Beaten Mamata plays bandh catch-up
IBM sounded on training school
State, city police shuffle
Jailbreak via ventilator
Pond filler faces action
Delhi infiltration radar beeps loud
Straw sends action message
Rule book silence drowns war book roar
Militants shoot at Kashmir scribe
Naidu clears air on pullout

 
 
BEATEN MAMATA PLAYS BANDH CATCH-UP 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 29: 
In a game of political one-upmanship, the Trinamul Congress today called a 12-hour Bengal bandh on June 7, a week before the 24-hour strike already announced by its parent party.

As a result of the two bandhs in a space of one week, the state will be on forced holidays at a time when the World Cup will already be taking a toll on work culture.

The Trinamul bandh seeks to highlight the same issues that the Congress has called its strike for: irregular payment of salaries to schoolteachers, hike in electricity tariff and distress sale of paddy.

“Though I am against bandhs, I have been forced to call it because of the CPM-led government’s lack of response to our repeated pleas to redress people’s grievances,” Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee said.

Realising that the bandh would be viewed as an attempt to stay ahead of the Congress, she added: “My decision (to call the bandh) is fully independent of any decision taken by others.”

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee described the bandh calls as a “political marathon between the two parties to beat each other”. “This will only add to people’s hardship,” he said.

Insiders said Mamata was upset by the Congress call yesterday for a state-wide bandh on June 14, a day after she had publicly hinted at the possibility of her party going for a strike over the same issues. “She felt beaten to the draw,” they said.

The Trinamul chief was also reportedly under pressure from party workers to call the strike to thwart the Congress’ bid to hijack issues after its somewhat unexpected success in the just-concluded municipal polls. What added insult to injury was that several Trinamul nominees, including one in Calcutta, lost their deposits.

Mamata announced the bandh at the dharna being held before the Board of Secondary Education office at Park Street. She listed the failure to pay salaries to schoolteachers on time and offer the support price of paddy to farmers, the sharp hike in power tariff, the delay in rectifying mistakes in Madhyamik certificates and the government’s inability to solve unemployment as grievances to be highlighted by the bandh.

The state administration fears that the Opposition parties’ one-upmanship will pose a law and order problem.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas attributed the bandh calls to “an unholy competition between the two parties” and vowed to oppose the strikes.

Mamata said the people had the right to protest against the “political and economic bankruptcy of the CPM-led government by observing a bandh”. “A time will come when the state government will stop paying salaries to its employees”.

On the Congress’ bandh call over similar issues, the Trinamul chief said: “The Congress has completely surrendered itself to the Marxists and is acting on their directives.”

However, the Trinamul bandh call has evoked an angry response from the Congress.

   

 
 
IBM SOUNDED ON TRAINING SCHOOL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 29: 
The government has approached IBM Learning Services to set up training facilities for IT teachers in the state.

“There are 38 engineering colleges in the state and we need qualified teachers for these institutes. We had discussed with Microsoft for a trainers’ institute, but they haven’t responded to our proposal. Hence we have approached IBM to set up a state-of-the-art learning facility in the state,” chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told The Telegraph.

He added that the government would try its “best” to change the state of technical education within two to three years.

“The chief minister has given us a proposal and we are seriously considering it. We are keen to be associated with the West Bengal government,” said Cynthia Crose, general manager, Learning Services, IBM-Asia Pacific.

However, she declined to state the deadline for completing the project.

Addressing the first convocation of Indus Institute of Information Management (IIIM) — an autonomous educational society promoted by the state’s youth services department — Bhattacharjee announced that IBM India in association with IIIM would provide computer education to students of classes VII to XII in 200 schools.

He also released a Bengali textbook on computer literacy. “Soon, IIIM will publish a similar book in Urdu,” the chief minister said.

Some 240 IBM-certified teachers will conduct the literacy programme in the 200 schools. To implement the Rs 18-crore project, the global learning major has signed an agreement with Webel Technologies Limited.

The project is part of the government’s scheme to introduce computer literacy courses in 1,000 schools within two years.

“The government has decided to play the role of a facilitator and we want a greater role for private players and NGOs in spreading technical education across the length and breadth of the state. We have also requested IBM to increase its presence here,” said Mohd. Salim, minister in-charge of technical education.

