Centre opens purse for growth hubs
VHP wake-up call to Centre over influx
Chowbey murder weapon found
Compound puja bar on cops
Cong spikes anti-terror Ordinance
BJP campaign loses steam
Saffron eyes lion’s share of UP seats
‘Quit’ clinics for smokers in Calcutta, Patna
BJP denies southern rift
Where there’s WiLL, there is a cheap cell

 
 
CENTRE OPENS PURSE FOR GROWTH HUBS 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Nov. 16: 
Responding to an appeal by the state, the BJP-led government at the Centre has agreed to provide funds for industrial infrastructure development.

“We will build three mega growth centres at Raghunathpur in Malda district, Bolpur in Birbhum district and Jalpaiguri with Central financial assistance. The Centre has agreed to provide Rs 10 crore to each growth centre; we will raise the remaining amount,’’ said S.A. Ahmed, chief executive officer of the West Bengal Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation, the nodal agency responsible for the purpose.

The Raghunathpur, Bolpur and Jalpaiguri growth centres will come up on 665 acres, 854 acres and 1,100 acres respectively. The total project cost has been estimated at Rs 50 crore, of which the Centre is contributing Rs 30 crore. The infrastructure development corporation plans to take a Rs 20-crore loan from IDBI to bridge the gap.

Describing the rush of new entrepreneurs to the state, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee urged Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to provide funds for infrastructure development. The chief minister also wrote to the Planning Commission.

“We are happy that the Centre has realised our need and sanctioned funds. We think the Centre should come forward and provide financial help for overall development of the state,” said a senior officer from the chief minister’s office. The state government has also taken up a project to construct a growth centre on 250 acres at Haldia. This will cater especially to the downstream units of Haldia Petrochemicals.

“The mega growth centres will be unique… not like other growth centres we have in the state. Everything that’s needed to set up and run an industry will be available in the complexes. Apart from amenities like internal roads, uninterrupted power supply, water, telecommunication, there will be a separate telephone exchange, post office, bank, fire brigade and police camps inside the complexes,” Ahmed said.

There will be special provisions for IT firms in the growth centres. Large plots will be set aside for IT-based industries.

He said the plan also included setting up schools, building residential complexes for employees and entrepreneurs, guesthouses, community centres, market complexes and children’s parks.

“The complex will be self-sufficient with all amenities available within the boundary,” Ahmed said, adding that acquisition of land is about to be complete and construction work would start soon.

“To cope with the demand for plots, we have started expansion of three existing growth centres at Uluberia, Falta and Haldia. After completion of the mega growth centres, hopefully in two years, the industrial scenario will be changed,” Ahmed added.

   

 
 
VHP WAKE-UP CALL TO CENTRE OVER INFLUX 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 16: 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is planning to alert the Centre about the problem arising out of the steady influx of Bangladeshis fleeing persecution at home.

Y. Raghaballu, VHP all-India secretary, said they were “not happy” with the Centre’s “weak-kneed” response to the problems of refugees.

The VHP plans to place facts before the Centre so that it “does something” for those crossing to India, mainly through the border in Bengal and Tripura, said Raghaballu, who was here to collect data and meet the refugees.

The VHP secretary, however, admitted that the Centre has a difficult task to implement since Tripura and Bengal have Left Front governments, and their view does not coincide with the VHP-RSS-BJP combine’s.

VHP leaders felt that it was important for the state governments to seek the Centre’s point of view, especially when there were “hundreds of physical proofs” for everyone to see.

“It is regrettable that we have to press the BJP-led Centre on the issue,” said Raghaballu .

Back from a week-long tour of North and South Dinajpur and Malda, the three districts which received the largest share of refugees from Bangladesh, the VHP leader said that he would bring before the political arm of the parivar the enormity and genuineness of the problem.

“The Centre must declare the minorities fleeing persecution in Bangladesh refugees, and not infiltrators,” Raghaballu said, questioning the Centre’s delay in implementing something “that was written in UN charters”. Branding genuine refugees as infiltrators would be a “sin against humanity”, he added.

The problem began before the October 1 polls in Bangladesh, Raghaballu said, referring to newspaper clippings from all the mainstream dailies of Bangladesh, and wondered what prevented the Centre from taking a “quick and humanitarian” decision on the issue.

