Basu tells party not to write off Trinamul
Allies protest govt ‘lies’
Asim rap on ‘errant’ banks
Protectors target crime-buster
Salvage mission at dam breaking point
Time for Trinamul to say yes or no
Allies congratulate PM
Meet on army proxy-vote
South successor riddle for Sonia
Memorial for the missing in Valley

 
 
BASU TELLS PARTY NOT TO WRITE OFF TRINAMUL 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 18: 
Jyoti Basu today urged the CPM not to underestimate the Trinamul Congress despite the Left Front’s decisive victory in the Assembly elections.

“We may have bagged 49 per cent votes, but we should remember that the Trinamul Congress, too, polled 39 per cent votes and this is not a mean achievement. This time, we got four seats less than what we had won last time. This proves that many Left supporters also voted for them,” Basu said while speaking at a Left Front meeting at Netaji Indoor Stadium to condole the death of former Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta.

Besides Basu, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, newly elected Front chairman Biman Bose and leaders from various minor Front constituents also spoke. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was present, but he did not address the gathering. Leaders from the Congress, SUCI and PDS were present as well. State BJP president Asim Ghosh and vice-president Muzaffar Khan and chief secretary Manish Gupta placed wreaths on Dasgupta’s portrait.

Basu asked party workers to travel around Bengal to woo back those who had supported Trinamul. “I strongly feel that a large section of the people was misled and it is our responsibility to put them on the right track,” he said, adding that a party which has no other agenda but “politics of violence” could not survive in Indian politics.

Basu advised partymen not to be complacent about the poll results but work harder to “strengthen” the Front to fight the Opposition.

Recounting Dasgupta’s “polite behaviour” towards partymen and the Front constituents, Basu said: “We have learnt from Sailen how to behave with others but I have no qualms about admitting that some of our party workers are intolerant in their day-to- day dealings despite repeated warnings.”

Biswas, in his brief speech, criticised Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee for not being present at Dasgupta’s condolence meeting. Without naming Mamata, Biswas said no one from Trinamul was present at the condolence meeting. He described Dasgupta as a “true communist” and said that he used to enquire about petty organisational matters even when he was in hospital.

Bose, the new Left Front chairman, said Dasgupta shared good relations with all the minor Front partners when there was a crisis. “Sailenda could easily tackle the situation when differences cropped up among Front partners,” he said.

Paying tribute to Dasgupta, Surjeet said communists have a larger responsibility now that the country is passing through a crisis. He criticised the BJP-led coalition at the Centre for its anti-people policies. Surjeet also criticised Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for initiating a dialogue with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf without any prior agenda.

“The talks failed as both leaders met in Agra without any agenda,” he said.

   

 
 
ALLIES PROTEST GOVT ‘LIES’ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 18: 
Noisy scenes marred proceedings in the Assembly today as Congress and Trinamul MLAs walked out over the “untrue” statement and “inaccurate data” placed by two ministers on separate issues.

The legislators walked out after parliamentary affairs minister Probodh Sinha read out a statement on the recent arrest of three Trinamul MLAs in Asansol in Burdwan district.

Sinha said the three legislators, Moloy Ghatak, Kalyan Banerjee and Manik Upadhay, had gone to the Asansol (south) police station on Saturday demanding the release of Trinamul supporters who were arrested for putting up a road-block in front of a local nursing home. The supporters were protesting against the death of a patient due to the negligence of doctors.

What angered the Opposition MLAs today was Sinha’s statement that the three Trinamul legislators had not been detained by the police but that they had willingly stayed back at the police station. The Opposition MLAs said the information was “completely false” and walked out.

Earlier, during the question-answer session, there were heated exchanges between members of the Opposition and the treasury benches.

Congress and Trinamul members demanded that the government give correct information on its plan of action on the report of a consultant, Partha Ghosh Associates, that was appointed in 1996 to conduct a district-wise study on industry opportunities in the state.

The trouble arose after Trinamul’s Sougata Roy asked industry minister Nirupam Sen what his government had done about setting up new industries in the districts after getting the report. Sen replied that the government had not appointed any such company to conduct the study.

The remark infuriated the Opposition MLAs who urged the Speaker, H.A. Halim, to ask Sen to correct his mistake. As the industry minister stood by his statement, the Speaker continued with the proceedings.

