Justice takes tortuous route to Chittaranjan staffer
RBI pledges brake on finance firms
Cloud on core committee
PWG activists arrested
Hill heir to Tenzing mantle
Patriotism potshots force CPM to call ceasefire
Scorn, not proof, heaped on Pak
Security-lapse lash on Centre
Ignored Cong puts govt in the dock
One-way ticket to House on edge

Chittaranjan, Dec. 18: 
Ramananda Roy has received a verdict in his favour 28 years after he took the Railway Board to the Central Administrative Tribunal. The suspended laboratory assistant of a boys’ school here stands vindicated but there is little the withdrawn and depressed 60-year-old man looks forward to after swinging between hope and heartbreak for three decades.

Ramananda was full of hope when he came to the railway township more than 30 years ago with his wife and two daughters. He had joined the D.V. Boys’ School, run by the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW), as a laboratory assistant. But within a couple of years his world crashed around him as the school management suspended him for disobeying orders. He moved the tribunal, which took almost 30 years to do justice — a word that holds little meaning for him now.

Ramananda has nothing to gain now from the money he will receive in arrears. His own life and that of his family members have been shattered in the course of the hardship thrust upon him. As the family scrounged for a living, his daughter Iti lost her sight due to lack of treatment. Unable to cope with her father’s woes and humiliation, Iti’s sister, Soma, became mentally unstable. His wife is resigned to fate and has little expectations.

As poverty gripped Ramananda’s family, they were forced to move out of the railway quarters. Moved by their plight, an uncle took in his daughters.

Ramananda is now counting his days in a dark dingy room at Ambagan in Jamtara.

Lady Luck is still stingy with Ramananda. Even after the ruling that Ramananda be compensated in terms of salary and other financial benefits due to him for the past 30 years, he is yet to receive a single penny. CLW officials have promised him that his dues will be cleared as soon as they receive a copy of the order.

“I don’t want to make any comment on the injustice of my management towards me. I could not carry out the responsibility of a father. Even if I get back my dues and compensation now, can anyone give me back my youth and what I lost in the past 30 years?” said a bitter Ramananda.

Recounting his ordeal, Ramananda said in 1970 he had taken medical leave for a few days. During that period, the then school principal, T.C. Pathak, took a microscope away from the laboratory for repairs.

Ramananda refused to take charge of the laboratory with the microscope missing. He was suspended on May 15, 1973, on charges of disobeying the authorities.

Ramananda then moved the Central Administrative Tribunal, which gave its verdict on February 14 this year. It said Ramananda’s suspension was unlawful and ordered that he be paid full salary for the suspension period till his retirement on January 31, 2000. It also asked CLW to pay his pension.

In an office order issued on August 24 (ref no. gma/school/p/285), CLW chief personnel officer granted Ramananda extraordinary leave during his suspension period and sanctioned his dues. But Ramananda has not received a single paisa.

Sunil Bajpayee, the new CLW chief personnel officer, said: “I have recently taken charge. As soon as we get the court’s order, we will clear Ramananda’s dues.”


Calcutta, Dec. 18: 
Finance minister Asim Dasgupta today said Reserve Bank of India governor Bimal Jalan had promised not to register any non-banking financial companies in the state.

More than 12,000 non-banking financial companies are registered with the department of company affairs in West Bengal. RBI alone has issued certificates to 6,000.

In the wake of the crackdown on private finance firms, the finance minister said he had pointed out to Jalan the cases where companies holding RBI registration certificates had defaulted on payments. Police have booked 18 such companies and arrested 42 persons on charges of cheating depositors, he said.

“The RBI governor appreciated our actions against such companies and instructed regional authorities to provide necessary information to the state government on defaulting companies. We shall seek similar assistance from the Securities and Exchange Board of India and the National Housing Bank to nail errant companies operating in the plantation and housing sectors,” Dasgupta said.

The finance minister hit out at the Centre’s economic policy, particularly privatisation of the non-banking financial service sector and the lowering of interest rates on small savings deposits. “If you allow unrestricted operation of private institutions, you are inviting trouble. White-collar criminals will freely swindle money from depositors and escape. Just think, more than 12,000 companies suddenly appeared and are doing brisk business offering high returns, making operations difficult for 4,200 branches of nationalised banks in West Bengal,’’ the minister said.

