KLO strike blame on police
Buddha call for private M-schools
Freedom eludes fettered man
Push for tobacco ban with MLAs
Mayor curbs powers of council colleagues
Same question, but lion missing
Sharma daughter fires harassment salvo
Neglect case slapped on Apollo
Sparks fly at Longowal rival meets
Foreigners marry for resident status

Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
The Dhupguri killings could have been avoided had the police not flouted instructions to provide protection to local CPM offices, especially when important meetings were being held.

Despite being informed of the meeting on Saturday evening by local party leaders, the police chose not to post a picket, which eventually led to the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation strike and the death of five CPM leaders.

In a preliminary report submitted today to director-general of police D.C. Vajpai, inspector-general of police, north Bengal, Bhupinder Singh has pointed out that a lack of alertness on the part of the police, despite “continual threat” from the KLO, resulted in the tragedy.

The report states that in a number of meetings with the officers-in-charge of police stations in Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Darjeeling districts, it had been stressed that they should keep the “information channels flowing” so that they could provide police cover whenever important political meetings were scheduled there.

The officers were also told that in case of a lack of resources, senior officials should be informed. But this was ignored as well.

Yesterday, the CPM cadre vent their anger on Vajpai and other senior police officials. They were heckled and abused for their “inability to provide protection”. They also manhandled the officer-in-charge of the Dhupguri police station and smashed a jeep as senior party leaders looked on without making any effort to control the activists.

This forms the thrust of the first part of Singh’s report, titled Assessment, which is basically a post-mortem of the incident and the steps leading up to it. This section also mentions the “easy links” between the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and the KLO and how a supply line of arms and ammunition was being maintained between the two outfits.

After receiving the report, Vajpai said the AK-47 rifles used by the militants had been procured from Ulfa camps in Malipara, Patgram and Pachagarh in Bangladesh. “This is one of the ways that the KLO has been getting its arms and ammunition,” Vajpai said.

However, the report attributes the lack of police alertness to the fact that the Dhupguri CPM office was not on the KLO hit list that the district police had in its files. Dhupguri was not in the “security priority list of the Jalpaiguri police”, it says.

“It was not that they had been planning an attack on the Dhupguri office for a long time,” Vajpai said. “It is just that they got an opportunity and seized it.”

The second part of the report, titled Prevention, deals with the steps that the police is now taking to prevent such attacks by the KLO in future.

This part has sections on the combing operations being undertaken by anti-terrorist commandos in the areas bordering Assam and Bhutan.

“The police have the names of the militants suspected to have taken part in this strike,” Vajpai said. “But it is difficult to get them as they could have fled across the border and into the jungles of Bhutan. But there are others holed up in the jungles of Assam. We are undertaking joint operations with the Assam police in an effort to ferret them out.”

Trinamul demand

The Trinamul Congress today demanded a new home minister in view of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s “consistent failure to solve the state’s law and order problems and the erosion of the people’s trust in police”. The home and police departments are in Bhattacharjee’s charge.


Diamond Harbour, Aug. 20: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today appealed for more private participation in medical education.

“We have as many as 44 private engineering colleges but hardly any private medical college,” Bhattacharjee said while inaugurating the Institute of Technology and Marine Engineering at Jhinga near here.

The chief minister, however, added that the government will not allow these colleges to charge capitation fees.

Though Bhattacharjee stressed on the demand for medical colleges, he also expressed a pressing need for more engineering institutes. “The naval dock at Garden Reach has a number of vacant posts that can be filled up by our boys... This gap is persisting,” he said.


Kakdwip (South 24-Parganas) Aug. 20: 
A man in fetters surfaced in the railway platform here this morning asking bewildered people for a blacksmith to free him from his shackles and got thrashed by the motley crowd.

A baffled district police is still trying to make out whether the man is a victim of some strange prank or a jailbreak.

“We saw the man on the platform around 8.45 am with cuffs on his wrists and ankles. Some people tried to enquire after him, but he kept asking for a blacksmith. The crowd that gathered around him beat him up before the police took him away,” said a man who was waiting for a train at the time.

