Party boss assaults headmistress
Left dilemma on twin bandhs
H-bomb element in purity breakthrough
Shellfire emits sneak-in smoke
June date set for Mirwaiz marriage
Fernandes heads for Singapore front line
Atal rules out Narayanan second stint
Dubai becomes too hot for dons
Children killed in vendetta fury
Alcohol, sari lure for votes

 
 
PARTY BOSS ASSAULTS HEADMISTRESS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
May 30: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s efforts to improve the education system are being turned on its head by functionaries of his own party.

The headmistress of a girls’ school in Jangipur in Murshidabad was caught by the neck and pushed out of her chamber on Tuesday. Her “crime”: refusal to promote 112 students of different standards who had obtained poor marks in the exams.

And the person who meted out the “punishment”: the secretary of the school managing committee who has another more well-known identity — that of being a senior leader of the coordination committee, the CPM’s unit in government offices, in the district.

Jangipur Girls’ High School headmistress Malati Mandal has lodged a complaint against the coordination committee leader, Asim Samaddar, with the Raghunathganj police and has also sent a copy to the district inspector of schools.

Teachers and officials of Asansol Girls’ College also bore the brunt of yet another assault for yet another “crime”: B.Com examinees were prevented from using unfair means in today’s exams. Students of another college — all B.Com examinees with the girls’ college as their centre — misbehaved with the teachers and beat up two non-teaching staff. Here, too, an FIR was lodged but — again — no one was arrested.

In the Jangipur incident, however, ruling-party politicians were directly involved. “The managing committee secretary (Samaddar) had been pressurising me for quite some time to promote all the 112 girls,” Mandal said today.

She continued expressing her inability to do so and Samaddar went on insisting that it was the “managing committee’s” decision. “On Tuesday, Sammaddar entered my chamber with outsiders, dragged me out, held me by my neck before pushing me out of the room and the school compound,” she complained in the FIR.

“We have been served a show-cause notice by the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education for exceptionally poor results in last year’s Madhyamik exams,” Mandal said, explaining the school academic council’s decision.

Samaddar admitted that he had urged the headmistress to promote the 112 students but denied the assault charge. “The detained students’ guardians have been pressurising me,” he explained. “The managing committee, therefore, asked the headmistress to promote the students.”

Asansol Girls’ College principal Mili Palit said the students of B.B. College had told teachers to allow them to copy or “face the consequences”. “After the examination was over, the examinees ransacked the exam halls, broke window-panes and damaged furniture, besides beating two non-teaching staff,” she said.

Additional district magistrate Manish Jain has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

   

 
 
LEFT DILEMMA ON TWIN BANDHS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 30: 
While the twin state-wide bandhs in June expose the rivalry between the Opposition parties, the CPM, too, is in a quandary over how to oppose them.

While a section of the party feels that the strikes on June 7 and 14 should be actively opposed by deploying its cadre, another lobby thinks that the best approach would be to launch a campaign, “highlighting the hollowness” of issues for which the bandhs have been called.

The back-to-back bandhs have been announced to protest against the hike in the electricity tariff, delay in the payment of teachers’ salaries, delay in updating the list of people living below the poverty line and distress sale of paddy.

Left Front chairman and CPM politburo member Biman Bose has convened an emergency meeting of the Front tomorrow to chalk out strategies to combat the two bandhs.

However, a section of the CPM top brass feels that the Congress might just withdraw its June 14 bandh. “We have heard that such a move is on. But we don’t have any definite information,” said a senior party official.

Bose said all the Front partners would oppose the bandhs and that tomorrow’s meeting would finalise the strategies to counter them.

Despite the unity stance, Front partners like the RSP and the Forward Bloc feel that the bandh issues are genuine.

“The Front should clarify its position on the issues. The government should come out with an explanation on why it failed to prevent distress sale of paddy,” said a senior Forward Bloc leader. RSP leaders said the government was yet to update its list of people living below the poverty line.

