Sledgehammer swoop on Naxalites
Power woes plague state
Kidwai lines up madarsa meets
Massive hunt for rebels
Joshi keeps JNU on succession tenterhooks
Loophole in anti-terror law for sceptic states
Seek free hand, get CM rap
Dhaka trade talks resume after hiccup
Jaya quit-NDA jibe at rival
Water riots in parched town

Salboni (Paschim Midnapore), April 9: 
Twelve People’s War Group activists were arrested from the forests of Midnapore in one of the biggest crackdowns on the outlawed outfit in the district.

Officials in Midnapore said the raid, which was continuing when reports last came in, was the “most intensive” police operation following the murder of at least three senior CPM leaders and one National Volunteer Force member. The murders had created panic in both the CPM rank-and-file and the lower level of the district administration.

In the last one year, there have been at least two dozen PWG strikes in villages adjoining the dense forests of Paschim Midnapore and Bankura districts, according to officials.

Following a tip-off that many PWG activists had assembled in the forests of Salboni, a large contingent of security forces including armed police, combat force commandos and Rapid Action Force personnel, was deployed in the area.

Around 30 rebels had gathered in the forests, district administration officials said. The PWG was planning attacks on police stations and CPM cadres in Garbeta, Belpahari and Lalgeria of Paschim Midnapore and Barjora and Ranibandh in the adjoining Bankura district, they added.

As soon as the police team, led by Paschim Midnapore superintendent of police K.C. Meena, entered the forest, the militants split into groups and fled in different directions, according to officials. This made the combing operation more time-consuming.

“The militants are taking advantage of the dense forest cover and rushing from one forest to another with police on their tail,” district magistrate M.V. Rao said.

“Many other PWG activists will soon be in the police net,” Rao added.

Four of those who have been arrested are hardcore militants, officials said. A large cache of arms and ammunition had been seized from the activists, they added.

The seizures included several documents bearing the names of important village-level CPM functionaries and police officials of the thana-level, according to officials. “These lives were in danger and the militants would have attacked them sooner or later,” a senior police official disclosed.

A similar police raid was conducted in the forests around Goaltor two months ago and 13 PWG activists were nabbed. However, those raids failed to have the intended effect, officials admitted, as the militants regrouped and concentrated on the areas around Salboni and Belpahari in Paschim Midnapore and Barjora in Bankura.

CPM cadres in villages are now forming self-protection groups. State CPM secretary Anil Biswas has asked partymen to unite against the strikes.


Calcutta, April 9: 
An abnormally low frequency in the eastern grid continued to keep power supplying agencies of the state on tenterhooks today.

Widespread power cuts were reported from south Bengal districts as the shortfall in the areas served by the state electricity board shot up to about 200 mw this evening. In the city, however, the deficit was about 15 mw.

Drops in frequency have been dogging the Bengal grid since March 10 after the National Thermal Power Corporation restricted its supply to Gridco of Orissa because of non-payment of dues. NTPC units also drastically cut down its generation by about 1,200 mw, bringing about an imbalance in the grid and causing frequency fluctuations.

The situation has been particularly bad for the past two days, with the frequency coming down to about 47.6 cycles per second. “If the fluctuation continues, the eastern grid may collapse any moment,” said a power department official.

Power minister Mrinal Banerjee said the power transmission frequency today hovered around 48.5 cycles per second, instead of the normal of 50.

“We are in a very vulnerable position. If the frequency of power supply does not improve immediately we may experience a grid failure,” the minister added.

Banerjee had urged Union power minister Suresh Prabhu yesterday to ask NTPC to step up its generation. “Common people do not understand technicalities and think that we are responsible for the prolonged blackouts,” he said.

DVC to curtail power

The Damodar Valley Corporation today threatened to totally stop power supply to CESC Ltd for failing to pay up Rs 79 crore in dues, adds PTI.

DVC said it would restrict supplies, from tomorrow, to the peak morning and evening hours. If CESC does not pay the dues, the corporation may have to “increase the time of loadshedding or totally disconnect the supply” it added.


Calcutta, April 9: 
Former West Bengal governor and chairman of the committee to review the state’s madarsa education, A.R. Kidwai, will arrive here tomorrow to discuss the state of education in madarsas before finalising his report.