“As he gave irrelevant replies to our questions, people feared that he might be a convict who has escaped and began to rain blows,” the man added.

The fettered man was taken to Kakdwip police station. “The man claimed he was Mantu Roy from Tapan in South Dinajpur. He was looking for a blacksmith to cut off the cuffs on his limbs,” said officer-in-charge Sunil Sikdar.

He has contacted the police station in Tapan to get to the truth.

District superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly said the man appeared mentally challenged. “After getting the feedback from Tapan, the matter will be clear. It would be known if he is a fugitive. Moreover, as he is from a border district, we are not treating his case lightly,” Ganguly said.

If the man in fetters has not fibbed, he has travelled a long way from South Dinajpur in north Bengal to the remote south.

“I have asked my officers to interrogate him before the information from Tapan arrives. I have also instructed them to go through his antecedents and find out about his family,” Ganguly said.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
The government is going to launch a campaign against smoking and chewing tobacco with the elected representatives of the people.

Health minister Suryakanta Mishra, industry minister Nirupam Sen and around 100 legislators will take part in an anti-tobacco workshop organised by the health department on August 31.

The legislators will be asked to share the responsibility of spreading the campaign in their constituencies. Attempts are also on to rope in former film star and Union health minister Shatrughan Sinha.

Representatives of the World Health Organisation and a number of NGOs working on the prevention of cancer will attend the two-day meet.

“Our aim is to make people aware of the growing incidence of cancer of the mouth, larynx, pharynx and the lungs, caused mainly due to smoking and chewing tobacco in various forms,” said health services director Prabhakar Chatterjee.

The MLAs would be requested to conduct similar workshops and seminars in their constituencies. “We would expect them to discourage people from smoking and chewing tobacco through awareness programmes in their areas,” a health official said.

The government has been trying to ban smoking and spitting in public places since its last term and the two men who had taken the initiative were former health minister Partha De and finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

A decade ago, Dasgupta was the first minister to initiate a move to ban smoking inside Writers’ Buildings, but his effort did not evoke much response in the absence of a definite law. Last year, the Assembly passed a Bill on this score. It is waiting for the President’s assent.

There are, however, several smokers in the state Cabinet, including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the health minister himself.

Health department sources said it is high time something is done to check smoking and the use of chewing tobacco and gutkha. “Cancer has become one of the 10 leading causes of death in the country. Nearly three lakh people die of cancer and seven lakh new cases of the killer disease occur in the country annually,” an official said.

Nearly 42.67 per cent of male and 12.18 per cent of female cancer cases in India are tobacco related.

Schoolchildren, too, have fallen prey to the pouched menace, health officials said. Every year, the number of students addicted to one form of tobacco or the other is increasing.

De had sent several circulars to government departments urging employees not to smoke in office. Notices were also sent to schools, colleges and other educational institutions requesting the headmasters and principals to ask teachers not to smoke in front of students.

“But these circulars did not have the desired impact. We badly need a law to ban smoking and chewing tobacco in public places. We are eagerly awaiting the President’s assent to the anti-smoking Bill,” a health official said.

However, sources said a section of the ministers had expressed concern about the bidi industry in Murshidabad, Purulia and Bankura in the event of a strict enforcement of the anti-smoking law. “The government should spare a thought for the economy of the districts they argued,” said sources.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
After running the civic administration for about two years, mayor Subrata Mukherjee is now convinced that duties need to be reorganised for equitable distribution of power among his council members. “Unequal distribution of duties among the members of his council had created an administrative mess in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC),” sources said

Mukherjee has already taken away hoardings from the conservancy department and asked municipal secretary Sajal Bhowmik to look after it on a temporary basis.

Sources added that instead of reshuffling his council members, the mayor has decided to streamline their portfolios, limiting the activities of individuals within his department only. “I hope it will add momentum to the civic administration,” the mayor is reported to have said.

Five members in the mayor’s council are to hand over their additional charges to colleagues, who have been “unduly deprived” by Mukherjee in the past two years. The five are: Anup Chatterjee, Rajib Deb, Mala Roy, Swapan Samaddar and Pradip Ghosh. Most of the 10 mayor-in-council members welcomed Mukherjee’s move, calling his action “long overdue”.

