Early date signal for panchayat polls
Circus tigress exhumed
Tada-baiter Mamata sees little harm in clone
Safety first, home later
Atal shoots down Pervez meet
Forces storm mosque, kill militant
UN headache adds to India’s Kashmir agony
Terror law dissent in Atal camp
Reforms leave bottom-rung women poorer
Luxury tax off electronic goods

Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
Worried at the performance of panchayats, the CPM is planning to advance the elections to the local bodies scheduled for 2003 to early next year.

Many of these panchayats have not submitted any statements to account for the funds allocated to them for various cultural programmes in the districts.

In 1999-2000, the state government had sanctioned several lakhs of rupees to all the districts. The government had instructed the panchayats to use the money on cultural programmes.

This financial year, the state government had sanctioned Rs 5 crore to the districts for the same purpose.

CPM now wants the panchayats to use the money to woo voters. At the same time, the party has instructed all the panchayats to submit their statement of accounts immediately. The party feels this will help them build a clean image among the rural electorate before the next panchayat polls.

CPM’s plan to advance the panchayat election has been indicated in a recently published party document.

CPM is also planning to use modern technology while campaigning. It has decided to approach cable operators to get its message across to the rural electorate.

The party has come to the conclusion that writers, artists and other intellectuals had played a major role in the Left Front’s victory in the Assembly polls. So, it plans to use the same tactics to woo the rural masses.

To reach out to the rural electorate, the party recently constituted an association of tribals and folk artistes. The association is working under the guidance of Gananatya Sangha and Ganatantrik Lekhak Shilpi Sangha — the two major cultural fronts of the party that have been mobilising public opinion for the past few decades.

But the CPM said it has yet to set up the association in all districts.

The party admitted that there was a lack of coordination between its four major cultural fronts.

“In some districts there have been misunderstandings between the officials of Gananatya Sangha and Ganatantrik Lekhak Shilpi Sangha. This can harm the party, especially during an election,” according to the party document.

This will be the sixth panchayat poll. The fifth panchayat elections were held on May 28, 1998. The fourth panchayat polls were held on May 30, 1993. The fourth panchayat was allowed to complete its five-year term.


Burdwan, Oct. 29: 
The Burdwan municipality today exhumed the body of the circus tigress, which died of suspected anthrax last week, from the Festival Ground where it had been buried by its owners.

The body was later taken outside the town and buried in a field kept aside for dead animals.

A fine of Rs 1,000 was slapped on Famous Circus for burying the animal at the Festival Ground violating municipality rules, vice-chairman Ainul Haque said. “The Festival Ground is meant for programmes for entertainment of the people of Burdwan,” he said.

Asim Bhowmick, manager of the circus company, admitted that no permission was taken from the municipality.

Yesterday, when reporters had approached him for his version, Bhowmick, along with another employee, accused them of spreading rumours to malign the circus company and threatened them with dire consequences.

He also called some members of a local club and manhandled the scribes. Police rescued the reporters and arrested Bhowmick and the circus employee.


Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
Among MPs, she was the most vocal in her protests against Tada. But Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee sung a very different tune today, standing firmly behind Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the new Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

“The Ordinance is more or less okay. We want the real terrorists behind bars. However, we have something to say about one particular aspect of the Ordinance. Whatever we have to say we will say in Parliament,” she told reporters.

Mamata, however, came down heavily on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for opposing the Centre’s law and at the same time clearing the draft Prevention of Organised Crime Ordinance which proposes capital punishment for organised crimes such as kidnapping.

“Our chief minister is nothing but a hypocrite. On the one hand he is opposing the Central Ordinance and on the other trying to bring about a state-level legislature which has provisions for capital punishment,” she said.

The Trinamul chief, however, added that there should be strict monitoring of the implementation of the “strong” Central Ordinance and it should be ensured that the law is not misused.

Mamata had earlier cried herself hoarse in the Lok Sabha over how Tada was being misused by the police and security forces in Punjab.

