Power tariff regulator in a limbo
District schools come up trumps again
Showers sneak past Calcutta
Blunt parting shot to Pak envoy
Cry for freedom and Farooq scalp
Advani shores up civil defence
BJP clarion call to cadre
From one camp to another, as a bride
BJP opts out of President race
British MPs set to back genocide case against Modi

Calcutta, May 22: 
A week after Calcutta High Court struck down the recommendations of the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC) and allowed CESC to fix its own tariff, the commission officials are yet to come up with any definite strategy in their defence.

The commission has issued notifications cancelling its hearings with different power supplying agencies to determine tariff for 2002-2003.

“We have adjourned the hearings for an indefinite period as we don’t know exactly yet what the directives of the high court are to us. We are still waiting for the high court’s judgment and do not know yet what is in it. We don’t want to go against the high court’s direction in any manner,” said SERC chairman Justice S.K. Fauzdar today.

The high court had ordered a steep hike in CESC’s tariff in a judgment on May 14 that also put a question mark on the utility not only of the SERC, but also its counterparts in other states.

Such regulatory commissions are functional in many other states like Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

“This is the first time that a high court has passed an order overruling the SERC’s recommendations. Now, the high court order will serve as a precedent for other SERCs,” a senior official of the commission said.

Officials of the SERC — a quasi-judicial body set up by the state government in March 200 under the provisions of a Central Act of 1998 to determine power tariff in the state — added that the order will affect its normal functions.

Before determining the power rates, the SERC has to hear power supplying agencies in the state like CESC and the West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB). It also records suggestions and hears objections from consumers.

The commission has also postponed indefinitely the dates for recording suggestions and objections through a notification in the print media on Monday.

“For us, fixation of tariff is an annual affair. But after the high court verdict, we are not sure whether we can begin our annual exercise to determine the power tariff structure of the different agencies, like CESC and the state electricity board, for the current financial year,” said a senior SERC official.

The SERC fixed tariff for Calcutta and other areas in Bengal for the first time in September last year after hearing out the power supplying agencies, the different consumers’ platforms and the industrial sector. All the five power supplying agencies in Bengal — CESC, WBSEB, Durgapur Projects Limited (DPL), West Bengal Power Development Corporation (WBPDCL) and the Dishergarh Power Supply Company — had moved the high court against the SERC’s recommendations during the past fiscal.


May 22: 
Soubhagya Biswas of Malda Vivekananda Vidya Mandir led the charge of the districts on the merit list of the this year’s Madhyamik examinations, capturing the first position with 776 marks out of 800.

In a replay of the previous years, students from district schools dominated the grades, securing, either jointly or individually, nine of the first 10 positions in the secondary examinations. Nearly 70.19 per cent of the total 5.86 lakh candidates cleared the tests. Last year, the percentage of successful candidates was 70.23.

President of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) Haraprasad Samaddar said the results were published 41 days after the completion of the examinations, a new record.

Altogether 86,977 candidates were placed in the first division. Announcing the results, Samaddar said 1,81,667 candidates managed second division marks and 43,227 were placed in the third division. Results of 537 candidates were declared incomplete and that of 631 candidates were withheld by the board.

Results of 113 candidates were not published as they had adopted unfair means during the examinations.

Soubhagya’s schoolmate Chayan Banerjee stood fifth, securing 767 marks.

Arijit Khan from Arambagh High School in Hooghly stood third with 771 marks. Sujoy Bhowmik from the Raigunge Coronation High School ranked fourth obtaining 770.

Paromita Patra from Paranchak Siksha Niketan in Purba Midnapore got the seventh position overall by scoring 765 marks but topped among girls. Ishita Sarkar from Balurghat High School ranked eighth jointly with Manas Karmakar from the Kamalpur Netaji High School in Purulia with 762 marks. Kaushik Pal from Vishnupur High School in Bankura ranked ninth scoring 760 while Soumya Patra from Purulia Zilla school got the 10th position with one mark less.

