New cancer hospital at Tolly
Final touches to thermal projects
Poll shadow on reforms pitch
Congress rejects PM call to bury scam
Basu set to join Mulayam fight
Akali, BJP clash over choice of candidate
Eight cops killed in Jharkhand ambush
Signal for heir Omar
Militants’ surrender ends siege of mosque
State architects outlive political utility

Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
After years of stagnancy, the prospects for the availability of improved treatment in Calcutta and eastern India for one of the most dreaded diseases are finally looking up.

The visit of Union health minister Dr C.P. Thakur to the city on Monday resulted in several promises. And, with state government cooperation in line, the day seems near when cancer patients will no longer have to go to speciality centres in Mumbai or Chennai.

The Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute and Hospital will have a second campus on a seven-bigha plot next to the M.R. Bangur Hospital in Tollygunge.

This campus, the land for which has been provided by the state government, will be built, equipped and staffed by the Central government.

In addition, the existing institute on Ashutosh Mukherjee Road will be upgraded.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sought assistance in three areas. He requested Thakur that the new complex be constructed as a centre of excellence not just for the large number of cancer patients from the city but the entire eastern zone as well.

“The Union government may consider this as top priority,” he said while speaking at an awareness generation programme for people’s representatives on nutritional and micronutrient deficiencies.

Talking to reporters later, Thakur, who also inaugurated a telemedicine project at the School of Tropical Medicine, said the help sought by the chief minister was legitimate.

“Considering the number of cancer patients in eastern India, such a centre should come up in Calcutta. We will be taking up the proposals he has made.”

A much-needed linear accelerator machine for radiotherapy of cancer patients will start functioning at the institute from April.

“Resource constraints have not permitted speciality centres to keep up with the phenomenal advances in medical science. We have discussed this problem at a recent meeting and have suggested the setting up of a medical grants commission on the lines of the UGC,” Thakur said.

He will be convening a meeting of state health ministers soon to see how funding through this proposed commission can be disbursed.

The second area Bhattacharjee sought “active assistance” from the Centre was in the setting up of the National Institute of Technical and Medical Sciences at Kharagpur.

The third was in procuring World Bank funds for the upgradation of teaching hospitals where tertiary-level specialised health care is supposed to be available.

About 250 MPs, MLAs and zilla parishad chiefs attended the micronutrient awareness generation programme, organised by the state government in collaboration with the national pilot programme on the control of micronutrient malnutrition.


Asansol, Feb. 4: 
The Damodar Valley Corporation is giving the final touches to its two thermal power projects planned to come up in Durgapur and Maithon Left Bank.

“We have already identified land for the two plants and expect to start generating power within the next five years. We have sought the state government’s assistance for speedy implementation of the project,” DVC chief engineer A.K. Sinha said here today.

DVC officials said nearly 2,000 acres of land would be required for the two projects in Burdwan district. For the Durgapur plant, the officials have identified a large plot of land belonging to the Durgapur Steel Plant.

Power minister Mrinal Banerjee said the power situation in the industrial and colliery belt would improve after completion of the two projects.

“However, power generation alone will not solve the problem. The DVC authorities must take up an elaborate plan to improve their distribution network. The state government will provide all assistance for speedy implementation of the projects,” the minister said.


New Delhi, Feb. 4: 
The uncertainties of heartland politics and his party’s none-too-bright electoral prospects today seemed to weigh heavily on Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s mind when he addressed public sector workers and rewarded the best among them.

The Prime Minister told his audience that his government had no intention of downing shutters on public sector units but made it clear they would have to perform.

Unviable units, he said, would have to come up with an alternative if they had to survive. He also assured the employees that “outdated” labour laws would be amended only after more consultations with other parties and trade unions.

It was an hour of appeal to his critics to see the logic of labour law reforms — the necessity of setting aside the old for the new to keep pace with the times.

“We appeal to all political parties and trade unions to keep in mind the economy of the entire country and not just bits of it. The government will consider the reforms after the Labour Commission submits its report,” the Prime Minister said.

