Highway massacre follows truce call
Samajwadi peasant posers for Sonia
Stage set for divestment clash
Centre shift on Delhi masterplan
Bhishma of the wild awaits silver jubilee
Left slams govt on flood relief
Boost to employees on leave overstay
Tonic for Bengal health care
Buddha, employees differ on report card

Srinagar, Nov. 22: 
Militants shot dead five truck drivers on the highway to Jammu after robbing the victims and segregating them on religious lines, the first major strike since the government announced a ceasefire for the holy month of Ramzan.

Police sources said a group of militants wearing army fatigues stopped a convoy of lorries at Sheerbibi late last night and began checking the vehicles which were carrying supplies to the Kashmir valley. The men first demanded money and after pocketing it, they pulled out the drivers and helpers, split them up according to their religion and fired from point-black range.

Six drivers and helpers, mostly Sikhs, were wounded in the attack near Banihal, about 180 km from Jammu. They have been admitted to hospital in Banihal and Ramsu.

Two of the victims have been identified as Jagdish Singh and Rashpaul Singh. The bodies of the five men have been sent to their homes in Punjab and in the valley.

No group has admitted responsibility for the killings.

A senior police officer said patrolling along the 300-km highway has been intensified. The highway is guarded by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and other security forces.

The killings follow the Prime Minister�s announcement on Sunday that combat operations against militants would be suspended during Ramzan which begins later this month.

But most militant outfits, especially those based in Pakistan, have dismissed the ceasefire offer as a ploy to win international sympathy and threatened to step up violence across Jammu and Kashmir.

More militant outfits in the state today rejected the ceasefire announcement, and insisted on a tripartite dialogue involving Pakistan to settle the dispute.

�If India is serious and sincere in resolving the Kashmir issue, it should immediately initiate an unconditional tripartite dialogue with Pakistan and Kashmiri militant outfits,� the supreme commander of Al-Jehad said in a statement.

Islamic Front Chairman Bilal Ahmed Beigh termed the offer a �deep-rooted conspiracy� against Kashmiris and called upon other outfits to continue attacks against security forces.

Authorities here said that security has been beefed up in the valley in view of Ramzan.

But the spate of killings continued. Militants shot dead a National Conference worker, Mohammad Sarwar Khan, at Shumriyal in northern Kupwara district after forcing their way in to his house.

Another ruling party worker was killed by militants at Malje Pampore village in south Kashmir. Police said the bullet-ridden body of Abdul Samad Khanday, who was abducted from his home a few days ago, was recovered this morning.

Harkat claim

A Reuters report from Islamabad said the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen had claimed it had killed 30 Indian soldiers in an overnight attack on military installations in Kashmir. There was no confirmation of the incident in New Delhi. Harkat-ul-Mujahideen chief Farooq Kashmiri said an operation with another guerrilla group, the Jihad-e-Islami, targeted two Indian posts in Jammu with hand grenades and assault rifles. �There were seven or eight mujahideen involved in the mission,� Kashmiri said.    

New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
The Samajwadi Party, which had decided that Sonia Gandhi was unfit to lead the country, is convinced that she is even less qualified to speak on matters related to farmers and farming.

Ramakant Yadav, Samajwadi MP from Azamgarh, said this was the reason why party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav prevented her from moving an adjournment motion on the plight of farmers yesterday in the Lok Sabha.

�She is a videshi to start with. On top of it, she is a videshi who has spent all her life in air-conditioned rooms,� said Yadav, an agriculturist from eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Yadav challenged Sonia to explain what kharif and rabi crop meant, which crop was sown in which season and what the state�s main crops were. �If she is able to answer any one of these questions, I may grant her the right to speak on agriculture,� he said.

The Samajwadi MP doubted whether the leader of the Opposition was �aware� of the conditions in which Indian farmers worked.

�When Parliament is busy discussing the budget in air-conditioned comfort, our farmers are out there toiling under the blazing sun not knowing the fate of their produce � whether there will be buyers or whether they will get a fair price.

Aur jab Sonia Gandhi rajai mein lipti rehti hain to garib kisan thand mein rabi bota rahta hai. (When Sonia Gandhi is wrapped up in a quilt in winter, our farmers are out in the cold sowing the rabi crop),� he said.

