Agriculture minister forces policy rethink
B-team blast backfires on Mamata
Tenancy tribunal takes off
Teachers float pressure group
Alarm spreads to border
Let down, Narayanan strikes back
Spotlight falls on media-shy scientist
Missile Man’s moonlight dream
Nuclear safety blueprint in Rumsfeld baggage
General to clean up Punjab panel

Calcutta, June 11: 
Agriculture minister Kamal Guha has been handed the responsibility of submitting an alternative farm policy after blocking the draft presented by planning and development minister Nirupam Sen at a Cabinet meeting last month. The Cabinet was to have ratified the new policy on June 27.

“The new policy needs a rethink, especially on key issues that govern farmers’ rights,” Guha said at Writers’ Buildings today. The Forward Bloc minister met senior department officials and scientists during the day, asking them to submit a draft policy by the weekend.

The government’s agriculture policy, drawn up in keeping with the coalition’s “new economic thinking”, had been questioned by Guha, minor irrigation minister Nandogopal Bhattacharjee and fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda. The non-CPM ministers had “reservations” about the new policy, said to be drawn up with McKinsey’s recommendations on agri-business in mind.

Guha’s critical observations on the agriculture policy could be exploited by the Trinamul Congress at a time when the Assembly is in session.

Senior CPM ministers have launched a damage-control exercise, saying McKinsey had nothing to do with the policy. Officials said the government was seeking ways to tackle the effects of globalisation and conditions laid down by the WTO on agriculture.

However, Guha described the consultant group as “jackals” heralding the imminent entry of “predators” (read MNCs) into agriculture.

While the CPM was of the view that farmers would not have to work at the behest of the MNCs, Guha felt cultivators should neither be guided by McKinsey nor run by MNCs. According to him, farmers should be left alone.

“West Bengal ranks first in vegetable production and it did not need an agriculture policy to become one,” Guha argued.

The agriculture minister said he was in the dark about the term “contract farming” in the policy. “I do not know its form or its direction, and, as far as I am concerned, there is no link between contract farming and increase in production.” He had also wondered what the “global marketing process” mentioned in the draft meant at the earlier Cabinet meeting.

CPM ministers pointed out that contract farming was a bipartite agreement between farmers and a company engaged in agri-business, giving rise to new markets.

But Guha feels the government’s new policy will ruin small and marginal farmers, who control nearly 93 per cent of all agricultural land.

“The consultants want farmers to grow fine aromatic rice to exploit the available market. Why not try and market the new improved high-yielding rice that our scientists have developed after painstaking research?” the minister asked.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had said at the last Cabinet meeting that Front partners could raise questions if they had reservations about the policy. “There is no difficulty with the policy as such as it says nothing new, but there are these scary areas that need to be sorted out,” the minister said.


Hooghly, June 11: 
While Mamata Banerjee never loses an opportunity to dub the Congress the CPM’s “B team”, the slur was rubbed the other way when the Trinamul Congress offered a Hooghly municipality to her arch-rival on a platter.

Mamata seems unaware that her party backed the CPM to let it snatch the Bansberia municipal board from the Congress-Trinamul combine.

Yesterday night, the CPM backed the Trinamul’s no-confidence motion against the Congress chairman. Following the Congress chairman’s defeat, CPM’s Kanai Majumdar was elected in his place.

Observers view this development as the Trinamul’s vengeance for losing two municipalities — Konnagar and Rampurhat — in recent times because of manoeuvres by the Congress and the state BJP.

In the Bansberia municipal election in 2000, the CPM had bagged 10 seats while the Trinamul and the Congress won seven and five seats, respectively.

The Trinamul and the Congress joined hands to form the municipal board with Congress nominee Amiya Kundu being elected as chairman.

However, relations between the two parties in the municipality soured within a year. Raising allegations of corruption against the chairman, the Trinamul demanded his resignation.

With the Congress not paying heed to its demand, the Trinamul moved the no-confidence motion against the chairman on May 28. With the CPM’s support, the motion was passed by 17-4 votes. The new chairman, Majumdar, secured 11 votes, including one of a Trinamul councillor.

