Suicide squad storms CRPF camp
Delhi rejects Pak pipeline proposal
BJP ball back in Mamata court
Govindacharya blasts govt on reforms
Workers chop off manager finger
Govt in ration card spree
Samir sets up clash withBuddha
Private funds for tourism
Condemned tag on collectorate
Blast on V-C premises

Srinagar, March 26: 
Four Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed and five wounded after a three-member suicide squad stormed a heavily-guarded CRPF camp at Gogji Bagh this evening.

A senior police officer said one fidayeen militant was killed in the four-hour gunbattle, which was continuing. Police sources said the three Lashkar-e-Toiba militants stopped their vehicle near the main entrance of the company headquarters of the CRPF 88 battalion, opened fire and lobbed grenades on the sentry post, killing a guard who was manning the gate.

The militants then shot their way inside the camp, gunning down three CRPF jawans, who were identified as Wazir Singh, Ghulam Haider and Abdul Quyoom. Their bodies were brought to the police control room later in the evening.

The five jawans who were seriously injured in the exchange of fire were shifted to the army base hospital. One civilian, who was injured in the crossfire, was shifted to Bone and Joint Hospital.

CRPF and BSF troops have cordoned off the area around the camp and a fierce gunbattle is still raging. Senior police officers have rushed to the spot, along with paramilitary reinforcements from nearby areas.

�We hear only sounds of gunfire and explosions all around. There is heavy deployment of troops in our locality who are patrolling the area,� said a local resident who was contacted over telephone.

A senior police officer said several members of the CRPF were inside the camp building. �We don�t know the exact number, but our jawans are inside,� the officer said.

The heavy exchange has triggered panic in the localities around the camp. No movement is being allowed in these areas, which have been sealed off. Paramilitary commandos were preparing to storm the camp, sources said.

The deputy inspector-general of police, K. Rajendra, and other senior officers of the CRPF and the BSF are present at the spot supervising operations.

Life in Srinagar returned to normal after four days of violent protests and strikes against the alleged desecration of the Quran in Amritsar.

Curfew is still on in Baramullah town in north Kashmir, where a protester was killed in firing by the CRPF last week.

BJP denies shawl misuse

The BJP has denied that Union minister of state for civil aviation Chaman Lal Gupta had distributed 700 shawls received from Pakistan as quake-relief material to panchayat office-bearers at Katra and Udhampur. These shawls were purchased locally from M/s H N Shawls at Old Hospital Road in Jammu city and Rs 63,000 was paid to the dealer, the vice-presidents of the party�s state unit, Chander Mohan Sharma and Hans Raj Dogra told reporters.    

New Delhi, March 26: 
Delhi has stuck to its stand of not involving Islamabad in the proposed India-Iran gas pipeline project, despite Pakistan chief executive Pervez Musharraf�s assurance to ensure the safety of the pipeline.

Musharraf was reported by agencies as telling newspersons in Karachi yesterday that Islamabad would �adhere to international norms in ensuring the security of the pipeline�. But Delhi maintained that at the moment there was no possibility of involving a third party in a bilateral project.

�It is a bilateral agreement between India and Iran and there is no change in our stand,� a senior foreign ministry official said.

However, the timing of Musharraf�s assurance for the pipeline is significant. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is scheduled to visit Iran next month and the two sides are likely to discuss the project.

India is one of the biggest consumers of Iranian gas and one of the cheapest ways of transporting it from Iran, according to many, is by laying a pipeline through Pakistani territory.

Another option is an underwater pipeline through Pakistan�s Exclusive Economic Zone. But India is reluctant to go into any arrangement involving Pakistan. The issue came up during last month�s joint commission in Teheran and the two sides decided to �explore all aspects of the gas pipeline�.

The third option being spoken about is shipping the liquefied natural gas from Iran. But experts feel it will be too expensive and, therefore, not feasible.

Though he assured the proposed pipeline�s safety, Musharraf ruled out normal economic and trade relations till the Kashmir dispute was settled.

�We will allow it (the pipeline)... But for the development of full economic relationship with India, we need to resolve our disputes... Address the issue of Kashmir to the satisfaction of all parties and then develop economic relations between both countries,� Musharraf was quoted as saying.

Stressing that there was no change in Delhi�s stand, the foreign ministry official argued that Musharraf�s statement �only weakens the argument that India should try to involve Islamabad in the gas pipeline project�.

Referring to a ministry of defence report he said it had been pointed out that, for its energy security, India should try to look for routes through countries that not only have cordial relations with Delhi but are also keen on developing and strengthening trade and economic relations with it.

According to estimates, the project � if it materialises and with Pakistan as part of it � will bring over $8 billion to cash-starved Islamabad.

His country�s tottering economy has, however, not deterred Musharraf from stressing that there would be no rollback in Pakistan�s nuclear and missile programmes or any reduction in its defence budget.

