CPM sounds govt on People’s War ban
Bandh backlash after killing
Health varsity Bill with nomination bitter pill
Catwalk makes headway in Siliguri
Cops on toes on Vaiko return-eve
Crew at Kandla, Coast Guard at sea
Wraps off govt Kargil amnesia
IA rains bonanza on more routes
SC free rein for consumer forums
Sahgal runs into protests

Calcutta, July 10: 
Several pressure groups, including a section of the CPM, have approached Writers’ Buildings seeking a ban on the People’s War.

The chief minister yesterday ruled out proscribing the People’s War, saying his government and the CPM would face it politically. However, government sources said various quarters pressed for the ban, citing the Central ban on the organisation which was also followed by Andhra Pradesh.

Explaining the legalities of banning a political party, home secretary Amit Kiran Deb said: “Since law and order is a state subject, a state government is not bound to follow the Centre and ban a political party or group. However, if a government wants to implement such a ban following the Centre, the state has to issue a separate notification as Andhra Pradesh did in case of the People’s War and Bengal in case of Simi. The separate notification by the state is a must.”

In the Assembly today, the Opposition walked out, demanding the chief minister’s resignation following the suicide of Abhijit Sinha, who was picked up for interrogation on his suspected links with People’s War.

Earlier, the Trinamul Congress, the Congress and the SUCI tabled separate adjournment motions on the issue and demanded that the normal business of the House be suspended.

Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim, however, rejected the Opposition’s demand but allowed Pankaj Banerjee of Trinamul, Asit Mitra of the Congress and Debaprasad Sarkar of the SUCI to read out their motions.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is expected to make a statement on the alleged police torture of lecturer Kaushik Ganguly and the circumstances that led to the suicide of Central excise inspector Abhijit Sinha on Sunday.

The chief minister will also make a statement on Subhas Bala, a criminal who terrorised Salt Lake and died in a police encounter.

“Events leading to Sinha’s suicide remind us of the black days during the emergency of the 1970s when the police used to pick up innocent youths for suspected links with Naxalites,” said Sarkar in the Assembly lobby.

Opposition legislators shouted slogans in the House, condemning the police and demanding punishment for those responsible for Sinha’s harassment which prompted him to commit suicide.

A poster on Trinamul legislator Paresh Pal’s chest demanded the chief minister’s resignation. Pal’s colleagues, including Kalyan Banerjee, Sonali Guha, Jyotipriya Mullick, Subrata Bakshi, Tapas Roy and Arup Bhadra, also shouted slogans, criticising the police.

Congress and SUCI legislators walked out at noon and were soon followed by Trinamul MLAs.

While Trinamul and Congress MLAs boycotted the proceedings of the House for the rest of the day, the SUCI member returned in the second half to participate in the discussion of the health varsity Bill tabled by health minister Surya Kanta Mishra.

Suspected Naxalite activists Kaushik Ganguly, Tinku Ghosh and Parashar Bhattacharya will be produced in court tomorrow in Paschim Midnapore.


July 10: 
The CPM today enforced a 12-hour bandh in Garbeta to protest against yesterday’s killing of Ajit Ghosh.

The CPM local committee member from Goaltore, Ghosh, and bodyguard Raj Kumar Sardar were shot dead by People’s War rebels at Chotonagdona village yesterday afternoon, sending shock waves through the district administration and the CPM leadership.

No one has been arrested so far though three persons were picked up for interrogation.

CPM sources said this was the fifth incident this year in which a CPM leader was gunned down by the rebels. Sudur Singh Sardar from Belpahari, Anil Mahato from Goaltore, Bharat Mondal from Jamboni and Tapan Ghosh from Garbeta were the earlier victims.

Hundreds of CPM supporters with black badges today took out a silent rally. As tension ran high, a large contingent of police was deployed at Goaltore.

Senior officials from the district headquarters and from Calcutta led several raids in the forest to arrest the Naxalites. The police in Bankura, Burdwan and Purulia have also been put on alert. Bankura and Burdwan police also carried out raids in the forests.

Investigations reveal that the militants entered Goaltore through the Bankura forest with the help of local contact men and fled in darkness using the same route after killing Ghosh and Sardar.

“We have cordoned off the junction point of Burdwan, Bankura and Paschim Midnapore districts and are confident that the culprits will be arrested soon. We have also deployed forces along the Bengal-Jharkhand border so that the miscreants cannot flee to Jharkhand through Barakar,’’ said an official.

Paschim Midnapore district superintendent of police K.C. Mina said the police were handicapped since the Naxalites had occupied the sprawling forest area. “We have already provided security guards to police officers and CPM leaders who are in the hit-list of the activists. If anyone feels insecure and needs a bodyguard, he or she will be provided with one,’’ Mina added.


