Citu in station eviction truce
Partners turn heat on Big Brother
Orissa oil fuels city black market
Buddha sings to children’s tune
Govt doctor in line of fire
Generous Jaya gives rollback gift
Get, set and defect from Jharkhand
Opposition in Ayodhya strike mode
BJP refloats joint session balloon
Saffron rethink on Jaya, BSP

 
 
CITU IN STATION EVICTION TRUCE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Warding off a confrontation with the state government on the issue of eviction of hawkers from the Sealdah station premises, the Citu today agreed to “peacefully” vacate the stalls following an assurance from the state urban development department that it would “consider” its plea for rehabilitation.

“The ministers concerned, Ashok Bhattacharya and Subhas Chakraborty, have promised to look into our plea for rehabilitation sympathetically,” Citu secretary Mrinal Das said today after a meeting at Writers’ Buildings. “Following this, we have decided that from tomorrow we will dismantle the stalls on our own.”

Earlier, the state government had said that it would go ahead with its demolition drive at Sealdah by December 8, “come what may”, and that the evicted hawkers would not be rahabilitated.

Bhattacharya held a marathon meeting with Chakraborty and Citu leaders in his chambers at Writers’ Buildings during the day where he made it clear that the government would stick to its decision to keep the station area totally free from encroachment.

“We are spending lakhs of rupees for overall development of the area for the benefit of lakhs of people. We are committed to giving it the shape of a model station by setting up parks by its side. We cannot sacrifice the comfort of so many people for the sake of a few hawkers. There is no question of backtracking from the programme under any pressure,” Bhattacharya said.

Chakraborty was not, however, available for comment as he left for Delhi a little after the meeting.

CMDA officials and senior policemen had initiated a move to clear encroachment last week but had to withdraw following strong protests from some Citu leaders. The matter was discussed threadbare in last week’s Cabinet meeting where chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had directed the urban development minister to resume the eviction drive after consulting transport minister.

Realising that the government’s determination to go ahead with the eviction drive, the Citu today softened its stand and said it would cooperate.

At the meeting, Chakraborty, who is the leader of the railway hawkers’ union, urged Bhattcharya to consider if the evicted hawkers could be rehabilitated at any place owned by the CMDA and Citu.

Other Citu leaders, who were also present in the meeting, demanded rehabilitation before demolition of their structures.

   

 
 
PARTNERS TURN HEAT ON BIG BROTHER 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Dec. 5: 
Major Left Front partners such as the Forward Bloc, RSP and the CPI have been on the warpath in the districts against the CPM over the past fortnight for the latter’s “big-brotherly” attitude and its ignoring the “concept of collective responsibility” in running the zilla parishads.

The Front constituents, which organised conferences in different districts, have expressed dismay over “the steady erosion in the Left Front’s unity at the grassroots level” and held the CPM leadership responsible for lack of coordination among the panchayat functionaries.

Forward Bloc has been the most vocal of the three major Front partners against the Marxists’ “calculated attempts” to establish their political control over Left Front-dominated gram panchayats, panchayat samitis as well as zilla parishads.

State Forward Bloc secretary Ashok Ghosh and Cabinet ministers such as Kamal Guha and Chhaya Ghosh have taken the CPM to task for the party’s “intolerant attitude” towards other Front partners. They have even held the CPM responsible for the Kamtapur People’s Party’s growth in north Bengal.

The RSP has already confronted the Big Brother with a 32-point programme and demanded its implementation before the 2003 panchayat polls. The programme has called for, among other things, the setting up of Left Front committees at the panchayat level. The CPI, too, has been unhappy over the manner in which the CPM has been handling zilla parishad affairs in different districts, “ignoring the junior partners”.

The CPM concedes that there is scope for improvement in relations between the Front and its partners at the district level.

“We know there are problems and intend to resolve them through discussions,” a state CPM secretariat member said.

   

 
 
ORISSA OIL FUELS CITY BLACK MARKET 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Twice a day, every day, a middle-aged woman, Laxmi, sits at a corner just outside the Park Circus market with two five-litre jerrycans. She sells kerosene to anyone willing to pay her Rs 14 for a litre.

Like her, almost every market in the city and district towns have their own neighbourhood kerosene “dealer”, all selling at a rate that is a few rupees less than the kerosene officially available at licensed shops.

