18 arrested for flood-relief scam
Bengal rebels give Sikkim the jitters
Musharraf mulls track & field diplomacy
Blessing in trickle, curse in torrent
CPM seeks autonomy for Kashmir
POW pledge returns to haunt Big Two
Russian request for Roerich body refused
Joint crusade against Bihar child trafficking
Third force bays for govt blood
Manipur erupts in defiance

Purandarpur (Murshidabad), July 22: 
Police today arrested 18 people, including a gram panchayat member, on charges of faking certificates to withdraw money from the natural calamity relief fund.

However, Brindaban Mandal, pradhan of Purandarpur gram panchayat, whose name figured in the FIR lodged by the block development officer of Kandi, Ramesh Roy, is absconding.

The district administration had recently announced it would pay Rs 70,000 to each of those families which had lost their relatives during last year’s flood.

The Centre was to pay Rs 50,000 and the rest was to be borne by the state government. It was also decided that applications for getting the money would have to be approved by the gram panchayats.

After the government’s order reached the panchayats, villagers rushed to local panchayats to obtain forms for getting the grant. It is learnt that many villagers whose relatives had not died during last year’s floods, applied for the money and their applications were approved by the panchayat members and pradhan of Purandarpur gram panchayat.

Some local youths came to know about the malpractices and lodged a complaint with the sub-divisional officer (SDO) of Kandi, Narendranath Burman, mentioning eight specific cases.

Investigations proved the allegations were true. Burman then instructed the BDO to lodge an FIR against the pradhan of the gram panchayat, some members of the panchayat and a number of applicants who sought money from the natural calamity relief fund.

On the basis of the FIR lodged by BDO Ramesh Roy, police arrested Gajol Rajbanshi, former pradhan of the panchayat, now a panchayat member, and 17 others over the past few days. All those arrested were remanded in police custody.

Prasanta Sharma, a resident of Purandarpur, had applied for government grant stating that his daughter Sulekha had died in last year’s flood.

But investigations by officials from the sub-divisional office revealed that Sulekha had died of fever three years ago. Manik Mandal, another resident, had applied for government grant on the ground that his father Kanak Mandal had died in the flood. Government officials conducted an inquiry in the village on the basis of his application and found that Kanak had died three months before the flood.

Yasin Seikh of Bhowanipore village sought the grant saying that his daughter had died during the flood. But he did not have a daughter. Another man from the same village, Jahangir Seikh, also demanded the money, saying that his 12-year-old daughter Rubia Khatun had died last year. But it was found that he, too, had no daughter.

Purandarpur gram panchayat is run by the Congress. The Congress MLA from Kandi and party leader in the state Assembly, Atish Sinha, when contacted, said the cases had been framed to give his party a bad name.

However, Congress MP from Berhampore, Adhir Chowdhury, said corrupt panchayat members must be punished.


Bagdogra, July 22: 
Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling has expressed concern over the increasing subversive activities in north Bengal and neighbouring Nepal bordering Sikkim.

Chamling, who was on his way to New Delhi, said he would take up the matter of security with Union home minister L.K. Advani. “We are gravely concerned over the growing activities of Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in north Bengal and eastern Nepal bordering Sikkim,” Chamling told The Telegraph.

“There is a strong possibility that ISI-funded fundamentalist organisations may try to make the peaceful state its base. Sikkim’s strategic location and peaceful environment can make it a haven for subversive organisations.”

Commenting on a recent intelligence report that ISI-funded insurgents have drawn up an elaborate plan to destabilise the Siliguri corridor following the failure of the Agra Summit, Chamling said: “We have intelligence reports of increased Maoist activities in Nepal’s Taplejung and Ilham districts bordering Sikkim. We are apprehensive that once the Nepal government turns the heat on the Maoist rebels, they might seek shelter in the border areas of west Sikkim. In such an event it will be difficult to detect the insurgents who will find it easy to merge with the local population.

“Although no known militant organisation is overtly active in Sikkim, it is possible that certain subversive groups from north Bengal and the Northeast, financed by the ISI, could already be using Sikkim as a safe shelter. We are viewing intelligence reports of possible militant plans to set up bases in Sikkim. I will discuss the matter with the Union home minister. If not nipped in the bud, the matter will cost the state dearly,” the chief minister added.

Chamling said Sikkim has stepped up vigilance along the border. “All migrant labourers are being registered... The state police have been asked to keep tabs on certain fundamentalist organisations active in the state.”

However, the chief minister admitted that his state lacked a proper counter-intelligence network.


