Arms pile in poll-set Bengal
Maruti revs up to drive out of govt garage
Clean-up debut with double suspension
Court thwarts Bush victory speech
Women end birth control silence
Dynasty Delhi in memorial mix-up
Calcutta weather

Chinsurah, Nov. 18: 
Police claimed to have dug up one of the largest stockpiles of arms in the blood-smeared run-up to the Assembly elections, recovering nine rocket launchers, three rifles, four revolvers and pistols, 109 rounds of ammunition and 40 live bombs from a deserted area in Arambagh last night.

Sankha Biswas, officer-in-charge of Arambagh police station, said three persons, who he claimed were Trinamul Congress workers, have been arrested. Massive raids continued throughout the day in search of other people suspected to be involved in the arms smuggling.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee asserted that the men arrested were Trinamul supporters. The party is trying to �control certain areas with the help of criminals and firearms, but they will not succeed�, Bhattacharjee said in Writers� Buildings.

The Trinamul rubbished the claim that party workers had a hand in the arms racket. �To my mind, it is a calculated design to malign the party on the eve of the Assembly elections slated for 2001,� Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy said.

The muscle-flexing continued with Mamata Banerjee describing as �hoax� Bhattacharjee�s call for peace, saying it was time for �direct action� against the CPM in violence-torn Midnapore. (See Page 8)

N. Ramesh Babu, Hooghly superintendent of police, said the arms were smuggled to Arambagh from neighbouring Midnapore district. �Preliminary investigation reveals that the arms were being stored for future clashes between CPM and Trinamul supporters. There has been a sharp rise in the number of clashes between the two parties in Arambagh over the past few months,� he said.

Babu said the seizure was made following a statement by one Mohammed Imanuddin, who was picked up last evening by plainclothesmen deployed near Arambagh bus stop.

Suspicious of his movements, the policemen confronted him and recovered a country-made rifle. Imanuddin was taken to the police station, and after hours of interrogation, he disclosed that a huge stock of arms was buried at a deserted location in Soprajor, 16 km from Arambagh.

The police then told Imanuddin to lead them to the place. The arms were wrapped in several polythene bags and buried deep inside.

Stunned by the recovery, the police launched raids on anti-social dens around the area, and arrested two persons with criminal records. They were later identified as Seikh Tamas Ahmed and Seikh Siraj.

�We are still on the trail of Abdul Rauf. We believe he must have been involved in this case as he used to receive arms from the smugglers,� Biswas said.    

New Delhi, Nov. 18: 
The government today formally decided to sell its stake in Maruti Udyog Ltd, the country�s largest carmaker with a turnover of Rs 8,000 crore.

The proposal has been in the air for quite sometime ever since the government decided to divest its holdings in state-owned projects in non-strategic areas.

The government has appointed a committee of top bureaucrats to negotiate the modalities for the sale of its 50 per cent stake in the company to Suzuki Motor Company of Japan, its equal partner in the venture.

The committee has been asked to submit its report to the Cabinet within 15 days. The negotiations have become necessary because of a clause in the joint venture agreement that enjoins the government to obtain the Japanese company�s �written consent� before it sells its stake.

The committee of secretaries, which is likely to be headed by the Cabinet secretary and have the secretaries for expenditure and heavy industries as members, has been authorised to discuss five options with the Japanese partner.

These are: Sell the entire government stake to Suzuki Motor

n Sell the stake to a third party whom Suzuki finds acceptable (General Motors of the US, which is in talks to double its stake in Suzuki Motor to 20 per cent, has been mentioned as a possible buyer.)

Offer the shares to the public

Sell the stake to financial institutions/mutual funds,

Sell both Suzuki�s and the government�s holdings to a third party. In either of these cases, the government will divest its shareholding in Maruti and the buyer or buyers can only be those whom Suzuki finds acceptable.

The Cabinet committee on disinvestment (CCD), which met here today, also decided to seek fresh bids for Indian Petrochemicals Ltd (IPCL) after hiving off the Baroda unit of the petrochemical major to Indian Oil Corporation. It also cleared the sale of its 74 per cent stake in fertiliser major Paradeep Phosphates Ltd to a strategic buyer.

However, the decision to sell the government stake in Maruti Udyog is likely to attract the greatest criticism. Detractors of the move � both from the opposition and within the ranks of the BJP � have dubbed it as a sellout designed to help Suzuki gain full control over the company which revolutionised the automobile industry after it began production in December 1983.

Maruti Udyog is Suzuki Motor�s most successful overseas venture and it has been trying to establish full control over it.

With Parliament reconvening next Monday a lot of heat is expected to be generated. But Parliament cannot pass any measure to block the sale of individual PSUs. It can either legislate on the broader issue of PSU selloff or merely kick up a storm.

