Wakf uproar triggers mace chase
Revenge theory crops up as tusker kills again
PWG note cloud on Trinamul
SC push to joint-sector housing
Haldia poll jolt to Mamata
Subhas somersault on flyover row
After power, crisis alert on water
Kalam’s feats fall short of fellowship mark
King tastes dinner charm offensive
Congress pregnant with expectation

 
 
WAKF UPROAR TRIGGERS MACE CHASE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, June 24: 
Pandemonium broke loose in the Assembly today as Trinamul Congress legislators clashed with security staff while demanding that the Wakf scam report be placed in the House.

A PIL brought before the Calcutta High Court demanded that the one-man judicial commission report on the Wakf board’s irregularities be made public. It also sought a CBI inquiry into the scam.

Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim adjourned the Assembly for an hour at 12.10 pm when 46 slogan-shouting Trinamul members entered into a scuffle with the House security staff.

However, the Speaker refused to admit an adjournment motion brought by Trinamul on the plea that the government would submit the commission’s findings on the Wakf scam and the Action Taken Report by July 1.

Minorities development minister Mohammed Salim also informed the House that the reports would be placed that day.

Trinamul legislator Partha Chatterjee later said the uproar could have been avoided if Halim had allowed the party to place the adjournment motion on the Rs 1300-crore Wakf scam. “The government is trying to protect some high-profile persons involved in the scam by arresting an insignificant man like Hamidul Huda, a former member of the Wakf board,” he added.

Though the Speaker claimed that five securitymen were injured, leader of the Opposition in the House Pankaj Banerjee said three party MLAs — Shovandeb Chattopadhya, Tapas Roy and Jyotipriya Mullick — were seriously hurt. Chattopadhya and Roy were admitted to hospital.

“We have been vociferously agitating on the Wakf issue, demanding a CBI probe into the multi-crore scam. We will go for a more vigorous movement against the ruling CPM in the coming days,” said party president and MLA Subrata Bakshi.

Tension mounted minutes after the Assembly resumed at 11 am with Trinamul MLAs entering the House, waving placards. They sought to stall the question hour by repeatedly shouting slogans.

However, the commotion reached its climax when Trinamul member Paresh Pal tried to snatch the mace from the Speaker’s table. Though the security staff intervened to stop Pal, Tapas Roy, also of Trinamul, caught hold of the mace and started running away with it.

The marshal and security members tried to resist him, leading to fisticuffs between the Trinamul legislators and the staff for half an hour.

Later, Trinamul members walked out of the House along with four Congress MLAs. Most members of the treasury bench, however, quietly sat though the melee.

Condemning today’s uproar, the Speaker said: “It was decided in an all-party meeting that the question hour would never be stalled. But today Trinamul MLAs went against the policy forcing me to call in the security staff.

   

 
 
REVENGE THEORY CROPS UP AS TUSKER KILLS AGAIN 
 
 
FROM ANUPAM DASGUPTA
 
Chenga Bustee (Naxalbari), June 24: 
Terror struck border villages as five more persons became the latest victims of a rogue elephant that already claimed seven lives yesterday.

Three of the latest victims were killed this morning.

Last night, the rogue elephant entered Chenga village on the India-Nepal border and trampled a couple — Birbahadur Rai and his wife Bishnumaya Rai — right in front of their house.

“We woke up because of a thunderous noise only to find the tusker in the middle of our courtyard. It was about to pull down the wooden house of the Rais. Both were crushed in front of our eyes and we stood mute spectators,” Arun Kumar Lama, a resident, recounted. True to his words, one could see the entrails of the hapless victims.

“We heard that the elephant had vanished into the jungles after it went berserk yesterday at Tukra village. But fate has willed otherwise. And we do not know what is in store for us today,” said K.B. Tamang, a village schoolteacher.

However, government officials were not forthcoming on the “peculiarity” of the attack. “The way this tusker has behaved so far has left us wondering. But one thing that can be construed from the nature of attack is that the elephant is seeking revenge. Elephants trample people often enough but never have we seen them mutilate bodies so badly,” a senior officer, requesting anonymity, said.

Forest department personnel, the wildlife squad and the district forest officer of Kurseong have ventured into the border jungles to locate the tusker. Trained elephants have also been pressed into service.

Police reinforcements have arrived from Siliguri for Naxalbari police station. “We have increased the number of mobile patrolling units in Chenga and adjoining areas. Moreover, we are coordinating with the forest staff to track the movement of the tusker,” additional superintendent of police, Siliguri, K. Jayaraman said.

