Red-ribbon finish to liquor U-turn
Stepdown tremors in Mamata domain
Court puts stamp on tuition ban
Pained party holds up Modi good marks
Loyalist Azad in a bind after ‘demotion’
Delhi does balancing act on West Asia
Naxalite chief flees ranks with crores
AIDS axe on private blood banks
Bogey of bin Laden at every Godhra turn
Anjar 'desecrator' traced to Delhi

Ahmedpur (Birbhum), April 2: 
First they went back on their high moral claim that drinking was decadent and reeked of apasanskriti. Then they started issuing liquor licences.

Now the CPM-led government in Bengal has begun cutting the red ribbon of liquor bottling plants.

Industry minister and second in command in the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee Cabinet Nirupam Sen today inaugurated a Rs 2.5 crore country liquor bottling plant, sending out the message that his government responds to revenue needs.

A smiling Sen flagged off production, saying he had no qualms whatever as “it was just a factory like all others”. The plant has come up on a six-acre plot and has a daily capacity of 70,000 litres.

“It is the thirteenth bottling plant of country spirit in the state. The entrepreneurs are setting up industry here by taking advantage of the new industrial environment in the state,’’ Sen said, adding that industrialisation and employment were the thrust areas of the government.

Congress MLA and former PCC president Somen Mitra attended the function. So did excise minister Prabodh Sinha and minister of state for panchayat Dhiren Sen.

During the last decade, the Left Front government had refused to issue liquor licences, saying that drinking was a part of decadent culture. But it underwent a change of heart in 2001 after realising it could be a major source of revenue.

Nearly 300 licenses for Indian-made foreign liquor and country liquor shops were then issued on a co-operative basis. The government also announced that it would soon put an end to illicit liquor trade.

Excise minister Sinha said he did not see any harm in encouraging the liquor industry. “If sugar industry can come up, if electronics industry can flourish, then why not liquor? There is no ban on setting up liquor industries. If anyone sets up a liquor factory by following the norms, why should we object?’’

The minister said it was difficult to stop liquor addicts from hitting the bottle. “They would obtain it at any cost. Consequently, there will be mushrooming of illicit liquor trade and people will die by consuming it if it is not available in approved shops.

“There is no such law by which we can prevent people from drinking. We can only make them aware of the demerits of alcohol consumption. So, we can at least try and prevent people from drinking illicit liquor,” he concluded.


Malda, April 2: 
The only civic board in Malda run by the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine is going through a crisis following the resignations of two chairman-in-council members.

Dulal Sarkar and Sanjit Das of the Englishbazar municipality have put in their papers after differences with chairman Krishnendu Chowdhury over the running of the board. The duo has alleged that they are being bypassed and accused Chowdhury of indulging in corrupt practices and nepotism.

The two members have also threatened to quit as councillors if Chowdhury does not “restrain” himself and take measures against officials encouraging corruption. They have been maintaining close links with the Congress, which has only one councillor on the board.

The chairman has denied the allegations and instead pointed fingers at Sarkar and Das for indulging in corrupt practices.

A defiant Chowdhury made light of the duo’s threat to step down as councillors, saying it would not pose any problem for the civic body. The Trinamul-BJP would continue to have majority even if the two quit as councillors, he said.

Sarkar and Das alleged that Chowdhury had bypassed them in the running of the civic board. “We don’t know how our departments are functioning. Chowdhury is bypassing us and taking independent decisions about the departments we are supposed to look after.

“Moreover, Chowdhury is also very arrogant and hardly bothers to listen to our problems in running our departments. We have resigned in protest against this. We will resign as councillors too if Chowdhury fails to rectify himself and give us due importance,” they said.

Chowdhury said he had set up an inquiry committee to probe the charges against him.


Calcutta, April 2: 
Calcutta High Court today upheld the Bengal government’s directive refraining school teachers from engaging in private tuitions, dismissing two suits questioning the state’s motive and capacity to implement the ban.

Supriya Chattopadhyay, teacher of a school in south Calcutta and Trinamul Congress Assembly chief whip Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay’s wife, was the first to challenge the government’s ban in the high court. A group of 15 teachers of a north Calcutta school followed in her footsteps last Wednesday, forcing the court to club the two suits.

Justice Alok Chakraborty dismissed the suits, saying he found their basic point --- that the directive to teachers to declare every three months that they were not engaged in any other occupation besides teaching in schools was humiliating --- untenable.

