Naxalite hit list puts CPM on toes
Border guards gun down truck driver
Soiree stars in noise net
Park for political tinder box
Elder death cloud on police
Atal dangles terror-law carrot & stick
Congress wary of coalitions
Contest boost to condom campaign
Ranchi route riddle over Laloo’s homecoming
Bhutan ban drives Ulfa to Meghalaya

 
 
NAXALITE HIT LIST PUTS CPM ON TOES 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Dec. 2: 
The CPM leadership has put its party workers and leaders in Midnapore’s Jhargram sub-division on alert after an intelligence report revealed that at least six key party functionaries are on the People’s War Group hit list.

The confidential Intelligence Bureau report submitted to the home department warned that a dozen Naxalites of the PWG-MCC combine had infiltrated into Midnapore and Burdwan districts with a “heinous motive” to kidnap and kill some prominent CPM leaders. “The extremists are well-trained and have collected sophisticated arms and ammunition,” said a senior police officer on Sunday quoting the report.

The IB report is the result of a probe begun on a directive from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee after the murder of Sudhir Sardar, a senior party leader from Belpahari, on Wednesday. He had expressed concern over the steady infiltration of extremists from Andhra Pradesh and other states.

A large police contingent has been deployed in the sub-division from morning following reports that PWG activists will bring in more Naxalites from other states to observe their foundation day on Sunday. Inspector general of police, western range, G.R. Bhagat is camping in the area with senior officials to oversee police arrangements. Some policemen have started combing the dense forests, where the PWG activists could be hiding.

The district CPM leadership has decided to set up a number of vigilant groups in the sensitive pockets to counter the extremists. Party members have been asked to enrol with the groups without delay.

Hours before leaving for Midnapore to assess the situation, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said the sudden spurt in Naxalite activities in some districts, particularly Midnapore, is worrying the administration. “Party-level vigilant groups are necessary since we feel that police alone cannot tackle the explosive situation,” he said, adding that people should come forward to help them combat the extremists.

The CPM’s tension was palpable during the day as police officials informed the district leadership that over a dozen PWG posters were found on walls in the Bholaveda area, where Sardar was murdered.

Superintendent of police K.C. Meena said a massive combing operation is on in the entire area to arrest the persons named in the FIR of the CPM leader’s murder. “We have already got the clues and are confident of rounding up the accused in a day or two,” he added.

Officials said the PWG-MCC combine has consciously chosen the Jhargram belt to establish its stronghold. “Surrounded by a dense forest and inhabited by tribals, the area has become a haven for extremists since it is far from sub-divisional headquarters,” they said. The Naxalites had so far made at least seven attacks in the area last month, including the fatal strike on Sardar, they added.

CPM leaders feared fresh attacks as conferences of the branch and zonal committees in the area are on in full swing. “With the onset of local-level conferences, we have asked party members not to travel alone, particularly at night in the forest area,” said a leader.

   

 
 
BORDER GUARDS GUN DOWN TRUCK DRIVER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Islampur (Murshidabad), Dec. 2: 
Two BSF personnel were arrested here this morning for gunning down a truck-driver and injuring a villager allegedly without provocation at a spot more than 35 km from the Indo-Bangladesh border.

Trouble started around 5.30 am when BSF personnel of the 62 Battalion stopped five trucks carrying cattle. Witnesses said the border guards were angered when the drivers and helpers tried to documents proving that the cattle was not smuggled. The troops opened fire when the drivers began fleeing.

On hearing the sound of firing, people started gathering and vehicles blocked the Behrampore-Domkal road. The frightened BSF personnel fled to Islampur police station and surrendered there. Police later said the soldiers admitted to firing four rounds and confirmed that the trucks were going from Birbhum to Gobindapur Hat with valid documents.

The deceased was identified as Haq Saheb Malithya, a resident of Jalangi, additional superintendent of police Rajesh Singh said. The injured, Amirul Khan, who lives near Islampur Higher Secondary School, was admitted to Behrampore State General Hospital in a serious condition. Ram Govind Singh and Brijesh Kumar Ray, the two BSF constables who were arrested after interrogation, will be produced in court tomorrow.

The incident took place when five trucks travelling towards Domkal — four of them carrying cattle — inadvertently blocked the way of a BSF vehicle carrying constables to Roshanbag, where they were supposed to have shooting practice. “The jawans first got down and told the drivers that their trucks would be seized,” a witness recounted. “When they tried to show the documents they had, they were threatened that they would be shot,” he added. The jawans translated their threats into action when the drivers and cleaners actually tried to flee in panic, another witness said.

