Purulia power project gets off ground
ISI twist to tout ring in army recruitment scam
Pant set for Kashmir ice-breaker trip
Antony group gets key slots
Ulfa �tax� on Majuli school
Cyclone loses intensity
Corbett Park whiff in Delhi ivory bust
Gogoi turns down Atal�s permit plan
Crusader restarts war on Veerappan
Joshi unity call for children

Calcutta, May 26: 
The West Bengal government and National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) today signed a memorandum of understanding for the 900 mw Purulia pumped storage project in the state which is expected to be commissioned by 2006.

Under the terms of the MoU, a joint venture company will be set up in which NHPC will have a 67 per cent stake and the Bengal government 33 per cent.

NHPC�s chairman and managing director will head the joint venture company which will be responsible for executing and thereafter operating the project.

The MoU was signed in New Delhi by Yogendra Prasad, chairman and managing director of NHPC, and Asim Barman, secretary in the department of power, government of Bengal.

Under the MoU, Bengal will have the first option to buy power generated from the project at the rate to be worked out in accordance with prevailing statutes. The West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) will enter into a power purchase agreement with the joint venture company.

The project, to come up at Ayodhya Hills, will help stabilise power fluctuations, besides contributing to the eastern grid, state power minister Mrinal Banerjee told reporters a day before the MoU was signed.

�The project will help balance the great difference between hydel and thermal power generation,� he said.

At present, only 3 per cent of power generation in the state is from hydel projects. With thermal plants putting in the rest, this share should ideally be 40 per cent.

The Planning Commission had given clearance to the project in 1994.

�Since then, the state government had been asking the Centre to participate in the management of the eastern grid through this project. When it did not respond, we went ahead.�

A loan of Rs 2,619.7 crore from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation was procured for the Rs 3,188.9-crore project, the rest being provided by the state government.

The minister said work will progress in full swing now that a case, pending in the high court over placement of contract for the main civil works, has been resolved.

Initially, the four units of 225 mw each were to have been commissioned by November 2005. But the court case and clearance from the Union ministry of environment and forests over diversion of forest land at the project site had delayed commencement of work.

�We now hope that the work will be completed by 2006,� Banerjee said. Roads, colonies, offices and power lines have already come up, and all major tenders have been finalised.

The hydel project will enable motors and other electricity-run plants to run without damage and with better efficiency. The project will have two catchment areas. The upstream catchment, with an area of 9.5 square km, will take care of the dry months, when there will be no water in the river that feeds it.

A major advantage to the state from the agreement signed today is that Bengal will get precedence during peak period demand for power.

�The off-peak supply will go towards the management of the grid,� he said.

Once the project is complete, the generation will help overcome peak demand shortage. �Thermal power cannot cater to peak, off-peak and fluctuations of power generation, and this has affected frequency and voltage in the region.�


Siliguri, May 26: 
For the last few years, a ring of touts, hand-in-glove with some military personnel, has been duping aspirants to the army and pocketing lakhs in the bargain. Army intelligence officials allege that ISI operatives are also involved in this.

Last February, rickshawpuller Tapas Roy was overjoyed when he learnt at the army�s branch recruitment office in Salughara that he had qualified as a jawan. To celebrate, he visited a local bar to spend the evening. Tucked under his arm was an envelope with his original education certificates which he had carried to the recruitment office in case they were required.

After several drinks, a man � later identified as A.K. Raju � approached him and got chatting. He �informed� Roy he was from the army and a very influential officer. Then, warming up to Roy, he said he could get him a �plum posting� if he could hand over some official documents.

Roy, overjoyed at this bonus, quickly fished out his school leaving certificate from the envelope and handed it over to Raju. That was the last he saw of the document.

When he went to the army recruitment office to get his name enrolled, the authorities would not oblige till he produced his school leaving certificate. Roy returned to the bar to accost Raju, but was quietly informed that the certificate would cost him Rs 50,000, as, without it, he would not get his job.

Roy lodged a complaint with the Bhaktinagar police station and Raju was arrested. Luckily for Roy, the army cooperated and he returned to his school to fetch a duplicate certificate.

