Soldiers convicted of spying
Global trade deal with Indian say
Diwali too costly for Behmai
CM note to buy peace with Front
Crack team to fight terror in hot spots
Somen Mitra stable
Centre, state showdown over river erosion
Big push for small thieves
Path paved for smooth highway drive
Front seal on district divide

Tezpur, Nov. 14: 
An army court of inquiry has found five jawans of the Tezpur-based Four Corps guilty of “passing sensitive information to interested parties”. All five have been discharged from service and, barring one, sentenced to jail.

The court of inquiry pronounced its verdict on November 6, but it came to light much later.

A source said the army court charged the five jawans, posted at the Signal Centre at Besseria near here, with recording telephone conversations between senior officials, including the general-officer- commanding, and passing the transcripts to “interested parties”.

The tainted jawans are Ganpat Kumar Bikey, Chittaranjan Bikey (both from Madhya Pradesh), Harddar Vikram Singh (Himachal Pradesh), Sudheer S.R. (Kerala) and Jogendra Prasad (Uttar Pradesh).

Chittaranjan Bikey, a sepoy, has been discharged from service under Section 169 (a) of the Army Act, while the rest have been imprisoned for periods ranging between three and four months.

The identities of the “interested parties” are yet to be ascertained, but a source at the Four Corps headquarters said the Ulfa might have got hold of the taped conversations.

“The Ulfa has the motivation and the funds to bribe the jawans for information ranging from movement of troops to operational tactics,” he said.

There are instances of the Ulfa using moles to extract precise information about the movement of security personnel in various parts of Assam.

The source did not rule out the possibility of the ISI, too, buying information on army strategies.

With army officials remaining tight-lipped about the spying controversy, it is still not clear for how long the convicted jawans had been “spying” on their seniors and how their crime was detected.

However, there is no doubt that the presence of “spies” in the army ranks is a big setback for the Unified Command operations group, which is already facing criticism for not coordinating with the police.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi said in Guwahati this afternoon that lack of coordination between the army and the police had reduced the efficacy of counter-insurgency operations in the state.

He accused the army of operating independently in several areas without the knowledge of the police.

Gogoi said the state government was evaluating the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to find out if the legislation empowers the army to act independently.

On the recent killings by the army in Char of Darrang district, the chief minister said even the Darrang superintendent of police was unaware that the armed forces had launched an operation in the area.

The administration came to know much later that three persons had been killed during the operation, Gogoi said.


New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
An agreement was sealed today to launch a new “development” series of talks to liberalise global commerce after India managed to squeeze in developing nations’ concerns.

Consensus eluded the World Trade Organisation’s ministerial meeting in Qatar’s Doha right up to the last moment and India’s refusal to budge dragged the bargaining 18 hours beyond the Tuesday midnight deadline.

The WTO agreed to embark in January on a “round” of talks to last no longer than January 2005 to boost trade flows and ensure all countries trade on a level playing field.

The conference chairman issued a clarification that negotiations on the “Singapore issues” would be held only after an “explicit consensus” was reached at the next ministerial conference two years from now. Singapore issues relate to investment, labour standards, environment and competition policy.

“With this clarification, I am pleased to state that India has joined the consensus on the adoption of the texts before us,” India’s Murasoli Maran told fellow ministers to warm applause. The hard-fought success will breathe new life into the WTO and provide a psychological boost to the terror-spooked global economy.


Behmai, Nov. 14: 
“You b*****d, I’m Phoolan.”

The shrill voice rings in Gurmukh Singh’s ears.

It is more than two decades after the event — the St. Valentine’s Day massacre of February 14, 1981.

Today, the high-caste Thakur village of Behmai, Uttar Pradesh, where “a low-caste slut” — as its denizens still call her — turned into Bandit Queen, should be celebrating Diwali like never before.

For 20 years and more, it was shy of lighting lamps. Behmai had sworn off the festival till its thirst for revenge was slaked.

This is Behmai’s first Diwali since Phoolan was killed. They say, in these parts, where the Yamuna cuts through the ravines after the accursed Chambal has met with it in the west, that vengeance is a way of life.

