Backstage, comrade comes to �god�
Subhas lobby seeks Basu unity report
Trinamul retains nominee, draws battleline for RS
Municipal boards face the heat
Jumbos force crop pattern shift
Rebels kill one, torch huts
Shootout sears abode of clouds
Fugitive held In Orissa
Crackdown on Bihar coal mafia

Calcutta, March 18 
The Calcutta High Court Drama Society�s 13th performance of Nati Binodini on Saturday raised eyebrows, both before and during the show. For several reasons.

Marxist leader and chief minister, Comrade Jyoti Basu, had accepted an invitation from the organisers to see the play, in which religious seer Sri Ramakrishna Paramhans has a major role.

The role was played by politician-cum-thespian Ajit Panja, an MP from the Trinamul Congress, the CPM�s opposite camp.

And Union minister of state for external affairs Panja was involved in stage affairs in Calcutta when most would have thought he would be busy rehearsing an appropriate welcome in New Delhi for the world�s most powerful leader the very next day.

Wonders happen and, as it went, wonderfully as well. �Extraordinary performance� was what Basu told Panja, clasping his hand in an ante-chamber backstage before he had to leave prematurely.

The show, presented at the huge, multi-facility Science City auditorium, went down fairly well with the audience in the nearly-full house. Prime audience member Basu kept his word, arriving at 11 am and lighting a lamp to raise the curtains.

He sat through eight of the 13 scenes, witnessing the pompousness of Girish Ghosh (Indrajit Sarkar), the histrionics of Binodini (Ratna Siddhanta) and the simplistic, yet powerful, role of Sri Ramakrishna.

�For a leader and state head of his stature, spending one-and-a-half hours here was quite a lot. We are very happy that he stayed as long as he did,� said Ajoy Ghoshal, secretary of the Sri Ramakrishna Matrimangal Pratishthan, organisers of the function.

Basu broke barriers further by agreeing to meet, and subsequently pose, with Sri Ramakrishna /Panja backstage before he left.

The mad rush of photographers and TV cameramen was obvious, drawing the attention of the hall mid-scene as they trooped behind the VIP onto the stage and into the wings.

�I wanted to see you in this role for a long time. Very well done. Unfortunately, I cannot stay till the end,� Basu smiled at Panja, who beamed back as he continued with his pious pose even off-stage.

The chief minister had been approached by the Pratishthan about 15 days ago.

�He remembered he had laid the foundation for our Nehru Cancer Centre in October 1994,� said Ghoshal. �He agreed to come to this fundraiser, which was organised as part of our golden jubilee celebrations.�

The lawyers� troupe has so far been very lucky to have had Panja perform as Sri Ramakrishna in all the 13 shows of Nati Binodini that have been staged since April last year. Prime Minister Vajpayee was witness to the last one on March 3 in New Delhi.

He, too, had praised Panja�s performance and said: �It is specially creditable that you could participate in this activity despite your heavy responsibilities as a minister of state.�

Director Mihir Bhattacharya recalled how they were about to cancel a presentation because of the Indian Airlines hostage crisis in Kandahar. �But imagine our good fortune when the hijackers released the passengers a day before our show. Ajitda was in Calcutta the next morning.�

Asked how he had managed today�s show when President Clinton was scheduled to arrive in Delhi the next day, the minister of state for external affairs replied: �Once you take God�s name, you can handle a thousand Clintons and a thousand red carpet welcomes can be laid out.�

His hands and fingers were still in the characteristic Ramakrishna pose as he spoke to newsmen after the curtains had dropped.    

Calcutta, March 18 
Buoyed by the state CPM�s soft attitude towards them, the North 24 Parganas dissidents, led by transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, on Saturday called for immediate submission of the report of the high-power panel formed to resolve organisational disputes.

The panel, headed by chief minister Jyoti Basu, has Benoy Chowdhury, Sailen Dasgupta and Niren Ghosh as members. It was formed by the state CPM secretariat about a year and a half ago to sort out differences between rival groups in the faction-ridden district committee.

The dissidents have been boycotting the district committee�s proceedings for the past year, demanding �adequate representation.� While the dissidents wanted the committee to retain all 24 of their representatives, the official group, led by Amitava Bose, agreed to accommodate only 12.

