Thackeray Sena quits Atal govt
Ship sinks off city, 15 await rescue
Two women swept under Bihar’s crash bias
Mother and son in robbery bid
Calcutta weather

July 19 
The epicentre of the Mumbai drama enacted by Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray today shifted to Delhi with all three ministers from the party resigning from the government.

The move is being seen a last-gasp attempt by the Sena to armtwist the BJP-led government into preventing Thackeray’s arrest over the 1992-93 Mumbai riots. The Prime Minister has not accepted the resignations of the ministers — Manohar Joshi, Suresh Prabhu and Balasaheb Vikhe Patil.

The Bombay Stock Exchange sensex plunged 118 points immediately after the announcement.

The Congress-led Democratic Front government in Maharashtra pushed the Sena further back to the wall by withdrawing security personnel attached to several top leaders. The government argued that the Sena leaders were not under any threat.

In Delhi, the Sena ministers said they will not join the government and were awaiting further orders from Thackeray. The ministers, however, made it clear they will not pull out of the National Democratic Alliance. Joshi said the resignations were to “stop the illegal action of the Maharashtra government”.

As security forces took up positions across India’s financial amid rumours that Thackeray’s imminent arrest, the Congress urged the Centre to deploy the army to prevent Sainiks from sparking violence. The Rapid Action Force fanned out across Sena bastions, including Dadar, Parel and Lalbag.

Though the Sena, which has demanded the dismissal of the Maharashtra government, has put Atal Behari Vajpayee in a piquant situation, sources said the Prime Minister has so far not given any indication that he will bail out Thackeray.

Vajpayee’s image of a liberal and no-nonsense politician does not allow him any elbow room to soft-pedal the issue as Thackeray’s militant profile and his public threat that the country will be in flames if he was arrested have not gone down well with the people.

Vajpayee has discussed the situation with home minister L.K. Advani and is likely to speak to Thackeray over phone tonight.

Sources said Vajpayee is also likely to talk to chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Nationalist Congress chief Sharad Pawar to ensure the situation does not snowball.

A Sena delegation led by Joshi met Vajpayee this evening and apprised him of the “gravity” of the situation in Maharashtra.

After the hour-long meeting, Anand Geete, Sena leader in the Lok Sabha, said: “The Prime Minister told us that Thackeray will not be arrested.” But a PMO aide said Vajpayee gave no such assurance, but only a “patient hearing”. Joshi is flying to Mumbai tonight to apprise Thackeray of his talks with Vajpayee. He also met Advani.

Earlier, Joshi told reporters that he and his colleagues were resigning as they felt “uncomfortable” with being in the ministry because the state government appeared to have decided to arrest “my leader”.

Police commissioner M.N. Singh said they had not yet decided whether to chargesheet Thackeray first or arrest him. “The government ordered his prosecution, not his arrest,’’ Singh said. A police official said the department needed the government’s nod to arrest Thackeray. “The government has not made any decision yet,” DCP M.B. Gaur said.    

Calcutta, July 19 
A cargo vessel with over 20 crew members sank this morning on its way to Calcutta from Singapore.

Six crew members of the ship, Prime Value, bearing a Panama flag, were rescued, but at least another 15 were missing till late tonight.

The ship capsized after hitting a sandbank at the mouth of the Hooghly, about 15 nautical miles from Haldia port, Calcutta Port Trust sources said.

The location of the 15 missing sailors was not known, but the sources said they were on two inflatable life rafts, indicating that they should be safe.

All ships coming into Calcutta port are guided by pilot vessels, but Prime Value, carrying 314 containers of various cargoes, appeared to have strayed from the narrow navigable channel. Port sources claimed that the ship had ignored the warnings of the pilot vessel.

The rescued sailors, fished out of deep waters, said the crew could not fathom the draft of the channel. They admitted that, in poor visibility, the ship might have moved away from the navigable channel and hit the sandbank. After running into the sandbank, the ship did not sink completely, but remained stuck there. Parts of it were visible above the waterline.

Haldia port received the first distress call from the ship around 9.30 am. Even the coast guard picked up the call. Six of the largely Filipino crew were rescued by a coast guard ship Rama Devi. Later, two more rescue vessels, Sangeeta and Ravindra, were despatched to the spot.

Rescue operations went on throughout the day without further success as it was raining heavily and visibility was poor.

The Calcutta port authorities were trying to deploy smaller vessels in rescue work and are expected to get the help of a coast guard aircraft tomorrow.    

Patna, July 19 
Even in death, they were discriminated against. The bodies of two women sweepers were identified this morning, 48 hours after the killer plane crashed into a government housing estate.

