Business buzz in sunset state
Front allies fix meet on expelled Bloc MP
Militants strike on crowded platform
Sonarpur bandh
Jagmohan junks Jogi dream capital
Militants gun down 10 at Jammu station
CPM bid to mend fences with Cong
TV team beams in school
Auditor lobs housing ball in minister court
Kidnap arrests

Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
Cursed by business for so long, Bengal is back in the industry’s good books.

“There is a new seriousness in the state government which was not there a few years back,” said Tarun Das, the director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, after a two-hour meeting with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his Cabinet colleagues today.

The meeting discussed ways to revive jute — an industry that once sustained the state’s economy and was then given up for lost. It also took up the issue of self-employment that the New Left has been advocating as a solution for unemployment since coming to power.

“The government has understood that it should first revive its home-grown industry at a time when there is a global recession and no major investment is coming anywhere in the country,” said a senior CII member who was present at the meeting.

“The action plan (on the jute industry) prepared by the government is comprehensive and we are told that state labour minister Mohammad Amin with his years of experience in jute has chiselled out the plan.

“It is really worthwhile. It is focused and if the government can implement it, jute will once again become the sunrise industry in the state,” the member added.

The CII team was led by chamber president Sanjiv Goenka, while the state government was represented by finance minister Asim Dasgupta, commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen, besides Amin and the chief minister.

“They (the state government) are more focused now,” said Das of the CII.

“They have identified infrastructure as the key area of investment. The state government shouldn’t be accused of not being able to attract investment.

“There is recession worldwide and no investment is coming anywhere. They are now listening to us and reacting immediately.”

He was referring to Bhattacharjee’s immediate decision to follow the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust model for the state’s Bangla Karma Sansthan Prakalpa.

In 1995, J.R.D. Tata started the trust with an initial corpus of Rs 40 lakh to generate self-employment. The corpus has now swelled to Rs 2 crore.

“The recovery (of loans) is 95 per cent. The scheme has become a success because it is being monitored. We have told the state government that the units which will come up under Bangla Sansthan Prakalpa will become a success if it is monitored properly,” said Rajive Kaul, chairman of Nicco Corporation, which looks after the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust.

If industry was upbeat, so was the government.

Dasgupta said the government, along with the CII, will form a coordinating team that will sit with jute mill-owners in the state and discuss the industry’s revival.

“Diversification is one area jute mill-owners should focus more on. Another area of importance is the modernisation of the age-old plants,” Dasgupta said.

Sanjiv Goenka said his chamber, with its expertise in technology and energy management, will work with the state government to make the jute industry a sunrise sector.    

Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
The Forward Bloc and the CPM will discuss Forward Bloc MP Amar Roy Pradhan’s plea to function as a Left Front MP despite his party expelling him.

The Forward Bloc expelled Roy Pradhan, a long-time party MP from Cooch Behar, on charges of anti-party activities. Party state secretary Ashok Ghosh had informed newly-appointed Front chairman Biman Bose of the party’s decision. Roy Pradhan also wrote to Bose, expressing his desire to function as a Front MP despite his party’s decision.

The issue was raised at the Front’s meeting at the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street today. Referring to the letter written to him by Roy Pradhan, Bose told the Front leaders that Roy Pradhan said he had been elected as a Front candidate and wanted to function as a Front MP. “I have been the Left Front MP since 1977 and I want to function as the Front MP in future too,” the letter stated.

Forward Bloc MP Jayanta Roy urged Bose not to discuss the issue as Ghosh was absent. Following Roy’s request, the issue was not discussed at length.

The Front chairman told reporters that a bipartite meeting will be held to discuss Roy Pradhan’s plea to work as Front MP. However, the date for the meeting has not been fixed. Bose said the date will be decided after Ghosh’s return from Hyderabad, where he has gone for a cataract operation.

Roy said the party had expelled Roy Pradhan on charges of anti-party activities and there was no possibility of reconsidering the decision.

“Our decision regarding Roy Pradhan’s expulsion will remain unchanged. But he is a central committee member of our party and can appeal to the central committee against the state unit’s decision,” Roy added.

Senior Forward Bloc leaders are reportedly unhappy with the CPM, particularly with Bose as he had “encouraged” an indirect split in the party by accepting Roy Pradhan’s letter. Kamal Guha, party leader from Cooch Behar and irrigation minister, had charged Bose with attempting to split the Forward Bloc by entertaining Roy Pradhan.

Midnapore bifurcation

All the Left Front partners today approved the administration’s move to bifurcate Midnapore district. “We had decided on the proposal about two years ago, but nothing has been done so far. Now the government is planning to bifurcate the district to facilitate administration. We have no objection to the government’s move,” Bose added.

