Militants battle forces in Jaldapara forest
Boycott trauma pushes AIDS couple to brink
Story of Sundarbans on camera
Peace holds in shutdown jute mill belt
Joint team to tackle crime
Dacoits mock patrols
Sonia perched on terror-law tightrope
Moneybags mass in RS
Heartland deal awaits Atal return
Boom time for toon trade

Siliguri, April 7: 
A fierce gunbattle is raging between security forces and suspected militants of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) deep inside the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary on the Bengal-Bhutan border.

Till last reports came in, the encounter was continuing. Security forces had cordoned off the area and were combing the forest.

Police at the Salkumar Hat post were alerted this morning by people of the Suripara village bordering the sanctuary in Jalpaiguri district, who reported that they had spotted a large group of armed militants in the Dhoi-Dhoi jungle. The information was promptly relayed to the Falakata police station.

Immediately, a huge contingent of security personnel, including the special district combat commando force led by Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Siddh Nath Gupta and Alipurduar additional superintendent of police R. Shiv Kumar, rushed to the spot.

The forces cordoned off Suripara and launched a combing operation only to be greeted by a hail of bullets. The police retaliated, but the militants under the cover of fire retreated towards the Dhoi-Dhoi jungle within the Jaldapara sanctuary.

As the encounter continued, additional reinforcements of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were rushed to the area.

The panic-stricken villagers of Suripara have reportedly fled to neighbouring Palashpara village, some 3 km from Salkumar Hat.

Security forces had been on high alert along the Assam-Bengal-Bhutan border tri-junction today in view of the 23rd raising day of the Ulfa. Both paramilitary forces and the army had been deployed on the Assam-Bengal border. Search operations were also on along the Kumargram-Barobisha area of the tri-junction, a militant hub.

A senior police official told The Telegraph that the forces had been vigilant for the past week following intelligence reports that a large group of Ulfa and KLO militants had taken shelter in the Jaldapara sanctuary. Moreover, there were reports that the elusive Ulfa chief had been touring the area.

“Intelligence reports had said Ulfa chief Paresh Barua had made a clandestine trip to the relocated training camps deep inside the jungles of southern Bhutan in the first week of March. Security forces in Alipurduar and Cooch Behar were also on the lookout for Ulfa area commander of Dhubri, Munzul Haque, who is believed to have been responsible for the safe passage of Barua from Bangladesh to the Bhutan camps and back,” he added.


Chinsurah (Hooghly), April 7: 
Another couple has discovered that the scourge of AIDS and the curse of social ostracism seem to go hand in hand for lack of awareness.

Ranjan and Kalpana (names changed on request), a young HIV-infected couple in Singur, and their family are facing social boycott by relatives and neighbours. Not so long ago, a similar story had been reported from Howrah.

For Kalpana, events are more tragic as her relatives are heaping humiliation on her for having chosen her life partner. “My husband used to work as a goldsmith in Mumbai for the past few years. He came home whenever on leave, and I got acquainted with him through a common friend. I fell in love and we decided to get married. Now my family is blaming me for my decision,” she said sobbing.

Ranjan, who now shows symptoms of full-blown AIDS, admitted to frequenting the red light areas of Mumbai “Initially, I resisted the temptation, but I succumbed to pressure from my friends. Now I am facing the consequences. I am responsible for my wife’s fate,” he said ruefully.

The family is not being allowed to use ponds and tubewells. Even shopkeepers are loathe to provide supplies. A highly traumatised Kalpana is keen on leaving the town with her husband.

“It is our family matter. Unfortunately, my relatives and neighbours are carrying out a campaign against us. My relatives think it as an infectious disease. So we do not expect much from our neighbours,” she added.

The couple visits the School of Tropical Medicine periodically for treatment and counselling. “The doctors at STM are helping us a lot. The counsellors, too, are helping us cope with our misery,” Kalpana said.

