Repeat train dacoity foiled
Visva-Bharati to set up hospital with NRI funds
Talks rider to all-party truce go-ahead
Special force chief shifted
Friends of India in US focus on sanctions
Suspect throws police off track
Sonia spoils five-star party in city of glitter
Two blinded after land clash
Chautala ties knot with past on sops to police

Malda, Feb. 21: 
After the attack on the Malda-bound Gour Express on Tuesday morning, a group of armed dacoits attempted to strike the same train scheduled to leave for Sealdah last night.

But before the gang could begin its operation, policemen arrested six of the dacoits just when the train was about to leave Malda station.

Police said those arrested are from Kaliachak and have past records of involvement in train and bus dacoities.

Two pipeguns, knives and other weapons have been recovered from the dacoits.

Three of the arrested have been identified as Ansarul Sheikh, Baskar Sheikh and Anadulla Sheikh.

In another raid, three persons were arrested from Ballalpur station near Farakka last night. Four pipeguns were recovered from them.

Police are now investigating whether the two groups that were arrested belong to the same gang.

The police, however, could not confirm whether those arrested last night were also involved in Monday�s strike in Hate Bazare Express.

Debashis Ray, superintendent of police, Malda, said preliminary investigations revealed that those involved in the earlier train dacoities have fled to Bihar.

In a 30-minute operation, a group of 15 armed dacoits attacked a coach of Gour Express early yesterday and looted cash and belongings worth Rs 5 lakh from the passengers.

Almost 57 passengers were injured, some of whom had been clobbered with sharp-edged weapons.

Sources said police have not been able to make a breakthrough in the two big train dacoities in November 2000.

Senior police officials, including inspector-general of police Rajat Majumdar, who arrived here yesterday, expressed concern over the failure to arrest the culprits involved in the past dacoities.


Santiniketan, Feb. 21: 
Concerned by the acute scarcity of modern treatment centres in Santiniketan and Bolpur, Visva-Bharati University is all set to open a 400-bed hospital in the university town in collaboration with a group of NRIs baed in the US and UK

According to the arrangement worked out, Visva-Bharati will offer land to the NRIs for setting up a hospital, which would cater to not just its own students but also residents of the area. To start with, the hospital will have 100 beds for which the university will allot five acres of land.

Though Santiniketan is home to several renowned writers, artists and academicians, the lack of adequate medical facilities has forced its residents to come to Calcutta for treatment, sometimes even for simple pathological tests.

A few months ago, eminent Rabindrasangeet singer Kanika Bandopadhyay had to be brought in a critical condition to Calcutta, where she breathed her last.

�The situation was such that we had no other option but to accept the proposal when some NRIs recently approached us with an offer to sponsor funds for setting up a hospital,� Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Dilip Sinha said. The university, he added, would soon sign an MoU with the NRIs who have agreed to sponsor an initial amount of Rs 400 crore.

According to Sinha, many of those who have settled in Santiniketan and its nearby areas were elderly and retired people. So the proposed hospital would have facilities to deal with old-age problems like heart or kidney ailments and have special departments to treat gall-bladder, arthritis and lung patients.

Local residents have welcomed the university�s move. �My mother, now 75 years old, suffered from acute gall-bladder pain for three years. But as she is also a high blood pressure patient, doctors here had refused to operate on her because of the lack of proper facilities to tackle such a complicated case. So, last month, she had to be taken to Calcutta by ambulance,� said S. Bhattacharya, an official of a nationalised bank here.

University sources said the hospital would offer facilities for all kinds of medical and pathological tests at moderate rates.

The NRIs have also come up with a suggestion for setting up a medical college along with the hospital. But the university has set aside the proposal for the time being.

�There is no restriction in the university�s existing rules for setting up a hospital. But Visva-Bharati, being a Central university, its rules will have to be amended in Parliament if a medical college is to be set up,� Sinha said.


New Delhi, Feb. 21: 
Parties cut across the political divide today to endorse the ceasefire extension in Jammu and Kashmir but asked the Centre to act tough with militants from across the border.

The all-party meeting also felt that extending the truce was not an end in itself but a means to a solution which could bring �everlasting peace� to the embattled state.

