Reforms rebellion brews from within
Sweeper body row
Mamata grabs at fissures in Front
Ministers pick on each other
Students on picnic die in crash
Jammu busts al Qaida ‘global plot’
Pak orders troop build-up on border
Army on high alert, not in war mode
Ajay hardworking & ambitious: Colleagues
ISI-tainted officer kills himself

Malda, Dec. 24: 
After sitting on the sidelines for nearly seven months, the co-ordination committee today showed signs of picking a quarrel with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s reforms programme.

In a document released during its ongoing state conference, the leadership of the CPM-controlled government employees’ body charged the government with taking decisions unilaterally and accused it of trying to establish the supremacy of the bureaucracy.

The document said some recent administrative measures by the government had created “apprehension and confusion” among the employees and the co-ordination committee. This style of functioning went against the policy the government had been following since it took charge.

“The most important factor is that the Left Front government, with renewed vigour, is trying to establish the supremacy of the bureaucracy. We are hurt,” it added.

“A large number of posts is lying vacant in the administration and all types of recruitment are on hold except for those made through the Public Service Commission. Despite the vacancies, work is being carried out by contract-workers (as in hospitals). In some cases, vacancies have been filled up by employees on contract. This has complicated the situation,” it said.

The co-ordination committee said the employees were kept in the dark about the introduction of e-governance. “Before initiating e-governance, the government did not think it necessary to discuss its plans with the co-ordination committee. The government has also not explained how it proposes to carry out e-governance,” it said.

The employees’ body also criticised the system of recording attendance through computers.

It claimed the government was keeping posts vacant to bring in more reforms. “But it is employing people on contract and asking NGOs to do a lot of work. Though this will create problems for us, we should remain firmly beside the government. But we must also ensure the job security of the employees,” the document said.

It also pointed out that work was not being carried out efficiently in a number of important departments.


Calcutta, Dec. 24: 
A Writers’ Buildings sweeper who had a heart attack this morning lay near Gate No. 1 for about three hours before he was shifted to hospital.

The “body” of the sweeper, who worked in the caretaker’s department, was first taken to Hastings police station as the policemen on duty at Writers’ could not “find” a doctor.

Thakurram Routh, 42, had the attack around 7 am but was shifted to Calcutta Medical College Hospital much after 10 am where he was declared dead.

Later, the staff of the caretaker’s department protested at the way the police “whisked away the body of a sweeper” without even bothering to inform the caretaker.

The employees also met PWD minister Amar Chowdhury, who sought a report from the police and the caretaker.


Calcutta, Dec. 24: 
Seeking to reclaim her lost position in Bengal politics, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today initiated efforts to tie up with Left partners, many of whom have recently turned critical about the CPM.

The Forward Bloc, the second largest constituent of the Front, recently criticised the CPM on a number of issues. The newly-appointed party chairman and agriculture minister Kamal Guha had said after the party’s state conference yesterday that he would definitely protest if any of his party supporters were killed by the CPM. He also held the CPM responsible for the murder of a party leader in Cooch Behar.

Mamata said the Forward Bloc had merely repeated what the Trinamul had been saying for years and she would cooperate with the Left partner.

“They (Forward Bloc) have just repeated what we have been complaining about the CPM for the past 20 years. Still, we congratulate the party for becoming vocal against the biggest party in the Front. We appeal to them not to tolerate the CPM’s atrocity and gradually isolate the party in Bengal,” she said.

Both the CPM and the Forward Bloc, however, ignored Mamata’s proposal, saying she “need not be delighted” as one of the Left partners had criticised the CPM.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said: “There is no need for Mamata to be jubilant. There is no doubt that the Front will come to power again in the 2006 Assembly polls. The Forward Bloc will never support her party, neither will it seek her cooperation on anything.

“ The Forward Bloc, RSP and CPI are our friends and we ourselves sort out any differences that may arise among us. We are united and will remain so despite the opposition’s move against it.”

Forward Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh also reacted sharply. “We have criticised the CPM not to destroy the Front, which we have formed after a long struggle. We are a Leftist party and believe in class struggle. We also believe that society will be changed through revolution.

