Mamata clips mayor’s wings
Ministers speak up for blockades
3 lynched after bid on leader
Five more held for ISI links
Comrades try to oust district boss
Mobilisation milestone for army
Militants torch army launch-pad options
RSS takes temples to tribal homes
Scam probe in cold storage
Loan skeletons tumble out of bank

 
 
MAMATA CLIPS MAYOR’S WINGS 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
Uncomfortable with mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s subtle attempts to project himself as the only “progressive” face in the Trinamul, Mamata Banerjee appears to be taking a hesitant step towards “downsizing” him.

At last week’s Trinamul state committee where Mukherjee, a former mentor of Mamata and among the early backers of Trinamul, found himself excluded from two key organisational positions — one in the party’s policy-making body and the other in the disciplinary committee.

Officials close to Trinamul said Mukherjee’s growing image as a “pro-development” leader has made Mamata apprehensive.

Mukherjee’s present campaign to evict hawkers and illegal settlers from Calcutta — echoing the sentiments of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government — has put him in a position where people have begun to compare Mamata with Mukherjee’s stance on development.

Fearing that Mukherjee was stealing a march over Mamata, some of her supporters, including Pankaj Banerjee and Saugata Roy, are trying to convince the Trinamul leader that the mayor’s activities were tarnishing the party’s image.

“Take, for instance, Mukherjee’s attending the meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Committee last month. The meeting was chaired by the chief minister and was attended by suspended rebel MP Ajit Panja. The Trinamul leadership did not take this lightly,” a Trinamul official said.

Mukherjee’s inclusion in the Metropolitan Planning Committee has also caused a lot of heartburn within the party as many senior leaders had aspired to become a member of Bengal’s newly-formed apex body for development.

Also, sources close to Mamata feel that Mukherjee’s repeated assertions that he would work jointly with the Left Front government for the city’s development has cast a shadow on Trinamul.

Officials agree that Mamata has not been able to rein in Mukherjee. In the Assembly, too, Mukherjee triumphed by becoming the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee despite attempts by Mamata through her lieutenants such as Subrata Bakshi to appoint Trinamul MLA Dipak Ghosh to the post. Bakshi had even started a signature campaign in favour of Ghosh.

“Now, Subratada has become a symbol of defiance for Mamata. Whenever she has tried to side with evicted hawkers or illegal settlers, the mayor has proved to be a stumbling block for her,” said an official.

Right from the eviction of illegal settlers from along Tolly’s Nullah, Mukherjee’s actions have projected Mamata as anti-development.

Mukherjee, however, remained unfazed.

“She (Mamata) had raised objections against the eviction of hawkers from along Tolly’s Nullah and washing of roads. She is now against eviction of hawkers from Esplanade. But I will implement the drive against hawkers and reintroduce washing of roads,” the mayor said.

   

 
 
MINISTERS SPEAK UP FOR BLOCKADES 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
Two ministers today joined the Opposition’s protest against the ban on road and rail blockades and the hike in hospital charges even as the administration braced itself to oppose the proposed Bangla bandh called on Thursday over these issues.

While agriculture minister and veteran Forward Bloc leader Kamal Guha vowed “even to go to jail in support of road and railway blockades”, Biswanath Chowdhury of the RSP, in charge of jail and social welfare, blasted the CPM for taking a “unilateral decision to hike hospital charges” and threatened to launch an agitation.

Guha told reporters in Burdwan that his party had never accepted the law against blockades. “The law has been there, but it never got implemented. Blockades have always served as an effective weapon in the people’s hand for expressing their grievances on different issues. I led the people’s movement in Cooch Behar and went to jail several times. I will again go to jail to safeguard the people’s interest,” he said.

The agriculture minister felt the state government should assess the character of people’s protests which often led to the blockades.

“For instance, villagers put up road blockades if police do not reach a murder site on time. Workers sometimes block roads and railway tracks to realise their demands. The state government, therefore, has to work on issues over which roads and railway tracks are blocked. The police under the Left Front government should not function like the British police,” Guha said.

Chowdhury, who was addressing a rally at Kaliachak in connection with the RSP’s seventh Malda district conference, said his party was not consulted by the CPM over the hike in hospital charges. “We knew nothing about the steep increase in hospital charges which will hurt the common people,” he said.