Many parties, including the CPM, the RJD and the National Conference, said the Centre should also use the opportunity to begin talks with the state�s political establishment, especially the National Conference, which was the first to raise the autonomy demand.

�The ceasefire is a confidence-building measure and needs to be stabilised,� National Conference MP Ghulam Ahmed Shah told reporters after the meeting. �But once that is done, the dialogue process has to start, because that is the only way out.�

The Centre tried to whitewash the post-ceasefire violence by pointing out that the �positive� spin-offs of the step were not percolating down to the people and more �effective� measures had to be taken to propagate them.

Opposition sources said the Intelligence Bureau�s briefings, supported by facts and figures, made out a case for the extension by arguing that voices of dissent even among the militants were few and far between. Also, India�s image before the world�s diplomatic community was enhanced and closer home, there was �active� civilian support.

Vajpayee assured the meeting that the views of every leader would be taken into account before a decision was taken. Home minister L.K. Advani � who BJP sources had earlier said was in favour of ending the ceasefire � was conciliatory, going along with the general view that the step was a means to seeking permanent peace.

Observers believe that in getting the political spectrum on his side, despite the occasional discordant notes, Vajpayee has for the moment reined in the hawks within the Sangh parivar, including those in his own party.

In fact, Congress president Sonia Gandhi�s remark � �They sought our endorsement and we gave it� � summed up the Centre�s intent in convening the session.

RJD parliamentary party leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh challenged the Prime Minister to �temper� the Sangh parivar hawks who, he said, were indulging in �dangerous talk�.

�They keep talking of trifurcating Jammu and Kashmir on communal lines and this dangerous talk has confused the people. I told the Prime Minister to dispel the confusion that has arisen and, instead, use a strategy that will take the state government and the peace-loving people into confidence,� Raghuvansh said. He also alluded to the army�s apology for killing civilians and described it as a �clear sign of things going wrong�.

CPM veteran Somnath Chatterjee stressed that the question of granting more �permissible autonomy� to the state and Article 370 needed looking into. �There is need for categorical statements and a more principled approach,� NDA sources quoted him as saying.

The NDA allies, who had insisted on a meeting after the government�s exposition on the ceasefire to the Congress over a week ago, were apparently satisfied by the version presented to them.

�Results are now satisfactory and there is need to consolidate the gains. But the government should be more cautious,� Telugu Desam leader Yerran Naidu was quoted by NDA sources as saying. It was an observation that indicated that Vajpayee had managed to quell criticism among his allies, of which the Desam was in the forefront.

The National Conference emphasised the need to save the �people�. �Civilians are easy targets for both sides. The army fired on them, so who will save them?� Ahmed Shah told reporters.

Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay said that a perception had gained ground that the Centre had �compromised� its stand on the militants. This had to be countenanced.


Srinagar, Feb. 21: 
The state government has shifted the deputy police superintendent heading the special operations group in Budgam, central Kashmir, following the recent public outcry against alleged custodial deaths in Jammu and Kashmir.

Informed sources said Davinder Singh was transferred back to his original rank and posted as inspector, state intelligence, on Monday.

Last week in Hygam, north Kashmir, six civilians died in the army firing on protesters agitating against the alleged custodial killing of a local pharmacist.

Sources said the government was also planning to shift some more officers from the SOG in the wake of large-scale demonstration across the Valley.

The move to shift Singh followed allegations of custodial killings against the SOG in Budgam during the unilateral ceasefire, which the Centre decided to extend today.

However, Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat scoffed at the truce extension, saying that �the killing of innocents in firing and custodial deaths are continuing�.

A report from Khanetar in Poonch district said eight militants were killed in an encounter with security forces today.


New Delhi, Feb. 21: 
India caucus co-chairman Ed Royce today said one of his top priorities was to get Washington to lift the post-Pokhran sanctions on Delhi.

The visiting Republican, who skipped the visit to Pakistan this afternoon, said US secretary of state Colin Powell had made very encouraging noises on the issue. �We want to take advantage of this opportunity and throw the sanctions on India out of the door,� he said.

