Citu exempts state’s showpiece from strike
MCC activists in net for Left leader’s murder
Online school project totters over time barrier
Medical boon for Raidighi
Traffic control scheme on anvil for killer highway
Sen tour to counter job-crunch criticism
Support Modi or face elections: BJP
Gujarat push for early polls
Not-tough-enough Naidu disappoints allies
Geneva mission with Gujarat shield

 
 
CITU EXEMPTS STATE’S SHOWPIECE FROM STRIKE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
The curtain goes up on the 24-hour industrial strike tomorrow with the Citu, one of the chief protagonists of the strike, giving “exemption” to Haldia Petrochemicals, the state government’s showpiece project.

Citu general secretary Chittabrata Majumder said production at Haldia Petrochemicals would be hampered for more than three days if the boilers were shut down for a day.

“It takes at least three days to recharge the boilers and we have decided to allow the petrochemicals’ authorities to run their unit as usual tomorrow,” Majumder said.

This is the first time that the Left trade unions have exempted a major industry from the purview of an industrial strike in Bengal.

Though no major untoward incident is expected in the state, elaborate security arrangements have been made in the Darjeeling hills in view of the Gorkha National Liberation Front’s (GNLF) decision to oppose the strike in the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.

The GNLF and its trade union wing, the Himalayan Plantation Workers’ Union, are asking its members to report to work in the 76-odd tea plantations and half dozen cinchona plantations spread across the three subdivisions. This decision was taken at an emergency meeting of the party’s Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong branch committees in Darjeeling yesterday.

GNLF spokesman and Darjeeling unit chief Deepak Gurung said tomorrow’s strike is a “political tussle” between the central and state governments, both of whom have grossly neglected the people of the hills. “We would not like to be party to it,” Gurung said.

With the Left trade unions in the hills supporting the bandh, the authorities are apprehensive of violence and have deployed additional security forces in the plantation areas.

In the rest of the state, public transport is expected to stay off the roads, forcing thin attendance in offices.

The strike is part of a nation-wide call given mainly by Left trade unions in protest against the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s move to close down central public sector undertakings and the “anti-people” Union budget. In Bengal, the pre-dominance of Left trade unions is likely to ensure a total strike.

Attendance in government offices and undertakings is expected to be minimal as CPM-controlled state employees’ co-ordination committees are supporting the strike. The government, however, has issued a circular asking employees to attend office. Banking operations are also likely to be paralysed, as most unions have decided to participate in the strike.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and most of his cabinet colleagues and senior officers would reportedly attend office as usual.

The Intuc, however, opposed the strike, saying the trade union did not want to be a party to a strike that would add to the already dismal industrial scenario in the state.

“Though the Left trade unions are calling it an industrial strike, it is nothing but a state-sponsored bandh. This is one of the reasons that we are opposing it,” explained Intuc state secretary Pramathesh Sen.

Though the Intuc supported the reasons for which the bandh was being called, a day’s loss in production would worsen the industrial climate in the state, as well as in the country, Sen said. The trade union leader also charged the organisers with calling an industrial strike for “narrow political interests”.

“The Citu and other trade unions are maintaining double standards. They are opposing the NDA government’s policies on CPSUs, but remain silent on the Left Front government’s identical policies,” he added.

   

 
 
MCC ACTIVISTS IN NET FOR LEFT LEADER’S MURDER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
Twelve Maoist Communist Centre activists, including four women, were arrested last night in raids on different hideouts in Bankura and Midnapore, in connection with the gruesome murder of Rampada Majhi, secretary of the Banspahari CPM committee.

The joint raids come five days after 12 People’s War Group activists were arrested from the forests of Midnapore.

Majhi was allegedly murdered by a group of MCC activists on February 11. The assailants first shot him from point blank range and then slit his throat.

Officials said the raid, which was continuing when reports last came in, was the “most intensive” police operation following the murder of three CPM functionaries, including Majhi, and one National Volunteer Force member.

Intelligence reports confirmed that MCC activists were infiltrating Bankura and Midnapore districts through Siliguri and Jharkhand after being chased away from Nepal. They have also been carrying out subversive activities in collaboration with PWG members who have a strong base in Paschim Midnapore district.

Bankura superintendent of police Basudeb Bag said over phone tonight that the 12 MCC activists were arrested after massive raids in Chakadoba, Pochapani and Kankrajhor forests in Midnapore, as well as in Jhilimili in Bankura. A huge cache of arms and ammunition was also seized from them.

