Bonfire of books on the grounds of National Library
UP hard bargain minus Rajnath
Gujarat bleeds despite George
BJP bags Naidu vote assurance
Generous Indian pays for IAF greed
Bonded labour trap for Rs 11
School friend joins riot rush
Crowd trouble from juniors
Railways under vehicles Act
Calcutta Weather

 
 
BONFIRE OF BOOKS ON THE GROUNDS OF NATIONAL LIBRARY 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, April 21: 
National Library, one of the richest and oldest repositories of books in the country, was witness to an act of arson this afternoon that left it poorer by several volumes, a few of them dating back to an era when it was called the Imperial Library.

However, the library authorities were singularly vague about the entire incident, claiming they were unaware how it happened. Senior officials said “some” library staff performed the “unthinkable” and “unpardonable” act. The books that went up in flames were “some” volumes the library had in its collection for “some” years. And “some”, again, was the number of books that were lost thus. And it all started “some” time on Sunday when no one — other than the arsonist/s — was apparently around.

Although it could have been the act of over-zealous staff who felt the best way of disposing of old volumes was to burn them with used-up tube-lights and empty packets of mothballs, no one had any answer to the recurring indefinites — and the mystery — hidden in the word “some”.

More prodding evoked a plausible theory that could explain the act of arson. The unions have been protesting against extensions given to two library officials, in charge on Sundays. Officials hinted that the act of arson could be a sabotage stage-managed by the unions to put the duo, security officer S.P. Singh and assistant librarian Mazaharul Islam, in the dock.

Saibal Chakraborty, one of the leaders of the National Library Staff Association, first saw what was happening. “I entered the library around 1.30 pm and saw wisps of smoke coming from the direction of the ground near the annexe building,” he said.

Curious, he walked to the plot and saw something burning. As he approached closer, he found there were some books in the pile of offal that had been left to burn. Most of the heap had been burnt beyond recovery or recognition but, still, some things stood out. They were some tube-lights, some packets of preservatives. And some books.

The titles of two books which were recovered in a semi-charred state read like this: A Narrative of the Black Hole (dating from the pre-Independence era when the library was called Imperial Library) and A Hindu View of Life, written by the country’s second President, Sarvapalle Radhakrishnan (enlisted on 28 August 1951 and no. 290409).

Chakraborty contacted the security guards, who were busy taking turns on a motorcycle on the campus. “They could not tell me about anyone who could have done this,” he said.

Library director S.K. Chakrabarti heard the news from the media. “The first thing I am going to do tomorrow is initiate a probe to find the culprit,” he said.

Library and information officer H.P. Gedam said: “We normally send old books to the preservation section.” He admitted that an on-the-spot inquiry had confirmed his worst fears: that several books had been burnt.

   

 
 
UP HARD BARGAIN MINUS RAJNATH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 21: 
The process of forming a government in Uttar Pradesh got a further fillip today after state BJP president Kalraj Mishra and the Prime Minister’s constituency manager Lalji Tandon called on chief minister-in-waiting Mayavati here today.

Sources from both the camps described the outcome as “positive” but added that hard bargaining was still on to settle the BJP’s demand for the home portfolio in the state.

An uncertain note was struck by former chief minister Rajnath Singh, who was to have accompanied Mishra and Tandon. BJP sources said he stayed away after he felt his presence would send a “wrong message” to his constituency.

However, the sources were quick to add that home minister L.K. Advani had managed to “persuade” Rajnath to give up his opposition to the alliance.

It seemed certain that Singh would be inducted into the Central party organisation for fear that his continuance in Lucknow may sour the alliance before it completed its term in office.

Until last week, when the state leaders had their first formal meeting with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other Central leaders in Delhi, Singh had been making public his reservations.

Sources said Mishra and Tandon called on Mayavati to thrash out the nitty-gritty of government formation, finalise the distribution of portfolios and decide whether to have a deputy chief minister or not.

It appeared that Tandon was keen on the post but the BSP was not. Sources claimed Tandon’s rapport with Mayavati — he is her “rakhi” brother — may eventually swing the bargain in his favour.

At today’s meeting, it was decided that the Cabinet would be “medium-sized” with a maximum of 32 ministers. The posts would be shared equally between the BJP and the BSP, though the former has 10 more legislators.

