Highs & lows of Buddha’s first year at helm
Students to play syllabus police
MLA leads dairy raid
Visva-Bharati in Tokyo
Business boost for Burdwan
Sonia for action, not shadow-boxing
Powell calls Jaswant
Target US in united House
Chhote Modi lives up to Bade Modi’s reputation
Border bar off, but dial tone still missing

 
 
HIGHS & LOWS OF BUDDHA’S FIRST YEAR AT HELM 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
May 17: 

The image

Shobhaa De wants to be brand ambassador for Bengal, if Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would have her. Need we say more? The celebrity-writer had written about how Jyoti Basu, when he was chief minister, had charmed her. But for Buddhadeb’s dispensation, she’s prepared to charm others.

Sabeer Bhatia, the Hotmail hotshot, said recently in Calcutta he’s heard things have changed in Bengal.

Bengal, in short, is back on the lips of people who have the money to put where their mouth is.

When the money starts flowing, if it at all ever does, is difficult to say, but so far the government has made all the right moves. It has engaged the consultancy firm McKinsey to advise how Bengal can play the pied-piper tune for investors. Getting Tarun Das, the executive head of the influential business lobby Confederation of Indian Industry, to become chairman of Haldia Petrochemicals is another. His relations with the government are expanding and there’s no better business circuit than the CII to spread the good word around about Bengal.

That’s how the reputation of S.M. Krishna and Chandrababu Naidu partly grew. Buddhadeb may not be in the same class yet, but then farmers don’t commit suicide in Bengal either.

The reality

Image is fine but where are the results? The biggest achievement of Buddhadeb’s government is sorting out the mess that was Haldia Petrochem. Indian Oil is finally coming in and the stage has been set for the government to eventually get out. There’s been a lot of talk about information technology, and biotechnology, on which the chief minister even announced a policy on the eve of his first anniversary. Earlier, it had unveiled an IT “policy”. Some would say: what’s the need for such policies? It’s a habit that dies hard.

For the first time in many years, there’s a buzz of excitement at the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation and the lights are on in its office till 8 pm.

Here are some facts: Total investment in the 2001 calendar year was Rs 2,194 crore against Rs 1,600 crore in 2000, excluding Haldia Petrochem and Mitsubishi that have been in the pipeline for long. The expectation this year is a Rs 600-crore investment by Bhushan Steel and Rs 100 crore by Venkatesh Hatcheries, among big projects. One of the world’s largest shipping lines is in talks to invest in Kulpi port.

More that that, every month the state is getting three-four small projects in iron and steel with an outlay of Rs 1-3 crore.

McKinsey has discussed projects in IT and agri-products with around 80 prospective investors. Of these, 20 have been shortlisted and the expectation is that three will eventually invest in IT and four in agri-products.

A & B gell well

In Basu’s days, Bengal had a bristly relationship with Delhi, under the BJP and the Congress. Basu perhaps could not help it as he was also a national player — a more high-profile spokesman for the CPM than any party general secretary had ever been in his time — and had to speak out against the Centre.

Buddhadeb is still only a chief minister with interests of the state higher up on the scale of priorities. Which is why he’s sometimes been found in agreement with the Centre on certain issues, particularly law and order. He had been the police minister, and continues to hold that portfolio, and has voiced the same concerns as BJP’s home minister L.K. Advani.

On the ISI threat and mushrooming of unregistered madarsas in border areas, A(dvani) and B(uddhadeb) have spoken separately in the same voice. They have also tried to initiate similar legislation, Advani an anti-terror Act and Buddhadeb a law against organised crime. He has, what is called in officialese, a “working relationship” with the Centre.

One coinage is not legal tender any more: the Centre’s “stepmotherly” treatment.

The Big Idea

Health and education reforms have been in the frontline of the government’s most visible initiatives. In health, trade unions have been pushed out of hospitals and primacy restored to superintendents, hospital managing committees packed with party faithful have been disbanded and doctors’ attendance is being monitored. Guidelines have been laid down for private practice. Simultaneously, the government is trying to get private capital into healthcare.

Similar measures are being taken in education to drill some discipline into the system. Number of holidays cut in colleges and universities. Schools will be next.

Party is still boss

No departure from tradition. Buddhadeb touches base everyday at headquarters Alimuddin Street. But the leadership, unlike in Basu’s time when he always held centrestage, is a collection of five wise men: Buddhadeb, Nirupam Sen and Suryakanta Basu on the government’s side and Anil Biswas and Biman Bose from the party.