Calcutta, July 10: 
The health varsity Bill was passed in the Assembly today with the Opposition boycotting the proceedings after question hour.

SUCI member Debaprasad Sarkar was the only dissenting voice against the Bill which paves the way for setting up a health university for affiliation, teaching, systematic training as well as research in modern medicine, homeopathy, ayurveda and unani.

The West Bengal University of Health Sciences Bill, 2001, also covers education in nursing, pharmacy, dental, laboratory technology, physiotherapy, speech therapy and other paramedical courses.

Sarkar felt that bringing all medical colleges under one umbrella as envisaged in the Bill was not the answer. “There will always be scope for misgivings. In the past, many eminent doctors graduated from medical colleges in the state under the existing system of affiliation to various universities.”

The SUCI legislator added that the standard of medical colleges affiliated to Oxford University and Moscow University was high and had been so for years. “They don’t have separate health universities. Where was the need for one to be set up in Bengal?”

The MLA pointed out that the Bill provided for the setting up of councils for general, academic and executive functions. “But the members of these councils are to be nominated. There is no system for democratically electing the members and this is nothing but a farce. Nomination will lead to regimentation of thought.”

Health universities in Maharashtra and Karnataka have elected members, including students’ representatives, on their councils. Even the councils of universities of Calcutta, Jadavpur and North Bengal have several elected members.

“The purpose of the Bill is to promote free flow of thought. A system of nomination will not serve this,” Sarkar said, adding that the democratic structure of health education in the state would be lost.

In his reply, health minister Surya Kanta Mishra tried to dispel Sarkar’s fears. “If democracy exists anywhere, it is in Bengal.” The minister added that a separate health university would aim at better administrative co-ordination.

“This university will not entail any extra expenditure as such. On the other hand, it will bring about a balance among the different syllabi and courses. Both health education and medical institutions will get more autonomy once the Bill is implemented.”

Five other Bills were moved and adopted in the House in the absence of the Opposition. They included the Midnapore Medical College (taking over of management and subsequent acquisition) Bill, 2002, and the Dr B.C. Roy Postgraduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences (taking over management and subsequent acquisition) Bill, 2002.


Siliguri, July 10: 
If you thought the sleepy town did not have ramp knowledge, think again. The two fashion institutes, which mushroomed in the plains recently, are jetting ahead with their plans, determined to show the metros that Siliguri can also do it with lavish.

California Blues and Ramp Work, which started out in March 2001 and August 2000, are charting a success story. Both had begun work with a handful of models. The number has spiralled to 20.

Some like Anirvan are determined to make it to the national circuit. A participant in last year’s Gladrags manhunt contest, he dreams of earning the fame of Arjun Rampals and Milind Somans.

Some just like hanging out for fun, not exactly eager to make a career. “Few are interested in making a career in fashion. The boys in my group are more dedicated in their work than the girls who are not that interested,” said Kuntanil, choreographer and designer of Ramp Work.

Avinandan, an aspiring model being groomed at California Blues, said: “Let’s see where it takes me. But there is surely a future for modelling here.”

His twenty-something friend Bhupesh feels: “If I can make extra money out of this, what is the harm?”

After conducting two shows, Arunav Pal Chowdhary, choreographer and designer of California Blues, is confident about the future of fashion in Siliguri.

“In about five years, Siliguri too will stride into the country’s fashion map.”

Both groups have bagged offers from textile firms in the metros. California Blues has received offers from Digjam, Austin Reed and Newman to advertise their products. The unit will hold a show, a “puja package,” in Delhi during autumn. Ramp Work has been invited by Rampage Group of Calcutta to work together.

“Even if this offer with Rampage does not come through, we will go ahead with our programme and hope it will be successful,” says Kuntanil, his eyes sparkling with optimism.

However, some like Arunav feel it will take time for Siliguri to carve a niche for itself in the fashion market.

The society, he says, has to change its mindset and become more liberal. “There are many families who look down upon this profession as something bad for ladies. We first have to work on them and convince them that there is nothing degrading about it,” he said.


Chennai, July 10: 
Tamil Nadu police are treading with caution on Vaiko’s arrest in an effort to avoid a repeat of the Karunanidhi bungle, which drew allegations of human rights violations and left the administration red-faced.

The MDMK leader, an ally of the Vajpayee government, is facing arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for speaking out in support of the LTTE. A non-bailable warrant was issued against him in Madurai late last night.

Eight party activists charged under the Act, including former MP Ganeshamurthy, were arrested last evening and sent to Madurai central prison. They had organised a rally at Thirumangalam in support of the banned militant organisation.

Late tonight, senior leader L. Ganesan and 15 MDMK activists were held in Thanjavur.

But the police are being cautious in the case of Vaiko, who is expected to arrive here tomorrow afternoon from the US.