�Due to external threats faced by Pakistan, its defence budget cannot be reduced,� Musharraf was quoted as saying. He pointed out that though Pakistan does not want to be involved in any arms race, it does not want to lower the minimum deterrence level.

India also ruled out the possibility of entering into an arms race in the region.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal hinted as much while referring to reports basing their account on the Jane�s Intelligence Review which said Pakistan�s nuclear might was greater than India�s.

Jassal said Delhi�s �minimum credible deterrent, based on proven indigenous technologies and under civilian command and control, effectively addresses any threat to the country�s security and territorial integrity. There need be no ambiguity or any doubt in this regard.�


New Delhi, March 26: 
As the Congress and Trinamul dawdled over a seat-share formula in Bengal, the BJP today said it had not shut the doors on Mamata Banerjee yet.

Sources indicated that the BJP was keeping options open as Mamata had not formally informed the President about her pullout from the NDA. But it was aware Mamata was buying time to extract a good bargain from the Congress.

BJP general secretary Narendra Modi, however, said the party would not wait indefinitely for her. �The BJP is not waiting for any one. We are making preparations but have not closed our doors. It is for Mamata to decide how committed she is to dislodging the Left Front government.�

He said Mamata still appeared unclear about her relationship with the NDA. �Till she is clear, the possibility of an alliance will also remain unclear,� he added.

Modi said Mamata would by default be held responsible if the Left stormed back to power in Bengal. In contrast, the BJP�s commitment to topple the Left was evident from its readiness to be part of the mahajot, he added.

Taking a swipe at Mamata�s ally-in-the-making, he said: �The Congress has made things difficult for itself as it wanted Left support to form a government at the Centre but was opposed to the Left in Bengal.�

Moving over to Assam, Modi ruled out a pact with the Asom Gana Parishad on grounds that it shared a �secret understanding� with Surrendered Ulfa (Sulfa). The Congress, he added, was in league with the Ulfa.

�The BJP wants to liberate Assam from the clutches of both Ulfa and Sulfa. Our poll plank is surakshit Assam, vikasit Assam,� Modi said.

On the southern states, Modi said the BJP had been allotted 21 seats in Tamil Nadu by the DMK while seat-share talks in Pondicherry were still underway. �In Kerala, we want to make our presence felt. We are allying with small parties,� Modi said.


New Delhi, March 26: 
A day after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee managed to get an endorsement on his economic policies from the BJP national executive, senior party hardliner K.N. Govindacharya today attacked his government�s economic reforms saying it has �compromised� the nation�s economic sovereignty.

Questioning the logic of continuing in the WTO, he said the removal of quantitative restrictions (QRs) from April would further damage the economy.

Govindacharya, on a sabbatical after being dropped as BJP general secretary for attacking the government�s economic policies, said ever since the country signed the WTO agreement, �Our problems have been compounded. The national economic sovereignty has been compromised.... Small scale industries have suffered a lot and our industries have not been able to compete.�

An ardent proponent of swadeshi, he said the government�s policies led to an increase in rural poverty and shrinkage of job opportunities.

In an open letter addressed to about 500 people, including party colleagues, economists, experts, intellectuals, decision-makers and reporters, Govindacharya said reforms in the past five years �have resulted in increase of rural poverty, worsening the plight of farmers, decrease in employment opportunities, skewed and disadvantageous work opportunities for women and less skilled youth�.

Copies of the letter, which raised 18 �important questions�, were circulated among journalists at the BJP office after the daily briefing. It said the path of free market in the last 15 years has �led us to (a) blind alley of indiscriminate globalisation�.

He said planners have assumed the role of insensitive referees sitting in judgment against �our producers, be it in agriculture or industry�.

Govindacharya, who toured nine states in the past five months, said he wanted to communicate some of his experiences during his �study tour� to the people.

He attributed the mindset to three �hangovers� � colonial, partition and hollow socialism. �The hangover at the thought level was reflected in the way that every commodity, idea and institution of the West was the best and needed to be aped to progress or to be certified as progressive.�

Referring to the �partition hangover�, he said the minority identity even today remained an issue to be tackled. �Nationalism gets dubbed as communalism and �minorityism� walks away with pride in the garb of secularism. On the one hand some extremists view all Muslims as Pakistanis and in reverse some Muslims tend to treat Pakistan as mentor and guide. Both positions are equally incorrect and harmful and are symptomatic of partition hangover.�

Criticising �hollow socialism�, the RSS ideologue said: �Duty consciousness was replaced by rights consciousness. Statism got entrenched, governance was centralised. Consequently, work culture got destroyed, licence permit quota raj, nepotism, red-tapism, corruption, black money raj got strengthened. Decentralisation and distributive justice were forgotten and varieties of socialism sprang up.�

He said because of these hangovers, the system is in a way coming to a grinding halt.


