Law arrests, party boss frees
Naxalite top two leaders in police net
Seven trampled by jumbo on rampage
Mamata rush to snatch Wakf plank
Sahgal gives Left another chance to atone
Dud cheque to invite rapid action
Jaya skips Atal Cauvery meet
Heartland on the fast track to fiscal doom
Delhi differentiates between twin lists
Maneka fires Sanjay salvo to settle scores

 
 
LAW ARRESTS, PARTY BOSS FREES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Islampur, June 23: 
An influential CPM member of the Murshidabad zilla parishad was arrested today for allegedly attacking a police team last night and releasing 10 miscreants from its custody.

Madan Roy was arrested late this afternoon following an FIR lodged with the Islampur police station by assistant sub-inspector Hazarilal Halder, who had accompanied the police team that was attacked at Chhatra village.

Superintendent of police Virendra said officials were investigating Roy’s alleged involvement in last night’s incident. “We shall be able to comment only when the investigation is complete.”

According to the police chief, the gangsters who were set free were wanted in connection with a specific case pending with the court since 2000. The arrests were part of a nightlong drive by the district police to nab those against whom warrants had been issued.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas, who arrived at Murshidabad this morning, was learnt to have held a meeting with senior CPM leaders, including district secretary Madhu Bag.

Indicating that the party took strong exception to Roy’s action, Murshidabad MP and state committee member Mainul Hasan said the police should not have been prevented from doing their job. “Policemen had gone to the village to arrest some persons in connection with a specific case and I feel they should have been allowed to carry out their work.”

According to the officials, Roy along with some 100 supporters had gheraoed the police who were on their way to the Islampur police station a little past midnight. Attacking the police team with iron rods, spears and firearms, the mob released the miscreants from its custody.

Roy’s supporters also hurled bombs at the policemen and blocked the road so that the team could not proceed with the anti-socials towards the vehicle parked 3 km away from the village. Two policemen were injured in the incident.

“We were outnumbered by Roy and his supporters since the team had only five members,” said Chanchal Saha, one of the sub-inspectors who had accompanied the police party.

“We could have opened fire but did not do so to avoid casualty,” the policeman added.

Saha said the panchayat leader and his supporters knew that the police were easy targets as the roads were slippery after rain. “Moreover, we could not run fast since 10 miscreants were with us. The incident could have snowballed into a controversy if we had fired.”

Senior officials explained that they were unable to send a large police contingent to the village as raids were being conducted throughout the district last night.

Concerned over yesterday’s attack, the police officials said this was not an isolated case. Two months ago, miscreants had attacked a police team at Damudarpur village to prevent the arrest of wanted gangsters.

In another incident eight months ago, officials recounted that residents of Nagrajole village had locked a police team inside a cowshed when it had gone to arrest miscreants. The policemen were released the next day by their colleagues from the Behrampore police station.

   

 
 
NAXALITE TOP TWO LEADERS IN POLICE NET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 23: 
State secretary of Peoples’ War Group Partha Banerjee alias Manik was today arrested during raids by Midnapore police from Belgharia in North 24-Parganas district.

PWG publicity-in-charge Mithu Dey was also arrested.

Confirming the arrests, inspector-general of police Jitram Bhagat said: “These two leaders were arrested from a hideout where they took refuge a few days ago. These arrests will help us to track down the other members of the banned organisation.”

With today’s arrests, three prominent PWG leaders were netted by the police in as many days.

Police sources said the arrests were made following the interrogation of PWG Belpahari-Kankrajhore area commander Sudip Chongdar, who was nabbed by the district police on June 21.

Acting on a tip off, the police had raided the forest areas of Belpharai. “Initially, Chongdar managed to give us the slip but was finally rounded up from Ghatshila,” said a police official.

After Chongdar’s interrogation, a special police team began raids in and around Midnapore. “We came to know about possible hideouts of other leaders. Accordingly, we conducted raids at Belgharia and arrested the two leaders,” said a police officer.