It would be in the fitness of things, therefore, to report that Behmai tonight is a brilliant sparkle of light; that it cannot hold its joy; that its 60 Thakur households are ecstatic. That Behmai is the great, grand finale to the Phoolan story.

That is just what it isn’t.

For, Diwali in Behmai is a burden of ritual when it ought to have been a celebration of vengeance.

Inside Behmai, none probably has a better claim to that celebration than Gurmukh Singh.

Gurmukh is a survivor of the carnage. He took a bullet in his shoulder and another in the thigh. He was given up for dead, like his brother Virendra. Now he hobbles from field to village, passing by the well where Phoolan, issuing commands through a battery-powered megaphone, is said to have rounded up 22 Thakur men. They were later marched to the riverbank where her gang opened fire.

Gurmukh, now 65, carries headloads that his wiry, emaciated frame can barely bear. He asks a nephew to pull out a charpoy on the verandah of his burnt-brick-and-mud house. The verandah has a freshly-laid floor of red earth mixed with dung, as do other houses in the village. The verandahs are the most visible reminder that it is Diwali.

Behmai is a dirty little village 18 km off the highway, where the ravines begin — or end. To its south the Yamuna is a nearly dry bed. Across the river, there are the ravines, again. Silhouetted against the setting sun, on the other bank and a little to the west, is the temple of Pathri, said to have been built by daku Malkhan Singh. To the east is Gurha ka Purva, the village where Phoolan was born.

“Everyday is Diwali here,” says Gurmukh. “See, there is a lamp lit in every house. Just one lamp in each — look around.”

It is pitch dark in Behmai just outside the penumbra of lighted lamps. There is no electricity here. The solar panel that generated power for two years broke down five years ago. The wires that go overhead are a reminder that government once made a token attempt.

The tokenism remains.

In Behmai, tokenism is a lot. For that is all it can afford: the memorial near the river that lists on a marble plaque the names of Phoolan’s 20 victims, the verandahs, the cratered path that connects it to Rajpur and civilisation, the fact that it faces Phoolan’s birthplace and a temple built by dacoits.

Even tokenism is expensive for Behmai.

“The blasted cows have to be fed better because it is Diwali. We took them to Yamunaji, bathed them, put vermilion on their foreheads and gave them more fodder,” says Gurmukh.

Around him, the village has gathered. In the crowd is the pradhan, Gandhi Singh. “If a quarter of the petrol spent by journalists visiting Behmai had been used for the village, we would not have been living like primitive man,” he interjects.

This is a year of severe drought. At least four cows have died in the village of malnutrition. The fields are a dry brown. There has been almost no water in the Amrahat canal that flows to the north of the village. The small fields of hora — a local gram — have not yielded a crop. Some of them have now flowered white pumpkin. “We have two crops in a good year. This year, there isn’t one,” says Gandhi.

The cattle have been force-fed hay. Fodder is green grass. Another tokenism.

There was a time when Behmai did not believe in tokenism and lived a full-blooded life. That was fearsome.

The day Phoolan was killed — July 25 this year — Behmai’s residents lit lamps of ghee. It was early for the harvest which has turned out to be the poorest in many years. “The hungry can neither wreak vengeance nor can they celebrate festivals,” says Gurmukh in his dialect. Around him, some in the crowd are in titters, some are embarrassed by his outspokenness.

The full-bloodedness of the Thakurs of Behmai has been fiery. Phoolan, her biographer Mala Sen records, spent 23 days in captivity here just after her lover Vikram Mallah was killed by two Thakurs, Sriram and Lalaram. It was three weeks and more humiliation. She was gang-raped and paraded naked.

Her gang attacked Behmai a year after Vikram was killed after she received word that Sriram was paying the dowry for a Behmai bride’s marriage. “They came from that way,” says Hakim Singh pointing roughly in the direction of the Pathri temple. Hakim’s grandfather Ramadhar was also killed in the carnage.

“Then they surrounded the village before Phoolan came to the well. I was 12 then.”

Hakim, today, is a story in himself. He is now a Samajwadi Party worker. Phoolan was a Samajwadi MP when she was killed. “It is a personal thing,” Hakim explains. “Every party has its dakus. If you ask me, that carnage was nothing but caste conflict.”

