Buddha gauges Bill mood
Nepal link in Naxalite terror
Writers’ cell to probe sex-abuse complaints
Common shelter for Atal, Buddha
McKinsey move
Cabinet clears domestic violence Bill, minus teeth
Atal’s allies play role of Opposition
George motion in last week
Varanasi waits for Harrison ashes
New Salman on screen

 
 
BUDDHA GAUGES BILL MOOD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today began a series of meetings with Left Front partners to drum up support for his proposed Bill against organised crime and prove wrong their accusation that he was acting unilaterally on the law.

Bhattacharjee today met Forward Bloc leader Ashok Ghosh at a party-level bilateral meeting in the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street. CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and politburo member Biman Bose were also present at the meeting. Another meeting with the state CPI leaders is slated for tomorrow.

The CPM leaders successfully convinced Ghosh that the proposed legislation will not be used against any political activists and that any person arrested under the new law will be produced in court within 24 hours of his detention. It is believed that Ghosh expressed satisfaction over Bhattacharjee’s stand and gave a green signal to the chief minister to go ahead with the new law.

The meeting was important in view of the urgent Cabinet meeting convened by Bhattacharjee on Thursday to discuss the proposed law. It is believed that all the Forward Bloc ministers had sought the intervention of their party leadership and wanted to know what role they should play during the Cabinet meeting.

The Forward Bloc had earlier opposed Bhattacharjee’s move to introduce a new law to combat organised crime on the ground that he had taken an unilateral decision and ignored all the Front partners while announcing it. The CPI, too, had expressed dissatisfaction with the draft proposal of the Ordinance by refusing to opine on it.

But Ghosh is now satisfied after Bhattacharjee assured that he would personally handle all the cases under the new law and will not allow the police to act on their own.

The CPM had asked Bhattacharjee to take a decision on the Bill, which the party’s high command wanted to be put off till the anti-terror law controversy at the Centre is resolved.

After this meeting, Bhattacharjee has got the go-ahead from Forward Bloc to act independently. It is expected that the CPI, too, will give the chief minister a free hand in dealing with the proposed law.

Jyoti Basu had announced earlier that the CPM would meet the Left parties before Bhattacharjee’s statement in the Assembly on December 7.

   

 
 
NEPAL LINK IN NAXALITE TERROR 
 
 
FROM NARESH JANA
 
Belpahari (Midnapore), Dec. 4: 
Three of the 10 suspected People’s War activists arrested yesterday from Banspahari on charges of murdering CPM leader Sudhir Sardar also have links with the Maoists of Nepal, Midnapore district intelligence officials said.

Officials of Belpahari police station today raided villages in Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum district. They took along two of the three arrested — Mantu Mahato, Animesh Das and Kartik Ruidas — on the mission. “The raids were conducted simultaneously in three villages,” a senior sleuth said.

But yesterday’s arrests have given a twist to the Naxalite terror issue with the Trinamul Congress claiming that those held were its supporters and not People’s War activists as alleged by the police.

Trinamul supporters laid siege on the Belpahari police station and submitted a memorandum demanding the release of the three. “The police is targeting our activists at the CPM’s behest,” alleged Belpahari block Trinamul president Debasis Pande.

The Trinamul allegations seemed to have some credence as CPM Binpur zonal committee secretary Dahareswar Sen said Trinamul was responsible for the recent spurt in violence. “They (Trinamul) are behind the recent subversive activities and are using the Naxalite name to strike terror in the minds of the CPM cadre,” he alleged.

Midnapore superintendent of police K.C. Meena refused to comment on the political affiliation of the men arrested by the Binpur police. He, however, said they had definite charges against them.

However, the arrests do not appear to have dented the morale of the Naxalites. Trees and buildings at Ergonda in Belpahari have been plastered with Maoist Communist Centre posters threatening two local CPM leaders with death.

The posters — some calling for the “head of Anil Mahato” and others demanding “Brindaban Nayek’s hanging” — have come up even as the police combed the area in search of Sardar’s murderers. Mahato is a former president of the local CPM unit and Nayek is the local CPM peasants’ wing secretary.

The CPM, however, has resolved to tackle headlong the renewed terror tactics of its political opponents. A condolence meeting has been lined up for December 12 at Banspahari, the place where Sardar was murdered last week, party leaders said.

   

 
 
WRITERS’ CELL TO PROBE SEX-ABUSE COMPLAINTS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
The state home department today set up a special committee under deputy secretary Jharna Ganguly to probe complaints of sexual harassment in office by its women employees.

This committee in the home department at Writers’ Buildings is the first of its kind in the state following the recent ruling of the Supreme Court that special committees be appointed to prevent sexual harassment of women employees in Central and state government offices.

