Rally rips work culture code
Witnesses plug missing links in terror puzzle
Daring dacoity at coal colony
Fishing ban raises a stink
Lagaan team to set business pitch in Kabul
Rajnath rage at DD poll ‘rubbish’
Resigned BJP looks to Mayavati
Arms tie-up mooted
Fortress home for Advani
House set for security overhaul

 
 
RALLY RIPS WORK CULTURE CODE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, Feb. 19: 
Turning a deaf ear to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s call for improved work culture, the CPM in Murshidabad organised a meeting on the premises of the Hariharpara block development office yesterday, disrupting normal work. The party was protesting against deteriorating law and order in the area.

An aggrieved minister for animal resources Anisur Rahaman told the gathering: “I would not have attended the meeting if I knew this was arranged inside the BDO office campus. I was told by party managers that the meeting would be held at Hariharpara market.” But party MP from Murshidabad, Mainal Hassan, avoided the issue.

Rahaman’s observation is being viewed as an affront on the Murshidabad district leadership, which overlooked the fact that a meeting on the office campus had paralysed normal work there. Though block development officer BDO Ashok Modak refused to be dragged into the row, Behrampore sub-divisional officer Ashish Mukherjee was vocal against yesterday’s meeting.

“Meetings of parties are strictly forbidden on the premises of a government office. We are probing whether the CPM’s meeting was at all held on the BDO’s office campus. If such things happen, we are left with no option but to serve a showcause notice on the BDO,” said Mukherjee.

Sources in the district administration said work came to a standstill for over three hours in the BDO office as hundreds of CPM activists laid a virtual siege to the campus. They apparently forced some staff to suspend work and join the meeting.

Worse still, all roads leading to the BDO office were virtually taken over by the party workers. Speakers shouted at the top of their voices over loudspeakers, particularly inconveniencing students preparing for the Madhyamik examinations.

Unfazed, local CPM leaders were quick to rubbish the criticism. “We organised yesterday’s meeting by taking permission from the BDO and the officer-in-charge of the Hariharpara police station. Where were all these critics when the Congress organised a similar meeting on the same campus last year?” asked Hariharpara local committee secretary Abdus Samad. “The criticism is aimed at maligning the CPM,” he alleged.

When asked to react on minister Rahaman’s caustic observation, Samad evaded a straight answer. “You should ask the minister concerned.”

Senior district police officials said they did not initially allow the meeting on the BDO’s office campus. “But we changed our decision when we came to know that the BDO had already given a go-ahead for the meeting,” said Chandra Shekhar Roy, the officer-in-charge, Hariharpara police station.

   

 
 
WITNESSES PLUG MISSING LINKS IN TERROR PUZZLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
Three more witnesses have offered to volunteer information on the movement of terrorists on January 22, when they sprayed bullets on policemen outside the American Center, killing five.

According to officers investigating the case, one of them was on his way home along Chowringhee Road when the terrorists whizzed past him in motorbikes. There are others who saw them at different stretches of the road. Police officials said these witnesses would play a key role during the trial of the arrested criminals.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department, admitted that witnesses are helping the police piece together the crime, but added that investigators would review their role before filing the chargesheet.

City police chief Sujoy Chakraborty had earlier said that “a chance witness who noticed the terrorists shift from a mobike to another vehicle provided vital clues to the detectives”. Sleuths claimed that the other witnesses, too, are helping investigators verify information collected during the probe.

Mitra said police would submit their chargesheet within the specified period. “We are looking for four more accused, Sadaqat, Zafar, Abdullah and Niaz,” Mitra said, adding that irrespective of whether they are arrested or not, the police would submit the chargesheet.

Sleuths have sought details from the motor vehicles department on the owner of a jeep with a Calcutta registration. “There is a bit of confusion on the number-plate. It could be WB02B, or C or D. The base number is 4481,’’ a senior detective said. Motor vehicles sources said the details were handed over this evening.

Police are still on the lookout for Sadaqat, the rider on the motorcycle, and three other accused. Privately, detectives claimed they have traced Sadaqat to a foreign country.