Investors protest

In an unexpected response to the crackdown, about 1,000 investors of Indian Securities — one of the nine firms hauled up for illegally collecting public deposits — have jointly moved the state human rights commission, alleging that the police action was unwarranted and motivated.

Firm proprietor Ajay Kumar Gupta was arrested along with 11 others on December 3.

In their petition, the investors have said they had engaged the firm to invest their funds in the stock markets. They were satisfied with its performance and that it had never defaulted on payment, they added.

They argued that the police cannot detain Gupta without a formal complaint from the investors. They have sought his release so that he could resume trading in equities and meet the firm’s commitments.

The police claim they have received numerous complaints against the firms. “The contracts between Indian Securities and its investors had not been violated by the firm itself — the police action forced the firm to default,” said agitated investors.

Sixteen accused were produced in Bankshall Court. Rejecting their bail applications, the court remanded four of them — officials of the plantation companies — in police custody for 14 days. The 12 linked with the chit fund scam were remanded in jail custody.


Calcutta, Dec 18: 
The CPM today seemed set to slam the lid on the Forward Bloc’s proposal for a core committee of ministers as it believes such a panel may hamper the functioning of the Cabinet.

CPM officials indicated that its leaders were finding the proposal “unattractive” as it would mean selecting a group of ministers as super policy managers and creating fissures within the Cabinet. The CPM feels the Cabinet is enough to maintain coordination among the ministers.

The CPM’s attitude drew criticism from Forward Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh, who had raised the demand during the Left Front meeting on December 11.

“We had demanded a core committee for better coordination among the Front partners during Jyoti Basu’s tenure. But till date, it has not been constituted,” said Ghosh. He maintained that the core committee could have removed the confusion among the Front ministers over the government’s decision to bring in a law to curb organised crime.

Ghosh also accused the state CPM leadership of not taking initiatives to strengthen the unity among Front partners at the grassroots level and confining the Front within the four walls of the CPM headquarters at Alimuddin Street. “All the Front partners worked together during the Assembly elections. But now there is hardly any unity among its partners at the grassroots levels. We want stronger unity and greater co-ordination among our partners to run the government smoothly,” he added.

Ghosh said his party would again place the demand for the committee during the next Front meeting.

State BJP meet: The state BJP leadership will discuss on Sunday its stand on maintaining a cordial relationship with Trinamul Congress.


Midnapore, Dec. 18: 
Five People’s War Group (PWG) activists were arrested and Naxal literature, posters and banners were seized from different hideouts on Midnapore-Bankura border areas early this morning.

Police said the activists include a school teacher and a doctor. The arrests will help solve the murder cases of CPM leader Sudhir Sardar and an NVF jawan last month, police added.

Elephants kill four

Siliguri: Two wild elephants wreaked havoc at the Anandapur Tea Estate labour lines last night, trampling to death four persons and flattening seven huts.    

Jaldhaka (Kalimpong) Dec. 18: 
Till the other day, Nawraj Chhettri was just another hill boy growing up on the rugged slopes of the Jaldhaka jungles with dreams of emulating Everest conqueror Tenzing Norgay. Then on a windy October dawn this year, he stood tall on Mercury Peak, a hitherto unscaled summit on the treacherous Karakoram Range, a worthy successor to the greatest son of the hills.

The 26-year-old was recently honoured for his record-creating feat in his remote Parentar villager under the Jaldhaka hydel project areas where he is already a hero.

The strapping army sepoy was part of Aarohi, a 20-member team of the army’s Corps of Signals’ “Trishul Expedition” that scaled the 7,195-metre Mercury Peak of the glacier-sheathed Teram Kangri group of peaks in the Karakoram mountains. Chettri and seven other climbers made it to the summit at 3.30 am on October 2 without the aid of oxygen.

The feat has been recognised by the Limca Book of Records and is being processed by the Guinness Book of World Records. The last unsuccessful attempt to scale the Mercury Peak was made by the joint Indo-British expedition in 1996.

