Midnapore home truth
Minister justifies fee hike
Royal Bengal tiger killed in Sunderbans
UTI offensive in Sinha’s defence
Attack yesterday, allegiance today
DNA test nails ex-minister
Rudderless Cong lets govt off
Nirupam speaks his master’s voice
Police clears cloud over Uma, Umedh
New lease of life for old Naga truce

 
 
MIDNAPORE HOME TRUTH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 31: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today admitted in the Assembly that of those who had left their homes in Midnapore and Hooghly district out of fear, 343 villagers could still not return.

The chief minister told the House that he would ensure that all those who had deserted their villages could go back as early as possible. He informed the House that police had been directed to ensure that everybody could return before August 18, when he would convene an all-party meeting to discuss the problem. Bhattacharjee was replying to a motion by leader of Opposition Pankaj Banerjee that violence against Trinamul supporters was continuing in Midnapore and Hooghly districts forcing many to leave their homes.

Bhattacharjee said the Trinamul’s charges were exaggerated. He said he had taken up the matter with the district authorities after the Opposition leader had submitted a list of 955 persons who had deserted their villages. However, on inquiry it was found that only 343 persons had not yet returned home, he added.

When Bhattacharjee informed the Opposition that his information was based on police inquiries, they charged: “You have faith in the police. What was your attitude when you used to occupy the Opposition benches?”

At this, the chief minister retorted: “Whom do you want me to trust? It is curious that the day I presented the police budget Pankaj Banerjee had charged that 11,000 people were homeless in Midnapore and Hooghly. Then he submitted a list stating that 955 people could not return. My statement is based on an official report and not imagination.”

Bhattacharjee also told the House that he would look into the charge that Left parties were bringing no-confidence motions against the Opposition-run panchayats by forcing members to stay away.

“The situation had never been so bad in West Bengal during the Left Front regime that some people had to desert villages because of terrorism. The scene changed the day you people resorted to the Keshpur line and started slogans like Chamkaitala chomke debo,” he told Trinamul leaders.

Bhattacharjee said he would not allow the dark days of 1972-77 to come back. He said leaders like former minister Prasanta Sur, Manoj Pratim Ganguly, Bireswar Chatterjee and Kulendu Some had to flee their homes during those days.

   

 
 
MINISTER JUSTIFIES FEE HIKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 31: 
Higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakrabarty justified in the Assembly today the hike in tuition fees in colleges and universities from the current academic session, saying they had not been revised for the last 50 years in West Bengal though running the institutions had become much more costly.

“Do you feel a person who earns Rs 20,000 a month should send his son or daughter for free education?” he asked, adding that there was nothing wrong in raising fees for those who could afford to pay. He assured members that the poor would not be affected by the fee hike as their cases would be sympathetically considered. “We shall see to it that no one has to discontinue education because of the hike,” he said.

Chakrabarty denied that the hike was “abnormal”. He pointed out that the Opposition had also appreciated the necessity of raising the fees by not demanding an outright cancellation of the hike but suggesting postponing the implementation and setting up a committee comprising educationists to re-examine the issue.

Chakrabarty advised the members to make a comparative analysis with the situation in other states. “Despite the fee hike, education in West Bengal remains one of the cheapest in our country,” he said. Institutions in most states are run by fees paid by students, while in Bengal colleges and universities the expenses are largely met through government funds, he said.

In some colleges in Maharashtra students have to pay as much as Rs 10,000 per month, the minister said. He pointed out that in Bengal the salaries of teachers in colleges in particular are paid by the government.

The Ashok Mitra commission had considered all aspects before recommending a fee hike. He said the government has no plan to privatise higher education. “The Rs 4,200 crore higher education budget itself shows the importance the Left Front attaches to higher education,” he said.

   

 
 
ROYAL BENGAL TIGER KILLED IN SUNDERBANS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 31: 
A Royal Bengal tiger that had strayed into Pakhiralay village in Gosaba in South 24 Parganas yesterday was killed by the residents.

Villagers chased the tiger with iron rods and bamboo sticks. They overpowered the tiger and beat it to death, according to South 24 Parganas superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly. After killing the tiger, the villagers threw the body into the river. Forest officials, who arrived nearly two hours after the incident, traced the body and sent it for post mortem.