The jail minister felt co-ordination was lacking among the Left Front constituents in the districts and called for efforts to strengthen unity at the grassroots level. “It is because of our lack of unity that Opposition parties like the Trinamul Congress and the BJP have at times succeeded in exploiting the people’s grievances,” he said.

   

 
 
3 LYNCHED AFTER BID ON LEADER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
An angry mob lynched three people after they fired and seriously injured a CPM youth leader and a woman near Habibpur railway station under the Ranaghat police station.

The police also fired two rounds to disperse the crowd. However, no one was arrested till late tonight.

According to information reaching Writers’ Buildings, three youths from the crowd fired at Kushilal Sarkar, 45, a functionary of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) — the CPM’s youth wing — when he was inside a teashop near the railway station at around 9.45 am.

Enraged, over 500 people from the station campus chased the youths. In retaliation, the miscreants opened fire, seriously injuring Kaikayee Biswas, a vegetable vendor. The DYFI leadership has called a 12-hour bandh tomorrow at Habibpur to protest against the attack on Sarkar

Officer-in-charge of Ranaghat police station said raids were being conducted to arrest those involved in the lynching. “We are yet to ascertain the reason behind the attack. However, we have been interrogating shopkeepers and the local people,” he added.

According to eyewitnesses, minutes after the firing, a large crowd started chasing the miscreants. Three of them ran into the nearby railway colony, but were dragged out and beaten to death. Others, however, managed to escape. “There were at least seven in the gang,” an eyewitness said.

She said policemen hearing the gunfire came from the nearby outpost. Later, with reinforcements from Ranaghat police station, they brought the situation under control in half an hour.

Saraswati Sarkar, gram panchayat upapradhan, alleged that the miscreants were under the shelter of a Congress leader.

   

 
 
FIVE MORE HELD FOR ISI LINKS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
Five more people suspected to have links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were rounded up from different parts of Siliguri district today.

Reports reaching the state home department during the day said all of them had connections with Mohammad Dilshad, a Pakistani national and senior ISI operative who was arrested by the Darjeeling police on January 4.

Home department sources said all five were Indian nationals and none of them was in the army.

The January 4 arrests included a jawan belonging to the Indian army’s supply corps.

Senior home department officials said that its intelligence branch had formed a team which was working closely with the army.

“Dilshad’s arrest and the person held in Delhi, Abdul Bari Panwalla, as well as the involvement of armymen is a matter of serious concern to us,” official said.

   

 
 
COMRADES TRY TO OUST DISTRICT BOSS 
 
 
FROM NARESH JANA
 
Midnapore, Jan. 7: 
A section of CPM district functionaries is trying to remove district party secretary Dipak Sarkar from his post. These leaders, many of whom are close to party MP Lakshman Seth, have backed Tarun Roy, the secretary of the district unit of the Paschimbanga Pradeshik Krishak Sabha, as the next secretary of the district party. Moreover, health minister Suryakanta Mishra, another influential district leader, also favours the anti-Sarkar faction.

Both pro- and anti-Sarkar factions are waiting for the re-election of all 38 zonal committees of the district. Nothing will be clear until these zonal committees are reorganised by January 15, because these will play a direct role in reorganising the district committee.

Sarkar enjoys a majority in the existing district secretariat as most of the 14 secretariat members are close to him. But in the 72-member district committee, at least 15 members belong to the faction led by Seth, the MP from Tamluk. Besides, five other district committee members have recently developed anti-Sarkar feelings, party insiders said.

The anti-Sarkar faction has raised some touchy issues in its appeal to ordinary party members. Sarkar has been accused of keeping the state leadership and former chief minister Jyoti Basu in the dark about the post-poll violence in Keshpur, Garbeta and other pockets in the district. Basu and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had reportedly criticised the district leadership for this.

Allegedly, Sarkar, who exercises considerable influence over the SFI, did not intervene when SFI activists manhandled the Vidyasagar University vice-chancellor, for which the state party leadership and the government had to face embarrassment. The anti-Sarkar faction is trying to convince ordinary party members that Sarkar was instrumental behind the vice-chancellor’s manhandling as the latter had refused to give appointments to some CPM functionaries recommended by him. Both the state CPM and SFI leadership had criticised the district SFI leadership for the manhandling.