Preliminary investigations reveal that Chongdar was allegedly involved in the murder of Shibram Satpati, the president of CPM-dominated Saranju block in Bankura. “Chongdar is also an accused in the killing of another CPM leader, Tapan Ghosh, at Garbeta,” said an official.

The police are now on the lookout for PWG member Asit Sarker. “His name cropped up following the Chhoto Angaria massacre. The evidence we have collected so far indicates his active participation in the mass killing there,” the sources said.

   

 
 
SEVEN TRAMPLED BY JUMBO ON RAMPAGE 
 
 
FROM ANUPAM DASGUPTA
 
Siliguri, June 23: 
Seven persons were today trampled to death by an elephant on the India-Nepal border.

The elephant later disappeared into the Kalabari-Marapur-Belgachi jungles and was yet to be traced till late this evening.

Senior district police officers and forest department staff, including the district forest officer of Kurseong, have rushed to Tukra Bustee in Naxalbari where the rampage took place.

“The elephant had initially attacked a paramilitary jawan and then made its way to the village. On its way, the animal crushed another forest official, a middle-aged woman and four other villagers under its feet,” said officer-in-charge of Naxalbari police station Swapan Kumar Ghosh.

“The bodies were badly mutilated. The elephant had gone berserk over a large area, making our task even more difficult,” the police official added.

Paramilitary personnel were reportedly the first to see the elephant from their camp located near Belgachi tea garden.

“But before they could alert villagers, the elephant came upon them,” a police officer said.

“Senior forest officials are trying to locate the elephant deep inside the jungles adjacent to Nepal. Only when the elephant is found can we ascertain that the beast was a rogue,” additional superintendent of police, Siliguri, K. Jayararam.

“Elephants often enter villages when they run out of food. But the rogue elements among them can stray from otherwise well-knit herds for their own reasons,” a district forest official said.

“The joint search operation by the police and forest officials will continue till we manage to locate the elephant,” said the officer-in-charge of Naxalbari police station.

Naxalite leader Kanu Sanyal said villagers had found three to four elephants moving together at Azmabad on Thursday, PTI reported. One of the elephants could have strayed into the tea garden today.

Trio tuskers fury

Two tuskers and a baby elephant are also spreading terror in Bhatar police station area of Burdwan district, reports our correspondent.

The elephants have killed cattle, destroyed crops and houses and have even threatened human lives.

Over the past three days, forest department officials have been trying to send back the trio to their habitat in Sonamukhi forests of Bankura. But efforts have so far failed because the villagers attack the elephants who are then forced to change their route, the forest officials said. However, the officials have brought in a team of experts from Bankura district to launch a fresh drive against the trio.

The pachyderms have already killed a cow, injured two, and have destroyed at least 10 houses. Large tracts of paddy fields have been trampled on as well. The tuskers had also attacked a villager who saved himself by climbing a tree.

   

 
 
MAMATA RUSH TO SNATCH WAKF PLANK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 23: 
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today demanded that the inquiry report on the Wakf scandal be made public or her party would move the Supreme Court on the issue.

Indicating that Trinamul would try to derive political mileage from the scandal, Mamata said her party would raise the issue “very forcefully” in the Assembly from tomorrow.

Former Wakf board member Hamimul Huda was arrested yesterday following a judicial committee’s recommendation in the estimated Rs 1,300-crore scam.

“The 1,300-page report indicts a number of CPM functionaries who were involved in the scam. But the government has not released the report yet. Neither has it placed the report in the Assembly. We will now force the government to make the report public without delay”, Mamata said.

Describing the Wakf scandal as “much more sensitive than the fodder scam in Bihar” in which former chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav is allegedly involved, Mamata said: “Yesterday’s arrest of a Wakf board member is nothing. We apprehend the involvement of many important CPM functionaries in the scam and it is very likely that the government will try hard to suppress the report.”

Way back in 1996, the Congress had created an uproar in the Assembly over financial irregularities and illegal sale of Wakf property in Calcutta and elsewhere in the state. Then Opposition leader in the Assembly Atish Chandra Sinha demanded a judicial inquiry into the scam.