The dominant caste along the banks of the Yamuna is the Mallah. Phoolan was one of them. She was feted in her death as a leader of the downtrodden. At her funeral in Mirzapur-Bhadohi, farther to the east, Mallahs turned out in large numbers.

You would not know it on the banks of the Yamuna today where deprivation and poverty has sapped the vigour of the proud Thakurs that there is little to separate their lives from that of the Mallahs.

In every respect, the Thakurs of Behmai are just as poor as the Mallahs who produced the “low-caste slut”. What remains of Behmai is a sense of dignity they call pride. It shows tonight in pathetic little lamps they light for Diwali. There is no sparkler, no cracker, no outburst of joy.

Only tokenism.


Calcutta, Nov. 14: 
The state government is preparing a note to enlighten the Left Front partners on the Bill it proposed to introduce in the Assembly to combat organised crime, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said today.

“I agree I should have taken the Left Front members into confidence before attempting to introduce the Prevention of Organised Crime Ordinance,” the chief minister told a meeting of Front partners.

CPM politburo member Jyoti Basu was also present in the meeting which was presided over by Front chairman Biman Bose.

Today was Bhattacharjee’s first interaction with the Front partners after he was forced by the CPM politburo and the partners to drop plans for the Ordinance.

Though the chief minister sounded apologetic for not keeping the partners in the picture from the beginning, he declined to put the now-abandoned draft Ordinance in the same bracket with the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance proposed by the BJP-led Centre.

“There are certain fundamental differences between the two,” he said.

Bhattacharjee said he had rushed through the draft Ordinance as he was keen to empower the police to detain for more than the stipulated 90 days the accused in the Khadim’s kidnap case.

While appreciating the chief minister’s compulsion to push the now abandoned Ordinance on the strength of approval from the Cabinet, Bose said that since the issue related to a “vital policy initiative”, Bhattacharjee should have consulted the Front in advance.

“They (the government) need not necessarily consult us in the Front for its day-to-day working,” Bose said.

“But on any major policy decision it is the convention that the Front should be consulted. We could have held an emergency meeting if the government told us that it was in a rush,” he said.

At today’s meeting, Bhattacharjee said the organised crime syndicates dealing in abductions and disruptive activities have their tentacles running through the country and touching various parts of the world. To combat them, our police need a longer time frame to prepare fool-proof chargesheets.

“The Ordinance was meant to attempt that. Unlike the Union government’s, (our Ordinance) was in no way a repressive measure.”

Bose said: “We needed an appraisal on the differences between our Ordinance and the Centre’s.” He added that the chief minister would explain all relevant points when the related Bill was placed in the winter session of the Assembly.

Bhattacharjee reported to the Left Front the high points of his trip to Japan, claiming that he had received “positive responses” from at least three industrial houses despite the worldwide recession which had deepened after the September 11 terror strikes on the US.

During the day, the Front expressed concern over the condition of refugees coming in from neighbouring Bangladesh following what is described religious and political persecution in that country.

Bose said Bhattacharjee had been asked to take up the matter with the Union government to ensure safety and security of the minorities in Bangladesh through bilateral negotiations. Both the state government and the Centre should take such steps as this would help to maintain cordial relations between the two countries and help maintain communal harmony.


Nov. 14: 
The state government is planning to impart special training to a team of policemen to take on Naxalites and other extremists in the five troubled districts.

Writers’ Buildings sources said senior officials discussed the formation of the crack team for Burdwan, Birbhum, Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia at a meeting last week called by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The chief minister also reviewed the situation with the Midnapore district administration during his visit to the district on Monday. He directed the police to take all steps to crack down on PWG activists.

“Our mission is to prevent the activities of Naxalites and our forces are prepared,’’ said K.C. Meena, superintendent police, Midnapore.

Inspector-general of police (western range) Jitram Bhagat has been asked to interact with the superintendents of police of the five districts to finalise the course of action against Naxalites.

“We have already trained a few police personnel for the purpose and they will be on the field very soon,” said a senior official attached to the anti-terrorist cell of the state police.

He said the team would carry out raids in dens and hideouts of the PWG and MCC activists located in the dense forests.

