CPM lesson for rival
Commuter trap, vendor paradise
Board seeks more madarsa funds
Molest slur on acting BDO
Training for forces to stop arms theft
Pak raises pitch of handover pledge
Hijack negotiator picked for Kabul
Shield from Calcutta heat for Pervez
Bhopal throws up Ansari link
Coffins star in Kargil charade

Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
Like its archrival CPM, Trinamul Congress is also planning to impose a levy on its MPs, MLAs and councillors to fill its party coffers. The proposal was recently cleared by Mamata Banerjee.

Party MLA Partha Chatterjee has been assigned the job of collecting the levy which will also be slapped on a number of civic bodies, including the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

It is learnt that Trinamul will collect Rs 500 from each of its 60 MLAs every month. However, contributions from party MPs have not been fixed yet. Councillors will have to pay Rs 100 per month to the party, sources said.

However, it has not yet been decided whether ordinary party members would have to pay the levy.

While a section of senior party leaders wants ordinary members to pay the levy, some have opposed it on the ground that many of the ordinary members are not well-off and would not be able to bear the burden.

The issue will be settled soon after February 11 when the party concludes its statewide jail bharo programme.

In March, Trinamul will hold a meeting of its national executives in New Delhi. Before that the party would need huge funds and the recent drive is probably with an eye on the conclave.

But paying levy to the party will be a permanent affair and will be considered a mark of loyalty to the organisation.

By February, all block and district committees of the party will be reorganised. Delegates for the national executives will be selected from each district in the state.

At present, important party functionaries bear the cost of running several party programmes. But Mamata wants an end to this practice and proposes to set up a party fund.

The recently-concluded meeting of the state executives in Digha has adopted a number of resolutions many of which bear an uncanny resemblance to the CPM’s style of functioning.

Like CPM, Mamata also plans to make her party cadre-based. In doing so, she has drafted a detailed programme, proposing to conduct party classes regularly to educate some selected party workers about the party line and how to take on the CPM’s campaign.

Mamata also picked up some important party functionaries such as Sougata Roy, Nirbed Roy, Arunava Ghosh and Partha Chatterjee — all party MLAs — to conduct the classes. All the four party MLAs are now busy preparing the guidelines and lectures for the classes, the sources said.


Howrah, Jan. 24: 
Biswajit Sarkar was in a rush to get home. His son was ill; he had got the news over the phone.

From his Dalhousie office he caught a cab to Howrah station. Everything went smoothly till there. He had some six minutes to go before the next Burdwan local left station. A cakewalk, he thought.

He was mistaken.

The subway, he realised just into it, was no place for pedestrians. It had been transformed into a haven for vegetable sellers. This, he learnt, was how things were every evening.

Several attempts to keep the subway clean for commuters have so far ended in a whimper.

“We have conducted several drives in the past but vendors return to business as usual the next day. We are left with no option but to take police help to get them permanently evicted,” said divisional railway manager, Howrah, Swapan Chowdhury.

He, however, alleged that policemen posted in the subway were hand in glove with vegetable vendors. “I have a strong feeling that they cannot thrive unless they are patronised by policemen,” he added.

The subway, which was constructed in the early seventies to facilitate smooth flow of traffic, turns into a full-fledged market these days after 5 pm..

Daily transactions run into anything between Rs 30,000 and Rs 35,000. Sources alleged that vendors have to pay “hafta” to police who come to their rescue whenever any drive is conducted after getting complaints from people.

“We have to bribe policemen to run the business. They promise us that nobody can do any harm,” said Kaveri Dhal, a vegetable vendor from a remote village in Sankrail .

“It seems that railway officials have turned a blind eye to this nuisance. Why should we suffer everyday for the lackadaisical attitude of these officials?” said Shyamal Kumar of Dankuni.

Reacting to the charges, Benoy Chakraborty, superintendent of railway police, Howrah, said the police alone could not be blamed. “We have definite information that vegetablewallahs have some backing from a section of the railway staff,” he said.


New Delhi, Jan. 24: 
At a time when chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has called for a crackdown on “dubious madarsas”, the West Bengal Waqf Board has sought more funds for madarsas and school education.

But the board has left unanswered the crucial question whether the money would be used to upgrade and modernise the educational institutes.

