Centre buys UTI peace with probe
Child dies as jawans fire on procession
Police trace kidnap route
Delhi sniffs Pervez birthday plot
Silent revolution for finance freedom
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Aug. 3: 
The Centre today gave in to the Congress demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the UTI mess, a day after finance minister Yashwant Sinha ruled out any such investigation. The JPC investigating the stock market plunge will widen its probe to include the muddle in UTI.

Though Opposition parties see this as their victory, BJP insiders say the clubbing of the two probes could take the sting out of the investigation.

The decision was endorsed by leaders of all parties at a meeting this morning in Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi’s chamber. Announcing the decision in the House, Balayogi made it clear that the JPC will probe “all issues relating to UTI, including issues discussed in the House”.

This implies that the committee will also look into allegations levelled by Sanjay Nirupam of the Shiv Sena that the PMO was involved in the UTI muddle.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, however, maintained that the terms of reference of the current JPC remains unchanged. If that is the case, the scope of the probe is narrower, with the JPC going only into the “irregularities and manipulations in all transactions, including insider trading”.

In a chat with reporters, Mahajan indicated that the JPC could quiz Sinha, but would not bother the PMO officials.

But the Congress made it clear that it will seek a probe into the roles allegedly played by the PMO and the Prime Minister’s foster son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya.

“The PMO has never been above the scrutiny of the JPC. The JPC probe into the securities scam some years back had gone into the role of the PMO,” party spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy, also a member of the JPC on the stock market scam, told reporters. He added that the JPC would also probe Bhattacharya’s role.

Reddy told the meeting convened by Balayogi that the Congress wanted a formal amendment to the terms of reference but did not press the issue.

The party, however, maintained that it would not scale down its demand for Sinha’s resignation. “His continuation in office is a blot on the fair name of Indian democracy,” Reddy said.

The Opposition had demanded Sinha’s resignation and a JPC probe yesterday. But Mani Shankar Aiyar of the Congress suggested that if the government was not agreeable to a full-fledged JPC probe, it could club it with another one.

Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi raised the matter during zero hour this morning. When Mahajan indicated that Aiyar’s suggestion could be accepted, the Speaker decided to call an all-party meeting to formalise the decision.

The JPC is likely to meet on August 28 to grill former UTI chairman P.S. Subramanyam. All its meetings slated for the next two weeks have, however, been cancelled because of “other engagements of its members”.

The JPC will formally seek an extension as the decision to entrust it with investigations into the UTI muddle will add to its pending work, chairman Sriprakash Mani Tripathi said.

“We will seek an extension as many areas need to be covered. Moreover, the decision to entrust us with the probe into the UTI affairs will enlarge our area of work,” he said. “Cancellation of some meetings due to pre-occupation of the members has also prompted us to seek an extension,” Tripathi added.


Srinagar Aug. 3: 
Escorts of an army convoy opened fire on a procession at Magam, 23 km from here, killing a 12-year-old boy and another person.

Eight persons were injured in the firing on the procession of about 25,000 people marching to Magam town, shouting pro-freedom slogans, after the fateha (prayers after death) of slain Hizb-ul Mujahideen battalion commander Mustaffa Khan.

Khan was shot dead by security forces during a siege on a shrine, where he was holed up, on July 30.

Pro-Pakistan slogans rent the air as the crowds marched into the main chowk of Magam. Some protestors threw stones at a heavily-escorted Gulmarg-bound army convoy passing through the area. The escorts opened automatic weapons fire on the procession, killing a 12-year-old and injuring nine. One critically wounded person, identified as Tariq Ahmad Wani, died in hospital.

“We were moving with the peaceful procession and were going towards Magam town. The procession would have dispersed peacefully but before that the troops opened fire. I was hit by two bullets and I lay on the road. I saw the other injured persons crying for help,” said Naseer Ahmad Bhat, who is in hospital.

The area is tense and senior police and security force officers have rushed to the spot.

Authorities deployed police and paramilitary forces in Magam in strength as anxious villagers headed back home.

Kashmir range police chief Ashok Bhan said the mob had indulged in heavy stone-pelting on passing vehicles at Magam and smashed window panes. “The army opened fire resulting in the death of two civilians while eight others were wounded.”

A report from Tral in southern Pulwama district said troops mounted a massive cordon and search operation early this morning after a grenade attack, followed by heavy firing by the militants on a camp of the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF).

The firing exchange continued for two hours. Five civilians and a BSF member were wounded. Residents remained confined to their homes all day. Troops were seen searching homes. Late this afternoon, police handed over the body of a school teacher identified as Master Ghulam Nabi Bhat to his relatives. They said that Bhat had died in the crossfire. But the family alleged that he was shot dead by security forces.