Proudly displaying the certificate issued by the 3 Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment at his home where he is on a vacation, the signals sepoy said: “I always had a fascination for the mighty Himalayan peaks. Though I want to conquer the Everest, the feat of sumitting the unconquered Mercury Peak, which has a sheer gradient of over 80 degrees, is a great feat by itself.

“The Teram Kangri group of peaks of the Karakoram mountains are some of the most treacherous and, at the same time, most challenging to mountaineers as one has to traverse glaciers, including the famous Siachen Glacier, and deadly crevasses.”

Chhettri, the son of a forest contractor, joined the army in June 1994. His basic mountaineering skills attracted the attention of mountaineering teams in the army and soon he was inducted into the Signals’ mountaineering expedition team by commanding officer Col. Dinesh Kumar.

The Aarohi team, comprising Col. Kumar as the group leader, Maj. Rajesh Kumar as his deputy and 20 others, was flagged off on September 13, Chettri recounted. Battling sub-zero temperatures ranging from –30ş to –35şC and gradients of 80 degrees or more, the team made successful attempts on five other peaks.

In his moment of glory, the youth did not forget the role of his seniors. Describing the dare-devilry of his group leaders, Chhettri said: “We were growing tired as we neared Mercury Peak. To encourage us to move faster, Major Kumar almost ran across the 100-metre Kheram Sher glacier unmindful of the hundreds of deadly crevasses. Similarly, he inspired team leader Col. Kumar to set an example to the team by climbing the summit of Mercury Peak first without the help of safety ropes.”

Having tasted success, Chhettri is eager to rejoin his expedition team for more adventures. And this time, it will be the highest peak of the world. His village is praying that he might stand tall like his hero on the Everest.


New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
The ghost of “anti-nationalism” has returned to stalk the CPM. After a bout of defiance, the party seems to have succumbed to the BJP’s arm-twisting and the fear that it might be seen as “less patriotic” than its biggest enemy.

CPM MPs today announced a temporary “truce” with the BJP in Parliament so that the winter session — which has only two days to go — can end on a “note of solidarity”.

“We have decided in the national interest to suspend all contentious matters on the floor of the House for the time being,” said CPM’s Rajya Sabha MP Nilotpal Basu.

A day after the attack on Parliament, senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee blasted the Prime Minister and his colleagues for keeping the Opposition in the dark. He put a question mark on the idea of “unity” with the ruling party, which, Chatterjee alleged, gave its rivals a go-by on critical issues.

Three days later, the party is less aggressive — it is still intoning its complaints against the BJP for claiming a “monopoly” over patriotism, but there is an overtone of unity with the government on national security.

An hour after Basu declared his party’s decision not to allow political bitterness to escalate in Parliament, Chatterjee told the Lok Sabha: “We do not need any lessons in patriotism from the BJP. We have never shied away from fighting terrorism. The Left parties lost thousands of cadres during the days of terror in Punjab.”

The CPM MP was participating in a discussion on home minister L.K. Advani’s statement on the December 13 attack. His comment evoked a sharp response from Mamata Banerjee, never one to lose an opportunity for Left-bashing.

“We all know about the CPM’s patriotic credentials. They supported China in the 1962 war. During the freedom struggle, they dismissed Gandhi.Fifty years later, they lauded him. They did the same with Netaji,” hissed Mamata.

In a way, the Trinamul Congress leader was expressing the Left’s “worst fears” — that of being re-labelled “unpatriotic” after having tried hard to put the “past behind them”. It is a fear that crops up every time there is a critical issue involving an outside country.

“The CPM is yet to live down its opposition to the Quit India movement in 1942. Now it does not want to give the BJP any quarter on the issue of nationalism,” a third front leader said.

Walking a tightrope between the BJP’s stand on nationalism and its own has not been easy for the CPM, especially at a time when jingoism has taken on a shrill pitch.

Chatterjee repeatedly cautioned the Vajpayee government against attacking ISI-run training camps for militants across the border.

BJP members, on the other hand, pushed the government to teach Pakistan a lesson. “Those who do not support the government at this point, are not acting in national interest,” said BJP and Shiv Sena members.