Former actor Sunil Dutt had paid Mamata several visits at her Kalighat residence when he was mobilising support for the release of his son, Sunjay Dutt, who had been arrested under the provisions of Tada.

But today Mamata was surprisingly quiet about the new Ordinance that many believe is nothing but a Tada clone. Fielding questions, Mamata said she first needed to go through the Ordinance in detail, but clarified that she had reservations about one particular clause.

“If there is anything draconian about the Ordinance we will definitely inform the Centre and take it up on the floor of Parliament. We will not support any black law,” she added.

But she kept up her attack on Bhattacharjee, saying: “The police in Bengal cannot solve a single case. The CID did not submit a chargesheet and Chunnu Mian got bail only because he had close links with the ruling communists. His (Chunnu’s) political colour saved him,” Mamata alleged and demanded a CBI inquiry into the Parthapratim Roy Burman kidnap case.

Trinamul MLA Sougata Roy, who was present at Mamata’s news conference, said: “Such a stringent Ordinance is necessary in India now when foreign intelligence agencies and terrorist outfits like the ISI are active in the country. It is the question of the country’s security.”


Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
Sanjeeb Aaich was in a tearing hurry to get here from Bangladesh. Having reached, this final-year student of Dhaka University wanted to stay on – for as long as possible.

“I know what is going on there. I feel safer here than in my own country,” said Sanjeeb. He is putting up with his relatives in Calcutta.

He had come here on a tourist visa. Now he has applied before the intelligence branch office in North 24-Parganas to get his visa extended.

There were some 60 people like Sanjeeb who had come here before the elections in Bangladesh and are now hesitant to go back.

Today, some 700 members of the International Hindu Suraksha Parishad assembled in front of the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission office and submitted a memorandum in protest against the attack on members of the minority community in Bangladesh.

“I called up my parents the day before yesterday. I could not believe what I heard from them,” said Sanjeeb. “My friends were beaten up brutally by a section of the university students and forced to leave the hostel.” He plans to return as late as possible only to take his exams, pack his bags and move to Calcutta permanently.

Like Sanjeeb, 23-year-old Papiya Ganguly of Bagherhat wants to never go back — if she can help it. Standing at the corner of the visitors’ room at the IB office, she says she knows what is going on there.

“I have heard that a section of people is dragging out the girls from heir houses. There is no one to bring justice to them. If I start tomorrow, I don’t know whether I will be able to reach home alive.”

Monju Chatterjee, a 38-year-old woman of Kaligunge in Jinaidaha district, was sitting on the wooden bench of the IB office. Her son, Prasanta, had just left after hearing how his friends had been tortured. But Monju wants to extend her stay by a couple of weeks, hoping the officials will extend her visa after looking at her medical certificate.

“I told Prasanta not to go. But he did not listen. I don’t know what will happen to him.”

Said a district IB official: “Before the elections in Bangladesh, the number of applications for visa extension used to be between 20 and 25. This has more than doubled. We have also become strict about extensions.”

According to an IB report, infiltration across the border is going up. “As soon as the election results were announced, people started sneaking into India through Bagdah and Basirhat. On the first night itself, some 1,000 Bangladeshis entered Bengal,” an IB officer said.

“It cannot be denied that many infiltrators are crossing the border. We have asked the Border Security Force to strengthen the vigil,” said M. Harisena Verma, the district superintendent of police.


New Delhi, Oct. 29: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today ruled out a New York meeting with Pervez Musharraf next month, ignoring renewed Western efforts to nudge India towards the talks-table with Pakistan.

“If I have to meet Musharraf I don’t have to go to New York. We can meet either in Delhi or Islamabad,” Vajpayee said after an hour-long meeting with visiting German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at his 7, Race Course Road residence this evening.

Schroeder appears to be the latest among a long list of Western leaders to have been smitten by Musharraf’s charm. He repeated this morning what he had said in Islamabad yesterday at a joint news conference with the military dictator – that India and Pakistan should carry forward the Agra process by resuming their dialogue.

Though details of Schroeder’s discussion with Vajpayee are not known, indications are he may have tried to urge the Prime Minister to move towards the negotiating table.