Three persons were killed and five others wounded in a firing exchange in the upper reaches of Damhal Hanjipora in Anantnag district. The injured were rushed to hospital. Details about the incident were still awaited.


Calcutta, Aug. 3: 
Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman may have returned home alone, unaided by police, but facts that have surfaced in the past 24 hours indicate that the multi-agency investigation into the eight-day kidnap-saga was on the right track from the beginning.

“One must realise that we are up against a formidable team high on resources, skills and resolution,” head of the special investigation team and inspector-general of police (South Bengal) Prasun Mukherjee said today. “It wasn’t a neighbourhood operation carried out by a cheap gang.”

The CID has collected sizeable evidence, which points to the role of some inter-state gangs.

A CID officer said the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was called in to assist in tracking the phone calls routed through that country. The FBI traced two calls the Roy Burmans received three days after the abduction to the Amsterdam-New York-London-Chennai-Calcutta route.

Officially, the administration still refused to shed light on the kidnapping. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, like CID inspector-general Partha Bhattacharyya, was mum today as well. “I shall make a statement on the issue when I am in a position to do so. You need not ask, I shall myself call you and explain everything. Wait till then,’’ the chief minister told reporters.

The police carried out over-night raids after Roy Burman returned home yesterday and detained several people for interrogation. Some key arrests are likely to follow shortly. “We have enough evidence that proves that local contacts actually collaborated with the abductors and helped them get a safe passage from the scene of the crime,” an official said, adding that the CID was now trying to trace a police informer who was tipping off Tiljala businessman Chunnu about the raids.

Officials are also combing areas in North 24-Parganas, where, they believe, Roy Burman was taken and given crude medical treatment for eight days.

A West Bengal Armed Police official has been sent to Hyderabad where, the police believe, payment of the ransom was arranged. CID officials also visited Woodlands Hospital where Roy Burman was operated on today. The wounded shoe magnate asked for time to reconstruct the entire incident, officials said.

The police have sought the help of their Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh counterparts to trace Hafiz Alam and Saudagar Singh, henchmen of Chhota Rajan’s rival Fazl-ur-Rahman. Investigators feel they are among the main suspects in the case. They were told by their sources that the duo came to the city a week before the abduction.

But Mumbai police do not seem to have much idea about the activities of Alam and Singh. According to the information they have provided, both come from Uttar Pradesh and initially worked for Chhota Rajan before switching loyalties to Rahman.

However, investigators have learnt that both probably masterminded the abduction of a Bihar-based industrialist and a Gujarat businessman.

Roy Burman’s abduction is a signal to the city’s businessmen that they are no longer immune from being the target of inter-state gangs. One theory doing the rounds is that the shoe baron was one of six city-based industrialists that the gangs may have targeted.


New Delhi, Aug. 3: 
If Pervez Musharraf is expecting a call from Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his birthday on August 11, the Pakistan President is likely to be disappointed.

A section of the Pakistani media today carried detailed reports about the possibility of Vajpayee telephoning Musharraf on his birthday. The reports said Vajpayee would call the Pakistani President not only to wish him, but also to take the opportunity to distance himself from remarks about Musharraf attributed to him.

The Prime Minister had told the BJP’s national executive that he found Musharraf to be “unrefined” and “totally lacking in perspective and the requisite background about issues involved in India-Pakistan relations”. He was explaining to the party what went wrong at last month’s summit.

But the Pakistani spin doctors claim that the remarks were a “total distortion” of what Vajpayee had said at the meeting. Reports from Islamabad suggested that “hawks” in India, who had “scuttled” the joint declaration at Agra, were active once again and had concocted the remarks to ensure that future dialogue between Vajpayee and Musharraf does not take place.

Vajpayee’s advisers believe the Pakistani move is part of its attempt to create a rift within the Indian leadership, particularly between the Prime Minister and home minister L.K. Advani. “Saying that Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh were in favour of peace while Advani and others scuttled such an attempt is a design to show the division in the Indian camp,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

The PMO has advised Vajpayee not to call the Pakistan President on his birthday. It is of the view that if Vajpayee calls up Musharraf next Saturday to wish him, it will only bolster the conspiracy theory being floated by Islamabad.

Though the possibility of a meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month is not being ruled out, there are clear indications that India will not make any firm commitment about it beforehand.

The policy now is to play it by the ear and see how the situation evolves. India will be particularly keen to see whether the restraint shown by Pakistan along the Line of Control was being maintained. If it does, the possibility of a meeting brightens.

