Manab logs on to Delhi for funds
Homoeo hot on health charts
Tech to take electricity to villages
When in shame, blame ‘anonymous’
MP on board, PM on phone
Airport staff deny hoax call
Toilet & tips land duo in air pocket
Atal’s tryst with comedy of errors
‘Vindicated’ RSS in hot-pursuit push
UK for joint war on terror

Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
The state government has approached the Union IT ministry for a huge dose of funds to improve the information technology infrastructure in Bengal.

“I have submitted three major proposals to Union IT minister Pramod Mahajan personally and he has reacted favourably,” state IT minister Manab Mukherjee said today.

He has asked the Centre to include Bengal in a Rs 792-crore project to reach computers to secondary schools. Calcutta alone has over 300 schools waiting for computers.

Mukherjee has also asked for funds for a Rs 335-crore wide-area network at the panchayat level and a Rs 10-crore project to build a citizen database on the state’s 80 million people. He claimed that so far the Centre had not given the state money to improve its IT base. Whatever investment has taken place, has been done by the state, he added.

“We have spent about Rs 13.5 crore to develop the state’s wide-area network,” Mukherjee said.

He has asked Mahajan to ensure that BSNL reduces the rate it charges the state government for the 2 mbps leased lined used in the wide-area network. “I know that Andhra Pradesh pays nothing and Uttar Pradesh pays much less for limited wide-area network inaugurated this week,” Mukherjee said.

For the leased line, Bengal has to cough up Rs 2.25 crore each year, the minister said.

Expressing dissatisfaction over the Centre’s lack of involvement in the state’s IT development, Mukherjee said Writers’ Buildings has had to pay Rs 1.63 crore for the gateway being developed by the Software Technology Parks of India for Salt Lake.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is now scheduled to meet Mahajan when he comes to Calcutta in November.

The Union IT minister will meet Mukherjee again on November 18. He will also hold talks with IT officials of the state. Asked if the Centre had given any assurances to meet the state’s demand for funds, Mukherjee said he will wait for a response from Delhi.

“If we do not get adequate financial support we will look for funds elsewhere. I have also asked the Union minister to inform us about foreign agencies which fund IT development,” he added.


Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
The ailing in Bengal show a strong tendency to go for non-allopathic medicines, a recent survey has revealed.

The survey, conducted by the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), says that unlike in Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, a sizeable chunk of the ailing in Bengal opt for homeopathy or other non-allopathic systems of treatment.

In urban areas alone, 14 per cent to 16 per cent people consult homoeopaths compared with 7 per cent in the rural areas.

Sponsored by the Brussels-based European Commission, the survey says 60 per cent of the ailing consult private allopaths in both urban and rural areas.

Bengal and Tamil Nadu were chosen for cross-sectional household survey and Andhra Pradesh for hospital study.

The findings of the survey —- Health Sector Reforms: An evaluation of the impact upon pattern of utilisation among vulnerable groups in three Indian states —- were discussed at a seminar at the ISI on Thursday.

A majority of the people in the three states described fever as a disease and not as a symptom. Fever was reported as the most common ailment. The others to follow were diarrhoea and gastro-enteritis.

It said that aches and pains, ear, nose, throat, eye, dental, breathing and respiratory problems have fairly moderate levels of prevalence. Communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, measles and chicken pox account for two to four per cent of all illnesses, the survey said.

The study also revealed that males suffer more than females in respect of fevers, respiratory troubles, communicable diseases, accidents, injuries and skin diseases. On the other hand, females are more susceptible to hypertension, joint pains, heart troubles, ear, nose, throat, eye, dental and gum problems. Thyroid problems and anaemia are almost exclusive to females.

An interesting feature the study revealed was that privatisation of health provisions in Bengal was much less as compared to other states, including Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The study added that the public health care sector was dying faster in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh than in Bengal.

Participating in the seminar, administrative coordinator of the study project, Kasturi Sen, said globally the concept of the welfare state was gradually taking a back-seat and marketing and profitability were being brought forward.