Factory fire

Two persons were injured in a fire that broke out in a factory on Topsia Road in Calcutta tonight. Ten fire engines brought the blaze under control within an hour. Residents complained that the factory manufacturing rubber shoes and slippers on the first two floors of the four-storey apartment was illegal.


Calcutta, June 11: 
The Assembly today passed the West Bengal Land Reforms and Tenancy Tribunal (Amendment) Bill, 2002, authorising the land reforms tribunal office at Salt Lake to hear tenancy-related cases.

Land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah told the House that the amendment to the West Bengal Land Reforms and Tenancy Tribunal Act, 1997, would allow aggrieved parties to approach the tribunal directly for trial on cases relating to tenancy instead of seeking redress in a lower court.

“House owners or tenants, unhappy with the verdict of the rent-controller, will, henceforth, get the opportunity to go directly to the tribunal and avoid the hassles of appearing before the lower courts. Dissatisfied parties may then contest their cases only at the division bench of the Calcutta High Court. This will help them from the unnecessary harassment of running from one court to another,” Mollah said.

Opposition members, particularly Arunabha Ghosh and Tapas Roy of the Trinamul Congress, argued that this would further complicate the cases. “The tribunal is struggling to cope with a large number of land-related cases. An additional burden of tenancy-related cases would further complicate matters and lead to inordinate delay in the disposal of cases, ” Ghosh said.

“I am fully aware of the fact that this Bill will directly affect the vested interests of the lawyers, who are in the habit of dragging landlord-tenant cases from one court to another. But this Bill will help speed up the disposal of landlord-tenant cases,” Mollah said.

The minister said he had already spoken to judiciary minister Nisith Adhikari, asking him to take up the matter with the chief justice. “If the chief justice agrees, there will be a provision of appointing judges who will exclusively deal with tenancy-related cases,” Mollah said.

The minister countered Trinamul MLA Ghosh’s claim that land-related cases at the tribunal office in Salt Lake were piling up. According to Mollah, there were 6,154 cases relating to vested land in 1999, when the tribunal was set up. By March this year, 2,561 cases had been disposed off.

Moreover, there were more than 11,250 land-related cases of which nearly 50 per cent had been solved.

However, Ghosh said the government’s move would cause more hardship to the contending parties. “It is curious that when the government is stressing the need to set up circuit benches to dispose off cases locally, it is forcing people living in North Bengal to come all the way to Salt Lake to seek redress from the tribunal,” he argued.

The Trinamul leader also claimed that tribunal officials had little knowledge of the law.


Calcutta, June 11: 
Five organisations of schoolteachers have come on a common platform to protest against the government’s moves to privatise education.

Announcing the launch of the Joint Action Committee of School Teachers and Employees, its leaders threatened an indefinite strike if the government failed to resolve their demands.

“We will try to find ways to help meet our demands amicably. But we might have to go for a stronger movement if the government takes a hard stand on the issues,” said Ratan Laskar, general secretary of the Secondary Teachers and Employees’ Association.

Explaining the reasons behind the movement, Laskar said the teachers opposed the manner in which the government passed a Bill yesterday to allow NGOs to run training institutes for aspiring teachers.

The teachers were also concerned by the government’s announcement that it would not release the salaries of teachers and employees of state-funded schools before the third week of every month. Instead, the teachers’ are seeking a solution so that payment can be made in the first week.

The teachers were also anxious about the recent statement made by school education minister Kanti Biswas that the government would not clear post-retirement benefits for thousands of retired teachers till it was able to overcome the financial crisis.

Biswas had held a meeting with representatives of various teachers’ bodies on May 24 and had informed them about the government’s decisions on issues affecting the teaching staff.

“Why should teachers only suffer for the government’s financial crisis?” asked a teacher.

Prithwis Basu, general secretary, West Bengal Headmasters’ Association, said the umbrella organisation would organise a march to the Assembly on July 10.

The organisation plans to hold a mass civil disobedience on August 21 and finally an indefinite strike if the government does not meet the teacher’s demands.