Bose said the state government had convened an all-party meeting on August 18 to discuss the bifurcation of Midnapore. The meeting will be held at the Midnapore district magistrate’s bungalow.


Siliguri, Aug. 7: 
Northeast militants struck in Bengal again.

On Monday evening, a group of suspected Assam-based Adibasi Cobra Force militants attacked General Railway Police jawans on duty at the crowded Jorai railway station in Cooch Behar, hacking one to death and injuring three others. They fled with four service rifles.

A senior police official said commuters chased the militants, but they managed to escape after firing a few shots in the air. The incident occurred minutes before the Guwahati-Chennai Express was to arrive at the station.

“We have managed to get some important clues on the incident and expect a breakthrough shortly,” the official said.One of the militants was arrested today.

This incident, following close on the heels of last Saturday’s suspected National Democratic Front of Bodoland swoop on a border village in which an unidentified person was gunned down, has shaken up both the Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar authorities.

Intelligence sources said under pressure from security forces, Assam-based rebels were re-establishing their hideouts in the remote jungles on the Assam-Bengal-Bhutan trijunction.

“The increasing pressure from security forces in lower Assam coupled with intra-group rivalry have forced these militants to once again look for safe hideouts in the dense jungles in the western Dooars region,” an intelligence official said.

Bodo militants were the first to take refuge in the jungles of north Bengal. This was in 1992.

“The area with its ideal natural cover for militant training activities, has since been a haunt of the Ulfa and the NDFB. Militants also get logistic support from the predominately Bodo-inhabited villages that dot the fringes of the jungles,” the official said.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
The Trinamul Congress has called a 12-hour bandh at Sonarpur tomorrow in protest against the murder of two of their activists last night. Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee will address a rally there on Friday.

Pankaj Banerjee, leader of Opposition in the Assembly, who met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee during the day, alleged that the CPM had masterminded the murders in a calculated manner to annihilate the Trinamul, which had wrested the Sonarpur seat this time. “This is a pre-planned murder to weaken our party, which has established its hold in the area, once dominated by the communists,” he said.

The CPM rubbished the allegation. “There is nothing political about the killings. Let a probe be conducted and everything will come out,” said Left Front chairman Biman Bose. Amit Baidik, CPM local committee secretary, alleged that the Trinamul was giving it a political colour though it was purely a family dispute.


New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
Ajit Jogi’s dream of building a grand capital for Chhattisgarh on the lines of Mohammad Bin Tughlaq’s Daulatabad has fallen through following Union urban development minister Jagmohan’s refusal to dole out crores of rupees for the project.

Jogi is camping in Delhi to plead for a new capital. The Chhattisgarh chief minister has already floated a global tender seeking consultancy from top town planners from all over the world. Jogi has already received dozens of proposals that promise to build a swanky city at par with Tokyo, Colombo, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Riyadh and other world capitals.

If the chief minister had his way, the new capital would have been a blend of modernity and tribal art and culture. He wanted to develop waterways linking the Mahanadi with the Bay of Bengal to boost steel, mining and mineral exports. The IAS officer-turned-politician wants the city so badly that he has got a feasibility report prepared for the project.

Yesterday, Jogi called on the Prime Minister, requesting him to sanction “adequate money”. But Jagmohan vetoed it, arguing that the Central government had no money to fund such an ambitious project involving crores of rupees.

Jogi is, however, unfazed. “A new state needs a decent capital. Jharkhand capital Ranchi used to be summer capital. Dehra Dun also had many government offices before it became Uttaranchal capital. Raipur, on the other hand, was a district headquarters before becoming the state capital,” he said.

Jogi is tight-lipped about the cost of a new capital. “I am still optimistic about Central funding. If I quote a figure, the Union government may develop cold feet,” he said.

While Jogi is unwilling to give an estimate of the cost of the project, sources said it would not be less than Rs 700 crore.

On his part, Jogi is trying hard to sell his “dream project”. He told Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani, power minister Suresh Prabhu and Jagmohan that given adequate infrastructure, Chhattisgarh would emerge as India’s “power hub”.

“At present, the country needs about one lakh mw of power. We alone can generate about 50,000 mw through hydel and thermal projects,” the chief minister said.

According to Jogi, power generation is one of the biggest challenges before the nation. “There are a few states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh which have been gifted by nature. The Centre should make use of it and allow us to generate power,” he said.

Jogi also has plans to curb Naxalite movement in the state. But that also is not coming for free. The chief minister has submitted a proposal for Rs 512 crore to be invested in a socio-economic package that will deter tribal youth from joining the underground movement. “Vajpayeeji said he will examine it sympathetically,” Jogi said.


