Anthrax alarm rings in district
New firm gets mine rescue job
Bullets greet police team on trail of militants
‘Extinct’ dog makes a comeback
Powell flies into Pak casualty concern
India ‘immune’ to bio-terror
George returns with honesty stamp
Outraged Sonia cries shame
Jaswant escorts ‘old friend’ back to hot seat
Mamata left cooling heels

Burdwan, Oct. 15: 
After Florida, Burdwan.

The anthrax scare that spread across the US, gripped residents of Burdwan after 25 heads of cattle died of the “strange disease” over the past few weeks.

The district administration has taken up the matter with health minister Suryakanta Mishra. He has convened a meeting tomorrow to take stock of the situation. The minister, however, was not available for comment.

Local doctors have swung into action, examining villagers at random to find out if the disease, that has afflicted over 10 people in the US, has spread to human beings.

Officials confirmed that over 150 cattle heads in several villages in Burdwan had contracted anthrax. They said 15 cattle heads died in Mollahsural village alone.

District veterinary officer Dr Amal Kanti Ganguly along with other officials of the animal resource department visited the affected villages. Burdwan Zilla Parishad Shabadhipati Ramkrishna Banerjee said the authorities were “extremely worried” about the sudden appearance of the deadly disease.

Immediately after the authorities confirmed that most of the livestock had “died from the deadly anthrax disease”, district authorities warned the villagers not to eat the dead cattle. “We have been told to be very careful. I was not aware that people can also be affected from the deadly disease,” said one villager.

Deputy director of the district animal resource department, Santanu Chowdhury, said efforts were on to count the heads of all cattle in Mollahsural and other adjoining villages.

“In the beginning, we found that two cows in our village developed high fever and refused to eat. Some days later, they stopped moving and now we have received reports that many such cases have been noticed elsewhere,” said Swapan Mullick, a villager.

Many villagers, fearing an anthrax outbreak, are thinking of fleeing Mollahsural village. “We have taken all possible measures to stop the disease from spreading among human beings,” a medical officer said.


Asansol, Oct. 15: 
Dissatisfied with the tardy progress of rescue operations at the coal mine in Lalbandh which caved in last week, the government today asked Bengal-Emta, a joint venture company, to take up the job.

Bengal-Emta, a coal mining company in the Asansol coal belt, has sophisticated machinery, which could come handy during the rescue operations.

District magistrate Manoj Agarwal today met officials of the company and asked them to take up the operation. “We engaged the new company as the progress of the rescue operation has been very slow. They have the required expertise and modern equipment for excavation,’’ he said.

Bengal-Emta officials have reached the site and started clearing the rubble from this evening.

“We have been requested by the district administration to take up the rescue job. We have sent in six tippers and an excavator,” company spokesman B.N. Dutta said.

Agarwal along with the district superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh are camping at the spot to supervise the operations.

“We are trying our best to find out if any one is trapped under the debris,” Ramesh said.


Siliguri, Oct. 15: 
A crack police team that raided the Gorumara forest last night to flush out suspected Kamtapuri Liberation Organisation militants met with stiff resistance.

No sooner had the police team entered the Pashcim Barogilla forest village were they greeted by a fusillade of bullets.

The police were trying to track down the killers of RSP leader Goyanath Roy. Swapan Sarkar, who had been injured in the firing, died today.

Militants fired from automatic weapons. The encounter lasted till the wee hours of the morning.

But the police, who had been tipped off by an informer, failed in their mission, with the militants managing to escape into the dense jungles of the Gorumara Wildlife Sanctuary.

Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Siddhay Nath Gupta said ever since Thursday’s strikes at Jalpesh Hat, police had been conducting a massive search operation at different parts of the district.

“We suspect some of the militants were injured in the encounter. An empty AK-47 magazine was recovered from the spot. We recovered a large number of documents related to the KLO and also arrested a woman, Jyotsna Roy, from the village on charges of sheltering militants,” Gupta said.

“So far we have arrested 15 suspected militants from different parts of the district. A special team led by Jalpaiguri additional superintendent Anand Kumar is on the trail of the militants inside the Gorumara forest,” the police superintendent said.


Siliguri, Oct. 15: 
Everyone had thought the Dole was extinct till forest staff at the Neora Valley National Park spotted the wild dog some days ago.

“A pack of five Doles was sighted some two weeks back,” Jalpaiguri divisional forest officer Raju Das said. “This was the first time that the Dole was seen in the national park. The last time these wild dogs were seen was some 40 years ago, at the Buxa Duar Wildlife Sanctuary.”

He said this was a “very encouraging” sign, as the presence of the animals indicate a regeneration of the “prey base”.