The VHP felt that the Centre must exert pressure on the Bangladesh government and warned that India is watching the scenario with grave concern.

The VHP, in view of the state government’s deliberate “underplaying of the human tragedy”, has taken a two-pronged approach: on the one hand it will organise its units in Bengal to provide food, shelter and security to the refugees, and on the other, it will keep contact with its activists in Bangladesh to gather more information about the plight of the persecuted there.

   

 
 
CHOWBEY MURDER WEAPON FOUND 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, Nov 16: 
Police today claimed to have got major leads in the murder of Gautam Chowbey, son of late CPI Parliamentarian Narayan Chowbey, by recovering a loaded pistol from a bush near Malancha in Kharagpur. Gautam was killed in Kharagpur on September 11.

“Only four days back, a US-made pistol loaded with two live cartridges was recovered from a bush near Malancha and now we are convinced after interrogating Basav Rambabu and the others accused that the weapon was used to kill Gautam,” said Midnapore superintendent of police K.C. Meena.

He presented Rambabu and his brother B. Srinivas alias Srinu and Sanjoy Thakur before reporters this afternoon. Thakur, a hired killer arrested from Hyderabad along with Rambabu, “confessed” that he had shot Gautam with his pistol which was recovered from the bush.

“I shot Gautam dead at the instance of Rambabu who helped me with funds for my sister’s marriage six months back,” he told reporters.

Thakur confessed that B. Ramesh, one of Rambabu’s followers, had contacted him to commit the murder. “Though I pulled the trigger, four others masterminded the crime,” he said.

But asked if he had instructed Thakur to murder Gautam, Rambabu denied the charge and said he was not in Kharagpur when the murder took place.

“I am being falsely implicated in the murder case since I am innocent,” he claimed.

At this, Meena displayed a diary and a mobile phone belonging to Rambabu to reporters. “This diary and the mobile phone helped to implicate Rambabu in 29 cases, including nine murders,” he claimed.

Police sources, however, said some Forward Bloc leaders find mention in both the diary and the cellphone.

Meena said the police had arrested 22, including seven named in the FIR.“We are looking for six others and a team of officials will be despatched to other states in search of them,” he added.

   

 
 
COMPOUND PUJA BAR ON COPS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, Nov. 16: 
Embarrassed at the involvement of policemen in pujas, district superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar has directed all his men besides National Volunteers Force jawans and the home guards to not get involved in any religious activities inside a police compound.

“I have already taken penal action against the officer-in-charge of Behrampore police station and transferred him for being involved in a puja about a month back,” Kumar said.

“I have instructed all officers to ensure that the government directions are followed strictly,” he added.

The superintendent swung into action after a Kali Puja was performed inside the district police lines at Behrampore.

“There is a temple inside the police lines which is 60 to 70 years old and there is a very old idol of goddess Kali. A priest worships at the temple regularly with flowers…. As it is a religious matter we do not prevent it. But no policeman was involved in organising Kali Puja,’’ the superintendent of police said.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has given strict instructions to all police stations banning all kinds of religious activities inside police compounds.

“We are strictly following the instruction and have told all policemen that drastic action will be taken if anybody is found involved in pujas inside police stations…. But how can I demolish the years-old temple located inside the police lines? It may hurt local sentiments,’’ Kumar added.

   

 
 
CONG SPIKES ANTI-TERROR ORDINANCE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI AND RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Nov. 16: 
The defeat of the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance appeared almost certain with the Congress today announcing its decision to oppose it.

Although the Ordinance can be passed in the Lok Sabha, where the ruling NDA is in a majority, it will fall through in the Upper House where it is outnumbered by the Opposition.

The decision was taken in an informal meeting between the Congress chief ministers and party chief Sonia Gandhi. The chief ministers’ views were important as the government has been saying that the Congress-ruled states of Maharashtra and Karnataka had enacted legislation similar to the Ordinance. But the Congress discounted the argument, saying a “distinction had to be made between apples and potatoes”.

Senior Congress leaders admitted that today’s decision, taken two days before the winter session of Parliament, was “political”, but quickly added that it was a response to the BJP’s own “over-politicisation” of the Ordinance and its failure to hold “greater consultations” beforehand.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh told a TV news channel: “What does Advani (the home minister) mean when he talks of the BJP being in a win-win situation?”

