Assault puts engineering colleges on edge
Backlash fear after bumper crop
Stop-salary note to wean teachers off tuition
Naxalites mock CM with fresh hit-list
BJP plumps for poll patch-up with Mamata
Advani steadies Modi throne
Govt move to take load off banks
Cong warms to BJP duo
Jaitley ‘dream’ on fast track
Rivals spot rider in Jaya plastic Bill

 
 
ASSAULT PUTS ENGINEERING COLLEGES ON EDGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 7: 
The engineering colleges in the state are bracing for a one-day strike on Friday to protest against police assault on over 100 students of Jalpaiguri Government Engineering College last week.

Forty-six of them had to be treated in hospital after the “merciless” attack, college principal S.S. Chatterjee said over phone from Jalpaiguri today. Their fault: protesting against the large number of vacancies in teaching posts in their college.

The incident occurred last Thursday when students, fed up with the authorities’ refusal to act on their demand to fill up teaching posts, blocked National Highway 31.

“We have never blocked any road before, but that day we felt our grievances would be heard only if we took them outside the gates of the college,” a student said, explaining the decision to block an important thoroughfare.

College officials admitted to a large number of vacancies in the institute. The six departments — computer science, electronics, electrical, mechanical, civil and information technology — now function with only 23 full-time teachers, way below the number required to take classes catering to 900-plus students, say college officials.

“We have several part-time teachers without whose services coping with the syllabus will become very difficult,” one of them said.

The police had first thrashed the students with batons to remove them from the highway. They then followed them into the college later in the afternoon and beat up those who were hiding in their rooms, students alleged. The principal corroborated the sequence of events.

A second-year mechanical engineering department student explained the reason for the state-wide strike. “We were being forced to protest against a situation which, technically, should not have been our headache,” he said.

“But the way policemen beat us up made us feel that we were petty criminals,” his classmate said, adding that there were many students who suffered injuries on the head.

The students, besides organising the strike and a sit-in demonstration at Jadavpur University on Wednesday, plan to move the West Bengal Human Rights Commission.

“We will tell the commission what happened,” a student who fled the hostel to return to his Calcutta home said.

“This must be the first time in the recent past that policemen have entered a students’ hostel, broken down doors and then proceeded to beat up students,” another student added.

The college has seen no class since Thursday. With examinations for second-year students starting in the third week of this month, students say they will have to go back to the college. But they vow to keep up the protests.

The college principal said the authorities were now working for an early end to the impasse. Though students blamed him for the police attack, he said he was trying to restore normality in the institution as fast as possible.

“We will talk to the students and try to bring them back to the classrooms,” Chatterjee told The Telegraph.

   

 
 
BACKLASH FEAR AFTER BUMPER CROP 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 7: 
A bumper paddy crop has sowed seeds of discontent among farmers who are being forced to take refuge in distress sales.

The resentment of the farmers — a potent votebank for the ruling communists — has sparked concern in the CPM that it could snowball into a backlash against the Left Front.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today held a meeting with the state CPM leadership, including industries minister Nirupam Sen, finance minister Asim Dasgupta, state party chief Anil Biswas and Left Front chairman Biman Bose at Alimuddin Street to find ways to alleviate the farmers’ misery — a clear sign that the alarm bells have begun tolling.

Party sources said the party was trying through the CPM’s peasants’ front to persuade the farmers not to resort to any agitation over the distress sale.

The government is facing further embarrassment as it has failed to purchase about 6 lakh tonne of rice from the mills as promised earlier. Sources said the meeting discussed ways to raise funds — about Rs 60 crore — to purchase the rice.

A bumper kharif crop is virtually rotting in the barns even as prices slip by the hour. The price has gone well below the minimum support price of Rs 530 per quintal. “The price has plummeted to Rs 330 to 340 per quintal. In Burdwan, the price of aman paddy is Rs 280 per quintal. There is a lot of paddy, but there are no customers,” said a senior agriculture department official.

“The entire state is witnessing distress sale. Some of the worst affect districts are Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura and Hooghly,” said N.N. Trivedi, director, agriculture.