The city was rife with speculation that a special police team, led by Thirumangalam DSP Karnan, might take Vaiko into custody in Mumbai, where the Air-India Chicago-London-Mumbai-Chennai flight is scheduled to land around midnight.

The expectation of a “midnight drama” at Mumbai airport gained ground after Ganesan called upon workers to come to the airport in large numbers to greet Vaiko, raising the spectre of a possible law and order problem that the police would want to avoid.

However, state director-general of police B.P. Nailwal said there was “no possibility” of taking Vaiko in custody in Mumbai. “We have no control over these rumours,” he said after a high-level meeting with top officials, including home secretary Naresh Gupta. Tamil Nadu police will have to obtain a “transit warrant” and clearance from civil aviation authorities to arrest Vaiko in Mumbai, before he takes the connecting flight to Chennai. The police may not have the time for such things now.

For strategic reasons, the police are keeping the arrest plan under wraps. Asked about Vaiko’s arrest being “imminent” now that a warrant had been issued, the DGP said: “I cannot say anything right now.” He parried another query on whether Vaiko would be taken straight to Madurai for remand.

“Should a large crowd turn up at the Chennai airport, we will tackle the crowd and we don’t expect any trouble,” the officer said, adding that preventive arrests of MDMK workers could begin tonight. Security in the city has already been beefed up.

Ganesan, in a statement from Thanjavur, said Vaiko had not opposed the anti-terror law. “We continue to support that law…. We only oppose wrongly invoking the Act against Vaiko.”

The ban on the LTTE existed even before the anti-terror law was enacted, Ganesan said. He pointed out that even the RSS was once an outlawed outfit, but the ban was later lifted. The ban on the LTTE could be similarly revoked, he said. Therefore, to link Vaiko’s action to an “offence under the anti-terror Act” was misguided, Ganesan argued.


New Delhi, July 10: 
The story of the ship that came in from the blue and was boarded by the Coast Guard in the Arabian Sea last week is now available in black and white. And, also in an embarrassing shade of pink because it points to a snafu among security agencies.

In the centre of the botch-up over the MV Al-Murtada is the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard force that boarded the ship in the high seas on the night of July 5-6 after a “24-hour air surveillance”, had no idea that its crew had been landed at Kandla, Gujarat, about three weeks earlier, on June 18.

The Coast Guard had involved other security agencies including the RAW, the IB, the DRI and the customs since boarding the ship. But despite the involvement of so many parties, it has transpired only today that the Al-Murtada, a Lebanese merchant vessel, was sighted adrift by the US Navy on June 16 about 700 miles west of Ratnagiri. The crew was rescued and put on board another merchant vessel, the Stolt Spray, which reached Kandla on June 18.

The 16-member crew comprised two Lebanese (including the captain), four Syrians, six Somalis and four Indians.

Yesterday, the Coast Guard got in touch with the ship’s owner, who reportedly claimed that the ship was “captured” by Somali militants in January. This made the antecedents of the ship all the more suspicious and the Coast Guard sought further assistance from the International Maritime Bureau and alerted Coast Guards the world over.

“The information has come out today because we alerted all agencies,” said Coast Guard sources. “It is not everyday that we board an abandoned ship in difficult conditions in the high seas. Naturally, we needed to take time before reaching conclusions. Investigations are still on,” they said. There was no explanation forthcoming on why it took so long to learn that the ship’s crew was in India.

The finding of three (earlier the Coast Guard said two) AK-47 rifles was seen as further evidence that the ship was used by militants. The Al-Murtada is now anchored about 15 nautical miles from Devgarh. Its “rummaging” has been held up by bad weather.


New Delhi, July 10: 
Three years are not such a long time. But for the government it is enough to forget the commitments it made to the widows of the soldiers slain in the Kargil war.

Guild of Service, a non-government organisation that works primarily with war widows, has expressed shock and agony at the government’s failure to fulfil the promises it had made by the dozen during and after the three-month war.

“It is the army which has kept its promises to the widows. But the government and its agencies have reneged on their assurances,” said Guild chairperson Mohini Giri at a news conference.

“The cacophony of war rhetoric has been deafening. It seems the only parameter to measure the dignity of the nation is its preparedness for war. The other dimension of this war-preparedness is the fate of the families left bereft of social and economic support after a war,” the Guild says.

Its members recently went around the country meeting Kargil widows and prepared a report that is a telling comment on the government’s sincerity in rehabilitating war widows. While the army has been given full marks for taking care of the families of the slain, the government has fallen way beyond the mark.

“We have only praise for the way the army has followed the compensation rules and regularly made payments. But when it is the turn of the electricity department or any other government agency, then all (that) the widows face is harassment,” said Meera Khanna, joint secretary of the guild.

Basanti Devi, mother of Kargil martyr Satyavir, receives her pension regularly. The economic condition of the family has improved. But she feels her village Sadabad in Hathras did not “benefit” from Satyavir’s sacrifice.

