State mulls fee hike in schools
Murder bid on CPM leader
Brains trusts to guide state e-forays
Police top defaulter
Kargil II, waged with precision on screen
Fleeting excitement in city of whispers
Wait for Indian passport
Musharraf no-show angers Ajmer
News blackout keeps Agra guessing, waiting
Lashkar attacks camp in bleeding Kashmir

Calcutta, July 16: 
Five days after effecting the first tuition fee-hike in colleges in five decades, the state government announced today it was thinking of repeating it at the secondary level in schools.

School education minister Kanti Biswas told the Assembly that the government was reviewing the free-education policy at the secondary level. But no final decision had been taken yet, he added.

Though Trinamul Congress MLAs protested against the decision and a section of Congress legislators appeared intent on supporting them, leader of the Congress Legislative Party Atish Sinha praised the Left Front government for taking a “bold” step.

Trinamul legislator Sonali Guha was the first to protest against the hike in college tuition fees. Many poor students will not be able to continue studying in colleges if the hike is that “exorbitant”, she said.

Other Trinamul MLAs supported Guha and started shouting slogans against the tuition fee hike.

The government had taken the decision unilaterally without consulting the Opposition, they alleged.

Congress MLAs, however, sat silently through the proceedings, bringing to the fore yet again the fact that the two principal Opposition parties were yet to take a united stand on many issues inside the Assembly.

Things worsened after Sinha congratulated the Left. His statement took even Congress MLAs, who were planning to join the Trinamul protesters, by surprise.

“I am disappointed and confused,” Congress MLA and former chief whip of the party, Abdul Mannan, said. “The CLP leader poured cold water on my plans to attack the government on the fee-hike issue,” he added.

But the Opposition’s discomfiture was reason for the government’s glee. Higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty praised Sinha for realising the truth. “Sinha is a senior legislator and a veteran political leader,” he said. “We are happy that he has realised the facts of the case,” the minister added.

But poor students will continue to get free education regardless of the government decision. The government’s policy was to take from the rich and give to the poor, he added.

“We shall definitely ensure that not a single person has to give up education midway for being unable to afford the tuition fee,” Chakraborty said.

“Why should we not take money from those who are capable of paying?” he asked.


Calcutta, July 16: 
CPM councillor of Salt Lake municipality Ramesh Bar was attacked last night by a group of construction workers in Sukantanagar.

Bar was admitted to a nursing home in critical condition. Eight persons have been arrested in this connection.

Police sources said last evening Bar had admonished some workers staying in the community hall in Salt Lake for making the hall dirty.

Later, he was attacked reportedly by a group of workers near Vidyaniketan ground in Sukantanagar.

They hit him with iron rods and also tried to stab him. He had to be operated upon in the nursing home.

Bar, CPM member of the Salt Lake local committee, is close to the anti-Subhas Chakraborty faction in the party’s North 24-Parganas district unit.

He controls the huge bheri (water body used for pisciculture) spread over parts of North and South 24-Parganas.

Bar enjoys a huge clout in the district CPM leadership after Pankaj Makal, a former CPM activist who used to control the bheris, crossed over to the Trinamul Congress.

Prominent district CPM leaders, who had opposed Chakraborty had reportedly helped Bar to get a ticket to contest the municipal polls.

Amitava Nandy, the district secretariat member of the CPM, said: “We are certain the attackers had tried to kill Bar and hit him repeatedly on his head with iron rods and other dangerous weapons. We have asked the police to unearth the motive and arrest the criminals,” he added.

Nandy, however, refused to believe that Trinamul supporters were involved in the incident.

“We have told the police that the attackers wanted to kill Bar and asked them to probe the incident,” he said.

Superintendent of police Kuldip Singh said Bar was attacked following a dispute with some youths. Police sources said Bar was responding to nature’s call when some youths made fun of him. He protested and the youths assaulted him, the sources said.

But a section of the CPM leadership in North 24-Parganas was not ready to buy this theory.

They claimed Bar was attacked within the jurisdiction of his own constituency (he is the councillor of ward 22).

It is unlikely, they said, that the youths would assault him knowing that he is their councillor.


Calcutta, July 16: 
The state information technology department is setting up two “knowledge pools” to help guide its ventures in e-governance, e-education and investments in the IT sector.

The department will convene meetings of these two committees in the first week of August, IT minister Manab Mukherjee said.

