Opp. block to strike-bust
Khadim’s trail peters out in the hills
CBI seeks nod to get Purulia papers
Power snap threat to big defaulters
Bloc demand for Buddha’s deputy
Labour unions fear pink-slip ambush
Sangh parivar on tightrope
Paswan rules out retrenchment
India beeps on Israel radar
Jaya’s stars on collision course

 
 
OPP. BLOCK TO STRIKE-BUST 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 10: 
A day after Jyoti Basu asked trade unions not to forsake their right to call strikes, the main Opposition party, Trinamul Congress, demanded that the Left Front first set its house in order before calling an all-party meeting to end agitation involving blocking roads and railway tracks.

Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said Left Front constituents and their trade union wings have questioned a blanket ban on road blockades and rail roko.

“Even the CPM’s labour arm, Citu, is against it and Jyoti Basu has asked the trade unions not to give up their right to strike. So, let Buddhababu restore order in his own house first. Then we will think about attending an all-party meeting convened by him. But, at the same time, he will have to apologise to the people because it is the communists who introduced the politics of violence and agitation in Bengal in the 1950s,” said Banerjee.

He claimed the chief minister was annoyed because he was held up by a rail roko by the CPM’s student wing, SFI, on his way back to the city from Siliguri recently. “But it is his party which started the politics of cholchhena cholbena and hartal in Bengal. When the tram fare was increased by one paise, it was the communists who burnt trams in Calcutta. After coming to power, the Left Front has called bandhs from within Writers’ Buildings and prevented employees from attending office over the past 25 years. Buddhababu should now apologise for the inconvenience caused to the people by state-sponsored bandhs.”

Last Friday, Bhattacharjee had told the Front partners that he wanted to call an all-party meeting to put an end to rail roko and rasta roko by political parties.

Left Front constituents had argued that blocking railway tracks and roads was part of democratic movement and it could not be stopped without discussions with trade unions. They demanded that the issue be first discussed at the party level and called for specific guidelines in this regard.

   

 
 
KHADIM’S TRAIL PETERS OUT IN THE HILLS 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Sept. 10: 
CID sleuths on the trail of local contacts of the Dubai-based abduction racket believed to be behind the kidnap of Khadim’s owner have not met with success so far.

A senior Darjeeling police official said a CID team raided possible hideouts Siliguri, Darjeeling hills and Kalimpong to trace the kidnap suspects named by Harpeet Singh alias Happy.

“We were alerted by the CID that some of Parthapratim Roy Burman’s abductors could be holed up either in Siliguri or Kalimpong. But raids conducted by a handful of ‘selected’ local CID sleuths and ‘trusted’ local officials drew a blank. The CID kept the entire operation under wraps,” the police official said. However, both the Darjeeling superintendent of police, Sanjay Chander, and the deputy superintendent of police, CID, Siliguri, claimed they were ignorant of the raids.

But a top official said on condition of anonymity that the raids followed Happy’s revelations. “It is possible that Happy’s local contacts and the four others named by him, including Rohit, Meraz, Younis Khan and Surindra Singh, are possibly holed up somewhere here or in the hills. The CID is still trying to locate the abductors’ local hideouts and contacts in the hills,” he said.

Apprehending that the abductors could try to slip into neighbouring Nepal, the police have intensified vigil along the border. They are believed to be running a thorough check in Kalimpong.

At the same time, newly-inducted deputy inspector-general of police (industrial security) A.K. Maliwal’s visit to the region also generated a lot of interest within the security circles here.

Malaiwal, who took over the newly-created post to monitor security and industrial relations, is believed to have been given the mandate of looking into the spree of abductions in the state.

Recently, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had said that the DIG (industrial security) would liaison with the captains of industry and try to instil a sense of security among the business community in the state that has been badly shaken up after the recent spate of abductions.

Chander confirmed the DIG’s visit but said his visit had nothing to do with either the Khadim’s abduction or the kidnap of Mukesh Agarwal, the owner of an amusement centre in Siliguri. “The DIG is on a routine visit of the six north Bengal district to take stock of the industrial security arrangements in the region,” Chander said.

   

 
 
CBI SEEKS NOD TO GET PURULIA PAPERS 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 10: 
The Central Bureau of Investigation today told Calcutta High Court that it wants to be a party to the hearing on the presidential pardon granted to the five Latvians in the Purulia armsdrop case.

The CBI counsel sought an order of the court asking the appellants and respondents to supply all relevant documents on the case to them.

The division bench of Justice N.A. Chowdhury and Justice N. Seal criticised the CBI’s role in the release of the convicts despite cases were pending against them. The bench asked the CBI to file a fresh application demanding the documents of the case.