Royce said lifting of the sanctions, including those on the defence sector, would create the right atmosphere for India to get access to dual-use technology.

Royce had come to India on February 17 with three other members of the India caucus in connection with relief for the Gujarat quake. The team had also stopped over in Mumbai for the international fleet review.

Though Royce held talks with Hurriyat leaders, he and another Republican Joe Pitts today chose not to go Islamabad citing prior engagements. Pitts flew back home this morning.

The decision to skip the visit fuelled speculation that the US was serving a reminder to Pakistan that it was unhappy that the country had not taken steps to restore democracy. At the same time, the visiting leaders were proof that Islamabad was not totally off the US agenda.

Royce said his team had discussed the evolution of the ceasefire with the Prime Minister and senior Cabinet members. �The Indian caucus is supportive of the peace initiative taken by the Indian government in Jammu and Kashmir... We know where it is meant to lead and we hope it is leading there,� he said.

Royce said though the Indian caucus was the second most-important pressure group in Capitol Hill, it had to go a long way to make American investors interested in a big way in India. Referring to a recent survey where 56 per cent American investors readily agreed to invest in China, Royce said only 14 per cent were willing to put money into India. �Our main task is to think of ways of bringing India firmly on the US trade map,� he said.


Siliguri, Feb. 21: 
For the second time, suspect Dimple Dewan�s leads came a cropper. A unit of the special investigation team (SIT), set up to track down Subash Ghising�s attackers, returned from Sikkim today without making any headway. It had gone there to follow up on information given by Dewan.

Earlier this week, another unit of SIT had returned from Nepal without making any progress.

Police now feel 30-year-old Dewan is leading them on a wild goose chase by weaving false stories about the whereabouts of her husband, Indra Kumar Dewan alias Vijay Dewan. Police suspect him to be one of the prime conspirators.

�Dimple has been misleading investigators. Our team along with the Sikkim police could not trace Indra Kumar Dewan or Vijay Dewan. Hideouts disclosed by her also turned out to be false,� said an official who was part of the SIT team that raided several places in Gangtok over the last two days.

�Dimple sent the SIT team on a false trail to give enough time for the suspects to get away. Like the abortive trip to Nepal codenamed Operation Deer, the Sikkim operation too was a total failure,� the official admitted.

The investigation team is now concentrating on tracking down another suspect, Sharan Dewan. He has been absconding since the night of the assassination attempt. SIT officials feel they will not be able to identify the masterminds behind the ambush unless they arrest Sharan.

�We suspect him to be one of the main conspirators. Immediately after hearing that the ambush had been unsuccessful, he went into hiding. He even abandoned his Maruti at a construction site near the Ringsington hydel project on the outskirts of Kurseong town. Sharan had been a GNLF leader during the Ghising-led Gorkhaland stir, but had switched loyalties three years back,� the official said.

Following fresh leads, another SIT team was sent to Nepal today to locate the attackers suspected to be holed up in a Naxalite camp there.


New Delhi, Feb. 21: 
Gandhiji would have approved. In the city of wealth generation, Congressmen will have to shun all the symbols of affluence.

Sonia Gandhi has issued some commandments that partymen will have to follow during the 81st plenary in Bangalore on March 17-18. Delegates will not get to stay in five-star hotels, sample non-vegetarian food, ride in cars or touch alcohol in the city of pubs.

All this when the plenary theme song is �New Millennium, New Bharat, New Congress�. Sonia is clearly looking at the past � the last millennium, the old Bharat and the old Congress � to take her party forward.

Sample what the delegates will get to eat: rice, dal, roti, one vegetable, raita, papad, salad, sambhar and rasam. The state unit is trying its best to squeeze in the local delicacy, Mysore pak. Surely, even Gandhiji would not have disapproved of a dessert.

But for some Congressmen used to the best in luxury, the prospect of spending a few spartan days in Bangalore is galling.

Some of them, however, have made �private arrangements� with public sector units and multinational companies to enjoy their �five-star� hospitality.

�There is no barrier in availing corporate house hospitality,� a CWC member said, pointing out that a similar �way out� was found during the Calcutta plenary in 1997.