However, Sen, after consulting with officials of his department, told the House that what he had said was “wrong”. The government, he said, did appoint the consultant for conducting the study, but was yet to take any action on the report.

   

 
 
ASIM RAP ON ‘ERRANT’ BANKS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 18: 
Finance minister Asim Dasgupta is not happy with the way some nationalised banks have cold-shouldered the government’s self-employment generation schemes.

Irked by the low rate of loan disbursals in 14 banks, Dasgupta had set Wednesday as the deadline for these “errant” institutions to rectify. Dasgupta said if the banks failed to answer the state government’s queries by July 31, he will ensure that the state government withdraws the Rs 50 crore kept with these banks as the state’s contribution towards the schemes.

“Last financial year, 250,000 loan applications for self-employment schemes were sent to the banks. The banks sanctioned 175,000 of them but disbursed funds to only 21,000 individuals,” Dasgupta said.

The aggressive stand comes after yesterday’s meeting the finance minister had with the state-level banking committee. The departments of panchayats, youth services, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes and municipal affairs are the ones which select applications and send them for processing for loans.

   

 
 
PROTECTORS TARGET CRIME-BUSTER 
 
 
FROM TARAKNATH DEY
 
Dankuni, July 18: 
A sub-inspector of the government railway police was allegedly assaulted by railway protection force personnel in Dankuni railway yard on Monday.

Superintendent of government railway police Benoy Chakraborty said the sub-inspector, Gandhi Saha, was brutally beaten up after he tried to stop a few RPF personnel from smuggling coal. Four of the eight RPF personnel named in the FIR have been suspended.

Saha, whose condition deteriorated, was shifted from the Uttarpara state general hospital to a Chandannagore nursing home last night. “Saha has serious internal injuries and a few broken ribs. They (the RPF jawans) broke three of his teeth. There is a lot of swelling as well. Doctors said that he is still in grave danger,” Chakraborty said.

Trouble began last month when Saha took charge as a sub-inspector of Dankuni railway police station. “A few strolls at the yard area after dark was enough for Saha to understand the vicious racket involved in coal smuggling,” said an official. He added that on several occasions, “Gandhi was warned by the railway protection personnel not to meddle in their affairs”.

On Monday, Saha received information that RPF personnel and a few local hoodlums were at their game again. Around 11.30 am, Saha, along with only two constables, reached a desolate area of the yard when two RPF personnel caught him from behind.

“While two of them held me from the back, one snatched my service revolver. I could not find my constables. They started beating me mercilessly. Abusing me all the time, they said I will pay with my life,” Saha alleged in his complaint. “They even tried to hurl Saha under a speeding goods train, but the timely intervention of a few constables saved him,” Chakraborty added.

A profusely bleeding Saha was taken to the Uttarpara hospital in an unconscious state. “This is nothing new. Coal worth lakhs of rupees is smuggled out of the Dankuni railway yard,” Chakraborty said.

RPF officers, however, denied the charge. The deputy commandant-II, Raja Ram, refused to comment on the issue.

   

 
 
SALVAGE MISSION AT DAM BREAKING POINT 
 
 
FROM DEBABRATA MOHANTY
 
Bhubaneswar, July 18: 
The Orissa government today opened 51 of the 64 sluice gates of the Hirakud dam after torrential rains in the upper catchment area of the Mahanadi river threatened to burst the reservoir even as swirling flood waters cut off vast areas in the state. Water level in the dam has reached 628.35 feet, perilously close to the maximum capacity mark of 630 feet.

By 2 pm today, the dam was flushing out a staggering 8.53 lakh cusecs of water against an inflow of 7.85 lakh cusecs to bring down the water level to at least 628 feet. “We can’t endanger Hirakud dam at any cost. To keep Hirakud safe, we have to release more water and bring it down to 625 feet,” chief secretary D.P. Bagchi said at a press briefing here.

The dam, built four decades ago, is one of the longest in the country and can wash away thousands of people if it bursts.

With Hirakud releasing so much water, the worsening flood situation in the state is threatening to spin out of control as several rivers have breached their embankments, affecting more than 50 lakh people.

There were at least 15 major breaches in the river embankments in Cuttack, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur and Nayagarh districts.

More than 10 lakh marooned residents of 11 districts are still clamouring for relief as inclement weather hampered salvage operations. Six Air Force helicopters could make only 12 sorties during the day.