Health officials in Hooghly pleaded ignorance. M.A. Mannan, the district medical chief, said: “There are many cases where patients directly go to hospitals and laboratories in Calcutta without informing us. If they come to us, we will try our best to help them. I will look into the matter and take all necessary steps for their treatment.”


Calcutta, April 7: 
A team of French film-makers is canning the lifestyle of the villagers scattered on the fringes of the Sundarbans as part of a National Geographic Channel film on man’s interaction with the animals of the mangroves and how the unique eco-system sustains its neighbours.

The six-member team, led by scientist Fzan Sois Terrasow, who heads the Paris-based National Museum for Natural History, began recording the lives of the villagers, for whom every day is a fight for survival against nature and its forces, including the Royal Bengal Tiger, last week.

Besides filming for posterity the perilous lives of the Sunderbans’ fishermen and honey-collectors, the film-makers and researchers will focus on the sharks, another prime Sunderbans attraction, and, of course, the tigers.

About 250 tigers roam the Sunderbans delta. As its natural habitat shrinks in the face of human pressure, the tiger emerges as the top threat to the people around the jungles. In 2001, tigers killed at least 10 villagers. Four tigers were also killed during the same period.

The team will require about four weeks to complete the job. It will go around the villages, meeting the women whose husbands fell prey to the tiger when they ventured into the forests for fishing or collecting wood and honey.

Atul Srivastava, spokesman for the team, said the Sunderbans’ villagers had a lifestyle similar to those living around the mangrove forests of Brazil. “This is simply because of their proximity to the forest,” he explained.

The team came here from the reserve forests of Maharashtra and will head for Kerala once they pack up here.

The team, comprising scientists and cameramen, is following in the footsteps of the BBC, which has already shot a documentary on the Sunderbans. “It is a world heritage site and the largest mangrove forest in the world. So it is natural for people all over the world to have a special interest in it,” Tiger and Biosphere Reserve director Atanu Raha said.

The state forest department is closely following the team’s movements. “We have to maintain a vigil so that the team, which is new to the area, does not cross the international border inadvertently,” an official said.


Chinsurah, April 7: 
The situation is limping back to normal in the Chandannagar–Bhadreswar jute mill belt in Hooghly district where one person was killed and several injured during intermittent clashes between two groups on Friday, with no untoward incident being reported during the last 24 hours.

Trouble had erupted on Friday after disagreement between two groups over sharing drinking water from a roadside tap.

Almost all shops in the 3-km stretch between Bhadreswar and Chandannagar on G.T. Road were closed today. Residents of the area stayed indoors as Eastern Frontier Rifles and Rapid Action Force personnel patrolled the area. A number of police pickets have also been posted in the area.

District magistrate Subrata Biswas and Hooghly superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu held a series of meetings with local political leaders during the day to defuse the tension. Altogether 80 people have been rounded up till late this evening.

“There are no reports of fresh violence. We are carrying out intensive raids in different hideouts to recover weapons stockpiled in the area,” the police official said.

District CPM leader Anil Basu echoed the administration’s appeal to people to maintain peace.

However, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee criticised the district administration for its “total failure” in maintaining law and order. “Friday’s clash could have been avoided if policemen had acted before the situation spun out of control,” Mamata said.

Trinamul MP Akbar Ali Khondakar accused local CPM leaders of providing shelter to criminals.

In a related development, Trinamul Congress leaders, including leader of Opposition Pankaj Banerjee, visited Segurbagan, Ferryghat Road and Malopara where houses were damaged and one person, Raj Kumar Chowdhury, was killed. Police said Rajkumar had died when a bomb he was carrying had exploded.


Siliguri, April 7: 
Bengal and Bihar police have formed a joint crime coordination committee to tackle the growing threat from Naxalites and criminals in the vulnerable and strategic north Bengal corridor popularly called “chicken’s neck”.

