The price of a life: Rs 10
Cong set to dump Jaya
Rajnath sacks minister
Govt clears job scheme
Delhi seals fate of Bengal sick unit
Kalka Mail robbery
Murmurs of dissent strike Cabinet
Taliban fear behind Delhi screen
Call for silence goes unheard
Jaswant cuts brave front

 
 
THE PRICE OF A LIFE: RS 10 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 18: 
Profit: Rs 10. Loss: A life

The balance sheet of the railway gateman of Bauria in Howrah read like this at the end of the day.

A bus plying on a local route escaped being hit by a speeding train by a whisker after it rolled on to the tracks at a time when the level-crossing should have been down but an elderly passenger, who had jumped off the bus fearing a collision, was run over.

As the bus was about to cross the tracks, passengers panicked seeing the train rush towards them. Some of them jumped off the bus, travelling slowly over the tracks, and managed to flee. The driver of the bus, too, managed to back off before the train hit rammed in but the man who died — around 70 years old — failed to clear the tracks before the train caught him on.

Witnesses said he could not sight the train. He was declared dead before he could be rushed to the nearest hospital.

The bus sped away before local people and passersby could react. They could not even note down the vehicle’s registration number.

Inspector-in-charge of the Government Railway Police, Shalimar, Bamapada Das said residents of the area had told the police about a flourishing bribery racket. The gateman opened the gates to allow vehicles to pass in lieu of money, Das said.

“The level-crossing has inter-locking facility and the gates could not have been open without the knowledge of the gateman when a train was approaching,” he said.

The police was speaking to the bus passengers to trace the driver and the conductor. The gateman has not been arrested because he claimed he was forced by the driver and conductor to open the gates, Das said.

Das, however, admitted that the gateman was making contradictory statements.

Senior South Eastern Railway officials who visited the site of the incident said the gateman was insisting that there was no exchange of money.

“We have started an inquiry into the incident to find out what exactly happened. The gateman will be punished if found guilty,” one of them said, adding that both the gateman and the conductor of the bus appeared to be guilty.

Hundreds of people squatted on the tracks as the news of the incident and the gatemen’s role spread. Train services in the Howrah-Kharagpur section were disrupted for an hour.

   

 
 
CONG SET TO DUMP JAYA 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi constituted an 11-member state election committee headed by Tamil Nadu Congress Committee chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan, indicating that the party is ready to dump ADMK leader Jayalalithaa and go alone in the civic polls next month.

Party sources said if the ADMK leadership did not insist on Elangovan’s replacement the alliance could be saved. Last-ditch efforts are on to work out a patch-up formula. However, with nominations opening tomorrow, time is running out for both the parties.

A formal announcement in this regard may be made after Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala, who has flown to Chennai this evening, concludes a final round of talks with the Congress leaders in the state.

The TNCC is split over whether or not to continue the electoral alliance with the ADMK. While the faction led by Elangovan is opposed to any tie-up with Jayalalithaa, the rival group argues that without the ADMK, the Congress will be routed in the local-body elections.

Though the ADMK leadership, which never got along with Elangovan, has been demanding his removal as TNCC chief, the Congress has refused to oblige. Recently, Jayalalithaa had convened a meeting of allies to discuss seat sharing in the civic polls. The Congress was conspicuous by its absence, fuelling speculation that the ADMK-Congress alliance in the state is over.

The Congress-ADMK alliance in the May Assembly elections was also not an easy one. Given the factionalism in the Congress and Jayalalithaa’s high-and-mighty attitude, the alliance was salvaged by former Tamil Manila Congress chief, the late G.K. Moopanar.

Elangovan, who arrived here yesterday, briefed Sonia Gandhi and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on the political situation in the state.

Apart from the TNCC chief, the poll panelcomprises three former pradesh Congress committee presidents — M.P. Subramaniam, T. Ramamurthy and Thangkabalu. Lok Sabha MPs Mani Shankar Aiyer and Sudarshan Nachiappan, former Union ministers R. Prabhu and M. Arunachalam, legislature party leader Yashodha, former MP R. Dennis and former chairman of the state minority department Abbas Ibrahim are the other members.

   

 
 
RAJNATH SACKS MINISTER 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Sept. 18: 
After Naresh Agarwal, the BJP has dropped another high-profile minister who, according to party leaders, was working as “an opposition member within the ruling party.”

