Buddha faces bandh with carrot & stick
Backlash on leader, manager
Abductors strike in cops’ clothes
Blow to coal nexus probe
Suicide strike on army hub
Good for party, not so for Sonia
RSS plea to Atal on Pak nuke threat
Dropped ideologue pins hopes on dinner
People’s courts to hear complaints against utilities
Polite exit order to Governor

 
 
BUDDHA FACES BANDH WITH CARROT & STICK 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today indicated that the January 10 bandh called by the SUCI was based on “non-issues”.

At Writers’ Buildings, Bhattacharjee termed the Trinamul Congress-backed 24-hour Bengal bandh “unfortunate”. “I have made it amply clear that the rise in power tariff has nothing to do with the state government’s policy. We had to raise prices according to guidelines laid down by the State Electricity Regulatory Commission,” the chief minister said. He hinted that those opposed to the hike should move court instead of resorting to a bandh.

Touching on another issue behind Thursday’s bandh, the hike in college fees, Bhattacharjee said it was a long-pending decision. “We went for a rise in college fees only after a very long wait and I can assure all that no student coming from a needy family would be affected.” In an attempt to discredit the bandh sponsors, he pointed out that students were not disgruntled.

Bhattacharjee also felt that those who have called a bandh over the increase in hospital charges “have not done the right thing”. “You have to remember that most beds in government-run hospitals are free and the charges have been raised only in some cases,” the chief minister said.

He added that health minister Suryakanta Mishra had said in the Assembly that the new charges can be reviewed, and that an announcement does not mean it is a final decision.

A determined Bhattacharjee said the government would run public transport as usual on Thursday. “My chief secretary has already spoken to the airports authority and the railways to ensure that they, too, maintain normality,” the chief minister said.

Bhattacharjee added that if state employees kept away from offices without good reason during the bandh, action would be taken according to the rules.

The state BJP today decided to oppose the bandh even though its ally, Mamata Banerjee, has extended moral support to the strike. BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan said tonight the party was opposed to any sort of bandh since this would hamper the state’s development. “We feel there are other avenues to highlight grievances against the ruling party,” he added.

State Congress president Pranab Mukherjee felt that people have the democratic right to protest the hike in hospital and electricity charges. “But to resort to bandh is not desirable,” he added.

Speaking about the ISI threat in the state, the chief minister commended the police and said they have been alert in rounding up ISI agents and their accomplices. “I have said it in the past and I will say it again that the ISI is active in West Bengal,” Bhattacharjee said.

The Siliguri arrests have made the state intelligence agencies more aware about the ISI network here, he added. The police have tightened security in north Bengal, where a special alert has been sounded.

   

 
 
BACKLASH ON LEADER, MANAGER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Jute mill workers in the state again went on the rampage, ransacking the house of a trade union leader at Mahesh in Hooghly and assaulting the personnel manager of a mill at Kankinara in North 24-Parganas.

Labour minister Mohammed Amin said tonight he has ordered a probe into the incidents. “I shall discuss the matter tomorrow with the officials concerned,” he added.

Nearly 100 workers of the Wellington Jute Mill in Bhadreswar attacked the house of Aituc leader Debashis Dutta on Jagannath Ghat Lane in Mahesh under Rishra police station. They shouted slogans against Dutta and ransacked his house. Some members of Dutta’s family, who tried to resist the workers, were manhandled. The labour leader was not at home when the incident took place. Later a police picket was posted at the house.

The anger of the workers was directed against a tripartite agreement reached among the jute mill owners, the state government and several trade unions. The agreement was signed on Saturday at Writers’ Buildings in Amin’s presence to avert the imminent strike called by the central trade unions in the jute sector across the state. The strike was supposed to begin from Monday.

The leader of Aituc, the labour arm of the CPI, faced the brunt of their anger as he was one of the signatories.

“I strongly feel that resentment is growing among the jute employees as they have not been properly briefed on the details of the agreement by trade union leaders,” Amin said, condemning the attack.

