Bengal beeps on Aeroflot radar
Forest plan with carrot
Prisoner hangs to death from ceiling
Tiger mauls 3
Delhi displays wound to the world
Strike after Simi ban perturbs BJP
Diplomacy first, Advani later
Jaswant springs post-Taliban plan
AGP breather for rape-accused
Age no bar for charkha contest

Moscow, Oct. 2: 
Two years after withdrawing its flights to Calcutta, Aeroflot is considering resumption of flights to the eastern metropolis. Officials are not sure whether it will be a direct flight terminating in Calcutta or a stop en route to Southeast Asian destinations.

Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline with representation in 63 countries, has taken up a complete restructuring of its operations. The aim is to turn the airline into a top class service-oriented organisation and make it commercially viable. Retraining programmes are going on so that the staff considers airline users as customers and not merely passengers. The management has also launched retraining programmes to make the optimum use of its staff.

While there has been improvement in food and services and in takeoffs and landings, the airline still has a long way to go. Take the business class, for example. While the food served is very good, the airhostesses are usually slipshod in removing the food trays. There is hardly any choice of in-flight entertainment. Rival airlines like British Airways and Swissair offer valet services to handle luggage for business class passengers. In Aeroflot, the passenger is still expected to carry his own luggage. The toilet packages supplied to the business class passengers are basic. Even so, signs of change are becoming visible.

Aeroflot has been taking stock of the commercial viability of its routes. It decided to close down many of the routes that were never money-spinners but were launched for political reasons. Senior officials at the airline cite destinations in Africa as examples. These flights were started to underline Russia’s sphere of influence in the newly-decolonised countries. Airline officials claim that flights to Calcutta were withdrawn because of fleet shortage. However, resumption is being considered, not because the fleet situation has improved much, but that Aeroflot is looking at India as a big market. However, historic connections also played a role. It is reliably learnt that there has been some high-level pressure to restart the flights.

Aeroflot is also looking at other destinations in India. On the anvil is a flight to Kochi via Dubai. Chennai is another destination that is being examined. The Russian airline giant is planning a major refurbishing of image. Last month, it signed up British hot shop called Identical to create a new, dynamic brand identity. Aeroflot, which is one of the best-known brands of Russia, wants to move with the times and convey the message that it means “safe, comfortable, pleasant flying experience”. This campaign is expected to be ready in a couple of months.

Another innovation is the introduction of the bonus package, which is a frequent flyer scheme. It is one of the most generous, claims a senior Aeroflot official.

Aeroflot is also in the process of upgrading its fleet. It has been leasing Boeings and Airbuses and has plans to acquire new and improved versions of Ilyushins and Tupolevs.


Calcutta, Oct. 2: 
The state forest department has drawn up a list of projects to develop forests in South and North Bengal. The effort is to engage people living close by in the schemes and ensure that they do not fell trees indiscriminately to earn their livelihood.

The schemes include development of eco-tourism, setting up watchtowers in forests and constructing cottages to attract tourists.

The government has also drawn up a plan to bring all saw mills under the West Bengal Saw Mill Regulation Act, 1982. “Once this is done, the wood-based industries will grow and it will also prevent depletion of forests by illegal timber merchants,” forest minister Jogesh Burman said.

According to Burman, Rs 83 crore has been earmarked, including Rs 53 crore from two earlier financial years, for developing eco-tourism and afforestation programmes.

The funds will be utilised through local bodies like panchayats and forest protection committees.

“These will generate over four million mandays of work. That will not only prevent depletion of jungles but also help villagers earn their livelihood by tapping forest resources,” Burman said.

The success of eco-tourism parks at Gobgarh in Midnapore and Chenchuria in Bankura were eye-openers, the minister said. Set up with Rs 5 lakh from the area development fund and a grant-in aid of Rs 1.2 lakh from the zilla parishad, Chenchuria park had worked wonders for the tribals who now run the park, he added.


Burdwan, Oct. 2: 
A 25-year-old undertrial, Sheikh Ismail, was found hanging from a bathroom ceiling in Burdwan jail in the wee hours today.