All the five organisations, which have formed the joint body, are affiliated to non-CPM parties.


Siliguri, June 11: 
The Border Security Force has intensified patrol in north Bengal following an alert that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence could push in al Qaida militants through the porous India-Bangladesh border.

The warning from Central and state intelligence agencies comes close on the heels of Writers’ Buildings and BBD Bag in Calcutta being put on high alert because of possible terrorist strikes.

“We have also alerted security forces and intelligence agencies … on possible subversive activities along the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal,” inspector general K.S. Bohra told reporters at the BSF’s north Bengal frontier headquarters in Kadamtala on the outskirts of Siliguri.

“This apart, we have taken several steps to check such infiltration. We have also apprised the state government of anti-national activities being carried out by several Muslim fundamentalist organisations active along the international border.”

In its missive to the state government, the BSF said that besides Bangladesh-based al Qaida operatives, the ISI-sponsored Al-e-Hadish, a front of the Lashkar-e-Toiba operating from Bangladesh, has chalked out elaborate plans for large-scale infiltration into India.

“Following the international pressure on Pakistan to end infiltration of militants into Kashmir, the ISI is looking for an alternative route to send in Taliban and al Qaida militants who had earlier taken shelter in Bangladesh,” Bohra said.

He added that they were also checking out reports that al Qaida and Al-e-Hadish militants were holed up in Bangladeshi enclaves within Indian territory.

“Al Qaida and Al-e-Hadish guerrillas based in the border districts of Lamonirhat, Kurigram, Rangpur, Dinajpur and Bhola in Bangladesh are planning to infiltrate into the state. The terrorists based in several camps in these districts are lying in wait to sneak into the state to carry out a series of killings and sabotage. The network plans to sneak into India with the active help of Bangladesh Rifles,” Bohra said.

Varsity terror threat

Visva Bharati university authorities have beefed up security following a threat from the ISI last week. Vice-chancellor Sujit Basu held a meeting with district officials on security arrangements.


New Delhi, June 11: 
The presidential poll rollercoaster has again gifted Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s critics a chance to question her political acumen.

A contest-shy Sonia, under pressure from the Left to field a candidate against A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, has convened a Congress Working Committee meeting which is divided on the issue.

If Sonia decides to respond favourably to Harkishan Singh Surjeet’s plea, she may field P.M. Sayeed or Shivraj Patil against Kalam.

Sonia kept dithering and cancelled a Congress Working Committee meeting to counter the NDA strategy of fielding Kalam, who enjoyed an excellent rapport with Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

K.R. Narayanan’s public snub to Sonia’s offer has put a question mark on her political skills. The Congress lacked a comprehensive strategy and kept fumbling on the presidential polls.

Party leaders attributed it to Sonia’s “over-dependence” on the trio of Surjeet, Sitaram Yechury and Jaipal Reddy. Some Congress leaders said Sonia may back the Left to cement ties for the next round of general elections where she may need Surjeet’s skills to become Prime Minister.

Narayanan this evening received an Opposition delegation that said three different things in as many days.

Three days ago, a Congress delegation had forced Narayanan to delay his 52nd wedding anniversary celebrations to consider the Opposition proposal to contest against NDA frontrunner P.C. Alexander. Even as Narayanan pondered over the pros and cons of taking an unprecedented step of challenging a ruling party nominee, Vajpayee proposed Kalam’s name.

The Opposition was again at Narayanan’s doorstep seeking “guidance”. This evening, Opposition leaders informed him that many parties like the Samajwadi Party, the NCP and the ADMK had backed out.

The President has many reasons to be upset with the Opposition. Sources close to Narayanan questioned the Left’s move to “unilaterally” declare his name and then abandon him when the government floated Vice-President Krishan Kant’s name. The Left, the Congress and the Samajwadi then rushed to him when it looked certain that the NDA would field Alexander.

However, hours after Vajpayee replaced Alexander with Kalam, the Opposition “in principle” ditched Narayanan. The President’s aides pointed to a statement of Amar Singh outside Rashtrapati Bhavan two days ago: “We are united like a rock on Narayanan’s candidature.”