The Group of Ministers — set up to look into labour reforms — has already given its approval. But this was hardly what Vajpayee would have liked to mention at this critical hour when the BJP is trying to beat the odds in the coming Assembly elections.

Resentment has been running high among public sector workers who have been resisting the government’s policy of disinvestment. The Prime Minister’s tone, therefore, was conciliatory and much softer than last year when he had given away the same awards to distinguished public sector employees.

“My government is not aiming to shut down government sector undertakings. But we will have to compete in the global market,” he reiterated.

While Vajpayee called for a debate on labour law reforms, labour minister Sharad Yadav seconded the suggestion saying existing labour laws were out of sync with changing economic patterns.

“The government is saying yes and the Opposition is saying no to labour law reforms. These laws are more than 50 years old. The government needs the Opposition’s co-operation and support,” Yadav said.

Obviously, neither the Prime Minister nor the labour minister was willing to go beyond emphasising the antiquity of labour laws.

However, till now, the government has not yet yielded to arm-twisting by opponents over economic reforms — whether it was slashing of subsidies or increasing prices.

One message that rang out loud and clear was: the old economy is dead and the new forces of globalisation require India to have a competitive edge to keep up with world powers.

But trade unions, barring the Congress-backed Intuc, are not going to be too happy with this line of argument, which, they say, is the government’s way of dodging the main issues of unemployment and industrial recession.


New Delhi, Feb. 4: 
The Congress today rejected the Prime Minister’s call to desist from raking up contentious defence issues in view of tension on the Indo-Pak border.

The Congress said it would make “Coffingate” an issue in the Assembly polls, pointing out that transparency in defence transactions was essential to meet external and internal threats.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy added that the Kargil coffin scam was the tip of the iceberg and symbolised the rot in the defence ministry. He said the CAG had pointed out serious lapses in a large number of defence purchases.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee yesterday appealed to the Opposition not to raise defence scams in view of the “emergency situation”.

Speaking at Patna, Vajpayee said: “Emergency situations demand emergency measures... we cannot continue to haggle infinitely over the price of military equipment when the country’s sovereignty is at stake.”

The Congress spokesman, however, discarded Vajpayee’s call and said: “It is highly regrettable that the Prime Minister should be pleading against public discussion of defence scandals on the pretext of confrontation on the borders. There is an admission of guilt in this line of argument.”

Reddy said any “cover-up” of a defence scandal would not boost the morale of the defence forces or popular enthusiasm in the country to fight terrorism.

Reddy said the Congress would continue to oppose the “indefensible and unprecedented reinduction” of George Fernandes as defence minister.

The Congress spokesman, however, parried questions on whether the party would continue to boycott the defence minister in the budget session commencing later this month.


New Delhi, Feb. 4: 
Facing a tough challenge from the BJP-Rashtriya Lok Dal combine in western Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav has sought the services of Jyoti Basu and Harkishen Singh Surjeet to garner every secular vote.

The Samajwadi Party chief will address a People’s Front rally along with Basu and Surjeet at Moradabad on February 11, the penultimate day of campaigning for the first phase of polls.

The People’s Front comprising the Samajwadi, the CPM, the CPI, the Janata Dal (Secular) and former Prime Minister V.P. Singh was launched last year. However, Yadav had claimed that there was no People’s Front in Uttar Pradesh as the other constituent parties were of no consequence in the state. He conceded only six seats to the CPM, five to the CPI and one to V.P. Singh’s Kisan Vikas Manch.

Constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh go to polls on February 14. More than 50 per cent of the population in many of these constituencies belong to the minority community. The Bahujan Samaj Party has, therefore, fielded a large number candidates from the minority community.

Though the Samajwadi is influential in eastern and some central parts of Uttar Pradesh, it is not so in the west.

But in a do-or-die battle like the forthcoming Assemble elections, every vote counts and the Samajwadi is falling back on the third front leaders to bolster the party.

However, former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda are unlikely to attend the Moradabad rally, sources said.

