Jyoti Basu, who now plays the role of final arbiter in the state CPM.

Sources said important functionaries, cutting across faction loyalties, brought to the leadership’s attention the gravity of the fact that certain police officers, one of them an office-bearer of the Howrah district police association, a Trinamul Congress affiliate, conducted the raid without prior clearance from the chief minister.

The CPM is expected to support the government in adopting a tough line against Tapash Ghosh Dastidar, an associate of Chakraborty, who, according to the CID’s findings, is mainly responsible for harbouring the four criminals. The name of a former footballer, who represented both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and is known to be close to Chakraborty, also figures in the CID’s findings.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the attack on Chakraborty is expected to be launched by Amitava Bose and Amitava Nandi. Over the past week, the two had tried to confront him on the stadium issue. Both are believed to be waiting for an opportunity to strike at the sports minister, who, they think, had “organised” Nandi’s defeat in Habra in the Assembly polls.

Another reason for them to go for Chakraborty’s jugular is the organisational elections in October. The Bose-Nandi combine is working overtime to block the entry of Chakraborty’s supporters into key party units in the district. In the district secretariat Chakraborty is in a minority. Only one member, Ajit Chowdhury, supports him.

Chakraborty today made himself off-limits to the media, following the injunction issued by Biswas on Sunday asking ministers not to give interviews to the media or television channels on issues other than those concerning their departments.

The Congress today walked out of the Assembly in protest against what it described as the government’s delay in making a statement on the stadium issue.


Calcutta, July 9: 
The state government will consider extending financial support to the ailing Indian Iron & Steel Company if the Centre decides to revive the company.

Industry minister Nirupam Sen told The Telegraph that he has written to steel minister B.K. Tripathy with a revival proposal prepared by the IISCO unions.

Tripathy met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today to discuss the revival of the steel company. Describing today’s meeting as “very positive”, Bhattacharjee said the Central government has formed a committee to look into the “revival aspects of IISCO and soon a tangible solution is expected”.

Tripathy said the government has appointed Mecon to prepare another feasibility report on the steel plant.

IISCO’s survival was at stake after the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction told the Steel Authority of India — IISCO’s parent — to either bring in funds by July 31 to revive the ailing plant or close it down.

To make matters worse, global tenders for the IISCO selloff failed to evoke any response with only Mitsui of Japan and Broken Hill of Australia showing some interest in IISCO’s rich collieries and iron ore mines. But both reportedly said they were not interested in IISCO’s old plants.

Sen, however, argued that “if the mines are separated from the plants during a sale, not only will a large number of employees be jobless but the government will also stand to lose heavily”.

Instead, Sen has forwarded to the steel ministry a Rs 510-crore revival package to be implemented in two phases over two-and-a-half years, sources said.

According to the proposal, the company requires an investment of Rs 150 crore in the first phase and Rs 210 crore in the second. Besides, the company, which has accumulated a loss of Rs 430 crore in the past two years, will need Rs 150 crore upfront to meet operating expenses.

The first phase is proposed to be completed in 18 months and the second phase in 12 months.

Asked whether the state would bear a part of the total cost, Sen said: “We are ready to examine any proposal from the Centre.”

But SAIL has stated that it will be unable to make any investment in IISCO. “We have, in principle, decided to invest Rs 1,000 crore during the current financial year only in four integrated plants — in Durgapur, Rourkela, Bokaro and Bhilai. We are not in a position to make any investment in any other area,” a SAIL spokesman said.

The official said that if SAIL makes a loss of more than Rs 250 crore this fiscal, it itself will be referred to the BIFR as its net worth would have eroded by more than 50 per cent.

IISCO was wheeled into the sick bay in 1994. Several domestic and foreign companies, including the Mittals of the Ispat group, the Tatas, Mukunds, TyazpromExport of Russia and Broken Hill of Australia, had shown interest in IISCO but later backed out.

Though the two IISCO plants — one at Burnpur and other at Kulti — are old, the mines are rich. While iron ore mines at Chiria and Gua have reserves of 2 billion tonnes and 182 million tonnes respectively, the three collieries — Chasnala, Jitpur and Ramnagar — have coking grade coal with reserves of 76 mt, 26 mt and 103 mt respectively.


