Gang fury returns to haunt south
Crash crushes workers home-bound for Id
Cornered Congmen root for Priyanka poll push
Ghising case twins walk into cheetah jaws
Suicide strike rocks army hub
Dam keeps Ravi water in India after 44 years
Indians pitch in to bail out Clinton
Jaya ultimatum to Moopanar
Relocation row rocks Kutch
Colombia reporter returns as President

Usti (South 24-Parganas), March 4: 
An armed gang of 50 raided 22 houses at Majerhat village last night, looting cash and jewellery worth several lakhs.

The incident comes barely three months after a dacoity on 32 houses at Usti in Diamond Harbour.

More than 15 persons were severely hurt last night when the gang went on rampage. They did not spare women or children, hitting with revolver butts and knives.

No arrest has been made, however, in this connection though senior officials have launched a combing operation. Additional superintendent of police (rural) Rajesh Kumar Singh is camping in the village.

Angry villagers blamed the administration, saying dacoits were raiding the villages time and again in connivance with a section of policemen.

On November 25, an armed gang of youths raided Kanpur village and decamped with cash and the jewellery. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee visited the spot and promised prompt action, but no arrests have been made till date.

According to eyewitnesses last night, 50 armed men, all masked, struck the Majerhat village around 1.30 am and looted houses till 4.30 am. No policemen was in sight even as they raided one house after another for three hours. The dacoits beat up and injured those who tried to resist.

Mohammed Selim, a villager, said the dacoits first attacked the house of Rafiq Mollah and asked him to hand over his keys. When he refused, the dacoits stabbed his eyes with a dagger.

As the injured Mollah lay in a pool of blood, the dacoits raided the next house belonging to Idris Ali Khan. They hit Khan with a revolver butt when he tried to protest.

After this, panic-stricken villagers watched silently as the dacoits raided the houses of Kamal Khan, Badrish Khan, Abdul Latif Sheikh, Nuruddin Khan, Sriajul Laskar and several others.

Gyasuddin Molla, gram panchayat pradhan of Serakol and local Trinamul Congress leader, said: �The youths locked up the women when they were reluctant to hand over the keys.�

Molla said the most tragic incident occurred in the house of Naimuddin Sheikh.

�Naimuddin had some ornaments and the cash in his house for his daughter�s marriage. But when the dacoits raided his house, he and his wife were hit by iron rods for refusing to hand over the jewellery,� said another eyewitness, Mohammed Zalaluddin.

Officials said most of those whose houses were raided were supporters of the Trinamul.

The police said they were investigating whether the same gang of dacoits who had raided Kanpur village last November were involved last night.


Suti (Murshidabad), March 4: 
Fifteen persons were killed when a sand-laden truck collided with another on National Highway 34 and fell into a ditch near Gadaipur bridge in Suti police station area early this morning.

Thirteen persons died on the spot while two died in Jangipur Sub-divisional Hospital. The drivers of both the trucks have fled.

The victims, mostly masons and daily wagers, were returning home for Id-uz-Zoha from Orissa and Chandannagar in Hooghly.

Police said the dead were identified as Asgar Ali (22), Ensad Sheikh (32), Dablu Sheikh (23), Mafijul Sheikh (30), Jabbar Sheikh (38), Nursad Sheikh (35), Tasiruddin Sheikh (25), Bishu Mondal (20), Akbar Ali (22), Saber Sheikh (20) and Naimuddin Sheikh (45) � all residents of Baliaghata in Suti.

Three others, Rajab Sheikh (30), Ekramul Sheikh (37) and Faruk Sheikh (22), hailed from Samserganj. One victim could not be identified. Three of the injured were released after first-aid. The rest are still in hospital.

The victims had come to Omarpur to take a bus to their village. However, around 3.30 am 25 of them boarded the Malda bound lorry. After some time the lorry was hit and overturned. Those who died on the spot were buried under the sand.

Giasuddin, father of Dablu Sheikh, a victim, said: �How could they stop a loaded truck and climb on it. The policemen on patrol take money from trucks and buses for carrying passengers illegally.�

However, Dhrubajyoti Banerjee, officer-in-charge of Raghunathganj police station, said: �It is impossible for the police to maintain watch at the dead of night on those who travel on top of buses and lorries.�

A pall of gloom descended at the Jangipur hospital. Relatives who rushed in broke down while identifying their family members.

