Forest officers pay for elephant rampage
Alert teenager saves hurtling express
Mamata, Panja in Choubey tussle
Hunger strike to save IISCO
BJP eyes Mayavati tie-up
MLA exit paves way for Jaya
Laloo return rumours
Sops for Orissa
Bollywood feels terror heat
An ambassador one too many

Calcutta, Sept. 19: 
The destruction of paddy fields by a fugitive herd of wild elephants led to an attack on forest department range officers by local people in the Beliator area of Bankura district this morning.

As many as 33 elephants in the herd, which has originated from Dolma in Jharkhand, have been roaming the countryside from Midnapore to Bankura over the last three weeks, according to Bankura district forest officer (north) John Thomas Mathews.

Wherever the elephants are going, they are being chased away by villagers, be it in Goaltor or Garbeta, Joypur or Sonamukhi.

The villagers in Joypur are even using mortars to scare away the elephants.

“This morning, when the hounded herd entered the Hamir Hati beat in Beliator, a large group of local people surrounded the range officers and beat personnel and demanded to know why they were not chasing away the elephants. They then started beating up the forest department personnel,” related Mathews.

Falguni Mullick, one of the range officers, was badly beaten up. Last week, another beat officer was hurt. Kalyan Chatterjee, the sub-divisional police officer, Sonamukhi, has received and registered a complaint against the villagers who were responsible for today’s incidents.

“The villagers are angry because they feel that the forest department people are not doing anything to prevent the elephants from entering and trampling their paddy fields,” said Mathews. “They don’t realise that by being continuously chased about, sometimes with mortar shells, the elephants can become very aggressive.”


Bolpur, Sept. 19: 
A cowherd who thought on his feet managed to save the lives of hundreds of passengers of Rampurhat-bound Ganadevata Express near Guskara station.

Fourteen-year-old Mangal Bagdi, who was grazing cattle this morning beside the railway tracks, noticed wide cracks on them between Guskara and Noadar Dhal stations. At the same time, he saw a train approaching at high speed.

He immediately took off his shirt and the red gamchha that he had draped around his waist and ran towards the train, waving frantically at the driver.

Mangal also shouted at the top of his voice, asking the driver to stop the train. Hearing his cries, some more boys working in the fields, rushed to join him.

The train had just crossed Noadar Dhal and the driver, J.N. Roy, had accelerated as the next halt, Guskara, was far off.

Roy, who had settled down in his seat and was scanning the railway tracks in front of him saw tiny figures. They looked liked a group of small boys waving a bundle of clothes.

The driver immediately became cautious as he realised that the boys were desperately trying to draw his attention.

Certain now that the boys were trying to warn him of some danger ahead, he slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt barely inches from where the tracks had cracks.

The driver got off from his cabin and first asked Mangal what happened and why the boys were waving their clothes.

Mangal and his group showed the driver the cracked tracks. By this time, the guard of the train also arrived. They both realised that they had had a providential escape.

Like most days, the train was overcrowded. Many curious passengers got off the train to find out why the express had ground to a sudden halt.

Food and civil supplies minister, Kalimuddin Shams, was among the passengers. Railway officials briefed him about what had happened.

As soon as word reached Guskara station, a team of railway engineers and technicians along with other officials arrived.

The train started around 9.30 am, an hour after the tracks were repaired. Railway officials spoke to Mangal, took down details of his house at Sipda village under Ausgram police station.

“We have had a miraculous escape because of Mangal’s ready intelligence. We will recommend him for a bravery award,” the driver said.


Kharagpur, Sept. 19: 
Authorities have made elaborate preparations to prevent a flare-up when Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee visits here tomorrow, nine days after the murder of party youth leader Gautam Choubey.

Gautam, son of the former CPI MP Narayan Choubey, was shot dead on September 11.

Tomorrow’s visit will be the Trinamul chief’s second to Kharagpur. Mamata had rushed to Kharagpur a day after the murder. She had threatened to return and launch a movement if the prime accused, Rambabu, a local Forward Bloc leader, was not arrested within 10 days.

Officials today said jawans of the State Armed Police and the Rapid Action Force will be deployed tomorrow. Mamata is expected to address a public meeting and announce her future course of action.

Supporters of Mamata as well as rebel MP Ajit Panja are vying with each other to woo Gautam’s mother Gouri and his widow Hema.