The government had every right to extract a declaration from its employees, he said. The order did not lower the dignity of a teacher in any way --- every citizen from time to time made certain declarations (regarding their income, medical bills) to the government or his/her employer.

“So a declaration of the sort demanded by the government can never be deemed humiliating,” the judge said.

The court said an employing authority could impose any condition it wanted on its employees. This had been allowed by a 1991 modification of the relevant rules, the court added, replying to the contention that the employer could not impose fresh conditions years after entering into an agreement with the employee.

“Even the repeated seeking of a declaration is not illegal,” Justice Chakraborty said. “The government has every right to know how much it should disburse to meet the salary-component of how many teachers so long as it continues to meet the expenses.”

Chakraborty, however, allowed Chattopadhyay 15 days to approach a higher court. Her lawyer, also a Trinamul legislator, said she would do exactly that.


New Delhi, April 2: 
The BJP today accused the media of “one-sided” coverage of the National Human Rights Commission report on the Gujarat violence, released yesterday.

“The party is pained to note the one-sided coverage, in both the print and the electronic media,” of the commission’s preliminary report on the Gujarat riots, BJP general secretary Sunil Shastri said.

The BJP leader also quoted excerpts to prove that the commission had actually commended the Narendra Modi government for its “good” work.

However, a close perusal of the report turned the tables on the BJP. Shastri used the panel’s findings selectively to trash the media. His statement reproduced four different paragraphs, all out of context.

The first stated the commission had taken “good note of the relief, rescue and rehabilitation measures undertaken by the state (Gujarat) government. In many instances, strenuous efforts have been made by collectors and other district officers, often acting on their own initiative”.

But Shastri omitted what follows. “The commission was informed, however, during the course of its visit, that many of the largest camps, including the Shah-e-Alam in Ahmedabad, had not received visits at a high political or administrative level till the visit of the chairperson of this commission. This was viewed by the inmates as being (an) indication of a deeper malaise that was discriminatory in origin and character.”

The next paragraph that the BJP leader quoted said the commission had taken note of the state government report, which pointed out that the home department had not issued guidelines on the type of cases in which the anti-terror Ordinance had to be used and the decision to invoke the Ordinance in individual cases was deferred till the end of investigations.

Again, the BJP spokesperson conveniently omitted the following sentence: “The commission intends to monitor this matter further, Poto (Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance) having since been enacted as a law.”

Shastri quoted the report to show the commission had deemed Modi to be a fair administrator after he decided to pay an equal amount of Rs 1 lakh as compensation to the victims of the Godhra carnage and the violence that followed.

But the report also said: “This decision in the view of the commission should have been taken at the initiative of the government itself, as the issue raised impinged seriously on the provisions of the Constitution contained in Articles 14 and 15, dealing respectively with equality before the law and equal protection of the laws within the territory of India, and the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”

Shastri quoted a passage on the media’s role partially. The extract said there was need to “reflect further on possible guidelines that the media should adopt on a ‘self-policing’ basis to govern its conduct in (a) volatile situation....”

Read in its context, what the commission said was that it “firmly believes it is essential to uphold the right to Freedom of Speech and Expression as articulated in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution that finds comparable provision in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966. It is, therefore, clearly in favour of a courageous and investigative role for the media”, the BJP general secretary pointed out.

The BJP’s initial reaction to the violence against the minority community was that it was a response as much to the media’s “failure” to highlight the Godhra carnage as the Opposition’s alleged silence on the tragedy.

Even the Prime Minister expressed this view when a delegation of human rights activists met him soon after the attack on Muslims started.


New Delhi, April 2: 
The die-hard loyalist is caught in a bind: to be a ghulam (slave) or be azad (independent).

Sacked AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad does not want to take up his new assignment as the Congress chief of Jammu and Kashmir. At the same time, he can not muster enough courage to revolt against Sonia Gandhi.

Azad’s refusal to accept the new job has upset Sonia’s plans to push through a large-scale overhaul in the AICC secretariat.

A sulking Azad has been saying that the new assignment would pose a threat to him and his family. Some of his family members are against Azad taking up the assignment as his name tops the hit-list of several terrorist outfits in the Valley. The family is also upset that after years of “unflinching loyalty”, Azad has been “punished” for no fault of his.

Three key Congress crisis managers — Arjun Singh, Ambika Soni and Ahmad Patel — called on Azad on his return from Mumbai last night. The trio tried to prevail upon him but Azad remained non-committal.