Next week, foreign secretary Chokila Iyer is likely to meet her Pakistani counterpart, Inamul Haq, in Colombo on the sidelines of the Saarc senior officials’ meeting. Though it will give the two sides an opportunity to maintain their contact, the meeting is unlikely to achieve any major breakthrough on Kashmir. Another factor which the Indian leadership is keeping in mind is to see how the Kashmiri militant groups, particularly the Lashkar-e-Toiba, behave on Independence Day.


Calcutta, Aug. 3: 
Ananda Mohan Sardar, born into a poor peasant family in Rameshwarpur, a small village in South 24-Parganas, became a rickshaw-van puller before he turned 18. At the end of each day of toil, he would pay Rs 5 to the owner of the vehicle and resign himself to life in a perpetual debt trap.

But one morning in 1993 changed all that. A man in his thirties, who had hopped on to his cycle van, asked Sardar “what if” he was given a new van by that evening which would become “his own” against a payment of Rs 5 every day for a year.

“Yes, babu,” replied Sardar. Within three years, he was the proud owner of three vans.

Today, Sardar is his own man. And the slightly-built, soft-spoken “babu” who made it possible is busy bringing about a silent revolution of self-reliance through micro-finance in a remote corner of South 24-Parganas.

The man: Kapilananda Mondal. The mission: Teaching thousands in Lakshmikantapur and adjoining villages a life of self-dependence through a simple method of return-on-savings. The medium: Vivekananda Seva Kendra-O-Sishu Udyan (VSK). The “miracle”: A successful micro-banking model with parallels only with the path-breaking Gramin Bank of Bangladesh. This, in the villages of a state struggling to establish any credibility in industrial enterprise.

Started by Mondal and a few fellow residents of Ullon village in 1983, the movement today involves more than 7,000 villagers in 175 villages of 24 gram panchayats, covering 25 big markets in six blocks of South 24- Parganas. Set up to bring about “a change in the quality of life of the rural poor” with Rs 150, VSK now has a cumulative deposit of Rs 6,03,91,453. It registered a profit of Rs 15 lakh last year, and aims to post Rs 25 lakh in the next fiscal.

The profits from the “100 per cent recovery” mechanism have been “ploughed back” in the locality through development activities ranging from child health and education to women’s empowerment; plantations and afforestation to infrastructure; improvement of civic facilities to employment opportunities.

The work is being carried out in a dusty corner of Bengal — a half-an-hour rickshaw ride from Lakshmikantapur station. But the word has spread wide — Sidbi (Small Industries Development Bank of India) has just sanctioned a loan of Rs 50 lakh. “We have studied and analysed their system in detail to conclude that they are doing a great job,” said a Sidbi official in Calcutta.

The view was echoed by Tarun Debnath, project manager with CARE: “Their performance and product development is excellent. We have plans to work with them in close synergy and kick off similar programmes in nearby localities.”

M-CRIL (Micro-credit Ratings and Guarantees India Ltd.), which ran an assessment of VSK, awarded them a high (“beta plus”) rating.

“In 1994, we started addressing economic issues in the region, mainly of wage labourers, vendors and businessmen,” recounts Mondal, in white shirt and trousers on a stroll around the sprawling, but spotlessly clean VSK compound. “It was found that they required funds for sustenance through small enterprise and various income-generating activities. But the local banks were indifferent to their credit needs and so we kicked off our micro-credit scheme.”

Seven summers later, a dedicated team of 45 staff members works round the clock throughout the year, visiting markets, collecting deposits and disbursing loans to individuals and groups. Anyone who becomes a primary member with a deposit of Rs 10 is eligible for loan — and insurance cover for medical and educational expenditure, beside accidents — if he is “a regular saver for a minimum period of six months”.

The impact of VSK’s success is now beginning to show on the banks in the area. As Birat Haldar, a tea-stall owner in Bijoygunje market and a VSK member, put it: “I have stopped going to banks. Neither do they treat us properly nor do they have the rewarding schemes that can match ours.”

Mondal is aware that his “parallel banking system” could face flak from the authorities. But the man who has “never turned to the government for help” — depending, instead, on his father to plant thousands of trees lining the three-kilometre stretch leading to their compound; his wife to support him through every “mad move”; and his people to make his dreams come true — is not perturbed.

“Our fool proof system is a pointer to the fact that things can be done through collective effort at a local level. We are aware that the government has the power to stop it, but can it replace it with a better system?” smiles the man who draws inspiration from “the lives of Gandhi and Lincoln”, and the “films of Raj Kapoor and Nana Patekar” in his quest to bring about a “socio-economic change where it matters most”.




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A few spells of light to moderate rain.
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