People at home, MLAs in House
GNLF hold on hills slackens
Judge takes chemist to court
Loan list fumble creates panic at Writers’
Plan to tap neighbours over rebels
Hospital exit for Liluah inmates
Desam puts national tag on carnage
Ribeiro sees ‘communal virus’ in police
President poll hurdle for Modi
Gujarat storm halts House

April 16: 
The Marxists and the Trinamul Congress traded charges today over the 24-hour industrial strike that paralysed the state.

Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee described the bandh as “anti-people” because it deprived daily-wage earners of a day’s earning.

“They (Left trade unions) have called the strike to protest against the Centre’s policy of privatisation and disinvestment. But the state government has decided to close down 45 public sector undertakings and introduce privatisation in some vital sectors,” the Trinamul chief said.

The Citu, on the other hand, said it planned to go for an indefinite strike in the coal and rail industry “to force the Centre to change its anti-people policies”.

Citu state general secretary Chittabrata Majumdar said Left trade unions were determined to thwart the Centre’s “calculated move to close down public sector undertakings”.

The strike was called by mainly Left trade unions to protest the government’s move to close down PSUs and the “anti-people” budget, among other issues. The Congress labour arm, Intuc, and the Trinamul’s labour wing opposed the strike.

A dozen Trinamul Congress MLAs led by Opposition chief whip Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay went to the Assembly around 12.45 pm to find the main gate on the southern side locked. Soon leader of Opposition Pankaj Banerjee arrived and the MLAs started shouting slogans in protest.

The legislators announced that they would break open the lock and enter the Assembly. “The Assembly cannot be under the purview of an industrial strike. We are people’s representatives and will enter at any cost,” they shouted.

Trinamul MLA Paresh Pal, known to spring uneasy surprises, ran towards the west where a gate was open for security personnel. At this, the officer in charge opened the gate, even as the MLAs started battering the lock with bricks. The legislators then entered the Assembly and went to their chambers.

The Citu, however, was upbeat. “There was overwhelming response to the strike today and we are now planning to go for an indefinite strike in the coal and rail industry — two major industries in the country run by the Centre,” said Majumdar.

The strike was total and peaceful in Bengal with negligible attendance in offices. There was no public transport on the roads and schools and colleges were closed. Banks and trading establishments were also closed.

Train services were disrupted as bandh supporters squatted on tracks near various stations, leading to several Howrah and Sealdah-bound long-distance trains being detained at many stations. Many long-distance trains were either cancelled or rescheduled.

At Writers’ Buildings, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee attended office, while his Cabinet colleagues stayed away. Power minister Mrinal Banerjee arrived in the afternoon from his office in the New Secretariat Building for a meeting with Bhattacharjee.

The secretariat was deserted with only 25 staffers attending office. Among officers, only chief secretary Sourin Roy, home secretary A.K. Deb and senior police officials were present.

Deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) Banibrata Basu said only 45 employees attended office at Calcutta Port Trust, while 15 attended at Telephone Bhavan. Attendance at the Eastern Railway headquarters, GPO and Reserve Bank was 11, 24 and 10 respectively.

Normal work was, however, reported from Haldia Petrochemicals, which was exempted from the strike.


Siliguri, April 16: 
The Gorkha National Liberation Front’s stranglehold on the hills took a beating today with residents ignoring the call to boycott the nationwide industrial strike.

Normal life was thrown out of gear in Darjeeling and Kurseong subdivisions today. Signs of normal life were seen only in Kalimpong.

Anti-GNLF parties, long relegated to the sidelines, read this defiance as a possible shift in fortunes. “This is perhaps the first instance of the people of Darjeeling standing up to the GNLF and responding spontaneously to a strike supported by the Left and Opposition parties in the hills,” said a political analyst from Darjeeling.

“Earlier, the CPM wielded influence in Kurseong and the tea garden belts in the Terai region. But the CPM and the breakaway Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists have dented the GNLF citadel to a considerable extent,” he added.