   

 
 
STATE, CITY POLICE SHUFFLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 29: 
The government today shuffled state and Calcutta police.

According to officials, additional director-general of CID K.K. Mondal, has been transferred as ADG, legal affairs. Mondal has been replaced by S.I.S. Ahmed who was ADG, fire. Sultan Singh who was ADG, legal affairs, has become the ADG of Pollution Control Board. The new postings will be enforced with immediate effect.

Balkar Singh, who was the inspector-general of PCB, will take charge as ADG, fire brigade. Prasun Mukherjee, inspector-general of South Bengal, has been transferred to the enforcement branch. Mukherjee will be replaced by N.R. Das, who was inspector-general of north Bengal. Bhupinder Singh, who was controller of printing and stationery department, will replace Das.

Naparajit Mukherjee, inspector-general of border, has been transferred to the traffic department. Dilip Mitra DIG (border) has been transferred as DIG, intelligence branch (border). Sarbesh Chandra, inspector-general of traffic department has been transferred as controller of B.G. Press.

R.S. Rawat, DIG, traffic, has been transferred to the armed police department. The present incumbent, Akbar Ali Khan, has been transferred to home guard. R.N. Sarkar, senior superintendent of police of intelligence branch, has been promoted to the rank of DIG (IB) of border.

In Calcutta Police, Tapan Chatterjee, additional police commissioner II, has been transferred to the traffic department in the same rank. Sujit Sarkar, inspector-general (organisation) has been appointed as the additional police commissioner II.

Besides, Satish Tiwari, additional district magistrate of South 24-Parganas, has been promoted to the rank of district magistrate of Birbhum. Satish Tiwari, special secretary of transport department, has become the excise commissioner.

State on alert

Security agencies have been put on full alert following the Gujarat bomb blasts and the BSF has been directed to tighten vigil along the India-Bangladesh border. The police have been put on full alert in and around vital installations such as power plants, bridges and railway stations.    

 
 
JAILBREAK VIA VENTILATOR 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
May 29: 
Three undertrials fled Jalpaiguri Central Jail in the wee hours this morning through a ventilator of their cell.

What baffled police was that the trio apparently squeezed through a one-square-foot gap in the ventilator by sawing one of the rods.

Police sources said the jailbreak at cellblock no. 7 was discovered by the night warden.

“The undertrials apparently sawed a rod of the ventilator and managed to squeeze through a gap of barely one square foot. They used a blanket to climb to the ventilator. It is mystifying that three able-bodied men could have squeezed through the narrow gap. A bar of soap found in the cell suggests that the jailbirds could have used it to aid them,” a police official said.

“It is a wonder how the three managed to escape through a gap that is barely enough for someone to squeeze his head through. We are investigating how the three undertrials got hold of the devices to cut one of the ventilator’s rods. The escape could not have been possible without inside help,” jail officials said.

Inspector-general of police (prison) Anil Kumar said at Writers’ Buildings that a probe had been ordered to find out any lapses on part of the jail employees.

The police have launched a manhunt for the three fugitives — Rafique-ul Islam, Bhanjan Sarkar and Amulla Das. An alert has also been sounded in the adjoining districts of Darjeeling and Cooch Behar.

While Islam, a resident of Ambari village under Madarihat police station in Jalpaiguri, is a history-sheeter, Sarkar, a resident of Fakdoibari village under Bhaktinagar police station, was undergoing trial in a rape case. Das, a resident of Kokrajhar in Assam, was arrested in April on the charge of dacoity.

The police searched the homes of the three undertrials but without success.

In another incident, a criminal fled from a court compound at Rampurhat in Birbhum district. Situ Sheikh was arrested yesterday and was brought to the court to be produced before the Rampurhat sub-divisional judicial magistrate. But before entering the court, Sheikh, who had three police escorts, fled.

Sheikh was accused of rape in 1996. He was released on bail after 90 days in jail and had been absconding ever since.

   

 
 
POND FILLER FACES ACTION 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol May 29: 
The state fisheries department today lodged a complaint against a property developer for filling a two-acre wetland.

