Horses for Bengal’s border courses
Mill murder cloud on union leader
Hunt for Kamtapuri militants
Uniform excise to plug liquor smuggling
George bungles, this time on Pak
Christina cushion for ‘blue-eyed boy’
BJP sounds war rattle
Terror tracks reach cellphone toters
Stormy start to UP House
GenX clones of Big Two

Haridaspur (North 24-Parganas), May 15: 
For the first time in Bengal, the Border Security Force (BSF) will use horses to patrol the India-Bangladesh boundary.

Four horses have already been pressed into service to monitor a 14-km stretch here.

“The new concept has been used to get better results. The mounted jawans can go wherever they want while chasing intruders and smugglers,” said J.P. Uniyal, commandant of 100 battalion that keeps watch along Petrapole. Horses are already in use on the Indo-Pak border.

Within a few days of deploying the new force, the BSF apprehended 414 infiltrators and seized smuggled goods worth Rs 78 lakh.

“Our job will become a little easier during the monsoon. Now we can easily go through muddy roads and courtyards and enter villages,” said Senthil Kumar, assistant commandant of the 100 battalion.

The BSF introduced mounted jawans following the attack on the American Center in Calcutta. “It is known that the frontier areas of North 24-Parganas district are some of the easiest routes for intruders. Those involved in subversive activities are taking advantage of the topography,” said Uniyal.

The mounted jawans have been instructed to keep a close watch on Jayantipur village, the easiest safe passage for infiltrators. “This hamlet is our headache. Almost all the inhabitants, including 10 to 12-year-old children, are involved in infiltration and smuggling. The villagers offer refuge to the infiltrators in their mud huts. It is not possible for us to search every house,” said Uniyal.

What adds to the BSF’s woes are the three village ponds located on the border. With three narrow dividers separating the ponds, intruders cross over to India in the guise of bathers.

The BSF is also concerned about the 4-km stretch from Behra to Sutia that is yet to be fenced. Barbed fencing cannot be erected till a few hundred families living close to the border are rehabilitated. “Our jawans deployed on this stretch are doing their best. They have also been given night-vision binoculars,” said Uniyal.


May 15: 
Police suspect the hand of some trade union activists in yesterday’s murder of a jute mill personnel manager in Bhadreshwar.

Suresh Prasad, 45, was shot at by two motorcycle-borne miscreants near the gate of Dalhousie Jute Mill while he was on his way home at 8.30 pm.

An injured Prasad was taken to Gourhati Hospital and then shifted to Chandannagore Government Hospital, where he was declared dead.

Though the mill’s three shifts were not hampered, workers stopped work for an hour in the morning as a mark of respect for the slain manager. A police team was present to avoid any untoward incident.

Besides the police, some mill-workers also point to the possible involvement of Raju Jaiswal, leader of the pro-Naxalite Indian Federation of Trade Union (IFTU). Jaiswal had organised a violent agitation on the mill premises following the retrenchment of seven IFTU activists, including himself, on May 4.

Jaiswal’s house in Champdani was raided soon after Prasad died on Tuesday night. However, Jaiswal and his associates were found absconding.

The police has interrogated the mill’s gate man, Ram Yadav, who had filed a complaint, saying he had heard two gunshots.

Trouble erupted on May 7 after Jaiswal and six other union activists were retrenched. The police said their involvement in the murder could not be ruled out as there was an altercation between the management and the activists for the past one week.

On Tuesday, the weekly pay day, Jaiswal and the other retrenched workers demanded reemployment.

Despite an agitation inside the personnel manager’s office, Prasad refused to concede to their demand. After an altercation, Jaiswal allegedly threatened him.

On hearing the commotion, the workers drove out Jaiswal and his companions. Though the wages were paid without a hitch, Prasad was shot at when he came out of the mill in the evening.

Additional superintendent of police H.K. Kusumakar suspects vengeance to be the cause of the murder. “On the basis of the incident that had taken place recently, we suspect the hands of IFTU supporters behind the killing,’’ he said.

The suspicion of the police bolstered further after the IFTU leaders were found missing following Prasad’s murder.

