State toes Central line
Farmers protest mill paddy price
Pumpkin leads to bus killers
Trinamul wing sweeps Visva-Bharati
Threat calls haunt temple saviour
Delhi buries Naidu pet project on birthday-eve
Opp. slams budget tough talk
Left, Desam bid to bridge gulf
Court call for Gujarat re-test
George guarded on troop pullout

 
 
STATE TOES CENTRAL LINE 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, April 19: 
The Left Front government plans to introduce an early retirement scheme for employees of state-run public sector undertakings, in tune with the Central government’s voluntary retirement scheme for its employees.

Government employees fear they might be forced to accept early retirement, though the state finance department is preparing a scheme only for loss-making PSUs.

When it took over last year, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government decided to restructure PSUs to make them viable and had set up a standing committee on industries for the purpose.

The panel has started assessing the financial positions of all state-run PSUs and has categorised them as ‘structurally unviable enterprises’, ‘unviable enterprises requiring capital investment’ and ‘potentially viable enterprises’. The retirement scheme will be made effective for employees of undertakings in the first two categories, which employ 5,562 workers, according to government estimates.

“Structurally unviable enterprises should not continue indefinitely in the public interest. The physical assets of these units — along with the services of their employees — will be transferred to a government-owned asset management committee that will finalise the fate of the employees and the units belonging to the unviable enterprise,” suggested the report of the standing committee on industries.

The government will, however, make an effort to re-employ the workers of such units and help them get bank loans for self-employment.

“If no re-deployment or self-employment of such employees becomes possible within a definite timeframe, they would be required to opt for an early retirement scheme, which is being finalised by the government with help from the finance department,” the report suggested.

It indicated that the employees of such PSUs who choose not to be transferred to the asset management company will also be offered the early retirement scheme.

As the nodal agency appointed by the state, the asset management company will suggest restructuring of manpower and assets of loss-making PSUs. It will also recommend to the state government the transfer of such PSUs from one unit to another and cases of all employees will be referred to it.

PSUs identified by this committee as loss-making enterprises that require capital investment include Krishna Glass, WB Plywood, Engel India, Lily Biscuits, Carter Pooler, National Iron and Steel Company, West Bengal Chemicals, Apollo Zipper, India Belting and Neo Pipes.

Other PSUs that are loss-making and require manpower and financial restructuring are Westinghouse SF, Durgapur Chemicals, Britannia Engineering, Gluconate Health, Bharat Jute Mills and Shalimar Works.

The Citu, however, refused to comment on the issue. “I am not the right person to comment on the issue. You should contact Chittabrata Majumder, our general secretary,” said Citu leader Mrinal Das. However, Majumder was not available for comment.

Intuc leader Pramathesh Sen criticised the Left Front for its “double role” regarding state-run PSUs.

“The Citu and other Left trade unions had organised a bandh recently to protest the Centre’s decision to close down PSUs and its move to force employees to accept a voluntary retirement scheme,” the Intuc leader said.

“However, the Citu is silent over the state government’s move to introduce an early retirement scheme for its employees,” Sen pointed out.

   

 
 
FARMERS PROTEST MILL PADDY PRICE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bolpur, April 19: 
Farmers today dumped sacks of paddy in front of the block development office, demanding that the officer pay a fair price for the grain.

During the day-long dharna at the BDO — organised by the Agragami Kisan Sabha, the peasant wing of the Forward Block — the farmers submitted a memorandum to block development officer Pushpendu Mitra, urging him to ensure that mill owners purchase paddy at the price fixed by the state government.

The farmers allege that mill owners in the district refuse to pay the fixed price of Rs 5,300 per tonne for paddy, forcing poor farmers to sell their crop at very low rates.

“The production of rice this year has broken all-time records. However, we are forced to make distress sales because the purchasers do not give us the fair price,” said Barin Das, a farmer of Nanur.

“Agents of rice-mill owners say the paddy price will be further reduced. We, thus, do not have any alternative but to sell our crop at Rs 3,000-3,500 per tonne as paddy is our only source of income,’’ Das added.

Rice-mill owners say the rate of paddy fixed by the state government is very high and they will not be able to purchase the crop at that price.

“We have to sell paddy at Rs 6,800 per tonne and will incur huge losses if we buy it at Rs 5,300 per tonne. The government should have discussed with us before finalising the price,” said Sushil Chowdhury, spokesman of the Rice Mill Owners’ Association.

Admitting that the problem prevailed, food minister Kalimuddin Shams said in Calcutta that he would urge chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to convene a meeting of district magistrates, sabhadhipatis and rice-mill owners.

“We are getting allegations from all districts that farmers are being denied the fair price by rice-mill owners. The owners of the mills are bound to abide by government guidelines. Otherwise, they will invite penal action,” the minister clarified.