Assistant director of fisheries Kalyan Ghosh, who filed the FIR, said owner-cum-promoter Subal Mondal had filled the waterbody by defying a ban against the filling of wetlands, making it a cognisable offence.

“The landowner did not adhere to repeated warnings from local and district administrations and filled the wetland. We have asked police to arrest him. The filled waterbody will be brought back to its earlier state,” Ghosh said.

According to local residents, Mondal, now absconding, had been filling the waterbody at Rangamatia under Salanpur police station with rubbles and mud for the past few months.

The fisheries department took action after the matter was brought to the notice of district magistrate Manoj Agarwal.

“The waterbody was filled many years ago when there was no such restriction. Now we are planning construction work,” Mondal said.

Officials of the fisheries department, however, said they had enough evidence to prove that the waterbody was filled recently.

Additional superintendent of police Supratim Sarkar said the absconding promoter would be arrested as soon as he was traced. “One promoter was arrested last week from Asansol on charges of filling wetland and a search is on to arrest more of his associates involved in the illegal activity,” he said.

According to district administration officials, at least five vast waterbodies in the Asansol municipal area were recently filled by promoters in violation of the ban.

Last month, a promoter filled a nine-acre wetland and felled some 100 trees here to build a commercial complex. Following a petition by the residents, the green bench of the Calcutta High Court directed the municipal corporation to take action to restore the wetland.

   

 
 
DELHI INFILTRATION RADAR BEEPS LOUD 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, May 29: 
Despite the pressure on Pakistan and the unprecedented deployment of the military, infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir continues even from those areas on which security forces have been focussing since the winter ended.

Information available with the army puts the number of infiltrators into Jammu and Kashmir at 165 in May alone. The figures are till May 27, the day General Pervez Musharraf was making his televised speech.

The reports claim that of these, 51 were Kashmiri. The most worrisome aspect, the army reports point out, is that a bulk of these infiltrators came in from passes to the north of the Pir Panjal range — in Gulmarg, Lipa Valley, Uri, Gurez and Macchal.

One objective of the military deployment was to beef up the security ring around the Valley before the snows in the higher reaches melted and allowed the passes to be used. However, that has not happened. The army also says it is impossible to seal the Line of Control (LoC), given the nature of the terrain.

If these reports are true and accepted by the security establishment, they further buttress the Indian position on Pakistan abetting “cross-border terrorism”. More important, however, they reinforce the intractable positions that New Delhi and Islamabad are in — with Pakistan claiming that there is no infiltration and India saying it continues.

At meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security, defence minister George Fernandes aided by the service chiefs is expected to refer to these reports. Fernandes today told a television channel that India will reach the threshold of its patience if there is another attack like the killings of May 14 in Kaluchak.

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh, explaining the raison d’etre of infiltrators, said yesterday: “They don’t come into Kashmir for tourism.”

Within the security establishment however, there is some thought being given to the intractable positions — there being apparently no common ground between New Delhi and Islamabad since Musharraf’s speech on May 27 — that could risk making the Indian standpoint untenable in the long term.

The possibility that Pakistan will urge through its envoys that the situation on the LoC needs “neutral umpiring” is high. India negates the possibility entirely because it does not want Kashmir internationalised.

The army and security agencies have been claiming that infiltration in sectors along the LoC south of the Pir Panjal — like Rajouri, Naoshera, Poonch right through to Jammu — have been continuing through the winter.

The May 14 attack on the Kaluchak army camp is alleged to have been carried out by militants who came in through the Samba sector.

The simplest of solutions advocated by the hawks has been a military operation in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that will hit at the camps and the Pakistan army posts near the LoC. For the moment, the complexities of such an operation and the diplomatic exercises currently on are putting pressures on the army to fine-tune into perfection whatever armed action it might be asked to contemplate.

   

 
 
STRAW SENDS ACTION MESSAGE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, May 29: 
Britain today cut further into Pakistan’s manoeuvring space on Kashmir, saying world leaders were no longer prepared to see terrorism as freedom struggle and the menace in all its forms needed to be checked.

