Firing inquiry after 22 years
Probe into KPP leader’s custody death
Bill decision after joint session
Pranab plea for Mamata votes
Infotech to power Bengal job boom
MP to PM in three steps
Sonia in ‘vision’ rollback
Greek clue to cannibal past
NTR grandsons locked in silver screen tussle
Jaya check on prisoner shift

Calcutta, March 25: 
Twenty-two years ago, these cases of firing in South 24-Parganas made headlines. Some 50 people had died, 14 of them in 1984 at Khagra-Madan Khali in Canning.

The cases had been pending for so long. The March 10 police firing in Taldi, however, provided the South 24-Parganas administration to dispose of the old cases. At Taldi, one person was killed and several, including some policemen, were injured.

A senior police officer said in case the police had fired on a violent mob in self-defence when no magistrate had been around, any magistrate could carry out the investigation.

But if they had acted under instruction from a magistrate, the probe would be handled by a senior magistrate.

In Taldi, the officer said, police had fired to control an unruly mob of kar sevaks under orders from a magistrate.

A senior police official said they had sent reports to the magistrate’s office in time. The delay, he alleged, had been at that end. But the top district bosses shrug off the charges.

District magistrate Alapan Bandyopadhyay said there were “several reasons” for the delay. “In some cases, the police do not send their report on time. In some cases, witnesses do not turn up. Sometimes, local leaders cause unnecessary delay in giving evidence in a political case,” he said.

Bandyopadhyay has instructed all deputy magistrates to dispose of these cases on an urgent basis.


Siliguri, March 25: 
A magisterial inquiry has been ordered into the custody death of a senior Kamtapur People’s Party leader in Cooch Behar, with his outfit alleging foul play.

Mahendra Das — KPP leader and school teacher — was arrested in December 2000 during a raid on leaders of the separatist outfit. He died last night at the Cooch Behar reformatory where he had been kept since his arrest.

Family members and his lawyer alleged that Das died because of lack of treatment.

Cooch Behar district magistrate Chandan Singha said: “Last night, Das complained of serious illness and the jail doctor referred him to the Maharaja Jyotindra Narayan Hospital. Das was declared brought dead at the hospital around 1 am. We have instituted a magisterial inquiry into the incident.”

Both Das’s wife Kabita — a KPP leader herself — and his lawyer Abdul Jalil Ahamed have alleged that Das died because of total negligence of the jail staff and have threatened to move court.

“We will lodge a case against the government’s neglect of undertrials,” Kabita told reporters.

KPP has demanded that the authorities find out the actual cause of Das’s death.


Calcutta, March 25: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said his government will take a final decision on the proposed Prevention of Organised Crimes Act after seeing what happens to the Centre’s Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance at the joint session of Parliament tomorrow.

Bhattacharjee told reporters at Writers’ Buildings that his government was against the Central Bill.

“We do not want to put Poca in the same category with Poto. The Central Ordinance has chances of being misused,” Bhattacharjee said.

Though Bhattacharjee has already got the green signal from the CPM’s apex body, he has not decided when the Bill will be tabled in the Assembly. He refused comment on whether the Bill would be tabled in the on-going budget session.

He said the state had appealed to the Supreme Court against the high court order quashing director-general of police D.C. Vajpai’s appointment.


Calcutta, March 25: 
A day after Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee ruled out the possibility of her party MLAs casting their excess votes for Congress’ Arjun Sengupta in Wednesday’s Rajya Sabha polls, state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee appealed her to reconsider the decision.

“There is nothing unethical to seek votes from Trinamul as we had together fought against the ruling CPM in the last Assembly polls. We just want their excess votes, which may help our candidate sail through. This will bolster her anti-Left image before the public,” Mukherjee said this afternoon.

On his return from Delhi, Mukherjee said Sengupta had acted “rightly” in writing to all 293 legislators, including those from Trinamul, seeking votes. Asked how a Congress candidate could solicit the support of Left Front legislators, Mukherjee said: “As a candidate, he could appeal to everybody to ensure victory.”

Later, Mukherjee and former state Congress chief Somen Mitra met Sengupta to discuss the party’s strategy for the Rajya Sabha polls.

Trinamul president Subrata Bakshi today asserted that all 60 party legislators have reaffirmed their support to party nominee Dinesh Trivedi. “Our MLAs will vote only for Trivedi and there is no question of giving their excess votes to the Congress nominee.” A candidate for the upper House from Bengal has to secure 49 votes to get elected.

