Basu scoffs at alliance moves
Parnasree promoter wounded in bullet blitz
Triple bane of safe blood
City taps dry for second day
Ghising springs pre-poll tantrum for autonomy
�Coterie-raj� sparks rancour in Orissa BJP
4 expelled for ragging in Silchar
Two killed, 3 abducted in Tripura

Calcutta, April 8 
Pradesh Congress chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury on Saturday set in motion the working of the mahajot (grand alliance) by asking district-level leaders to start dialogue with Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul Congress for next month�s municipal elections.

Taken by surprise, chief minister Jyoti Basu, however, described state Congressmen as a �bunch of opportunists� for tying up with Mamata. �The Left Front will return to power in Bengal, despite efforts by the shameless Congress and its new-found ally,� Basu said, while laying the foundation of a college in the Sunderbans on Saturday. �People will reject this combine for compromising with communal forces,� Basu added.

Khan Chowdhury, who says �the mahajot will be the ruling party�s death knell,� convened a meeting of functionaries at the Congress office to work out modalities for the poll tie-up.

He told district-level leaders to complete the spadework with Trinamul functionaries before he and Mamata go on a joint campaign tour by the month-end. �I want our leaders to work out seat adjustments with their Trinamul counterparts right away,� he said, adding: �Contentious issues may be referred to us for early settlement.� Khan Chowdhury, who will be in Malda for a few days, urged both parties to �rise above petty politics� while arriving at seat-sharing deals.

Sultan Ahmed, Congress MLA and a known Khan Chowdhury loyalist, said party functionaries in the districts were very enthusiastic about the mahajot. �Bilateral talks are on in some places,� he added.

In a reciprocal gesture, Trinamul MLA and spokesman Sudip Bandopadhyay said voters disenchanted with the communists want the mahajot to emerge as an alternative in Bengal. �We are getting positive signals about the alliance posing a challenge to the ruling CPM,� he added.

However, an alliance with Mamata evoked strong protest on Saturday from state Congress working president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and his associates. Das Munshi, en route to New Delhi, said he would campaign for Independents in seats the Congress concedes to the BJP as part of the mahajot.

�We cannot compromise with the BJP, whom we consider communal,� he said, adding that the alliance with Mamata was possible only if she severed relations with the saffron party.

Rejecting Das Munshi�s argument, several of his detractors demanded that he be removed from his post. �Das Munshi has been indulging in anti-party activities by trying to disturb the mahajot,� complained Pradyut Guha, a Khan Chowdhury loyalist. Guha was appointed Khan Chowdhury�s secretary during the day.    

Calcutta, April 8 
Parnasree, in Behala, was tense on Saturday after a shootout in a marketplace on Friday night, which left two persons wounded and a third battling for life in a south Calcutta nursing home.

Stunned by the incident, local elders petitioned the deputy superintendent of police,town, Subhankar Chatterjee, demanding a through probe into the incident.

They urged police to increase vigil in Parnasree and its surrounding areas, as lawlessness has increased after promoters began to eye the area in a big way.

According to Sudhin Das, a local resident, Friday night�s target, Biren Kundu, was a well-known promoter of Behala. Witnesses said Kundu was sitting in his office, talking to his friends and traders. Four young men, armed with revolvers and sharp weapons, got off a taxi at around 9 pm in front of his office and began shooting indiscriminately.

One bullet caught Kundu on the shoulder. He ducked, and three more bullets aimed at him hit the wall behind him.

As people scampered away in panic, the miscreants fled in a hailstorm of bullets. Three shots caught bystanders Satyajit Chakraborty and Mukhtar Mullah on their legs. They fell to the ground. Mullah tried to rise and run but could not proceed far.

A poss� of policemen arrived 15 minutes later and cordoned off the area. Sniffer dogs were commissioned to find the miscreants� escape route. Saturday�s investigations revealed that the shootout may have been engineered by Kundu�s business rivals. Kundu, with four partners, had floated AB Enterprise and had completed construction of a few multi-storeyed apartments.

Police said they had acquired a few bighas of barren land, which they were selling off to buyers at a good profit.

A criminal called Bishu had called up Kundu and demanded money from him. The demand was backed by threats of harm if Kundu informed the police or failed to pay up. Kundu was unmoved, but asked mutual contacts to arrange for a compromise with Bishu. After that, there had been no calls from Bishu.

But police suspect that some rival of Kundu had tipped off Bishu and might even have paid him to carry out the job.

Additional superintendent of police S.N. Gupta said the force was checking on some promoters. No one has been held so far, though officers of the local police station said five persons have been detained for interrogation.    

