Court war challenge to Opp.
Basu seal on CM Buddha
Girl-traders in groom garb
Freeze on Toubro accounts
Dying jute takes lives with it
Heat on Delhi for Manipur rollback
Protesters target state rejig law
Mass meets for UP polls
Surat doctors turn counsellors to fight foeticide
Gentle jostling on AIDS solidarity caravan

Calcutta, June 21: 
In one of the strongest defences of his government, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today asked the Opposition to move court if it was not satisfied with the election results.

�If you don�t have faith in the Election Commission and have the wish or the courage, then go to the high court with the results of all the 294 constituencies. Whatever the verdict is, we will abide by it,� Bhattacharjee said in the Assembly while replying to the debate on the Governor�s address.

In a veiled reference to the Trinamul Congress, he said it was unfortunate that the �Opposition party� was reluctant to face the reality that the Left Front had won with a difference of 36,76,000 votes and gained 48.9 per cent votes. �If ones crime is terrible, his punishment will also have to be equally dreadful,� he added.

Bhattacharjee urged the Opposition to shun violence and accept the verdict of the people. �Please accept the verdict of the people and exercise restraint. Declare that you won�t indulge in violence,� he said.

Describing as unprecedented and unfortunate Trinamul�s allegations against the Election Commission, the chief minister said the verdict of the people is final in a democracy.

Bhattacharjee, who rubbished the Opposition�s charges that the Left Front had rigged the polls, ridiculed as �peculiar and novel� leader of the Opposition Pankaj Banerjee�s contention that the change of government in every election was a must for democracy.

Bhattacharjee said there cannot be such five-year contracts with the Opposition as �democracy is of the people, by the people and for the people�. �The people had definitely wanted a change but they wanted more improvement in the government�s functioning. They did not want a deterioration from the present situation,� he added.

The chief minister also countered the Trinamul charge that the government was remote-controlled from the CPM headquarters in Alimuddin Street. �The party fixes the policy while the government is accountable to the Constitution. We know the rules of the game we are playing and we are following it,� he said.

Participating in the debate earlier, Trinamul MLA Sougata Roy had asked why CPM ministers were meeting at the party headquarters. �Then who is running the government?� he had asked.

�You are now a rich man�s government. On one hand, police are opening fire on workers and on the other, you are meeting industrialists in the party headquarters,� Roy said.

Referring to law and order, Bhattacharjee said the crime rate in Bengal was less compared to any other state. �However, there is no room for complacency. I�m not saying there is no criminal activity in the state,� he said.

On the industry front, Bhattacharjee said multinationals like Wipro, IBM and Mitsubishi were investing in Bengal. Despite the world-wide �slow-down� in industry, Rs 17,832 crore had already been invested in the state.

�There are already 440 units in the downstream of Haldia Petrochem. Bad road conditions come in the way of rapid industrialisation. We have taken up a project to build a north-south corridor from Calcutta to Siliguri with funds from the Asian Development Bank. We have started late but we will overcome all obstacles,� he said.


Calcutta, June 21: 
In a bid to silence the Opposition that had been claiming that two chief minister were ruling Bengal, Jyoti Basu today rallied in support of his successor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, saying he had proved to be the perfect political chief executive much to his delight.

�He (Bhattacharjee) has done remarkably well in his new job. People have responded to him. Left Front partners have acknowledged him as their leader and the administration has accepted him. What can bring more joy to us than his success,� Basu told a rally at the Netaji Indoor Stadium this evening. The rally was organised to celebrate the Left�s sixth straight victory in the state.

Basu said the responsibility of the Front government had increased considerably as the people had elected them for the sixth consecutive term. �We have the right to celebrate our victory, but at the same time, we have to be careful about our responsibilities to the people who have given us their consent to rule the state once again,� Basu said amid loud cheers from the audience.

He said there was 81 per cent polling in 1996, which came down to 75 per cent this time. �But I don�t think that all those who had voted against us are reactionary or communal. They voted for our opposition because we couldn�t convince them about our policies. We have to go to these people to bring them to our fold and I believe it will be possible if we keep close contact with the people,� he said.

Bhattacharjee, however, attributed the victory to the �consciousness of the working class people in our state�. �There was no doubt that the election was very crucial this time. People wanted a change in the government. Still, we came to power because people wanted another Left Front government which will perform better,� he said.

