Advani dials CM on bifurcation
Property tax cut next year
Satchel blast in classroom
Blanket flood alert in North Bengal
Biswas set for China trip
Anti-terror law backfires on Vaiko
Jaya terror trap for Advani
Mosque demolition blows up on Cong
Rivals hazy on Kant heir
Maneka and animal cell in wilderness

 
 
ADVANI DIALS CM ON BIFURCATION 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 4: 
The deputy Prime Minister today called the chief minister to get the state’s view on the move to bifurcate Eastern Railway.

At Writers’ Buildings, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said he would meet L.K. Advani in Delhi to “explain things”. He added that Advani telephoned him this morning to know about the problems arising out of the plan to bifurcate Eastern Railway.

The chief minister, who is leaving for the capital tomorrow to attend the CPM’s politburo meeting, told Advani that he would meet him on Saturday to discuss the issue.

“The railway minister is saying one thing and we are thinking in terms of another. I am reaching Delhi tomorrow and I want to discuss the matter threadbare with you,” Bhattacharjee told Advani on phone.

The chief minister, however, refused to elaborate on his discussion with the deputy Prime Minister.

The Left Front has already announced that it would go ahead with statewide protest rallies against the bifurcation move. Mamata Banerjee is also lobbying in Delhi to stall the move though her efforts have not borne fruit so far.

The Trinamul Congress today hardened its stand on the bifurcation issue after its leaders came to know about Advani’s critical comments on Mamata’s bid to reinstall herself in the railway ministry and his defence of incumbent minister Nitish Kumar in a television interview.

On reaching Calcutta from Delhi, Mamata said: “I shall not offer any views on Advani’s comment until I have checked it out. But Trinamul will not stop fighting in Bengal’s interest.”

In a way, Bhattacharjee stands to score a point against Mamata if he manages to convince Advani into persuading Kumar to stall the bifurcation.

Left Front chief whip Lakshmi Dey said in the Assembly yesterday that an all-party delegation of legislators led by transport minister Subhas Chakraborty would meet the railway minister soon to persuade him against going ahead with the bifurcation. The delegation will also try to meet the Prime Minister to seek his intervention.

   

 
 
PROPERTY TAX CUT NEXT YEAR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 4: 
Urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya today said property tax would be reduced by at least 10 per cent from next year and that the government would fix a timeframe for sanctioning building plans.

“The building plans must be sanctioned within a month. If this is not done, the municipality will have to inform the applicant on what grounds the sanction was withheld or delayed,’’ the minister said in the Assembly. He added that the assessment procedure for property valuation would be made flexible with the financial capability of house owners taken into consideration.

Bhattacharya said the committee on municipal administrative reforms had recently submitted its report and the government was reviewing its recommendations.

In his budget speech, Bhattacharya, who is also the vice-chairman of Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), said a move had been initiated to increase the income of the agency and to stop the misuse of its funds. The minister added that CMDA had recently launched large-scale housing projects and was building some 4,500 flats for all income groups.

On rehabilitating hawkers from Gariahat, he said 250 evicted hawkers would be given stalls at the commercial complex under construction at the Rash Behari connector.

Bhattacharya said CMDA would begin charging municipality authorities for treating surface water. He added that the municipalities were also being encouraged to levy water tax on consumers except on people of economically weaker sections.

Mill lockout

A lockout has been declared at GIS Cotton Mill at Bhadreshwar after a clash between two groups of labourers. The mill has more than 1,000 workers.    

 
 
SATCHEL BLAST IN CLASSROOM 
 
 
FROM ANUPAM DASGUPTA
 
Siliguri, July 4: 
A student was injured today when a bomb hidden in his satchel exploded in a classroom.

The blast took place at the English-medium Lincolns High School when Sushanta Roy of Class VIII tried to pick up his bag that fell from the desk during recess. Sushanta was taken to hospital with minor injuries and was later discharged. No one else was injured as the classroom was empty at that time.

Police are clueless about how the “crude” bomb could have found its way into the schoolbag. “Someone could have planted the bomb in the bag out of sheer mischief. But then we cannot say anything specific at this stage since investigations are going on,” said additional superintendent of police Kaliappan Jayaraman.

He added that the blast took place when the bag slipped from Sushanta’s hand.

