Deepa submits script, just in case
Trinamul to hit road with budget train
Girl clears court test
Oil dealers talk tough on strike-eve
Strike off after horses have bolted
Assam mulls workers� force to counter tea raids
Hold-up blow to NE coal trade
Two abducted in Tripura
Naga group denies hijack plot

Deepa Mehta, the embattled filmmaker, on Thursday gave a copy of the script of her proposed film Water, now at the centre of a nationwide controversy, to the Jyoti Basu government with the request to make observations, if any, before according her permission to shoot it in Bengal.

�I must be honest, neither Jyotibabu nor Buddhadev Bhattacharya asked for the script, but I offered it to them on my own,� Mehta told The Telegraph.

She said she had made it clear to the Basu government that she could not be expected to �compromise� her freedom and values in exchange for assistance in making the troubled Water in Bengal .

�It is frightening if films are to be censored by every individual or groups in town after an authority clears it.�

Minutes after her meeting with the Basu government on the various aspects of the proposed filming of Water in Bengal, Mehta said she would insist on a reading of the script because she had nothing to hide and wanted no trouble to crop up and once again stymie her multi-crore project.

�I want this government to see for itself that there is nothing in the film that hurts any caste or religion ... I have nothing to hide and this must be made clear to the people here. I do not deserve any unnecessary harassment,� she added.

Mehta and her husband, both Canadian citizens, and a few members of the Water crew arrived at Writers� Buildings at 12.30 pm amid tight security for the 30-minute, top-billed meeting with Basu and Bhattacharya.

�I do not know whether it is my bad luck or what , but I have to face controversy and hurdles whenever I plan a film . After the trouble in Varanasi, I had given up hope on Water, but then, your generous offer came along to revive it all.We are grateful to you for restoring our faith in people,� Mehta gushed after meeting Basu.

Well before Mehta arrived, the police threw cordons around Writers� and connected areas like Bentinck Street, Brabourne Road and Netaji Subhash Road, in view of the state BJP�s and RSS� threat to block filming of Water.

A measure of the state government�s interest in keeping Mehta�s Water alive was available from Bhattacharya�s extraordinary gesture. As soon as word reached him about Mehta�s arrival, setting aside formalities, Bhattacharya, widely regarded as culture czar, came out of his chamber to escort her.

During the discussion, Basu and Bhattacharya emphasised that the ruling communists believed in the freedom of artists, are committed to safeguarding it and wondered why a filmmaker would be required to have a script vetted by a central agency or obtain permission for shooting.

�If a filmmaker demonstrates the willingness to conform to the existing guidelines , then what is the need for policing? The censor board is there to check whether or not a film is objectionable,� Bhattacharya is quoted as having said at the meeting.

Later, Bhattacharya indicated that Mehta had expressed interest in certain sites along the Hooghly at Panihati and Barrackpore where the ghats were broad and free from crowds.

However, Mehta declined to draw parallels between the RSS assault on her Water and another filmmaker Rolland Joffe�s experience of the Bengal communists who had successfully blocked the filming of City of Joy in locations in Calcutta and had its script examined by left-leaning intellectuals.

�There are no parallels between Water and City of Joy. They (RSS and related organisations) did not allow me to shoot either in sets or locations in Varanasi, whereas nobody stopped Joffe in finishing his work in sets in Calcutta,� Mehta said.

Acknowledging the ruling Left Front�s assurance of cooperation and security Mehta, however, said she would decide with her cinematographers who are currently away in the UK, on whether to shoot Water in Madhya Pradesh or Bengal.

�The Bengal government us assured us of full protection during the shooting. It will take me about 10 days to decide this ,� she said,� I have a budget to work within and the trouble in Varanasi has cost the financier about Rs 2.5 crores.�

Mehta and her cinematographers will shortly begin to visit the possible shooting locations in Calcutta, rural Bengal and also Madhya Pradesh.    

Those catching a train on Friday, be warned (to leave for the station early).