Vajpayee’s categorical statement ruling out early resumption of talks is aimed not only at the West — telling them that New Delhi would only take up the dialogue process when its concerns are taken care of — but also meant for the domestic audience.

The Centre has come under criticism from some quarters about Indian concerns being ignored by the US in its effort to woo Pakistan. So Vajpayee wanted to make it clear that New Delhi cannot be forced into talks with Islamabad by anyone, including America.

At a joint news conference this evening with the German chancellor by his side, the Prime Minister, who described Schroeder’s visit as a “new milestone” in Indo-German relations, said they discussed the global campaign against terror and the need to pursue it to its logical end. Schroeder advocated resumption of the Agra process, but left the place and timing of the meeting to the two parties.

But the apparent differences on the issue could not take away the importance of the chancellor’s visit — the first since Helmut Kohl’s 1993 trip —as Schroeder met the top Indian leadership, including President K.R. Narayanan and Vice-President Krishan Kant.

German interior minister Otto Schilly, who is accompanying Schroeder, met Union home minister L.K. Advani during the day and agreed on closer cooperation on intelligence-sharing to combat global terrorism.

Schroeder, who arrived here last night, was given a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan this morning. Senior ministers of the Vajpayee government, including Advani and minister of state for external affairs Omar Abdullah, attended the reception.

Soon after the ceremony, Schroeder said India and Pakistan should resume their dialogue. “I have always been very much in favour that the process begun in Agra is resumed and it is continued in improving Indo-Pak relations,” he said.

Schroeder said India and Germany needed to stress more on economic ties. Considering the large size of the Indian market and Germany’s industrial strength, there should be exchange of visits by the heads of government on a yearly basis, he said.

German economic affairs minister Warner Muller and a large business delegation is accompanying the chancellor, the main thrust of whose visit is on economics. Schroeder will be addressing a meeting of the captains of industry here tomorrow. He is also scheduled to visit Bangalore –India’s cyber city.

The fact that India was not willing to shift from its stated position on an early dialogue with Pakistan was indicated by foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao this afternoon.

Rao said the onus of creating a conducive atmosphere was on Pakistan, which it could do only by stopping cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

She argued that though New Delhi was committed to the dialogue process and was its chief initiator, it would not go to the talks-table at somebody else’s urging. “Our sincerity in this regard doesn’t need any certification or validation from anybody,” she said.


Srinagar, Oct. 29: 
Security forces today stormed a mosque and shot dead a militant holed up inside, ending a nearly 48-hour siege at Panzan in the central Kashmir district of Badgam today.

Police said paramilitary troops and Special Operations Group personnel entered the mosque this morning following a fierce gunbattle and shot dead the militant hiding inside since Saturday morning.

Four BSF personnel and a Special Police Officer were injured in the fierce exchange of fire. Security forces had laid siege to the mosque on Sunday with additional troop deployments.

Earlier, on Saturday, security personnel had mounted a massive operation to flush out militants from the village. BSF troops and Special Operations Group personnel surrounded the mosque and conducted identification parades in the village.

At the end of the operation today, police searched the mosque’s premises and recovered the body of the militant and an AK-47 assault rifle, sources said. The identity of the slain militant remains unconfirmed.

“The mosque sustained partial damage,” a police officer said requesting anonymity.

Security forces fired several teargas shells into the mosque yesterday to smoke out the militant. The rebel, however, climbed to the third floor from where he hurled a grenade and fired his assault rifle, injuring a Special Police Officer, sources said.

Police and paramilitary troops stormed the mosque after the militant ignored appeals to surrender made by two villagers sent inside the mosque.

Sources said the siege had been lifted from the mosque and villagers had started returning to their homes. Many residents had fled Panzan for the security of the neighbouring areas following the siege on the mosque.

Security forces arrested one militant during the house-to-house searches conducted in the village, sources said. This was the fifth time in the last six months that Kashmir militants had sought refuge in a mosque.


