Diggers grapple with boulders on Darjeeling road
Wakf probe report tabled
3 options before Haldia Petro
Manager ‘snatch’ over job row
State flats for the poor at Rajarhat
Arms unit eyes global market
Transport fare hike on the anvil
Jute mill lockout
From Arie to Ashanti, India makes music
Political hitmen mix belief and business

 
 
DIGGERS GRAPPLE WITH BOULDERS ON DARJEELING ROAD 
 
 
FROM VIVEK CHHETRI
 
Darjeeling, July 1: 
Traffic along National Highway 55, the arterial connector between Siliguri and Darjeeling, continues to remain closed following Saturday’s landslide that killed two persons.

“We expect to clear the road by tomorrow evening,” said Darjeeling district magistrate Hridesh Mohan. The landslide breached the highway at Daragoan, about 1.5 km from Kurseong.

Two excavators have been pressed into service to clear the debris but two boulders are delaying the process.

Instead, the boulders are being chiselled and the debris thrown at a considerable distance because of a hamlet just below the site.

“We cannot use dynamite to blast the boulders as the topography here is fragile and this may trigger fresh landslides in adjoining areas,” said the district magistrate.

Heavy transport from Siliguri is being diverted through Mirik while smaller vehicles are using the Pankhabari route.

According to relief officer Sonam Bhutia, relief materials like tarpaulins and blankets have already been distributed to victims.

Of the 25 families that were evacuated following the landslide, 12 agreed to shift to nearby Giddhapahar Primary School.

“We are persuading the remaining families to shift as soon as possible as they are in a landslide-prone zone,” said sub-divisional officer, Kurseong, Rupen Chowdhury.

“We had identified the area as landslide-prone and the residents had long been asked to relocate to safer places,” said Bhutia, who is also the deputy magistrate of Darjeeling.

Authorities have said there is no alternative for the families but to shift.

Saturdays’ landslide had claimed Madhu Bharati (45) and her 15-year-old daughter, Rabina.

In a bid to prevent landslides in the hills, a Unicef-funded “community-based disaster programme” was conducted in January and February. The thrust was on forming self-help cells that could read the “pre-landslide symptoms”.

The sub-divisional officer said such self-help groups were being formed in five gram panchayats of Kurseong sub-division.

The project was launched after a landslide expert committee in 2000 recommended measures to prevent landslides in the hills. These included division of areas into zones through digital mapping, micro-seismic study, traffic relocation and ban on use of polythene bags that clogged drains, triggering landslides.

Though all the three municipalities of Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kurseong had banned polythene, the directive is no longer implemented.

While the study on micro-seismic activity is expected to be finalised in July, the report on traffic relocation may be delayed after the director of transportation asked for a 24-hour survey. However, the 12-hour survey report on traffic relocation has been completed.

   

 
 
WAKF PROBE REPORT TABLED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
Minister for minority development and welfare Mohammad Salim today tabled the judicial commission’s report on Wakf irregularities and the government’s Action Taken Report in the Assembly today.

Trinamul Congress members Sougata Roy and Pankaj Banerjee demanded that the findings of Justice Gitesh Ranjan Bhattacharjee Commission of Inquiry (Wakf Matters) be discussed on the floor of the Assembly. Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim asked for a notice seeking discussion on the report, following which he would fix a date.

The one-man commission had presented its report to the government in December last year.

Former chief minister Jyoti Basu had constituted the one-man inquiry panel in 1996 after an Opposition uproar in the House over the unauthorised transfer of Wakf property in the city and elsewhere in the state.

In its report, the commission said it noticed “transfer of Wakf property without obtaining competitive offers or without causing any separate inquiry. In such cases, responsibility for the decision and shortcoming associated therewith lies with the concerned members of the Wakf Board, including the commissioners who were present in the particular meeting of the board in which the particular decision regarding sanction, etc. was taken by them collectively”.

Hamimul Huda, a Wakf board member who is in police custody till Friday, was mentioned in the report.

The commission also questioned the role of former secretary of the Assembly, Asadur Rahaman. On retirement, Rahaman had joined the Wakf board as its commissioner in 1986. Rahaman had then appointed daughter Sheila Nasar as the superintendent of Muslim Girls’ Institution in Calcutta.

In its Action Taken Report, the government said Rahaman’s action deserved condemnation as it was a case of nepotism and misuse of power.

“This is more unfortunate because a person who held a very high office during the service tenure under the West Bengal Legislative Assembly is directly involved in this irregular practice for personal gain,” the statement said.

