Death crush under cinema shelter
Fiscal reason over rhetoric
Atal anguish fails to sway Sangh
Delhi discovery of Bond’s boss
Airport raid saves girls
Muthiah in Ficci pad-up
Babri talks pressure on PM
Calcutta Weather

 
 
DEATH CRUSH UNDER CINEMA SHELTER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 10: 
Driven by blinding rain to a handy shelter during the evening rush-hour, three people were crushed to death and 15 injured when a 1,000-square-foot awning of Society cinema collapsed on them.

About 100 people had scurried for cover under the awning when it came crashing down around 5.30 pm.

The incident in the heart of the city not only exposed the fragility of public places but also the lack of preparedness and coordination among authorities in responding to an emergency. A snarled rescue effort took time to take off and several people were trapped under the debris for over five hours.

Rescuers managed to extricate two bodies from under the rubble around 8.45 pm. However, the body of the third victim lay with its head and chest caught under an 80-foot-long concrete slab. The victim was pulled out later but he was declared dead on being taken to SSKM Hospital.

Calcutta Municipal Corporation officials said the dead were yet to be identified. Most of the 15 injured were removed to SSKM while the rest were admitted to Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital.

Director of fire services Banabehari Pathak said the three iron beams that supported the huge mass of concrete at the cinema were defective and they gave way, weakened by years of neglect and the evening’s heavy rain. “The beams, bent by years of neglect, could not take the load of the stretch of concrete balcony,” he added.

The movie hall was screening Seduction, an erotic thriller, when the awning tumbled and viewers had to be escorted out through emergency gates after chaos reigned for sometime. The authorities of the poorly-maintained hall, barely a block from the CMC headquarters, had vanished by then.

Eyewitnesses said residents rushed in and launched a rescue operation before the fire brigade and civic officials arrived at the spot. When the officials did come, they squandered away time by arguing among themselves on the best way of freeing the trapped.

Some CMC and fire brigade personnel had arrived within minutes of the crash, but they could be little more than helpless spectators as the crane provided to them proved inadequate against the huge slab.

Later, CMC engineers, unused to managing such a complex rescue operation, seemed to be in a fix about how to use the crane requisitioned from Larsen and Toubro. Another crane and payloader arrived around 8.30 pm.

By this time, however, the panic-stricken people trapped under the concrete had started crying for help. “Ek helmet do (Give me a helmet),” screamed Omar Sheikh. “I can’t take it any longer.”

The commotion increased as senior officials and the fire services minister arrived. Their efforts to speed up the rescue mission backfired as policemen struggled to keep them “safe” from the surging crowd. The police had a trying time in tackling the crowd, which turned restive at the delay in carrying out the rescue operation.

It was a band of youths which first pulled out some of those trapped. “We pulled out one woman with mangled hands even before the fire brigade personnel arrived,” Biswanath Das, a New Market porter and one of the first rescuers, said.

Among the ruins were people looking for their relatives. One of them was Dayanand Prasad searching for his younger brother, Raju, whom he had sent for buying sweets.

At least eight people were trapped under the other half of the giant concrete — on the western side — and they were rescued around 10.30 pm.

Most of the witnesses, contrary to informed opinion, believed that a flash of lightning had caused the mishap.

   

 
 
FISCAL REASON OVER RHETORIC 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 10: 
After the Prime Minister’s adventurous spend-your-way-out-of-trouble strategy announcement last week, caution took over today as economists reminded the government of the already fragile condition of its finances.

They said that inherent in a policy of splurging on large public projects to reignite a slumbering economy was the risk of the fiscal deficit — expenditure exceeding income — spiralling out of control.

The recast economic advisory council told the government to cap expenditure at the budgeted level and refrain from overspending — a spectre raised last Friday when the Prime Minister and his wise men told members of the trade and industry advisory council that they were ready to unleash a spending spree on public projects.

Reason appeared to prevail over rhetoric today with finance minister Yashwant Sinha saying: “The broad consensus is that restraining the fiscal deficit is important and any additional investment should be judged in this light.”

In his opening remarks, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said: “Ours is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The macroeconomic health of the economy is good with low and stable inflation, adequate foodgrain stocks and good foreign exchange reserves. But this cannot hide the deeper maladies of the system; there is no room for complacency over the grave nature of the current economic slowdown.”

The consensus at the meeting was to boost public investment and meet the deadlines set for implementing reforms. “Fresh investments in this scenario can only come from the private sector. It has been agreed that reforms should be pushed. Without this, one can’t expect substantial private investment flows,” Sinha said.