While Gowda, fighting the Kanakapura Lok Sabha byelection in Karnataka, is unable to spare much time for the heartland state, it is learnt that V.P. Singh is miffed with Yadav’s refusal to give tickets to 13 candidates who belong to his Kisan Vikas Manch.

The former Prime Minister is also said to be unhappy with the prominence given to Amitabh Bachchan. Speculation was rife when Singh met Sonia Gandhi last week, ending a 15-year political feud with the Congress.

Singh can influence the minority community and his castemen, the Rajputs. The Samajwadi is worried that the minority community might back Congress candidates if they are found strong enough to defeat the BJP.


Ludhiana, Feb. 4: 
The camaraderie between the Akalis and the BJP is fast evaporating, posing a crisis of credibility for the alliance in the run-up to the Punjab Assembly polls.

There is considerable bad blood between Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP workers at the grassroots. The unity is not reflected in posters and flags.

There has been a series of clashes between hostile BJP and Akali workers in Ludhiana in sharp contrast to the bonhomie of 1997 when the Akali-BJP combine won a majority of seats in the Malwa region. Accounting for 65 of the 117 Assembly segments in the state, Malwa holds the key to the Punjab polls with Hindu-dominated cities and Sikh-majority rural areas.

In the Doaba region, the BJP and the RSS are upset with the Akali Dal for fielding a Christian, Munnawar Massih, from Gurudaspur. Akali chief Parkash Singh Badal dropped sitting MLA Kartar Singh Pahra for Massih to bag the support of the Christian community in the rest of constituencies.

The RSS and the BJP have not taken kindly to Badal’s “generosity” and have instructed their rank and file to stay away from Massih’s campaign.

On their part, local Christian leaders have warned Badal that he should ask the BJP to fall in line and extend support to Massih or forget about getting Christian votes for the alliance. “We will also pick and choose,” said John Abraham, a close associate of Massih.

Elsewhere in Punjab, the election offices of the two parties seldom carry the flags of the alliance partners. Barring a few senior ministers, most Akali and BJP candidates are keeping away from joint campaigning, preferring to concentrate on their own areas of influence.

BJP leaders, while underplaying the bad blood with the Akalis, admitted that transferring votes to each other would not be as easy as it was in 1997. They blame intra-party intrigues and dissidents of both parties for the “sorry state of affairs”.

Akali leader and Union minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa denied the rift but said: “There might be some grievances among certain sections, but closer to polls, everything will be fine”. Dhindsa’s son is also contesting in the elections.

The disagreement over the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal has widened the Akali-BJP rift. Badal has vowed to defy the Supreme Court verdict and deny water to Haryana. The BJP, which is an ally of the Om Prakash Chautala government in Haryana, does not share Badal’s tough posture on the water dispute.

On the social level, however, the unity among Sikhs and Hindus has remained intact. Though a section of Akalis did not like the RSS campaign that described Sikhism as an offshoot of Hinduism, the controversy has not become a subject of debate in the elections.


Ranchi, Feb. 4: 
Hundreds of extremists saluted new director-general of police R.R. Prasad by killing eight policemen, including an officer-in-charge, in a valley about 10 km from Chatra around noon today. Five jawans were wounded in the attack.

The IG (operations) and DIG (North Chhotanagpur) are camping in Chatra to supervise combing operations. Till late tonight, neither the Maoist Communist Centre nor the People’s War had owned responsibility for the attack.

The Naxalites ambushed the policemen, who were travelling to Chatra in a Tata-407 mini-truck to collect their salaries, with petrol bombs and bullets.

The extremists exploded over 150 petrol bombs and fired over 300 rounds from assault rifles when the police truck reached a steep stretch on the only road to Chatra. They used a tractor to prevent movement on the narrow road.

The policemen retaliated but they were sitting ducks for the extremists who had positioned themselves at strategic points by the side of the road.

A team of Chatra police reached the spot when the crossfire was on and rescued the jawans. The extremists fled when police reinforcements arrived.