“The CPM also thinks similarly. Naturally, our criticism about the CPM is not aimed at ruining the Front, but to strengthen it to fight communal and imperialist forces like the Trinamul Congress and the BJP. Mamata Banerjee is, perhaps, living in a fool’s paradise as she is expecting us to play the role of a betrayer,” he said.

Mamata, who is yet to be re-inducted into the Union Cabinet, said the defeat of her party in the May elections was most frustrating. “But we managed to overcome the humiliation of the defeat in less than a fortnight. Now, all our 9 MPs, 60 MLAs and the councillors of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation are working unitedly to fight the CPM,” she said.


Burdwan, Dec. 24: 
The friction between CPM and other members of the Left Front came to the fore today at a function to inaugurate a road-widening project. That the exchange was between two ministers of the Cabinet made the “mudslinging” all the more prominent.

The occasion was the start of a project to widen the 52-km Burdwan-Kalna Road. On the dais were PWD minister Amar Chowdhury of the RSP, minister of state for municipal affairs Anju Kar, and Burdwan legislator Tapas Chattopadhyay, both from the CPM.

During his address, Chattopadhyay criticised the PWD department for not setting up a “beneficiary committee” for the project. According to a government policy, all projects taken up by the state should have such a committee, which would comprise local residents and government officials.

“The PWD officials have not set up the committee and are working independently, which is against government norms,” the MLA said, much to the discomfort of Chowdhury.

On the other hand, Chowdhury, in his speech, said the PWD does not only take decisions from Writers’ Buildings. “I am helpless. My department is fully dependent on the zilla parishads and panchayats. We only offer technical expertise and funds. The MLA (Chattopadhyay) demanded a beneficiary committee for the project but it will be of no help. During the reign of the Left government, the zilla parishads and the panchayats wield the maximum power. It is the duty of the panchayat to maintain strict vigil on the work,” he said.

But during her address, Kar supported Chattopadhyay and maintained that a beneficiary committee should be set up for the project.

She also criticised the quality of the 69-km road constructed between Burdwan and Kalna.


Bankura, Dec. 24: 
Six persons, including four students, were killed today in a crash between the tourist bus they were travelling in and a truck at Sibdanga near Bishnupur.

The victims, from a tutorial home in Bishnupur, were going for a picnic to the Chechuria eco-park when their bus, running at high speed, collided head-on with a truck in the dense fog. Police said there were 57 students in the bus, accompanied by their tutor Sanatan Modak.

Thirty-four people were injured and have been admitted to the Bankura Medical College and Bishnupur sub-divisional hospital. Two were shifted to Calcutta Medical College as they are critical.

People from nearby villages rushed to the site and began pulling out people as the sound of the crashing vehicles broke the silence of the early morning. The front of the bus was smashed. The bus driver escaped unhurt, but the driver and helper of the truck died on the spot.

The students who were killed on the spot include Gangadhar Kundu, Mangala Karmakar, Sumita Khara and Sadhan Modak, son of the tutor. Gangadhar and Mangala were Madhyamik students from Bishnupur and Parimaldevi Girls High School respectively. Sumita and Sadhan respectively studied in class VI and class IV in Bishnupur High School.

Locals smashed open the bus windows with iron rods and hammers and pulled out the trapped students.


Srinagar, Dec. 24: 

Laden associate, Palestinian held

Jammu and Kashmir police today said they had smashed an incipient al Qaida network in the country with the arrest of a member of the outfit from Jammu.

The police said they had arrested five others, including a Palestinian, adds PTI. They said the group planned to strike at key installations like the civil secretariat, the MLAs’ hostel and US and Israeli establishments in Delhi.

Inspector-general of police, Jammu range, P.L. Gupta told reporters the al Qaida activist, whom he identified as Qamar Ayub, was the chief of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.

“He had been entrusted with the additional responsibility of establishing al Qaida modules elsewhere in the country, including the Union capital,” Gupta said. “We have identified the main pointmen for different areas.”

Gupta said Ayub was a close confidant of Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden, accused by Washington of masterminding the September 11 attacks.

The arrest of Ayub, a resident of Mirpur Kotli, in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, came after revelations by an arrested activist of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), headed by former Union home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

Gupta said Abdul Rahim Wani, a zonal president of the People’s Democratic Party, “revealed during questioning… that he had provided a fake identity card to the al Qaida activist. The card says the al-Qaida member was a special police officer.”