The only discordant note in the Maruti�s selloff at today�s meeting was sounded by the ministry of heavy industries which argued that the sale should be delayed till a new automobile policy was in place. However, the other ministries felt the formulation of an auto policy had little relevance to this decision.

Hinduja bid

Law, not morality, would be the deciding factor, disinvestment minister Arun Shourie said when asked if the Hindujas, chargesheeted in the Bofors case, would be allowed to bid for Air-India and Indian Airlines, adds UNI.    

Calcutta, Nov. 18: 
Cracking down for the first time in 24 years on senior bureaucrats facing corruption charges, the West Bengal government has issued suspension orders against two IAS officers.

The penal action has been taken against Biman Pande, secretary in the state Election Commission, and Sunil Oberoi, joint secretary in the agricultural marketing department, on charges of misuse of funds.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said he had signed the suspension order on November 16. Bhattcharjee said the order was part of his commitment to cleanse the administration. Since it came to power, the Left Front government has rarely confronted employees on corruption charges or initiated action against them.

The chief minister had told The Telegraph in an interview published today that the government was planning a string of steps to weed out corruption and make its employees responsive to popular expectations.

Bhattacharjee said today the government would soon introduce the Lokpal Bill.

�We are committed to introducing the Bill in the state so that charges levelled against any public figure, including the chief minister and other ministers, could be investigated,� he added.

The two officials have been suspended on recommendations sent to the government by the state vigilance commission.

�Both have been charged with financial irregularities and will remain suspended till the full inquiry is completed,� a senior member of the chief minister�s secretariat said.

Sources said the two have been accused of defalcation of funds when they were posted at the Administrative Training Institute at Salt Lake.

�The two cannot disown responsibility when funds totalling Rs 8 lakh was misappropriated at the Administrative Training Institute,� said an official.

Pande was also involved in an unseemly incident at the state government Circuit House on Hungerford Street last month. Police had registered a case against him.

Pande said tonight that he was being falsely implicated. Oberoi, on the other hand, remained unavailable for comment till midnight.

The suspensions have not gone down well with a section of IAS officers. �Look, these officers could have been placed on the compulsory waiting list till the full inquiry was over,� an officer said. But the chief minister had made it clear that the government would act tough to tone up the administration.

Bhattacharjee had said the government would also target shirkers among its heavily-unionised employees.    

Washington, Nov. 18: 
For the third time since the presidential elections 11 days ago, Republican George W. Bush prepared to deliver a victory statement on Saturday, but was thwarted by courts which froze final results until Monday afternoon.

In a sweeping order which took Democrat Al Gore�s camp by surprise, Florida�s Supreme Court stopped the state�s chief electoral officer from certifying final results and ordered manual recounts in counties to continue. This was more than what Gore had asked for: he had merely gone to the higher court appealing a circuit judge�s decision that the electoral officer was within her rights in not including hand counted results in Florida�s final tally.

In another another blow to Bush, the Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta, Georgia, threw out a Republican petition urging it to stop manual recounts in Florida�s counties. The federal court said �states have the primary authority to determine the manner of appointing presidential electors�.

Bush who hoped to sieze the initiative from Democratic rival Al Gore after the circuit judge cleared the electoral officer of wrongdoing, had also planned a news conference tomorrow to announce the transition from president Bill Clinton. The Texas governor, who has been in virtual seclusion for 10 days at his ranch, returned to the state capital, Austin, on Saturday evening for a celebratory dinner in anticipation of victory, where he and his wife were joined by their twin daughters, running mate Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne.

But tonight, it was Gore�s turn to celebrate. �We need to get a fair and accurate count to resolve this election�, Gore said in a brief statement before reporters at his official residence here. �The American people want to make certain that every vote counts, and that every vote is counted, fairly and accurately�.

Encouraged by the court decisions, Miami-Dade, Florida�s most populous county, joined Palm Beach and Boward in undertaking a manual recount of votes. With this, a quarter of Florida�s six million votes cast on November 7 are being physically recounted.

Meanwhile, the counting of overseas postal ballots encountered difficulties with rival Republican and Democratic observers raising a volley of objections to each ballot. At the time of going to press more than 1,000 postal votes had been invalidated on technical grounds.

Although the Florida Supreme Court has set Monday afternoon for a hearing, there is no certainty that the outcome of the presidential election will be decided thereafter. Another petition is pending before a state court asking for a repoll in Palm Beach County. Reflecting the uncertainty surrounding the outcome in Florida, Republican observers fanned out in the state�s 67 counties during the weekend in case the courts ordered a manual recount all over Florida. Former President Jimmy Carter who has supervised numerous elections across the globe since his retirement gave vent to the popular disappointment over the wreckage left by the undecided poll. �It is very bitter and highly partisan, and it is really a tragedy�, he said.