On Saturday, the dissidents attended the meeting on request by state party secretary Anil Biswas. He conveyed the request to Chakraborty on Thursday, assuring him that steps will be taken to meet the dissident� demands on organisational matters.

All the Chakraborty loyalists, except housing minister Gautam Deb, were present at Saturday�s discussion. Deb was out of station to attend an official function.

The meeting, which started on a quiet note, turned stormy when Bose tried to seek the committee�s approval to a written proposal to include only 12 members from the Chakraborty camp. The dissidents vehemently opposed the move and wondered why the official group was reluctant to accommodate all 24 representatives. The move would not reduce their majority in the district committee, they pointed out.

The most vocal among the dissidents was Gopal Bhattacharya, former district secretariat member, who wanted to know the fate of the Jyoti Basu panel. �The formation of the panel was widely publicised. Our party workers are anxious to know its recommendations,� Bhattacharya said.

Another senior member pointed out that unity �cannot be one-way traffic� and urged the official group not to make it an �ego issue.�

Bose, district committee secretary, however, refused to make any firm commitment on organisational matters.�As far as the panel�s report is concerned, it is up to the state committee to take a decision,� he said.

Among the official group members, Manas Mukherjee demanded action against Chakraborty for his �open statements against party line.� �If the party could censure Saifuddin Chowdhury for his remarks, why should Chakraborty be spared?� he asked.    

Calcutta, March 18 
Voting is inevitable in the Rajya Sabha polls from West Bengal on March 29, with both the Congress and Trinamul Congress candidates for the fifth seat refusing to withdraw from the contest on Saturday, the last date for withdrawal of nominations.

Five Upper House seats have fallen vacant from the state. The strength of the Left Front legislature party has made the victory of its nominees for the first four seats a fait accompli. The nominees are Biplab Dasgupta, Nilotpal Basu and Dipankar Mukherjee of the CPM and Manoj Bhattacharya of the RSP. While the three CPM candidates have been renominated, Bhattacharya will be a newcomer to the Rajya Sabha.

Congress nominee Debaprasad (Mithu) Roy and Jayanta Bhattacharya of Trinamul will fight for the fifth seat.

State Congress working president and MP Priya Ranjan Das Munshi had appealed to Trinamul leader and railway minister Mamata Banerjee to withdraw her party�s nominee and support Roy. However, Bhattacharya�s decision to remain in the fray indicates that Mamata chose to ignore the appeal.

�We fielded our candidate and hope to see him through,� said Pankaj Banerjee, MLA and state Trinamul leader. On Subrata Mukherjee�s reported reluctance to support Bhattacharya, Banerjee said Mamata will sort out things when she returns here from Delhi next week.    

Calcutta, March 18 
The government has initiated a move to fight �corruption� in the municipal bodies and regularise their casual staff with an eye on the forthcoming municipal polls.

Sources said 20 municipalities have been identified as �indulging in corrupt practices.�

Government funds have been blocked to five of them and the rest asked to show cause.

The charges include appointment of casual workers without necessary government approval, fund diversion, failure to submit utilisation certificates, inability to prepare audit reports for years together and misappropriation of funds.

The decision was taken in the wake of a large number of complaints flooding both the Alimuddin Street office of the state CPM and the municipal affairs department at Writers Buildings.

Leaders of the CPM feel corrupt practices will have an adverse fallout on the party�s prospects in the municipal elections. Eighty-two municipalities go to the polls in May.

The leaders believe the Opposition parties will make municipal corruption a major poll plank if no move is initiated to book the erring civic bodies. The party has directed its councillors to enervate mass contact to ensure better poll performance.

The government has also decided to recognise the casual employees recruited till 1998, provided the municipal boards concerned arrange for their salaries from their own resources.

Sources said municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya took the decision after chief minister Jyoti Basu�s flashed the green signal. Basu has directed the minister to crack down on corruption in municipal bodies. Bhattacharya has also been told to ignore the political colour of the municipal boards while taking necessary steps.