Explaining the decision to expel tourism minister Ashok Yadav, chief minister Rajnath Singh said Yadav was working with the Samajwadi Party to “destabilise” the BJP.

“We have today suspended Ashok Yadav from the BJP legislature party and may soon expel him from the party itself,” said the chief minister, adding that Yadav had become a liability.

The party alleged that Yadav was doing his utmost to wean away its backward caste support and had openly criticised its latest move to ensure reservation for the most backward castes.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Yadav, who is in New Delhi today, said he would declare an “open war” against the BJP. “Ab to jang hogi,” Yadav said, adding that there was no place for the backward castes in the BJP.

“This is part of the BJP’s casteist policy,” Yadav fumed and maintained that the party had lost credibility within the backward community.

Yadav’s criticism has, however, brought to the fore the rumbling in the party against the quota for the most backward castes. The BJP had been claiming till now that there was unanimity in the party on the reservation policy.

While declining to say if more heads would roll as hinted by the chief minister earlier, Singh said: “The only thing I can say is that the BJP will not tolerate anyone going against the party.”

   

 
 
GOVT CLEARS JOB SCHEME 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
The Cabinet today formally approved the Sampoorna Gramin Rozgar Yojana, announced by the Prime Minister in his Independence Day address.

The scheme has an annual outlay of Rs 10,000 crore. Saying it was one of the quickest implemented plans, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan added: “The yojana will be implemented as a centrally sponsored scheme on a cost-sharing basis between the Centre and the states in the ratio of 75:25.”

The Cabinet clearance comes a day after the Supreme Court directed 13 states to identify people living below the poverty line so that food-for-work schemes like the Sampoorna Gramin Rozgar Yojana could be implemented.

Out of the allotted funds for the programme, which aims to develop rural infrastructure, Rs 8,750 crore will be provided by the rural development ministry.

The remaining Rs 1,250 crore will be provided by the state governments.

Clarifying the composition of the scheme, Mahajan said: “Rs 5,000 crore each will be provided to pay for the foodgrain bought from the Food Corporation of India and to meet the cash component of wages and material costs.”

In case of Union Territories, the Centre will provide all the funds under the scheme. The yojana’s target group will be the rural poor who are in need of wage employment and are willing to take up manual work around their villages.

The economic cost of annually distributing 5 million tonne of foodgrain free of cost to the states under the scheme will be Rs 5,000 crore.

DA hike

The government today announced a 2 per cent increase in dearness allowance (DA) for central government employees and a similar hike in dearness relief (DR) for pensioners.

The hikes will cost the exchequer an additional Rs 791 crore annually. DA and DR hikes were due from July 1 this year.

The rates of DA and DR have been increased from 43 per cent to 45 per cent of basic pay effective from January 1, 1996.

   

 
 
DELHI SEALS FATE OF BENGAL SICK UNIT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
The Union Cabinet today accepted a proposal by the Bureau of Industrial Finance and Restructuring (BIFR) to wind up the Calcutta-based Cycle Corporation of India Ltd (CCIL).

The plan calls for the high court to appoint an official liquidator for disposing of assets and settling dues of creditors. A voluntary separation scheme will also be re-opened for three months for all employees. The additional budgetary provision required on this account will be Rs 4.3 crore.

The Cabinet also approved payment of the difference on account of ex-gratia under VSS and VRS to the 1,098 employees who have already retired under VRS between December 1998 and May 1999.

CCIL, which makes bicycles and components, was referred to the BIFR in 1992 and for the last two years, the Union government has been trying to effect CCIL’s closure along with four other Bengal-based companies — Mining and Allied Machinery Corporation Ltd, Rehabilitation Industries Ltd, Bharat Process & Mechanical Engineering Ltd and Weighbird India Ltd.

These efforts have been stymied in the past by Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee’s consistent campaign for their revival. However, with Mamata not in the Cabinet this time, there were no opponents to the closure.

The move is however expected to create significant political controversy in the state and both Trinamul and CPM are expected to oppose the proposal to close the company, which has manufacturing units at Kalyani and Asansol.

Reacting to the move to close down CCIL, Pramathes Sen of Intuc said: “We strongly oppose the idea of closing down public sector undertakings. The Central Government is raising the salaries of MPs on the one hand, but on the other they are unwilling to lend financial support to the PSUs on the ground of shortage of funds. This is illogical.”

The management of CCIL was taken over by Union government under the Industries Development and Regulation Act on September 9, 1975, from Sen Releigh Ltd. The company was later nationalised in 1980.

