Boy lynched over love tangle
Explosion in ice factory
B-school fest cooks up storm
30 held after hotel raid
Golden handshake shadow on babus
Vajpayee hooks relief-bias bouncer
Daily rules out talks under threat
NGO bid to shield Balco sell-off
Congress stirs food fracas in BJP
Morocco teams up for terror war

Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Tension gripped Naihati in North 24-Parganas after residents last night lynched Manoj Shau, a local tough who had been hired by a girl�s father to teach her secret lover a lesson.

The staff quarters of Hukumchand Jute Mill, where the incident occurred, wore a deserted look today with most shops remaining closed.

Manoj, before he was beaten to death, shot at the boy�s father, Babulal, and injured him seriously. Babulal is battling for his life at the Jawaharlal Memorial Hospital.

Last night, Manoj with his five associates went to the house of 21-year-old Sunil Gore who had for long been having an affair with his next-door neighbour Seema Pandey.

But Seema�s father disapproved of the match and married her off to a man in Benaras a year ago.

The two, however, kept up a secret correspondence. When Pandey�s in-laws discovered about her liaison, they warned her to stop writing to Sunil. But when she kept up her correspondence, they sent her back to her father, Shiunarayan, in Naihati.

This did not go down well with Shiunarayan, who hatched a plot to teach Sunil and his family a lesson. Shiunarayan then got in touch with Manoj and asked him to execute his plan.

On January 21, Manoj and his associates caught Sunil when he was returning home and beat him up. But this did not stop Sunil from keeping in touch with his childhood sweetheart.

Last night, Manoj and his five associates went to Sunil�s place with the intention of putting an end to the matter. They were all armed. As soon as Sunil opened the door, they started firing. While he escaped, a bullet hit his father, Babulal, in the abdomen.

Seeing their father lie in a pool of blood, Sunil�s two brothers chased the gang and beat them with iron rods. Hearing the cries, local people informed the police station, who took Manoj and Babulal to a hospital. Manoj was declared brought dead.

Police later arrested Sunil�s brothers, Santosh and Pradeep. They also arrested Shiunarayan for conspiring to kill Sunil.

But local people alleged that the police had arrived late. �We informed the police in time but they came much late,� said Ajit Maity, a resident of the area. �Had they come in time, the situation would not have gone beyond control.�

However, additional superintendent of police Piyus Pandey said, �Police reached the spot as soon as they got the information.� Local people protested the�delay� in the arrival of the police forcing shops to remain closed.


Barasat (North 24-Parganas), Feb. 27: 
Twenty people, including seven women, were injured and several others fell ill when the gas chamber of an ice factory in Kadambagachi exploded on Monday.

Some residents of nearby localities had to be hospitalised with burn injuries. The condition of five was stated to be critical. Two of the injured, Maya and Shibu Kabasi, were admitted to Barasat hospital with serious injuries.

Two walls of the factory collapsed in the explosion in Barasat police station area. Carcasses of cows and dogs and dead snakes littered the burnt grass. Crops have also been destroyed.

Ammonia gas started spreading soon after the explosion. Residents of nearby localities, who started having breathing problems, fled their homes. Motorists left their vehicles behind, as they faced difficulty in driving. The three employees present at the factory at the time of the explosion, have also fled the area.

Police personnel, who reached the spot two hours after the blast, were also severely affected by the fumes. �We cannot enter the area because of the noxious gas,� a police officer said.

North 24-Parganas district magistrate Harikrishna Dwibedi said a probe has started. �The factory has already been sealed. We are also going through the factory�s security system. The area is now safe,� he said.

Dwibedi said that all factory documents would be checked to find out whether security norms were being adhered to.

Such reassurances, however, have not helped local residents such as Karuna Ghosh, three of whose cows perished in the explosion. Besides, one of Ghosh�s cub became blind.

Ramananda Ghosh, one of the cultivators, is in despair. �All the crop on my six-bigha land has turned into ashes. The soil has also been damaged. It will take time to prepare the land again for cultivation,� he said.

There are also those like Mahadeb Ghosh, who are in trauma even 18 hours after the incident. �It was around 5.30 pm and I was working in my paddy field. Suddenly, I heard a deafening explosion. Soon, I started having breathing problems. Without wasting any time, I started running as far as possible. My family members also managed to take refuge,� he recalled.


Durgapur, Feb. 27: 
It started in 1997 as an in-house event at the Durgapur Society of Management Science (DSMS). In 2000, the doors of DSMS were thrown open to seven hotel-management colleges from the East. This time, the number of participating institutions rose to 15, and the scale was that much bigger � a pointer to the fact that Gastronomix is growing by the year.