Officers from the directorate of local bodies and municipal affairs department will pay surprise visits to the municipalities and check the books of accounts. They will also verify the expenditure incurred by the municipal boards.

This apart, a special team of officers will verify the utilisation certificates and make spot visits to verify whether projects have been implemented as per sanctioned schemes.

The state government has also formed specific guidelines for the municipalities to run their affairs smoothly. The guidelines include:

The board must meet at least once a month.

No work can be undertaken without approval of the municipal board.

Details of every expenditure, with all supporting documents, will have to be furnished to the municipal affairs department.

No fresh funds will be released if accounts of previous expenditure are not furnished and found correct.

No municipality will appoint an employee or even a casual worker without the state government�s approval.

�Our aim is to bring greater transparency to the municipal bodies and check corruption. We are giving them crores of rupees to provide better civic amenities to the people. We shall not tolerate misuse of funds,�said Bhattacharya. �I have instructed my officers to prepare a list of municipalities indulging in corrupt practices,�� he added.

Bhattacharya said the state would bring an amendment to the Bengal Municipal Act, empowering it to replace any corrupt chairman in the people�s interests.    

Calcutta, March 18 
Villagers living close to the Mahananda sanctuary are slowly replacing cultivation of paddy with mulberry to prevent elephants from intruding into their settlements.

The sanctuary is part of the traditional elephant corridor that runs between Assam and north Bengal.

�Wild elephants have developed a taste for paddy. They come and destroy our crops and some times even our houses. Which is why we have taken to growing mulberries, which the elephants do not eat,� said Govinda Roka of Tenth Mile, a picturesque forest village between the Teesta and the sanctuary.

The switch has not, however, ended the woes of Roka, a former soldier from 1st Gorkha Rifles, and his neighbours. �Now, we find deer relish mulberry shrubs. They come every evening for a meal and you find yourself face to face with them,� Roka added.

The villagers say only battery-operated fences with barbed wire can keep the animals away from the mulberry plantation.

Earlier, the villagers in the western Dooars, just across the Teesta, shifted to pisciculture from paddy cultivation because the crops were frequently destroyed by marauding elephants.

Tenth Mile and several other villages in the Terai and the Dooars have received aid from the North-Eastern Society for Protection of Nature and Wildlife (Nespon) and the Vanbasi Samiti for growing mulberry.

As part of their campaign to protect forests and forest dwellers, the two NGOs organised a two-day awareness camp at Tenth Mile, which ended on last Thursday.

Representatives from 27 villages and environment activists attended the programme.

�Lack of employment has put tremendous pressure on forest wealth,� said Radha Darjini, who runs a small, ramshackle tea stall in the village.

A report prepared by Nespon cited �deep-rooted behavioural changes in elephants in north Bengal� as the primary reason for their tussle with man.

The conflict has led to loss of human lives, destruction of crops and revenge killing or poaching by man.

The report also said unrestricted extraction of timber and firewood has antagonised the elephants towards man.

Nespon secretary Soumitra Ghosh said between seven and eight lakh cubic metres of timber and firewood is illegally extracted in north Bengal every year.

About seven hundred persons have been killed by elephants since 1986, while the number of elephants killed by the poachers and villagers is over 30 since 1998.

Work on the Teesta Barrage along the Dooars-Bhutan border and lack of water have also contributed to disruption in the movement of elephants.    

Agartala, March 18 
National Liberation Front of Tripura militants killed one person and rendered over 200 people homeless in Dudpur village of North Tripura today.

Police sources said a large group of armed NLFT militants invaded the remote village under Fatikroy police station at 2.30 am and indiscriminately set on fire thatched huts belonging to non-tribals. While most people managed to escape, the militants shot a youth and threw him into the flames. His half-burnt body was later recovered by the police.

Sources said the killing and arsoning were part of the rebels� calculated attempt to rid the Autonomous District Council (ADC) areas of non-tribals before the next elections, slated for May. An estimated two lakh voters, forced to leave the ADC areas due to militant depredations, are likely to lose their voting rights in the forthcoming district council elections as they cannot return to cast their votes. Admitting displacement of voters from the ADC areas, official sources here said, �The figure is often exaggerated by political parties, but it is true that a large number of people belonging to both tribal and non-tribal communities have been displaced.�

The process of forced displacement began in April 1993 � soon after the third Left Front government came to power � with All-Tripura Tiger Force and NLFT militants launching a major offensive.