He feels the pack of wild dogs had entered the park in search of prey – boars and deer.

“We have instructed all forest beat and range officers in the national park to keep a close watch on the pack. We have even equipped the forest staff with cameras to capture in picture the pack and its habitat.”


Islamabad, Oct. 15: 
Pakistan will discuss with US secretary of state Colin Powell its concern over the prolongation of the military operation.

Powell arrived here this evening amidst a protest strike by the Pak-Afghan Defence Council, an alliance of about 30 religious parties.

The strike paralysed the major cities and police clashed with stone-throwing crowds in Karachi and Hyderabad. All major markets and shops in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore and some other areas remained closed.

Foreign office spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan said the issue of civilian casualties in Afghanistan will be a point of discussion with Powell.Hours before Powell arrived, Khan said Pakistan does not consider the Taliban “terrorists”. “The Taliban are not terrorists. We never regarded them as terrorists.”

“They continue to control very large part of Afghanistan. We continue to deal with them and we have their embassy over here,” he said. This appeared aimed at the domestic audience with opinion polls showing a huge tide of support for the Taliban.

Pakistan, he said, has expressed its deep sorrow at the civilian casualties. “We have always emphasised that in this fight against terrorism care must be taken that innocent people do not suffer.” He said the US has also expressed regret over the loss of civilian lives. “Prolongation of operation will also be a source of concern for us,” he said.

A prolonged military campaign would inevitably witness “mishaps”. “Nobody, certainly not Pakistan, nor I’m sure the United States, would like to see that happen,” Khan said.

“Therefore, there is a certain desire on the part of everybody that the military operation be short and not prolonged beyond what is necessary.”

President Pervez Musharraf had expressed similar sentiments earlier. A steady flow of reports of civilian deaths will make it hard for the general to keep the lid on protests that have rocked Pakistan since Musharraf decided to back the US. The spokesman said Kashmir and Indo-Pak relations were also on the agenda. Pakistan would express its point of view on the situation in the region as Kashmir is a dangerous source of tension. Powell will hold meetings with foreign minister Abdul Sattar and call on Musharraf.

“It (Indo-Pak relations) can be influenced by friends, the international community, UN and others,” Khan said. In the past, he said, the resumption of dialogue between Pakistan and India was one of the five benchmarks laid down by former President Bill Clinton. The remark assumes importance in light of Islamabad’s invitation to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and foreign minister Jaswant Singh to visit Pakistan, an offer it recently iterated, calling for an urgent trip. If the Prime Minister cannot come, he should send Singh, Pakistan has said.

India sees no urgency for a visit now. Islamabad’s concern over civilian casualties triggering trouble at home found reflection in Khan’s statement that the government takes these demonstrations seriously.

However, he said, a very large majority in Pakistan has endorsed the position taken by the government.


New Delhi, Oct. 15: 
Even as Americans hit the panic button over the anthrax “attack” in the US, scientists in India who have been working on ways to combat bio-terrorism are playing it cool for a none-too-happy reason.

Anthrax and plague — possible weapons of bio-terrorists — are endemic over parts of India. Plague has been controlled despite the outbreak in Surat some years ago that is still suspected to have been caused artificially. Anthrax still takes a toll in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and in parts of Andhra Pradesh.

“Since these diseases are endemic to some parts of the country, the immunity level here is higher than that of people in the West,” bio-weapons experts with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) say. Anthrax is also treatable — usually with the anti-biotic Ciprofloxacin.

Anthrax and plague are among risk group II and III viruses that security establishments suspect terrorist groups to be in possession of.

The deadlier viruses like Ebola and Hanta, that have recorded 90 per cent fatalities are classified under risk group IV. But these are unlikely to be used by terrorists because they need expertise in handling. The other deadly virus — Small Pox — is stored in just two laboratories — one in the US and the other in Russia — and defence experts say any outbreak of the disease anywhere in the world after it has been eradicated will be traced to these two institutions.

India is probably more susceptible to chemical attacks, says R.V. Swami, chief controller, research and development, with the DRDO. The DRDO is now gearing up to train doctors from across the states in combating possible attacks by chemical weapons of mass destruction that might be nerve agents, blister agents blood agents or toxins.

A rapid response team against such an attack is now in place only in the national capital. The Defence Research and Development Establishment — a DRDO outfit in Gwalior that is the only institution researching the agents — is now gearing up to training batches of doctors from other states.

Of all these agents, toxins are the deadliest — about a 100 times more dangerous than nerve agents which are a 100 times more dangerous than blister and blood agents. Nerve agents were produced in the period between the wars and were used in the Iran-Iraq war.