The Cabinet also approved the winding up of joint venture company Maharashtra Antibiotics and Pharmaceuticals Ltd (MAPL), a joint sector company promoted by Hindustan Antibiotic Ltd (HAL), the State Industrial Investment Corporation of Maharashtra (SIICOM) and the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI). The company was set up in 1979 and was declared sick in 1997. MAPL had 247 employees on September 1, 2000.

   

 
 
KALKA MAIL ROBBERY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Dhanbad, Sept. 18: 
Three persons travelling in a general compartment of the 3212 Dn Kalka mail were injured when they tried to resist armed train dacoits.

According to the general railway police (GRP), Dhanbad, 60 armed miscreants targeted the compartment when it stopped at the outer signal of Tankuppa-Paharpur station.

About 25 to 30 of them entered the compartment and started robbing the passengers. Those that resisted were beaten up with pistol butts and other weapons. Cash and valuables worth over Rs 50,000 was looted.

When the train reached Dhanbad, Nank Chandra Balmiki, an employee of the State Bank of India, Haryana, lodged a complaint with the GRP.

Three passengers who were injured were admitted to the railway hospital.

“Since the incident took place at a place which comes under the jurisdiction of Gaya GRP, the case has already been referred to them for proper investigations”, said the officer-in-charge of the GRP in Dhanbad.

   

 
 
MURMURS OF DISSENT STRIKE CABINET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
Union ministers and NDA ally Samata Party today echoed the Opposition sentiment voiced earlier cautioning the Central government against “acting in haste” in support of the US.

Some ministers had advised the government to practise caution, Union minister Pramod Mahajan told the media after a Cabinet meeting to discuss the fallout of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11. Mahajan, however, did not specify who these ministers were or what they said.

The government was also warned, at a press conference organised by the Samata Party today, against getting sucked into the war without assessing the fallout, as Pakistan is trying to effect a trade-off with the US.

The party wants New Delhi to clearly and publicly tell the US that unless it addresses Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, there was no meaning in the talk of fighting global terrorism.

India has been hoping that the US would rein in Pakistan from sponsoring terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. On Sunday, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke to US President George W. Bush on phone and both countries agreed that the only way to weed out terrorism would be by tackling it at its root.

Vajpayee had assured Bush “fullest cooperation” between the two countries, though the Opposition was cautioning against an all-out move to assist the US.

Some sections had, however, felt that the Indian government was going out of its way to support the US.

The Left parties had even said they were against the US using India as a “base” for an attack on Afghanistan. The Congress, too, maintained that the government should not make any move without weighing the pros and cons.

Now a section within the Cabinet and the government does not want India to rush to the US’ aid and prefers a “wait and watch” policy.

The Samata Party expressed similar views at its press conference. “If we are getting into the war, the cost-benefit must be properly assessed. Does it benefit India? In fighting terrorism, the US should be told that Islamabad should root out terrorism. We should be part of the global effort only if our battle against terrorism (Pakistan-inspired) can be strengthened.”

Party general secretary Shambhu Shrivastava lambasted the US for “selectively” fighting terrorism and said Pakistan has been exporting terrorism into India for the last 12 years. Islamabad has been offering not only an ideological boost but also shelter and weapons to the terrorists, he said.

“Making Pakistan a partner (in fighting the Taliban), you cannot fight global terrorism,” Shrivastava said.

The Samata leader said if the US is sincere in rooting out terrorism, it should actively involve countries such as India, Russia, China and the Central Asian republics, including Tajikistan and Ubzekistan.

Shrivastava also lambasted the US administration for not doing anything to stop the attack on Indian minorities, including Sikhs, some of whom were mistaken for Arabs and beaten up.

There is, however, some hope in Indian political circles that the US’ strident tone with Pakistan will lessen the latter’s cross-border activities.

   

 
 
TALIBAN FEAR BEHIND DELHI SCREEN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
With a US attack on Afghanistan becoming imminent, India today revised its policy on Afghan nationals living in the country and asked them to get registered.

The home ministry today announced that all Afghan nationals living in India have to be registered, whether they have valid travel documents or not. The registration will help authorities keep tabs on their activities and flush out potential trouble-makers.

The Afghans, numbering around 22,000, who fled their war-torn homeland in the ’80s are mostly sympathisers of the slain former President, Najibullah, who was backed by the Soviet Union. His family is still in India under government security.

