Buddha sounds alert on Ram yagnas
Cong, Trinamul to vie for seat
CM wake-up call on poor list
Gold plates racket busted
It’s bad news for Chinese goods
Distress heat on cell firms
Admit cards go online at Anna varsity
Mumbai remembers and prays
Shastri faces flak
Mal auttest for Amrinder

Calcutta, March 12: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today asked district magistrates and sabhadhipatis to deal firmly with attempts to provoke popular sentiments by organising Ram shila pujas on or before March 15.

The dirctive comes in the wake of one person being killed and several getting injured in police firing on thousands of VHP supporters who clashed with them over a yagna in Taldi village near Canning.

Bhattacharjee also called upon the sabhadhipatis to mobilise public opinion against the VHP by holding regular meetings with political leaders, senior citizens and eminent people.

The chief minister met the officials at Great Eastern Hotel this morning.

“You have to ensure peace everywhere at any cost so that there is no rerun of the Taldi incident. I want you to stall any move by VHP workers to perform Ram yagnas in public places,” Bhattacharjee said at the meeting. He also took note of the developments on the Ram shila pujas in the districts.

The body of Tapas Halder, who was injured in Taldi and succumbed to injuries later, was cremated last night amid unprecedented security. Six others had sustained bullet injuries when police opened fire to quell the mob on Sunday.

As the body arrived, a pall of gloom descended on the village. The police had a tough time controlling the thousands of villagers who thronged the cremation ground. “We had to beef-up security to prevent any untoward incident. After all, it was an emotional issue. The body was put on the pyre around 11.30 pm and the whole thing passed off peacefully,” said S.S. Panda, additional superintendent of police (rural), South 24-Parganas.

VHP state general secretary Ajoy Kumar Nandi today demanded action against the policemen responsible for opening fire on a religious congregation.

“We will move a number of human rights associations, including Amnesty International, against the policemen for killing an innocent person and injuring several others in Taldi on Sunday. We will mobilise public opinion against police high-handedness,” he said.

Nandi accused the Left Front government of trying to destroy the “secular fabric” of Bengal with the help of policemen. The trouble at Taldi had escalated due to police excess, he said.

He dared the CPM to stop VHP activists from performing pujas. “We have information that the CPM has asked its cadre and policemen to remain alert till March 15 so that Hindus cannot perform pujas even inside temples. But no one can stop us.”

Nandi said about 8,000 Ram sevaks will reach Ayodhya from the state before March 15. Asked if they would hide their identities while travelling, he replied in the negative.


Calcutta, March 12: 
The Congress today tried to queer the pitch for the Trinamul Congress in the forthcoming Rajya Sabha polls by fielding noted economist Arjun Sengupta as its candidate.

Sengupta filed his nomination today, making a contest inevitable on March 27.

There are now six candidates for five vacancies in the Upper House from Bengal. Apart from Sengupta, the nominees are Dinesh Trivedi of Trinamul, Debabrata Biswas of the Forward Bloc and Prasanta Chatterjee, Tarini Roy and Khabiruddin Ahmed of the CPM. While victory for the four Left Front nominees is almost a foregone conclusion, the real contest will be confined to Sengupta and Trivedi.

Trinamul chairperson Mamata Banerjee announced Trivedi’s name as the party’s nominee in Delhi this afternoon after a party working committee meeting. Mamata has directed all her 60 legislators to cast their first and second preference votes for Trivedi.

Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Pankaj Banerjee, who attended the meeting, will formally convey the directive to the legislators tomorrow.

A meeting of the Congress Legislature Party endorsed Sengupta’s candidature after state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee proposed his name following the high command’s clearance.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Mukherjee conceded that the party did not have sufficient strength to ensure Sengupta’s victory. “However, we will appeal to the Trinamul Congress legislators to cast their surplus votes in favour of our nominee. We are also approaching the SUCI and GNLF members for support,” he said.