Leader of the Opposition Jahar Saha and PCC president Birajit Sinha, who extensively toured the interior areas of the state last week, said at least two lakh people had been displaced from the ADC area and many of them were leading a sub-human existence. �Unless the government takes steps to enable these people to cast their votes, the entire election will be a farcical exercise,� Sinha added.

The PCC is planning to launch a statewide agitation programme to press for protecting the voting rights of the displaced persons.

CPM leader Dasahori Jamatya was killed for sleeping in his own house in violation of the NLFT militants� diktat. He had failed to pay �sleeping tax� of Rs 500 to the militants. He was gunned down by rebels yesterday. The latest in the list of �taxes� is the �sleeping tax� which means �tax� paid for being allowed to sleep in one�s own house.

Local leaders and prominent workers of political parties living in the interior areas come under the purview of this �tax�. Jamatya knew he was living on borrowed time and sought security cover from CPM leaders and ministers.

What he received instead was an advice to �manage� as �giving security cover is not possible�. The NLFT rebels operating in Ampi ordered him to pay 10 per cent of the Tethuibari panchayat fund as �tax� for the current year. After repeated pleas, he managed to reduce the tax amount.    

Shillong, March 18 
Two hardcore Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) militants were killed in an encounter with the Meghalaya police near Pasteur beat house in the city late last night.

Superintendent of police, East Khasi Hills, D. K. Rapthap told The Telegraph that a police patrol party intercepted a taxi (ML05A-4623) near the beat house at 10.30 pm.

Sources said the police recovered one nine mm pistol and a hand grenade from three persons in the vehicle. However, one of the rebels managed to escape.

After interrogation, the arrested militants agreed to lead the police to a HNLC hideout in the area where the outfit had stockpiled more arms and ammunition. �While the police party was on its way to the hideout, they came under heavy fire from the rebels,�� sources said. The police personnel retaliated immediately. �But the two arrested rebels started running in the direction from which the militants were firing at the police team and were killed in the process,� sources said.

The police jeep has also been damaged and sent for forensic examination. The police team, assisted by CRPF jawans, launched a massive search operation in the area and recovered an AK-56 rifle, the sources said.

The two HNLC militants, who died in the cross-fire, have not yet been identified, the sources said. The bodies have been sent to the civil hospital for post-mortem. Security arrangement in the city�s Jaiaw area has been tightened following an encounter between HNLC militants and a joint patrol team of police and paramilitary forces.    

Berhampur, March 18 
Police yesterday arrested another of the seven prisoners who escaped from the Kodala sub-jail in Orissa�s Ganjam district on March 11. Madan Behera was hiding in a cashewnut plantation near Kainchpur when he was apprehended. He is the third of the fleeing seven prisoners to be rearrested. The fugitives had fled last Saturday.

The two fugitives arrested earlier are Abhi Nayak and Gouranga Das.

Police revolt

Reserve police personnel have been put on alert following a revolt by policemen over an altercation between a constable and a sub-inspector in Dumka district on Thursday, reports our Dhanbad correspondent.

Sub-inspector Ramashankar Singh allegedly shot at and injured constable Balram Singh after an argument at the Dumka bus-stand. The constable is stated to be in a critical condition and is undergoing treatment at Bhagalpur.    

Dhanbad, March 18 
Intensifying their drive against racketeers involved in the illegal trade in linkage coal, police recently seized hundreds of trucks carrying coal collected from Bharat Coking Coal Limited collieries in the district.

The drive was launched by new Dhanbad superintendent of police Anil Palta after a special task force of the Uttar Pradesh police disclosed that most professional criminal gangs in that state were being funded with money earned through illegal trading in linkage coal.

The task force also discovered that linkage coal collected from various collieries in the name of companies ostensibly based in Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and other states were being dumped in Varanasi, which is the biggest coal market in the eastern region. The task force team had visited Dhanbad to arrest the kingpins of the trade, but failed.    


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