Karachi, July 22: 
Islamabad will send, most likely within a week, a formal invitation to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to visit Pakistan, official sources said here, stressing their belief that all was not lost in Agra.

The invitation, which was extended by President Pervez Musharraf at his first summit meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee in Agra on July 15, was readily accepted.

Speculation, after the apparent failure of the Agra Summit, on whether the invitation stands, were laid to rest by Musharraf, and earlier by Pakistan foreign minister Abdus Sattar.

The Pakistan government will now formally send the invitation through its high commissioner to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, officials here confirmed.

Senior officials of the Pakistan government still appear hopeful that the process initiated at the summit will continue. “The understanding that has been reached at Agra between the two leaders would pave way for easing the tension and normalising the relations between the two countries,” an official said.

Pakistan, the sources said, has also been considering to turn the Saf games, to be held in Islamabad in October, into an informal Saarc meet.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh was likely to visit Pakistan before September, when Vajpayee and Musharraf were scheduled to meet at the United Nations. If he does visit Pakistan, as suggested by these officials, the chances are that the threads will be picked up again — from where is still open to debate.

India says it would prefer to pick up the threads from Lahore and Simla, while Pakistan insists the process would be initiated from where it was left in Agra.

Sources say the Saarc leaders might be invited at the inauguration of the Saf games on October 6. That would be an opportunity for the Indian and Pakistani leaders to meet again and make another attempt to ease tension and resolve differences.

The event may also be an attempt to revive the now discontinued Saarc meets.

An unusual — and heavy — contingent of about 400 athletes from India will participate in the games. Pakistan, showing a rather liberal attitude, has permitted some Indian artistes to visit the country for fund raising activities.

Contrary to the general impression here that the summit was a failure, as neither a joint declaration nor a statement could be arrived at, efforts seem to be on to create a better environment. The formal extension of the President’s invitation and the possibility of the informal Saarc meet, sources say, is an attempt to achieve that goal.

Even privately, the officials who were witness to the Agra Summit do not appear pessimistic. “There is no reason why we should give up,” one official said.

“The Palestine dispute has not yet been resolved despite all the efforts and time it has been taking,” he added.


Bada Ankuala (Puri), July 22: 
Water is invaluable to the farmers of the usually parched Bada Ankuala village. But when it enters homes, crushing mud walls and submerging roads and acres of farmland, it is a curse.

In his village near the Luna river, Dasarathi Pradhan, who had three acres of paddy crop and a thatched hut, stands hapless in neck-deep water. The water, and his plight, has been that high since Tuesday.

Like others of Bada Ankuala in Delang block, Pradhan’s luck seems to have had a cold burial under water from the Luna. The misery of the 1999 supercyclone fresh in their minds, the villagers, like many others, faced a severe drought last year.

“When we wanted water, there was none. Now there is water in plenty, but useless,” Pradhan says. The 1,000-odd villagers walk up to and wait endlessly at its approach road or the one connecting Delang to Khurda, now lost under swirling waters, for food and drinking water, but return empty-handed.

Unlike the floodwaters from the Luna, government relief is coming in trickles. The last lot of packed khichuri was airdropped on Friday. Villagers like Dusashan Mahunta and Purna Chandra Pradhan were among the lucky few who could get hold of it.

But there was no sign of food after that as the government did not have boats to ferry them. Though some relief materials and a few boats were available at the Sujanpur panchayat office, the Bada Ankuala farmers couldn’t “force” the officials to direct them towards their village.

Bauribandhu Pradhan’s aged mother tries her best to light a fire in a makeshift chullah. But it is futile, as the fuel is damp. It is the same story in all the homes, whose kitchens are submerged and stocks of rice all wet.

The government claimed that more than 3 lakh people are being fed through 277 free kitchens in Puri and other flood affected districts. With little relief available for human beings, the plight of cattle is understandable. The cattle of Mamata Behera in nearby Benupada village are just living on leaves.

In Delang, there is no sign of a part of the 754 tonnes of cattlefeed that the state had sent to the districts.

In Bhubaneswar, revenue minister Biswabhusan Harichandan, however, claimed there are only five villages that are still inaccessible.

“We are out of danger. We have enough food to feed the hungry people,” said Harichandan.

Officials said more than 1,440 food packets have been airdropped through 76 sorties over 10,604 affected villages. But Bada Ankuala and hundreds of villages elsewhere continue to remain cut-off from the relief network even as officials dish out statistical details.

