CPM war cry against Mamata bandh
Behrampore teachers set tuition example
Bhutan shuns military option
Red tape holds up flood project
Sloppy lawyers in the dock
Mahajan peace package for Tatas
Strikes prompt database on terrorism
Delhi turns on torture heat
Joshi’s mental diet chart for children
BJP Goa rerun hope in Gujarat

 
 
CPM WAR CRY AGAINST MAMATA BANDH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 6: 
Minutes after Mamata Banerjee spurned Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s offer of talks on issues of common concern, the CPM announced plans to “actively resist” tomorrow’s bandh.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas said the Left Front, led by the CPM, had asked its supporters and people in general to come out on the streets and resist the bandh that has attracted sharp criticism from the high court and several quarters.

“Since she chose not to respond to chief minister Bhattacharjee’s appeal and go ahead and inflict a wholly unnecessary bandh on the state, we have no option but to ask our cadres to resist it,” Biswas said.

It is the first time in many years that the CPM has decided to go in for a head-on confrontation with Mamata, whose grip on what was perceived as a huge and captive middle class vote bank till the other day was palpably weakening.

The string of electoral setbacks in different parts of Bengal and the success of the government’s programme of evicting illegal settlers in her South Calcutta constituency over the past few months were also taken as pointers to the erosion to her base.

Biswas said the Front has refused to buy Mamata’s argument that she could not respond to Bhattacharjee’s appeal because it reached her at the “eleventh hour”.

“Why, she never fails to make it known that she had to fly to Delhi at a moment’s notice from her Kalighat home because she was needed for consultation with the Prime Minister…. So, there is no reason why she can’t withdraw the bandh call even now and go to Writers’ or the Assembly for a talk with the government in Bengal’s interest.”

Left Front chairman and CPM politburo member Biman Bose also appealed to Trinamul to withdraw the bandh in view of the chief minister’s invitation to the party for a bipartite discussion on the issues over which the strike has been called.

“We, in the Front, appeal to her again to withdraw the call for bandh. If she and her party choose to ignore the appeal and stick to the decision to sponsor the bandh, then we appeal to people: do frustrate the bandh,” Bose said.

The two CPM leaders even asked the cadres belonging to all frontal organisations, like the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (Citu), Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and Krishak Front, to take to the streets tomorrow to oppose the bandh. Party officials said plans have been drawn up for holding rallies across Bengal during the bandh hours.

As the CPM and Trinamul bared their claws over the bandh, the Congress watched gleefully from the sidelines. It realises its stock has gone up after it called off the June 14 strike, forcing Mamata to stick to the bandh call — a move for which Trinamul is being trashed.

Chief secretary Sourin Roy asked all state employees to attend office tomorrow and instructed the district magistrates to deploy more policemen to maintain law and order and regulate traffic. “Patrolling should be extensive in and outside Calcutta,” he said in a circular.

In addition to state transport, at least 2,000 private buses and mini buses, run by Citu supporters, would ply in the city, said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

   

 
 
BEHRAMPORE TEACHERS SET TUITION EXAMPLE 
 
 
FROM ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
 
Behrampore, June 6: 
If Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee needs mascots in his campaign against private tuition, he will find them here.

Four teachers have become the toast of this town after word spread that they sacrificed their summer vacation — one of the attractions of their profession — to coach students at their school for free.

Supriya Roy, Mahadeb Nath, Rahim Bux and Mahiul Hasan of Krishnanath Primary School, one of the oldest institutions in Murshidabad district, are tutoring about 120 pupils of Class IV in their school, now closed for summer vacation.

The school authorities readily allowed use of a few classrooms after learning from the teachers that the children needed extra attention. Unlike several institutions in Calcutta, the school is not charging any fees for use of its premises.

“I was delighted when the four teachers approached me with their proposal. I did not waste a second in giving permission. I feel proud that these teachers, instead of coaching the children privately, decided to do something all of us should do voluntarily. After all, it is our job to build the future generation,” said headmaster N.K. Bagchi.

He believes the teachers might encourage others in the profession to follow suit and help bring back some of the old values and glory once associated with teaching. “A teacher needs a regular salary like others but, at the same time, he has to understand that his is not any other salaried job,” Bagchi stressed.