“At present, the weather is an impediment. Visibility is too low. Besides, there are few dry places left for us to airdrop food packets,” Indian Air Force Wing Commander Vivek Sawalkar said at Bhubaneswar airport this morning after helicopters made four sorties to affected areas like Indupur in Kendrapara district and Nayagarh. Incessant rains have left the food-packet laden MI8 helicopters stranded.

According to a member of the IAF task force, places like Nimapara, Kanas, Delang and Gop (all in Puri district); Athmallik (in Angul district) and Niali, Bharatpur and Banki in Cuttack resemble a “sea” with huge stretches of water everywhere.

With road communications badly hit, reporters, too, are having a harrowing time reaching the affected areas.

The Mahanadi and its branch rivers continued to spurt water through breaches as a record amount of 14 lakh cusecs flowed through the Munduli-Naraj barrage of the river. Officials said the flood situation would continue to be critical till Friday as the nine lakh cusecs of water being released from Hirakud would flood the coastal districts and those located upstream of the Mahanadi for the second time.

State officials say the situation would become more serious because of the low pressure formation moving towards the catchment area of the river. “It’s very critical,” the state revenue secretary said.

The chief secretary, however, asserted that there was no shortage of foodgrain or cattlefeed. More than 320 tonnes of cattlefeed have been sent to the flood-hit areas. Besides, organisations like the Ramakrishna Mission are being given 500 metric tonnes of rice to start free-kitchen services in areas which are the worst hit.

Four army columns have been sent to the marooned areas of Puri and Jagatsinghpur, two of the worst-hit districts in the current floods. One more army engineering column would reach soon to repair about 50 roads cut off by the floods. Rail communication to Sambalpur has also been disrupted with the floods damaging the Jharsuguda-Samblapur railway tracks.

The Union Cabinet today sanctioned Rs 100 crore as interim assistance for relief and rescue operations following chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s request for Rs 200 crore.

   

 
 
TIME FOR TRINAMUL TO SAY YES OR NO 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 18: 
Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress expects the process of its return into the NDA fold to enter a decisive stage tonight.

NDA convener George Fernandes is expected to flag off the re-induction process on his return from Mongolia late tonight, two officials known to be part of Mamata’s think-tank said.

It is important for Mamata to time her return to the Centre in the next 48 hours as the Prime Minister is reportedly mulling a ministerial shuffle before Parliament convenes for the monsoon session on Monday.

“Tomorrow and the day after are most crucial for us. We will have to take a decision —- yes or no —- by Friday so that Mamata can make an announcement at her rally in Esplanade on Saturday in memory of the 13 youths killed in police firing eight years ago,” said a senior party official.

“In a meeting last week, we unanimously authorised Mamata to take the final decision on rejoining the ruling coalition. Whatever her decision is, we will accept it. Let one thing be clear: we are not interested to join anywhere without honour and prestige,” Trinamul spokesman Sudip Bandopadhyay said.

Party sources said the immediacy of Trinamul’s return would depend on the kind of initiative Fernandes took and the manner in which Atal Bihari Vajpayee would like him to proceed.

“The two key players in the next two days are Vajpayee and Fernandes and we have information that both are keen to have Mamata in the coalition. They have also understood the mood and intention of Trinamul. Also, leaders of other NDA constituents, particularly in the DMK, are very pleased with the way Mamata reacted to the Karunanidhi incident. So we think we are favourably poised,” said a party official.

Senior Trinamul leaders, however, cautioned that Mamata’s return would be difficult without an “adequate gesture” from Vajpayee or the NDA top brass.

“We can’t just go over and rejoin the NDA on our own. After the party’s debacle in the Bengal polls, if Mamata has to volunteer herself to the NDA it will look as if she has begged for it. We believe the NDA leadership understands our position, so we expect some kind of invitation. It’s just that Mamata wants to return with her head held high,” sources said.

If the “required signal” does not come by Friday, Mamata might decide to sit in a neutral area in the Lok Sabha and lend issue-based support to the government, sources added.

With Trinamul inching closer to the NDA, a large section of the party wants to snap ties with the Congress. “Bitterness with the Congress is on the rise and a major section of the party wants the alliance to end,” said a Trinamul official.