Bag said the district police has a list of 50 MCC activists who were involved in the murders of CPM functionaries in Bankura and Midnapore districts. “We have launched a combing operation in the forests spread across two districts, as well as other hideouts to locate those militants still absconding,” he added.

According to officials investigating the Majhi murder, the arrested militants had also confessed during day-long interrogation that they had sneaked into Majhi’s house through the tiled roof of his house. They then took him to an isolated place and killed him.

“They targeted Majhi as they were convinced that he had given information about their activities to the police,” said one of the investigators.

   

 
 
ONLINE SCHOOL PROJECT TOTTERS OVER TIME BARRIER 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
An ambitious project to take computers to under-privileged children in Calcutta has hit road blocks peculiar to Bengal.

Some schools involved in the project — to promote computer-literacy among children, especially from lower-income group families, and expose them to the tools of the future — have expressed doubts over their ability to finish the teachers’ training in time, “because of examination-related work-pressure”, and their financial prowess to sustain the project.

The project, with a corpus of Rs 35 lakh, was mooted by Schools Online of the United States. Initially, 11 schools were short-listed. Five were selected for the scheme, which involved providing schools with the equipment, with the institutions taking care of infrastructural expenses.

Each of the five schools were supposed to get 10 multimedia systems tied up in a local area network with internet facilities, two printers, a scanner, a digital camera and a router, all bought with money donated by Indians living in the United States. The schools have received most of the equipment but, according to the principals of some, that is the least of their problems.

Schools Online chief S.S. Aggarwal sounded confident about tiding over the problems and is now thinking of expanding the programme to include training in computerised accounting. Some principals and headmistresses are, however, not sure that the going will be smooth.

Most worrying for J.N. Vidyapith (Kidderpore) officials is the problem of sustaining the programme. “Our school has children from the lower-income groups,” principal H. Prasad said. “Very few students will be able to pay the charges for maintaining the infrastructure.”

All repairs and running costs would have to be borne by the school, Prasad said. “This will be a big problem and we have not been able to think up a solution,” he admitted.

This problem, however, does not haunt Binodini Girls’ High School headmistress Manasi De. The school authorities had already decided to foot the bill by putting the machines to commercial use after school hours, the headmistress said.

But De was apprehensive on another count. “With all the work we are into now, I don’t know when teachers will find the time to learn the new technology,” she said.

   

 
 
MEDICAL BOON FOR RAIDIGHI 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
Specialised diagnostics reached the remote Sunderbans when consultants from Calcutta examined almost 200 villagers at a day-long free endoscopy camp at Raidighi.

Arogya Sandhan, a voluntary organisation, responded to Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly’s request and approached consultant gastroenterologists and interventional endoscopists Sabyasachi Pattnaik and Ajay Tiwari to hold the camp on April 7, World Health Day. The doctors have held two camps in rural areas without charging any fees. This was the first in a remote area.

The specialists, who are consultants at the Kothari Medical Centre in Calcutta, had taken a team and sophisticated equipment with them to the camp. “Organising an endoscopy camp outside a hospital is very difficult,” said Arogya Sandhan secretary Niranjan Biswas. “But Dr Pattnaik managed it well along with his team.”

The patients were initially screened at general health camps held a week earlier at Quemari Island off Raidighi. Of the 650 people examined by a team of eight doctors, 180 were selected for the Raidighi camp.

Using a modern digital endoscope, the doctors viewed the oesophagus, the stomach, duodenum and other organs such as the gall bladder and pancreas to find out the cause of patients’ complaint. Pattnaik pointed out ulcers, tumours, stones and other abnormalities in patients.

A unique feature was a channellised video screen outside the room where the examinations were taking place.

   

 
 
TRAFFIC CONTROL SCHEME ON ANVIL FOR KILLER HIGHWAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
Shaken by Friday’s road mishap on the Kona Expressway, which claimed 22 lives, Bengal police is working on a plan to reduce road accidents on the four-lane roads coming up between Dankuni and Kharagpur (NH-6), between Panagarh and Dhanbad (NH-2) and the Durgapur Expressway.

Transport department officials said the four-lane roads are accident prone as reckless driving is on the rise. Besides, the roads are not well lit and there is a dearth of boards indicating speed limits.

Transport secretary D.M. Kanwar, who has scheduled a meeting with national highway authorities early next week, has also asked district magistrates to ensure proper traffic management on the expressways.

“We are determined to push ahead with a scheme to improve traffic management on a couple of stretches of national highways number 2 and 6,” said additional director general of traffic K.J. Singh. The traffic wing needs improved infrastructure to cope with the sharp rise in vehicular traffic on the roads, he said today.