The workers in a number of jute mills in Hooghly and North 24-Parganas launched a strike yesterday defying the agreement. The agreement states that one-third salary of a jute mill worker will be linked to the productivity of a mill.

Workers of the Kankinara Jute Mill in North 24-Parganas became enraged after learning that the mill authorities were reportedly planning to reduce the salary of the employees and ransacked the mill. Some workers manhandled the personnel manager. The mill authorities later closed down the mill and lodged an FIR.

   

 
 
ABDUCTORS STRIKE IN COPS’ CLOTHES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Jan. 8: 
Youths masquerading as policemen raided a hotel on the bustling B.C. Road in Burdwan town this morning and allegedly kidnapped two middle-aged fish traders.

Though the police are conducting raids throughout the district, the merchants, Anil Ray and Samir Chakraborty, have not been traced.

Subrata Banerjee, deputy superintendent of police (headquarters), said the miscreants came in a police vehicle and presented themselves as senior officials to the businessmen. Police stations in the neighbouring districts have been asked to confirm whether they had carried out the operation, but there has been no response yet.

“Preliminary investigations show that the two were kidnapped. But, we are yet to ascertain the motive,” said Banerjee.

The incident has created considerable resentment among residents and traders here. They expressed concern over the abduction and urged the police to improve deteriorating law and order in the town.

Hotel employees said the youths came at 9 am in a Tata Sumo and asked the manager for the number of the room where the two businessmen were staying.

“As I told them the number, the youths went to the room on the second floor and locked the door,” said Sanjay Khan, the manager. After 10 minutes, the youths came down and the traders followed them to the vehicle parked outside, Khan said. The suspicious hotel authorities later informed the police.

   

 
 
BLOW TO COAL NEXUS PROBE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
The investigation into the alleged coal mafia-police nexus received a blow when an investigating officer, additional superintendent of police (Burdwan) Anirban Roy, went on leave in protest against his superiors’ “lack of integrity”.

Sources said Roy was peeved when his superiors nullified action against a section of officers against whom he had found evidence. Roy raided a hotel on the outskirts of Burdwan town on Sunday and arrested a man and seized documents proving a “clear link” between senior district police officials and the mafia.

“Roy wanted immediate action against the men. He had evidence but was asked to shut up. He wanted to resign. Now he is being persuaded by the inspector-general not to take drastic action,” said a senior police officer and a close friend of Roy.

Inspector-general (western range) Jit Ram Bhagat had ordered the probe a couple of days ago with the chief minister’s blessings.

Bhagat told The Telegraph: “Roy wants to go on leave without pay. It has to be seen whether his leave will be accepted”.

   

 
 
SUICIDE STRIKE ON ARMY HUB 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Jan. 8: 
A fidayeen squad of militants today tried to storm the army’s brigade headquarters at Kupwara in north Kashmir, triggering an exchange of fire that left two rebels and a jawan dead.

The three heavily armed militants dressed in combat fatigues drove a minibus to the main gate of the camp in Trehgam, 96 km from here, masquerading as security personnel. They were intercepted by troops manning the traffic check point near the main gate, an army spokesman said. Security forces laid a tight cordon and senior army and police officers rushed to the spot.

One of the militants got off the vehicle and opened indiscriminate fire as the other two attempted to sneak into the camp. “They hurled grenades and fired from assault rifles. One soldier died on the spot while two others received serious injuries,” said a police official.

But the troops managed to foil their advance. Two of the militants were killed but the third sneaked in. “Searches are continuing in the nearby area,” said an official on condition of anonymity.

Two assault rifles, 10 magazines with 192 rounds, three grenades, one under-barrel grenade launcher with nine grenades and a wireless set were recovered from the slain terrorists. The army identified them as Abu Sayal from Jhelum in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and Mushtaq from the Sialkote area.

A PTI report says the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the strike but police and the army held the Lashkar-e-Toiba, blamed for the December 13 attack on Parliament, responsible.