Though the flood situation seems to be improving, the rise in water levels in Brahmani and Baitarani rivers due to a flushout of 7.9 lakh cusec from the Rengali reservoir is likely to inundate more areas in Jajpur and Kendrapara districts.

The water level in Rengali river was menacingly close to the maximum level. Brahmani is likely to cross the danger level at Jenapur tonight while Baitarani has already crossed the danger mark.

The official toll has touched 60 while the number of flood-affected people rose to 8 million.


New Delhi, July 22: 
Lambasting the BJP for adopting a hardline posture on Jammu and Kashmir, the CPM today said the state should be given maximum autonomy to restore normalcy.

Mounting an attack on the government for the failure of the Agra Summit, the party said the problem in Jammu and Kashmir has to be taken up within the “domestic arena”. The Vajpayee government has no democratic solution, having rejected provision of autonomy to the state, the CPM said.

After a two-day politburo meeting, which inter alia discussed the Agra Summit, the party said only by providing maximum autonomy within the ambit of Article 370 can a democratic solution be found. Adverting to BJP’s opposition to Article 370, the politburo felt that by giving more autonomy, the extremists can be isolated.

The party also warned against any move to trifurcate the state on communal basis (as mooted by the RSS). “This will only mean playing into the hands of the religious fundamentalists and have adverse consequences for the secular character of the Indian state,” party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet told reporters after the politburo meeting.

The BJP, he said, had to “mend its ways” and grant maximum autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir if it wanted the state to remain in India.

Surjeet said the party was for dialogue to continue but with a structured agenda. Despite the failure to come to an agreed declaration, the government should utilise the ensuing opportunities at the United Nations General Assembly or the Saarc summit to continue dialogue with Pakistan.

“It is quite clear that the Vajpayee government did not make sufficient preparations for laying the groundwork for the summit. There were no prior discussions at the official level nor any attempt to arrive at an agreed agenda for talks,” Surjeet said.

The CPM leader said it was very strange and had “never happened in history that you invite someone for talks and you don’t know to what extent he will go and you are not prepared for that”.

There were reports that India had asked for using the resources of the Diego Garcia military base, Surjeet said, adding “this goes completely against India’s stated position demanding removal of this military base in the Indian Ocean”.

Surjeet said the government “must give a full account of the plans in this regard”. The party felt that the recent visit of US joint chiefs of staff marked efforts to revive the Indo-US military collaboration which was halted after the Pokhran tests.

Surjeet said both countries were planning “more expanded and intensive collaboration” which would include training of US personnel in sensitive Indian military installations and the US offering training programmes under its international military exchange training programme.

The politburo also discussed the UTI mess. The party sought immediate resignation of finance minister Yashwant Sinha, saying he should take “full responsibility” for the “series of scandals”, including the US-64 collapse.


New Delhi, July 22: 
It has been a 30-year-long wait for the relatives of Indian prisoners of war (POW). The harassed family members of the POWs are now openly expressing their displeasure with the Indian government, blaming Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani for not keeping their promise.

“When Advani and Vajpayee were in the Janata Party government, they had said that whenever they come to power, they will work towards the return of the Indian POWs. All these were false promises. After coming to power, they even refuse to meet us,” said B.K. Suri, whose brother Major Ashok Kumar Suri has been a POW since 1971.

“The family members of the POWs have been writing to all the Prime Ministers since 1971, but their response has been lukewarm. At least Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi would give us an audience, but Vajpayee and Advani don’t even do that.”

The Pakistani government had denied holding any Indian POWs but has ordered a search.

“A search in the prisons will not be enough. The POWs could be imprisoned as security prisoners or spies and could be kept in secret cells like the Attock Fort in Lahore. These cells can be accessed by military personnel. Therefore, such a search may be futile,” said Suri.

In 1983, a delegation of six family members went to Pakistan to look for Indian POWs.

“We were only allowed to visit the Multan jail. In a small cell, 40 to 50 prisoners were living in inhuman conditions. Some of them had been in the prison for 25 years. But none of them were POWs. We were shown prisoners who were caught for petty crimes like crossing the border or smuggling,” recollects Damayanti Tambay, who is still looking for her husband Flight Lieutenant Vijay Vasant Tambay.

When the families returned to India, they spoke to then foreign minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who told them that he had never given them any assurance and they were allowed to go only because they had been “pestering” the government.

As Damayanti, a ports officer at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, walks down memory lane, she recollects the late afternoon of December 3, 1971, in Ambala Cant, when her husband Flight Lt Tambay returned home to tell her that the war had broken. She remembers him saying, “I will be gone not for the night but for the war.”