School education minister Kanti Biswas said the atmosphere of education in the districts is better than that of the city. “The healthy student-teacher relation in rural Bengal helps a lot for better performance of examinees in the districts,” he said tonight.

He also felt that students do not get distracted in the districts due to the absence of several avenues of entertainment, like satellite channels and cinemas. “I am happy to learn that students from the districts have done excelled despite various problems,” he added.

An elated Biswas unveiled plans to improve the quality of education in district schools. “Our priority will be to improve infrastructure in schools across rural Bengal so that students find a congenial atmosphere for carrying out their studies,” he observed.

Son of the assistant stationmaster in Old Malda station, Soubhagya wants to become a successful doctor. “I have private tutors, including two from his old school, who all helped me score the highest marks in the examinations,” he said. “I am opposed to banning of private tuition. A proper infrastructure must be there before banning private tuition,” the topper signed off with this googly to the state government, which is pressing for an end to the practice of private tuition.


Calcutta, May 22: 
The city missed rains by a whisker today as the upper air cyclonic circulation hovering over Jharkhand near Gangetic West Bengal shifted eastward to north Bengal, bringing heavy showers to Agartala and Guwahati.

Alipore weather office chief R.N. Goldar said there was no possibility of rain over Calcutta and adjoining areas in the next 24 hours as the temperature dipped nearly four degrees but humidity shot up, raising the level of discomfort. The minimum humidity was 61 per cent around 3 pm against 27 per cent at the same time yesterday.

One person died of heat stroke in Lalbazar Street near Poddar Court this afternoon, police said.

Goldar predicted rains over north Bengal and other north-eastern states like Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura. “But, sorry, I can’t promise rains over Calcutta. The atmospheric condition is not yet favourable,” he added. The city has been without a norwester for over a week now.

“Agartala has received three thundersqualls and nearly 100 mm of rains since last afternoon. I feel sorry for Calcutta and the south Bengal districts. It is simply bad luck,” said Goldar.

The Met office, however, called off its earlier heat wave warning as the maximum temperature dropped to 37.9 degrees — still two degrees above normal — from 41.7 degrees yesterday.

Calcutta streets remained deserted in the afternoon for the third day today with fewer buses plying and most commuters preferred the underground comfort of the Metro.

Sources in the Met office said the wind was still blowing from a southerly direction loading the south Bengal districts with moisture. But the speculated thunderstorm did not break because the upper air cyclonic circulation moved away.

There were two other cyclonic circulations, which too dissipated. However, with the growing humidity, the temperature is likely to come down further tomorrow, the sources added.

They said the season of norwesters was not yet over and a few more were expected before the onset of the monsoon slated for June 8.

“Generally, we find in this season that two to three days of intense heat and humidity is followed by a norwester, which brings relief. Though we are predicting the possibility of a formation of thunderclouds over some areas of the city for Thursday, we can’t predict rains because the situation is not favourable yet,” said an official.

For the second day, Calcutta and adjoining areas suffered massive power cuts through the day as the shortfall in the CESC-served areas swelled to 220 MW in the evening peak hour.

Salt Lake and the northern and southern fringes of the city, too, were hit.


New Delhi, May 22: 
India today told the outgoing Pakistani envoy that it would fight decisively to “crush terrorism”, adding that its war against terror was as “legitimate” as the fight against the scourge elsewhere.

In a farewell meeting with Pakistani high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi this afternoon, foreign secretary Chokila Iyer warned Islamabad not to take the “current mood and determination” of the Indians lightly.

“The feeling in India is that tolerance for terrorism has only encouraged more terrorist violence and this must be crushed decisively,” Iyer told the envoy during the 30-minute interaction. “No one in India takes the possibility of war lightly. But Pakistan must realise that Jammu and Kashmir will remain an integral part of India.”