Oops!

And, because the party is still the boss Buddhadeb has had to do a few flips. The biggest about-turn was on unregistered madarsas. The chief minister had said that some of these madarsas were engaged in anti-national activities and their growth had to curbed. He also spoke of madarsa education reform and said only registered madarsas will be allowed to operate. A storm hit him, in and out of the party, but it was more the pressure from within that forced Buddhadeb to clam up.

In its effort to impose discipline, the government said all schoolteachers will have to sign an undertaking saying they will not engage in private tuition or else their salaries will be blocked. It had to back down in the face of organised protests from the teachers’ lobby that has been its traditional support base.

He had said if doctors in government hospitals don’t work, he would throw them out. That, one he had to gulp down too.

Biggest advantage: An out-of-commission Mamata Banerjee.

Biggest danger: No opposition.

   

 
 
STUDENTS TO PLAY SYLLABUS POLICE 
 
 
FROM SOUMI BHATTACHARYA
 
Suri (Birbhum) May 17: 
Two days after disclosing a proposal to roll back the number of annual holidays in schools, the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education has test-fired another to let the students monitor the progress of their teachers.

Board president Haraprasad Samaddar said today that copies of the new syllabus for secondary schools would be distributed among students to enable them to identify teachers who have not completed the curriculum.

The proposal to keep tabs on teachers through students comes at a time when a controversy is raging about the ban on private tuition.

Samaddar, who was on a day’s visit to Suri in connection with the golden jubilee celebrations of a high school, announced that the new syllabus would be submitted soon.

“We are drafting the new syllabus and will be able to submit the same to the government within one-and-a-half months,” he said.

He said the plan to distribute copies of the syllabus among students is “also aimed at acquainting them with the entire syllabus much in advance”.

The proposed syllabus will also include guidelines for teachers on how to complete it within a specified time. Nearly 1.70 lakh teachers will undergo training over the next two years.

The board president said committees of six schools each would be set up all over Bengal to help students compete against one another.

“A committee will be formed with head masters and managing committee members from six schools each across Bengal to oversee competitive events like examinations, sports and cultural programmes. This will help students sharpen their competitive instincts,” he said.

Samaddar said such a move would also help students overcome their examination phobia.

In a veiled criticism of the state government, he said nearly 30,000 posts of teachers have been lying vacant in various institutions for years. “Of them, the posts of headmasters are vacant in nearly 10 per cent schools,” he added.

The board president also resented the way political personalities are interfering in the appointment of teachers in educational institutions.

“The political interference in the appointment of teachers have to be stopped,” he said.

He said Madhyamik results would be announced by next week. “We are trying hard to announce the results before May 25,” he added.

   

 
 
MLA LEADS DAIRY RAID 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 17: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s grand dream of turning Bengal into an investment haven suffered a jolt today with CPM supporters storming a newly-opened dairy in Chanditala in Hooghly.

CPM legislator Bhaktaram Pan was part of the crowd that barged into Indian Dairy Products Limited, a milk processing unit set up with German collaboration.

The CPM activists demanded that the present staff be sacked and locals be employed, said Anirban Nath, owner of the unit.

Nath called the chief minister’s office and a police contingent was sent. Nath said the police officers assured him that he could go ahead and run his unit without any fear.

The incident comes a few days after the chief minister had stated that no one should resort to violent trade unionism and create pressures on investors for jobs. The chief minister had also sounded the Citu leadership on this.

Indian Dairy Products was commissioned on May 6. “I was startled this evening when a crowd of about 100 people barged into the unit shouting for me,” a shaken Nath told The Telegraph.

Recounting the chain of events, Nath said the crowd led by Pan told him they would give him a a few hours to sack his present staff. “This is the first time that I came face to face with the MLA. I had not met him or any partyman while setting up the unit,” Nath said.

Moreover, the dairy employed highly skilled people, and they were all Bengalis in any case, Nath added.

Pan said he “happened to chance upon the agitation going on in front of the dairy plant. I stopped and asked the men who had gathered there what the matter was. They told me that the owner had not employed any locals as he had promised while setting up the plant”.