Kidwai heads a six-member panel set up by the government in March 2001 tasked to examine the scope of senior madarsa education in the state and give suggestions on reorientation of syllabi and curricula at all levels of this system, keeping in view the modern trends. The move followed complaints about the standard of education imparted by these institutions and their syllabi.

The issue snowballed two months ago when chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee publicly said some unaffiliated madarsas, particularly in rural areas, were indulging in anti-national activities.

Kidwai will reach Raj Bhavan from Patna tomorrow evening. On Thursday, he will meet Governor Viren J. Shah around 10 am and the chief minister at noon. The same afternoon, Kidwai is scheduled to discuss the madarsa issue with minority affairs minister Mohammed Selim, minority commission chairman K.M.Yusuf and West Bengal Board of Madarsa Education president Abdus Sattar. On Friday, he will attend a meeting of the state board of madarsa education. The former Governor will leave for Delhi on Saturday.

Kidwai’s report will also highlight the status of the Calcutta madarsa and its management pattern and review the possibility of introducing general courses of study, including computer science and internet training. The Calcutta madarsa, established in 1780, is considered a college for theological studies with over 500 students.

BJP demands probe into Telenipara incidents

The state BJP leadership today met the chief minister and demanded a judicial probe into the alleged police inaction during disturbances in Telenipara in Hooghly on Friday that, the party said, had led to the death of a youth. The chief minister also discussed other issues, including the Gujarat carnage and the anti-terror law with the BJP.    

Siliguri, April 9: 
The Jalpaiguri administration has deployed more than 500 men to apprehend extremists holed up deep inside the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary in what is being touted as the largest manhunt in the state.

The deployment comes in the wake of Sunday’s fierce gunbattle between security forces and militants of the United Liberation Front of Asom and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation.

Elite district combat commando force personnel, Central Reserve Police Force jawans, Eastern Frontier Rifles personnel and policemen from four police stations, in bullet-proof jackets are combing the dense teak and sal forests of Bangdaki, Mechbari, and Dhoi-Dhoighat.

Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Siddh Nath Gupta and the additional superintendent of police of Alipurduar, N. Shiv Kumar, have been camping in the area since Sunday to supervise the combing operations.

Sleuths here believe that 8-10 hardcore Ulfa cadres, accompanied by KLO activists, have been in the area for the past few days. The militants, they say, were on a reconnaissance expedition to felicitate safe passage of top Ulfa members en route to Bangladesh from hideouts in Bhutan.

“With reports of Ulfa supreme commander Paresh Barua and chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa being present in the organisation’s relocated camps in southern Bhutan, the outfit was looking for safe passage for its leaders to Bangladesh,” said a senior intelligence official.

“This group may have come to map a new route from Bhutan to Bangladesh for the outfit’s use,” he added.

“The recovery of a high-power radio-telephone interceptor receiver, a cellphone and two magazines of AK-56 rifles from an abandoned camp is a pointer that the ultras were well entrenched in the area,” the intelligence official said.


New Delhi, April 9: 
Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi is taking his own time to forward the panel of candidates for the vice-chancellorship of Jawaharlal Nehru University to President K.R. Narayanan.

The three-member search committee scouting for a candidate for the vice-chancellor’s post is believed to have cleared as many as three names on February 5 and sent them to Joshi’s office.

But Joshi has not acted and the delay is adding more fuel to the speculation on the campus. “We are very angry about the delay. It is hampering the functioning of the university administration,” said Kamal Mitra Chenoy, president of the JNU Teachers’ Association.

Four months after the tenure of the JNU vice-chancellor expired, a search committee was set up. “There has already been enough delay. We have not been able to consider the re-employment of an eminent professor like Imtiaz Ahmed who retired at the end of last month,” Chenoy said.

In the backdrop of a relentless drive by Joshi to “cleanse” educational and research institutions of Left-liberal members, the JNU academia are fearing the election of a vice-chancellor who may be close to the Sangh parivar. JNU, so far, has escaped the Sangh dragnet.

One of the names the search panel has zeroed in on is Kapil Kapoor, JNU rector and a faculty member in the Centre for Linguistics and English. “We all know he is a Sangh man,” said a JNU professor.

