Drummer to disco dancer, Speaker spares none
Naxalites kill CPM leader
Notice to ‘missing’ docs
Court full house on district divide
Drug-racket whiff in hospital
Helicopter hurricane lashes House
US admiral brushes off questions
George gag rerun in RS
More teeth sought for consumer courts
Thakre in ticket turnaround

Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
“You see this person here. He is the best drummer on their team. No one can beat him when it comes to tapping desks and making a ruckus.

“His friend from Maniktala keeps himself busy dancing in the well. Oi ki bole — disco-tisco — oi shob ar ki (What do they call them — disco?).

“And you, you look unrecognisable without the placards which hide half your body. What are you doing without them?”

This isn’t a headmaster admonishing his wayward students but the Speaker of the Bengal Assembly, Hashim Abdul Halim.

The persons he is speaking to: one Trinamul Congress MLA from the fringes of the city in South 24-Parganas and a former Congress MLA from North Dinajpur who contested — unsuccessfully — this year from a central Calcutta constituency. The third target of his good-humoured ribbing who’s not present: a high-profile Congress-turned- Trinamul MLA from north Calcutta.

But it’s difficult to be good-humoured when you are at the spot, says the Speaker, who has spent countless days seeing his “wards” fighting among themselves.

Concerned at the antics of the people’s representatives and following Parliament’s lead, the Assembly would soon constitute an ethics committee after convening an all-party meeting, Halim told The Telegraph.

Back from meetings of a parliamentary sub-committee in Delhi, Halim is in no mood to take much nonsense. Leaving alone the Trinamul leaders who have come courtesy-calling to his chamber on Tuesday, he goes for their leader, Mamata Banerjee.

“She was present at Sunday’s meeting, albeit with some difficulty,” he says. “Don’t get angry,” Halim tells the outraged Trinamul leaders. “She must have been hard-pressed for time as she was absent from the previous meetings,” he explains.

What he is referring to but leaves unsaid till Mamata’s followers leave is obvious; Mamata herself is known for her high-voltage performances in Lok Sabha.

But Halim, despite his admonishments, does not have much of a hope that a new law will tie down the law-makers. “Parliamentary democracy is a matter of culture and having some values,” he says. “How can you expect mafia, ruffians and mastaans to have that value-system?” he asks.

“How many MLAs do you think follow debates?” he continues. “How many go the Assembly library? How many even go through the bunch of papers they are given?” Halim asks, giving the answer himself: “Very few.”

Admitting that the “rude behaviour quotient” of the state’s MLAs has steadily grown, the Speaker says all parties, including the CPM which gives him the ticket to the Assembly from Amdanga in North 24-Parganas, are to blame equally.

The first consideration of every party when it decides a candidate’s nomination is his/her “winnability”, he says, ruing the fact that people with money and muscle are the obvious front-runners in polls.

The consequence: the Assembly beginning to resemble a fortress more and more. With uprooted microphones and missile-throwing the order of the day and policemen deputed within the Assembly premises each time it is in session to “discuss people’s issues”, besides the barricades, the Assembly has seen better days, the Speaker rues.

But calling meetings and framing laws will be the easiest part of the job, he admits. And the most difficult part? “Getting MLAs who will obey the rules they frame for themselves,” he says, not holding out much hope for peace in the future Assembly sessions.

Leader of Opposition and Trinamul MLA from Tollygunge Pankaj Banerjee, however, disagreed. Opposition MLAs had no other way of getting themselves heard as the Speaker refused to be neutral.


Belpahari (Midnapore), Nov. 28: 
Suspected PWG activists today shot dead a CPM local committee secretary at Bhimarjun village, 5 km from here, in the Jhargram subdivision.

The daring daylight murder of 57-year-old Sudhir Singha Sardar, a day after the body of a National Volunteer Force jawan was discovered, has sent shock waves among the police and the Midnapore district CPM circles. The jawan, Gour Mahato, was also believed to be a victim of PWG activists.

District superintendent of police K.C. Meena said Sardar was killed when he was on his way to a party conference.