Ismail, a resident of Kaliagunj in Nadia district, was caught stealing a bicycle by Burdwan residents a week ago. Investigations revealed that he was beaten up by the mob.

Officials said Ismail, who was in Burdwan jail since September 23, was to be produced in the court but was found hanging at 1.15 am by warden Shyamal Biswas. Jail doctors declared Ismail dead and sent the body for post-mortem.

Jail superintendent Jayanta Kumar Aikat said Ismail had on September 25 attempted suicide by jumping into a pond, hours after he returned from the hospital. According to Aikat, Ismail was in the jail with marks of multiple injuries. He was twice sent to the hospital and was recovering well. “But doctors said he was suffering from psychological problems and we presume this may have led him to end his life,” he said.

The incident comes close on the heels of two similar deaths in Katwa sub-jail and Dum Dum Central jail last month. Officials said inspector general of prisons Anil Kumar has convened a meeting next week to review the 54 jails in the state.

Deputy inspector general of prisons Dipak Chowdhury visited the jail this morning. A magisterial inquiry has been ordered into the case, which has also been referred to the State Human Rights Commission.

State jail minister Biswanath Chowdhury also inspected the jail. “I have sought a report from the concerned officials within 48 hours,” he said. He added that the superintendent of Berhampore jail and some officials had been suspended on charges of dereliction of duty last month.


Kultali (South 24-Parganas), Oct. 2: 
A tiger mauled three persons at Kishorimohanpur village here this afternoon.

The tiger had sneaked into a farmer’s house last night after crossing the Moni river. On spotting the tiger today, villagers hurled bricks at it, provoking it to wound the villagers.

Minister of state for Sundarbans development Kanti Ganguly has rushed to the site.


New Delhi, Oct. 2: 
India has launched an international as well as a domestic campaign to swivel the Kashmir Assembly attack spotlight on the “incongruity” of the rapprochement between the US and Pakistan.

Soon after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee sent a letter to President George W. Bush, the junior minister in South Block, Omar Abdullah, stressed that India’s patience was fast running out and Pakistan should realise this. “Enough is enough,” he said, asserting that “there is a limit to testing India’s patience. It will be better if this limit is not tested”.

Abdullah ruled out any change in New Delhi’s policy and said it was not contemplating “hot pursuit” across the border to deal with terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. “The government is not advocating any hot pursuit. But this is not an indefinite situation”

Asked what was the “lakshman rekha”, he said: “It is not possible to quantify the limit as we are not in a position to pre-suppose what the militants are going to do. A section of the Indian population already feels that the limit has been reached.”

But Abdullah called on the international community to keep in mind the close links between Pakistan and the armed rebel groups in the strife-torn state.

Indian policy makers see yesterday’s attack as a Pakistani message intended for its domestic audience. “Pakistan’s message is this: ‘We have decided to go along with the Americans in their fight against the Taliban to ensure that there is no dilution in our Kashmir policy’,” said an official.

Senior officials in South Block said the Prime Minister’s letter to President Bush was aimed at delivering a clear message to Pakistan and the US, as well as the international community.

By telling the Musharraf regime that India is running out of patience, New Delhi is trying to underscore that if the neighbour presses ahead with its policy of sponsoring cross-border terrorism, the Vajpayee government will have to act. On the other hand, it is also aimed at telling Islamabad that India is aware of its game plan and will not take it lying low.

The letter also makes it clear to the Americans that if a terrorist attack against your people is a crime, so is it in Kashmir. It is a signal to Washington that India will not accept the view that terrorism in Afghanistan is an evil, while it can go on in Jammu and Kashmir.

Abdullah told reporters that yesterday’s suicide strike was a reminder of the links between the terrorists operating in Kashmir and the al Qaida network.

Describing Pakistan as “the fountainhead of terrorism” in the region, he said Islamabad was forced by international pressure to join the war against global terrorism. “Since then, it has been clear that these efforts are half-hearted and Pakistan is hoping to use the umbrella of its reluctant support to the international coalition to minimise any damage to its terrorist structure in Afghanistan and to isolate the terrorist structure in Kashmir from the process.”