The other names forwarded by the committee are Arun Nigavekar, UGC vice-chairman, and G.K. Chaddha, professor in the Centre for Studies in Regional Development.

Chaddha, according to some faculty members, is a liberal. But they suspect his candidature may fall through because he will be touching the retirement age of 62 in a couple of months.

Nigavekar, on the other hand, has been officiating as the acting chairperson of the UGC and a panel has been set up to select a chairperson.

“There is a possibility that Nigavekar may take over as the chairperson,” said a JNU academic.

Since he took over the human resources department, Joshi has never stopped sniping at JNU and its Left leanings.

Unlike Delhi University and most research institutions where he has been able to smuggle in “his people”, JNU has remained an outsider.

The Sangh parivar is happy with Joshi’s “performance” and would like him to break the wall of resistance in JNU, said a faculty member.

“It is not just JNU. There are lots of other sensitive universities where Joshi has dilly-dallied. In the Nagaland University, the faculty is protesting the appointment of G.D. Sharma, a junior candidate. Protests and demonstrations have been increasing at the university.

“The appointment at Aligarh Muslim University also has been hanging fire since Hamid Ansari retired last month. The university’s executive council has forwarded three names to the ministry —but the minister is still to act on the panel,” Chenoy said.


New Delhi, April 9: 
Having got the anti-terror law passed after a bitter fight with the Opposition, the Vajpayee government finds itself armed with a legislation which few states want to implement.

The mounting frustration of the BJP at not being able to capitalise on its fight against terrorism had led party president K. Jana Krishnamurthi to suggest that errant Opposition states could be made to fall in line with constitutional remedies.

Asked by reporters in Calcutta if the Centre would force the states to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act, he replied: “We will seek constitutional remedies. Let us see what can be done.”

Constitutionally, the states are bound to apply any law passed in Parliament, whether in a joint session or separately by both Houses. Laws passed by Parliament fall in the concurrent list and no state government can refuse to use them. However, as the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act is subjective, it depends on the discretion of the investigating officer under which law an accused will be booked.

Experts say states cannot publicly take a stand against the anti-terror law.

“This will lead to a constitutional breakdown,” a legal luminary explained. “However, without making a song and dance about not abiding by it, state governments can privately direct its police officers not to book suspects under the anti-terror Act,” a former solicitor-general, who did not wish to be identified, said.

Most Opposition-ruled states and especially the Congress chief ministers, including Madhya Pradesh’s Digvijay Singh, Assam’s Tarun Gogoi, Kerala’s A.K. Antony and Karnataka’s S.M. Krishna, have said they will not use the Central law.

Maharashtra police already have egg on their face over Mohammad Afroz, the alleged al Qaida suspect who was released today after they failed to file a chargesheet against him within the stipulated 90-day period laid out by the Central law.

The BJP had tried to ride the anti-terrorist wave that gripped the world after the September 11 strikes on the US and the December 13 attack on Parliament.

Home minister L.K. Advani had led the chorus for a new tough anti-terror law to combat the growing threat from militants trained and armed by Pakistan.

However, the government’s firm stand against Islamabad, in particular, and terrorism, in general, did not pay dividends in the recent elections in Uttar Pradesh and other states.

The fight against Islamic terrorism suits the BJP’s profile and the party still hopes to utilise its nationalist card by dubbing all those who oppose its tough law as pro-terrorist.

Central ministers have repeatedly said that those against the law are sending out a signal of sympathy to the militants’ camp.


Ahmedabad, April 9: 
Additional police commissioner Shivanand Jha was transferred after Sunday’s attack on journalists at Sabarmati Ashram, but he had invited the chief minister’s wrath two weeks ago when he demanded a free hand to tackle the riots.

At a meeting chaired by Narendra Modi, Jha had asked the chief minister to “give the police a free hand” and allow them to take action against Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists if he “genuinely” wanted peace to be restored.

By daring to speak out, the officer had the political establishment up in arms. Two weeks after the meeting, the police assault on journalists at Sabarmati offered Modi an excuse to teach him a lesson. Jha was transferred as DIG (armed units), Rajkot, by downgrading the post.