The superintendent of Alipore central jail appeared before the court. Public prosecutor Kazi Safiullah , the counsel for the jail superintendent, prayed before the court to be allowed to file affidavits stating under what circumstances his client had released the Latvian convicts from jail.

The court allowed the jail superintendent to file an affidavit on Tuesday when the matter will come up for hearing again.

   

 
 
POWER SNAP THREAT TO BIG DEFAULTERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Sept. 10: 
The state government will disconnect power supply of all industrial units, including state and Central public sector undertakings, that have huge outstanding dues.

“Except in some special cases like reopening of a closed factory, all industrial units will have to face the consequences if the dues are not paid,” power minister Mrinal Banerjee said.

“If you have consumed power, you have to pay the bill at any cost and I am not in a position to accept any excuse,” the minister added.

Banerjee held a meeting with power secretary A.M. Chakraborty and asked him to issue a notice to all bulk consumers. He also asked him to be strict while collecting long-pending dues.

Durgapur Projects Ltd, a state-owned power unit, has issued a 15-day ultimatum to all consumers in the industrial belt to pay their dues. The consumers include a number of major industrial units like MAMC and ABBL. Their accumulated dues run to over Rs 100 crore.

“Coal India is putting pressure on us to pay the dues worth Rs 183 crore against supply of coal and they will stop supply if the amount is not paid immediately. But if our consumers do not pay, where will we get the money from? We have no alternative but to be strict,’’ a senior DPL official said.

But several trade union leaders have asked the minister to soften his stand. They argued that many of these units would turn sick if they have to cough up their dues in a hurry.

The minister, however, was unrelenting. He said he would soon convene a meeting of major defaulters to apprise them of the situation. “We had stopped power supply to CESC as they did not pay the dues. The industrial units cannot get any additional advantage,” Banerjee added.

   

 
 
BLOC DEMAND FOR BUDDHA’S DEPUTY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 10: 
State agriculture minister and Forward Bloc leader Kamal Guha today said he would urge his party to raise his demand for a deputy to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at a Left Front forum.

He would first raise the issue within his party, Guha said at Writers’ Buildings today, so that the Forward Bloc could take it up formally in the Left Front. Guha had first raised the demand at a meeting in north Bengal last week.

The minister pointed out work pressure on Bhattacharjee had increased in the past few months. “The chief minister is in charge of a department which has to keep an eye on the goings-on in far-off Dubai,” he said, referring to the alleged Dubai angle to the Parthapratim Roy Burman abduction case.

“The chief minister, because of the NDA government at the Centre, also has to keep in mind the country’s interests vis-a-vis the WTO treaty and also keep himself busy raising issues such as the communalisation of politics and the saffronisation of education,” Guha added.

“But I don’t want to be the deputy chief minister nor do I want the post to come to my party,” he said.

   

 
 
LABOUR UNIONS FEAR PINK-SLIP AMBUSH 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 10: 

Last-ditch bid to avert Ordinance

Afraid that the Prime Minister will push through labour reforms without waiting for Parliament’s winter session and at a loss how to stop him, trade unions are bracing for the most “difficult and traumatic” stage of economic restructuring.

“We have reasons to believe the government may bring an Ordinance to implement labour law reforms,” Citu general secretary M.K. Pandhe said.

The unions fear that the proposed reforms will put millions of jobs in the direct line of fire.

The Citu leader pointed out that the finance ministry is getting more and more restive to make good the commitment its minister, Yashwant Sinha, had made on changing labour laws in his last Budget speech.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, too, is impatient to get over with the labour reforms.

But the labour ministry is unwilling to push through the changes. “In this kind of a situation, the Cabinet can direct the labour ministry to issue an Ordinance,” Pandhe said.

Faced with the most daunting challenge since the launch of economic reforms, the unions have sunk their differences and are trying to work out a joint protest.

The Left unions will meet tomorrow to discuss their strategy. The next meeting will have a wider representation of labour leaders from the Congress-backed Intuc and the BJP-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS).

But if the government pushes through the labour reforms, the unions will have to devise a more effective strategy than before to make their presence felt.

Asked what they will do, Pandhe came up with his stock response: “Militant struggle”. The Citu leader and his comrades-in-arms have said this before. But this time, the labour leaders know they will have to spread and mobilise all the support they have.

A section of political leaders, however, says the Centre may not take the risk of bringing an Ordinance which will have to be ratified by Parliament within six months if it is to be operational.

The Congress, once the most aggressive proponent of reforms, is now clearly on the other side. For the government to succeed, it has to have the support of the main Opposition party. At the moment, the Congress is saying a loud “No” to the labour reforms.