The last known use of a nerve agent — Sarin — was by an outfit in a Tokyo subway in 1995 in which 12 people were killed. Nerve agents — like Sarin, Soman, Vx and Tabun — are liquids and 20-100 mg consumed by a human can prove fatal.

Nerve agents act quickly — usually within 10 minutes.

The DRDO has announced that its Gwalior establishment is actively involved in working on defences against chemical attacks. It has the technology for detector papers and detector tubes that are now being procured. Antidotes are also available as were first-aid kits.

The DRDO establishment in Kanpur has the NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) ensemble — the preventive uniform complete with mask — that must be worn by doctors and first responders. However, there are no antidotes available for toxins and blister agents that have to be treated symptomatically.


New Delhi, Oct. 15: 
George Fernandes, who quit as defence minister on moral grounds in the wake of the Tehelka exposé that is still being probed, was today reinducted into the defence ministry.

Gujarat BJP leader Harin Pathak was inducted as minister of state for defence production and supplies. Pathak, too, was forced to quit the ministry following a chargesheet against him, but he has since been cleared.

Rejecting the Opposition demand against Fernandes’ rehabilitation, Atal Bihari Vajpayee granted the NDA convener a certificate of efficiency and honesty. After being sworn in, Fernandes said there was no moral question involved in his being in the Cabinet or the defence ministry.

Mamata Banerjee, who had quit the Cabinet to press for Fernandes’ resignation in the wake of the defence scam, expressed happiness at his re-entry into the Cabinet.

“There could not have been a better choice. The NDA will definitely be strengthened particularly at a time when the country needs a full time defence minister,” said the Trinamul Congress chief.

Asked why Fernandes was reinducted though the probe panel did not give him a clean chit and the Opposition was demanding an FIR against him, Vajpayee said: “There is no case against Fernandes. He had resigned on his own. Nothing incriminating against him has come to light during the proceedings of the Venkataswami Commission. Even the notice given by the commission to him does not relate to any charges.”

The Prime Minister said Fernandes, who had done “very good” work as defence minister in the wake of the Kargil conflict, would retain the portfolio.

Vajpayee, however, stressed that Fernandes’ return to the Cabinet would have no effect on the functioning of the probe panel. “The government will continue to give its support to the commission,” he said.

The Prime Minister said defence was a key ministry, especially in the wake of the current global developments, and it had become necessary to have a “full time” defence minister.

“In view of the current situation, it is imperative to have a full time defence minister. Even external affairs minister Jaswant Singh had expressed the view that he could not do justice to both the ministries at this juncture since it had become a heavy responsibility. He had also said that he would like to give up one of them,” Vajpayee said.

Fernandes said he returned to the government on the request of Vajpayee, but felt there was no “moral question” involved in his being in the defence ministry.

“I got out of government for the simple reason that all of you sat together to conspire so that our armed forces be demoralised and I was not ready to accept that kind of a situation,” he claimed.

The Samata leader said the country’s defence and the restoration of the troops’ morale, shaken by the “wretched” Tehelka, would be two of his main priorities.

Reacting to the Opposition’s criticism of his reinduction, Fernandes said: “I will ask them to produce charges against me. You cannot say that you are tainted. You are this. You are that... By your shouting in the streets and Parliament, I do not become an accused.”

Asked if he would be “cautious” in future, Fernandes said: “I will work with my own conscience... There are many Tehelka-type people in the country who want dishonesty and not integrity.”

DMK cautious

The DMK today gave a guarded welcome to Fernandes’ return, pushing aside the anti-corruption stick that it wanted to beat Jayalalithaa with.

“If the Congress and the Left parties can support Jayalalithaa, who has been convicted for three years (in the Tansi land deal case), there is nothing wrong in George Fernandes again assuming office,” DMK president and former chief minister M. Karunanidhi said.

He underscored how Fernandes had, in the wake of those revelations, resigned on his own, even though no charges or any chargesheet had been laid against him.


Oct. 15: 
Finally getting its act together, the Congress today served an ultimatum to the BJP with Sonia Gandhi claiming that the Rajnath Singh government’s crimes of omission and commission could not be washed away even by “mother Ganga”.

Addressing a parivartan rally that kicked off the Congress campaign for Uttar Pradesh, Sonia charged that corruption had assumed industry status under the BJP. “There is so much dirt, so much corruption in UP government that even Ganga maiya cannot wash it off.”

Capitalising on George Fernandes’ reappointment as minister for defence, Sonia asked her audience not to forgive the BJP for placing the responsibility of the nation’s security on someone facing corruption charges. “UTI, Tehelka, telecom… how long can we keep forgiving and hoping for the better?’’ Sonia asked, adding: “And now they want to give someone whose role in a scam is under the scanner the job of looking after the nation’s defence.”