Srinagar, Aug. 7: 
Militants struck at the heavily guarded Jammu railway station late this evening, killing 10 people, including an armyman, and injuring 30, eight seriously.

In the subsequent exchange of fire, one militant, identified by police from an identity card found in his pocket as Nisar Ahmad of south Kashmir, was killed.

Minister of state for home Mushtaq Ahmad Lone told The Telegraph that around three militants in army uniform alighted the Malwa Express at 8.30 pm. The militants then opened indiscriminate fire on platform no 1 of the heavily-guarded station.

“They opened fire with their automatics,” said Lone. “Five persons died on the spot, while three succumbed to injuries in hospital.”

“The security forces present at the station engaged the militants. The security forces shot dead one militant,” he said.

Police sources here said two other militants rushed out of the railway station and fled in an autorickshaw. “Enroute the militants pushed the driver out of the rickshaw and fled,” they added.

Those injured in the firing were rushed to the nearby hospital, where the condition of eight is serious, said sources. One armyman was among the dead, they added.

The militants had attempted to attack the soldiers at the railway station, according to sources. “Their main targets were the security personnel on the platform,” said a senior police officer.

Another report said the three militants entered the railway station. The rebels, reportedly, later took positions on the overhead bridge, from where they sprayed bullets on the passengers.

An eyewitness said he saw the railway platform splattered with blood. “The relatives were crying while the police searched the station,” he said.

People living near the station said they heard bursts of gunfire twice. Panic gripped the area as people ran helter-skelter. Shopkeepers downed shutters and fled.

Sniffer dogs were pressed into service. Senior police and security force officers rushed to the spot immediately after messages were flashed. A general alert was sounded throughout Jammu city, with police searching all passing vehicles and passerbys.

At the SMGS hospital, relatives and locals shouted anti-government slogans. Junior doctors, who are on an indefinite strike following the recent death of a medico, rushed to the hospital as the injured were shifted there late this evening, according to hospital sources.

A massive manhunt has been mounted to nab the two militants who had escaped. The entire area has been cordoned off.

Few months ago, militants had bombed the station, injuring bystanders.

No one has yet admitted responsibility for today attack.


New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
Barely three weeks after snubbing Sonia Gandhi and staying away from her tea party, the CPM wants to mend fences.

If veteran CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee has his way, he will convene a meeting of all Opposition leaders next Tuesday.

But it all depends on whether Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav sanctions such a meeting. Mulayam told a meeting of non-Congress Opposition leaders this morning that he would make up his mind by Thursday.

It is Mulayam’s deep antipathy towards the Congress which is getting in the way of better co-ordination among Opposition parties — and is also keeping them apart from each other to the advantage of the ruling alliance.

At today’s meeting, Chatterjee suggested involving the Congress in the Opposition’s strategy to keep the heat on the government. He also suggested a meeting next week. But Mulayam held back, saying he needed more time to make up his mind.

To begin with, Chatterjee will talk to Sonia and discuss the issues that have been bothering both Congress and non-Congress Opposition parties.

Despite their differences over economic policies, the Opposition has many issues in common to beat the government with. For instance, the Opposition is united over the “saffronisation of education” and at the initiative of Congress MP Eduardo Faleiro, has formed a forum of parliamentarians to keep an eye on the government’s education policies. The forum has launched a website and is bringing out a newsletter to pinpoint the issues they feel are being tampered with.

The recent US-64 debacle is another issue which has seen the Congress and the non-Congress Opposition speaking in one voice. Both have demanded the resignation of finance minister Yashwant Sinha and called for a probe into the goings-on in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Chatterjee trotted out a long list of allegations against the government — most of them converged with the Congress’ grievances. Even on economic policies, the Congress is no longer singing the same tune and Sonia has called for a rethink on the aspects of liberalisation that seem to be hurting the poor.

The Left, however, has been sceptical about the Congress’ about-turn and has maintained that the party lacks sincerity. But there is no doubt the gulf between the Congress and the Left has narrowed. Even on policies like disinvestement, for instance, the Congress has begun to shout itself hoarse along with the Left parties.

But it is the Samajwadi Party that is getting in the way of closer coordination. If next week’s meeting materialises, it could thrown open possibilities of greater Opposition unity, which, till now, has not been visible in Parliament.


New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
Ritesh Mittal, a class X student, has made his directorial debut. He, with assistance from students of class VI, has shot a documentary on the pollution of the Yamuna.

Ritesh, Mayank, Abhay, Gaurav and Shashank are part of a team of 24 which has set up Ryan Channel — India’s first broadcasting station in a school. “We have shot documentaries, news programmes, music videos and chat shows,” said Abhay, a student of class VI. They have produced a music video featuring students dancing to the tunes of Chhaiyan chhaiyan from film Dil Se. A talk show on the grading system and a chat show with actress Nandita Das and Chunkey Pandey have also been shot.