Sonia’s emissaries told Azad that the leadership had several plans for him and he should not view the new job as a “demotion” or punishment. He could play a pivotal role in the ensuing Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir, they said.

Azad could unite the various factions of the state Congress and bring around the breakaway group headed by Mahbooba Mufti, daughter of former Union minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Azad also has a good rapport with chief minister Farooq Abdullah and the equation can be handy during or after the polls, Arjun, Ahmad and Soni argued. However, Azad was not convinced.

The Azad camp suspects that some senior leaders ganged up to oust him from the AICC. Azad is among a select band of leaders who have survived successive regimes of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Sitaram Kesri and Sonia.

He has held several key jobs in the party and the government, including being in charge of party affairs of almost all states.

The timing of Sonia’s sack order could not have been worse. It was Azad’s wedding anniversary and his son was returning from abroad. The family was looking forward to a reunion in the weekend following Holi.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Azad declined to comment on his new assignment. “I will not say a word on it,” he said.

Though Azad’s sulk has put Sonia’s plans for sweeping changes in the AICC in a quandary, AICC sources said she was determined to go ahead.

The makeover will be announced on Friday, April 5, the day Sonia had taken over as party chief four years ago. “She is keen to have her stamp over (the) new appointments,” said a 10 Janpath insider.


New Delhi, April 2: 
After joining the world in demanding immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian territory, India today stressed that suicide bombings and acts of terrorism against Israel should also end.

The fine diplomatic balance came hours before Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s special envoy Hani al-Hasan met national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and other senior South Block officials this afternoon.

Pushed to the wall by the Israeli onslaught and miffed by America’s indifference to the siege, Arafat had despatched the envoy to seek India’s intervention in ending the standoff around the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and in areas under Palestinian control.

Besides Egypt, India is perhaps the only country that has access to both Israel and Palestine as well as America.

Indian officials have urged the warring sides to go along with US special envoy Anthony Zinni’s proposal for ceasefire to restore normality in West Asia.

Delhi feels the situation in the volatile region is fast heading towards a dead end, with the Palestinians making a strong attempt to break the Israeli siege in Ramallah and other cities.

On Saturday, India had joined the rest of the world in supporting the United Nations Security Council’s resolution calling for immediate cessation of violence in the region and withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian areas.

But South Block mandarins were quick to point out that the acts of terrorism should also be brought to an end immediately to stop the killing of innocents.

In January this year, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had written a letter to the PLO chairman in which he had stressed that Arafat was the embodiment of the Palestinian people’s struggle.

This position was repeated during discussions with Hani, with Delhi making it clear that it would continue to support Arafat but insisting at the same time that acts of terrorism should also be stopped.

In private, Indian policy makers have cast doubts on Arafat’s ability to control the large number of “independent actors” who have entered the Palestinian political scene and bring an end to the suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks against Israel. But they feel that Arafat should make a serious attempt to assert his authority over the hardliners to try and reduce the number of such attacks.

For India, taking a position on developments in West Asia has always proved difficult, more so over the past few years because of its growing closeness with Israel. South Block officials are aware that Arafat and the Palestinian cause continue to enjoy massive support in the country and any change of stand by the government would come in for severe criticism.

But at the same time, they have also to keep in mind that signals coming out of Delhi are not misread in Tel Aviv and jeopardise relations between the two.

That India has been extremely active on the international front in the fight against terrorism also makes it difficult for Delhi not to criticise any such act anywhere in the world.

In private, however, Indian officials admit that much of the problem in West Asia will be resolved once Israel gives up the occupied Palestinian territories.


Ranchi, April 2: 
Lust for money appears to have inflicted the ranks of the Maoist Communist Centre with the outfit’s Jharkhand “commander-in-chief” Sandeep Mukherji alias Langra, his wife Devyanti and six “deputy commanders” reportedly decamping with Rs 6 crore and scores of sophisticated weapons.

The banned rebel group, which is trying hard to nip indiscipline among its cadre, has not been able to apprehend Mukherji and his team.

Among the weapons taken away by the gang are AK-series assault rifles, magazines, dynamites and a huge quantity of ammunition.

Sources said that early last month, an SOS message was circulated by the MCC leadership after Mukherji and six of his lieutenants, including his wife, who were in charge of different districts of the state, were found missing from their posts.

“Over the past several years, the now-missing group had been siphoning off a substantial portion of illegal levies collected in the name of the MCC,” they added.

The sources said following the disappearance drama, a secret meeting of top MCC leaders and their “managers” from West Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgargh and Andhra Pradesh was convened at Barlanga under Gola police station of Hazaribagh district on March 24.