Yadav, however, conceded that his party � a self-proclaimed champion of the kisan � did not emerge with flying colours in the House today when it spoke on the adjournment motion finally moved by Sonia.

The party was allotted 12 minutes, which could have been stretched to 20. Yadav had prepared his speech, so had another farmer MP from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Toofani Saroj. To their surprise, it was Ferozabad MP Ramji Lal Suman who waxed eloquent on farmers� problems but without success, said party sources.

Suman, who is into the leather business and is said to have climbed his way up by writing Mulayam�s speeches, wrapped up his speech in barely eight minutes. In its eagerness to score brownie points against Sonia, the party had apparently lost sight of its �mission� to stand up for the state�s farmers.

Yadav, who talked about problems dogging Uttar Pradesh farmers, said sugarcane growers in the state had not been paid by sugar mills for the past three years. He said procurement price had remained stagnant, while lack of enough power to run irrigation pumps and reduced subsidy on fertilisers and diesel had exacerbated matters.    

New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi today turned down Sonia Gandhi�s proposal for a separate parliamentary standing committee on disinvestment even as the Congress and the government locked horns on major economic issues except power sector reforms.

After targeting the Vajpayee regime on agriculture, the Congress is now set to move an adjournment motion on disinvestment under Rule 193 that does not provide for voting. The move is aimed at highlighting the differences within the NDA. Some members of the ruling coalition, the Shiv Sena, the Trinamul Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal, have expressed reservations against disinvestment.

Union minister for disinvestment Arun Shourie called on the Congress chief but his visit to 10 Janpath proved futile. Shourie failed to soften the Congress� stand on privatisation of banks and other public sector units.

A Congress policy paper, to be released on November 30, recommends a shift. Waking up to political compulsions, the party think-tank has begun talking of course correction and opposition to disinvestment for the �manner in which reforms are being pushed�.

�The way the government is going about it, the economy will melt by next year. We have no option but to oppose the mindless, reckless distress sale. We are still committed to reforms but this is just not the way to go about it,� a member of the panel said.

Sonia had written to Shourie demanding a White Paper on disinvestment but it has been rejected on grounds that the disinvestment commission report has dealt with the issue. Speaking in the Lok Sabha today, Sonia lashed out at the government�s disinvestment policy and said: �This government is obsessed with selling off public units neglecting the foundations of our economy.�

The leader of the Opposition received a missive from the Speaker rejecting the proposal to set up a separate parliamentary panel for disinvestment as the committee on finance is already dealing with it. Sonia�s rationale was based on the fact that the disinvestment department has been upgraded to the status of a full-fledged ministry.

The Congress plans to oppose the bank amendment Bill aimed at reducing government share. It wants the government to refer the Bill to a select committee. Congress support is crucial as the ruling coalition lacks majority in the Rajya Sabha.

The Congress is willing to side with the Centre on power.    

New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
Urban development minister Jagmohan today said the Centre would amend the master plan, if necessary, to acquire more land for relocation of industries and ask the Supreme Court for a little more time for the shifting.

Jagmohan, who was speaking in the Rajya Sabha, said that while the Centre had, in principle, agreed to set up safeguards against pollution, it would rework the definition of �household industries� in keeping with the recommendations of the Jagdish Sagar Committee.

Making a statement on the relocation of pollution units from residential areas, Jagmohan blamed Delhi�s Congress government for creating the crisis.

�The present situation has arisen due to failure of the government of National Capital Territory of Delhi to develop plots for relocation of industries,� Jagmohan alleged while initiating a discussion.

Jagmohan�s statement comes a day after the Supreme Court rebuked the Delhi government for seeking more time to shift polluting units in and around the capital in the face of the agitation by businessmen.

During his meeting with Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had said politics should be set aside and an amicable solution should be found.

A decision was taken to make efforts to legalise most of the existing industries through necessary legislation without transgressing the Supreme Court order. The amendment in the master plan will ensure that most of the units do not have to shift at all.

Stressing that the Centre was keen on finding a solution which would be �just and fair to all concerned�, Jagmohan said the new definition of household industries would take into account the number of persons who can work in such units, the area that can be used and the quantum of power that can be sanctioned.