   

 
 
VISVA-BHARATI IN TOKYO 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bolpur, May 17: 
The Japanese are set to get a taste of Bengal with the Visva-Bharati University deciding to open a centre in Tokyo.

Vice-chancellor S.K. Bose, who visited Japan last week, said the Japanese government has assured assistance to the project and India’s foreign ministry has also promised to cooperate.

The centre will have a museum displaying Rabindranath Tagore’s works. His writings and paintings will also be sold. Besides, information will be provided on the activities of the Visva-Bharati University.

   

 
 
BUSINESS BOOST FOR BURDWAN 
 
 
BY AMIT CHAKRABORTY
 
Calcutta, May 17: 
The biotechnological park to be set up in Burdwan has been designed to function as a “business incubation centre” for the industry.

The nearly Rs 25-crore project has attracted interest from several businessmen in Calcutta to invest in the project.

The directorate of agriculture, which will function as the nodal agency for the project along with the department of science and technology, has short-listed seven private sector companies, said M.K. Banerjee, secretary, science and technology.

To be located alongside the state agriculture department’s 200- acre seed farm, the project is expected to boost industry in Burdwan.

According to Banerjee, Standard Pharmaceuticals Ltd, earlier owned by the Sarabhai group, is leading the initiative by private companies to launch various such projects.

The department of science and technology is in the advanced stages of discussion with O.P. Mall, the new promoter of Standard Pharmaceuticals, on implementing three projects involving medicinal biotechnology, plant biotechnology and biofertilisers, Banerjee told The Telegraph.

Mall confirmed his involvement in the projects that will add synergy to Standard Pharmaceuticals’ existing business of herbal and other medicines.

In the biofertiliser sector, the company has proposed to set up a plant by adopting a technology developed by the Viswabharati University that uses earth worms and agricultural waste.

Banerjee said the project will also adopt an integrated approach to provide employment opportunities for the rural youth.

Standard Pharmaceuticals has another project in the pipeline. It will use the technology of cloning tissues of the best variety of fruits and vegetables grown in a particular area to help increase the quantity and quality of plants.

   

 
 
SONIA FOR ACTION, NOT SHADOW-BOXING 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 17: 
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi today asked the government to come out with a definite plan to deal with the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as mere “customary rhetoric” was no substitute for strategy or vision.

“Saluting our defence forces” for their unflinching dedication and courage, she sought a convincing explanation on concrete results gained from the troops mobilisation as well as the government’s long-term approach to the deployment.

The leader of Opposition, however, offered all cooperation to the Centre in its fight against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

Initiating a special discussion under Rule 193 in the Lok Sabha on the terrorist attack on the Jammu army camp, Sonia said: “We will continue to stand by the government on such vital issues.”

Unlike previous occasions when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took umbrage at her speech, Sonia’s carefully-crafted and well-delivered statement won praise from none other than home minister L.K. Advani, who asked the members to maintain the standard set by her address.

Advani chided his party colleague M.L. Khurana, who tried to criticise the Jawaharlal Nehru government for having taken the Kashmir issue to the United Nations when Indian troops were marching forward in 1947, after pushing back the Pakistani forces. “We should talk about today and the future and not the past,” he said.

Speaker Manohar Joshi agreed with Congress deputy leader Shivraj Patil, who said members should be responsible while making their point as the objective of the debate would otherwise not be achieved.

Joshi said the issue was “highly sensitive” and members should refrain from making charges and counter-charges. He asked Khurana not to refer to history as the events were known to all.

In her speech, Sonia said the Kaluchak massacre would “tempt the government to resort to customary rhetoric”, but emphasised that it was no “substitute” for strategy. “If it (the government) has any strategy, it should spell it out clearly and once for all.”

The Congress chief attacked the government for its failure to take effective steps to tackle terrorists despite the “unprecedented support from (the) Congress, other Opposition parties and the country”. She said conflicting statements have been coming out from the Centre as well as its allies.

Though the country has been facing such a serious problem, India’s diplomatic efforts, Sonia said, have been found to be wanting in sensitising international opinion. The Kaluchak incident, she argued, has exposed the “weaknesses” in the country’s security apparatus.

Stating that Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir were round the corner, she said both the state government and the Centre must ensure that the polls are held on time. Steps should be taken to see that voters are allowed to exercise their franchise in a free and fair manner, she added.