Gastronomix 2001, organised by DSMS in association with The Telegraph on 23 and 24 February, cooked up a storm on the campus of the �largest hotel management college in eastern India�. Day-I of the annual inter-college carnival, inaugurated by Zulekha Ruksana, president of AICWA, witnessed vocal solo (eastern and western), the Sugrihini contest (food presentation by local housewives), JAM and debate at the Atrium, the creative-writing competition and Antakshari prelims in a couple of classrooms, and poster-painting on the lawns.

In the evening, the action shifted to the open-air theatre with the Antakshari finals, a jugalbandi of tabla and ghatam by two students, Diganta Paul and Debasish Giri, and, finally, the foot-tapping numbers played by Prayas, the �home-band�.

The Day-II menu featured the chef competition, the Hasya Kavi Sammelan, the joke-telling contest, and the quiz finals at the Atrium. The post-lunch session was reserved for prize distribution. Gastronomix 2001 ended with a bang � a power-packed performance by rock-group Cyanide Angels from Calcutta, followed by a fashion show by students, that really got the crowd going.


Chuchura, Feb. 27: 
Hooghly district police have arrested 30 men and women from hotels, guest houses and rented rooms from Tarakeswar temple estate area and Champadanga, following a drive against immoral trafficking on Sunday night.

Nine of those arrested were women, Hooghly superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu said. All of those held are between 20 and 30 years old.

The raid had been conducted following complaints against the increase in immoral activities in the area.

According to the police, house owners in Mandirpara and hoteliers in and around Tarakeswar used to let out their rooms for immoral activities at rates ranging between Rs 200 and Rs 300 an hour.


New Delhi, Feb. 27: 
Speculation about rolling back the retirement age of government employees was revived today with the finance minister refusing to comment on the issue with the budget just round the corner.

�The Expenditure Reforms Commission has not made any such recommendation. I am constrained today in replying to it,� Sinha told Rajya Sabha member Lakshmi Prasad during question hour.

Sources in North Block said that a golden handshake deal is being formulated for those who are more than 50 years old and have put in at least 15 years of service.

The role model for the package, say officials working on it, is a voluntary retirement scheme offered by the Gujarat government to its employees some years ago, which was adapted by many public sector units. The Gujarat government had offered 35 days pay for every year of completed service or 25 days pay for every of service remaining, with a ceiling of two years� salary.

Bureaucrats who opt out will also get normal benefits such as pension and provident fund. To make the package more attractive, the Union government is considering the possibility of allowing early retirees to retain the bungalows and flats they have been allotted till they reach the age of 58.

However, riders on special qualifications and experience are likely to prevent those bureaucrats who could easily get jobs in the private sector from seeking early retirement. This is a fallout of PSUs and banks losing their best employees after such schemes have been initiated.

Also under consideration is a proposal to give employees the option of going on long leave of up to three years, during which they can join private organisations on a trial basis.

The Central government wants to shed at least 10 per cent of its 21 lakh workforce. Before taking drastic measures to achieve this, the government has already quietly initiated moves to shed the excess baggage.

A committee of secretaries, which has been given special powers by the Prime Minister, has already started handing out executive orders shutting down whole departments. At least two departments � the department of supply and the department of industrial development � have already been shut down without any fanfare.

Other departments being eyed for the axe include the departments of fertilisers, consumer affairs and non-conventional energy. Two other departments � the department of posts and the Central Electricity Authority � are being corporatised, taking them outside the purview of Central budgets. Officials add that an informal decision already exists to freeze recruitment to about lakh vacant low-level jobs.

Each ministry has also been asked to identify jobs it no longer needs to do and, consequently, posts it doesn�t require. These will be compiled and scrutinised by the Expenditure Reforms Commission headed by former finance secretary K.P. Geethikrishnan. The commission has, however, been given powers to go beyond the recommendations of the ministries.

Ministries who have been complaining of insufficient manpower have been advised to outsource. Thus cleaning jobs in most ministries have been farmed out to private contractors, websites in many departments are being put up or run by private agencies.

The reason for the entire exercise is obviously to cut expenses and the fiscal deficit. The government is slated to turn in its highest ever planned fiscal deficit of Rs 1,11,275 crore. Many economists feel the amount will be far higher.


New Delhi, Feb. 27: 
An annoyed Atal Bihari Vajpayee today threatened to put the Congress and other Opposition parties �in the dock� for making �unfounded� allegations on discrimination in relief distribution to quake victims.