“We have forwarded a report on Sadaqat’s movements to the external affairs ministry. Now it is up to them to act on the information,’’ an official said. “But he is constantly on the move. Till last week he was there in that country. He might have moved on,’’ he added.

Mitra was optimistic that sleuths would zero in on Sadaqat soon.

   

 
 
DARING DACOITY AT COAL COLONY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, Feb. 19: 
Robbers struck again in this industrial belt, looting cash, jewellery and other valuables worth Rs 70,000 from the house of an executive of Bharat Coking Coal Limited at Barachak colony under Asansol South police station.

In the wee hours of Tuesday, a gang of 15 armed men stormed into Subodh Patra’s house, ransacked it for half-an-hour, locked it and that of several neighbours from outside, ate the food they had taken out of the refrigerator and then made good their escape.

The shocking incident came after the police conducted an anti-crime drive in the region recently in response to a spurt in dacoity in the industrial belt. The most daring heist was carried out on February 8, when dacoits fled with Rs 20 lakh from Canara Bank in Asansol.

But the police struck back tonight, arresting three persons here.

Patra and his wife have been admitted to the Sanktoria hospital with serious injuries.

Patra said the dacoits, brandishing firearms, broke open the main door and stormed in around 3 am. They put a gun to his eight-year-old son’s head and ordered them to hand over all they had.

“When we refused and my husband tried to put up a resistance, they assaulted us. Then they ransacked the rooms and took our valuables. They also took out all the food from the refrigerator. They locked us inside and ate the food outside for 15 minutes. Then they escaped,” said Ratna, Patra’s wife.

   

 
 
FISHING BAN RAISES A STINK 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
A Central circular prohibiting the catching of 51 species of fish and molluscs from the sea has come as a rude shock to the cash-rich fishing industry in Bengal and has prompted fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda to urge the Centre to withdraw the order.

“This is a direct attempt on the part of the Centre to allow foreign trawlers to get away with what we cannot catch as our laws do not apply to them,” Nanda said on Tuesday. West Bengal earns over Rs 600 crore in sea-fish exports.

The minister has taken strong exception to the fact that the ministry or environment and forest did not consult the states before taking the decision. The 51 species of fish and molluscs have been declared endangered under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Nanda has pointed out to Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh that many fishermen in the coastal states stand to lose their livelihood. “The ministry of agriculture should raise an objection to this circular,” Nanda wrote.

He argued in his letter that the Union ministry has not set in place any mechanism for the fishermen to exclude the notified species from their catch. “The circular not only appears to be unscientific, but it is also not feasible,” Nanda has said.

West Bengal’s catch from the sea — worth about Rs 600 crore annually — is almost fully exported. More than 4,000 trawlers and 400,000 fishermen are engaged in fishing along Bengal’s coastline.

The Centre specifically stated in the circular that the catching of sharks, rays and molluscs are particularly harming the ecology of the sea.

   

 
 
LAGAAN TEAM TO SET BUSINESS PITCH IN KABUL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
Pleasure before business? Management tomes don’t suggest that as good strategy, but then they haven’t looked at business models for a country that doesn’t even have a hotel.

After a short trip to Afghanistan, an Indian team has decided that the way to doing business there lies through Aamir Khan. The Lagaan team will be heading for Kabul, possibly by the end of March — by when its fate at the Oscars should also be known — to play a match there, courtesy the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Aamir has already been approached by the CII and, according to the industry lobby, he has agreed. And why not? Hindi films had a captive market in Afghanistan before the Taliban banned movies altogether. Once they left, some of the first pictures to come out of Kabul were of old Bollywood posters.

“They have become such fans of Indian films that a lookalike of Imran Khan wants to be called Aamir Khan. We can barely ignore their need for entertainment and have decided to give them a feel of life before talking hardcore business,” said Jagdish Khattar, the managing director of Maruti Udyog Limited, who led the Indian delegation of 22 members to Afghanistan.