Consumers, including factory owners and others who require the oil for commercial purposes, are getting kerosene from these suppliers.

Buyers have a choice of three colours and prices: the blue kerosene through the PDS priced at a subsidised Rs 7.40 a litre, the imported white superior kerosene through the parallel market, costing Rs 15.50 after taxes, and the chemically-treated off-white oil that comes for Rs 13-14 a litre.

“This racket has increased ever since the super-cyclone in Orissa in 1999,” points out P.S. Basu, assistant general manager, Biecco Lawrie.

“The Centre had announced for the calamity-hit state an increased allotment of kerosene through the PDS. Instead, the kerosene found, and is still finding, its way to Bengal,” he said.

The oil is coming in from Bihar and Jharkhand as well. Market information says that up to 15 tankers, with 12 kilolitres each, come to Bengal every day.

   

 
 
BUDDHA SINGS TO CHILDREN’S TUNE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Seasoned reporters might have hesitated to put those questions to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, but not the seven school children who met the chief minister at his Writers’ Buildings chambers today.

Never had they set foot inside the secretariat, nor had they met the chief minister, but in awe they certainly were not.

Antara Guha, a Class VIII student of Bethune School, opened her dialogue with the chief minister on a soft note. “What is your most favourite dish for lunch?”

Bhattacharjee: It’s fried brinjal.

Who is your favourite poet?

Rabindranath Tagore.

Then began the hard talk. Antara asked the chief minister if he was aware of the plight of schoolchildren travelling in crowded public transport in the city. She wondered if it was not prudent to put into operation some government buses for them during school hours.

The chief minister said neither yes nor no. Like a true politician, he assured the child that he would look into the matter.

Soumi Chaki, also from Bethune School, wanted to know if the chief minister had to carry heavy school bags when he was a student. No, said Bhattacharjee.

Soumi promptly requested him to advise his education minister to trim the current school syllabi to reduce the burden on them.

Taking a cue from the chief minister’s frank admission that he still enjoyed reading books for children, Arjun Chakraborty of Calcutta Boys High School, said: “If so, then why did you never write a single story for children?”

Again, Bhattacharjee had no answer to offer.

The chief minister told Tuition Mukherjee of G.D. Birla High School that his favourite Rabindrasangeet singer was Subinoy Roy and he listened mostly to Tagore’s songs in his leisure.

The answer perhaps prompted two children to ask the chief minister to sing. An amused chief minister immediately obliged with: “We shall overcome some day…’’

The chief minister’s meet-the-children session was organised by Doordarshan and Akashvani in association with Unicef.

   

 
 
GOVT DOCTOR IN LINE OF FIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Suri (Birbhum), Dec. 5: 
The superintendent of Suri District Hospital has become the first government hospital super to get slapped with disciplinary action, after the health-sector reforms initiated by the Left Front government, when he and 18 other doctors were asked to show cause for dereliction of duty and reporting late for work.

The decision, effected by the district administration, follows two on-the-spot inspections on November 27 and December 3 by district chief medical officer of health Bijan Mandal. Besides hospital super B.B. Saha and 18 physicians, 20 hospital staff, four medical officers of a separate health project and three group-D staff have been asked to reply within seven days.

   

 
 
GENEROUS JAYA GIVES ROLLBACK GIFT 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Dec. 5: 
Within striking distance of her coronation, Jayalalithaa the reformer has turned Jayalalithaa the politician.

A day after she was let off in three graft cases, the ADMK chief handed a gift to the people, putting off the steep hike in prices of PDS rice, lowering bus fares and electricity tariff and promising a cheap brand of Indian made foreign liquor to replace hooch.

The populist concessions will cost the Tamil Nadu exchequer nearly Rs 1,162 crore, a 30 per cent drop in the projected Rs 4,000-crore additional revenue from the recent tariff hikes and austerity measures.

But the mother of all reforms, who appears to be waiting to win the Andipatti bypoll before staking claim to the crown, today gave pride of place to the people. In one stroke, she snuffed out resentment over the reform package and bought goodwill in the run-up to the February elections.

Finance minister C. Ponnaiyan, however, insisted that the move was not a “partial rollback” but “benevolent concessions given by amma to the people at large”.