The Guild’s report on the state of Kargil widows says: “Basanti Devi is still trying to get a proper road for her village. She also wants electricity. Not a great expectation from a democracy which is 55 years old. And certainly not a great expectation for a mother who has given her son to the nation.”

Rajesh, widowed at 21, gets a pension of Rs 5,000 every month. According to the Guild report: “The compensation money came to her on time due to the involved efforts of the regiment.”

However, the government never provided her the vocational training it had promised on paper. Roopwati lost her son and was given a gas agency. “But there is no electricity connection at the agency despite repeated applications,” it adds.

“The gas agency allotted to her was in a very poor area. This makes one wonder whether it is necessary to grant agencies in areas where they will not work. Roopwati’s life will be far more viable if she can have a grocer’s shop or a chemist store,” Giri adds.

Case after case points to a stark reality — the Kargil widows have been left to themselves to wage their own battles.


New Delhi, July 10: 
Indian Airlines extended its advance purchase fares scheme to a total of 50 sectors with nine more sectors added today.

The airlines also made changes in its cancellation and rebooking rules to make the scheme more passenger-friendly.

The new sectors covered under the scheme include Delhi-Thiruvananthapuram and Delhi-Cochin at Rs 6,685 as against the existing fare of Rs 11,875 for both these sectors.

The fare for Delhi-Calicut has been fixed at Rs 6,455 as against the existing fare of Rs 10,220 and Delhi-Aurangabad at Rs 5,535 as against Rs 6,045. Air travel in the Delhi-Coimbatore sector will cost Rs 6,570 as against the existing fare of Rs 10,220.

The Mumbai-Patna ticket will cost Rs 6,210 against Rs 7,025 earlier while the Mumbai-Lucknow fare will be Rs 5,880 as against Rs 7,205.

The Ahmedabad-Bangalore air fare has been fixed at Rs 4,375 as against Rs 7,055 and Mumbai-Coimbatore at Rs 3,135 as against Rs 5,510, a company release said.

The confirmed ticket issued under the advance purchase fares scheme can now be cancelled up to 21 days prior to departure on payment of a refund fee of Rs 100 only. However, a confirmed ticket presented for cancellation or rebooking less than 21 days prior to departure and up to one hour before scheduled time of departure would attract a cancellation charge of 50 per cent on the fare.

Last week, following the huge cut in its air fare by Jet Airways, the airlines announced a cut as well, covering most of the high-density routes and matching the fare cuts announced by Jet Airways.


New Delhi, July 10: 
The Supreme Court today orally observed that no state government could exercise administrative control over district consumer forums in an order meant to prevent executive interference in their functioning.

Various state governments, of late, had started behaving as if these forums, especially the district and state forums, were “departments of the government”, counsel for the Forums’ Advocates Association designated senior advocate M.N. Krishnamani told a division bench of Justices R.C. Lahoti and Brijesh Kumar.

The ruling was given on an appeal filed by the Uttar Pradesh government against an Allahabad High Court order, asking the state government to urgently fill up posts of presiding officers and members of consumer forums.

In an interim order, the apex court directed the appointment of a joint registrar to the national forum while observing that consumer forums performed duties similar to civil courts and, hence, could not be put under the administrative control of state governments.

The Supreme Court said the administrative control of the district forums was vested in the respective state forums, which in turn came under the national forum.

The bench said the 570-odd district consumer forums came under the administrative control and supervision of the 37 state consumer disputes redressal commissions, which in turn would be supervised by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

Solicitor-General Harish Salve told the court that district consumer redressal forums functioned like courts and should be separate from executive control.

However, consumer forums in some states come under the supervision of the ministry of food and civil supplies and the district supply officers oversee the functioning of these forums.

The apex court expressed displeasure at this arrangement and pointed out that under no circumstances should the state government exercise any administrative control over consumer forums.

The bench said that in Uttar Pradesh, despite the selection of 48 candidates for the post of members of the district consumer forums, only seven members have been actually appointed so far.


Mumbai, July 10: 
Left presidential candidate Captain Lakshmi Sahgal’s campaign here ran into demonstrations by Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad activists, who were protesting her remarks against Veer Savarkar and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The ABVP activists jumped on to the vehicle carrying the freedom fighter and got into a scuffle with Left Front members escorting her. Police had to intervene and whisk away the protesters.

On her arrival in Mumbai yesterday, the INA veteran had said Savarkar was a deserter and his role in India’s freedom struggle could be questioned. She alleged that when caught by the British, Savarkar had apologised for his conduct. “Vajpayee did the same when he was arrested by the British in 1952,” she said.

Unruffled by the protests, Sahgal, intent on giving the NDA nominee a fight for the country’s top post, said she would continue to air her views.


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