Ajmira Bibi, who was married a year back, wept inconsolably. �I am carrying a child who will never be able to see its father,� she wailed.

Maria Bibi, wife of mason Naiuddin, hysterically slapped her forehead, crying: �When everyone will celebrate Id, I will observe an Id full of sorrow.�


New Delhi, March 4: 
Congressmen want Sonia Gandhi to launch Priyanka Gandhi in politics at the Bangalore plenary scheduled for March 17-18 and at least ensure she makes an appearance to provide an �extra push� to the party before Assembly elections in five states.

As part of the preparations for the Bangalore session, leaders from Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Punjab have appealed to Sonia to �bring Priyankaji� along. The Uttar Pradesh Congress is most eager as the party is back to its 1.8 per cent vote share in the state. In the recent Assembly bypolls, the party lost its deposit in all three seats.

Former filmstar Sunil Dutt, a Congress MP from Mumbai who is looking after the Indian Youth Congress, is flooded with just one request: to make her the organisation�s chief.

Even Tamil Maanila Congress leader G.K. Moopanar has told Sonia he would be willing to lead a third front in Tamil Nadu against the two formidable Dravidian parties, provided the AICC chief campaigns extensively for the Congress-TMC front with Priyanka.

But Priyanka is less than enthusiastic about a political role now. For her, the top priority is seven-month-old Rehan Rajiv Gandhi Vadra. Having shed weight through Vipasana, Priyanka has also drastically restricted her social visits as she wants to spend more time with Rehan. Heading the Youth Congress is virtually ruled out but she is not averse to making an appearance at Bangalore if �mama asks me to do so�.

Sources close to Sonia said her think-tank was sharply divided on the timing of introducing Priyanka in politics.

�That she is tailor-made for a political role is saying the obvious. The crucial issue is when. At this juncture, she will galvanise the party but with general elections three years away, we would not like to lose the edge,� a newly- appointed Congress Working Committee member said.

But those keen on enlisting Priyanka for the party cause insist that the Congress needs the �push� now. They said the mother-daughter duo would do wonders for the party and hasten the �process of disintegration� of the Vajpayee government.

�What is the point in allowing them to consolidate? If the Congress fares badly in Uttar Pradesh, it will demoralise the entire party. One thing is clear. As long as the Congress continues to do badly in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Tamil Nadu, we will not become relevant on the national scene,� he said, pointing out that together these states send 225 Lok Sabha members.

The Congress has invited more than 100 foreign delegates to the plenary. The foreign delegates will be put up at five-star hotels, made a no-go area for partymen. Thirty carpets have been ordered from Chennai to ensure that they receive a �red- carpet� welcome.


Siliguri, March 4: 
What the deer could not do, the cheetah has done. Darjeeling police today said two prime suspects behind the attack on the Gorkha National Liberation Front chief, Subash Ghising, have been arrested after an operation codenamed �Cheetah�.

The police said the Gorkha Volunteer Cell�s former Kurseong unit chief, Sharan Dewan, and his associate, Arjun Tamang, were arrested near the border with Nepal while they were trying to sneak into India last night.

However, speculation is rife that the two have been picked up by Nepal police last week and handed over to the Indian force yesterday. A police team from Darjeeling had returned empty-handed earlier after an operation named �Deer� failed to trace the suspects.

Earlier reports had identified Sharan Dewan�s aide as Arjun Chettri, but the police today clarified that his name was Arjun Tamang.

The Darjeeling police superintendent, Sanjay Chander, said his team had information that the two suspects would cross over to the Indian side at a secluded spot on the border under Naxalbari police station. �We caught the two immediately after they waded across the Mechi river, which demarcates the international border.�

Terming the �arrests� a �major breakthrough�, Chander said Sharan is believed to be one of the main conspirators. The two have been remanded in police custody for 10 days.

However, an official of the special investigation team told The Telegraph that following the initial reluctance of authorities in Nepal to hand over the two, an �unofficial� transfer was agreed upon.