Asked how the party expected Sengupta to win even if the Trinamul members cast their excess votes, Mukherjee remained evasive, saying: “We know we are not in a position to win, but this is not the first time that the Congress has fielded a candidate despite an uncertain prospect.”

Mukherjee denied that the Congress intended to engineer cross-voting among Trinamul and Left Front members to ensure Sengupta’s victory.


Calcutta, March 12: 
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today instructed all district magistrates and zilla parishad chairpersons to speed up preparation of the list of people below the poverty line.

The chief minister told the officials at a meeting that care should be taken to ensure there were no omissions. Besides Bhattacharjee, health minister Suryakanta Mishra and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya were also present.

The government is drawing up the list so that the poor could be issued ration cards under a Central government scheme.


Calcutta, March 12: 
A 40-year-old woman was caught by residents of Karunamoyee, in Salt Lake, on Tuesday morning, for trying to sell them fake gold plates. Witnesses said the woman and two male associates were showing their wares to a Karunamoyee resident, when they were challenged by the others. The two men fled, while the woman was handed over to the police.

According to Ashoke Sarker, the Karunamoyee resident, one of his relatives was similarly duped two years ago. “My relative even pawned off jewellery to buy five-kg-worth of gold plates for Rs 1.5 lakh,” said Sarker.

He met the woman a couple of days ago, on his way home. “she showed me a silver coin. I agreed to buy it. Then she told me that she had a number of gold plates she wanted to sell,” he said.

Sarker recalled: “She asked for Rs 5 lakh for the plates, which she claimed weighed five kg. The deal was settled at Rs 3 lakh. I told the woman to come to my house two days later, by which time I would rustle up funds.”

Sarker called in his neighbours before the woman arrived. “My neighbours wanted to inspect the plates. They were fakes,” said Sarker. The woman, identified as Lakshmi Devi from Bihar, was handed over to Bidhannagar (East) police station.


Calcutta, March 12: 
From being the in-thing about a year ago, the made-in-China logo has come a long way. But, according to the Calcutta market, it has been a downhill journey all the way.

The small outlet in central Calcutta’s Mehta Building is too tiny to carry on trade with the Xiamen-based China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT). Nor has V.K. Gupta, its owner, heard of CCPIT president Shen Danyang.

But the differences in buying power and business interests notwithstanding, both agree on one thing — the unreliability of low-end Chinese exports.

Gupta, who converted his cloth outlet into a toy store to cash in on the ‘China boom’, was more forthright, but Danyang — who spoke at a meeting with the Indian Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday— tried to provide an explanation for the “shortcomings”.

The verdict, however, is out: the cheap, well-finished imports, which threatened to eat away a large chunk of the business of Calcutta-based industries, are definitely on their way out.

“Cheap substitutes will always be there but, contrary to apprehensions, they don’t appear capable of replacing the local products,” said Aslam, owner of a Bagri Market electrical goods outlet.

Ironically, it’s the USP of the Chinese imports — their affordability — that has harmed the once-burgeoning market, say local traders. And Danyang could not agree more.

“Low prices, even in China, usually mean low quality,” the CCPIT boss said, responding to complaints from the city’s industrial barons about the unreliability of some Chinese imports. “Please deal with reputed companies and think twice before buying dirt-cheap goods,” Danyang said.

The grey market in central Calcutta was unrepresented at the ICC meet but it, nevertheless, seemed wiser. Aftab, selling Chinese batteries of brands like ‘King’, ‘Durabatt’ and ‘Nikki’, admitted that some did not even last the shelf life. “They are priced between Re 1 and Rs 2, but it’s better to buy an Indian-made one, costing Rs 8,” he admitted.

Ditto for tubelights and re-chargable lamps. “The tubelights had initially caught the fancy of customers because of the unbelievable prices (at Rs 30 each) but the public appears to have become wiser,” said a Mehta Building trader.


New Delhi, March 12: 
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is likely to direct cellular operators to streamline calls made from mobile phones to access emergency services like police, fire and ambulance.

