Last round gets under way
Junk carrier floats again on Putin visit-eve
Basu threatens to sue railways
Atal to rule from hospital bed
Bihar judges for Balkan polls
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, Sept. 28: 
Tides swelling up to six and a half feet crashed into the banks of the Hooghly, sweeping away an earthen barrier to enter the south-western part of the city.

In the afternoon, the tide broke through the 50-year-old bulwark � eight feet wide and 10 feet high � and gushed into Metiabruz. Over a 100 families had to be evacuated as nearby Wasimnagar, Ayubnagar and Kanchannagar quickly went under water.

But officials sounded an alert, asking residents in low-lying riverside areas and canal zones to brace for three waves of buffeting by high tides within 24 hours from early Friday morning till Saturday. The water level will reach even higher in these tides.

Disaster management was put in top gear � frequent loudhailer warnings were issued, hospitals readied and pumps cranked up.

�Our engineers warned people against the big tide tonight along the stretch of Hooghly�s bank from Bagbazar to Metiabruz and along either banks of Tolly�s Nullah,� said municipal commissioner Debashis Som.

At Metiabruz today, civic officials watched helplessly as the water rolled in with great force. �All attempts to build a protection of sorts at the breach-head with sandbags failed, and the water quickly became chest-deep,� one of them said.

Tolly�s Nullah swelled with the tide. It spilled over its banks on a larger scale than on Wednesday, flooding Presidency Jail, Watgunge, Orphangunge, Kalighat, Tollygunge Road, Chetla Road and Sadananda Road in south Calcutta. The lower regions of the jail were under three feet of water.

Flooding was much more intense than on Wednesday at Bagbazar, Sovabazar, Chitpur, Cossipore, Baranagar and B.T. Road in the northern part of the city.

Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee waded through waist-deep water from her residence on Harish Chatterjee Street with her supporters on her way to monitor rescue work in the flooded areas of nearby Kalighat and Balaram Basu Ghat. Mamata and her team of Trinamul volunteers rescued more than 200 people.

Spearheaded by senior CPM leaders Prasanta Sur and Rabin Deb, members of the party�s youth wing were working along Tolly�s Nullah.

Last midnight, the tidal bore swept over the banks of the Tolly�s Nullah, inundating the area around the sanctum sanctorum of the Kalighat temple.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said that this is the first time large parts of the city were flooded without rains. He said this has happened because there has been no effective dredging of the Hooghly, Tolly�s Nullah or the other drainage canals since Independence.

�Where has the money allotted annually for the maintenance of the canals gone?� Mukherjee asked, taking advantage of the fact that the civic corporation was under Left Front control until recently.

Rajib Deb, member of mayor�s council in charge of drainage and sewerage, said that between Bagbazar and Chetla, there are 35 large drain pipes opening out on the Hooghly.

�The valves fitted at their mouths to prevent tide water from entering the pipes have rusted and broken. The earlier CMC did not bother to replace these valves in the last 20 years,� said Deb.    

New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
A drive to dump on India the Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, once on its way to the junkyard after a fire in the engine room, has been revived in the run-up to President Vladimir Putin�s visit.

Critics of the deal said the carrier had been put up for sale as scrap in 1996 as the fire had severely damaged the engine room. Gorshkov was to be initially sold to India for $200 million.

Later, in an intriguing twist, an agreement was reached to hand over the carrier �free�. But like all free offers, a few riders were attached.

Catch One: Delhi will have to pick up the tab for repairs and spares � estimated to cost all of $600 million. Catch Two: The aircraft complement to go with the carrier will have to be developed by a Russian company, MiG-MAPO, whose original team of designers has left.

The deal has reached the last lap of decision-making in Delhi, fuelling fears that the government would come under pressure from the Kremlin team accompanying Putin to push it through. The �sale� of Gorshkov, along with a fleet of MiG 29Ns, is expected to fetch a few billions of dollars for foreign exchange-starved Russia.

Those who have waved the red flag at the carrier include the recently rehabilitated BJP vice-president Madan Lal Khurana. He had quietly lodged a strong complaint on the proposed purchase with the Prime Minister�s Office earlier this year.

