Buddha digs in heels for Naxalite swoop
Pay whip on sluggish staff
Day-wager hacks officer
Deluge fears in Jalpaiguri
Robbers gun down bus driver
Terror net tightens around Vaiko
Winds of change finally set to touch Citu
Cautious Orissa gets ready for rath yatra
Srinath storm rocks House
Terror link to mystery ship

 
 
BUDDHA DIGS IN HEELS FOR NAXALITE SWOOP 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR AND BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, July 9: 
The government today told police to intensify the crackdown on People’s War guerrillas, who struck in retaliation to the raids and killed a local CPM leader, Ajit Ghosh, and his guard, Raj Kumar Sardar, in Paschim Midnapore today.

Sources said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee summoned home secretary Amit Kiran Deb and director-general of police D.C. Vajpai to his chamber after the killings and directed them to step up police action against the group’s activities.

Senior police officials said there would be no let up in raids and arrest of city-based People’s War supporters.

Contesting the claim of the family of supposed People’s War sympathiser Abhijit Sinha that he was framed and driven by police torture to suicide, police officials said there was enough evidence to confirm that Abhijit, a former central excise and customs officer, was involved with the group.

“Police are not fools. We had found evidence linking Abhijit Sinha with PW in May this year. Officers checked his antecedents to discover that he is the son-in-law of a deputy superintendent of police,” a senior police officer said.

“A DSP of Paschim Midnapore police summoned Moloy Sinha (Abhijit’s father-in-law) to Kharagpur in June and informed him of the activities of his son-in-law. He was told to rein in Abhijit,” he added.

Criticising those blaming the police for the suicide, the official added: “Why should we pick him up? Was there any enmity with him ? No…. Moreover, he was let off after an hour of interrogation in (Moloy) Sinha’s presence. He committed suicide two days after the interrogation. How are the police responsible?”

Sources said CID additional director-general S.I.S. Ahmed spoke to Moloy and offered his condolences. CID insiders said Ahmed also made it clear to him that while the department is with him at his hour of crisis, he should not make an issue out of it to embarrass the government.

At home, Moloy reacted in a restrained manner. “I have put in 26 years of dedicated service in the police force and I know how to move on in life. There is enough time to put our heads down and plan the next course of action,’’ he said.

Moloy, however, said he is mulling knocking on the doors of the human rights commission. Moloy, who had accompanied his son-in-law for interrogation, said: “Although the police did not beat him up, there is no denying that he was traumatised by the events after his arrest.”

On Thursday night, Abhijit was pulled out of bed, dragged to a waiting police jeep and question at an outpost in Arjunpur. “He was afraid. While returning from Midnapore, he was asking me whether he would be given a life sentence,” Moloy said.

Abhijit’s family said Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee had expressed her desire to visit them, but Ashok, Abhijit’s father, requested her not to hurry.

   

 
 
PAY WHIP ON SLUGGISH STAFF 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 9: 
Like a corporate taskmaster, the communists of Bengal today indicated that they would not balk at freezing or slashing the salaries of state staff if they continued to perform sluggishly and shirked responsibilities.

The government’s new attitude was highlighted today when cottage and small-scale industries minister Bansagopal Chowdhury asked employees of his department to go all out to work the market like private sector sales managers did.

Observers said the minister could not have read the riot act without the knowledge of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who is trying to sensitise all departments about market forces and rigours.

Speaking at Writers’ Buildings, Chowdhury said his department was already forced to disburse salaries to the employees of its four retail outlets in the third week of every month. Almost 1,500 employees work for the Tantuja, Tantusree, Manjusha and Charmaja outlets, which sell handloom items, handicrafts and leather products.

“We may have to temporarily freeze or slash their salaries in the future as it was not possible any longer to shoulder a loss of about Rs 70 crore that has accumulated over the past few years,” said Chowdhury.

The minister’s admission comes shortly after the announcement that payment of salaries of teachers would also be delayed and lends credence to the Opposition charge that the government is facing a funds crunch.

Chowdhury said aggressive marketing and an efficient business strategy were the only ways to stem the rot. “If the staff at the different showrooms do not cooperate, they will have to face consequences like delayed and deferred pay packets.” He ruled out retrenchment.