Ironically, Jha had restrained colleague V.M. Pargi who was roughing up journalists while trying to control a mob that had barged into a peace meeting at the ashram. Jha was transferred and inspector Prakash Mehra, who protected Medha Patkar from the mob, was suspended. Sabarmati residents today observed a bandh in protest against the suspension.

But no action was taken against deputy commissioner of police K.C. Patel, under whose jurisdiction the ashram falls.

Patel let the mob, made up of BJP and Congress activists protesting against Patkar’s presence, barge into Gandhi Ashram and then disappeared, said a senior police officer. “Actually, action should have been taken against him.’’

Pargi was sent to the ashram by Jha when the situation appeared to be going out of hand. But when he failed to disperse the mob that wanted the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader to be handed over to it, Jha rushed to the spot. He also checked Pargi who was beating up journalists in the crowd.

BJP spokesman Bharat Pandya — one of those who had demanded action against Jha —today denied that the IPS officer was being made a scapegoat. He claimed that action against three police officers was taken on the basis of an FIR lodged by journalists.

When it was pointed out that most journalists injured in the attack have criticised the government for transferring the upright officer who had actually saved them, Pandya declared: “This was an afterthought. Initially they blamed him. But after some time, they changed their stand because some of them have good relation him. That is why they are supporting him.”

Jha has long been in the BJP’s line of fire and his conduct during the riots turned the party against him further. He was one of the few officers who did not toe the ruling party’s line. At a time when the entire police force was being accused of inaction, Jha registered an FIR naming senior BJP leader Bhupendra Khatri as guilty of arson.

This angered Naroda MLA Mayaben Kodnani, who allegedly vowed to remove the additional commissioner.

Kodnani was not the only BJP leader unhappy with the officer who has an impeccable service record.

Health minister Ashok Bhatt was angry that police took time to rescue his son, a municpal councillor, when he was gheraoed by a mob in Khadia.

He was also among the ministers who were upset that the media reported their present in the police control room during the initial days of rioting. The control room was under Jha’s charge.


New Delhi, April 9: 
Talks between India and Bangladesh to put in place a trade agreement nearly broke down hours after the two-day negotiations began in Dhaka yesterday. Though the political leadership of the two countries managed to push their delegations back to the dialogue table, till late tonight, the possibility of finding an agreement on the crucial issue acceptable to both remained elusive.

The agreement was signed between the two sides in 1980. Since then, it has come up for renewal every three years. The current extension of the agreement expires at the end of this month and both sides want to have an agreement in place before that.

For the BJP-led government in Delhi and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party regime in Dhaka, this is the first major hiccup. In the past, both sides have had major differences on the sharing of the Ganga water. But in 1996, after years of wrangling, they managed to reach an agreement acceptable to both.

Yesterday, the first session of the talks began smoothly, but differences cropped up soon. Bangladesh wanted immediate implementation of what Atal Bihari Vajpayee had promised his Bangladeshi counterpart Begum Khaleda Zia when they met on the sidelines of the Kathmandu Saarc summit in January.

Dhaka wanted free access of 25 categories of Bangladeshi items to the Indian market. The Indian delegation said it wants Bangladesh to allow transhipment facilities to India for goods meant for the northeastern states.

When Dhaka refused to link the two, arguing that the transhipment issue was to be discussed at a different forum, the talks almost broke down. Bangladeshi newspapers said the negotiations suffered a serious setback when the Indian delegation “walked out” of the talks.

Officially, Bangladesh tried to play down the incident and described the report as “over-exaggerating minor differences”. Dhaka pointed out that the talks had resumed this morning and an attempt was being made to find an agreement mutually acceptable and beneficial to both countries.

South Block sources also did not want to elaborate on the reported “walk out”. But they made it clear that the delegation was told to take a “tough line”.

The trade gap between the two countries is heavily tilted in India’s favour. While Indian exports to Bangladesh run into over a billion dollars, Bangladesh’s exports are only around $200 million.


Chennai, April 9: 
Jayalalithaa today ridiculed the DMK’s dichotomous relationship with the BJP even as M. Karunanidhi’s ties with the NDA became more tenuous over the flare-up in Gujarat and dared her political rival to quit the coalition at the Centre.