He said the economists wanted the government to take a number of steps, including speeding up privatisation, downsizing of government, launching an energetic food-for-work programme and encouraging investment in construction and housing.

“Sentiments in the capital markets have to improve. Immediate steps will be taken in these areas. Financial sector reforms also have to be brought on to the fast track.”

The minister said some of the issues discussed at the meeting were to end the administered price mechanism, power reforms, levying realistic user charges for public utility services and reduction of import levies.

“The implementation of these policies is the key to reviving the economy. The government understands that it should lose no time in carrying forward these reforms, but we will have to reach a political consensus,” Sinha said.

   

 
 
ATAL ANGUISH FAILS TO SWAY SANGH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 10: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s efforts to tug at the RSS’ heartstrings by expressing his “deep hurt” at its attacks on his economic policy, his office and his foster family have failed to move the Sangh.

Instead of sounding contrite, RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya went on the front foot and asserted today: “The RSS will be putting forth its stand on all important issues as explicitly and unequivocally as possible. We are not going to bind ourselves by the constraints and compulsions of coalition politics.”

In an interview yesterday, Vajpayee had admitted that in the first three years of his tenure, he had been much too preoccupied with the survival of the 24-party coalition, his knee problem and the criticisms from within the Sangh to think of governance. But now, he claimed, he was ready to straighten things out.

Vajpayee was quoted as telling the Sangh leadership that they were not only “harming” the nation but themselves, too, by their criticisms. “Does it help to go around conveying the impression that while this is your government, it does not listen to you? Does this enhance your stature or clout?” he was quoted as asking.

To this, Vaidya’s riposte was: “This government is not the RSS’ government and there will be no RSS government even in future times. We have nothing to do with the policies of the NDA government and we do not exert any pressure on its policies. We only make our point of view clear.”

To hammer home the RSS’ stand, Vaidya made it clear that it would not give up any of the issues the BJP had put on the backburner in its pursuit of coalition politics, like the Ram temple, Article 370 and a ban on cow slaughter.

Although the BJP and RSS have always for the record maintained that they are autonomous organisations, the fact that the party is a political offspring of the Sangh and has been created specifically to give its parent legitimacy and a voice in mainstream politics has strengthened the umbilical cord. It is taken for granted that during an election, RSS cadre will work for the BJP. On its part, BJP leaders have privately admitted their unstinting admiration and gratitude for RSS help and support.

Today, for the first time, Vaidya openly said the RSS would not work for the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh elections. “The RSS will not issue directives to its members to work and vote for a particular party or candidate. But if BJP people approach the RSS cadre, they (Sangh activists) can use their own option,” he said.

The RSS’ mechanism of electoral backup has always been covert. Direct appeals to work and vote for the BJP are rarely, if ever, issued. It was only in 1984, after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, that RSS veteran Nanaji Deshmukh gave a call to activists to vote for the Congress. The BJP was wiped out in that election. Deshmukh’s call was resented by the BJP and cost him a place in the Sangh.

Today, Vaidya addressed the media as the RSS’ official spokesman, a status which makes it amply clear that the views he expressed were not his own.

   

 
 
DELHI DISCOVERY OF BOND’S BOSS 
 
 
FROM SHRABANI BASU
 
London, Sept. 10: 
The former chief of British intelligence, Stella Rimington, whose controversial memoirs are being published this week, has revealed how she was recruited by the secret service in Delhi when she was just a bored diplomat’s wife.

The former spy chief took the world by storm when the British government decided to make her appointment public, revealing that a woman was head of the famous MI5. The international media then had had a field day when they discovered that James Bond’s famous ‘M’ — the name used to describe the head of Her Majesty’s Secret Service in the novels and films — was actually a Mrs. Rimington made further headlines when after retiring from the top job, she decided to take on the establishment by announcing that she was going to write her memoirs. The former spy chief felt she had a story to tell: what it was like to be a woman at the heart of the secret service.

But her announcement was greeted with horror by both the government and media commentators. The government tried its best to stop the book’s publication by constantly leaking stories and launching a media campaign. The book was finally cleared for publication (after Rimington agreed to a few cuts) this July, though the government made it clear that it regretted and disapproved of Rimington’s decision to publish. Open Secret goes on the stands on Thursday and is being serialised by The Guardian.

In it, Rimington describes how she was a bored 32-year-old housewife when she was first approached by the MI5 in Delhi. Her husband, John, was a diplomat and the couple were posted there. Soon the fateful day arrived. “One day in the summer of 1967, as I was walking through the British High Commission compound in Delhi, someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was one of the first secretaries in the high commission and although I knew he did something secret, I didn’t know exactly what, as one was not encouraged to enquire about these things,” she writes.