While carrying out the survey, she said, complaints were received about government hospitals and the lack of medicine and other facilities.

The project’s scientific co-ordinator, Samir Guha Roy, said one of the objectives of the study was to examine the trends in mortality and morbidity in the states in order to document the nature of the health.

Another objective was to compare the uptake of health services funded in different ways retrospectively to assess changes in usage, if any, by “vulnerable” and “non-vulnerable” groups.

Among eminent doctors who participated in the seminar were Abirlal Mukherjee and Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, who is also the former vice-chancellor of Calcutta University. K.B. Sinha, ISI director, was also present.


Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
It’s a plan for the future, with technology as its basis. The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is all set to use geographical information system (GIS) to speed up the process of planning and implementation of rural electrification in the state.

The two-year-old West Bengal Rural Electricity Development Corporation, created to ensure electrification in rural areas, has roped in Webel and private operator Riddhi to carry on GIS for the Howrah district.

“This is a pilot study. We want to carry out a similar exercise for all the 314 blocks in the state, which will work as a backbone in meeting the target of 100 per cent rural electrification by 2006,” WBREDC chairman Sujan Chakraborty said.

“The system will contain perfect information on both consumption and technical aspects related to electrification. This will help us to not only minimise transmission and distribution losses, but also empower us to plan effectively for the future,” added Chakraborty.

In its effort to map the existing state of electrification, the commission is working closely with the district administration and the panchayats, for which Rs 70 lakh has already been spent.


Mumbai, Oct. 4: 
After a long day at one of the busiest and supposedly high-security airports, Sushovan Banerjee had just turned in when the phone shrilled.

It was past midnight. The groggy regional deputy commissioner of aviation security picked up the phone from a bedside table. But hardly had he mumbled “hello” when he sat up, bolt upright. It was his boss, aviation security commissioner Veeranna Aivalli, calling him from New Delhi to break the news of a “hijacking”.

After spending the last couple of weeks sealing security chinks at the Chhatrapati Shivaji international airport, the last thing the IPS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, now on deputation in Mumbai, could take lying down was a hijack on his turf.

Banerjee immediately got Ahmedabad’s airport director R.C. Chitkara on the phone and warned him of the hijack, sources at the aviation security bureau said. Chitkara sounded taken aback, then assured the security official in Hindi that “nothing of the sort had happened”.

The Alliance Air Boeing 737 had just crossed Ahmedabad’s airspace and was cruising towards New Delhi, almost on time, with no incident reported aboard.

Neither the pilot nor the co-pilot had punched out the four-digit code at the controls as they were supposed to in case a plane was hijacked, Chitkara assured the security official. So, there was no reason to think that anybody had forcibly taken over the aircraft.

In fact, the Ahmedabad ATC had just “handed over” the aircraft to the Jaipur traffic control, which was in turn to inform the Delhi ATC about the approaching plane. It was a direct flight between the nation’s administrative and financial capitals. The flight path was charted by the four ATCs, including Mumbai.

Up to this point, things appeared to have gone as planned: the security commissioner of civil aviation waking up the deputy commissioner in Mumbai in the middle of the night and warning him of a “hijack” that was not to be. The deputy, in turn, put the Ahmedabad airport director on alert as he checked the “hijacking” with him.

At this point, however, the plan may have begun to unravel as it is not clear what Ahmedabad airport officials told their counterparts in Jaipur or New Delhi of the supposed hijacking. It is unclear who radioed the information to the pilots, who appeared to have over-reacted. They locked themselves in the cockpit, without checking with the crew over inetrcom for nearly four hours whether there were any hijackers in the passenger area.

Mock exercises to detect security chinks with posed hijackers are common in the civil aviation security bureau and are carried out year-round in major airports.

Two undercover bureau agents, carrying weapons concealed in their handbags, went through the checkpoints undetected at Mumbai airport on August 15. Separately, they had boarded two Goa-bound aircraft — one Indian Airlines and the other Jet Airways — unstopped with a revolver and a long kitchen knife, before they were called back.