Qazi was asked to leave the country in the wake of last week’s terrorist attack in Jammu and had come to South Block to bid farewell to the foreign secretary.

Iyer said the basic problem in the bilateral relations stemmed from Islamabad’s “attitude of compulsive hostility towards India and its unwillingness to give up violence as conveyed by the continued sponsorship of cross-border terrorism”.

The foreign secretary pointed out that India had taken a number of steps, including the Lahore peace initiative and the Agra summit, to normalise relations, though Pakistan continued to sponsor violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

“December 13 — when Parliament was attacked by terrorists — was the watershed of emotion and anger of both the political leadership and the people of India,” Iyer said.

Listing the number of violent incidents, increase in infiltration and regrouping of militants in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in recent months, Iyer said neither India nor the international community believed that Pakistan was not involved in cross-border terrorism.

While admitting that the meeting between the envoy and the foreign secretary was taking place under unfortunate circumstances, Iyer said it was due to Pakistan’s approach to India, adding that Islamabad’s reliance on terrorism was unacceptable to Delhi.

The foreign secretary’s remarks indicated that while India would not act in haste, the Indian leadership’s patience was running out in the absence of any serious step by Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism.

While there is a growing global support for India’s stand, there is also concern over the fast-deteriorating situation in nuclearised South Asia. All the major world players have asked the two hostile neighbours to show restraint and avoid yet another armed conflict.

British foreign secretary Jack Straw is arriving here next week to try and defuse the current tension. The US has been in constant touch with the South Asian twins and deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage will visit the region early next month to convince the Indian leadership not to go in for a military attack on Pakistan.

The European Union’s external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, will extend his South Asian tour to visit Delhi on Thursday night or Friday. “He’s not on a peace mission, it’s not shuttle diplomacy, but given the tension he decided to go,” commission spokesman Michael Curtis said.

However, India iterated that its patience was running thin. “Our war against terrorism is as legitimate as any other country’s fight against terrorism,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said.

She said that key world players agreed that most of the steps announced by Pervez Musharraf in his January address had been rolled back.


Srinagar, May 22: 
Thousands of mourners shouted pro-freedom slogans as Abdul Gani Lone was today laid to rest in the martyrs’ graveyard, where he was gunned down by two assassins last evening.

The Hurriyat leader’s body was buried at the entrance of the graveyard, the resting place of nearly a thousand people, including the slain Kashmir Mirwaiz, Moulvi Mohammad Farooq.

People in thousands thronged Lone’s Rawalpora residence but it was only this afternoon that his family members agreed to bury him at the martyrs’ graveyard at Idd Gah. They had earlier wanted the body to be taken to Loneharray near Handwara in Kupwara district.

The funeral procession started around 2.30 pm as Lone’s body was carried on an open truck, followed by thousands of supporters who punched the air with their fists crying “We want freedom.” Close relatives lifted the coffin while reciting verses from the Quran.

The state administration had made tight security arrangements all along the route from Rawalpora to Idd Gah. Deputy inspector-general of police (Kashmir) Farooq Ahmed personally supervised the arrangements. Scores of policemen and paramilitary personnel were deployed on the otherwise deserted streets in the city.

Led by angry youths shouting pro-freedom and pro-Pakistan slogans, the procession reached Idd Gah late in the afternoon.

As the cortege reached the graveyard, thousands lined up to offer Nemaze Jenaza (prayers after death).

The Kashmir Mirwaiz and former chairman of the Hurriyat, Moulvi Mohammad Umer Farooq, led the prayers.

“He was a great leader. He always cared for us. I don’t know why he was killed,” said Mohammad Rajab, who had travelled all the way from Kupwara.

After the burial, angry youths screamed slogans against chief minister Farooq Abdullah. “He is responsible for the killing,” they shouted.

Sajad Lone, the slain leader’s son, who yesterday had blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence for his father’s murder, today said the downgrading of Lone’s security by the state government was responsible. “The inadequate security was responsible for the killing.”