As the parked trucks and villagers who had collected blocked their path, the jawans fled to the Islampur police station. Commandant H.A. Indola came to the police station on receiving information but refused comments.

Murshidabad MP Mainul Hassan, who visited Islampur during the day, alleged that the number of “unprovoked firings” by BSF personnel was increasing. “If the BSF seizes cattle-laden trucks 35 km from the border, then what is the need for maintaining a separate law-enforcement agency for the state?” he said.

   

 
 
SOIREE STARS IN NOISE NET 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Dec. 2: 
The Burdwan district administration has lodged a complaint against the organisers and participating artistes of a star-studded Saturday night soiree held in Durgapur for violating noise pollution norms.

Daler Mehndi and Shilpa Shetty were among the attractions at the “Mumbai Musical Night” organised by a conglomerate of CPM-patronised clubs at the Nehru Stadium in Durgapur. The administration has pointed out the stadium’s proximity to the town’s main hospital — within 500 metres — and complained that the extravaganza continued till 1.30 am.

An order of Calcutta High Court’s green bench prohibits soirees from continuing beyond 11 pm and crossing the decibel level cut-off. But main draw Daler Mehndi came on stage at 12.20 am. The clubs’ offence is compounded by the fact that they had given a written undertaking to abide by the court’s order.

“We had given them permission on the grounds that they would follow the high court’s order,” said additional district magistrate, Durgapur, N. Manju Prasad. “The organisers had been told about the guidelines given to us by the department of environment. Even then, they violated the rules and the court order last night.”

To make matters worse, the organisers apparently ignored a notice served by executive magistrate A.K. Majumdar, asking them to stop the function when it had crossed the 11 pm deadline. “When they continued, we had no option but to lodge a complaint against them and the artistes at the Durgapur police station,” Prasad said.

The four clubs, Sukanta, Patha Chakra, More Sammilani and City Athletic Club, are supported by local CPM leaders. Among the members of the function’s organising committee are ministers Mrinal Banerjee and Bangsagopal Chowdhury. A host of senior officials, including the chairman of the state smallscale industry development board, the mayor and deputy mayor of Durgapur, and the deputy commissioner of income-tax, besides CPM zonal members are also listed on the committee.

Amra Kojon club was fined for a similar violation last year at the same venue.

   

 
 
PARK FOR POLITICAL TINDER BOX 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Garbeta, Dec. 2: 
In yet another gift from the state government, the largest park in West Bengal was today inaugurated at Garbeta. About half a dozen ministers attended the function, organised by the state forest department.

Keshpur and Garbeta had been in the headlines since the past one year, after political killings rocked Midnapore district.

“Gone are those days when people in Garbeta suffered a lot due to rise in political violence. But today peace has returned here and the park is a small gift to you,” said finance minister Asim Dasgupta, after inaugurating Bengal’s largest park, spreading over 100 acres of land.

The park, named after former forest minister late Parimal Mitra, will have a museum. It has been constructed at a cost of Rs 1 crore.

Besides Dasgupta, forest minister Jogesh Burman, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, minister of state for forest Maheshwar Murmu and minister of state for employment exchange Susanta Ghosh were also present at the ceremony.

Detailing the facilities available here, the speakers said tourists would be able to ride toy-trains and enjoy boating. Tourists would also be able to visit places like Mukutmanipur, Bishnupur and Joyrambati from this park, they added. A beautiful rose garden is an added attraction of the park.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said his department would try to help tourists to reach this park straight from Calcutta by introducing state transport buses.

   

 
 
ELDER DEATH CLOUD ON POLICE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Beldanga (Murshidabad), Dec. 2: 
A police raid on Majpara village under Beldanga police station late last night took a nasty turn when a 70-year-old woman died, allegedly succumbing to torture.

Police had come to the village in search of some miscreants who had hurled bombs on a police contingent, injuring one of them.

Villagers said the personnel forcibly entered houses in search of the miscreants. “They ransacked our house and did not listen to pleas that we are innocent,” Asgar, a villager, said. Residents alleged that the police threw household goods on the road and mercilessly beat up the villagers who protested. Several villagers who were standing in one of corner were lathicharged.