Condemning the incident, the president of the Indian Jute Mills Association, R.K. Poddar, today said it was unfortunate and that the mill-owners were shocked.


Siliguri, May 15: 
A joint team of the army and police has launched a combing operation to arrest militants of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation after they escaped during an encounter on Tuesday.

Two persons, including a militant and the rebels’ car driver, were arrested. They were produced before the sub-divisional magistrate court today and remanded in police custody for 10 days.

One militant was killed in the encounter with the armymen in front of the North Bengal University, where the rebels had gathered.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the arrested rebel, Subhas Roy, a Jalpaiguri resident, was trained in handling sophisticated firearms. Following his interrogation, the police dispatched a team to Ambari and Rajganj in Jalpaiguri district.

The police also raided several possible hideouts in and around the town to nab the militants. Police sources said the rebels have probably taken shelter in or near Siliguri and Jalpaiguri.


Calcutta, May 15: 
The state government has initiated a move to evolve a “uniform” excise policy in east India to end the “unhealthy competition” among neighbouring states on fixing the prices of liquor.

Minister for parliamentary affairs and excise Probodh Chandra Sinha said talks to launch the scheme has already begun. “Only today I discussed the matter with a five-member team from Jharkhand. Ours is the best-run state from the point of excise administration. We have been following the Bengal Excise Act, 1909.”

Once a uniform policy was in place, smuggling from states with lower liquor prices would end, explained Sinha.

The excise department’s profit would also go up as the expenditure on manning interstate check-posts would decline, the minister added.

The revenue collected by the excise department during 2001-2002 was Rs 511 crore, Rs 52 crore higher than that of previous fiscal year. Revenue earned from Calcutta itself was more than Rs 200 crore.

The department aims to collect Rs 610 crore in the current financial year.

Sinha said there are some 1,500 licensed liquor shops in the state. The government issued licence for 250 new shops last year, of which 80 could not be opened because of protests from local residents and “vested interests”, the minister added.


New Delhi, May 15: 
George Fernandes has done it again — shot off his big mouth. And once more, it has thrown India’s foreign policy out of gear.

At a time when policy planners and strategists in South Block are trying to convince the world that India is running out of patience with Pakistan, the defence minister has gone on record saying Delhi would not go to war with Islamabad, whatever the provocation.

The remarks have displeased the government at a time when India is desperately trying to convince the world that its patience is on a short fuse.

In an interview with The New York Times on Monday, Fernandes said India had no plans to launch a military attack against Pakistan in the coming months, even if severely provoked. This is in direct contrast to the tough message that India is trying to convey to Pakistan.

The NYT has quoted US officials as saying that they have been told, in private, by Indian officials that Delhi is fast approaching the time when it would have to decide whether to take military action against Pakistan.

Unlike Fernandes, foreign minister Jaswant Singh has maintained the ambiguity. In a newspaper interview on Saturday, when asked what India would do, he said: “Don’t ask me this question. It’s not fair. As a responsible member of the government, I cannot answer this question.”

Fernandes, on the other hand, ruled out military action against Pakistan, at least till elections are held in Jammu and Kashmir, probably in September. “We do not want the elections to be disrupted at any cost,” he told the NYT.

Days after the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power in 1998, Fernandes had caused major embarrassment to the foreign ministry by describing China as India’s “potential enemy number one”. The remark, understandably, peeved the Chinese leadership and threw bilateral relations with Beijing into the deep freeze. It took months of diplomatic effort to reassure China that Fernandes was a bit of a “maverick” and his comments should not be seen as belonging to the Indian government.

Fernandes’ attempt to reassure the US that India would not go to war with Pakistan has once again created a problem for South Block mandarins. Predictably, most of them are unhappy with the defence minister’s comments. “Fernandes has hardly changed from his days as the railway union leader,” a senior Indian diplomat said.

Though India deployed over 7,00,000 soldiers along the border with Pakistan following the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament, it had managed to reassure the outside world that it would not break its restraint with Islamabad. However, more than six months later, the Indian leadership is seriously questioning whether its policy of restraint has achieved the desired results vis-à-vis Pakistan.