Denying any mock anti-hijacking exercise, civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain blamed the “confusion” on an “anonymous phone call” to the Ahmedabad ATC this morning. The phone conversation between Banerjee and Chitkara, however, points to another story.

Under no circumstances, the call made by the deputy commissioner to the Ahmedabad airport director could be attributed to an “anonymous” caller. If the Ahmedabad ATC received an anonymous call, how come the airport authorities reacted — if at all — now after assuring the Mumbai security official that the aircraft had not been hijacked?

Curiously, the minister later virtually retracted what he had said in the morning. This time, he blamed the episode on another “anonymous” call to the Indian Airlines office in New Delhi.

As the drama unfolded through the night and police commissioner M.N. Singh rushed to the airport in mufti, senior civil aviation security officials maintained that no hijackers could have boarded the aircraft with weapons. So tight was the security, they claimed with confidence.


New Delhi, Oct. 4: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was awake till 4 this morning monitoring the ‘hijack’ crisis.

Vajpayee was calm and collected when he spoke to former Maharashtra minister and Shiv Sena MP Chandrakant Khaire, the lone VIP passenger on the Alliance Air flight CD 7444. He told him the situation was being monitored and asked him not to worry.

Khaire said he received two calls on his mobile from the Prime Minister’s Office between 2.45 and 3.05 am. The first call was from joint-secretary Sudheendra Kulkarni, who enquired about his health and also if there were any other VIP passengers. The Sena leader said he informed the PMO aide that Arun Sathe, brother of minister of state for human resources development Sumitra Mahajan, was on board.

Vajpayee called at 3.05 am and asked him what was happening inside the plane. Khaire said he gave the Prime Minister a detailed account. Vajpayee, he said, was calm and told him not to worry.

Khaire said the man behind the bizarre drama - one Sharma – may have been drunk. He said sometime after the so-called hijack alarm that the Ahmedabad air traffic control flashed to the pilot at 11.40, Sharma wanted to go to the toilet, which was being used by the pilot. When the crew stopped him, he flew into a rage.

“I am an Alliance (subsidiary of Indian Airlines) man. I want to meet the pilot,” he said before trying to barge into the cockpit. Sharma, a tall, fair man of about 40, then started knocking on the cockpit wall. Khaire said the pilot, already nervous after the false alarm, bolted the cockpit from inside. Thinking that Sharma was the hijacker, he pressed the hijack button, which automatically alerts airports throughout the country. The Sena leader said Sharma did not possess any weapon and he did not see any other “hijacker”. The commandos, who stormed the aircraft at 4.15 am, pinned down Sharma and asked the passengers to disembark.

Khaire said after the 11.40 flash, the pilot addressed the passengers twice, asking them to remain quiet and that everything was okay. “Till 2.30 am we were relaxed as we were told that the plane had landed at an isolated bay area due to some technical snag.

But the sight of National Security Guard commandos cordoning off the area, the presence of the fire brigade and the flurry of activity on the tarmac made us suspicious,” he recalled. “As we grew restless, we asked the crew to open the door and let us step out. Then we were told that the plane had been hijacked?”

Khaire said they asked the crew how the plane could have been hijacked when it was already stationed in Delhi? “When we tried to talk on our mobile phones, they told us to switch them off as it would disturb communication between the ATC and the pilot. They said two hijackers were inside.

“Our patience exhausted, at 2.40 am we all switched on our mobiles. My wife and mother called me up. My wife asked me about the hijackers, where they were. I told her I did not see anybody looking like hijackers. She said television said your plane has been hijacked. I replied that we had landed, in Delhi.

“At 2.45, I phoned Mukesh Bhatia, senior executive of Alliance, a personal friend of mine. He told me that a message was received from Ahmedabad that the plane had been hijacked. Alliance officials also had talks with the PMO.”

Khaire said no sky marshals were on board during the crisis.