While Mayavati has agreed to concede a few posts to Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, she was reportedly against making Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lokjanshakti Party a partner of the coalition.

   

 
 
GUJARAT BLEEDS DESPITE GEORGE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT AND AGENCIES
 
Ahmedabad, April 21: 
The wail of Gujarat reached the ears of defence minister George Fernandes over a cell phone today as the worst clashes in a month erupted in the state, killing 17 people.

As many as 13 people died when police opened fire on clashing mobs and a policeman was hacked to death. The brunt of the flare-up was borne by Ahmedabad’s Gomtipur — an area toured by Fernandes yesterday.

The clashes spread to more areas in the city by nightfall. The army has been called out in the labour-dominated Gomtipur, Bapunagar and Rakkhiyal localities of Ahmedabad.

When the clashes broke out at Gomtipur, Fernandes was chairing a harmony meeting less than 10 km away and drawing up plans to lead a peace march next week to refurbish the image of the state.

Mohsin Qadri, a minority community leader who attended the all-religion peace meeting, said he received calls for help on his cell phone from residents of Gomtipur.

When a resident called to say that his house was being attacked by a mob, a desperate Qadri handed over the phone to Fernandes. Qadri said the minister heard out the caller.

Police sources said that last night a group of drunks had hurled stones at houses of a particular community, provoking a retaliation that eventually spun out of control and resulted in the death of the policeman.

Policemen refused to go to Gomtipur, saying they feared for their lives. The army and the Rapid Action Force were then deployed.

Sporadic clashes have been steadily adding to the body count — it has shot past 800 — but the scale of today’s violence was far higher than that over a month.

Wrapping up his “healing mission” in the evening, Fernandes said “some people” were bent on creating tension and a lot needed to be done to restore communal harmony. Declining to name the “some people”, he said: “I am not here to identify anyone but efforts are being made by certain quarters so that peace is disturbed.”

Fernandes said he would lead a “people’s march for peace” on April 28. “It is the question of Gujarat’s image.… In fact, our invitation will be on that line, requesting all and sundry.” However, he said it might not be possible for the Prime Minister to participate.

Asked if the invitees would include disgruntled partners like Chandrababu Naidu and Mamata Banerjee, he said: “Everybody means everybody. I want even you to be there, but don’t come to report who did not turn up.”

The defence minister said the president of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce would set up a core group from all communities to oversee the peace process.

Fernandes’ deputy, Harin Pathak, said in Delhi that the army would remain in Gujarat until normality was restored.

   

 
 
BJP BAGS NAIDU VOTE ASSURANCE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 21: 
An early end to the Parliament deadlock seemed unlikely as Gujarat saw a fresh bout of violence today.

Against the backdrop of renewed blood-letting, the Opposition is not expected to give up its demand for a discussion on Gujarat under Rule 184, which entails voting.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried to bring down the political temperature and mollify the Opposition by assuring that those perpetrating violence would be punished regardless of their religion, caste and political affiliations.

On a visit to Dibrugarh, Vajpayee said people’s lives, property and self-respect would be protected at any cost. In Delhi, home minister L.K. Advani joined in, saying there was no place for “revenge” in the country. He added that “what happened in Godhra was wrong and what happened after Godhra was equally wrong”.

Even as the BJP stood firm against Rule 184, confident party sources today maintained that if there was a division of votes, the Opposition would be outnumbered. Their confidence stemmed from the Telugu Desam Party’s decision not to support a Congress-sponsored motion even as it claimed it would continue pressing for the ouster of Narendra Modi.

A Desam spokesman said in Hyderabad: “The party will not support any motion under Rule 184 but will seek a full-fledged debate under any other rule.”

Desam had earlier indicated that it was not averse to a debate under the voting rule but pressure from its MPs apparently forced Chandrababu Naidu to soften his stand.

Desam’s latest stand and its implications for the NDA’s floor strategy on Gujarat are expected to be discussed at a meeting of the coalition MPs on Tuesday. This is the first time that a meeting of the NDA parliamentary party has been called in this session.

BJP sources interpreted the statements emanating from Hyderabad as a “more or less firm commitment” from Naidu of voting in the NDA’s favour. The other basis of the BJP’s growing confidence was its alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, which is on the verge of being sewn up. If a BSP-BJP government is in place in Lucknow by next week, sources claimed that the ruling coalition could face the challenge of a division of votes “much more confidently”.

