Panic pushed Sinha to death
Growth plan for Naxalite lair
Bengal to challenge judge-pay judgment
Madarsa buries past with PCs
Naxalite ‘court’ punishes couple for affair
Drought cell signals Delhi power shift
Friends join foes in Powell backlash
Amarnath pilgrims’ taxi blown up
French poll sermon awaits Delhi
Powell profit and loss

Calcutta, July 30: 
Fearing police torture, incarceration, dismissal from government service and social ostracism, Abhijit Sinha committed suicide though there was no evidence linking him to the People’s War, the truth committee probing his death has said.

Arun Mishra, special secretary of the home department who is heading the one-man truth committee, is almost ready with his report. He is expected to submit it to the government next week.

“He killed himself in fear,” the report says.

The committee did not find any proof that Sinha had links with the People’s War. “It appears that Sinha had links with both (absconding suspected PW activist Kaushik) Biswas and (lecturer Kaushik) Ganguly as they were local acquaintances,” the report indicates, adding that it is difficult to find out or ascertain a person’s involvement in any activity once he is dead.

Describing the causes of fear, the report says Sinha was afraid of being tortured by the police. He was also ashamed of the idea of being dismissed from government service and the fact that he might have to do time in prison. All this, Sinha had believed, would have led to strained relations with his wife, family and friends.

Sinha was picked up by a police team on July 4 as part of a crackdown on Naxalite suspects. Rajabazar Science College lecturer Ganguly was also held around the same time.

He was taken to Baguiati police station and released after interrogation. The next day, accompanied by his father-in-law and senior police officer Moloy Sinha, he reported to Midnapore and answered queries the police there had. He was then released and he returned home. On July 7, he committed suicide by jumping in front of a train near Dum Dum station.

The suicide sparked a hue and cry in various quarters, particularly in the Opposition parties which alleged in the Assembly that he was picked up by the police on the basis of an apprehension and tortured. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had ordered the probe to placate them.

Home department sources said Mishra spoke to Sinha’s wife, father, friends, the local police as well as the Midnapore police and Moloy Sinha before pinpointing panic as the main reason behind Sinha’s suicide.

Stating the reasons for which Sinha was picked up, the report says he was detained only on suspicion. His name and telephone number were found in Ganguly’s diary and cellphone card. But as Sinha’s links with PW were not established, he was released.

When he was interrogated in Midnapore, others were being grilled in the next room. Their screams had deeply affected Sinha, who told his wife that the police will turn his life into hell.

Besides, the interrogating officers had threatened that he would be dismissed from government service and put in jail if he did not tell the truth. Sinha also feared that People’s War guerrillas might kill him.

After being released, Sinha received several calls from the West Midnapore police, asking him the same questions.


West Midnapore, July 30: 
The CPM leadership has asked the district unit to prepare a blueprint for the development of the backward areas of Belpahari, Salboni and Goaltore, where the People’s War has made inroads by exploiting the poverty in the villages.

CPM sources said the task has been assigned to Dahareswar Sen, Nirmal Ghosh and Umapati Chakraborty. While Sen will draft the development blueprint for Belpahari and Binpur, Ghosh and Chakraborty have been given the charge of Goaltore, Garbeta and Salboni.

Sen is believed to be facing an uphill task as Belpahari and Binpur have not seen any major development work in the past five years. “The PW activists have successfully exploited the villagers of these two blocks and made inroads there. The local people are now asking why our government has not taken any initiative for their development though we have been in power since 1977,” confessed a senior district CPM leader.

The success of People’s War can be ascertained from the fact that villagers have become aware of their rights, he added.

“Even five years ago, local villagers did not dare question our leaders on why our government did not taken up any major development scheme for them. But today, we are facing such questions almost in all the villages and it is the People’s War which has made them conscious of their rights and encouraged them to question our leaders,” another senior district CPM leader said.