Three persons were injured in the incident and were rushed to the Gosaba health centre. Two of the injured have been admitted to hospital, said Sunderbans Tiger Reserve field director P. Shukla.

Ganguly said tonight that the police had initiated a case under the Wildlife Protection Act against those involved in killing the tiger. He said the police will start investigations after those admitted to the hospital are declared fit. “The villagers could have informed the forest officials and not killed the tiger,” he said.

   

 
 
UTI OFFENSIVE IN SINHA’S DEFENCE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 31: 
Pitchforked into the middle of a fullblown financial scandal with political implications, Yashwant Sinha today picked fault with UTI inside the House and the Opposition outside.

But Sinha’s economics-dripping defence failed to impress the politicians on the Opposition benches. The Opposition demanded that he cut short his “long-winded history of UTI” and reply to allegations that PMO officials were the “hidden hands” that had influenced the fund’s dud investments.

Sinha charged UTI with not heeding the warning of a joint parliamentary committee as early as 1993 not to resort to high exposure in equity in its flagship scheme US-64.

At present, it stood at 70 per cent at a value of Rs 13,646 crore, he said, adding that the exposure to equity should have been much less as was the case before liberalisation in 1992.

He asserted that small investors’ money had “not been taken out”. The value of the units has dropped due to fluctuations in the stock market as the scheme now was an equity-based one.

“A general impression has been created as if this money has vanished. As if some people have pocketed this money,” he said. “Let me hasten to add that the value of the stock held under US-64 has declined. But it still has a value and a corpus.”

Singh said that considering the position he held, it was normal for him to talk to chairmen of various financial institutions, including UTI. However, he added: “At no stage have I spoken to him (Subramanyam) about Cyberspace,” Singh said.

The Rajya Sabha debate resumed at 2 pm after two adjournments during the course of Sinha’s reply, much of which was unintelligible in the din.

But soon after, agitated MPs brandished a statement made by parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan stating that the Prime Minister had “expressed his desire to quit office” as he was unable to knit together the ruling NDA coalition.

Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee and the CPM’s Nilotpal Basu raised the issue and demanded that the Prime Minister make a statement. A few Congress MPs led by Arjun Singh invaded the well of the House, forcing an adjournment.

Left and Congress leaders later debated in private whether a privilege motion could be brought against the ruling party for the statement Mahajan released through the Press Information Bureau.

“Vajpayeeji is the Prime Minister of the country, not of the BJP. He should make any offer to resign or take on office before all of us, especially when Parliament is in session. And, if it is an internal party matter, this should not be released officially through government channels,” Basu said.

Sinha had kicked off his reply by demanding that the Opposition give him an uninterrupted hearing. But the Opposition had decided to be particularly harsh on the minister.

Virtually every sentence in his prepared speech was contested with demands that Sinha come to the point and clarify whether he was aware of UTI’s mounting crisis and whether he had any replies to allegations against PMO officials.

Sinha chose not to reply to these points within the House. Outside the House, however, Sinha did try to raise walls of defence. He charged the Opposition parties with trying to “politicise” the UTI fiasco and accused them of not being interested in knowing the truth.

“Basically, the Opposition is not interested in getting to the truth. They are interested only in politicising the issue to derive some political mileage,” he told reporters. He said he was willing to give a point-by-point rebuttal to the Opposition’s charges, provided it listened to him without interruption.

   

 
 
ATTACK YESTERDAY, ALLEGIANCE TODAY 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 31: 
If Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s threat to quit was a calculated move to rein in recalcitrant allies — especially the Shiv Sena — he has achieved instant success. Today, all of them sang paeans to the Prime Minister.

The lone discordant note was struck by Janata Dal (United) parliamentary party leader Devinder Prasad Yadav, who said it was an internal matter of the BJP and the Sangh parivar and the NDA had no role in it. “The allies are completely going by the NDA agenda. The Prime Minister’s statement is surprising. It is beyond my comprehension. He never told us about his agony,” Yadav said.

If one objective of the quit-threat was to protest against Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam’s bid to drag the Prime Minister’s Office into the UTI scam, Nirupam cowered today, saying he did not hurl accusations against the PMO but had merely wanted a probe.

Sources said Nirupam backtracked after Sena chief Bal Thackeray spoke to Vajpayee over telephone immediately after news channels flashed his resignation offer. Thackeray, according to a Cabinet minister, dissociated himself from Nirupam’s attack on the PMO.