But for most conned aspiring jawans, the only way out is paying up. Investigations by the police and the army have revealed that Raju, along with a husband-wife couple, both civilian contractors of the military engineering service (MES), had been running a racket around the Salughara recruitment office.

Using their contacts in the army, they used to get information about those candidates who were almost certain to make it to the jawans� list. Then they used to approach them with promises of �confirmed jobs� and take away all their official documents from them. Later, after their recruitment, they used to return them for �fees� ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 80,000.

Army intelligence officials, however, insist that Raju and the MES couple have not been operating on their own. They say that the arrest of an ex-serviceman, Hari Gurung, operating as an ISI �talent spotter� in north Bengal, has established the Pakistan secret service�s hand in the racket and given it a more sinister turn.

According to them, some of the trapped recruits managed to pay up the entire amount at one go and collect their certificates from Raju. Others were given a chance to pay in instalments and after a written assurance of repayment, the documents were returned to them. Most, however, could not pay beyond the first instalment.

Intelligence officials say that it was at this point that Gurung moved in. He used to zero in on these recruits and begin the game of blackmailing.

The threats were the obvious one: their superiors would be shown the I-owe-you slips and then they would lose their jobs; hoodlums would be sent to their homes and their land would be confiscated; their family members would be harassed and beaten.

Some succumbed to these threats and the process of converting them into ISI recruits would begin. They would be trained to spy on the goings-on inside their camps and report back to Gurung. Once this was done and the young jawans �compromised�, they would become �permanent agents�.

Officials said that Gurung was arrested only after one of the �compromised� jawans, unable to take the blackmailing any longer, confessed to his seniors. Within days Gurung was picked up by officials of Matighara police station on the outskirts of Siliguri.

Meanwhile, even as recruitment of jawans is currently on at Salughara, the Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri police have arrested another two �recruitment touts� from the area and legal proceeding have also been started against the MES couple.

�We have launched a concerted drive to neutralise touts involved in cheating aspirants to the army,� said Lt Gen Ashok Chaki, commander of 33 Corps. �Following information given by us, the Bhaktinagar and Matighara police have cracked down on them.�


Srinagar, May 26: 
Delhi�s interlocutor on Kashmir K.C. Pant is arriving in Srinagar on Monday, close on the heels of Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s invite to Pervez Musharraf.

Kashmiri separatist leader and chief of Democratic Freedom Party Shabir Ahmad Shah will also announce his decision to join the dialogue process on Monday.

The party general council met here today and discussed the talks offer in detail. �We will announce our strategy at a press briefing only on Monday morning. Before that, no comments,� Shah said.

Sources said Pant will leave for Leh on Tuesday and meet Buddhist and Muslim leaders. He will also visit the Shia-dominated Kargil district on Wednesday and return to Srinagar the same day to continue talks with pro-India and separatist groups.

This will be Pant�s first visit to the state after his appointment as interlocutor last month. Shah recently said he would meet Pant if he visited Srinagar.

Former chief minister and president of Awami National Conference Ghulam Mohammad Shah had shown his willingness to meet Pant. �I will meet Pant only in Srinagar,� he had said recently.

However, the separatist All-Party Hurriyat Conference has rejected the talks offer. �The Pant initiative is dead,� chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said.

Many people here describe the Prime Minister�s invitation to Musharraf as a �positive development�.

�It has come late but I feel this is a big development and could lead to some solution to the Kashmir problem,� said Abdul Rashid, a college lecturer. �However, Kashmiris, who are the basic party to the dispute, must be involved.�

�Only meaningful talks could lead to a breakthrough. I think both countries are serious about solving and restoring peace,� said Mehraj-ud-Din, a shopkeeper.

�I hope this new initiative does not fail like the six-month-old ceasefire in Kashmir,� said Javed, a doctor.

Six militants killed

Six militants and a securityman were among eight persons killed in separate incidents since Friday night in Jammu and Kashmir, reports PTI.

Two persons were injured when militants hurled a grenade at a heavily-guarded government bui-lding in Badshah Chowk here. The building also houses the office of the joint director, information.

Three militants were today killed in a gun battle between the rebels and army troops in Doda district�s Banihal, sources said.


