Rights panel on massacre mission
Buddha renews peace-talks offer
Sonia skirts Mamata bait
BJP says no to truce extension
Police deflect airport raid fire
Outside aid for Kamtapur
Naxalite bandh over �killings�
Tug-of-war over Ganga Sagar funds
Bauls in survival struggle
Dankuni set to get municipality

New Delhi, Jan. 17: 
After taking the demand for President�s rule to a high pitch yesterday, Mamata Banerjee devoted her entire day today to official work even as a National Human Rights Commission team arrived in Bengal.

The two-member team will probe allegations of human rights violations in Midnapore.

For a change, Mamata did not talk of Bengal today as she was closeted with railway board officials to discuss the forthcoming budget.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L. K. Advani, who are busy with the Kashmir developments, may take up the Bengal issue after a couple of days, Trinamul sources said.

Sources close to Mamata said she was happy with the rights panel�s decision to send a team to probe the violence in Bengal. The delegation includes director-general (investigation) Y. N. Srivastava.

The rights panel today directed the West Bengal government to provide all necessary facilities and security to its team. It also asked for a comprehensive report by January 31 from the state chief secretary on allegations of human rights violations in Midnapore.

�In view of the urgency of the matter, the state government is requested to ensure that its comprehensive reply, including reply to the allegations contained in the papers submitted by the group of members of Parliament, is submitted to the commission within two weeks positively,� it said.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) team, which visited Chhoto Angaria after the alleged killings, submitted a copy of its report to the rights panel and requested it to send a delegation to the violence-hit districts. Vijay Goel, who led the NDA team, had briefed commission chairman J. S. Verma on Monday.

The rights panel said �the director-general (investigation) of the commission is requested to collect the facts, in particular relating to the allegations pertaining to the incidents at village Choto Angaria and Keshpur, by visiting Midnapore district.�

Last week, the commission had asked the state chief secretary to check with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee if he had made certain remarks attributed to him. Bhattacharjee had been quoted as having told the police to shoot troublemakers at sight without bothering about human rights. Advani had forwarded Mamata�s complaint, including press clippings containing the chief minister�s remarks to the rights panel.


Calcutta , Jan. 17: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, today repeated that he was willing to meet Mamata Banerjee for �mutual cooperation to end political violence�� in the state.

�I was never averse to holding peace meetings with the Opposition. I have told Trinamul Congress delegations that it would be better to discuss issues like violence in Keshpur and other areas directly with Mamata. But I have not received any positive response,�� he said.

Bhattacharjee, however, made it clear that he did not plan to formally invite Mamata for talks. �Why should I write to her for a peace meeting? She has not shown any interest in holding a dialogue with me. Trinamul leaders, who met me twice or thrice recently, could not promise to arrange a meeting with her either. I don�t know whether she is willing to hold any discussion with me,� the chief minister said.

Asked about Mamata�s meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday to press her demand for President�s rule in the state, Bhattacharjee said: �There is nothing new in her demand. She was crying for imposition of Article 356 much before the Chhoto Angaria incident. Why should I comment on the Opposition�s demand.�

The chief minister was evasive about any breakthrough in the Chhoto Angaria case by the CID team. �You have to wait till the investigation is complete. I have asked the CID team not to make any comment before mediapersons till they submit the report to me,� he said.

Bhattacharjee described the recent killings in Baranagar Jute Mills as an �isolated incident which does not reflect the real picture of industrial peace in the state��.

�The Indian Jute Mills Association has drawn my attention to the incident and suggested some measures. I would like to meet them. In fact, the labour department has taken the initiative to discuss some burning issues that led to labour unrest in the mill with unions and the management��, Bhattacharjee said.

Labour minister Shanti Ghatak later said the additional labour commissioner, R. K. Saha, would hold a meeting with seven unions on January 22 and with the management of Baranagar Jute Mills on January 24.


New Delhi, Jan. 17: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi refused to take Mamata Banerjee�s bait that there was a possibility of her return to the Congress after the Assembly polls if the mother party supported the Trinamul Congress demand for imposition of President�s rule in Bengal.