The chief minister said given the limited powers of a state, he would not be able to solve all the problems of the common man but his government would try its best to stand by the people. �On the one hand, the government will go on functioning from Writers� Buildings and on the other, democratic movements will be organised to strengthen the government,� he added.

�We have no intention of fighting against the Trinamul Congress. We have more important functions like fighting unemployment and poverty,� Bhattacharjee said. �Trinamul leaders told me in the Assembly that they will continue their tirade against us. But I told them, we have no time to fight against them,� he added.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said his party will celebrate its sixth victory in Bengal all over the country.


Siliguri, June 21: 
The �marriage party� came all the way from Haryana to Dinhata.

There were Azad Singh, the 30-year-old groom, his father, Raghunath Singh (60), Hansraj (40) and Hari Singh (50), all of them from far-off Farooque Nagar in Gurgaon, Haryana.

Azad was to marry a 14-year-old girl, Champa, an orphan who worked as a maid. One Noka Burman, a rickshaw-puller, had fixed the match, though Champa had been dead against the marriage from the start.

That, of course, would not have stopped the so-called marriage and her eventual sale to a brothel in Delhi or Chandigarh or some town in Haryana.

What saved Champa � and helped police bust a racket in the sale of girls to brothels in northern India � were some alert members of a local club.

Police arrested the gang on Wednesday when the club members complained to the police.

�We have had reports of an inter-state gang of girl-runners operating in this parts,� said superintendent of police, Cooch Behar, Kailash Chandra Meena. �With the arrest of this gang, we have managed to bust the thriving racket.�

Elaborating on how the gang operated, he said: �They posed as prospective bridegrooms and enticed poor labourers and marginal farmers in remote villages with �marriageable� teenaged girls. The poor fell into the clutches of this gang easily and agreed to get their daughters or relatives married off to these seemingly prosperous people from far north. The gang then either sold these girls to some brothels in Delhi, Chandigarh and other towns in Punjab or Haryana or employed them for other illegal purposes. These marriages were fixed with the help of local match-makers. In this case, Noka Burman.

�When boys of the local club in Champa�s native Banstala got wind of the marriage, they informed the police after detaining the gang. While the bridegroom Azad Singh managed to escape, his father Raghunath, Hari Singh and Rajhans Singh were arrested along with Burman.

�Police are investigating the case to find out more details about the gang�s operations. We believe there are other members involved,� Meena added.

The sub-divisional judicial magistrate of Dinhata remanded the gang-members along with Burman in police custody for a week.

�During interrogations, Hansraj revealed that he had earlier married a teenaged girl from Burman�s village and had taken her to Gurgaon. We suspect that the gang may have taken several other girls from the area on the pretext of marrying them and must either have sold them to some brothels or employed them as forced labourers,� Meena said.


Calcutta, June 21: 
The CID has blocked 34 bank accounts of Toubro Infotech, the company which allegedly promised �absurd� interest rates and duped investors to the tune of lakhs.

DIG, CID V.V. Thambi said seven bank accounts of the company in Calcutta have been blocked. �Besides, 27 other accounts in Chandigarh and Mohali have also been seized,� he said.

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta had earlier ordered the CID to investigate the company�s financial status after two depositors filed complaints.

During investigations, the CID raided the company�s office at Kamalalay Centre and arrested two executives. Another executive was arrested from Coochbehar. Thambi said the company had collected money from the depositors promising them 17 to 20 per cent interest.


Calcutta, June 21: 
Bansberia was no flash in the pan, just like Baranagar was no one-off incident.

The jute cauldron has been boiling in the state for far too long, and the ingredients are all wrong: badli workers, benami owners, trade unions that are unaccountable. Add to that an indifferent government that has forgotten to switch off the gas, and you have a cauldron that is ready to boil over any day, if not explode.

Thirteen of the 59 jute mills in the state closed down when raw jute prices shot up some months ago. Seven more are likely to close down, feel industry insiders. The net impact: 50,000 workers will be directly affected, and several thousand more indirectly.

The industry insiders won�t be surprised if there�s more violence, more bloodshed in the days ahead. Nor will the workers be shocked.