Residents of Chenga Bustee, Marapur and Belgachi are planning to set up village defence committees to ward off rogue elephants. The committees will mainly comprise of youths armed with lathis and other hand-made weapons.

“We can no longer rely on the forest department. The officials come to visit us long after an incident. And they offer us no solace whatsoever. So we have to fend for ourselves,” said Jaikumar Tamang, a villager.

“Without such committees, we cannot allow elders and children to venture out even during daytime,” said Mahendra Lama of Chenga Bustee.

   

 
 
PWG NOTE CLOUD ON TRINAMUL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Paschim Midnapore, June 24: 
A letter seized during raids on hideouts of People’s War Group revealed the rebels’ link with the Trinamul Congress, district police officials claimed today.

The letter, recovered from the Belgharia hideout of PWG state secretary Partha Sarathi Banerjee alias Manik, alleged that a Trinamul leader from Pingla had offered “costly machine (firearms)” in lieu of services of PWG activists. “But the man went away after waiting for some time in Belpahari this month as none of our leaders was there,” the letter added.

A direct reference to the Trinamul leader comes a little later in the letter. “It is very difficult to understand Didi’s actions now,” it said. “Sometimes she blames us and sometimes she tells us to wait a little longer.”

The letter mentions the activities of reporters and describes the efforts of two unnamed scribes to get close to the group.

Trinamul leader Pankaj Banerjee denied any link with PWG. “It is a conspiracy of the CPM and its police to malign Trinamul. Let the police show us the letter if they have the guts,’’ he said.

Since Friday, the police were able to arrest three important PWG members. They first arrested Sudip Chongdar alias Gautam from a tea-stall near the hills of Kankrajhor in Belpahari, said district superintendent of police K.C. Meena. The PWG state committee member and Midnapore district committee secretary is wanted in several cases of murder in the Garbeta-Belpahari-Bankura belt.

A police team yesterday raided several hideouts in Calcutta and its suburbs and arrested Partha Sarathi Banerjee. Mithu Ray, publisher of party organ Biplabi Yug, Sanjit Ray and Dhruba Chandra Ray were also arrested along with the PWG boss from 17/A Rani Park in Belgharia, the police said.

Chongdar’s interrogation revealed that the rebels hired gun-makers from Bihar to piece together 25 to 30 firearms. The state unit also received a dozen rifles from the central committee recently.

In a statement released tonight, the PWG warned the government of a “larger resistance”’ in the days ahead if the raids were not stopped. “Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government has adopted fascist measures to break the peasant movement in Paschim Midnapore and Bankura,” the release said.

Officials said Naxalite violence claimed at least seven CPM leaders in the district in the past one year. There were five major encounters with the last one taking place on June 6 at Goaltor in which one rebel was killed.

   

 
 
SC PUSH TO JOINT-SECTOR HOUSING 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 24: 
A Supreme Court verdict passed today is likely to give a boost to the state government and its partners in the housing sector.

Justice Ruma Pal and Justice Ashok Bhan upheld a Calcutta High Court ruling that allowed Bengal Peerless Housing Development Corporation Limited, a joint-sector venture, to retain full control over a 10-bigha plot that forms part of the Anupama Housing Complex on VIP Road.

State housing minister Gautam Deb described the verdict as “historic” and said the government was waiting for it.

“Vested interests often try to block our efforts in the social housing sector, particularly the projects which have more flats for low-income and middle-income groups on unsubstantiated pretexts,” he said.

“This verdict not only unfetters us in our efforts to provide dwelling units to the not-so-financially-well-off at a reasonable cost but will also act as a precedent in unclogging similar projects in the future,” Deb added.

The verdict has far-reaching implications as other state governments could use it against those with vested interests in socially meaningful housing projects, the minister said. “The case takes a big burden off our shoulders as several crores had been invested in the project.”

Bengal Peerless managing director K.S. Bagchi also welcomed the verdict. “It clears our way for greater involvement in social housing for low-income and middle-income groups, one of the highlights of the joint-sector housing projects’ charter,” he said. The Supreme Court decision clears the way for about 50 more flats.

The petitioner had moved a the high court, seeking directions to restrain the government from acquiring the 10-bigha plot contiguous to the housing complex as it had not informed the receiver (the court-appointed officer) of the decision. The government had merely put up a notice on the land, declaring the decision to acquire it.

