Focus on cross-border flesh trade
Riding out of jail on road to self-reliance
Attack option on PM desk: Joshi
School clerks go without pay
Chittaranjan chucks plastic
BJP revives House shutdown option
Outraged Jana fires strikeback salvo at Pak
Antony sidesteps gilded trap
Security shield for Andhra Assembly
BJP rules out alliance with ADMK

Panitanki (Indo-Nepal border), Dec. 16: 
Trucks laden with goods and buses packed with passengers rumble continuously across the bustling but nondescript border checkpoint, Panitanki-Kakarvitta, 25 km west of Siliguri. Recently, Maoists and even arms have passed through, but raising more concern is the fact that the border post is emerging as a major transit point for trafficking of women and girls, sometimes as young as seven years old.

Worried over the alarming rise in flesh trade in this region, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, NGOs from Nepal and India, the directorate of field publicity and the ministry of information and broadcasting recently organised an awareness camp at the check post.

Calling upon the authorities on both sides of the border to wake up to the magnitude of the “problem”, the NGOs have asked the two governments to frame stringent laws and amend the existing prevention of immoral trafficking of women Act. So far, most traffickers have escaped with light punishments on either side of the border.

Deepa Luitel, assistant coordinator of the Kathmandu-based Maity Nepal, said the organisation “on an average rescues 20-odd girls and young women from the clutches of traffickers at the Kakarvitta-Panitanki corridor alone”. The organisation, noted for its role in rescue and rehabilitation of women and children lured away by traffickers, also maintains several check posts on the border to thwart the flesh traders.

“Trafficking has taken a global proportion and is the third-highest grosser after arms and drugs, annually grossing over a staggering seven billion US dollars,” said S.K. Guha, the UN body’s senior national programme officer-in-charge for South Asia. “With little awareness among the public, the problem has spread its tentacles like cancer and, in fact, is the ugly face of globalisation.”

Guha says studies have revealed that women and children from poverty-stricken families in remote Nepal villages are lured by promises of fake marriage and good jobs.

“A draft Saarc convention to combat trafficking in women and children is awaiting the body’s approval at its forthcoming session in Mauritius, which would go a long way to curb trafficking,” Guha said. “But political will and an urgent amendment of the existing prevention of immoral trafficking act is the need of the hour.”

According to a recent survey by the Calcutta-based Bhoruka Public Welfare Trust, there are over two lakh Nepalese girls involved in flesh trade in India, with 40,000 of them in Mumbai brothels alone.

“The exodus of Nepalese girls is a continuing process and each year at least 7,500 new girls are illegally trafficked from different border points like Kakarvitta, Jogbani, Prithvi Nagar, Pashupati Nagar, Bantabari, Sunali, Nepalgaunj and Birgaunj. Once inside India, the girls are moved to major metros, including Calcutta, Delhi and Mumbai,” says Rakesh Agarwal, acting director of the trust.


Behrampore, Dec. 16: 
After spending 13 years in jail, everybody expected Manayog Dutta to hop on to the first train and head home to Rabindra Nagar village in Jalpaiguri. Instead, the prisoner, who served out his term in November, rented a house near the Lalgola open-air jail and settled down. He wanted to complete his training as a driver that he had begun while in captivity. He now had dreams of making a new beginning by starting a transport service with government loan.

The Lalgola jail authorities can take a bow — Dutta is not the only one dreaming. There are several others who have discovered the self-employment option after coming to the unique jail. Seven convicts come to Behrampore every morning to learn driving at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Institute. Two others are training to be electricians.

Bulbul Mitra, a science graduate from Chandernagar in Hooghly, was convicted 13 years ago for murder. Mitra hopes to be released in March next year. “But I don’t want to go back to Chandernagar after my release. It will be difficult for me to face the public humiliation on my return. I want to stand on my own feet after completing the driver’s training,” he said.

The convicts commute from the jail to the institute without any guards hustling them. Having almost served out their terms, the jail authorities believe they will not escape. They join Dutta on the Lalgola-Sealdah passenger train at 8.30 am and return in the evening. While Dutta heads home, the others return to the open-air jail. But they share one dream — starting their own transport service and leading a respectable life again.

