Students torch school after failing exam
Ten sick units on revival list
Fool cards, cry CPM staff
Cabinet seal on Balai appointment
Teachers in fake marksheet racket
Coffin skeletons scare govt into House shutdown
Fiery PM scoffs at restraint sermon
Jatiya stokes promotion quota row
Advani anti-terror test for Pak
Brother of lecturer picked up in Sopore

Malda, Dec. 19: 
A group of students at Ratua set their own school on fire because they were failed in the selection test for the Madhyamik examination.

The headmaster of Ratua High School, Swaminath Singha, has lodged an FIR against 34 students. He said 124 students appeared for the test, of whom 34 failed. The school did not send the names of those 34 to the board of secondary education for the Madhyamik examination.

Finding their names missing from the list of sent-up candidates, the students were furious. They protested in front of the headmaster’s office on Friday, demanding that they be allowed to sit for the examination. But the headmaster refused.

“I am sure of the involvement of those 34 students in the incident of torching the school. However, I shall not change the earlier decision under pressure and the unsuccessful 34 students will not be sent up for the Madhyamik examination. Not only that, I shall not spare the students who have done this and they will have to face strong punishment,’’ Singha said.

Giving details of the incident, the headmaster said some students broke into his office on Sunday night and set it on fire using kerosene. “I came to know about it after I reached school on Monday morning. All the files, important papers relating to the selection test, furniture and a lot of books were destroyed. The room was smelling of kerosene,” he said. Property worth Rs 50,000 was damaged, he added.

The FIR was lodged with Ratua police station on Monday. Singha said the police registered his complaint only after inspecting the school.

On December 14, a group of students of Kaliachak High School had gheraoed their teachers and ransacked the teachers’ room also because they were not sent up for the Madhyamik examination. Of the 142 students who took the test, 44 had failed to get pass marks.

School education department officials said in Calcutta today that education minister Kanti Biswas has sought a report from the district administration on the incident and asked the district inspector of schools to take up the matter.

Superintendent of police Pankaj Dutta said they were inquiring into the incident. “We have already started an inquiry and are trying to trace those involved and find out the motive. We are trying to ascertain the source of the fire,’’ he said. No arrests have been made so far, but the police have sealed the headmaster’s office.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
The West Bengal government will come up with revival strategies for at least 10 of the 69 sick public sector enterprises in the state before the end of this financial year.

Addressing the 170th annual general meeting of Calcutta Chamber of Commerce, commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen said: “We are carrying out an analysis of all the sick PSEs in the state. The revival scheme of some of them will be ready soon. We have also decided to go in for joint venture participation in respect of some of our PSUs.”

“However, after carrying out the analysis, if we find that some of the units are not viable, we will close them down. The workers of these units will be compensated properly,” Sen said. Reacting to a suggestion by P.D. Tulsyan, president of Calcutta Chamber of Commerce, that the government should be pro-active, the minister said its role is now that of facilitator, not investor.

“In consonance with this policy direction, we are determined in our efforts to promote industrialisation of the state by encouraging the growth and expansion of large and medium industries as well as rapid growth of agro-based industries with the active involvement of the private sector.”

The government has decided to extend the West Bengal Incentive Scheme 2000 to the food-processing sector with effect from January 1, 2002.

The minister said that to make the economy of north Bengal more buoyant, the government is taking steps for further expansion and development of the tea industry.

“We have already set up a tea cell and a policy on tea will be announced soon for encouraging investments in this sector,” he said.

On the issue of militant trade-unionism in the state, Sen said West Bengal is an investor-friendly state.

“This is evident from the fact that up to November 30, investment has crossed the figure of Rs 1,811 crore.

“It must also be recognised that no worker can afford to take recourse to any path that might lead to the closure of an industrial unit because it earns him his bread and butter,” Sen said.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
The state coordination committee — the CPM’s powerful wing of government employees — today said it would be foolish to introduce electronic smart cards at Writers’ Buildings to monitor the arrival and departure time of employees.

The committee aired its views in its mouthpiece, Sangrami Hatiar, published ahead of its five-day annual conference to be held in Malda from December 23.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will inaugurate the meet, where the committee is likely to discuss at length the thrust on work culture and the introduction of smart cards.

Explaining why the committee was opposed to smart cards and e-governance, general secretary Smarajit Roychowdhury said: “This will give too much stress on attendance, not on actual work. An employee may be regular, but may not sincere in his work. We put more importance on sincere work than on mere presence of the employees’’.

Roychowdhury alleged that a section of senior officials, together with some Left Front ministers, was trying to project that work culture was only about punctuality.