The Trinamul Congress plans to hold street-corner discussions all over the city on, and to gauge public reactions to, their very own railway minister Mamata Banerjee�s maiden budget presentation in Parliament.

The Trinamul�s �Rail Budget Janamat Samikkha� comes a day after Calcutta inched through as many as eight rallies during morning, afternoon and evening office hours on Thursday.

Communists and BJP enthusiasts rubbed shoulders as they vied for space in what is now becoming the city�s rallying centre.

One was against Water, another against the recent controversy raised by the Indian Council of Historical Research, and two were protests against �attacks� on party premises/leaders.

Bank staff and Matador van-owners blocked roads to voice their grievances.

Outside the central city area, three other processions blocked traffic flow, much to the exasperation of thousands of commuters. And none of the eight rallies had police sanction, Lalbazar traffic department sources said. Three of the organisers had not even informed the police.

The Trinamul brigade held a curtain-raiser march on the eve of the railway budget, exhorting the public about the morrow�s Samikkha. �Past or present, east or west, Mamata�s budget will be the best,� blared a placard carried by rallyists through south Calcutta.

The main meeting on Friday will be opposite Metro cinema, and it is expected that the west side of Jawaharlal Nehru Road at that point will be jammed with supporters.

The morning session will be spent on creating public opinion in favour of whatever Mamata would be saying in New Delhi, while in the afternoon, the budget proposals are likely to be announced through mikes.

Party leaders will observe crowd reaction in the minister�s home turf.

�Some of us will be explaining the budget proposals to the people,� a party spokesman said. �We will also try to get public opinion on what Didi will be proposing.�

At all the meetings, volunteers have been told to make available cold drinking water. �This is for the comfort of the people who gather to hear us.�

But there will be discomfort for the travelling public, as the meetings spill over on the roads. Those who may get worried include passengers on way to the railway stations, the very passengers for whom the proposals in Delhi will be made.    

The ceasework by high court advocates came as a godsend to Debolina Sinha, a B.Com Part-II student of Goenka College of Commerce and Business Administration. It has helped her find a way out of her problem of not being allowed to sit for her Part-II examinations.

Debolina appeared before the court in person on Thursday, and after having related her problem to the judge, got the permission of Justice Amitava Lala of Calcutta High Court to take the Part II examination this year.

The college barred her from getting herself enrolled in the Part-II course as she had failed her Part-I examinations. �We have not received any order from the court yet. There is no problem in allowing the student to write the examination if the court directs us to do so,� said a teacher of the college.

After publication of the Part-I results last year, Debolina applied for a review of her papers. Luckily, her review results showed she had passed the examination. Since then, she had been running from pillar to post to persuade the college authorities to allow her enrolment in the Part-II course.

Since February 28 is the last date for submission of forms for appearing in the 2000 Part-II examinations, Debolina decided to appear in person before the court. When the review results were out, she was already late in seeking admission to the Part-II course.

She had been refused admission and told she would have to wait for the next session, scheduled to begin in July 2000. But Debolina was not satisfied and approached Calcutta University, to which the college is affiliated.

The university, on the basis of her appeal, directed the college to allow Debolina to get herself admitted to the Part-II course. But the college refused to obey the university�s directive. So Debolina decided to move court.    

As long queues formed at petrol pumps to stock up before the indefinite strike begins from Friday, the leader of the striking dealers held out the threat that they were not going to give in without a settlement of their demands.

�This filling-up can help for a maximum of two days. After that, from Sunday, all vehicles, private and public, will be affected,� said Kalyan Bhadra, president of the West Bengal Petroleum Dealers� Association.

Slim hope of a resolution rests on a meeting called by food commissioner Deepak Rudra on Friday, to which he has invited representatives of oil companies and petroleum dealers.

Demands of the striking petroleum dealers include underground tank sealing to stop pilferage and adulteration, recording of density by the authorities according to marketing guidelines and an increase in dealers� commission.

They have also protested against the steep increase in establishment and operational costs of retail outlets, high electricity charges, enhancement of professional taxes by the state government and imposition of various charges by local bodies.