�Uncertainty is part of the life of the chatkal industry and killings have become a regular phenomenon,� says Debashis Dutta, a veteran leader of Aituc, affiliated to the Chatkal Mazdoor Union.

Then there�s union rivalry, dues that have not been paid for long, strikes, management-worker scuffles, suicides: the two lakh-odd workers in the state�s oldest industry have learnt to live with it all.

Even without any of this, most of these mills would close down anyway. Their machinery is obsolete. They need large doses of funds for better machines, but these funds are not coming.

That�s because most of these mills are not being run by the owners but by jute financiers who took over control when the owners failed to clear dues and are now out to milk these mills dry, make whatever money they can, and scoot. They couldn�t be bothered about the long run. �They only rake in profit depriving everybody,� says Dutta.

A senior Citu leader pointed out that some cash-rich jute brokers are taking advantage of the existing Acts to take control of mills under liquidation.

�Like the Baranagar Jute Mill, there are 100 sick mills in the jute and engineering sectors referred to Calcutta High Court. The cash-rich traders take over these units almost without any investment, run them without paying proper wages or updating the machinery, and flee once their money is made,� he alleges.

The workers of these mills accept whatever they get, because even peanuts are better than nothing. Besides, the industry-level wage settlement was done away with three years ago.

Veteran Citu leader Niren Ghosh, who has condemned the police firing at Bansberia, has proposed that the state government set up an independent commission to monitor the situation in the jute industry.

�This is required to eradicate the traditional problem of benami promoters, particularly in the jute and engineering sectors,� he says.

But the Indian Jute Mills� Association (IJMA) has blamed labour militancy for the plight of the industry in the state.

He had said after the Baranagar incident six months back, when workers lynched two mill officials after they shot dead a worker, that it would sound the death-knell of the industry.

Jute baron Arun Bajoria, too, criticised the �reckless and violent� attitude of the workers. �Who would take the risk of setting up units in Bengal when the law and order situation is becoming so fragile?� he said.


New Delhi, June 21: 
The BJP and the Vajpayee establishment have come under intense pressure from almost all parties, barring the Samata Party, to revoke Central rule in Manipur.

Finding itself in a logjam, the government has decided to convene a meeting of Manipur parties here on Saturday to discuss the volatile situation in the state.

Even as the government is grappling with the situation in the state, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) continued to be divided on the revocation of President�s rule. While Samata Party is not in favour of it, the Janata Dal (United) said the Centre should take immediate steps to revive the popular government.

Party spokesperson Mohan Prakash said: �It is not an NDA, but a national, issue. If we start the political process it would help regain people�s confidence.� He said a Central team should be despatched to Imphal to restore people�s faith in the NDA government.

The Samata Party, however, wanted only the ceasefire extension to be reviewed. A party source who did not want to be identified said revocation of President�s rule is wrought with complications but it was possible for the government to add a line in the agreement that the ceasefire agreement �was not a reflection on the territorial integrity of Manipur�.

Finding a chief minister is going to be difficult. While Samata Party insists on restoration of Radhabinod Koijam, the ousted chief minister, the state BJP is opposed to the idea. Finding a compromise candidate may prove to be a tricky issue.

The Centre, which had clamped President�s rule under pressure from Samata chief George Fernandes, is worried not only about the tense situation following widespread violence but also the adverse political fallout for the BJP which had emerged as the single-largest party in Manipur after the recent realignments.

The twin decisions to impose Central rule and to extend the ceasefire agreement signed between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M) have made both the BJP and the Samata Party unpopular in the state.

NDA sources said the Congress, which has governments in neighbouring Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, may fish in troubled waters. There is no guarantee yet from the Congress whether it would back the government in the Rajya Sabha for ratifying Central rule in Manipur.

The home ministry felt that the situation warranted the immediate restoration of a popular government. A ministry note is learnt to have said that �in a situation wherein no fresh elections were possible, it is better to revoke the suspension of the Assembly so that a government is installed� in Imphal.

The government is under tremendous pressure from the public and legislators cutting across party lines who threaten to quit the Assembly en masse if the ceasefire extension to Manipur is not revoked.

Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) chief Choabaa Singh, a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance, has warned of even a civil war, if the ceasefire agreement was not reviewed.

The BJP, which only yesterday stated that there was no question of reviewing the ceasefire decision, toned down its stand today and hinted it was not averse to a reconsideration.