The BJP leadership has all along been vocal about deputy mayor Meenadevi Purohit’s powers being clipped. Initially, she used to look after hoarding, parking, legal matters and survey departments.

Mukherjee had taken away hoarding and parking from her jurisdiction and entrusted Mala Roy and Pradip Ghosh to look after the departments, respectively, in addition to their own departmental responsibilities.

Similarly, mayor-in-council (building) Swapan Samaddar had been given additional charge of trade enlistment and health licence, while member (roads) Anup Chatterjee got additional charge of pipes (sewer). Member (bustee) Pradip Ghosh was given parking, central store and Boral TB Hospital, while member (drainage and sewerage) Rajib Deb got additional charge of sports.

Sources said Mukherjee had to order the revamp because there was severe discontent among members in his council at the time of the distribution of portfolios.

“Of course, now he is disgusted with the performance of his council members, who had been given additional responsibilities,” sources said. “Above all, the abnormality in the distribution of duties among the council members had created confusion among the civic officials,” sources added.


Aug. 20: 
Even as the Election Commission begins its review of the security arrangements in Jammu and Kashmir for the forthcoming Assembly polls, there is a single question that is injecting itself in practically every political debate about the state: Will the separatists participate in the elections?

While there is an element of contemporary novelty in this query, those familiar with Kashmir’s chequered electoral history are likely to experience a tiring sense of déjà vu.

From 1953 till 1977, the major issue before each election in Kashmir was whether Sheikh Abdullah, the Sher-i-Kashmir, would participate in the elections. The Sheikh, having been dismissed as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 1953 by the Sadar-e-Riyasat, Karan Singh, spent most of the next 20-odd years in jail or under house arrest, either in the salubrious climes of Kodaikanal or in the less pleasant surroundings of Udahmpur and Delhi.

But before each election, the cry would go out that a deal had been done and that the Sheikh’s National Conference would contest the polls. Nothing of that sort happened until 1977; but occasionally the Sheikh would signal through a proxy that no matter what his opponents claimed, he was still the Lion of Kashmir.

In one classic example, in 1971, a young, talented but unknown journalist-lawyer, Shamim Ahmed Shamim, was supported by the Shiekh in a parliamentary contest against the former chief minister, Bakshi Ghulam Mohd. While the Sheikh was himself in exile, his Begum campaigned for the independent candidate, door-to-door in Srinagar, and Bakshi was trounced, and no manner of official patronage could defeat the Sheikh’s protégé.

Of course, in his better days, it may not have been as easy to defeat Bakshi. As Prime Minister of the state from 1953 to 1963, Bakshi had established a Peace Brigade whose main purpose was to prevent potential opposition candidates from filing their nomination papers. The electoral process became so scandalous that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is believed to have advised Bakshi that it would be good for his own credibility if he allowed a few candidates from the Opposition to win the elections.

Having defeated Bakshi, Shamim Ahmed Shamim, like young radicals elsewhere, began to believe that he was popular independently of his mentor, forcing the Sheikh to clip his wings.

In the next election, Shamim contested against Begum Abdullah and, expectedly, was humiliated at the polls.

The Sheikh himself contested only in 1977, after the 1974 Accord signed with the Centre enabled him to return to power. The 1977 election is considered to be the fairest in Kashmir’s history; and although Prime Minister Morarji Desai and several of his Cabinet ministers came to campaign against the National Conference, the Sheikh romped home.

Incidentally, Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq and many of the patrons of today’s separatists had supported the Janata Party during the elections. But there were apparently strict instructions from Prime Minister that rigging was in no case to be permitted.

The trouble with today’s Kashmir is that there seems to be no Sheikh Abdullah within the ranks of the separatists. Unlike the separatists of today, Sheikh Abdullah enjoyed popularity throughout the Valley and not just in pockets and had tremendous confidence in himself. And while he may, at times, have taken help from Pakistan, there was no one in the military or political establishment who could dictate terms to him.