Bhadra said: �This time, we are determined to push through our long-standing demands. And, for this, we are forced to go in for a strike for an indefinite period. Earlier, we had organised a day�s strike, but that yielded no results�.

Two petrol pumps have been kept out of the purview of the strike � Gour Auto at Nalhati and K.C. Mitra & Co. at Raigunj, on a request from the Bengal Motor Sports Club for refuelling of cars participating in the Servo Millennium Rally.    

Hours after adding another black chapter to the trade-unionism tarred history of the city, all four unions of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) decided to postpone their agitation by 45 days on Thursday.

But it was too little too late to get the high-profile Wills Indian Turf Invitation Cup Weekend back on the race tracks in Calcutta.

�The damage has already been done. We cannot carry on with this (Invitation Cup),� declared Vineet Verma, chief executive and club secretary, RCTC.

But in an unprecedented move, a special chairman�s meeting involving heads of all five turf clubs in the country has been called in the city on Sunday to discuss whether Invitation Cup 2000 can be organised at Bangalore in June-July, but be �managed� by RCTC.

If this proposal is passed, Citu�s decision to play spoilsport will end up creating racing history as never before has the Invitation Cup been held in one city and �hosted� by a club from another.

The sponsors, initially, fell in line with the Turf club decision. �On Wednesday, the RCTC management wrote us a letter saying the race is off. We have sent letters to everybody informing them of the cancellation. As far as we are concerned, Invitation Cup 2000 is off,� said Kurush Grant, senior ITC official.

The glamour races, scheduled for this weekend, had been called off after the Citu-affiliated RCTC Staff and Workers Union served a strike notice, with the support of the other three unions backed by Intuc, Trinamul Congress and the BJP.

Prominent among the points of contention was resistance to a management move to rectify a faulty DA structure for employees in the �middle-class� category which has been in force since 1986.

At present, a typist in RCTC, with a basic salary of Rs 1,100 per month, takes home Rs 21,000. This generally doubles every five years, so if this present pattern continues, a typist at the Turf Club will have a take-home salary of Rs 42,000 by 2003.

Representatives of the four unions and the RCTC management had been summoned for talks by the CM�s secretariat on Wednesday. But the four-hour tripartite talks had failed to sway the unions, despite requests from the CM�s secretariat to them not to disrupt the event and assurances that their charter of demands would be looked into.

But RCTC Staff and Workers Union president Bijay Guha blamed it all on the management: �They have decided to call off the meet out of sheer vindictiveness. And Wednesday�s talks had failed because of the management�s attitude.�

Asked to explain the Citu-Trinamul unity on the turf, Guha said �labour interests� overruled political differences.

As things stand now, Invitation Cup 2000 will definitely not be held in the city. �Such an event is not easy to organise and there is a huge amount of logistics involved. It�s a huge disappointment that all efforts should come to naught like this,� said an ITC official.

The months-long preparations involving the venue decor, food arrangements, invitations to nearly 1,200 people have all fallen through.

In the normal course, the Cup can only come back to Calcutta in 2005 after doing the rounds of Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai.    

Silchar, Feb. 24 
The Assam government has proposed raising an armed force of tea garden labourers to protect vulnerable tea estates in Cachar district from raids by militants.

A top government official in Dispur said the force will be christened the Tea Garden Protection Force. Tea workers will be trained in the use of high-calibre arms as well as commando warfare so that they can effectively thwart rebel raids from Manipur and the North Cachar Hills district.

The plan for such a task force took shape after the police found it difficult to deploy additional reinforcements in Lakhipur subdivision and Udarbond block in Cachar district. The outlying tea gardens there are being increasingly targeted by militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), the United National Liberation Front and the People�s United Liberation Front.

Several tea barons, who held a meeting with Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta in Calcutta, responded positively to the plan to raise the militia. Among the captains of the tea industry who called on the chief minister at the meeting was former Indian Tea Association chairman Vinay Goenka.