“Though the commission had recorded in its report that successive commissioners/Boards of Wakfs had failed to discharge their duties properly, a large number of cases of irregularity/lapses/deficiencies had been detected during the tenure of office of Rahaman as commissioner of Wakf,” the government report added.

   

 
 
3 OPTIONS BEFORE HALDIA PETRO 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
The crisis-ridden Haldia Petrochemicals has three options before it as a fresh hunt for a strategic partner begins following the near breakdown in negotiations with Indian Oil.

On the eve of the meeting with the company’s chairman, Tarun Das, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “We have three options before us, and we will discuss the issues involved.”

The chief minister did not elaborate what the “three options” were, but the names of Reliance, the Hindujas and the public sector Gas Authority of India Ltd have been doing the rounds for some time.

Das, spearheading attempts to bring in a new partner, will meet the chief minister, industry minister Nirupam Sen and other senior officials tomorrow.

The search had to be started all over again after Indian Oil, with which talks had been going on for months, informed Haldia Petrochemicals that it would not come into the company without a 50 per cent stake.

Earlier, Indian Oil had agreed to a 26 per cent holding.

Its revised demand was not acceptable to either of the main partners, the Bengal government and Purnendu Chatterjee.

On June 30, the company became a non-performing asset, euphemism for a sick unit, having failed to pay interest on loans taken from banks and financial institutions for a six-month period.

   

 
 
MANAGER ‘SNATCH’ OVER JOB ROW 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
A manager of a Rs 25-crore company, Plastosen Ltd, was allegedly abducted by a disgruntled worker and later released.

The incident, which took place at the company’s production centre in Rajarhat, sparked off frenetic crisis management by the state administration, which called for an “amicable solution”. Assistant manager Partha Ghosh was released in the evening after spending more than eight hours “in captivity”.

“It’s good that Ghosh has come back safe. But I am sick and tired of such developments, and have decided not to invest any more in the state,” said Abhijit Sen, chairman of the company, which is part of the Rs 500-crore Sen group dealing in PET bottles, seafood, polyester, among others.

According to the Moscow-based NRI, who has more than 1,000 employees working in seven factories in and around Calcutta, Ghosh was forcibly taken away by Trinamul Congress supporters to “settle scores” with the management.

“We had dismissed an employee — Sanjit Das — some six months ago due to his regular and unexplained absenteeism. After the dismissal of Das — a local Trinamul activist — the party started to pressure us to reinstate him,” alleged Sen.

“The local Trinamul MLA, Tanmoy Mondal, also called me a number of times to revoke Das’ dismissal, but we stuck to our stand. This morning, Das along with four others accosted Ghosh while he was entering the factory and whisked him away. Our security officer was assaulted by the gang when he tried to rescue Ghosh,” Sen added.

A complaint has been lodged with the Rajarhat police station.

Ghosh was allegedly taken to Mondal’s residence and then shifted to the Trinamul’s local party office. Before Sen — who set up the first factory in Rajarhat — could realise what had happened, he received a call from the MLA.

“He asked me to reinstate Das or face the consequences. He even threatened that Ghosh won’t be released unless we take back Das,” Sen said.

The Trinamul MLA, however, rubbished the allegations. “There was no question of any abduction or terror tactics. We had requested Ghosh to meet us to discuss Das’ dismissal. Ghosh came to my house and then he went to the party office to meet other leaders,” he said.

Mondal said he left for the afternoon session of the Assembly after meeting Ghosh.

   

 
 
STATE FLATS FOR THE POOR AT RAJARHAT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
The government is constructing about 1,000 flats at Rajarhat to accommodate people from economically weaker sections.

Housing minister Goutam Deb told the Assembly today that the government had acquired 4.46 hectare for the project being implemented by the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (Hidco). The project will be funded by the department’s budget and the National Housing Bank.

“Construction of flats is near complete. Allotment has been made and it is expected that the flats will be handed over by this year. The project cost will be around Rs 18.2 crore and the target groups are schedule castes, schedule tribes, minorities and other weaker sections of the society,” the minister said.

As for Rajarhat residents who lost their homes because of the project, Deb said Hidco has introduced a voluntary direct benefit scheme for the reconstruction of their residential units.

“Already, through district housing schemes implemented by the West Bengal housing board, 10,507 people belonging to economically weaker sections have been assisted to build their houses with financial assistance from Hudco,” he said.

Commenting on the modus operandi of promoters, the minister said the government was trying to protect the interests of prospective buyers in the private sector by curbing illegal and unplanned activities of builders.

“With this objective, the West Bengal Building (Regulation of Promotion of Construction and Transfer by Promoters) Act, 1993, was enforced in Calcutta Municipal Corporation areas in 1995,” he said.