The Siliguri stretch, a lesser cousin of the Chicken’s Neck in Kashmir, is hemmed in by Bangladesh in the southeast, Nepal in the northwest and Bihar in the west. The proximity of the corridor to two porous international borders and the thriving underground arms market in Bihar have attracted both criminals and radical Left outfits, who have turned the region into a hotbed of unlawful and subversive activities.


Kaksa (Burdwan), April 7: 
Dacoits hijacked a bus deep into forests near Ilambazaar on Saturday and decamped with Rs 15 lakh, making a mockery of the police patrols on the Panagarh-Mourigram national highway.

Seven dacoits armed with daggers, knives and country-made revolvers — posing as passengers — had boarded a Burdwan-bound bus at Ilambazaar.

After some time, a mobile van from the Kaksa police station had stopped the bus for a routine check. “The policemen did not board the bus, but just peered through the windows. After chatting with the driver, they waved the bus past,” said a visibly upset Nazrul Mondal, who lost several lakhs.

Soon, the passengers heard the driver cry out. “A dacoit had threatened the driver with a dagger. Other members of the gang asked us to keep our heads down,” said a passenger. “A little later, we were in the notorious Ilambazaar forest.”

The dacoits then took away valuables. Those who tried to resist were beaten up.

Kaksa police rescued the passengers after local villagers alerted the authorities. A large police contingent has been posted at Jangalmahal and Ilambazaar.

“The dacoits had fled in the cover of darkness,” said additional superintendent of police K.L. Meena.

The district police authorities have asked the Kaksa police to conduct an inquiry. But officer-in-charge of Kaksa police station Sadhan Banerjee said it was “just a case of snatching”.

The businessmen, however, alleged that the dacoits were indeed hand-in-glove with the police. “They seemed to know us individually and had prior information that we would carry a lot of money,” said Yusuf Kureshi, who along with Md Taslimuddin, was stabbed by the dacoits.


New Delhi, April 7: 
The chief ministers of Congress-ruled states want Sonia Gandhi to clear roadblocks and work out a consensus in the party on issues like “right sizing” of governments and power and labour reforms if she expects “good governance” from them.

But that is not all. They also want to use the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act.

A powerful lobby within the Congress, including Kapil Sibal, Jaipal Reddy and Mani Shankar Aiyar among others, is opposed to the implementation of the Tada clone on the ground that it would send wrong signals to minorities.

But a majority of chief ministers want Sonia to let them use the Act on a “case to case basis”. Behind closed doors, some of them have told Sonia that beyond a point, opposition to the Act may prove counter-productive. They have also cited the legal angle and asked how a Congress-ruled state could say no to a law passed by Parliament.

Thus, apart from a “feel good effect”, the agenda for the Guwahati conclave will focus on thorny reforms issues, bringing back the old debate on economics versus politics and the anti-terror law.

Party leaders said Sonia would have to tread cautiously on both the issues. “If it boomerangs, she will lose a lot of goodwill that she has created in recent times,” a Congress Working Committee member said.

A.K. Antony, Digvijay Singh, S.M. Krishna, Vilasrao Deshmukh and some other chief ministers want Sonia to allow them to take a hard look at user charges and reserve subsidies only for the poor.

They want to make the public sector commercially viable and focus on tax reforms, expand tax base and improve collections.

According to this group, unless it goes ahead with sweeping reforms, there will be no money for increased investment in infrastructure and social welfare.

The chief ministers are awaiting a green signal from the high command to increase revenue and reduce the government’s non-productive and non-development expenditure.

Though the party is “in principle” committed to Manmohan Singh’s reforms, it has been shifting its stand at the national and state levels. Most policy papers have taken the “middle path” — favouring reforms and at the same time catering to its critics.

For instance, the party acknowledged the need for a consensus on the new Industrial Relations Bill on labour reforms even as it endorsed the demands of Intuc and other trade unions.