The single bench upheld the petitioner’s contention, ruling that the acquisition — for a joint-sector project the petitioner had described as having profit as one of its motives — was “bad in law”.

But the government moved a division bench of the same court which set aside the earlier verdict. The Supreme Court today upheld the decision of the division bench.

The court ruled that the housing project reserved 50 per cent of its units for low-income and middle-income groups and was not profit-making as the petitioner made it out to be.

   

 
 
HALDIA POLL JOLT TO MAMATA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 24: 
A day after 11 candidates pulled out of the Haldia municipal polls, slated for July 22, the Trinamul Congress today decided to expel them for keeping the party in the dark.

Trinamul had put up 20 candidates for elections to the 25-member board while offering the rest to the BJP. With the 11 candidates withdrawing from the fray, Trinamul is left with only nine seats to fight on its own.

Caught unawares, Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee today constituted a three-member panel to probe the matter. “Those who have withdrawn must be hand-in-glove with the CPM and the administration,” she reportedly told some key party functionaries.

Mamata, however, was not available for comment.

Trinamul president and MLA Subrata Bakshi said the candidates had “stabbed us on the back” though they had promised to fight against the ruling CPM.

“We are probing if the errant party nominees withdrew after entering into a secret deal with the CPM. We shall act after getting a report from the three-member committee,” he said.

Trinamul secretary and MLA Sisir Adhikari, who was assigned to oversee the municipality electioneering process, also alleged that those who withdrew had a deal with the CPM.

“Till 2.30 pm on June 19, the last date for withdrawing nominations, we were confident of giving a tough fight to the CPM. But at 3 pm, everything changed when all the 11 candidates withdrew their candidature without informing the leadership. I strongly believe that these black sheep had betrayed the party for a hefty amount,” he claimed.

Adhikari also held two party leaders from Haldia — Tushar Mondal and Sudhansu Mondal — responsible for the confusion. “If these two key men had properly monitored the organisation, such things would not have happened. I want the leadership to probe their inaction,” he said.

The pullout is a major embarrassment for Mamata, who had lined up a month-long programme against the CPM. Moreover, sources said it would give credence to the Congress’ allegation that Trinamul had become the CPM’s “B-team”. Besides, the move could have an impact on the panchayat polls scheduled for early next year.

Trinamul sources said intense infighting within the party had prompted the candidates to withdraw from the fray.

“No one has been offered the seat of his choice. So they were left with no option but to stay away,” said a key Trinamul leader.

   

 
 
SUBHAS SOMERSAULT ON FLYOVER ROW 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 24: 
Less than 12 hours after spouting venom at mayor Subrata Mukherjee, state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty today made an about-turn on the proposed 2.5-km flyover connecting Vivekananda Road and Brabourne Road approach.

The minister has directed officers in his department to sign an agreement with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. The flyover will be commissioned under the build-operate-transfer scheme at a cost of Rs 60 crore.

Chakraborty’s directive came following a meeting with the mayor at Writers’ Buildings this afternoon. Mukherjee reminded the minister of the high court ruling that made it mandatory for all agencies to get their construction proposals cleared by the corporation.

The mayor said similar controversies arose when the civic body had intervened in the construction of a gallery at Eden Gardens and that of a guesthouse in Calcutta Swimming Club.

It was decided at the meeting that the agreement for the construction of the flyover would be a tripartite one and that the corporation would be a party to it as the road belonged to the municipal authority. The construction proposal would be cleared by the corporation’s building department only after the agreement was ratified by the councillors.

Prior to the meeting, Mukherjee submitted a four-page memorandum to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

In the memorandum, Mukherjee said under no circumstance would the corporation forego its rights over the road below the proposed flyover.

The mayor also opposed the proposal to convert the flyover’s underbelly into a commercial shopping space and demanded across-road provisions under the flyover for residents and business establishments on either side.

At a pre-building ceremony of the proposed flyover at Girish Park on Sunday, Chakraborty said the government had the rights to the road and it could solicit police assistance if the civic body tried to prevent the construction.

   

 
 
AFTER POWER, CRISIS ALERT ON WATER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 24: 
The power minister did it last week. Today, it was water resources development minister Nanda Gopal Bhattacharjee’s turn to spell out doom if measures were not taken immediately to ensure the rational use of water.

Replying to a debate (which was one-sided after the Opposition walked out in the morning) on demands for grants for his department, the minister said: “The days of quality water in abundance are numbered. Not many days are needed to transform Bengal into a desert unless measures are taken immediately. Standing in this House, I issue this warning with all responsibility and seriousness.”