Abdullah pointed out that while India is not asking the US to bomb the terrorist camps in Kashmir, it wanted Washington to put many more outfits like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and others on the terror blacklist and freeze their assets.

The minister said that after the recent UN Security Council resolution on a global campaign against terrorism, Pakistan, which by its own admission has been extending diplomatic and moral support to the terrorist outfits, would find it difficult to do so. “Even the US cannot ignore what is happening in our region and remain satisfied by only taking action against Osama,” he added.

Stating that Delhi has provided “credible” evidence to the US on Jaish’s close links with bin Laden’s group, Abdullah added that the Saudi exile had reached an agreement with Harkat-ul Mujahideen leader Fazlur Rehman to launch a jihad against America and its allies. On resumption of talks with Pakistan, the minister said: “We will talk at the right time and at the right place. But this is not the right time.”

Asked whether the situation in Jammu and Kashmir would ease if a broad-based government replaces the Taliban regime in Kabul, he said: “Some effect could be there but, for any meaningful de-escalation, Pakistan must stop sponsoring terrorism.”


New Delhi, Oct. 2: 
The suicide attack in Kashmir yesterday has triggered disquiet within the BJP, more so after the party had come to the conclusion that the ban on Simi and the allegations that some sections had come out in support of Osama bin Laden had bolstered its campaign for a strong state that would not compromise on security and territorial integrity.

This morning, former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre met home minister L.K. Advani, ostensibly to seek answers to the questions that arose after yesterday’s strikes. In the one-to-one meeting, sources close to Thakre, who is the BJP’s interface with the government, said he sought to know if the incident was a fallout of developments in Afghanistan.

As the Centre maintained that the terrorists were bound to flee the Kashmir Valley once the US tightened the screws on Afghanistan, BJP sources pointed out that it was “somewhat surprising” how such a major offensive took place. Advani reportedly told Thakre that he was visiting the Valley to personally assess the situation.

However, in contrast to the stridency of their responses to terrorist strikes in the past, the Sangh parivar and its constituents have remained mute. “The sub-continent is going through trying times and it would not be proper to criticise a government,” Sangh sources said.

The official RSS reaction was a reflection of this change of heart. “Terrorism is not limited to just Afghanistan or bin Laden. It is a mindset and all people who have this mindset support them. And there are many such persons in the Kashmir Valley so we cannot expect terrorism to leave its soil in a hurry,” Sangh spokesman M.G. Vaidya said in a statement.

On the day the terrorists struck in Srinagar, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani were preoccupied with getting rid of Keshubhai Patel and replacing him with their nominee Narendra Modi as the Gujarat chief minister.

Since the BJP’s bypoll debacle in Gujarat, party sources admitted that Advani’s one-point agenda seemed to be to oust Patel, who was held responsible for the defeat in the Sabarmati Assembly seat. Advani represents the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency of which Sabarmati is a segment.

BJP sources conceded that the change in Gujarat had frayed the nerves of the party leadership given the stiff resistance put up by Patel. “He was not quite the pushover the leaders thought him to be,” sources said.

Barring the scheduled Cabinet meetings, most of the high-level meetings convened by Vajpayee or Advani in the past week were Gujarat-related.

The extraordinary urgency to replace Patel for the loss of a single Assembly seat caused surprise even within the BJP, especially because similar demands in the past were brushed aside by the party’s central leadership. It was pointed out that although there was no such call this time, Advani got into the act because his own interests were hurt.

The Kashmir incident may also give the Opposition a handle to corner the government for not appointing a full-time defence minister.

After George Fernandes’ exit, foreign minister Jaswant Singh has doubled as defence minister. Singh is currently on a diplomatic mission to the US to garner international support for India’s stand on terrorism.


New Delhi, Oct. 2: 
Home minister L.K. Advani is getting into the act, a full 24 hours after terrorists struck a devastating body blow in Srinagar. Along with senior officials, including home secretary Kamal Pandey, Advani will fly to Srinagar tomorrow for an assessment of Monday’s damage.