Announcing amma’s bounty, chief minister O. Panneerselvam said the PDS revamp was being put off till May 1, 2002, by which time a survey would freshly demarcate above and below-poverty-line families. Till then, ration rice would continue to be sold at Rs 3.50 a kg to all people.

The state would consider reducing the rate of Rs 9 per kg of rice for APL categories based on feedback got in the past week, he said. The fallout of the cutback is that the state will lose about Rs 600 crore in revenue.

Bus fares were also reduced, ranging from a minimum of 50 paise per km to a maximum of Rs 3 in towns and metros, apart from mofussils. Long distance fares were partly cut. This will cost the state Rs 337 crore.

The recent hike in electricity tariff was reduced from 15 paise to 50 paise per unit for domestic households. Farmers would continue to get power free, the chief minister said. This will cost the state Rs 225 crore.

The government will introduce Indian-made foreign liquor at the lower product-end, priced at Rs 15 for 100 ml, to avoid recurrence of hooch deaths. But there will be no compromise in quality, Panneerselvam said.

Appeal brews

S. Ramaswamy, the former special public prosecutor, who got the ADMK chief and four others convicted in the Pleasant Stay hotel case today decided to challenge Jayalalithaa’s acquittal by Madras High Court, reports PTI.    

 
 
GET, SET AND DEFECT FROM JHARKHAND 
 
 
FROM SALMAN RAVI
 
Ranchi, Dec. 5: 
The stage was set for the 100-metre sprint on the tracks of a Ludhiana stadium, the venue of the recent National Games. The final list was ready. The athletes had lined up, waiting for their names to be called. A jam-packed stadium looked forward to cheer the fastest woman on the tracks.

Jharkhand, on its debut, was being represented by sprint queen Harvant Kaur. The sportswoman was seen warming up in a far corner, taking last-minute tips from her coach.

As the names were announced, officials of the Jharkhand Olympic Association (JOA) received the shock of their life. Harvant’s name was called all right, but the Jharkhand sprinter was representing Punjab!

The “ignore-sport” policy of Babulal Marandi’s government seems to have boomeranged. But the “lesson” came when the authorities were least expecting it. Uncertain of their prospects, at least four star sportspersons of Jharkhand defected to other states.

Athletes switching sides is nothing new. What is novel is that this happened right in the middle of a national championship, despite these sportpersons landing in Ludhiana as bona fide members of the Jharkhand contingent.

“These athletes had been nurtured in Jharkhand. Even the numbers allotted by Jharkhand were not changed. But they changed sides,” said a distraught JOA working president B.C. Thakur.

The JOA has already lodged a strong protest against the defections with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). “Such change of sides at the eleventh hour was unethical and unprofessional,” says the complaint. The state olympic body has requested the IOA to take disciplinary action against the defectors.

Soon after their crossover, the athletes sparkled on the tracks. While Harvant bagged two golds, Aman Saini, who defected to Himachal Pradesh, got a gold and a silver, while E.J. Pramesh, who switched to Kerala, won a silver. Leading Jharkhand weightlifter Bela Ram defected to Delhi.

Since Aman and Pramesh are employees of Tata Steel, the JOA has requested the corporate giant to start disciplinary action against them. “These athletes were lured with a government job and money by Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Kerala,” said JOA general secretary Syed Matloob Hashmi.

But some sportspersons, back from the games, were happy with the switchovers. “This is a good lesson for a state which gives a hoot to its sporting talent. This is the only state where former Olympians earn a living as roadside vendors. What these athletes did was not wrong. They were offered better opportunity by other states who recognised their talent,” said a sportswoman.

But the JOA officials are content with the Jharkhand contingent coming 14th despite defections on its debut appearance. The contingent bagged nine golds, one silver and a bronze, besides winning the overall team championship in archery.

The JOA has now blamed the games’ organisers, alleging step-motherly treatment. “While our athletes were lured by other states, Tamil Nadu objected to basketball player Nishant representing Jharkhand. Nishant works for the ONGC and has been playing for us. The organisers accepted Tamil Nadu’s objections and barred Nishant from playing for Jharkhand. This led to the team getting out in the semi-finals,” Thakur said.

   

 
 
OPPOSITION IN AYODHYA STRIKE MODE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec 5: 
On the eve of the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, the Opposition set the stage for a renewed confrontation with the Vajpayee government by threatening to move an adjournment motion on Ayodhya.