The letter, urging Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee not to be tricked into buying the controversial carrier, had been kept under wraps by the Prime Minister�s Office. Neither is Khurana talking about it.

Khurana had said in his letter: �I have always been very hesitant in raising issues touching defence matters, but keeping in view the national interest and need for transparency, particularly in matters relating to deals, my conscience dictates me to share with you certain information of grave public importance...��

He had confided in the letter, described as �top secret�, that he was �in receipt of some sensitive information from highly placed sources�. Khurana believes, as do his highly placed sources, that the purchase of the aircraft carrier would �make the country poorer by $4 billion�.

Khurana�s appended note pointed out that the Indian Air Force�s experience with the MiG 29�s engine had been �terrible, requiring major overhauls too frequently. The Russians have spent colossal sums but were never able to build a suitable aircraft for operating from a carrier.�

Khurana reminded the Prime Minister that the company shortlisted for the aircraft complement has �not been able to upgrade the simple MiG 21. It is three years behind schedule and is delaying delivery of the two prototypes to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited on purpose so that Indians cannot bag orders from the numerous other countries�.

Khurana has alleged that the order for an indigenous aircraft carrier to be built at the shipyard in Kochi has been delayed �from year to year so that the requirement for the Gorshkov can be pursued by a consortium of arms dealers, moles in the naval headquarters and the defence ministry and the Russian arms lobby/manufacturers�.

The PMO said the defence minister has already instituted a an inquiry into deals struck over the last 10 years. The defence ministry declined to comment.    

Calcutta, Sept. 28: 
Blazing up at charges that his government was to blame for the sorry flood situation in Bengal, Jyoti Basu today breathed fire at Mamata Banerjee and threatened to sue the Eastern Railways for putting out an �objectionable� advertisement.

While Mamata had yesterday said the floods were �man-made� to divert attention from its clamour for President�s rule in Bengal, the railways had appealed to flood victims not to hamper restoration of railway tracks, saying: �We understand your sentiments and resentment for relief not having been provided to you by the state government.�

Taking strong exception to the ad, a furious Basu said the government would file a case against the railways. �This is not only unethical but also unprecedented,� he said after a meeting with deputy Buddhadev Bhattacharya and lawyer-MP Somnath Chatterjee. He also directed chief secretary Manish Gupta to seek a clarification from the railways� general manager.

The chief minister also went hammer and tongs at Mamata: �Is she mad? I have no words to counter her irrational statement. These words can only be uttered by an inferior politician,� he said.

�Lakhs are suffering in the floods and relief cannot be reached to many of them. Is this the time to play dirty politics or rush to the people�s aid?� he continued. �She has lowered herself to such depths that I feel constrained to comment on her.�

Some respite came Basu�s way in the form of observations by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who said after an aerial survey that she did not �see any evidence that the floods were man-made�. �Mamata Banerjee will be in a better position to say,� she said.

As news of Basu�s threat filtered out of Writers� Buildings, Eastern Railways� general manager I.I.M.S Rana said the error was �clerical� and a revised ad would be brought out tomorrow.

Claiming the railways were being �misconstrued�, Rana told a press conference: �It was just an appeal to the people not to attack railway workers trying to restore the tracks.�

But an adamant Chatterjee said there was no way the railways could disown responsibility for the �scurrilous observation�. �The officers behind this move will not be spared. They have spent public money for political gain,� he said.

Bhattacharya gave the railways two days to rectify the ad. �If they do not do so, we will fight them to the last,� he said.

Basu-PM meet claim

The Forward Bloc has claimed that Basu has been summoned by the Prime Minister for talks on Bengal�s deteriorating law and order. Forward Bloc leader Debabrata Biswas said in Delhi the meeting had been fixed for Saturday.    

New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will not nominate a deputy to shoulder his responsibilities when he will be hospitalised in Mumbai.

Though statute books do not say so, earlier prime ministers had usually assigned a number two to preside over Cabinet meetings when they were away from the country or had not been able to attend work for a length of time.

This was to ensure that decisions could be taken in case of an emergency, said a former Cabinet secretary who did not wish to be quoted.