�Since we do not have an extradition treaty with Nepal, it was impossible to bring the two over officially. It was then decided that the two would be handed over and we would make a formal arrest on Indian soil,� the official said.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was here today, said he was yet to gather the details. �All that I can say at this stage is that the police have made a major breakthrough. I need to gather the facts leading to the arrests. I will be in a better position to make a comment tomorrow,� he said.

The government has been under pressure to make a breakthrough as the GNLF had threatened to resume an indefinite bandh unless the �actual culprits� were arrested by March 19.

Asked if the GNLF was satisfied, the chief minister said: �We have told them that we are trying our best to arrest the culprits. If needed, we will seek the Nepalese government�s help through the Centre. We have requested Ghising not to resort to bandhs which are against the interests of the hill people. It also disturbs neighbouring Sikkim. We don�t, however, want any confrontation with the GNLF on the issue.�

The GNLF leadership criticised the manner in which the entire operation was conducted and reiterated the demand for reviewing the Indo-Nepal treaty which allows free and reciprocal movement between the two countries.


Srinagar, March 4: 
Two militants barged into an army camp at Azadgunj in Baramulla town th-is morning under the cover of ro-cket fire and killed four soldiers before they were gunned down.

This is the latest in a string of strikes by militants in Jammu and Kashmir after the extension of truce in the state till May-end.

Those killed in today�s attack include two junior commissioned officers (JCOs). Eight armymen were also wounded in the attack by fidayeen on a battalion headquarters of the army at 3.45 am, official sources said.

Police sources said two Lashkar-e-Toiba fidayeen forced their entry into an army camp after hurling grenades and firing heavily from assault rifles. Militants from an adjoining hilltop attacked the camp with rockets, grenades and assault rifles.

Two soldiers, including a JCO, died on the spot, while six were wounded in the heavy firing. The injured armymen were shifted to the hospital where two of them succumbed to injuries.

Security guards engaged the militants in a battle that continued for four hours. Despite army reinforcements sealing the area around the camp, the militants continued to fire on the troops.

Police sources said the two fidayeen were killed this morning by the troops. Lashkar has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Senior army and police officers have rushed to the spot. Troops conducted massive search operations in nearby localities.

Advani claim

Home minister L.K. Advani has said in Calcutta the banning of three Pakistan-based militant outfits by the UK indicated that India has been able to mobilise international opinion on its stand against terrorists, says our airport reporter.

�We are confident of defending ourselves against these terrorists and the proxy war waged by Pakistan,� he added.


Ranjit Sagar Dam, March 4: 
The Ravi has finally been tamed. Forty-four years after the Indus Water Treaty allocated its waters exclusively to India, no more flows into Pakistan thanks to the Ranjit Sagar dam near Shahpur Kandi.

The dam was today dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Earlier called the Thein dam, it was conceived by Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in 1977 during his earlier stint in the hot seat and constructed at a whopping cost of Rs 3,800 crore.

The project, in the midst of a row with Haryana chief minister O.P. Chautala demanding 50 per cent share of power produced, is expected to generate nearly 1583.4 million units a year.

With a multi-pronged development thrust, the dam will promote industry, fisheries, flood control, reclamation of land along the river bed and general economic uplift.

Named after Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the project comprises a lake spread over 87 sq. km with a storage capacity of nearly two million cubic metres. The total installed capacity of the power plant is 600 MW. The project also houses the nation�s second largest hydro-turbine.

While work on the project began in 1977 at an estimated cost of Rs 3 crore, political delay coupled with Punjab militancy, mounted the cost to Rs 3,800 crore.

The dam was completed in December 1998. Construction of the powerhouse was completed by March 1999. Generation started in August 2000.

The dam has displaced nearly 10,000 people. While 7,000 have already been provided alternate employment, efforts are on to rehabilitate the others.

The Prime Minister, while congratulating the Punjab government for accomplishing �a difficult task�, laid a wreath as a mark of respect at a memorial for workers who had lost their lives during the construction of the dam. �It is their dedication and commitment to the national cause that has helped the gigantic task to be completed.� he said.