Sarkar’s opponents accuse him of nepotism. A close relative of Sarkar is reportedly controlling contractors working for a number of development projects carried out by the zilla parishad. It is impossible for any contractor to work in Midnapore without the green signal from Sarkar’s relative.

The state party leadership is aware of this allegation. When the state government decided to bifurcate Midnapore district, it had announced that the zilla parishad would not be divided till the next panchayat polls, scheduled in 2003. But recently, Suryakanta Mishra has reportedly initiated a move to bifurcate the zilla parishad. Party insiders believe the health minister has been assigned by the state party leadership to bifurcate the zilla parishad as it wants an end to the alleged nepotism by Sarkar.

   

 
 
MOBILISATION MILESTONE FOR ARMY 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
The army has completed its largest-ever mobilisation and deployment in record time. Even in 1971, the army took four months to be deployed before the 14-day war that was fought mostly in the eastern theatre.

It is against this background that the shooting of a Pakistani Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) over Poonch yesterday — otherwise not such a major incident according to military experts — assumed importance. A day later, however, neither India nor Pakistan is making it such a big issue.

The Pakistani drone was either a Chinese made BS-104 or a BS-206. These pilotless aircraft with a wingspan of 2.55 metres have an endurance of three hours and are known to be used with increasing frequency prior to commencing operations. But transgressions of airspace by drones on the LoC are not uncommon.

India’s 11-lakh strong army is now fully ranged along the border and the Line of Control. Long stretches along the border have been mined, and it could take engineers’ units several months to de-mine the fields. Leave has effectively been cancelled and training courses suspended.

The entire exercise of moving the army — called Operation Parakram — covers all three armed services and has involved the railways. Among its first objectives was to complete mobilisation within the shortest possible time without disrupting the long-distance public transport flows.

In 1971, the force levels were much lower but it still took time. The mobilisation this time began around December 15 and was all but complete in three weeks. When the decision was taken to mobilise, the army top brass concluded that such troop movement could not be hidden or disguised and therefore speed was essential.

Intelligence intercepts here indicated that Pakistan was still mobilising forces. Its latest movements have been of three more armoured brigades — 6, 7 and 9 — that have moved in the region of Gujranwala. An armoured brigade usually comprises three regiments of about 40 tanks each.

Defence sources said they would not be surprised if more drones are used. These are considered low value assets and the cost of one crashing is less than the cost of a reconnaissance plane and its trained pilot. Drones are fitted with sensors to either take photographic images or to detect enemy radio signals.

Pakistan has about seven different types of Drones and this is a segment in which it enjoys an edge over India. India is trying to beat Pakistan in this department by acquiring airborne early warning systems from Israel.

Surprisingly, neither the army nor the air force is rushing to take credit for the shooting of the drone yesterday. Initial reports suggested that the drone was fired at by units of the army’s air defence artillery. It was first detected by an IAF radar and it is possible that a fighter was also sent after it but there was no confirmation of this from official sources.

It is learnt that for some time now the forces have been trying to perfect a system of tracking and bringing down drones. If the claim of downing the drone yesterday is to be believed, the army and the air force have achieved some success.

On Friday, the army lost a drone, believed to be a Searcher II (acquired from Israel) that crash-landed within Indian territory. The wreckage of the drone shot on Sunday has not yet been seen.

   

 
 
MILITANTS TORCH ARMY LAUNCH-PAD OPTIONS 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Jammu, Jan. 7: 
With the army shifting to the border from far-flung areas of the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch, terrorists have now started targeting houses and schools which were occupied by Indian troops to launch raids and searches.

As many as 60 houses and schools have so far been torched by the terrorists. The worst affected areas include Thanamandi and Gambhir. Senior government officials said houses were being burnt to ensure that the army cannot use them once tension along the Line of Control subsides.

“The growing pattern of burnt houses used by the army in the interior areas of Rajouri and Poonch indicates that terrorists aided and abetted by Pakistan are working according to a plan. The houses have been completely gutted, suggesting that forces opposed to India consider the army’s work from such bases a threat to them,” a Northern Command spokesman said.

“But we remain undeterred by such acts. With the total elimination of terrorists operation in the state in full swing, burning of houses is being seen as a desperate act by the terrorists to destroy infrastructure used by the army. Owners, too, are being threatened from letting out their premises to security forces,” the spokesman said.