Calcutta, July 9: 
Two US-based companies, Unocal and Shell, are vying with each other to supply natural gas from Bangladesh for the West Bengal Power Development Corporation Ltd’s proposed coal and gas-based power project at Sagardighi in Murshidabad district.

Unocal and Shell have held preliminary talks with the power corporation and the state government. A Delhi-based company, Vavasi, which is bringing in liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Australia, has also submitted a proposal for Sagardighi.

Representatives of the three companies, all keen to sign a memorandum of understanding, are scheduled to meet power minister Mrinal Banerjee on July 16. “We are also keen but first let me hold discussions with them,” said Banerjee.

The power corporation has envisaged the Sagardighi project in two phases of 1,000 mw each. In the first phase, there will be two 250 mw coal-fired units while two others may be gas-based if natural gas is available at an affordable rate. The thermal units will cost Rs 2,000 crore.

A corporation official said the power development corporation as well as the state government had approached the Centre to help in getting a loan from the Asian Development Bank for the thermal units.

“We are confident of going ahead with the thermal units. For supply of fuel to the proposed gas-based units, talks are being held with various companies, including foreign ones,” said power secretary Asim Barman.

Earlier, former power minister Sankar Sen had tried to get natural gas from Bangladesh for the Sagardighi project but negotiations with the then Begum Khaleda Zia government did not make any headway. Then the power corporation went ahead with its decision to have the entire first phase coal-fired.

“We became particularly interested in reviving our plans of the gas-based power units when we were approached by a number of companies, including those working in Bangladesh. In Rangpur, on the other side of the border, a power plant is already being run on gas,” a corporation official said.

Banerjee said: “If we find that natural gas is easily available and if it comes cheaper, then we might even think in terms of making the entire project gas-based.”

While the two US companies have proposed to enter into pacts with the power corporation to bring over natural gas from Bangladesh to Sagardighi, Vavasi has suggested a pipeline from its gas installation at Gopalpur in Orissa to the project site.


Calcutta, July 9: 
Assembly reporters, House employees who document proceedings, were today shifted out of the Well to a gallery meant for the media. The journalists they have displaced will now work out of a visitors’ gallery.

Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim relocated the reporters till further notice following “repeated incidents of Opposition-sponsored” violence in the House. This is the first time they have been allotted a gallery.

When questioned about the move, Halim said he was forced to shift the reporters to save them from becoming victims of violence unleashed by the Opposition ever since the Assembly session began.

“What have you done for the last few days? You have damaged furniture, overturned reporters’ chairs and tables, snatched their notebooks and torn them, thrown papers at them and damaged the loudspeakers. Can anyone work in this kind of atmosphere?” Halim asked the legislators.

When the House assembled this morning, leader of the Opposition Pankaj Banerjee asked the Speaker why the reporters’ table had been shifted from the Well.

Raising a point of order, Banerjee said the Assembly reporters have been working in the Well for years and it is the most convenient place for them to note down proceedings.

“You have shifted their place on your own without discussing the matter with the Opposition,’’ he said.

“You yourself know the reason very well,” Halim replied and listed the violence of the past few days, triggering howls of protest from Trinamul Congress MLAs. Trinamul members started shouting in protest against the Speaker’s remarks. Banerjee accused the Speaker of insulting Opposition MLAs.

In the din, Halim said the Assembly reporters worked under him and it was his duty to provide them with security. Left Front MLAs also joined in and tried to shout the Opposition legislators down. Congress MLAs, however, did not join the Trinamul protest.

In the absence of senior ministers, no one tried to control the ruling members and the ruckus continued. Though transport minister Subhas Chakraborty was present, he sat in silence.

Subsequently, after an announcement from Banerjee, Trinamul MLAs abstained from proceedings till the recess. However, they took part in the budget discussions in the second half.


Calcutta, July 9: 
Bengal reeled under power cuts for the second consecutive day today as wet coal forced NTPC production cutback.

The total shortfall in Bengal was 430 mw, of which 270 mw was because of reduced supply from the National Thermal Power Corporation. This was, however, less than yesterday’s 550 mw shortfall.