“Three of our mujahideens barged into the camp and carried out the attack when the army personnel were taking tea,” Jamiat spokesman Jameel Ahmad told PTI by telephone.

Security in and around the city has been tightened.

The Jaish-e-Mohammad, another outfit associated with the Parliament strike, today threatened to intensify its activities against the Indian security forces.

“Our targets now will be Indian Air Force, Indian Navy besides (the) Indian Army and paramilitary forces,” Jaish chief in Jammu and Kashmir Abu Hijrat told a local news agency, Nafa, in a telephonic interview.

“The crackdown by the Pakistani government on Jaish and Lashkar will not make any difference as far as ‘jihadi’ organisations are concerned,” he said. “We are silently watching the developments and cannot comment on the happenings at the moment.”

Denying Jaish’s involvement in the Parliament strike and the October 1 attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, Hijrat disowned Gazi Baba, a Pakistani national named by Delhi police as the attack mastermind. “Baba is not a member of the Jem (Jaish),” he said.

Asked about their claiming of responsibility for the Assembly attack and its hasty withdrawal, Hijrat said: “The question of owning the responsibility for the acts we have not carried out does not arise.”

The change in Pakistani policy towards “jihadi” groups will not affect them, Hijrat asserted.

   

 
 
GOOD FOR PARTY, NOT SO FOR SONIA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 8: 
Pollsters have predicted a clean sweep for the Congress but Punjab is proving to be a headache for Sonia Gandhi.

With the elections drawing near, the Congress president is up till midnight going through reams of paper, tallying computer data, poll surveys, observers’ report and recommendations from senior leaders to finalise the 106 nominees.

Former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal is exerting pressure to call off the poll alliance with the CPI because some of her supporters are getting left out. Bhattal has even threatened to opt out of the electoral fray.

The Youth Congress, too, has a grudge and the entire state unit plans to resign if the younger lot is not accommodated. Congress MPs from Punjab also want their pound of flesh and are insisting on a “uniform policy” of a seat each for close relatives.

But Sonia feels candidates should be selected only on merit and how good their chances of winning are. That was the substance of the reports of the A.K. Antony and K. Karunakaran committee, which had probed the reasons for the Congress’ defeat in the 1999 general and 1993 Assembly polls.

Sonia told general secretary Motilal Vora that selection of candidates should be strictly in accordance with the guidelines aimed at discouraging close relatives from getting tickets.

But the MPs countered that their relatives should be treated at par with the kith and kin of other senior leaders like PCC chief Amrinder Singh, Buta Singh, Balram Jakhar, the late Beant Singh and Harcharan Singh Brar.

They said it was unfair to keep their relatives out when relatives of these senior leaders were given priority. Sonia’s office has also been flooded with complaints that aspirants were paying money to get tickets. She has asked Ahmad Patel, Arjun Singh, Bhajan Lal and Margret Alva to look into specific complaints.

   

 
 
RSS PLEA TO ATAL ON PAK NUKE THREAT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 8: 
Urging the government not to be “blackmailed” by the threat of a nuclear war, the RSS today advocated a “tougher” posture towards Pakistan like cutting off river water supply and smashing terrorist camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

“We are also a nuclear power and any country indulging in an adventurist step of starting a nuclear war should be prepared for a full-scale retaliation,” Sangh spokesman M.G. Vaidya told a news conference.

He warned that Pakistan should not be trusted. “How can we trust them not to use the nuclear weapon? The Kargil intrusion was not started by the terrorists after all,” Vaidya said.

He said the steps taken by Islamabad were not adequate and reiterated the Sangh’s demand for crossing the Line of Control and smashing terrorist hideouts. “PoK is our own territory and it would not be wrong … to take action against terrorists operating from there.”

Vaidya said while the three wars with Pakistan cost India 5,000 soldiers, counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir had exacted a toll several times more. He accused the US and the West of “double standards” while dealing with the neighbours.