Sonia said a large section of the ruling Pakistani establishment, which does not want peace with India, is trying to sabotage prospects of reconciliation. But she expressed confidence that peace and normality would return to Jammu and Kashmir as a similar situation had been salvaged in Punjab some years ago.

The Congress chief wondered whether the US-led international coalition against terrorism has helped India in any way. “We must recognise that ultimately we have to tackle terrorism within our borders ourselves,” she asserted.

“We see their double standards ... Their design on Jammu and Kashmir,” she said, pointing out that the perpetrators of cross-border terrorism were being regarded as allies in the war against global terrorism.

Sonia said Islamabad is not prepared to fulfil Delhi’s demands, including the one on the 20 criminals and terrorists India wants handed over. Neither has it changed its policy and attitude towards cross-border terrorism, she added.

Sonia welcomed the new focus on terrorism but said the world awoke to the menace only after September 11.

   

 
 
POWELL CALLS JASWANT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, May 17: 
Foreign minister Jaswant Singh has called off a 10-day official trip to Africa scheduled for later this month, giving credence to the view that India is mulling action, perhaps a military strike, against terrorists operating from Pakistani soil.

But policy makers and strategists are working overtime to ensure that the “limited military strike” does not lead to a full-scale war with Pakistan or to the use of the neighbour’s nuclear arsenal.

They are banking heavily on the US to prevail upon the Pervez Musharraf regime in Islamabad to keep its nuclear weapons out in case of an armed conflict.

The strategists are also hoping that the strong presence of the Americans in the region would help in limiting the conflict to the Line of Control.

US secretary of state Colin Powell called Singh early this morning urging him to ensure that India does not do anything in haste. Powell tried to argue that Delhi should give time to the Bush administration to work with Musharraf in taking care of Indian’s concerns much more seriously and urgently.

However, Singh told Powell that India has been patient for the past six months and is finding it difficult to sit idle and do nothing though terrorists operating from Pakistan have continued to launch one attack after another in Jammu and Kashmir.

After Tuesday’s attack on the passenger bus and the army camp in Jammu, India’s patience is running thin and the government would have to take appropriate action against the perpetrators of the attack n which innocent women and children were killed, Singh told Powell.

Later in the afternoon, US ambassador Robert Blackwill met Singh and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra to once again tell Delhi that it should do nothing in haste but allow the American leadership to work on Musharraf.

Blackwill, too, was told that India is left with very little option but to act decisively against the terrorists and their backers.

Officials here said the Bush administration has expressed confidence in the “wise leadership” of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and has been trying to convince Delhi that it is working closely with Musharraf to dismantle the terrorist outfits and their infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and elsewhere in the country.

The Bush administration has also been emphasising on the fact that like India, the US, too, was keen on a free and fair election in Kashmir.

But an armed India-Pakistan confrontation at this juncture would seriously jeopardise the prospects of bringing the maximum number of people in the strife-torn state to the political mainstream.

However, for the Indian leadership, it is becoming extremely difficult not to act. With the popular mood in Parliament stressing on punitive action against Pakistan, the Opposition has squarely lobbed the ball back to the Prime Minister’s court.

Hesitancy on Vajpayee’s part to act decisively would not only hand over a major political handle to the Opposition but could also jeopardise his position within the BJP.

   

 
 
TARGET US IN UNITED HOUSE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 17: 
In a break from the recent past, the Opposition put the US in its direct line of fire and spared the government its vitriol on the last day of the budget session when both Houses of Parliament discussed at length Tuesday’s killings in Jammu.

It was a “cool” ending to a “sizzling” budget session — cool because the Opposition and the ruling coalition were not tearing each other’s guts out. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi were not swiping at each other.

Instead, members across party lines were training their guns on the US and Pakistan. They assured the Vajpayee government of their support in its fight against terrorism. “Do not wait for others. Fight your own battle,” was the common refrain.

If L.K. Advani expressed his disillusionment with the US-led international coalition against terrorism, the home minister’s adversaries blasted the US for not putting enough pressure on Pakistan. All of them, from Sonia to Mulayam Singh Yadav and Somnath Chatterjee, echoed the same line. The leader of Opposition flatly told the government that it cannot shoot from the US’ shoulders. India, she stressed, will have to fight its own battle against terrorism.

In the Rajya Sabha, Congress MP Kapil Sibal said: “We are part of the US coalition against terrorism but they are not part of India’s battle against terror.”