This leaders met to chalk out strategies on how to trace the missing members and prevent a recurrence.

The conclave, sources said, unanimously endorsed a death penalty to Mukherji, his wife and his associates. The MCC leaders also announced suitable rewards and promotions up the line to anyone who could bring information on the absconding “traitors”.

Police sources said Mukherji had migrated to what was then south Bihar from West Bengal in 1990 and was assigned the responsibility of training young boys and girls to strengthen the MCC squads.

“With his fine display of organisational skills, Mukherji won the confidence of the MCC top brass and was soon promoted as the chief commander of Jharkhand. During a training camp in Chatra in April 2001, he came very close to Devyanti and was later allowed to marry her,” sources said.

The name of Mukherji alias Langra had been cropping up at regular intervals in course of all police raids on rebel hideouts throughout Jharkhand. The police, too, had thrown a wide dragnet to nab Mukherji but have been unsuccessful so far.

A senior police officer said that soon after his marriage, Mukherji formed his own group of handpicked commanders with whose help he began to stash away sizeable amounts of MCC collections into his secret accounts. The matter came to light after Mukherji, Devyanti and their accomplices decided to give the MCC the slip.

The MCC rebels had beheaded a government chowkidar, Girdhari Mahto, in Nawadih village of Bermo subdivision of Bokaro district on Sunday. MCC’s leaflets recovered from the spot state that the rebel outfit would seek vengeance for Langra’s disappearance. This gives credence to the disappearance of Mukherji, his wife and associates. The chowkidar Girdhari Mahto, his wife along with his son Shanichar Mahto were kidnapped by 50 MCC activists and taken to a nearby forest.The police officer claimed that intelligence sleuths have been “highly successful” in making inroads into the ranks of the MCC. “Dissension is fast growing in the extremist outfit which, in turn, has been aiding sleuths to gather all the required information of extremist activities in the state,” he added.


New Delhi, April 2: 
The government wants to phase out all private blood banks as part of its new national policy to control the spread of AIDS.

The decision taken by the Cabinet at its meeting here today means all states would now follow a set of guidelines that will be part of the national AIDS policy. It will also mean convergence with the 1996 national blood policy.

According to the Union health ministry, there are 3.86 million HIV-infected people in the country. Of them, 75 per cent are males, while 85 per cent of the infection has been transmitted through multi-partner sexual relations.

Eight years after the health ministry formed the National AIDS Control Organisation (Naco) to check the spread of the menace, the government today admitted that the guidelines have been inadequate. Therefore, a national AIDS policy has been set in motion with the hope that it would have a greater healing touch.

“We feel there is a need for an overall national policy so that states can have uniform guidelines to control AIDS,” said J.V.R. Prasada Rao, head of Naco. “Professional blood donors have been banned from giving blood but our aim is to phase out all private blood banks,” he added.

Though many of the loopholes in the blood transfusion policy have been plugged following the outcry against the increasing number of AIDS cases, an “underground” blood transfusion market still survives.

The Naco director said a merger of the two policies — against AIDS and for safe blood transfusion — is going to be a major part of the policy document.

Rao pointed out that for better implementation of the blood transfusion policy, more manpower was needed, along with better infrastructure and financial support. However, a comprehensive national AIDS policy should take care of these drawbacks.

The guidelines of this policy are expansive, at least on paper. They talk about seeking to address issues that are aiding the spread of AIDS. “The existing guidelines are inadequate,” Rao said.

Though the campaign against the malaise, both by the government and non-government agencies, has pulled AIDS out of the shadows, it still carries a lot of social stigma. The afflicted are often ostracised not only by the community, but also by their own family. Naco has recently begun sponsoring two television programmes to discuss the disease and its implications.

The national policy, according to the Cabinet note, will create an “enabling social environment for preventing HIV\AIDS and for providing care and support to people carrying the HIV infection…”.

The policy also intends creating an environment in which “human rights” of those afflicted are ensured, including “right of access to employment, education, privacy and a good health care system”.

But those who have been critical of Naco’s functioning are raising questions about additional funds. The organisation is flush with funds and its easy access to more coupled with its high-profile status have been talking points.


Godhra, April 2: 
A group of Muslims recently approached the superintendent of police, Raju Bhargav, seeking permission to “eliminate all Muslims of Godhra”.