Prasad, who took over as the state’s police chief last week, said information about the movement of the police party was “somehow leaked to the extremists”.

Talking to The Telegraph from Chatra Sadar Hospital, where the wounded policemen have been admitted, superintendent of police Raj Kumar Mallik said a team of jawans was coming to Chatra from Vashistnagar police station when they were attacked by the extremists near the Sanghri valley.

“There is only one road from Vashistnagar to Chatra. There is an 8-km valley en route. When the Tata-407 carrying the policemen reached an uphill part where there is a 40-foot hillock on one side and a valley on the other, the extremists started hurling petrol bombs on the truck from the hill. The truck caught fire and the policemen got down to take position and retaliate. But the extremists, who were hiding behind the road barriers on the other side, opened fire and killed many. The policemen were surrounded,” Mallik said.

“The extremists attacked when the truck was moving at a very slow speed over a steep climb. There were hundreds of extremists who hurled over 150 petrol bombs and opened over 300 rounds of fire. On being informed that the policemen have been attacked, we reached the spot in time but could save only five. The injured are undergoing treatment at the Sadar hospital. The condition of two is critical,” he added.

Those killed are sub-inspector and officer-in-charge of Vashistnagar police station, Kolha Tigga, havaldar Sarju Prasad, constable Jageshwar Ram, Lalbehari Yadav, Manipal Murmu, Vikram Samad (all from Chatra district armed police), Shyam Lal Gope and Mohan Gope (both homeguard jawans).

Among the wounded are Seetaram Paswan (chowkidar-cum-driver), Digwar Muslim, Hari Oraon,Jeetendra Azad and Ramashish Singh.

According to information coming from Chatra, two more constables have sustained injuries in the attack. They have been identified as Jeetendra Azad and Ram Kumar Singh.


Srinagar, Feb. 4: 
Chief minister Farooq Abdullah today hinted that his son, minister of state for external affairs Omar Abdullah, would return to state politics.

“I am getting old and my son has served New Delhi enough. It is time for him to serve his home state,” the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said while releasing the National Conference manifesto for the byelection to the Jammu parliamentary seat.

“Omar Abdullah will actively participate in electioneering in the ensuing Assembly polls. This will add to his comprehension about the broad spectrum of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Despite the rejection of his demand by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Abdullah stuck his neck out again saying the conversion of the Line of Control into an international border was the only logical solution to the Kashmir problem.

The chief minister also asked leaders of the 23-party Hurriyat Conference to contest the forthcoming elections. There “should be no doubt about the fairness of (the) polls”, he said. “Let anyone from anywhere in the world monitor the elections.”

Abdullah’s assertion came on a day the Centre’s pointman for Kashmir, K.C. Pant, indicated some headway in the effort to get the Hurriyat to join the elections.

“Some steps have been made in (the) forward direction. These people (Hurriyat leaders) never talked about polls but now the thinking has changed,” Pant said after a meeting with former divisional commissioner of Kashmir Wajahat Habibullah, who reportedly held informal talks with Hurriyat leaders.

Abdullah blamed former Union home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed for the present state of affairs.

“Had the Mufti acted like a home minister rather than a father, the situation would have been different now,” he said, alluding to Rubiya Sayeed’s kidnapping by militants. “If any harm would have been done to his daughter, Mufti Sayeed would have been bedecked with a crown.”

Farooq also lashed out at the propaganda against the Jammu and Kashmir Resettlement Act.

“The propagandists even went to this extent in saying that two lakh people were coming to settle in the state from Pakistan and PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir),” he said. “Nobody could enter the state without a visa.”


Srinagar, Feb. 4: 
Security forces lifted the siege of a mosque at Sopore in northern Baramullah district this evening after the two militants holed up inside surrendered before deputy commissioner Navin Chowdhury.

The militants, identified as Suhail Ahmad Lone and Firdaus Ahmad Bhat, both locals, were persuaded to give up their arms by village elders sent in by the authorities to reason with them for the second time today.