The thought of suggesting private tuition to the students did not occur to the quartet as they are from a poor background, lack nutrition and are weak learners.

“We are coaching them to help them get admission in any secondary school. We have another reason for doing what we are doing. We realise that if they do not do well, we will lose face and the image of our school will be damaged beyond repair,” they said.

“Most of the students are poor; they do not get meals twice a day and are engaged in different jobs with their parents. If we, the teachers, do not inspire them to come to school, to read, to be a good man, who will do it? So we preferred coaching the students during the vacation instead of holidaying,” said Bux.

“Just imagine a child being unable to continue education for want of money. If we do not come forward, the future of many youths will be darkened. My salary is ensured, so, in my opinion, I must help build an educated new generation,’’ said Hasan.

Power raids

The state electricity board disconnected 5,734 illegal power connections and arrested seven persons for stealing power after conducting a week-long raid in different districts.

The raids were conducted with the help of locals and the police.

   

 
 
BHUTAN SHUNS MILITARY OPTION 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, June 6: 
Fearing a worsening of bilateral relations, Bhutan desperately wants to push out all northeastern militants holed up in its territory. But it is averse to the use of the military option.

Bhutanese representatives at the recent high level talks with India at Thimphu made this clear while expressing grave concern over the presence of the Ulfa, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) inside the remote jungles on the southern ranges.

Under pressure from Delhi, Bhutan has repeatedly issued ultimatum to the rebels to close down their training camps within its territory. But the militants have refused to budge.

Disregarding the December 31 ultimatum, the Ulfa-NDFB-KLO combine merely “shifted” seven of its 21 camps deeper into Bhutan.

The militants relocated the Daifam area command camps from the Kalikhola region in the Fisfshu jungles eastwards to the Piping-Tintala area in Sangdrup Jhonkar region.

“Although the Bhutanese authorities have expressed concern over the continued presence of the militants on their soil, they are averse to any military operations within Bhutanese territory. A military operation to flush out the militants is unacceptable to them,” said a senior Jalpaiguri district official who participated in the talks.

“The Bhutan government wants to flush out the militants in a peaceful and bloodless manner. It fears that any military operation by the Indian armed forces would result in Bhutanese civilian casualty, something they do not want to risk,” he added.

State police and the paramilitary forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations in north Bengal are hamstrung as they cannot pursue the militants back to the dens.

The insurgents, on the other hand, continue to carry out their strikes in India with impunity operating from Bhutanese soil.

   

 
 
RED TAPE HOLDS UP FLOOD PROJECT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, June 6: 
Monsoon is at hand, but the government is yet to put in place flood-control measures in Malda, the district that experiences a deluge almost every year.

The district where hundreds of people die, thousands of houses collapse and crops amounting to several crore are damaged in recurring floods is yet to take any preventive measure to stop a repetition of the devastation.

The state government took up a Rs 13-crore flood protection project for Malda district, including repairing of river embankments, construction of new embankments, pitching boulders along the river bank and strengthening spur no. 18. But the project had not taken off as the irrigation department failed to select a firm to which the contract could be awarded.

Officials said a section of officers wants to give the contract to a reputed private company with vast experience in implementing flood control projects, but another section favours a government undertaking. Irrigation minister A.L. Roy has failed to come to a conclusion.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta and Roy had jointly announced in March that work on the flood control project in Malda would be completed before monsoon.

“I do not know when work will start and, if it starts within this week, I doubt how fruitful it will be because no work will be possible in the rain. My team is waiting only for an order from the irrigation department,” said executive engineer of the irrigation department, S.S. De.

“What shall I say? I am helpless. Many people are asking me when the flood control project will start, but I cannot satisfy them because it is beyond my control,” said district magistrate Ashok Bala.

Minister Sailen Sarkar, who is from Malda, is surprised at the confusion. “It is a matter of the lives and property of thousands of people. I am surprised how the irrigation department is sitting idle,’’ he said, adding that he would bring the matter to the notice of the chief minister.

People of Malda, Englishbazar, Harishchandrapur and Bhutni, the most flood-prone zones in the district, have begun shifting in fear of floods as monsoon approaches.