The multipurpose dam is expected to alleviate some power problems. With the reservoir still not full, the dam is generating 100 MW to 150 MW these days. An engineer working at the site said water is being released according to irrigation needs and not power requirements.

The minimum amount of water required for irrigation is 3,000 cusecs while the water needed to keep the turbines running is 4,000 cusecs.

Water for irrigation is being diverted to the Madhepur headworks, 24 km from the site. From there it is diverted to the Upper Bari Doab canal and also to the Beas river through the Madhepur Beas link.

Before the dam came into being, Amritsar and Gurdaspur would get flooded each monsoon. As the river meandered along the Indo-Pakistan border, security became tougher to maintain.

Authorities have levelled charges against Pakistan, saying it constructed bundhs to divert the river back into India causing floods.

With the construction of the dam, the situation may ease during monsoons. While Punjab and the lower regions of Jammu and Kashmir will get more water for irrigation, the northern grid will receive more power from the turbines.


Washington, March 4: 
In an unprecedented assertion of the rising power of Indians in the US, the Indian-American community here is going to beleaguered former president Bill Clinton�s aid in his hour of need.

They are repaying him for elevating them to political positions during his eight years in office, recognising their role in America�s new, high-tech economy and cementing Washington�s relations with Delhi with a high-profile visit to India last year.

In return, Clinton helped raise $ 2 million for earthquake relief in Gujarat during the weekend, appearing with rap singer M.C. Hammer at a charity concert in San Jose, California.

Vegetarian dinner was served at the concert, at which Shekhar Suman was the Master of Ceremonies. Kathak dancer Chitresh Das and Shabana Azmi also attended the event.

Clinton has announced that he plans to visit India in April to help in quake relief. He is a member of the recently-formed American India Foundation, which plans to do rehabilitation work in 100 devastated villages in Gujarat.

For the former President, the unflinching show of support from the Indian-American community could not have come at a better time. He is under fire for some of the 170 pardons granted during his final hours in office.

The Republicans insinuate that money changed hands in securing these pardons and that Clinton�s relatives played an extra-constitutional role in commuting sentences or letting crooks off the hook.

Some of those pardoned are alleged drug dealers, arms merchants and tax evaders. An investigation is underway in both the Senate and the House of Representatives into how the pardons were granted.

Under the US Constitution, the President has the absolute power to grant pardons and nothing will come of the investigations now under way. The real aim of the Republicans is to tarnish Clinton�s presidential legacy, disable him from being a shadow President for the next four years, and most important, prevent senator Hillary Rodham Clinton from emerging as a Democratic presidential aspirant either in 2004 or four years later.

To some extent, the Republicans have had their way.

Ratings for the former President and his legislator wife have fallen in recent weeks well below what they ever had in the White House.

Which is why the support from the Indian-American community is proving to be important.

Next Friday, he will speak at the national convention of the Asian American Hotel Owners� Association, an organisation in which Indian-Americans have a pivotal role. He will be paid $ 100,000 for his speech.

The former President�s appearance in quake relief functions, however, are free of charge. His next charity event for Gujarat will be at the University of California in Los Angeles on April 1.

The way Indian-Americans are receiving the former President with open arms contrasts sharply with the attitude of the US� big business, which is now willing to play the Republican tune.

Clinton�s first public function since leaving office was a few weeks ago, just as �Pardongate� � as the pardons scandal is known here � was breaking. He spoke at a meeting in Florida, organised by financial giant Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and is said to have received $ 150,000 for his appearance.

So eager were Morgan Stanley officials to have Clinton at their meeting that they bombarded him with requests to arrive early and play golf with valued clients.

However, after Pardongate, several Morgan Stanley clients cancelled their accounts with the firm and wrote in protest against the invitation to Clinton.

Company chairman Philip Purcell apologised and e-mailed to clients: �We should have been far more sensitive to the strong feelings of our clients over Mr Clinton�s behaviour as President.�

Like Indian-Americans, the Chinese are also backing the former President in his hour of need. A company in China has offered Clinton $ 2 million to be its �image ambassador�.