“But in Maharashtra, the Congress government has already implemented these changes,” Pandhe pointed out. He does not think the NDA allies will resist the drastic changes either. Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has already told the Centre that his state wants to change the laws on industrial disputes. The question, however, is whether the government would stick its neck out on the eve of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, particularly when the tottering economy is showing no signs of throwing up jobs or reviving growth. The National Sample Survey has outlined a stark scenario: No jobs.

“On top of this, the government wants to take away jobs from those who have them —- especially the most vulnerable,” say labour leaders. A senior adviser in labour ministry says the reforms are an essential input to liberalisation, but implementing them without giving the workers a proper buffer is pushing them into the jaws of death.

   

 
 
SANGH PARIVAR ON TIGHTROPE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 10: 
The BJP and the RSS were today defensive on the proposed labour reforms even as the Congress ruled out supporting the changes outlined by finance minister Yashwant Sinha in his last Budget speech.

“Our top priority would be to protect the interests of the labour class and, if any protection is required, we will definitely give our suggestions to the government,” BJP general secretary and spokesman Sunil Shastri said at a press briefing.

Shastri said the BJP, before committing itself, would prefer to wait for the National Commission of Labour to give its recommendations. He made it clear that the party would expect the proposals to be debated and discussed in Parliament before they were legislated into law. The BJP, he added, would oppose any move to bring them through the back-door through an Ordinance.

Shastri said the amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act and the Contract Labour Act contained in the last Budget were in the nature of suggestions and not enforceable as law.

The changes will make retrenchment easier — industrial units with 1,000 or more employees will be able to trim their work force without the government’s permission. Earlier, the mandated limit was 100 workers.

The amendments have been severely criticised by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), a Sangh parivar constituent, and the RSS’ labour wing, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS).

But within the BJP itself, different voices were heard. Pyarelal Khandelwal, another general secretary, said he would go along with the government’s decision. “Under the existing circumstances we will support the labour reforms. Even in communist regimes, economic reforms have got underway,” he said.

Asked to explain the BMS and the SJM’s opposition, Khandelwal said: “Labour unions have their own interests and are compelled to keep themselves alive. But, of course, reforms does not mean there should be unemployment.”

RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya said he was confident the Centre would be able to work out a compromise with the trade unions. “The government is capable of sorting out the problems and some compromise can be reached,” he said.

The Congress remained unmoved by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s call for Opposition support to labour reforms. “We cannot support what has been outlined by Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha in his Budget speech,” spokesman Jaipal Reddy said. “The Congress cannot and will not support a hire-and-fire policy at any cost.”

Reddy dismissed Vajpayee’s claim that Sonia Gandhi was opposing labour reforms because of political compulsions. “There are none whatsoever. We are opposed to labour reforms out of ideological impulsions and not political compulsions that Vajpayee is talking about,” he said.

Vajpayee had sought the Congress’ help in pushing through the reforms in an interview yesterday. The Centre needs the main Opposition party’s support to get the legislation passed in both Houses of Parliament, particularly in the Rajya Sabha where it lacks even a simple majority.

   

 
 
PASWAN RULES OUT RETRENCHMENT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 10: 
In his first press conference today as coal and mines minister, Ram Vilas Paswan today announced a plethora of populist measures.

Contradicting talks of downsizing government staff, Paswan made it clear that there was no question of retrenching any of the 5,32,000 personnel in his ministry. “Employees are our eyes. We will not retrench anybody,” he said, adding that it would be a different matter if someone opted for the voluntary retirement scheme.

The minister also declared measures to improve the workers’ lot, ensure better safety and transparency as well as increase coal production and profit.

He promised to rehabilitate in a phased manner the 35,000 families living in hazardous condition near various mines.

Paswan said he would introduce innovation in marketing so that coal is easily available to the public at reasonable prices.

Wages would be paid in cheques to help casual labourers, part of whose wages are appropriated by the mafia, and spouses of those who were habitual drinkers.

The Union minister said he would reward officials who were sincere, dedicated and dynamic. “I will do what I did in the railways and communications ministries. There are dedicated officers. I will not allow honest officers to get demoralised because those who indulge in corrupt practices are rewarded. I will take strict action against the wrongdoers while rewarding the upright,” the minister said.

Paswan said he would soon meet Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi to discuss problems relating to mines in the state. His primary concern would be law and order, rehabilitation, illegal mining, safety measures and digging of new mines, he said.

The minister said he also planned to meet chief ministers of other coal-producing states like Assam, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

He added that he had talks with Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. Paswan said he is planning a national seminar on problems faced by coal mines.