Not only would the NDA have enough and more numbers, but a discussion on Gujarat would necessarily involve the issue of Modi’s leadership. If the motion was voted out, the BJP sources said it would amount to securing a “seal of approval” from Parliament for the embattled chief minister.

   

 
 
GENEROUS INDIAN PAYS FOR IAF GREED 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, April 21: 
The wealthy Sikh businessman, who is funding the search for an Englishman missing in the Himalayan foothills, announced here today that he will also pay a reward of Rs 1 lakh to anyone who can establish the whereabouts of 25-year-old Joel Kitchen.

Kartar Lalvani is in daily touch with Joel’s distraught parents, William and Angie Kitchen, who are now in Delhi, having flown to India at the expense of their beneficiary. “I have said this reward money of Rs 1 lakh, which has been offered, is also from my side,” said Lalvani.

Joel’s parents had to scrape together savings of £18,000 to pay the Indian Air Force to conduct a search of the Himalayan foothills where Joel went missing while paragliding on April 7. The search was called off when Joel’s parents were unable to find more money demanded by the IAF, which has come across in British media reports as being singularly grubby and mean-spirited.

Joel’s parents had pleaded for the IAF to continue the search on “humanitarian grounds” but the plea was rejected, Lalvani alleged.

Joel had been on a cycling holiday with his girlfriend for the past 18 months. The couple reached India after travelling through Europe. Joel went paragliding with a group of friends but failed to reach his planned destination and had not made any safety calls. His father, a 51-year-old primary school teacher, said: “We still believe Joel could be alive, lost in a remote region.”

Those who know Lalvani, 70, who owns Viabotics, a vitamin and nutrition company in London, say he acted with impetuous and characteristic generosity after learning that William and Angie Kitchen, a teacher and a nurse from Brightlingsea, Essex, were not immediately able to meet the demands of the Indian Air Force.

“I was shamed into acting, especially as we Indians are proud of our tradition of hospitality,” Lalvani said.

Lalvani, who has two grown-up sons and a daughter aged 15, said he first learnt of the missing Englishman from his wife, Rohini, just as he was about to go to bed at midnight. She had read about it in Metro, a free sheet published by the Daily Mail.

At 1 am, Lalvani hunted down the newspaper in his daughter’s bedroom. The next morning, he telephoned Joel’s mother. “She was sobbing, she could hardly utter a word,” he said.

Lalvani acted quickly, bought tickets for the Kitchens, invited them to his home and handed them over. The following day, Joel’s parents were on their way to India.

But this was not enough. Using all his contacts, Lalvani secured the services of a private helicopter charter firm in Delhi, found it belonged to the subsidiary of a company owned by Rajan Nanda of Escorts, spoke to him and ensured the first sortie was launched immediately.

“The air force had taken all the money but done only 50-60 per cent of the search,” he said.

Lalvani’s bill so far has come to £7,500. “Rajan Nanda has said he will personally foot the rest of the bill,” revealed Lalvani.

A party of 100 villagers has also launched a search by foot.

Lalvani said he was not a particularly religious man. “I hardly go to gurdwaras or temples but as far as I am concerned there is one religion and that is the religion of compassion. The essence of Sikhism is that you live to serve people. I am grateful I have had this opportunity,” he said.

In marked contrast to the behaviour of the IAF and the authorities in India, Britain has a tradition of going out of its way to look for people missing at sea or in the mountains, Lalvani pointed out.

He added that an MP from Essex had said that “if an Indian went missing here, the whole of Britain would rise up in protest if anyone said money was needed before a search. This MP said the British would not rest until something was done. I felt ashamed as an Indian. Perhaps it was a communications gap between the Indian Air Force and the Indian government,” Lalvani commented charitably.

   

 
 
BONDED LABOUR TRAP FOR RS 11 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, April 21: 
Eleven rupees was all that they had borrowed. And then worked the skin off their backs free for two months for failing to repay the loan.

The ordeal of 55-year-old Sital Ram, his wife and two children, who spent two months working as bonded labourers for a landlord in Bihar’s West Champaran district, would have continued if state labour officers had not rescued them.