Party president Jana Krishnamurthi said though the ceasefire was not a wrong decision, the BJP has asked for a review taking local conditions into consideration.

�There is nothing wrong if the government reviews the situation but review does not mean revision of ceasefire. Of course, there was some communication gap because the real purpose of the agreement was not understood by political parties and people.

�But after all the explanation from the Prime Minister downwards, there should be no scope for misunderstanding that their territorial integrity will be compromised,� Krishnamurthi said.


Imphal, June 21: 
With the Centre unlikely to review its decision to extend the Naga truce to other parts of the Northeast, amendment to Article 3 of the Constitution might become the focal point of the Manipuri agitation.

Article 3 allows Parliament to form new states or alter the areas, boundaries or names of states.

Manipuris fear the Centre�s ceasefire decision has �virtually endorsed the Naga claim to a Greater Nagaland�, which would eat into their territory. By amending Article 3 � as demanded by All Manipur United Clubs Organisation (Amuco) adviser R.K. Anand � they hope to protect the state�s boundary.

The All Manipur Students Union (Amsu) has established contacts with its counterparts in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura to make joint protests against the Centre�s decision.

The agitating Manipuris said the Centre�s �insensitivity� was exposed when home minister L.K. Advani sent in more troops to the troubled state and said the government would not succumb to their �threat�. �Advani is provocative and he is sending the wrong signals to the Manipuri people,� Anand said.

As protests against the Naga truce spread to other districts, three Naga organisations in Manipur � All Naga Students� Association, Naga Women�s Union and Naga People�s Movement for Human Rights � in a joint statement �appreciated� the Meiteis� efforts to maintain communal harmony at �this crucial juncture�. They also appealed to the Naga population in Imphal to remain calm.

But reports of protests came in from Moirang in Bishnepur district. Security forces fired in the air and lathicharged protesters at Jiribam sub-division bordering Assam. Protesters also blocked National Highway 35 (Imphal-Silchar) to protest against the ceasefire.


New Delhi, June 21: 
The BJP has decided to kickstart its poll preparations in Uttar Pradesh on a war footing by involving party workers in a mass contact programme down to the grassroots and marshalling the services of five central leaders to cover all Assembly seats within eight days.

Announcing the contours of the programme that will begin in August, BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi said he and senior office-bearers � Narendra Modi, Kushabhau Thakre, Pyarelal Khandelwal and Kailashpati Mishra � would be involved. They will address meetings in one nodal point for 10 Assembly segments every day to get a �proper� assessment of the ground realities, how the BJP was placed in a constituency vis-�-vis its opponents, what the public mood was like and lastly, how the organisation was placed.

�At the end of this, we will have a correct assessment of each Assembly constituency. This assessment will be taken up for further analysis and will be the basis for chalking out new programmes,� said Krishnamurthi.

Krishnamurthi, who chaired the state BJP�s working committee meeting in Saharanpur last week, claimed that the overwhelming mood was to �accept the electoral challenge and emerge successful in a much better shape and manner than today�. The BJP chief, who presided over a central office-bearers� meeting today, unveiled yet another programme � the BJP will have one-day conferences from August to October in district headquarters all over the country to be attended by workers from all levels. The talking points have yet to be finalised, he said.

Today�s meeting also decided that while the chintan baithak (introspective session) Krishnamurthi proposed in July may be deferred to September, the BJP would hold its next national executive between July 16 and 21 after Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf�s visit.


New Delhi, June 21: 
The silence of complicity between doctors and patients is beginning to break. A group of gynaecologists and obstetricians in Surat have come together to stall foeticide � a practice neither the government nor the voluntary sector is able to check, let alone put an end to.

It is a drop in an ocean but weighty enough to cause a ripple. When the government has virtually thrown up its hands and is seeking the help of religious leaders to shame the practice of foeticide, this group�s effort, the first of its kind, seems to shine a light on a dark path. Of the total 200 members, 50 are males.

�Gujarat has been racked by foeticide as much as other parts of the country. When nothing seemed to work, some of us � gynaecologists and obstetricians decided to form an association,� Prerna Parekh, its founder member, said.

To begin with, members of the association � Surat Society for Gynaecologists and Obstetricians � refused to abort a female foetus but there was the fear that families which were turned away would knock on the doors of other doctors who continued to flout the law.