About 200 persons died and thousands of houses were washed away in a devastating flood in 1998. The district administration admitted that the loss of lives and property could have been reduced if precautionary measures were taken in time to tackle the flood.

In 1998, the irrigation department could not repair a seven-km stretch of the river embankment before monsoon, resulting in the deluge.

Man drown: An ECL employee, Mangru Bhunia, 30, drowned while bathing in a pool of water accumulated in an abandoned mine on Thursday at Hatgarai in Asansol.

   

 
 
SLOPPY LAWYERS IN THE DOCK 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, June 6: 
Concern over declining performance of lawyers was the overriding sentiment at the inauguration of the first law college in Paschim Midnapore.

Law minister Nisith Ranjan Adhikari said lawyers often failed to tackle complicated cases as they were not adequately trained. “In such a situation, it is extremely necessary to set up good law institutions.”

He promised the government will ensure that the new institutions follow a modern curriculum. It was impossible to produce good legal experts unless law institutions adopted a modern syllabus, Adhikari said.

The state government decided to set up the college in Midnapore as part of its drive to revamp law education. The move came after the state government noticed a sharp decline in the quality of the performance of lawyers working in various parts of Bengal.

Iterating the government’s concern over complaints of poor services offered by lawyers, Adhikari said: “Cases are piling up in courts everyday. It is our duty to ensure that people are not deprived of proper legal services.”

Addressing the inaugural function, former Bengal Governor and Allahabad High Court chief justice Shyamal Sen appreciated the government’s decision to open law colleges in the districts. “With the expansion of education, more people are coming forward to take legal help. In such a situation, there is a great demand for good lawyers. The government has taken the right decision to set up colleges in the districts,” he said.

The country needed more legal experts to address the various disputes arising out of globalisation and cross-border terrorism, Sen added.

Echoing Adhikari, Sen expressed anxiety over the deteriorating performance of lawyers.

Manas Roy, the newly-appointed principal of the college, said this was the 12th law institution of the state and the first to be run by the Vidyasagar University. The college will offer seats to 60 students in the initial stages and start functioning from the current academic session, he added.

The government has allotted Rs 3 crore for setting up the college that will initially function out of Midnapore College. Later, it will be shifted to its permanent campus in Rangamati, where the government has allotted a 15.05-acre plot.

   

 
 
MAHAJAN PEACE PACKAGE FOR TATAS 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 6: 
Pramod Mahajan today sent a set of “solutions” to the Tatas to try and set at rest the controversy that has erupted over VSNL’s decision to invest Rs 1,200 crore in Tata Telecom.

The communications and infotech minister — who was to have met Ratan Tata this evening — instead decided to first “feel the waters” through a set of proposals from his department, sources close to him said.

They said this was considered a “better mechanism” of resolving the matter in case today’s meeting ended inconclusively after attracting the predictable publicity. As and when the Tatas get back to him, the contours of a mutual compromise would emerge, they said.

BJP economic cell convener Jagdish Shettigar, too, deferred his meeting with some Tata directors who had sought an appointment with him.

The government also decided that in future disinvestment deals, it would be more careful while nominating its directors on the board of such disinvested public sector units.

Had the two government-nominated directors been more “alert”, they could have prevailed upon the Tatas not to immediately touch the Rs 1,200-crore cash reserve acquired from VSNL, official sources said. “The only lacuna in the present system is we need good directors who will not be overawed by corporate giants and stick to their guns if a controversial matter comes up.”

In a bid to sort out the in-house problems, home minister L.K. Advani summoned Mahajan and disinvestment minister Arun Shourie for a joint session, where he heard them out. Yesterday, Advani had met them separately. Sources said Mahajan clarified he had nothing to do with a statement the BJP released on Monday, criticising the Tatas for taking Rs 1,200 crore out of VSNL to invest in a subsidiary concern.

The statement gave the impression that the BJP had chosen to back Mahajan rather than Shourie on the issue. Shourie had reportedly complained to Advani about the statement, after which he was “advised” by the home minister to give his version to the media.