After half-an-hour of the turmoil, septuagenarian Taiwaba Bewa collapsed. She was gasping for breath and blood was oozing out of her nose and mouth. She was taken to the hospital where she died.

Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury rushed to the area to protest against the police action.

Superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar denied police atrocity. “One of their colleagues is injured. Do you expect policemen to keep mum? They might have been rude with people but that is expected,” he said.

Undertrial dead

A 22-year-old undertrial died in Burdwan jail on Sunday morning. The victim, Ashok Mondal, was found dead in the ward where he was lodged from November 1.

Burdwan GRP had arrested Ashok, a resident of Kalitala in North 24-Parganas, along with two others on October 7 on charges of theft. He was remanded in jail custody. Ashok was scheduled to be produce before court again on December 12.

   

 
 
ATAL DANGLES TERROR-LAW CARROT & STICK 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Dec. 2: 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today grabbed the chance provided by the serial Naxalite strikes to lobby for the terror law, saying the Opposition bid to block it betrayed “sheer selfishness” and lack of concern for the nation’s security.

Hardselling the Ordinance amid continuing strikes in Andhra and Orissa, he appealed to the Congress-led Opposition to rethink its stand on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance “in the interests of the country’s security and sovereignty”.

The Prime Minister also set at rest fears that the law would target minorities or infringe upon their freedom, saying his government was ready to make necessary changes to guard against any “misuse”.

Putting recalcitrant parties in the line of fire, Vajpayee said the very party, which had brought in “black laws” in states was now opposing the Centre just for the heck of “political opposition and party politics”.

“There have been stronger laws against anti-social and terrorist activities in Congress-ruled states. But now it is opposing the Centre’s efforts to strengthen the hands of agencies fighting foreign militancy as well as terrorism on the borders,” he said.

Vajpayee urged the Opposition not to blindly oppose the Ordinance but to tread the path of consensus. “We are open to suggestions from all quarters, including chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. (All suggestions) will be incorporated,” he said.

Coming down heavily upon extremist activities in the garb of revolution, Vajpayee said violence had never been a panacea for social ills or rung in development anywhere in the world.

“(Such) revolutions in several countries failed to solve the problems of the people. Finally, they had to fall back on democracy,” he said at a public meeting after laying the foundation stone of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority.

But as Vajpayee appealed for a rethink, coal and mines Ram Vilas Paswan disclosed that the Centre was mulling a proposal to exclude political parties from the purview of the terror Ordinance.

“The Centre is considering the proposal and a decision to this effect will be taken soon,” Paswan told reporters in Sonipat.

Sources earlier indicated that the Centre was willing to make minor amendments to the law, including scrapping a clause making it mandatory for journalists to disclose information on terrorists and cutting from 48 to 24 hours the time stipulated for producing an accused before a magistrate.

Vajpayee is likely to convene an all-party meeting in a week to discuss the Ordinance. The government plans to table the terror law in Parliament after he returns from his Japan trip.

A section in the BJP wants the Bill to be pushed through in Parliament — even if it is rejected in the Rajya Sabha where the NDA lacks numbers — to send a “politically correct” message to voters in Uttar Pradesh.

Paswan allayed fears that the Ordinance would be misused for political vendetta like Tada had been and stressed the need for a stringent law to curb terrorism.

   

 
 
CONGRESS WARY OF COALITIONS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Dec. 2: 
Sonia Gandhi is reportedly wary of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Pawar’s sudden show of warmth towards her.

Congress sources said their party chief viewed the positive vibes from her former adversaries as part of a carefully crafted strategy that went beyond floor coordination in Parliament and the Uttar Pradesh polls.

In Sonia’s assessment, Mulayam, Pawar and the Left leaders are eyeing Delhi in a post-Uttar Pradesh scenario on the premise that the Vajpayee regime may not survive if the BJP-led alliance is trounced in the heartland. In such a situation, a “broad-based secular front” would come in handy in preventing mid-term polls.

The third front protagonists envisage a leading role – they know the Congress will be in no position to stake a claim without their participation. The second part of their argument is based on the assumption that “inexperienced” Sonia would be too reluctant to head any rainbow coalition.

But the AICC chief has different plans. Having burnt her fingers in May 1999, when she failed to stitch together a coalition after the fall of the Vajpayee regime, Sonia is circumspect about joining hands with the “third front” to keep “communal forces” at bay.