New unit for Agni II

The army will raise a new unit to induct the Agni II missile that, defence experts say, is capable of delivering a nuclear payload.

This will be the army’s second missile formation, Fernandes said in the Rajya Sabha.

The army already has a missile unit, known as the “333 missile group”, that is usually based in Secunderabad. It was deployed in the mobilisation under Operation Parakram.

The 333 missile group is in charge of the 250-km-range surface-to-surface Prithvi missile. The Agni II is also a surface-to-surface missile and could give the army the capability of a second retaliatory nuclear strike.


New Delhi, May 15: 
US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca today reaffirmed that Pervez Musharraf was still the “blue-eyed boy” of the Bush administration and Washington would do nothing to embarrass the Pakistan President, at least for now.

Hours before she boarded a flight for Islamabad, Rocca made it clear that the US-led campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan could not be equated with the brewing tension in India-Pakistan relations.

“The war on Afghanistan, in which both India and Pakistan have been our partners, and we hope they continue to remain so, and the tension between the two neighbours, I don’t think can be equated,” she said at a news conference at the US embassy here this morning.

“Or at least I would not like to describe them as the same thing,” Rocca, who arrived here on Monday to convince Delhi and Islamabad not to break their restraint, added.

The remarks may not go down well with the Indian leadership. And precisely for the same reason, may be lapped up by Islamabad’s military rulers. But their importance lies more in the nuance than the direct meaning of what she said.

Anticipating that her remarks may be misconstrued in Delhi, embassy officials tried to explain that Rocca was in no way trying to condone the terrorist acts against India.

Later, she was even asked to issue a clarification. “My current mission is to reduce tension between India and Pakistan, which is a separate issue from our campaign in Afghanistan,” she said, describing the standoff between the nuclear twins as a “very complicated one”.

“But terrorism is terrorism. Terrorism against any country is part of the war on terrorism. This administration has been consistent on this from President Bush to ambassador Blackwill...” Rocca added.

In discussions yesterday, Indian leaders had conveyed to the US official that her call for restraint should be delivered to Pakistan, as it had not kept its promise of stopping cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. India also made it clear that it would neither withdraw troops from the border with Pakistan, nor would it return to the talks table until Islamabad took serious, urgent and visible steps to address Delhi’s concerns.

Rocca, however, was careful not to say anything that might embarrass Musharraf. Although she condemned yesterday’s terrorist strike in Jammu, she restricted herself to denouncing the evil in general terms taking care not to bring it in while attributing causes to the current India-Pakistan standoff.

But on certain areas, she did make concessions. “Infiltration across the Line of Control has to stop,” Rocca said. “Irrespective of the fact whether it has gone up in the past few months or not, it is counter-productive and must stop.”

Rocca claimed that the Bush administration has always remained focused on South Asia and because of the current tension between India and Pakistan, Washington’s level of concern was very high.

The US government would continue to engage with the leadership of the two countries to reduce tension, she said, but made it clear that ultimately it was for the estranged neighbours to decide which was the best way to do it.

“Nothing could be resolved without negotiations and the two sides would have to start talking to each other,” Rocca added.


New Delhi, May 15: 
Stung by yesterday’s attack on the Jammu army camp, the BJP today warned that “war cannot be ruled out” if Pakistan goes on backing terrorists and lashed out at the US for doing nothing to stop cross-border terrorism.

“War is not ruled out but the decision has to be taken by the government. The government has to take some strong action to deal with terrorism,” BJP spokesperson Vijay Kumar Malhotra told reporters here.

Malhotra said Washington appeared to be maintaining double-standards while dealing with the scourge — talking of a global fight against terror on the one hand and doing nothing to stop Pakistan from encouraging cross-border terrorism on the other.

The BJP leader said the US had assured that it would help India get the 20 criminals and terrorists it wants from Pakistan after dealing with the terrorist menace in Afghanistan. “But they (the US) have done nothing so far on this issue,” he added.

Malhotra reeled out instances when Pakistan had sabotaged talks and abetted terrorists to attack Indian establishments to back his contention that the US has failed to combat international terrorism.