Ailing Trinamul MLA Paresh Pal, who is now in Itanagar, will arrive here tomorrow to cast his vote, Bakshi said. Arrangements have also been made to provide accommodation to the MLAs who are coming here from the far-flung districts.

The lone Leftist Opposition party, the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), today decided to support the Left Front candidates for the Rajya Sabha elections following a “request” from Front chairman Biman Bose.


Calcutta, March 25: 
The West Bengal government has identified IT-enabled services as the key growth sector and major employment generator in the state.

International consultancy major McKinsey had recently shortlisted 20 IT companies on which the state government should concentrate for creating an “IT-enabled services hub”.

“According to a Nasscom study, the size of the IT-enabled services industry will be around $ 17 billion by 2008 and we have set a target of cornering 20 per cent of the pie. This will generate significant employment opportunities besides giving a boost to the state’s economy,” D.P. Patra, IT secretary, West Bengal, said today. The state government is already in the home stretch of talks with GE Capital for setting up an international call centre in Calcutta.

To promote IT-enabled services, the government has decided to stick to the recommendations of the McKinsey report. The consultancy major studied “the overall business environment” in the first phase of its assignment. The findings of the second phase of the study, which involves identifying potential investors and chalking out policies to attract investment, will be presented to the state investment promotion board by end-April.

Officials from the IT department and Webel have teamed up with McKinsey to pitch for IT investments in the state. “On the basis of McKinsey’s suggestions, we have called on the companies and till now we have made significant progress in our discussions with eight companies from the shortlisted 20. We have found their response to be really positive,” said Patra, who is tight-lipped about the composition of the Top 20.

“We have been interacting with the major players in the industry for some time and lack of information on the state’s potential appears to be one of the biggest problems confronting us,” he added.

To project the state’s plus points, the government has decided to take steps with “visible outcome”. The government is also working on a detailed policy for IT-enabled services with competitive sops. “As infrastructure plays a key role, we are submitting a detailed plan to the government for setting up a 200,000 square feet IT-enabled services building. This will house small and medium level companies,” said S.K. Mitra, managing director, West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation (WBEIDC).

The proposed set-up at the Salt Lake Electronics Complex (Saltlec) will be jointly promoted by WBEIDC and the IT department. Because of the scarcity of available land in Saltlec, the government has also decided to speed up the process of infrastructure development in Nonadanga, on the southern fringes of the city.


New Delhi, March 25: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee will sit through his — and the country’s — third joint sitting of Parliament tomorrow, his first as Prime Minister.

From the Opposition benches to the most coveted office in the political hierarchy — the records of the three joint sessions are a chronicle of not only India’s chequered political lanscape, but also of Vajpayee’s career graph.

In 1961, then just another face in the Opposition, Vajpayee had participated in a joint sitting of Parliament during the tenure of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. In the span of the next decade and a half, he moved up the rung — in 1978, Vajpayee attended the second joint sitting of Parliament not as a member of the Opposition, but as the high-profile external affairs minister in the Janata Party government, led by Morarji Desai.

For two of Vajpayee’s Cabinet colleagues, L.K. Advani and George Fernandes, tomorrow’s will be the second joint sitting. Both were ministers in the Janata government in 1978. Home minister L.K. Advani was then in charge of information and broadcasting and defence minister George Fernandes headed the industry ministry.

The subjects of discussion in the three joint sittings have been as diverse as the political landscape. The first time the two Houses met together was to thrash out prickly issues in the Bill moved by the Jawaharlal Nehru government to prevent dowry. The second time, it was to scrap the banking commission Bill introduced during Emergency by Indira Gandhi. On both occasions, the government of the day had its way.

Unlike the last two occasions, tomorrow’s joint session revolves neither around an issue of social concern nor finance. The world has changed much since 1961 when Nehru had taken it upon himself to intervene in the debate on the Bill against dowry in the joint sitting of Parliament.

“I felt the urge to associate myself with the occasion, not only because it is the first joint sitting but also because it is a continuation of a series of social legislation that from time to time our Parliament has indulged in,” Nehru had said.

When the time for division of votes came, Vajpayee cast his vote against the Bill. This does not, however, mean he voted against the dowry prevention Bill, which had already been passed by both the Houses. His vote was against one of the amendments in the Bill.

The joint sitting tomorrow focuses on an issue that reflects the changed environment in the country where concern for national security is overriding all others. Some of the Opposition accusations flying in the air against the government, however, are an echo from the past.