“His killing is a serious setback to the movement in Kashmir. I am shocked,” said Shabir Ahmad Shah, a separatist leader.

“Despite our differences, Lone was my close associate,” said hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The state administration had imposed curfew in Handwara, the hometown of Lone, and deployed police and security forces to maintain law and order. However, busloads of supporters from north Kashmir reached Srinagar and joined the funeral. The supporters were carrying blue flags of the People’s Conference, launched by Lone in early 1980.


New Delhi, May 22: 
In another sign that India is seriously considering war, home minister L.K. Advani today shored up the country’s civil defence arrangements for “rear guard” security.

Civil defence forces are generally called up when a country is at war or a major natural calamity disrupts normal life.

Advani held a meeting with home secretary Kamal Pande, the director general of civil defence and other officials.

The meeting was called to review “steps being taken for rear area security and strengthening of civil defence measurers in the light of the evolving situation on the western-border states”, the home ministry said in a statement.

The ministry has alerted civil defence forces in border states like Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan to get into action. Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh are three other states where civil defence has to be tightened.

The government is also thinking of ways state governments can help the army formations in forward areas.

Vigilance will be stepped up at vital installations like airports, bridges, communication centres and other high security areas. However, most of these areas, including stock exchanges in major cities and important government buildings, are already under tight security since September 11.

Home ministry officials are worried that terrorist and criminal elements linked to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence could be activated to carry out strikes on pivotal installations.

The ministry has warned state governments to be on the lookout for saboteurs.

Officials also discussed what to do with Pakistani citizens who have overstayed or disappeared after arriving in India. Detailed investigations are needed to probe the antecedents of these persons, ministry officials said.


New Delhi, May 22: 
The BJP today called upon the people of the country and its cadre to stand solidly behind “any and every step that the government will be taking in its final war against terrorism and also be ready to respond totally as the situation warrants”.

The party urged its cadre to be alert and alive to the situation and be ready to undertake any task entrusted to them in the service of the nation. It also exhorted workers to educate the people about the explosive situation on the border.

BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi said India would not yield to US pressure. When asked whether the US was pressuring India not to take any precipitate action, he said: “I don’t think the US is putting pressure on India and India will not yield to any pressure.”

Briefing reporters after a meeting of the party’s central office bearers, Krishnamurti said India has been showing “too much patience” and time had come for action. In reply to a question as to whether the party wanted a war, Krishnamurti said the government, which is privy to all reports (intelligence, international opinion and so on), was the best judge on the matter.

In the meeting, BJP leaders adopted a resolution backing whatever steps the government takes to tackle the present situation. It said Pakistan does not seem to understand and realise the depth of resentment and anger of the people of India.

Krishnamurti said he had toured a few states and the sentiments of the people were that the government can no longer afford to be patient. Asked whether India should first exhaust all diplomatic options before exercising any other option, he said, “Diplomatic action can precede or follow, or different actions can be executed simultaneous.”

Calling for strong measures to tackle the problem of terrorism, especially in the wake of the attack in Kaluchak in Jammu and the killing of Abdul Gani Lone, he said: “The country can no longer suffer terrorism emanating from Pakistan.”


Ahmedabad, May 22: 
Their wedding almost didn’t happen, but love knows no funeral. So they got married at the only place they could — the relief camp she had made her home.

Like the thousands of Gujarat’s riot victims who have sought refuge in camps, Sharifa Yusuf had been living in the Dhariyakhan Ghummat. On Monday, the 20-year-old travelled to another — as a bride.

Sharifa’s marriage to Rajubhai Mansuri, her fiancé of five years, was solemnised before hundreds of inmates who, for a brief moment, forgot their worries and the terrifying ordeal they had been through.

The inmates, mostly from Naroda-Patia and Chamanpura, broke into cheers as the groom with his baratis landed from Sonal, another camp in Juhapura, on Monday morning. Sharifa’s parents could not hold back their tears. Nor could Ataullahkhan, the camp’s in-charge.