The minister said till February, 286 promoters were registered and permission granted to 318 projects for construction of apartments.

Deb, who also looks after the public health engineering department, revealed that groundwater in 75 blocks of eight districts — Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly and Burdwan — had been found to contain arsenic beyond the permissible limit.

“The process to identify arsenic contamination of groundwater is continuing. All available resources have been pulled up and Unicef assistance for water testing has been welcomed,” the minister said.

   

 
 
ARMS UNIT EYES GLOBAL MARKET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
The Indian Ordnance Factories is all set to enter the global arms market.

“A substantial export presence can help the growth of ordnance factories. But one has to put more emphasis on the quality of weapons to be acceptable to all armies of the world,” said Subir Dutta, secretary, defence production and supplies.

Addressing a function on the occasion of golden jubilee celebration of the Indian Ordnance Factories Service Association, Dutta, who will soon assume the post of defence secretary, said the “mindset of people” associated with ordnance factories has to be quality conscious.

Laying down the thrust areas of Indian Ordnance Factories, the service association president, C.P. Agarwal, said they were the “introduction of modern technology for the production of superior weapons and stress on export promotion”.

Dutta stressed on the need to monitor “the fluid and dynamic scenario in Kashmir, and the effect it will have on the future of ordnance factories”.

“The Kargil war was the engine that powered the growth of Indian Ordnance Factories and now it should develop further,” Dutta said, adding that this could be done through exports.

The incumbent defence secretary complimented Indian Ordnance Factories for state-of-the-art weapons, including T72 tanks, and its “regular contribution to the government exchequer”.

He added that the report of the standing committee in Parliament also acknowledged the contribution of Indian Ordnance Factories.

   

 
 
TRANSPORT FARE HIKE ON THE ANVIL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty today told the Assembly that the government would take up the issue of restructuring fares of private buses, minibuses, taxis and chartered buses as soon as possible.

Replying to a call attention motion by Congress legislators Ajoy De and Abdul Mannan and Trinamul Congress member Sougata Roy, Chakraborty said he met operators of private buses, minibuses and taxis on June 26 and urged them to withdraw their proposed strike.

“They have withdrawn their strike following the government’s assurance that their demand would be looked into. The operators also expressed their grievances against police and motor vehicles inspectors. I have assured them that the government will look into their complaints,” the minister said.

   

 
 
JUTE MILL LOCKOUT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Hooghly, July 1: 
The indefinite lockout of Banshberia Jute Mill has put the livelihood of some 7,000 people at stake.

Thousands of workers were surprised to see a notice saying “suspension of work’’ pasted at the mill gate at midnight.

The workers launched an agitation against the lockout, which is the second within a year.

A large police contingent was deployed and the district administration imposed Section 144 in the area to avoid any untoward incident.

About a year ago, the mill was closed for about two months by the management, following the death of a worker —Someswar Shau — in police firing during an agitation.

The management’s decision to suspend work is said to be the culmination of the on-going cease-work, which was begun on June 18 by some 3,500 badli or casual workers.

The casual workers were protesting against the slashing of their daily wages from Rs 172 to Rs 132 from June 16. According to mill officials, production was hampered due to the cease-work called by the casual employees.

A spokesman of the jute mill said the daily wages for casual workers was finalised after a discussion with trade union leaders of the mill.

The spokesman added that the production-based wage was decided in a tripartite meeting held on January 5 at the labour minister’s chamber. Of the 18 trade unions active in the mill, 15 had accepted the management’s decision.

   

 
 
FROM ARIE TO ASHANTI, INDIA MAKES MUSIC 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
July 1: 
India is hot. And it’s not just war cries and nukes making headlines. There are forces, largely unknown to this land, working hard to make the name ‘India’ famous.

India.Arie has made waves at the recently held Black Entertainment Network Awards, known as the “black Grammys”, bagging the best female R&B artist title.

There, she caught the Indian eye for reasons other than her music.

Named by her mother — “in tribute to Mahatma Gandhi because her due date matched his birthday” — Arie means ‘lion’, as the creator of a sound said to be “overflowing (with) generosity of spirit and breadth of background”, later found out.

From a messiah of peace to an apparent apostle of war. Upcoming R&B star Ashanti insists her name originated in Ghana (where it is the name of a tribe), though she is aware of the alternative suggestions.

“In Indian (meaning Hindi), shanti means ‘peace’, but when you put an ‘a’ in front of it, it means ‘war’,” she said in an interview. ‘Indian’ may be a new tongue, but she is not far off the mark.