Sonia shot down Mamata�s formula even though it was approved by state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee, CWC invitee from the state Ghani Khan Chowdhury and party chief whip in the Lok Sabha Priya Ranjan Das Munshi. The three leaders had met Mamata individually with Das Munshi and Chowdhury openly backing the Central rule demand. The party high command, however, took the dim view, terming their remarks as �personal comments�.

Highly-placed sources said Sonia vetoed the proposal keeping in view �national considerations�, including a theoretical possibility of stitching together a coalition with the CPM and other non-NDA parties in the event of the fall of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Moreover, the Congress chief was reluctant to open a Pandora�s box by favouring Article 356 in Bengal when she had opposed it in Bihar and Manipur against the wishes of the state units.

Suspicious of the BJP, Sonia reportedly said supporting Article 356 along with that party would be the last thing she would do. The leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha wants the Vajpayee regime to set �ground rules� before even �considering� support to Central rule in any state. Her concern for �ground rules� is understandable as the party is in power in nine states and part of the government in Bihar.

Sonia�s tough posture has disappointed Mamata and the Trinamul cadre, who are now losing hope of even a tacit understanding with the Congress.

The railway minister had made it a point to attend Sonia�s iftar even though she chose to stay away from Vajpayee�s party. �She had sent a political signal, but Sonia has snubbed her,� a Congress leader from Bengal favouring a tie-up said.


New Delhi, Jan. 17: 
The BJP today virtually repudiated army chief S. Padmanabhan�s suggestion to the Centre to extend the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir, saying that if Pakistan continued to sponsor violence in the state it was better to withdraw the initiative.

�The government would have to go in for a serious assessment of whether, under these circumstances of continuing violence by terrorist organisations operating from Pakistan, further unilateral efforts on India�s part will prove worthy of further pursuit or not,� party spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy told reporters.

�If this type of violence continues, the BJP feels it is not worthwhile to go ahead with such unilateral steps,� Krishnamurthy added. �We would like Pakistan to reciprocate and it has not done this so far.�

Krishnamurthy�s advice to the Centre was that before going ahead and extending the ceasefire, it should make a �serious assessment� of the situation.

However, the BJP�s counsel to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was careful not to allow his pronouncements to be interpreted as a rejection of Gen. Padmanabhan�s proposal and claimed that the army chief had given his suggestion after �taking into account local sentiments�.

Referring to Tuesday�s attack on the Srinagar airport by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, he said it was �yet another important instance of terrorist organisations functioning from Pakistani soil to thwart the government�s efforts�.

Krishnamurthy said the series of terrorist strikes, after the ceasefire came into being, showed that Pakistan was not serious about reciprocating India�s peace initiative.

Explaining his stand, the spokesman said: �Recently, the Indian high commissioner in Pakistan met Pervez Musharraf to find out Pakistan�s stand. From the reports, I find that Musharraf said the resumption of dialogue (with India) was the best way to tame militant groups.

�There are two inferences from this. One, Pakistan is not willing or ready to control the activities of terrorist organisations bent on wrecking peace efforts. Two, the Pakistani establishment is unable to control such groups. Either of these two inferences is a sad reflection on the Pakistan government.�

In a back-handed compliment to the Centre for the ceasefire move, he said: �No doubt the peace efforts of the Indian government have been welcomed by the Valley people and the government is also fully aware of this. That is why it extended the ceasefire until January 26.�

Asked why the BJP had suggested waiting till January 26 to withdraw the ceasefire and not asked for an immediate withdrawal, he said �India is already committed to extending it until January 26. Let not anyone say we went back on our commitment.�


Srinagar, Jan. 17: 
Embarrassed by the militant strike at �South Asia�s most secure� airport, police officers today claimed that the jeep carrying the Lashkar-e-Toiba suicide squad reached as far as the outer gates only because it was following a minister�s cavalcade.

�They moved close on the heels of an elaborate cavalcade that escorted works minister Ali Mohammad Sagar who was goi-ng to the airport to catch a flight to Jammu,� a senior officer said.