Mahajan also sought to answer “charges” — levelled at him tangentially by Shourie — that he was “anti-disinvestment” and was being “sucked into a corporate war”. Sources said the communications minister made it clear that even after the disinvestment, VSNL had a 26 per cent share in the company and, therefore, it was not out of place for him to take an interest in its matters.

“VSNL has a 26 per cent stake and Rs 1,200 crore is not a small amount. Normally, three or four board meetings would have been held before such a big sum was repatriated in another concern. Here, a spot decision was taken and this was unethical,” sources close to Mahajan said, asserting he was “well within his right” to question it.

   

 
 
STRIKES PROMPT DATABASE ON TERRORISM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 6: 
The first tentative move to get a broad database on terrorism, with inputs from various government agencies, is underway in the home ministry.

Ajit Doval, a senior officer in the Intelligence Bureau, heads the new unit. However, much of the activity till now has remained on paper with things moving at a snail’s pace.

The recent spate of terrorist attacks — the December 13 strike on Parliament, the suicide attack near the Kashmir Assembly and the shootout near the American Centre in Calcutta — have shaken the babus out of complacency.

There is only a skeletal group manning the multi-agency task force. But meetings called by the IB will be attended by RAW, military and paramilitary forces, defence, home and external affairs ministries’ representatives.

Officials said there is not enough manpower at the moment to fill in the required slots. Doval himself is carrying out other duties besides reorganising intelligence inputs. Senior police officials are of the opinion that there should be no rush and the best people should be inducted here.

Officials believe sharing of information will grow into a habit and links can be established between the different arms of the administration, which can then be replicated in the states.

The states will also have their own versions of the Central set-up with an IB officer coordinating the inputs of other agencies. A computerised central database linking each state would eventually be set up to share information.

There is also a growing realisation in the government that while information on terrorist plans are often available, much of the inputs are wasted because they do not reach the concerned authorities in time or go to the wrong people.

Rivalry between various intelligence units as well as needless squabbling and reluctance to allow another agency to score has been at the root of India’s intelligence failures.

Soon after Kargil, when India was caught napping, the blame game was in full swing, with each agency passing the buck to the other.

The government, while refusing to blame either the military or civilian intelligence, recommended a thorough overhaul of the intelligence set-up in the country.

The Group of Ministers’ report called for a comprehensive multi-agency task force to pool together available information and a general overhaul of intelligence network in the country.

   

 
 
DELHI TURNS ON TORTURE HEAT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 6: 
India today strongly condemned the attack on its high commission staffer in Islamabad, Kulwant Singh, by Pakistani intelligence agents, describing it as “abominable and reprehensible”.

New Delhi also made it clear that Pakistan’s defiance of international and bilateral agreements in this regard had been brought to the notice of the international community.

Singh’s torture by the Pakistani agency is likely to figure during tomorrow’s talks between the Indian leaders and the visiting US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage.

Battered and bruised, Singh arrived in Delhi on a stretcher this afternoon. Groaning with pain, he could barely speak to reporters at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Singh, however, managed, to convey that he was in extreme discomfort. His wife, Kamla, and children Radha and Rahul were with him when he arrived here from Amritsar.

Singh’s ageing parents and a host of government officials were also at the airport. But Singh was quickly transferred to a waiting ambulance and taken for treatment to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Singh was picked up near his Islamabad residence by suspected ISI operatives on June 1. He was returned after six hours with serious injuries on his spinal chord and groin. A convoy bringing him to India on Monday was stopped by Pakistani authorities about 40 km from the Wagah border and made to return to Islamabad on the plea that his travel documents were not in place.

Singh was declared persona non grata the next day on charges of espionage and asked to leave the country immediately. He was driven to Wagah from Islamabad this morning and then taken to Amritsar, from where he boarded the Delhi flight.

“The world has been a spectator to this terrible treatment and the world stands by India in its condemnation. Our strong protest to Pakistan has been made known to friendly countries,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said.

   

 
 
JOSHI’S MENTAL DIET CHART FOR CHILDREN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 6: 
Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi wants Indian children to grow up on a diet of “religious, ethical and family values”, unlike their compatriots in the West.