Minutes earlier, his colleague, irrigation and waterways minister Amalendra Roy, had said Rs 120 crore was lying waste at the zilla parishads. “The funds have not been utilised for flood control or irrigation.”

Both ministers laid down the ground realities of Bengal’s water woes. While there are monsoon floods caused by the release of catchment water from reservoirs, there is also the imminent danger of receding ground and surface water for the densely populated state.

Bhattacharjee said a water reforms Bill providing for the rational use of water was awaiting Presidential assent.

   

 
 
KALAM’S FEATS FALL SHORT OF FELLOWSHIP MARK 
 
 
FROM G.S. MUDUR
 
New Delhi, June 24: 
This is one nomination that former rocket engineer, missile project manager, and now presidential nominee, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, could not clear despite a five-year-long wait.

They’re reluctant to talk about the affair now, but some of India’s top engineers and technologists rejected Kalam’s nomination to be elected fellow of the prestigious Indian National Science Academy (Insa) during the late 1980s.

Kalam was the project director of India’s first satellite launch vehicle, the SLV-3, which soared into space in August 1980 after one launch failure. But while the government promptly awarded Kalam the Padma Bhushan for this success, Insa’s sectional committees on engineering and technology debated his nomination and eventually voted not to elect him a fellow of the academy.

Three members of the nine-member sectional committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Telegraph that the majority opinion was that Kalam didn’t have the right scientific and academic achievements to be elected.

“Although he was very well-known even then, he had no doctorate degree and he had no scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals,” one member said. The norm was that nominees had to have a doctorate degree, and the nomination papers were to be accompanied by a list of scientific papers published during the preceding five years.

Though the nomination papers cited the SLV-3 success as one of his achievements, some of the sectional committee members felt that Kalam’s individual contributions to the project were not apparent, the member said.

“Like other big projects, the SLV-3 was a collective effort of many individuals and with the information placed before us, we had difficulty in determining and assessing his individual contribution,” the member said. “The information contained in the nomination papers was so scanty that we could not evaluate his achievements,” said another member.

Each year, Insa receives some 60 names for consideration for fellowships in each of the 10 branches of sciences. Only three or four are selected in each branch. Kalam was nominated in 1985 under the engineering and technology section. The nomination is valid for five years.

“Each organisation has its own standards with which to judge achievements, and he did not fit what Insa was looking for,” says another member. “Science academies have traditionally emphasised academic accomplishments as opposed to practical achievements, and this has kept many individuals out.”

He said a recent survey of the Indian National Engineering Academy has revealed that a mere 10 per cent of its elected fellows is from the industry. The others are all engineers from either universities or government research laboratories.

Details of Kalam’s nomination remain confidential, but under Insa’s guidelines, four fellows of the academy with personal knowledge of his “scientific attainments” would have proposed his name. Kalam, however, was elected fellow of another scientific academy, the Bangalore-based Indian Academy of Sciences, in 1984.

Members of the engineering committee say the affair highlights the need for value systems in academia to change. While it is easy to count the number of published scientific papers, it’s difficult to put a score on achievements in project and technology management.

“The result of a group effort in a technology project depend on the managerial and technological competence of its leader,” said a member, who says he was in the minority.

   

 
 
KING TASTES DINNER CHARM OFFENSIVE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 24: 
Just how important King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah’s visit is to India was underscored by a small but significant gesture.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee sidestepped protocol to host a private dinner for the visiting monarch when he landed in the capital on Sunday. Such dinners are usually wrapped up as early as possible, but last night it went on till close to midnight.

This was not part of the king’s itinerary, but a goodwill gesture from the Prime Minister to impress upon Gyanendra the significance India has been attaching to promoting ties with Nepal. Vajpayee’s dinner was attended by senior ministers as well as former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, who is well respected in the Himalayan kingdom.

The king reciprocated the gesture by pointing out to the host that he had chosen India for his first visit after the royal massacre. Gyanendra’s next trip, significantly, will be to China.

India played the perfect host tonight as well. At the banquet he held in Gyanendra’s honour, President K.R. Narayanan was lavish in his praise for the king and the institution of monarchy. “Monarchy is a unifying and integrating institution in Nepal. It is held in the highest regard and esteem by the people of India. We welcome its invaluable role in strengthening the close ties of friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries,” he said.

The President said it was a singular honour that the king chose to visit India on his first visit out of his country.