British foreign secretary Jack Straw also emphasised that mere words of Pervez Musharraf were not enough and the international community would be convinced about the Pakistan President’s seriousness in stopping cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir only if the ground situation improves.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee kept up the pressure on Islamabad when he said this afternoon that India did not want a war but its patience was fast running out. “It is absolutely necessary to avoid a war, but there is a limit to our patience,” he told Junichiro Koizumi when the Japanese Prime Minister called up to urge Vajpayee to show restraint.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who held a joint news conference with Straw, underlined India’s mood. “We have waited too long and Pakistan should realise the urgency of the situation,” he said, asked how long Delhi was willing to give Islamabad to act on its concerns.

Straw, who met the Pakistani leadership in Islamabad yesterday, made no bones about London’s unambiguous support to Delhi’s battle against terrorism. He said Musharraf was serious about fighting the scourge. “But the test is by action and not words. There has to be measurement on the ground,” he asserted. “The international community looks to the Pakistani President for full implementation of the promises made by him.”

Straw said international law and the UN Security Council’s resolution 1373 made it clear that terrorism included cross-border militancy as well as violence perpetrated by “freedom fighters”.

In his speech on Monday, Musharraf had tried to draw a distinction between terrorism and the freedom struggle “which is going on in Kashmir”. But Straw’s remarks today clearly indicated that at the moment, world players were not interested in the finer points of terrorism.

Straw called on Vajpayee in the evening. He also met home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi. After his meeting with Advani, Straw said Musharraf must ensure that the Line of Control is effectively sealed so that no infiltration can take place from his side.

Straw also said though the military standoff in South Asia has “international implications”, it should be sorted out bilaterally. Islamabad has been trying hard to get a third party involved.Indications suggest that during his talks here Straw may have spoken about some mechanism that might involve international observers to monitor the border along the LoC. Asked about it, Singh said: “There was a different proposal on verification, but it will be unwise to prematurely lay them on the table.”

Gujarat’s salve

Britain, which had temporarily soured its relations with India on the Gujarat developments, today indicated it was no longer willing to meddle in an “internal matter”. Though Straw demanded a probe into the murder of two British nationals during the carnage, at the news conference he made it clear he would not like to discuss Gujarat.    

 
 
RULE BOOK SILENCE DROWNS WAR BOOK ROAR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 29: 
An outraged India had given every indication of going to war with Pakistan soon after the fidayeen attack on the Kaluchak army camp. But the fact that the government did not invoke the Defence of India Rule was a clear indication that the leadership was willing to wait and watch.

Home minister L.K. Advani mentioned the war book that lays down specific guidelines on what is to be done during war and how the war effort has to be co-ordinated, but stopped at that. He also chaired a high-powered meeting for rear-guard security, but again left it at that. The meeting had more to do with civil defence, but no instructions were issued as to what was to be done in case of an airstrike or a nuclear strike from Pakistan.

If the massive troop build-up on the border and keeping the war rhetoric at fever pitch were aimed at keeping Pakistan guessing about India’s intentions, the ploy has failed miserably. Not using the special powers under the Defence of India Rule was a dead giveaway. India-watchers in Pakistan, familiar with the Indian set-up, know that the rule would be in place if Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wants to go to war.

The first step in the drill in case of war is to declare an internal emergency, which gives the government sweeping powers to ensure that all resources are mobilised and are directed towards the war effort. It also helps the government to deal with the fifth columnists and demand from every citizen their share of service to defend the country. Maintaining communication lines, keeping supply lines flowing and ensuring optimum defence production are part of wartime necessities. Blockades here can lead to problems on the front lines.

The government is allowed extraordinary powers to deal with the emergency and if required, certain freedoms can be restricted. Newspapers and television channels may come under censorship if the authorities feel that such steps are necessary to safeguard national interest.

The National Security Council, which met last week, had recommended a number of steps if India was seriously planning to go to war. They said the Defence of India Rule has to be promulgated and the war book instructions implemented.

The council also asked the government to form a core group of ministers to oversee the war effort of the various ministries, apart from defence. A panel of ministers must also be in place to ensure proper coverage of the war, make certain that signals sent out by the press to both the domestic and international audience do not go against Indian interests as well as to make sure that the government and all its departments spoke in one voice.

