Tenancy Act set to roll after 4 years
Left, Cong land in Laden soup
Youths electrocuted
CPM leader shot
Talks fail to end coal blockade
Talks-ready Delhi awaits right climate
Congress counts on Kant for rerun
Sensors emit confidence signals
Sangh finds fuel for divestment blast
Fiscal breather leaves Jaya cold

 
 
TENANCY ACT SET TO ROLL AFTER 4 YEARS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 14: 
The government today decided to step up efforts to put the controversial West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, 1997, in place.

State land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah told the Assembly today that the Cabinet would discuss some changes effected in the Bill next week and place it in the current session of the Assembly.

Despite the President’s consent, the Act did not come into force for about four years after being passed following pressure from the Opposition as well as and leaders of the ruling CPM. Both tenants and traders staged demonstrations and observed trade bandhs against certain provisions in the Act.

A Bill will be tabled to amend those “controversial” provisions, Mollah said.

Designed to change a law perceived to be heavily tilted towards tenants, the Bill, many felt, ended up being in favour of landlords. Fissures developed in the Left with a large section of leaders feeling that the Bill would result in turning the middle and lower-middle classes — most of them tenants and seen as votaries of the CPM — against the ruling Left Front.

Certain provisions in the Bill, particularly those related to inheritance and eviction, were being seen as biased to landlords, who had been at the receiving end all these years.

Leaders, both outside and inside the Left Front felt that the “blanket authority given to landlords would help them evict long-time tenants very easily”.

The Bill is marked by a string of firsts. This is the only Bill:

to pass through the hands of the Assembly Select Committee four times

over which the minister concerned — land reforms minister Mollah — had to hold meetings no less than 18 times.

to receive assent from the country’s top executive, the President, and still kept in cold storage by the government and

to provoke the trading community to observe a strike several times, once threatening an indefinite trade bandh.

Steps to put the law in place — the first set of proposed rules made its appearance before Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took over from Jyoti Basu — gathered pace after the former’s ascendancy. Bhattacharjee asked Mollah to pay attention to all sides to the controversy, listen to every argument for and against each clause and enlist the grievances.

During his departmental budget speech, Mollah had said: “Some amendments to the Act are necessary and proposals for amendment are likely to be placed before the Assembly soon for consideration.”

The government is determined to get over with the Bill before the monsoon session of the Assembly ends, Mollah said today.

   

 
 
LEFT, CONG LAND IN LADEN SOUP 
 
 
FROM RANJAN LAHIRI
 
Burdwan, June 14: 
The Left Front and the Congress find themselves in troubled waters following their involvement in yesterday’s Jamait-e-Ulema Hind meeting where books, cassettes and pictures of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden were sold to members of a particular community.

The CPM-controlled Burdwan municipality had granted the organisation permission to hold the meeting, ostensibly to protest against the communal riots in Gujarat and in support of communal harmony.

Several Left leaders, including RSP state leader Anjan Mukherjee and CPI district assistant secretary Arun Ganguli, shared the dais with AICC member Tuhin Samanta and state Congress leader Abhash Bhattacharyya, giving the Trinamul Congress an opportunity to charge them with indirectly promoting communal politics with an eye on the votebank.

“Thursday’s events has made it clear that these parties have begun toeing the communal line with an eye on next year’s panchayat polls,” district Trinamul leader Gholam Jargis said.

The sale of “offensive” literature and other paraphernalia right under their nose has also put the district administration, the police and intelligence units in a spot.

The administration’s participation in another controversial rally — organised by the VHP in which more than 1,000 men vowed to go on a kar seva to Ayodhya — just two months ago had led senior district officials to question the feedback received by its intelligence units.

An embarrassed district magistrate Manoj Agarwal had then ordered an inquiry into why the government allowed the VHP to go ahead with the rally. VHP district secretary Biplab Das, also a PWD employee, was suspended following the brouhaha.