Power minister Mrinal Banerjee today criticised NTPC for not informing the state earlier about the low supply.

“If there was any problem, then we could have sat down together to solve the problem. We have taken up the matter with Union power secretary A.K. Basu. He has assured us that he will look into the matter,” Banerjee told reporters.

The power secretary later called a meeting with NTPC officials to revive generation, sources in Delhi said.

“There was shortfall yesterday at the Talcher, Kahalgaon and Farakka units,” said Balmiki Prasad, executive director, NTPC (eastern region). “Continuous rains have created a problem at the Talcher plant. Wet coal is also creating problems at Farakka and Kahalgaon,” he added.

Areas fed by CESC had a shortfall of 70 mw today, leading to power cuts for about an hour. It was worse in the areas where the West Bengal State Electricity Board supplies power: a 350 mw shortfall with power cuts for about two hours during the peak evening hours.

To make matters worse, supplies from the West Bengal Power Development Corporation were also down as wet coal upset production at the Kolaghat thermal power station.

Top officials of eastern regional load despatch centre feel the government’s pressure on the Union power ministry yielded results.

S.K. Sinha, additional general manager of the eastern regional load despatch centre, said in a letter to NTPC: “It seems that there is deliberate under-declaration of availability and hence the load despatch centre had requested Farakka, Kahalgaon and Talcher to explain the situation with necessary back-up data.”


Calcutta, July 9: 
An undertrial prisoner died under mysterious circumstances at the Alipore Central Jail today.

Bijoy Mullick, 75, was arrested from Diamond Harbour on criminal cases and had been remanded in custody, police sources said. He was suffering from several diseases and was brought to the city for trial.

Jail authorities said that around mid-day, Mullick started complaining of chest pain. “He vomited twice and was in great pain,” a jail official said. “He wreathed in pain for more than an hour as authorities deliberated whether to transfer him to the jail hospital,” a witness in jail said.

Jail officials, however, attributed the delay to the absence of doctors of the jail hospital at that time.

“Towards evening, Mullick collapsed in his cell with froth coming out of his mouth. It was then that we decided to shift him to M.R. Bangur hospital,” jailor Narendranath Pal said.

Doctors at Bangur hospital discovered that Mullick was suffering from an advance stage of tuberculosis and other diseases. “We tried to give him life saving drugs but Mullick died shortly,” a doctor said.

The doctors there said that Mullick died of cardiac failure.


Agra, July 9: 
While visiting Agra, President Bill Clinton had wondered whether the home of the Taj was “a city of ghosts”. President Pervez Musharraf might not ask the same question to red-faced Indian officials as last year’s embarrassment has forced the local administration and the Prime Minister’s Office to at least ensure a “sprinkling of life” in the form of school children waving Indian flags. What Musharraf might ask though is whether Agra is preparing for war.

Shah Jehan’s capital is a city under siege. There will be three times as many security personnel during Musharraf’s visit than there were at the time of Clinton’s.

Arrangements have been made for more than 5,000 constables, 22 companies of paramilitary forces, including the Rapid Action Force and the Provincial Armed Constabulary. More than 200 officers will oversee the outer cordon. The inner cordon will be manned by commandos from the National Security Guard and the Special Protection Group. Besides, intelligence sleuths are already hovering in and around Agra in unspecified numbers.

Not taking any chances, the “mental and psychological history” of every jawan will be scrutinised. A senior Uttar Pradesh minister said this is because the government doesn’t want a repeat of the “Rajiv episode” in Sri Lanka. “It is not hidden from anyone that not everyone is happy with Musharraf’s visit,” the minister said, adding: “There would be passions, both positive and negative, everywhere. The whole thing is too sensitive.”

To ensure that no electronic devices are active, jammers have been fitted in the three hotels — Amarvilas, Mughal Sheraton and Jaypee Palace — where the fate of the Indo-Pak talks will unravel. A dummy run of the security drill will be held tomorrow.

To the irritation of villagers on either side of the Yamuna, random raids are being carried out every day. Many villagers in Taj Ganj and other villages near the monument complain of being harassed by the policemen.

“They come here anytime of the day and just barge in,” said Yusuf, a boatman. “If the number of people in the house doesn’t match with the number on our ration cards, we are in deep trouble.”