“That a strike boycotted by the GNLF could evoke such a response in Darjeeling and Kurseong was not expected. People seem to be tired of the GNLF’s brand of violent politics,” said a journalist.

“The GNLF top brass was seen coaxing and even threatening people to keep business establishments open at Chowk Bazaar in the heart of Darjeeling town this morning but to no avail,” said an Opposition leader.

“It is time the GNLF leadership did a ‘rethink’ and did not take hill people for granted,” said D.S. Bomzan, the spokesman of the breakaway communist party.

The organisation’s trade union — the Terai Darjeeling Cha Kaman Mazdoor Union, which supported the strike — claimed that more than 70 per cent of the tea gardens in the three hills sub-divisions and the Terai belt were closed.


Burdwan, April 16: 
Former Burdwan district judge Jitendra Narayan Roy has filed a case at the Burdwan District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum against a chemist’s shop for selling medicines after their expiry date.

In January, when Roy was suffering from a toothache, a dental surgeon prescribed him some anti-oxidant capsules. The capsules, however, failed to yield any result.

An exasperated Roy visited the doctor, Sushanta Das, again. As surprised as the judge by the lack of any improvement, the doctor asked Roy to bring the cash memo and the medicine packet. A close look revealed that the batch of medicines had expired in January 2000, more than two years before it was sold over the counter.

Roy then moved the consumer forum, seeking Rs 1 lakh as damages. Though he has been recently transferred to Calcutta, he has expressed his desire to fight the case.

Sujit Das, the owner of Tarakeshwar Medical Hall, however, refused to take all the blame on himself. The medicine sold over his counter did not belong to his shop, he explained.

“We had run out of stock for that particular medicine and, therefore, got it from another shop so as not to put Roy to any inconvenience,” he said. “Our only fault was that we did not check the expiry date on the packet,” said the shop owner.

Das also admitted that he could not pay Rs 1 lakh. “I will try to explain things outside the forum. But, if I am forced, I will have to engage a lawyer,” he said.

The Burdwan district secretary of the Bengal Chemists’ and Druggists’ Association, Ranen Ray, clarified that his organisation would not stand by Das. “We will help the administration fight the ills plaguing our trade,” Ray said.

A similar case — concerning a capsule that contained an iron nail — has been filed against another chemist by the Burdwan District Consumer Protection and Welfare Centre. The consumer organisation’s general secretary, K. Abedin, said Sheikh Shahid had purchased some capsules and one of them contained a nail.


Calcutta, April 16: 
The Bengal government spent tense moments today as the forthcoming Japanese loan for two units of the Bakreswar power plant was knocked off the Centre’s department of economic affair’s list of recommendations.

The Bakreswar loan was put back on the list late in the afternoon after parleys between Writers’ Buildings and the Union power ministry.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was told by power minister Mrinal Banerjee this morning that the state might lose out on the Rs 1,600-crore loan from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

The news came as a shock, as the state was almost sure to get the economic department’s nod, especially as the Bakreswar project was on top of the list of countrywide schemes being forwarded to the Japan Bank for loans.

The chief minister summoned Banerjee to Writers’ Buildings to take stock of the situation. Bhattacharjee, who initially wanted to write to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, finally called Union power minister Suresh Prabhu.

The power minister told Bhattacharjee that he was not aware of this development. Prabhu promised that he would call back within the next couple of hours with news of the latest situation. Later Prabhu assured Bhattacharjee that the Bakreswar scheme was back in the list of recommendations.

Earlier, the chief minister had instructed state power secretary Kalyan Bagchi to rush to Delhi tomorrow to sort things out. Bhattacharjee had also included chief secretary Sourin Roy in the discussions regarding the crisis.

“This was a very sudden development and we were concerned that if we did not get the loan we would have had to wait another year,” the state power minister told The Telegraph. Banerjee, however, denied any knowledge about why the scheme had been deleted from the list.

The minister said the loan was for the fourth and fifth units of the thermal power plant, which would add 630 mw to the existing generation of 420 mw.

