Mamata cold-shoulders Rajya Sabha hopeful
Tuesday suit on medical crash course
Life cover benefits for busmen
Spate of abductions in N-E
Shillong a haven for NSCN rebels
Manipur toll rises to eight

Calcutta, March 25 
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee appears to have turned indifferent to the fate of Jayanta Bhattacharya, Independent candidate backed by her party for the Rajya Sabha polls on Wednesday.

Trinamul sources said Mamata�s apathy was prompted by pressure from partymen, who felt Bhattacharya�s victory would be construed as a move in tandem with arch foe and former PCC president, Somen Mitra, to defeat the AICC-nominated candidate, D.P. Roy.

Mitra was unanimously chosen Rajya Sabha candidate at a Congress Legislature Party meeting early this month. But his candidature was rejected by the high command and D.P. Roy fielded instead.

Mitra loyalists and MLAs like Sultan Ahmed, resentful of Roy�s nomination, �feared� Bhattacharya might cobble up the required 49 votes through cross voting.

Bhattacharya himself had assured Mamata that he would succeed in persuading about 31 Congress MLAs, apart from the 15 who have openly sided with the railway minister, to vote for him.

Now, the Trinamul leadership realises that if Bhattacharya does emerge victorious, the signal that will get across to the people is that Mitra and Mamata came together to ensure the defeat of the official Congress candidate.

Trinamul leaders met Mamata to convince her about the implications of Bhattacharya�s victory. But they will not admit having asked her not to campaign for him when she arrives in Calcutta on Sunday. The leaders were evasive over Bhattacharya�s prospects. �I have just returned from Delhi and am trying to gauge voter mood,� said Sudip Bandopadhyay, Trinamul MP and Mamata aide.

What is more disturbing for the Trinamul-backed candidate is the hour-long meeting state Congress working president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi held with Mamata at Rail Bhavan on Wednesday. Trinamul sources said Das Munshi tried to talk her out of campaigning for Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharya himself was confident Mamata would campaign for him. �How can you say otherwise? My nomination was proposed and seconded by three Trinamul MLAs,� Bhattacharya told The Telegraph.

So far, however, Mamata has not contacted any Congress legislator tilting towards her or asked them to vote for Bhattacharya.    

Calcutta, March 25 
The Calcutta branch of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) will file a public interest litigation in Calcutta High Court on Tuesday, opposing the government�s decision to introduce a �condensed MBBS course� at National Medical College and Hospital.

The president of IMA, Dr Sudipta Roy, said the state government had launched the course flouting Medical Council of India guidelines. Former chief minister of West Bengal Siddhartha Shankar Ray will fight the case for IMA, Dr Roy added.

Under the condensed course, students will win an MBBS degree within three years, instead of six-and-a-half years required now. �A student cannot turn into a doctor within three years,� senior IMA members said.

The 105 students who joined the course in February were fresh from Higher Secondary and did not have to write the joint entrance examinations. The IMA president said the government violated rules of the Medical Council of India by admitting these students.

Dr Roy, who met state health minister Partha De, was told the government was compelled to launch the crash course because doctors were needed in the rural areas. Statistics, however, show that 10,000 MBBS doctors in the state are now looking for jobs.

The government is reluctant to announce the number of medical posts vacant. �Recruitment through the Public Service Commission was last held in 1997. A sizeable chunk of posts are vacant,� doctors said.

Health minister Partha De was not available for comment.    

Calcutta, March 25 
About 75,000 bus and minibus operators in the state will come under a unique insurance cover from March 29. The state government will spend Rs 3 crore annually to implement the scheme, to be inaugurated formally by chief minister Jyoti Basu.

�Janaraksha Plan� will provide both accident and death cover to the transport workers. The premium will be shared by the employee, his vehicle owner and the state government.

The scheme comes into effect from April 1. Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty finalised the scheme last week after a joint meeting with representatives of bus-owners and workers, the LIC and officers of his department.

A government order was also issued and circulated among the various bus syndicates.

Bus and minibus workers of Calcutta, Howrah, Hooghly, North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas will fall under the scheme�s purview in the first phase. Later, it will be extended to cover the other districts. There are about 45,000 bus and minibus workers in the city and its adjoining areas.

Under the scheme, a sum assured of Rs 30,000 will be set apart for each employee in the 18-45 years age-group for a term of 15 years. The annual premium will vary from Rs 1,044 to Rs 1,239, depending on the policy-holder�s age. The worker�s share of premium will between Rs 348 and Rs 413. The rest will be borne by the bus-owners and the transport department.

An employee will receive the sum assured on maturity or in the event of his death or permanent disability. In case of any major injury due to accident, the employee will be given a lump sum. However, only employees who have been working for a minimum period of 150 days will get the insurance benefits.

�Bus and minibus employees have so long been denied any kind of social security. They do not even have a fixed salary. It is a tragedy that those who are providing an key service to the people are still socially insecure. This scheme seeks to remedy that,�� said Chakraborty.