“All government employees are aware of their office timings. They also know that government employees may be asked to work even after their regular hours if required.

“No one objected to working overtime during floods. But this side of work culture has been ignored by officials,” Roychowdhury said.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
The state Cabinet today ratified the appointment of Balai Roy as the next advocate-general.

Welcoming Roy, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also formally accepted the resignation of outgoing advocate-general Naranarayan Gooptu.

“I am confident that we will continue to receive your legal advice, valued guidance and active support on matters of crucial importance,” Bhattacharjee wrote to Gooptu.

Roy told The Telegraph that his priority would be to get the pending cases cleared. “I will try to get the bench, the bar and the state administration to work with more co-ordination for early disposal of pending cases,” he said.

An ex-student of Burdwan Raj College, Roy began his practice in Calcutta High Court in 1953. He contested and won the 1996 parliamentary elections as a CPM candidate.

But Roy said he would be impartial as advocate-general. “As the advocate-general of the state, I don’t belong to any party. I will be accessible to all who seek justice,” he stressed.

Unlike his predecessor, Roy will not be at par with Cabinet ministers. Gooptu was given the rank of a Cabinet minister by the then government.

“The rule which was evoked to grant the former advocate-general the status of a Cabinet minister can be in force for only six months,” Roy said.


Burdwan, Dec. 19: 
The district administration has initiated action against 23 teachers who got their jobs by producing fake marksheets or appointment letters.

The Primary School Council, which appoints teachers in primary schools, has retrenched four teachers in two Andal schools who had joined work showing fake appointment letters. An FIR has also been lodged at Galsi police station.

The council appointed 2,717 teachers at schools across the district in July last year. “After getting a tip-off, we started to verify the academic qualifications of the teachers and the documents they had submitted with the applications. We found that 19 candidates produced fake marksheets. We are in the process of taking stern action against them,’’ said Saidul Haque, chairman of the district primary education council.

The appointment letters were checked first. Then, the Madhyamik marksheets of about 1,000 teachers were sent to the board of secondary education for verification. The board informed the district council that 19 were fake. The chairman said the documents of about 1,500 teachers were yet to be verified. He added that a committee had been set up to probe the case.

The chairman and the district inspector of schools interrogated the 19 teachers. Officials of the district primary education council said the teachers mentioned the names of some influential CPM leaders who took hefty sums of money to give fake marksheets or appointment letters. A teacher from Ketugram said she paid a local politician Rs 40,000 to get a Madhyamik marksheet.

“We have also found the involvement of some CPM leaders in the fake appointment racket. I have brought the matter to the notice of district CPM secretary Madan Ghosh and zilla parishad sabhadhipati Ramkrishna Banerjee. The party leadership has given us a free hand to take drastic action against those partymen whose invlovement in the racket is proved,’’ said Haque, a political appointee of the Left Front.


New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
Apprehensions that some members of the Opposition might rake up the coffin scam and demand the resignation of defence minister George Fernandes today or tomorrow spurred the government to get Parliament adjourned sine die today.

Backtracking from its earlier decision to keep the House running as scheduled till December 21, both Houses of Parliament were adjourned sine die after home minister L.K. Advani finished his reply to a debate begun yesterday on the Parliament attack.

The government was planning to introduce the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, trumpeted as its biggest achievement. But after striking a deal with the Opposition yesterday in which the government promised not to table the anti-terror Ordinance Bill in exchange for a quiet burial of the coffin scam, a fresh Ordinance has to be promulgated before December 31, when the earlier one will lapse.

The government’s efforts to end the House on a positive note, sending out the signal that Parliament stood united following the terrorist attack, did not work out as some Opposition members today insisted on raising the coffin scam for the sake of national security.

Keen to avoid any embarrassment in the House, the government even agreed to the Opposition demand that George Fernandes should not be seen in the Lok Sabha while the House debated the terrorist attack on Parliament. Fernandes stayed away from the Lok Sabha the last two days but made an appearance in the Rajya Sabha in the afternoon before adjournment.

What unnerved the government was the move by some Opposition leaders to raise the coffin scam either today, after Advani’s reply, or tomorrow, when no important business was listed.

A senior Congress leader and a senior CPM member today announced they would raise the coffin scam, leading to the adjournment.

Even Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi’s office was not aware of the adjournment move till noon, though parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan now insists that the decision was taken today at the meeting of political leaders convened by the Speaker.

However, a source in the defence ministry said this morning that Parliament would be adjourned sine die later in the day. Mahajan insisted that “a consensus emerged in the meeting that it would be in the fitness of things to conclude the last session of the year in a spirit of unanimity and national unity.”