Jyoti Basu, the then chief minister, set up a one-man inquiry committee led by Justice Gitesh Ranjan Bhattacharjee, which submitted its report to the government in December last year. The report was then referred to the minority development and welfare department, which finally led to Huda’s arrest.

Asked why her party refrained from protesting against the Centre’s move to bifurcate Eastern Railway, Mamata said she had already discussed the issue with the Prime Minister. “We should wait for some time to see how he handles the issue and our party feels that he should be given time to react,” she argued.

However, the Trinamul chief reacted sharply when newspersons asked about her possible inclusion in the Union Cabinet. “Why are you asking the same old question repeatedly? We never discussed the issue in our party meetings. If the Prime Minister wants a discussion on it, we are ready to talk to him. But at the moment, we are not in a position to discuss it,” Mamata said.

Trinamul leader in the Assembly Pankaj Banerjee came down heavily on the Congress for compromising with the CPM by not demanding a CBI inquiry into the Wakf scam. “The Congress was in the Opposition in the Assembly when some of our party MLAs raised the Wakf issue and demanded a CBI probe. The CPM in connivance with the Congress ruled out our demand and Jyoti Basu then set up the one-man inquiry committee,” Banerjee said.

   


 
 
SAHGAL GIVES LEFT ANOTHER CHANCE TO ATONE 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, June 23: 
History has a nasty way of turning events on their heads — of forcing political parties to swallow their words and redeem their actions. The CPM and the CPI have made many such atonements in the past — last month they did so again when the presidential battle came knocking on their door.

They pitchforked into the arena a candidate who was a leading light of a movement the parties had openly denounced and, even more, whose leader they had contemptuously dismissed as a “quisling”.

INA commander Subhas Chandra Bose had sought the help of Japan — a country in league with the fascists during World War II — to drive the British out of India. The Communists had seen shame in the tactic.

Lakshmi Sahgal, the presidential candidate of the CPM and the CPI, is a child of the same INA. How does Sahgal feel being fielded by parties that had denounced the movement whose badge she so proudly wears? After all, it is this badge of patriotism the Left is now flaunting as a symbol of its own nationalistic commitment.

In an interview to the wire services, the 88-year-old freedom fighter who had headed the first woman’s regiment — the regiment of Jhansi in the INA — said it was the united Communist Party which had denounced the INA and its leader.

After the party split, the CPM re-assessed the historic event, changed its stand and agreed that the main aim in colonial India was to attain freedom. That Sahgal had forgiven them was obvious when she joined the CPM in 1971 and was sent to Bangladesh as a part of the medical team on a call given by Jyoti Basu.

But the CPM’s re-thinking started much later — years after 1971. Somewhere between the ‘80s and the ‘90s, the CPM reworked its theses on Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru — they had once been labelled the “running dogs of imperialism” — and then went on to claim Subhas Bose as its own.

The signal perhaps came from none other than the late CPM ideologue E.M.S. Namboodiripad who in his book The Mahatma and his Ism re-assessed Gandhi’s role, acknowledging him as a mass leader.

So began the Left’s introspection over Gandhi and Bose. In 1996, the Left Front raised quite a few eyebrows after it decided to celebrate Bose’s birth centenary on a lavish scale. The Jyoti Basu government organised a sonet lumiere, a cricket festival and a permanent exhibition in honour of the leader the Left had dishonoured in his lifetime.

CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury says: “We never questioned Bose’s patriotism. We disagreed with his tactic of seeking Japan’s help, a country which was part of the global fascist alliance. Such a tactic is self-defeating.”

“Difference in tactics does not lead to enmity,” he added.

   

 
 
DUD CHEQUE TO INVITE RAPID ACTION 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, June 23: 
The Union government is contemplating bringing about amendments to the Negotiable Instruments Act so that persons or institutions issuing cheques that bounce are instantly penalised.

Government sources said the bank note intimating insufficient funds to honour the cheque would be treated as sufficient evidence to bring the guilty to book. According to amendments brought about during Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, when a cheque bounces, a notice has to be sent to the issuing party within 15 days.