Ahmedabad, Oct. 4: 
Airport officials here denied that the Ahmedabad air traffic control (ATC) had received any anonymous calls informing them about the hijack of the Alliance Air Boeing 737 even as civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain ordered an inquiry into what he calls “false alarm”.

Additional general manager (ATC) Baxi Singh, who was on duty last night, claimed that the air traffic control tower had not received any anonymous call saying that flight CD 7444 from Mumbai had been hijacked.

Earlier, the minister accused ATC Ahmedabad for raising a “false alarm” after it received an anonymous call saying the plane had been hijacked. Hussain said the information was then passed on to the pilot of the Boeing, leading to panic.

Airport sources said Ahmedabad ATC did receive a call, which was later traced to Delhi. Officially, however, the airport authorities have refused to admit that they received an anonymous call.

Both Ahmedabad airport director R.C. Chitkara and AGM (ATC) are tightlipped about the minister’s statement that Ahmedabad ATC had alerted the pilot about the hijack. They neither confirm nor deny his version.

“We are not supposed to disclose anything as inquiry is on,” Chitkara said, adding that he would submit the report to the director general of civil aviation and the airport authorities in Delhi. The report contains the transcript of the multi-channel airport voice recorder, he added.

After the probe order, Chitkara asked ATC officials to transcribe conversations recorded on the airport voice recorder. Similar transcripts would be submitted to the investigating officer by ATC Mumbai and Delhi.


New Delhi, Oct. 4: 
At the end of the four-hour hijack drama, two passengers were whisked away by NSG commandos for a 12-hour interrogation and were possibly even beaten up.

Inder Kumar Sharma, an Indian Airlines employee, was picked up because he had asked to see the pilot to offer help. Sushil Kumar, who is Sharma’s neighbour in Uttam Nagar, had lost temper when an airhostess told him not to use the toilet in the front of the plane.

Delhi police and intelligence officials interrogated the two men, who had gone to Mumbai together last month, for 12 hours before deciding that they were innocent and allowing them to go.

Kumar had roused the suspicion of the cabin crew while the plane was parked at Delhi airport after landing. The flight commander had instructed passengers to keep their seat belts fastened and sit tight and, through the internal phone, asked the crew to keep an eye on the people on board.

The 40-year-old, who runs a coaching centre in West Delhi, caught the attention of the crew because he appeared to be restless. When he rose from his seat and began moving towards the front toilet, a stewardess intervened and asked him to use the one at the back.

Kumar lost his temper and demanded to see the pilot. When he was refused, the passenger returned to his seat and kept shuffling and rummaging through his handbag.

Sharma also wanted to see the pilot, but for a different reason. The passengers had been told that there was a technical snag on the plane. The Indian Airlines employee — he has been working with the airline for the past 16 years and is now a senior helper in the engineering department — thought he could offer help to solve the problem.

Co-passenger Ashok Singhania said: “Sharma, being an Indian Airlines employee, wanted to find out why the passengers were not allowed to leave the aircraft.

“After the NSG commandos stormed the aircraft, the airhostess pointed at Sharma. He was asked to stand. His interrogation and medical check up started inside the aircraft. We also heard that he was beaten up.” Both Sharma and Kumar said they had not ventured near the cockpit. “We were also told that a mock drill was being conducted in the aircraft.”


New Delhi, Oct. 4: 
For almost five hours early today — from the time the first false alarm about the hijack that never was came from the Ahmedabad air traffic control at 11.40 pm — the government was on tenterhooks. The comedy ended when the National Security Guard commandos, who stormed the “hijacked” plane at 4.05 am, found no hijackers.

As news of the hijack came in, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Sudheendra Kulkarni, media adviser Ashok Tandon and home minister L.K. Advani woke up to face one of the toughest challenge since the Kandahar hijack.

By 2.15 am, the high-profile crisis management group (CMG) was ready. The PMO had woken up the CMG members. Apart from Advani and Mishra, there was civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain, Cabinet secretary T.R. Prasad, the home, civil aviation and defence secretaries, the chiefs of RAW and the Intelligence Bureau and foreign secretary Choklia Iyer, who substituted foreign minister Jaswant Singh.

