City extortion masterminds in net
Kidwai blow to madarsa panel
Joint force to hunt Naxalites in forests
President nod to law on power theft
Doctor suicide
Wary party collects UP inputs for Atal
Loud on Tiger ban, mum on extradition
Protests versus share prices
Godhra architect held
Bitter price pill for diabetics

 
 
CITY EXTORTION MASTERMINDS IN NET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 11: 
Police today claimed to have cracked the two extortion cases that rocked the city in the beginning of the week, with the arrests of the masterminds of both attacks.

Mahesh Agarwal, a promoter, was shot inside one of his New Alipore buildings on Sunday and succumbed a day later. Mohan Bahadur Chhetri, a security guard at a Hazra showroom belonging to Anil Banka, was seriously hurt when extortionists shot at him after missing Banka on Monday.

Today, police moved in on the New Alipore criminals. Two persons, Kanu Mishra and an accomplice, were picked up from New Alipore and interrogated throughout the morning.

The criminals finally broke down and led the police to a hideout in Malipanchghara in Howrah where the mastermind, Bapi Nandi was arrested with two accomplices, Bhombol and Biltu.

Agarwal was controlling most of the promotion business in the area, the criminals told police, explaining the reason for the strike. The criminals were engaged by a rival group of promoters, officials said.

Those arrested also controlled part of the supply-chain and were irked with Agarwal’s persistent refusal to buy building material from them, police officials added. Agarwal, officials said, made the costliest buildings.

The police also seized three firearms from the arrested persons. The weapon used to shoot Agarwal could be one of them, police said.

Earlier in the week, two others had been detained, taking the total number of arrests in the case to seven.

Two others were picked up from Bhowanipore for the shootout inside a Hazra Road showroom on Monday. Chhetri, the securityman who was critically injured in the attack, is now said to be out of danger.

The extortionists were gunning for the owner of the showroom, Banka, according to police sources.

Jessop disinvestment

Calcutta High Court today passed an interim order asking the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction not to disinvest shares of Jessop and Company till May 20. The court has fixed the matter for hearing on May 6.    

 
 
KIDWAI BLOW TO MADARSA PANEL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 11: 
Former West Bengal governor and Madarsa Syllabus Reforms Committee chairman A.R. Kidwai said the government could not force non-recognised madarsas to come within the purview of the West Bengal Madarsa Board.

“It is entirely up to the authorities of the non-recognised madarsas to obtain recognition from the government,” Kidwai said today.

Article 30 of the Constitution gave minority groups the right to set up schools and there was no provision to force any school to obtain government recognition, he said.

There are nearly 400 recognised madarsas and 100 non-recognised madarsas in Bengal, according to Kidwai’s figures, which differ greatly from those given by the government in the past.

Kidwai, who heads a six-member panel set up by the government in March 2001 to examine the scope of senior madarsas, discussed the state of education in these institutions with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings.

State minority affairs minister Mohammad Salim, labour minister Mohammad Amin and CPM Member of Parliament Mehboob Zahedi were also present at the meeting.

The former Governor said his report was nearly complete and he would submit his findings in June with recommendations on reorientation of syllabi and curricula at all levels of the madarsa system of education, in view of modern education methods.

Bhattacharjee’s statement earlier this year that — according to intelligence reports submitted to the government — terrorists and anti-national elements were getting shelter in some unrecognised madarsas, had snowballed into a major controversy.

The chief minister himself, however, refrained from appearing in front of the media today.

Kidwai asserted that madarsas should include science English and modern methods of teaching in their syllabi. “The syllabus should be modernised for the benefit of students,” he said.

Salim said there was “no reason to believe that anyone who studies in any non-recognised madarsa would necessarily become a terrorist”.

“We shall appeal to all unrecognised madarsas to seek formal recognition from the board. But we cannot force any madarsa to obtain recognition,” the chairman of the reforms committee added.

   

 
 
JOINT FORCE TO HUNT NAXALITES IN FORESTS 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 11: 
The state government has drawn up an action plan to track down People’s War Group guerrillas who have concentrated their activities in the forests of Midnapore, Bankura and Burdwan.

According to the plan, a force including armed police from the three districts, Rapid Action Force personnel, commandos, combat force jawans will comb the forests.

“The force has already been given training and equipped with adequate arms. It will be in action within a fortnight,” said a senior home department official.