Taking the cue from finance minister C. Ponnaiyan, Amma wondered in the Assembly why the DMK failed to sever ties with the NDA to protest against the drastic cut in Central tax devolutions and grants to Tamil Nadu.

Stating that the current fiscal was posing one of the “toughest challenges” to the government, Ponnaiyan repeatedly asked the DMK that if it had Tamil Nadu’s concern at heart, why was it not protesting against the Centre’s decision to slash its grant by an average of Rs 590 crore per year due to the “unjust” devolution handed down by the 11th Finance Commission and to cut Tamil Nadu’s share of Central taxes during 2001-02 by Rs 512 crore.

“Even (Telugu) Desam leader Chandrababu Naidu is protesting, but we don’t hear the DMK’s voice which wants to stick to office at the Centre at any cost for the comforts of power,” he argued .

Joining the debate at this point, Jayalalithaa said Desam’s bargaining position vis-ŕ-vis the Centre was far superior to that of the DMK and stated that Karunanidhi’s position in the NDA was extremely precarious. “The DMK is hanging to the BJP by a thread, and even if the former raises the banner of revolt against the NDA, it will have no impact,” she claimed.

“The Centre will not fear any of the DMK’s threat to quit, and if and when they do, the BJP will say a big thank you,” Jayalalithaa said, taunting Karunanidhi.

The DMK has snapped electoral ties with the BJP at the state level and claims to have a “political relationship” with the saffron party only at the Centre.

Talking to reporters later, Jayalalithaa revealed her pro-saffron tilt by going soft on the BJP and declining to comment on the demands — made by even some NDA allies — for Narendra Modi’s resignation. “I have no comments to make now,” she said.

Jayalalithaa’s overtures to the BJP came almost at the same time as Ponnaiyan’s attack on the DMK for “betraying” Tamil Nadu’s interests in the Cauvery water issue. He accused the party of withdrawing the suit from the Supreme Court and seeking the appointment of a tribunal in 1972.

He charged that it was part of a political deal with Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi when the CBI probe into two scandals of the day, Ariel Spray scam and the wheat scam, had “almost nailed” Karunanidhi. He alleged that the DMK chief had withdrawn the Cauvery suit “only to escape from those cases”.

A mix-up of dates soon drew howls of protest from the Tamil Maanila Congress, which protested against Mrs Gandhi’s name being dragged into the row.

However, Jayalalithaa came to Ponnaiyan’s rescue, asserted that “history cannot be re-written”.


Hyderabad, April 9: 
An acute scarcity of drinking water unleashed anarchy among the residents of Kurnool last week.

The district town, known for its minerals, birds and rich horticultural produce, became a venue for fistfights and arson over the lack of drinking water as thirsty residents went berserk and attacked water tankers and municipal officials after a 20-day dry spell.

The town was built on the banks of river Tungabhadra, a tributary of the Krishna, three centuries ago and was even proposed as the capital of Andhra Pradesh at the height of Mulki agitation in the early sixties.

The town’s main source of drinking water, K.C. Canal, which was built by the British engineer, Sir Arthur Cotton, has dried up because of the excess tapping of water by the upstream users of Tungabhadra.

Although the district administration tried to procure water from the neighbouring districts, the use of untreated brackish water led to a massive outbreak of gastro-enteritis with almost 2000 cases, including 700 children, admitted into hospital during the last 10 days.

Even the water released into the Tungabhadra following Karnataka’s intervention proved to be useless because it was brackish and non-potable.

“We need 100 million gallons of water to fulfil the requirements of the Kurnool municipality,” said Feroze Begum, mayor of Kurnool, who was assaulted by angry residents last week.

Rationing of drinking water has begun in most districts of Rayalseema, particularly Cuddapah district, Rayachoti and other towns.

All residents are issued cards by the town administration and five to 10 pots of water is provided against each card as daily ration.

In several towns of Kurnool district, water is sold at Rs 100 for 10 pots.

The water scarcity has only elicited derisive comments from the Congress and the Left. Since the mayor of Kurnool belongs to the Congress, the Opposition parties have done precious little other than blame the district administration of neglect.

However, it was the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, a Congressman, who eventually negotiated with the Congress chief minister of Karnataka, S.M. Krishna, for additional release of Krishna water.


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