He was gone by 6 in the evening, as Damayanti saw fighter planes flying across the sky and could hear the bombing in the background.

On December 8, Damayanti received a telegram in Allahabad, where she was visiting her parents. It read “Flight Lt Tambay is missing in action”, and since then she has not heard from her husband.

However, a top interior ministry official today said a review of the records of the prisons in Pakistan did not show any trace of Indian POWs, says a PTI report.


Bangalore, July 22: 
The Karnataka government has rejected Russia’s request to take over the body of famous painter Svetoslov Roerich, buried at his sprawling 457-acre Tataguni estate on the outskirts of the city.

Livid at the state of affairs of the Roerich legacy, Russian ambassador in Delhi Alexander Kadakin had sought possession of the remains of Roerich to be buried at his ancestral home St Petersburg.

“They are not showing any interest in protecting the legacy of Roerich,” Kadakin has complained to friends of Roerichs. The Russian ambassador has also written to the Karnataka government, expressing displeasure over the shoddy handling of the Roerich estate.

However, chief minister S.M. Krishna told The Telegraph that the government was helpless as there were several cases pending before High Court and a lower court. “It is unfortunate but what can the government do. The government cannot circumvent the law. There is a due process of law,” Krishna said.

Roerich, a treasured name in Russia, was a personal friend of former President Boris Yeltsin. The battle for the Roerich riches involves Mary Joyce Poonacha, who claims to the legal heir of the Roerich legacy, and the government which has passed an ordinance to take over the Roerich property.

As the agonising court proceedings continue, the abandoned Roerich estate is in a shambles. Roerich died in 1993 followed by his wife actress Devika Rani a year later. Mary Joyce worked as a personal aide of the couple.

“God knows how long it will take for justice. The place where Roerich is buried is in bad shape. It is better to send the body to St Petersburg where the Russian government will erect a grand memorial,’’ said M.S. Nanjunda Rao of the Chitra Kala Parishad, a personal friend of the Roerichs.

“The government’s argument is that Svetoslov had acquired Indian citizenship and, therefore, there was no need to send the remains to Russia,’’ Rao said.

Rao has been trying to persuade the authorities to speed up a series of cases filed by Bangalore police against Mary Joyce and two other accomplices charged with forgery, theft and cheating.

These cases are being tried in the chief metropolitan magistrate’s court. Some of the valuable collections of the couple are in police custody and others are sealed at Tataguni estate.

Sensing a take-over by the government after the couple died, Mary Joyce sought intervention by Boris Yeltsin and former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to dissuade the government from promulgating legislation to take over the Roerich property. That did not stop the then Janata Dal government from passing an Ordinance in 1996 to take over the estate.

The order said the property would be run by a trust that includes Russian representatives. The take-over, however, was stayed by the high court following a petition by Mary Joyce. The arguments in the case are in progress.

The personal aide of the Roerichs is described as the villain of the piece in the chargesheet filed by the police against Mary, her husband Anil Poonacha, and a common friend, Nandakumar.

The special crime branch filed the case after investigations revealed that they had carted off the Roerich riches, including artefacts, jewellery and paintings worth several million dollars. The accused had begun thieving even when the ageing childless couple were alive, investigations revealed.

Mary and her husband have been charged with forging a will, a charge denied by her. Investigations into the Roerich heist had taken the special branch team to Australia and Russia to secure evidence from friends of the Roerichs on the extent of the crime committed.


Katihar, July 22: 
Thirteen-year-old Munni is the youngest member of a mobile theatre group that performs at fair grounds in six north Bihar districts.

Her “performance”, along with other minor girls, is an euphemism for “lewd open air song-and-dance sequences”. She sometimes laces her repertoire with a saucy striptease.

Munni migrated from Nepal two years ago along with co-dancer Ruma from Bangladesh. Ruma, barely 18, is an inmate of a brothel in this north Bihar town.

Munni has been moving from one district to another for the past year. “During the mela season in December, I take a break from business to dance. The money goes for the treatment of my father, who is suffering from tuberculosis,’’ she told some representatives of Bhumika, a social organisation in Katihar.

“A nexus of brothel owners in Bangladesh, Nepal and India smuggle in these minors to Purnea, Katihar, Kishangunge and sell them in bigger cities,” says Arun Singh, convener of Bhumika.

Surveys by a network of NGOs revealed that even toddlers are being “nurtured” for the trade at the homes of the pimps in Khabespur, Forbesgunge, Khagra and Purnea.“They address the brothel keepers as mausis (aunts). But they don’t have mothers. Most of them have lost their mothers at birth,’’ says a social worker.

