Marxists top Martyr’s Day hit list
Probe ordered into sales tax scam
Six die of encephalitis in Siliguri
Work culture shock
No plans to write off farm loans
Nepal, Bengal rebels in team-work pact
Land dispute row erupts in Sonarpur
BJP labels Jaswant Agra ‘villain’
Uplink cloud on breakfast show
Milk and Ganga jal for Pervez haveli

 
 
MARXISTS TOP MARTYR’S DAY HIT LIST 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 20: 
When Mamata Banerjee holds her first major post-poll rally here tomorrow on the occasion of Trinamul’s “Martyr’s Day”, CPM-bashing, not the Trinamul’s possible return to the NDA, will top the agenda.

The same day, suspended party MP Ajit Panja will hold a parallel rally at Chinsurah. He appears determined to put up a good show which will “convince” the NDA leadership about his “political credibility”.

Mamata will target the ruling Marxists for their “misrule and post-poll terror”. She is also expected to lash out at chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for his “failure to take action against sports minister Subhas Chakraborty over the Salt Lake stadium scandal”.

Mamata, who has already directed her party MPs to raise “the CPM’s Assembly poll rigging” in the monsoon session of the Lok Sabha, feels the state government’s bid to “cover up the CPM-criminal nexus” has only vindicated her earlier charge that the stadium and other government establishments were used by the CPM cadre “to rig the elections”.

The Trinamul chief, who will reiterate her demand for a CBI probe into the stadium incident at her mass rally, feels the Marxists are not really interested in unearthing the truth behind the stadium arrests as that would open “a Pandora’s Box”.

Besides highlighting the stadium issue, Mamata is expected to announce her party’s intention to go it alone in the state without formally snapping ties with the Congress. She will also give a call for the formation of a broad-based anti-CPM platform to take on the Marxists in the 2003 panchayat polls.

Trinamul sources said Mamata may attack Panja and his associates without naming them and charge the suspended MP with “secretly conniving with the CPM” to wreck her party from within. She has already made it clear to the BJP leadership that she will not consider a return to the NDA if Panja is taken back in the Vajpayee Cabinet.

The Trinamul leader has directed Akbar Ali Khondakar and Ananda Mohan Biswas, party MPs from Serampore and Nabadwip, to mobilise supporters from Hooghly and Nadia districts for her rally. While Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee has instructed every councillor to bring at least 2,000 workers to the meeting, Paresh Pal and Sultan Ahmed will organise colourful processions in central Calcutta, which will terminate at the site of the rally.

The Trinamul leaders are not certain about the turnout from the largest district, Midnapore, in view of the “continuation of CPM’s terror on party supporters”, as well as factional squabbles between MLA Sisir Adhikari and the newly-appointed district president Dipak Ghosh.

Sanjoy Bakshi, Trinamul Youth Congress president, has booked a number of dharmashalas in Burrabazar to provide overnight accommodation to hundreds of party workers from north Bengal districts.

Panja, on his part, has made elaborate arrangements at Chinsurah to make his rally a success. He has opened “temporary party camps” at some marriage venues to provide accommodation to his supporters who arrive from Calcutta and other districts. Panja is being assisted by Tapan Dasgupta and Bani Sinha Roy who were recently expelled by the Trinamul leader for “anti-party activities”.

   

 
 
PROBE ORDERED INTO SALES TAX SCAM 
 
 
FROM DEBARATI AGARWALA
 
Malda, July 20: 
The district authorities have ordered a high-level probe into irregularities in sales-tax collection of more than Rs 3.5 crore.

During 1999-2000, Rs 5.49 crore was deposited in the treasury against sales tax collection of Rs 6.58 crore, according to reports. The next year, Rs 5.82 crore was deposited against a collection of Rs 8.35 crore. District magistrate Ajit Ranjan Bardhan has informed the finance department and the sales tax commissioner that the “discrepancy is quite serious as it may be a case of fake challans”.

The anomaly was detected at a meeting on July 16 convened by additional district magistrate Rajesh Kumar Sinha when Bardhan was away in Calcutta. After Sinha detected the anomaly, he promptly took up the matter with the district sales tax officials.