Shams said the government would purchase paddy directly from farmers to save them from making distress sales. “We expect funds from the finance department very soon and will start purchasing the crop,” the minister said.

   

 
 
PUMPKIN LEADS TO BUS KILLERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 19: 
This would have made Arthur Conan Doyle proud. The breakthrough in a real-life murder case came not from tracking down vehicles or tracing phone calls, but from a 20-kg pumpkin.

Sanjit Das was shot at point-blank range in a packed bus near Jagatdal on April 14 for standing up against six youths who were harassing a woman passenger. The youths had then forced the driver to drive a few kilometres, before escaping.

Initially, investigators hit a stonewall as the sleuths failed to find any clue about the identity or whereabouts of the miscreants, though the 35-year-old was shot in front of many passengers in the private bus plying between Naihati and Barasat.

Later, police learnt from a resident of Jagatdal that one of the youths was carrying a giant pumpkin.

“It was the only clue we had. Thus, officials of the Barrackpore police station (under which Jagatdal falls) started searching for the pumpkin,” said North 24-Parganas superintendent of police M.H. Harisena Verma.

The police started intensive investigations in Basudebpur More and Netajipalli area. “We asked everyone in the area whether they had seen anyone carrying a large pumpkin. We asked people to inform us immediately if they found the pumpkin,” said an officer of the Barrackpore police station.

Lady Luck soon smiled on the policemen. On hearing the police announcement, a woman of Keugachi area in Jagatdal told the police that a person named Chotan had given her the pumpkin few days ago. “He said he would take the pumpkin back next day,” the woman told the police.

“After ascertaining Chotan’s address, we raided the area and tracked down the youth,” said a police officer.

Preliminary investigations reveal that, before boarding the bus, Chotan and his associates had bought the pumpkin from a local market for a ceremony in their locality. “Chotan was carrying the pumpkin when he and five associates were fleeing. Some of the people of Basudebpur area noticed that,” said a police official.

Chotan confessed he was part of the gang. “We have come to know the names of all the miscreants, but cannot disclosed them as that would hamper investigations. We are now looking for the man who had fired on Das,” said Verma.

   

 
 
TRINAMUL WING SWEEPS VISVA-BHARATI 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Santiniketan, April 19: 
Trinamul Chhatra Parishad — the students’ wing of the Trinamul Congress — has bagged all the seats of the Visva-Bharati university students’ union.

The Students’ Federation of India failed to get even one seat in the elections to 15 representatives and six office bearers held today. The Trinamul Chhatra Parishad won all 10 seats of class representatives without any contest.

After taking over the students union in Calcutta’s Presidency College, the SFI was eyeing the union of the Visva-Bharati university. But their wishes have not come true.

Varsity students say Tagore’s institution has not witness such excitement over students’ union elections before. A large contingent of security personnel, including Rapid Action Force, was deployed in the campus to prevent any untoward incident.

Last year, the varsity students’ union was controlled by the Congress and Trinamul Congress. Though Santiniketan is a CPM bastion and the hometown of party stalwart and member of Parliament Somnath Chatterjee, the party could not expand influence in the central government-controlled university.

   

 
 
THREAT CALLS HAUNT TEMPLE SAVIOUR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, April 19: 
Yasin Pathan, who has been awarded the Kabir Samman by the President for saving more than 30 temples and has played a major role in defusing communal tenson in the state, is receiving threats from the minority community.

Pathan met district magistrate M.V. Rao today and urged him to provide security. “I have been receiving threatening calls for the last few days threatening that I will be killed if I do not end my mission of protecting ancient temples,” he told Rao.

Pathan has saved 34 temples from the ravages of the Kangsabati river. Pathan was awarded the Kabir Samman in 1995 for his efforts. But this also led to some people turning against him.

Husband hacked

Darshan Singh, a resident of the Baranagar police station area of the city, was hacked to death by his wife, Gurmit, on Wednesday, police said today. Gurmit confessed to the crime, they added.

Residents of the area informed the police this afternoon of a stench emanating from the Singh residence. On breaking open the door, the police found the victim’s decomposed body. Gurmit was picked up for interrogation, says a staff reporter.

   

 
 
DELHI BURIES NAIDU PET PROJECT ON BIRTHDAY-EVE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 19: 
The Centre today gave what many felt was a “thoughtful birthday-eve gift” to Chandrababu Naidu: a formal Cabinet announcement that buried the Andhra Pradesh chief minister’s pet Sankhya Vahini project.

The high-speed data network plan, linking universities and research centres, was to have been set up by a joint venture involving IUNet, a US-based company. But the controversial scheme had attracted a lot of flak from Opposition parties.

There were charges that the plan reeked of financial irregularities and could compromise the security of Indian research, which could be accessed by the American firm, a subsidiary of a US university. BJP hardliners, too, had opposed the project and demanded its scrapping. IUNet eventually withdrew last October, but the government did not formally discard the project.