Banerjee said Bengal’s power situation was looking up, with plans to enhance the generation of Durgapur Projects Limited (DPL). The minister, who reopened a coke oven at DPL that had been lying idle for more than 12 years, said the company was the cheapest supplier of power in the eastern region.

“DPL losses can be reduced by enhanced coke production and by adding to the power generating capacity up to 410 mw,” Banerjee pointed out. The state has spent Rs 330 crores on DPL’s modernisation.


Calcutta, April 16: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has asked senior police officials to take up, with their counterparts in neighbouring states, the issue of infiltration of PWG guerrillas from these states and Maoist militants from Nepal.

Bhattacharjee is likely to take up the matter with the chief ministers of Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa. The chief minister had earlier raised the issue at a meeting with Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba during his visit to the city last month.

State home department officials said interrogation of arrested militants had revealed that they had crossed into Bengal from Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. Some of them had also infiltrated from Nepal.

“We have sought support from neighbouring states to arrest the PWG and Maoist guerrillas,’’ said a senior official.


Calcutta, April 16: 
Illness has come as a boon for the inmates of the government-run Liluah Home for Destitute Women. Within a span of four days, three inmates of the home used the nearby Jaiswal Hospital to pass the locked gates and the security guards of the home to escape.

Two of the inmates feigned illness and were taken to hospital, from where they managed to flee after mingling freely with other patients. Another followed suit from the female ward of the hospital after surgery.

These, however, are not the first instances of people escaping from the hospital. In the middle of last year, three inmates of the Liluah home had fled the clinic.

“The modus operandi is the same. At least 20 inmates fled the hospital in the last one year,” said an official of the home.

“Our employees escort the girls to the hospital. Had the inmates fled on their way to hospital, we could have been blamed. But all the girls fled from the hospital,” said the official. “Our staff cannot prevent people from escaping after they have been hospitalised.”

Unfazed by the events, authorities of the home denied responsibility for the escapes and said they had informed the local police station when inmates were hospitalised. “The police are supposed to keep an eye on hospitalised inmates,” an official said.

The last three inmates to have escaped — Sabina Yasmin, Susmita Chakroborty and Sumita Sengupta — were hospitalised when they complained of physical ailments, home sources said. Susmita (25), who was rescued from Mumbai, had to be hospitalised after she complained of stomach pain in the first week of this month. However, after three days, Susmita disguised herself as a relative of a patient and slipped out of the hospital during visiting hours.

Sumita (25) also complained of pain in her abdomen. She escaped from the hospital after two days. “We had to rush her to the hospital when she complained of pain in her abdomen. How were we to know that she was feigning illness?” asked an official.

Sabina (17), however, actually had an abscess in her breast. The home authorities hospitalised her a couple of weeks ago when the doctors suggested surgery. Sabina, who was recovering gradually, escaped on April 6 by pretending to be a relative of another patient.

Home authorities expressed displeasure over the role of doctors. “A doctor is supposed to stay at the home round the clock, but she never does so. Recently, another inmate died in the home because of lack of medical attention. We took up the matter with the authorities but nothing has been done so far,” said home superintendent Reba Das.

The Howrah district administration had then conducted a high-level inquiry and found the doctor to have been negligent.

“After conducting the inquiry, we submitted our report to the state welfare department, the mother wing that looks after the Liluah home. We do not have the power to punish the doctor. However, we suggested that the welfare department take immediate disciplinary action against the doctor,” said Howrah district magistrate Vivek Kumar.

Surprisingly, no action has been taken so far against the doctor.


New Delhi, April 16: 
Hardening its stand against the government, the Telugu Desam today said the Gujarat riots have become a national issue and ridiculed the BJP and Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bid to give a local colour to the violence. The Desam salvo deepened the confusion of the Prime Minister’s managers as they continued to grope for a strategy to deal with the logjam in Parliament.

