CPM corruption confession
Suicide to end jail shame
CM Jessop note to Atal
Woman kills daughter to get son
Notice on Citu men for assault
BJP’s new foe: urban voter fatigue
Manipur silences gun
Polls over, Vajpayee clears air
Coffin scam set to haunt House
Defence boost for private giants

 
 
CPM CORRUPTION CONFESSION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 21: 
The CPM admitted that corruption exists at various levels in the party but the leadership has balked at taking hard measures against tainted functionaries.

CPM officials said today that the clutch of draft organisational and political resolutions prepared by the state leadership for discussions at the four-day state CPM conference beginning tomorrow point out various weaknesses at different levels. They also criticise the leadership for its failure to address inner-party corruption.

“They (the leadership) expect a lot of criticism during the session, but such criticisms are necessary,” officials said.

An inward-looking party will encourage criticism at the conference starting tomorrow at the Promode Dasgupta Bhavan —the office of the party’s Calcutta district committee.

“There has been a tendency among a section of city-based party leaders to grab land and construct residential units.

In rural areas, some party leaders are engaged in accumulating wealth by misusing powers vested on them as panchayat functionaries,” the resolutions say.

“There has been a deficiency among the leadership in taking drastic action against such errant party members. The leadership is constantly receiving complaints against such corrupt partymen, but there has been a hesitation among them (leadership) in initiating disciplinary measures against such partymen.”

The resolutions pointed at a drop in the membership of the farmers’ wing of the party. “There has been a significant fall in the membership in the peasants wing in districts like Murshidabad, Nadia, South 24-Parganas, Howrah, North Dinajpur and Malda.”

“Trinamul Congress and (the) Congress have also wrested students’ unions in several undergraduate colleges in Howrah and Murshidabad. Earlier, these unions were under the control of SFI — the students’ wing of the party,” the resolutions said.

The CPM leadership has also mentioned in the draft resolutions that the party will not hesitate to recommend to the state government to close down state-run public sector undertakings (PSUs) which are constantly making losses.

The party also cleared the idea of recruiting part-time and contractual workers in the services sectors like hospitals and schools.

Faced with acute financial constraints, the CPM leadership is also planning to curtail expenditure incurred by ministers and senior government officials.

“Restrictions should be imposed on foreign trips of ministers and senior government officials, rampant use of government vehicles and taking luxurious houses on rent for both ministers and government officials,” the resolutions said.

There will be a debate among party leaders during the session on how best to organise movements in both the trade union and agriculture sectors.

Some trade unionists and party leaders still believe only militant trade unionism can fulfil the economic and other demands of the working class. But the “moderates” in the party leadership differ.

The resolutions also sought to discuss the red-tapism in the state administration following which a number of development schemes have been lying pending for over years.

“Initiatives must be taken to overcome this problem and ministers, trade unionists and ordinary party workers would have to play a vital role in this regard”, the resolutions suggested.

   

 
 
SUICIDE TO END JAIL SHAME 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Feb. 21: 
Bhodka Mal killed himself inside Burdwan Jail because he couldn’t bear the shame of his six-day term – his first ever and for an offence as minor as ticketless travel.

The 38-year-old had come here looking for a job from Malaypur in the Pakur area of Jharkhand. He was caught on Tuesday at Burdwan station for travelling without ticket and fined Rs 67, but he did not have the money.

The railway magistrate gave him a six-day term.

A day in prison, however, proved too much for him. Embarrassed by the stay with more regular prisoners and afraid that the news would follow him to his native Jharkhand village, he took his life inside a jail toilet yesterday.

He was found missing during the daily head-count. Jail superintendent P.B. Mandal said a search was launched. They found a toilet locked. Prison employees broke open the door and found Mal hanging from a water-pipe.

But Mal failed in his mission to keep the news away from his family and village. Officials said a message was immediately sent to Pakur police station so that his family could be informed of the tragedy.

A preliminary inquiry pointed to a suicide, Mandal said, but added that it could be confirmed only after the autopsy report was received.

“Since Mal was a newcomer, we are unable to throw much light on his mental health,” he said. “Neither we nor the other inmates could guess he would take his own life,” Mandal added.

Deputy inspector-general of prisons Dipak Choudhury has ordered a probe into the incident.

   

 
 
CM JESSOP NOTE TO ATAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 21: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has urged Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to review the Centre’s decision to disinvest in three central public sector undertakings (CPSU) in the state, including Jessop.

In a letter to Vajpayee yesterday, Bhattacharjee sought his intervention “in the interest of protecting the wagon industry”. “The issue is important and calls for your intervention in order that an urgent review is made about the decision of disinvestment in respect of the three CPSUs, including Jessop,” he wrote.

Bhattacharjee has also sent a copy of the memorandum submitted to him by a joint forum of the unions and associations in Jessop.