He said the temple issue would be raised along with others in the coming elections. Vaidya said a closed-door meeting last month at Bhimoonipatnam near Visakhapatnam -- in which BJP chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi and VHP president Ashok Singhal were present -- decided that the sant yatra planned by the VHP this month from Ayodhya to Delhi would continue as scheduled.

Nearly 700 sants are expected to take part. The yatra is expected to culminate in a meeting with the Prime Minister, in which the delegation would ask him to hand over the disputed land in Ayodhya for the construction of the Ram temple. Vaidya maintained it would not create a law and order problem.

   

 
 
DROPPED IDEOLOGUE PINS HOPES ON DINNER 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 8: 
After being thrown out of the BJP unceremoniously, the once high-profile K.N. Govindacharya has fallen from grace within the RSS parivar too. The Sangh has stripped the former BJP general secretary and ideologue of his status as a pracharak (whole-timer), rendering him a persona non grata not just in the BJP but the RSS as well.

However, according to Sangh sources, Govindacharya’s loyalists in the front organisations are working overtime to bring him back into politics. He will make his first public appearance, after being in oblivion for almost a year, at a dinner hosted by Khadi and Village Industries Commission chairman Mahesh Sharma on January 14.

Sangh sources said the idea was mooted by his acolytes in the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which have reportedly been working on the RSS brass to “honourably” rehabilitate Govindacharya. But RSS joint general secretary Mohanrao Bhagwat — described as “ultra-conservative” — put his foot down when it appeared sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan might soften.

RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya confirmed that Govindacharya had ceased to be a pracharak but refused to say why. Other Sangh sources tried to underplay the decision, saying he was not really defrocked but “politely” asked to give up the pracharak status.

“It’s like this. Some organisations don’t believe in outrightly sacking their employees. They transfer them to a way-out place or marginalise them hoping they themselves would resign. Govindacharya was discreetly sounded out by the RSS brass that he was becoming a source of major embarrassment for them. He volunteered to give up pracharakship,” the sources said.

The last nail was an interview to a group of newspersons specially taken to Varanasi by one of his supporters at a time when he was supposed to have taken agyatvaas (renunciation). Govindacharya admitted to them about being once in love with Union sports and youth affairs minister Uma Bharti and his desire to marry her. She had rejected his overtures, he went on to say. After this admission, Govindacharya — already the butt of jokes in the BJP — was described as a “love-lorn Majnoo”.

Bhagwat and the others were reportedly “furious” with Govindacharya for this interview and felt he should be kept out of the RSS as “he had tarnished the unsullied image of one of India’s most respected institutions”.

According to the RSS’ code of conduct, a pracharak ceases to be one when he gets married, contests an election or holds an office of power and profit. But the unwritten rule was waived in the past for Sunder Singh Bhandari (the current Gujarat Governor) who was simultaneously Rajya Sabha MP and a pracharak. J.P. Mathur was reinducted as pracharak after he completed his Rajya Sabha tenure.

Sangh sources said even the rule about being single was broken in the case of Bihar BJP leader Taranath Jha, who continued being a pracharak even after marriage.

   

 
 
PEOPLE’S COURTS TO HEAR COMPLAINTS AGAINST UTILITIES 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 8: 
The Centre will set up permanent Lok Adalats to try cases relating to public utilities throughout the country.

Union law minister Arun Jaitley said the Cabinet today decided to amend the law to give Lok Adalats jurisdiction over public utility services like transport, post, telegraph and telephone services, supply of power and water, public conservancy or sanitation, hospitals and insurance.

If, for example, “you suddenly receive a telephone bill of Rs 80,000 or an inflated electricity bill, you need not go through the hassles of a civil court and wait for five or more years for a verdict. You can straight go to the Lok Adalats,” Jaitley said.

Banking and railways will remain outside the purview of the Adalats.

The government would bring the National Legal Services Amendment Bill in the budget session of Parliament, he added.