The President was also upset with the Opposition’s move to pass the buck after Kalam’s name was announced. Leaders like Surjeet, Reddy and Yechury kept saying that they would wait for Narayanan’s response before making their next move.

The President finally “obliged” them when they kept “pestering” him to make up his mind even as they declared openly that the incumbent President’s support base has contracted.

The Narayanan camp then made it clear that there was no question of contesting against a “distinguished person” like Kalam. They said the President had considered the proposal to take on Alexander on grounds that it would be based on ideological differences with the NDA.

The Samajwadi has welcomed the announcement of Narayanan’s refusal to contest for the top post for a second term, saying the decision was in keeping with the dignity of the office. “I congratulate the President for keeping the dignity of the high office.... It is a very good step,” party leader Amar Singh said.

Describing as “regrettable” the differences between his party and the Left over the presidential poll issue, Singh said: “we do not want to give weightage to these differences.”

Kalam did not belong to any party and “it is not proper to oppose a personality like him”.


Chennai, June 11: 
Ever since the ruling NDA announced his name as its presidential nominee, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has been the subject of national curiosity.

For a scientist who has been in the limelight long before he was conferred the country’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, Kalam is surprisingly media shy.

As a host of reporters and several of Kalam’s personal friends queued up at his modest but well-furnished room at the Ramanujan Centre for Computing at Anna University, where he holds a chair as Professor Emeritus of Technology, the grey-haired scientist huddled in his suite at the guesthouse since yesterday to avoid the media.

“You must read his autobiography, Wings of Fire, than ask me,” says A.K. George, his only doctoral student at the Centre. But George appears to be just as camera shy as his mentor, as he quickly skirts away from the approaching television cameras, mounts his bicycle and pedals away. “Of course, we are all very happy,” he quips, before getting out of earshot.

George is working on a doctoral project that involves a “multi-technological approach to help the mentally retarded.” Beyond that he is reluctant to speak about his guru.

Since December 2001 when Kalam accepted an offer Anna University, one of his more ambitious projects has been “to establish a brain research centre to enable mentally challenged children to reach near normal life with the aid of convergence technology from computer science, information technology, biotechnology, electronics and other allied subjects.”

Kalam’s other passion is to “preserve and transform the traditional knowledge available in the ancient palm leaves into digital media for permanent storage and wider distribution through the Internet.”

As the presidential nominee refused to meet the media for the second day today, Balu, his personal assistant at the centre, has been a harried man since the announcement.

He gasps for breadth, answering endless phone calls from friends and admirers — from former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and DMK president M. Karunanidhi to his numerous former colleagues in the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Defence Research and Development Organisation, where Kalam was the architect of India’s Guided Missile Programme.

With the announcement of the NDA nominee for the President’s post, the atmosphere at Anna University has been one of jubilation and rejoicing. After all, eminent scientist Kalam is a faculty member of this university and a professor held in very high regard by its students.

“He (Kalam) himself until very recently thought that Narayanan had a better chance (for a second term),” confided a close aide of Kalam at the University. But things suddenly took a 180-degree turn when he received a phone call from New Delhi on Monday night, “asking him to be prepared”.

“Will it not be a great loss to science and technology besides to the University if Kalam goes to Rashtrapati Bhavan?” a reporter asked one of the professors.

“No, not at all,” replied Professors Pitchaimuthu and Vivekanandan. “We are all really proud that he is going to occupy the highest office after being at Anna University. Kalam being honoured means that science and technology has been recognised, which will be an inspiration to the youth,” they said.


New Delhi, June 11: 
A few months ago, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had dreamt of a moonlight walk in the majestic Mughal Gardens inside Rashtrapati Bhavan. But he surely did not imagine that his dream could be realised so fast.

While chatting with President K.R. Narayanan in his sprawling residence, Kalam glanced through a window that offered a panoramic view of the garden. As if spellbound, he mumbled: “I wish I could walk on a full moon night in the Mughal Gardens.”