Budgam district police chief Syed Ashiq Hussain Bukhari said they had specific information that militants were planning to attack the airport. �We had erected barricades at Humhama, nearly two kilometres from the airport, on Monday,� he said.

Policemen manning the Humhama barricade had even followed the militants� jeep. But before they could get to the vehicle, the suicide squad had reached the main gates and attacked the Central Reserve Police Force jawans on guard with grenades and automatic weapons. �There was total chaos and confusion,� said a policeman now undergoing treatment in hospital.

The airport was reopened today amid tight security. Flights from Delhi landed in the afternoon, but no vehicles were allowed beyond the main gates. Passengers were provided transport by the airlines to take them in.

Police said the girl killed in the shootout yesterday was �innocent�. She had been suspected of being an accomplice as she had come near the airport�s drop-gate two or three times.

State director-general of police A.K. Suri told a TV channel that investigations had proved that she had come to Srinagar from Delhi in connection with her business and �is innocent�.

The area was tense today as hundreds of people came out on the streets to demand the bodies of the six militants. Trouble erupted when the demonstrators, mostly residents of areas near the airport, refused to listen to police pleas to disperse, official sources said.

Shouting pro-freedom and religious slogans they demanded that the bodies be handed over for burial and pelted the police with stones after being refused.

Police used batons and burst tear gas shells to disperse the crowd, which was by then joined by activists of the Hurriyat Conference. Some of the demonstrators were injured. Four Hurriyat activists were detained.

The Hurriyat has condemned the police action on �peaceful demonstrators� and said two of its activists were among those injured.

The renewed burst in militancy-related violence was followed by a spate of attacks today. Militants targeted a police station, a BSF camp and a police picket. They also shot and wounded two Special Operations Group personnel.


Patna, Jan. 17: 
On the backfoot after the police crackdown on their pockets in north Bengal, Kamtapuri separatists have shifted focus on adjoining Bihar�s Katihar and Kishengunge districts to carry out their activities.

The Rajbanshis demanding a separate homeland have received political patronage from two influential Bihar leaders � Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLA from Kishengunge and state minister Mohammed Taslimuddin and the party�s Rajya Sabha member and Buddhist monk, Dharma Virio Bhante.

The two leaders� sympathy for the Rajbanshis of Katihar and Kishengunge is related to the community�s struggle against the tea estate owners of the region, who, the politicians believe, have been illegally transferring land belonging to the ethnic community for plantation.

Taslimuddin�s supporters were allegedly involved in fighting tea garden owners with the help of labour unions which are largely dominated by the Rajbanshis.

On May 20 last year, the two leaders had helped the local Rajbanshi outfits organise a mega convention to highlight the community�s cause. Both Taslimuddin and Bhante were present at the convention. Bhante, while highlighting the cultural legacy of the Rajbanshis, demanded job reservation for the community members.

However, intelligence sources said that a section of supporters of the Rajbanshi separatist outfit had insisted on an active campaign for the community.

On January 5, Bhante was present at another Rajbanshi convention at Panishal near Halmana, about 15 km from Kishengunge town.

This meeting, organised to mark the birth of one of the frontal Kamtapuri outfits, drew large crowds and was attended by at least 12 top leaders of the Kamtapuri movement, including its chief Atul Roy. Bhante is learnt to have espoused the cause of the Rajbanshis� cultural identity.

The RJD leaders agreed to support the Rajbanshi cause for their own political interest even though their party is friendly with the ruling Left Front in West Bengal.

According to Taslimuddin�s aides, Rajbanshis comprise at least 20 per cent of the population in Kishengunge.

The minister�s detractors say that Taslimuddin, by backing the Rajbanshis, was trying to drive a wedge through the Hindu voters. During the Assembly elections in February 2000, Taslimuddin is learnt to have fielded some Rajbanshi candidates as Independents in a bid to split the Hindu vote.

The detractors said that Taslimuddin was trying to win over the Rajbanshis by projecting himself as a crusader against the tea garden owners. In the Kishengunge blocks like Thakurgunge, bordering Darjeeling district, where there are about 100 tea gardens, Taslimuddin has been waging a constant battle against landgrabbers.