Cross-border trafficking of minors and their exploitation have become a major source of concern for governments of the three countries.

A study conducted by the Central Social Welfare Board in six metropolitan cities, revealed that 15 per cent of the sex workers in the country are children below the age of 15 and 25 per cent below the age of 18.

Surveys cite that there are 2 lakh Nepali and at least one lakh Bangladeshi minors involved in the flesh trade and related professions. The trafficking points of these minors are along the porous Indo-Bangladesh, Indo-Nepal borders in Bihar.

There are 25 brothels in north Bihar’s districts bordering Bangladesh and Nepal. Initially the girls land in these brothels before being relocated to bigger cities.

Social activists from Nepal, Bangladesh and India are planning to launch a crusade against cross-border child trafficking and their sexual exploitation. Over 150 non-government organisations from these three countries have formed the “Action Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children (ATSEC)” which will meet for the first time in Calcutta on July 28-29.

The meet plans to evolve a strategy for the ATSEC to combat the menace.

The organisation is backed by the international aid agencies like the Unicef, Action Aid and the Terre des Home.

A study commissioned by the Unicef, says, “India is a country of transit and destination. There is a considerable degree of internal trafficking as also some trafficking from India to the Gulf countries. Intervention programmes in UP, West Bengal and Bihar should include cross-border components as well with Nepal and Bangladesh.’’

The network of NGOs had gathered testimonies from minor girls pleading for rescue and rehabilitation. But after they went back to the brothel for follow- up action, the girls were not available.


New Delhi, July 22: 
The People’s Front mounted a fresh offensive against the NDA government on the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament and declared it would launch a countrywide agitation from August 9 demanding its ouster.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the Front — with its constituents, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Janata Dal (Secular) — chaired by former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu this evening. Speaking to the press, People’s Front convenor and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said, “People are starving and farmers are committing suicide, yet our godowns are overflowing with rotten foodgrain. The UTI scam has affected middle-class and lower middle-class investors. The finance minister, who is responsible for this, should resign. The situation in Manipur is dangerous. The situation on the north-eastern border is much worse than in Kashmir.”

He also described the recent visit of Henry Shelton, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, as “most dangerous for the country’s security”.

“Earlier, the US had confined itself only to Pakistan but under the NDA government it had extended its tentacles to India and plans to set up military bases in the region. The US always thinks of its own interests before anyone else’s,” Yadav said.

Basu said a meeting of the MPs of the People’s Front will be convened tomorrow to finalise a joint strategy for floor coordination in Parliament. Although former Prime Minister and JD(S) leader H.D. Deve Gowda harped on the point that the NDA government was surviving only because of the divisions in the secular ranks, Yadav was non-committal on whether the Front would do business with the Congress.

“We have always stated that for us the BJP and Congress are one and the same on economic policies,” he said.

After his assertion, Gowda quickly amended his earlier appeal for an Opposition unity and said: “The Congress should first come forward to seek the help of other secular parties.”


Imphal, July 22: 
The four-day “civil disobedience movement” in Manipur today climaxed with thousands of anti-ceasefire protesters blocking roads, holding street-corner meetings and staging sit-in demonstrations at different localities of the state capital and its suburbs.

Police opened fire and burst teargas shells to disperse several thousands of people tonight.

Wary of a confrontation like the one on Friday, police and CRPF personnel initially looked the other way as slogan-shouting protesters marched through the streets. However, the security personnel burst tear gas shells and fired rubber pellets when the protesters turned violent after dusk.

Several people were injured in clashes with the police at various places in the town.

Protesters pelted stones at the private residence of Imphal West deputy commissioner H. Imocha Singh, but the police dispersed them before they could cause any damage.

Imphal West police arrested at least 200 activists of the Students’ Federation of India when they entered the high-security zone in the state capital, sources said.

Curfew had been relaxed for six hours in Imphal town earlier in the day.

The United Committee, Manipur (UCM), which is spearheading the agitation, wants the ceasefire issue to be taken up for discussion on the very first day of the monsoon session of Parliament, beginning tomorrow.

The UCM, which has called a 24-hour “general strike” from midnight, said it would continue its agitation till the ceasefire agreement with the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) was revoked.

The three UCM convenors who returned from New Delhi this afternoon told newspersons that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had begun reviewing the ceasefire agreement.

The three leaders — Kh. Ratan, S. Jadumani and Uday Thomgan — were part of the UCM team which went to New Delhi at the invitation of the Prime Minister.


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