There are over 600 employees in Tantuja, 300 in Tantusree, 300 in Manjusha and 250 in Charmaja. Nine Tantuja counters, eight Tantusree showrooms and four Manjusha outlets have been closed as they were incurring heavy losses. Some more could meet the same fate.

“We can’t soak in the losses any longer. Till now, we have not asked government employees to go on a door-to-door campaign. But the time has come to ask them to go to big establishments like the Railways and Coal India and persuade their employees to buy cottage industry products. We will also have to rationalise the prices. We should not give the opportunity to people to buy the same product at a cheaper rate from a private shop.”

Chowdhury said the move to make the employees more accountable was not made in haste. “I held meetings with the trade unions and told them that the department could no longer afford to run at a loss. I have made it clear to the union leaders that the salaries of employees may be deferred for inordinate periods. We can no longer cope with the massive loss,” he said.

The department has tentatively kept a one-year timeframe to cut down on its losses by aggressive marketing of cottage industry goods. Chowdhury said 30 per cent of the loss could be cut down in the next few months.

   

 
 
DAY-WAGER HACKS OFFICER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Lalbagh (Murshidabad), July 9: 
Angry at being denied work, a casual labourer today barged into the chamber of an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officer at the Hazarduari Palace Museum this morning and hacked him to death. The museum employees chased the killer, but he escaped.

Witnesses and police said as on other days, Saju Sheikh was waiting in front of the museum with other casual labourers in the hope of jobs on a daily-wage basis. Conservation assistant Prabir Saha gave assignments to 20 of them, but Saju’s name was not on the list today.

Around 8.15 am, Saha went to his office. Soon Saju went in and attacked the officer. When other employees entered the office on work, they found Saju hacking Saha with a sickle. They tried to capture him, but gave up in fear.

“I went to Saha’s office to repair the telephone line when I saw Saju hacking Saha, who was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. I tried to nab Saju, but he charged at me with the sickle. I raised an alarm and another employee, Hari Prasad Singh, rushed there, but both of us failed to catch him as he was in a murderous mood. We thought it better to try and save Saha than nab him,” said Susanta Mukherjee, an employee.

Saha’s colleagues took him to hospital, where he was declared brought dead. ASI has lodged an FIR with the Murshidabad police.

Saha, a resident of Kalyani, was posted at Hazarduari from 1996. He used to live in a rented house near the museum.

The museum employs casual labour daily for chores like sweeping, gardening and cleaning. “After a long time, 20 labourers got work today. We think Saju killed the officer as he did not get work,” said Mukul Chakraborty, a casual labourer.

GRP attacked

Ten persons, including four GRP personnel, were injured in a clash at Ghutiarisharif in South 24-Parganas last night.

Trouble began when the GRP caught a boy travelling in the ladies compartment of a local train to Canning. An altercation ensued between them and the boy’s mother, who claimed he was 10. When the policemen forced the boy out at Ghutiarisharif station, some passengers attacked them.

   

 
 
DELUGE FEARS IN JALPAIGURI 
 
 
FROM AVIJIT SINHA
 
Jalpaiguri, July 9: 
Residents fear a repeat of 1968 as the Teesta continues to swell and threatens to wash away the embankment that protects the town.

Experts believe that if it rains as it did in 2000, the devastation wreaked by the river 34 years ago could return to haunt Jalpaiguri, which is known as the “sorrow of Teesta”. Over 2,000 people had died and property worth lakhs destroyed in the 1968 floods.

A recent study has revealed that following excessive silt deposit, the bed of the Teesta is at an elevation that is around seven feet higher than Jalpaiguri’s.

Since the Teesta’s bed has risen, water from the river pushes into the Karala, a tributary, making the town vulnerable to flooding in case of heavy rainfall in the district or in the hills.

The embankment, which guards the town, has developed cracks. Scattered settlements have also contributed to its deteriorating condition.

The spurs, which guard the main embankment, are broken. During heavy rainfall, the Teesta came within 50 metres of the embankment, said residents.

The Institute for Developmental Studies at North Bengal University has submitted a report stating this alarming fact. But till date, no step has been taken by the administration.

The annual rainfall in 2000 in Jalpaiguri was 4028.90 mm. At that time, the condition of the embankment was better. This year, till date, the total rainfall has been 1066.6 mm.

The Flood Control Commission is, however, keeping a watch on the embankment’s condition.