The police said they were investigating if the student had a rivalry with a classmate. “We feel the incident could be a fallout of a longstanding enmity between two students. But we are yet to get any definite information,’’ an official said.

The school authorities tried to downplay the incident. “It was nothing more than a chocolate bomb. We need not worry,” said school secretary N.N. Paul.

Jayaram said the police had questioned some students but did not say if they had revealed much. “In a sensitive situation like this, we need to exercise caution. We have to respect the sentiments of the students.’’

   

 
 
BLANKET FLOOD ALERT IN NORTH BENGAL 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
July 4: 
The government today put all six districts in North Bengal on high alert after the Alipore weather office warned of heavy rains in the next 48 hours.

Relief minister Hafiz Alam Sairani said following the Met office’s warning, the district authorities of Darjeeling, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur were cautioned.

The minister said government employees on leave were asked to report immediately. A special control room has also be-en set up at Writers’ Buildings.

About 20,000 people have been affected by floods in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts. North Bengal flood control officials said though water in all Teesta tributaries was receding, incessant rains could aggravate the situation.

Unconfirmed reports said three persons were washed away in floods in Mal sub-division. Ei-ght gram panchayat areas, three in Sadar block and six in Malbazar block, were submerged.

The PWD is repairing the 200 metres of National Highway 31C that was washed away by the floods. Breached railway tracks are also being repaired.

   

 
 
BISWAS SET FOR CHINA TRIP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 4: 
CPM state secretary Anil Biswas will be a part of the six-member party delegation which will go on a weeklong visit to China from July 9.

Biswas today said the communist parties of China and India discuss international issues by exchanging delegations every year. Other issues that are discussed during the visits include the growth of communist movements world-wide, performance review of the parties in China and India as well as viewpoints on organisational matters.

The Indian CPM delegation will leave from Delhi. Apart from Biswas, the party’s Orissa state secretary, Janardan Pati, Jharkhand state secretary Gyanshankar Majumder, Andhra Pradesh party leader Jhakka Venkatiya, central committee member from Kerala Srimati and senior leader Mridul De are also members of the visiting team.

The party state secretary will also attend the two-day politburo meeting from July 6 along with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Left Front chairman Biman Bose and Jyoti Basu.

   

 
 
ANTI-TERROR LAW BACKFIRES ON VAIKO 
 
 
FROM M.R.VENKATESH
 
Chennai, July 4: 
A year after the midnight knock on Karunanidhi’s house, Jayalalithaa’s iron fist shot out again today and found a target in NDA partner Vaiko.

State police have filed a criminal case under the new anti-terrorism law against Vaiko for delivering a speech in support of the Lankan Tamil Tigers.

This is the first time the state has invoked the law, the passage of which was supported by Vaiko as well as the chief minister.

Vaiko, who is now in the US, faces the threat of arrest when he returns on July 12. If Vaiko is arrested, it could trigger a rerun of the high-voltage political drama that unfolded after Karunanidhi was unceremoniously bundled out of his house during the midnight arrest last year.

The controversy broke when an inspector filed a complaint which accused Vaiko of telling a meeting that he “supported the LTTE yesterday, today and would support it tomorrow”.

Today, too, Vaiko reacted to the news of the case with customary gusto. Vaiko said in Chicago he would not be browbeaten by the “fascist” government’s action.

Top police sources in Madurai, where Vaiko made the speech, told The Telegraph this evening that the charges against Vaiko and eight other MDMK functionaries relate to openly supporting an outlawed terrorist organisation like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and aiding it.

The charges have been framed under Section 13(1)(a) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, Section 21 (2) and (3) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Sections 109 (unlawful assembly) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC, sources said.

The others against whom the police are proceeding for the June 29 speech include former MP A. Ganeshamurthy and MDMK Erode district secretary Veera Ilavarasan. A vocal platform speaker of the MDMK, Pavanan, was arrested yesterday.

Though no orders have yet gone from Chennai to arrest the accused, police sources hinted that such a step is not ruled out. “May be,” said a police officer, asked whether Vaiko is likely to be arrested soon after his arrival in Chennai.

Vaiko is in Chicago now to participate in a three-day meeting organised by the Tamil Sangams in the US. He was scheduled to come back on July 14, but has advanced his return by two days. As the MDMK leader is also a member of the Lok Sabha, he is expected to vote in the presidential elections on the Tamil Nadu Assembly premises on July 15.