Congress sources say she is not convinced about the “fall of Delhi” after the Uttar Pradesh elections. She also has doubts about the ability of leaders like Chandrababu Naidu and Mamata Banerjee to break away from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to tilt the scales. In any case, there is no meeting ground between the Congress and Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party.

Roping in Mamata’s Trinamul Congress is near impossible on two counts. First, the bitterness of the Bengal polls is still fresh and more important, Mamata’s outfit cannot be anywhere near the Left.

Instead of joining the “secular” front, “politician” Sonia now plans to focus on Punjab, Uttaranchal and Gujarat where the Congress stands a good chance of replacing the BJP and its allies. There are already 11 Congress-ruled states. If the party manages to net Punjab, the tally would cover almost half the country.

The Congress chief is conscious of the fact that her party continues to be a spent force in Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. But she is confident of recovering these losses from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. “If the going is good, the party can easily enhance its tally from Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra,” said a source close to Sonia.

In Sonia’s scheme of things, the Vajpayee government should continue even if the BJP-led alliance is defeated in Uttar Pradesh. By 2004, when general elections are scheduled to be called, the leader of the Opposition hopes to shape up as a mature politician and go to the voters on the development plank.

Sonia believes that time alone would convince the voters that coalitions are not best for kick-starting growth and all-round development.

   

 
 
CONTEST BOOST TO CONDOM CAMPAIGN 
 
 
ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Dec. 2: 
Have fun and then have some more fun.

Sounds like a cola campaign aimed at the city slickers? Wrong, it’s a novel condom marketing blitz that looks set to take rural Uttar Pradesh by storm.

A new condom was launched in Lucknow yesterday — World AIDS Day — by Hindustan Latex Limited (HLL) with the promise that using their product would not just be safe but profitable, too. Lucky users could win all expenses paid trips to Singapore, Manali and Khajuraho. Or, there are 20 gold coins and 100 silver coins waiting to be snapped up by the not-so-lucky.

The condom, wisely called Rakshak, will be made available exclusively to villagers. Abhishek, HLL communications manager in Lucknow, said the response to the “Love in Singapore” scheme has been “quite overwhelming”. All that a buyer needs to do to win these fabulous prizes is fill up a form that asks easy questions like the colour of the condom used and, of course, write a slogan on why Rakshak is the best.

But company executives added that there was much more to the “fun and more fun” scheme than pure economics. “It is not merely about sales,” said Abhishek, adding that marketing Rakshak was part of the Sukhi Sansar Project being co-authored by the State Innovations in Family Planning Services Project Agency (SIFPSA).

“UP is bursting at the seams with around 17 crore people. If family planning schemes are not pursued aggressively, things might become very bad after a decade,” explained an SIFPSA worker. The project will target 37,000 villages across Uttar Pradesh in the three-year first phase.

Ashok Singh, a senior USAID worker, said the rural areas have to be targeted because nearly 78 per cent of the population live in villages. He believes the Sukhi Sansar Project might click as the condoms are not being distributed for free and there are great prizes on offer. “It is important that they don’t come free — they are priced at Rs 5 per pack — because my experience in rural areas shows that people generally don’t have faith in free condoms as they feel it is inferior.”

NGOs are also upbeat about the success of Rakshak because the project has been taken up by a private agency. “Villagers don’t care about government-sponsored family planning projects because the infrastructure is so pathetic, there are no hospitals, no staff and the distribution system doesn’t work,’’ said Singh.

HLL aims to change all that. Abhishek said the target for March 2002 is 71.5 million pieces and it will be jacked up to 87.5 million the next year. Confident that the marketing team would meet the target, he said preliminary research showed that the rate of condom usage in India has grown by 5 per cent. “It is all about creating awareness,” Abhishek added, maintaining that their study has shown that villagers often do not have access to condoms.

   

 
 
RANCHI ROUTE RIDDLE OVER LALOO’S HOMECOMING 
 
 
FROM RUDRA BISWAS AND SHASHANK SHEKHAR
 
Ranchi, Dec. 2: 
The Babulal Marandi government is in a fix on how to send Laloo Yadav to Patna.

That Laloo, now lodged in the camp jail at Bacon Factory’s guest house here, will be “despatched” to a court in Patna — with a rider that he must present himself before the Ranchi court again on December 10 — is certain. What, however, is not final is how to send him to his home turf.

The government has four options: send Laloo by road or by the regular Indian Airlines flight or in a Jharkhand state aircraft or in a Bihar state plane flown in from Patna.