The assistant sales tax commissioner of Malda, Kalyan Chandra Das, was at a loss to explain the huge difference in the money collected as tax and the money deposit in the treasury. “I just can’t understand how there can be such a huge difference. We are trying to find out what could have led to the anomaly,” said Das.

Sinha said the district administration had taken a serious view of the irregularity. “We are not ruling out a large-scale fraud at this stage. A high-level inquiry has also been ordered. We have detected an irregularity of more than Rs 3.5 crore in the past two fiscal years,” he added. The district authorities have also sought sales-tax collection records of the past 10 years from the district sales tax department.

District treasury officials said the sales tax department should hold a meeting with them every month to exchange notes on tax collected by and the amount deposited with the treasury department. “But, over the past few years, the sales tax department is not keeping in touch with us regularly,” a treasury official said.

   

 
 
SIX DIE OF ENCEPHALITIS IN SILIGURI 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, July 20: 
Panic gripped Siliguri after six persons died of encephalitis at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital.

Experts called the killer disease “meningo encephalitis”. It wasn’t contagious, they assured. But memories of the mystery malaise that struck the town in February and March, claiming more than 45 lives, lay fresh in the minds of residents.

Superintendent of the medical college, Dr Subir Banerjee, said: “Six patients admitted with symptoms of meningo encephalitis have died in the past two days. Four of them died on Thursday and two on Wednesday.”

The disease is not “contagious” and there is no point in panicking, said Indrajit Banerjee, a medical expert attached with the Siliguri sub-divisional hospital. “Though meningo encephalitis has a mortality rate of over 30 per cent, it is not as fatal as some other forms of encephalitis like the dreaded Japanese B. If detected and treated at an early stage, the disease is curable. But the cured patients may suffer form certain physical disabilities.”

The medical college superintendent said: “All the victims were referred to the hospital at an advanced stage. The patients stricken with the disease, common throughout the year, had symptoms of severe headache, nausea and high fever. If detected in time, it can be cured.”

Five more patients with similar symptoms are being treated at the hospital. Nursing homes here are allegedly refusing to admit patients with high fever.

   

 
 
WORK CULTURE SHOCK 
 
 
FROM ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
 
Khargram (Murshidabad), July 20: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s diktat about work culture may be evident at Writers’ Buildings, but its impact is yet to be felt at the Murshidabad district administration.

When the district magistrate (DM) Vivek Kumar visited the Khargram block development office this morning he found that 27 employees out of 49 were absent and 11 were on tour. Even BDO Prabir Chatterjee reported for duty at 10.45 am instead of 10 am. The BDO’s excuse is that he did not stay in Khargram and attended office from Kandi.

Kumar, however, was not moved and issued a showcause notice to Chatterjee. “Chatterjee has been given five days to reply and we will take stern measures if his explanation is not satisfactory,” Kumar said. The DM added that he had earlier issued showcause notices to five BDOs on the same ground. “Those punished are now attending office on time,” he said.

The district administration has recently set up a high-power committee comprising the district magistrate, the superintendent of police and the zilla sabhadhipati to restore work culture in government establishments. The committee is now busy paying surprise visits to government offices to book those who are habitual latecomers and those who shirk work. The visit to Khargram was part of this exercise.

When Kumar reached the Khargram office with district police chief Rajesh Kumar at 10 am, only four employees had reported for duty. Even joint BDO Satchidananda Banerjee was not present in his chamber when the committee reached the office. Banerjee, who stays at his quarters in the office campus, arrived after being informed by some employees about the visit of the team.

Seven employees, who reported for duty after 10.45 am, were marked absent. All employees who arrived late were issued showcause notices.

“The attendance register indicated that 11 employees are on tour. I don’t find any reason for so many employees to be on tour,” an aggrieved Kumar said.

Bolstered by today’s development, officials from both the district administration and the police have planned regular joint visits to government offices in Murshidabad. “We are taking all possible steps to improve work culture in government offices in the district,” said Rajesh Kumar.