The general secretary of the federation of bus and minibus workers� unions, Subhas Mukherjee, said the scheme will fulfil a long-standing demand. �Now, we shall try to discipline the workers so they observe traffic rules and behave properly with passengers,�� he said.

Ajit Saha, Bengal Bus Syndicate president , hailed the scheme. He said: �We don�t mind spending some amount on workers� well-being.�    

Agartala, March 25 
National Liberation Front of Tripura militants abducted two non-tribals from the Ampi police station area in South Tripura last night. They also had an hourlong encounter with the CRPF.

Police sources said a group of 20 NLFT rebels made an abortive attempt to overrun the Ampi market. Hearing the sound of gunfire, a CRPF patrol party retaliated. The gunbattle continued for an hour following which the militants retreated into the jungle.

Sources said while fleeing, the rebels abducted Sadhan Das (26) and Dhiren Rudra Pal (45), both residents of the neighbouring Haripur village.

Sadhan Das had come to the market to purchase goods for his father�s �shradh� ceremony.

ADC agitation: Employees of the Autonomous District Council (ADC) have launched an agitation to protest against the attack on zonal development officer Sanjib Purkayastha on March 22 and the failure of police to arrest the culprits. The official was attacked inside the ADC office complex.

A large number of council employees demonstrated under the banner of the ruling CPM Employees� Association, seeking security.

New alliance fails: Touted as a �viable alternative� to the ruling Left Front not long ago, the dissension-wracked Trinamul Congress-BJP combine is now struggling to stay afloat in Tripura politics.

While the CPM has already launched its campaign for the Autonomous District Council elections, the Trinamul Congress and the BJP are yet to chalk out a common strategy for the polls. The Congress and the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity, which once comprised the crux of the Opposition, are also nowhere in the picture. A source said the BJP�s central leadership was aware of the problems faced by the state unit of the party and had recommended holding of organisational polls as early as possible. He said a committee headed by party leader Brajesh Chakraborty was likely to be constituted to monitor the poll process.

Of the 60 mandal committees comprising the Tripura unit of the BJP, elections to only 30 have been held so far. Sources said Chakraborty�s proposed appointment as president of the BJP�s ad hoc committee was likely to be opposed by a section of party members.

There was a similar revolt when the party leadership considered Chakraborty for nomination as the BJP candidate for the West Tripura Lok Sabha seat last year.    

Shillong, March 25 
Several Naga militant leaders have taken shelter in Meghalaya in the wake of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah�s arrest in Thailand.

An intelligence source said most of these rebel leaders were �cooling their heels� in this capital town. He said they were wary of going to Nagaland because the police had filed several criminal cases against them.

In an advertisement published in a local English newspaper yesterday, the criminal investigation department sought information about the whereabouts of self-styled NSCN(I-M) commander-in-chief, �Brig.� H.S. Ramsan Tangkhul alias Hangshi Tangkhul. The advertisement was accompanied by a photograph of the rebel leader.

�Anyone providing information leading to Tangkhul�s arrest will be rewarded with Rs 10 lakh. The names and addresses of informers will not be disclosed,� the advertisement stated.

The chief of the NSCN(I-M)�s armed wing hails from Phantang village in Manipur�s Ukhrul district and is wanted in connection with a case registered at the Medziphema police station (number 0031/99).

Tangkhul has been charged under Sections 302, 307, 323, 326, 397, 398, 120 and 12 (B) of the IPC. He has also been accused of violating Section 10/13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Section 3 of the Explosive Substances Act and Section 27(3) of the Arms Act.

�The rebels probably do not want to take unnecessary risks in Nagaland,� a source said, adding that the rival Khaplang faction was likely to train its guns on NSCN(I-M) leaders.

�The killing of NSCN(K) general secretary Dally Mungro has widened the rift,� he added.

Militants owing allegiance to the Khaplang faction attacked an NSCN(I-M) hideout at Jotsoma recently.

�With its cosmopolitan culture, Shillong is the best place for militants on the run.

They cannot move about so freely in Assam and Manipur because Army operations are underway in both the states,� an official said.    

Imphal, March 25 
Two more insurgents have been killed in separate encounters in Manipur since Thursday.

Security forces killed five militants and two civilians in Bishenpur and Thoubal districts since Thursday. Among those killed were three insurgents of the banned United National Liberation Front and two rebels of the People�s Liberation Army.

Three UNLF insurgents and two civilians were killed at Leishoipat of Keinon village in Bishenpur district on Thursday when a combined force of the Border Security Force (BSF), Assam Rifles and Manipur police commandos raided their hideout. The information about the UNLF�s hideout was disclosed by a unit commander of the outfit after he was arrested by the Assam Rifles on Thursday, police sources said.

Two fishermen were also killed during the encounter. Agitated over the killing of the fishermen by security forces, villagers of Keinon blocked the Tiddim highway. Chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh signed a memorandum of understanding with the villagers, thereby defusing the tension. Nipamacha Singh agreed to pay ex gratia to the families of the two fishermen.    


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