“He was a baronet who lived a comfortable life in one of the more spacious high commission houses and was best known for his excellent Sunday curry lunches. The baronet asked me whether, if I had a little spare time on my hands, I might consider helping him out at the office.”

Rimington recalls how the next day she went to meet him and was told that he was the MI5 representative in India. She was asked if she would be interested in working for him on a temporary basis.

At that time, Rimington was spending her time making toys for a toy fair, being held by an organisation run by the high commission. It meant she spent her afternoons sewing stuffed toys. The young Rimington wrote back home: “They have offered me a job working in the secret part of the high commission for Ł5 a week, which I think I will take. It will help to keep me out of the gonk-making.” Gonks were the stuffed toys that Rimington had to make.

The baronet had noticed her because she and her husband frequently took picnic lunches by the high commission swimming pool. She was recruited as a secretary even though she was only a two-finger typist.

But what Stella Rimington did not know was that long before she was approached, discreet inquiries had been made and recommendations sought. Her former headmistress had recommended Stella as the “kind of girl who does not shirk unpleasant jobs. She is reliable and discreet, or at least as reliable and discreet as most young ladies of her age”.

When Stella and her husband returned to England after his posting was over in 1969, she went on to join the MI5 as a permanent employee which would see her eventually taking on the top job several years later.

She arrived for work at the MI5 headquarters at Leconfield House on Curzon Street, London, in 1969, wearing a striped Indian silk suit with a miniskirt and a little hat. Her long hair was tied in a bun. Immediately she knew she was in an all-male traditional environment. She describes her colleagues in those days as a small group of military officers, mostly from similar backgrounds, all working in great secrecy.

They mostly lived in Guildford, a well-heeled area outside London, and spent their spare time gardening.

In the summer of 1969, during her first run at the MI5 in London, her job was to identify as many members of the Communist Party of Great Britain and having identified them, open files on them. Rimington has also revealed how the secret service was used to break the miners’ strike.

In the eighties, she became an agent runner and later director of counter-intelligence.

In 1990, just before Christmas, she was informed that she would be the next director general and that her appointment would be made public. She was the first woman to hold the post — it was bound to cause a stir.

Knowing the media would be hounding her, Rimington took off with her daughter, Harriet, and went to stay in a hotel. No photograph of hers had yet appeared, though the media was on the hunt. Finally when she moved back home after getting tired of cowering in a hotel, she was besieged by the press who had discovered her house and began camping outside to get the first photographs.

All they had unearthed before that were some old fuzzy photographs of her in a tatty coat taken years back. Those pictures were all the media initially had to reveal the famous face of the spy chief. “That taught me what all women in public life have to learn fast: that you’d better look as good as you can, whatever you are doing, in case there is a telephoto lens about,” she writes in her book.

   

 
 
AIRPORT RAID SAVES GIRLS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Sept. 10: 
Police yesterday rescued four Manipuri girls, all below 15, from the clutches of four persons who had recruited them as domestic helps and were about to take them to Punjab.

The girls were preparing to board a flight to Calcutta along with their “employers” when a police team raided Imphal airport and rescued them.

The four girls have been identified as Munu Begum (11), Thoibi Begum (11), Leina Begum (14) and Rahamani (12). Three of their arrested employers — Saran Pal, Surjit Singh and Harbhajan Singh, all from Chandigarh —were today remanded in judicial custody for three days. The fourth, a woman, was granted bail on health grounds. She has been identified as Kuldip Kaur.

Sources said poverty forced the girls’ parents, members of the Meitei Pangal (Manipuri Muslim) community, to strike a deal with the persons. The salary was fixed at Rs 300 each per month and Rs 1,000 was paid as advance to the parents for each girl.

The police got wind of the deal when Shamsuddin Janab, the father of one of the girls, had a change of heart and complained to security personnel at the airport that his daughter was being forcibly taken to Punjab.

Airport security immediately informed Singjamei police station about the matter. A police team led by inspector Jyotin Singh reached the airport within minutes and took the four girls and their employers into custody.

All the four accused have been booked under Section 363 A of the IPC and Section 14 of the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986. They have been charged with abduction of minors.

Ibemcha Begum, the mother of one of the girls, confirmed that the Chandigarh-based persons had promised to pay Rs 300 every month for her daughter’s services.

She said Haliman, a Manipuri woman employed as a domestic by a Punjabi family at Khoyathong in Imphal, introduced her to the accused.

Haliman, however, denied having anything to do with the affair, but admit that some Manipuri girls, including her child, were working outside the state as domestic helps.