Captive in their own localities, the Muslims of Godhra — from where a mob of around 2,000 torched Sabarmati Express on February 27, killing 58 people — have become untouchables. Not only Hindus, Sindhis and Bohras, but even Muslims from other towns are turning away from them.

They have not ventured out of their homes — in four predominantly Muslim localities — where they have been holed up for over a month now.

Those who tried to move out were forced to rush back by a surging tide of anger to their localities, Singal Falia, Polan Bazaar, Rahmat Nagar and Satpul Koad.

A relief camp set up in the town, sheltering more than 6,000 people from the town and rural areas, is a battlefield of permanent conflict between local Muslims and those from adjoining villages.

Again, the source is what is perceived as “the barbaric act” of the Muslims of Godhra town.

“In Gujarat today”, said Gulubhai Ajmeri, “people see a potential Osama bin Laden in each and every Muslim of Godhra. They see the attack on Sabarmati Express as a continuation of the series of attacks on WTC and Parliament. And then there are many Muslims in Godhra who have openly called bin Laden their hero.”

In this town of nearly a lakh people, Muslims number about 45,000. The majority of them are Ghanchis, classified as the Other Backward Castes, who are engaged in the transport business that is heavily dependent on Sindhis, Hindus and Bohras, who suffered the greatest loss in the post-Godhra riots. Their properties were looted and torched.

“I will not be surprised if Sindhis, Bohras and, for that matter, Muslims of other towns boycott Muslims of Godhra,” said Ajmeri, a transporter.

With Sindhis and a small section of Hindus controlling the wholesale market, the transport business of the Muslims has been virtually ruined in an atmosphere of mistrust.

Their offices, which used to hum with activity all day and nearly all night, are now open for only three hours from 11 am to 2 pm.

A couple of daredevil transporters who sought to camouflage their religious identity, but got caught, had their goods-laden trucks burnt, said a senior police officer.

In an incident that came as a revelation to the transporters of Godhra, a group of them who secretly visited their clients to collect payments were told there would not be any more dealings with Muslims.

Ramesh Talati, a local resident, said Hindus and Sindhis boycotting Muslims is not a new phenomenon in Godhra and happens every time there is a communal disturbance.

The three communities have not ventured into each other’s areas since February 27. The market on Station Road and Old Station Road, where Hindus and Muslims have their shops, is still closed.

In the past, boycotts have not lasted more than a few months. “It will not last for long even now. Because everyone, not only Muslims, but also Hindus, Sindhis and Bohras will suffer in the process,” said Talati.


Ahmedabad, April 2: 
The flames today spread from Ahmedabad to Anjar as an angry mob retaliated against last night’s desecration of a Hanuman statue.

Frenzied youths damaged two mosques and torched over 20 shops belonging to the minority community in Anjar town in Kutch after police failed to net the Hanuman-statue miscreants.

Indefinite curfew had to be clamped in the town still to recover from last year’s devastating quake. While Gujarat burned bled last month, Kutch had been a pocket of peace.

Trouble began late last night when locals found the Hanuman statue at Khatri Chowk damaged. Furious, they served an ultimatum to the police that they would take the law into their hands unless the culprits were arrested in two hours.

Finding that the police had not met their condition, the mob went on the rampage around 10 this morning. Police had to fire five rounds to disperse the troublemakers.

This evening, the police claimed they had swooped on the culprit who had come all the way from Delhi to foment trouble. The news was broken at a peace meeting attended by both communities.

Kutch district collector H.N. Chhibar said the Intelligence Bureau had arrested one Rafiq in Gandhidham, who allegedly confessed that he had been sent by the ISI to Kutch to set off communal disturbances.

The police later picked up Mohammed Kazi, the local contact who did the job for Rafiq. Kazi was paid Rs 200 to desecrate the statue and was to have been sent to Ajmer.

More people lost their lives in sporadic violence in other parts of the state. In Umreth town of Kheda district, two persons were killed when police fired to disperse a mob that set several houses and shops on fire. Indefinite curfew has been imposed.

Ankleshwar town of south Gujarat, too, was put under indefinite curfew after a mob indulged in stone throwing. The Baroda police commissioner was hurt in a bomb attack.

In Ahmedabad, four persons were stabbed. The police said two persons had been stabbed in Bhadra under Karanj police station and one each in Naroda and Astodia.

VHP clears air

The VHP has said that funds being raised in Ahmedabad in its name were not for distribution among violence-hit people from the majority community but for the upkeep of the organisation.

“It is the state government’s responsibility to look after the people affected in the violence,” a senior leader said.


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