New home secretary Amit Kiran Deb reportedly took the initiative to set up the committee after a written complaint from a woman employee of the department.

The employee, Anita Sen, who got a peon’s job at Writers’ Buildings on compassionate grounds after her husband died while working as a state employee, alleged that section officer Harekrishna Das had made indecent proposals and allegedly even molested her in a restaurant.

In her complaint, she said: “Das has made my life miserable in office. He seeks sexual favours from me in exchange for better placement in the office and has threatened to put me in trouble if I do not satisfy him.”

Anita’s family lives in a remote village in Midnapore. She stays in the city as a paying guest with a family friend. She alleged that her superior officer was trying to take advantage of her situation as a helpless widow living alone in the city.

Anita’s complaint has created a stir in Writers’ Buildings. While most employees have welcomed the home secretary’s prompt action in setting up an inquiry committee headed by a woman officer, some feel that charges of sexual harassment could have been brought to humiliate and malign an “honest and upright officer” of the department.

Das’ superiors were surprised as he was known as an efficient officer and a strict disciplinarian.

Homeguards run over

Two homeguards were killed and two seriously injured when an oil tanker rammed into the trekker they were travelling on National Highway 2 this morning. The injured were admitted to Raghunathgunj hospital. Later one had to be shifted to Berhampore hospital as his condition deteriorated.

A senior police official said the homeguards were returning to Raghunathgunj hospital after duty on the national highway. The deceased were identified as Baidyanath Mondal, 42, and Kudratullah Seikh, 45.

The oil tanker was seized but the driver managed to escape.

   

 
 
COMMON SHELTER FOR ATAL, BUDDHA 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Operation Shelter, a two-day national conference on housing in the city, will bring Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee together on a dais for the first time.

The meet, being organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, will be held on December 14 and 15, with the final plenary scheduled at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.

“West Bengal has taken a lead in promoting public-private partnership in housing and we deemed it fit to host this event in Calcutta, hoping it will encourage more government-private sector initiatives,” CII eastern region chairman Harshavardhan Neotia said.

CII officials said the seminar will focus on satisfying the basic needs of man, housing as an economic growth engine and how it can have a multiplier effect “generating employment for so many unskilled people”.

   

 
 
MCKINSEY MOVE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
A campaign to draw investors to Bengal in information technology and agro-industries will be launched from February as part of an exercise McKinsey is conducting for the state government.

The managing director of the consultancy firm, Ranjit Pandit, met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and finance minister Asim Dasgupta today to discuss work connected with the strategy McKinsey is drawing up to attract investments in these two sectors. McKinsey will also identify potential investors. The campaign it launches will target domestic as well as international investors.

Dasgupta said after the meeting: “They agreed that in this state we can implement projects at half the cost incurred in other states.”

McKinsey chief executive Rajat Gupta, who will meet the chief minister shortly, is scheduled to organise a meeting between potential investors and state government representatives.

Bhattacharjee said: “West Bengal has a very good chance of becoming an outsourcing point for IT products.”

The finance minister agreed with Pandit that the state had failed in image building. “They said that unlike some other states West Bengal should adopt the latest art of selling which is to begin by underselling,” Dasgupta said.

Heroine seized

The police have seized heroine weighing over 3.75 kg from two places under the Bhagobantala and Ranitala police station areas in Murshidabad district over the past two days. Two persons have been arrested. They have confessed to smuggling heroine and other drugs from Uttar Pradesh.    

 
 
CABINET CLEARS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE BILL, MINUS TEETH 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 4: 
The long pending Bill against domestic violence was finally cleared by the Cabinet today but advocates of the legislation fear the Centre has dropped key provisions.

“If the Bill does not contain the core provisions suggested by us, its introduction is meaningless,” said a women’s activist.

There is apprehension that the government is aiming more at sending the battered woman back to her husband rather than ensuring justice for her.

Originally, the Bill was to include both physical and mental torture as well as the right of a woman to live in a shared household if she is abused and thrown out by her partner. But the government had suggested dropping the right to residence provision, considered crucial by those pushing the Bill.

Many are also furious at the definition of domestic violence proposed by the government. Instead of widening it, the Centre has suggested limiting it to “habitual” violence.

“What does this mean? If a man breaks the skull of his partner once, it is fine. But he should not do it repeatedly!” fumed an activist.

The Bill, as originally suggested by the Lawyers’ collective, aimed at giving the abused woman the “choice” to decide where she wanted to stay if she was thrown out.

If she wanted to return to her partner’s household, the Bill would ensure her full protection. But if she wanted to live independently, the partner would have to provide her financial support.

Another likely change that has made activists apprehensive is the decision to drop the provision for an interim order that would have made immediate relief possible. This will rob the Bill of much of its bite.

“If it takes 10 to 15 days for the woman to get a court order, what is the point? She could be dead by then,” said a lawyer.