   

 
 
NO PLANS TO WRITE OFF FARM LOANS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 20: 
Cooperation minister Naren De announced today that the government had no plans to write off loans given to poor farmers last year.

He, however, added that the farmers would be given a longer time to repay their loans.

Many of the farmers who had taken loans found it difficult to repay them after last year’s devastating floods.

The minister told the Assembly that though attempts to recover loans met with a setback, the government has so far recovered 63 per cent of the total loan amount.

De said the government had sanctioned long-term loans totalling Rs 303.93 crore and short-term loans to the tune of Rs 76.27 crore.

   

 
 
NEPAL, BENGAL REBELS IN TEAM-WORK PACT 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Kakarvitta (Indo-Nepal border), July 20: 
Emboldened by their growing influence in Nepal, Maoist rebels have forged close ties with insurgent outfits in north Bengal and the Northeast. They have formed an umbrella organisation to provide tactical support to each other.

Indian intelligence agencies are concerned about a secret meeting between the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) at Birgunj in eastern Nepal last month.

Sources said they have more reason for concern now that the extremists in Nepal have received a shot in the arm with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala resigning, raising their hopes of a communist republic.

Nepalese intelligence officials confirmed that a high-level meeting between Maoist leaders and the Indian insurgent outfits took place on June 20 on the outskirts of Birgunj town in Jhapa district in eastern Nepal. Top Bhutan-based KLO and NDFB militants were reported to have attended the secret meeting.

“We have information that the Maoists have sought both arms and safe houses from militants in north Bengal and Assam. They lack sophisticated firepower, which the KLO and the Bodo outfits have. The Indian insurgents have promised to provide them with arms,” the Nepalese official said.

“The Indian rebels also promised to provide arms training to the Maoists in camps in eastern Nepal, mostly in Ilham and Jhapa districts. Though we have been keeping a close tab on the Maoist rebels, the meeting could not be detected on time,” the official said.

Indian intelligence officials are afraid that there could be a likely connection between the Indian rebels, the Nepal Maoists and the ISI.

“The meeting is of great concern to us. We are trying to ascertain whether any ISI operatives were present during the talks,” said an intelligence officer based in Siliguri.

“What is even more worrying is that the militants have drawn up plans to destabilise the vulnerable Siliguri corridor, which is being increasingly used by Bhutan-based north-eastern militant outfits for both routing arms as well as a transit point to a third country,” the official said.

“The insurgent groups could be gathering funds and working in tandem with Pakistani mercenaries based in Kathmandu. It is through Kathmandu that Northeast militant groups, including the NDFB, KLO, National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and Ulfa gather funds and then start operations in countries like Bhutan and Bangladesh,” the official said.

“Taking advantage of the situation along the eastern border of Nepal, some of which are under the control of Maoists, Ulfa has managed to establish its transit camps at Ilham, Jhapa, Tapelgunj and Panchtar in Nepal. Ulfa and NDFB have also been procuring arms and ammunition via this Nepal corridor,” an army intelligence official pointed out.

   

 
 
LAND DISPUTE ROW ERUPTS IN SONARPUR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Sonarpur (South 24-Parganas), July 20: 
Nearly 200 armed criminals raided a number of houses in the Mukundapur-Sonarpur belt of South 24-Parganas this morning over what residents believe to be a land dispute. They fired indiscriminately from revolvers and threw bombs, injuring some of the residents. One of the criminals, identified as Bhulu Rang (41), was severely beaten up. He died on way to hospital.

A police picket has been posted in the area to maintain law and order. Superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly said police have learnt the names of some of the gang members and they will be arrested soon.

Trouble broke out around 9.15 am when criminals came to the area after crossing the adjacent bheris by boat. Their faces were covered with towels.

Sanchayani Sen, a resident, said: “Today’s trouble started over land sale in the area. The gang was led by a relation of the original owner from whom we have purchased the land. He had been threatening us for a long time by declaring the entire sale illegal. The attackers not only ransacked the existing houses but also razed the walls built around the vacant plots.”