Aamir, his leading lady Gracy Singh and members of the team that defeated their English adversaries in the movie will perform in Kabul in the first of the series of shows the CII is organising there.

The chamber intends to talk to Lata Mangeshkar and other luminaries of the film industry to enlist their participation in events for an audience starved of entertainment. Music, entertainment and basic necessities — not particularly in that order — are what Afghans, impoverished by years of war, need first, according to the team. Indian industry has decided to work its way in slowly and carefully, with the next team scheduled to go there early next month possibly carrying some bicycles as gift.

“They are on the way to restructuring their economy, get a hang of the public transport system and set the administrative system rolling. At this stage, we cannot help them by setting up industries. The consultancy business will probably start, but no aggressive steps will be taken. All the countries giving them aid will try to do so, and Afghans are very independent,” Khattar said.

A second Indian delegation is expected to visit the country on March 3 and, among other things, they’ll look for a venue for the match to be played by Lagaan’s hero Bhushan and his team. Kabul has a football stadium where a game was played recently between a local team and a side made up of the international peacekeepers. This was the stadium where the Taliban used to hold its public executions and torture sessions.

It’s not decided yet who the Lagaan team will play against. In the movie, of course, the rival side was an English XI. If the CII can’t put members of that team together, a local side could be the choice. Afghanistan does have a cricket team, which plays in tournaments in Pakistan.

The CII will foot the bill for the show but will have the support of the Indian government behind it since Delhi and Islamabad are already engaged in a game of oneupmanship over Afghanistan.

“They need a feel of continuous electricity, cycles and some life before we can think of industry. We cannot give them vehicles without roads or set up retail chains when they have not seen a sewing machine. It has to be step by step and will take between 3 and 5 years before hardcore industry can go there,” Khattar said.

Hospitality is something the Indians have on their mind, though. The team that went there stayed in a dormitory — six people to a room — and shared toilets. Not quite the right setting for talking shop.

The CII is opening an office in Kabul on March 1 and plans to send more teams there to look at issues like women’s empowerment, health and education and construction, where the business potential is enormous.

Afghanistan is getting international grants worth $3.5 million in the short term for rebuilding the country. Over a five-year period, it will receive $9 billion.

“India will extend its expertise for institution building but will not push. Ashraf Ghani, the advisor to the Afghan government from the World Bank, is the brain behind any blueprint of economic and social reconstruction and we will put up our proposals in our next visit,” said V. Chatterjee, chairman of CII’s national committee on urban infrastructure.

   

 
 
RAJNATH RAGE AT DD POLL ‘RUBBISH’ 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Feb. 19: 
Aghast and angry at the “atrocious” results of the exit poll shown on Doordarshan, a fuming Rajnath Singh today gave short shrift to his campaigning for the crucial third phase of the Uttar Pradesh elections to summon a news conference on “the farce of election surveys”, calling for a ban on all “election-related surveys and exit poll reports”.

“What rubbish is this?” the chief minister fumed, adding “all these so-called surveys are fudged and planted.” The Doordarshan exit poll that so infuriated Rajnath Singh gave the ruling BJP 72 seats out of the total 237 that have gone to the polls so far. The Samajwadi Party fared marginally better with 87 seats.

Insiders said Rajnath was particularly furious because the unflattering report was telecast on Doordarshan and not some private channel. “What is the use of us being in power if DD is allowed to publish such useless reports,” Rajnath is reported to have screamed at his close aides.

At the end of the second phase of polling, exit poll reports on Aaj Tak gave the BJP 83 and the Samajwadi Party 73 seats, while Zee gave both the BJP and the Samajwadi Party 82 seats each and 55 to the Bahujan Samaj Party.

“DD should explain the factors on which it has based its exit poll report,” Rajnath said, calling DD’s research “fake and misleading”.

“The report is baseless and imaginary, there should be a total ban on all exit polls,” he added.

Later, when a Doordarshan reporter approached Rajnath for a two-minute “byte”, the chief minister refused, saying, “I will never give DD any interview.”

Rajnath said the BJP was getting anywhere between 110 and 120 seats out of the 237 seats that have been polled so far.