“In the last few years, the volume of traffic has increased sharply on the expressways in the state. We will have a tough time when two roads (Dankuni to Kharagpur and Panagarh to Dhanbad) are opened to traffic,” Singh said.

Deputy inspector general of police (traffic) R.S. Rawat said all superintendents of police, who are designated as chiefs of traffic management in the districts, have been asked to set up traffic guards on the national highways as soon as possible.

“We have already deployed the maximum number of traffic guards possible at Kolaghat as well as in some parts of South 24 Parganas. District superintendents of police will have to ensure proper patrolling on the expressways,” Rawat added.

The police official also suggested that fines for errant drivers be enhanced to curb reckless driving. Mere patrolling and deployment of traffic guards on highways will not minimise road mishaps, Rawat said. According to him, rash drivers need to be penalised heavily.

The transport department has already asked the public vehicles department to be more selective in issuing licences. “A driver has to go through a rigorous test before he or she gets a licence,” he added.

Public vehicles department sources also confirmed that a separate cell has been created to issue licences.

Trucks, buses and other vehicles coming in from neighbouring states make the job more difficult for policemen, the traffic police official said. Measures are being taken to streamline the flow of traffic along national highways to minimise accidents.

Admitting that the present infrastructure of the traffic wing was inadequate to handle large-scale road mishaps, Rawat said efforts are on to increase manpower, as well as the number of vehicles equipped with radio transmitters to stay in contact with each other, the cranes and ambulances. Traffic department officials say there are very few patrolling vehicles and cranes to tow away the wreckage of vehicles involved in accidents.

“If a truck or a bus gets involved in a road mishap on fast-lanes, the resultant traffic chaos prevents cranes from reaching the spot on time. Sometimes, ambulances cannot move despite the urgency of the situation,” said a traffic planner. He also suggested that the existing number of ambulances at the district headquarters be increased.

The transport department has also planned more traffic safety weeks in the coming months to educate people about road safety and step up a campaign against mishaps.

   

 
 
SEN TOUR TO COUNTER JOB-CRUNCH CRITICISM 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
Industries minister Nirupam Sen, the second-in-command in the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee cabinet, is on an intensive tour of the districts to explore employment generation possibilities, to counter criticism of the government’s failure to provide jobs to lakhs of unemployed educated youths, particularly in rural Bengal.

That employment is on top of the agenda for the Left Front government is evident from last week’s Cabinet meeting at which the chief minister asked his colleagues to fix a employment generation target.

“Each department will have to arrange for employment of educated youths through self-employment programmes. Prepare a blue print and make all efforts to provide employment to educated youths,” Bhattacharjee reportedly said at the meeting.

The chief minister’s second-in-command has simultaneously left for a tour of the districts to assess the scope of employment generation. Sen is supposed to complete the first round of his tour within the next two months.

Sen, who kicked off the tour from his hometown in Burdwan on Wednesday, visited Murshidabad yesterday. This will be followed by a tour of five north Bengal districts, where the unemployment problem is at its worst.

In Murshidabad, Sen held a string of meetings with sabhadhipati S.Kandari, district magistrate Manoj Pant, superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar, managers of commercial banks, officials of the state electricity board and the telecommunication department. The minister directed the officials to ensure that red tapism does not stand in way of providing financial assistance to unemployed youths.

“I shall not take lightly complaints from local youths that they failed to start a business for want of land or power supply or lack of infrastructural help from government departments or banks. In addition to the government’s schemes, if any unemployed youth comes with his own proposal for setting up a unit, all assistance should be provided to him without delay,” he said.

“Employment generation is top priority for us. Though a lot of industries are coming up in the state, the scope of jobs is limited as most of them are adopting modern technology. That is why we have laid emphasis on self-employment,” Sen told The Telegraph. The minister felt that those awaiting employment after getting their names registered with employment exchanges should be given priority.

According to the minister, there is vast scope for employment generation in cottage and small-scale industries.

   

 
 
SUPPORT MODI OR FACE ELECTIONS: BJP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 15: 
Downplaying its proposal to hold snap polls in Gujarat, the BJP today said no time-frame had been given to chief minister Narendra Modi and it was for his government to take a final decision.

Trying to wriggle out of a sticky situation following sharp criticism from allies, the BJP floated a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose option: if the Opposition stops crying for Modi’s head, there would be no need for early elections.

“If the Opposition stops demanding his (Modi) resignation, then there is no need for immediate polls. But they cannot demand his resignation as also oppose holding of elections,” BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said.