An Italian Riviera resort offered Clinton $ 250,000 if he would play the saxophone at a music festival in San Remo, but he has turned down the offer, at least for this year.

Clinton�s aides say there is no shortage of speaking invitations and that negotiations are on for a book about his White House years.

They are hoping that Pardongate will pass, but in the interregnum, many of the aides see Indian-American support as extremely valuable for the US� most controversial President, even when he is out of office.


Chennai, March 4: 
Jayalalitha has served an ultimatum to Tamil Maanila Congress chief G.K. Moopanar.

The ADMK chief has warned that she will end the alliance if he does not accept by tomorrow morning her offer � of not more than 40 seats for the Congress and the TMC together in Tamil Nadu and no commitment on Pondicherry.

A confident-looking Jayalalitha told reporters on return from Hyderabad that the final composition of her front and seat-sharing details would be announced tomorrow after her meeting with her allies.

But even Moopanar�s partymen are clueless on which way he is tilting.

Sources said he would hold out and not join the ADMK front unless Jayalalitha allocated 55 seats for the two Congresses in Tamil Nadu and 15 in Pondicherry.

With the DMK option almost closed, if Moopanar moves away from the ADMK, the decision would only mean a third front, an idea the TMC chief has been resisting under pressure from his cadre.

Funds were cited as another constraint for the TMC, apart from Moopanar�s inability to lead a vigorous campaign in view of his deteriorating health. A party functionary said Moopanar was banking on funds from the Congress.

Another leader claimed that while a deal had already been struck with Jayalalitha as far as Tamil Nadu was concerned, Pondicherry was still undecided.

�It�s true she has given a deadline. But our leader is calling her bluff. He is not going to oblige her. If she goes ahead and unilaterally announces that the alliance is off, then that�s her headache. We�ve much less to lose. Aiya expects more discussions with the ADMK leaders,� the leader said.

Most of the senior leaders in the state Congress are for an alliance with the ADMK on Jayalalitha�s terms. But Tamil Nadu Congress president E.V.K.S. Elangovan is pushing for a third front.

A.C. Shanmugam, leader of the newly-floated New Justice Party that has considerable following among the forward-caste Mudaliars, and a strong votary of the third front, was closeted with Elangovan and claimed later that considerable progress had been made in his efforts and that Moopanar was coming round to his suggestion.

Sources close to Elangovan said that the high command was in no hurry to announce its decision and that it would take a couple of days before it made up its mind.


Ahmedabad, March 4: 
�This is my home, this where my family lived and died, this is where my fields are,� cried Natubhai Parmar. Sitting behind his razed house in Ambapar, as Parmar looked at the remains of another day, deep lines of fear criss-crossed the lines of sorrow on his face. �Now the government says we have to leave everything behind and shift to a new place.�

Amid the ruins of Kutch, a fierce debate over relocation is threatening to engulf the government. While the state says 70 per cent of the affected villages have �requested� to be relocated, the reality in most villages is different.

The government decision has not only triggered protests from villagers, who vowed they will not let go of their roots, but has also raised questions about the �real motive� behind the announcement.

Factions within the ruling party, unhappy with the bad press received on the builder-politician nexus, said the decision to relocate villages reeks of the �nexus which will take the party down with it when elections come calling next year�. A senior BJP leader from Rajkot added: �Already, people are not too happy with the way Keshubhai has performed in the crisis, and now this. Most villages do not want to shift. The insistence on relocating is simply a ploy to fill the coffers of builders.�

The head of an NGO working closely with the government on rehabilitation said pointedly: �New villages mean new roads, new hospitals, new schools, basically a brand new infrastructure.�

While the chief minister reiterates that he wants to build the townships of Bhuj, Anjar, Rapar and Bhachau anew, the villages have dug in their heels and insist that they won�t budge. NGOs with expertise in disaster management feel that the government�s argument that building new townships would be faster and cheaper doesn�t hold water.