The BJP, which had hoped the Congress would back it on an issue with implications for national security, put up a brave face. V.K. Malhotra, BJP parliamentary party spokesman, said: “The Congress’ decision suits us politically and in an election. But it is bad for the country because there will be no law against terrorism.”

However, the Ordinance may not be a complete write-off yet as, in keeping with the Prime Minister’s assurance of “evolving a consensus” and the Congress’ strong stand against terrorism, a solution may be found in a consultative committee meeting to be held on November 23.

Malhotra said the government could consider convening a joint session of Parliament to muster the necessary strength. But the BJP itself is unsure of the constitutional validity of convening a joint session. “It can be an option to which we are open, but we haven’t discussed it,” Malhotra said.

Legal sources said the option could be exercised under Article 108 (a) of the Constitution, but it requires presidential assent.

The Congress’ main reasons for opposing the Ordinance are:

The government did not consult political parties despite an assurance made in the chief ministers’ conference held in August 2000. “Congress party believes that combating terrorism is the need of the hour. However, a larger consultative process involving all political parties is necessary to put in place an appropriate legislation,” a statement said.

Definition of terrorism is “too loose and wide-ranging”. Congress leaders sought to stress that in Karnataka and Maharashtra, the law . defines a “crime syndicate”.

But the Congress’ blanket opposition was not readily accepted by all its leaders. In today’s meeting, Sonia Gandhi, Kapil Sibal, S. Jaipal Reddy and Digvijay Singh had to use their persuasive skills to win over stalwarts like Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh and.Shivraj Patil.

   

 
 
BJP CAMPAIGN LOSES STEAM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 16: 
The BJP’s plans to launch a “mass” campaign to “generate public awareness” on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance have taken a back seat following “lukewarm” response from its own cadre.

Almost every day last week, the party’s spokespersons had announced that November 17 and 18 would be used to tell people why the Ordinance was necessary and how the Opposition had “erred” in challenging it.

The agenda has been scaled down to “interactive” sessions between official proponents of the Ordinance and the cadre at the party headquarters on Saturday and street-corner meetings and torchlight processions on Sunday.

For instance, Delhi BJP sources said law minister Arun Jaitley — billed as the “star” speaker on the Ordinance — would meet the capital’s cadre in the state party office at Pandit Pant Marg.

“We expect him to be around for at least two hours and answer all the queries raised by our cadre so that they have a clear mind on what the Ordinance is before going to the people,” said a Delhi unit office-bearer.

Two considerations seem to have prompted the BJP to revise its plans to go public in a big way. First was the feedback that it could not have clicked as a popular issue, especially during an election. “The cop is a dreaded figure for most people, especially the poor and the deprived. And if we are out to sell a law which arms the police to the teeth, it will not go down well. It could end up reviving memories of the Emergency,” party sources said.

Second, the “star” speakers the BJP had lined up — notably Jaitley and his Cabinet colleagues Arun Shourie and Ravi Shankar Prasad — were, by the party’s own reckoning, not mass leaders.

At best, sources said, their rhetoric would appeal to the chattering class or the white-collared constituents of big cities and towns.

BJP and NDA leaders with the ability to rally around crowds, like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan, are not associated with the exercise. The BJP has issued a 14-page booklet, called Facts on POTO: An Analysis, for its activists. The tone is defensive and at one point states that the party does not have a “closed” mind on the Ordinance. It appealed to the Congress not to allow its “political prejudices to cloud national interests”.

“If they have any reservation with regard to any specific provision, they can during the debate in Parliament advance convincing arguments,” it said.

The booklet, authored by BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi, claims that people are ready to face the inconvenience the terror Ordinance may cause.

“The people of India, having seen face to face the ugly face of terrorism in our country, will be convinced about the need to take drastic steps by the government to eliminate terrorism from the soil of this country. We are quite sure that people will not mind if some inconvenience is caused,” the booklet maintained.

It listed as many as 11 “safeguards” the Ordinance had and stressed that neither minorities nor the weaker sections would be affected by it nor would press freedom be curbed.

The booklet also clarified that disruption of essential services would not constitute any offence under the Ordinance.

