Booth entry ban on media withdrawn
Rail minister halts after blowing her trumpet
Monks rap Mamata for math slur
Police turn deaf ear to decibel bar breach
Solidarity strike keeps Durgapur in the dark
Jadavpur teachers call off agitation
45 hurt in CRPF attack
Jethmalani no to Nipamacha plea for judge
Foreigners held in Ranchi with fake cheques

Calcutta, June 23 
Ending a day of high drama over the order restraining journalists from entering polling booths on June 25, the state election commission (SEC) withdrew the directive late on Friday night.

Following a meeting between SEC officials and representatives of the Press Club and the Indian Journalists� Association, election commissioner Anish Majumdar announced that members of the press would be allowed into polling booths and the counting stations. The SEC will distribute media passes from 2 pm on Saturday.

Earlier in the day, two mainline dailies of Calcutta �- Ananda Bazar Patrika and Bartaman �� moved the high court, challenging the SEC�s decision. But both petitions were dismissed.

The election commissioner had announced on Thursday that neither camera crew nor journalists would be allowed inside polling booths.

On Friday morning, a writ petition challenging the SEC�s decision was filed on behalf of Ananda Bazar Patrika (ABP) by Bijit Basu and Tapan Banerjee in the court of Justice K.J. Sengupta. The judge told ABP to serve copies of the petition to the respondents and fixed the matter for hearing at 4 pm.

Meanwhile, Bartaman filed a similar petition in the division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Barin Ghosh, pleading that it be treated as a public interest litigation (PIL).

The Bartaman petition was moved on behalf of journalist Prabir Ghosal by BJP MP and lawyer Jalu Mukherjee and Trinamul Congress leader and advocate Kalyan Bannerjee.

The division bench declined to treat the petition as a PIL and rejected it. Chief Justice Mathur remarked that journalists had no right to enter anyone�s bedroom.

When ABP�s writ, moved by advocate Sudipta Sarkar, came up for hearing at 4 pm, Justice Sengupta dismissed it as the division bench had already rejected it earlier.

�My heart is with you but the judicial system is not,� Justice Sengupta told the ABP lawyer.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu told reporters that they had no business inside a polling booth. �Why don�t you collect news, take photographs of the voters and voting arrangements from outside? What will you do inside a booth? Will you cast votes?� demanded Basu.

But deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said the government was opposed to the imposition of such restrictions on polling day but it could not overturn the directive issued by an autonomous body. �It (SEC) neither informed us nor sought our views in this regard. I am surprised,� he added. CPM state secretary Anil Biswas also sided with the media: �Journalists have the right to information and no one can deny them that.�

The Congress, Trinamul Congress and the BJP condemned the SEC�s decision. Trinamul supremo Mamata Banerjee said it was �the CPM�s design to rig the civic elections away from the eyes of the media�.

�Just imagine what the communists will do on poll day,� said state BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan. State Congress vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya said the decision was a blow to democracy. �The CPM plans to capture booths and rig the polls and so it is deliberately keeping the media away,� he said.    

Calcutta, June 23 
The month-long, high-pitched campaign for civic polls 2000 concluded at 3 pm on Friday, with the city reverberating to protests, street-corner meetings and sloganeering.

Trinamul Congress supremo and railway minister Mamata Banerjee led the way by addressing over half-a-dozen meetings, from Salt Lake to remote areas of south Calcutta. She began her day at ward 10, a stone�s throw from Indira Bhavan, chief minister Jyoti Basu�s official residence.

�I have gifted you a good number of trains during my eight-month tenure as railway minister, but what has Bengal�s Rajababu (Basu) given you during his 23-year regime?� she asked her audience.

In south Calcutta, she addressed rallies at Behala, Tollygunge, Bhowanipore and Jadavpur, calling upon the electorate to foil the CPM�s attempts to rig the polls by bringing in �truckloads of hooligans� from neighbouring districts.

As the 3 pm deadline approached, a mad scramble for last-minute campaign meetings was witnessed in Bhowanipore.