The department is approaching professionals in educational institutions like the IITs and IIMs as well universities to seek advice on how best to develop e-governance. Mukherjee said Bengal had its own socio-economic and cultural nuances and the needs of e-governance and education should be tuned to it. “We do not want to adopt a model developed elsewhere,” Mukherjee said.

A second committee comprising leaders in the IT investment sector as well the chambers of commerce will be convened to seek a policy on investments in the sector. “There has been no negative impact on the IT sector in the state which saw an investment of Rs 233 crore in the last financial year,” the minister said. With the introduction of e-governance and e-education, the state government stands to be the largest buyer of IT-related services in the state. “We will need over 50,000 computers and accessories in the next few years,” Mukherjee said.


Siliguri, July 16: 
The Darjeeling district police has become one of the biggest defaulters of the West Bengal State Electricity Board.

“Darjeeling police along with the state public health engineering department have been among the major defaulters for the past few years. Both the departments have outstanding power bills of over Rs. 10 lakh each. Repeated reminders to the departments have not yielded any results,” a senior state electricity board official said.

But no one from the board has so far “dared” to take steps to recover the dues.

Said the official: “Though we have set August 15 as the deadline for the police to clear its dues, who will bell the cat? All the power connections with the defaulting Darjeeling police are in the name of the superintendent of police. Earlier, the SP had submitted that the outstanding bills would be cleared by March 31, but they did not keep their promise. But the situation cannot be permitted to continue.

“For domestic consumers we can disconnect their electricity lines. This is not easy to do to the police, but we have no other alternative than to take some drastic measures.

“The public health engineering department, after several reminders, paid up Rs 2.5 lakh last year. But since then, the department has not shown any inclination to clear bills,” the official added.

Citing the case of a defaulting senior police officer of the rank of deputy inspector-general (DIG) who was recently hauled up for “illegal” consumption of electricity to the tune of Rs 13,000, the official said: “After we disconnected the DIG’s power line, we were threatened and pressured by senior people. Though the defaulting officer was fined Rs 13,000 the matter had to be settled as an outstanding bill and not as a fine.”

Defaults by domestic consumers, too, are a major concern for the board. The board has yet to recover huge outstanding bills amounting to over Rs 40 lakh from domestic consumers alone.

During a drive against defaulters and pilferage in May and June this year, the board realised over Rs 1.9 lakh.

“We are taking some special measures to stop tampering of electricity metres by unscrupulous consumers by installing electronic consumer metres in a phase-wise manner. This will curtail metre tampering to a great extent,” the official said.

The gram panchayats, too, have outstanding bills amounting to over Rs 4 lakh.


Agra, July 16: 
Pervez Musharraf and his team have scored a Kargil at the Agra Summit, this time in the media. Pakistan’s spin doctors have won for their General precious mileage that has left Indian media hounds gasping — and grasping — for information.

The sight of Musharraf tackling questions from the crème-de-la-crème of Indian journalism, the timing of the late night statement that put Kashmir first on the agenda of the summit and a near total blackout of official information till even seven hours after his meeting was beamed to international audiences, barely moved Indian media managers here. Late in the afternoon, a full day-and-a-half after the first meeting, the government distributed copies of the preliminary statement made by Vajpayee in his first 90-minute meeting with Musharraf.

“There are compulsions on my part to talk about Kashmir. If I ignore Kashmir, I better buy back Neharwali haveli back and stay here,” Musharraf told the editors, flooring them with his candour.

“They have taken the pants off the Indian side. For us there is a total information vacuum,” summed up Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook.

From Kargil to Agra, Musharraf, thus far identified in the mainstream media as architect of the 1999 war that killed hundreds of young Indians, has undergone a metamorphosis. If he is not being lionised, he is not being demonised either.

In the weeks following the summit, this could turn out to be the biggest loss for the Vajpayee administration that must be preparing to take the flak from the far Right. Already, Jammu and Kashmir Panthers’ Party chief Bhim Singh has circulated a statement that held the Prime Minister responsible for providing Musharraf with such a platform, a day after the general had also got his way in meeting Hurriyat leaders.

But Musharraf was only looking over his shoulder, mindful of the noise that he might have to face back home, if the summit ended on a win-win note for India.

“The general’s meeting with editors this morning tells the Pakistani audience that he continues to be steadfast in his commitment to the Kashmir dispute. Voices in Pakistan that were worrying over whether the Taj Summit and the Indian approach will waylay him can now be assured. Remember, Ayub Khan lost his job because he was perceived to have given in to the Indian side led by Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent,” a senior Pakistani pro-establishment columnist remarked.