But Vajpayee has all along refused to name a number two, whether during his foreign trips or his Manali jaunts. Top government sources said the Prime Minister is unwilling to appoint one even for his period of hospitalisation in Mumbai.

What happens, then, in case of a crisis? �The Cabinet can meet on its own and then arrange by consensus on who should preside over the emergent situation and take decisions,� said the former Cabinet secretary.

The government sources pointed out that while prime ministers in the past have been away from Delhi for relatively long periods, no one had to be hospitalised for a week or even more. �This is a unique situation without convention or precedent,� they said. �If an emergent meeting has to be called, it will be held in Mumbai and the entire Cabinet will go over.�

Most of Vajpayee�s predecessors had nominated deputies in their absence. Jawaharlal Nehru had Sardar Patel and Gulzarilal Nanda, Y.B. Chavan stood in for Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi had named P.V. Narasimha Rao and Rao had Pranab Mukherjee.

Conventionally, the minister perceived as the �senior-most� was asked to fill in for the prime minister. But it was not necessarily the minister in charge of home affairs, considered the second-most �important� post.

�It is not a constitutional requirement,� stressed the former Cabinet secretary, �but a matter of convenience.� The practice is for the Prime Minister to leave a note to the Cabinet secretary, naming the colleague who is authorised to call a Cabinet meeting in his absence. �Normally Cabinet meetings are not held in the Prime Minister�s absence,� he added.

Vajpayee has departed from tradition. Only once before, during the controversy over imposing Article 356 in Bihar, had he faxed a note from abroad authorising home minister L.K. Advani to hold a Cabinet meeting.

Asked to explain Vajpayee�s reluctance to have a number two, BJP sources said: �There are a lot of problems.�

One of them is whether to name a deputy from the BJP or from one of the allies. The other is Vajpayee�s dilemma of having to choose between Advani or someone like Jaswant Singh, who, sources admitted, would be his �personal preference�.

A section in the BJP felt that with Vajpayee strengthening his grip over the party and the Sangh and Advani no longer calling the shots, he was �unwilling� to bestow on the home minister a larger role that would give him elbow space to manoeuvre himself in a commanding position again.    

New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
Coming from a party with its base in the rigging fields of Bihar, they should know. Two Samata Party leaders, who had gone to Yugoslavia to monitor the presidential elections last Sunday � one of the murkiest in recent history � gave a clean chit today to the poll organisers.

Samata MP from Munger Brahmanand Mandal and party national secretary Clifford Martis were part of a nine-member all-party Indian delegation to the Balkan country.

President Slobodan Milosevic is preparing for a run-off vote, still riding rough-shod over the claim that Opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica has won outright. But the Samata leaders said that India and Bihar had many lessons to learn from the Yugoslav polls and slammed the �biased Western media� for misreporting.

�The fairness can be judged from the fact that Milosevic polled only 40.23 per cent of votes in the elections to the presidency as against the 48.22 polled by his rival Kostunica,� a team member said.

Educated by the foreign trip, the Samata leaders were perhaps trying to score a domestic point. The party has consistently alleged that polls in Bihar are heavily rigged and hold that the main reason behind the repeated victories of Laloo Yadav in the state.

Though leaders from other parties were present, the Samata chose to hold a press conference by itself to announce that elections in Yugoslavia were fair. Apart from the two Samata members of the delegation, the press meet was also addressed by Samata chief Jaya Jaitley and spokesperson Shambhu Srivastav.

Mandal said unlike in India, ballotboxes in the Yugoslav poll � widely alleged to have been manipulated by Milosevic, even though he did not get the upper hand � were opened within five minutes after the voting and the ballot papers were instantly counted. �In our country, the ballot boxes are sealed and not opened before one or two days. The process is not only a waste of time but increases possibilities of mischief,� Mandal said.

He added that there was hardly any police presence during the elections and the people also appeared tension-free, which was not the case in our country.

Claiming the polls were free of rigging, the Samata criticised the role of the US, the BBC and the CNN in portraying the elections and accused them of �trying to influence� the elections in Yugoslavia.    



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