Under the scheme now being chalked out by the state police, the cadre for this force would be recruited from among tea labourers in conformity with the physical requirements and the age ceiling, to be laid down by the police.

The police would also undertake the training of the recruits at their barracks. The expenses of training, purchase of arms and upkeep of the force would be borne by the tea industry. The official said in the initial stages, the force would be accompanied by regular police personnel during patrols and counter-raids.

The formation of this force will be qualitatively different from the Assam Tea Plantation Task Force, platoons of which are now deployed in the Brahmaputra Valley tea gardens. It comprises mainly of ex-servicemen of the state.

Last year, the Indian Tea Association had proposed raising platoons of the task force in Cachar as well. But the proposal did not find many takers in the valley as the expenses for raising and maintaining them were found to be prohibitive.

Since August last year, as nine planters have been abducted from different tea gardens in Cachar bordering Manipur and the North Cachar Hills district. The process of raising the proposed Tea Garden Protection Force appears to be shrouded in secrecy. Both the ITA and the Tea Association of India are yet to be briefed about it by the authorities.

When contacted in Calcutta last night over telephone, Kalyan Basu, a senior functionary of the ITA, pleaded ignorance about the new scheme.

Planter dead

M.N. Patel, the seniormost tea planter in south Assam, died in a road accident on Tuesday night.

The Ambassador car in which Patel was coming here from Shillong collided head-on with a truck at Aloogudam near Shillong.

Indian Tea Association sources here today said 62-year-old Patel, general manager of Ayenakhal tea plantation in Hailakandi district, died on the spot. His driver was in coma for more than a day following the accident. The driver and Patel�s body were sent to Shillong civil hospital.

Patel�s identity could be established only last night, after the driver regained consciousness. Patel�s body was flown to his hometown Ahmedabad from Guwahati today, ITA office sources said. He is survived by his wife, a son and two daughters.    

Shillong, Feb. 24 
Coal traders of Meghalaya are now caught between the devil and the deep sea.

The A�chik National Volunteer Council militants, aided by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and some local thugs, had seized hundreds of coal trucks at Nonglam, Rajalu and Chemogoam, nearly five km north of Borsora in the West Khasi Hills district on February 18. Borsora is one of the largest transit points for exporting coal to Bangladesh.

Armed to the teeth, the Garo militants, who are fighting for a homeland for the tribal population, had abducted the truck drivers, handyman and loading staff of each truck and demanded Rs 10,000 from every owner for their release. The state police took almost 90 hours to bail out the truckers.

Coal exporters, political leaders and human rights organisations have expressed serious concern over the issue. Meghalaya home minister T.H. Rangad, said �appropriate steps� would be taken against the erring officials for their �failure� to tackle the situation in the initial stage.

Though the police claimed that the hostages were released without any payment, it has been reported in a section of the Press that the truckers had to pay ransom to the ANVC.

�We have incurred a huge loss during the crisis,� a coal exporter said. However, the truck owners are not immediately thinking of withdrawing operations from the area as they have invested a lot of money, he added.

The Meghalaya International Traders� Association has also expressed concern over the incident. �Now it is government�s responsibility to ensure the truckers� safety,� D. Khonglah, secretary of the association said. �After all, coal traders earn a lot of foreign exchange,� she added.

The traders are already under tremendous pressure from the NSCN(I-M) and Dima Halom Daoga militants. Both outfits are on a major extortion drive in the coal belts of Jaintia Hills and even robbed a bank in Khilehriat last year, intelligence sources said.

The other major underground outfit of the hill state, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, which is fighting for a sovereign �Khasiland�, is also reportedly fleecing a section of the coal traders .

Coal export to Bangladesh from Meghalaya had come to a grinding halt in the Dawki-Tamabil sector from December 15 when the directorate of mineral resources made it mandatory for the coal-laden trucks to pass through a weigh bridge.

The Bangladeshi importers had objected to the introduction of the new system of measuring coal and stopped imports through the Dawki-Tamabil point.