Mamata’s lieutenants here are trying their best to make them appear on the dais during her rally. While Gouri is expected to be seen beside Mamata, Hema’s participation is uncertain.

“I will be present at Mamata’s rally but I cannot say what Hema will do,” said Gouri.

Mamata, during her last visit here, had accused Rambabu of masterminding the murder. Rambabu is absconding. Police have so far arrested 10 persons in this connection.

Panja has given Rs 15,000 to Hema and promised her a Central government job.

The CPI MP from Midnapore, Prabodh Panda, also met Gautam’s widow and mother and assured them of financial help.


Asansol, Sept. 19: 
The Save IISCO Committee has started a relay hunger-strike from today to demand immediate funds for the ailing Burnpur-based Indian Iron and Steel Company.

The once prosperous steel company has now been laden with losses. The company had been referred to the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction in 1994.

Global tenders were invited for the company’s revival but no one had evinced interest in taking over the ailing steel plant.

The Save IISCO Committee, which includes five unions and the officer’s association, is demanding at least Rs 510 crore for the plant’s modernisation. The committee even agreed to a joint-venture proposal, provided 59 per cent stake of the company are kept with the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), IISCO’s parent company.

The SAIL project division, in a meeting on August 24, had approved the recommendation for IISCO’s modernisation and had proposed Rs 900 crore for the face-lift, including the offer of voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) for employees. The recommendation proposes VRS for 10,000 employees out of the 23,000-strong workforce.

Of the recommended Rs 900 crore for modernisation, SAIL is ready to spend Rs 500 crore in VRS. Of the remaining Rs 400 crore, Rs 285 crore will be invested for modernising collieries and other IISCO mines. The Burnpur unit has been given only Rs 115 crore. No fund has been provided for upgrading the Kulti unit.

“We have strong objection to the recommendation of SAIL regarding IISCO’s modernisation. It is nothing but (a move) to bring about a premature closure of the steel plant,” said B.C. Pan, secretary of the IISCO Officer’s Association and a member of the Save IISCO Committee.

Criticising the SAIL board’s decision, Chandra Sekhar Mukherjee, a Citu leader and the president of the Save IISCO Committee, said that if the voluntary retirement scheme is offered to 10,000 employees, who would run the steel plant. There would be shortage of manpower, the trade union leader said.


New Delhi, Sept. 19: 
The BJP has been sending out signals that it might strike up an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh if the Assembly elections throw up a hung House as in 1996.

BJP sources said the Cabinet’s last-minute decision to reject a recommendation by the Social Justice Committee —- set up to rework the reservation policy —- was meant to placate BSP leader Mayavati. The original proposal was to scrap quotas for children of class I and II officers of the SC/STs in keeping with Supreme Court’s guidelines on “creamy layers” of other backward castes and Dalits.

Though Mayavati did not make a public issue of this recommendation, she was extremely critical of Singh’s policy when it was first mooted. Sources said her criticism was a “cover” for her annoyance as the proposal would have adversely affected her Jatav constituency.

Jatavs comprise the upper crust of the Dalits. They are economically more empowered than other sub-castes and have been the major beneficiaries of the SC/ST reservation policy.

Jatav officials played an important role in the rise of the BSP and bagged key posts in the administration and police when Mayavati was chief minister.

But it is interesting that the Uttar Pradesh government has decided to scale down quotas for OBCs despite their considerable presence in the Cabinet.

The Central leadership’s decision to sideline Ram Vilas Paswan was also seen as another “pro-Mayavati” overture because he had campaigned against the BSP before being shunted out of the communications ministry.

Sources said a section of the Uttar Pradesh BJP has already started impressing upon the Delhi brass that it was a “major political blunder” to have junked the BSP when the two were running a coalition government in Lucknow.

“It was the greatest political blunder of the century because not only were we running a government fairly efficiently but we had also almost nearly finalised an alliance for all future elections. Mayavati was game for giving up chief ministership to the BJP in return for a more active role at the Centre. And if the alliance had fructified, we would have swept the Uttar Pradesh elections and also consolidated our position in Delhi without depending on so many allies,” maintained sources.

The pro-Mayavati section in the BJP claimed the reworked policy could work to the disadvantage of the Samajwadi Party but not the BSP. “Mayavati has a solid following of Dalits and nothing can dent that,” said sources.