Ramkrishna Roy, a former employee of the Murshidabad Central Cooperative Bank and resident of Behrampore, has served more than 14 years of his term. Like Mitra, Roy expects to be freed early next year and hopes to get a driving licence shortly. “The Murshidabad district magistrate and Father of the Don Bosco institute have promised us all help in starting a transport service. We have applied for route permits to run Trekkers between Behrampore and Lalgola and between Lalgola and Raghunathganj,” Roy said. The prisoners, who are yet to complete their terms, intend to operate from the jail itself.

District magistrate Manoj Panth confirmed that he had received their applications asking for route permits. “We are looking into the matter. It will be our endeavour to make the lifers self-reliant with government help and bank loan.”


Calcutta, Dec. 16: 
The National Security Council, headed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is weighing the pros and cons of a possible offensive to crush terrorist camps in Pakistan, Union human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi said.

“I admit that we are under tremendous public pressure to act against the sponsors of terrorism. The December 13 attack on Parliament has shaken the foundations of Indian democracy. The issue will come up for discussion in the Cabinet after the National Security Council takes a decision,” the minister said, adding that the menace of terrorism should be crushed once and for all.

Taking off from where Vajpayee left off in Santiniketan and the CII meet in Calcutta, Joshi said that “perpetrators of terrorism’’ are being “trained, funded and aided by a neighbouring country. We have evidence to suggest that suicide squads or the fidayeen are being trained in camps on the other side of the border”.

Echoing the Prime Minister, Joshi said the fight against terrorism has reached the last stage. “The terrorists and their sponsors have tested our patience to the limit. We will give them a fitting reply,” he said.

Joshi’s statements betrayed a feeling of disappointment at the lukewarm response of the West to the attack on the seat of Indian democracy. “Our Prime Minister has made it amply clear that India can solve its own problems but, at the same time, expects global support,’’ Joshi said.

Backing the anti-terror Ordinance, Joshi said it is “extremely important” to have such an anti-terrorist law. “Countries like Israel, US, France have adopted stringent and decisive laws like Poto to crush terrorism. India faces the largest threat from terrorists and we need Poto to combat the menace,’’ he said.


Calcutta, Dec. 16: 
More than 3,000 clerks and group-D staff appointed after December 2000 in 2,650 schools are not getting salary because of the finance department’s embargo on the appointment of group-C and group-D staff in schools.

They have been working without pay for a year in the hope that some day the state government will regularise their cases, besides paying off their arrears.

State primary and secondary education minister Kanti Biswas, however, said all government-appointed clerks and group-D staff were receiving salary. “Salary is being denied only to those who were appointed by individual managing committees of schools ignoring the government-imposed embargo on fresh appointments,” he clarified.

The state finance department had imposed an embargo on recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff in government and government-aided schools because of a cash crunch.


Chittaranjan Dec. 16: 
Recycled plastic carrybags are a thing of the past in the railway township of Chittaranjan. Thanks to the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works’ strict implementation of the ban on the bags and people’s cooperation, CLW may obtain the ISO 14001 certification for protection of environment for the first time in eastern India.

“We made it possible through awareness campaigns and our employees’ strict vigil. We got active support from the employees, residents, housewives and school children,” said Asim Majumdar, chief personnel officer of CLW. People using plastic bags would be penalised from January 1.


New Delhi, Dec. 16: 
The government might consider adjourning Parliament sine die, if the Opposition continues to stall proceedings in the House on the remaining four days of the winter session.

“If the Opposition does not allow us to continue with the proceedings, then we will have no option other than close the House sine die,” said a senior BJP leader.

The Opposition wants the government to issue a statement on the December 13 attack when Parliament meets on Tuesday. The home minister is expected to comply. However, the statement is not likely to satisfy the Opposition, which has been baying for the government’s blood on the attack.

Moreover, that is not the only issue bothering the Opposition. It had been stalling Parliament on a series of issues before the suicide attack on Thursday. The entire Opposition had united over the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and the CAG report on coffin purchases to demand the resignation of defence minister George Fernandes.