As soon as news of the murder reached Midnapore town, a large force led by additional superintendent of police (headquarters), Anil Srinivas, rushed to the spot. A team of commandos from the special combat force has also been rushed from their training camp at Salua near Kharagpur.

CPM district secretary Dipak Sarkar said a 12-hour bandh has been called in the area and a 24-hour protest day will be observed in the Jhargram subdivision tomorrow.

Eyewitnesses said a group of dozen people in police uniform was loitering in the area since morning. Around 8.30 am, Sardar was cycling to Belpahari in Talpukuria village for the party conference when a village woman pointed him out to the suspected PWG activists. They dragged Sardar out of his cycle and took him to a bush nearby.

The miscreants shot him thrice on the chest with country-made single-barrel guns and later slit his throat with a long sharp knife. They then escaped southwards towards Bidri village near the Jharkhand border. No arrests were reported till late this evening.

Hearing the shots, villagers rushed towards the bush and found Sardar lying dead in a pool of blood. CPM supporters assembled and word was sent to the conference venue in Belpahari.

The local CPM immediately cancelled all party conferences in the area slated for today and tomorrow.

The murder of the CPM leader has also put district police superintendent Meena in an embarrassing position as he had visited the PWG-dominated areas near the Jharkhand border — Shimulpal, Jamaimari, Kotachua and Kadamdiha — only two days back to make an on-the-spot assessment of the situation. Meena had claimed that the PWG activities were on the wane.

When the police reached Bhimarjun village, the local people and CPM workers refused to hand over the body. They finally handed the body over at 4 pm.

CPM district committee member Dahareswar Sen alleged that a section of the police were in league with the PWG.


Suri (Birbhum), Nov. 28: 
Twenty-two doctors of the state-run Rampurhat sub-divisional hospital were showcaused for “gross negligence of duty” after a surprise visit by a team of senior health officials last week.

Dissatisfied over the performance of the doctors concerned, chief medical officer of health, Dr Bijan Mondal, issued showcause notices to them on November 23, directing them to reply within a fortnight.

Dr Mondal, along with some officers, paid a sudden visit to the Rampurhat hospital on November 23 and could not find the 22 doctors who were supposed to be on duty.

He stayed in the hospital for about two hours as a large number of people, including some emergency patients, waited in vain for the doctors. Dr Mondal then summoned the hospital superintendent and directed him to serve showcause notices to them.

“According to the rules, all the indoor and outdoor doctors are supposed to join duty at 8 am. But I did not find any one of them even till 10 am. We cannot tolerate this kind of offence,” he asserted.

The Birbhum district health administration received a number of allegations against doctors during the last few months. The main complaint was that the doctors were mostly busy with their private practice which prevented them from attending duty at the hospital. The doctors also often urged the patients’ relatives to bring them to their private chambers to get “better treatment”. Besides, they used to pilfer hospital medicines meant for the patients.

“After receiving the allegations, we conducted a secret probe which proved them true. We took a little more time to initiate penal action against the guilty doctors. We have served showcause notices to the doctors concerned and intend to take stern action if they fail to give satisfactory replies,” Dr Mondal said, adding that the government was determined to restore work culture in the hospitals. In October, penal action had been taken against four doctors of the Jajigram health centre for dereliction of duty.

The move to take stern steps against the errant doctors came in the wake of health minister Suryakanta Mishra’s directive to medical officers to act tough on hospital employees neglecting their work.


Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
The chief justice of Calcutta High Court today convened a full-court meeting on Thursday to address the proposed bifurcation of Midnapore, India’s largest district, for administrative convenience by the state government.

According to the rules governing territorial bifurcation, consent from Calcutta High Court is needed to carry out the division which is estimated to cost Rs 15 crore.

At a meeting on August 18, the state government had decided to bifurcate Midnapore for faster development and better co-ordination of administrative work.

After the meeting, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wrote to Chief Justice A.K. Mathur, urging him to give the court’s consent to the proposed bifurcation.