Advani’s Kashmir visit comes at a time when India is stepping up its diplomatic offensive against Pakistan with loud complaints to US President George W. Bush. Security analysts, however, believe that whining will get the Vajpayee government nowhere. Nor can the fight against terrorism be won by a one-dimension reliance on diplomacy.

Security experts say the Vajpayee government appears to be relying too much on diplomacy in trying to get the international community to put pressure on Pakistan. Complaining to Washington about Pakistan, at a time when the US needs Islamabad’s help to nail Osama bin Laden, is foolish, and ultimately self-defeating, they say.

“We have to fight our own battles. Do not expect the world to come to your help,” former foreign secretary J.N. Dixit said. “Ultimate diplomacy in fighting terrorism is the use of force at the right time,’’ he added. He believes the time is now, when world opinion is heavily in favour of stamping out terrorists. Complaining, Dixit said, will get India neither help nor sympathy.

“There is no need for a nod of approval from the rest of the world. We have to do what we need to do,’’ he argued.

India must strike at terrorist camps in Muzaffarabad, even if there is no one there, some security experts say.

Dixit believes India has foolishly put itself into a corner by promising the US not to confront Pakistan till Washington’s use for Pakistan is over. America’s concern right now is to get bin Laden and for this it is essential to get Pervez Musharraf’s help. This will serve the US’ self-interest, not India’s, analysts say.

Not all, however, agree with this view of retaliatory strikes against militants. But most Indians believe that the government is relying too much on the US for solving its domestic problem. India’s internal security is, after all, her business.

Advani’s visit to Kashmir will send the right message to the domestic audience. Yesterday, when one of the worst terrorist attacks took place in the state capital’s high-security zone, North Block had lost its tongue. There was no reassuring signal from the home ministry.

Instead, the external affairs ministry was left to articulate the Vajpayee government’s point of view. And the foreign ministry’s message was basically for the US, Pakistan and the international community. That the Indian public was getting restive over these acts of terrorism and wanted the government to take action was also implicit in the statement.


Washington, Oct. 2: 
External affairs minister Jaswant Singh has conveyed to the Americans his assessment that the Taliban will not hand over Osama bin Laden to them and that the US response to the September 11 terrorist attacks have to be “selectively military”.

Talking to reporters after meeting President George W. Bush yesterday, Singh said the Taliban has to go because it has been harbouring terrorists.

He said it should be the effort of the international community to strengthen the “legitimate government” of Afghanistan headed by President Burhanuddin Rabbani and the Northern Alliance. “They will deal with the Taliban very adequately,” he later argued in a local television appearance.

Questioning that the Taliban represented Afghanistan, Singh said that to perpetuate the Taliban regime is to perpetuate terrorism. “The Taliban is really a surrogate for the al Qaida, and the Taliban currently really is being run by al Qaida and Osama bin Laden.”

While calling for a change of regime in Kabul, Singh cautioned against putting all the eggs in the King Zahir Shah basket.

What is needed in Afghanistan is not a personality-based transition. Instead, the change should be based on a process, he argued.

Singh’s comments immediately put him at odds with Pakistan. Shamshad Ahmed, Islamabad’s permanent representative to the UN, last night questioned the claim that the Northern Alliance would provide representational government in Kabul.

The Alliance does not reflect the ethnicity of Afghans, Ahmed said. It cannot represent Afghan society.

Ahmed’s comments came even as Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf virtually wrote the Taliban’s obituary in an interview to the BBC.

But reports reaching here from Islamabad said Pakistan was desperately looking for “moderate elements” in the militia to replace Mullah Mohammad Omar so that it could preserve its hold on Kabul.

The Pakistani effort appears to have been triggered by the leak of a White House memo, which made it clear that the Bush administration had cast its lot in favour of overthrowing the repressive regime headquartered in Kandahar.

Singh said military action has to take place “after all the economic and other measures have been taken to the satisfaction of the coalition” and in accordance with what the UN Security Council has said so far.