“The government should give a befitting reply to the charges levelled by the Opposition through action,” a senior RSP leader said.

But the CPM leadership chided the minor Front partners for not trying hard enough to protect the interests of farmers in the state.

“We had sought opinion from all Front partners on how to protect the farmers’ interests by May 28. But none have done so till now,” a senior CPM secretariat member said. The Front will hold another meeting on June 4 to discuss the distress sale of paddy.

   

 
 
H-BOMB ELEMENT IN PURITY BREAKTHROUGH 
 
 
BY SRABANTI BASU
 
Calcutta, May 30: 
With city physicists successfully extracting helium, Bengal and Bihar may have new locations to guard from potential terrorists — the hot springs of Bakreshwar and Tantloi.

Experts from Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP) have developed a technology to derive highly purified helium from those hot springs. “Liquid helium, being a constituent of hydrogen bomb, has the potential to attract terrorists to this region,” SINP director B.K. Sinha said.

The unique method developed by SINP physicists is able to purify helium up to 99.9955 per cent, a percentage good enough to get liquid helium. “It is the highest percentage ever to which helium gas has been purified till now,” said Sinha.

Apart from hydrogen bomb, helium is essential for nuclear reactors, rockets, cyclotron, MRI machines and other instruments that need giant magnets. Liquid helium makes the magnets superconductors through which electricity flows without resistance.

At present, India depends on the US for importing liquid helium, which costs Rs 400 per cubic metre. Besides the cost, Sinha said there was also the uncertainty in getting the material.

India is the sixth country to produce liquid helium on its own. Others countries include the US, Russia, Poland, Algeria and Falklands.

However, while the other countries extract helium from petroleum, India’s source is natural springs — considered an infinite resource. The belt of hot springs, stretching from Uttarkashi to the Northeast, appears to be rich with helium.

According to Sinha, the technology for purifying helium is quite simple. His team collects the gas, containing 1.4 per cent of helium, from the hot springs, and passes it through a cooling chamber to separate nitrogen. The process leads to 90 per cent purity.

The rest is done in the third chamber, where other impurities are removed through charcoal. The whole process is carried out in the helium enrichment plant set up in the Salt Lake campus of SINP in collaboration with British Oxygen Corporation.

It is possible to purify helium from more than 600 cubic metre gas mixture in a single day, Sinha said.

The project was funded by the Centre’s department of atomic energy and department of science and technology.

The search for helium dates back to 1950, when Satyendranath Bose and his student Shyamadas Chatterjee identified helium at the Bakreshwar spring.

The SINP team has been conducting research in this area for the past 10 years.

   

 
 
SHELLFIRE EMITS SNEAK-IN SMOKE 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Jammu, May 30: 
Shells streaked across long stretches of the International Border and the Line of Control in the dark and a huge column of smoke spiralled up when dawn broke, capping a night that saw one of the heaviest exchanges of fire since the border build-up began.

Late on Wednesday night, Indian troops in the Samba sector rolled out heavy artillery guns to respond to the heavy Pakistani shelling. Indian Army sources said the retaliatory strike destroyed the headquarters of the North Light Infantry Battalion at Tarapur across the border.

The sources pointed to the towering pillar of smoke as evidence of the destruction and put the number of casualties on the Pakistani side at more than 100.

“Unlike the Pakistanis who are targeting civilians, we are shelling military areas. Radio intercepts from across the border reveal that casualties have been high. But Pakistan, known to hide their casualties, has still not made public the number of their men killed,” an army source said.

“The heavy shelling resorted to by the Pakistan Army all along the IB and the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir since the last two days has been met with a devastating reply from our side,” a senior officer said.

The army feels that the continued heavy shelling by Pakistan is aimed at pushing in militants. “We know their gameplan and have begun targeting military installations all along the border. But infiltration is still continuing with Poonch Akhnoor and Rajouri areas becoming the main routes,” the officer added.

Official sources said there were as many as 32 routes in the state that are used by the terrorists to sneak in under the cover of firing and shelling.