Party leaders in Goaltore are in a better position as the area has witnessed some development over the past few years. “Our government has not done anything significant for the people of Goaltore. But residents are not very unhappy as some industrialists have set up several cold storages in the area, which has provided employment to the youths and come as a great help to the farmers in storing their produce,” the leaders admitted.

The district administration had prepared an action plan for the development of Belpahari in 1984-85. Several agencies like the Jhargram Development Board and the Paschimanchal Unnayan Parishad were also set up. But after 17 years, only 12 per cent of the agricultural land has been brought under irrigation schemes.

There are 398 mouzas in Belpahari, of which only 40 have power connections. In the 10 panchayat areas, there are only four primary health centres. Naturally, the government’s apathy has made the population angry and more susceptible to People’s War propaganda.

“The government will work hard to initiate new development schemes for the people in these areas. But the party wants direct involvement of all ranks of leaders in each and every scheme so that the Opposition parties and PW activists would no longer be able to exploit the poverty-ridden people here,” said a senior CPM leader.


Calcutta, July 30: 
A cash-strapped Bengal government seems all set to contest a Supreme Court ruling that requires it to underwrite the cost of pay packets and perks of Calcutta High Court judges as well as those of the lower courts.

The hearing of the petition which, according to state judiciary department officials, will also have a bearing on the future of Centre-state relations, is expected to begin shortly.

Describing the petition as a rare instance of a Supreme Court ruling being criticised, a senior official of the department explained that it drew additional importance from the circumstances — the Left Front government has been pressing the Centre to share the financial burden of maintaining the judiciary for some time — in which the issue was being raised.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta raised the matter at a recent meeting of finance ministers in Delhi, hoping that several would support Bengal’s contention as they, too, would be affected by the Supreme Court directive delivered in February this year, officials said.

Judiciary department officials said the government has to spend more than Rs 35 crore every year for the smooth functioning of the department and to pay the Calcutta High Court judges and the judicial magistrates of the lower courts their salary and perquisites.

“The basic monthly salary of a high court judge is Rs 26,000, besides which there are car and house-rent allowances that amount to Rs 10,000,” an official said. The court now has 41 judges against a sanctioned strength of 48.

The lower courts in the city, like the City Civil and Sessions Court, and elsewhere now have 114 vacancies in the sanctioned strength of 568 judges, said officials.

The Supreme Court’s directive — read in conjunction with a more recent judgment asking all state governments to fill up every vacancy by March 31 next year — conjured up a scenario in which the state would find it impossible to release the pay-packets of all the judges and judicial magistrates.

The judgment also directed the governments to appoint 50 judges for every 1-million population; the ratio now is an abysmal 9.5 judges for every million, officials said. “The directives mean the state government will have to appoint 6,000 more judges,” former State Bar Council chairman Saradindu Biswas said.

The government would have to spend Rs 135 crore a year to meet the salary expenses of the new judges, a finance department official said, adding that the Centre should bear the financial liability.

The apex court gave the ruling in response to a petition by the All-India Judges’ Association that asked the court to recommend Rs 15,000 as the minimum monthly salary of a judge.

State advocate-general Balai Ray has been asked to prepare the state’s petition and the first draft has been sent to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for his approval.


Calcutta, July 30: 
It was redemption of sorts, as programmed by the state government, for the Beniapukur High Madarsa.

In the news for the wrong reasons a few months ago — the media glare was firmly on it following the arrest of an ex-student who allegedly provided shelter to the masterminds of the American Center attack — this institution today became the launch-pad for the government’s scheme to modernise the madarsas under its control.

An ambitious government plan to arm the state’s madarsas with computers was unfolded here with minister for minority affairs Mohammad Salim inaugurating a computer education centre with 10 PCs.

Seventeen madarsas have been selected across the state for the first phase of computerisation, primary and secondary education department officials told The Telegraph. “We have spent more than Rs 6 lakh on the computerisation of this madarsa alone,” West Bengal Board of Madarsa Education president Abdus Sattar said.