Nor does there seem to be a deal-maker in New Delhi like G. Parthasarathy who was able to secure the confidence of the Sheikh and his shrewd deputy, Mirza Afzal Beg, while enjoying the complete trust of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Moreover, Farooq Abdullah is unwilling to be like Syed Mir Qasim, the Congress chief minister who stepped down to enable the Sheikh to become the chief minister in 1975, two years before the National Conference proved its popularity at the hustings.


New Delhi, Aug. 20: 
The daughter of R.K. Sharma alleged intimidation and harassment and said she had enough evidence against Union minister Pramod Mahajan.

Pragati, the daughter of the prime suspect in the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case, and her fiancé, Ambrish Mishra, wondered why the police were not questioning Sharma’s friends in the Prime Minister’s Office, where he had worked in 1997-98, and Shivani’s “political contacts” to unearth the motive behind her killing.

“We will furnish this evidence (against Mahajan and others) in the court. Just wait and watch,” she told the media.

Pragati and her fiancé alleged that Delhi police sleuths were closely watching their movements. “We have been getting constant telephone calls and SMS messages threatening us not to say anything,” they said. Mishra, a journalist-cum-novelist, said Delhi police had been repeatedly threatening him that he would be “implicated” in the case.

Pragati and Mishra said a grey Santro car blocked their way yesterday afternoon when six persons in plainclothes surrounded them. “They did not give their identity, though I believe they were from Delhi police,” Pragati said. She alleged that even their friends were being threatened not to extend any help.

“Our land line and cellphones are being tapped. If we go to a PCO, the PCO owner is asked to give a printout of the list of calls we make. The PCO owners are also discouraged to allow us to make calls,” she said, wondering why the National Human Rights Commission was not taking note of these developments.

Mishra said he was summoned to a police station on August 6 where he was introduced to Jai Bhagwan, the first person to have been arrested in connection with Shivani’s murder. “Initially, I gave no importance to it but now my lawyer friends have told me that the police had no business to bring that man while they were questioning me,” Mishra said.

“Now I am seriously apprehensive about the police’s motives. What are they up to when they know that I know nothing?”

Mishra said police officials interrogating him perhaps wanted him to communicate to Sharma that he would be looked after well as he was a fellow police officer. He said he had met Pragati a year ago, became friends and they were about to get engaged. He claimed to have met Sharma just once in February.

Pragati defended her IPS father’s refusal to surrender before Delhi police.

“I do not want my dad to come out. There are a lot of discrepancies in the claims made by Delhi police,” she said, adding that those arrested in connection with the case, Jai Bhagwan, Satya Prakash and Pradeep Sharma, had not named her father.

In an another development, Sharma’s elder daughter, Komal, today approached the National Human Rights Commission with a fresh petition seeking “protection” for herself, her mother and sister.

An earlier petition to the commission made by her mother, Madhu, seeking protection for the “entire family”, including R.K. Sharma, was rejected.


New Delhi, Aug. 20: 
Shib Das Mitra, 70, was admitted to Apollo hospital, a premier private clinic in Delhi, on February 2 with an acute heart condition. He was released on March 16 after open-heart and coronary artery bypass surgeries.

Fifteen days and Rs 3 lakh later, Shib Das died at home after being administered Restyl SR — a drug which, his relatives claim, is never prescribed for heart patients.

They have charged the hospital with gross neglect and wrong treatment leading to Shib Das’ death. Shib Das’ son Sonjoy and octogenarian elder brother have slapped a series of charges on the hospital authorities, targeting Dr Bhabananda Das, chief of the cardio-thoracic vascular surgery unit who performed the operation.

The Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission admitted Sonjoy’s petition on August 14. His uncle has complained to L.K. Advani, pleading for initiation of criminal proceedings in the case. “Delhi police have lodged a criminal case on the petition of my uncle,” Sonjoy said.

Following their petition, Dr Yogi Mehrotra, Apollo’s managing director, ordered an inquiry into the case by the medical audit department. The report refuted the charges, but the Mitras are determined not to give up.