A Writers’ Buildings source said a formal proposal for the bifurcation would be made come in the Cabinet meeting to be held on Thursday. He said the ministers would also give their consent to the issue. “But till the high court grants its necessary permission, the district can not be divided.”

High court sources said the district court will also have to be divided after the bifurcation. The court is the authority to install the judicial system in the newly-formed district and it is also the appointing authority for judges and magistrates. “In the full court meeting, the court judges will consider whether the proposed new district has the infrastructure for setting up of courts,” they added.

An officer of chief justice’s secretariat said Justice Mathur had to wait before conducting the meeting for granting consent as he wanted a report from the court’s judicial officers and co-judges on the aspect of judicial system in the new district.


Behrampore, Nov. 28: 
Local people recovered a huge quantity of medicine, including life-saving drugs, worth about Rs 2 lakh from a pond near the Jalangi block hospital in Murshidabad district last night.

Chief medical officer of health Niharendu Deb has ordered an inquiry into the incident. “I have entrusted an officer of the health department to probe the matter,’’ he said.

Some children, while playing inside the hospital grounds, first spotted two large jute bags floating in the pond. They immediately informed some local boys who recovered the bags from the pond and found it contained medicines.

Health department officials suspect someone tried to smuggle the medicines from the hospital but threw them in the pond after being spotted.

They apprehend some people were carrying on a pilfering racket in connivance with the hospital staff.

As soon as the news spread, hundreds of local people gathered in the hospital and protested against the incident. They gheraoed the quarters of block medical officer S.P. Pal, questioning how such a huge quantity of medicines could find their way out of the hospital.

Pal said he had asked the storekeeper to clean the storeroom and destroy all medicines which had already crossed the expiry date. “I think he threw away some current medicine along with the old ones in the pond,” he said.

Health officials, however, rejected the claim as medicines recovered from the pond had not crossed their expiry dates.


New Delhi, Nov. 28: 

MPs cry for govt statement

The dust whirred up by the US naval helicopter over Chennai reached Parliament today with the Opposition cornering the Vajpayee government on the issue of national security and staging a walkout on Monday over “violation of Indian air space”.

The Opposition MPs alleged that the reconnaissance helicopter flew over strategic installations, including the nuclear power plant at Kalpakkam, for nearly two hours and refused to respond to the air traffic control.

In the absence of any senior minister in the treasury benches, the Opposition in the Lok Sabha demanded a statement from the Prime Minister. Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed, who was in the Chair, directed the government to present a statement tomorrow. By that time, however, the Opposition, except the ADMK, had walked out.

Government sources outside Parliament said India and the US had taken up the issue at the appropriate level. An external affairs ministry spokesperson said: “We are examining all available details. Both sides are consulting each other at appropriate levels.”

Aviation experts said usually a flight identification plan has to be sent to the Indian authorities and permission taken before any such flight.

Sources confirmed that the pilot of the US helicopter had not filed the flight plan with the aviation authorities as is required, but added that it was more of a “technical error”. The helicopter had taken off from the destroyer USS John Young of the Seventh Fleet and flew over Chennai for over two hours without permission from authorities. The ship has anchored at Chennai dock for refuelling and stocking of supplies.

In the Lok Sabha, former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, N. Janardan Reddy and others wondered how the government could keep mum 48 hours after the “blatant violation” of Indian air space. “The government should have come out with a suo motu statement,” said Chandra Shekhar.

Mulayam Singh Yadav recalled that the Prime Minister and the defence minister had assured Opposition leaders that India would not allow its bases to be used by US forces during the war in Afghanistan. Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM backed Mulayam and asked the government to explain why the US ship was using the Chennai port.

BJP refuses to react

The BJP today refused to react to the violation of Indian air space by two US naval helicopters and criticised the Opposition for staging a walkout in the Lok Sabha over the issue.    

New Delhi, Nov 28: 
Outside his uniform Dennis Cutler Blair is a Rhodes scholar, an alumnus of Oxford University. In uniform, he is advertised by the force he leads as the chief of a military command that oversees more than half the earth’s surface.