   

 
 
MUTHIAH IN FICCI PAD-UP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 10: 
Spic chief A.C. Muthiah is set to make a comeback to Ficci at the cost of R.V. Kanoria who has resigned as vice-president of the apex industry association.

Muthiah was senior vice-president of Ficci and the president-elect when he stepped aside last November. He had then said his responsibilities as the head of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) were too onerous and time-consuming for him to assume charge at Ficci. Charges of match-fixing against several players had created a crisis of administration in the BCCI. Muthiah said he was stepping aside for a year in an effort to beef up cricket administration.

Then, R.V. Kanoria, vice-chairman and managing director of the Calcutta-based Kanoria Chemicals and Industries, took over as vice-president. Tax consultant R.S. Lodha is senior vice-president.

The next term of the new executive in Ficci will be decided after its annual meeting in November. By convention, the senior vice-president takes over as the next president. Unless the executive decides otherwise, Lodha will take over as Ficci chief in the next term. But, with Muthiah returning, it is almost certain that he will be asked to take up the job.

Muthiah’s return to Ficci comes at a time when he is not on the best of terms with Jagmohan Dalmiya in the BCCI. Muthiah and Dalmiya could be contesting against each other in the next BCCI poll. Speculation is rife that Muthiah’s return to Ficci could be the result of a trade-off brokered by a leading industrialist close to both who also has a stake in the running of Ficci.

The argument being made within Ficci is that the apex chamber needs a head with a high profile and enough clout to match that of the Confederation of Indian Industry. The current Ficci chief is Chirayu R. Amin, head of the Alembic Group. Muthiah has been offered the Ficci presidentship thrice in the past, the first time in 1992-93.

Ficci sources said the suggestion that Kanoria leave to make way for Muthiah was made last week. Kanoria was unhappy. However, the Ficci executive committee was strongly in favour of Muthiah’s return and there was pressure on Kanoria to put in his papers.

A Ficci source said it was felt that the “commitment made to Muthiah had to be kept”. Muthiah had stepped aside last year on the understanding that it was for a year.

Last year, too, Ficci sources said, it was politely suggested that it was best for Muthiah and the industry body if he cleared his commitments elsewhere. Spic was also embroiled in cases — one concerning disinvestment of its shares along with Jayalalitha – some of which have since been settled.

   

 
 
BABRI TALKS PRESSURE ON PM 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, Sept. 10: 
Breaking its long silence, the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board executive today urged Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to reveal the identity of individuals and organisations he has been negotiating with on the Ayodhya dispute.

The board, which is the representative body of Muslim sects in India, clarified that it has not been approached so far.

Chairman Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, who presided over the executive meeting, said the board was the only institution that could speak on behalf of the Muslim community on the Babri masjid issue.

The executive later passed a resolution regretting Vajpayee’s remarks on Ayodhya.

“It is regretfully noted that the statement issued by the Prime Minister that the negotiations are going on on the Babri masjid issue and there would be solution by March 12, 2002, is baseless and actuated with political motivations, bearing in mind the electoral politics of Uttar Pradesh,” the resolution said.

The board members were unanimous that on a sensitive issue like Ayodhya, secret parleys with “non-representative and hand-picked persons” would not be consistent with the norms of democracy.

No resolution to the Ayodhya dispute would be acceptable to the Muslim community if it is arrived through a “secret deal”, the board said.

The community would not forgive any individual who signed on the dotted lines to please Vajpayee, it added.

The board accused the Prime Minister of endorsing the VHP’s line by promising to find a solution by March 12, 2002. “He (Vajpayee) has, in fact, endorsed its demand in principle and has, in a sense, put the special bench of Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court on notice to render a verdict by the deadline,” it said.

Vajpayee had surprised people by announcing in the Lok Sabha last month that his government was in touch with Muslim organisations to resolve the Ayodhya dispute.

He did not give the names of the organisations, saying this would go against “public interest”.

Muslim leaders have so far claimed ignorance on the issue. Government sources indicated that it was in touch with some lesser-known Muslim organisations and individuals.

These leaders are unsure about the possibility of an out-of-court settlement as influential opinion-makers within the Muslim community want the mosque to be rebuilt at the spot where it fell on December 6, 1992 — a position that is unacceptable to the VHP and Ramjanmabhoomi trust.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32°C (0)
Minimum: 26.7°C (+1)

Rainfall

39.9 mm;

Relative humidity

Max: 90%
Min: 76%

Today:

Light to moderate rain accompanied by thunder in some areas.
Sunrise: 5.25 am
Sunset: 5.42 pm
   
 

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