Balayogi also said an agreement to adjourn the House sine die was reached at the meeting of leaders of political parties, but he did not specify why the House could not wait for two more days.


New Delhi, Dec. 19: 

Give neighbour same advice

For a change, it was a hawkish Vajpayee.

Articulating the nation’s outrage over the December 13 terror attack on Parliament, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today disapproved of the advice by the US and other Western countries to India, asking it to observe restraint. He made it clear that Delhi would keep all options open in its fight against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

Without naming any country, Vajpayee told the Lok Sabha: “Those counselling us restraint should also give the same advice to our neighbour.”

Intervening in the special debate in the House, the Prime Minister said India has been exercising restraint and world leaders should now ask Pakistan to crack down on terrorists. “There can be no two yardsticks in the campaign against terrorism,” he asserted, discounting remarks that India was getting isolated in the international community.

It was a rare sight in Parliament. The entire Opposition — from Sonia Gandhi to G.M. Banatwalla – offered Vajpayee blanket support, saying they would back whatever response the government deems fit against the terror assault. Forty-one parties have a presence in the 13th Lok Sabha and they represent almost all shades of opinion.

Overwhelmed by this expression of solidarity, the Prime Minister made it clear that Delhi would fight the “evil of terrorism” on its own strength.

“We are not relying on diplomacy alone... We hope the international opinion will be in our favour. India will face the evil of terrorism on its own strength,” he said.

Vajpayee, however, said the government would explore diplomatic avenues. “But other options are also open,” he added. “Whatever we decide will be well thought out and after a comprehensive examination of all issues.”

The Prime Minister made light of Pakistan’s demand for “proof” of the involvement of Pakistan-based terrorists in Thursday’s incident.

“The bullet marks in Parliament House and bodies of five Pakistani terrorists are all there. What more proof do they need? It was a conspiracy to strike at the heart of India’s democracy,” he asserted, ruling out a joint probe with Islamabad.

Vajpayee said his government had already conveyed to the Pervez Musharraf regime in Islamabad that the attack on Parliament was part of a deliberate and well-planned conspiracy on the part of Pakistan-based terrorists.

On the possibility of India going to war with its nuclear twin, Vajpayee said no decision would be taken in a fit of anger. “We have options and we will consider all pros and cons and weigh them before coming to a firm decision. Whatever steps are taken, they will be in supreme national interest,” he said amid loud applause even from Opposition benches.

He also made it clear that whatever decision is taken it would not be by a single party. “It will be that of the entire country,” he said.

Vajpayee said the people’s wishes will be honoured and appealed to all parties to exercise caution and avoid politicising the sensitive issue of national security.

Vajpayee got the support of the main Opposition party when Sonia said the Congress would back whatever steps the government takes to tackle terrorism.

“The Congress would back the government in its efforts to track down and bring to justice terrorists who are threatening the nation’s integrity,” Sonia said in her brief intervention in the debate.

The leader of the Opposition, however, said “key strategic issues” should be decided after weighing all pros and cons.


New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
Social justice minister Satyanarain Jatiya today opened a new flank of controversy by suggesting reservation-based promotions for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe employees at all levels in government.

At present, SC\ST employees can be promoted in the reserved category only till the under- secretary level. For all posts higher than that, they have to compete with the general category.

The suggestion, made before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, came at a discussion on the government’s “commitment to social justice”. The Centre, in this session, had amended the Constitution to extend reservation for SC\ST employees in all government posts.

But the question of reservation-based promotions hung in the air as the Prime Minister did not think it fit to respond to the suggestion.

There is already a lot of resentment in government ranks about such promotions even if they are only till the level of the under-secretary.

Any attempt to expand the reserved category in promotions is bound to provoke a backlash from the upper castes — the BJP’s main electoral constituency. The party has a solid base among government officials and would not want to take a step that would undercut its popularity among them.


New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
Home minister L.K. Advani has called on Pakistan to hand over Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar to India to prove its seriousness about fighting terrorism as part of a broad-based international coalition that was cobbled together by the US after the September 11 strikes.

Giving almost identical replies in both Houses of Parliament after a two-day discussion on the December 13 attack on Parliament, the home minister demanded that Pakistan must hand over mafia don Dawood Ibrahim and Ghazi Baba, the Jaish supreme commander inIndia, as well. Advani raised the matter in the presence of foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who was seated next to him in the Rajya Sabha.