This afternoon, as Admiral Dennis C. Blair, commander-in-chief, US Pacific Command, strode down the corridor in South Block, he waved away questions from the mediacorps on the overflight of one of his helicopters.

Perhaps it was bad form to worry the good Admiral of the largest unified command of the US military with operations that spread from America’s west coast to the east coast of Africa, from the Antarctic to the Arctic, straddling 16 time zones over such piffling a matter as the flight of a helicopter in deep down Chennai, far away from Operation Enduring Freedom’s theatre.

But spare a thought for the man he left behind in his wake as he strode down that corridor — George Fernandes. The Union minister for defence is likely to issue a statement and answer questions in Parliament tomorrow where many members do not really have the hots for him at the moment.

The nagging thought for any minister who is now faced with one more problem to add to the ones he is coping with must be — “but the chopper wasn’t even mine!”

If anyone at all knows what really the helicopter was doing, it has to be the hon’ble Admiral.

The aircraft was one of the two SH-60B LAMPS Mk 111 helicopters that the destroyer, USS John Young, normally has on board. The warship, equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles and ultra-modern satellite technology itself is used for offensive strikes. It is part of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet that comes in the AOR — Area of Responsibility — of the Pacific Command.

Official sources — Indian and US — are mum on what the chopper’s job was. According to rules, any aircraft must seek and get air defence clearance if it is coming within 12 nautical miles of the mainland.

The chopper that flew from the John Young’s deck was well within Indian airspace. There is some confusion on whether it actually flew over the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam.

The SH-60 B chopper can be used for both surveillance and strike purposes. Those more knowledgeable about India’s air defence actually say it is quite unlikely the chopper was spying on a strategic installation.

More likely, it was on a recce — a precaution that is standard practice for US naval warships before they dock at a port, particularly after the attack on the USS Cole in the Gulf that was said to have been carried out by the al Qaida.

If the chopper has erred — and sources say it definitely did not have the requisite clearances — it was only because the Americans are now playing it extra- safe.

The breach of Indian airspace was actually discovered by the ATC in Chennai Airport which is under the Airports Authority of India, a civilian body. By the time the Indian Air Force was informed, the copter was away and home — on the deck of the USS John Young.


New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
After the Lok Sabha, it was the Rajya Sabha’s turn today to train its guns on George Fernandes.

A united Opposition refused to put questions to the defence minister in a replay of Friday’s scene in the Lower House when members had shunned Fernandes, declining to take up listed questions when it was his turn to answer.

The Opposition is protesting Fernandes’ return before the Venkataswami Commission investigating the Tehelka tapes, which indirectly implicated the minister, has cleared him.

Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi is holding a meeting of floor leaders of all parties tomorrow to break the parliamentary impasse.

But a peeved BJP has already decided that if queries on the US naval helicopters violating Indian air space in Chennai come up again, Fernandes would be fielded to answer them. “Then we will see if the Opposition is really sincere about getting answers or merely wants to score points over us,” party sources said.

The Congress had last week served a notice under rule 184, which entails voting, for a discussion on Fernandes’ return.

But government sources said they were not in favour of admitting the motion because the Prime Minister’s prerogative in inducting his ministers could not be questioned. “If admitted, it will set a bad precedent,” a source said.

The Congress’ motion reportedly said the Prime Minister had given Fernandes a “clean chit” even before the Venkataswami Commission gave its verdict.

Government sources hinted that if the Congress changed the wording to ensure that the Prime Minister’s prerogative was not contested, the motion could be considered for admission.

The Congress argued that while inducting a minister was the Prime Minister’s prerogative, the “propriety” of certain government actions could be questioned in the House. Fernandes’ reinduction, Congress sources said, had no “parallel or precedent in Independent India’s political history”.

In the upper House, trouble began today when Congress MP K.K. Birla refused to put up his listed question to Fernandes, provoking angry objections from rural development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and other ruling party members.

Tehelka probe

Fernandes has asked the Venkataswami Commission to let him appear as the first witness under the cross-examination notice, reports PTI. The Tehelka news portal has sought to be examined last.    