“Anyway they (exit polls) always get it wrong, don’t they?’’ Rajnath said, adding that pollsters got it wrong in Madhya Pradesh where they had “voted Digvijay Singh out of power” and Bihar, where they said Laloo Prasad Yadav would not come back to power.

“I don’t understand how a chief minister can gain in popularity, how his party can get a higher percentage of votes but yet end up getting lesser votes,” he said, adding, “it doesn’t make much sense to me.”

The BJP is upset with the exit polls conducted by television channels as almost all of them have failed to match the party’s optimism.

There is talk among political parties, including the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, that exit polls should not be telecast when a state goes to the polls in three phases as the regions voting later could get influenced by previous results. BSP leader Mayavati has accused the media of being unfair to her.

“If I have my way I will ban all such exit polls,” the chief minister said.

Hyderabad uproar

Tension in the run-up to March 15 had an echo in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly today with the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) daring the ruling Telugu Desam to withdraw support to the NDA government to prove its secular credentials, adds aPTI report from Hyderabad.

Tempers ran high after MIM floor leader Asaduddin Owaisi made fiery references to the Sangh’s plans and said Muslims would “not keep quiet if something happens at ayodhya”.

Owaisi’s remark that secular credentials of all political parties were now at test triggered a wave of protests from tdp and bjp benches while the main opposition congress came out in support of its new-found ally mim.

Taking strong objection to owaisi’s observations, the home minister t devender goud asserted that his party had been consistently opposing temple construction plans at the disputed site and had been pleading for maintaining status quo.

”We do not need to take lessons on secularism from you. Ours is a secular party to the core and will ever remain so,” goud said pointing to mim leader and asserted that his party would never allow the status quo at ayodhya to be disturbed.

The war of words continued for over an hour in the midst of debate on the motion of thanks to governor’s address. Pti sr va rk 02191851 d

   

 
 
RESIGNED BJP LOOKS TO MAYAVATI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, February 19: 
The exit poll results that projected a hung House in Uttar Pradesh have apparently told on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

On the last leg of the campaign in eastern Uttar Pradesh — which goes to polls on Thursday — Vajpayee sounded defensive on just about everything. Whether it was the Opposition’s “designs” on his government, the coffin scam or Muslim votes, he gave the impression of leading a party whose fortunes were on the downslide.

At a rally in Varanasi, Vajpayee was quoted by agencies as charging the Opposition with entertaining “hopes” of toppling the NDA government once results of the elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab and Manipur were out. “We know that some (parties) are entertaining fond hopes like the proverbial cat waiting to eat the butter once the earthen pot came tumbling down. But this is not going to happen,” he reportedly said.

But BJP circles here have begun reconciling themselves to the inevitability of being out of power in the crucial heartland. Sources said the party has begun to seriously look at the idea of forming a coalition government again but one headed by Mayavati. The Bahujan Samaj Party leader has emerged as the rising star in the exit polls, done after the first two phases of polling.

BJP sources placed their assessment at 103 seats out of the 403 and gave Mayavati 86, which added up to 189 — 13 short of majority. The BJP’s feedback is the Samajwadi Party would get between 140 and 150 seats. But even if this is added to the projection of 30 for the Congress they would still lag behind the BJP-BSP.

   

 
 
ARMS TIE-UP MOOTED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
In what can signal the beginning of a new phase for the Indian defence-industrial complex, South Africa today announced it had proposed to produce and market artillery jointly with Indian firms.

So far, such possibilities have existed only with Russia, which in any case, has a long history of supporting India with military hardware.

The South African delegation to Defexpo 2002 led by the country’s minister for defence, Mosiuoa Lekota, and minister for public enterprises, Jeff Radebe, has proposed the establishment of an “India-South Africa artillery partnership”.

In what is music to India’s ears, South Africa has also gone on record stating that it will not enter into military arrangements with other countries in the region. In the past, minister Radebe said, Pakistan had knocked on South Africa’s doors for procurement, but had been refused.