With a war-like situation in Poonch, where a heavy artillery shell landed less than 500 metres from the outskirts of the town last night, panic-stricken people are making a beeline for safer places.

“The situation is very dangerous there. The Pakistanis are resorting to heavy firing and mortar shelling. Heavy artillery is also being used. The shelling and firing increases in intensity at night, making it difficult for even infants to sleep. People are dying and even children have been injured,” said Mohammad Sartaj, who has fled to his relatives in Bishnupur in another dangerous zone, Chicken Neck, surrounded by Pakistan on three sides, “but riskless at the moment”.

There are also reports of large queues outside banks with people scrambling to withdraw their savings before fleeing Poonch. A large number of civilians, suspected to be informers, are also falling to the bullets of the terrorists every day. Even women are not being spared.

Unconfirmed reports of Indian troops having shot down a Pakistani unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over Poonch have also added to the panic. Spokesmen of both the Northern Command and the 16 Corps late last night denied having released any news item of an UAV being shot down.

The Pakistanis, too, have denied losing any aircraft in the region. The army has now banned media entry to forward areas. Requests to visit forward areas are being met with a polite “too dangerous” reply.

Senior army officials have all of a sudden become difficult to approach. A full stop to information is what New Delhi has ordered.

In Poonch, Pakistani troops are targeting both civilians as well as military areas. Indian troops are also retaliating in kind. Incidentally, Pakistan, in a public relations exercise, locals said, has invited UN observers to visit their side to look at the damage caused by Indian shelling.

There are also reports of Pakistan posting war-hardened Afghan guerrillas along the Rajouri-Poonch sector. Pakistan, army sources said, is also releasing dangerous criminals from jails and posting them along the Line of Control in the area.

“The criminals being posted along the border would have been hanged or shot anyway by the Pakistani civil authorities. Such criminals are being armed and posted on forward posts in Poonch and Rajouri,” a senior army officer revealed.

So far, more than 6,000 persons have migrated from Poonch border villages and taken shelter in Islamia School, Government Middle School, Government Higher Secondary School, the ITI, Gujjar Hostel and Degree College Hostel in the town. Some have migrated to Jammu town.

Exchange of heavy and medium firing was continuing all along the Line of Control and even the International Border in the Jammu-Poonch sector till last reports came in.

Jabalpur blast

A blast rocked the ordinance factory at Khamaria on the outskirts of Jabalpur tonight damaging some buildings but there was no casualty, a senior police official said, according to a PTI report.

   

 
 
RSS TAKES TEMPLES TO TRIBAL HOMES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
The RSS plans to build “devalayas” in 3.5 lakh tribal homes in Jhabua and Dhar districts of Madhya Pradesh, which were rocked by the rape of four nuns, have raised the hackles of the church.

On the stepped-up anti-Christian campaign and the proliferation of pamphlets against foreign missionaries who “convert people by fraud”, church sources said the moves would vitiate the atmosphere and may even endanger the Church-RSS dialogue.

“On the one hand they extended the olive branch of dialogue and on the other they are hoodwinking us on the sly by orchestrated hate campaign,” a Church official said. Peace had returned to the area after nearly three years and the Sangh parivar drive smacked of ulterior motives, he added.

Asked if the matter would be taken up when the church leaders resume dialogue with RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India spokesman for public affairs Dominic Emmanuel said the church is disturbed by the reports and may take up the issue with Sudarshan.

Emmanuel said he had toured Madhya Pradesh last month and had seen anti-Christian posters at several places. He had brought it to the notice of home minister L.K. Advani on December 12.

Advani had reportedly said that he had also seen anti-Hindu literature in the area.

Asked when the next round of the church-RSS talks would be held, Emmanuel said no date has been fixed. The RSS and the church officials have had four rounds of talks so far. The dialogue, initiated by the National Commission for Minorities, however, did not make much headway as some of church leaders had suspected the motive of the commission and the RSS.

Anil Daga, the RSS chief of Indore region, was quoted as having said that the “devalayas have already been built in 60 per cent of tribal homes”. The campaign will culminate in a Hindu Sangam in Jhabua on January 16.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh visited Jhabua on December 30 for first hand information. Earlier, he had despatched home minister Mahendra Baudh to the area. Baudh had threatened to ban the Sangam.