Traffic came to a halt in many places of south, central and east Calcutta with the BJP and Shiv Sena activists blocking Beleghata Main Road. They even pelted stones at a car on the Sealdah flyover, disrupting normal flow of traffic. Reports of an assault on BJP candidate Ibrahim Khan in the Kidderpore-Watgunge area led to a series of road blockades. BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan took out a rally in central Calcutta to protest the attack.

From the ruling Left, CPM politburo member Biman Bose and school education minister Kanti Biswas were the star campaigners on the last day. While Bose steered the Front�s campaign in south Calcutta, Biswas, along with Rabin Deb, stormed the city�s eastern fringes. But leaders from other Front constituents, like the RSP, CPI and Forward Bloc were conspicuous by their absence on Friday.

The flop show of the day was reserved for the state Congress. With working president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi away in his home town Raigunj, it was left to Pranab Mukherjee and an ailing Ghani Khan Chowdhury to address a few low-key rallies in central and south Calcutta.

Shop burgled: An electronic goods shop was burgled at Kankurganchi early on Friday. Police said at least four burglars entered the shop by removing the AC machine and decamped with more than Rs 3 lakh, Casio watches, cameras and calculators. No one has been arrested.    

Calcutta, June 23 
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee�s allegation that rebel Trinamul leader Debashis Kumar is part of an �unholy nexus� with realtors engaged in construction work at Mahanirvan Math in south Calcutta, has drawn flak from religious leaders at the math.

Arupananda Maharaj, a senior sanyasi and trustee board member of the math, told The Telegraph: �We are deeply hurt by the baseless allegations which have unnecessarily caused a controversy about the math.�

Kumar, an old Mamata faithful, was denied a Trinamul ticket and is contesting the civic polls as an Independent candidate. He enjoys the �tactical support� of the rebel Trinamul Bachao Committee.

Mamata, while canvassing in south Calcutta, had accused Kumar of obtaining funds for his �extravagant campaign� from promoters involved in work at the math.    

Calcutta, June 23 
The assault on the eardrums continued as campaign cacophony reached a crescendo on Friday. In complete disregard for the decibel ceiling specified in the noise pollution Act, mainline political parties have been blaring slogans and speeches on loudspeakers well beyond the 9 pm deadline slapped by the Pollution Control Board (PCB).

Gitanath Ganguly, special officer appointed by Calcutta High Court to monitor the use of loudspeakers, told The Telegraph, �It is the police who are helping the politicians violate the Act.�

The party cadre doesn�t have much idea about PCB rules either. �Neither my high command, nor any PCB official has told me about the decibel limit,� said Trinamul Congress activist Mahesh Mahapatra during his tour of ward 81. Mahapatra was campaigning in the area in an auto, playing tapes of Mamata Banerjee�s speeches.

�We are not crossing the decibel limit. Before going out for a campaign, police check the volume and we don�t touch the volume nob after that,� said Arup Dutta, another Trinamul canvasser.

The ruling CPM, too, is guilty of flouting norms, using loudspeakers even after 11 pm.

On Wednesday, CPM supporters carried on a meeting in central Calcutta way beyond the time limit fixed by the PCB, with microphones blaring at full volume. A nonchalant party worker said: �Time is running out and we have just a few hours left. So, there is no alternative.�

�The parties don�t even bother to avoid silence zones, like hospitals,� complained Prasanta Mondal, a junior doctor of National Medical College and Hospital.

Ganguly said people are not coming forward to lodge complaints against parties.

�Unless we receive complains, how can I ask the police to take steps?� he asked.    

June 23 
The Durgapur township and greater Durgapur went without power on Friday as Citu activists, supported by Intuc, went on strike at the Durgapur Steel Plant (DSP) and Durgapur Projects Ltd (DPL) to protest the Union government�s decision to shut down six sick central public sector undertakings .

While only 30 employees turned up at DPL, DSP registered an attendance of 27. Hence, the power plant could not be run. In an official release, DSP said the 24-hour strike cost the plant Rs 5 crore.