NGOs have pointed out that relocation is not only an expensive process with no scientific basis, but is also �very disruptive socially�. Rajendra Desai of the National Centre for People�s Action in Disaster Preparedness, who has worked for seven years in Latur, said: �Unlike what the government says, clearing debris will be much cheaper than relocation. The government has set faulty paradigms. It asks that if this village wants to relocate, why doesn�t the other. It fails to take into account that villages that want to shift are the ones suffering from either drought or cyclone. Moreover, all big cities like London, Moscow and Warsaw were built right where they were after World War II.�

More than a hundred NGOs came to the conclusion at the shelter policy meeting held in Bhuj recently under the aegis of the Kutch Navnirman Abhiyan that building semi-permanent and permanent housing in the existing villages would be the best approach.

Graham Saunders of the American agency, CRS, said while �relocating building is a relatively simple process, relocating people and entire community is extremely difficult�. He told the government that the costs of providing full fledged services to a new location is often underestimated and may be much more than debris-removal.

Maintaining that relocation �must not� be considered an option unless based on detailed scientific study, Desai said it creates short and long term problems that �unnecessarily increase the cost of rehabilitation for no logical gain�. People went back to their original places in Latur selling off their homes in new villages within a month, he pointed out.

�The government has pegged the expenditure of a new standard village having 200 families at Rs 300 lakh. But the fact is that neither will it remain Rs 300 lakh when it is finally built, nor will it cost half that much to use the debris in constructing new houses in old villages,� Desai said adding that it was difficult to fathom the government�s relocation policy. There are hundreds of scared little villages who do not understand it either.


New Delhi, March 4: 
As a budding journalist, Andreas Pastrana Orango came to India in 1983 to report on Colombia�s entry into the Non Aligned Movement (Nam) and interview Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Nearly two decades later, he is arriving here tonight on a four-day state visit to forge stronger ties with India as the Colombian President.

Though his visit will take him to Agra, Hyderabad and Mumbai, President Pastrana � as he is popularly called � will have most of his interactions with the Indian leadership tomorrow when he will meet his Indian counterpart, President K.R. Narayanan, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and foreign minister Jaswant Singh.

Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi will also call on him and may talk about the strong ties between the Gandhi and Orango family.

Last month, Pastrana held peace talks with Manuel Marulanda, leader of Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the country�s main insurgent group and discussed the ceasefire between the government forces and the rebels that he had announced � a move that helped him win the Presidency.

Among other things, he is likely to enquire about the progress being made by the ceasefire announced in Kashmir and now being contemplated for the Northeast.

Forty-six-year-old Orango is Colombia�s youngest President. Before joining politics, he was one of the most popular TV journalists in the country and anchored a major news programme between the 1970s and early 1980s.

He hails from a political family and his father was not only the country�s President between 1970 and 1974, but also a senior minister who received Indira Gandhi in 1968 when she went to Bogota to establish the first official contact between the two countries.

Pastrana graduated in law from Colombia and went on to become a fellow at the Centre for International Affairs at Harvard University in the early 1990s, There he had come close to a number of Indian diplomats and bureaucrats attending the course.

At the age of 34, he went on to head the second most important post in Colombia � the Mayor of Bogota.

He broke away from the Conservative Party and headed its dissident faction, the New Democratic Force.

His political mastery lies in the fact that though the ruling party is in the minority, he has successfully forged alliances with dissident liberals from the main Opposition to ensure support for his government�s agenda.

Articulate and ebullient, Pastrana has a charm which wins him friends � former US President Bill Clinton being one.

His charming personality has not only brought the Farc rebels to the talks table but his rapport with Clinton has led to the US Congress voting in favour of a $ 1.3 billion loan for his �Plan Colombia� package, making his country the third largest recipient of US aid after Israel and Egypt.

He is likely to use this charm during interactions with the captains of industry in Mumbai. At the political level, Pastrana will join ranks with his hosts in Delhi in denouncing terrorism and expressing Bogota�s resolve to counter the scourge with India and like-minded countries.

The two sides will also discuss developments in Nam � Colombia being the current chairman of the organisation.

But one of the areas of cooperation that Pastrana is keen on is India�s help in information technology. Recently, he launched an �Agenda Connectivity� which focuses on training 5,000 Colombian IT professionals.

The President has made it clear that 3,000 such professionals should be trained in India and his visit to Hyderabad is basically to talk with Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu on the subject.


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