He said the US cannot be depended upon if it cannot prevail upon Pakistan and asserted that the government should make it clear to assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca that Washington’s efforts to end global terrorism would be meaningless unless Pakistan stops exporting terror to India. However, India, he said, was not dependent on the US in its fight against terrorism.

When pointed out that the call for US intervention against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism amounted to an invitation to outside interference in Kashmir, Malhotra said it was only to fight terrorism and “not for a solution to the Kashmir problem”.

House discussion

The government has agreed to a discussion on the terrorist attack under Rule 193 in the Lok Sabha on Friday. The rule does not require a division of votes.    

New Delhi, May 15: 
The party is over for mobile phone customers using pre-paid cards.

All telecom service providers will now insist on proper documentation — a photo identity card and proof of address on the basis of driving licence, voter I-card, Pan card or passport — before activating new pre-paid cards and during renewals.

This means telecom companies — and through them government agencies, including police — will be able to keep tabs on every single pre-paid card user in the country. Sixty per cent of the 6.7 million mobile phone users use pre-paid cards.

The move has been taken to ward off security threats in the wake of the surge in terrorist attacks since the December 13 strike on Parliament.

“A joint industry advertisement will soon be released in all the leading dailies to inform people about the verification system. Cellular service providers will make individual efforts to do the same in a particular region. We do not have any fool-proof mechanism to determine who is a terrorist and who isn’t. We have been asked by the government to undertake this exercise and provide information as and when required,” said T.V. Ramachandran, director-general of the Cellular Operators’ Association of India.

The move will also help the taxman keep closer tabs on tax dodgers.

Earlier this month, the government dropped the fixed-line phone from the one-by-six scheme that makes it mandatory for assessees to file tax returns if they possess a house or rent one, own a car, have a credit card, travel abroad, have a club membership or use a mobile phone.

With over 60 per cent cellphone subscribers using pre-paid cards for which no identification papers were required, the taxman was unable to track cellphone users.

The telecom companies received a notice from the Centre on April 26 asking them to put in place adequate processes and safeguards to comply with the department of telecom (DoT) or the security agencies’ requirements.

The personal details of the pre-paid card users will be maintained by the telecom companies and passed on to the relevant authorities whenever asked for.

Cellular operators are not pleased about the development because it could hurt sales in their fastest-growing business segment. However, they have no choice and have accepted it as their contribution to national safety and security.

“There will be a temporary setback in the number of subscribers but we hope that this will be a small cost to pay in order to save our families by helping to track down the persons who could harm them,” said Sudershan Banerjee, chief executive officer of Hutchison Telecom Essar JV.

“The whole process will be undertaken in two phases — first the new pre-paid subscribers will be scanned; in the second phase, the existing pre-paid subscribers will be asked to furnish details,” he added.

The new system means the Sim cards will not be activated at the point of purchase — but only 48 hours later, after all supporting documents have been submitted along with an application form.

However, this delay will occur only the first time when the application is furnished.

At a joint briefing by the four cellular service providers in the capital — AirTel, Hutchison Essar, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and Birla AT&T, which has yet to start its service styled Idea — said they would implement the process immediately.

Sarvjit Dhillon, chief of AirTel’s Delhi operations, said: “Nowhere in the world does such a scheme exist; but then the Indian conditions are different and we will undertake this step in the national interest.”

The state-owned MTNL, which offers cellular services under the brand name Trump, claimed that the organisation was the first to recommend the introduction of such a system to keep track of the subscriber.

S.S. Sirohi, MTNL’s general manager in charge of mobile services, said: “We already have the system of identifying the subscriber and we had suggested this for all services including pre-paid cards.” Himanshu Kampania, chief operating officer of Idea, said: “We have already put out an advertisement in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh where we offer cellular services through pre-paid cards.”


Lucknow, May 15: 
The Uttar Pradesh Assembly today began its first session on a stormy note with slogan-shouting Opposition leaders throwing paper balls at Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri and disrupting his speech.

Samajwadi Party MLAs stood on tables, displaying banners that read: “Loktantra ke hatyare rajyapal vapas jao” (the murderer of democracy, go back).

Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi had to summon House marshals to protect the Governor from the flying missiles and Opposition members who came down to the well.