Thiruvananthapuram, May 26: 
An assertive A.K. Antony today had his way with the allocation of portfolios in the 20-member United Democratic Front ministry, marking a clear departure from his conciliatory style of functioning over the past one month.

None of the demands made by the rival Congress faction, led by former chief minister K. Karunakaran, was accepted. Vital departments were kept by Antony himself or ministers belonging to his group.

Antony is in charge of home and general administration. Former UDF convener K. Sankara Narayanan, a trusted lieutenant, was put in charge of finance and excise. M.M. Hassan, another loyalist, has been given the new department of non-resident Keralite (NRK) welfare and tourism.

The Karunakaran faction, which had made a strong bid for finance, had to be satisfied with the departments of electricity, health and fisheries.

Karunakaran loyalist K.V. Thomas � who had pushed aside Oomen Chandy, a senior leader of the Antony camp, in the race for a ministerial berth � was given the relatively less important portfolio of fisheries. The only pro-Karunakaran leader to get a reasonably important department was Kadavur Sivadasan, who was allocated electricity.

The portfolio allocation was completed, contrary to projections by many political observers, hours after the ministry-making exercise was over with the induction of 12 new ministers on Saturday noon. This was seen by a section of his supporters as a signal of the emergence of a new, firm and resolute Antony.

Another section of Antony loyalists, however, hold the view that the chief minister�s assertion of authority had merely helped his faction maintain balance in the state Congress. �So far, he has be-en giving Karunakaran all that he wanted. Now, he has struck back. As on today, it is merely honours even,� said an Antony loyalist.

But even as the debate on the balance of power within the state unit raged, the UDF leadership was clueless about how to set right regional and gender imbalances in the Cabinet.

There are four districts, including some UDF strongholds, that do not have any representation yet. Thrissur has 12 UDF MLAs out of a total of 14, but has no representation in the ministry. Neither the Speaker�s nor the deputy Speaker�s position has gone to the district.

Similar is the case with Pathanamthitta and Waynad. Pathanamthitta has 7 MLAs, of which 6 belong to the UDF. All the three MLAs of Wynad are from the UDF.

The districts which have scored heavily in terms of ministerial berths are Alappuzha , Kollam , Malappuram and Eranakulam. These districts have three ministers each, with Alappuzha accounting for the chief minister.

The absence of a female minister from the 62-MLA strong Congress is also rankling the party�s rank and file. The sole woman in the Cabinet is K.R. Gouri Amma, the CPM stalwart who walked out of her party and floated her own outfit.


Jorhat, May 26: 
In the first instance of the Ulfa targeting missionaries working in Majuli, the outfit has slapped a demand note of Rs 1.5 lakh on St. Paul�s School in the river island, according to its principal.

The school was set up by missionaries in the world�s largest river island nearly a decade ago.

Father Victor Toppo, principal of the Jengraimukh-based school, told The Telegraph over phone that �three motorcycle-borne boys� had delivered the demand note on the evening of May 21. The note bore the Ulfa�s letterhead and symbol, he added.

The outfit had set a deadline of May 25 for the school authorities to meet its demand or face �dire consequences�, Toppo added.

The school authorities have lodged a complaint with the sub-divisional administration. Majuli, the seat of Vaishnavite culture, has a sizeable Christian population in the Jengraimukh area.

Sub-divisional police officer P. Kalita, however, ruled out the involvement of the Ulfa. �It is the handiwork of local miscreants. We have already apprehended one of them,� he said.

Sources said the arrested person, Kolamoni Doley, had guided the Ulfa activists to the school, where a police picket has been posted.

The outfit has been keeping a low profile in the island, once considered its stronghold, since the abduction and subsequent killing of social activist Sanjoy Ghose.

The Ulfa had asked Ghose to leave the island suspecting him to be a RAW agent. Ghose had set up an NGO, the Avard-NE, which worked for the development of the island.

The incident has compounded the problems of missionaries in Majuli. Of late, they have been targeted by �Hindu fanatics� who accuse them of trying to spread Christianity in the local tribal belt.

More than 50 Mising families, the dominant community in the island, have embraced Christianity in the Jengraimukh area.

The Sanskriti Surakhya and Sewa Samity, formed at the behest of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had banned the entry of missionaries in the villages.