Congress MP Karan Singh emphasised that no solution was possible without amending the master plan and turned the tables on the BJP governments that had ruled Delhi for two terms before the Congress. �Had the master plan been amended two years ago, this situation would not have arisen. It is unfair of the minister to blame the present government which has not been in power for even two years,� Singh said.

He urged the people to �show a little more tolerance� and demanded that the Centre should get its act together fast and amend the master plan.

Jagmohan countered that until the apex court started passing orders from February 2, 1996 up to December 9, 1999, no one mentioned the matter of amending the master plan.

The BJP�s Narendra Mohan, while conceding that the master plan was not a work like the Bhagvad Gita or Bible which could not be touched, cautioned that it could not be amended repeatedly.

�This is because industries have been set up either out of political considerations or corruption,� he said.    

Bhopal, Nov. 22 
He is known as the Bhishma Pitamah of the wild, the grand old man who lives to regale grandchildren with bedtime stories. Unfortunately, he doesn�t have any. He survived all his cubs.

Meet Mekal, a 23-year-old panther at Bhopal�s Van Vihar National Park, is perhaps the oldest living member of the cat family in India. If he survives another 18 months, the Madhya Pradesh forest department might even celebrate his 25th birthday in style.

�There is no comparative record available, but Mekal is definitely one of the oldest panthers one can expect in a zoo or a wildlife park,� said Jagdish Chandra, director of Van Vihar. �Usually a panther lives an average life of 16-17 years.�

Mekal, therefore, has exceeded the laws of survival by around six years. �We call him the Bhishma Pitamah of Van Vihar. For over two decades, people have seen him here. The child who saw him in the late-Seventies with terrified eyes today is a gutsy man of 30 who pats Mekal on the back through the bars of the enclosure,� Chandra said.

Sometime in the summer of 1976, the tribals of Kanha National Park, 200 km from Jabalpur, chanced upon a couple of orphaned panther cubs, one male and another female. The then director of the park, Hemendra Singh Pawar, named the male cub Mekal and his sister Sulkum. Mekal was named after the hill ranges close to the Narmada valley while Sulkum is a tributary of the river.

�Their eyes had not opened yet. They were cubs just born. So the best forest guard of Kanha, Ramu, was given the responsibility of the cubs,� recalled P.M. Lad, founder-director of Van Vihar.

�Ramu was like their mother. His attachment to those cubs was unbelievable. When their eyes opened for the first time, they probably saw Ramu. The 40-year-old guard raised them like his own children. They were fed through feeding bottles and slept on Ramu�s lap. Ramu would admonish and beat them if the two were mischievous,� Lad added.

On June 24, 1980, when the cubs were four years old, the two were brought to Van Vihar. Lad was then its director. �They were the first carnivores brought to the national park,� he said. �Because the two cubs would refuse to eat without Ramu around, the keeper was given a special transfer from Kanha to Van Vihar.�

Panthers being expert climbers, the forest department had an additional problem managing two growing cubs who climbed out of every open enclosure. Sulkum escaped once while Ramu was away. She wandered 200 metres away from her enclosure as panic stricken officials scurried to search for her. Ramu was called, he located her and they both walked back.

The forest department�s next shock came when they found Sulkum pregnant by Mekal. �We had tried our best to prevent it, because even among animals, mating of siblings is not healthy. But in spite of our precautions, two cubs were born out of Sulkum�s litter. The cubs did not survive despite Ramu�s utmost care,� Lad said.

In 1983, Ramu was killed by a raging Neelgai within the national park. Mekal and Sulkum witnessed Ramu being gored to death. The panthers refused to eat for days. �Theirs was a legendary tale of love between man and beast,� Lad said.

Sulkum died in the early Nineties as her brother was left behind to carry on the legend by himself. Of the 11 panthers living in Van Vihar now, Mekal continues to be the favourite.    

New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
CPM members in the Lok Sabha today flayed the government for not giving a �single paisa� of relief to the flood-affected areas of West Bengal, even as Trinamul Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay charged the state with �engineering� the floods. The Congress also flayed the government for not providing adequate relief to the state.