With President K.R. Narayanan set to demit office in July and presidential elections imminent, National Democratic Alliance strategists are worried about what line to take on Gujarat. The BJP needs the support of the Desam and other allies to bridge the wafer-thin majority in the electoral college.

To keep the Desam in good humour, NDA managers would have to work out a strategy not only to deal with the demand for a discussion on Gujarat but also to buy time till July.

Today also the Desam joined the Opposition in demanding an immediate discussion on Gujarat though it did not specify under what rule. Parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu wrote to Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed, demanding a discussion. Opposition parties are insisting on a discussion under Rule 184, which entails voting.

“Whether it is under Rule 193 (which does not necessitate voting) or 184, a discussion is a must,” Yerran Naidu said. Asked if the Desam would support a discussion under Rule 184 if the chair allows it, he said his party would abide by the directive of the politburo.

The Janata Dal (United) parliamentary party, which met under Sharad Yadav and stuck to its demand for chief minister Narendra Modi’s ouster, also demanded a discussion on Gujarat. Dal (U) MPs also felt Gujarat was a national issue and demanded imposition of President’s rule.

A scheduled meeting of the allies to discuss the situation in Gujarat was deferred to the weekend in the absence of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and her colleagues.

“Our fundamental difference (with the BJP) is whether the issue is confined to Gujarat or has assumed national dimension,” said Desam leader Umareddy Venkateswarlu. “We feel the state government is not in a position to control the situation.”

The former Union minister said the situation in the state had constitutional, social and economic implications and could affect national security. The stock market was crashing, investors were becoming panicky and no foreign investment was likely to come in if the violence continued, Venkateswarlu added.

Insisting that the carnage had become a national issue, both Yerran Naidu and Venkateswarlu pointed out that it was Vajpayee who had said during his visit to Gujarat that “it was a national shame”.

“Vajpayee had advised chief minister Narendra Modi to follow ‘Rajdharam’ and it was the Prime Minister who said ‘with what face can I go abroad?’,” they said. Had it been a state issue, the Prime Minister would not have said so, Venkateswarlu argued. Vajpayee, he added, had “realised that the nation’s prestige was at stake before the comity of nations”.


New Delhi, April 16: 
Former Mumbai police commissioner Julio Ribeiro said successive riots and the latest blood-letting in Gujarat have shown that the Indian state has abdicated “its responsibility to defend every citizen irrespective of his or her caste and creed” and upholding the promises made in the Constitution.

Making a presentation to members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Home Affairs last month when Gujarat was bleeding, Ribeiro said the nation has time and again failed to protect its citizens when they were under attack: during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, the Mumbai riots in 1992-93, in Ahmedabad and Vadodora in 1985 and now in Gujarat.

He said during the 1985 riots in Mumbai, he saw for the first time minorities arming themselves because they realised the police were as “afflicted by the communal virus as the Shiv Sena boys”, and the community could not get help from those meant to protect their lives.

Gujarat has again exposed the police force and its tendency to follow the line of least resistance to please the politicians. After every riot the same facts emerge: the police, apart from a few exceptions, toe the line of their political masters, forgetting everything they learnt in the academy.

“The root cause of police abdicating their responsibility lies in the politicisation of the police force across the country, caused by misuse of the power of appointment and transfers by the politicians,” Ribeiro said.

He pointed out how corrupt officers were being promoted sometimes for a price paid to the politician, occasionally because they worm their way to the politician to get a lucrative transfer or posting.


New Delhi, April 16: 
The BJP leadership is believed to be having second thoughts about getting the Gujarat Assembly dissolved right away. Though it claimed that the “time was ripe” for a snap poll in the state at the Goa national executive and “advised” chief minister Narendra Modi to recommend the dissolution, two factors have prompted a rethink.

First, the Election Commission might take a contrary view of the situation and rule that since the law and order situation was not normal, the elections could not be held immediately.

Second, if the Assembly was dissolved but the elections could not be held in the next two or three months, the loss of the Gujarat legislature would have an impact on the exercise to elect a new President in June-July.