Missionary institutions have often been targeted by rebels in the region. Three Catholic priests were killed by unidentified rebels in Imphal on May 15, sending shockwaves throughout the Christian community in the Northeast.

Catholic schools in Imphal have closed down after the Church decided against bowing to the extortion demands of militants �on principle�.


Ahmedabad, May 26: 
The worst could well be over. The �severe cyclone� has now petered down to a �cyclonic storm�. Its intensity and destructive potential have reduced substantially.

The cyclone is practically stationary, hovering 550 km southwest of Porbandar. It is unlikely to cross the Saurashtra coast before Sunday evening.

�Even if it hits the Gujarat coast, it will not cause any major damage,� said R.K. Kankane, the director of the local Met department.

The circulating wind speed, he added, had slowed downed to 70 kmph from 160 kmph in the past 24 hours.

But he added that as the cyclone was �practically stationary�, nothing could be predicted. �It may re-curve and hit the Gujarat coast anywhere between Veraval and Naliya. But it will not affect much. It might even get completely defused.�

He ruled out the possibility of the cyclone intensifying, but said heavy rain is likely to lash the coastal districts of Kutch, Jamnagar, Junagadh and Porbandar and Diu.

Talking to reporters, revenue minister Vajubhai Vala said, �Now there is no danger looming in the coastal areas from Ahmedabad to Vapi which have been de-alerted.�

The minister said there is no danger in Bhavnagar and Amreli districts where high alert was sounded.

�We expect the cyclone to completely disappear,� he said, adding that the government was not taking any chance nonetheless. �We are on our toes. As a precautionary measure, military and state reserve police have been moved to Kutch and other places. We will remain alert. Our offices will remain open till the cyclone passes.�

Operations at all ports in Saurashtra and Kutch coast will remain closed and they will continue to hoist the danger signal.


New Delhi, May 26: 
Delhi police have busted an international racket involving illegal trade in ivory, skin of wild animals and antiques with the arrest of four persons.

The Central District police, which had been getting information about a gang involved in illegal trafficking, received a phone call around 4 pm yesterday from an informer who was keeping watch over the gang�s movements.

The police immediately swung into action after the informer said he had seen a leopard skin, two pieces of ivory and an antique statue of Buddha being transferred into a Maruti. The car was traced around 7.30 pm and four persons were arrested.

According to police sources, the main accused, Hanif, works at a university in Delhi. During interrogation, he told the police that a Roorkee-based doctor was also involved in the illegal trade and that the gang was planning to sell the items in the international market.

The four revealed that they had bought the ivory pieces at Kiratpur village, south of the Corbett National Park where a number of elephants were reportedly killed in the past six months. Kiratpur is located in a jungle around 100 kilometres from Roorkee.

Poaching of elephants around the Corbett park has picked up over the past few months. Sources said the ivory seized from the smugglers showed that the dead tusker was around 35 to 40 years old. Only male Asian elephants have tusks and the average weight of a tusk is approximately 9.5 kg.

In January this year, a total of 32 kg of tiger bones was recovered by the Uttar Pradesh police. This was followed by another recovery on March 1 when two leopard skins were seized from poachers by forest officials. In the last week of April, three leopard skins and 20 kg of leopard and tiger bones were seized in Pilibhit. On May 7, one tiger skin, eight tiger heads and 72 kg of tiger bones were seized in Palia.

Uday Sahay, DCP Central District, said: �A large number of tiger and leopard skins are traded in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Recently, however, the trade has shifted to leopards, because tigers are difficult to be sighted.� Sahay said there was a huge demand for animal skin and tusks in the international market.


New Delhi, May 26: 
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi today rejected Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajapyee�s formula of issuing work permits to migrants in the state. He made it clear that the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act would stay on.

Gogoi, who met home minister L.K. Advani and finance minister Yashwant Sinha here, communicated to the Centre that the work permit proposal was unacceptable to the people of the state.

According to the chief minister, work permits would only compound the migrants� problem. �Once a migrant is given a work permit, how will you evict him at a later stage?� Gogoi asked.

The chief minister said the IM(DT) Act was the most effective tool to deal with the issue. He said of some 3,00,000 cases before the tribunals, nearly 36,000 people had been evicted. It involves a judicial process making it just, transparent and effective,� Gogoi said.