“The Marandi government is wary of sending Laloo by road because of the prohibitive cost and the large security arrangement it entails. The government also knows that Laloo could use his road journey to make impromptu speeches on the way,” sources said.

The authorities are not keen on sending their VIP “guest” by the Indian Airlines flight either as it would require booking several seats and cancellation of some to make way for Laloo and his security personnel, the sources added.

“On the other hand, the government is not inclined to send the scam accused by the Jharkhand state aircraft. Any snag will give the RJD an opportunity to harp on the conspiracy angle,” they pointed out.

The authorities, therefore, are expected to opt for the “safest” route — send Laloo back by a Bihar state aircraft, the sources said.

It’s not just how, the Marandi government is also unsure of when to send the RJD president to Patna.

While the party continued to pile pressure on the district administration to immediately send Laloo to Patna, the BJP vehemently opposed any move to allow him to leave earlier than was necessary. Laloo has to appear before a Patna court on December 6.

Sources said Laloo would be allowed to leave the camp jail for Patna “earliest by tomorrow morning”.

The CBI special court of H.C. Mishra and P.R. Das had yesterday allowed Laloo to be shifted to Patna “by December 6” for production before a trial court in connection with a disproportionate assets case.

RJD supporters received a jolt today when a messenger from the Dumka trial court met judge Mishra with a warrant demanding that Laloo be produced at the court there on December 6 in connection with yet another fodder scam case.

But the CBI public prosecutor said he had no objection if Laloo was sent to Patna for appearance before the trial court. He pointed out that since charges in the Dumka case were yet to be framed, Laloo’s appearance there was not mandatory.

   

 
 
BHUTAN BAN DRIVES ULFA TO MEGHALAYA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, Dec. 2: 
The banned Ulfa, facing a fast-approaching deadline set by the Bhutan government to quit bases in that country, is planning to establish permanent camps in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya for a sustained extortion campaign to replenish its dwindling assets, intelligence sources said.

Saturday’s abduction of Phulbari legislator Abu Taher Mondal’s cousin Safiur Mondal and his nephew Esteak Salim Mondal from Phutamati is part of a “special mission” of the Ulfa, police sources believe.

Safiur Mondal — a businessman from Phulbari — was picked up by suspected Ulfa militants at 1.30 pm yesterday when he was on his way back home from here. The police said the militants had abducted the businessman and his minor son mainly to extort money.

“We see no other motive because no one has been injured and the driver of the vehicle was released,” a police source said. The police have not been able to track down Mondol and his son yet.

Abu Taher Mondal, MLA, said his cousin had come to pick up his son Esteak, who is a student of St. Peters School here. Modal said he, too, felt that ransom could be the motive behind the abduction since “Safiur has no enmity with anyone and is a friendly person”.

Incidents of kidnapping and extortion by the Ulfa in and around the Garo Hills are on the rise. “It appears that the Assam-based outfit has already made bases in some areas close to Bangladesh. Areas which have been identified as potential hideouts include Phulbari, Mahendraganj, Tikrikilla, Mancachar in West Garo Hills bordering Bangladesh and Rajashimla, Nongalbibra, Rongjeng and Rongduli in East Garo Hills,” a source said.

According to intelligence sources, more than 150 Ulfa rebels sneaked into Garo Hills recently. The police, however, claimed to be making progress in its plan to hunt down Ulfa hitman Dristi Rajkhowa, who was injured in a recent shoot-out. Rajkhowa, according to senior police officials here, is the outfit’s main man in the Garo Hills.

“He has good links with the local outfits and access to some interior villages,” a police official said.

The Ulfa hitman was instrumental in ferrying arms and ammunition from Bhutan to Garo Hills, the police said.

According to intelligence reports, Rajkhowa has established a “good rapport” with the banned Garo outfit, the Achik National Volunteers’ Council, which is helping the Ulfa settle down in the area.

Recently, the police unearthed a huge quantity of explosives and rocket-launcher shells from Rajashimla in East Garo Hills.

The sleuths said the Ulfa has already winded up four of its nine camps inside Bhutan and moved all its arms and ammunition close to the border for transhipment across to the Garo Hills in Meghalaya as well as Nalbari and Darrang in Assam.

There are still around 2,000 armed Ulfa rebels inside Bhutan. Meghalaya and Assam police are contemplating a joint strategy to deal with Ulfa militants.

   
 

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