Jayalalithaa, among the first state leaders to congratulate L.K. Advani after his elevation as the official Number Two at the Centre, had written to the deputy Prime Minister on the issue.

She wrote that notwithstanding the fact that the MDMK was part of the NDA and Vaiko himself had supported the passage of the anti-terrorism Bill, it was with a “sinister design” that he had openly chosen to support the LTTE.

Unless such outbursts “are dealt with firmly, with an iron hand, supporters of several fundamentalist organisations, including banned outfits like the Simi and al Qaida etc, will get emboldened,” the chief minister’s letter said.

She added that the Tamil Nadu government had no option but to proceed against Vaiko under both the anti-terrorism law and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

Though reporters waited for over two hours at the secretariat to get Jayalalithaa’s comments on the issue, she left without speaking to the media.

Vaiko had dared the chief minister to arrest him under the new law.

In a statement from Chicago yesterday, he said his support to the LTTE was well known for decades and that he or his party had not indulged in any violent activity in the state.

An emergency meeting of the MDMK’s executive has been convened in Chennai tomorrow to discuss the situation.

   

 
 
JAYA TERROR TRAP FOR ADVANI 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, July 4: 
Jayalalithaa’s threat to arrest NDA partner Vaiko under the Prevention of Terrorism Act has landed deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in an embarrassing position.

Advani, who had pushed hard to get the draconian anti-terror law passed through a joint sitting of Parliament, might find it difficult to deter the temperamental Tamil Nadu chief minister.

Advani’s home ministry, which banned the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, had allowed state governments to put hundreds of Simi activists behind bars for supporting jihad or shouting pro-Pakistan slogans.

The MDMK leader is a well-known supporter of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who has never hidden his admiration for its chief, V. Prabhakaran.

The LTTE is banned in India and Prabhakaran is wanted for the attack on former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a suicide bomber. Apart from Gandhi, the list of the LTTE’s victims includes leading Tamil and Sinhalese politicians from Sri Lanka.

The organisation’s attempt to murder Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga is well documented. The President was injured and many people were killed when a bomb exploded as she was about to get into a car after addressing a public meeting.

Vaiko’s open support for a group that believes in violence as the means to achieve its political end cannot but be an embarrassment for the Vajpayee government.

The political saga has been made worse by the public posturings of Vaiko, who has dared Jayalalithaa to arrest him, and the chief minister, who has warned that she will do just that. Jayalalithaa’s government has filed an FIR under the anti-terrorism law against Vaiko for his vocal support of the LTTE.

Watching the situation helplessly from the sidelines is Advani and his team. Advani said he has asked the home ministry to give a report on the controversy.

At the same time, he tried to distance himself from the messy business, saying it was a state issue and the Centre had no role in it.

The BJP declined to comment on the controversy. “I would not like to say anything on the issue until I get full details and study what exactly the MDMK chief had said regarding (the) LTTE,” party spokesman Arun Jaitley told reporters.

   

 
 
MOSQUE DEMOLITION BLOWS UP ON CONG 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, July 4: 
The state Congress was left red-faced when 13 Muslim councillors quit the party-controlled Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation in protest against the demolition of a mosque even as it traded charges with the BJP government over the smashing of the 100-year-old Madni masjid.

The councillors, including standing committee chairman Badruddin Shaikh, submitted their resignation to the city Congress chief and the civic body’s steering committee chairman, Rajkumar Gupta last evening.

Voicing the anger of the other upset councillors, Shaikh said: “It is a matter of shame for the Congress party that though it is ruling the AMC, its officials are controlled by others (BJP).”

Blaming the demolition on the BJP, Gupta claimed that the state government had issued a direction to municipal commissioner P. Paneervel to pull down the mosque, keeping the elected wing of the corporation in the dark. He alleged that chief minister Narendra Modi wanted the state simmering till the Assembly elections were over.

A government spokesman ridiculed the Congress, saying the elected wing of the civic body was undermining its own authority by accusing the municipal commissioner of following a state government order to demolish the masjid in Vasna.

The pulling down of the century-old mosque has the potential to re-ignite communal flames ahead of the Jagannath rath yatra festival on July 12.

Alleging that the BJP masterminded the demolition because it does not want the rath yatra to pass off peacefully, mayor Himmatsinh Patel said the municipal commissioner had become a toy in the hands of the government. Paneervel was not available for comment.