The Congress chief said Fernandes’ reinduction was a “shame” and her party would do whatever possible to oppose it.

The dais was packed with the who’s who of the Congress — former Union ministers and former chief ministers sitting side by side with other senior functionaries. Various factions of the party were coming together for the first time in an unprecedented show of unity.

Sonia touched upon a wide range of subjects such as the current international situation, the plight of farmers and the lack of development in Uttar Pradesh. While her party was in agreement with the government on the fight against terrorism, she said she was opposed to the idea of punishing the innocent and poor citizens of Afghanistan. “Such a strategy cannot work against terrorism and could even prove counter-productive,” she said.

Sonia also made it clear that the Congress would not get into any alliance with the Samajwadi Party or the BSP, ending speculation that the two sides were inching closer. The Congress alone can fulfil voter aspirations in Uttar Pradesh, she added. In the past 12 years of non-Congress rule, development had come to a standstill in Uttar Pradesh, Sonia said, accusing the BJP of betraying the voters.

“By changing face, you cannot change character,” Sonia said referring to Rajnath’s appointment as chief minister. “People’s aspirations have been betrayed. Instead of seva, they betrayed. Instead of development, they plundered,” she added.

The Congress chief reminded her audience about the Congress’ contributions to the freedom struggle and nation building. “Remember who incorporated reservations for weaker sections in the Constitution,” she said.

“The Congress wants social harmony. It is a party that thinks beyond winning elections,” Sonia said, adding that her party had never indulged in communal or casteist politics to enhance its electoral prospects.

Left slams govt

Left parties have come down heavily on the Vajpayee government for reinducting Fernandes into the Cabinet and said the move vindicates their position that the NDA is nothing but an “opportunistic combine”.

Rounding on the government on the same issue, the Left’s ally, the Samajwadi Party, said it would take the Tehelka campaigns that had forced Fernandes to quit to the streets.


New Delhi, Oct. 15: 
Jaswant Singh escorted him to his room in South Block, signed the papers, graciously and with little ceremony but great relief offered “old friend” George Fernandes the chair, bid adieu to senior officers and walked home to the ministry of external affairs.

Despite having been a soldier himself, Jaswant was always the reluctant defence minister, never at home running the services. As he walked back to the MEA, the spring in his step was not showing but in the six months that he held the portfolio, he could scarcely conceal his displeasure with it. He told senior officers of the ministry more than once that he found defence “burdensome” because there was so much for him to do in the MEA.

Not surprisingly, the ministry of defence has practically been run by the bureaucracy because his commitments kept Jaswant abroad frequently. The minister never briefed the press as the head of defence. Over the months, international developments and Jaswant’s interests were gradually reducing the defence ministry into an adjunct of the MEA.

Fernandes will change all that. Even as he was being ushered into office, minions in South Block were into the guessing and betting game — when will the peripatetic Fernandes call for the chopper and hop to Siachen? — will it be within the week or will it take longer.

The last time Fernandes took over as defence minister, he kicked up a row in his first week in office. China, he said, was a major threat. He kept repeating that till Beijing took umbrage and finally made its displeasure clear.

When he went in the wake of Tehelka, every move that he made promised he will be back sooner than most thought. Six months later, he is cocking a snook at all his critics. To top it all, this time Fernandes has the wherewithal to show how indispensable he is.

“I was told by the Prime Minister on Friday that I should be back in the government.... I have returned on the specific request of the Prime Minister,” he said in his first soundbyte after being sworn in.

The defence minister’s appointments book and things-to-do list is full. Two hours after taking over, he headed to the MEA to meet with the visiting Russian deputy Prime Minister. The bureaucracy has files ready for the signing. For starters, Fernandes will have to decide on the Group of Ministers’ recommendation on institutionalising the chief of defence staff and setting up of a Defence Intelligence Agency. The Strategic Forces Command, setting up of a National Defence university, a Defence Procurement Board and giving shape to the integrated headquarters of the army, navy and air force will follow. The overriding concern will, of course, continue to be Kashmir where the Prime Minister has promised intensified operations but Jaswant had ruled out crossing the Line of Control in hot pursuit of militants.


New Delhi, Oct. 15: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today ruled out reinducting Trinamul Congress MPs into the Cabinet before Parliament’s winter session beginning November 19.

Speaking to reporters at Rashtrapati Bhavan, he said he had no plans to expand or reshuffle his council of ministers in the near future. Asked if he would reinduct the Trinamul and the PMK into the government, he said: “I do not propose to bring about changes in the government before the winter session of Parliament.”


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