The chief minister has written to Union home minister L.K. Advani seeking the Centre’s assistance in combating militants. The state government has also asked for one company of Central Reserve Police Force personnel.

“We requested the Union home department to despatch one CRPF company for a month to be used to track down the PWG guerrillas, as the force is trained to combat with militant forces in all conditions. Besides, the force has experience in tackling various kinds of attack,” said the state home secretary.

Though the state police force is performing its duties well and had already arrested many hardcore PWG activists, additional forces are required, the secretary said. “We have not received any response from Delhi but hope our plea will be looked into,” he added.

In another major policy decision, the state has decided to create three new police stations at Gurguripal, Chandrakona Road and Anandapur, where the PWG men are most active. Paschim Midnapore superintendent of police K.C. Meena said new police stations were formed as the overall law and order situation remains unmonitored with most policemen of those areas busy with PWG activities and conducting combing operations.

On interrogating hardcore PWG activists arrested recently, police learnt that many Maoist Communist Centre activists have sneaked into the state from Nepal. The MCC has joined hands with the PWG. A huge quantity of sophisticated arms and ammunition have also been smuggled in from outside.

According to an intelligence branch report submitted recently, MCC activists, who have been chased away from Nepal, are entering Bengal through Siliguri and Jharkhand.

The emerging of MCC has become a major concern of the state government.

   

 
 
PRESIDENT NOD TO LAW ON POWER THEFT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 11: 
The power sector in the state received a shot in the arm today with the President giving assent to the Bill passed in the Assembly in December last year to curb electricity theft.

The Indian Electricity (West Bengal Amendment) Bill was tabled in the Assembly after power theft in Calcutta and the districts assumed alarming proportions.

“Such a stringent law was urgently needed in our state, where 20 per cent of transmission loss is due to power theft. Any person now caught stealing electricity will be liable to be jailed for five years and fined Rs 50,000,” said Bengal power minister, Mrinal Banerjee.

Under the new amendment, a special police force will be raised to check pilferage of power and a special court will deal with the cases, the minister said.

The most significant part of the new law is that authorities of power supplying agencies can enter the house of any one suspected to be pilfering electricity at any time for inspection. Besides, a person accused of power theft will have to prove his innocence in court.

The minister said the President’s office had suggested senior officials be present during inspections so that consumers are not harassed.

If theft is nullified in areas served by the state electricity, the utility could save Rs 560 crore annually, he said.

Municipal polls

Elections to five municipalities and municipal corporations will be held on May 26, the municipal affairs minister announced today. Byelections to 13 wards in nine municipalities will also be held the same day.    

 
 
DOCTOR SUICIDE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bolpur, April 11: 
A physician working at the state-run sub-divisional hospital here committed suicide by consuming pesticide in his quarters early this morning.

After returning from hospital yesterday, Saumitra Bhattacharya entered his bedroom and locked it, according to relatives. Soon he consumed sleeping pills.

After getting no response for hours, Bhattacharya’s wife and son raised an alarm and neighbours force-opened the door. Bhattacharya was found on the bed frothing in the mouth. He was rushed to hospital where doctors declared him dead.

Hospital superintendent Manabendra Ghosh said Bhattacharya was a good physician and nobody could sense that he was depressed.

Police have registered a case of unnatural death as no suicide note was found. The police, who suspect a family dispute to be the cause of death, interrogated Bhattacharya’s relatives and colleagues to ascertain the motive behind the suicide.

   

 
 
WARY PARTY COLLECTS UP INPUTS FOR ATAL 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN AND ANAND SOONDAS
 
April 11: 
The BJP’s Central leadership has suddenly developed cold feet on pushing through the alliance with Mayavati to form a government in Uttar Pradesh following stiff opposition from a large section of the party’s state unit.

Minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office Vijay Goel reached Lucknow this morning on a “mission” to assess the mood in the Uttar Pradesh unit.

Goel will give his “independent” inputs to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to enable him to make up his mind on a tie-up with Mayavati for the third time. Goel also met Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri.

Vajpayee will arrive in Goa tomorrow to participate in the BJP’s national executive. “Talks are continuously on. But it has nothing to do with April 14,” the Prime Minister told reporters in Delhi soon after his return from a two-nation tour. He was referring to remarks by Mayavati that she would like to be sworn in chief minister on Ambedkar Jayanti, which falls on Sunday.

A senior Cabinet minister said in Panaji that former chief minister Rajnath Singh was the main hurdle.