�I don�t share the Rajbanshis� demand for statehood but when they approach me for justice after becoming landless, I cannot ignore that since they belong to my constituency. I can show papers on how tea garden owners defraud land rules and deprive the poor,� Taslimuddin said.

Bhante, on the other hand, claims to be a Rajbanshi himself, said his supporters. The MP�s office in Delhi confirmed that he had attended the two Rajbanshi rallies.

Bhante could not be contacted for comment as he is away on tour.

The MP�s secretary took pains to explain that Bhante had participated in the meetings because he is involved in several socio-cultural programmes. �But he is not aligned in any way with the militant surge of the Rajbanshis for self-determination,� clarified an associate in Patna. �Being a Buddhist, he obviously can�t support the militant outfit of the Kamtapuris.�


Burdwan, Jan. 17: 
The People�s War Group observed a bandh at Kalna and Pandaveswer in Burdwan district on Thursday to protest the killing of PWG activists by CPM at Chhoto Angaria in Midnapore on the night of January 4.

According to district police sources, the bandh was total in Pandaveswer and highly successful in Kalna town.

�To have a successful bandh it is enough for the PWG or the Revolutionary Youth League (RYL) just to paste a single poster at Kalna market announcing the bandh call,� said an officer at the Kalna police station.

Though a sizeable section of the PWG in Kalna had shifted loyalties to the CPM, fear prevails among people in the area, he said.

The bandh call had, however, little or no impact in the rural belt of Kalna police station area, which includes Dhatrigram and Malatipur.

State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) officials, who revived surveillance of Naxalite groups after the Garbeta incident, found that the PWG�s and RYL�s influence among non-Left villagers had waned following the emergence of the Trinamul Congress.

The Naxalite groups, in some cases, extend help to the Trinamul, according to the SIB. This, says the bureau, is the reason for the law and order deteriorating in the Trinamul strongholds of Hatkalna, Krishnadebpur and Dhatrigram over the last five years.

Kalna and Pandaveswer are being used by Naxalite groups to export arms, according to intelligence officials, who add that these groups have links with the Maoist Communist Centre.

Intelligence officials have learnt that a former CPM deputy chairman, Jagannath Mondol, is leading the Naxalite faction in Kalna and maintains close contact with Sunil Pal and Ganesh Pal of Pandaveswer, who liaison regularly with underground PWG members in Andhra Pradesh.

The police is now probing their involvement in murder cases that took place in the colliery belt during the last few years.


Sagar Island (South 24-Parganas), Jan. 17: 
The Ganga Sagar Mela ended in controversy with the local CPM legislator demanding that the annual festival be handed over to the Centre.

CPM MLA Provanjan Mondal said if the Centre controls the Mela, it would ensure that the state government gets a share of the proceeds. The proceeds are currently sent to the Pancha Ramananda Akhara in Ayodhya, the parent body of the Kapil Muni Seva Samity, which runs the Kapil Muni temple in front of which the Mela is held.

The move to hand over control of the Mela was, however, strongly resented by Mohanta Gyandas Maharaj of Ayodhya.

The earnings during the Mela includes pilgrim tax of Rs 5 per person, income from space let out for stalls, advertisements placed by organisations and sundry income of small amounts from various other sources. As these are not enough to meet the expenses, the state has to provide subsidies, Mondal said.

The major part of the income, according to Mondal, comes from the deposit in the Kapil Muni temple, which temple authorities send to Ayodhya without giv- ing anything to the state government.

�For a long time, we have been demanding that the state government be given a share of the collection,� the CPM MLA said.

�If the Central government nationalises the Mela, not only will we get a share of the collection, but Central assistance will also be provided and the burden on the state government will be reduced,� he added.

However, Gyandas Maharaj is reluctant to share the collection. �They may make the demand but it should be seen with an open mind. Some people think that during these three days the collection is quite heavy but the truth is far from that,� he said.