The graph of domestic violence has been rising without respite not only in India but the world over.

Women’s groups have tried to link it to economic policies —- liberalisation —- but have not been able to substantiate the hypothesis. But what has been established is that domestic violence is spinning out of control.

When the Centre first proposed the Bill, NGOs, women’s activists and the Lawyer’s Collective —- which submitted an independent draft of the Bill to the law ministry —- wanted it passed as soon as possible. But the draft the government resolved to pass a fortnight ago was not even a shadow of the original.

“If the government introduces the Bill in the form we think it may, then we are going to rip it apart,” said an activist.

   

 
 
ATAL’S ALLIES PLAY ROLE OF OPPOSITION 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 4: 
The government is being censured by the government.

The Samata Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Janashakti Party today gave notice for an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha to discuss the government’s “double standards” in procuring paddy from Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa. The three NDA allies have six ministers at the Centre.

As if this was not enough, 10 MPs from these parties, in a memorandum to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, demanded the removal of Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi for alleged corruption.

Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi is likely to take a decision next week on the adjournment motion, which amounts to censuring the government.

Balayogi was forced to adjourn the House for over an hour after members of the three parties – now engaged in merger talks to take on the National Democratic Alliance government from a position of strength – sparked an uproar in the House.

As treasury bench members squirmed in embarrassment, the Congress, the Left, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party supported the allies with glee. “It has never happened in parliamentary history,” said CPM MP Hannan Mollah. “They are censuring their own government.”

The anti-government motion comes in the wake of a fresh reunification move by the three parties. United, they have 22 MPs in the Lok Sabha. A three-member committee set up by them held talks with Union ministers Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav both yesterday and today to chalk out modalities of the merger.

Dal (U) deputy leader in the House Devendra Prasad Yadav, backed by Samata members Prabhunath Singh and Raghunath Jha, described as “explosive” the situation in Bihar, where not a grain of paddy had been procured. Similar conditions prevailed in Bengal and Orissa, he said.

Talking to reporters later, Yadav said the Food Corporation of India (FCI) had opened 300 procurement centres all over the country to pick up the kharif crop, but in Bihar, Bengal and Orissa, not a single centre had been opened.

Yadav said this has resulted in extreme hardship for farmers, who were resorting to distress sale of paddy at prices ranging between Rs 200 and Rs 300 per quintal when the minimum support price was Rs 520 per quintal. The Dal (U) leader said while over 94 lakh tonnes of paddy had been procured by FCI in Punjab alone, the Centre was adopting “double standards” when it came to states like Bihar.

Even coarse grain like bajra had not been procured in Opposition-ruled states like Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, he said, adding the total paddy procured in different parts of the country till November 30 was 31.50 lakh tonnes.

The memorandum to Vajpayee demanding the removal of the Jharkhand chief minister came as another embarrassment for the government. Both the Dal (U) and the Samata are coalition partners of the NDA government in Ranchi.

Referring to reports of corruption charges against Marandi, the MPs urged the Prime Minister to despatch a central team to “assess” the anti-Marandi mood in the state. The move against the chief minister was initiated by Lallan Singh, Samata Rajya Sabha MP and a protege of Nitish Kumar.

   

 
 
GEORGE MOTION IN LAST WEEK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 4: 
After a week-long stand-off between the Congress and the government, the Lok Sabha will take up for discussion a censure motion on the reinduction of George Fernandes as defence minister.

The motion under Rule 184, which entails voting, on which the Congress has demanded the Prime Minister’s reply, is likely to be taken up in the House during the last week of the on-going winter session, government sources said.

The sources said Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be out of India till December 12 and after he returns, the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance will be taken up for discussion. As the terror Ordinance was of prime importance to the government, the Fernandes issue, they said, will have to wait till the last week of the session.

The week-long wrangling between the government and the Congress over the “wording” of the motion and the rule under which it could be allowed was resolved following a climbdown by the main Opposition party. The Congress agreed to delete Fernandes’ name and also not to question the Prime Minister’s prerogative in appointing his ministers.

Congress sources said though Fernandes’ name may not be in the resolution — which “expresses anguish over recent developments that adversely affect the functioning of the Venkataswami Commission” — there was no bar in taking the defence minister’s name during the discussion in the House.

The government, which had earlier opposed Rule 184 saying it would set a precedent, also relented and reached a “broad understanding” with the Congress. The wording of the motion will be finalised by the office of the Speaker.

Sources said the motion may not question the conduct of the Venkataswami Commission. The government had been insisting that while the Tehelka exposé can be discussed, the conduct of a judicial commission cannot be discussed. There is, however, a precedent: the Rajya Sabha had discussed the slow progress of the inquiry commission probing the Bofors deal.