The Left MPs was supported by NDA partner, the Telugu Desam Party, which said it will back the CPM on the issue. They also organised a dharna outside Parliament to protest against the Centre�s discriminatory attitude.

CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee raised the issue during Zero Hour and told the government not to treat the �unprecedented flood situation� in the state in a partisan manner.    

New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
The Supreme Court has ruled that an employee cannot be dismissed automatically for overstaying his leave period in violation of a company�s standing order.

A division bench of Justice S. Rajendra Babu and Justice S.N. Variava held that the employee should be given a chance to explain the reasons for his overstay.

�A standing order which provides for automatic termination of service of a permanent employee would be bad if it did not purport to provide an opportunity of hearing to the employee whose services are treated to have come to an end automatically,� the judges said, striking down a standing order of Scooters India Ltd. as ultra vires, null and void.

According to the company�s order, �any workman who remains absent from duty without leave, in excess of the period of leave originally sanctioned or subsequently extended, for more than 10 consecutive days, shall be deemed to have left the service of the company of his own accord, without notice, thereby terminating his contract of service with the company and his name will be struck off the rolls�.

The company dismissed a semi-skilled workman on the ground that he overstayed the period of his leave and did not join duty despite being given an opportunity.

The employee told a labour court in Lucknow that he was not given an opportunity to join service. The court held this as retrenchment and directed reinstatement with continuity of service and full back wages.    

Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
For the first time, Bengal is making an effort to improve the quality of health care in villages.

Two two-day workshops were held in Siliguri and Calcutta over the last week in which health officials and doctors discussed various models of quality management in health centres. Participants laid stress on cleanliness, staff performance and transparency.

The workshops were organised by the Basic Health Project, West Bengal, a joint endeavour of Indo-German cooperation launched in September last year.

The five-year project, worth Rs 150 crore, aims at upgrading, renovating, staffing and training 120 block primary health centres and 250 primary health centres in seven districts. They are Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Bankura, Birbhum, Purulia and Midnapore.

�But the quality management process will be taken up in the other districts as well, in conjunction with the State Health Systems Development Project which is improving secondary-level hospitals throughout the state,� pointed out Dr S.A. Siraj, chief technical officer of the project. The project is expected to benefit up to 70 per cent of the state�s population.

GTZ, a German government undertaking, is providing the training and software for the project, with finance from KfW, the German development bank.

�Well-designed quality management procedures lead to better results,� said Dr Heide Richter-Airijoki, project leader. �This trend is being expanded to health services. Some private hospitals already have ISO certification.�

The workshops were addressed by GTZ�s health department head, Prof. Rolf Korte. �The workshops identified key areas for application of a coherent quality policy,� he said.

The participants decided on 15 clinical indicators on the health providers� side and six on the clients� side that were attainable in the existing conditions in the districts, Siraj explained.

�A survey of these indicators, like hospital cleanliness, mortality and other rates, is being conducted before quality management can be applied.    

Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
Pursuing his promise to provide an efficient government, chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee met representatives of the coordination committee of state employees today and sought their help.

�We are going to introduce performance diaries to speed up the pace of work,� Bhattacharjee said. He said the coordination committee leaders had agreed to help. �There are no differences between us,� he added.

Secretary of the coordination committee Smarajit Roy Chowdhury, however, said they opposed the introduction of the annual confidential report for employees.

Roy Chowdhury added that the chief minister was told that the punctuality circular, issued some time ago, was not being properly implemented.

�This is because of the failure of officials running the departments. They have to be more responsible,� Roy Chowdhury said. He said the chief minister was as-ked to take measures to improve work culture among officials.

The state coordination committee also offered to spend Rs 55 lakh in rebuilding flood-ravaged school and public buildings in the affected districts.

Roy Chowdhury said they will spend the amount on their own instead of contributing it to the Chief Minister�s Relief Fund.

Petro sales tax to stay

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta has ruled out reducing sales tax on petroleum products as demanded by Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta rubbished railway minister Ram Naik�s claim in Parliament yesterday that Bengal�s sales tax on petroleum products was more than that of other states.

�Except for LPG, the tax on other products is lower or comparable to other states,� Dasgupta said in Writers� Buildings.    


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