Pakistan Television’s was the only crew allowed into Amar vilas for Musharraf’s meeting with editors this morning. They gave footage first to NDTV and then to other news channels.

Through the day, at the media centre and in the Mughal Sheraton, where most journalists are camping, hacks lazed around, monitoring television channels and turning to any and every low, middle and senior Indian official who came into sight.

It was in similar circumstances yesterday, that Union information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj gave her version of the summit story, minutes before the official briefing that was merely a sketchy statement to the effect that the talks were “very cordial”.

But Swaraj failed where Rashid Quereshi succeeded. The Pakistani major-general, a confidant of Musharraf and his official spokesman, just stuck to the statement and refused to answer questions on the issues of the talks despite being badgered no end. The Pakistani version did come out at night and ensured that it got full play while Swaraj was beginning to appear as the spoiler who had spoken out of turn.

“The (Indian) government should not have left it to a mere MEA spokesperson. Someone senior like Jaswant Singh at least should have been deputed,” remarked Vinod Mehta. MEA officials said they were going by the book and by orders.

One MEA official, refusing to be identified, said over telephone from Jaypee Palace Hotel — the venue of the summit — “we are talking serious business and are not indulging in a PR exercise. We will give out what we have to give out when we want to give it out.”


Agra, July 16: 
By deciding to let one Indian channel telecast President Pervez Musharraf’s morning meeting with the Indian editors, the officials of the Pakistan delegation took a calculated risk. It paid off, at least till the evening.

The officials must have judged the Pakistan President’s performance before allowing it to be telecast on an Indian channel. And it was “statesman-like”, as one senior Indian journalist said after watching the way he took the questions and replied to them.

The Pakistan side was, to put it mildly, thrilled. The excitement and exhilaration came after information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj’s — unwitting or deliberate — attempt to throw a spanner in the talks.

Musharraf appeared a seasoned statesman in his talks with the editors. He used the opportunity to set the tone of the talks later in the day by communicating to Indian authorities that he was willing to soften up some of the phrases that have been doing the rounds in the subcontinent for long.

The Pakistanis, at least some of them, were initially not able to make out the difference between a dispute and an issue when the general expressed his willingness to term Kashmir an issue, if the word dispute was not acceptable to the Indians.

Otherwise, rumours and conjectures held the field in the morning. “The talks have failed,” was the whisper that was going on. As no Pakistani official — or for that matter any Indian — was available to comment, many tended to take it seriously. But some others were still hopeful.

Spirits were up when Indian journalists were seen either appreciating Musharraf for his performance or criticising the editors for not hitting him hard enough.

The Pakistani press corps was so unsure of the developments that they checked out of the hotel. They were supposed to leave for Delhi by 3 pm. But they had to stay back as the talks continued.

On the Pakistani side, the desire for a joint news conference by Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was another point of excitement. Musharraf, some of the officials said, was insisting on holding a joint news conference with the Indian Prime Minister.

The rumours were that Vajpayee was reluctant to face the press. His ill-health could be one reason, but the Pakistanis thought that the Indians did not want to pit a “pause-ful” Vajpayee against an eloquent Musharraf, particularly after the general’s morning show.

As the wind changed, the feeling began to grow that the two leaders have the will and the courage to sort out their differences.

The fact that the two leaders have agreed to continue the talks is being seen as the Agra Achievement. Some window, as was being said, if not the door, should remain open.

The Pakistanis would be carrying more than a glimpse of Taj Mahal when they set out of Agra for home.


Kozhikode, July 16: 
As the world waited for the outcome of the Indo-Pak summit, some 200-odd people in Malappuram, a district in Kerala, were looking up to the high profile exercise for purely personal reasons.

They happen to be Pakistani citizens waiting for decades to get their legal status converted to Indian citizenship.

They were hoping that their long-standing pleas before the authorities of the two countries would be viewed positively in the context of the summit.

All the 200-odd people are of Malayali origin. A majority of them are old and ailing, staying on in various villages of Malappuram by periodically extending their temporary stay permits.

The reason for carrying on like this, without proper legal recognition or residentship, is their urge to spend their life in the region of their birth and their early upbringing.

These people had become Pakistani citizens as they were stuck in the Pakistani part of the then undivided India during Independence, primarily because of professional reasons.

Thalayail Muhammed Haji of Kundoor village said he really did not understand the import of Partition in 1947 and had thought the country would remain one for all practical purposes. But history proved otherwise.