The numbers of the Afghan refugees have dwindled since the mid-nineties but fear of Taliban sympathisers sneaking into the country forced the government to revise its policy on the Afghan nationals.

Delhi is aware that Osama bin Laden has in the past pinpointed the US, Israel and India as enemies of Islam. Though the Taliban, busy fighting the Northern Alliance at home, has not sent soldiers into Kashmir, it has provided the ideology for jihad. Bin Laden has successfully mobilised militants from as far away as Sudan and Algeria to fight in the Valley.

The numbers of foreign mercenaries have dropped significantly in the past few years, but many of the jihadi groups operating from both India and Pakistan derive inspiration from Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. “Complacency now could mean the loss of hundreds of lives,” a home ministry official said.

The fact that the terrorists who struck last Tuesday lived and trained in America for over two years is crucial, officials said.

However, to make sure that Afghans who have chosen to live in India for nearly two decades do not get the wrong message, the government is prepared to waive the registration fees for non-renewal of travel documents. Afghans who are in India without travel papers will get their cases reviewed by a committee to be set up by the home ministry.

Delhi has also declared that the new rules would ensure multiple-entry visas for a year instead of the current six months. They would also be allowed to travel anywhere within the country.

   

 
 
CALL FOR SILENCE GOES UNHEARD 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
The common people of Delhi continued with the hustle and bustle of their daily life as the capital joined the rest of the country in observing a two-minute silence today to show solidarity with the global fight against terrorism.

While policemen stopped traffic in major parts of the city when the clock struck half-past-ten, alleys and bylanes remained unaffected by this show of solidarity. Radhashyam, who runs a small store in Safdarjung Enclave, was peddling grocery to a customer. Harpal Singh, an autorickshaw driver, was ferrying a passenger.

In an attempt to explain the apathy, Professor Pushpesh Pant, of Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “Why didn’t India call for a solidarity day against terrorism when militancy was at its peak in Kashmir and the Northeast? If India was truly concerned about the victims of the attack, they should have called for a two-minute silence the day the attack took place, why did we have to wait for a week?”

“I cannot comprehend this abstract and individualistic campaign against terrorism, where President Bush is all out on a crusade. There are hundreds of Iraqi children and Palestinians who are suffering for no fault of theirs,” he added.

Delhi witnessed a highly institutionalised expression of solidarity with schools, colleges, offices and government institutions observing a two-minute silence.

Airport check-in

Jet Airways has requested passengers to check in an hour and 15 minutes before their flights in view of increased security at the airports. But Indian Airlines said it would stick to its normal advisory to passengers to come in an hour before a flight takes off.

   

 
 
JASWANT CUTS BRAVE FRONT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
The military regime in Islamabad will not be able to narrow the existing gap in its relations with the US, foreign minister Jaswant Singh assured the Union cabinet today, despite US ambassador Robert Blackwill telling him that Islamabad is trying to drive a wedge between India and the US.

The Bush administration has said that its fight was not only against terrorists but also those who finance, train and provide them with shelter, Singh told the Cabinet to drive his point home.

The foreign and defence minister briefed the Cabinet, in an hour-and-half session, on the developments since last week’s terror attacks in the US and the impact of it on south Asia.

Many senior ministers expressed apprehension about the current situation providing Pakistan the golden opportunity that it was looking for in ending its international isolation, particularly in narrowing the gap in its bilateral relations with the US with its offer for cooperation in Washington’s fight against the perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist strikes.

While warning the government against hasty decisions on the US efforts to counter the attacks, the ministers also wanted to know the likely impact of the Pakistan-US cooperation on Kashmir.

Singh assured the Cabinet that his views were supported by Blackwill, who met him during the day.

The Cabinet was last briefed about the developments almost a week ago, after the attacks in the US. Singh participated in a long question-hour session apprising the ministers of the interactions South Block has had in the past few days with the US leadership and other key world players.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has written to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and expressed London’s appreciation of India’s consistent role in combating terrorism. Sharing Delhi’s concerns on the issue, Blair stressed the need to build up a consensus among democracies to deal with the menace.

Singh told the Cabinet that though India has expressed its fullest cooperation to the US, it was of the view that the widest possible consensus among like-minded countries should be built to fight the current scourge.

Singh made it clear that the fight against terrorism cannot be limited to an individual. He drew satisfaction from the fact that US secretary of state Colin Powell had stressed on the need for addressing the system and not only the symptoms in the anti-terror fight.

   
 

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