“But due to shortage of funds we have been unable to undertake any repair,” says an engineer working with the commission.

Commission chairman S.N. Saha said: “We are working on the basis of availability of funds.”

The Flood Control Commission was established in 1972. Since then, apart from Alipurduar division, where an executive engineer, two assistant engineers and other staff have been recruited, little has been done elsewhere to improve the infrastructure of the body, observers said.

Although about eight months have passed since the report was submitted, neither dredging or any other activity has been undertaken by the commission. Nor have the people living in settlements built on the embankments been asked to move.

   

 
 
ROBBERS GUN DOWN BUS DRIVER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, July 9: 
A private bus driver was shot dead by dacoits after he refused to take them on board at Roypur under Nawada police station last night.

The bus conductor and cleaner received bullet injuries and several passengers were hurt as the bus careened off the road and crashed into a ditch once the shot driver lost control.

Private bus operators in the district have called an indefinite strike from Wednesday in protest against the killing of Sanatan Deb, 30, a resident of Paschimgamini under the Behrampore police station.

The bus with about 50 passengers on board was going to Sagarpara from Patikabari via Behrampore town. At Amtala market, a group of about eight robbers posing as passengers signalled the driver to stop by raising their hands. But the alert driver noticed that they were carrying firearms and instead of pulling up, increased the speed.

The dacoits then hurled bombs at the bus, bursting its tyres. They also shot at the driver, killing him on the spot. Conductor Niloy Singh and cleaner Raju Sarkar were injured.

Biswanath Sarkar of Patikabari, who was hurt when the bus fell into the ditch, said at Behrampore hospital that the driver and his helpers had tried their best to save the passengers.

Private bus operators in the district took their vehicles off the road this morning after the news spread. The District Motor Shramik Co-ordination Committee accused the police of neglecting night patrol on the highways.

Student clash: Ten students were injured in a clash between supporters of SFI and the Chhatra Parishad at Katwa College over distribution of admission forms. After the counters opened, both groups alleged that the other was trying to get forms by violating procedure.

The college authorities called the police, who resorted to lathicharge to disperse the crowd.

   

 
 
TERROR NET TIGHTENS AROUND VAIKO 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, July 9: 
The arrest of MDMK chief Vaiko on his arrival here from the US under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for openly speaking in support of the banned LTTE now seems imminent with Tamil Nadu police today arresting all the eight other MDMK party functionaries charged in this case under the anti-terror law.

State director general of police B.P. Nailwal confirmed tonight to a TV news channel that a non-bailable warrant was being obtained against Vaiko and there was “no hitch in the legal process” to arrest the MDMK chief nor was there any political motive behind his arrest.

The arrested MDMK officials were lodged in Madurai Central Prison this evening. They include former MDMK MP and Erode district secretary Ganeshamurthy, MDMK Madurai district secretary Veera Ilavarasan, MDMK town secretary Bhoominathan, Madurai Ganesan, Alagu Sundaram, P.S. Maniyam, ‘Pulavar’ Sivanthiyappan and Nagarajan.

Police sources said the arrested MDMK functionaries were earlier produced before the Thirumangalam judicial magistrate and remanded in judicial custody for 28 days till August 7. There had been no immediate law and order problem, the sources added.

Vaiko, currently in Chicago to participate in a function organised by the American Tamil Sangams, and the others were charged for offences under Section 13 (1) (a) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, Sections 21(2) and (3) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (addressing a meeting for the purpose of encouraging support for a terrorist organisation) and under Sections 109 (unlawful assembly) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.

Police sources added that a special police party has been stationed in Chennai to arrest Vaiko on his return.

The police, in a low-profile but well-planned operation, had moved the Thirumangalam magistrate for getting non-bailable warrants against the eight MDMK officials, though the magistrate initially was reluctant to issue one for Vaiko. Sources said the police could have arrested the MDMK officials under the anti-terror law even without non-bailable warrants but they did not wish to take any procedural chances.

DMK president M. Karunanidhi was picked up from his residence last year in the dead of night without a warrant, drawing considerable flak from the Union home ministry. The police acted with caution this time also because Vaiko’s party is a constituent of the NDA at the Centre.