If school means all work and no entertainment, then Ryan International School in Rohini has proved it wrong by setting up the broadcasting station. The school has a control room equipped with monitors and editing board, three cameras — a digital one as well. Once the production work is through, programmes will be ready for transmission to classrooms fitted with television sets. The channel will broadcast news and entertainment programmes every day for 20 minutes within the school premises.

The preparation for setting up the channel began during summer vacations in May. The faculty of Jamia Milia Islamia (mass communication), the National School of Drama and the British Broadcasting Corporation conducted a workshop which was attended by 24 students from class VI to XII. The were given crash courses in direction, online editing, scriptwriting, camera work and acting.

Ryan International School plans to impart “education through the lens” to “mould the creative potential” of its students. “The current generation is taken over by information technology. Media, films and music is something that cannot be separated from the life of children. Therefore, the school has used this lifestyle to their advantage and used these tools as means of imparting education,” according to the board of directors of the school.

“The very essence of education through the lens is to initiate students to handle techniques of mass communication in tandem with basic education so that they can avail vocational training,” said A.F. Pinto, chairman of St Xavier’s group of schools, Mumbai, and Ryan International School.

“I did not want a conventional school environment, and when I left Mumbai for Delhi, I wanted to start a project with a difference,” he added.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
The spat between state housing minister Gautam Deb and government auditors today snowballed into a full-scale verbal battle with the office of the Accountant-General (Bengal) returning Deb’s compliments by saying that the minister was being “wild and untrue”.

Yesterday, Deb told reporters that the CAG’s charges against his department were “wild, incongruous, incorrect and purposeful”. Today, the AG (Bengal)’s responded in similar fashion, saying it would take the minister’s tirade to the CAG.

It all began with the CAG’s findings that the state housing department had bent rules to benefit two joint sector companies —- formed by industrialists perceived to be close to the Left Front government —- at the cost of the public exchequer while handing over prime land.

The CAG report —- lapped up by the media last week —- got a delayed but, according to AG officials, intemperate rejoinder from Deb yesterday. He accused the CAG of levelling false charges and accused some of its officials of buying low-cost flats at one of the two housing projects that went under the scanner. “Do I need to say more?” Deb asked.

The flats were purchased by the Indian Audit & Accounts Department and the Centre had paid for them “like any other buyer”, an AG official explained today. But the flats were “far away, small, insecure and the department wanted to surrender the purchase, even forfeiting 10 per cent of the amount paid, which they have refused”, he said.

The AG (Bengal)’s office today flung back Deb’s charges. “It’s the minister who’s wild and untrue,” a senior official said. But the report was “purposeful”: it couldn’t be otherwise when the auditors had constitutional obligations to spend months probing how public money was spent.

“But wild, incongruous and incorrect, no,” he said. “The report is based on facts obtained from the department concerned.”

At the end of three weeks of going through the department’s papers, the auditor concerned speaks to the department’s head; the draft report is finalised after a month’s scrutiny and then forwarded to the department again for remarks; copies are sent to the chief secretary and the finance secretary for the government reaction.

“The final report says the matter was drawn to their notice but there was no response,” the official added.

The housing minister’s remark that he and his principal secretary “were not aware of the inquiries made by the CAG officials” was untrue, AG officials said.

“The secretary was requested to respond to the queries vide letter no. Works (report)/DP/1999-2000/5(A)/27 dated 9 May 2000,” one of them disclosed. “For every paragraph, we give six weeks for a response,” he added.

Deb, however, chose to pass the buck to subordinate officials.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
In a late night swoop, police picked up from Dum Dum four associates of Ijaz Khan, suspected to be involved in the kidnapping of Khadim’s co-owner Parthapratim Roy Burman.

The CID had received an tip-off that four of Ijaz’s associates were in the Dum Dum area and informed Dum Dum police station. A team of 50 policemen, both from the CID and Dum Dum police station, raided a hideout at Ghughudanga and picked up the suspects.

Senior officials of the CID, the Calcutta police detective department and district police have started interrogating the suspects at Dum Dum police station. Balai Ghosh, who had rented out his Ghoshpara house to Ijaz for a week from July 1 for Rs 2,600, was also called to the police station to identify the suspects.

The police said they learnt that the four had frequently visited Ijaz during that time, but did not say whether Ghosh had identified the suspects.

Investigating officials said Ijaz had left Ghosh’s house on July 7, but had rented another flat in the same area. “Now we are trying to locate the second house in which Ijaz had taken refuge,” said a police officer.

In an effort to trace the rest of the abductors, the interrogators asked the suspects to contact their counterparts over the policemen’s cellphone.


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