Srinagar/ New Delhi, Oct. 29: 
A United Nations group today kicked up a storm by accusing New Delhi and Islamabad of “engaging in political games” in Jammu and Kashmir.

A spokesman for the UN military observer group, which had given India a nagging headache for decades, said today that perhaps it was time for US intervention to resolve the dispute between the two South Asian neighbours.

India reacted sharply. “We do not indulge in political games on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir,” a top official in New Delhi said and refused to take any advice from a third party on disputes with Pakistan. He stressed that all such issues should be resolved bilaterally between the two neighbours.

The head of the UN group, Herman Loidolt, said in Srinagar this afternoon: “My assessment is that the situation will become more tense in the time coming, not only along the Line of Control, but also in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir.”

He described the Kashmir issue as “multi-layered”, and added: “All of us are aware of the situation in Kashmir and the games both parties – India and Pakistan – are playing with this tormented country.”

India has never been happy with the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan. It was established as part of the 1948 UN resolution on Kashmir. But New Delhi feels that after the 1972 Simla Agreement when the disputed line in Jammu and Kashmir was converted into the LoC, the group does not have any real purpose for being in the state. But the Indian leadership never made any real effort to get them out of the troubled state for fear of drawing international attention.

Though the remarks by the UN military observer come in the wake of shelling along the LoC by Indian and Pakistani armed forces, it is perhaps the most controversial statement and it indicates that the commander has exceeded his brief.

“We all know there is no easy solution. War is absolutely no solution to the issue of Kashmir. Whatever the reason for playing political games… it will be an issue for the US to (resolve),” Loidolt said.

He added: “The relations between the two countries continue to revolve around those temporary agreements, some of which had the UN involvement and at the moment it seems to arise as an important issue again. This time presumably under the auspices of the US.”

Reacting to his remarks, an Indian official said in New Delhi late tonight: “India has never indulged in political games or diversionary measures. Neither do we see any need whatsoever for obiter dicta on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir from third parties.”

He added: “The issue of Jammu and Kashmir can only be discussed on the basis of the understandings enshrined in the Simla Agreement and through bilateral discussions between India and Pakistan.”


Chennai, Oct. 29: 
The DMK, a key constituent of the National Democratic Alliance, today opposed the Prevention Of Terrorism Ordinance promulgated by the Vajpayee government and demanded modifications before it became a law.

DMK president M. Karunanidhi said that though measures to “crush terrorism were imperative” in the current context, no legislation should leave room for possible misuse. The party had also opposed Tada, the Ordinance’s predecessor.

The former chief minister, whose party was steamrolled by Jayalalithaa’s ADMK in the last Assembly elections, said even if the Ordinance is made a law, the government should elicit the views of all political parties and “make suitable changes”. He expressed hope that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would ensure that the new legislation “will be finalised” after an extensive debate in Parliament.

Karunanidhi — who did not meet Vajpayee when he came down to Chennai two weeks ago to attend a wedding of a relative of BJP chief Jana Krishnamurthi — played down his party’s differences with the BJP. He said despite lack of coordination between DMK and BJP cadre in the recent local body elections, there was “no contradiction or differences” at the “top leadership level”.

The DMK chief said he did not foresee any realignment of political forces now and added that his party would continue to be part of the NDA.

Karunanidhi admitted that the “time lag” in the PMK’s reinduction into the state NDA after S. Ramadoss was taken back into the NDA at the national level was the main reason behind the lack of rapport between the DMK and PMK cadre in the panchayat polls. But these differences will be ironed out, he said, emphasising that his party looked forward to strengthening ties with both the BJP and the PMK.

Karunanidhi did not hide his displeasure at the Centre’s inability to take action against the ruling ADMK in Tamil Nadu for the “police atrocities” since his arrest. But he said it was an “administrative issue” and there was no reason for the DMK to quit the NDA.

The reactivation of the ‘Ayodhya cell’ in the Prime Minister’s Office also did not imply any move to “communalise” the issue, he said, replying to a query. “Has Vajpayee said anywhere that the temple will be built on the disputed site?” the DMK leader asked. The DMK’s commitment was to the NDA agenda and the BJP had taken no communal stance so far, he added.