Chief minister Jayalalithaa refrained from making any public comment on the issue for the fifth day running. But she justified the crackdown on supporters of terrorist outfits by invoking the anti-terror Act. She emphasised that Tamil Nadu remained a bulwark against any form of extremism when terrorism was raising its ugly head in the rest of the country.

   

 
 
WINDS OF CHANGE FINALLY SET TO TOUCH CITU 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, July 9: 
The CPM has finally woken up to the need for a new trade union policy in the wake of sweeping economic changes in the country since 1992.

A new document outlining the party’s guidelines to its trade union wing — Citu — is being drawn up and will be placed before its central committee meeting next month for discussion.

Last time the party turned its attention to the Citu’s functioning was 19 years ago. Since then, the economic profile of the country has undergone a drastic change and liberalisation has come to stay. Today, even the loudest anti-liberalisation campaigners in the CPM and the Citu do not believe that policies of globalisation can be reversed.

But the Citu continues to talk in general terms, skipping the more sensitive issue for fear of sending its constituency into a rage. “Wide-ranging technological changes have taken place — the character of the working class has changed. Twenty years ago, there were more unskilled workers, now more are skilled workers,” said Citu general secretary M.K. Pandhe.

Disinclined to reveal the contents of the document, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said: “Issues can be raised after the document is finalised.”

Apart from changes in the economy, there is another crucial factor — perhaps more crucial than any other — which has prompted the party’s latest move: it is the continuance of the Left Front government in Bengal for 25 years without a break.

The compulsions of governance and recent attempts by the Left to break free of its archaic style of functioning are increasingly clashing with the Citu’s hardline stance. “The Citu has its compulsions. We have to deal with workers in factories. Ministers in West Bengal can get away with making statements — but we cannot,” said a union member.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has managed to whittle down the dogged resistance put up by a large section of his party ministers to reforms in all sectors. Even industry minister Nirupam Sen, known to be a staunch Stalinist, is now counted among the “pro-changers”.

If Buddhadeb plans to inject new blood into the state’s dying economy, he will have to first take on the “mighty” Citu that poses a hurdle to opening the state to private and foreign investors. He will also have to tackle Left Front partners like the CPI, the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party, which have been loudest in their criticism of any new policy advocated by the CPM.

The new trade union document will give a new perspective to the Citu’s functioning apart from sharpening a debate on the issues that have assumed significance in the administration of the state. Even Citu radicals are not able to dismiss the wind of change blowing across Bengal.

Like the industrial scenario, the agrarian scene, too, has been transformed since the Left Front government initiated the first wave of land reforms in 1977. While angrily dismissing recommendations made by McKinsey in the agricultural sector, the Citu general secretary, however, concedes: “But there is no doubt the holdings are small. So there will have to be changes.”

CPM politburo member Prakash Karat said: “The Left Front government is conscious of the need for a new agricultural policy. And it is laying down a policy to fit with the changing times.”

   

 
 
CAUTIOUS ORISSA GETS READY FOR RATH YATRA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, July 9: 
With less than 50 hours for the rath yatra in Puri to begin, the Orissa government has taken every possible measure to ensure a hassle-free festival.

The annual ‘sojourn’ of the three Gods on Bada Danda, will be held on Friday. More than 10 lakh people are expected to throng Puri for this year’s festival. Temple sources said the three chariots were almost ready and carpenters were giving finishing touches.

Nearly 4,000 police personnel, including 550 officials, have been deployed for smooth conduct of the festival. About 60 platoons, including six from the Rapid Action Force, have also been deployed.

Air and coastal surveillance by the Paradip-based Coast Guard will continue this year. Four cranes have already been deployed on the outskirts of Puri to remove traffic bottlenecks.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who chaired the preparatory meeting of the festival last week, has directed all departments to ensure smooth conduct of the festival. This year, a private television channel will telecast the yatra live, along with Doordarshan I. Sources said the telecast would be live from July 11, a day before the festival commences.

Special trains will run from Thursday to tackle the extra rush of devotees. The Kharagpur-Puri special will depart from Kharagpur at 8.15 pm and reach Puri at 10 am on the day of yatra.

Other trains like the Khurda Road-Puri special, Bhadrak-Puri special, Palasa-Puri DMU, Palasa-Puri special, Bhubaneswar-Puri special and the Cuttack-Puri special will run specially for the rath yatra.