On the morning Parliament was attacked, the Opposition had brought business to a standstill for the third consecutive day and forced an early adjournment of both Houses. With the government and the Opposition at loggerheads, the terrorism ordinance continues to hang fire. Even if the government manages to push through the terror bill in the Lok Sabha, it would get stuck in Rajya Sabha where the ruling coalition does not enjoy a majority.

If Parliament is indeed adjourned sine die, it would spare the government from suffering Opposition ire on several unpleasant issues.

Simultaneously, the Opposition is not likely to give up an opportunity to go to town over how the government wound up the session before time because it did not want to face flak. Opposition leaders have already suggested that the government had “nasty” plans, suggesting the declaration of a sine die closure.

Parliament conducted virtually no business throughout the winter session with the Opposition wrestling the government on the mat on practically any issue it could lay hands on. The Opposition stalled proceedings in the House on coffin purchases a day after Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi laid down a code of conduct for legislators in consultation with all political parties. The government has blamed the Opposition for not cooperating in running the House.

A sine die closure could become a campaign issue for both sides. The government would blame on the Opposition for forcing the sine die closure, while the latter would blame the government for running Parliament in a “ham handed” manner.


Chennai, Dec. 16: 
The BJP today expressed outrage at Pakistan’s response to India’s ultimatum and dubbed as “most flippant” Islamabad’s response that the suicide attack on Parliament last Thursday was “stage-managed by India to divert attention from its internal problems”.

“Such flippancy is never resorted to in international relations and I accuse Pakistan of state-managing the activities of the terrorist organisations acting from across the border,” BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy said at a news conference here today.

Warning that Pakistan would “pay for it” if it did not take immediate action against these terrorist groups, Krishnamurthy said “pressure was mounting on the Centre” from all shades of public opinion for some kind of drastic step against Pakistan.

He went to the extent of conceding that a US-like strikeback would not be entirely unjustified for India against its neighbour.

While asserting that even the US took its time to “prepare” for the retaliatory action after mobilising world opinion against terrorism, Krishnamurthy said the government understood the sentiments of the people, but added it was up to the government to take “proper action at the proper time”.

To further mobilise public opinion against the forces of terrorism, and also to “bring out the crystallised public opinion,” the BJP would observe December 18-23 as days of resolve across the country.

Krishnamurthy said the national resolve week was being organised to drive home the idea that the “nation as a whole should stand as one to fight this terrorism”.

The BJP had already sent out circulars on this programme to various states.

The BJP president said he had conveyed the feedback of a cross-section of people, following the attack on Parliament, to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that the entire country was behind the latter on this issue.

When asked what specific action the government contemplated, Krishnamurthy said: “I think the government is at it.”

Notwithstanding the limited options before the government, the BJP chief said it was not the party’s role to prescribe any specific course of action, whether it was strikes across the Line-of-Control or hot pursuit.

The present government’s policy had been pro-active in tackling cross-border terrorism and the attack on Parliament was the consequences of “frustration due to our pro-active policy”.

“The Government of India is fully aware of our strength vis-a-vis our neighbour and our defence authorities are fully geared up to face any contingency,” Krishnamurthy said, when asked whether India and Pakistan could risk a full scale war now that both were nuclear powers.

India had been in touch with many countries, including the US and the UK, following the attack on Parliament, Krishnamurthy said, while refusing to speculate on whether the United States would allow India to militarily engage with Pakistan while its Afghanistan mission was still underway.


New Delhi, Dec. 16: 
Among the names doing the rounds for Presidential probables is that of Kerala chief minister A.K. Antony, perhaps for his non-controversial and honest reputation.

But Antony squashed rumours when asked if he would be running for the post. “I am not mad. I am very much in Kerala,” he said, laughing out loud.

One version doing the rounds in the capital’s rumour mills is that Antony’s name was forwarded to counter another Christian probable. The BJP is perceived to be pondering on Maharashtra governor PC Alexander, another Malayalee, for the post of President.

Alexander enjoys good relations with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and a host of senior BJP leaders. Besides his proximity to the Sangh privar, the former officer on special duty to Indira Gandhi also belongs to a minority community.

The BJP is not averse to backing Alexander as President and senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah as Vice President to improve the party’s image among Muslims and Christians, said an observer.