South Africa’s offer flows out of a “political decision”, the delegation made it clear and was not confined by commercial considerations.

To begin with, Denel, the government-owned arms company, was transferring technology to an ordnance factory being set up in Nalanda, Bihar (the constituency of defence minister George Fernandes). Denel chief executive officer Johan (Flip) Botha, a member of the delegation, said the company was keeping several options open. He did not reply in the negative when asked if this included equity participation. (But Fernandes said India was setting up the factory with technology sourced from abroad).

South Africa has been supplying armaments to India since 1994 and in 1999, at the peak of the Kargil war, when Indian buyers scoured the world for critical ammunition for its Bofors 155-mm guns and other weapons, Denel was among the companies that came to New Delhi’s aid.

It is possible the Denel’s ordnance group and other wings will also firm up joint ventures with an Indian private sector company later this week. Neither side was willing to confirm, but industry executives have been talking of possible tie-ups with Mahindra and Kirloskar.

The partnership proposed by the South African delegation encompasses manufacture of integrated artillery systems and ammunitions.

   

 
 
FORTRESS HOME FOR ADVANI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
Terrorists have forced a reluctant L.K. Advani out of his Pandara Road residence where he has lived for nearly 30 years.

Intelligence agencies and those responsible for the home minister’s security have been unhappy about the location of his house, not far from the Pandara Road market, a popular eating place for Delhiites.

Advani will move to a sprawling bungalow on 30 Prithviraj Road, vacated by urban development minister Ananth Kumar. The new house is like a fortress and is rumoured to have outer-perimeter boundary walls made of ‘’blast proof’’ material.

As at 7 Race Course Road, Advani’s visitors will be frisked and bags X-rayed. Closed circuit televisions will monitor their movements. There will be a separate reception area for callers.

Security guards will keep strict vigil outside. There is talk of a bus stand on Prithiviraj Road being shifted to ensure there are no hangers-on. Doors to the rear of the house and the compound have been sealed to make sure militants cannot sneak in through the back entrance.

Advani had earlier shrugged off suggestions that he should move from his Pandara Road residence. Since September 11, and more so after the Parliament attack, intelligence agencies and Delhi police have been insisting that Advani change house.

After intelligence agencies picked up intercepts hinting at an assassination bid on Advani, he was forced to change his stand. The threat, agencies said, was from various terror groups and the mafia that have increasingly been operating together. Even Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had advised him to change house.

According to Indian intelligence, Advani and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah are at the head of the terrorists’ hit list as they have consistently insisted on a no-compromise stand against militants.

So great has been the fear for Advani’s life that the government recently upgraded his security to almost prime ministerial level. Advani does not have the SPG security ring like Vajpayee and leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi. The National Security Guard forms his inner security cordon.

Advani is likely to move into the Prithiviraj Road bungalow tomorrow. A puja was held in the house today.

   

 
 
HOUSE SET FOR SECURITY OVERHAUL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
Come February 25, the security environs in Parliament complex will have undergone drastic changes. Several gadgets and machine guns have been placed at strategic points.

All vehicles will have to go through a wooden gate fitted with metal detectors. Security personnel will include watch and ward staff, CRPF personnel, Delhi policemen and NSG commandos.

The new security cover was put in place following a series of meetings between security experts and a panel of parliamentarians since the December 13 attack on Parliament.

Only VIPs and sitting MPs and their convoys would be allowed to drive into the premises through Vijay Chowk or Parliament Street. These include the escort vehicles of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, Special Protection Group (SPG) protectees and those with “Z plus” security.

A building complex housing the Kendriya Bhandar adjacent to Rail Bhavan is being converted into a parking slot for vehicles of the media, ex-MPs, Parliament staffers and ministry officials and the Bhandar has been shifted to outlets at Mahadev Road and R.K. Puram.

Print and electronic media personnel and visitors would now enter through the Bhandar side. Persons coming on foot to Parliament House with valid Parliament identity cards would be allowed to enter through iron gate No. 3, adjacent to iron gate No. 2, beside the Vijay Chowk gate.

   
 

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