Vajpayee stayed awake at his 7 Race Course Road residence, monitoring the situation inside and outside the “hijacked” aircraft. Advani, who had returned to Delhi late in the night from Srinagar, rushed to Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan, the headquarters of the civil aviation ministry, at 2.20 am to chair the CMG meeting. The meeting discussed all aspects of the crisis, including whether to negotiate with the hijackers or storm the plane. Mishra arrived a bit late at 3 am.

Vajpayee spoke to former Shiv Sena minister and Lok Sabha MP Chandrakant Khaire at 3.05 am for a first-hand version of what was happening inside the aircraft. Kulkarni also spoke to the lone VIP passenger on board. Vajpayee, sources said, was awake till 4 am, when it was absolutely clear that the hijack was a false one.

The CMG meeting, which began at 2.30 am lasted till 4 am, when it was finally made clear that it was no hijack at all. Advani spoke to the pilot, Ashwin Bahal, at 4 am. At 4.05 am, the NSG commandos stormed the plane and found no hijackers, bringing the curtains down on one of most bizarre hijack dramas in aviation history.

A bleary-eyed Advani left Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan shortly after 4 am, followed by the Cabinet secretary. The civil aviation minister was the last to leave at 4.30 am.


New Delhi, Oct. 4: 
A triumphant RSS today claimed that Delhi’s demand to Islamabad to hand over Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar for trial had vindicated its stand that the Centre should not have released the four terrorists in exchange for the hostages during the Kandahar hijack of December 1999.

Speaking informally to reporters, RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya said: “Our stand is vindicated. The way the key terrorists, including Masood, were escorted back with respect was not okay. It was strategically wrong to have released them in exchange for the lives of the passengers aboard the hijacked Indian Airlines plane.”

He stressed that Masood in particular should not have been set free. His Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for this week’s suicide strike on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly building.

He urged the government to attack Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and destroy the terrorist training camps there. The timing, he added, would have to be decided by the government. “The government has to decide what to do in Kashmir. But it should see to it that the supply lines to the terrorists are completely cut off.”

Asked if the RSS supported Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s call for war against Pakistan, Vaidya sounded circumspect.

“War with Pakistan will have to take into account various things like our state of preparedness and international opinion. After all, the US treats Pakistan as an ally and Pakistan has reciprocated. So an all-out war is not possible under these circumstances,” he said.

The Sangh spokesman went along with the parivar’s hardliners in saying that there was “nothing wrong” in describing the ongoing terrorism as “Islamic terrorism”. However, he quickly added a rider: “This does not mean all Muslims are jihadis. It proves that all jihadis are Muslims.” Vaidya warned the minorities not to back the jihadis. “By supporting the jihadis, Muslims will not serve the cause of Islam. I don’t know if the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid is a true representative of the Muslims or not, but he described the present events as jihad,” he said.

The US also came in for criticism when Vaidya was commenting on the fluid geo-political equations between the US and the sub-continent. “Our government wants the US to go back to the stand it had taken on global terrorism just after the September 11 strikes. That time the US accepted that terrorism had global dimensions. But after a week it appeared as though the US changed its stand and had restricted itself to just Laden and Afghanistan,” he explained. He urged the US to “use its influence on Pakistan to halt cross-border terrorism”.


London, Oct. 4: 
Tony Blair told an emergency session of Parliament today that the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly had reinforced the commitment to work together against terrorism.

Addressing the specially recalled session of the Parliament, Blair said he had encountered “an unprecedented level of solidarity and commitment to work together against terrorism. This is a commitment that spans all continents, cultures and religions reinforced by attacks like the one on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in Srinagar, which killed over 30 innocent people”.

The British Prime Minister had assured Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh yesterday that the British leadership had full appreciation of India’s role as being central in the global coalition against international terrorism.

He has also confirmed Singh that he would be visiting Pakistan as part of his global diplomatic effort to build an international coalition against terrorism.


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