Sharifa and her parents had been living in the shelter since March 1, after their house in Chamanpura was looted and burnt. Her father, Yusufbhai Ibrahim, had deferred her marriage indefinitely, but was not happy with his decision.

Today, he is a happier man. Although sad that his daughter has gone from one camp to another, he feels she will be safe with her husband.

Sometime back, Ibrahim had broached the subject of his daughter’s marriage with Babubhai Mansuri, the groom’s father. Mansuri was hesitant at first — the future was too uncertain to take the risk.

But 10 days ago, he told Nazir Vora, the in-charge of the Sonal camp, that he wanted his son to get married.

Vora’s response took him by surprise. The in-charge asked him to finalise the date; he would make the other arrangements.

On the day of the wedding, local residents were invited and a special menu was prepared as an air of festivity took over. Rajubhai’s father radiated joy. “Like every father I am a happy man today because my son has got married,” Mansuri said.

Mumtaz Bano Ajmeri, another inmate who doubles up as a social worker, summed up the mood.

“For a moment everybody forgot the nightmare they had been through when they were attacked, their houses looted and burnt and they were forced to flee. It was the first feeling of joy we experienced since we fled our homes,” Mumtaz said.

After Sharifa came to her new “home”, at least three families living in the Sonal relief camp, who had postponed the marriage of their sons and daughters, approached Vora. “They came to me and cried, saying they had to cancel the marriages,” he said.

Vora, who is like a messiah to the 3,000 riot victims in the camp, told them not to worry. “You finalise the date,” he told them, as he had said to Mansuri before.

“I will make the arrangements,” he told Tabassum’s father, Anwarbhai Mansuri. Tabassum and two other boys are getting married on May 28 at a mass wedding that is being organised.

But neither Tabassum nor her fiancé, Salimbhai, is excited about the marriage. “There will be no celebrations. It will be a simple affair,” says Salim.

Tabassum, whose wedding jewellery and lehenga were looted from her house in Naroda Gam, cries inconsolably.

“I never thought I would get married in a refugee camp. I had always dreamt something different, something big. It will be a marriage without any real celebrations,” she sobbed.

Her parents and her younger sister also have tears in their eyes. None of them thought fate could be so cruel.


New Delhi, May 22: 
The BJP has decided to push through its nominee for Vice-President, leaving the field wide open for a contest among non-BJP parties for the President’s post, following a sharp division within the National Democratic Alliance.

The BJP’s choice of P.C. Alexander has run into rough weather with Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu disinclined to back him. Naidu’s Telugu Desam holds about 55,000 votes. It can make or mar the NDA’s prospects as the ruling coalition has only a wafer-thin majority in the electoral college that chooses the President. The Desam chief is pushing for Vice-President Krishan Kant who has also served as Governor of Andhra Pradesh.

Kant is fast emerging as everyone’s second choice. The Vice-President is not from the BJP and his socialist background may cut ice with non-Congress, non-BJP parties like the Nationalist Congress Party, the ADMK, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal which have considerable votes.

However, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress is not keen on Kant and wants the government and the Opposition to consider nuclear scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for a stint at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

All is not well in the Opposition camp, too. While the Congress and the Left parties would like K.R. Narayanan to have another term, Samajwadi chief Mualyam Singh Yadav, like Mamata, wants a “national consensus” on Kalam.

The BJP leadership is now focusing on the former chief minister of Rajasthan, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, for the post of Vice-President. The party’s logic is simple. It wants a high office for its nominee, who has “lived and grown” in the party. As the largest party in the Lok Sabha, the BJP is entitled to have its nominee for a “constitutional post”, say party leaders.