For two days, the bodies had been lying in a damp corner of the morgue at Patna Medical College Hospital, unclaimed and uncared for. They were finally identified this morning as the charred and mangled remains of Asha Devi and Butni Devi, municipal employees who were sweeping the roads of Gardanibagh when death struck.

Amid the chaos, the women were forgotten. The bodies could not be identified as the broomsticks and sweeping tools used by the women were buried along with the belongings from the three houses that were flattened by the crashing plane.

Their torsos were badly burnt and the heads were reduced to lumps of flesh and bone, making identification difficult.

Civic officials said Asha Devi and Butni Devi, aged 35 and 40, were residents of Yaarpur in Patna district. Both were conscientious workers and regularly reported for duty at 5 am.

They did so on Monday and were asked to go to Gardanibagh, home to several top government officials.

“We had no idea that they had also been buried in the rubble. We thought they must have gone back home,” said a municipal officer.

Worried and fearing the worst, the women’s relatives visited the hospital this morning and identified the bodies from the brass rings that were still on the fingers of their feet.

“My mother often goes to a relative’s house from work. When she did not return on the night of July 17, we realised she had not done so and we panicked,” said Butni Devi’s daughter Shanti. The bodies were cremated later in the day by the women’s neighbours.

The women’s families have been given Rs 5,000 as compensation, a far cry from the Rs 7.5 lakh announced by the Central government for the relatives of those who died in the crash.

The two poor women had no one to champion their cause. They were not even mentioned by a group of 1,000 protesters from Gardanibagh who hit the streets of Patna this morning demanding hefty compensation.

But the women were forgotten. Their names did not figure in the list of the deceased. Only a state government report mentioned them.

Patna district magistrate Amit Khare said the women’s families ought to get compensation before anyone else did. Chief minister Rabri Devi directed the state welfare department to ensure that an adequate amount was paid to the two families. A welfare department officer said the women’s relatives would be given the dues they would have got after retirement.

“We are also planning to give jobs to their dependants,” the official said.    

Calcutta, July 19 
A woman accountant of a company, her son and another youth were arrested for committing a dacoity at gunpoint at the company’s India Exchange Place office this afternoon.

The three were caught red-handed when they were escaping from the share brokers’ office with the money, totalling about Rs 2 lakh.

The 50-year-old woman, Padma Krishnamurthy, hatched the plan.

“She had involved two others and she was caught immediately,” deputy commissioner of police Narayan Ghosh said.

“They were fleeing from the office with the money, brandishing revolvers,” he said. Her Maruti, which was to be used as the getaway vehicle, was also seized from the spot.

The deputy commissioner of police was tipped off by the owner of the company last Thursday that this group would be committing the dacoity. He became suspicious of the woman’s activities after her telephone conversation was overheard by an employee at the company’s Lansdowne Road office.

She was heard telling somebody that she would inform “them” when a huge amount would be withdrawn by the company from the bank, Ghosh said. She knew the financial dealings of the company as she has been handling the accounts of the firm for the past few years.

The money is sent to the company’s India Exchange Place office after it is withdrawn from a bank opposite the Lalbazar police headquarters. Plainclothed policemen were on vigil near the office and at the bank.

The detectives were shadowing the employees who went to the bank everyday and came back with the money.

The detectives were also informed about a green Maruti used by the woman and parked near the India Exchange Place office for the past few days. “We found this strange, as she sits at the Lansdowne Road office,” the detectives said.

On Wednesday, an amount of Rs 27 lakh was supposed to have been withdrawn from the bank. The woman, who knew that such a huge amount was being taken out, assigned her associates to follow the employees.

Senior detectives of the anti-dacoity section, led by officer-in-charge B. K. Saha and additional OC A. Haq were deployed to follow the employees and the car in which they were travelling.

Armed with his service revolver, Ghosh himself took up position along with AC (DD) Kanai Dutta near India Exchange Place around 3 pm after getting to know that Rs 27 lakh was being withdrawn. But the money could not be withdrawn as there was only Rs 2 lakh left at the end of the day.

The two employees came back to the office after withdrawing the money. The two youth, including Krishnamurthy’s son Rajan, immediately pounced on the jute bag containing the amount. They then ran out towards the car, brandishing revolvers.

The detectives who were nearby chased and caught them. The money was recovered and the firearms seized. “Some others might have been operating behind the scene. We are trying to find out if the gang members are involved in other crimes,” the DC (DD) said.    

Temperature: Maximum: 30.1°C (-2) Minimum: 24.7°C (-1) RAINFALL: 10.8 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 98.6%, Minimum: 78% Today: The weatherman predicts light rain in some parts. Sunset: 6.21pm Sunrise: 5.05 am    

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