The traditional US-baiters in the Left parties felt vindicated in the light of their past resistance to any move by the government to kow-tow to US pressures, particularly after September 11. “Has the US reciprocated India’s gesture of helping them in their battle against Afghanistan?” asked CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee.

Even when the Vajpayee government was going out of its way to help the US in the aftermath of September 11, the CPM had warned the gesture would not be reciprocated. Today was their day of vindication, and of the many others who had expressed similar suspicion.

BJP member in the Rajya Sabha, B.P. Singhal, who is forever snapping at the Opposition, found a meeting ground in his antipathy towards the US. “The US should stop sending its representatives to India. Each visit sparks a catastrophe,” he said.

The visits of one US official after another to India and the continuing violence in Jammu and Kashmir and President George W. Bush’s pats for the Pakistani President gave the Opposition enough grist to turn the heat on the superpower.

Not intending to talk in a voice contrary to the government’s at this juncture, the Opposition did not pitch high its criticism of the Centre’s handling of terrorism even though it did demand to know what concrete policies it was planning to pursue.

The overall tenor of the discussion was one of support to the government in its moves to counter terrorism. Some Opposition members almost egged on the government to take “action”. Though the government in general was spared, Opposition leaders censured some NDA leaders and ministers for making “irresponsible, jingoistic” statements.

House adjourned

Both Houses of Parliament were adjourned sine die this evening after a three-month long budget session. Thirty-four Bills were passed during the session, which saw frequent disruptions over the violence in Gujarat.

   

 
 
CHHOTE MODI LIVES UP TO BADE MODI’S REPUTATION 
 
 
FROM ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Ahmedabad, May 17: 
Rows of little mud-and-brick houses burnt and pulled down. Only one stands erect and unharmed. The reason: It has “OM” painted on the front wall, signalling that it belonged to a Hindu family.

Another structure survives, though with a blackened hole that a bomb left on its front gate . It is the office of the Jan Sangharsh Manch, a civil rights group that took this slum of 1800 people, mostly Muslims, under its care three years ago. One man called Modi changed all that on March 1, leaving behind the rubble and emptiness where the slum stood for 30 years.

He isn’t Narendra Modi, who, as chief minister, was changing the face of Gujarat with blood and fire. The destroyer of this slum in Gomtipur, below the Khokhra railway over-bridge and opposite the walls of the closed Ambica textile mill, is police sub-inspector N.A. Modi. Since his March 1 charge on the slum, he is known in the neighbourhood as “Chhote Modi”, whom the saffron brigade hails as a hero and the Muslims denounce as a devil.

The Gomtipur tale is a miniature of the bigger Gujarat story that the bigger Modi scripted in burnt Muslim neighbourhoods, not just houses, in the killing fields of Naroda-Patia, Paldi, Jamalpur, Chamanpura, Bapunagar and scores of other places in Ahmedabad and elsewhere in Gujarat.

Gomtipur has been just a shade different from the usual horror story from Gujarat. It is also the story of heroic resistance by a small band of ordinary men committed to fighting the Hindu communalists and their uniformed vanguards like sub-inspector Modi.

The saffron mob takes the stage before Chhote Modi makes his appearance. On February 28, a crowd of 500 people gather on the Khokhra overbridge and on the compounds of the adjoining railway employees’ colony and start attacking the slum with stones. As frightened villagers leaves their homes and huddle in an opening behind their houses, Mohan Bundela, convener of the Manch, frantically calls up Gomtipur thana for help. “I must have made a hundred calls but when three policemen came they only stood watching the crowds who curiously melt away after some time.”

Next morning the crowds come better prepared — stormtroopers of the VHP and Bajrang Dal in their saffron headgear and armed with swords, tridents and stones. Enter Modi in his jeep. He is furious with Bundela for trying to protect the slum and its people.

“He told me as a Hindu I should be ashamed to side with the Muslims after the Godhra kand,” Bundela recounts.

Modi then goes on to show how Bundela should have stood, not with the slum dwellers, but with the crowd.

Modi, who is in plain clothes, asks his men to take out five cans of diesel from his jeep and hands them over to leaders of the mob. Soon, the slum comes down in flames. Fortunately, the Manch activists feared as much and had moved women and children beforehand out of harm’s way. Now, men too run for safety along the railway track and most of them are still in relief camps at Shah Alam dargah in the walled city.