Today, both Left and Opposition leaders scrambled to offer an explanation for their presence in the Jamait meet.

CPM state committee member Samar Baora said the Jamait cannot be called a communal party and, instead, is a kind of a social service organisation. “That’s why our leaders responded to their invitation,” he said.

The offensive material was being sold by unknown persons far away from the dais, Baora claimed.

Burdwan municipality vice-chairman and CPM district committee member Ainul Haque blamed the police, saying: “We had given permission for a peace meet. It was the duty of the police and intelligence set-up to ensure that nothing untoward happened.”

Samanta, who had attended the meeting, said what happened was the responsibility of a few “warped minds”.

   

 
 
YOUTHS ELECTROCUTED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Hooghly June 14: 
Three youths were electrocuted in separate incidents at Chinsurah, Dadpur and Dhaniakhali today.

Police said there was heavy downpour accompanied by thunder in most places in the district today.

A 21-year-old student of Hooghly Mohsin College, Suman Bag, was electrocuted while playing football in Chinsurah.

Bob Ghosh, a Class IX student of Dhaniakhali High School was electrocuted at Gurap. He was also playing football.

The third victim was an 11-year-old boy who had gone to a paddy field with his goat. He was struck by lightning while returning home and died on the spot.

The rains came suddenly, taking the villagers by surprise.

Villagers said they had not witnessed such heavy rainfall in the last 10 years.

   

 
 
CPM LEADER SHOT 
 
 
BY A CORRESPONDENT
 
Barasat, June 14: 
Tension gripped Kharibari near here following the murder of CPM leader Mahadeb Ghosh.

Ghosh was shot at several times in front of his house by three unidentified assailants who came on a motor cycle. One of the bullets hit Ghosh’s hand and he fell down.

“Ghosh was lying in a pool of blood and he was not in a condition to speak to anyone. He was rushed to the nearby Barasat Hospital where he succumbed to injuries,” a CPM leader said.

Eyewitnesses said the miscreants’ faces were covered with black cloth.

The incident sparked protests with CPM supporters, led by the party’s state committee members, district functionary Amitava Nandi and zilla sabhadhipati Aparna Gupta, staging a road blockade.

They later went to the office of the superintendent of police, demanding the immediate arrest of the assailants.

   

 
 
TALKS FAIL TO END COAL BLOCKADE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, June 14: 
Pouring cold water on power minister Mrinal Banerjee’s efforts to restore normality, Citu activists continued blocking coal despatch to power plants for the sixth consecutive day.

In a last ditch effort to resolve the dispute, additional district magistrate Manish Jain today held a meeting with the Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) and Citu. However, the meeting failed to reach a solution as Citu leaders remained adamant on the blockade, which is being held in protest against the closure of the Shamla colliery.

Power Development Corporation Limited officials have informed the government that their stock of coal will keep them going for a maximum of four days, after which they will be forced to shut down, plunging the state in darkness.

Bakreswar, DPL and Bandel thermal power projects will be the most affected as they are largely dependant on the four collieries where mine workers are blocking despatch.

Citu leader Haradhan Roy made it clear at today’s meeting that the blockade will be lifted only when ECL authorities withdraw their decision to close down the Shamla mine. ECL officials, however, said the decision to close down the Shamla colliery was taken by the Centre and their hands are tied.

   

 
 
TALKS-READY DELHI AWAITS RIGHT CLIMATE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 14: 
India today said it was not against resuming talks with Pakistan, but for that the Pervez Musharraf regime would have to create a “conducive atmosphere”.

“India always stood for dialogue. India never said we do not wish to hold dialogue. We are ready for a dialogue. But for the dialogue to be held, a conducive atmosphere has to be created,” foreign minister Jaswant Singh said today after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security.

The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was attended by Singh, home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant who is also the government’s pointman on Kashmir.