   

 
 
SAFFRON EYES LION’S SHARE OF UP SEATS 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Nov. 16: 
Days after it declared that it would fight the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections on its own manifesto, the BJP made it clear that it planned to contest a majority of the seats. The party pegged its demand at a minimum of 325 of the 403 seats, leaving only 80 for its five allies.

The BJP general secretary in charge of its election wing, Pyarelal Khandelwal, said the demand was based on the last Assembly poll results in which the party won 158 seats and came second in an equal number. This adds up to 316.

Of the remaining 78, BJP sources said they expected their newest ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), to bag most. The sources claimed that along with the RLD, the BJP hoped to get at least 75 of the 131 seats in western Uttar Pradesh.

Sources admitted that the party was “heavily” banking on the RLD chief and Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh to retain power in the state. “He is our passport to success,” they said.

The other allies, including the oldest ones like the Janata Dal and the Samata Party, may have to make do with “five to 10 seats” each, sources said.

Unlike the RLD which had a strong sway over the Jats — among the dominant castes in western Uttar Pradesh — the BJP’s other partners like the Loktantrik Congress or the Kisan Mazdoor Bahujan Party (a breakaway group of the Bahujan Samaj Party) lacked a loyal vote bank.

Though Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party was trying to split the BSP’s Dalit votes, the BJP assessment was that it could not dent it to a desired extent. Therefore, the sources argued, the allies were not placed to drive hard bargains, unlike the RLD.

The BJP reiterated that it would come out with a separate manifesto, notwithstanding the reservations expressed by Paswan, who said the move may send a “wrong” signal.

“There is no concept of the NDA in the state,” said BJP general secretary Sunil Shastri, when asked why the party was shifting from its stand of not bringing out its own manifesto, taken ahead of the last Lok Sabha elections.

“After the elections, if we can form a government we can always have a common minimum programme,” said Shastri.

However, Khandelwal allayed the allies’ apprehension that a separate BJP manifesto could be a ruse to sneak in contentious issues like the Ram temple. “There’s no question because the temple issue is above vote bank politics,” he said.

Sources said the BJP’s main poll plank would be “governance and performance”. It would specifically focus on Rajnath Singh’s tenure as chief minister and blank out the embarrassing Kalyan Singh and Ram Prakash Gupta eras.

   

 
 
‘QUIT’ CLINICS FOR SMOKERS IN CALCUTTA, PATNA 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 16: 
If you are desperate to quit smoking but not able to, look around for a “smoking cessation clinic” for help.

It might cleanse you of nicotine — but you have to make that effort to walk into the clinic and seek the help of its doctors and counsellors.

By early next month, there will be 12 smoking “de-addiction” clinics throughout the country, not just in state capitals but also in smaller towns.

The health ministry, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), is putting final touches to this project to make it easier for smokers to live a nicotine-free life.

“We have sent a group of professionals, mostly doctors, to Bangkok to get trained for the project,” says Tapas K. Ray, a key functionary in the WHO’s anti-tobacco project.

Of the 12 clinics, some will be part of mental health institutions like Vimhans. Others will be independent set-ups run by doctors.

For instance, Dr Mahavir, former director-general of health services in Bihar, will set up a smoking cessation clinic in Patna. Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai, Bangalore and Lucknow will have their own. “We are just working out the list,” informed an official.

The therapy will be both medical and psychological. “We will offer smokers clinical help and also counselling sessions,” says Ray, but objects to describing these clinics as “de-addiction” centres.

“There is a certain stigma centred around the word de-addiction,” he explains.

Medical therapy at the clinics would include nicotine replacement treatment — a reason why the group of professionals in Bangkok includes mostly doctors. They, in turn, will train the paramedical staff.

The job of counsellors would be to try and convince smokers about the hazards of nicotine and medical consequences.

According to WHO, smoking cessation clinics have been a great success in the UK till the government began slashing costs in the social sector. “Hundreds and thousands of people have quit smoking,” says Ray.

But how cost-effective is it going to be for India? So far, the government does not have an answer.

The WHO has already earmarked its allocation for the project — the health ministry will shore it up with its own allotment. But neither can say how much the cost of the treatment is going to be. Ray, however, said: “For the moment we are not looking at costs.”

He says the 12 clinics will begin to function on an “experimental basis” from next month. In the meanwhile, the government is hoping to soon pass the Tobacco Bill, which is before a parliamentary standing committee.