“We are firm on tackling the extremist groups like the PWG, MCC and other forces which have stepped up their activities, especially in Burdwan and Birbhum bordering Jharkhand, on or before December 2, the foundation day of the PWG. We have deployed a large contingent with sophisticated arms and ammunition,” the official added.

According to an intelligence report, Naxalite groups have taken shelter in the forest areas of Jhargram, Salanpur, Pandabeswar, Kanksa, Rajnagar, Khairasol and Saltor.

The plan is for the specially trained policemen to conduct massive combing operations in all the forest areas identified as possible hideouts of the Naxalites. Besides, security forces will camp in the bordering villages.

One group of security forces will barricade the forest while another will conduct search operations. If necessary, they may use explosives to demolish their dens inside the forest. Besides, they will destroy makeshift training camps in different villages.

“We have already deployed a strong force with sophisticated arms along the Jharkhand border. All vehicles passing through the area are being checked. Five police stations have been put on high alert. Our force is prepared to counter any attack by the extremist groups,’’ said B.N. Ramesh, Burdwan district superintendent of police.


Calcutta, Nov. 14: 
The condition of former state Congress president and MLA Somen Mitra who suffered a heart attack last morning is reported to be better today.

Nursing home sources said Mitra, who was immediately rushed to a nursing home in south Calcutta, is still under observation at the intensive coronary care unit. Mitra is being treated by Sunil Sen and S.K. Biswas.

His blood pressure has also improved, though he is running a slight temperature. Mitra, who is under sedation, slept through the better part of the day.

Political leaders and well-wishers continued to flock the nursing home today. Congress president Sonia Gandhi called from Delhi this morning and spoke to one of Mitra’s brothers and state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee.

Badal Bhattacharya, a close aide of Mitra, hardly left the nursing home today. The Congress leader’s visitors included actor Mithun Chakraborty and mayor Subrata Mukherjee, Bhattacharya said.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who visited the nursing home last afternoon, sent a get-well message and flowers and kept herself posted on Mitra’s condition.

Rebel Trinamul MP Ajit Panja visited the nursing home. Other Trinamul leaders who visited him include Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay and Saugata Roy.


Farakka (Murshidabad), Nov. 14: 
The Centre has crossed swords with the state over repair of eroded embankments along the Padma river.

Union minister for water resources Arjun Sethi has alleged that no concrete project on checking erosion has yet reached the Centre.

But the Left Front has countered the charge, saying several reminders were sent to the Centre, but it did not act on the matter.

During a recent visit here, Sethi said in the presence of MPs and a state minister that the Centre could not act in the absence of a detailed project report on erosion. At this, agitated MPs, including A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury from the Congress and Abu Hasnat Khan from the CPM, asserted that the state had already apprised the Centre of the matter.

Amalendra Roy, state minister for irrigation, who accompanied Sethi during an aerial survey, claimed that the government had sent a Rs 947-crore project for repair of embankments but nothing yet has been done about it yet.

While Khan made it clear that he was unhappy at the way the Union minister had assessed the situation arising out of the steady erosion, Hasan went a step further, alleging that the Central minister was not telling the truth about the project report from Bengal.

“We have been raising the erosion issue for over a decade but the Centre is doing nothing to redress the matter,” he said, adding that he had demanded a discussion on the issue in Parliament a number of times. He also claimed that an all-party delegation of legislators had visited Delhi sometime last year to take up the matter with Central leaders.

Cutting across party lines, Khan Chowdhury joined forces with CPM MPs to assert that thousands of people were being affected due to constant erosion of embankments along the Padma. “I call upon the Centre to take necessary action immediately,” he added.


Calcutta, Nov. 14: 
There’s a major reward for those willing to give up minor crime.

The Burdwan district administration has decided to rehabilitate all those who surrender and vow never to take up their life of crime. The scheme, of course, doesn’t extend to the big fish.

“We have made an appeal to the hooligans to come back to the mainstream of the society. The administration will provide them employment and look after their financial, educational and other needs and problems. The police will also ensure that those criminals who want to return to the mainstream are not harassed by their underworld bosses,” said B.N. Ramesh, Burdwan superintendent of police.