The defaulter is required to deposit the amount within six months of the notice. Upon failure, criminal proceedings can be started within the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

In 1994, the Congress government under P.V. Narasimha Rao tightened the existing provisions, penalising defaulters with three to six months to three years’ imprisonment, depending on the quantum of money involved. However, the evidence law remained the same.

Under the new proposition, the Evidence Act would be amended simultaneously with the Negotiable Instruments Act, sources said. The bank note intimating a bad cheque would now be treated as concrete evidence.

Sources said the change has been considered following complaints by foreign investors, who feel the existing laws are inadequate and it sometimes takes years before a bounced cheque is finally honoured.

“This has given rise to an impression that India is a bad destination for investments to multinationals and others who would otherwise like to invest here,” sources said. In several other countries, a bank statement declaring a bad cheque due to “paucity of funds” is sufficient evidence to get instant justice from a local magistrate.

Sources said Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act would be amended for the purpose, along with the Indian Evidence Act, and a bank statement would be considered sufficient evidence under the evidence law.

Cases of bouncing cheques have been on the rise despite the government’s efforts at tightening the laws during the Rajiv and Rao periods. According to a government-sourced information, the number of cheques bouncing annually has risen to over 65,000 from 12,000 a couple of years ago in Delhi alone.

More than five lakh cases of cheque bouncing are pending throughout the country. Under the circumstances, the government has been compelled to contemplate necessary changes following “pressure” from multinationals, various financial institutions and other NRI investors, sources said.

   

 
 
JAYA SKIPS ATAL CAUVERY MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, June 23: 
The Cauvery water dispute is threatening to wash away the foundation of a bridge between Jayalalithaa and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, forcing the southern state to stay away from meetings of an authority chaired by the Prime Minister.

Just when the chief minister seemed to be warming up to the BJP-led NDA at the Centre, the south-west monsoon decided to play spoilsport. It affected the water level in the Cauvery’s catchment areas in Karnataka and delayed the opening of the Mettur reservoir from its scheduled date on June 12.

Jayalalithaa met the Prime Minister in New Delhi and explained the “grave situation” prevailing in the Cauvery basin of Tamil Nadu given the poor storage level in the reservoir at Mettur.

She reportedly also impressed upon Vajpayee the “urgent need for amending the rules of business of the Cauvery River Authority”.

However, according to an official statement, Vajpayee informed her that without the consent of the upper riparian state, Karnataka, the rules of business “cannot be amended”.

This, insiders say, did not go down well with Jayalalithaa. On her return from Delhi, she presided over a lengthy Cabinet meeting where it was decided that as “no help will be forthcoming from the Government of India for implementing the Cauvery Tribunal’s Interim Order”, the state would abstain from the meetings convened by the authority, in a rebuff of sorts to the Prime Minister.

Even as the government maintained that the CRA in its “present form does not possess any power and is unable to effectively implement the orders of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal”, it also decided to boycott the monitoring committee’s meetings.

The state government will move the Supreme Court again for “appropriate orders” as the livelihood of 12 lakh farmers’ families in the Cauvery delta areas is in peril, the state Cabinet decided.

The ADMK regime’s decision to boycott the river panel and instead approach the apex court for redressal has invited criticism from Opposition parties and various farmers’ associations.

   

 
 
HEARTLAND ON THE FAST TRACK TO FISCAL DOOM 
 
 
FROM YOGESH VAJPEYI
 
Lucknow, June 23: 
The sentiments aired by chief minister Mayavati in her pep talk to party legislators last week underlined one of Uttar Pradesh’s lesser ironies.

Khazana khali hai, nahin to dhoom macha deti (The state coffers are empty, otherwise I would have had a ball)!” announced the chief minister of a state that was among the most developed during Independence. Today, its per capita income is the lowest in the country — second only to Bihar.

The state’s coffers are empty. The state’s total borrowing stands at Rs 90,000 crore and is rising by Rs 10,000 crore every year. Its total tax revenue goes to meet its interest obligation of Rs 11,000 crore. Another Rs 15,000 crore goes towards repayment of debts, eating up the entire central assistance together with the state’s share in the central taxes.