If the Bill comes through, all that the states have to do is adopt a resolution endorsing it, said the WHO.

   

 
 
BJP DENIES SOUTHERN RIFT 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Nov. 16: 
Union rural development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu today ruled out any BJP-DMK “rift” over the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and said not much should be read into his party’s “happiness” over ADMK chief Jayalalithaa’s support.

“I am very happy about the ADMK’s support to the Ordinance and welcome the support of all parties, including the former. But nothing should be read more than that,” the senior BJP leader said.

Naidu was here to inaugurate a two-day national workshop on water resource and water quality management for sustainable drinking water supply. Organised by the Tamil Nadu government, the workshop is sponsored by Unicef.

“Let me make it categorically clear that there is no rift between the DMK and the BJP,” Naidu said. Accusing “interested parties” of floating this “rift rumour”, Naidu said he had not come across any criticism by the DMK about the BJP’s performance.

“We are different political parties and have come together on a common programme,” he added.

On DMK chief M. Karunanidhi’s demand that the terror Ordinance should incorporate views of all parties in Parliament, Naidu said that if anyone had “apprehensions”, the Centre would clarify its position.

Naidu said the Ordinance will be introduced in the form of a Bill when Parliament reconvenes on November 19 and asserted that the government is clear that “we want Poto in toto”.

But if anyone had “well-meaning suggestions for improvements”, it was for Parliament to accept them, he added.

The minister justified the Ordinance, saying terrorism had assumed global proportions and cited the Taliban threat to finish off the US. “India is the next target,” he said. Hence the necessity for such a “stringent law”. Naidu said the Centre has provided for “proper safeguards” in the Bill to prevent misuse.

The BJP leader also said a new Governor would be appointed in Tamil Nadu “at the earliest” and sought to reassure the ADMK over the choice of nominee. “The state will be taken into confidence in the appointment of the Governor,” Naidu said.

He refuted the impression that the ADMK was warming up to the BJP. Emphasising that the DMK was very much a part of the NDA alliance and the Centre, he said there was no question of either his party approaching the ADMK or the latter “sending any feelers”.

However, he praised the Tamil Nadu government’s water resources development projects. Naidu said the Centre would forward the state government’s request for a Rs 2,000-crore loan from the World Bank for water supply schemes.

“We stand by the government of Tamil Nadu,” Naidu said, a statement that observers said was a reassuring signal to Jayalalithaa.

   

 
 
WHERE THERE’S WILL, THERE IS A CHEAP CELL 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, Nov. 16: 
It could turn out to be the poor man’s mobile. At least that is what the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd’s (BSNL) wireless telephone is being projected as.

Prices of wireless in local loop (WiLL) handsets are expected to dip from Rs 10,000 to Rs 2,000, say BSNL officials. At present, BSNL charges Rs 13,000 for a mobile WiLL connection that includes Rs 10,000 for the handset. A conventional cellphone cannot be used for the service.

Handset prices are likely to fall with consumer electronic majors like LG, Sony, Motorola and Hyundai set to manufacture them. The demand for the handsets is expected to go up with Reliance, Bharti and Tata Teleservice offering WiLL services even in rural areas not connected by landlines.

Bangalore is one of the few cities in the country that has implemented the technology.

With calls on the WiLL technology much cheaper than on cellphones, the BSNL is targeting the market segment that could not afford a mobile phone.

WiLL is a communications system that connects subscribers to the public switched telephone network using radio frequency signals. The technology used is based on Code Division Multiple Access, which differs from the Global System for Mobile Communication technology used for cellular communications.

The telecom project will cost $2.5 million to the exchequer.

WiLL subscribers can use handsets to make calls anywhere in India as long as they are within a 10-km radius of the “base station”, set up in different parts of the city.

“The response has been very encouraging. There have been over 250 bookings since it opened last week. Once the handset prices fall, we expect bookings in thousands,” said G. Santhanam, assistant general manager of BSNL. “Calls are charged at Rs 1.20 for three minutes while a 3-minute local call through a mobile phone costs Rs 9,” he said.

Three base stations have already been set up in the city with another planned to improve the quality of reception. These base stations provide indoor coverage upto 2 km.

BSNL hopes the scheme will attract the thousands who are waiting to obtain landline telephone connections.

   
 

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