For Joshi, the recent United Nation’s special summit on children was yet another occasion to propagate a message against divorce and the protection of the institution of family. “If a child does not have the benefit of a family, he or she ends up with a highly individualised personality with a warped emotional balance,” Joshi told a news conference.

The minister also talked about a “balanced” sex education that will give adolescents a mix of lessons on sex and Indian values. At the New York session, Joshi said, there were two extreme viewpoints on the subject. “But we believe it should be a balanced language of sex education and morality,” he said.

Notwithstanding pressure from various quarters — including the National Aids Control Organisation to include sex education in the new school curriculum — the National Council of Educational Research and Training has kept it out of the latest syllabi. While NACO believes policymakers should not brush under the carpet the changes in Indian society — those at the helm of decision-making are reluctant to accept them as a part of social reality.

In New York for the children’s summit, Joshi also delivered a lecture at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, where he dismissed the “Newtonian approach” and eulogised the central concern of ancient Indian philosophical and scientific strands of inquiry. A copy of the speech, which the minister released here today, says: “I have been struck with awe by the eternal truths of the Vedas and the Upanishads that were stated thousands of years ago and are being reinstated today through the portals of science.”

It was also an occasion for the HRD minister to hit out at Muslims and the British and dismiss any contribution they could have made to Indian culture. “Our country has experienced the dark night of the soul for centuries after invasion and colonisation. And as a consequence, the natural development of higher thinking, creativity and scientific thought became casualties — stagnation set in,” Joshi said.

He reminded the rich nations of their financial commitments and said so far, they have reneged on these commitments. “Rights alone will not assure for the children a better world. They will have to be accompanied by developmental priorities. The government has zeroed in on four areas — health, quality education, protection against abuse, exploitation and violence and combating HIV/ AIDS.”

Joshi said the government had two more programmes on its agenda — an action plan for children and the National Commission for Children — that have been pending for a long time. “In the last session, we could not bring a Bill for creating the National Commission for Children because of lack of time. We intend to bring it in the next session.”

   

 
 
BJP GOA RERUN HOPE IN GUJARAT 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, June 6: 
Upbeat after thrashing the Congress in Goa and destabilising the Democratic Front government in Maharashtra, the BJP has begun hectic preparations for Assembly polls, which could be held sooner than expected.

The preparations assume importance in the backdrop of Governor Sundar Singh Bhandari’s statement in Delhi yesterday that Gujarat is ready for elections as normality has been restored in the riot-ravaged state.

Political observers believe Bhandari’s statement is an indication to the Election Commission that if chief minister Narendra Modi decides to dissolve the Assembly, Nirvachan Sadan should have no objection.

Although the Congress has also switched to the poll mode in earnest, the party today questioned Bhandari’s locus standi in issuing the statement that the state was ready for elections.

“Why should a Governor of a state say such a thing? It does not fall under the Governor’s jurisdiction. Why is he encroaching upon the Election Commission’s role?” asked spokesman Anand Sharma. “The Governor has indulged in gross impropriety.”

After the BJP’s national executive in Goa asked Modi to seek a fresh mandate, the party had to defer its plans to dissolve the Assembly as it feared that the Election Commission may not hold polls in June because of the tense communal situation.

On his part, Modi is showing no sign of nervousness, despite widespread resentment in the ranks and his government over his “autocratic style of functioning”.

BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi, who was recently in Ahmedabad, has ruled out a change of guard ahead of the Assembly elections. Although the Assembly completes its term in February 2003, Krishnamurthi asked workers to get ready for elections ahead of schedule.

The chief minister, who has been getting bad press, has started mending fences. He has been selectively inviting reporters to his chamber for a “frank informal chat” to re-establish rapport. Modi has also launched a public relations exercise to project himself as an approachable man who does not harbour ill-will against rivals like revenue minister Haren Pandya.

Modi’s confidence has been boosted by a survey — conducted between May 5 and 15 — which predicted that the BJP would notch up its highest tally in the state, around 152 seats in the 182-member House. The chief minister has reasons to believe the findings of the survey, commissioned by Union IT minister Pramod Mahajan. A similar survey was conducted in Goa before the Assembly polls and the BJP fared even better than what was projected.

   
 

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