Khonglah said the directorate�s arbitrary decision to introduce the new weighing system led to huge financial losses. The Centre had lost a revenue of $175,000 everyday when the export of coal was stopped at the Dawki-Tamabil sector, she said.

Coal export from Meghalaya has also suffered a major jolt as Bangladesh, the largest overseas buyer of the product, started importing coal from China, sources in the Union commerce ministry said. The importers in Bangladesh now prefer the �black diamond� from China as it is available throughout the year.

�The roads on the Indian side are so bad that the exporters cannot despatch their consignments throughout the year,� an official said.

�The coal-based industries (mostly brick industries) in Bangladesh have been suffering because of the erratic supply and that is why they have switched to buying from China,� he added.

As a result of the change in Bangladesh�s policy, India has lost several crores of rupees over the past few years. �Figures compiled by officials of the commerce ministry said Indian coal exporters earned only Rs 45 crore during 1997-98 while the figure was Rs 75 crore in 1994-95, the sources said.

Security demanded

The Congress Legislature Party has expressed concern over ANVC militants seizing hundreds of coal-laden trucks near Borsora in West Khasi Hills.

At a meeting convened at the residence of leader of the Opposition D.D. Lapang last evening, the CLP demanded strengthening of police and deployment of paramilitary forces in and around Borsora to provide security to the coal traders.    

Agartala, Feb. 24 
National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) militants abducted two government employees and opened fire at a CRPF camp near Gandacherra town barely 48 hours after a special counter-insurgency operation came to an end in the Longtarai hill ranges.

Police sources said two employees of the Manu block in Dhalai district Dhirendra Sarkar and Dipak Deb were abducted on their way to Manu from Chhailenta. Their motorcycle was stopped by a group of NLFT men near the Salbagan area.

Sources said Sarkar, who shared a close rapport with the militants, occasionally acted as a mediator negotiating for the release of hostages for ransom.

His ties with the militants soured recently following reports that he kept a percentage of the ransom money as �commission.�

Both Sarkar and Deb are still untraced. In a separate incident last night, suspected NLFT rebels torched the remote Karamcherra market under the Longtarai valley subdivision. Police sources said the militants had swooped down on the market from the neighbouring hills late in the night and set it ablaze. Sources said the loss was estimated at over Rs 2 crore.

NLFT militants also made an abortive bid to overrun a CRPF outpost at the Fisheries Complex near Gandacherra. The rebels retreated after the jawans returned fire. No casualty was reported.

In another incident, NLFT militants torched the remote Killa market under Udaipur subdivision in South Tripura. More than 19 shops were gutted in the blaze    

Kohima, Feb. 24 
The NSCN(I-M) has denied having hatched a conspiracy to hijack an Indian Airlines plane from Aizawl to secure the release of its general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah from Thailand jail.

Describing the media reports as �baseless, false and malicious�, the NSCN(I-M) said this was another design to derail the on-going peace process.

The Mizoram police had claimed that the NSCN(I-M) had sent one K. Ranju Rangan from New Delhi to explore the possibility of hijacking an Indian Airlines plane from Lengpui airport last week. He was arrested and remanded to judicial custody yesterday.

NSCN(I-M) information and publicity in-charge Ng. Hungshi alleged that this was �another evil design on part of those handful of collaborators and state agencies who are bent on derailing the on-going peace process between the NSCN and the Government of India.� He said the outfit had no knowledge of the alleged activity and the person supposedly involved in the reported plot. �If it so desired, the NSCN is fully capable of not only launching such an action but also accomplishing it,� he added.

The NSCN(I-M) urged the Centre to �control its puppets and other state agencies�, who created confusion and mistrust between the two contending parties.

In a separate statement, the NSCN(I-M) steering committee, highest policy-making body of the organisation, claimed that the underground outfit was committed to a peaceful solution to the Naga political problem. It charged the Indian armed forces and the Union home ministry with �conspiring� to sabotage the on-going peace process.

However, the organisation appreciated the efforts of the Prime Minister and his predecessors for recognising the Naga issue as a political problem.    


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