Vajpayee escapes grounding
Peace and projects to win Keshpur heart
Debt-laden Bengal in plan panel line of fire

 
 
VAJPAYEE ESCAPES GROUNDING 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
New York, Nov. 12: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee barely escaped a major disruption of his three-nation tour schedule as he left New York only hours before a jetliner with 255 people on board crashed into the city’s residential neighbourhood shortly after take-off today.

New York, which was slowly recovering from the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, was immediately put on high alert. All three airports in New York’s vicinity — John F. Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark in New Jersey — were closed to traffic.

All bridges and tunnels leading out of New York were also shut down as President George W. Bush huddled with his advisers to assess from investigators whether the crash was the result of mechanical failure or sabotage.

Fighter jets flew over New York and morning traffic, usually heavy on Mondays, caused gridlocks at exits and entry points to the city and roads to airports.

There was no word about the dead on the ground at the time of writing. For New Yorkers, the crash in Queens is a double tragedy.

The area is home to a large number of fire fighters: hundreds of fire fighters lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center exactly two months and one day ago.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani spoke of that double tragedy when he said he had been to at least 10 funerals in a church close to the crash site, where he rushed today to supervise rescue operations.

International flights bound for New York have been diverted to Boston, Cincinatti and Washington.

Witnesses said one engine fell off the plane and in seconds the aircraft lost its balance and crashed. The engine hit a fuel station setting it ablaze.

The UN, where the annual General Assembly, already postponed after the September 11 tragedy, was partly shut down in the wake of today’s crash.

A number of heads of state and government are still in the city addressing the Assembly.

   

 
 
PEACE AND PROJECTS TO WIN KESHPUR HEART 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Keshpur, Nov. 12: 
Let there be peace, said Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, reaching Keshpur.

And there was applause.

The trouble zone had donned its best colours to greet the chief minister on his second visit to the hot spot after assuming charge.

Nobody was talking of last night’s blast at Shania village in nearby Danton when explosives stored in the house of alleged Trinamul Congress supporters exploded, injuring three.

Today, at Keshpur, everyone was referring to violence in the past tense. The talk was of a period of “prosperity and amity”.

The chief minister had come laden not just with a feel-good speech, but a bagful of projects. He and his four Cabinet colleagues — health minister Suryakanta Mishra, power minister Mrinal Banerjee, civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee and mass education minister Nandarani Dal – gifted the people a health centre, an auditorium, a children’s park, a power sub-station, an ambulance and a supermarket.

All to win the heart of Keshpur after winning the Assembly seat by a record one lakh-plus votes.

Though the 15-km stretch that the chief minister’s convoy travelled was decorated with colourful gates and lined with smiling people waving red flags, the flames that had singed Keshpur in the long violence leading up to the Assembly polls, had not died down fully.

It was these flames that the chief minister had come to douse. “Enough is enough, let us now have peace. I know that a lot of houses were burnt to ashes and properties of ordinary people were damaged. Let this nuisance be stopped so that everybody can live in peace. My appeal to all of you is to give up violence and stay as good neighbours for the development of Keshpur,” Bhattacharjee told a 60,000-strong gathering.

He held a marathon meeting with the district magistrate, superintendent of police and other senior officials at the Midnapore Circuit House to review law and order and progress of different development works.

The chief minister urged the people of Keshpur to forget whatever happened in the past. “Forgive all mistakes and live a new life. Time has come to join hands for a better tomorrow.”

He said those who had left their homes following political clashes could now return safely. The chief minister said he had directed the district administration to make all arrangements so that all could return home.

“I have information that 22 Trinamul supporters are still out of their villages and some others are not returning home. I am telling them to return home,” he said.

   

 
 
DEBT-LADEN BENGAL IN PLAN PANEL LINE OF FIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 12: 
The Planning Commission today turned the tables on Bengal, which had always blamed the Central policies for the mess the country was in, saying the state’s finances were in the doldrums because it had borrowed beyond its means.

At an annual plan meeting today, commission deputy chairman Krishna Chand Pant ticked off state finance minister Asim Dasgupta for Bengal’s poor fiscal health.

“The weak fiscal position of the state is a matter of concern.… Public debt has been growing at an alarming rate,” sources quoted Pant as telling Dasgupta at the meeting.

But Dasgupta painted a different picture at an interaction with journalists after the two-hour meeting.

He claimed the state government had “got all that it wanted from the Centre”.

However, Central planners said they were shocked to learn that the state’s funds-share of the total plan size was a negative 178.4 per cent, while borrowings were 223.4 per cent of the Rs 7,186.13-crore annual plan.

They said its total debt burden has now reached an all-time high of Rs 47,313 crore, more than two-and-a-half times its debt tag of Rs 18,000 crore in 1997.

Rubbing it in, Pant reportedly told Dasgupta that he hoped “the state government makes serious efforts to contain expenditure and mobilise revenues”.

But Dasgupta told reporters the state had got an extra Rs 302 crore as a “fiscal discipline incentive”.

At Rs 7,259.3 crore this fiscal, the state’s revenue deficit is almost 90 per cent of the revenue deficit which had been planned for the whole of the Ninth Five Year Plan period. Interest pay-outs alone will eat up nearly half of the state’s revenue receipts this fiscal.

“We pointed all this out to the Bengal officials very clearly and implicitly told them they were getting into a major debt trap,” other planners present at the meeting added.

Despite its desperate need to garner resources, the state has not even been able to use its allocations.

Pant pointed out that “higher withdrawal of Central allocations under poverty alleviation schemes would have helped reduce poverty”.

Pant and his team also pointed out that the state’s electricity board was doing badly with commercial losses of more than Rs 1,000 crore this fiscal and increasing transmission and distribution losses of more than 30 per cent.

But painting a bright picture, the finance minister claimed Bengal would manage to reach a GDP growth rate of 7.5 per cent to 8 per cent “which was far higher than the national average of 6 per cent”.

   
 

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