Singh’s remarks make it clear that at this juncture there is no way India would agree to another summit-level meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf. Whether it starts an engagement with Pakistan at a lower level remains to be seen, but as of now this is not top priority for Delhi.

What South Block is trying to assess is how to choreograph its response if and when Pakistan takes steps on stopping infiltration and dismantling the terror infrastructure. “The situation is pregnant with possibility,” Singh said when asked about the possibility of India announcing further steps to de-escalate.

Though it may announce in the coming days that it has sought the agreement from Pakistan for its new high commissioner, Harsh Bhasin, Delhi is in no hurry to either send its envoy to Islamabad or to get one here from Pakistan. Indications suggest that restoring diplomatic relations at that level will be one of the last steps that India will take.

In between, it may announce resumption of road and rail links, and also allow landing rights to Pakistani aircraft. Delhi may also strengthen these moves by increasing the staff strength at the high commissions both here and in Islamabad. The staff strength was reduced by half after the December 13 attack on Parliament.

At the military level, there may be some gesture along the international border in Rajasthan and Punjab, involving both air and ground forces. But Delhi is firm that no such gesture will be taken along the LoC and in Jammu and Kashmir till elections, scheduled for September, are over in the state.

The only compromise India may go in for in this area is stop artillery and mortar shelling, if it is convinced that infiltration across the LoC has come down.

Pak warships recalled

Pakistan today informed India that it has recalled its naval ships on high alert to their bases, in a reciprocal gesture to a similar Indian decision, but remained silent on opening its skies to Indian flights, reports PTI from Islamabad. The decision followed yesterday’s talks between US deputy secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Musharraf.

   

 
 
CONGRESS COUNTS ON KANT FOR RERUN 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, June 14: 
Beaten by the ruling coalition in the days leading up to the Speaker’s nomination and the presidential election, the Congress has begun preparing for the vice-presidential poll with caution, indicating its preference for Krishan Kant’s continuation in the post.

In the Congress’ scheme of things, Kant’s continuation would thwart the BJP designs of bringing in a “Hindutva hardliner” as presidential candidate A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s deputy.

The main Opposition party is counting on Kant’s ability to muster support from NDA allies like the Telugu Desam Party that hold a crucial chunk of ballots in the electoral college that votes for the Vice-President.

Members of both Houses of Parliament participate in the vice-presidential poll and the NDA partners are ahead by more than 40 votes. BJP sources discounted the possibility of Kant’s continuation, claiming that Chandrababu Naidu had given an “under-taking” that the BJP would have a “final say” on the vice-presidential nominee.

The BJP is keen to elevate someone who has “lived and (was) brought up in the BJP culture” — a description that suits Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri and his Bengal counterpart Viren Shah.

The name of former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has also gained currency but the Rajasthan unit of the BJP is reluctant to “relieve” him on the ground that his services would be required in the ensuing Assembly polls.

Congress leaders admitted that ideally Kant would not have been their choice but he was their best bet under the present circumstances. “Naidu has more than 40 MPs. If he decides to back Kant, we can score a moral victory on the ground that the Opposition has prevented the posts of President and Vice-President from going to BJP hardliners,” a Congress Working Committee member said.

Congress leaders said that if the A.B. Vajpayee government did not agree on Kant’s continuation, they would float the name of jurist L.M. Singhvi as a compromise candidate. Singhvi is a BJP MP but has a “liberal face” and enjoys pockets of support within the Congress, media and Delhi’s social circuits.

   

 
 
SENSORS EMIT CONFIDENCE SIGNALS 
 
 
FROM BHARAT BHUSHAN
 
New Delhi, June 14: 
The US proposal of using ground-based sensors to monitor the Line of Control has the potential of contributing to building confidence on the infiltration issue between India and Pakistan. This is perhaps why external affairs minister Jaswant Singh has not rejected the proposal without studying it properly.