Yesterday, industries minister Nirupam Sen, too, had written to Union heavy industries minister Manohar Joshi. The decision is “an act of betrayal”, Sen wrote while seeking a review.

“Jessop had shown a positive operating gross margin with the placement of orders by the railways last year. So, there is no reason to offer any stake to any private sector,” Sen’s letter said.

Almost all the central trade unions, including Citu and Intuc, have joined hands to fight against the bid to privatise the central undertakings.

Employees of public sector units like Hotel Airport Ashok and railway and defence personnel have announced agitations in a show of solidarity towards the employees of the three central units.

The Joint Forum of Unions and Associations of Jessop has also submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister demanding the withdrawal of the Centre’s decision.

Jessop has been manufacturing local train coaches with untarnished reputation and an emphasis on safety and security for a long time, the forum said. The unit’s coach manufacturing division is profitable, the forum pointed out.

“Despite a country-wide goodwill in making railway coaches and wagons the railways had been systematically cutting down its orders. Instead, it placed orders in other states. We have repeatedly urged the Centre to provide orders for wagons and coaches to Jessop. But our plea fell on deaf ears. The entire exercise is politically motivated,” said Ajit Chowdhury, a Citu leader at Jessop.

If the railways placed bulk orders, Jessop could turn out to be one of the most profitable CPSU units in the country, Chowdhury said.

   

 
 
WOMAN KILLS DAUGHTER TO GET SON 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, Feb. 21: 
A woman allegedly slit the throat of her month-and-a-half-old daughter unhappy over not being able to beget a son and buried her in a heap of garbage.

Malancha Biswas, 23, considered daughter Fulmati a “curse”. After killing the child on Monday, the woman cooked up a story for the rest of the family. Three unknown women had snatched her girl from her, she claimed. The search that followed led to the heap of rubbish outside their house in Chuakhana village under Falakata police station, said Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Siddh Nath Gupta.

A case was registered against the mother following a complaint from husband Sukumar. Tension followed the discovery of the body last evening.

Gupta said: “We have recovered a blood-stained machete and a sari of the mother.”

   

 
 
NOTICE ON CITU MEN FOR ASSAULT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Durgapur, Feb. 21: 
Durgapur Steel Plant authorities have showcaused two employees owing allegiance to Citu on charges of assaulting finance manager S.P. Ghosh and ransacking his office.

Citu supporters in the plant have launched an agitation demanding a withdrawal of the chargesheet. Trouble erupted on Monday after an employee, Parimal Bhattacharya, was transferred from the finance department. As Bhattacharya declined to shift, Ghosh issued an ultimatum.

Dissatisfied over the decision, a group of Citu supporters barged into Ghosh’s chamber on Tuesday, broke chairs and destroyed documents. Two of the employees, Samiran Biswas and Prabir Majumdar, had allegedly manhandled Ghosh when he tried to resist them. Violence has rocked the factory at a time when a central team is here to assess its state of affairs.

   

 
 
BJP’S NEW FOE: URBAN VOTER FATIGUE 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Feb. 21: 
Mahodaya, kripya batayein T1 kahan hain (Sir, please tell us the whereabouts of T1),” a police official at the Pratapgarh control room barks in his wireless set. Within seconds, a voice on the other end replies that T1 — a code for independent candidate Raghuraj Pratap Singh, well known for his criminal record — is in Kunda.

In an elaborate espionage network that kept track of dubious candidates and their activities in this last phase of Assembly elections, the police assiduously tracked each candidate with a criminal background in each of the 166 constituencies.

The hard work paid off. Despite every third candidate boasting a criminal record, elections in Uttar Pradesh have passed off surprisingly peacefully. Official figures revealed only one death in poll violence in all three phases of polling. The death took place when activists of the BJP and the Apna Dal traded gunfire near a polling station in Varanasi.

But where the administration has succeeded, political parties have failed to enthuse voters to come to the ballot box to caste their vote.

In the final analysis, this has been an election of and by politicians, not a people’s election.

Voter turnout remained just above 50 per cent, though the home department exaggerated these figures. Subtract the bogus voting and the figure could be much less.

Alarmingly for the BJP, the urban voters — their primary vote bank — refused to come out of their homes.

While Lucknow saw a turnout of only 37 per cent, Kanpur recorded marginally better with a turnout of 41 per cent. Even Varanasi, the political nerve centre of the heartland, saw an abysmal 31 per cent polling.

So angry was the urban development minister Lalji Tandon with the voter turnout in his constituency, Lucknow West, that he openly accused the Election Commission of conspiracy. Alarmed by a 27 per cent voter turnout in Lucknow West, Tandon, a close confidant of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and one of the senior most ministers, said the voters’ list was fudged.