On the massacre of Christians at a Sunday church service in Pakistan, Karunanidhi said the “battle (the US strikeback in Afghanistan) is only against terrorism”. Under the circumstances, all political parties in the country and the Centre should be vigilant in “isolating those forces” which could indirectly do something to harm the religious amity within India, he said.

Editors’ protest

The Editors’ Guild of India today expressed concern over certain provisions of the Ordinance, saying they were aimed at inhibiting the free functioning of editors, journalists and media organisations. “These provisions can compel journalists to reveal details of their sources and also give away to the police the news material obtained from such sources,” the guild’s chief, Mammen Mathew, and secretary-general Alok Mehta said in a statement in New Delhi.


New Delhi, Oct. 29: 
Globalisation may have been a boon for the Indian middle class, particularly its women, but lower down the social ladder, economic liberalisation has spelt deprivation and misery for women across the country.

This was revealed in a study conducted by the second National Labour Commission that presented its findings and recommendations on the impact of globalisation on women and child workers.

The NLC report was the first of a series of six studies on labour and related issues. The commission will also advise the government on amending labour laws.

Though liberalisation has increased employment opportunities for skilled upper middle class women, the report stressed that, for a majority of the women, the quality of employment remained poor with low-income returns and without opportunities for skill enhancement.

Women silk weavers have been displaced by large-scale imports of Chinese and Korean yarn. The entry of foreign trawlers into Indian waters have cost native fishworkers their jobs, while gum collectors lost out to imported Sudanese gum, said NLC group coordinator Renana Jhabvala.

Although new employment avenues have opened up in sectors such as health services, education and traditional crafts, women in these industries would have to keep upgrading their skills to remain employed.

The report stated that sophisticated technology has threatened the job security of women and increasingly pushed them into the chaotic informal sector, particularly the home-based industries dotting the bylanes of big cities.

To protect the interest of these women, the NLC suggested strict enforcement of the Minimum Wages Act and tough penalties for its breach.

“We also believe that only a rigorous development of skills for women in the unorganised sector can help to meet the challenge of liberalisation, otherwise unemployment, inequality and social discontent will continue to grow,” said Ravinder Verma, the NLC chairperson.

Further, the NLC proposed that all out-of-school children under 16 be considered existing or potential child labour. The report has opened up a new dimension in the ongoing debate over the educational fundamental rights bill, to be introduced in the next Parliament session.

The report states that employment and welfare of women cannot be delinked from the crucial issue of early childhood care.

This was one of the issues raised by educationists and non-government organisations insisting that primary education be made a fundamental right for children in the 0-14 age group as against those in the higher 6-14 years category.


Bangalore, Oct. 29: 
Bowing to pressure from the IT industry, Karnataka has decided to waive the 12 per cent luxury tax on electronic goods.

Chief minister S.M. Krishna is likely to make the announcement at the five-day IT.Com 2001 to be held here from November 1.

The government had slapped a 12 per cent luxury tax on electronic goods in this year’s budget, triggering protests from the IT sector. The Association of Information Technology had petitioned both Krishna and information technology minister B.K. Chandrashekhar, saying the tax would adversely affect the hardware sector. The Manufacturers’ Association of Information Technology had also submitted a memorandum to Krishna.

IT.Com — billed as the biggest IT exhibition in Asia — will be inaugurated by Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh and his Andhra counterpart Chandrababu Naidu.

Around 65 companies from 15 countries will participate in the show. Over 250 Indian companies are participating in the event.

Police would screen all visitors as a security measure in the wake of threat perceptions following the September 11 attacks on the US. “We are taking all necessary security measures…. A police control room will be set up at the venue,” said G. Hosur, deputy commissioner of police.

Chandrashekhar said none of the foreign delegates had sought special police security.

“There is no cause for alarm,” he said when asked on the government’s decision to call off the international film festival citing security concerns.


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