In a letter to the Central Waqf Council, the board has demanded an increase in the annual fellowship amount for students from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh. The council will meet on Monday to discuss the recommendations of the state board.

While not tarring all madarsas with the same brush, Bhattacharjee has made it clear that some should be screened for abetting and aiding “anti-national” activity.

There have been many projects at the Central as well as NGO level to mainstream madarsas. But barring that odd example, most madarsas have not stepped out of their cloistered existence.

“The Central Waqf Council should take full responsibility of at least 10 students till they complete their academic career,” the West Bengal Waqf Board has recommended.

It has come up with a proposal to set up polytechnic institutions for girls. Most state boards also suggested an amendment to the 1995 Waqf Act which will raise the financial contribution of the Central Waqf Council from 7 per cent to 11 per cent.

Since 1974, the Central Waqf Board has been giving interest-free loans with grants-in-aid from the Central government to the West Bengal board. In return, the state board, like all other boards, is expected to spend 40 per cent of its “enhanced economy” on the education of Muslims, particularly on technical education.

According to some in the minority community, the Waqf boards, particularly in West Bengal and Punjab, have enough property to generate funds for education. The Waqf land can be used for commercial purposes. The persisting complaints of penury, according to some, are because of the board authorities’ lack of management or mismanagement of assets.

The Central Waqf Council has partially responded to the West Bengal board’s suggestions by stressing that the council has “extended a helping hand” to the board by providing a matching grant of Rs 50,000 annually. “So that the state Waqf boards can help the poor and the needy madarsa students,” says the council. It goes to add: “This does not stop the Waqf boards from spending more from their own resources. All the Waqf income remains with the states.”

Linked to the Waqf funding of madarsas is the subject of modernising minority education. At the council’s last meeting in Delhi this was an issue listed on the agenda.


Malda, Jan. 24: 
Officials at Harishchandrapur police station have stepped up their efforts to track down Sadek Ali, the acting block development officer (BDO) of Harishchandrapur, for his alleged involvement in the molestation of an 11-year-old girl at his residence last morning.

According to police, the incident happened when the girl went to inform Ali of her mother’s inability to come for work as she was out of station. She used to work at the officer’s residence as a maidservant. The girl raised an alarm after the officer allegedly molested her and managed to escape.

The girl informed the incident to her parents who immediately lodged a complaint with the Harishchandrapur police. Later, residents gathered outside the police station demanding the arrest of the acting BDO.

Ali is absconding after the incident and police could not track him down till late this evening.

Chanchal sub-divisional officer Samir Ranjan Bhattacharya said: “The officer-in-charge of Harishchandrapur police station informed me about the incident and I have asked him to take steps according to the law. I am also taking steps against him for his unauthorised absence. The administration will not spare him if he is found guilty.”

Former minister and Forward Bloc leader Biren Moitra has demanded strong punishment of the officer. He has threatened to launch a massive agitation with residents if any action was not taken against the acting BDO.


Asansol, Jan. 24: 
It was a piece of advice this industrial belt was long waiting for.

In an attempt to curb the repeated incidents of detonator pilferage, the district police today urged the authorities of Eastern Coalfields Limited to impart special training to internal security forces guarding the magazine house.

Since 1996, at least 12 cases of explosive pilferage have been recorded. Recently, about 30,000 detonators were pilfered from the private magazine house of a Delhi-based agency at Madanpur under Baraboni police station area. Within 48 hours of the incident, another 4,000 detonators were looted from ECL’s Pandaveswar magazine house.

Private consignment agencies generally buy explosives from manufacturers and supply them to Coal India and other concerns for mining purposes. In most cases, the magazine houses are located in “no-man’s land”, away from local habitat. The location provides miscreants a free access to loot explosives at will.

The lack of coordination between the ECL and the district administration was another reason for this kind of pilferage, sources said.

The district officials, however, do not rule out the possible involvement of PWG and MCC activists camping in Pandaveswar, Laodoha and Kanksha forests. But till date, police have not been able to recover any stolen explosives from the activists’ hideouts.