In keeping with his “disciplinarian” image, Singh sacked a member of his Cabinet, Ashok Yadav, for attacking the reservation policy. The BJP also suspended Andhra MP A. Narendra for “indiscipline” and alleged anti-party activities.

Narendra had championed the cause of Telengana, which the BJP is wary of raising for fear of antagonising ally Telugu Desam.


Chennai, Sept. 19: 
ADMK MLA Thanga Tamilselvan resigned today giving rise to speculation that chief minister Jayalalithaa could be contemplating stepping down from office.

Tamilselvan has resigned his Andipatti seat, one of the four constituencies from which Jayalalithaa’s nomination papers had been rejected during the May Assembly polls.

Speaker K. Kalimuthu told reporters that Tamilselvan sent in his resignation letter on September 15. Tamilselvan has not given any reasons for his resignation.

Political circles here said the timing of Tamilselvan’s resignation is significant as Jayalalithaa has to get herself elected by November 14 to remain in power.

While the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court has reserved orders on petitions challenging Jayalalithaa’s appointment as chief minister despite her electoral disqualification, her appeals against the convictions in the Tansi land deal and Pleasant Stay Hotel cases are to be heard by a new judge of Madras High Court only after October 1.

Sources said Jayalalithaa is keeping her options open. If she has to step down in case the Supreme Court order goes against her, she can still file her nomination papers for the Andipatti seat when the Election Commission notifies the bypoll.

Pending the outcome of the appeals in the Tansi land cases, which would substantially decide her immediate political future, she could also have elbow room to call the electoral option as a way out of the tangle.

But that would hinge around whether a new returning officer accepts her nomination this time, the sources said.

With the Saidapet seat in Chennai also having fallen vacant after the recent death of DMK MLA V. Perumal, the Election Commission has been informed of both the vacancies.

The sources said the Election Commission will need a minimum of 25 days to go through the election process. This, the sources said, would not go in Jayalalithaa’s favour. She may have to settle for an interim chief minister before the legal tangle is sorted out.


Patna, Sept. 19: 
Laloo Yadav’s late-night meeting with the governor has stoked speculation that there might soon be a change of guard in Bihar.

The RJD leader’s chief minister-wife Rabri Devi has been declaring off and on at rallies that she would like to quit the hotseat and go back to nurturing her numerous children. At a programme organised by the state women’s commission last week, Rabri said her children were “starved” of her company because she kept an “awful schedule”.

In an earlier interview to a Delhi-based journalist, Rabri said her family mattered more to her than her crown. She is believed to have told a television journalist today: “I still insist that I be relieved of the post.”

Laloo, however, termed the one-and-half-hour meet a “routine one”. But sources in the chief minister’s house said he had consulted a number of advocates at his residence before meeting with the governor.

In case Rabri leaves Laloo no option, he is likely to swear himself in as chief minister. Though the RJD leader is chargesheeted in several fodder scam cases, he has not been convicted like Jayalalithaa.

So, there is no legal bar on him wearing the crown. Laloo is learnt to have got this clarified by his advocates.

This transition is not likely to pose much of a problem for Laloo. With the Ranjan Yadav lobby lying low, he can get partymen to re-elect him as chief of the legislature party. Party insiders said tonight’s discussions could be a prelude to the imminent change in guard in the state.


New Delhi, Sept. 19 : 
After blithely shrugging off starvation deaths in Orissa as “tribal practice”, the Centre today came up with a belated gesture to heal the wounds of Kashipur’s starving people.

Describing the deaths as “extremely unfortunate”, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that an additional lakh of people below the poverty line would be covered by the old age pension scheme and 80,000 more villagers in the poverty-stricken Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput region would be given one square meal a day.


Mumbai, Sept. 19: 
The attacks in the US have left Bollywood worried. With two big films lined up for global release on Friday —David Dhawan’s Kyo Kii... Main Jhuth Nahin Bolta starring Govinda and Sushmita Sen and the Abbas-Mustan directed Ajnabee — the industry’s immediate worry is the American box office. The makers of Kyo Kii... — produced by soap queens Ekta Kapoor and Shobha Kapoor — have already felt the heat.