The understanding was reached at a meeting between Congress leaders Shivraj Patil and S. Jaipal Reddy and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan. The meeting was convened by Speaker G.M.C Balayogi.

“Our emphasis remains undiluted and unchanged and we will focus on the brazen re-induction of Fernandes during the discussion,” Reddy told reporters in reply to questions as to how the Congress could censure the minister without the motion mentioning his name.

   

 
 
VARANASI WAITS FOR HARRISON ASHES 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Varanasi, Dec. 4: 
The dhols were oiled and the Krishna bhakts had prepared themselves for the dance of immortality.

At the Iskcon centre in Allahabad, a select group of 15 Hare Krishna followers had even rehearsed the mahamantra that is reserved for a privileged few.

But there was no sign of Olivia or Dhani or the urn carrying the ashes of George Harrison that was supposed to have arrived here today.

“All things must pass,” Harrison had sung in one of the few songs he had written. But even in death, the “spiritual Beatle” continued to elude the limelight as hordes of fans waited in vain alongside Indian and foreign journalists for the urn that his widow, Olivia, and son, Dhani, were supposed to bring to Varanasi and Allahabad for immersion.

No aircraft landed at the Babatpur airport at 3 am. Nor was there any sign of a chartered aircraft throughout the day. The air traffic control at Varanasi had no information about something the media seemed to know about. It was the same story with the administration.

After a sleepless night on the chilly ghats of the Ganga at Varanasi, a woman, who called from London, dropped the bombshell in the afternoon. Harrison’s wife and son were in Los Angeles, the woman, who called herself Varsharani Devdasi, said and added that there was no information about their impending trip to Varanasi and Allahabad.

Devdasi, who said she was close to the Harrison family, maintained that “as of now, there are no plans of Harrison’s family visiting Varanasi”.

There were reports earlier that as per Harrison’s wish, his family would bring his ashes to be immersed at the Ganga in Varanasi and Yamuna in Allahabad.

Shocked at getting his “information” wrong, Sanjay, an Iskcon follower in Varanasi, apologised for the misinformation he had unwittingly fed to the Harrison-hungry media. His explanation was more shocking.

“There was a man in Delhi, claiming to know Harrison’s family and their plans to visit Varanasi, who called us up saying the ashes would arrive here by 3 am today,” Sanjay said. “It now transpires that the man was a fake and so was the news. We are extremely sorry for the mix-up.”

Shashank Shekhar Singh, principal secretary (civil aviation), added his bit to the confusion, saying he had no information about any aircraft taking permission to land at Varanasi airport.

“The airport opens at 8 am and closes at 9.30 pm,” Singh said, adding that any plane attempting to land before or after the stipulated time has to ask for a special permission in writing.

But Iskcon officials are sticking to their guns that Harrison’s ashes “will arrive” and that all preparations have been made.

Reacting angrily to reports that Olivia and Dhani had cancelled their visit to Varanasi, Patri Das, a senior Hare Krishna follower at Allahabad, said: “How can they cancel their trip without us knowing about it. There is mischief somewhere.”

Mahabadanya, assistant manager at the Iskcon centre in Allahabad, too, was full of optimism. He said he had received a phone call around 2 pm saying the Harrisons’ visit was on. “Of course, they will be coming,” Mahabadanya said. “The only thing is we are not sure of the date and time of their arrival.”

Apart from his famous concert for Bangladesh in the early seventies, the shy and almost reclusive Beatle had continued to give his fans and the media the slip until his last days. But many who had grown up on Beatle-mania, had hoped to be around when Harrison made his last trip, even if the Beatle had excused himself from saying goodbye.

   

 
 
NEW SALMAN ON SCREEN 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 4: 
He may or may not have a role to play in Uttar Pradesh Congress in the coming elections, but Salman Khurshid has landed one in Bollywood.

Khurshid makes his screen debut in Soch, a murder-mystery. Sanjay Kapoor plays a film actor in it and Raveena Tandon a film director, while Khurshid plays himself. He appears at an awards function and delivers an “inspiring” speech in praise of films, actors and women who dare to be directors, like Raveena in the film.

“When I was in Gorakhpur, I had joked with Wijahat Kareem, the producer of the movie and my friend, that I wish I had a role in your film,” Khurshid said. “Then I got a phone call from him saying ‘you’ve got your role. You play yourself’.”

Khurshid, appointed chief of the Congress state committee last year, was replaced by Sriprakash Jaiswal this year.

But he left the film crew much impressed during the shoot in Mumbai. “He acted so well. His speech is quite long. But he didn’t take more than two takes. He was like a pro,” gushed Dale Bhagwagar, the publicist of Soch.

Sushen Bhatnagar is directing the movie, which also stars Arbaaz Khan and Aditi Gowatrikar.

   
 

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