Chandannagar, March 26: 
In another blot on Bengal�s business, angry workers of Gondolpara Jute Mill chopped off a finger of the personnel manager and severely assaulted trade union leaders and two securitymen.

The workers had stormed into the room of personnel manager Raj Kumar Agarwal after he refused to extend benefits under the employees state insurance scheme (ESI) to a casual labourer who lost two of his fingers in an accident earlier in the morning.

The casual worker, Bijoy Tanti, was working in the spinning section when the mishap occurred. He is one of 1,500 casual workers in the mill.

According to police sources, hundreds of casual workers stormed into Agarwal�s chamber and demanded that Tanti be treated at the ESI hospital.

Agarwal said casual workers were not entitled to ESI benefits, but he added that the company would bear the cost of Tanti�s treatment in a government hospital. The trade union leaders supported him.

But the casual workers drove out the trade union leaders and then pounced on Agarwal. They pinned him down and chopped off one of his fingers.

Two securitymen, Rambahadur Sharma and Tejbahadur Sharma, were severely assaulted as they tried to rescue Agarwal. The workers then ransacked the mill.

The incident comes two months after the flare-up in Baranagar Jute Mill where angry workers had set ablaze the general manager and the personnel manager after one of them had opened fire on a protesting employee. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had promised strict action against militant labour activities.


Calcutta, March 26: 
Walk in to get a ration card. The government has agreed to issue around 5 million ration cards to new applicants and to those who have lost them.

The move, coming a month before the elections, has drawn fire from the Trinamul Congress, which feels that it is a CPM ploy to �rig� the polls.

Announcing the decision, food minister Kalimuddin Shams said: �We will issue cards on demand.� He added that a person has to walk into a ration or panchayat or block office with an application and an endorsement from an elected person.

�The endorsement is needed for the verification of the identity of the applicant,� the minister explained.

Shams said people who urgently require items supplied from ration shops will be issued cards within a week. �If necessary, our officials will conduct the verification of address and other particulars of an applicant later,� the minister said.

Shams pointed out that many people do not have photo-identity cards and they could be debarred from casting their votes. �We want to make sure that people are not prevented from exercising their voting rights for the want of a photo-identity card,� he said.

The minister said that several people in north and south Bengal had lost their voters� identity cards or ration cards in last year�s floods. �These people do not have valid proof of identity and this could prevent them from exercising their franchise,� he added.

He said that thousands of people are not being able to buy items through the public distribution system without ration cards.

However, a section of government officials is opposed to providing ration cards without proper verification. They said this would lead to the cards being misused, either for the procurement of food items or for casting votes.

�We already have several lakhs of fake ration cards in the state. Despite many raids, we have not been able to eliminate these fake cards,� a food department official said. He pointed out that the easy access to ration cards would increase the number of fake cards in the state.

In Murshidabad, Malda, Dinajpur, North 24-Parganas and Nadia, which border Bangladesh, several infiltrators have got hold of ration cards and settled in West Bengal, the officials pointed out.

Opposition parties have taken exception to the move by the government. �This is a direct and blatant attempt by the Left Front to rig the polls,� Trinamul Congress leader Pankaj Banerjee said. He alleged that the move would give false voters access to polling booths.


Calcutta, March 26: 
The breakaway party of CPM rebels has put up candidates in 60 Assembly seats and pitted Samir Putatunda against chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Jadavpur constituency.

Announcing the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS)�s first list of candidates today, general secretary Saifuddin Chowdhury said he will field around 150 contestants. The second list will be announced shortly.

Chowdhury will file his nomination from Nadanghat in Burdwan district, a CPM stronghold.

Apart from Putatunda and Chowdhury, PDS spokesman Tapas Bose will also face the polls. Ten of its executive committee members will contest the elections.

Chowdhury announced the list after his party got registration from the Election Commission on March 13. The commission has, however, not allotted any symbol to the PDS.

�We have set up a front with 10 parties and we will fight the elections together,� Chowdhury said.

Putatunda, a former South 24-Parganas district secretary of the CPM, said that seat-sharing talks with the Congress had failed. �There is hardly any scope for an alliance with them as they are planning to join hands with Trinamul,� he added.

The CPM scoffed at the PDS� decision to put up Putatunda in Jadavpur where Bhattacharjee is expected to face stiff competition from Trinamul candidate Madhabi Mukherjee.

�Putatunda�s candidature will hardly affect our poll prospects in Jadavpur. People are not fools that they will vote for him. There are some people whose only intention is to contest polls, but in vain,� Politburo member Biman Bose said.

Attack on CPM workers

Bose alleged that Trinamul activists had attacked CPM supporters who were returning home after attending the rally at Brigade Parade grounds yesterday.

�Our supporters were attacked at Kona Expressway and in Ranihati. Many of our supporters were wounded as Trinamul activists hurled bombs at vehicles carrying our supporters to their homes,� he alleged.