The problem is compounded as harvesting of about 60 lakh tonnes of boro crop has begun. With the barns overflowing with 144 lakh tonnes of bumper kharif crop, the total paddy production this year could go up to 150 lakh tonnes.

Trivedi said the prime reason behind the distress sale was the bumper crop that has crossed the 132-lakh tonne mark in 1999-2000, the highest since Independence.

Officials in the agriculture department also blamed Bangladesh’s refusal to import rice from Bengal as one of the reason behind the farmers’ misery.

“Even though Bangladesh grows more paddy than West Bengal, their consumption is almost double compared to our state. Every year they import rice from Bengal. But this year, there is virtually no demand as there has also been a bumper crop in Bangladesh,” said an official.

Another reason, say officials, is the stepped-up vigil along the Indo-Bangladesh border. A significant portion of the produce is usually smuggled out across the border. “But the heightened security has brought down this demand,” an official said.

   

 
 
STOP-SALARY NOTE TO WEAN TEACHERS OFF TUITION 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, May 7: 
The government is trying a new manoeuvre in its campaign to stop teachers of state-aided schools and universities from taking private tuition: it seems set to withhold payment of their salaries.

The administration today sent a fax to the district magistrate of Malda, directing him to ask the district inspector (DI) of schools not to release salaries for teachers unless teaching staff members submitted written declarations that they would not take private tuition.

Earlier, the government had sent circulars to the inspectors of school across the state, informing them of the government’s decision to make it mandatory for teachers of state-aided institutions to give written declarations that they would not engage in teaching students outside the classroom.

District administration sources said today’s order was the first of its kind since the government announced the ban on private tuition.

A large number of teachers of state-run primary and secondary schools held demonstrations in front of the DI office, protesting the delay in payment of salaries. Normally, teachers’ salaries are cleared by the second day of every month, they said.

“Acting on the previous circulars of the government, we had directed the teachers of each of the state-aided schools in the district to give a declaration in writing that they would not engage in private tuition and that they had no other source of income. But we have information that many teachers have not given the declaration as yet,” said Malda district magistrate Ashok Bala.

He admitted that he had received a circular from the finance department, asking teachers to give an undertaking on not taking private tuition.

Leaders of various teachers’ bodies, affiliated to anti-Left organisations in Calcutta, came down heavily on the state government for asking the district administration to stop payment of teachers’ salaries.

   

 
 
NAXALITES MOCK CM WITH FRESH HIT-LIST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Belpahari (Paschim Midnapore), May 7: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s stern warning to Peoples War Group activists to stop violence or face the state administration’s wrath has prompted the extremist outfit to issue a counter-threat to local CPM leaders that they will be annihilated soon.

Villagers said PWG activists held a night-long meeting at Asri village near here yesterday to discuss the chief minister’s threats and issued a counter-warning. The Naxalites said three important local CPM leaders would be murdered soon to prove that they are no pushovers.

Bhattacharjee had urged the PWG supporters, active in the adivasi-dominated areas of Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts, to give up arms and join the mainstream. He had warned of serious consequences if they continued their “politics of murder and violence and misled the poor adivasis”.

The three CPM leaders on the PWG’s immediate hit-list are Anil Mahato, member of the party’s Binpur zonal committee, Nimai Mandi, upa-pradhan of Banspahari gram panchayat, and Pelaram Tudu, a party leader of Bhulaveda.

A villager present at last night’s meeting said five masked PWG members, armed with sophisticated weapons, came to Asri village after midnight and woke up the people by knocking on their doors. Within an hour, the villagers assembled at a nearby ground to listen to the members of the extremist outfit.

One of the masked men announced the names of the three leaders and vowed to annihilate them shortly. The killings would be carried out to “counter the chief minister’s warning to us”, he added. Directing the villagers “not to serve as police informers”, he warned: “Otherwise, you will face similar consequences.”

District CPM secretariat member Dahar Sen, who has been looking after the party in the Jhargram sub-division, confirmed the PWG meeting. “They also hung a list containing the names of our three leaders on a tree, saying they are on their immediate hit-list,” he said.

Claiming that Asri was a CPM stronghold, Sen alleged that the PWG activists had forced the villagers to attend the meeting at gunpoint. He said he had conveyed news of the meeting to the district party secretary.