The Sena boss is understood to have told Vajpayee that Nirupam’s views were not those of the party’s. He also assured him of the Sena’s support. A Sena minister in Vajpayee’s Cabinet, Manohar Joshi, met the Prime Minister today to assuage his feelings.

Thackeray tried to speak to Nirupam after Vajpayee went on the offensive, but could not reach the Rajya Sabha MP till 4 pm. Sources said even yesterday, senior party leader Satish Pradhan had cautioned Nirupam when he tried to drag the PMO into the scam.

Nirupam defended himself, saying: “I have never made any allegation against the Prime Minister. It is my personal conviction that he is honest. I have full faith and respect for him... But there is more than one person working in the PMO and, therefore, why not investigate (who talked to sacked UTI chief P.S. Subramanyam)?”

He “stood by” his statements in the Rajya Sabha yesterday, maintaining that what he had said was in public interest. People, he said, want answers as to who was responsible for the scam that has hit the small investor hard.

Vajpayee also received support from Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav, the Samata Party, the Indian National Lok Dal and other allies.

Cementing his bond with the NDA, Naidu — the first among non-NDA allies to call up the PMO and speak with Vajpayee — declared that the crisis would blow over like “empty clouds”. “You should concentrate on your forthcoming visit to Pakistan and on deliberations with the Pakistan President now,” he told Vajpayee.

There is “no crisis and no threat to the NDA government”, Naidu told reporters in Hyderabad. “This is not the correct issue over which he has to resign.” He said all parties should sit together and think out ways to prevent such scams from recurring. “We are for a very firm action against the culprits in the UTI fiasco. Laws need to be streamlined because people who are committing such crimes have no fear of law,” he added.

   

 
 
DNA TEST NAILS EX-MINISTER 
 
 
BY ANUPAM BORDOLOI
 
Guwahati, July 31: 
The cat is out of the bag. A DNA test has confirmed the veracity of 16-year-old Monila Brahma’s claim that former Asom Gana Parishad minister Rajendra Mushahary is the father of her child.

“Rajendra Mushahary is the biological father of the disputed child Pabitra,” a source said, quoting from the laboratory report. The DNA test was carried out by the Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics.

Mushahary, who had denied Monila’s allegation that she became pregnant after being “raped” by him twice last year, was unavailable for comment.

Based on Monila’s FIR, filed six months after she was allegedly raped, police registered a case (number 224/2000) against Mushahary at the Gossaigaon police station in Kokrajhar last year.

The DNA test report, confirming the fact that the former minister had fathered Monila’s child, was received by the Forensic Science Laboratory here on Friday. It was handed over to Kokrajhar police yesterday, sources said.

DNA profiling of blood samples collected from Mushahary, Monila and the latter’s infant son was carried out under the supervision of G.V. Rao, chief scientist at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics.

Blood samples for the test were collected on June 7 after months of legal wrangles, claims and counter-claims.

The police had to seek the court’s permission for DNA profiling when the investigation into the rape case reached a “dead end”. Gossaigaon police had earlier claimed to have gathered “enough circumstantial evidence” to nail Mushahary.

Though the DNA test has confirmed the paternity of Monila’s child, there is still no evidence to prove her claim that Mushahary raped her. “The police will only succeed in proving the parentage of the child and not the rape,” a source said.

Mushahary, who was the minister of state for welfare of plains tribes and other backward classes in the erstwhile AGP-led government, has termed the rape allegation against him as a ploy by political adversaries to malign his image.

The former minister, who lost the Gossaigaon Assembly seat to Congress candidate Mithius Tuddu in the May 10 elections, has been charged under Sections 376 (rape), 109 and 506 (intimidation) of the IPC.

According to the FIR filed by Monila, she was taken to a hotel at Warisa on the Assam-West Bengal border early last year and raped twice — first on February 27 and again in March. The FIR was filed at Gossaigaon police station on September 4.

The case drew the attention of the National Human Rights Commission, which criticised former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta for allowing the accused to continue as a minister.

The human rights organisation questioned the “propriety” of allowing Mushahary to continue as a minister “in the face of the material already available, including the report of the police, wherein the minister has been clearly named as an accused”.

   

 
 
RUDDERLESS CONG LETS GOVT OFF 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 31: 
Events in the Lok Sabha, after news of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s resignation offer trickled in, again exposed the Opposition’s inability to mount a concerted attack on the ruling NDA.