   

 
 
SCAM PROBE IN COLD STORAGE 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, Jan. 7: 
A Rs 1,000-crore scam has been busted in Bihar but neither the government nor the Opposition appear to be keen on an investigation.

Fertiliser subsidies worth Rs 1,000 crore, which were to have benefited farmers, were allegedly pocketed by fertiliser producing companies and a section of unscrupulous officers in the state agriculture department.

The government referred the irregularities to the state vigilance department, which recommended a CBI probe. A House committee also brought out a report on the scam. But fearing a fresh political storm, the government is sitting on the issue.

Even before the CBI is officially asked to investigate the scam, there are murmurs that the bureau is overworked. The CBI was handed at least six cases of financial bungling in the state in the past four years.

Opposition leader Sushil Modi is also quiet because, unlike the fodder scam in which politicians of the Congress and the RJD were involved, the BJP-led Centre might not escape unscathed if the fertiliser scam is investigated. “This is one scam in which politicians of all shades would be involved unlike the previous big scam, in which only RJD and Congress leaders were found involved,” said a former chief minister.

But “the recurrence of scams in the state has dulled the sensitivity of politicians. Scam fatigue is clearly on the cards”, he added.

Bihar agriculture minister Seoshankar Yadav said on December 28 that he had sent the recommendation of a CBI probe to chief minister Rabri Devi. But after this made headlines in the local press, the minister retracted his statement.

RJD national spokesman Shivanand Tiwari said there was some confusion in Yadav’s statement. “We have no problem in announcing a CBI probe. But the recommendations are yet to reach chief minister’s office,” he said.

According to the House committee, the state agriculture department issued 22 utilisation certificates for 13.04 lakh tons of fertiliser between 1994 and 1998 and received Rs 162.02 crore in Central subsidies. But these utilisation certificates were released on fake estimates, the report said.

“This is just 20 per cent of the total subsidy supposed to have been given to the companies. It would run into Rs 1,000 crore if one counted the 80 per cent on account subsidy already released by the Centre to fertiliser-producing companies during the period,” said the vigilance report.

“This needs to be probed by (the) CBI since the companies involved were based outside Bihar,” said D.P. Ojha, state vigilance department chief.

“The fertiliser scam is a national scam for it exploits a system to violate rules and bend norms to deprive the farmers,” said Yasodhanand Singh, chairman of the House committee.

Under the system, farmers purchase bags of highly subsidised fertilisers from state-run outlets. The Centre provides assistance to farmers on the basis of requisitions from state agriculture officers. In the past, the subsidy used to be paid after the Centre had received utilisation certificates from the state.

   

 
 
LOAN SKELETONS TUMBLE OUT OF BANK 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Jan. 7: 
A Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probe into fraud by the Anand-based Charotar Nagarik Sahakari Bank Limited has revealed skeletons in its Ahmedabad branch.

Eleven persons, all from the same family, took loans worth Rs 11 crore from the bank between June 1998 and December 2000 and did not pay back. Bank manager Dinesh Patel lodged a complaint of cheating, forgery and fraudulent activities against the 11, who had withdrawn money in favour of fictitious companies.

But the role of bank officials has also come under a cloud, especially since they waited for several months before going to the police.

Prime accused Kanti Patel got Rs 1 crore on June 17, 1998 to revamp his tractor spare parts business in Banaskantha. Other family members also took a loan of Rs 1 crore each from the same branch. All of them submitted documents saying the borrowed money would be utilised for their “spare parts business’’.

The police are verifying whether the accused have a business in Banaskatha or elsewhere in the state. It will also be checked whether bank officials responsible for verification before sanctioning the loan did their job properly.

After the Vadodara-based People’s Co-operative Bank Limited filed a case of fraud against the Anand-based bank, now run by an administrator appointed by the state government, the CID has taken over the investigation.

The People’s Cooperative Bank had last week served a notice on the Anand-based bank, asking it to repay Rs 15 crore within two months. But following a run on the bank by depositors, Charotar bank downed its shutters on Thursday. The Vadodara-based bank then approached the police. Charotar bank had issued letters of credit (LCs) worth Rs 20 crore to five companies more than a year ago. The companies got the LCs discounted at People’s Cooperative. Charotar bank, which stood guarantee for the transaction, paid up only Rs 5 crore before running into a payments crisis.

   
 

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