New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
The standing committee on consumer affairs, food and public distribution has in a report to the Lok Sabha sought more teeth for consumer protection courts.

Its recommendations might be incorporated in the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2001, being taken up for discussion and passage in the winter session.

Some of the suggestions are:

Issuing of bills/receipts for items sold and services rendered should be mandatory because often, substandard goods are sold to unsuspecting consumers.

If a poor litigant wins a case, the defaulter should pay the cost of litigation.

At least one member of the court should have a legal background. This is not mandatory at present.

Financial autonomy for consumer courts, set up by the Centre.

To ensure speedy justice, cases should be disposed of within 90 days. The consumer protection tribunals set up by state governments take years, sometimes 10 years, to dispose of cases.

The state government-run tribunals in districts should be done away with. People do not have the option of approaching the better-equipped consumer courts in areas where tribunals exist. Since these tribunals often lack infrastructure and sometimes are non-functional, justice gets delayed.

Consumer rights activist Pushpa Girimaji, who was consulted by the committee, welcomed the suggestion and pointed out that the tribunals had reduced the jurisdiction of consumer courts.

Girimaji said she had opposed a proposal to charge a “complaint fee” from consumers who wanted to lodge complaints. The proposal has not been included in the report submitted to the Lok Sabha today.

The standing committee, headed by former Union food minister Devendra Prasad Yadav, said vigorous efforts should be made to create awareness of their rights among consumers.


Lucknow, Nov. 28: 
Who gets a ticket and who doesn’t? With elections round the corner in Uttar Pradesh, that is the question giving sleepless nights to the BJP leadership in the state as well as the Centre.

Though the party wants to put up a fresh, unblemished crop of candidates, it has neither the luxury nor the liberty to do so. Because if it was winability versus credibility, the BJP knows it is the former that counts.

Former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre has already given hints that contradicts the party’s pre-poll bluster. In a recent press conference, Thakre clarified that the BJP denying tickets to tainted candidates would make sense only when it applied across the board. The idea was to root out corruption from all parties.

Earlier, home minister L.K. Advani and chief minister Rajnath Singh had announced that tainted contestants would not be touched and that half of the sitting MLAs would have to give up their claims for another go at the hustings.

State BJP president Kalraj Mishra has finally come round to the position that “compulsions of realpolitik” would dominate all other issues during ticket distribution. Softening his earlier stand that the BJP will get rid of its tainted legislators, Mishra said, “things are being thrashed out by senior leaders.’’

A host of the BJP central leaders, including Thakre and Pyarelal Khandelwal, have camped in Lucknow to discuss the thorny issues of ticket distribution and seat sharing.

With the BJP standing on shaky ground, a tug-of-war has started with its allies over seat sharing. If the allies have it their way, the BJP would be left with 162 of the 403 seats to contest.

Union coal minister Ram Vilas Paswan has identified 102 seats for his Lok Janshakti Party. Jat leader Ajit Singh wants his Lok Dal to contest in 100 seats. The smaller partners such as the Kisan Mazdoor Bahujan Party and the breakaway Loktantrik Congress Party have their eyes set on 30 seats each.

The Lok Janshakti Party has 13 MLAs in the current Assembly, while the Lok Dal has only seven. The undivided LCP had 19 members until its president, Naresh Agarwal, defected to the Samajwadi Party with three others after being thrown out of the Cabinet.

But the BJP has its own calculations. According to Mishra, the party has already decided on the candidates for about 200 seats. Though Mishra declined to specify how many seats would be given to the allies, there are indications that the party would like to spare not more than 50 seats.

The arithmetic goes something like this: the BJP won 158 seats and came second in another 153 in the 1996 elections, making it eligible to contest 311 constituencies. Moreover, according to Mishra, the party has “gained much more in the last 5 years and improved its position in 30-40 seats.”

With Rajnath at the helm, the BJP was confident of storming back to power, Mishra said, adding that the ticket distribution scenario would be clear by the next fortnight.


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