This leaves the state with around Rs 6,000 crore to finance all its activities, triggering fresh bouts of borrowing. No wonder, Uttar Pradesh finds itself ensnared in an ever-tightening debt trap. Its annual borrowing, which used to be around Rs 700 crore in the 1980s, has now touched Rs 25,000 crore.

Ironically, the problem has aggravated due to successive pro-poor governments during the 1990s, a reflection of the increasing political awareness among the lower castes and Dalits.

While it undoubtedly led to political empowerment of the new elite among the lower castes, the governments backed by them failed miserably to alleviate poverty and unemployment since the late 1980s. Between 1957-1958 and 1987-1988, the state had brought down the percentage of its population below poverty line from 55 to 41.6. In the 1990s, the process had slowed down to a minimal 0.2 per cent.

A recent World Bank report confirms: “The gap between Uttar Pradesh and the rest of India widened substantially in the 1990s as annual growth in per capita income slowed down to less than 1 per cent.”

Ramesh Dixit, a political scientist from Lucknow University, attributes this to the vagaries of political parties advocating social justice, who had a major share in the governance of the state during the 1990s.

“Plagued by persistent political instability, these governments had little time to undertake long-term measures to improve the state’s economy. Instead, they were forced to take populist measures to boost their support among different social groups and squandered the state’s limited resources on non-productive activities,” Dixit argues.

Since the 1990s, Uttar Pradesh has held four Assembly elections and barring the 1991 polls, in which the BJP came to power, every election has produced a hung Assembly. Equally significant, after the end of the Congress hegemony, all the major political players in the arena are closely identified with specific ethnic groups — the BJP with upper castes, the Samajwadi Party with the backwards and the Bahujan Samaj Party with the Dalits and lower castes.

And each of them has depended on the manipulation of bureaucracy for implementing their political agenda through special recruitment drives to induct their supporting social groups in different echelons of the state machinery as well as through large-scale transfers.

This invariably led to a phenomenal rise in the establishment expenses of the state, which currently account for 27 per cent of its total expenses and are 115 per cent of the state’s own tax revenue.

As Kripa Shankar, an expert on state finances, points out: “In Uttar Pradesh, the expenditure on administrative services today is more than what is spent on irrigation and power and is the fastest growing item of expenditure except interest payment.”

   

 
 
DELHI DIFFERENTIATES BETWEEN TWIN LISTS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, June 23: 
Bangladesh foreign minister Morshed Khan’s visit to India last week did little to repair frayed relations between the two countries, with the Indian establishment trying to figure out the purpose of Khan’s trip.

Expectations were high ahead of Khan’s visit as this was the first senior-level bilateral interaction with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party government of Begum Khaleda Zia. The Bangladesh finance minister came to India in February, but that was at the invitation of the CII and he had paid a courtesy visit to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Hopes of clearing the air during Khan’s visit were dashed as there was little forward movement. Bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh slipped down a few notches.

Though the Indian leadership thought it had sent out a clear message that it did not favour any third party involvement in the Indo-Pak stand off, the message did not seem to have hit home in Dhaka.

Khan went back to Dhaka and, at a news conference, said India understood Bangladesh’s concerns about the military build up at the Indo-Pak border. Khan said Dhaka had formulated a three-point plan to reduce tension between the two nuclear neighbours and New Delhi had shown interest in it.

Khan might have been trying to convince his domestic constituency about Bangladesh’s efforts at peace-making. But New Delhi was hardly amused by Khan’s declaration, coming as it did immediately after Khaleda Zia’s letter to Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, the current chairman of Saarc, asking him to play peacemaker in the region.

Bangladesh even tried to get the UN Security Council into action. However, these moves have left behind a bitter aftertaste.

While India understands Dhaka’s concerns over tension in the region, New Delhi has misgivings at the way Dhaka went about expressing it. “Begum Zia could have picked up the telephone and spoken to Prime Minister Vajpayee, as so many other world leaders had done,” said a senior official.