Calcutta, April 8 
The West Bengal government observed World Health Day on Friday. This year�s theme was on a subject that, for once, the state was not lagging behind in: voluntary blood donation.

But three issues related to the theme, �Safe blood starts with me,� continue to remain problems in foolproof blood banking and transfusion. One of these does have a solution, but it has yet to be implemented by the 53 blood banks run by the state.

Problem One is testing donated blood for Hepatitis-C. The Centre, through the National AIDS Control Organisation, issued a notification six months ago, making the test mandatory at all blood banks.

This followed a rise in detection of people with the virus, as well as the number of patients falling to the disease.

Central Blood Bank director S.B. Ray said such testing could only be implemented after equipment was procured and training completed, which would take beyond July.

This means blood distributed through state blood banks could be infected with Hepatitis-C for at least another six months.

Second, if the blood donated by a person is found to be reactive to antibodies of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or Hepatitis-B, the donor, with proper counselling and confirmatory tests, should be informed of his status to caution him against donating a second time and spreading the virus to others.

The third problem is how to tackle a blood unit collected during the �window period� of the virus in the body. The blood donated by a person may not be reactive to the HIV antibody test if that person was infected a week or even 10 days before he donated blood.

A day-long meet, organised by the Voluntary Blood Donors� Forum, discussed the theme. The Association of Voluntary Blood Donors also held a seminar on blood safety, while Medical Bank began a year-long programme to conduct the blood grouping of a lakh school students in the state.    

Calcutta, April 8 
Vast areas of Calcutta continued to suffer from an acute scarcity of water on Saturday as the Calcutta Municipal Corporation failed to restore supply of filtered water at normal pressure since Friday.

Water supply was suspended for several hours on Friday, causing tremendous hardship to Calcuttans, as a snag at the CESC sub-station at Sinthee More rendered the Tallah pumping station inoperative.

Durga Mukherjee, leader of the Opposition in the CMC, complained that residents of many areas in east and south Calcutta faced an acute water scarcity even on Saturday as the corporation had not resumed supply of water at normal pressure, despite Friday�s snag at the CESC sub-station being rectified.

The affected areas were Ballygunge, Hazra Road, Gariahat and Dover Lane in south Calcutta; and Behala, Topsia, Tangra and Beleghata in east Calcutta.    

Siliguri, April 8 
Despite its willingness to reschedule the panchayat elections in the hills, the Left Front government may find it difficult to stop Gorkha National Liberation Front chief Subhas Ghising from demanding his pound of flesh again.

Barely 24 hours after Ghising announced through his lieutenants the revival of the Gorkhaland demand in Darjeeling, the government on Thursday indicated that it would not oppose the GNLF efforts to place the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

It also hinted on the possibility of rescheduling the panchayat election date after fresh talks with the GNLF-run council.

As some newspapers flashed reports on the rethinking by the government, anti-GNLF parties expressed their resentment. Gorkhaland United Front spokesman and Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) leader D. S. Bomzan said: �We condemn the way the government has succumbed to GNLF pressure. We want the polls as scheduled, on May 28.�

The GNLF has opposed the panchayat system ever since the hill council was set up in 1988. Ghising often described the co-existence of the council and panchayat as �putting two feet into one shoe.�

The government managed hold panchayat polls only in 1995, after two constitutional amendments made them mandatory, and that too, on Ghising�s terms. It introduced a single-tier panchayat system and reduced the number of gram panchayat seats in return for the GNLF�s withdrawal from two Assembly by-elections, which were ultimately won by the CPM.

Since then, preparations have been on for the forthcoming panchayat elections. But about two months ago, Ghising raised even more difficult demands. He is worried of a possibility of the tea gardens, cinchona plantations and forest villages being included in the panchayat system.

The key demand is the �extension of the Sixth Schedule to the whole of Darjeeling district, as in Karbi Anglong and North Cachar.� The Gorkha leader conveyed the demand in a letter to Prime Minister A.B Vajpayee on March 8. He also requested Vajpayee to initiate dialogue between the Centre, the state and the council.

CPM leaders, who have so far worked in tandem with Ghising, said the Sixth Schedule demand would put the government in a difficult position. �The government cannot lump the plains, where the Nepalese are in a minority, with the council. Which is why we did not include most of Siliguri sub-division in the council when the Darjeeling accord was signed in 1988,� they said. The leaders recalled how they had failed to push through their own autonomy Bill by amending the Sixth Schedule in Parliament in 1985, a few months before Ghising launched the Gorkhaland agitation.