New Delhi, Dec. 18: 

Neighbour is envious: Advani

With his protege Delhi police commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma having stolen the thunder from him, Union home minister L.K. Advani had little to add to what was already known about the terrorist strike on Parliament.

But he succeeded in his primary objective of sending a signal to Pakistan that the entire political establishment backed the government’s war on terrorism.

Though the government and the Opposition squabbled on nearly every issue, the two sides closed ranks on the question of national security and the fight against terrorism.

Many aspects of the investigation and handling of the issue have irked several parties, but no one is willing to risk being dubbed anti-national. This is one reason why every speaker in the Lok Sabha today made it a point to extend all co-operation to the government in fighting terrorism.

The home minister’s speech was mainly rhetoric and harked on the two-nation theory and Islamabad’s preference for a theocratic state. “Pakistan — itself a product of the indefensible ‘two-nation theory’, itself a theocratic state with an extremely tenuous tradition of democracy — is unable to reconcile itself with the reality of a secular, democratic, self-confident and steadily progressing India, whose standing in the international community is getting inexorably higher with the passage of the time,” he said.

What came across from Advani’s statement was that the government did not have more evidence against Pakistan. If it did, this would have been the best opportunity to place it before the nation and get support for any action necessary.

The home minister was careful not to blame the Pakistan government directly. “It is now evident that the terrorist assault on Parliament House was jointly executed by Pakistan-based and supported terrorist outfits Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed who are known to derive support and patronage from Pakistan’s ISI,” he said.

Though in public, ministers and officials speak of an “iron-clad case” against Pakistan, more and more doubts are being raised privately. There are murmurs within the government about a botch-up of what was an ideal opportunity to revive the BJP’s sagging political fortunes.

“We opened our mouths too soon,” a senior government official said. “Instead of pointing an accusing finger on Pakistan from day two, we should have held our horses and built up a solid case. Otherwise, we should have kept out mouths shut.”

“There is too much of posturing by government leaders, which raises doubts. If ISI is really involved, it may have been wiser to quietly work towards nailing them through careful investigation. There is posturing only when there is not enough proof,” said a recently retired government official.

The government’s uncertainty is reflected in the different lines it has adopted since the attack. First, it blamed the Lashkar and, in the demarche to the Pakistan high commissioner, sought action against it. Later, it talked about Jaish, and then went on to speak of a joint operation. But those who have seen these two outfits in action say they never operate together.

Some believe that India should have provided Islamabad with all the proof it has and waited for Pervez Musharraf to take action . If he failed to do so, New Delhi could have legitimately attacked Islamabad.


New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
The Opposition today blasted the government for the “serious security lapse” leading to Thursday’s attack on Parliament and for its failure to get adequate international support afterwards.

Reacting to the government’s “hot pursuit” talk, the Opposition said it should first tighten security within the country. The Kargil intrusion, the Indian Airlines hijack, the Red Fort breach, the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and the suicide strike in Parliament would not have taken place had the government been alert, members said.

They asked why no effective steps were taken to prevent the attack when both the Prime Minister and the home minister had said earlier that Parliament was likely to be targeted.

The Opposition was also furious that it had not been taken into confidence. Some members said even Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi was not apprised of details of the December 13 terror strike.

Home minister L.K. Advani will reply to the debate, which was kicked off by his statement on the terror strike, tomorrow. Minister of state for external affairs Omar Abdullah spoke for the government today.

Abdullah said “forced violence and war” are not the first options, but India is determined to foil Pakistan’s “nefarious designs” by “any means”. “We don’t fear international isolation when it comes to protecting national interest,” he said.

The minister’s remark that “I am a Muslim and a Kashmiri and I am proud to be an Indian. Not all Muslims are Pakistanis and not all terrorists are Kashmiris”, drew loud protests from the Opposition benches, with members asserting they did not hold such a view.

Though the debate started on a sombre note, it soon degenerated into disruptions, with charges and counter-charges flying back and forth.