RAW and IB sleuths have been doing the rounds of these villages diligently. Everyone who is not known in the village is suspect. Most of those who had come to visit their relatives living in and around the Taj have been sent back.

Justifying the drill, Agra special superintendent of police A.K.D. Dwivedi says: “We are all on tenterhooks, these things have to be done.”

But the security arrangements are not without their share of unintended humour. More than 6,000 raincoats have been requisitioned for the jawans so that “they don’t take shelter under trees and run for cover in case of a shower” during the general’s visit. Said a senior police officer: “All jawans who will be stationed on the VIP routes have been given strict orders not to budge from their positions. This is because our jawans have a tendency to run for cover at the slightest hint of rain.”


New Delhi, July 9: 
Before the talks, the chatfest. Welcome to a festival of words, of glib, smart, re-phrased one-liners, of words that perform, that speak, shout, squeak, shriek, yell, holler, words that have no line of control.

But a chatfest any day, any time, over slugfest.

Welcome to the great meeting of minds, spread over two days at the Maurya Sheraton, of intellectuals from India and Pakistan, sponsored by the Indian Council of Social Sciences Research (ICSSR) and patronised by none other than Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This is M.L. Sondhi, the ICSSR chief’s finest hour. One Pakistani scholar actually said he deserved a high civilian honour.

Days ago, the Union human resources development ministry, was sceptical of the meet. Sondhi overcame that. He went over Murli Manohar Joshi and reached for Vajpayee’s ear. The Prime Minister lent it willingly. Then the home ministry got into the act. Last month, it issued an order and placed visa restrictions on invitations to foreign scholars, particularly those from the Saarc countries, who might be asked to participate in seminars and workshops — chatfests by any other word — on “sensitive” subjects. Sondhi had Vajpayee’s ear again.

Today, to an audience of academics, journalists and intellectuals from across both sides of the fence, Sondhi said thanks. The ICSSR under him announced it was instituting 27 Vajpayee-Musharraf Senior Academic Fellowships — 27 for each of the institutes and centres of research under the ICSSR. In the week that is to climax with the summit of the two chief executives, Sondhi has added his mite to the “atmospherics”, euphemism for hype.

“Hype? What’s wrong with that?,” argues Hamid Haroon, publisher of the Dawn. “Hype is not a creation but a reflection. Hype is an affirmation of the aspiration.” But will not hype raise expectations to unrealistic levels? “People will be partially apprehensive. Nobody wants the talks to fail. But the definition and measurement of success and failure will be different. You say, why insist on Musharraf having tea with the Hurriyat. It will be unrealistic for him not to talk to the Hurriyat. I would rather Musharraf talked to the Hurriyat before Vajpayee than to the Lashkar-e-Toiba.”

And then the glib one-liners flow. Here are the top five:

Glib one-liner no.1 — “If we can’t have tripartite talks, let’s talk tripartite” — Hamid Haroon.

No.2 — This (the meeting of social scientists) is a dress rehearsal of thoughts and ideas — Hamid Haroon again

No.3 — Conflict is an expensive luxury — Najma Heptullah, who inaugurated the conference. (Vajpayee had advised Sondhi that he should get a woman from the minority community to do the job. Sondhi homed in on Heptullah who was on a trip to China and Japan, got her to drop the Japan leg of her tour and flew her back to Delhi).

No.4 — Our establishments have to stop de-demonising each other — Khalid M. Awan, chairing the group meeting on media and communication

No.5 — Kashmir is not a problem; it is a solution to the problem of nuclear weapons and the problem of religious fanaticism — R.L.M. Patil, political science department, Bangalore University.

For each of the group meetings, rapporteurs took down notes vigorously. They will go into the making of the report and the recommendations will be forwarded to Vajpayee.


New Delhi, July 9: 
The Opposition today rallied around the Vajpayee government, supporting the Prime Minister’s statement that Kashmir will be the “core” but not the “sole” topic of discussion in his talks with Pervez Musharraf.

At an all-party meeting, the Opposition leaders had a frank discussion with Atal Bihari Vajpayee who, on the eve of the Agra summit, wanted to keep his record straight. He has consulted the entire spectrum of political opinion in the country before sitting at the negotiating table with Musharraf.