With the Madarsa Education Committee, set up by the government last year, slated to submit its recommendations on how to modernise madarsas — installation of computers is believed to be one of the salient features of the suggestions — the computerisation project, according to officials, will be “seriously pursued” by the government.

Salim’s insistence on being present at the function, madarsa board officials said, was part of a government strategy to bring the minority educational institutions into the mainstream of school education.

The shadow of the arrest, however, fell on the inaugural programme. Everyone, from the minister to Beniapukur High Madarsa secretary Ishrat Hashmi, could not help remembering it on the “happy occasion”.

One of the institute’s former students, Mohammad Nasir alias Badal, was arrested in February for allegedly sheltering the masterminds of the attack on the American Center on January 22. “We were not ready for the extensive coverage the media gave — most of it negative — to the madarsa,” Hashmi admitted. “It suddenly seemed that madarsas were the breeding-ground of terrorists and this madarsa was the focal point of every secret anti-national move,” he added.

Other madarsa officials recounted the “help” they received from local MLA and minister for minority affairs. The minister himself brought up those “dark days” in front of an audience comprising residents of the area. He, however, blamed the media for “sensationalising” Nasir’s arrest in its “relentless search for issues”.


Patna, July 30: 
A 42-year-old father of two, who was having an affair with an 18-year-old girl, had his head shaved, received 20 lashings and was then paraded through the village on the orders of a Naxalite “court” near Rajouli, about 125 km from here.

Promodh Kumar of Pasiakala started an affair with Paro Kumari, said to be the daughter-in-law of a minister from Nawada district, six years after he had been married.

“They were often together and would go out for movies as Promodh’s wife watched helplessly. There were even rumours that the two were planning to elope,” said Rashid Khan, a villager. Other villagers said Promodh had distanced himself from his wife because she had put on weight and become “dark”.

News of the affair soon filtered down to the local MCC unit, headed by Sukhdeo Yadav alias Vinod Yadav. He called a jan adalat on July 26.

Accordingly, last Friday, Sukhdeo arrived with over 50 of his armed comrades to conduct the trial in the heart of Akbarpur’s hilly forest, inaccessible at this time of the year. He took up the list of local grievances, mostly disputes among farmers or petty caste-related fights. Quickly disposing of over 23 cases, the MCC proceeded to the Promodh-Paro case.

The MCC local commander sat in judgment as a letter from Promodh’s wife was read out. She complained how her husband “flirted shamelessly with the 18-year-old girl” in front of her. She had two children to look after, the wife added.

Promodh and Paro, who had been made to wait in front of the jury, admitted to their affair and said they were willing to marry. This infuriated the Naxalites.

“Shave their heads,” the jury ordered. Two village barbers were called and they lost no time in wetting their hair and tonsuring the lovers’ heads.

The first part of the punishment over, the two were asked to face 10 lashings each, followed by 10 more for Promodh. The duo was paraded through the village in minimal clothes to show the black marks left by the lashing. At the end of the meeting, the MCC ordered Promodh to leave the village and directed its local unit to look after his wife.

According to the police sources in Rajouli, information about the jan adalat reached the police station late. “Normally, these so-called adalats are held in remote villages during the rainy season. The police had no clue about the development,” an officer said.

Both the MCC and the PWG are usually soft on lovers and are known to help couples get married against opposition from their families. In one incident in Jehanabad in 2001, this correspondent was witness as the PWG had got a 21-year-old Rajput woman and a 29-year-old bania trader married, overriding the parents’ protests. They even distributed sweets.

But extra-marital affairs are discouraged because the Naxalites are afraid that these could break down the rural moral system, said Sujan, a Patna-based activist of the PWG.


New Delhi, July 30: 
The Centre today announced the formation of a special task force to deal with the crippling effects of one of the worst droughts to hit the country in 14 years.