As the main Opposition party, the Congress opposed the labour reforms, raising the bogey of social security and minimum wages legislation. It is also opposed to the idea of any cut in subsidies. But in party-ruled states, the chief ministers are determined to push through reforms and to “right-size” governments.

However, there is no consensus among the chief ministers on reforms. While Digvijay, Ajit Jogi and Deshmukh are keen on sweeping power sector reforms, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh is keen to continue with the policy of free water and electricity to farmers.

Amarinder’s logic is simple — poverty had forced farmers to commit suicide and so it was politically incorrect to ask them to pay up user charges.

Unless they get a chance to stand on their own, he would not charge a penny, Amarinder has said.

The chief ministers are divided even on environment issues and have failed to thrash out a definition of “forest”.

Some of them have written to Sonia that the Forest Conservation Act is coming in the way of speedy implementation of development projects.


New Delhi, April 7: 
At a time when political parties and the Election Commission are publicly mounting pressure for electoral reforms, the Rajya Sabha is turning into a powerhouse of big money with more and more industrialists and business barons finding berths.

The most recent entrant was Vijay Mallya, the liquor baron from Karnataka, who came in place of the Congress-nominated industrialist, K.K. Birla. Mallya, an Independent, was able to wangle support from the Congress at the expense of BJP candidate D.K. Tharadevi.

Barring the Left parties, most others — from the BJP and the Congress to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Samajwadi Party, the Telugu Desam and the Trinamul Congress — have had their share in fielding businessmen for the Rajya Sabha.

The Congress is vying with the BJP in sending the maximum number of tycoons to the Upper House. Old timers in the party called it a post-Indira Gandhi trend.

“There is a danger of money power taking over,” said former MP Madhu Dandavate, who spent 25 years in parliamentary politics. He sees a gradual but definite erosion in the political system — a slide into a growing nexus between money power and parliamentarians.

“When I lost the Lok Sabha seat, my party asked me to fight the Rajya Sabha polls but I refused to get in through the backdoor,” Dandavate said.

The veteran socialist leader also regretted the increasing tendency of parties to push candidates, especially the well-heeled ones, from non-domicile states. “There is no doubt that the tendency of having more and more tycoons in Parliament is not healthy for democracy.”

Even “socialist” parties like Laloo Prasad Yadav’s RJD and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi have not shied away from fielding businessmen.

Laloo has trusted nominee Prem Gupta representing his party while Mulayam’s right hand man Amar Singh is one of the most vocal Samajwadi members in the Upper House.

While Prem Gupta is known to be a “wheeler-dealer”, Amar Singh has a stake in several flourishing businesses.

Prabhakar Reddy, a Desam nominee, is a hotelier and P.K. Maheshwari and Vijay Dadra are newspaper proprietors. Dilip Ray, who said he has quit his business in Calcutta, entered the Rajya Sabha as an Independent supported by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul.

“We are also noticing an increasing trend among newspaper proprietors to try for Rajya Sabha seats,” said a senior Congress MP. “Editors do not qualify because they can speak. But every successful media proprietor today wants to contest the Rajya Sabha seat,” he added in a lighter vein.


New Delhi, April 7: 
As Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said before leaving on his foreign trip that the decision on forming a government in Uttar Pradesh would be taken on his return, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayavati offered what was almost public confirmation of her party and the BJP coming together.

Khichri taiyar hai, parosne ki der hai (The coalition is ready. It will be served shortly),” she said.

The BJP will play second fiddle to the BSP, agreeing to nominate its deputy chief minister, Speaker and head of a coordination panel that is to be formed.

Before leaving for Singapore and Cambodia, Vajpayee said on forming a government in the state: “This will be discussed after I return.”

Senior BJP leader and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, proponent of a BJP-BSP coalition, said the decision would be known “soon”.

Mayavati said in Lucknow she would open her cards at the right moment.

Indications are that the BJP national executive and the parliamentary board will give their seal of approval at the upcoming meeting in Goa.