   

 
 
ALLIES CONGRATULATE PM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 18: 
The NDA today unanimously congratulated Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for taking a tough stand on “nationalist” issues at the Agra summit.

The BJP’s allies also expressed concern at the threat by militant outfits to step up violence in Jammu and Kashmir and urged the Centre not to take them lightly.

The NDA, which met this evening at Vajpayee’s residence for the first time after the summit, was briefed by the Prime Minister, with external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and home minister L.K. Advani filling in the blanks.

Vajpayee said he would make a statement on the summit on July 23, the opening day of the monsoon session of Parliament.

The meeting is part of a public relations exercise initiated by Vajpayee ostensibly to carry his coalition partners with the government’s point of view on Agra and ensure no dissenting note was raised in Parliament.

The Shiv Sena, in particular, criticised the Pakistan President’s meeting with the Hurriyat Conference in Delhi and was resentful of the Indian government taking a “lenient” view of the event.

Tomorrow, Vajpayee has convened an all-party meeting. NDA sources said the meeting would reflect the Opposition’s views on the summit and give the government enough time to prepare its defence against possible criticism.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said: “All the NDA allies said they were happy that the Prime Minister had projected India’s viewpoint on nationalist issues very strongly. They congratulated the Prime Minister and nobody made an issue of the fact that the summit did not produce a joint agreement.”

Mahajan, who filled in for NDA convener George Fernandes — expected to return from Mongolia tonight — said neither Vajpayee nor the NDA representatives raised the subject of his prospective visit to Islamabad.

“Even the Prime Minister did not bring it up because Pervez Musharraf himself returned to Pakistan only the day before yesterday and, I am sure, even at the official level no discussion has started yet,” he said.

Mahajan indicated that the visit may not even take place this year. “Parliament is in session until August and in September the Prime Minister will attend the UN session. In October, a trip to Russia is scheduled and a visit to Japan, called off earlier, is also pending. In November, it will be time for the winter session. In any case, the Prime Minister and the foreign minister will take a decision at an appropriate time,” he said.

The NDA, he said, did not even go into the question of whether the summit was a success or not. “When both governments said it was a successful meeting and when the NDA congratulated the Prime Minister, I take it that the summit was a success,” Mahajan said.

   

 
 
MEET ON ARMY PROXY-VOTE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 18: 
The Centre has decided to convene an all-party meeting to work out a consensus on proxy-voting for the armed forces.

The Cabinet today authorised law minister Arun Jaitley to call the meeting after some parties, including the BJP, demanded that the passage of a Bill be expedited to give armed forces personnel a chance to exercise voting rights.

If all parties agree, a Bill will be passed during Parliament’s monsoon session starting on Monday.

“The government feels the armed forces is a special category and 90 per cent of them never get a chance to vote,” parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said after the Cabinet meeting.

The proxy-voting proposal was held up last year because of sharp differences among political parties.

A standing committee of Parliament headed by senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee was then set up to study if such a proposal was practicable.

But there were differences in the committee with some members suggesting that the postal system be improved and others proposing that armed forces personnel be allowed to vote over Internet.

The Cabinet has also decided to get the Bill on Indian Council of World Affairs incorporating changes in its administrative structure passed by Parliament. The Centre has taken over the ICWA following allegations of corruption and misuse of premises.

The new Bill seeks to replace an Ordinance which was re-promulgated after an earlier Bill passed by the Lok Sabha was held up in the Rajya Sabha.

The Congress had strongly opposed the earlier Bill which proposed that the external affairs minister be appointed ICWA president.

Under the new Bill, the Vice-President will be ICWA president and the external affairs minister its vice-president.

Five Lok Sabha members will be nominated by the Speaker to the governing council. Three Rajya Sabha members will similarly be nominated by the chairman of the Upper House.

The council will also have academics and representatives of trade bodies as its members.

   

 
 
SOUTH SUCCESSOR RIDDLE FOR SONIA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 18: 
Sonia Gandhi’s southern blues refused to go away as fresh trouble erupted in the Tamil Nadu Congress with MP Mani Shankar Aiyar siding with Jayalalitha and demanding the ouster of state party chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan.

Reacting to the developments, Sonia Gandhi has sought a report from AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad on Elangovan’s favouring snapping of ties with the ADMK.