Sonia�s diktat has even got Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna worried. He now has to find �suitable� accommodation for the 15,000-odd Congress leaders and workers who will be present during the plenary. Half his problem would have been solved if he could have put them up in the city�s many five-star hotels. The government is working overtime to corner all the humble guest houses, lodges and inns.

There won�t be much fanfare during the inauguration. Sonia is planning to do away with the custom of leading a procession to kick off the plenary. There will also be no public meeting on the concluding day of the plenary � March 18. But that is because party MPs have to rush back to Delhi to attend Parliament the next day.

The Karnataka Assembly will be in session during the plenary but efforts are on to have a recess during March 13-18 as a majority of the Congress MLAs will be busy with plenary arrangements. The state BJP and the Janata Dal will, however, resist the move.

Sonia will use the plenary to unveil a new socio-economic agenda for the �new Congress�. She will also seek approval on party appointments and amendments in the Congress constitution.


Patna, Feb. 21: 
An eye for an eye is not just an idiom anymore in Bihar. Continuing a ghastly new trend of blinding persons in retribution, the eyes of two persons were gouged out at Koilabar in Bhojpur district after a clash.

A long-standing land dispute turned violent yesterday when Kameswar Yadav and four others raided rival Bhola Yadav�s village to pre-empt a raid to grab the plot. Interestingly, Kameswar had won a case in court against Bhola.

Kameswar and his gang first opened fire on Bhola, but they missed the target. Bhola then managed to organise support, and soon Kameswar and two others were overpowered. Bhola�s henchmen brutally assaulted Kameswar and his brother, Nileswar, and gouged out their eyes. They were admitted to Patna Medical College and hospital.

A senior officer in Ara said 10 persons have been arrested and an investigation is on.

Less than a month ago, three persons were similarly blinded at Nawada for coming to the rescue of a woman. They met with their fate when they tried to resist some gangsters� attempt to rape a 35-year-old woman. The three are still under treatment.

�This has been a disturbing trend in Bihar now. They could kill. But some marauders appear to have lost faith in killing,� said sociologist Someswar Joshi in Patna.

�What we know is that by killing them we cannot give them real punishment. If blinded, they can live on yet suffer an ordeal of hell,� said Pappu Rai, one of Bhola�s henchmen, almost confirming Joshi�s apprehension.

Ironically, in the late seventies, at least 30 undertrials were blinded by the Bhagalpur police by pouring acid into their eyes in the sinister Operation Gangajal.


Chandigarh, Feb. 21: 
In keeping with the practice of offering sops to police by the government in the state, Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala today announced incentives for the force �in recognition of the duty being discharged by them to maintain law and order in the state�.

Governments in the state keep the police happy by providing sops almost biannually.

Addressing a meeting of the Police Welfare Committee at Panchkula, the chief minister announced an increase in the uniform allowance of deputy superintendents of police from Rs 1,000 to Rs 5,000.

He also sanctioned risk allowance for ballistic staff of the forensic science laboratory, Madhuban and allowed the director general of police to sanction non-refundable general provident fund of police.

On January 8 2000, Chautala had announced a time-bound promotion policy for constables. Chautala had declared that the policy would envisage promotion to constables on the completion of 16 years of service.

He also announced reintroduction of selection tests, marking a reversing the existing policy which was loaded in favour of seniority with no weightage to merit.

Kit maintenance allowance was doubled, conveyance allowance tripled, diet money increased and ration allowance for the armed police raised from Rs 150 to Rs 350 to maintain parity with constables, head constables and assistant sub-inspectors of the Punjab police, whose pay-scales rank among the highest in the country.

The sops were �welcomed� by policemen in the state.

The chief minister also sanc-tioned Rs 16.90 lakh to the police department to undertake welfare measures during the current financial year. He enhanced the honourarium given to guest lecturers visiting the police training college from Rs 50 to Rs 500. He directed DGP M.S. Malik to put up a detailed proposal to promote head constables who have put in 35 years of services as assistant sub-inspectors.

Chautala complimented the police for maintaining law and order. He added that it had played a major role in getting multina-tional companies to set up units in the state.

�A police force once termed as corrupt, was now helping the government in nabbing criminals,� Chautala said.


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