Singh had accompanied Azhar to Kandahar in December 1999, when the militant was freed along with accomplices by India to secure the release of the Indian Airlines passengers held hostage in Afghanistan.

“After the attack on Parliament, there are some signs that Pakistan’s attitude towards terrorism may be changing. For instance, they have insisted on madarsas getting registered. But we want Pakistan not just to condemn the attack but also take action against the Jaish and the Lashkar-e-Toiba which are involved in it,” Advani said.

He declared that when Pakistan stopped sponsoring terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India, it would be seen as the biggest proof of Pakistan’s sincerity in combating terrorism.

But the home minister indicated that he was not too hopeful. “When Musharraf came to India for talks, there were several reasons why nothing came of them. But the biggest reason was his televised news conference in which he described the terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as a freedom struggle and put it on par with India’s support for the Mukti Bahini in Bangladesh,” Advani said.

Like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Advani was critical of the US -— though he did not name it — for not coming down strongly on Pakistan after the assault on Parliament. “Geographically, may be it suits people to have Pakistan as an ally now. Pakistan knows a lot about the Taliban so I can understand why you need Pakistan,” he said.

However, Advani added that people in India were justified with their feeling that Pakistan was responsible for terrorism in the country that had resulted in the killing of over 60,000 people in the Valley. He hoped that the US would stick to its stand when it stated that the war against terrorism would not end with the Taliban or Osama bin Laden but would continue.

Advani made it clear that the war against terrorism should not be perceived as one between Hindus and Muslims but between “barbarism and democracy”. “Like the US, India is a live, vigorous democracy”. He added that terrorism could not be equated with communalism and fundamentalism which he described as “evils”. “But terrorism goes beyond that, it is barbarism,” the home minister emphasised.


Srinagar, Dec. 19: 
The brother of A.R. Gilani, the Delhi University lecturer now in police custody in connection with the Parliament attack, has been picked up for interrogation .

Mufti Abdul Rahim, elder brother of Gilani, has been shifted to Srinagar after he was detained in Sopore. Rahim’s arrest generated tension in the area and some residents called a bandh. But senior citizens appealed to them to cooperate with the investigators.

Sources said police also picked up Riyaz Ahmed Dar, a phone booth owner, from his shop near the main bus stand in Sopore. “We arrested him on a tip off provided by the Delhi police,” police sources said.

In Delhi, an abandoned car parked near Sanchar Bhavan, the telecom ministry headquarters, triggered an alarm and played on the taut nerves of police, reports our special correspondent. The police, on edge since the attack on Parliament, sealed the building fast and combed it for explosives. Employees who had not called it a day had a long evening in office ahead of them.

The roads around the building were also blocked and peak-hour traffic was diverted. In the end, it proved to be a false alarm but some police officers said it was a mock drill.

The day witnessed another minor flap when the paths of the Prime Minister and the Vice-President crossed. When the Prime Minister’s motorcade is out, all traffic stops on the route. However, in an oversight, when the Prime Minister’s cavalcade was going towards Vigyan Bhavan, the Vice-President was going from his home near Vigyan Bhavan to Parliament.

When Krishan Kant’s convoy realised that the Prime Minister was on his way, it halted briefly to give way to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s motorcade.

The police said Gilani had revealed “quite a few things” during the interrogation.

The police disclosed that a laptop, recovered from two of the arrested, was used to generate a picture of Parliament’s topography and prepare the home ministry label and identity cards.

The militants used it to put together 21 snaps shown on TV on various occasions to generate a “visual topography” of Parliament to function as a guide map, special commissioner of Delhi police R.S. Gupta said.

The laptop, seized from Mohammad Afzal and Shaukat Hussain, had been handed over to Afzal by Mohammad, leader of the squad, before leaving for Parliament House on December 13 morning.

Afzal, one of the key accused, was directed to hand over the laptop and Rs 10 lakh to Jaish-e-Mohammad supreme commander in India Ghazi Baba. A Jaish supreme council member told BBC the outfit had dissociated itself from Afzal.

Gupta said experts are verifying whether markings of a Pakistan-based company were found on the grenades used in the attacks.

The police clarified that Tariq, a close associate of Ghazi Baba, had not been arrested. “The Jammu and Kashmir police arrested one Tanveer, not Tariq,” Gupta said.

The CBI has sent evidence to the Central Forensic and Scientific Laboratory to ascertain whether Mohammad was one of the hijackers of an Indian Airlines plane.

The laboratory has been asked to verify whether the photograph of Mohammed was that of Sunny Ahmed Qazi alias ‘Burger’, who killed Rupin Katyal, the only victim in the hijacking of 1999.


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