The task force, to be headed by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, will have a four-point agenda that includes providing jobs to drought-stricken farmers using the country’s vast food stocks as pay cheques. It will also ensure proper water management and nutrition of people in affected areas.

The task force has been set up despite a group of ministers being formed earlier for the same job. The group met on July 22. A high-level committee for disaster management has also been set up under Advani to decide the disbursal of money from the Rs 11,000-crore National Calamity Contingency Fund.

Sources said the appointment of the deputy Prime Minister as head of the task force on drought was unprecedented. Usually, such task forces are chaired by the finance minister or, if the situation is very grim, by the Prime Minister himself. The decision by the BJP to delegate power over economic ministries to the home minister is seen as the reason for this break with convention.

Others on the task force will be the ministers of finance, agriculture, food and civil supplies and rural development. Surprisingly, the minister for water resources, who was in the earlier GoM on drought, has been left out though one of its key responsibilities would be proper water management.

Sources said agriculture minister Ajit Singh, expected to be a key player in the team, was informed about the task force almost as an afterthought and was not consulted on its formation.

Finance minister Jaswant Singh, who announced the formation of the team in Parliament, claimed the government had prepared a contingency plan as early as July 18 when it had spotted signs of a rainless autumn.

The states identified as seriously hit by drought are Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

The spectre of drought has already seen chief ministers competing for Central funds. Apart from the money available with the National Calamity Contingency Fund, another Rs 5,000 crore is available with the Calamity Reserve Fund.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and his Karnataka counterpart S.M. Krishna have flown to Delhi seeking funds from this kitty. Naidu is believed to have demanded Rs 610 crore besides 1 million tonne of foodgrain for a food-for-work programme. Krishna has asked for a little over Rs 550 crore and 6 lakh tonnes of foodgrain. Other states reportedly plan to make similar demands.


New Delhi, July 30: 
The government today said there was no question of compromising on the country’s sovereignty after it came under attack from both the Opposition and allies for its “submissive and weak-kneed” response to Colin Powell’s statement on Kashmir.

NDA allies like the Trinamul Congress, the Telugu Desam Party and the Samata Party joined the Opposition in the Lok Sabha today in condemning the US secretary of state’s remark that Kashmir was on the international agenda.

While the allies accused the government of “surrendering” the country’s sovereignty to the US, Opposition MPs urged the Prime Minister to spell out his Kashmir policy and issue a comprehensive response to Powell’s statement. The allies also targeted Powell for seeking observers for the Jammu and Kashmir elections and release of political prisoners in the state.

Under attack on both flanks, the government mounted its defence through minister of state for external affairs Digvijay Singh, who asserted that there would be no compromise on the country’s sovereignty. “We will never compromise on this,” he said, responding to an impromptu discussion on Powell’s remarks during zero hour.

He emphasised that Kashmir was an integral part of India and pointed out that there was a unanimous resolution of Parliament to that effect. The minister said though India may have sounded “polite”, it was “extremely firm” in its actions.

On poll observers, Singh said Powell had made it clear both in Islamabad and on his way to Brunei that the US was not in favour of any formal international monitoring mechanism.

Responding to the Opposition’s criticism about Powell’s role in advising India to ensure free and fair polls in Kashmir, Singh said nobody should doubt the effectiveness of the country’s election system. To make his point, he cited Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the 1977 polls.

Singh said Powell supported India’s consistent stand that outstanding issues between India and Pakistan should be resolved bilaterally. “India is a country of 100 crore people. Our foreign policy is strong and we do not need anyone’s advice,” he said.

Earlier, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi of the Congress said Powell’s comments were a “slur” on the nation and came as a “shock” as the nation’s sovereignty has never been questioned before. Das Munshi said that traditionally, whenever a foreign dignitary visited India during a Parliament session, the Prime Minister or any of his ministerial colleagues would take the House into confidence about talks the government had with the visitor. But so far, the government had not briefed Parliament on Powell’s visit.

“It is the duty of the government to report to the House on vital matters,” he added.