How would this proposal work? The 740-km-long LoC extends south of the Siachen glacier dividing the erstwhile kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is basically the cease-fire line established in the wake of the Karachi Agreement of 1949 and modified after the 1971 war when it was termed the LoC.

The LoC does not follow geographical features. It twists and turns over rugged mountainous terrain, goes through deep gorges, over snow-capped peaks and often passes through heavily wooded areas. Its restricted visibility prevents effective monitoring and makes it porous.

Although Pakistan may not agree but instrumented fences could be used on the main routes of infiltration along level terrain of the LoC. Ground-based radars, seismic and magnetic sensors could be used along known roads, paths and other routes of infiltration. In selected areas of interest, other ground-based technologies, such as fibre-optic cables and infra-red break-beams, could be used to detect movement across the LoC.

In the 1970s, Israel and Egypt used sensors to monitor the terms of the Sinai accords. These systems helped maintain the cease-fire and facilitated the evolution of the peace process that resulted in the eventual withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Sinai. But these sensors are not meant for deserts alone as some in India have claimed — they can be customised for the terrain.

This is not the first time that the US has proposed using sensor technology on the LoC. And nor is it as if no studies exist of using sensors along the LoC.

The India-US Joint Working Group on Terrorism was also seized of the proposal. Co-operative monitoring using sensor technology was a concept developed at the Cooperative Monitoring Centre of the Sandia National Laboratory at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Kent Biringer, its director, was a member of the joint working group.

Biringer, along with Shirin Tahir-Kheli of Johns Hopkins University, has conducted a study on enhancing stability on the India-Pakistan border, using sensors along with other confidence building measures. Another study, a more detailed one, of the cooperatively monitoring the LoC has also been conducted by an eminent Pakistani military officer, Major General (Retd.) Mahmud Ali Durrani.

Known as “General Shanti” for advocating reconciliation between India and Pakistan, Durrani’s study, “Enhancing security through a co-operative border monitoring experiment : A proposal for India and Pakistan”, received no official co-operation from India.

Yet it is a first-rate report on the possibilities of the two countries jointly monitoring their borders, using sensors not only along the LoC (Uri-Chakothi sector) but also along the western border in Rajasthan (Anupgarh-Fort Abbas sector) and at the existing rail and road crossing (Wagha-Attari).

These studies do not propose using sensors on the LoC without other confidence building measures. In fact, the very concept of co-operative monitoring is to use technology as nothing more than a tool to enhance mutual confidence and thereby reduce border tensions. But it need not wait for a complete understanding between the two sides and can be used as an intermediate step to address their fears and apprehensions.

From whatever details are available, the current US proposal seems to be incomplete — as it proposes the use of technical monitoring by India alone. Though at the outset, it seems to defeat the purpose of co-operative monitoring and confidence building, it is not necessarily a bad start. Perhaps from unilateral monitoring (if that is accepted), we can some day move towards co-operative monitoring of the LoC by India and Pakistan.

   

 
 
SANGH FINDS FUEL FOR DIVESTMENT BLAST 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 14: 
Barely has the dust settled on the Tata-VSNL disinvestment deal than the Centre has come for another round of criticism — this time on the sale of 26 per cent block shares of the Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited (IPCL) to Reliance.

If the BJP took on the government on the VSNL disinvestment, this time the RSS had its knife out for the deal with Reliance.

Three separate articles in the RSS journal, Organiser (June 16), have attacked the IPCL disinvestment and the Centre’s disinvestment policy in general. The journal demanded a “transparent and standard set of rules and norms to safeguard our national interests” — more so because “family silver” that included PSUs like IOC, ONGC, GAIL and Bhel were expected to be auctioned soon.

An unsigned article called “The Grand Bluff” — with a slug saying “IPCL Disinvestment: Unholy Intent” — started off on a scathing note, stating: “The Indian Oil Corporation disqualified itself with an invalid below-reserve-price bid. The Reliance-IPCL combine emerged as the undisputed mega powerhouse in the domestic oil sector. Will this self-goal wreck IOC? Most importantly, why did IOC go through the sham of filing an invalid bid?”