Though the services are available even now, they do not conform to Trai norms. If a subscriber in Gurgaon calls from his mobile for any of these emergency services, the call comes to Delhi and not any of the services’ establishments in Gurgaon. Consequently, the basic purpose of emergency service is defeated.

“We have received a representation in this regard (unavailability of the emergency services) and we are examining it. The operators are supposed to offer these services as per the licence conditions. There are no penalties exclusively for non-compliance of these particular services but there are enough regulations which bind them to offer them,” regulatory officials said.

A committee constituted by the communications ministry on the prefix codes for various telecom serviceshas also pointed out that the emergency services are not provided properly.

The committee had recommended a one-year time-frame starting April to the operators of three metro districts in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai and two years for Calcutta and those in state circles to add requisite equipment and software to offer the services efficiently.

A senior telecommunications department official said: “We feel that the time given to implement the services are much longer and this should be reduced. We will approach Trai for its recommendations.”


Chennai, March 12: 
Students aspiring for professional courses at the Anna University will not have to wait anxiously for the postman anymore. Admit cards or “hall tickets” for the entrance examinations can now be acquired online.

Chief minister Jayalalithaa today launched an electronic system for filing applications and issuing hall-tickets for the Tamil Nadu Professional Courses Entrance Examination, 2002, scheduled for April 20 and 21.

Nearly 1.5 lakh students from all over India will sit for the entrance examination in 36 centres across Tamil Nadu.

Thanks to the new system at the Anna University in the state, students can now register for the entrance tests and get their admit cards at the click of a mouse.

After inaugurating the system, Jayalalithaa said the facility was a major step in easing procedural hassles for students.

Two girls from Tirunelveli requested the chief minister through a video conference facility for a registration for the entrance from that centre and sought hall-tickets to be the first students to use the new system.

Jayalalithaa wished them good luck and arranged the admit cards immediately.

Two girls from Chennai, M. Prathiba and R. Devipriya, also got their hall-tickets online.

Jayalalithaa was delighted that Tamil Nadu was the first state in the country to bring such a system to students. She expressed hope that students from across India will benefit by this system.

State education minister M. Thambidurai and Anna University Vice-Chancellor A. Kalanidhi were among those present at the inauguration.


Mumbai, March 12: 
As relatives of those killed in the serial blasts prayed silently today for their loved ones, police engaged area committees in their effort to maintain the peace in the commercial capital, jittery over the situation in Ayodhya.

Bombs ripped through Mumbai exactly nine years ago, killing more than 200 people at 13 different places, including the stock exchange. The blasts had followed riots in the city in December 1992 in the wake of the Babri masjid demolition.

A group of men and women, mostly in white, prayed in silence in front of the passport office in Worli, one of the blast sites. The grieving relatives have been mourning their dead since March 12, 1993.

The police had initially balked at the idea this time because of the prohibitory orders imposed in the city to prevent trouble in view of the happenings in Ayodhya. “But we changed our mind and allowed it on humanitarian grounds,” a senior police officer said.

The blast case has been dragging on, with as many as 188 accused named in the chargesheet. Among the main accused are mobster Dawood Ibrahim and his brother Anees and Tiger Memon, a Dawood confidant said to be living with his mentor in Karachi.

Joint commissioner of police (crime) B.S. Mohite said the force had kept a wary eye on the underworld to prevent a repeat of the 1993 violence.

“We have reined in the underworld, but there are other elements who could always cause trouble. But then, police stations are on high alert,” he said.

To ward off trouble, police commissioner M.N. Singh held a series of meetings with political and religious leaders. He also met leaders of the minority community.

But the police are mainly counting on mohalla (area) committees to maintain peace in sensitive areas under Nagpara, JJ Marg, Meghawadi and Azad Maidan police stations. The committees were formed in the wake of the 1992-93 violence and comprise residents with good standings.

Committee members meet regularly in their areas to sort out disputes. They also keep the police informed of the activities of “doubtful” elements in their localities.

“Despite large-scale violence in neighbouring Gujarat, we have been able to maintain peace in the commercial capital largely because of these mohalla committees,” a senior officer said.