Local CPM leaders attributed the meeting to intelligence failure and lack of alertness on the part of the district police. Local police remained tight-lipped over the PWG warning. Bastab Baidya, sub-divisional police officer, Jhargram, said a big police contingent has been sent to the area.

   

 
 
BJP PLUMPS FOR POLL PATCH-UP WITH MAMATA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 7: 
BJP national executive member Devdas Apte, who has been handed the responsibility of overseeing the Bengal unit, today stressed the need for revival of the electoral understanding with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress for the coming elections in the state.

Five municipalities will go to polls on May 26 along with the Onda Assembly seat, where a byelection has been necessitated following the death of deputy Speaker Anil Mukherjee.

Apte, who has replaced party vice-president Kailashpati Mishra as central observer for the party’s Bengal unit, will visit the city tomorrow for the first time in his new capacity. He will meet party functionaries from across the state to take stock of the situation in the party.

“I feel that a tie-up with the Trinamul Congress is needed to strengthen the NDA,” he said. “I shall also concentrate on how to overhaul the organisation from the grassroots level so that it can effectively combat the ruling Communists as well as the Congress in the state.”

Apte’s observation assumes significance in BJP circles since it goes against Union minister of state for communications and state party heavyweight Tapan Sikdar’s earlier announcement that the party will fight the coming elections on its own. In one of his more recent attacks against Mamata, he criticised her for stalling Saturday’s eviction drive against illegal settlers along railway tracks between Lake Gardens and Dhakuria.

Apte also trained his gun on intra-party squabbles that weaken the organisation. “I shall hear everybody in the party, starting from key functionaries to ordinary members, to sort out the problems affecting the organisation,” he added.

Welcoming Apte’s decision, Trinamul president Sanjoy Bakshi today said electoral alliances with the BJP have already been forged in four municipalities out of the five going to polls.

“We have already clinched a seat-sharing deal with the BJP in Durgapur, Nalhati, Dhupguri and the Coopers’ Camp area. We are hopeful that some minor hurdles over poll adjustment in the Panskura municipality will be cleared in the next two or three days,” he said.

Bakshi admitted that teaming up with the Congress for the last Assembly polls had cost Trinamul dearly in organisational terms. “This was a political blunder on our part since the Congress is acting as the ‘B’ team of the ruling CPM,” he added.

He said the party has put up Sabyasachi Banerjee, a local school teacher from Bankura, as the party’s nominee for the Onda Assembly seat. “We shall request the BJP not to put up its nominee at Onda as part of our electoral adjustment,” he added.

State BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan, who called on Apte in Delhi last week, felt the BJP-Trinamul alliance would pose a threat to the ruling communists and the state Congress as well. “We are happy about the revival of the electoral alliance with the Trinamul Congress,” he said.

   

 
 
ADVANI STEADIES MODI THRONE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 7: 
Home minister L.K. Advani today told the BJP parliamentary party that the government had no plans to bring Gujarat under Central rule.

Addressing the meeting of the parliamentary party this morning, Advani tried to clarify that endorsing the Opposition-sponsored resolution in the Rajya Sabha did not mean that the government would invoke Article 356 and impose President’s rule in the state. The resolution had asked for Central intervention under Article 355.

BJP parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra, who briefed reporters on the meeting, quoted the home minister. “The resolution endorsed by the government (in the Rajya Sabha) was neither a censure motion nor a no-confidence motion,” the home minister was quoted as saying. “Article 356 implies action to bring a state under Central rule. There is no need for 356 after 355. One does not automatically follow the other.”

BJP sources said the clarification on Article 355 and Article 356 was necessitated by the “misconceptions” that arose in the minds of the party’s Lok Sabha MPs, who did not follow the discussion in the upper House closely. These MPs, they said, assumed that the Centre would issue stiff directives to the Gujarat government and later sack chief minister Narendra Modi to bring the state under Central rule.

The sources also said there was some confusion after the Prime Minister declared in the upper House that he had planned to remove Modi but decided against it after receiving inputs during the Goa national executive that it would escalate the violence.