�If one studies the economic standard of the visitors, they will realise the situation. What the pilgrims offer is quite negligible. Most of them offer one or two rupees. After all it is not a Kumbh Mela where the collection is really heavy.

�Moreover, we deposit the entire collection with the parent body at Ayodhya from where it is disbursed to run Kapil Muni temples in different places of the country. Those who are making the demand should keep in mind that the temple expenses need to be met throughout the year, while the income through the year is quite negligible.

�We have also donated Rs 4 lakh for a local college and a school. We are also asking for 100 bighas land on Sagar Island to build a guest house for the pilgrims to stay free of cost,� said Gyandas Maharaj.

Zilla Parishad Sabhadhipati Sova Dutta, however, said: �We cannot allot land to any organisation without considering a number of aspects, including the environmental aspect. We cannot have any permanent structure at the sea coast as it will threaten the environment. The structures that exist were made before laws were restricting such construction were enacted.�

The Ganga Sagar Mela is held in front of Kapil Muni temple on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, usually held from January 12-15 of year.

This year about three lakh pilgrims from different parts of the country, as well as from adjoining countries like Nepal and Bangladesh, took the holy dip.

Mammoth arrangements are made by the district administration to conduct the Mela. This year the estimated budget was more than Rs 5 crore.


Birbhum, Jan. 17: 
Baul singers are under threaten their home turf.

They were outnumbered by singers of other forms of music at this year�s Jaidev mela, which has been dominated by the wandering minstrels for decades.

The mela is held every year on makar sankranti at Kenduli village in Birbhum on the banks of the Ajoy river. The fair is organised to mark the birth anniversary of Jaidev, the 12th century poet.

Thousands of pilgrims come for a holy dip in the Ajoy and offer puja at the Radha Garinda temple. The main attraction of the festival are the Bauls who turn up in large numbers from all over the state.

However, the number of Bauls decreased this year and their place was taken by Kirtonias and folk singers. Asked about the fall in the number of Bauls, Raghunath Das, an artiste from Murshidabad, said: �We are very poor, we cannot make decorative akharas like others do. Even the government does not take care of us. People are leaving this profession...this is the cause for the low turnout this year.�

Another departure this year was the presence of Bauls dressed in modern attire, accompanied by foreign admirers.

The traditional singers scoffed at this new trend. �They are also Bauls but they are not trained to maintain the tradition of Baul culture. They are heading on the road of populism. They need money and it is one of the means of earning. But we are practising it despite the odds being stacked against us. The tradition remains, but I am not sure how long it will continue,� said Laxman Das Baul of Birbhum.

Arun Kanti Basu of Hooghly, who has been visiting the mela for 20 years, rued: �It is very difficult to find real Bauls in this mela. There are a few, but their presence is insignificant.�

Altogether, 168 akharas were made this year. Most of them were occupied by Kirtonias. Ashok Das, block development officer of Illambazar, said: �We are familiar with this situation. The government has taken some measures to revive the Baul culture. We have set up the Baul theatre to promote the artistes and we are considering providing Rs 500 as incentive to Baul singers who, despite economic obstacles and abject poverty, still practise and promote this traditional art.�


Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
The Dankuni panchayat area is likely to be turned into a municipality before the Assembly elections. The Bill is getting the final touches before it is tabled in the next Assembly session.

The proposed municipality will include the panchayat areas of Dankuni, Mrigala and Monoharpur. CPM leader and chairman of CMDA tender committee, Sudhanshu Sil, said a filtered water supply and a drainage scheme had been taken up for Dankuni.

Municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharaya had inaugurated a Rs 4-crore water supply scheme at Mallickpara in Mrigala. The CMDA had also allotted Rs 73 lakh for developing the road and drainage system in the area.

�We have already started work for the construction of a link road connecting Konnagar and Naity and a concrete bridge on Dankuni khal,� Sil said.

The dairy farms in the area would have to be shifted elsewhere to check the pollution of Dankuni khal, he added.

A resident alleged that the dairy farms dried up the milk of cows and buffaloes by administering injections and medicines so that they could be easily sold for slaughter in Calcutta.


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