Initially, the BJP wanted to pitch Shekhawat for the President’s post, but realised that it may not be able to muster enough votes in the electoral college, which consists of all MPs, MLAs and MLCs. It then opted for the post of Vice-President, who is elected by MPs from the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The BJP-led NDA has a majority in Parliament and the party hopes that its allies in the coalition would back its nominee.

If Shekhawat’s name gains currency, Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah would be the loser. Heptullah, who hails from the minority community, has been nursing the ambition of being the first woman nominee for the post. But the BJP leadership is rather dismissive about her claim.

In the Congress, too, opinion is divided on Heptullah and there are reports that she is not Sonia Gandhi’s “first choice”. Sources said Sonia would push for Arjun Singh or Manmohan Singh instead of Heptullah.


London, May 22: 
Several British MPs have voiced their concern at the events in Gujarat, which have led to the deaths of three British Muslims, and are prepared to back a long-drawn Lockerbie-style case in the European courts against the Narendra Modi government.

The plan to sue Narendra Modi for genocide by the families of the British victims announced last month has picked up momentum with the virtual finalisation of Britain’s top QC (Queen’s Counsel) to fight the case in the International Court of Justice and the Belgian courts.

Although the umbrella organisation of British Indian Muslims is not ready to reveal the name of the QC, they confirmed it was one of the country’s top counsel. The QC also represents a high-profile firm with top political connections.

Sulaiman Kazi, cousin of British victim Mohammed Aswat, who was brutally killed in front of his family while on holiday in Gujarat, is meeting foreign secretary Jack Straw to push the case.

Straw himself has assured British Muslims and the victims’ families that they will get the full backing of his government.

Aswat’s family has already been granted legal aid — state assistance of legal fees — to fight the case.

“We are now building a political consensus across party lines,” Zafar Sareshwala, a businessman based in Ahmedabad whose offices were burnt during the riots, and who is helping with the case, said.

“British Muslims are very politically conscious and they have petitioned their MPs across the country and held public meetings. The point is not to talk just to Jack Straw, but to make the issue cross-party as well.”

The group has distributed a copy of the report on Gujarat brought out by Communalism Combat to each and every MP. They are also circulating a paper by a Leicester academician on the fundamentalist ideology of the RSS and the VHP. An Indian government white paper on the RSS (dated 1975) is also being passed around.

British Muslims are lobbying MPs to demand that Britain publish its internal inquiry conducted by the high commission in Delhi, which was subsequently leaked.

The report says the violence in Gujarat was pre-planned and would have happened even without the Godhra incident.

The Christian Society of India has handed over accounts of money raised by the VHP in Britain and the recipients in India to draw a link between the riots and financing from abroad.

Last week at a meeting in Bolton in Lancashire, 500 people gathered to hear the local MP, Brian Iddon, who said he had asked Straw to publish the British report.

The MP accused Narendra Modi of perpetuating genocide and said “it was clearly well-timed in the midst of the West Asian conflict because at the time most Western governments were involved with West Asia”.

He also blamed the Kashmir situation on the attitude of the present government, saying it created hatred against Muslims, and then built on the hatred with jingoism. But British MPs have been known to have taken sides in the dispute far too frequently to keep their local constituents happy.

Another MP, David Crosby, said he was planning to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair on the issue.

Gary Tetley, a member of the European Parliament, said he had met Chris Patten of the European Union and been told that the EU was extremely concerned about the situation and that its internal report on Gujarat was being circulated to all member countries. He claimed that the EU had not ruled out sanctions against India if the situation deteriorated.

Last Sunday at another meeting in Manchester, attended by several hundred British Muslims, a documentary on Gujarat was shown and the local MP, Beverley Hughe, also a minister in the home office department, was handed over the Human Rights Watch report on the violence. She assured the gathering of her full support.

The British Muslim lobby is trying to organise the support of all 15 MPs of Manchester across party lines.

“We want to draw up a foolproof case, with cross-party backing and (with) many British MPs involved,” said Sareshwala. “There is no point rushing into anything. What we do will be well-documented and systematic.”


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