He said it was baffling that several PSUs were running on losses while individuals and other institutions involved with coal and mines were making huge profits.

   

 
 
INDIA BEEPS ON ISRAEL RADAR 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 10: 
China’s loss may be India’s gain. Israel’s sophisticated Phalcon Early Warning Radar System, which was denied to China, may be purchased by India after years of hesitation. Short of the sale, the two nations will discuss the deal during a two-day strategic dialogue beginning here tomorrow.

This is the third round of strategic dialogue between India and Israel since the process began in 1999.

Israeli national security advisor Uzi Dayan — nephew of Israeli leader Moshe Dayan — will meet his Indian counterpart Brajesh Mishra to discuss bilateral relations, including developments in their respective regions.

The two sides are especially keen to cooperate on defence, terrorism, information technology and agriculture.

Though one of the high points will be the finalising of the Phalcon deal, nothing is being officially said given the sensitivity of the agreement.

Initially, Israel had been negotiating with China to sell the radar system but it was scuttled because of US opposition.

Though the sale of the radar system was discussed by foreign minister Jaswant Singh during his visit to Israel last year, Tel Aviv made it clear that a final decision was yet to be taken.

The Bush Administration opposes the sale of the radar system to China though it has no objection if the system is sold to India. However, till the American sanctions on India remain, such a move will violate US domestic laws. India and Israel will finalise the purchase agreement when the US sanctions are lifted.

Once India acquires the sophisticated system from Israel, its air force will have an edge over the Chinese and Pakistani air forces. It is likely that any official announcement or hints on the deal will draw protests from China and this is one of the reasons the issue is not being acknowledged in the official agenda.

Terrorism is another area where the two nations are keen to cooperate but little will be officially said on it.

Union home minister L.K. Advani had sparked off a controversy during his visit to Israel last year with his alleged remark that the two sides should work closely in the nuclear field. This drew protests from India’s traditional allies in the Islamic world, forcing South Block to issue hurried denials that such remarks were made by Advani.

Both Israel and India are considered leaders in the information technology sector and can complement each other in this area. Agriculture is another field where both sides want to expand their cooperation.

The two nations will also exchange views on political developments in their respective regions. On West Asia, New Delhi has stressed that there should be an immediate cessation of violence and Israelis and Palestinians should resume peace talks.

   

 
 
JAYA’S STARS ON COLLISION COURSE 
 
 
FROM VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
 
Thiruvananthapuram, Sept. 10: 
As Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha turns increasingly towards advice of the stars to tide over political and judicial troubles, Kerala’s astrologers are fighting over what the stars have in store for her.

The fight is between Parappanangandi Unnikrishnan, Jayalalitha’s most trusted astrologer based at Tirur in the central Kerala district of Malappuram, and Sundara Vadivel Swami of the southern district of Idukki.

According to Unnikrishnan, Jayalalitha’s present problems with the Supreme Court and the threat of losing chief ministership are on account of a “bad gaze” from Saturn. He is of the view that this “gaze” would end by the end of the year.

Unnikrishnan also predicts that Jayalalitha would get back to power early next year, even if she loses it in the near future. Jayalalitha has constantly been in touch with Unnikrishnan and had spoken to him at least twice in the past one week.

Swami, states that it is Unnikrishnan’s recipe to propitiate the gods that has landed Jayalaitha in the present situation.

After her victory in the assembly polls Unnikrishnan had advised Jayalaitha to present an elephant at the Guruvayoor Srikrishna temple and to make other offerings at the Parappanangadi Hanuman temple in Malappuram district and also in the Taliparamba Raja Rajeshwari temple in Kannur district. Jayalalitha had carried out these instructions in June even as Tamil Nadu was in turmoil following the midnight arrest of DMK leader M. Karunanidhi.

According to Swami, the important factor that has put Jayalalitha in the present situation is the offering of the elephant at the Guruvayoor temple.

Swami says if a ruler presents an elephant, which is considered to be a royal animal, at the gate of a temple it is equivalent to surrendering the crown to the temple. “Through this act Jayalalitha had got into a contract with the gods to lose her crown. She is bound to lose it in any case.” He has no doubts about this prediction.

However, he also says that there are ways for Jayalalitha to win back the pleasure of the gods and regain power. One way is to present 101 cows to the Partha Saarathi temple at Chennai.

“Presenting cows is an action suited to rulers and kings. In ancient times kings, who had lost their kingdoms would make this offering before they embarked on an expedition to regain their power. Jayalalitha can do the same. In the meantime, she should appoint a brahmachari below the age of 40 as chief minister,” Swami said.

   
 

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