Bose also criticised Mamata Banerjee for organising a rally in the city yesterday. �This was done to create law and order problems before the elections. We had announced our rally one month ago. Mamata was aware about our rally, yet she held her rally in the city. The intention is clear: she wants to create disturbances before the polls,� Bose said.

�Mamata is trying to create anarchy in the state and that�s why her supporters attacked our men. This is unprecedented in Bengal,� he added.


Calcutta, March 26: 
The West Bengal government is inviting the private sector to invest in infrastructure development in the tourism sector.

Hinting that it had been a mistake for the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation to provide services in the tourism industry, principal secretary Pronob Roy today said the government�s aim was to build basic infrastructure like roads and other facilities in tourist spots.

The organisation is now trying to hand over its tourist lodges to private operators. �We are waiting for the 500-odd staff in the corporation to retire. We will no longer run the lodges,� Roy said.

Speaking at a discussion on transport for tourism, the secretary said the government would welcome projects and proposals from the private sector.

�We will assist you in every way we can,� he told the other participants, who included senior representatives of the travel and tourism industry and members of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce.

He said some proposals had already been made, like the Sunderbans project by the Sahara India group, which involved catamarans going all the way into the core area of the delta, stopping only at the observation towers. �The group plans to have a larger coastal cruise, which will end at the Sunderbans,� he said.

The tourism department was also looking through proposals for a luxury coach service between Siliguri and Calcutta as well as one to Digha. �Why has the private sector not given viable propositions like a luxury cruise on the river? Or in any other infrastructure development other than hotels?� Roy asked.

The official, however, admitted that the state of roads was a major drawback. But there were several projects, some of which had already started, that would change the vehicular transport scenario in the state, including expressways and superhighways.

He floated the idea of setting up short haul air transport services that would help both tourism and commercial trips. �Haldia, Asansol and Durgapur could be linked by a chopper service. We would welcome such proposals.�

Calcutta�s image would have to be improved so that the �city of joy� could find a better place on the international tourism map, the participants agreed.

Both national and international tourism through the city, as well as promotion of places of interest within Calcutta, has a direct relationship with the condition of transportation in and around the city.


Chinsurah, March 26: 
Uncertainty looms over the counting of votes for the coming Assembly elections at the collectorate here as the PWD has decided to declare the 200-year-old building condemned.

The building was constructed by the Dutch in the early 19th century and is the longest office building in the east. It houses the Hoogly district magistrate�s (DM) office, offices of the SDO sadar and the district court.

In a letter to DM Subrata Biswas, the PWD had cautioned him about the risks involved. �I received the letter from the PWD two weeks ago,� Biswas said.

He said of the 19 Assembly constituencies in the district, counting of seven is scheduled to take place at the collectorate. The seven Assembly segments are Chinsurah, Pandua, Dhaniakhali, Polba, Bansberia, Balagarh and Tarakeswar.

Biswas said it would be difficult to find an alternative place with so little time left.

A PWD spokesman said it would be risky to hold the counting at the collectorate as thousands of people, including polling personnel, polling agents of different political parties and their supporters will assemble at the two-storey building and the structure might collapse.

Additional district magistrate Khalil Ahmed said the Dutch constructed and used the building as a military barrack.

Though the building cannot strictly be called dilapidated, the structure has become weak over the years, a PWD official said, adding that the department had stopped maintaining the building in the wake of the decision to condemn it.

The PWD has declared the 200-year-old office of the district superintendent of police and the district police barrack condemned.

�After the PWD stopped maintaining the district police headquarters about two years ago, we have been maintaining it from our own funds,� district superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu said.

He said the sprawling 30,000-square feet building was constructed in 1828 by the Dutch who used it as a military hospital. Instead of demolishing the structure, the PWD should preserve the building and give it heritage status, he added.

In 1990, the PWD prepared a proposal for the construction of a new building to house the district police headquarters at an estimated cost of Rs 42.6 lakh. Because of increased cost, the revised estimate rose to over Rs 1 crore in 1997.


Santiniketan, March 26: 
A hand-made bomb exploded on the premises of Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Dilip Sinha�s house here this morning.

The son of Sinha�s cook, Abhijit Pradhan, found a ball-like object lying under a tree in the vice-chancellor�s garden. He picked it up and threw it, mistaking it to be a ball. The bomb exploded on hitting the ground. However, no one was injured.

Sinha, who is in Calcutta, was shocked to hear about the incident. Last October, too, a bomb had been found inside his house. �I will go back to Santiniketan on Thursday and look into the matter,� he said.

A complaint has been lodged with the superintendent of police and the district magistrate of Birbhum. Anil Ghosh, inspector in charge of Santiniketan Investigation Centre, said an inquiry has been ordered into the incident.


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