It was one of those rare occasions when the Opposition and the ruling coalition presented a united face and there seemed little to quarrel about. Only the Telugu Desam Party did not attend the meeting because of state panchayat elections, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said.

Vajpayee will hold separate meetings with the Congress and the Left so that when he opens dialogue with Musharraf, he will be armed with the consensus of all parties.

Today’s meeting, apart from dealing with other issues, zeroed in on Kashmir and the scope of discussing it at the summit. “We have no reservations to talk about Kashmir. It will be a core but not the sole item on our agenda of discussion,” Mahajan said, quoting the Prime Minister.

The sharpest attack was against Musharraf’s declared intention to talk with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and the possibility that they could be invited to a tea party hosted by the Pakistani High Commission.

The Opposition leaders asked Vajpayee what they were supposed to do if invited to a tea party to be attended by the Hurriyat. The BJP said the tea party should be boycotted but the Congress kept its cards close to its chest. “The Prime Minister told the leaders that if a tea party is hosted in honour of a dignitary, then the government will go by protocol and decide whether or not to boycott,” Mahajan said after the meeting.

G.M. Banatwala of the All-India Muslim League, however, supported dialogue between Musharraf and the Hurriyat.

Till last night, the Opposition was cut up with the Vajpayee government for not taking them “into confidence” on the Agra summit. However, this morning at 7 Race Course Road, there was little the Opposition disagreed with. They agreed with the government that the talks should include cross-border terrorism, trade, economic exchange, people-to-people ties, culture, education and sports issues.

They also shared the government’s scepticism on the “ultimate success” of the talks. “They all agreed the Agra summit will make a good beginning for launching a process of dialogue that should continue even if the talks are not result-oriented,” said Mahajan.


New Delhi, July 9: 
In the run-up to the Indo-Pak summit, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s senior colleagues have indicated that they are as much in the thick of events as the Prime Minister.

BJP sources maintained that home minister L.K. Advani is an integral part of all the informal consultations that take place at the highest level. While Advani’s 25-minute meeting with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was already on the schedule, his presence in Agra, they said, would depend on the composition of the visiting delegation. If Pakistan’s interior minister accompanies Musharraf, Advani, too, would be part of Vajpayee’s Agra entourage.

Sources said Advani is always part of the informal meetings that take place everyday at Vajpayee’s residence. The meetings are attended by external affairs and defence minister Jaswant Singh, the Prime Minister’s principal secretary and national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra and senior foreign ministry and PMO officials.

Attempts to project the home minister as the “director” of the script to invite Musharraf to India were, however, not taken seriously by either the party or the government. “Any such high-level decision can only be a collective one rather than be inspired by one individual,” a senior minister said.

The spin put out by a section of the BJP on Advani’s reported keenness to take credit for the visit was that it was an “appropriate occasion for him to redefine his image from that of a hardliner to a moderate”.

“In the past he has tried to use important political happenings for the same end. For instance, he once expressed grief at the turn of events in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. When he deemed that economic globalisation was the right path to choose for the economy, he did not hesitate to criticise swadeshi economics,” said a source.

The subtext was: if Vajpayee’s image of a “reasonable thinking statesman” was there to stay, Advani — the “natural number two” in the government — had a long way to go before attaining the same “halo”.

BJP sources said Advani’s meeting with Musharraf is expected to reflect two sides of his persona. The “sentimental” facet would be mirrored by the fact that they went to the same school, St Patrick’s in Karachi. Advani was a resident of the port city before migrating to India after Partition.

But, at the same time, sources said, he was also paving the ground for a bout of pragmatism by preparing an approach paper on Kashmir which is expected to be a crucial input for the Agra summit.

As with Ayodhya, sources said, Advani is trying to straddle two worlds encompassing the Indo-Pak summit.

They said Advani may have appealed to the two countries to shun the path of confrontation at a function in the capital last Saturday. But he is also believed to have made it clear at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security that the government should not take any step which would be perceived as “legitimising” the Hurriyat Conference’s status after Musharraf’s invitation to Hurriyat leaders.


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