Every year since December 6, 1992, when karsevaks with the BJP’s support pulled down Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, other parties have made it a point to zero in on the BJP this day. The attack is likely to be sharper than ever tomorrow given the fact that the BJP is now ruling at the Centre and there have been scores of incidents of attacks on minorities by Sangh Parivar outfits.

At a breakfast meeting attended by representatives of all Opposition parties at CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee’s residence, the BJP’s rivals resolved to make the going as tough as possible for the Centre on the anti-terror Ordinance and Ayodhya.

“There is complete unanimity among us on these issues — there will also be other contentious subjects, like the re-induction of George Fernandes, economic policies, plight of the farmers,” Chatterjee said after the meeting.

Last week he had invited Opposition parties to dinner at his residence — the first time since 1998 that Sonia and Mulayam appeared reconciled to a truce, however fragile. “We will continue to meet regularly regardless of the venue and the host,” said Chatterjee.

   

 
 
BJP REFLOATS JOINT SESSION BALLOON 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 5: 
After its repeated attempts to browbeat the Opposition into supporting the anti-terror law failed with yesterday’s all-party meeting, the government is again contemplating a joint session of Parliament on December 20 and 21 to push through the legislation.

Despite reservations about such an “unpopular” step within the BJP and the NDA, there is serious thinking on resorting to the short cut of a joint sitting. The anti-terror Ordinance will otherwise get defeated in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is in a hopeless minority.

Though Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee remained non-committal, the parliamentary affairs ministry is preparing to go into the joint session.

Sources said the BJP has already issued an oral whip to members to be present in the House on December 20 and 21. Floor leaders of allies have also been asked to ensure the presence of their members.

In a joint session, the NDA tally is 407 as against the Opposition’s 375. With the ADMK and the Nationalist Congress Party planning to back the anti-terror law, the NDA’s numbers will swell to 433. Government sources said a final decision about the joint session will be taken on December 19 by Vajpayee at a meeting of senior ministers at his official 7 Race Course Road residence.

Asked if the government was serious about a joint session, which is called only in extreme cases, a senior Cabinet minister said: “If not, why should we ask members to be present on those days?”

The anti-terror law will be discussed in the Lok Sabha from December 11 to12 after Vajpayee’s return from the Japan tour beginning December 7. The voting is tentatively scheduled on December 13. After the Lok Sabha passes the Bill, it will be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on December 18 where it is expected to be defeated.

Before the Bill is passed by the Lower House, certain amendments sought by the allies will be incorporated.The Prime Minister today said the Cabinet will discuss the amendments tomorrow. Talking to reporters at an iftar hosted by Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, Vajpayee, however, did not elaborate.

He also declined to comment when asked whether the government was considering convening a joint session.

Amid speculation that a desperate BJP wants to use “nationalist” issues like the ban on Simi and the anti-terror law for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the party today made it clear that it favoured a joint sitting of Parliament to enact the legislation.

“We hope the Bill will get approval of both Houses of Parliament. But if it is defeated in Rajya Sabha, the party is of the opinion that there should be a joint session of Parliament,” spokesperson V.K. Malhotra said. However, it was for the government to take the decision, he added.

He regretted that the Congress, which was earlier in favour of amendments, had decided to oppose the legislation. “This is against national interests, especially when a law is needed to tackle the menace of terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US,” he added.

   

 
 
SAFFRON RETHINK ON JAYA, BSP 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Dec. 5: 
With Jayalalithaa affirming her party’s support to the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) still equivocal on its stand, a debate has started within the BJP on the viability of reviving an alliance with the two parties.

BJP sources said a rethink on the ADMK and BSP was triggered by a projection of the post-poll scenario in Uttar Pradesh and its effect on the government.

Contrary to the perception within the BJP a few months ago that the NDA government would remain unaffected even if Uttar Pradesh went out of its hands, there is diffidence now.

“The signals from the NDA are mixed. On the one hand, the Janata parivar parties are all set to reunite obviously to increase their bargaining power. On the other, we have constituents like the Telugu Desam Party and the DMK which raise the secularism bogey from time to time. It could come in handy if they feel the central government is not stable in the event of a defeat in UP to pull out support,” sources said.

   
 

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