Slamming the Opposition and praising Modi for doing a “commendable job”, Malhotra said the issue had been left to Modi. “It is for the Gujarat government to take a decision on holding elections. The party’s national executive has not given any timeframe to Modi to conduct the polls. It has been suggested that he may do it whenever it is required.”

The BJP leader said talks were on with the Telugu Desam to sort out the matter.

Malhotra charged the Opposition with setting a “wrong precedent” and “murdering democracy” by demanding a chief minister’s ouster and opposing elections to the Assembly.

“It is for the people to decide who should govern them. It is not for the Opposition parties to decide as to who will be the chief minister of a state. The Opposition does not have that right. It is against the spirit of federalism,” he said.

On suggestions that the BJP was trying to take “political advantage” by planning elections in the aftermath of the riots, Malhotra said: “Elections were held immediately after over 4,000 Sikhs were brutally massacred after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

“The panchayat elections were held and no violence was reported. Over nine lakh students attended the high school examinations without any problem whatsoever. It is surprising that the media did not highlight them.

“A total of 139 people have been shot dead in police firing, 29,000 arrested and over 3,400 FIRs have been registered. Most of the victims of stabbing incidents were Hindus but only a one-sided picture was being projected,” he regretted.

Coming down heavily on the Opposition for insisting on a discussion on Gujarat, Malhotra said it was wasting time and unnecessarily making a mockery of democratic traditions.

“The Opposition had wasted several days in the last session also. The Gujarat issue was debated thrice. By raking up the same issue again and stalling the proceedings, they are making a mockery of democratic and parliamentary traditions.”

He rued that the Opposition was not allowing any debate on either the budget or the demands for grants. “A total of 45 government Bills are pending but the Opposition seems to be least bothered about it,” he said, and urged parties to allow Parliament to function normally.

   

 
 
GUJARAT PUSH FOR EARLY POLLS 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, April 15: 
The BJP co-ordination committee and state unit office-bearers have authorised Narendra Modi and his Cabinet to take a decision on holding mid-term polls even as the Congress resolved to intensify its agitation against the Gujarat chief minister from April 16.

The co-ordination committee, party office-bearers and senior ministers met for over three hours last night to discuss the political situation in the state in the wake of the poll go-ahead given by the BJP national executive.

State unit chief Rajendrasinh Rana said everyone present at the meeting favoured early elections. But the final decision would be the chief minister’s.

Sources said all members felt the atmosphere in the state was “conducive to holding elections” as no untoward incident had happened in any of the 1,677 villages where panchayat polls were held on April 7.

Rana claimed that 75 to 80 per cent people voted in the village polls, which was an indication that the situation in the state, except for Ahmedabad, was normal. “The state is by and large peaceful and it has almost returned to the pre-February 27 days,” he said.

Asked when elections are likely, Rana said “we all want early elections” the final decision has to be taken by the chief minister. As for the party, “we are fully prepared”, he added.

When pointed out that the government had postponed the Nagarpalika elections by three months on grounds that the atmosphere was not conducive for civic polls, he said “there is sea change in the situation now”.

Rana, however, admitted that there was a technical problem as the Election Commission required at least 45 days to notify the polls. “Even if we are prepared, the elections cannot be advanced,” he said. “Besides, the electoral list is not prepared and the process is still on, which is likely to take another month.”

But state general secretary and party spokesman Nalin Bhatt brushed aside such technical glitches, saying: “If required, the party will help the Election Commission to complete its electoral list by enrolling as many people as possible before the snap polls.”

He maintained that even without updating the list, elections could be held.

Gujarat Congress president Amarsinh Chaudhary said his party would appeal to the Election Commission not to hold elections.

   

 
 
NOT-TOUGH-ENOUGH NAIDU DISAPPOINTS ALLIES 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, April 15: 
Chandrababu Naidu’s flip-flop on Gujarat has irked some of the smaller allies.

As the key partner of the NDA, they had looked to the Telugu Desam chief to work out a joint strategy for Narendra Modi’s ouster. But they feel the Desam has not played tough enough with the BJP.

After holding two prolonged politburo discussions and a parliamentary party meeting in Hyderabad on Saturday and Sunday night, all the Desam said was that the meetings only discussed the Gujarat situation, not withdrawal of support to the government.

But analysts said Naidu was not known to take half-baked decisions. Cold and calculating, he would strike at the appropriate time.

Sources said CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet held talks with him over phone today. Surjeet declined to either confirm or deny the talks.

D.P. Yadav, Janata Dal (U) deputy leader in the Lok Sabha and an ardent critic of the Sangh parivar hawks, said he would request Naidu to come to Delhi and chair a meeting of allies to send out a message to the BJP and the NDA leadership.

But Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu said he was not sure whether Naidu would make a trip to Delhi in the next few days.

Though Naidu has been in touch over telephone with Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee, Dal (U) president Sharad Yadav and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan, an alliance leader said the Desam boss should have rushed to Delhi and held meetings with them to work out a joint strategy.

A strong joint statement would have unnerved the BJP and the parivar hawks and Modi would have been out. Naidu could have easily got at least 50 MPs to sign a declaration to stop the BJP from pursuing the Hindutva agenda.

Apart from the 28-member Desam, the Trinamul Congress (8 minus Ajit Panja), the Dal (U) 6, the LJP 4, the INLD 5 and the five-member of National Conference work out to 55 MPs. If the DMK joined, the number would have swelled to 67. The 10-member BJD and the 12-member Samata Party are divided with some supporting Modi’s ouster.

A senior Cabinet minister of an alliance party looked downcast after the NDA meeting yesterday. Asked whether his party supported the NDA resolution, he said: “The resolution did not mean anything. We are waiting for TDP’s stand. We will go with Naidu. We are a small party, we can’t do much.”

Yerran Naidu, D.P. Yadav and Samata Party member Prabhunath Singh today met informally to take stock of the situation.

Since other leaders like Paswan and Mamata Banerjee were not available in Delhi, they are meeting again tomorrow. Yadav said he would consult other allies such as the DMK, the Biju Janata Dal, the Indian National Lok Dal and the National Conference.

The meeting will try to evolve a common strategy in the Lok Sabha if the chair admits an Opposition censure motion seeking discussion on the Gujarat violence under rule 184, which entails voting.

Asked if the Desam would support the censure motion, Yerran Naidu said the politburo would take a decision.

Hinting that the Dal (U) may even support the Opposition motion, Yadav said: “We could go to any extent. We need not support the government on communal issues.”

The Dal (U) parliamentary party is meeting here tomorrow to assess the fallout.

   

 
 
GENEVA MISSION WITH GUJARAT SHIELD 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, April 15: 
It is not public, but South Block mandarins are thanking Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the West Asian crisis.

A direct fallout of the events in the region has been the world’s, particularly the Arab and Islamic countries’, pre-occupation with Palestine and this has not allowed them to focus on the attacks on minorities in Gujarat.

After the annual foreign office consultations with her British counterparts, foreign secretary Chokila Iyer will go to Geneva with senior ministry officials to defend the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government on the Gujarat developments.

The cautious approach adopted by Delhi stemmed from Islamabad’s attempt to put India on the mat over the Gujarat riots at the United Nations Human Rights Commission meet in the Swiss city. But as persecution of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo helped India ward off much of the Pakistani attack over rights violations in Kashmir, the brute force used by the Israeli army against Palestinians has taken international focus away from Gujarat.

If the mood in South Block was sombre over the weekend, it started looking up this morning with policy-makers and senior officials appearing to be getting into a damage control exercise to convince the world that India’s secular credentials remained intact.

Armed with copies of the Prime Minister’s statement — issued last night — and transcripts of his Friday speech in Goa, urgent despatches are being sent to Indian missions abroad to convince their hosts that Vajpayee’s criticism was against a section of Muslims and not the community or Islam.

Iyer and the other officials scheduled to speak in Geneva over the next few days will try and defend the Centre’s position on Gujarat as an aberration. Clashes in a corner of the country cannot be seen as a commentary of the situation in India, they would argue.

Attempts will be made to blame outside forces for fomenting trouble in Gujarat and the international community will be assured that India has neither deviated nor will it shift from its secular credentials.

But many senior officials in the ministry of external affairs feel that though the pre-occupation with West Asia may limit a heated exchange between India and Pakistan in Geneva, unless the situation in Gujarat changes dramatically for the better soon, the focus is likely to shift back to the state.

As part of the damage control exercise, South Block may start briefing ambassadors and heads of missions based in Delhi, particularly those from the Islamic countries and the Arab world, about the developments in Gujarat.

The steps taken by the government to ensure that the riots do not recur in the state or anywhere else in the country would also be part of the briefings.

India’s defence is being prepared at a time when an internal report of the British high commission on Gujarat, which has been leaked to a section of the media, says that the clashes were pre-planned by hardline Hindus.

A high commission spokesman, however, refused to comment. “The report is internal and not meant for public consumption,” he said.

The Indian foreign ministry has so far not reacted on how an internal British assessment got selectively leaked to the Indian media, thereby embarrassing the host government.

   
 

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