The information had come in by the time the House reassembled at 2 pm, but the Opposition failed to coordinate an attack to put the NDA on the mat. When the Speaker assumed his seat, Mayavati and other Bahujan Samaj Party MPs rushed to the Well, resuming their protest against the killing of 17 Dalits in Uttar Pradesh.

In the absence of the leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi made an effort to bring up the resignation issue. He pleaded with Mayavati to rein in her MPs so that the topic could be taken up, but the BSP leader was unmoved.

With an eye on her home state polls, Mayavati said the Dalit killings were much more important and “other things” could wait.

Snubbed, Munshi retreated. Deputy leader of the Congress, Madhavrao Scindia, solicited support from Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to prevail upon Mayavati. But they were unmoved. Two other senior leaders on the front row, Chandra Shekhar and Sharad Pawar, sat through, perhaps enjoying the discomfort in the Congress ranks.

The Congress benches had about 80 MPs, but they looked lost. The Samajwadi and the Left were divided as Mulayam was keen to seek clarifications from home minister L.K. Advani on Phoolan Devi’s murder while some Left leaders were willing to join hands with the Congress.

Finally, it was left to Raghuvansh Prasad Singh to raise the issue. “Has he resigned? Vajpayee should come and clarify,” he screamed. His voice drowning in the din, the Speaker disallowed anything from going on record. Mayavati’s MPs’ lungpower forced the Speaker to adjourn the House till tomorrow.

The Congress is divided on tomorrow’s strategy. Some floor managers believe that the party should insist on a statement from Vajpayee about his “inability” to lead the NDA and why he chose to speak at the BJP parliamentary party meeting instead of Parliament. They want to grill him for “bypassing” the Lok Sabha.

However, another group feels the strategy would deflect attention from the UTI scam and the charge of the PMO’s involvement.

“We should insist on a statement from Vajpayee on UTI and the role of the PMO. If he clarifies, we will have more ammunition,” a Congress MP said, warning that the “resignation drama” was being enacted to shift the focus.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy dubbed the resignation offer as “hypocritical” and said it was a “deliberate ploy” to divert attention. “The offer is a deliberate design to pre-empt a probe into the role of the PMO in UTI investment,” Reddy said.

   

 
 
NIRUPAM SPEAKS HIS MASTER’S VOICE 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, July 31: 
Sanjay Nirupam may know only a smattering of Marathi, but he always speaks the same language as his boss, Bal Thackeray.

The Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP, who hails from Bihar, does as he is told by the party chief, who picked him as executive editor in 1993 to run Dopahar Ka Saamna, the Hindi offshoot of the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna.

Shadows of Thackeray lurked behind when Nirupam pointed accusing finger at the Prime Minister’s Office in connection with the UTI scandal yesterday, prompting Atal Bihari Vajpayee to offer his resignation within 24 hours.

Sena leaders, who are in the know, said Nirupam, a Thackeray confidant, “articulated” the Sena chief’s stance on major national issues in Delhi. A glib-talker, the former activist of Patna’s A.N. College has the aggressiveness necessary to make himself and the Sena heard in the capital.

Though Nirupam at times tended to shoot his mouth off, Sena leaders said the MP usually “conveyed what Balasaheb wanted him to”. Under no circumstances, Nirupam could have hurled accusations at the Prime Minister’s Office without the Sena chief’s nod, they said.

Nirupam would only say it was his duty to bring the grievances of the people to the notice of the government. “More than two crore people have lost their money in the UTI scam. No one has the right to loot public money,” the Sena MP told The Telegraph.

Nirupam said he stood by what he said about the phone calls allegedly made from the house of N.K. Singh, a former key PMO official, who was shifted to the Planning Commission after the Sena demanded his scalp along with Brajesh Mishra’s in the wake of the Tehelka expose.

Sena leaders said Nirupam knows little Marathi. He speaks it haltingly, but understands it well. But Thackeray, a champion of Marathi, waging a campaign to replace English shop signs with the local language in the financial capital, does not seem to mind.

So happy was the Sena chief with the bold, go-getting former Jansatta journalist that he sent him to the Rajya Sabha for a second term, dashing the hopes of several faithfuls.