Mili Pal, whose house was ransacked, said: “I was cooking in my kitchen and husband was away from home. Suddenly, the criminals appeared and started ransacking the house before I could realise anything. They threw everything out of the house. As I tried to resist, they started beating me.”

Shyamal Mondal, a local Trinamul Congress leader, however, said the attackers were “CPM activists”. But CPM leaders refuted the allegation.

   

 
 
BJP LABELS JASWANT AGRA ‘VILLAIN’ 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, July 20: 
Foreign minister Jaswant Singh has apparently emerged as the BJP’s fall guy for the Agra talks breakdown.

Party sources said the BJP national executive —- which meets next weekend —- will discuss the summit in detail, and the exercise may include an assessment of the foreign ministry’s role.

Singh, never a favourite with the Sangh parivar, came under a cloud after the BJP got reports suggesting that he had made amendments in a draft of the aborted Agra agreement in his own hand. The draft, sent by Pakistan to be vetted by India, was returned to Singh’s counterpart Abdul Sattar with the changes.

“We are now almost certain that Pakistan will publicly exhibit the draft copy with Singh’s handwritten changes as proof of our endorsement. It will also try and use this as the basis for all future talks,” BJP sources said.

Though a foreign ministry spokesperson had said two days ago that the Agra talks would not be a benchmark for the future, the BJP fears Pakistan may show the document as “evidence” of India’s ratification and use it to bolster its thesis that an “invisible hand” had been at work to scuttle the summit.

The BJP also voiced its disapproval of the foreign ministry’s media “mismanagement”. A team of party officials, headed by J.P. Mathur, called on A.B. Vajpayee this morning to share its views on the issue, but the Prime Minister did not respond. “It was an utter failure of the ministry of external affairs,” BJP sources said. “The Pakistan foreign minister was in constant touch with the press but Jaswant Singh did not even try to brief the Indian press selectively. He was simply inaccessible.”

Sources argued that Sushma Swaraj was being made a “scapegoat for no fault of hers”. “Maybe, she was asked to give a limited briefing at a particular point and she did her job. Our information is Pakistan’s note-takers in the one-to-one sessions were in constant touch with their military spokesman. But no such effort was made by our MEA.”

If Singh has fallen several notches in the summit scorecard, home minister L.K. Advani has come up trumps. The BJP office-bearers have sought an appointment to congratulate him for the summit’s “success” as they did Vajpayee this morning. “We equally congratulate Advani because he is as much responsible for the summit’s success as Vajpayee,” sources said.

BJP sources claimed Advani’s presence made “all the difference between success and failure”. Signing an agreement would have amounted to failure in the BJP’s view and, sources claimed, Advani was largely responsible for blocking it.

Asked what Advani’s role was, sources said: “We gather he was the only one vigilant enough to spot the clause Pakistan had inserted in the final draft, which stated that the nine points in the agreement were conditioned by a forward movement on Jammu and Kashmir. Advaniji put his foot down on this and that was the end of the talks.”

Sources stressed that while the decision to call off the negotiations was taken collectively by Vajpayee, Advani and Singh, it was the home minister who “must have taken the lead”.

A statement issued by the BJP recorded the party’s “great appreciation of the determination and firmness with which the Prime Minister put forward the centrality of India’s principal concerns, especially the one relating to cross-border terrorism. “We are happy that a clear message has gone to the entire world, and particularly to Pakistan, that India will not compromise on the question of cross-border terrorism and other anti-India activities.”

Singling out aspects of the summit’s “success”, Mathur said: “We feel proud of the way the Prime Minister stood with dignified contempt towards Pakistan.”

   

 
 
UPLINK CLOUD ON BREAKFAST SHOW 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, July 20: 
General Pervez Musharraf’s breakfast meeting with editors, that has raised such Cain after being “scooped” by NDTV for Star News, was uplinked — transmitted — by Pakistan Television (PTV) from the Mughal Sheraton Hotel in Agra, the media hub during the summit.