Malhotra quoted Advani as saying that while the government wanted to pass joint resolutions in both Houses, the Opposition did not accept the two drafts that were shown to it before the motion was moved in the Lok Sabha. Therefore, the government had no choice but to go for a vote. In the Rajya Sabha, the home minister explained, the Congress-sponsored resolution was worked out in conjunction with the ruling party.

Carnage walkouts

Gujarat once again figured in the Lok Sabha today with an agitated Opposition staging a walkout over Advani’s “lacklustre” response on the issue of threatened closure of relief camps in the riot-hit state.

Advani said the Centre had no information the relief camps in Gujarat were forced to close down. Opposition members expressed dissatisfaction with Advani’s assurance that the government would discharge its constitutional duties thoroughly in Gujarat.

   

 
 
GOVT MOVE TO TAKE LOAD OFF BANKS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 7: 
In a move designed to clean up the books in the banking industry which is weighed down by bad debts worth almost Rs 1,00,000 crore, the government today approved a proposal to set up asset reconstruction companies that will take the burden off the banks.

The Cabinet cleared the proposal to enact a legislation which would allow the ARCs to securitise these financial assets (loans, advances and other receivables) and market them.

The Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Bill, 2002, is likely to be introduced during the current session of Parliament, sources said.

Analysts said: “The asset reconstruction company will be set up to bail out both banks and public financial institutions laden with non-performing assets (NPAs). It will be used to help out both banks and FIs with equity participation by multilateral institutions like International Finance Corporation and Asian Development Bank.”

More pension for MPs

The Cabinet also approved a proposal to amend the salary, allowances and pension under the Member of Parliament Act, 1954 to increase the pension of ex-MPs with two terms in the Lok Sabha and members of provisional Parliament.

   

 
 
CONG WARMS TO BJP DUO 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 7: 
The National Democratic Alliance is likely to finalise the name of its candidate for the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post after tonight’s Cabinet meeting. The government might make an official announcement tomorrow.

Among the front-runners are three Central ministers — petroleum minister Ram Naik, food and civil supplies minister Shanta Kumar and tourism and culture minister Jagmohan. All three are from the BJP.

The names of BJP parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra and Shiv Sena MP Manohar Joshi, the heavy industries minister, were also mentioned in official circles.

Although the BJP feels that the post should go to one of its members as it is the largest NDA constituent, party sources also floated the name of Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar.

With the railway minister’s name doing the rounds, there was speculation that if he did make it to the Speaker’s chair, it would pave the way for the return of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who held the portfolio before Nitish.

The process of evolving a consensus gained momentum this morning when parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan called on Congress president and leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi. Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi later told reporters that “certain names” were discussed. “It should be our effort to see that consensus emerges on the issue,” he added.

Congress sources said it was informally conveyed to Mahajan that the party’s choice would be either Naik or Shanta Kumar, both of whom are seen as “affable and fair” and men who tend to “play by the rules”.

The names of Malhotra and Joshi were rejected outright by the Congress. The party felt that Malhotra might be “partisan” as he was the BJP spokesman and its chief whip in the Lok Sabha. Joshi was rejected because of his Sena moorings.

BJP sources claimed Joshi’s name was included in the panel of candidates mainly to placate Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who has been jockeying for a larger share of the power pie for his MPs.

The Congress, it is believed, had no particular view on Jagmohan. But BJP sources were apprehensive about him because of the perception that he was “too much of a stickler for rules” and “lacked the flexibility running a House called for”.

The sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke to key allies over the phone to sound them out on the names being talked about.

Earlier in the day, Mahajan also spoke to the allies.

   

 
 
JAITLEY ‘DREAM’ ON FAST TRACK 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, May 7: 
The Supreme Court today cleared the way for forming fast track courts in all states, including “at least one court in every district”, by disposing of a petition challenging their constitutional validity.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice Arijit Passayat gave 18 directions to further strengthen the courts, a “dream” of law minister Arun Jaitley.

The law minister had gone “fast track” to set them up so that thousands of criminal cases, where the accused — mainly have-nots — languish in jail for years for petty offences, are solved quickly.

The case of Bengal’s Ajay Ghosh was an eye-opener. Ghosh, the longest incarcerated undertrial in the history of independent India, spent 37 years in jail from 1962 to 1999.