The article recounted that on May 18, the Cabinet committee on disinvestment approved the sale of 26 per cent block sale of Reliance Petroinvestments for Rs 1,490.84 crore at the rate of Rs 231 per share.

Reliance paid the government by cheque and appointed six new directors to the IPCL board, including a new chairman, Mukesh Ambani. The government reduced its presence by having two directors.

The article quoted a report from a business daily and alleged that while the Reliance bid of Rs 231 per share was the highest of the three bids the government received, the other two bidders — IOC and Nirma — were manipulated to bid for figures below the reserve price and get themselves disqualified. The reserve price for the IPCL disinvestment was fixed by the government at Rs 131 per share.

“While the intentions of Nirma in submitting such a sham bid does not fall under government jurisdiction, the same cannot be said about IOC,” it added. IOC is the flagship of the government presence in the oil sector and its actions are expected to be in the best traditions of national interest,” it added.

Quoting “informed” sources from the previous IPCL board, the article claimed that the decision to make Nirma and IOC under-bid was taken at the last moment after some MPs objected to the presence of Reliance. The company was accused under the Official Secrets Act and so “considered an entity of doubtful nationalist commitment”.

“The decision to get both IOC and Nirma to bid figures below the reserve price and disqualify themselves and not merely lose the race was engineered to hedge against the remote possibility of the perceived anti-Reliance parliamentary lobbies getting their way and to keep alive the option of judicial review in favour of the Reliance bid.”

Disinvestment minister Arun Shourie came in for flak from the BJP for allegedly allowing the Tatas to shortchange the government.

The RSS’ critique may prove to be another handle for Shourie’s Sangh detractors to corner him though just a few years ago when he took on the Congress on the corruption plank (such as Antulay and Bofors) Shourie was the organisation’s’ mascot.

   

 
 
FISCAL BREATHER LEAVES JAYA COLD 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, June 14: 
Despite all the enthusiasm that marked Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa’s “coordination” with Chandrababu Naidu in choosing scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as the NDA’s presidential candidate, her government’s relations with the Centre are yet to get on to the fast track.

This was one thing the ADMK chief was definitely looking for when she made a dashing “business-like” visit to the capital on Wednesday.

Jayalalithaa had not rushed to Delhi just to finalise the state’s annual plan outlay and its 10th five year plan outlay by the Union Planning Commission. She also met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani for the first time since she returned to power in March.

“We are not part of the NDA,” Jayalalithaa said when asked why she was being unable to pull off something for the state in return like Naidu.

Jayalalithaa had hoped that this visit would prompt the Centre to respond to the financial crisis in Tamil Nadu, as well as other states that have also backed her idea of an one-time bailout aid. However, this was not to be.

One of her key demands was the “urgent sanction” of an one-time grant package of Rs 3,000-crore. She also requested Vajpayee to revoke limitations on open market borrowings to enable the state to borrow funds for development schemes.

The chief minister’s meeting with Planning Commission deputy-chairman K.C. Pant ensured that the plan body approved an annual outlay of Rs 5,750 crore for the current year and cleared a total outlay of Rs 40,000 crore for the 10th five year plan (2002-07), an increase of 60 per cent over the previous year.

Sources, however, say without financial accommodation from the Centre, Tamil Nadu would not be able to mobilise the resources.

The only fiscal breather for Tamil Nadu was the Centre consenting to enhance borrowing limits by Rs 150 crore this year. Last year, the state’s net borrowing limit stood at Rs 800 crore. “This is a very positive development,” said an official, who was part of the entourage.

The official added that the Prime Minister has “promised to look into all the issues raised by the Chief Minister and assured early action”.

Jayalalithaa was also disappointed because her meeting with Vajpayee had to be cut short as the Prime Minister took longer than was scheduled with visiting US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

   
 

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