Who gave PTV permission to uplink and transmit the images is a mystery. (“Uplink” is the jargon used to describe the process by which a broadcaster hooks on to a satellite and transmits voice, data and/or images.)

In the meeting, Musharraf explained Pakistan’s position on Kashmir, expressed angst over India’s support to the Mukti Bahini guerrillas leading to the 1971 Bangladesh War and the Indian Army’s occupation of vital posts in the Siachen Glacier, allegedly in violation of the Simla Agreement.

No PTV official was available to confirm from where they uplinked. PTV’s uplinking from Indian soil — and the permission, if any, granted to it — could spell controversy for the information and broadcasting ministry. The home ministry also comes into the picture because intelligence agencies under it are required to give a no objection certificate before a broadcaster is allowed to uplink.

It was rumoured that PTV had used the facilities of NDTV to uplink and transmit it live. However, NDTV today denied this. “PTV took the tape from NDTV’s studio at the Taj Khema after it was telecast on Star News. PTV then carried the tape to the Mughal Sheraton from where they uplinked it themselves,” NDTV director K.V.L Narayan Rao said.

Rao said the telecast of the meeting on Star News was not live — it was half-an-hour after the meeting had ended in Agra’s Amarvilas Hotel. The NDTV version also contradicts what other editors have said — that they were under the impression that the meeting was “off-the-record”.

“Neither the invitation letter, nor at any time during the meeting was it ever stated to be off-the-record. Most editors seemed to know it was not off-the-record as they were seen on TV immediately after the meeting, briefing viewers on the content of the meeting,” Rao said. In fact, these editors appeared on TV even before the meeting was telecast on Star News.

Yesterday, the editor of Outlook magazine, Vinod Mehta, wrote to the Pakistan high commissioner, protesting against the turning of a “private meeting into a public spectacle”. Mehta went into the meeting believing it was not for public consumption.

Rao said there was no prior arrangement between NDTV and PTV. “Like everyone else, NDTV’s editor had no idea there would even be a camera at the meeting. However, once the camera was noticed, at the end of the meeting, NDTV’s editor asked for a copy of the tape and it was handed over to him. Through the meeting, the editor had no idea whether or not he would be given the tape by PTV. It was an on-the-spot decision.”

   

 
 
MILK AND GANGA JAL FOR PERVEZ HAVELI 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, July 20: 
Barely a week after Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf walked into his dilapidated ancestral haveli in Old Delhi, youth activists of the Shiv Sena sneaked in this morning to wash the area “clean”.

When most residents of the haveli were asleep, about 12 Sainiks, armed with matkas (earthen pots) and surahi, barged into the courtyard. “I had just woken up from sleep to get my daughter ready for school, when I saw a few men standing in our courtyard,’’ said Ranu Jain who resides in the portion of the haveli visited by Musharraf. “The men took a round of the courtyard, chanting mantras, and washed the area with milk and water, presumably Ganga jal. They sprinkled rose petals and asked their photographers to click pictures. The entire act was over in a few minutes. I did not protest because they did not harm us,” she added.

Other residents of the haveli were more overt in their reaction. “If they wanted to clean the area, they should have come during the day. Instead, they sneaked in when we were asleep.” Just two days ago, a unit of the Rapid Action Force was stationed in the haveli, pre-empting the Sena’s call to “cleanse the area”.

Independent MLA Shoaib Iqbal said: “Such an act will spoil relations between India and Pakistan. I have asked the home ministry to take adequate action. The haveli is located in a sensitive area because both Hindus and Muslims reside here. The Sena will now want to wash Rashtrapati Bhavan and, perhaps, Jaypee Palace Hotel in Agra because Musharraf had visited these places.”

Vijay Goel, BJP MP from Chandni Chowk, refused to condemn or condone the act. “If anyone should wash the area, it should be the Jains, Golas, or any other resident of the haveli since it belongs to them.’’ He added: “Kisi ke aane ya jaane se koi cheez pavitr ya apavitr nahin ho jati. (Any individual’s presence or absence does not make a surrounding pure or impure.)”

   
 

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