Das Munshi said Powell had no business to say that the polls should be inspected by outside observers and that Kashmir was on the global agenda. The entire Opposition supported him and demanded a full-fledged discussion in the House on the country’s foreign policy, which, it said, “has become very weak”. “We want a positive response from the government,” Das Munshi added.

Samajwadi Party leader Ramji Lal Suman moved an adjournment motion but Speaker Manohar Joshi rejected it, saying he would allow the members to express their views as it was an important issue.

The CPM’s V. Radhakrishnan said the US was interfering in the internal affairs of India, while Congress leader Satyavrata Chaturvedi said Powell’s statement was a matter of concern as it went against the country’s sovereignty and self-respect.

Recalling that India was till recently leader of the Non-aligned Movement, Chaturvedi said: “The situation has come to such a pass that we are being advised how to hold polls.”


Srinagar, July 30: 
In the first attack on the Amarnath yatra this year, militants blew up a taxi returning with pilgrims from the cave shrine this afternoon, killing two persons.

The strike comes just a day after US secretary of state Colin Powell said he had a promise from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf that cross-border infiltration would stop permanently. The US official’s weekend visit had put the international spotlight back on Kashmir.

A pilgrim and the taxi driver were killed in the explosion at Lazbal, 55 km from here, on the Anantnag-Pahalgam route. The victims have been identified as Ajay Narula from Bareilly and Kuldip Raj from Jammu.

Four pilgrims and a local resident were seriously injured. All five — Manoj Kumar, Sheel Agarwal, Ajay Agarwal and Raghu Vishist from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh and Abdul Rashid Shiekh — were taken to Anantnag hospital.

Police said the militants had tossed a grenade at the taxi. But other sources said a time device had been planted in the front side of the vehicle.

Vehicles carrying pilgrims from Jammu to Pahalgam were stopped on the way. The police said 2,698 pilgrims had reached Pahalgam and Baltal this evening under heavy security. So far 61,936 pilgrims have visited the cave shrine.

The pilgrims were on their way to Jammu when they were attacked. No group has claimed responsibility for the strike, the first this year on the month-long pilgrimage that started on July 19. Since 29 pilgrims were killed last year, the government had deployed about 12,000 securitymen along the 380-km route this year.

The Pakistan-based separatist organisation, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, today welcomed Powell’s statement that Kashmir is on the international agenda but rejected his assertion that elections were the first step towards bringing peace to the region.

Washington repeated that Kashmir was on the international agenda and said the US and other countries would take “an active interest” in encouraging its resolution. The US iterated that the dispute “must be resolved through a healthy political process and a vibrant dialogue between India and Pakistan”.

But the nuclear neighbours continued to spar with each other. Hitting back at India’s charge that Musharraf was guilty of “terminological inexactitude” when he claimed that infiltration had ended, Pakistan today said the foreign ministry spokesperson is “suffering from terminological ineptitude”.

Attack on police post

Militants attacked a police post at Khrew near Pasmpore, killing a police personnel and seriously injuring two.

Police said a group of militants hurled grenade and fired indiscriminately on the police post killing head constable Mohammad Youssuf on the spot. The two injured were rushed to hospital.

In Gurez sector in north Kashmir’s Baramullah district, five persons, including women and children, were seriously wounded in heavy Pakistani shelling late this afternoon. The police said the injured were shifted to Srinagar for treatment. The shelling stopped around 8 pm.


New Delhi, July 30: 
France, India’s new-found European ally, is likely to urge Delhi to encourage foreigners to be present during the forthcoming elections in Jammu and Kashmir to lend credence to the polls.

Moreover, French foreign minister Dominique Villepin, who arrives here on Friday to hold talks with the Indian leadership, could convey Paris’ view that elections is just the first step and a serious dialogue will have to be started by India and Pakistan to resolve their decades-old dispute on Kashmir.