Sources said it was partly to do with the fact that it was Naidu’s pet scheme. The Telugu Desam chief, who turns 52 on Saturday, had reportedly even backed IUNet’s bid to be a partner and there was always the possibility of the project being revived, they claimed. That is, till today’s announcement, which precludes any comebacks.

Observers see the announcement as a way of needling the Desam boss who has been locked in a conflict with the BJP over the demand for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s scalp.

Many of Naidu’s high-profile projects, needing either Central funds or approval, have still not moved from the desks of bureaucrats in Delhi. Sources said the message being sought to be given is clear: these, too, are at risk.

“There was no need for a such a big announcement on this. It was anyway dead,” said Nilotpal Basu, CPM MP and a vocal opponent of the project. Basu pointed out that better high-speed networks were being set up by various agencies when this project was envisaged. It was never “really needed”, he added.

The government’s move has assured BJP hardliners and RSS functionaries who were against the project from the very first. Dattopant Thengadi, a veteran Sangh ideologue, had even gone on record calling the government anti-national for espousing the cause of the project.

The Cabinet also decided to allow Kuwait Airline to fly to two new destinations in India —Chennai and Cochin — as well as permit the airline to on-fly to Cairo under a clause that in diplomatic parlance is termed “Fifth Freedom”. The “freedom” is rarely extended to an airline of another country.

The sops come at a time when India has allowed a Kuwaiti girl, who eloped with her Indian lover, to stay on in the country despite the Arab nation’s demands for her return. Soon after, there were reports that Kuwait had shut down a Gurdwara operating “illegally” in the Islamic Sheikhdom.

   

 
 
OPP. SLAMS BUDGET TOUGH TALK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 19: 
Opposition lawmakers today lashed out at Pramod Mahajan for showing “scant respect” for norms after the parliamentary affairs minister hinted that the general and rail budgets may be passed without a discussion.

The angry members were provoked after the minister said if the Opposition continued to cripple Parliament over Gujarat, “the only loss will be that there will be less time for discussion (on the budget)”.

Mahajan made it clear that the rail budget and the finance Bill would be passed in spite of the standoff. Long adjournments had not come in the way in the past and the Opposition had never been uncooperative in transacting vital financial business, he added.

Rajya Sabha CPI legislator J. Chitharanjan said the Opposition would like to speak on the budget if Parliament resumed normal functioning but the government was bent on blocking it. “It is the responsibility and duty of Parliament to go through the budget, analyse it and suggest changes, if required,” he said.

CPM legislator Nilotpal Basu accused Mahajan of showing “scant respect” for parliamentary norms. “Today, at the all-party meeting we were given to understand that everyone would abide by the deputy Speaker’s ruling (on Gujarat). We have to pass the budget or else the ministers will not get their salaries. So at least to ensure Mahajan gets his salary, the budget will have to be passed,” Basu said sarcastically.

Chitharanjan voiced fears that the government might try to “steamroll” the passage of the budget like it had done with the anti-terror Bill. “They are not prepared to agree with the proposal made by the Opposition (to discuss Gujarat) within the rules of the House. It is our right to raise issues on the basis of rules but they (the government) are trying to make the functioning of Parliament difficult,” he said.

The budget session is due to end on May 17. It is mandatory to pass the finance Bill within 75 days of its presentation, failing which tax proposals become null and void. The rail and general budgets would, therefore, have to be passed before May 14. If they are not, the government would have to restore tax rates proposed in last year’s finance Bill.

The Opposition continued to insist that it would not give in to the government on Gujarat. Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said: “The carnage in Gujarat is not an everyday happening. It is aimed at undermining the social edifice of the country. If the government doesn’t accept the Opposition’s collective demand for discussion, it only exposes its intolerance towards criticism and its lack of respect for parliamentary norms.”

   

 
 
LEFT, DESAM BID TO BRIDGE GULF 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 19: 
The ice is beginning to melt. The standoff between the Left parties and the Telugu Desam Party seems to be over and barriers are breaking down in the face of the crisis over Narendra Modi’s continuation as Gujarat chief minister.

Central leaders of the CPM and the CPI are still maintaining a distance from their former ally. But the CPM’s Andhra Pradesh unit has begun tentative talks with Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu while the CPI state unit has sought permission from the Central leadership to approach him.

Last month, during the CPM’s congress in Hyderabad, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had met Naidu. But the meeting, CPM leaders claimed, was merely one of protocol. The Left had still not mellowed towards the Andhra chief minister — he was yet to demand Modi’s resignation.

“We will talk to him when the time comes,” a central leader said. Till such “time”, local comrades will renew links with Naidu.