Bangalore, May 26: 
He grabbed headlines when Veerappan kidnapped Kannada screen legend Rajkumar. Now, the retired senior police officer is back in news again.

Former deputy superintendent of police Abdul Kareem has decided to move the Supreme Court challenging the appointment of Kempaiah as commander of the task force set up to nab Veerappan.

Kareem, whose son Shakeel Ahmed, a sub-inspector, was one of the forest brigand�s victims, believes Rajkumar had a hand in the appointment. Kempaiah is known to be close to the screen legend�s family.

�I may be old but I will fight for justice till the end. Nobody can stop me,� says Kareem, now in his late seventies.

�I will be going to Delhi in the first week of June and file a petition in the Supreme Court against the appointment. This is a blunder committed by chief minister S.M. Krishna. How can you trust Kempaiah to catch Veerappan? He is a bad choice,� says Kareem, talking to The Telegraph from his home in Mysore.

He has also sent a telegram to Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha, apprising her about his misgivings on Kempaiah. He has full confidence in Jayalalitha�s ability to nab the forest brigand.

Kempaiah had pressured Kareem to withdraw the writ petition challenging the government�s decision to release Tada detenues in exchange for Rajkumar�s release. This happened when Kareem�s petition before the Supreme Court stalled the government�s bid to swap detenues for the prized hostage�s release.

�Rajkumar is soft towards Veerappan. He believes Veerappan should be given amnesty. Kempaiah will not do anything that will offend the actor. The government knows about it but has been forced to appoint him because of pressure from Rajkumar�s family,� Kareem alleges.

�My son died for a cause. I cannot allow the government to take decisions which will help Veerappan,� he says.

In the early 90s, the brigand�s gang sprayed Shakeel Ahmed and superintendent of police Harikrishan with bullets when they went in pursuit of Veerappan.

�I am confident Jayalalitha will renew operations in earnest. The operations during the previous regime was a farce,� alleges Kareem.

�Jayalalitha, unlike Karunanidhi, is sure to launch an all out operation to nab Veerappan. But I still feel the Army should be called in to end the Veerappan menace,� says Kareem.


New Delhi, May 26: 
Human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi today rapped the cash-strapped developed nations for reneging on their financial commitment for survival, protection and development of disadvantaged children.

He called for an alliance of developing countries to extract their due share from developed nations. �We will forge a strong alliance with other developing countries. The rich contries have failed to pay up,� said Joshi at a press conference on the status of children in South Asia. The minister informed that developing countries are contributing 140 billion dollars out of a total of 146 billion dollars needed for improving the status of children.

An advocate of swadeshi and a critic of unbridled liberalisation Joshi said the international order is lop-sided and exploitative, with some children wallowing in luxury while others are steeped in illiteracy and poverty. The minister stressed the need for ensuring structural adjustment with a human face.

Maria Calivis, Unicef�s country representative to India said governments will have to provide more teeth to social security measures and innovate safety nets to protect women and children from the impacts of globalisation.

�Globalisation is here to stay and women and children have always been more vulnerable to its impact. The only way to protect them is by bringing in effective social security policies,� said Calivis.

Brazil, the Calivis pointed out, has been able to buffer the pressures of economic restructuring through its safety net measures. India, it was made clear, will have to walk a similar path if it wanted the vulnerable to withstand the winds of liberalisation.

Last week, the Saarc countries met in Kathmandu to prepare for the UN�s World Summit for Children in September this year. The UN general assembly has asked regional groups to review and analyse the status of children.

The report drawn up by India for the World Summit underlined the government�s progress in several areas of development of children but also indicated its darker side as the government continued to struggle to bring down the the number of children who waste their childhood in factories and homes and also the drop-out rate of school children.

Joshi stressed that 40 crore out of a total of 56 crore children in the age group between 0-18 are in India alone. �This should highlight the dimension of the problem,� said the minister.

He put out figures of dwindling rates of low birth-weight babies, anaemic pregnant women and polio afflicted children. On the darker side, the report pointed out: �Almost half of the children (47 per cent) under three years of age are underweight and a similar proportion (46 per cent) are stunted or short for their age.�


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