Charging the Opposition, especially Congress president Sonia Gandhi, with attempting to put the government in the dock, Vajpayee said, amid cries of �shame, shame� from the treasury benches: �We will bring out the truth and make you stand in the dock as you have tried to take political mileage out of this natural calamity.�

The 40-minute intervention by the Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha saw frequent clashes between him and Opposition leaders. CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee sought to counter Vajpayee by reminding him that �when I came to you for money (for West Bengal floods), you had remarked �where is the money?� We came to you with great expectations. The people of West Bengal also belong to India.�

Vajpayee retorted: �Don�t bring Bengal politics here.�

Chatterjee countered: �Today Vajpayee is not speaking as Prime Minister but as a BJP leader.�

Sonia, who initiated the debate of the Gujarat quake yesterday, had quoted victims to charge that relief distribution in the state was linked to political, religious and caste affiliations. Several other Opposition leaders had also charged the government with discriminatory distribution of relief material.

The Prime Minister denied the accusations. �Attempts are being made to put us in the dock. This is not proper and it has pained us. One should not indulge in such politics.�

The 40-minute intervention was repeatedly interrupted by Opposition leaders Chatterjee, Madavrao Scindia, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Mulayam Singh Yadav. As the exchange became too heated, home minister L.K. Advani came to Vajpayee�s rescue.

�Everyone has supported all efforts. What we have said is more should be done for Gujarat and disaster management should be done properly and we are not divided on Gujarat,� said Chatterjee.

Advani defended Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel and said if anybody brought specific information about discrimination, �I will take action against them.�

Vajpayee said by repeatedly raising the issue of alleged discrimination in providing relief to Muslims and Dalits, the Opposition had tarnished the country�s image as they hit headlines in foreign newspapers. Congress member Shivraj Patil said the Opposition had only done its duty by pointing out the flaws in the relief work.

Opposition leaders also criticised the Prime Minister for his statement that they were indulging in politics over relief materials with an eye on the coming Assembly elections.

Refuting the Opposition charge that that the Centre discriminated in providing assistance to Gujarat, cyclone-hit Orissa and flood-ravaged West Bengal, Vajpayee had said: �This type of discrimination does not take place. You give less to Orissa. This is not proper.�

He said the government has decided to set up the national disaster management authority to tackle natural calamities expeditiously.

The Prime Minister said a suggestion to this effect was made by leader of Opposition Sonia at the all-party meeting following the quake.

Vajpayee also announced that the Centre has permitted Hudco to float Rs 1,500 crore worth tax-free bonds for rehabilitation work in Gujarat.

When Shivraj Patil clarified that no one had blamed the Gujarat government in providing relief, Advani said from the way the Opposition raised the issue, the impression gained was that the state government was the culprit.

Patil sought to know whether it was not the government�s duty to take note of cases of discrimination pointed out by the leader of the Opposition, who toured the quake-affected areas.

The Prime Minister said Keshubhai Patel had himself stated at the all-party meeting that action would be taken if cases of discrimination were brought to his notice.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
The editor-in-chief and managing director of The Statesman, C.R. Irani, today ruled out any dialogue under threat with the CPM�s labour arm, Citu, whose activists have been accused of attacking the office of the newspaper at Dabgram on the outskirts of Siliguri last evening and this morning.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said in Writers� Buildings he had asked home secretary Sourin Roy to take up the matter with district police and ascertain the reason behind the assault.

The Statesman managing editor, Ravindra Kumar, said the Citu activists cut off telephone lines and prevented employees� movement to and from the office and laid a siege since last afternoon.

According to Ravindra Kumar, the ostensible reason behind the Citu-led attack was the removal of a person employed by the contractor in charge of newspaper packaging about 10 days ago.

�I have no prejudice ag- ainst any particular trade union. But, under this kind of threat, there can be no dialo- gue,� Irani told a news conference.

�Moreover, there is no subject to talk about as we don�t have any dispute with the Citu,� he added.

He said he could not contact Bhattacharjee last night despite repeated attempts and leaving messages that it was an emergency.

Irani said he finally spoke to Bhattacharjee this morning and insisted that the chief minister takes steps to restore law and order outside the newspaper office.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty condemned the attack by Citu supporters on the newspaper office.


New Delhi, Feb. 27: 
Non government organisations are jumping into the fight over the privatisation of Balco, an issue that has fast become a test of the Centre�s will to privatise the public sector.

The Centre for Civil Society (CCS), an NGO patronised by reforms salesmen � mostly economists � is going to court to pre-empt public interest litigation cases that it suspects will be initiated by trade unions and environment groups.

CCS contends that the privatisation of public sector units is in the �first order public interest� as it is the only way to reform these companies. The cases challenging privatisation are of parochial private interests, said its president, Parth J. Shah, an economist and former professor at the University of Michigan, US.

The CCS litigation will not confine itself to Balco but to privatisation as a whole.