The chief charge against Das and the hospital is careless investigation and treatment. Shib Das’ relatives said Das performed an open heart surgery to replace the aortic and mitral valves of the heart and a coronary artery bypass surgery without assessing the condition of the patient’s health, particularly whether he would be able to withstand the exhaustion of such a massive operation.

They accused Das of prescribing the sedative, Restyl SR, which contains Alprazolam without consulting the respiratory specialist who had attended to the patient for more than two weeks in the intensive care unit. “The patient died the same night within hours of taking Restyl SR,” said Sonjoy.

Shib Das developed serious breathing problems soon after the surgery, his son said. Even though the pre-operative report did not contain any mention of chronic asthma, in the discharge report, the hospital said: “He has a known case of chronic bronchitis and bronchial asthma for 20 years.”

“Is it worth nothing that there was no mention of asthma or chronic bronchitis in the pre-surgical assessment of the hospital? The patient was under continuous supervision of Das for two months before he was persuaded to undergo an operation,” said Sonjoy.

Countering the charge, Apollo’s medical audit report states: “No history of asthma was mentioned in the pre-operative surgery record because no history of asthma was given at the time of admission. It was only in the post-operative period when he was showing pCO2 and questions were asked that a 20-year-old history of chronic bronchitis and bronchial asthma was elicited.”

The Mitras claim Shib Das had “no history” of chronic asthma.

His family said the patient’s condition deteriorated after the operation and he could never fully recover. Das, they alleged, turned down their request for re-admission to the hospital on March 30, a day before he died.

Instead of admitting him, Das prescribed Restyl SR which, according to Apollo’s respiratory specialist, could be “fatal for patients in such a condition because it induces sedation”, said Sonjoy. He said the doctor did not mention the dose in his prescription.

Denying that the patient was prescribed an overdose of Restyl SR, the report stressed: “The cardiac surgeon has said that the patient was given a minimal dose after the attendant complained that he has not been able to sleep the previous five days. It was slow release (SR) and, hence, could not have been the cause of any significant depression resulting in sudden death.”

The Mitras’ efforts to pin down neglect or wrong treatment received a boost when MP Manoj Bhattacharya met the director-general of health services and gave him a letter.

The letter inter alia said: “As I impressed upon you and you aptly appreciated that late Mitra’s is not a case that can be ignored merely as an isolated instance and, therefore, demands an intensive and thorough inquiry into the lapses indulged in by the hospitals in which patients (re)pose faith beyond the level of self-belief. This assumes all the greater proportion when one finds an otherwise reputed hospital like Apollo, promising world-class healthcare, fails miserably to meet even the basic minimum standards. I would request you to treat the matter as serious having wide social implications and initiate appropriate punitive action after proper inquiry...”


Longowal (Sangrur), Aug. 20: 
Stopping short of threatening President’s rule in Punjab, NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes asked the Congress government to “end repression of Akali leaders, their family members and workers” or face stiff action by the Centre.

The stern warning came when the Fernandes addressed a meeting here today to commemorate the 17th death anniversary of Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal. Longowal was slain by terrorists this day in 1985 for having dared to sign the Punjab accord with then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, whose birth anniversary fell today.

“When we announced that an NDA team would be sent to Punjab to assess the allegations made by Shiromani Akali Dal president Parkash Singh Badal, we had thought that it would have sent some indication to the Congress to stop the repression let loose by its government. But it seems they have not understood anything. We will take all steps necessary to stop state-sponsored terrorism against Akali workers in the state,” Fernandes told a cheering crowd of 25,000.

The Shiromani Akali Dal, which has been holding Longowal’s death anniversary every year since 1986, managed to draw to the conference three Central BJP ministers — Uma Bharati, Shahnawaz Hussain and Fernandes. Union fertiliser minister S.S. Dhindsa and BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley were also present.

“We will support Badal in his fight against the Congress misrule in Punjab. Badal, you announce a movement and we will support you,” Jaitley said.

The Congress, too, held its own conference in the village for the first time since Longowal was slain. Chief minister Amarinder Singh donned Akali robes when he praised Longowal for giving his life for the unity and integrity of India.