Narayanan spoke of India’s “distress” at the violence unleashed by the Maoists and said that Delhi, as a victim of terrorist violence, could sympathise with Kathmandu’s problems. “Violence can never be justified on any grounds whatsoever. India, too, has been a victim of terrorist violence. We believe that political aspirations can best be pursued peacefully through the democratic process,” he added.

In his reply, Gyanendra spoke of expanding the scope of India-Nepal relations.

“I believe we should broaden the base of our cooperation for private sector initiative and people-to-people cooperation for greater development and harmony. My government is prepared to extend all necessary assistance to industrialists, businessmen and entrepreneurs from India to invest in Nepal,” he said.

Gyanendra, a successful businessman before he took over the throne, is keen to get Indian industrialists to set up factories in Nepal. Earlier, during his meeting with Vice-President Krishan Kant, who called on him, the king had said that the Maoist strongholds in Nepal were areas which were the least developed in the kingdom. He believes development could be the long-term solution to insurgency.

Earlier in the morning, the king was given a ceremonial welcomed at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Gyanendra again held discussions with Vajpayee this afternoon.

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh told the king at a meeting that stretched over 30 minutes that India was committed to do whatever was required to “help Nepal through these testing and trying times”.

Singh congratulated Nepal for the “fortitude and resilience” the country had shown in pulling itself out of the crisis following the tragedy which struck the royal family last year. Gyanendra has just come out of the yearlong royal mourning.

India realises that each word and gesture made here would be a signal to the people of Nepal. Any move by Delhi to get too close to the palace could be misinterpreted.

Nepal is already facing a political crisis with the ruling Nepali Congress split between Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and former Prime Minister G.P. Koirala. Deuba is being projected as close to the king by his detractors in the Nepali Congress. In these circumstances, India has to be doubly careful not to step out of line.

Privately, Indian officials are comfortable working with Gyanendra and Deuba, believing that Kathmandu needs to marshal all sections against the Maoist challenge. Singh told the king that India believed Nepal was built on the twin foundations of a constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy.

India also promised Nepal help in its war on terrorism. The two countries are already sharing intelligence and trying to track movement of rebels on the border between India and Nepal.

   

 
 
CONGRESS PREGNANT WITH EXPECTATION 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, June 24: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka today delivered a baby girl, setting off fresh speculation that she would take a plunge into politics and rejuvenate the party in Uttar Pradesh.

Priyanka was rushed to Ganga Ram Hospital at 11.30 last night and admitted to the fourth floor maternity ward. The baby, due last week, was born by caesarean section around 5.30 am today. Husband Robert Vadra, brother Rahul and Sonia kept vigil throughout the night, family insiders said.

Hospital sources said the baby weighs about 2.7 kg and is under observation. Both baby and mother are in good health. Head of the hospital’s gynaecology department, S.K. Bhandari, who supervised the birth of Priyanka and Rahul, is handling the case.

Though there was a sense of expectancy after the baby’s arrival, the celebrations were low-key compared to those after the birth of Priyanka’s son, Rehan.

The free distribution of laddoos, bhangra dance and slogan shouting outside 10 Janpath that had marked Rehan’s arrival on August 29, 2000, were missing. But the media were treated to sweets at the AICC’s regular press briefing at 4 pm when Ashok Ahuja, one of the aides at 10 Janpath, turned up with around 5 kg of laddoos.

As Sonia was not available, AICC members greeted one another. Some Congress Working Committee members left goodwill messages and bouquets at 10 Janpath.

Sonia’s political secretary Ambika Soni said the party would obviously join celebrations as Rahul and Priyanka were members of the “Congress family”.

“It is natural that everyone is happy about the new arrival,” she said.

Congress leaders ruled out any gender bias in the lack of “all-out festivity”. An AICC leader said partymen had been instructed not to gather outside 10 Janpath or the hospital as “it is a private moment for the family to celebrate”.

“We are happy that Priyanka now has a complete family. Perhaps she will now take a plunge in politics nearer to the general elections in 2004,” he added.

Some enthusiastic Congress leaders approached astrologers and soothsayers to enquire about the baby’s fortunes.

Several “unauthorised horoscopes” have been drawn up based on the timing of her birth and planetary movement.

Congressmen were delighted when told that the Cancerian girl was born with a strong Venus, which would bring fame and good luck to her mother. More important, unlike brother Rehan, she would have a “raj yog” — a flair for politics, the astrologers said.

   
 

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