Since all parliamentary board members are also members of the national executive, convening a board meeting in Goa would not be difficult.

If everything goes according to the wishes of Vajpayee, Mayavati and her mentor Kanshi Ram, there will be a government in Uttar Pradesh on April 14, the birthday of Bhimrao Ambedkar.

The anti-alliance lobby headed by former chief minister Rajnath Singh and state BJP chief Kalraj Mishra are now looking for their pound of flesh.

Rajnath wants to be back in the Rajya Sabha in the November biennial polls. He is currently an MLA. The former chief minister is also eyeing the party general secretary’s post.

However, the rehabilitation of the state BJP chief would not be as easy as he is a Rajya Sabha member. Mishra is keen to become deputy chief minister but there are already two strong candidates — Lalji Tandon and Om Prakash Singh — who enjoy Mayavati’s support.

BJP sources said there was not much “principled opposition” to a BSP-BJP government in Lucknow.

As of now, only Pyarelal Khandelwal, BJP general secretary, continues to oppose the alliance on grounds that it would be detrimental to the party’s long-term interests in the state.

Arch-rival Mulayam Singh Yadav, too, seems to be giving up. Yadav, short on numbers, said he was preparing to launch an agitation. On April 24, he will stage a sit-in against the continuation of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

The Congress has breathed a sigh of relief. Although a minor player in Uttar Pradesh, the main Opposition party at the Centre was wary of backing a Mulayam Singh-led coalition.


Mumbai, April 7: 
Indian animators do not have to look overseas for gainful employment any more; the domestic market is good enough. India has long been regarded as the sweat-factory of animation, getting piecemeal work from studios abroad.

Surveys made in the country also make the same assumption. A recent study by Andersen Consulting says the Indian animation industry, currently worth $550 million, is slated to clock a growth rate of 30 per cent annually in the next three years. It is expected to reach $15 billion by 2008. In the next three years, India will receive animation business worth more than $2 billion, according to the study.

The figures may be inflated, say industry people. And though projects from abroad remain the mainstay for Indian animation studios, in which they contribute part of the work, they are not the only happening thing. The Indian entertainment industry, especially television advertising, has evolved in a way that Indian animators have their hands full, say animation studios.

“Look at the television ads. Almost every one of them uses animation,” says Rajesh Turakhia of Maya Entertainment, a leading animation studio based in Mumbai.

This is because a number of changes have taken place in recent years. The definition of animation has been extended — from cartoons, animation now means the digital movement of any inanimate object, bringing all kinds of special effects under the umbrella of animation.

“Previously, special effects were used mainly in mythologicals. But it is now applied to enhance the effects of reality, not unreality,” says Turakhia.

Ad-makers are, therefore, running to animation studios, trying to get hold of the sparkle that takes off from shiny white teeth in a toothpaste ad to a stain that disappears smoothly leaving no trace to a giant fish that appears on a jetty to dance with a nonplussed human.

Indian animators are on par with state-of-the-art animation worldwide. Though the recognition may not have come because of lack of awareness, it’s only a matter of time, feels the industry.

The advancement has opened arenas for professional animators who know their 3D Studio Max and Maya software. They have work in advertisement agencies and film production houses, not to speak of the animation studios per se, in much greater numbers, says Shravni Chopra of Maya.

The number of animation schools is increasing. Maya, which runs 10 such schools in the country, is opening the eleventh branch in Calcutta this month. Maya is also producing animated serials for television. In the making is a Hindi version of Gulliver’s Travels.

The foreign market, however, remains important. For Indian animation to really take off, it has to make a dent worldwide, says A.K. Madhavan of Crest Communications.

Crest has acquired an American studio, Rich Animation, the only Indian firm to have acquired a US animation company.

Rich Crest, the new partnership, is working on two major animated serials with Indian content, Jataka Tales and Tenalirama. “For Jataka Tales, there is a lot of interest in Germany and France,” says Madhavan.


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