Advani held a meeting to have an overview of rear-area security and made an assessment of civil defence preparedness in the country. However, no clear instructions were sent out.

   

 
 
MILITANTS SHOOT AT KASHMIR SCRIBE 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, May 29: 
The sub-editor of a local newspaper was shot at and seriously injured by suspected militants in his office on the high-security Residency Road this afternoon.

Two youths came to the office of Kashmir Images, an English daily, and told an employee they wanted to meet Zaffar Iqbal. “The two youths talked to Zaffar for nearly 15 minutes. Then they fired on him from a close range. Zaffar received three bullets, two in the thigh and one in the neck. He was bleeding profusely,” said Bashir Manzar, the editor of the newspaper.

Zaffar was immediately rushed to SMHS hospital. But doctors shifted him to the Soura Medical Institute for specialised treatment as his condition deteriorated. Hospital sources said Zaffar’s condition was critical.

The attack sent a chill down the spines of local journalists as the militants escaped after striking at the Kashmir Images office, located in a high security area near the Kothi Bagh police station in the heart of the city. No group has claimed responsibility.

Last month, a grenade exploded on the office premises of Ahsan Fazilli, the local correspondent of the Chandigarh-based Tribune, in the press enclave here. Fazilli received minor splinter injuries.

Poonch, too, was taut with tension this afternoon as five persons, including two soldiers, were killed in heavy Pakistani shelling. Many residents have begun fleeing the town.

Police said Pakistani artillery hit an army camp and damaged the district institute of education. Some houses in the town were hit by shrapnel. Fourteen persons were injured in the bombardment.

Defence sources said the Indian artillery retaliated by shelling Pakistani positions and inflicting casualties and damage.

The shelling left the residents panic-stricken. “We have taken shelter inside our homes. But we can still hear the sounds of exploding shells,” said Mohammad Hussain, a resident, over phone.

A report from Kargil said Pakistani troops fired mortars on Kaksar village last night, ruining four houses and forcing residents to flee to safer places near Kargil. Pakistani artillery shelled the Batalik sector, too, this evening. No casualty was reported.

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah described the situation on the border as “grim but hoped that it will not take a turn of war”. “War is in nobody’s interest, neither India nor Pakistan, as it brings only destruction and devastation,” he told a rally at Kunzer in Baramulla district.

“The armies of the two countries are standing eyeball to eyeball and the war hype has already cost Kashmir dearly with zero tourist influx,” Farooq added.

   

 
 
NAIDU CLEARS AIR ON PULLOUT 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Warangal, May 29: 
The Telugu Desam Party today said it does not believe in destabilising games and set at rest all speculation that it was thinking of withdrawing support to the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.

As a minesweeper checked the roads at regular intervals in this extremist-infested town, the Desam ended its three-day annual convention — the Mahanadu — with a resolution iterating support to the A.B. Vajpayee regime. But it warned the BJP not to push through any of its secret agenda through the backdoor.

The party stuck to its demand for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s sack, saying there was no question of compromising on secularism. “The removal of Modi would have given greater credibility to the NDA government and also won the confidence of the minorities that would have been reflected in the Uttar Pradesh polls,” it felt.

The Congress came in for flak for playing “dirty politics” to rock Chandrababu Naidu’s boat in Andhra Pradesh. The party blasted the Congress for trying to put obstacles in the way of development projects planned by the Naidu government.

“Congressmen are shedding crocodile tears on the problems of the people to achieve their deceptive political designs to grab power once again in the state,” the resolution said, describing the party’s leaders as masked brigands who believe that the people have forgotten their past misdeeds.

Desam parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu, who proposed the resolution, contended that the Congress had no sympathy for either the minorities or the Dalits. They are just “pawns” of the Congress to achieve its only objective of regaining power.

Yerran pointed out that it was the Congress that had taken the lead in conducting the shilanyas during the Rajiv Gandhi regime and had also not condemned the burning of kar sevaks at Godhra for over 24 hours.

On Centre-state relations, the Desam was categorical that the Centre should set aside 51 per cent from the Central pool of taxes, as recommended by the Sarkaria Commission. It also urged the Centre to stop direct funding of panchayats as that could lead to islands of development.

   
 

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