Guwahati, Oct. 2: 
The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has given former education minister Jatin Mali, accused of rape and declared an absconder, the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

“All are innocent until proven guilty. The party will not initiate steps against Mali unless the allegations levelled against him are proved,” newly-elected AGP president Brindaban Goswami told The Telegraph today.

He said the housemaid Mali allegedly coerced into a sexual relationship probably filed a case against her former employer under duress, as indicated by her willingness to withdraw the charges.

The woman, Dipti Kalita, filed an FIR at Palashbari police station on August 14, accusing Mali of forcing her to have sex with him on three consecutive nights and later getting her pregnancy aborted by a pharmacist.

While Mali has the AGP leadership’s support despite being on the police’s “wanted” list, Rajendra Mushahary, another former minister, has not been as lucky. The party was quick to suspend him when he was arrested for allegedly raping a Bodo girl from Gossaigaon.

Former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, too, was virtually forced to relinquish the party presidentship after Assembly secretariat employee Sanghamitra Bharali accused him of secretly marrying her at a temple in Mumbai.

Defending the AGP’s stand on Mali, the new party president said the doctors who examined Dipti did not come up with “conclusive” information.

“How can we take action against him without being sure that he has done something wrong? If the court acquits him, where will the party stand?” he asked. The AGP president said thousands of women from Palashbari took to the streets recently in support of Mali. “It shows that his moral integrity is not being doubted.”

A source in the AGP said the party was hoping for a “positive result” in the Mali case as it could ill-afford to have another tainted leader in its ranks. Mali’s arrest will scar the AGP’s image, which has already taken a beating.

The police added Mali’s name to its list of “wanted” persons after filing a chargesheet against him. There has been no trace of the former minister since the police summoned him to record his statements.

Dipti recently informed the police that she would like to withdraw the FIR, but she was denied permission to do so.

When she tried to seek judicial support, women’s organisations prevented her from moving the chief judicial magistrate’s court.


Kukudakhandi (Ganjam district), Oct. 2: 
The Olympic Association of Berhampur paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi today in a unique way by recognising “spinning on charkhas” as a sport and holding a competition on this at Kukudakhandi village.

More than 70 competitors, mostly women, turned up on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. They ranged from an 11-year-old girl to a 99-year-old woman. The participants started arriving at the Khadi Gramodyag Board building at Kukudakhandi village along with their charkhas from early morning.

Berhampur Subdivision Olympic Association secretary Prafulla Jagannath Padhi said his unit of the Olympic Association decided to organise a competition of charkha spinning from this year. He added that it would be an annual event in the coming year .

Ninety-nine-year-old P. Chinnamma said she had started spinning on the charkha from the age of 20 years. She recalled the days when spinning on the charkha was considered a holy duty towards the Mahatma.

As there was a large number of competitors, they were divided into two groups. The senior group consisted of competitors above 25 years of age while the junior group had participants below 25 years. There were nearly 30 competitors in each group. The youngest competitor was 11-year-old E. Swati.

Senior Gandhian and Kukudakhandi Khadi and Gramodyog Board founder A. Rishi thanked the local Olympic Association for trying to encourage charkha spinners by recognising it as a sport.

Rishi said in the pre-Independence era, Kukudakhandi was famous for khadi of fine quality. He added, “Even leaders like Biju Patnaik and Harekrushna Mahtab used to collect their stock of khadi from Kukudakhandi.”

There were nearly 150 handloom units at various homes of the village at one time but none of them is functional at present.

The local Khadi and Gramodyog Board collects the thread produced by the charkha spinners of the area and sells it to handloom units in Andhra Pradesh.

Spinning charkha is a family tradition with the Patasila community at Kukudakhandi. Members of other communities have also taken it up. Some physically handicapped persons of the area have also been provided charkhas by the local Khadi Gramodyog Board so that they have a source of income.

Rishi said they are not getting any major promotional help from the Orissa government to set up a handloom unit at their village and are forced to sell the fine quality thread produced on charkhas to weaving units in Andhra.

Other villages in Ganjam district where charkha spinning still continues as a family tradition, apart from Kukudakhandi, include Boirani, Jagdalpur and Pandia.


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