The direct attack on the PMO appears to be Thackeray’s way of asserting himself as a balance-tilting ally as he feels “he is increasingly being ignored”. He clearly wants to send out the message that he should not be taken for granted, analysts said.

Thackeray’s relationship with Vajpayee has been on a roller- coaster for the last one year, with the Sena chief insisting on at least one more ministerial berth at the Centre. The animosity deepened in April when Thackeray refused to share the dais with Vajpayee at a meeting that was to be organised to defend the government against the Tehelka expose. As a result, the meeting was cancelled.

   

 
 
POLICE CLEARS CLOUD OVER UMA, UMEDH 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, July 31: 
Delhi police today claimed to have almost solved the Phoolan Devi murder case and said investigations so far have not revealed a political angle to the crime. Police commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma added that they had nothing to link Uma Kashyap, the Eklavya Party chief, and Phoolan’s husband Umedh Singh to the crime.

When questioned about the motive, Sharma said: “Till we get something else, we have to believe (Sher Singh) Rana’s statement that he killed Phoolan to avenge the Behmai massacre.”

The investigation progressed today with prime accused Rana alias Pankaj Kalra’s accomplices, Ravinder, Shekhar and Rajbir, being produced in the Patiala court in the capital. The trio was remanded in police custody for 14 days.

Public prosecutor Irfan Ahmed called for their remand, saying they needed to be interrogated to unearth the conspiracy behind the killing of the Samajwadi Party MP, and their links with Pankaj. Ahmed added that their custodial grilling was necessary to match their statements.

Detailing their involvement, Ahmed said after committing the crime, Pankaj and his three accomplices fled to Rishikesh, stopping en route at Ghaziabad and Hardwar. Ravinder has said they went to Rishikesh after committing the crime, but Rajbir has kept mum.

Ahmed said the white Maruti car used by the accused to flee from Delhi has been recovered by the police. He told the court that they had changed the original number plate, UP-14B 7559, on the way to Rishikesh.

The three courted a dramatic arrest yesterday in Saharanpur. They went to the district magistrate with a surrender plea. The magistrate turned them away, saying the case did not fall within his jurisdiction. As they left the court, they were arrested and brought to the capital at 3 am.

Shekhar is a resident of Roorkee like Pankaj, Ravinder alias Rajinder comes from Gughaina near Bulandshahar and Rajbir is a resident of Hardwar district.

While the three were attending court proceedings this afternoon, Pankaj was discharged from Safdarjung hospital at 1 pm after a thorough examination. Specialists said Pankaj had no neurological defect and the sleuths could resume interrogation. Pankaj was admitted to the hospital on July 30 with high blood pressure.

The crime branch of Delhi police will continue questioning Pankaj and his accomplices.

   

 
 
NEW LEASE OF LIFE FOR OLD NAGA TRUCE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, July 31: 
Nagaland will step into another 12-month phase of ceasefire from tomorrow with no change in the basic character of the truce that came about between the NSCN (I-M) and Delhi four years ago.

As of now, there are no signs of the ceasefire agreement falling through though the post-truce renewal period this time weathered a storm because of the fiery opposition to its “limitless” nature.

The reversal of the Bangkok declaration of July 14, which made the ceasefire “limitless”, prompted a rebuff from the NSCN (I-M), leading to speculation that the outfit may pull out of the four-year-long truce.

Even the NSCN “rebuke”, contained in a statement from Amsterdam, carried hints that the outfit’s leaders were keen on carrying on with the negotiations which have reached a crucial phase.

A home ministry official said for the talks to continue, the ceasefire must remain in force. “Now that the political talks are about to begin, the Naga leaders can ill afford to dash the hopes of the Naga people who see the ceasefire as the beginning of the end of the over 50-year-old turmoil in the state,” the official added.

The Centre’s emissary to the Naga peace talks, K. Padmanabhaiah, who has interacted with the NSCN leadership on many occasions, said from Delhi he did not see any possibility of a breakdown of the peace process.

Punthing Shimrang, convener of the NSCN’s ceasefire monitoring cell, also skirted a question on whether the outfit will pull out of the agreement.

He, however, said the Centre’s claims of consulting the Naga leaders before revoking the ceasefire extension were “bogus” and that “a ceasefire within the so-called state of Nagaland has no meaning”. But Padmanabhaiah claimed that Delhi had reached an “understanding” with the Naga leaders on revoking the clause.

   
 

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