“I will not let them off (the EC) so easily,” Tandon screamed, adding, “the EC’s role has to be thoroughly investigated.” Embarrassed senior leaders of the BJP tried to distance themselves from Tandon’s outburst, saying it was his “personal views”.

Though the low turnout will probably hit the BJP the hardest, other parties don’t stand to benefit by default either.

Efforts by all political parties to pull out disinterested voters from their homes for the final phase of polling failed miserably once again.

Besides a sense of dejection among the people, there have been large-scale complaints regarding voters’ lists, identity cards and electronic voting machines throughout the state. Thousands of people complained their names had been deleted from the voters’ list.

While many were proclaimed “dead” when they came to vote, others realised that their genders had been changed, disqualifying them from voting.

Though the EC in a last minute announcement said that all members of a family could vote if one of them showed an identity card, it was clear that the presiding officers knew nothing about it.

Thousands of people were turned away because they did not have the requisite identity cards.

“The politicians dug their own graves, the Election Commission performed the last rites,” said Brijendra Tiwari, an official in the PWD.

   

 
 
MANIPUR SILENCES GUN 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Senapati, Feb. 21: 
The fear of bullet defeating the ballot in the 20 tribal-dominated hill constituencies of Manipur appeared exaggerated as over 80 per cent of the electorate today turned up to vote in spite of a series of militant attacks since yesterday morning.

Booth-capturing and rigging by suspected militants, however, marred polling in Churachandpur district and Saikul constituency in Senapati district. Chief electoral officer D.S. Poonia said repolling would be conducted in over 40 booths. These booths are spread across Singhat, Tipaimukh and Saikot constituencies in Churachandpur district, Saikul and Saitu in Senapati district and Tengnoupal in Chandel district.

“Polling was peaceful in Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Chandel and northern Senapati. Disruption of the polling process was maximum in Saikul and Singhat constituencies,” Poonia said.

The chief electoral officer had said yesterday that he could not “guarantee” free and fair polling in the hill constituencies, especially in booths where guards could not be deployed because of inadequate availability of forces. His fears were justified, with militants ambushing polling officials and security personnel in several areas.

The toll in violence yesterday rose to 10 when militants attacked an Assam Rifles team in Saikul constituency. The rebels triggered a blast with a remote-controlled device, killing a captain and three jawans. Seven personnel, including a major, sustained serious injuries. The slain officer has been identified as Capt. Samir Bhan.

   

 
 
POLLS OVER, VAJPAYEE CLEARS AIR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 21: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee denied having said the BJP did not require the support of Muslims and accused the party’s “critics” of “sketching scary scenarios for minorities in general and Muslims in particular in the event of a BJP or a BJP-led government”.

Vajpayee refuted, in a printed statement, the allegation that he had told a rally in Varanasi on Tuesday that the BJP could win the Uttar Pradesh elections even without Muslim support.

“On the contrary, in rally after election rally, I have stated that we would very much like them (the Muslims) to support us on the basis of our performance and our promise. Far from seeking to divide the people of India, it was aimed at fortifying their unity,” the Prime Minister said, following condemnation of the reported remarks.

Vajpayee’s statement, copies of which were given to the press here today, quoted what he “actually” said in Varanasi on the contentious issue: “I have a word for my Muslim brethren. Many parties are telling our Muslim brothers that they should defeat the BJP. Why? What has the BJP done? Our government has been there in the state. Our government is there at the Centre. There has been no discrimination, there is no insecurity. We have treated all sections of society equally.”

Political observers were surprised at the belated response because the Opposition was quick to criticise the reported remarks yesterday.

In a letter to President K.R. Narayanan, the Samajwadi Party demanded that he sack the Prime Minister. In another letter to the Election Commission, it asked it to consider disenfranchising Vajpayee.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister’s statement was faxed shortly after the last round of polling in Uttar Pradesh that concluded this evening. The political interpretation was that he did not wish to add to the controversy with his clarification and risk losing the traditional Hindutva votes.

This section is cut up with the government for “advising” the VHP to await the court verdict on Ayodhya before embarking on the temple.

The excerpts of the speech also quoted the Prime Minister as saying it was during his tenure that the government had established “good relations” with the Islamic countries. Among the other arguments marshalled in his self-defence, the Prime Minister said: “Muslims are in a majority in Kargil, but they did not side with Pakistan. Even Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir do not want to secede from India. Which is why terrorism has been encouraged there.”

He added that because Pakistan realised Kashmir did not want to merge with it, “it is doing zabardasti, it is aiding and abetting terrorism”.

“Muslims are not merely Muslims. In our eyes they are human beings. And not only human beings, we look upon them as Bharat Mata ki santan (the children of Mother India). Muslims, too, are fighting for India on the borders,” Vajpayee stressed.