The army and police have drawn up a plan to check infiltration after intelligence reports warned that over 100 extremists were waiting across the Samba frontier to sneak into India.

“The rise in firing and shelling in the area points to the fact that Pakistan is now looking for new routes to push in terrorists. Our intelligence inputs categorically state that as the days pass and before the monsoon sets in, Pakistan will try to step up shelling in Samba. We are keeping a close watch on the sector, considering its proximity to the national highway to Pathankot. All streams are also being closely monitored as the militants often use them,” a senior police officer said.

He conceded that infiltration cannot be completely checked as vast tracts on the border and the LoC are inhospitable and do not have army or police presence.

But orders have now been issued to shoot those who fail to identify themselves.

“Things have become different after Kaluchak (where over 30 people were killed when an army camp was attacked). Even Indian villagers straying too close to the IB or the LoC can be shot. We have warned civilians who return from their camps to tend to their fields and cattle that times are dangerous,” an official said.

Troops build-up across the IB and the LoC is continuing unabated. “While we do not want war, we want to teach Pakistan a lesson.

The shelling of the Northern Light Infantry Battalion headquarters at Samba is the first of a series of such tactical strikes.We want to push the Pakistan army further from the border,” an officer said.

   

 
 
JUNE DATE SET FOR MIRWAIZ MARRIAGE 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, May 30: 
Come June 9, and peals of wedding bells will drown the rumble of the drums of war in Kashmir.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the 32-year-old chief priest and one of the most eligible bachelors of Kashmir, will tie the knot with Shazia Masoodi, an NRI Kashmiri from the US. The bride’s family has reached Srinagar to prepare for the wedding.

Shazia, who comes from a well-to-do family in Khrew, a south Kashmir village near the saffron-rich town of Pampore, was born and brought up in America as her father, a doctor, emigrated to the Land of the Free over two decades ago.

The couple was engaged last year at a modest gathering of close relatives and religious leaders at Shazia’s uncle’s house at Sanant Nagar in the city.

The nikaah agreement — the Quranic marriage contract — was drawn up, read out and sealed with signatures at the function by Syed Anzar Shah Kashmir, rector of Darul Uloom Deoband.

Denizens of the disturbed state cannot hope to join the celebrations, but they will certainly forget their troubles for sometime as one of their best-loved leaders enters into wedlock.

A family friend of the Farooqs said that in view of the tense situation in the country and particularly in the Valley, only a core group of relatives, friends and well-wishers will accompany Umar when he goes in procession to the Sanant Nagar base of his in-laws for his wedding. The barati has been restricted to only 11.

Much effort has gone into making the marriage a simple, but dignified affair. The traditional wedding feast to be hosted at the groom’s house on June 10 is also likely to be a subdued affair with a chopped guest list.

But the fortunate few can hope to taste the best that Kashmir has to offer. The fare will be the mouth-watering wazwan cuisine, prepared by the best local chefs from downtown Srinagar who have traditionally been hardcore supporters of the Mirwaiz’s family.

After marriage, the couple is expected to proceed outside the country for an extended honeymoon. Sources close to Umar hoped it would take some of the tension off the young leader’s mind.

Yanked out of a hum-drum youth’s life of college and friends, Umar was thrust on to his father’s seat after his brutal assassination in May 1990 and made Kashmir’s spiritual guardian. He has risen to the responsibility and even headed the conglomerate of separatist parties, the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference.

Umar’s elder sister is believed to have played Cupid and brought together Shazia, who is doing her masters in Islamic Studies from a university in Buffalo, and her only brother.

If modern education, an American upbringing and a jet-set lifestyle are said to have left Shazia a Kashmiri only by origin, the young Mirwaiz, who had his schooling in a local Christian missionary school, is said to be fond of jeans, jackets and perfumes and hold a passion for the Internet and hi-tech gadgets, ranging from cellphones to CD players.