The militants handed over two AK-47 rifles to them and came out and surrendered before Chowdhury around 5.45 pm.

Senior army and police officers, including Baramullah district police chief Showkat Ahmad Malik, were present. “The mosque is safe and the siege has been lifted,” said a police official.

Earlier in the day, the militants hurled a grenade from the mosque injuring a jawan as the security forces were tightening the cordon around the mosque.

The jawans who had circled the mosque along with personnel of the special operations group of the local police did not react and exercised restraint to avoid any damage to the place of worship, official sources said.

Instead of storming the mosque, the army doubled its efforts to persuade the militants to surrender. They repeatedly assured them that no harm would be caused to them once they laid down their arms and sent the group of elders to negotiate.

The standoff began yesterday around 1 pm when the two militants, hiding in Ambarpora village, took refuge in the mosque at the Kangan Mohalla locality after the army launched a search operation in the Tarzoo area.

Troops immediately laid siege to the mosque, from where the militants fired on the soldiers. The securitymen returned fire and intermittent exchanges continued through the night.

Elsewhere in the state, six militants were among eight persons killed in the unabated separatist violence.


Uttaranchal, Feb. 4: 
Time, they say, is a great healer but sometimes it opens up old wounds buried deep inside. The women in Uttaranchal have been the biggest casualties of time. From the day they took to the streets in the 90s, chorusing the demand for a separate homeland and clashing head-on with the state, till now, when they go to the polls without hope to elect a government they have faith in.

The polls have dredged up memories of all they had hoped to gain but lost. Their fight against the liquor dons and their demand to bring to book the police personnel who assaulted and molested women activists in Muzaffarnagar for daring to cock a snook at the then Mulayam Singh Yadav government that was doggedly resisting the division of Uttar Pradesh. At the end of the day, they can clearly read the decree pronounced on them by all parties, including their male compatriots with whom they had fought shoulder to shoulder on the streets: Uttaranchal’s women have outlived their political utility.

“All political parties supporting Uttaranchal used us, pushed us to the front of the militant struggle and then forgot all their commitments,” says Uma Bhatt, leader of the Uttarakhand Mahila Morcha. Their “invisibility” shows in the number of tickets given to women candidates by each party. The BJP had promised 10 per cent seats to women but has finally doled out seven. Congress, even more condescending, has agreed to four and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, the forerunner in the agitation for a separate state, just a couple.

But it is not just ticket distribution that has affirmed the fears of the mahila manch about the dubious intentions of the political leadership. Over the past year, they have watched the BJP government turn its back on all assurances — whether on removing the liquor shops dotting the hills or bringing justice to the victims of Muzaffarnagar or even about designating Gair Sain, a town midway between the Garhwal and Kumaon regions, the capital of the new state.

For the majority of women in the hills, liquor is their most hated enemy. The anti-liquor agitation drew strength from their sheer desperation. It soon spread like wildfire. The BJP was quick to dip into this popular support against liquor barons. The party’s first chief minister Nityanand Swami promised to down the shutters of all liquor shops.

“Uttaranchal will be a state free from alcohol, that’s what the chief minister said,” says Bhatt. But Nityanand did a somersault.

“After taking over the reins of government, the chief minister said he had made the statement in his personal capacity. The government cannot do without revenue from liquor,” says a mahila manch activist. Last year, between March and May, they sat on dharnas stretching over two to three months, in several pockets. Sometimes when the situation threatened to boil over, the local administration swung a deal with the liquor shop owner. The parlour shifted to the depths of the hills, away from eyes of the public.

If there was no respite from domestic violence and the bane of liquor, there was also no comfort in the fact that the BJP government had shoved in the ditch yet another of its crucial promises: to punish the guilty of the Muzaffarnagar outrage.

The state government assured the women an inquiry commission, which is yet to materialise. “We know Ananth Kumar, then Muzaffarnagar’s district magistrate, is close to Rajnath Singh. Till now, not a single person has been punished,” says Bhatt.


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