The House was adjourned within minutes after the Governor only managed to go through the ritual of reading the first and last sentence of his address. It reassembled at 12.30 pm and was adjourned again after tabling 12 Ordinances.

Though Mayavati’s BSP-BJP government is yet to prove its majority, the Governor’s address indicated that she intends to pursue her Dalit agenda without any hindrance from the BJP.

Underlining the fact that Mayavati’s council of ministers represents almost every section, community and region, Shastri said the government will try to bring all sections of the society into the mainstream.

“The interests of such sections, which have been socially and economically neglected for centuries, will be given special attention,” he said.

Sounding a polite warning to outfits associated with the BJP, like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, the Governor promised to fully protect “the interests of religious minorities such as Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Buddhists”.

One of the first tasks of the Mayavati government will be to provide facilities like link roads, drinking water and electricity in the Dalit-dominated Ambedkar villages. “Directions have already been issued to ensure sanitation of all the Amebdkar villages selected till 2001-2002 by September 30,” the Governor told the House.

The Mayavati government will also ensure that all Dalit agricultural workers are allotted land on lease and given actual possession of the land — a task which Mayavati had followed aggressively during her two earlier tenures.

“My government will see to it that every leaseholder gets actual possession of the land allotted to him in a time-bound manner. A drive will be launched to ensure this. Moreover, all illegal possessions will be seized. The land will be allotted to the genuine eligible persons and stern action will be taken against encroachers,” the Governor’s address said.

Mayavati’s agenda includes a scholarship scheme covering all Dalit students up to Class X and providing hostel facilities to them at the tehsil level.

The new government also plans to accord scholarships from the Dr Ambedkar Fund to students securing more than 60 per cent marks.


New Delhi, May 15: 
The BJP and the RSS have identified Pramod Mahajan and M. Venkaiah Naidu as the leaders who can take the mantle of command from the ageing Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani in time to come.

The second rung of BJP leaders also includes Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. But sources said they were excluded from the group of next-generation leaders for various reasons.

Jaitley lacked a grassroots constituency and an appeal that would cut across social segments. Sushma had both these attributes, but the fact that she was not a Sangh original and came from the Socialist parivar eventually went against her when the stakes involved were high.

Mahajan and Naidu have been inducted into a core group of decision-makers that includes the Prime Minister, the home minister and, sometimes, external affairs minister Jaswant Singh.

Mahajan played a key role in selecting the Lok Sabha Speaker. Both Naidu and Mahajan are being consulted by Vajpayee and Advani in the run-up to the presidential election and the Cabinet reshuffle. They were also part of the three-day session that Vajpayee and Advani had with the RSS leaders earlier this month.

Their importance in the power structure can be measured from the fact that ministerial hopefuls like V.K. Malhotra and ministers in danger of losing portfolios or jobs like Shahnawaz Hussain and Ananth Kumar have begun calling on them regularly.

Kumar is part of the Mahajan-Naidu coterie and, according to BJP sources, his association may save his job despite the controversies he has faced as the urban development minister.

The Mahajan-Naidu duo had ensured with Jaitley’s help that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was not replaced though Vajpayee was inclined to do so.

According to BJP sources, Mahajan’s plus points are “efficiency, public relations, and skills in realpolitik”.

The defeat of the Opposition-sponsored censure motion on Gujarat in the Lok Sabha and the adoption of a unanimous resolution in the Upper House — which prevented a defeat for the treasury benches — were attributed to his “adeptness in politicking and his disarming manner with the Opposition”.

Sources said it was Mahajan and Naidu who prevailed on Vajpayee not to go in for a consensus candidate for the President’s post but have a contest as the numbers were on the NDA’s side.

Though Mahajan and Naidu were ideologically rooted in the RSS, they could be “resilient” if coalition politics so demanded, BJP sources said. “They can wear two hats at the same time. On Gujarat, they took an out and out hard position.”

It was also mentioned that as information and broadcasting minister, Mahajan had managed to ensure “fair” coverage to the BJP, Vajpayee, the Centre and even the RSS. His successor, Swaraj, on the other hand, had “failed” on this score.


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