Singh had “successfully” drummed up support within the state unit against the BSP. Efforts were on to persuade Singh to give up his intransigence in the “larger interest” of the party.

A BJP leader defined the “larger interest” in political terms: “If Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Congress get together in UP, the experiment would be repeated in the Centre with the additional backing of the Left and some of the BJP’s own so-called secular allies. It has the potential to destabilise the NDA government. We have to come together with Mayavati to prevent the Congress and the third front from coalescing.”

Doubts were voiced on whether the BJP would be able to hold its flock together in case it could not ally with the BSP to form a government.

The leader hoped these arguments, which would be used to make out a case for an alliance with the BSP during the national executive, would eventually convince the state leaders.

That some Central leaders still have reservations about the alliance with the BSP was evident in BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi’s response. “This subject has not been discussed at my level,” Krishnamurthi said.

Asked what his stand would be if the matter came to him, he said: “We will see.”

House poll hope

As the BJP high command treaded with caution, advocates of the alliance saw a glimmer of hope in the party’s decision to contest the Vidhan Parishad election.

The BJP has put up a candidate for the seat vacated by senior leader Kalraj Mishra. Today was the last day for filing nominations.

The party has fielded veteran activist R.N. Agnihotri, who cannot win without the BSP’s support. “There is no way we would have fielded our nominee had we not been sure of a victory,’’ a BJP leader said, hinting that a section of the party is certain that the BSP would support Agnihotri.

Neither the BSP nor the Samajwadi Party, which does not have the numbers, has fielded candidates for the seat.

   

 
 
LOUD ON TIGER BAN, MUM ON EXTRADITION 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, April 11: 
India today rejected Velupillai Prabhakaran’s plea for lifting of the ban on his Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and ruled out Delhi’s involvement in the peace talks. But it remained silent on whether a serious attempt will be made to get the terrorist leader extradited.

Prabhakaran is wanted in India in connection with the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In his first press conference in more than 12 years, the LTTE chief yesterday asked India to lift the ban on his organisation even as he maintained that he was not giving up his demand for a separate Tamil state.

“Aisa koi irada nahin hai,” Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told reporters on his return from a visit to Singapore and Cambodia this evening, making it clear that the NDA was in no mood to oblige Prabhakaran. He, however, seemed more sympathetic to LTTE chief negotiator and ideologue Anton Balasingham’s request for permission to come to India for treatment. “It could be considered on humanitarian grounds,” he said.

But the government seemed to have taken an ambiguous stand on the Congress’ demand for Prabhakaran’s extradition. South Block maintains that it was assessing how serious the party still was about the demand.

The move was initiated by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government and a “red corner” notice was issued through Interpol. But it was never seriously pursued on the argument that Prabhakaran is untraceable and the issue of turning over the Tiger could be discussed seriously with Colombo once he is arrested by the Sri Lankan authorities.

Now that Prabhakaran has voluntarily resurfaced to boost efforts for peace in the island-nation, nothing stops the government from taking up the issue in earnest with Colombo. But indications are to the contrary, not because of the political rivalry between the BJP and the Congress, but because of the implications of such a move in Sri Lanka and the region.

Delhi does not want to play spoilsport to the peace initiative. But if hardpressed, the Centre could continue to maintain that it was trying to get Prabhakaran extradited.

Jaya hits out

Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa today said the Centre should seek the reclusive leader’s extradition to stand trial in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, reports our special correspondent.

Jayalalithaa said she would press Vajpayee to make full use of the extradition treaty between India and Sri Lanka. “How can we not go into the past, particularly when Prabhakaran has been charged with such a heinous murder and declared a proclaimed offender by an Indian special court?” she asked.

Jayalalithaa lambasted the LTTE effort to win acceptability through the Kilinochchi show. “It is shocking and disgraceful,” she said.

It was “outrageous” that the leader of a terrorist outfit, who was responsible for the death of thousands, should be “lionised and treated as a hero by the media” and be allowed to walk free in a “friendly country”, the ADMK leader added.

   

 
 
PROTESTS VERSUS SHARE PRICES 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, April 11: 
Congressmen clashed with police on their first day of nationwide protests against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi but the BJP quoted share prices to fend off the Congress charge that the state’s economy was in a shambles.

In Guwahati, the Congress insisted on Modi’s immediate removal but stopped short of demanding President’s rule.

The Gujarat BJP claimed share prices of state government-owned companies had risen by between 50 and 70 per cent since February 28 — the day after the Godhra carnage.