In deciding to hear the petition on Monday, instead of Saturday on an emergency basis, the Supreme Court was being sensitive to public opinion. Tallahassee, Florida�s capital and seat of the Supreme Court, is the venue for a popular annual football match on Saturday and the judges did not want any distractions from football by having a weekend hearing. Hundreds of journalists covering the court proceedings have been thrown out of their hotels in Tallahassee, which were booked by football fans for the weekend, months in advance.    

New Delhi, Nov. 18: 
More and more Muslim women are showing interest in family planning, though religious barrier continues to account for the slow rate of contraceptive use among them.

According to the National Health Family Survey (NHFS-2), about 25 per cent women talk about family planning with their husbands or female relatives or friends, but Muslim women are ahead of their Hindu and Christian counterparts in holding open discussions with their husbands. The Sikh community appears to be most liberal with more than 40 per cent women consulting their husbands.

Contraceptive use among Hindus (49 per cent) is higher than Muslims (37 per cent), but lower compared to other communities like Christians, Sikhs and Jains. The use of the pill, the most convenient birth control method for women, is highest among Muslims.

�Since the last survey (NHFS-1), contraceptive prevalence has increased for all religious groups but the largest increase has been for Buddhists/neo-Buddhists and Muslims,� the NHFS-2 says.

The Muslim women�s preference for contraception is significant as their exposure to family planning campaigns was low. �Only 57 per cent Muslim women surveyed said they had heard of family planning through media compared with 70-90 of Sikh, Christian and Buddhists,� the report said.

Muslim men, however, continue to shun contraceptives. Less than one per cent of them (0.8 per cent) use condoms. The nation-wide use of condoms is poor, too, at three per cent.

The survey highlights that the onus of family planning is primarily on women. Female sterilisation is the favourite contraceptive method with 34 per cent of women opting for it.

�Sterilisation continues to be the mainstay of the family planning programmes in all except in a few North-east states. The method mix in Andhra Pradesh continues to be highly skewed with 96 per cent of users sterilised. In all southern states as well as in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan, 80-90 per cent of users have adopted sterilisation,� the survey said. It also pointed at the other extreme in Delhi, Punjab and the North-east where sterilisation accounted for 32-46 per cent.

Only 60 per cent of Indian women are aware of �traditional methods� of family planning such as withdrawal and rhythm against 99 per cent knowledge about one of the �modern methods� like the pill, IUD, female sterilisation, male sterilisation and condoms.

The withdrawal and rhythm methods are most popular in eastern India and in the Northeast. Eighteen per cent of those in West Bengal practise these methods against the national average of five per cent. �Traditional methods are used most in West Bengal, Assam, Manipur, Sikkim and Goa where 10-19 per cent of currently married women use them,� the survey said.

The NHFS wants policy makers to launch an awareness campaign for couples who opt for sterilisation before adopting any temporary method.    

New Delhi, Nov. 18: 
Date: November 14, 2000. Occasion: A function to mark Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru�s birth anniversary. Venue: Shakti Sthal.

Howzzat? That was the reaction of the Prime Minister�s Office when it received an invitation from the Congress-led Delhi government to attend a function to mark Panditji�s birthday.

Shakti Sthal is the samadhi of Indira Gandhi. Panditji�s memorial is at Shanti Van.

The Sheila Dixit government, not used to organising such functions, made the faux pas while racing against time to ensure that the occasion passed off without a glitch.

The onus of taking charge of the functions fell on the Congress after Union urban development minister Jagmohan ruled that the Centre will no longer be involved with such occasions.

Anyone else or any other organisation, be it a trust or a political party, was free to organise them.

A cash-strapped Congress had fallen back on the Dixit government to bail it out. Neither Children�s Day nor November 19, the birth anniversary of Indira Gandhi, could go unnoticed. The Delhi government obliged Sonia Gandhi�s party by agreeing to host the functions.

The letter sent to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee�s South Block office said the Delhi government would be pleased to welcome him at Shakti Sthal.

Eyebrows were raised at the PMO. Inquiries followed. The invitation had reached Vajpayee�s on November 9, five days ahead of the function. On November 13, on the eve of Nehru�s birth anniversary, an apologetic second letter reached him.

The Prime Minister should reach Shanti Van.

There was no error, though, in the invitation letter for the November 19 function to be held at Shakti Sthal.    



Maximum: 31.5�C (+2)
Minimum: 19.7�C (+2)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 96%,
Minimum: 43%


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 19�C
Sunset: 4.48 pm
Sunrise: 5.57am

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