The CPRM leaders were surprised at Ghising�s decision to bring the council under the Sixth Schedule. They said: �He should first seek an amendment to the Schedule, without which he cannot have an autonomous council, like Karbi Anglong and North Cachar. Darjeeling cannot get direct entry into the Sixth Schedule, as it is not as a recognised tribal area.�

Taking advantage of the state government�s dependence on it for keeping peace in the hills, the GNLF also sought Vajpayee�s help to increase the number of Assembly seats in the hills and to re-demarcate the Darjeeling Parliamentary seat by including more Nepali-dominated areas.    

Bhubaneswar, April 8 
A storm is brewing in the Orissa unit of the BJP with a growing number of leaders discontented with the RSS-dominated leadership for their �authoritarian� way of functioning.

Balasore MP Kharavela Swain was the first to rail against the leadership at the March 31 state executive committee meeting for running the party like a fiefdom. He directed his ire mainly at the all-powerful organisation secretary Prasanna Mishra, a senior RSS functionary on �deputation� to the BJP, accusing him of building a �coterie� to run the party.

Swain accused Mishra of packing the party with �his followers� and choosing Manmohan Samal as its president without consulting senior leaders, including him. He told the meeting that he felt slighted and had resigned as vice-president in protest soon after Samal�s appointment a few months ago. But even his resignation failed to move the party. He was not even asked why he had quit after holding the post for seven years, he fumed.

Swain is not the only disgruntled leader in the party, insiders said. Bolangir MP Sangeeta Singh Deo and her husband Kanak Bardhan Singh Deo, industry minister in the Naveen Patnaik Cabinet, also resigned recently as state vice-president and Bolangir district president respectively in protest against the handling of the party affairs.

BJP sources said several other leaders, including state revenue minister Biswabhusan Harichandan and rural development minister Prashant Nanda, were also not happy with the goings-on, but were silent to avoid a face-off.

Harichandan, an aspirant for the post of deputy chief minister, had felt let down after chief minister Naveen Patnaik denied him the post. Though he fumed publicly at Patnaik, his party did not take up the issue with the chief minister to �keep the alliance alive,� sources said.

Even Union surface transport minister Debendra Pradhan and Kalahandi MP Bikram Keshari Deo are �dead against� the �coterie� running the party, the sources said. The rumblings started after the BJP lost 25 of the 63 seats it contested in the Assembly elections.

Several MPs recently met party president Kushabhau Thakre and Advani and complained against the state leadership.    

Silchar, April 8 
Four students of the Silchar Medical College were today expelled for ragging freshers.

Principal Sujit Nandy Purkayastha said the expulsions were recommended by a committee constituted to look into complaints about ragging by senior students. The expelled students are Rakhi Bora, Jayanta Padum, Anupam Deka and Sangai Palgang Tamang. They have been charged with causing serious injuries to two freshers, Rajesh Dalal and Suman Ghose.

Purkayastha said the college authorities would continue to take steps against students who indulge in ragging.

Dacoit arrested: Police apprehended a dacoit at Algapur village in South Assam�s Hailakandi district yesterday. Sources said the dacoit, identified as Islamuddin, was wanted in connection with several heists in Guwahati, Dhubri and Cachar. Islamuddin has provided information about a few dacoit gangs operating in the Barak Valley.

District council polls

Altogether 92 candidates have filed nominations for elections to the Autonomous District Council, scheduled to be held in two phases on April 30 and May 3, reports our Agartala correspondent. The majority of these candidates are from the Left Front, the Indigenous People�s Front of Tripura and the Congress. The BJP-led four-party alliance has already announced a boycott of the elections.    

Agartala, April 8 
Two persons were killed and three abducted in Tripura over the past 48 hours, while tension continued to mount over sporadic clashes between tribals and non-tribals in different parts of the state.

Police sources said one Dayal Nath, who was seriously injured in a mob attack in Damgabari village under Kanchanpur police station on Thursday, succumbed to his injuries at the Kailasahar district hospital late last night. His death sparked tension in Kanchanpur subdivision.

Nath was assaulted following a bomb attack on tribals by United Bengali Liberation Front (UBLF) militants in the nearby Ramcherra village. Five persons � identified as Khagendra Reang, Gobinda Reang, Guptanaiti Reang, Batarai Reang and Dwitirung Reang � were injured in the attack. Tribals living in Dangabari village went on a rampage immediately, setting 10 houses ablaze and attacking non-tribals.

Tension also mounted in Lalit Para village under Jirania police station yesterday after CRPF personnel shot dead a tribal youth � identified as Esrai Debbarma � during a search operation.

In another incident, All-Tripura Tiger Force militants abducted three tribals, including a CPM leader, from Balurband under Sidhai police station in Sadar North sub-division yesterday.The abducted persons include village council chairperson Takhirai Debbarma, Sahadeb Debbarma and Sunil Debbarma.    


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