District police officials will henceforth carry out joint-inspection at all magazine houses in the region, including the ECL, at least once every month. At a recent meeting with ECL officials, the district police also decided to tighten security steps around the magazine houses, strengthen illumination and build strong guarding walls. ECL authorities have also been asked to keep an updated stock of explosives which should be submitted to the district administration from time to time for inspection.

ECL authorities have also expressed serious concern over the series of explosive thefts from their magazine house. Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, deputy-general manager (personnel), ECL, confirmed that the district police intended to provide special training to the concern’s security forces. “We are finalising our plans,” he added.

Haradhan Roy, former MP from Asansol and a veteran CITU leader, recently wrote to President K.R. Narayanan highlighting the pilferage of explosives and their sale to militant outfits. He also demanded a CBI inquiry against 10 private explosive agencies in the region and cancellation of their licences.

Burdwan district superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh said: “After the detonator theft at Pandaveswar, police arrested three persons, Akai Meer, Sher Mohammad and Selim Sheikh of Birbhum and Murshidabad and recovered 46 kg of gelatine sticks from them.”

The police are also not ruling out the possibility of some ECL employees being involved in the pilferage. Mishra said: “We are also not ruling out the possibility. It is not possible for us to check the integrity of 1.22 lakh ECL employees. If any specific charge is brought against any of them, we will definitely take departmental action against him.”


Islamabad, Jan. 24: 
Pakistan said yesterday it was trying to track down the 14 Indians on the list of 20 militants wanted by New Delhi, ahead of the visits of FBI chief Robert Muller and UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to the country.

“We are locating them and once they are located, they will be dealt with according to the law of the land. If there is a case against anyone, we will proceed against him,” defence spokesman Rashid Qureshi said, in a statement that appeared to be aimed at impressing the Americans.

While Qureshi promised that Islamabad would not shelter Indian terrorists, reports in the Pakistani media said the journalist who had written about Dawood Ibrahim’s life in Karachi has been detained by the authorities.

Dawood appears high on the list of criminals India wants extradited. Pakistan claims he is not in the country.

But Ghulam Hasnain, who works for a magazine, published details of the luxurious life led by Dawood and his associates Chhota Shakeel and Tiger Memon in Karachi.

Hasnain had also reported last year how extremist groups recruited, trained and sent Pakistani youths across the Line of Control to join the militants in Kashmir.

Asked about Islamabad’s plan to hand over to Delhi a list of its own wanted criminals, Qureshi said: “We were told by the Indian government that there existed no extradition treaty between the two countries, therefore nobody could be extradited to Pakistan.”

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh has gone on record saying India is ready to hand over any Pakistani criminal based in the country that Islamabad wants extradited.

Annan, who addressed a joint news conference with Pakistan foreign minister Abdus Sattar in Islamabad today, praised President Pervez Musharraf’s “courageous” speech of January 12, particularly the emphasis he placed on “tolerance and rule of law and need to fight terrorism and extremism...and the anti-terrorism measures.”

“These are steps in the right direction,” he said.

The UN secretary-general called for de-escalation on the border and a return to the talks-table to settle all issues, including Kashmir. He offered his services to help the nuclear neighbours resolve their differences.

“On the issue of troops on the border, the most immediate concern is to reduce tension. That implies withdrawal of troops and de-escalation,” he said.

But de-escalation was not enough, Annan stressed, calling for a “genuine search for a final settlement that is in the interest of Pakistan, India and the region.”

“My own good offices remain available for this,” he added.

Annan said implementation of UN Security Council resolutions, including that on Kashmir, was not possible without the consent of both the parties concerned.

UN resolutions could not be automatically implemented. “You need to get the parties to cooperate,” he said.

He added that transforming UN observers into a peacekeeping force or an enforcement group needed another resolution.

“If India and Pakistan were to resolve their differences, this sub-region can see growth and stability that we have not even begun to imagine,” he said.

He said there were many friends to support the two sides to resolve their problems through peaceful means.


New Delhi, Jan. 24: 
India named its ambassador to Afghanistan the same day that the first flight of Ariana, the war-ravaged country’s national carrier, landed in the capital.

Vivek Katju, a 1975-batch IFS officer who has a long experience of working with Afghanistan, will leave for Kabul shortly to head the Indian mission that was reopened after six years. Katju is India’s envoy in Myanmar.