Singh, however, fumbled when asked whether the Congress, by organising a conference in Longowal’s memory, stood by the accord the slain leader had signed with Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. “We do not agree to some of the clauses like the Sutlej-Yamuna canal. The Eradi tribunal is yet to give its final judgment on the sharing of the river waters. Punjab is getting less water than Haryana despite having a larger area. That has to be settled first. The canal comes later,” he said.

The chief minister, however, added a populist touch to his decision to hold a rally this day every year when he presented a cheque of Rs 1 lakh to Longowal’s sister Shyam Kaur and promised jobs to one person each of the five families related to Longowal.

Badal, delivering a fiery speech against the Congress, announced that the police repression against Akali workers would not be tolerated anymore. “I ask you to be ready for a movement to overthrow the government,” he said.

While both the Akali Dal and the Congress had announced separate conferences to pay tribute to Longowal, both parties ended up berating each other for Punjab’s ills.


Hyderabad, Aug. 20: 
For Padma, 20, a Dalit high school dropout who had barely escaped the clutches of a bad marriage and dowry harassment by her former in-laws, Chirec Maupassant came as an angel in human form.

The French software engineer, a Sai Baba devotee, not only wished to marry her but also agreed to pay her Rs 1 lakh as “dowry”.

The wedding was a low-key affair in Puttaparthi with just a handful of guests in attendance. The couple spent three days in Tirupati after their marriage. The marriage broker got her to sign on some visa and passport application forms, saying these were necessary for arranging her trip to Lyons, France.

Padma moved into Maupassant’s flat in Puttaparthi and stayed there for a month. He taught her how to drive, use a computer and send and receive e-mails. Then one day, he suddenly disappeared with all of his belongings.

Three days later, the marriage broker informed Padma that Maupassant had left the country. He claimed the Frenchman was a crook who hadn’t paid him his dues.

“He is a cheat. He has not even paid our dues,” the broker told Padma and took away Rs 50,000 from what Maupassant had paid her.

When her husband failed to turn up even after two months, Padma went to police with her story. On being grilled, the broker confessed that Maupassant had illegally divorced Padma and paid them Rs 5 lakh as “compensation”.

Maupassant is one of nearly 3,000 foreign visitors who have allegedly married local girls over the last 15 years to obtain “residential stay” and help them acquire rental accommodation.

While the whereabouts of around 150 of them are known because they either live in the ashram complex or have taken up independent residences in Puttaparthi town, the rest have simply disappeared after abandoning their spouses.

“Many of them may be living within the country but we have no information. Only when they plan to go out and also get funds from abroad, we might know their whereabouts. But if they are registered under different names, we can not just trace them,” said deputy superintendent of police Venkat Reddy.

“It is a repeat story of Arab sheikhs marrying poor Hyderabadi Muslim girls. But the only difference here is that the poor women are left in the lurch after the foreigners get their documents and the latter have to eke out a living through prostitution,” Reddy said.

Nearly 45,000 foreign devotees throng to godman Sai Baba’s ashram, Prashanti Nilayam, every year. However, ashram administrators say they have little control over the private lives of these or any other devotees.

“The foreigners are allowed to stay in the ashram only a period of seven days and a maximum of 15 days. Later they have to go away or seek their own accommodation,” said a senior spokesman of the ashram when questioned on the racket.

The police say it is difficult to keep tabs on the foreigners. “Unless the ashram officials ask us to send back the devotees, we do not touch them on any account,” says the deputy superintendent.

“We do not wish to earn their wrath,” explains the deputy superintendent.

For instance, some disgruntled Sai Baba devotees from Japan were barred from entering Puttaparthi and even deported from the district in 2000.

Puttaparthi with a population of less than one lakh boasts its own development authority on the lines of bigger cities such as Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai.

It has an aerodrome, a railway station and a separate police force directly under the control of the Anantpur DIG and the IG at Hyderabad.

Real estate costs in Puttaparthi at Rs 5,000 per square yard are almost at par with Hyderabad.

Hotels, apartments and houses in the town and in the surrounding villages are offered on short-term lease rent during the festive season of Sai Baba’s birthday at rents ranging from Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000 per day.


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