Somewhat taken aback by Kalam’s burst of emotion, the President belatedly said: “You are most welcome to come here on a full moon night.”

Kalam has a passion for flowers. Ask First Lady Usha Narayanan. In Kalam, she has an ardent admirer of her selection of flowers at official banquets. The Missile Man, who has an image of a workaholic scientist, impressed the Narayanans with his knowledge of flowers, their botanical names, life span and other trivial details.

In a television interview on the garden, Usha Narayanan could not resist naming Kalam and mentioning his floral erudition.

The nuclear scientist has shared his dreams in his book India 2020 — A Vision for the New Millennium. Kalam’s India is super-developed by 2020.

According to Kalam, India has to get transformed from a developing nation into a developed nation. This needs three things. “One, you should be an economically strong nation. Secondly, you should be self reliant in national security and its technologies. Third, you should have a high standing or a high status in the world forum.”

Kalam relies heavily on Senonomics. Taking a leaf from Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s works, he says India would not achieve the “developed status” without a major and continuing uplift of all Indians “who exist today and the many more millions who would be added in the years to come”.

Vision 2020 has something for everyone. If you are a teacher, banker, doctor or a professional, you should devote a few days in a month to do something special, something that will make you feel proud, something that will make a poorer or suffering person’s life a little better, Kalam says.

The directive for government officials and people working in PSUs is rather simple. “Unleash your technological strengths. Transform yourself to service the people in your area. The private sector can create projects to uplift small-scale industries, fund research and development to persons who have “fire in them.”

The MNCs are expected to look at one-billion plus country as a long-term partner where they can create core competitive technological strength, Kalam adds.

According to Kalam, there are good chances that poverty can be completely eliminated by 2020 on the basis of continuous expansion of domestic market, growing tendency towards self employment, expansion of wage economy, modernisation of agriculture, technological upgradation, research and development integration. India will lead the world in software, media, financial services, food processing, drugs and pharmaceuticals.

As chairman of Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council, which generated the Technology Vision 2020 documents, Kalam provided guidance to several home-grown technology projects and major technology missions such as sugar, advanced composites and fly ash utilisation.

Kalam said he was deeply moved by a 10-year old girl’s remark who had come up to him to seek his autograph.

“What is your ambition,” Kalam asked her. The student replied: “I want to live in a developed India.”


New Delhi, June 11: 
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld is likely to urge India to put in place nuclear confidence-building measures with Pakistan and suggest steps for further de-escalation.

India on its part will insist that its calibrated response would depend on concrete steps from Islamabad on disbanding and dismantling the terrorist infrastructure within Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.

Rumsfeld, who arrived here tonight, is scheduled to hold talks with the Indian leadership, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and defence minister George Fernandes, before flying off to Islamabad tomorrow afternoon to meet President Pervez Musharraf.

Delhi has re-affirmed its commitment to peace. But it also does not want to unleash a series of gestures to de-escalate tension every time a senior American minister is in the capital. Thus, even if Rumsfeld makes more suggestions to ease the tension in South Asia, Delhi is likely to put on hold its next move till it is satisfied with the Musharraf government’s seriousness in acting against terrorists working from its soil or the PoK.

On the possibility of resuming dialogue with Pakistan if a suggestion is made by Rumsfeld, South Block officials said India’s position was known to Washington. Delhi will not return to the talks table till it was satisfied that Islamabad had disbanded and dismantled the terrorist outfits in Pakistan and in the PoK.

Officials here said though the situation along the border and India-Pakistan relations will figure in the discussions, Rumsfeld’s main interaction will be with his counterpart, Fernandes, and the stress will be on “the burgeoning defence co-operation” between the two sides.

Rumsfeld’s main aim will be to consolidate the gains made by Richard Armitage during his recent visit to the region. The US deputy secretary’s public assertion that Musharraf has made a pledge to stop infiltration across the Line of Control “permanently” led India to reciprocate with some gestures yesterday, that included lifting of the ban on overflights and initiating the process to send its next high commissioner to Islamabad.

India has also de-alerted its strike force from a 6-hour alert to 48 hours and recalled its western naval fleet from the Arabian Sea.