   

 
 
FERNANDES HEADS FOR SINGAPORE FRONT LINE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 30: 
Defence minister George Fernandes deferred a visit to forward posts after the Prime Minister today asked him to visit Singapore to meet his counterparts from Asia-Pacific countries.

Fernandes, who leaves tonight, had first put off the visit to the Asia Security Forum conference during which he is expected to meet US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the defence ministers of Canada, Russia, Australia and other nations. The visit had been put off as shelling across the Line of Control flared up over the past 48 hours.

Defence sources said the PMO had asked Fernandes to go “otherwise there will be speculation”. The US has been particularly interested in Indian participation at the conference because of its growing military-to-military ties that include joint patrolling in the Malacca Straits with the Indian Navy.

The sources said the PMO thought it was expedient for Fernandes to meet his counterparts to rally diplomatic support for India.

Specifically, Fernandes is expected to tell the defence ministers — Pakistan has not been invited to the conference — that even if Pervez Musharraf takes action in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that Islamabad will try to project as a clampdown on militants, it will not effectively curb cross-border infiltration.

Inputs available with the defence ministry have led the security establishment to conclude that that is just what the Pakistan government will be doing.

The sources said the large militant camps in PoK have either been dismantled or moved deeper since India turned the spotlight on infiltration and began getting diplomatic support.

“Cosmetic steps against such camps are very likely but there is a vast difference between the make-believe and the real,” the sources said. Militants will continue to be pushed into Jammu and Kashmir despite these steps by Islamabad, defence sources said.

Even today, at Sopore in Baramulla district, one militant was killed and another arrested. The arrested militant was identified as Mushtaque Karzai of Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Karzai is the second mercenary to be apprehended in the last one week after a Hizb-ul Mujahideen militant, Sohail Anjuman from Kotli in PoK, was caught near Rajouri.

In other incidents, two militants were killed after they raided the district police lines in Doda town, and at Reinathar village, two “foreign” militants were killed in an encounter, army sources said.

Doda camp attack

Two suicide bombers in uniform stormed the heavily guarded Doda district police lines late last night after gunning down two police personnel on guard.

They entered the three-storey complex under cover of a hail of grenades and gunfire, and killed another policeman inside the barracks when the cops tried to counter them. The well-entrenched militants then began a protracted gunbattle with the security forces from inside that lasted till this afternoon.

Army and paramilitary troops were rushed to the camp and a tight cordon was thrown around the area. “Heavy firing exchanges continued for the whole night between the holed-up militants and the security forces,” said a police official.

The guns fell silent late this afternoon after the two militants were killed. Sources said troops used grenades to eliminate the two militants.

But a defence ministry spokesman said early this morning that the militants ran out of ammunition and hid in the nearby rations store. The alert armymen bolted them inside and set the store on fire, charring the fidayeen inside.

In the light of these incidents and with the escalation in firing — shelling was particularly heavy in Rajouri today and also in Kargil, Drass and Mushkoh — Fernandes is expected to illustrate India’s standpoint to defence ministers. Fernandes’ cancellation of his visit had led to speculation that the defence ministry had taken a serious view of events along the LoC.

This is probably what the PMO did not wish to portray right now. The conference will focus round the theme, Security Scenario in Asia. It is being organised by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, a London-based thinktank.

   

 
 
ATAL RULES OUT NARAYANAN SECOND STINT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 30: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today rejected the Opposition’s demand for a second term for President K.R. Narayanan when he told the President that NDA allies were in favour of the convention that no incumbent President should be given a second stint.

Vajpayee’s move to reject Narayanan’s name at a nascent stage of the presidential polls virtually confirmed reports that all was not well between Raisina Hill and Rashtrapati Bhavan since Vajpayee took charge as Prime Minister.

President Narayanan’s “proactive role” of nudging and ticking off the Vajpayee regime and his insistence on acting as the “nation’s conscience-keeper” seem to have gone against him.

However, as an olive branch to the Opposition, Vajpayee indicated he was prepared to work for a consensus nominee for Rashtrapati Bhavan other than Narayanan. Sources close to Vajpayee indicated he was willing to drop the candidature of Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander, widely seen as a NDA nominee.