According to the scheme, government land lying unused will be utilised for various programmes like pisciulture, horticulture and agriculture which can generate employment for these criminals.

Fifty per cent of their earnings will be deposited with the chief minister’s relief fund and 15 per cent will go to the police benevolent fund. They can keep the remaining 35 per cent.

Ramesh said about 30 bighas of vacant land belonging to the police had been identified and they would be used for the rehabilitation programme.

This apart, they will be allotted stalls at different market complexes in the urban areas to run a shop or business. They will also be engaged in different construction activities done by either the government or private agencies.

In case of rural areas, they will be engaged in different development works implemented by the panchayats. The police will take the initiative to involve them in activities which generate employment.

“Those who have studied up to Class VIII will receive vocational training, like that of a motor mechanic, or TV-radio repairing, leather bag making, driving, typewriting, photocopying, etc. After the training is complete, we will help them get a job,’’ Ramesh said.

The administration will help them get bank loans for small-scale businesses through co-operatives.

He said the police have approached different vocational training institutions seeking their co-operation in this regard and the response was positive. Besides, different promoters, contractors, industrialists and businessmen are being approached. All political parties, he said, have assured full co-operation in this regard.

District magistrate Manoj Agarwal, the superintendent of police and other senior district officials are busy preparing different schemes for the rehabilitation of the petty criminals.

Agarwal said a large number of youths are compelled to take to crime because of economic reasons, but if they are given jobs and properly guided, they can be re-inducted to the mainstream.


Chinsurah, Nov. 14: 
Motorists driving down the Durgapur Expressway in Hooghly will get drinking water, telephone facilities, breakdown services and first-aid equipment from makeshift highway police outposts at Dankuni, Singur and Dhaniakhali soon.

Announcing this today, superintendent of police, Hooghly, N. Ramesh Babu said each of these three highway police units will be equipped with wireless vans and radio telephony.

“The main objective is to offer motorists a comfortable and safe passage down the highway,” Ramesh Babu said.

Durgapur Expressway is a 65-km bypass of the G.T. Road and Delhi Road between Dankuni in Hooghly and Palsit in Burdwan. On December 12, 1997, the 48-km stretch between Palsit and Singur was opened to traffic. The full stretch of the expressway became operational from June 1998.

According to the district traffic police, about 30,000 vehicles use the highway and about 12,000 of them are cars.

After the opening of the expressway, though incidents of highway crime came down, the number of accidents did not.

More than 800 accidents have taken place on the expressway since January last year, an officer of the district traffic police said.

Ramesh Babu said besides the Durgapur Expressway, people driving down the national highway in Burdwan will get similar facilities.

Police vans fitted with wireless will be stationed at major intersections of the national highway. “If there is any accident or crime, the mobile vans will rush there and arrange rescue operations through the wireless system,” he said. This apart, some policemen are being specially trained to combat highway crime.

In another move, the administration from both the districts has requested the transport department to open a few more toll counters on the Durgapur Expressway.

Two killed

Two persons were killed in a clash between two rival groups at Kumaripur village in Hariharpara area of the district last night, reports our correspondent from Behrampore.

It is learnt the two killed – Kubad Sheikh and Ohab Sheikh – had a number of criminal cases pending against them.

Train dacoity foiled: A train dacoity was foiled in Brahmaputra Mail early yesterday morning by the railway police near Bhaluka station, 46 km from Malda. Switching the signal to red, the dacoits forced the train to stop.

When a group of a dozen dacoits tried to board the train by forcing open doors, the passengers woke up and raised an alarm. Four railway policemen rushed to the compartment. Seeing the police, the dacoits opened fire. The police retaliated, forcing the robbers to flee.


Calcutta, Nov. 14: 
The Left Front today approved the proposal of the government to bifurcate the Midnapore district.

Front chairman Biman Bose placed the matter saying this was already discussed threadbare in the Assembly.

However, the CPI, a major constituent of the Front, wanted to know about the latest developments on the issue. At this, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, also present in the meeting, explained it was decided that the district would be divided into Purba Midnapore and Paschim Midnapore. “We have worked out everything but some administrative problems are still there, particularly a pending court case,” he added.


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