The senior IFS officer had worked for over six years as head of the Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan division in the foreign ministry before leaving for Myanmar as ambassador late last year.

Katju was also part of India’s negotiating team during the hijack of the Indian Airlines airbus IC 814 in Kandahar in December 1999.

A Persian language expert, he worked closely with the Northern Alliance when Ahmad Shah Masood and his supporters were holding on to Panjsher Valley to stop Taliban from an outright victory in Afghanistan.

India snapped diplomatic ties with Afghanistan six years ago, soon after the Taliban marched into Kabul, and recalled charges-d-affaires M.S. Toor. The ambassador had returned to Delhi a few years ago.

The Ariana flight which arrived in the capital this afternoon, was also the first in six years.

Soon after the Taliban were thrown out of Kabul and the Northern Alliance returned in November, India decided to open a liaison office there.

The liaison office was turned into an embassy by foreign minister Jaswant Singh on December 22, the day the Hamid Karzai regime took charge as the interim government of Afghanistan.

India is likely to soon open four consulates in Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandahar.


New Delhi, Jan. 24: 
If the Americans are reticent about committing themselves one way or the other about the target of Tuesday’s attack in Calcutta, India is going silent on a possible Pakistan link after an initial burst of blaming the ISI.

Home minister L.K. Advani had said on the day of the attack that the Dubai-based gangster, Aftab Ansari, who had claimed responsibility for the attack, had links to the ISI.

Subsequently, Delhi has chosen to observe caution and will at best point a finger at rogue elements within the ISI but maintain silence on General Pervez Musharraf. “The President is not a foolish man and knows the consequences of supporting terrorist acts,” a home ministry official said.

The external affairs ministry has been careful not to blame Pakistan from the beginning itself, focusing instead on building a case for Ansari’s extradition from the UAE. “The government will request the UAE authorities to extradite Ansari,” minister of state Omar Abdullah said.

Information suggests Ansari did make the telephone call to police in Calcutta owning responsibility. “It has been traced to Dubai,” an official said.

Delhi’s reluctance to bring Islamabad into the picture and Washington’s tightrope walking on whether or not the attack was targeted at US interests — if not coordinated — appear to stem from the same objective of not upsetting Musharraf’s applecart as he tackles a sensitive task at home.

If the US accepts that the target was the American Center, the logical course for it would be to start chasing the immediate suspect, Ansari, which would take it to Dubai and possibly to Islamabad. That is a route the Americans would not want to take now.

Echoing President George W. Bush, ambassador Robert Blackwill said today the object of the dawn raid outside the American Center was not clear. “We have not ruled that out because we do not yet know all the facts in the case,” he said, referring to the possibility of the centre having been the target.

“We are looking at it extremely hard and trying to gather every piece of evidence,” he said, admitting that US and Indian agencies were working closely together in the case.

An FBI agent has been in Calcutta amid growing signs of expanding relations between the two countries. In a similar indication, Blackwill and the chief of the US defence intelligence agency, admiral Thomas Wilson, visited Kashmir recently.

Giving an assessment of the visit, Blackwill said though the situation was still “worrisome”, tensions had come down.

The US side was briefed by 15th and 16th Corps commanders there. “It is a very rough terrain. I learnt a lot,” he said.

The ambassador said secretary of state Colin Powell’s recent visit has “lowered the temperature at least to some degree”. “The Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s historic speech and India’s response to it, both of which, I think, also helped lower the tensions.”

Asked if infiltration has gone down, Blackwill hedged. “It is going to take some time to see whether systematically the infiltration has slowed. Not enough time has gone by yet.”

In a signal of the uncomfortable questions the developing close ties between the US and India can trigger, Blackwill had to deny Washington’s hand in the recent transfer of the Ambala-based strike corps commander Lt. Gen. Kapil Vij.

He was asked about a report that the commander was moved out on Washington expressing concern to Delhi after American satellites detected movement of armoured units closer to the border. Blackwill replied: “There is absolutely no truth that America had anything to do with the decision of the Indian armed forces with respect to that gentleman.”


Bhopal, Jan. 24: 
Two months ago, Aqueeb Ali Khan, a close associate of Dubai-based don Aftab Ansari, was arrested here.