Sources close to Vajpayee said the NDA was prepared to consider the names of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, K.C. Pant, L.M. Singhvi, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat or Krishna Kant as a consensus nominee. As part of the “trade-off”, the NDA is prepared to concede the post of Vice-President to the Congress.

Another section of the NDA wants Vajpayee and the Opposition to consider “apolitical and eminent” persons such as noted Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi or nuclear scientist Kalam for Vice-President.

The Congress is, however, reluctant to consider these names. Till late tonight, it was trying hard to persuade Narayanan to take on the NDA nominee. But sources close to Narayanan declined to give any firm commitment pointing at the NDA’s numerical advantage in the electoral college.

Sources close to the President said unless Narayanan was reasonably sure of victory, he would not like to throw his hat in the ring. That scenario would emerge only if a section of the NDA defied Vajpayee and announced support to Narayanan. So far, there are no indications in that direction.

At the personal level, too, Narayanan is hesitant to contest. His first priority was to emerge as a consensus nominee. Narayanan told A.K. Antony, V.P. Singh, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, A.B. Bardhan, Ram Vilas Paswan and Sonia Gandhi that having been elected by consensus, propriety demanded that he should run for second time only if all sections of society were willing to back him.

Vajpayee met Narayanan today for 45 minutes and reminded him that NDA allies were in favour of an unwritten convention that, other than Rajendra Prasad, no President should be given a second term.

The Prime Minister had already been authorised by the NDA to take a decision on the presidential elections after consulting coalition partners, parties supporting the government and the Opposition parties.

Vajpayee’s rejection of a second term for Narayanan came a day after the Congress upped its ante on the issue by favouring a second stint for the President.

   

 
 
DUBAI BECOMES TOO HOT FOR DONS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, May 30: 
The CBI scored a major victory today with UAE deporting Bangalore’s most-wanted criminal Muthappa Rai.

The Dubai-based gangster is the third wanted man to be deported to India. After detaining him, the UAE got in touch with the CBI and decided against initiating extradition proceedings as they can take several months and rule against handing over the wanted person.

“By deporting Aftab Ansari and Muthappa Rai, the UAE has cut down the red tape and signalled a political shift in its attitude towards India,” a senior official said.

Officials in North Block believe that after September 11, Gulf states have taken a tough stand against both criminals and terrorists. They are afraid that extremists could be a future threat to their governments.

“The UAE has made it very clear that it does not want Dubai, Sharjah or Abu Dhabi to be treated as a safe haven for criminals or terrorists. They know there is a thin dividing line between terrorists and criminals and want to make it difficult for them to work out of the region,” a senior official said.

Rai had fled to the UAE in 1997 and controlled a huge criminal empire from there. He had his personal website in Kannada, where he asked people interested in crime to join him and get in touch with his men in India.

The CBI had issued a red-corner notice against Rai to Interpol for his arrest in June 2000, but nothing much happened.

However, since the beginning of the year, there has been a marked change in UAE’s position on cooperation with India. “We don’t know what caused this but we are extremely happy with the cooperation the UAE has extended to us,” a senior CBI official said.

In January, Aftab Ansari, the man behind the Calcutta shootout, was handed over to the CBI along with a colleague. Instead of going through the long process of extradition, the two were simply deported.

About a month ago, India handed over Roshana Ansari, a UAE national who had fled to India after killing Muna Ahmed Omar al Minnani, who was reportedly her father’s mistress. She was traced to Bangalore and turned over to UAE police.

This time, it was UAE’s turn to help. The 40-something Rai led a gang of 200-300 criminals indulging in extortion and murder in Karnataka.

They entered into a bitter gang rivalry with Sridhar, another dreaded mafia leader operating out of the state. Sridhar had tried to take Rai’s place after he left for Dubai.

There have been suggestions that Rai has links with Dawood Ibrahim. But the CBI has no confirmation on this.