This is the first time that Lok Adalats will have the power to adjudicate a dispute. Under the new scheme, Lok Adalats will try to “bring about conciliation between the parties” but if no settlement is reached, they will dispose of the matter on merit. The existing Adalats can settle disputes only through compromise.

An upper limit of Rs 10 lakh has been fixed for the jurisdiction. “This is to prevent big corporates from moving the Adalats, which are only for common citizens. The proposed amendment is only for settling a dispute between a citizen and the public utilities,” the minister said

Each Lok Adalat will have three members, including the chairperson who will be “either retired or serving” judicial officer. The two remaining members will be people with knowledge of the public utility concerned.

“The Cabinet decision emanated from a recent Delhi High Court judgment directing all public utilities in the capital to set up their own Lok Adalats,” Jaitley said. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), New Delhi Municipal Committee and similar bodies have implemented the decision.

“This experiment is sought to be extended to the whole of the country,” the minister said. So far, 1.3 crore cases have been resolved in various Lok Adalats.

Out of two crore pending cases relating to utility services, only about a third have been resolved so far, Jaitley said. Even the existing cases can be transferred to Lok Adalats on a petition by the parties concerned.

However a citizen is not allowed to move a court of law once he moves a Lok Adalat. “This is to avoid abuse of process of law by a litigant,” said Jaitley.

The downside is that once the Bill is introduced, it will go to the standing committee of Parliament, where most such Bills hangs in limbo for years.

“What to do, That is our democratic system. We cannot legislate anywhere outside Parliament,” the minister said.

   

 
 
POLITE EXIT ORDER TO GOVERNOR 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 8: 
Jharkhand Governor and former Cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar has been given time to gracefully step down from office.

He is likely to put in his papers before the month-end. The Centre stopped short of sacking Kumar to save him the humiliation. The Governor has assured the Centre that he was willing to step down.

The government was embarrassed by allegations levelled by an arrested corporate director that he had picked up the tab for parties held at Kumar’s home while he was Cabinet secretary. Flex Industries director Ashok Chaturvedi, held on charges of bribing the country’s chief excise commissioner, came out with the allegation while being questioned by the CBI.

Chaturvedi, who is linked to the leader of a political party which is a key player in Uttar Pradesh, had said Flex Industries cleared three bills for parties held at Kumar’s Prithviraj Road residence in Delhi.

The bill amounts were Rs 44,000, Rs 79,218 and Rs 10,368 for the three parties. The last bill was for a “tea party”.

The government is now on the lookout for a replacement for Kumar. Several names are being considered but the Centre has not taken a final decision so far.

However, the Centre has nominated new Governors, both retired IPS officers, today for Nagaland and Tamil Nadu.

Shyamal Dutta, an IPS officer of the West Bengal cadre and director of the Intelligence Bureau till recently, will be the new Governor of Nagaland.

Dutta, who has no political affiliations, had returned home to Calcutta after his retirement. Dutta’s former colleagues in the bureau say he will make an “excellent Governor” and feel that he is the right person to guide the Centre at a crucial time when talks are on with the NSCN(I-M).

Dutta, who also headed the SPG, will replace another police officer, O.P. Sharma, as Nagaland Governor.

Ramamohan Rao, former director-general of Andhra Pradesh police, has been asked to fill in the vacancy created by Fathima Beevi’s controversial exit in Tamil Nadu.

A controversy had erupted in the state following the swearing in of Jayalalithaa as chief minister by Fathima Beevi, who quit in the wake of the row over DMK chief M. Karunanidhi’s arrest.

The post had remained vacant with Andhra Governor C. Rangarajan taking on additional charge. Rao’s appointment has the approval of Jayalalithaa, whose party is in power in the state. His name is said to have been forwarded by Chandrababu Naidu, an influential ally of the government. The appointment has lifted a protocol cloud for the Tamil Nadu government, which was uncertain whether Rangarajan would be able to hoist the national flag on Republic Day since he was expected to be in Hyderabad.

   
 

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