The figures, however, failed to soothe Congress workers, three of who were injured in a lathicharge in Rajkot, Modi’s constituency.

The Congress was denied permission to hold dharnas at Ahmedabad and Baroda. So, most of the party’s leaders assembled in Gandhinagar for an agitation.

To mock the Congress, the BJP organised a “donkey demonstration” at Rajkot. The party paraded 15 blindfolded donkeys, supposed to represent Congress leaders.

The Congress leaders clashed with the police when an inspector forcibly took away an effigy of Modi they were planning to burn. Congressmen chased the inspector who took refuge in a girls’ school. They entered the school and snatched the effigy back. Police then staged a lathicharge. Twelve Congressmen were arrested.

BJP state president Rajendrasinh Rana said in a statement that the Congress was disrupting peace in the state. But state Congress president Amarsinh Chaudhary said it was in the “interest of the state” that “Modi be removed”.

The Congress leaders said their “Remove Modi, Save Gujarat” campaign will continue till April 21.

But the BJP reeled off share prices to prove that the state economy was safe. The share price of Gujarat State Fertilisers was up from Rs 16 on February 28 to Rs 28 on April 8 (75 per cent), Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation was up to Rs 98 from Rs 59, Gujarat Alkalies was up 56 per cent and Gujarat Power Corporation had risen 55 per cent.

   

 
 
GODHRA ARCHITECT HELD 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, April 11: 
The Uttar Pradesh police today arrested one of the masterminds behind the Godhra carnage.

In a morning swoop, Students’ Islamic Movement of India activist Anwar Rashid, alleged to be one of the main conspirators and the brain behind the train tragedy, was held along with two associates from the Rasoolpur locality of Bhadohi.

Police said Rashid is related to Haji Bilal, the corporator who is supposed to have led the attack on Sabarmati Express on February 27. Rashid is the younger brother of Amjad Rashid, who was arrested along with Bilal in Surat in March.

Superintendent of police B.P. Tripathi said Rashid is a resident of Bhadohi and was paying a secret visit to his family. He claimed that Rashid, who represents the top rung of the Simi leadership in Uttar Pradesh, has confessed to his role in masterminding the assault on passengers of Sabarmati Express.

The Simi activist is believed to have told the police that he had “issued directions over the phone” from Bhadohi to his associates in Godhra on how to go about attacking the train.

Rashid, police said, was planning another set of attacks on “soft targets” in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

He will be handed over to a police team arriving from Gujarat, where the cases against him will be tried. Tripathi said cases under the relevant sections had been registered against him.

The police are hunting for Rashid’s accomplices in the banned outfit, believed to be hiding in the state. “We have got some very important leads on the Godhra incident and on other plans by some of the accused’s friends,” Tripathi added.

   

 
 
BITTER PRICE PILL FOR DIABETICS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 11: 
There’s bitter news for diabetics: the prices of several insulin-based formulations were raised today by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA).

The NPPA is the regulator for drugs that come under government-mandated price controls.

The authority revised/fixed the prices of 16 formulation packs and set prices for the first time for four others — most of them insulin-based drugs, though there was one for asthma and three that deal with worm infestations in the body.

Of the 16 packs, ceiling prices (exclusive of excise duty and local taxes) have been fixed in respect of three packs.

Among the non-ceiling packs and in imported cases, the price of Eli Lilly’s monocomponent Insulin Huminsulin NPH U 100 cartridge is up by 5.13 per cent from Rs 198.74 to Rs 208.94 (retail price with excise duty) for a 3 ml cartridge. A similar price hike has been effected for its formulations Monocomponent Insulin Regular U100 cartridge and Huminsulin 30/70 U 100 cartridge.

In the case of Novo Nordisk’s Actrapid HM vials of 10 ml. (these are highly purified neutral insulin), a 7.82 per cent increase has been effected with the price going up from Rs 508.15 to Rs 547.89. The price of its Monotard HM 100 IU vials and Mixtard 30 HM 100 IU vials have gone up from Rs 508.15 each to Rs 544.66 and Rs 543.63 respectively.

The prices of other insulin-based drugs of Novo Nordisk have been raised by 5.13 to 5.47 per cent. These include Actrapid HM Penfill 100 IU /ml, Insulated 100 Penfill 100IU ml, Mixtard 100 HM Penfill 100 IU/ml and Mixtard 50 HM Penfill 100 IU/ml.

   
 

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