Though the leaders had agreed in the morning not to rake up contentious issues, the anti-terrorism Ordinance figured prominently in the discussion, with the government backing it and the Opposition fighting it.

Congress deputy leader Shivraj Patil asked whether the Ordinance was not in operation on December 13 and said those in favour of the terror law should now do some introspection.

Opening the debate in the Rajya Sabha, Congress leader Manmohan Singh said though the Opposition stood firmly behind the government, the Centre could have been more alert.

In the Lok Sabha, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav said the incident was a “shameful example” of government’s failure but said the Opposition would stand by it if it took any “well considered” step to tackle the grave challenge facing the nation.

The need of the hour is unity and to achieve that the government and the BJP should give up contentious issues like Ayodhya and the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, Mulayam said.


New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
The Congress today accused the Vajpayee regime of ignoring the Opposition and expressed its dissatisfaction with Union home minister L.K. Advani’s statement on Thursday’s terror attack on Parliament.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy regretted that six days have passed since the December 13 incident but the government had not consulted the Opposition on security measures or its plans to curb terrorism.

“Six days have passed but the government has not established contact with any Opposition leader to brief or to discuss future measures,” Jaipal said.

The Congress spokesman said that while the main Opposition party was trying to present a united face of the nation, the BJP leadership went about touring the nation to push through the anti-terror Ordinance.

“Soon after terror attack on Parliament, BJP leaders fanned out converting it to be a Poto-opportunity,” Jaipal said.

Referring to Advani’s statement in Parliament, Jaipal said it missed several facts such as presence of 30 kg of RDX in the car that was used by terrorists and that the car did not have Parliament entry sticker.

“The home minister has made a conscious effort to conceal more and reveal less,” Reddy said.

He said BJP leadership’s “rhetoric’s” were similar to their utterances made after the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly blast and Red Fort killings. “Such remarks do not impress any one,” he said.

Jaipal debunked BJP’s focus on the anti-terror Ordinance pointing that the Ordinance was in operation when the incident took place.

He said there were several laws such as National Security Act, Unlawful Activities Act and Amended Telegraphic Act to detain suspects, ban extremist outfits and intercept communications.

“None of these measures require the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance,” the Congress spokesperson said.

In the Lok Sabha, Congress’ deputy leader Shivraj Patil asked the government not to be complacent after the terror attack on Parliament.

Patil said adequate security measures should be taken to deal with possible air strikes on Parliament and attacks on Rashtrapati Bhavan, Supreme Court and other vital installations in the capital.

Participating in a discussion on the December 13 suicide strike on Parliament, Patil said the issue should not be dealt with lightly on the grounds that the terrorists had failed in their mission.


New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
Parliament seems to have regained composure following a tightening of the security belt outside the building. The earlier nonchalance and routine checks have given way to a tighter security detail, more alertness and thorough personal checks before anybody is allowed inside the premises.

On December 13, a white Ambassador drove in through the main gate of Parliament and only a commendable display of courage by the unarmed watch and ward and security staff averted a higher death toll and devastation.

The security rules for entering Parliament have now been changed to block multiple entry points. The main entry from Parliament Street, which was used by the terrorists that morning, is now heavily barricaded with a huge ‘No Entry’ sign on one of the posts. The other entrance from Vijay Chowk, too, has been sealed.

The only entry point now remaining is from the reception, earlier used by those who did not have an entry pass. The exit also has been reduced to one route – through the main gate leading to Parliament Street.

Since the attack was mounted from Parliament premises, security personnel have been doubled outside the building. There are many more armed policemen compared to the earlier handful – the few who used to check visitors at the entrance to the building.

Before the attack on December 13, anybody could drive into the premises with a Parliament sticker on the windscreen of his/her vehicle. The driver was seldom checked at the entrance. The checking began only when one entered the building. Pedestrians, however, were frisked at the entrance of Parliament premises.

Now, strict checks have begun at the entrance – even for those driving in. Not once, but twice. The security staff are polite but firm while checking both sides of the Parliament pass.

Earlier, a familiar face could have passed by without being frisked. No chances are being taken now.

Once somebody gets inside the building, the pass must be shown at the gate where the visitor is frisked.


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