In the 1978 joint sitting, CPI leader Bhupesh Gupta, then on the side of the Congress, was protesting against the repeal of the banking commission Bill. “I understand that you are doing this in order to provide employment to the RSS,” Gupta had said.


New Delhi, March 25: 
Sonia Gandhi today appointed Pawan Singh Ghatawar chief of the Assam Congress, setting the stage for similar changes in Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress president also plans to revamp the AICC secretariat by pruning the number of party secretaries and departmental heads. These measures, if implemented, would amount to a rollback: two years ago, she had created dozens of departments and packed party headquarters with two dozen secretaries as part of her Vision 2000-2001.

But the experiment failed. Department heads like Balram Jakhar, Manmohan Singh and Narain Dutt Tiwari were seldom seen at 24 Akbar Road, the party’s headquarters, while the secretaries kept asking for bungalows in New Delhi, saying they had no place to stay in the capital. Paucity of rooms at the headquarters even forced the leadership to convert a toilet into a room to accommodate two secretaries.

Sonia has also received feelers to draft in senior leaders like Pranab Mukherjee, K. Natwar Singh and Arjun Singh for organisational work. But she is reluctant to bring back both Pranab and Arjun. The two had served as AICC general secretary and chairman of the minorities department respectively.

Moreover, Pranab, who heads the Bengal Congress, had a disastrous stint as general secretary, when the party’s move to bail out the then Bansi Lal regime in Haryana boomeranged. Arjun, party leaders say, has all along been functioning as a backroom player, providing inputs and advising the leadership. Sources say if he is brought to the front, the charge that the party is run by a coterie would gain currency. It remains to be seen how Natwar, a career diplomat, copes with organisational work.

Sources say Sonia plans to pick new PCC chiefs for Punjab, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. With Amrinder Singh assuming charge as Punjab chief minister, a search is on to find a new state unit chief. Party insiders say she has shortlisted former Union minister Raghunandan Lal Bhatia for the post.

In Maharashtra, the recent municipal and zilla parishad polls have shown the Congress in poor light. Relations with its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party, are at an all-time low. Sources say Sonia is worried about Maharashtra, as it is the party’s traditional stronghold. If she decides to replace state unit chief Govindrao Adik, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Vilas Muttemwar would emerge favourites, they say. Both come from weaker sections and enjoy popular support.

Uttar Pradesh is worrying Sonia the most. In the recent Assembly polls, the party lost deposits in over 325 seats of the 403 Assembly segments. Its vote percentage fell from 18 in 1999 to nine per cent in 2002.

Though state unit head Sriprakash Jaiswal is claiming credit for keeping “communal forces at bay”, Sonia, party leaders say, has made up her mind to remove him. But she is yet to find a suitable replacement.

Former UPCC chief Salman Khurshid is keen to take up the assignment again, but some senior leaders are opposed to him.


Guwahati, March 25: 
The unread pages of history hold many strange tales and this could be one of them. An Assamese researcher studying Greek and Roman texts has come across references suggesting that cannibalism may have been prevalent in Assam.

P.C. Sarma, director of Research Council, Vivekananda Institute of Culture, quoted from the 150 AD compilation, Ptolemy’s Geography, to say that prevalence of cannibalism in Assam could not be discounted altogether.

Sarma’s observation has been documented in a paper titled “Prospects in Graeco-Roman sources for the reconstruction of Assam history” which was presented at a seminar on “Sources of history of Northeast India” held here recently. The period of Sarma’s study is the “first-second centuries of the Christian era”.

Ptolemy wrote: “Beyond Kirrhadia, the Zamirai, a race of cannibals, is located near Mount Maiandros.” The researcher said: “Mount Maiandros may indicate the lofty Mairang hills, about 5 km away from Khanapara on the Guwahati-Shillong Road.”

According to the researcher, the Mairang hills are said to be inhabited by the earliest known rulers of the region, King Mairang or Mahiranga. “Though we do not have evidence to prove the existence of cannibalism, we cannot reject its prevalence either,” Sarma said.

Though there are references to headhunting in several parts of the Northeast, the Greek texts are the first to hint at the prevalence of cannibalism in Assam.

Ptolemy’s Geography was compiled by the legend on the basis of word-of-mouth from traders and seafarers and the locations of each place was calculated with the help of latitudes and longitudes.

Sarma, however, also quoted the noted historian Gerini as saying that “many towns and marts which had existed and even flourished during that period, and were recorded by our eminent geographer, have now disappeared from the face of the earth as well as from the memory of man. While others have changed their names several times, each change being often into a different language, according to the race under whose sway they successively fell, are now unrecognisable under their modern appellations”.