The police officer said Wani’s police guards “were aware” of the identity of the subject but did not share the information with the authorities. “The two guards are being dismissed from service and they have been arrested,” he said.

Gupta said a huge quantity of arms and explosives were recovered from Ayub. “These were to be used to attack vital installations, including the MLAs’ hostel, the civil secretariat and US and Israeli establishments in Delhi,” he said.

The police have also arrested a person from Bihar. He has been identified as Mohammad Tahir Nadri. More arrests are likely, police said.

Militants, meanwhile, barged into the house of Talib Hussain, a former state minister, and took away three self-loading rifles, five .303 rifles and ammunition from the police guards deployed at the house.

Militants also attacked policemen guarding the house of Moulvi Dil Mohammad, the president of Anjumane Islamia, and escaped with a gun and ammunition.

Security forces have launched a massive manhunt for the militants.


Islamabad, Dec. 24: 
Pakistan has decided to substantially increase troop deployment on the Line of Control and on the international border, well-placed sources said.

The decision was taken at a high-level meeting and was confirmed by a federal minister.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, General Muhammad Aziz, presided over the meeting which discussed what was termed a “very alarming situation” created by massive military build-up by India.

The meeting was also attended by top officers of the three services and officials of the defence ministry.

The sources said instructions to substantially increase both troops and military equipment on the LoC and the international border were issued immediately after the meeting.

Sources said President Pervez Musharraf, scheduled to reach Islamabad from China on Monday night, would meet close military and civilian confidants as soon as he arrives.

He is also expected to convene a meeting of all corps commanders. A joint meeting of the National Security Council and the Cabinet is on the cards on Wednesday.

The sources said today’s meeting was told that the air force has started full vigilance and planes were patrolling some sections almost round the clock.

A spokesman said the joint chiefs’ meeting approved “new measures” to counter any attack from across the border.

The federal minister for Kashmir affairs and northern areas, Abbas Sarfaraz Khan, said Pakistan was ready to meet any eventuality but felt that the neighbours should not go to the extent where they would have no option but a nuclear war.

Reuters quoted sources as saying the Pakistani army has deployed anti-aircraft guns and moved most troops from the eastern garrison town of Sialkot to the border.

Artillery exchanges have increased in the Sharkargarh-Zafarwal sector of the working boundary. Troops exchanged mortar and heavy machinegun fire during the day.

Quoting senior officials, The News said the Pakistan navy has commissioned surveillance aircraft such as the P-3Orion to collect real-time maritime intelligence.

In the past 48 hours, Pakistan’s strategic command has been engaged in redeploying medium-range ballistic missile batteries, the report said.

Islamabad has cancelled leave for its troops and recalled all military personnel on leave as part of its high alert.

MLA under fire

In Jammu, MLA Som Nath and deputy commissioner of Jammu Rohit Kansal escaped unhurt when Pakistani troops opened fire on their vehicles near the border in the Samba area of the Jammu sector last night.

Several bullets hit the vehicles but security personnel accompanying them whisked Kansal and Nath to safety, adds PTI.


New Delhi, Dec. 24: 
The army has moved closer to achieving full strength with unit commanders being asked to determine their force-levels and requirements. Technically, it does not mean that all leave is cancelled forthwith and that all personnel on leave are being recalled for duty immediately.

“We have asked unit commanders to decide on their respective force-levels according to requirements,” sources said today.

With the decision on leave left to unit commanders, it is likely that formations will want to move and take positions as they attain optimum strength. Last week, the army had started restricting leave for officers.

Specialised courses run by the army for its officers and men have also not been suspended. In times of conflict, these courses are suspended and the men/women attending them are asked to report for duty to their respective units.

Defence minister George Fernandes, who left this morning to tour the front, said before leaving that “troops are on very high alert but we do not expect an outbreak of war. Troops have not taken battle positions.”

Officially, the word is still not out for a “general mobilisation”. Right now, forces are being moved from peace stations in Central and North India to positions near the international boundary in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. This means troops involved in counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast and those on the border with China in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are not being moved to the western theatre. The deployment of forces in Jammu and Kashmir is near-optimum. The Indian army has a total strength of about 11 lakh.