The gestures have been welcomed by the US and several other western nations but there have been suggestions that India should also withdraw its fighter planes to intermediate bases from forward positions.

In his meetings with the Indian leadership, Rumsfeld will try and urge Delhi to take a few more steps to de-escalate on the military front without losing the operational advantage.

The defence secretary, who will also meet foreign minister Jaswant Singh, home minister L.K. Advani and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, will urge India to initiate nuclear confidence-building measures.

Rumsfeld is also said to be carrying a report on the possible effect of a nuclear conflict on the two countries.

Intelligence sharing

Armitage was quoted by agencies as saying in Washington today that the US would consider sharing of intelligence from aerial monitoring of cross-border infiltration along the LoC if India and Pakistan agree.

“I think this is very much something that can be considered, and if there is a willingness from both sides to engage in it, I think the US will be delighted,” Armitage said.

Armitage said he had discussed the plan with both nations and appeared to leave the possibility open for monitoring from the air.

His remarks assume significance in the backdrop of western media reports that Rumsfeld might propose to the Indian leadership deployment of a helicopter-borne international monitoring force to check infiltration of militants into Jammu and Kashmir.


Chandigarh, June 11: 
Chief minister Amarinder Singh has deployed a former soldier to clean up the corruption-wracked Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC).

Lt. Gen. Surjit Singh, former GoC-in-C, Western Command, was today appointed a member of the commission. Singh took the oath administered by Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) J.F.R. Jacob in the presence of the chief minister at a function at the Raj Bhavan attended by Cabinet ministers and senior civil and military officers.

Gen. Singh is expected to replace Ravinder Paul Singh Sidhu, who is currently in prison facing corruption charges. Sidhu was arrested on bribery charges on March 25. Lockers belonging to his relatives have yielded crores of rupees, apart from fixed deposits and other incriminating documents.

Addressing mediapersons after the swearing-in ceremony, Amarinder Singh said the new commission member had played a crucial role in the service selection process and would do justice to his position.

“He has vast experience and would help in restoring the people’s confidence in the PPSC,” the chief minister said.

Explaining his new role, the general said he would strive hard to ensure that the recruitment process proceeded smoothly. “It has been just 13-and-a-half minutes since I have been sworn in as a PPSC member. I think it is too early to say anything apart from the fact that it is necessary for good people to be in the commission. I will try to restore the confidence of the people in the commission,” he said.

The multi-crore recruitment scam has shaken the faith of the people in the commission. Vigilance bureau officers claim that the recruitment scam under Sidhu could well be over Rs 200 crore. Uncovering the racket was one of the promises made by the Congress party during the run-up to the Assembly polls in February.

Singh, who retired last month, is a highly distinguished soldier. His service career profile spanning almost 41 years has been remarkable and varied covering wide ranging administrative and teaching assignments apart from the usual command and staff appointments.

A devoted environmentalist, the general brought about marked ecological changes in cantonments and improvements in the quality of life of the soldiers. Parks, medical and welfare facilities at various stations bear testimony to his contributions. He is also known for saving the famous wetlands at Harike near Ferozepur from hyacinth.

Referring to the thumping victory in the zila parishad and panchayat samiti polls held yesterday, the chief minister said the Congress emerged victorious in 64 per cent of the samitis and 79 per cent of the parishads.

“The Congress has never won such a large number of seats. We have won because the people have seen our performance and voted accordingly. The people have endorsed the party’s policies. Our victory in the villages signify a complete change in the thought of the people,” he added.

The chief minister reiterated that guilty officials and ministers in the previous Akali-BJP regime would not be allowed to get away scot-free. “We are conducting a probe into the affairs of the previous government and are taking action as the names keep coming up. Anybody who is a crook will have to face the consequences,” he said.

On former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s allegations that the Congress had misused official machinery to win the polls, the chief minister said: “Badal should quit. He is becoming old. He should now be involved in religious activities.”

He stated that his government would continue “supporting” policemen hauled to court on charges of alleged excesses during the terrorism era.


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