Life in Pakistan was not happy for these people. Cut off from their close relatives, friends and the Malayali way of life, they yearned to return.

Many of them stayed back in Kerala at the first opportunity they got to come visiting, though some others made a few trips back and forth for professional reasons.

Those who were lucky to get travel papers to reach here say there are many “Malayalis in Pakistan who could not get permission to come out even once”.

But now these 200-odd “Pakistanis” of Malappuram do not want to return. They want to be treated as residents of India.

During the Nawaz Sharif regime in Pakistan, at the height of the Lahore Bus ride euphoria, it seemed that their applications to stay back would get the green signal. But the Kargil conflict spoiled that.


Ajmer, July 16: 

Devotees see ill omen

Disappointment was writ large in Ajmer following Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to call off his visit to the Gharib Nawaz shrine here today.

For the devotees, it was not a good omen. How could India-Pakistan relations normalise without Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti’s blessings? Onwan Chishti, a Khadim (servant of the shrine), pointed out that Musharraf had also cancelled his visit to Delhi’s shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia.

However, his views were contradicted by Syed Sarver Chishti, secretary of Monia Fakhria Chistia, who said it was Khwaja’s will that prevented Musharraf from coming here.

He recited a couplet: “Irade roz bante hain, magar tut jate hain, Ajmer wahi atein hain, jinhen Khwaja bulate hain (one makes up the mind each day but fails, only those visit Ajmer who are called by Khwaja).”

There was disbelief when the news of Musharraf’s no-show reached the shrine. After all, not even the Mughal emperors had done this. The disappointment turned into anger as if Musharraf had slighted the saint.

“At least he could have sent his wife. She prayed at Fatehpuri Sikri,” said Hamid Chishti, who was looking forward to see the President.

“I was a child when General Zia-ul-Haq had come. I saw Rajiv Gandhi, too. He had come without much security. It was sad that both Zia and Rajiv met violent deaths,” he added.

The saner elements tried to “discipline” the younger lot of Khadims. They said Musharraf had “genuine grounds” for calling off his visit.

“After all, the negotiations are crucial for millions. Work is worship. Atal Bihariji and he are trying to bring back peace and normality under difficult circumstances. In a way he is following Khwaja’s teachings. He will be called again,” Sarver said. He made it clear that no one, including heads of states, were invited to visit the shrine.

The two maroon-coloured chadars that were to be presented to Musharraf have now been returned to tosha khana (gift house). Sarvar said they would be handed over to the Pakistani delegation during the annual Urs. The chadars would then be placed over the shrine of Baba Farid and Datta Gunj near Lahore. Both were Moinuddin Chishti’s disciples.

The organisers do not know what to do with the long sipahnama (felicitation paper) containing a poetic description of the Musharrafs and praying for their health and happiness. They are in no mood to dispatch it to Musharraf.

For the time being, the document that was to be read out in the President’s presence will be kept, in case the general decided to pay a visit.

The district administration that had worked overtime for the past one week was relieved once it was official that Musharraf was not coming. There were too many problems before the local administration, ranging from bitter feuds within the shrine to law and order problems.

The hawks in the city had threatened to wash the shrine with Annasagar water after Musharraf’s visit to repeat what hardliners in Pakistan did hours after Atal Bihari Vajpayee paid respects at Minar-e-Pakistan two years ago.

For the majority of the residents, it was a lost opportunity to play host to a man in the news. Some said it was preferable that the “butcher” of Kargil was not coming. Others said Musharraf appeared sincere towards the peace process and it would have been “nice” if he had got Khwaja’s blessings. Rameshwar Bafna felt that Musharraf would come to Ajmer some time later as the peace initiative had just taken off. “The negotiations will go on and, perhaps, at some crucial juncture, both India and Pakistan will need Khwaja’s blessings,” he said.


Agra, July 16: 
It was the kuccha road of information that everyone connected with the Agra Summit trudged here today.

A shroud of secrecy accompanied almost everything to do with the summit, even the most mundane of things. The victims: hotel staff, expectant shopkeepers, journalists, security officials, tourism department personnel and information officers.

As the talks between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf swung wildly through the day, all programmes and schedules went haywire. First, Musharraf’s Ajmer trip got “delayed”. That was about 2 pm. Some minutes later, it got “postponed”.

Eventually, at around 5 pm, it was announced that Ajmer —- where the Pakistan President was supposed to offer a chadar at the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti —- had been struck off the itinerary.