The international boundary continues to be manned by the Border Security Force. Army units are at least five kilometres away from the border. Along the Line of Control, however, the army is eyeball-to-eyeball with Pakistani forces.

Naval sources said that a “general alert” had been sounded but frigates and destroyers have not been asked to move in battle formations. Neither have a significant number been put on a “time-alert”, that is, sailors are not being asked to report for duty and prepare to move at short notice. At any given time, a small number of ships under the Western Command are always on a “time-alert”.

The brainstorming in the top echelons of the military continues. Apart from drafting operational plans, commanders have also been closely monitoring geo-political developments in the sub-continent.

In informal briefings within the security establishment, there appears to be a growing consensus that there is little to achieve by attacking militant camps across the LoC.

Fernandes himself is understood to have conveyed as much to the Cabinet Committee on Security. Since September 11, the camps are said have retreated deeper into Pakistani territory or have restructured themselves. In the circumstances, the idea of “hot pursuit” is being rubbished by security experts because the camps, wherever they might be, will be behind Pakistani defences which will pose a major threat to any “chasing” operation.


New Delhi, Dec. 24: 
It would have been a typical tale of a man from Garhwal hills trying to make both ends meet in Delhi. But Ajay Kumar seemed to have different plans.

Kumar came to Delhi where his father, late Ghasi Ram, worked as a cook in the US embassy. He was inducted in the Parliament secretariat as a lower division clerk and rose to become an upper division clerk when he completed his MA in Hindi.

Colleagues remember him as an ambitious but hardworking person who made extra money by helping MPs to frame questions that were posed to ministers in Parliament.

As a senior executive assistant at Parliament secretariat’s question cell, Ajay’s job was to edit parliamentary questions. As a result, he was in possession of data ranging from the defence sector and railways to telecommunications.

After 20 years in service, Ajay, 48, was set to be promoted as section officer. Life, as his neighbours in Nanakpura said, was smooth for him. He had built a house in Delhi’s Shantiniketan area and his son is doing MBBS in the capital. He has two daughters.

Colleagues and friends are unwilling to buy the police version that Ajay frequented call girls. They admitted that he had a drinking problem.

The police said they recovered a map of Meerut cantonment and vital information on the Uranium Corporation of India that Ajay had handed over to Mohammad Sharief Khan for Rs 2,000.

Ajay reportedly got in touch with the Pakistan high commission official over phone many years ago. Till he ran out of luck, Ajay had met Khan five times.

The last time the two met, Khan was keen to visit Parliament House but Ajay discouraged him. The police said he told Khan that nobody was armed inside Parliament and gave other sensitive information.

The government is now working out whether there is a link between the Pakistan high commission and the terrorists involved in the Parliament attack.

Intelligence agencies are also quizzing those who were on duty at Parliament’s main gate on December 13. An in-house inquiry has also been ordered by those responsible for Parliament security to see if there was any “infiltration”.

Parliament staff were taken aback by the sensational disclosure involving Ajay. Many were unwilling to comment on Ajay’s conduct. “We already have many problems,” said one when contacted on telephone.


Hyderabad, Dec. 24: 
A high-ranking officer of the eastern naval command, who was charged with treason and aiding Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, committed suicide in Visakhapatnam jail yesterday.

Lieutenant-commander Raj Kumar, chief security officer of the navy armament depot, was one of the three Visakhapatnam-based naval officers being tried for treason.

The other two officers — Rajbir Singh and Virendra Singh — have been shifted to the prison’s high-security wing following Kumar’s suicide.

Kumar was arrested in August by state police while he was allegedly emailing sensitive documents of the armament depot to a contact in Kathmandu. According to the police, Kumar hung himself with his lungi inside the jail toilet.

Kumar had written a letter to the naval high command pleading for mercy. “I have committed a sin,” he wrote in his dairy a day before his suicide.

The officer was a broken man when this correspondent met him a few months ago. “Please do not let my mother know,” he had begged.

His bail petition had been rejected thrice and the military court had more or less held him guilty of treason. Kumar had also sent a mercy petition to the President but was not confident of the outcome.


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