“We had to cut down the number of prints for our overseas market. Usually we release around 80-90 prints for the overseas market. But for Kyo Kii... the overseas distributors took only 50-60 prints. The US market, which requires around 30 prints, made the difference,” said Prakash Pange, executive producer.

“Distributors will not release the film in New York city and the area around. They are also wary about the US market in general,” he added.

The makers of Kyo Kii... said they were also facing problems in selling the film in the domestic market. “My distributors here are not getting the prices from the exhibitors. It’s like a chain — our market is so connected with global events,” said Pange.

Pahlaj Nihalani, president of the Association of Motion Pictures and TV Programmes Producers, said Bollywood was tense because “any calamity hits the entertainment industry. It has begun this time with the cut in the number of prints for the overseas market”.

The US has become big for Bollywood over the years. “The overseas market translates into business of around Rs 75 crore, of which America makes up around 35 per cent,” Komal Nahata of Film Information said. A big film usually releases about 250-300 for the domestic market and 90-100 prints for the overseas market.

Nahata, however, feels there will be no immediate impact of last week’s events on Bollywood. Ganesh Jain of Venus, the presenters of Ajnabee, too, said last week’s events will not make any difference. “We have sent 85 prints abroad,” said Jain. “Our film is already a ‘hit’ in the US because of the flood of inquiries about it there,” he added. Ajnabee stars Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol, Kareena Kapoor and Bipasha Basu.

But others claim the downturn has already begun, even in the domestic market.

Balakrishna Shroff of Shringar Films, who have distributed Lagaan and Aks, said there has been a sharp drop in the collections all over the country since Tuesday. “The sales have been down through the week. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the drop was lowest — about 20 per cent,” Shroff said.

“Who will watch movies when television is offering live coverage of disasters?” he asked. “In case there’s a war, the scene will be grimmer.”


Washington, Sept. 19: 
Even as Indians on America’s east coast are continuing to look for their near and dear ones lost in the World Trade Center collapse, a unique experiment got under way at the Indian embassy here yesterday.

The experiment will prompt the uninitiated to ask the unusual question: “Who is India’s ambassador in the US?”

Yesterday, Bhishma Kumar Agnihotri, a non-resident Indian from Louisiana with impressive academic and other credentials, took charge as New Delhi’s ambassador-at-large based in the US. He will also be adviser on NRIs and Persons of Indian Origin.

An unasked question on the lips of the Indian mission’s staff and a large cross-section of Indian Americans was how he would fit into the framework of the Indian representation which already has a regular ambassador here with equally impressive diplomatic credentials in Lalit Mansingh, the just-retired foreign secretary.

At a meeting with Indian correspondents here, both Mansingh and Agnihotri paid fulsome tributes to each other. They were lavish in each other’s praise.

Mansingh opened his arms and welcomed Agnihotri into the “family”. Agnihotri said “this ambassador is a good guy”.

It is not clear if Agnihotri was aware of something that Mansingh and Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officials at Indian embassies and consulates in the US know: that three weeks ago, at a meeting of the IFS Association in New Delhi there was no mincing of words in condemning the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s decision to bring an “outsider” into the Indian embassy here.

An IFS veteran told this correspondent after that meeting: “Indira Gandhi tried to do this in the 1960s. Do you think Vajpayee will succeed where Indira Gandhi, with all her shrewdness and intimate knowledge of the system, failed?”

He was referring to Indira Gandhi’s innovative decision in the 1960s to appoint an Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer, T. Swaminathan, as “super ambassador” to all of Europe, based in Brussels with his writ running over missions across the continent.

The then Prime Minister had envisioned a united Europe decades before it became a reality and wanted to work towards India’s place in such a Europe.

But despite being a member of the ICS and a former commerce and finance secretary, the IFS lobby successfully frustrated Swaminathan’s efforts to be effective as an ambassador-at-large. He went on to become Chief Election Commissioner.

Agnihotri’s appointment is equally innovative, but his success will depend on the cooperation extended by South Block’s establishment, which does not take kindly to outsiders.

Agnihotri said he would be based in New York, not in Washington, where Mansingh sits. He also said his brief was global, not confined to the US. In fact, Agnihotri had planned to go to Canada this week to interact with NRIs there, but postponed his trip after the terror attacks in the US so that he could bring relief to Indians affected by the devastation in New York.

Mansingh said it has so far been established that there were 38 Indians in the World Trade Center when it collapsed.


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