Royalty, too, is a popular motif. That the band Kula Shaker has much to do with India is no secret. The group — “often retreating to India to regain their sense of self and inspire their unique brand of raga rock” — is heavily influenced by Indian music and is, apparently, named after a ninth century Indian king who came into a spate of good luck after changing his name to Kula Shaker.

It was godly influence at work with a musical guru called Santana. Under “the thrall of an Indian guru, Sri Chinmoy”, the man behind Black Magic Woman and more recently, Supernatural, adopted the Indian name Devadip, or “the eye, the lamp of the light of God”.

His spiritual quest also brought him in collaboration with the widow of his hero John Coltrane, who had a song of his own called India to his credit.

There are no explanations available for how Raja Gosnell got his name.

The retreating director of Bollywood blockbusters like Scooby-Doo, Never Been Kissed, Home Alone III, who also has films like Nine Months (editor) and Pretty Woman to his credit, must have an Indian connection to explain the kingly cognomen.

Equally mysterious is La India’s name.

The Puerto Rico-born Latin singer brought up in the Bronx, was born Linda Viera Caballero. Famous as the “Princess of Salsa”, La India has sat pretty on the Latin Top 50 chart compiled by Billboard for months.

Uma Thurman’s folks, on the other hand, were clear with the semantics. Her middle name, Karuna, is “one of the four sublime abodes in Buddhism. It means compassion”, while Uma, another name of Goddess Durga, “translates to bestower of blessings”.

Given that her father, Robert A.F. Thurman, was “a personal friend of the Dalai Lama”, a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University School of Religion, and the “first westerner to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk”, this is no surprise.

The Buddhist actress known best for her role in Pulp Fiction, has carried on the tradition, naming her nearly four-year-old daughter with actor Ethan Hawke Maya Ray Thurman-Hawke.

Some seemingly desi names are simply misleading. For example, if you thought Mena Suvari sounded a little too much like Meena Kumari for comfort, think again.

The 23-year-old actress, famous for her Lolita-like role in American Beauty, carries the name of an aunt who had been christened after the House of Mena hotel at the base of the Egyptian pyramids, and not after things Indian.

   

 
 
POLITICAL HITMEN MIX BELIEF AND BUSINESS 
 
 
FROM VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
 
Thalassery (Kerala), July 1: 
Kerala, counted among India’s most politically alive states, has stumbled upon a startling revelation: “Hit men” fighting a bloody battle for the CPM and the RSS are driven no longer by ideological considerations but by purely mercenary instincts.

For the killing fields in and around the northern Thalassery town, dotted by party villages dominated either by the Red or by the Saffron brigades, this is shocking news.

Over the last decade, these party villages have been relentlessly churning out the ammunition – not only fire arms, swords, daggers and crude bombs but also hit squads with ideological orientation-- required for the never-ending battle between the RSS and the CPM cadre.

The clashes in the last one decade alone have claimed around 200 lives. Leaders of the RSS as well as the CPM were in the habit of referring to those who died from their side as “martyrs who laid down lives for a great cause” and the hit men who took lives from the other side as “political warriors”. The emphasis was on the political and ideological dimensions of the vicious play of muscle power.

But incidents in the past one month have deprived the two leaderships of this political high ground. The hit men have now become a source of embarrassment for both the leaderships.

Two RSS hit squads led by Kaka Shaji and Kabartheeni Ashokan were found to have have turned bouncers of local money lenders, including a private motor vehicle financier.

Police investigation has revealed that the “veteran” political hit men were hired by non-political sponsors for hefty amounts.

The CPM hit squads , on the other hand , have been identified as indulging in violence not sanctioned by the party leadership. Two strikes by the hit squads in May and June resulted in the death of an activist of the Indian Union Muslim League, a constituent of the Congress-led ruling coalition -- and a 65-year-old woman who had no political affiliations.

The League activist was killed when one of the hit squads threw a bomb at his jeep on suspicion that it was carrying police agents. Last month, the squads threw bombs at a police officer who tried to stop them from collecting money from private bus operators.

The incidents have left the CPM leadership red in the face, forcing the party leaders to clarify that the foot soldiers have bypassed the party guidelines.

However, the leaderships of the RSS and CPM are in no position to take punitive action against the hit squads. “They know too many party secrets. We can only think of correcting them,” said a CPM leader.

The RSS leaders also echo him, though they say that the Sangh has initiated study classes to “reform” the squads. In this context, the hit squads continue to live in the protection of party villages, albeit as thorns in the organisational flesh of the Red and Saffron brigades.

   
 

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