Although several important bilateral and international issues are on his agenda, Villepin will direct some effort to breaking the deadlock in Indo-Pak ties and reducing tension in South Asia.

Villepin is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, defence minister George Fernandes and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra.

It is not clear how India, which is still smarting under US secretary of state Colin Powell’s description of Kashmir being a part of the international agenda, will react to the growing opinion in the West that outsiders should be present during the September polls.

Going by its present mood, the Indian government will not be too flattered by these proposals, which are being seen as interference in the country’s internal matters.

Though it might be embarrassing for the Vajpayee government to accept these proposals, the fact remains that the world’s focus is now squarely on the Kashmir elections.

This will be the French minister’s first visit not only to India, but also this part of the world.

Villepin is scheduled to fly to Islamabad on Saturday to hold discussions with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on the military standoff with India.

France, a European heavyweight and a key player in world politics, drew close to India in the late 1990s.

President Jacques Chirac’s state visit here in January 1998 laid the framework for the two countries to cooperate in several important areas.

However, France’s tempered reaction to Pokhran II and its subsequent stand that worked in Delhi’s favour actually carved out a special relationship between the two countries.

The European nation, which has been trying to adjust its foreign policy to match the needs of the post-Cold War era, sees India as a major player in the multipolar world order that it wants to midwife to counter America’s primacy in the changed circumstances.

But the new French dispensation is keen to engage with Washington rather than enter into a confrontation with it, as was made clear by Villepin with a visit to the US soon after he took charge.

Villepin will also have to do a fine balancing act as France, a major exporter of arms, has got into a cozy arrangement with both India and Pakistan for selling its defence equipment, ranging from sophisticated submarines to fighter jets, and its expertise in avionics.

Therefore, Paris cannot be seen as partial to either Delhi or Islamabad.

In an attempt to back his argument for normalising ties with Pakistan, the French foreign minister is likely to stress on the fact during discussions with the Indian leadership that Delhi has to manage its region well if it wants to play a bigger and meaningful role in world politics.

It is, therefore, essential that Delhi, which has kept alive its contacts with Islamabad through its high commission and the weekly interaction of the director-general of military operations, should try and raise the level of dialogue.

Like most other countries, France believes violence does not pay, and terrorism, irrespective of its objective, cannot be justified and should be fought internationally.

It supports India’s claim that cross-border terrorism and infiltration across the Line of Control should be permanently stopped by Islamabad.    

New Delhi, July 30: 
The Vajpayee government is yet to formulate a response to developments in Kashmir following US secretary of state Colin Powell’s visit. Though there could be hiccups along the way, there is optimism in government circles that Powell’s visit could help the government’s line to involve as many moderate groups as possible in the state elections.

At the same time, the Centre is aware that organising free and fair elections in Kashmir is not easy and there could be many pitfalls between now and election day. A delicate balance has to be maintained between forces aligned with New Delhi, like the National Conference, and the moderate Hurriyat Conference leaders, who have so far been bitterly opposed to the Centre.

Though political parties have put the government on the mat over Powell’s remarks, officials dealing with Kashmir see his visit in a positive light. Powell had made it clear to both Islamabad and New Delhi that Washington regards the Kashmir elections as crucial.

Pakistan has been told to reduce the level of violence and ensure that nothing disrupts the smooth conduct of polls.

The underlying message to the Hurriyat is also clear: If you want to be counted in Kashmir, make sure you participate in the elections. Staying away will strip you of any claim to represent the people of Kashmir in future political negotiations.

The message has struck home. Though the US and the EU have been prodding the Hurriyat to take part in elections, it had adamantly refused. After Powell’s visit, it has quickly fallen in line.

Chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said the Hurriyat would join the fray if it signified the beginning of a process. The government has long tried to persuade the Hurriyat to soften its stand but not succeeded. There could be a thaw if the Centre decides to begin talks with the Hurriyat. The Prime Minister has already said that he would welcome talks with all groups in Kashmir.


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