Bundela too flees in his scooter, along with fellow activist Israel, but only to come back later to their one-room office to fight it out against Modi.

The Manch moved the high court against him and got an order issued for an inquiry by a deputy commissioner of police who never came. Modi and his men struck back — first with threats and then with a bomb that damaged the office gate.

“We’d rather die than leave this place, which we know a promoter has been trying to get to build a hotel,” Bundela says. He and his Manch colleagues are determined to bring the slum-dwellers back once their houses are rebuilt — and to fight the police officer. Modi refuses to speak because “the matter is in the court”.

“You’ll hear the same stories of policemen not just standing by but actually taking part in mob violence everywhere,” says retired Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court A.P. Ravani, whose testimony to the National Human Rights Commission against the government’s role in the carnage was among the most detailed.

Not just policemen, even ministers led some incidents of violence, either directing mobs on the streets or directing the police from behind. Revenue minister Haren Pandya and civil supplies minister Bharat Barot are known to have been out on the streets with violent mobs on February 28. “Yes, I was in the crowds but not leading them. Actually, I called the police when trouble broke out at Paldi (his constituency),” Pandya told this correspondent.

Two other ministers — Ashok Bhatt and I.K. Jadeja — sat in police control rooms, the former at Ahmedabad and the latter at Gandhinagar — almost through the violence on the 28th. The gory events of the first day of the pogrom showed how they controlled policemen.

Presiding over them all, of course, was chief minister Narendra Modi who called a meeting of senior police officials on 27th evening and reportedly asked them not to use “force” during the next day’s bandh, which the VHP had called and the government supported to protest the killing of the “Ramsevaks” at Godhra.

“It’s not just the killings, which are one, though the most gruesomely visible, part of state terrorism. It’s the subversion of the entire state machinery — the police, bureaucracy, the law and the judiciary. I’m told the chief minister has asked for a list of judges trying to act independently,” Ravani says.

Terror, therefore, continues even if major killings have stopped — at least for now.

   

 
 
BORDER BAR OFF, BUT DIAL TONE STILL MISSING 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 17: 
The Centre has lifted the six-month ban on STD/ISD calls from border areas in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat but the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd has yet to pass the orders to re-activate the public call offices that were shut down in January.

The ban, which was imposed because of heightened security considerations after the December 13 strike on Parliament, was lifted as suddenly as it was imposed and with no indication whether the perceived security threats had receded.

The ban was imposed on January 1 in the Valley and two days later in the border districts of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab after investigations revealed that the fidayeens (suicide squad members) responsible for the Parliament attack had been in touch over phone with their associates in Kashmir.

Ironically, the ban was lifted days before three terrorists — the defence ministry claims they were Pakistanis — struck at a bus and an army camp in Jammu killing over 30 people.

The Jammu attack has heightened tension between the nuclear twins and India and Pakistan have nudged closer to a military engagement with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and army chief S. Padmanabhan talking about the need to retaliate.

Sources said: “The Cabinet Committee on Security recently accepted the request from communications minister Pramod Mahajan to lift the ban. But BSNL has yet to implement the directive and pass the appropriate orders.”

It is possible that the Jammu attack has slowed down the process: BSNL has to send letters to district magistrates in the states, asking them to allow the public call offices to provide STD/ISD services. BSNL may now be asked to wait for some more time before it issues the orders.

Mahajan had indicated at several fora in the past six months that the government will review the measure. He had earlier said the government had “enough reasons” to take a decision to restrict phone booth users from making STD and ISD calls.

BSNL had sent a directive to shut the booths after it was approached by the Union home ministry on the feasibility of widening the STD/ISD booth ban to new areas which they felt were sensitive.

The PCOs and Internet cafes had to close shop and their connections were cut. More than 3,500 phone booth owners in Jammu alone lost 70 per cent of their business because of the ban. They gave the telecom department a minimum business of Rs 1,600 every day and were getting Rs 1.40 as commission on every called unit.

Officials said private operators were also affected as they were present in three states. Shayam Telecom offers fixed line and cellular services in Rajasthan, while Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd offers fixed line and Interment service in Punjab. Reliance Communications offers fixed line services in Gujarat.

Communications ministry officials said licence conditions agreed upon by all private operators stipulate that the Centre can ask them to jam calls or hand over necessary facilities to government agencies if security considerations so demand.

   
 

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