It is a double-edged strategy — on the one hand there will be local-level dialogues; on the other, third front leaders like former Prime Minister Deve Gowda will keep in touch with Desam MPs and also the party chief. “Gowda has good relations with Naidu,” said a Left leader.

Senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee, who has been given the responsibility of forging the widest possible Opposition unity in Parliament, is optimistic that the allies, at least some of them, will be forced to quit the National Democratic Alliance.

The advocates of such unity believe that the contradictions between Central and state-level politics — the difficulty of ditching the BJP and aligning with the Congress — are troubling allies like the Desam, the Trinamul Congress and the Biju Janata Dal. “If there was a resurgent third front, then all these leaders would have readily joined it,” said a Left leader.

Most of the former third front partners are now keeping the NDA afloat. Their main apprehension is that leaving the alliance would mean political wilderness as they cannot be seen to be moving close to the Congress, their main adversary in the states.

The Desam needs the Left’s support in the next Assembly elections — especially in the Telengana region, which has a large concentration of Muslims.

In the last Assembly polls, the Desam and the Left went separate ways because Naidu was already with the NDA.

   

 
 
COURT CALL FOR GUJARAT RE-TEST 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 19: 
The Supreme Court today came to the aid of thousands of students who could not appear for the Gujarat board examinations.

A division bench of Justice B.N. Kirpal and Justice Arijit Pasayat told the counsel for the Gujarat Secondary Board that “if you cannot tell us a date for conducting supplementary exams, then we will make an order today itself”.

The counsel, P.H. Parekh, requested the court to give him time to consult his client. The court said the matter would come up again on April 26, by which time he should clearly indicate a date in May or June.

“Mr. Parekh (has) to inform this court as to when the supplementary examinations will be held at the earliest,” the judges said. This clearly means the state government has to conduct supplementary examinations either in May or June.

The order came on a petition filed by a social organisation, Lok Adhikar Sangh, which contended that many students had lost their fee receipts for the examinations and did not even know where their centres were.

Parekh said 98 per cent students had appeared on March 18 and examinations were postponed to April 18 in Ahmedabad and Baroda. “In these two cities, too, about 96 per cent students appeared.”

He said in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, between 94 and 98 per cent students appeared for the tests and the current percentages of 98 and 96 were “normal”.

The judges told him to find out “whether supplementary examinations can be held in two months’ time” and if the reply was an immediate “no”, they would consider issuing an order in the matter. Parekh replied that he would have to consult his client. The judges gave him a week’s time.

Cecil Gonsalves and Aparna Bhatt, who appeared for the petitioner, submitted that thousands of boys and girls, staying in relief camps and due to appear for the 10th and 12th standard examinations, were traumatised.

“Those who are in a position to physically attend the examination are not in a mental state to take the examinations properly and others were not able to take the exams both mentally and physically,” the petition said.

In its counter-affidavit, the Gujarat Secondary Education Board said that in the whole of the state, barring Ahmedabad and Baroda, the examinations were held as scheduled on March 18, 2002.

“The percentage of students who appeared for the examinations on March 18 was about 98 per cent,” the counter-affidavit said, adding that this was the pattern of attendance every year.

The board said “framing of question papers is a difficult job and hence it will take approximately one month for preparing the question papers and for printing them”.

But Bhatt said that whatever might be the board’s contention on the “percentage” and “pattern” of students taking the tests, the fact was that several thousand students had missed the examinations.

   

 
 
GEORGE GUARDED ON TROOP PULLOUT 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, April 19: 
Defence minister George Fernandes today ruled out immediate withdrawal of the army from strife-torn Gujarat.

Fernandes, who is on a four-day visit to the state, said: “No decision has been taken regarding the withdrawal of the army. I am looking at the situation and I cannot say how long the troops would remain.”

Addressing members of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Fernandes said: “Some people feel the army should not be moved out. We cannot take unilateral decisions. After all, the army was deployed at the request of the state government.”

Army chief General S. Padmanabhan had said on Wednesday that the troops could be moved out of Gujarat as the situation had improved.

Fernandes today said he was here to see the “situation on the ground”. The defence minister, who arrived last night, met chief minister Narendra Modi twice and visited centres in the morning to see the turnout in the board examinations. He went to two relief camps in the evening. Fernandes’ programme in the reality-test trip was, however, kept secret from reporters.

There was almost total attendance in the centres that Fernandes visited and the minister said only some “elements” were trying to block their smooth conduct. He also accused the media of creating an impression that the entire minority community had boycotted the examinations.

At the meet with industry captains, most members praised the chief minister and criticised the media for launching a “systematic campaign to malign Gujarat and the government”.

They also slammed the NDA partners seeking Modi’s sack.

“What you should be concerned about is how to build trust and confidence among the people,” Fernandes said.

The minister on a “healing mission” said: “It is time to create new future and not to look back at past.”

   
 

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