During the Tamil Nadu Assembly polls, too, Elangovan had opposed the tieup with the ADMK.

Senior party leaders want Sonia to rein in both Aiyar and Elangovan. There have been numerous instances where Sonia had to intervene to “discipline” Elangovan. Party sources said if Azad’s report goes against the TNCC chief, he may have to go.

The latest round of Elangovan-Aiyar showdown began when the TNCC chief said the Congress should maintain “equi-distance” from both the DMK and the ADMK and work for the establishment of “Kamraj rule” in Tamil Nadu.

He was speaking on the birth anniversary of the late K. Kamraj. Jayalalitha protest- ed, demanding Elangovan’s head, and Aiyar joined the chorus.

Aiyar was quoted as having said even a chaprasi (peon) at the TNCC would have behaved better. He wondered how Elangovan could decide on whether to continue with the alliance.

Aiyar claimed that he had got a clearance from the “high command” to speak against Elangovan. He had earlier risen in defence of Jayalalitha when she had her arch-rival M. Karunanidhi arrested.

Party leaders said the problem for Sonia was not so much to sack Elangovan as to find his successor.

After the Assembly polls, Sonia had thought her southern problems would end with the merger of Tamil Maanila Congress with the parent organisation. But TMC chief G.K. Moopanar has now developed cold feet on “home-coming”.

In Sonia’s scheme of things, Moopanar’s return was important as she could have got a “regional satrap” to run the party not only in Tamil Nadu but also provide assistance in neighbouring Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

From the days of Indira Gandhi, Moopanar had emerged as a key factor in southern politics. When he left the Congress during P.V. Narasimha Rao’s regime, his presence was missed in the Congress Working Committee.

In 1996, while chairing a central election committee meeting, Rao enquired about Moopanar when he wanted some information on a particular Andhra Pradesh seat. R.K. Dhawan, who was seated close to Rao, had to remind him that Moopanar was no longer in the party.

   

 
 
MEMORIAL FOR THE MISSING IN VALLEY 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar July 18: 
Ashiq Hussain left his home town Handwara in northern Kupwara early this morning with his mother Dilshada. The three-year-old boy was going to erect a memorial to his missing father.

Ashiq was born a few days before his father was taken away by securitymen in civvies from the main bus-stand at Batmallo. They had said the man would be freed within minutes.

“I waited for several hours and he never returned. Later, I went back to Handwara with my son,” said Dilshada, wiping her tears and holding her son’s hand as he laid the foundation stone of the monument to be raised near the “martyr’s” graveyard at Idd Gah in memory of “missing” persons.

Ashiq had company. Other children — Romie Khan and Dil Badyari — whose parents are also missing. They laid the foundation stone amid pro-freedom chants.

The monument is being built by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons which claims that between 3,000 and 4,000 people in the age group of 17-40 are missing in Kashmir since 1990.

“We have so far documented 500 cases of missing persons,” said Parvez Imroze, a lawyer and founder-member of the association.

Fayaz Ahmad Beigh, a photographer in the Kashmir university, was picked up by the special operations group (SOG) of the state police from his office on September 6, 1997.

His father says the police admitted that he had been arrested but later told him that “he has run away from their custody”. He said an inquiry ordered by the deputy home minister confirmed Fayaz’s arrest. “I later approached the state human rights commission. The commission chairman ordered payment of Rs 5 lakh and asked me to register a case against the SOG, Pulwama. The report was sent to the state government but till date no action has been taken.”

“By building this monument, we have a simple message for the future generations and the rest of the world: never again will we allow our community to bleed this way,” said Imroze.

He added that the association was founded in 1994, a few years after militancy erupted in Kashmir and several people were taken into custody and never returned. The association is campaigning to “stop this inhuman practice”.

Said Zahir-ud-Din, another founding-member: “One needs this monument because the relatives don’t even have graves to visit and remember their loved ones. The memorials constructed for ‘enforced disappearances’ in Latin America and Sri Lanka are a healthy example of how one can still remember the missing people.

“Both young and old have disappeared in custody as the various security agencies are equipped with draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act,” he added.

The monument will bear the names of the missing people. “At least we will have some solace with today’s laying of the foundation stone as we can offer Fateha prayers (prayers after death) at the monument. This monument will be the only possible evidence of the hundreds of people missing in Kashmir,” said Dilshada.

   
 

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