Khan also announced at his news conference that he had provided a list of Bangladesh’s 20 most wanted men who were hiding in India. New Delhi is amused at his list.

“Khan is trying to give this list the same kind of hype that is associated with India’s list of 20 to Pakistan. The difference here is that we are willing to immediately hand over the people if we can get them,” said an Indian official.

Dhaka had forwarded the names of 14 criminals who the authorities believe are hiding in India. Two of the names on the list, Kunal Pasha and Titon have since been arrested in Bangladesh. Another name, Salim Raja, may be lodged in Tihar Jail. He will be handed over once his identity is established.

Successive governments in Dhaka have promised to ensure that terrorist activities against India will not be allowed from its soil. But rebel groups of the northeast still continue to use Bangladesh territory as base for their fight against the Indian government.

Despite repeated assurances, Dhaka has done little to remove the terrorist camps, Indian officials said. New Delhi is aware that Sigma Hoda, the wife of the Bangladesh information minister Nazmul Hoda, is lawyer representing Ulfa chief Anup Chetia. She is also involved in raising funds for the legal defence of Ulfa activists, the All Tripura Tiger Force and the National Liberation Force of Tripura.

However, New Delhi cannot question what Sigma Hoda does in her capacity as a professional. Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair takes up cases for Kashmir autonomy. The British foreign office says she has every right as a professional to do so.

   

 
 
MANEKA FIRES SANJAY SALVO TO SETTLE SCORES 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, June 23: 
Twenty-two years after the death of Sanjay Gandhi, his widow and estranged Gandhi bahu Maneka today vowed to propagate her husband’s ideals and progressive views.

Maneka used the occasion — “Remembrance Meeting” on Sanjay’s 22nd death anniversary, organised by her Shakti Dal party, friends and well-wishers of the late leader — to take pot shots at the Centre and the other bahu of the Gandhi family.

Amid speculation that her portfolio may be changed or she may be dropped from the council of ministers, Maneka’s party has decided to propagate Sanjay’s views even as the BJP is planning to felicitate writers and journalists incarcerated during the Emergency.

Addressing a modest gathering at Mavlankar Hall, Maneka lamented that after Sanjay’s death a memorial trust was set up which did not do anything to propagate his views.

“I was silent for all these years.Because my son was young. I felt ajeeb (weird) that a Rs 1-crore trust run in the name of my husband does not include either his widow or his child.”

Without naming Sonia Gandhi, Maneka said “an ajnabi (stranger) who did not know the views of Sanjay was looking after the trust.” The trust should have properly utilised to propagate his views, she added.

Maneka also took a dig at the Gandhi family controlled by the videshi bahu when she told the audience with a sarcastic smirk that her 23-year-old son, Feroze Varun, had passed the B.Sc examinations last week and become the family’s first legitimate graduate.

“He (Varun) is the first insaan in our family who became a graduate,” she said.

Varun was conspicuous by his absence. The 23-year-old was politically launched in February at Maneka’s home turf, Philibit, where he campaigned for his mother’s party, which did not win a single Assembly seat. Asked why Varun was not present, Maneka said he was not keeping well.

Party sources said even though some Congressmen close to Sanjay had been invited, they chose not to turn up. However, H.K.L. Bhagat, an old Sanjay acolyte, was the only exception.

The gist of Maneka’s speech was that Sanjay’s thinking was much ahead of his time and he was a much misunderstood man. She spoke at length about his concern for the burgeoning population, for environmental degradation, education, a futuristic small car, campaign for dowry abolition, cleanliness and so on. She said Noida was one of Sanjay’s dreams.

The Union minister regretted that the Centre had disinvested Maruti, Sanjay’s pet project.

“When I was married, he used to work from 5 am till midnight for Maruti with workers. He wanted a cheap car for the common man. Now it has all changed,” she said.

Varun was 100 days old when Sanjay died at the age of 32. “It was the end of not just a life but a yug,” she bemoaned.

   
 

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