Though Sarma’s observations are based on Gerini’s interpretation of Ptolemy’s Geography, the Assamese researcher said Ptolemy pointedly described Assam which can serve as materials to reconstruct at least the geographical background of this state of the first-second centuries”.

Besides Ptolemy’s Geography, Sarma also cited references from another Greek treatise The Periplus of the Erythrian Sea, which was written by an anonymous Greek trader between 80 AD and 89 AD.

Sarma cited the Ambari excavations in the heart of Guwahati in the 1970s, which unearthed a few pieces of Roman as well as Chinese pottery and point towards “the existence of a Roman trade route to east and southeast Asia along the Brahmaputra Valley”.

Sarma mentioned that though the accounts of the traders — whose words formed the basis of Ptolemy’s work — were mainly concerned with trading, they also threw light on the people and geography of the region.

“As geography can serve as the eye of history, researches on the Roman sources as well as wider archaeological exploration and excavation may help in the compilation of the history of the early Christian centuries of Assam,” Sarma added.


Hyderabad, March 25: 
NTR’s family is at war again, this time over films, not politics.

A grandson of the late Telugu Desam founder, Taraka Ratna, is being launched in nine films at the same time to take on another grandson, Taramarama, the current toast of Telugu cinema.

Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has thrown his weight behind Taraka Ratna, the son of brother-in-law N. Mohan Krishna. He spent over an hour at a film launch at Ramakrishna Horticulture Studios last week after refusing to attend such ceremonies for Taramarama, who is now better known as NTR Junior.

While Naidu had wrested the political mantle from his father-in-law, N.T. Rama Rao’s sons largely stuck to a career in films. Jaya Krishna and Sai Krishna are producers and cinema hall owners and Mohan Krishna is a cinematographer.

But the second son, Hari Krishna, an actor who bagged some good political roles, tried his hand at politics and was a member of the Naidu Cabinet before the chief minister dropped him. Hari Krishna later floated his own party and contested the polls against Naidu, but was wiped out. His son, NTR Junior, has become a star since his debut two years ago in a Ramoji Rao film. The chief minister has, however, kept his nephew at arm’s length, refusing to attend any of his film functions.

Together with the rest of the family, he has now propped up Mohan Krishna’s son as a competitor to NTR Junior. Thanks to the interest shown by Naidu, producers and directors lined up within a month of the family deciding to launch Taraka Ratna in films.

When the muhurats of nine films were held last Saturday, none of the producers or directors had chosen the heroines or the technical teams. “As an old friend of the NTR family, I accepted their request to produce a film for Mohan Krishna’s son,” said K. Raghavendra Rao, who directed NTR junior in Student No.1, the blockbuster of the season.

Feuds are not new to the NTR family. Naidu had fallen out with his father-in-law before his death when N.T. Rama Rao tried to project his second wife, Lakshmi Parvathi, as his political successor.


Chennai, March 25: 
The Tamil Nadu government today decided to put a check on the movement of “high-risk prisoners” from one jail to another in the wake of the escape of two Islamic militants earlier this month.

On March 7, Imam Ali, an extremist with alleged ISI links, had escaped from custody while being taken to the Palayamkottai Central Prison after a remand extension in a Madurai court. The same day, another extremist, Hyder Ali, had bolted while in transit from one court to another.

Both are associated with the banned Al-Umma and wanted in connection with several bomb blast cases in the state. Though Hyder was recaptured, Imam is still at large. Both were lodged in the Chennai Central Prison.

Chief minister Jayalalithaa said her government intends to put in place video conference facilities in all central prisons so that remand periods of high-risk prisoners could be extended electronically without having to physically move them from court to court.

However, to deal with immediate contingencies, the state government today passed an order, invoking the powers inherent in Section 268 of the Criminal Procedure Code under which “certain dangerous prisoners need not be removed from the prison except on another order by the government”, official sources said.

Extremist and religious fundamentalist elements like the two Al-Umma prisoners would also come under the category of “dangerous persons”.

Sources said the authorities did not want to take any more chances after Hyder and Imam escaped. For the present though, when such dangerous prisoners have to be moved for remand extension by other courts, commando forces would escort the police vehicles.

In the coming budget session beginning Wednesday, sources said a Bill will be introduced for early implementation of the video conference facility in all central prisons. Once enacted, the law will do away with the need for physically moving high-risk prisoners for remand extension over long distances.


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