But it wasn’t the change in programmes that really bothered the people. It was the lack of information or, rather, the reticence in sharing it on the part of external affairs ministry officials that got everyone’s goat.

Jatin Dawar of Dawar shoes, where Begum Sehba Musharraf was scheduled to shop today, was one victim. “We kept waiting for the Begum since 10 am because we had been told she would be coming around that time,” says Jatin. “But when she did not turn up by 1 pm we called up the information department. We were then asked to wait till 5 pm. It was only when a local journalist told us that the visit had been cancelled that we stopped hoping. It was then 6.30 pm. We had been waiting more than eight hours.”

The fate of journalists wasn’t much better either. At the media centre in the Mughal Sheraton, crew of various television channels could be seen dozing in their chairs.

More than 200 journalists kept waiting through the day for a news conference that never happened. Several stayed hungry as they didn’t want to take the “risk” of going out for a bite and missing even a part of it. Nothing moved throughout the day, neither news, nor journalists.

As Pradeep Gupta, deputy director, information, said: “No one knows anything for certain, information is just not coming in. Sab andhere main hain.”

But there were some hilarious moments also with people trying to squeeze out some publicity for themselves. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh announced in Agra that it was high time the Kohinoor diamond was brought back. “I will talk to our Prime Minister because I feel sincere efforts are not being made to get it back to India.”

Two Shiv Sena workers were arrested for burning the Pakistani flag. Police let them off the first time, but lost their cool when the Sainiks repeated the flag-burning for the benefit of cameramen. The Sainiks were then bundled off in waiting police vans.

Journalists, too, were not far behind. There were some incredible reports published in the “heat of the moment”. A Hindi daily in Ajmer ran a story saying Musharraf would postpone his return to Islamabad and stay back in Ajmer if it rained in the city during his scheduled visit at 4.05 pm.

Then there was another report which more than suggested that his begum would “sneak in” a visit to Lucknow and that her relatives were ready to welcome her.


Srinagar, July 16: 
Kashmir convulsed in a fresh spasm of violence as militants stormed two heavily-guarded army camps in northern Kupwara district last night, killing five armymen and wounding 13.

Thirty-six more people, including 25 militants, were killed across the state in the past 24 hours, adds PTI.

Police sources said a suicide squad attacked the fortified camp of 24 Rashtriya Rifles at Magam Handwara around midnight. In the heavy fighting that followed, the militants blasted grenades and fired indiscriminately, killing the five soldiers. Eight others were seriously injured.

Sources said the militants escaped after the attack even as reinforcements were rushed to the spot and massive searches ordered. Troops cordoned off the area but no one was arrested. The Lashkar-e-Toiba later phoned newspaper offices here, saying one of its activists was involved in the assault. “The fidayeen returned to his hideout after inflicting heavy casualties on the army,” PTI quoted a Lashkar spokesman as saying.

In another standoff, militants attacked a camp of the 21 Rashtriya Rifles in Zachaldara, a village in Kupwara, injuring five soldiers. The militants, sources said, fired grenades, then sprayed automatic fire on the camp before escaping into the darkness.

The attack on the army camps comes close on the heels of a major offensive by the army and security forces against militants during the last few days. Yesterday, in a single operation, 20 militants were gunned down in Poonch district.

Seven civilians suffered injuries after police fired on hundreds of protesters at Patusa, northern Baramullah. The demonstrators were protesting against the killing of four labourers allegedly by security forces last night during a search operation.

Police sources said the troops launched the search operation after militants fired a grenade at an army camp near the Baramullah stadium, injuring one soldier. During the house to house searches, the sources said, the troops came under fire from militants. One soldier was killed in the gunbattle that lasted till late night.

Today afternoon, the troops handed over bodies of six militants to the police for identification. However, four of those killed by the army were identified by the police and their relatives as innocent labourers. The bodies were sent to Patusa Rafiabad.

As the bodies were handed over to the relatives, hundreds of angry villagers took to the streets screaming anti-India slogans but were stopped by the police when they tried to march to the main town of Baramullah. The protesters, shouting pro-freedom slogans, turned their wrath on the police, pelting them with stones, forcing police to open fire.

The BSF today foiled an attempt by militants to attack Amarnath pilgrims with the arrest of two Harkat-ul-Ansar militants, a senior official of the paramilitary force said. The militants had also planned to carry out a scooter-bomb attack on the Civil Secretariat and storm security installations, including the BSF headquarters. BSF deputy inspector-general B.N. Kabu told reporters.


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