   

 
 
CHILDREN KILLED IN VENDETTA FURY 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Masaurhi, May 30: 
In a revenge killing by a former cadre of the People’s War Group (PWG) late last night, six members of a family, including five children, were mercilessly shot dead, pushing the Bihar backwaters to the brink of mass hysteria.

Thousands of grieving, angry villagers in Masaurhi came out to squat on the streets today as a mark of protest. They refused to let the bodies be removed till chief minister Rabri Devi came to the spot and announced adequate compensation to the next of the kin of the deceased.

“The web of violence has begun to involve everyone now, it has gone beyond caste hatred. Since violence is a way of life, people are driven to kill despite their caste affinities however trifle might be the provocation,” said Bihar additional director general of police A.R. Sinha.

According to the police, a heavily-armed gang of 10 raided the house of Sadhu Saran Singh in Lakhnaur area, about 10 km from Bhagwangunge area of Masaurhi block in Patna district, around midnight yesterday, looking for the head of the family. Unable to find him, the killers took the women and children, tied their hands behind their back and shot them from point blank range.

One of the six victims was a 35-year-old woman identified as Tetri Devi. The rest were all between two and seven.

The children were fast sleep when the gang struck. They have been identified as Narendra Kumar, 7, Namita Kumari, 5, Tun Tun Kumari, 6, Shivani Kumari, 4, and Kavita Kumari, two and-a-half.

Before leaving the area, the gang exploded bombs to scare away the villagers. The police said the killing had nothing to do with extremist-related violence because the killers had not left behind any propaganda material.

The victims belonged to the Yadav caste.

Bhagwangunge became a hotbed of violence in the wake of the 1999 polls when various factions of the PWG and the MCC fought among themselves in the bloodiest turf battle seen in these parts. There were at least 40 deaths in a series of clashes in a span of two months as the militants carved out the Bhagwangunge area among themselves.

According to the police, many of the local Naxalites, anti-socials once, were expelled and become gangsters.

Sunil Yadav, suspected to be the massacre mastermind, was a member of the PWG and a relative of Jaynandan Yadav, the PWG area commander who was killed in a police encounter.

   

 
 
ALCOHOL, SARI LURE FOR VOTES 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA
 
Panaji, May 30: 
Underneath the deceptive calm that prevailed during the polling process in Goa today, a bitter battle was being fought between the BJP and the Congress.

The elections, considered by many as a crucial test for both parties given the post- Gujarat scenario, saw participation from 40 per cent of the electorate till early afternoon. That could go up to 70 per cent by the end of the day.

While there were reports of the two main contending parties wooing voters with allurements ranging from saris to alcohol, political observers say such gimmicks may not spell clear majority for either when the results are announced on June 1.

While the chances of the BJP keeping its tenacious grasp on power appear dim, the possibility of a Congress triumph depends largely on how splintered the anti-BJP vote gets. The regional parties, though almost marginalised in the state, could play a role in deciding the front runner.

The common man has of late displayed a marked disenchantment with both. The BJP ruled Goa for 18 months after taking power by engineering defections from the Congress, an issue the party played up, hoping to show the Congress in a bad light as the latter had granted tickets to several defectors. At the same time, it had to contend with the Goa Catholic church adopting a firm stand against communalism and corruption.

The Congress, on the other hand, alienated its traditional support base by nominating a number of controversial candidates, in, what it said, was an attempt to put up “winnable” contestants for the elections.

But both the parties, and to some extent Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, made a special effort to draw votes by getting a bevy of eminent state and national leaders to address the electorate.

Prominent candidates contesting the polls include chief minister Manohar Parrikar of the bjp and senior Congress leaders Pratapsingh Rane, Luizinho Faleiro and Ravi Naik.

Parrikar is contesting for the third consecutive time from Panaji.

Former chief ministers Shashikala Kakodkar of the MGP and the NCP’s Wilfred D’Souza are also in the fray along with former Union ministers Shripad Naik and Ramakant Khalap.

   
 

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