Vehicles recovered

Berhampur police carried out raids in different parts of the state today and seized 12 stolen two-wheelers, reports our Berhampur correspondent. However, they have not been able to track down the kingpin of the gang. Ten people, who claimed to be the owners of these stolen vehicles, have been arrested. A former sarpanch has also been arrested from Sambarsingh village.

   

 
 
SRINATH STORM ROCKS HOUSE 
 
 
FROM VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
 
Bangalore, July 9: 
The commotion over the alleged ill treatment of cricket star Javagal Srinath at a police station in Mysore continued to trouble officialdom even as the cricketer himself tried to downplay it.

The latest is the emergence of the issue in the Assembly today and the response from home minister Mallikarjun Kharge, who ordered a departmental inquiry into the episode.

Kharge, who has already received a preliminary report from the Mysore police commissioner, took it upon himself to issue a circular to all police stations and senior police officers, reminding them that “good behaviour to the public is essential to good policing”.

The alleged incident took place at the Kuvempunagar police station in Mysore on Saturday night when Srinath went to report the loss of his car’s registration certificate.

The cricketer was apparently made to stand and wait for nearly half an hour by inspector Rajendra Prasad. The inspector allegedly refused to give a hearing to Srinath. When the cricketer tried to introduce himself, he was told to bring forth his identity card and birth certificate. Srinath was also told that he could not expect special treatment, as everybody was equal before law.

Getting out of the police station in a huff, Srinath made a complaint to the Mysore police commissioner though he did not give it in writing. However, this was picked up by the local media as a major story and evoked strong public response all over the state.

On Monday, senior police officials were desperately trying to get in touch with the Indian pace bowler to tender official apologies. The cricketer was incommunicado for most of the day but was reported to have contacted senior officials to say that he did not want any apology.

Srinath was quoted as saying that while he still found the inspector’s behaviour objectionable he did not want any further action on the incident.

However, the home minister went ahead and sought the preliminary report from the police commissioner and announced a departmental inquiry on the floor of the Assembly.

By all indications, the inquiry is expected to take some time to complete. By that time, many officials hope that Srinath, the political leadership and the public would forget the incident.

   

 
 
TERROR LINK TO MYSTERY SHIP 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, July 9: 
The mystery ship boarded by the Coast Guard in the Arabian Sea and brought to Indian shores over the weekend continues to spook security agencies, but the suspicion that it was used by militants was heightened today after its owner claimed it was “captured”.

The owner of the vessel, Assem Nidal Beani, today telephoned the Indian Coast Guard and said his ship was “captured” by Somalia-based militants in January this year. When Beani was asked if he had lodged a formal complaint and for documents, he reportedly said he will call again. Beani is a Lebanese national based in Khadeh, Lebanon.

The famine-struck African nation, Somalia, is in the throes of civil war with rival gangs of militia fighting among themselves. The Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau have now got involved more deeply in the investigations following the ship-owner’s claim.

Adding to the mystery, the International Maritime Bureau also told the Coast Guard that there were two ships registered under the same name — MV Al-Murtada. The ship now in the custody of the Coast Guard is a 500-tonner. The other MV Al-Murtada is a bigger vessel of 2,178 tonnes. The Coast Guard is trying to learn of its whereabouts.

Coast Guard sources said the bureau had also reported that the ship left Port Sultan Qaboos (in Oman) on September 8 last year. Since then there has been no record of its movements. The bureau also asked the Coast Guard to “thoroughly rummage” the ship to trace what was the last cargo it carried. Sources said the search was tardy because the weather in the Arabian Sea did not permit an intensive operation.

The Coast Guard director general, Vice Admiral O.P. Bansal, had said yesterday that the vessel had been abandoned some time ago. He said it might have taken two months to reach the spot where it was found — about 155 km west of Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri coast. It could have come from waters closer to Africa’s east coast. “At the moment, everything is conjecture. There is no report of a missing vessel matching the Al-Murtada’s description. Since the owner and agent is known, however, we expect to learn more about a ship shortly,” Bansal had said.

It is of some concern that the ship was found after it had been in Indian waters for weeks. The sea lanes in the Arabian Sea are particularly busy now with the traffic of not only merchant vessels but also the navies of nations engaged in the US’ Operation Enduring Freedom.

   
 

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