The then Chief Justice, A.S. Anand, had spoken of the necessity to speed up trials at least in such cases during the golden jubilee celebrations of the Indian judiciary.

In today’s judgment, the bench dismissed the plea that the “Constitution does not envisage establishment of fast track courts”. The judges said: “This plea is clearly without any substance.”

In their order, the judges said that for appointment of judges to these courts, first preference should be given to “eligible judicial officers” who would be promoted. Retired judges, who have good service records, would be given second preference, while third preference would be given to lawyers practising at various bars. No judicial officer, who was dismissed or removed, shall be considered for appointment.

The apex court said that recommendations to appoint judges to the fast track courts “shall” be made by a committee of at least three judges of the high court concerned.

In its set of 18 directions, the court also said that a public prosecutor is necessary for effective functioning of these courts.

The apex court said a state-level empowered committee, headed by the chief secretary of the concerned state, “shall monitor” the formation of the FTCs.

“At least” one administrative judge shall be nominated in each high court to monitor the disposal of cases by these courts, the bench added.

The court also ordered that tri-monthly status reports have to be submitted to it by each high court and the state government.

So far, 1,734 fast track courts are scheduled to be set up, covering “at least one per district”, according to the Union law ministry. The Eleventh Finance Commission has allocated Rs 502.90 crore under Article 275 of the Constitution for setting up these courts.

Jaitley has said that more fast track courts will be set up in the coming months.

   

 
 
RIVALS SPOT RIDER IN JAYA PLASTIC BILL 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, May 7: 
The Jayalalithaa government today unwrapped a Bill to battle the plastic menace to environment but the Opposition saw beneath the litter of legalese a clause that could be used to settle political scores.

One of the objectives of the legislation is to ban glossy plastic wrappers used by periodicals and magazines in the state.

Several Opposition legislators, including a member of former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram’s party, expressed concern over a provision that allows “search-and-seizure” operations on premises under a cloud.

The Bill permits a crackdown on premises where it is reasonably suspected that an offence under the proposed Act has been committed or is “about to be committed”.

The authorities can seize plastic articles stored in any place with intent to sell or transport. Violators of the law will attract fines ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 25,000. The state pollution control board or the authorised officer cannot be prosecuted for action taken in good faith against violators of the law.

The Opposition feels that the clause leaves room for the government, known for the midnight knock on former chief minister M. Karunanidhi, to use plastic wrappers as an excuse to harass unfavourable publications.

The Bill to provide for “prohibition of sale, storage, transport and use of certain plastic articles for the protection of the environment and public health” was introduced in the Assembly by minister for forest and environment P. Mohan.

It lays down that “no person shall sell, store, distribute or transport any magazine or periodical packed in plastic wrapper”.

The Bill also proposes to ban any person from selling, storing, transporting or using any “non-reusable carry bag, cup, tumbler or plate made of, or containing, plastic and such other article as may be notified by the government in this behalf”.

However, the new law would not apply to the sale, transport or storing of plastic articles or magazines packed in glossy plastic covers for sale or use outside Tamil Nadu.

From the date notified by the government under this proposed Act, “no owner or person in charge of any food establishment shall use or permit the use of any plastic article in such food establishments”.

The Bill lists plastic articles as “non-reusable carry bag, cup, tumbler, plate, spoon, fork, knife, straw, box, string, cord, sheet, mat or other articles made of or containing plastic, and such other articles as may be notified by the government”.

The fine on food establishments violating the ban on use of plastics could go up to Rs 50,000. They could also be lapped with an additional fine of Rs 10,000 per day for every single day of “continuing contravention” after the first conviction.

Power applause

Members across party lines applauded Jayalalithaa for rolling back the stiff electricity tariff hike imposed on powerloom weavers in December.

The move would translate into a loss-reduction, if not a clear money-saving proposition, for both the powerloom and the handloom weavers in Tamil Nadu.

The chief minister also totally revoked the one per cent luxury tax levied in this year’s budget for silk sarees that cost beyond Rs 3,000. Only two days back she had said that the tax would be waived for the smaller shops selling silk.

   
 

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