Although the state-owned DPL was exempted from the purview of the strike, it, too, fell in line. Citu-affiliated DPL employees� union general secretary Joynarayan Chakroborty said: �We had little option but to join the strike as our buyers are mostly CPSUs, including the Mining and Allied Machinery Corporation (MAMC).�

Allied Steel Plant (ASP), however, registered a 51 per cent attendance. Intuc leader Madan Sarker said: �We had an agreement with the Citu that a strike decision has to be taken in a joint meeting, but they failed to honour the pact.�

Citu supporters put up blockades on GT Road during the day, throwing traffic out of gear. Offices and other organisations also remained closed. The DSP, which produces 4,500 tonnes of saleable steel a day, could make only about 2,000 tonnes. Production in the blast furnaces was badly affected, with all three running furnaces put on check blast. Efforts were on to run at least one furnace smoothly.

The steel melting shop, the captive power plant, coke ovens and mills were also affected by poor attendance.

Gold haul: Six persons were arrested on Friday in connection with two dacoities in Calcutta. Gold and silver ornaments, Rs 1 lakh, and a revolver were recovered from them.    

Calcutta, June 23 
The three-and-a-half month-long agitation by the teachers of Jadavpur University was withdrawn on Friday.

At a general-body meeting of the Jadavpur University Teachers� Association (JUTA), it was decided to keep the �movement in abeyance�.

�All teachers who were participating in the movement have been urged to resume duties immediately,� said Tarun Naskar, JUTA general secretary. He, however, clarified that the movement was being put on hold for the moment as the state government had promised to meet some of their demands but had not issued any formal order in this regard.

JUTA had launched an �indefinite agitation� from March 7 demanding upward revision of pay scales and other financial benefits.

Last week, education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty had assured a teachers� delegation that their demands like payment of salary arrears in six equal instalments will be met soon.

According to Naskar, some of the demands, including pushing back retirement age from 60 to 62 years and leave encashment of 300 days, rejected by the government, will also be pursued later.

After the meeting, university registrar Rajat Banerjee said the undergraduate and post-graduate examinations, which had been postponed because of the movement, will be regularised over the next two weeks.    

Agartala, June 23 
One person was killed by militants and over 45 injured in a clash with Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Tripura yesterday.

Police sources said militants of the National Liberation Front of Tripura raided one Surya Debbarma�s house in Anandapur village under Melaghar police station last night and forced him to accompany them.

After travelling a short distance, the rebels shot dead Debbarma and threw the bullet-riddled body into a roadside ditch. Melaghar police recovered the body a few hours later.

In another incident, at least 45 non-tribals were injured when a group of CRPF personnel deployed in Chakmaghat launched an allegedly unprovoked attack on them. Twenty-five of the injured are undergoing treatment at the Teliamura Hospital.

Sources said the incident took place after some tribals went to the 118 CRPF camp in the area and complained that non-tribal traders were refusing to sell them anything. A group of CRPF personnel immediately went to the Chakmaghat market and assaulted non-tribals who had gathered there. Taking advantage of the melee, some tribals began looting shops in the market. The situation was finally brought under control by the police.

Seven CRPF jawans and three police personnel were also injured in the clash. Sources said tribal bamboo dealers had earlier refused to transact business with non-tribals, saying militants had banned interaction between the two communities.

Over 500 non-tribals today congregated in front of the Chakmaghat deputy collector�s office and demanded removal of the CRPF camp from the area.

Accusing CRPF personnel of lacking courage to take on militants, a non-tribal leader said a Tripura State Rifles unit should be deployed in Chakmaghat.

Plea to rebels

Tripura Governor Lt. Gen. K.M. Seth (retd) today urged the militants to negotiate with the government to solve their problems and help the authorities develop the backward state, reports UNI.

Immediately after the swearing-in ceremony at the Raj Bhavan in Agartala, the Governor appealed to the insurgents to come forward to the negotiating table. No problem can be solved by force or by the gun, Gen. Seth said.    