�Instead of just saying �no� we started counselling those who came to us, wanting to abort a female foetus. We asked the pregnant lady to bring her husband and mother-in-law to the clinic,� she said. Often they turned up and the doctors explained to them the importance of a girl child � giving their own examples of what the social recognition they have got as good professionals.

�Some went away but many came back for delivery of the girl child. We can claim 60 to 70 per cent success for our efforts,� she said.

The next step was to rope in radiologists and sonologists to have a well-coordinated team that would impact the medical set-up in Surat and influence families which had never reckoned with coming up against this wall of refusal.

�Almost half of the radiologists put up boards outside their departments declaring they would only use the equipment to diagnose medical abnormalities and will not reveal the gender of the foetus,� Prerna said. The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, introduced in 1996, with the aim of rooting out foeticide, has made virtually no impact � amniocentesis has been driven underground with the connivance of doctors and their medical accomplices.

It is not as if the campaign is working wonders all over Surat. �There is one part of Surat where gynaecologists and obstetricians have kept away from the association,� says Vibha Parthasarathy, chairperson of National Commission for Women, who recently visited Surat.

Pinpointing these areas, Prerna adds, �Where the association has not taken off is that part of Surat which has a concentration of migrants from Saurashtra�.

Also, migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, have not been touched by the campaign.

The Surat example, however, strengthens the officials� argument that foeticide would have been long since stubbed out had the doctors been less greedy and refused to perform illegal operations.


New Delhi, June 21: 
First, the good news. In a rare show of solidarity, the government and the Opposition have come together to tackle a huge menace affecting the country.

On June 25, leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi will represent the country at the UN�s AIDS conference along with health minister C.P. Thakur.

Now the bad news. Like any other domestic political issue, Sonia and Thakur are engaged in a battle of oneupmanship on who should lead the delegation. As both enjoy Cabinet rank, they are staking claim to the �rightful� job as leader of the contingent to address the gathering for the five minutes allotted to India.

The Congress camp wants the government to be �gracious� and let Sonia have the say. After all, she has been championing the cause for an all-out crusade against AIDS. The Congress feels that the battle against HIV was not to be fought by the government alone.

For Thakur, the controversy is needless. As India figures in the working group on funding, the government representative should make policy announcements at the plenary. �Will the leader of the Opposition be prepared to read out the note from the BJP-led government?� a source close to Thakur asked.

Sources close to Sonia, however, maintained that the Congress chief would not like to miss the chance of taking up the AIDS cause even if the government relegates her to a secondary role.

Till late at night, a battery of Congress leaders were negotiating with the government on the need to accord �due importance� to Sonia.

�AIDS has become the single most important public health issue in the country, with about four million men, women and children becoming infected by the virus that causes it,� Sonia told The Telegraph at 10 Janpath this evening.

�I had to make some changes in my original programme in the US. But considering the issues at stake, I agreed to be a part of the delegation,� she said. The invitation was sent to her by Thakur on Tuesday, three days before she leaves for the UK and the US.

Five of the 11 states ruled or supported by the Congress have a problem with HIV. �In the north-eastern states, too, there are families where young men and women and children are dying of AIDS,� Sonia said.

�Last year, when the Prime Minister wrote to me about the success of reducing polio incidence, I replied that it was very good. But attention should now be given to this disease which has become a serious problem.�

Sonia will meet UN secretary-general Kofi Annan on June 24. �I will be discussing the disease with him as well and tell him that we need all the help we can get to prevent the disease from infecting more people. NGOs or the government alone cannot tackle a problem as big as India�s,� she said.

Earlier in the day, Thakur released a report entitled Together We Can, prepared by the UN and made public globally on the eve of the special session. In it, the world body has called for firm commitment by top-level leaders throughout the world, an extraordinary response and the collection of billions of dollars to fight HIV/AIDS.

A contradiction arose when the health minister denied that there were an estimated 5,60,000 AIDS orphans in India, as pointed out in a UNAIDS release distributed on the occasion.

�There have been only 17,000 deaths from AIDS in India so far. There cannot be so many orphans.� UN officials pointed out that the quality of reporting HIV and deaths due to AIDS varies greatly from state to state.


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