Nafis Sardar of the JJ Marg area committee said they had organised a cricket match during the VHP-sponsored bandh in the city on March 1 to deflect the attention of the youth. “Nothing happened as everybody was busy playing cricket in our neighbourhood.”

A police officer said the area committees have been asked to organise peace rallies and skits on Friday. “We are certain that residents of Mumbai will remain peaceful, no matter what will happen in Ayodhya on that day,” he said.


New Delhi, March 12: 
Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh and Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh today blasted Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnukant Shastri for his statement that no harm would be done if a peaceful puja was carried out in Ayodhya.

Asked for his reaction to the Governor’s reported statement after his meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today, the former Prime Minister said such comments were expected if an RSS pracharak became the head of government. Shastri’s continuance in office was fraught with danger, Amar Singh added.

The Governor has the responsibility to protect the Constitution, the former Prime Minister said. Shastri should quit immediately if he cannot fulfil his responsibility, he added.

Amar Singh added fuel to the criticisms of the Governor, describing his as a “fascist” and virtually demanding his recall. “The continuation of Shastri as Governor is fraught with danger as a fair administration (under President’s rule) cannot be expected from him in such an atmosphere,” he said. “This is not President’s rule but RSS rule,” the Samajwadi leader added.

The imposition of President’s rule should be viewed in the backdrop of the VHP threat to carry out the symbolic bhoomi pujan in Ayodhya given the Governor’s political background, he added.

Describing Shastri as a “committed RSS worker since his childhood”, Singh said: “Under an already surcharged atmosphere, if the constitutional head is an RSS man, it will only add fuel to the fire.


Chandigarh, March 12: 
Fresh out of the Opposition firing line for including “tainted” legislator Lal Singh in his Cabinet, Punjab chief minister Amrinder Singh is faced with another test in the April 4 election for the Malaut constituency.

The polls for Malaut were adjourned following the death of Shiromani Akali Dal candidate Sujan Singh. The Congress is backing “ally” CPI’s candidate in the seat.

After the sweeping success in the recent polls, the Congress, partymen said, would have fielded its own candidate but for the rules which allow only the Akali Dal to replace its nominee. The rest of the parties can only withdraw their candidates. The Akali Dal has fielded Sujan’s widow Mukhtiar Kaur as its nominee.

Lal Singh, who was indicted by the Lok Pal for graft when he was minister for food and civil supplies in the Beant Singh government, could not be prosecuted as then Governor Lt. Gen. B.K.N. Chhibber, a Congress member now, had denied permission.

Lal’s induction has punched holes in the Congress promise of a “clean” and government. Amrinder’s contention that the Governor did not find the Lok Pal report worthy for the permission has also not gone down well with the people either.

Ally CPI, too, has alleged that the inclusion does not go with Amrinder’s pre-poll claims and the corruption plank used by the Congress.

The issues will be the same before Malaut, but this time the guns will be trained on the Congress.

The CPI, which had won only one constituency out of the 10 it had contested, held the Congress responsible for the poor showing. “The senior ally did not help us in the campaign. We lost many seats due to its indifference towards our candidates,” said party secretary Joginder Dayal.

Amrinder, however, has said that the Congress “will make all efforts” to ensure CPI candidate Nathu Ram’s victory. Ram had lost to Sujan Singh in 1997 by nearly 17,000 votes.

The election is being seen as the first real “test” for the Amrinder government. Congress leaders are burning midnight oil to come up with a slogan that would ensure CPI support for the future.

The Akali Dal is not taking chances either. Senior Akali leaders, including former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, have been touring the constituency regularly.

“I have to nurse the constituencies which have returned our candidates. Not being in power does not mean that the people have rejected us. The policies followed by the Congress are anti-Sikh. Time will tell which party Punjab needs the most. The Malaut poll is crucial for both,” Badal said.

While Malaut is proving to be a headache for the Congress, the dismal economic condition of the state, courtesy populist policies has already made a harried Amrinder rush to Delhi with a plethora of demands.


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