�It is in the larger public interest to privatise public sector units as fast as possible. For instance, if the government had taken a strategic partner for VSNL two years ago, it would have got 10 times the price that the VSNL scrip today commands. Thus the government has lost out on revenue that is crucial for development expenditure,� said Shah.

Though the CCS claims it has no interest in Balco, its case has the support of industry and the apex chambers of commerce. If its case is upheld, it will strengthen the argument for privatisation and threaten to take the wind out of the sails of the opposition.

A court order against public interest litigations filed by the Balco Employees� Union will mean that any opposition to any of the proposed privatisation measures will be devoid of legal sanction.

The CCS argues that delay in privatisation will mean the public sector units that are ripe for the picking will have to be sold cheap. Balco�s profitability, too, has been going down over the years.

In 1995-96, it earned a profit after tax of Rs 106 crore. In 1999-2000, that was down to Rs 55.89 crore. In 2000-2001 it is reported to be slipping to around Rs 25 crore.

If the arguments of the CCS echo those of the chambers and pro-reforms economists, it is no surprise.

The centre is packed with laissez faire scholars. Its chairman is Kanwal Rekhi of IndUS. Among its patrons are Isher Judge Ahluwalia of the Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations, Jagdish Bhagwati (Columbia University), Surjit S. Bhalla, Kirit Parikh, Bibek Debroy (Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies), Vinay Bharat Ram (DCM Industries) and Siddharth Sriram (Siel Industries).


New Delhi, Feb. 27: 
The Balco sell-off was not the only issue which bothered the BJP MPs and Arun Shourie was not the only minister at the wrong end of their stick.

In the parliamentary party meeting this morning, agitated members questioned food, public distribution and consumer affairs minister Shanta Kumar on food and agriculture subsidies and grains import.

The MPs sought to know the factual position on food and agriculture subsidies and the import of rice, wheat and sugar in the context of the impending removal of quantitative restrictions on several items.

They emphasised that the issues had become important since the Opposition had raised them not just in Parliament but in farmers� rallies. They specifically referred to the Congress� farmer rally in Delhi on Sunday.

BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said Shanta Kumar refuted the Opposition charge of the Centre importing wheat, sugar and milk on a large-scale and putting farmers to difficulty.

�It is not correct to say that wheat, sugar and milk are being imported on a large scale. Import duties on these goods have been raised to the level to discourage them from being imported,� Malhotra quoted Kumar as saying.

Kumar said the economy was transforming from one with a food-deficit to food-surplus and it was �natural� that the transformation will pose problems.

He also told the members that the NDA government was �merely implementing� the WTO agreement signed by a Congress regime in the past.

He claimed measures were being taken to protect the agriculture sector.

BJP president Bangaru Laxman had earlier urged the Centre to stem the adverse WTO impact.

MPs suggested that to counter the Opposition campaign against the government and the BJP, Kumar should release a �fact sheet� on the food and agricul- ture situation with statistical back-up.

Copies of resolutions, affirming the BJP�s �commitment� to farmers� issues, passed in a recent national executive and a Kisan Morcha meeting were redistributed to the MPs to refresh their memories.


New Delhi, Feb. 27: 
King Mohammed VI of Morocco, on a �thanksgiving� visit to India, today joined Delhi in urging Pakistan to settle all its outstanding dispute with India in the spirit of the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. This is the first-ever visit of a Moroccan king to India.

The Delhi Declaration signed by foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his Moroccan counterpart Mohammed Benaissa, says: �The two sides recognised the serious threats posed by the growing threat of international terrorism. They condemned terrorism in all its forms. They reiterated their resolve to work together to strengthen the international efforts for an early finalisation of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.�

Though in the past Morocco had favoured a bilateral solution to India-Pakistan disputes, this is the first time it has become party to a document which stresses that the Kashmir problem should be resolved peacefully in the spirit of Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration.

The significance of the joint statement lies in the fact that it can help Morocco, a country which claims to have played a moderating role at the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) on anti-Indian resolutions, to be more vocal in future about any attempt by Pakistan to use the OIC as a forum to fight its battle against Delhi.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the country in February 1999. A year later, his Moroccan counterpart Abderrahmane El Youssoufi visited India.

However, all this regular exchanges between the two sides took place only after Delhi assured that it would re-assess its stand on the Prolesarian Movement. A year later, India announced its decision to de-recognise the Saharawian Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Moroccan king�s visit should be seen in that context.

The visiting head of state of Morocco, who had wide-ranging talks with Vajpayee, defence minister George Fernandes and Jaswant Singh during the day, stressed on the commonality of views between the two sides and agreed to put in place a structure for closer political interaction between the two sides in future.

In the evening, King Mohammed VI held discussions with President K.R. Narayanan and was guest at a banquet given in his honour by the latter at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.


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