The BJP would need every MLA’s vote to shore up its candidate’s prospects and make up for the numbers that it lacks in the Rajya Sabha. The party’s electoral college has diminished after the setbacks in the recent Assembly elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh where it came down from 154 to 88.

In Gujarat, the BJP has 117 MLAs and strategists said: “If we lose their votes, we may as well settle for an Opposition candidate.”

Initially, Modi was expected to meet the Governor this week itself and recommend the dissolution. But in such a scenario, though he can continue as a caretaker chief minister, the MLAs would lose their right to vote in the presidential election.

“We have to weigh the pros and cons carefully and not rush in haste,” said sources close to Union home minister L.K. Advani, who was among those keen on the snap poll.

The sources also conceded that the poll panel may not necessarily concur with the Centre or the BJP’s view that the situation in Gujarat was fast returning to normal.

Incidents of arson and murder are still being reported daily from the state but the BJP sought to base its claim of things being hunky-dory on the panchayat polls being conducted in a “peaceful” atmosphere, students appearing for exams and the Haj pilgrims returning “safely”.

Opposition parties fear that an election at this juncture could be overly one-sided with just BJP supporters being able to exercise their franchise with the others staying away out of fear. As many as one lakh people are still living in the riot refugee camps.

Constitutionally, the poll panel is the only authority mandated to call elections. In 1991, it had refused to call elections in Punjab, which was then under Central rule.

The BJP leadership hoped that its indecision would give it a breather in coping with the Telugu Desam Party’s protests against an election in Gujarat.


New Delhi, April 16: 
The deadlock in Parliament continued for the second day today with an adamant Opposition stalling proceedings, calling for the ouster of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and the BJP holding firm.

Irked by the Opposition’s insistence on an adjournment motion under Rule 184 — which entails voting — to discuss the riots, the treasury benches hit back, demanding that leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi apologise for her remarks against Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Sonia had accused the Prime Minister of losing his mental balance, but had withdrawn her remarks on Sunday night, a day after her she had made them.

Amid chaotic scenes and slogan shouting, both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha had to be adjourned for the day. Presiding officers of both Houses privately conceded there was no meeting ground between the government and the Opposition and voiced their fear that the stalemate might persist.

Sonia led a campaign against Modi and sat on a relay hunger-strike at Rajghat. Till May 21, senior party leaders will visit Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad every day to register their protest and demand Modi’s exit.

Other Opposition parties are also sharpening their knives. The People’s Front, consisting of the Left and the Samajwadi Party, will hold a demonstration here tomorrow.

The Lok Sabha was first adjourned for an hour. When it met again, Congress MPs stormed the well in protest against the BJP’s insistence on an apology from Sonia. Other Opposition members belonging to the Samajwadi, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left parties gathered in the well of the House to join the chorus for Modi’s removal.

In the Rajya Sabha, newly elected member Laloo Prasad Yadav took the lead in asking for Modi’s ouster and demanding his prosecution. For the second consecutive day, Telugu Desam MPs were seen joining the Opposition on the issue.

In his usual style, Laloo said Modi be handcuffed and this alone, he stressed, could restore peace in the riot-ravaged Gujarat.

After yesterday’s show of unity, some Opposition leaders spoke in different voices, indulging in one-upmanship today. Samajwadi boss Mulayam Singh Yadav lamented that the Congress failed to back a “secular government” in Uttar Pradesh.

Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM, too, wondered why the People’s Front should play second fiddle to the Congress in the fight against “communalism”.

However, on Gujarat, the Opposition parties presented a united face. People’s Front MPs submitted several notices to the deputy Speaker in the Lok Sabha, P.M. Sayeed, demanding a discussion on the matter under Rule 184.

Chatterjee alleged that Vajpayee had “forfeited the right to lead the nation”, adding that he had not said “a word” about Hindu fundamentalists who had brought down the Babri masjid. “Today, we don’t have a Prime Minister who represents all sections of the people ... He has become a proponent of Hindutva and has jettisoned his obligation to uphold the Constitution.”


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