Antony’s chances as President stems from his arch-rival and former chief minister K. Karunakaran’s wishes to pack off the 61-year-old chief minister to the capital and leave the reins to his clan.

Karunakaran’s son, a Lok Sabha MP and daughter are both intensely ambitious, but have been relegated to the back benches since Antony came to power.

None of this may eventually work out. It would appear improper to appoint another Malayalee to the post after President K.R. Narayanan vacates office on June 22, 2002. Moreover, Alexander hails from the minuscule Syrian Orthodox community, unlike Antony who as Catholic commands a sizeable vote bank.

Sources said the RSS might have a candidate in Karan Singh, who was the Congress challenger against Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lucknow in the 1999 general elections.

The hunt for presidential and vice-presidential candidates is expected to gather momentum after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls in February. Several names are already doing the rounds, prominent among them Vice-president Krishna Kant, Congress heavyweight Pranab Mukherjee and senior jurist L.M. Singhvi.

Sources said Antony was unlikely to sacrifice his long innings in the mainstream for an ornamental post. In the given situation, the best bet for major Opposition parties was to back Narayanan for a second term.

Veteran Marxist Jyoti Basu recently said his party would back Narayanan for another term.


Hyderabad, Dec. 16: 
Thursday’s terrorist strike on Parliament and its alleged Hyderabad connection has had a huge impact on security arrangements for VVIPs all over the state and the Assembly building in the heart of the city.

Extraordinary security arrangements were made for the last prayers before Ramazan with over 4,000 policemen positioned in and around Charminar alone.

Officials and elected representatives of the region breathed in relief after the afternoon prayers passed off peacefully and the much-publicised reports of the “Hyderabad connection” of the terrorists proved a bloomer.

City printer Krishna Chandra Bangad, to whose phone several calls were made from one of the dead militants’ mobiles, said: “I have been maligned for nothing.” The calls may have been for one of his contract labourers, who had come to work from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, he said. “They have now left for Bihar,” Bangad added.

The area around the Assembly is being cordoned off from Wednesday, when the House is scheduled to sit for winter session. A team of Grey Hounds, the elite commando squads used for anti-Naxalite combats, has been placed on alert at the police headquarters, five minutes from the Assembly and the secretariat.

The police are also screening the vehicles used by legislators. “We will seize registrations and driving licenses of all vehicles using illegal MLA passes,” said police commissioner P. Ramulu. Checks have been intensified on all the 16 exit points from the city and key public sector installations.

The task force arrested one person last night from the city bus stop. The Bangalore-bound passenger, held on suspicion, is being interrogated. The man had come to the city from Delhi in an evening flight on the day of the Parliament attack. He was undertaking the bus journey after cancelling his air ticket.

Though the police have denied a city connection to the strike, the terrorists had been seen not too far away from five Andhra Pradesh MPs at a Delhi hotel on Wednesday.

The Telugu Desam members were addressing a media conference on Vishaka Utsav. “We were hardly 15 feet away in the Ambassador hotel. It could have meant anything if they wanted to kill or kidnap us,” said K. Venkat Rao.

The large Muslim population of the city condemned the attack. “Will the jihadis attack the residences of the President, Vice-President and the Prime Minister to prove their point. This is not jihad,” said moderate social activist Mohammed Taquiuddin, general secretary of the state unit of the Indian Union Muslim League.


Chennai, Dec. 16: 
Putting an end to all speculation about the BJP’s ties with the ADMK, party president Jana Krishnamurthy said the BJP’s alliance with the DMK would continue.

Disclosing this at a press conference here today, Krishnamurthy said the DMK continued to be “our ally” in Tamil Nadu and they had representatives in the Union Cabinet as well.

Any state government run by non-NDA parties such as the CPM in West Bengal and the ADMK were welcome to support the NDA on specific issues such as the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, he said, adding that it was up to the ADMK to “support us or not on issues, but there was no question of any understanding or alliance with the ADMK in Tamil Nadu”.

The rumours were fanned by ADMK chief Jayalalithaa offering unequivocal support for the anti-terror Ordinance and declaring that the party would offer issue-based support to the NDA government at the Centre.


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