Farewell to Li Peng with Agni II testfire
CPM pressure for arrest
Debt recast deal sets up Haldia Petro division
Right to governance for each villager
Witness in 3-week Trinamul quarantine
Pakistan sees direct threat
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Jan. 17: 
India today �successfully� testfired the Agni-II missile that can target Beijing, among other cities, hours before Chinese leader Li Peng left the country after a nine-day �goodwill� visit.

The �2000-plus�-range surface-to-surface missile can also target Pakistan and all its important installations and cities.

It was the second test of the upgraded version of the original Agni. The first was held in April 1999, prompting tests within days by Pakistan of its medium-range Ghauri-II missile.

Today�s testfiring, conducted at 10 am from the interim test range at Orissa�s Chandipore, is significant because the sophisticated technology involved makes the long-range missile �more accurate and precise� while carrying the nuclear warhead to its intended targets.

Though China did not react, Indian officials rushed to clarify that the test was not directed against any �particular country� and was part of Delhi�s long-range weapons system necessitated after the May 1998 nuclear blasts. They argued that �the timing was determined solely by technical factors like weather conditions and system-snags�.

But indications are that the move, though a foregone one, is also deliberate. That India does have the long-range weapons capability is a factor which will not be ignored by the Chinese during future talks.

China, along with the other members of the P-5 � the US, Russia, France and UK � was given advance notice of the test this morning. So were Pakistan, Japan and Germany.

The all solid-fuel propelled missile has a range of 2,500 km, but officials diplomatically pegged it at �2000-plus�. The defence ministry said Agni II, which can carry a one-tonne warhead, can be fired from a mobile launcher.

�The flight test results have indicated that mission objectives were met satisfactorily,� Prof. R.N. Agarwal, programme director, was quoted as saying in a defence ministry statement.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee congratulated the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on the successful test flight.

Li did not indicate that anything was amiss. Addressing Cabinet ministers of Andhra Pradesh in Hyderabad this morning, the Chinese leader, on the last leg of his journey, stressed on the need for bilateral cooperation in trade and technology. �It will be beneficial to us if we cooperate in areas of mutual cooperation,� the Chinese Premier said.

The Agni II is more than a match for China�s Dong Feng-21, which has a range of 1,800 km and can hit key cities in Japan, Taiwan and, possibly, India.

Pakistan has deployed the Shaheen-I, which has a range of 700 km but is propelled by liquid fuel. The Shaheen-II, which Islamabad claims has a range of 2000-plus km, though displayed, has not been tested yet.

India believes the Chinese are closely helping Pakistan in its missile programme, particularly in the development of the Shaheen-II, which is based on solid-fuel fabrication.

Delhi has often complained to Beijing about its defence cooperation with Islamabad. But despite acknowledging India�s concerns, there is little to indicate that China has stopped aiding Pakistan.


Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
Thirteen days after the alleged Chhoto Angaria massacre for which it was held responsible, the CPM today began to mount pressure on the government to arrest prime witness Abdur Rahman Mondal, who has been avoiding meeting the CID.

Anil Biswas, CPM politburo member and state party secretary, demanded that Mondal be taken into protective custody by the CID which is probing the incident.

The investigating team that went to Chhoto Angaria last week had to return without interrogating Mondal because his party, the Trinamul Congress, denied access to him. Mondal was later shifted to Calcutta for treatment. His party claims the witness is not fit to be interrogated.

�I wonder why the police are not taking Mondal into custody for questioning even though he was available in Garbeta and now in Calcutta. A key witness to violence on such a scale is always interrogated, at times taken into custody or even arrested for better investigation,� Biswas said.

On January 5, Mondal had filed an FIR with the police in Garbeta alleging that his house had been torched by CPM goons and that a large number of Trinamul supporters who had taken shelter there were burnt to death.

But his account turned out to be full of inaccuracies and neither he nor his party could produce any bodies in support of their claim.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the government was watching the progress of the investigation and would take a decision on action when required.�I am aware of his (Biswas�) observation,� Bhattacharjee told The Telegraph. � Let me say Anil has done his job. We in the government will also do our job as and when the situation demands.�

DIG, CID, Chayan Mukherjee said the investigating officer supervising the case will soon interrogate Mondal before taking him into custody. �We cannot overnight arrest a person who is a prime witness,� he said.


Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
Haldia Petrochemicals� promoter Purnendu Chatterjee scored a double success today with the stage being stage for splitting the project and the opening of an �intelligent park� here.

Banks and financial institutions have agreed to restructure the company�s Rs 4,000-crore debt and slash the rate of interest on the loan principal, which clears the way for carving up the project into two � one to manage the naphtha cracker and the other to run the petrochemical facilities.

The restructuring will leave the petrochem facilities almost entirely debt-free, a condition Chatterjee has been seeking for long without success because the Bengal government, the other major partner, was not agreeing.

After the talks with the lenders, Chatterjee said: �I failed once, I failed twice. But at the end of the day, I will win. Things are changing and it will change further.�

The government had been resisting his proposal to divide the project to achieve viability until Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stepped in after taking over as chief minister. Today, representatives of banks and FIs met Bhattacharjee before holding a long meeting with finance minister Asim Dasgupta in the presence of Chatterjee.

Bhattacharjee figured in the second of the successes too when he inaugurated a Chatterjee-promoted intelligent park for infotech companies .

Under the terms of the Haldia Petro deal, banks and FIs will grant an 18-month moratorium starting January 1 this year on the repayment of Rs 289 crore which has fallen due.

They also agreed to consider a proposal to lower the interest on loans from 17.5 to 12.5 per cent after the moratorium. Dasgupta said the extent of interest rate cut would be known once the details of the debt recast are worked out.

The agreement removes the major sticking point in talks to rope in Indian Oil Corporation as an equity partner in a 51:49 joint venture with Haldia Petro that will run the naphtha cracker.

The government and Chatterjee want to shift the entire debt burden to this venture, but Haldia Petro officials said they were open to talks on a more equitable debt-sharing agreement with IOC.

Senior IOC officials said they would commit funds after seeing the debt restructuring package and the extent of interest rate cut.

Gung-ho over the development, Chatterjee said: �The institutions have in principle agreed to our proposal. IOC is also considering our proposal. I am confident things will happen at Haldia Petro which can now be turned into a success story.�


Bhopal, Jan. 17: 
This Republic Day, Madhya Pradesh will become the first state in the country to gift each and every member of its rural population the responsibility of governance.

The state has named the project Gram Swarajya where the village becomes more important than the panchayat, elected by three-four villages. Called the gram sabha, a fourth tier is being created to add to the three already existing in the panchayati raj structure. The other three are the gram panchayat, janpadh panchayat and zilla panchayat.

From January 26, each of Madhya Pradesh�s around 70,000 villages will become a �politically, socially and economically autonomous unit� with every citizen a member of the gram sabha.

The Digvijay Singh government claims that under the system, every villager will know what it means to be part of a democratic government �of the people, by the people and for the people�.

Once the system is in place, the panchayat � so far the supreme authority at the lowest of the three tiers � will become a representative unit of the village.

The chief minister calls the process transformation from rajniti to lokniti.

Under the Panchayat Raj Act, the gram sabha is supreme with the provision that panchayats should function under them.

�We are trying to execute this concept in practice so that a village can implement its own decisions. The gram sabha can take direct decisions on issues of local development and, to some extent, on matters pertaining to social justice,� said Ajay Singh,� minister for panchayat and rural development.

Under Gram Swarajya, the gram sabha � to be headed by the sarpanch � will meet at least once a month compulsorily. It will have a village development committee, again with the sarpanch as president.

Members of the gram sabha will be divided into eight implementing agencies dealing with health, public assets, agriculture, education, village development, village defence, infrastructure and social justice.

In addition, the village might also have forest protection and water management committees. Each of these committees will be headed by a president who will be a member of the village development committee.

At least 20 per cent of the members will have to be present to form a quorum at gram sabha meetings. The sabha must have one-third women and members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in proportion to their strength.