The family of four is among 192 bonded labourers who were identified and rescued by the district administration during a four-month survey.

Ram’s bondage, after his failure to repay the loan he had taken last November when his son came down with malaria, took place in Bagha, not far from Bhitiharwa village where Mahatma Gandhi had set up an ashram. “The bondage of the poor family is a blot on our civilisation,” said Bagha superintendent of police A. Ambedkar.

Land reforms in the district have been erratic. Aware of the condition of the backward castes, Gandhi had set up the ashram in 1917, hoping to improve their lot. Eighty-five years later, the ashram is in ruins and the area has become notorious for the practice of bonded labour. Ram’s family is not the only one; nine members of a Dalit family were also found working as bonded labourers in a landlord’s house.

“We have learnt that the poor Dalits of the area were forced to drink urine and made to serve the rich in sub-human conditions,” said Ravi Parmer, the district’s magistrate.

Since the mid-eighties, 10,000 bonded labourers were freed in Bihar after Swami Agnivesh’s crusade. Agnivesh had even declared West Champaran free of the evil. But the practice continued, mainly because of shrinking jobs and the failure to implement rehabilitation measures. Apparently, many of the released labourers returned to their masters because of poverty.

Two years ago, when a non-government organisation reported this, the state labour department decided to carry out a fresh survey. “The survey is still continuing,” Parmer said, but feared that the final tally could be “much higher”.

State labour minister Upendra Kumar Verma said the government has asked for a comprehensive report. “The labour department is committed to wiping out this practice and all measures of rehabilitating the poor will be undertaken,” Verma said.

Sources in the district administration said most of the 192 bonded labourers were from Lawria and Manatar, a block associated with Gandhi’s satyagraha. In both places, 48 people were rescued. Thirty-six were rescued from Chanpatia, 18 from Ramnagar and six from Bairia. All of them had failed to repay loans they had taken.

In some cases, people were also found trapped on their own land, which had been fraudulently sold to the present owner.

The district administration has slapped notices on the accused landlords along with fines, applying provisions of the Bonded Labour Abolition Act. The state police are planning to book them under the Minimum Wages Act and the Prevention of Dalit Atrocities Act.

The landlords say they are being singled out because they criticised the government on its faulty welfare issues and pointed out financial irregularities by a section of RJD ministers.

   

 
 
SCHOOL FRIEND JOINS RIOT RUSH 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, April 21: 
Imtiaz Mansuri made one mistake: he took his friendship with Gunwant Patel seriously.

Once, when Gunwant had consumed pesticide, it was Imtiaz who rushed him to hospital in his jeep, saving his life. They had been to school together. Imtiaz believed the bonds of friendship were deep.

So, the 24-year-old couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Gunwant leading a mob that burnt his house early last month. A few days later, the same mob returned to loot his house. “It was unbelievable,” said Imtiaz.

With friends having turned foes, the 50-odd Muslim families which migrated from Ider — Imtiaz’s native village in Sabarkantha — are not ready to go back to the Hindu-dominated village.

Ider, 25 km from district headquarters Himmatnagar, is the political nerve centre of Sabarkantha. Many top BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders of the district are from this village.

According to Imtiaz, everything was all right in his village till March 4. A small section of Hindus ensured that the minorities were not attacked despite pressure from rioters in nearby villages.

But they couldn’t prevail for long. “Even Hindu friends deserted us,” said Imtiaz. On March 6, houses and shops owned by the minority community were attacked.

Fearing more attacks, all Muslim families left the village the next day for “safer places”. Most fled to Himmatnagar, some to Muslim-dominated villages.

Some of these Muslim families, including that of Imtiaz, now living in the district headquarters, were about to return to their village after a “peace committee” was formed as part of the government’s effort to restore confidence and normality.

“We had decided to go back to the village after Holi. Our plan to return home suffered a setback when our house was looted. Everything they could lay their hands on, they took away…. There is no point in going back to the village which has turned so hostile.”

Imtiaz’s father, a revenue official, has decided to sell his house, and whatever land he owns.

For the past two weeks, about 10 Muslim families have started visiting their village. They go during the day, and are back by sunset to the “safer places”. They are going during the day because they have no choice: they own small shops in the villages or do odd jobs.

Given a choice, they will never return. If they have begun to distrust their friends, they are also sceptical of peace committees.