In the last week of November, three passports retrieved by the UAE police from Abu Salem, a former right-hand man of don Dawood Ibrahim, were found to have been issued from the Bhopal passport office.

For years since the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, a Salem associate, Shiraz, stayed in the city, working as a police informer. He is allegedly operating for Salem still, redirecting mail to his boss and helping him obtain passports under false names.

More and more terrorist trails are leading to Bhopal. Though Madhya Pradesh has not witnessed an armed strike so far, the recent incidents show that the state is being used as a safe haven by terrorists.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh had put this on record at a meeting on internal security with the Prime Minister. “In the past, there have been instances of notorious gangsters with ISI links taking temporary shelter in Madhya Pradesh,” Digvijay had said.

“We would like to be apprised immediately and formally of any intelligence with the central agencies which may indicate such activity in the state.”

He has reasons to worry. Aqueeb, a top aide of Ansari, who has claimed responsibility for the American Center strike in Calcutta, was picked up from a hotel, Rustam Khan ka Ahata, barely a few metres from Digvijay’s official residence.

A week before Salem’s passports were traced to Bhopal, Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials landed here in connection with the probe into the arms and RDX haul at Santhalpur, Gujarat.


New Delhi, Jan. 24: 
As whitewashing exercises go, this one is as elaborate as they get. As whitewashing exercises go, this one is also as ham-handed as it can get.

The stars of the show at the Ambedkar Auditorium in New Delhi’s Andhra Bhavan this afternoon were four metal boxes — caskets — to carry the army’s dead in.

The presenter was R.V. Pandit, former publisher, who describes himself as a friend to many politicians and one of the highest tax payers in the country.

The star-in-absentia, no doubt, was George Fernandes, Esquire, he, the Union minister for defence.

The cause: an attempted burial of the “coffin scam” that broke last month with the emotive headline ‘Money was made even from Kargil coffins, says CAG’.

The expert commentator today was former chief of army staff General Shankar Roychowdhury, roped in by Pandit to buttress his case for the defence minister and against sundry journalists.

But the general distanced himself from political bias, sought an inquiry into irregularities and regretted that repeated controversies in the matter of defence procurement threatened to harm the army’s preparedness.

Also co-starring (in-absentia) was the present chief of army staff General S. Padmanabhan, whose letter to the defence minister was released by Pandit. It endorses the booklet published by Pandit that details the procedures in which the caskets were contracted.

“The book puts the entire procurement in the correct perspective. The chronology and facts have been lucidly brought out for all to see that there was no malafide intent. An unnecessary controversy will hopefully now be put to rest,” the general wrote to Fernandes.

A month-and-a-half after the CAG report on the procurements during Operation Vijay (the Kargil war) pointed to irregularities in the purchase of equipment, including the caskets, Pandit’s booklet points an accusing finger at the CAG.

“What does one do when the culprit is the CAG?” it asks.

In short, the book makes the case that there might have been a procedural irregularity in the matter of procuring the caskets.

The CAG report had noted that the caskets were contracted for a sum of $2,000 apiece when they could have been bought at $ 172 each. This is absurd, says Pandit.

The matter is now scheduled for arbitration in the US.

Pandit says India should not go for arbitration because it will lose the case. Instead, it should use these caskets — and he points to them — to ensure the army’s dead are transported with dignity.

The defence ministry’s internal calculations show that even if India was to win the case against the US company which allegedly supplied caskets that were overweight and unfit for use, it would stand to claim just Rs 92 lakh, probably not worth the expenses on fighting the case.

“The seeds of suspicion of irregularity, the CAG Review has tried to sow in Mr Fernandes’ yard, had no hope whatsoever of sprouting: the man is a patriot and too proud to fiddle,” Pandit notes in the introduction to his “exposé”.

Clearly, Pandit has had adequate help from the ministry in preparing his case.

It was, however, not revealed how 1) Pandit got hold of the caskets to display; 2) how he was given permission to release a letter by the chief of army staff to the Union defence minister, bypassing the ministry’s secretariat 3) what locus standi does he have to release an official letter on such a sensitive issue from the army chief, who is the recognised expert on military matters and not necessarily on accounting procedures.

The letter was sent by the army chief on January 21. In three days, it has appeared in public!


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