The state government says with the formation of gram sabhas, a village should be able to solve its problems on its own without having to the go to the panchayat. If there is a lack of unanimity, discussion can be continued at the next meeting. After two deferments, the decision could even go through after a secret ballot.

A new provision to have a joint gram sabha will be introduced to settle issues involving more than one village. �If the decision of one gram sabha is conflicting with another�s, there will be a joint gram sabha headed by the sarpanch to decide,� a senior official said.

Essentially the brainchild of Digvijay Singh, the Gram Swarajya concept is also aimed at making government employees working in rural areas more efficient, especially the government-paid village school teacher who hardly holds classes.

A government draft says: �State government employees pertaining to the executive, who are posted in villages and where jurisdiction is limited within a gram sabha, will be accountable to the gram sabha. The gram sabha will have the powers for payment of salaries, withholding salaries, sanctioning leave to these employees, inspecting and supervising work and to make recommendation for their punishment.�

The sabha will also have a treasury, or gram kosh, with the village development committee operating it. The money will come from donations, untied funds provided to panchayats, funds received from taxes imposed by the gram sabha and funds allocated under state government schemes.

Audit will be done by external agencies. In the case of embezzlement, the gram sabha will have the right to curtail the te-nure of any member of any committee.


Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
The Trinamul Congress doctors� cell today said it would not allow investigators to interrogate Abdur Rahman Mondal, key witness to the alleged Chhoto Angaria �massacre� for three weeks on grounds of his �ill health�.

Having virtually made him off-limits to sleuths, doctors attending on Mondal since Saturday in a city nursing home said he was suffering from reactive depression and high anxiety, reliving in his mind the incident of January 4.

At a news conference at Bellona nursing home in Ekbalpore, the doctors and Trinamul leaders said Mondal needed to be treated and observed for at least three weeks before being allowed to be questioned.

All doctors treating Mondal are Trinamul leaders except for psychiatrist Riazul Karim, who has been included as consultant.

Others in the team are Sudipto Roy, chairman of the party�s doctors� cell, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, M.A. Kaseem and Nirmal Maji.

The doctors had a CT scan of Mondal done at a Behala clinic to see if he had any organic lesion in his head when he tried to escape from his house that night. The scan report is expected tomorrow.

Karim told reporters that when Mondal was admitted to the nursing home three days ago, he was �perplexed, anxious and apprehensive.�

�But it was not possible to say whether his psychological disorder could become permanent before an observation period of at least three weeks,� said Karim.

The doctors turned away CID officials who had come to the nursing home yesterday to interrogate Mondal.

�What else does the CID want to know? The Midnapore district police and the CID taken together have already interrogated Mondal on a dozen occasions,� said Pankaj Banerjee, Trinamul leader.

Banerjee lost his cool when asked if it was possible for a person to fake the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

�The question is unwanted and motivated. Any question of pretending to be sick does not arise,� said an angry Banerjee.

Mondal lay in his hospital bed this evening with bloodshot eyes and a vacant look.


Islamabad, Jan. 17: 
Pakistan today said it felt a �direct threat� from India�s test-firing of the Agni II ballistic missile.

A foreign ministry statement, issued hours after the launch, also renewed Pakistan�s proposal for the nuclear rivals to agree to a �strategic restraint regime�.

�India�s test-firing today of its Agni-II missile is part of its ambitious nuclear and missile programme which poses a direct threat to Pakistan�s security and has been a matter of concern for the international community,� the statement said.

�India�s nuclear ambitions, which are clear from its draft nuclear doctrine announced in 1999, have a destabilising effect on the region,� it added.

The Agni II launch came as a surprise to a section of the establishment here who said they believed that the two countries were trying to reduce tension in the region.

�Pakistan reiterates its proposal to India that the two countries should agree to a strategic restraint regime in order to promote nuclear and conventional stabilisation and to strengthen peace and stability in South Asia,� the statement added.

India chose to ignore Pakistan�s strong reaction for the time being. The confidence stems from the fact that an economically weak and politically pariah Pakistan may not try to match Delhi�s test-firing.




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Sunset: 5.09 pm

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