   

 
 
CROWD TROUBLE FROM JUNIORS 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, April 21: 
Television producers think they are a menace. They storm into sets, stop shooting, or demand large sums of money and get them — and never look good enough.

With the rise of game shows and talk shows — not to mention quiz shows — the demand for crowds on the telly is increasing. Producers want a “live” audience, of “real” people, or at least people who look good, not misshapen, shabbily dressed “extras”.

The junior artists are out of work more than ever. But they don’t like it at all and producers say that they show it quite often.

“They come to the shooting and demand that at least 30 per cent of the actors in a crowd scene has to be hired from the Junior Artists’ Association,” says Tarun Chopra, producer of the Zee show, Nilam Ghar.

“This has to stop. I have paid about Rs 2.5 lakh to the junior artists. Otherwise they forcefully stop shooting,” says Chopra, who has also produced live shows like Ek Minute and Star Yaar Kalakaar.

Actor-turned-producer Deepak Tijori says he didn’t have to pay up, but says the junior artists caused enough trouble. “I was shooting an episode of Saturday Suspensewhen the association people demanded that their members be included. Since then I have had no choice, but to use junior artists, even if they did not look the roles at all.”

Junior artists, who have the support of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees, always had a difficult relationship with men with the money. Previously, it was the film producers who were grumbling, but still grudgingly used them in dance scenes, weddings or parties.

With the “look” of things having changed and blow-dried, gym-shaped dancers having replaced yesterday’s “extras”, there are less takers for junior artists.

On television, where parties abound and everything happens in plush homes, making the processed look that much more important, the junior artists are even less wanted.

“They never look good. They are fat. Why should I take someone who doesn’t look good? He will spoil my party scene. Why should I take someone who is fat? He will spoil my dance sequence,” says Tijori.

“I can get an aspiring model or actor for much less per day,” he says. “A junior artist charges the same fees — whether it’s a film or a television job. It comes to Rs 750 per person, whereas I can get an actor from outside at Rs 300.”

But Aziz Khan, vice-president of the 800-member Junior Artists’ Association, does not deny that the artists have staged “protests”. “Lekin yeh to hamara majburi hai,” he says.

He says the association has everything that a producer wants and it’s unfair of the producers to hire people from outside.

“We have two classes of men. The “A” class actors, who charge Rs 470 per day, make good doctors, lawyers, etc. The “B” class, who charge Rs 300, are for village scenes,” he says.

“As for women, we have even greater variety. The “super-class”, who charge Rs 525 a day, are the best variety. They wear short dresses and are good for party scenes and dances. Then there are the “middle-class” women who charge Rs 450 per day and the “lower” class which charges Rs 350. The agent takes a commission of 25 per cent,” Aziz says.

“We are also actors. We have spent our lives dreaming of making it big one day. When we are here, ready for work, why will the producers overlook us and give other people work?” he asks.

“That’s why, when that happens, we move in,” he says.

   

 
 
RAILWAYS UNDER VEHICLES ACT 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, April 21: 
The railways will have to pay compensation according to the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act in case of an accident with a motor vehicle, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The railways had insisted that the motor vehicle accidents claim tribunal under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939, did not have the power to direct it to pay compensation to relatives of accident victims.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice G.B. Pattanaik, Justice S.N. Phukan and Justice S.N. Variava rejected this, saying: “… the jurisdiction of the (claims) tribunal to entertain application arising out of the use of motor vehicle depends essentially on the fact whether there had been any use of motor vehicle.”

The case started after relatives of an accident caused when a taxi collided with the Allahabad-Saharanpur passenger claimed compensation.

The tribunal awarded compensation to the applicants. But the railways refused to pay. This was challenged in a high court, which also upheld the tribunal’s order. The issue was finally taken up to the level of the Supreme Court.

It was later found that the accident was due to the negligence of the railway employees manning the level-crossing.

Often, this crossing was kept open to highway traffic even when trains were supposed to pass.

The railways contended that the tribunal was within its rights to go into the question of the fault or negligence of the motor vehicle but this did not extend to the railways. So, it could not order the railways to pay compensation.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 36.7°C (+1)
Minimum: 27.4°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 92%
Min: 45%

Sunrise: 5.14 am

Sunset: 5.36 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts
   
 

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