He claimed that though the “shrill propaganda that the BJP is anti-Muslim” had influenced voters in the past, the community had realised that the parties projecting themselves as the “sole saviours” of Muslims were doing this “principally to get en bloc votes of Muslims and nothing else”.

   

 
 
COFFIN SCAM SET TO HAUNT HOUSE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 21: 
Thanks to the activist streak in former trade unionist and defence minister George Fernandes, the issues of the coffin scam and his reinduction into the Cabinet are threatening to return to Parliament with a bang in the budget session commencing from Monday.

The issues, which had stalled both Houses for several days in the winter session, had been buried after the terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13.

In the intervening period, Fernandes’ refusal to hand over the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) report on defence deals to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament triggered another uproar with the Opposition parties alleging that the report “contained a lot of explosive material about the manner in which certain (defence) purchases were made”.

Aggravating the matter further, Fernandes wrote to PAC chairman N.D. Tiwari and some other members to deny any scam in the purchase of coffins for the Kargil martyrs. The defence minister had also enclosed a booklet written by his journalist-friend R.V. Pandit, rubbishing the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) for pin-pointing the coffin scam.

Tiwari took strong exception to Fernandes’ letters as the PAC was handling the CAG report. The panel members felt that the defence minister was denigrating the CAG, a constitutional body, by writing to the PAC, another constitutional body, and circulating the booklet.

The defence minister’s defence was that making the CVC report public would not be in the interest of the country. But the argument had few takers.

Alleging that Fernandes was trying to influence the PAC, Tiwari yesterday offered to quit the panel. He is likely to meet Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi to protest against the defence minister’s “actions”.

In another controversial move, Fernandes had earlier written to the CAG, circulating the same booklet and seeking his comment. The CAG, it is learnt, kept mum but did not take kindly to his audacity in writing to him directly as the CAG is answerable only to Parliament.

Fernandes had revived the coffin scam controversy last month when he asked Pandit to write a booklet, The whole Truth with Documents about the Aluminium Caskets Bought by the Defence Ministry in 1999-2000, in a bid to obtain a clean chit on the alleged scam. Pandit had convened a press conference, too, “to put the record straight”. A Samata Party activist was seen distributing the booklet at the meet.

The defence minister forwarded Pandit’s booklet, based on defence ministry documents, to several MPs to establish his innocence in Coffingate. But the move backfired as the CPM and the Congress took strong objection to Fernandes’ activism. Certain CPM leaders wrote to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee reiterating their demand for Fernandes’ removal from the Cabinet.

   

 
 
DEFENCE BOOST FOR PRIVATE GIANTS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 21: 
Joint ventures in defence industry are set to take off with Indian public and private sector companies and foreign firms energetically scouting for the right partner.

This is a fallout of the government allowing 100 per cent private participation with 26 per cent foreign direct investment and a clear signal from the armed forces that they are more comfortable in negotiating purchases if Indian parties are involved.

Vice-chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral John Colin deSilva, told a gathering of potential suppliers at a CII-sponsored conference here today that the navy was forming “defence-industry” cells to negotiate specific purchases.

Industry executives have welcomed the move and there are clear indications that the army and the air force will do likewise.

Among the first such joint ventures that are being talked about is a project of South Africa’s OMC Vickers and the Tatas. OMC Vickers, manufacturers and suppliers of the Casspir armoured personnel carriers, has begun talks with Telco to produce the vehicles in India.

Telco, which supplies an estimated 80 per cent of the trucks to the army, will supply the engines for the Casspir if the talks fructify.

The biggest joint ventures could take place with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the defence public sector company, that makes military and civilian aircraft. HAL’s chief, N.R. Mohanty, said his company was overloaded with orders and was hardpressed to find adequate capital and personnel to go through with some $4 billion worth of projects.

“We have decided to outsource in a big way and want to graduate from buyer-seller relationships with private sector companies into partnerships,” Mohanty told senior managers of private Indian companies and foreign firms.

Among the orders, he said, were joint manufacture of the Sukhoi 30 multi-role fighter aircraft under an India-Russia agreement. HAL is engaged in the development of the light combat aircraft, the advanced light helicopter and a light attack helicopter.

An intermediate jet trainer is to be tested in December 2002. “I can give an assurance that there are orders enough for the next five years,” Mohanty said.

The Ordnance Factory Board, too, is inviting private participation in new and ongoing projects.

The Nalanda plant will possibly have an arrangement to include a private Indian company and technological tie-ups with Denel of South Africa.

Denel, which is looking for a much larger exposure as defence supplier to India for reasons that are political apart from being commercial, is also understood to be in talks with Atul Kirloskar.

No detail was available. The Kirloskar Group has been known to be major suppliers of power systems to the navy.

   
 

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