Imphal, June 23 
Union minister of law, justice and company affairs Ram Jethmalani has turned down Manipur chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh�s request to consider state advocate-general T. Nandakumar Singh for appointment as a judge in the Gauhati High Court.

Jethmalani said Nandakumar Singh could be considered for appointment as a judge only if the Chief Justice of the High Court made a proposal in this regard.

According to rules laid down by the Supreme Court in 1993, a panel of the three seniormost judges of any High Court, including the Chief Justice, is authorised to recommend such appointments. It was in August last year that Nipamacha Singh proposed an increase in the number of judges in the Imphal bench of the Gauhati High Court.

However, Jethmalani ruled out any increase, saying the approved strength of the Gauhati High Court was 17 permanent judges and two additional judges.

He said the number was fixed in 1987 after taking into account the relevant guidelines, workload and other factors.

The strength was again reviewed on the basis of �average institution and disposal of main cases� between 1993 and 1997 and the number of �main cases� pending till September 1998, Jethmalani said. Official sources said the �average institution of main cases� in the Imphal bench of the High Court between 1993 and 1997 was 1,607, as against 1,916 in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.

The number of pending cases in the Imphal bench till September 1998 was 921, as against 549 in the four other northeastern states having High Court benches.

Nipamacha Singh reportedly suggested an increase in the number of judges in the Imphal bench as the number of cases registered with it was equivalent to the combined workload of the benches in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.

However, the Union law minister observed that the average rate of disposal of cases per year by each judge in the Gauhati High Court between 1993 and 1997 was 872, as against a national average of 1,363 during the same period.

Jethmalani said the required strength of judges in the Gauhati High Court worked out to 12, while the approved strength was 19. Sources said Manipur intensified its demand for an additional judge after Tripura was allotted three judges despite the fact that the number of cases handled by the Imphal bench was much higher. The Imphal bench comprises two judges at present.    

Ranchi, June 23 
Ranchi police detained two foreign nationals for interrogation after one of them presented fake US traveller�s cheque for encashment at the State Bank of India�s main branch here.

The fake cheque was presented by Elena Jones, 40, a resident of Swaziland, South Africa. The other foreigner was identified as Joshai Amoka of Brazil.

Sources said Jones had landed in India on May 30. She arrived here yesterday with her newly-acquired boyfriend Amoka. They checked in at the same hotel in the Doranda area. Jones claimed that she had met Amoka at the New Delhi railway station and they had since travelled together.

Though the SBI�s Doranda branch is located next to the hotel where Jones and Amoka had put up, they travelled another five km to the heart of Ranchi to encash the $500 traveller�s cheque.

Bank officials became suspicious when Jones� signature failed to match the original on the cheque. They got in touch with the American Express bank in Delhi from where the cheque had purportedly been issued.

Saying they had not issued any such cheque, the American Express further informed the SBI that some traveller�s cheques, bearing similar identification numbers, had been stolen from a Mumbai branch. FIRs had been lodged in this regard, they added.

A close examination of the traveller�s cheque revealed that subtle changes had been made on the serial numbers on the cheque. SBI officials got in touch with a police mobile party stationed outside the bank premises who took Jones in custody. Jones� companion was later taken into custody from the hotel room. An FIR has been lodged.

This is the second time in less than a year that fake foreign traveller�s cheques have been presented here for encashment. Last year, another Swaziland resident, N. Dannie, and three others were arrested for trying to defraud the SBI�s Ranchi branch with fake and stolen traveller�s cheques.

Dannie and his gang had successfully encashed fake traveller�s cheques worth $11,000 before they were nabbed.

Orissa tension

A woman poured hot oil on a sadhu after a quarrel broke out between them over Christian tenants in Orissa�s Kandhamal district yesterday, reports our Berhampur correspondent.

Police sources said the sadhu, Paramananda Giri, a resident of Mandalapadar village under Tumudibandha police station, was allegedly an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activist. He has been admitted to hospital with severe burn injuries. Though a case has been filed, no arrests have been made.    


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