A deputy municipal commissioner said Paneervel had ordered him to demolish the mosque damaged by rioters. But it had been rebuilt by its trustees.

Squarely blaming the Ahmedabad corporation’s administrative wing for Tuesday night’s clandestine operation, the mayor alleged that the municipal commissioner was “remote-controlled” by the state government to implement its nefarious agenda of fanning the communal fire before the Assembly elections. The hawks in the BJP hope to cash in on the polarisation of society effected by the vicious riots since the Godhra massacre.

Incidentally, the mosque falls under the constituency of dissident revenue minister Haren Pandya. A source close to him gave a whiff of an intra-BJP conspiracy, saying mischief by those against the minister could not be ruled out. By fomenting trouble in his constituency, someone in the party is trying to kill two birds with one stone — to fan the communal flames and create trouble for the minister.

   

 
 
RIVALS HAZY ON KANT HEIR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 4: 
The Opposition is in complete disarray over the vice-presidential polls, scheduled for August 12, following the split over the presidential polls.

There is a profound sense of dejection in the Congress, the Left and other Opposition ranks. Leaders of these groups have not held any strategy session despite the official notification.

Congress leaders said they might put up Saroj Kharpade as their nominee if the BJP decided to field former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Senior Left leaders were dismissive, saying “we have not thought about it (vice presidential polls) so far”.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the party wanted the Vajpayee regime to take the lead in holding negotiations with the Opposition. Jaipal said the Congress would prefer consensus to contest for the “high constitutional office” of Vice-President.

Moreover, the Congress spokesman did not reject or publicly oppose Shekhawat’s name.

The Congress reluctance to force a contest also stems from the fact that the Opposition is in a hopeless minority in the combined strength of Parliament that elects the Vice-President.

Initially, Jaipal, Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Sitaram Yechury had sent feelers to Vice-President Krishan Kant to contest as an Opposition nominee. However, Kant gave no indication on obliging them as the Telugu Desam Party declared its support for a NDA candidate for the Vice-President’s post.

Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani today said the NDA government would not hold any consultation with the Opposition on the vice-presidential polls. Any decision on the vice-presidential polls would be taken “within the NDA,” Advani said in a television interview.

   

 
 
MANEKA AND ANIMAL CELL IN WILDERNESS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 4: 
With the exit of warring ministers C.P. Thakur and Maneka Gandhi, the issue of animal rights seems to have been given a quiet burial.

The department of animal welfare, which Maneka “nurtured” with so much of care and used to further her crusade for animal rights, is at present in a limbo. There are no takers for it.

Vijay Goel, the new minister for statistics and programme implementation who has replaced Maneka, does not want to be burdened with the animal welfare department or the Committee for Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals, which has joined issue with the health ministry.

The row between Thakur and Maneka that had threatened to escalate into an open confrontation seems to have been suddenly defused, even without the issue of conflict being thrashed out.

Maneka’s departure comes as a relief to pharmaceutical companies and medical research institutions, which had repeatedly sought Thakur’s intervention to remove the hurdle before research using animals.

When Thakur went knocking on the Prime Minister’s door, Vajpayee asked human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi to rein in Maneka.

Ironically, it was just a couple of days before the Cabinet reshuffle that the Prime Minister convened a meeting of the two and also summoned Joshi. Vajpayee instructed Maneka to convene a meeting of the committee that put medical research on a leash because of ill-treatment of the animals. As a ministry official put it, the Prime Minister must have already decided their fate before the meeting.

Though Maneka was asked to summon a meeting of the committee in seven days, she seemed to be in no hurry — quite unlike her, said an official. Like Thakur, she must have known that her time was up.

Ministry officials now saw no reason why the issue of animals rights should be on their agenda when the person who kept it going is out of the council of ministers.

New health minister Shatrughan Sinha seemed keen to dodge the issue. “I have just taken over. You must give me time to familiarise myself with the issues,” he said.

The former health minister did not have sympathy for the animal rights groups, and his successor, too, seems unlikely to show any.

If the department of animal welfare is tagged on to the health and family welfare ministry, it is not going to get the kind of prominence it had received under Maneka’s tutelage.

At this point, nobody wants a department that came to be known as a “kutta billi ki department (a department for cats and dogs)”.

   
 

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