Maoist held in army hub
Loot trail leads to Trinamul leader
Mamata swallows rail hike pill
SC skips Balco price issue
Women’s group push sparks burqa rush
Starvation pangs for Sonia
Year-end date for radio return
Licence raj casts net wide
Church team takes attacks appeal to Advani door
House venue for sexual harassment

Siliguri, Aug. 29: 
Military police today arrested a suspected Nepali Maoist militant from the highly sensitive and strategic army cantonment area in Bagdogra. A sophisticated Chinese-made 7.65 mm pistol, 19 rounds of ammunition and two hand-grenades were seized from him.

An army intelligence official said Akash Gurung alias Ghaley, a 26-year-old resident of Kakarvitta village in the neighbouring Jhapa district of eastern Nepal, was arrested this afternoon near the Bengdubi army cantonment. “Gurung is suspected to be a member of the underground Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), which has close links with the banned Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation, and had probably come to sell weapons to his contacts in India,” the official said.

“Around noon today, the Corps Military police (CMP) personnel on duty at Bengdubi spotted this man moving around in a suspicious manner with a shoulder bag. On being stopped, he tried to flee. The CMPs searched him and recovered the Chinese-made gun and ammunition from his person. After initial interrogation by the army intelligence and the CMP personnel, he was handed over to the Bagdogra police station this evening,” the official added.

Army intelligence sources said the arrest has thrown new light on the emerging gun-running chain in the region. They said gun-running has become rampant in the Siliguri corridor, more so with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence funding militant outfits like the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Boroland, which have formed an umbrella organisation with the Nepali Maoists.

Siliguri additional superintendent of police K. Jayaraman told The Telegraph that the arrested militant has “confessed” that he is an active member of the Chhatray Subba-led Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO). Subba is in custody for his alleged role in masterminding the February 10 attack on GNLF chief Subash Ghising.

“The suspected militant was handed over to the Bagdogra police by the army authorities this afternoon. We are now interrogating the man...(but are) not yet sure whether he is an Indian or a Nepali national. We are trying to ascertain whether he is what he claims to be,” the police official said.


Diamond Harbour, Aug. 29: 
A Trinamul Congress gram panchayat pradhan was arrested today for alleged involvement in the snatching of Rs 10 lakh from two LIC employees yesterday.

A woman was also arrested last night. However, the five dacoits who had committed the crime have not been traced.

The incident occurred around 1 pm yesterday when the two employees were going to deposit the money in the local State Bank of India branch. Suddenly, five armed men, riding two motorcycles, blocked their path and snatched the money at gun-point. They fled after hurling bombs to scare away the people.

The splinters hit the two LIC employees and a passer-by. The incident occurred a few yards away from the Diamond Harbour police station.

Police officers led by additional SP (rural) Rajesh Kumar Singh raided several areas after the incident. “We learnt from sources that the gang members were led by Swadesh Mondal, who is out on bail after being arrested for dacoity. We visited his house but by then he had left. His wife Chhaya, who was later arrested for her involvement in the dacoity, informed that her husband had left only a few minutes ago. Arms and the two motorbikes were also found there,” Singh said.

Mondal was allegedly patronised by Mathur gram panchayat pradhan Amit Sunder Purakait. Singh said Mondal contributed to party funds through Purakait and in exchange got political shelter.

Arumoy Gayen, Trinamul block president, said: “Amit was not at all involved in the dacoity. He is a victim of CPM conspiracy. They are now trying to tarnish his image as he works hard for the development of the party in Diamond Harbour.”


New Delhi, Aug. 29: 
Two days after her reinduction into the National Democratic Alliance, Mamata Banerjee was forced to swallow the ignominy of seeing her successor, Nitish Kumar, push through an increase in rail passenger fare.

But far from waving the threat of resignation — as she had done in the past whenever the Centre contemplated tough fiscal measures — there was not even a squeak of protest from the Trinamul Congress chief.

It was left to her lieutenant Sudip Bandopadhyay to hold out a muted and defensive response.

Mamata avoided coming to the House today, though she was expected to attend the afternoon session.

“The style of functioning differs from person to person. Mamata was opposed to the idea of taxing people but Nitish Kumar thought there was no other option but to increase the fare. If this is the only criteria for ensuring the safety and security of passengers, we thought it better not to oppose the hike,” Bandopadhyay said.

But he could not resist a parting shot: “After all,” he said, “all ministers are not like Mamata Banerjee.”

The Trinamul MP pointed out that Mamata, as railway minister, had made an appeal for implementing the recommendations of the Justice H.R. Khanna Committee on safety.

The committee had estimated that the rehabilitation of railway assets would amount to Rs 15,000 crore which, Khanna felt, should be given as a one-time grant to wipe out the arrears of replacement of over-aged assets.

In her budget speech, Banerjee had given a glimpse of the pressure that she had been under. “As resources of this magnitude cannot be expected to be internally generated by the railways, I was very much hopeful that a way would be found to meet this recommendation of the committee. This has, however, not materialised. On this issue, I am sorry, my speech would be silver but my silence would be golden,” Mamata had said.

Today’s surcharge found support from the Telugu Desam. Party leader Yerran Naidu, who is also chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on railways, said: “It was necessary since the safety of passengers is very important. The creation of this safety fund will help further improve safety standards in railways.”

Opposition parties greeted the surcharge with customary criticism but the attack lacked bite. BJP sources expressed surprise at the Opposition’s lukewarm response.

“There could be only two explanations for this,” said a source. “One, it would be politically incorrect to speak out against a measure aimed at ensuring people’s safety and security. Second, Sonia Gandhi raised the issue of starvation deaths in Orissa immediately after the rail minister finished making his announcement. Then Mulayam Singh Yadav also spoke on the same matter, even more loudly, to score a point over Sonia. In all this, the House forgot to react to the hike.”

CPM threatens protest

The CPM today announced that party workers would launch a movement across Bengal from tomorrow to protest the safety surcharge.

Bengal CPM secretary Anil Biswas said passengers’ safety had virtually collapsed during the tenure of Mamata as railway minister. “It was during her time that the maximum number of rail accidents occurred. Where is passenger safety ?” asked Biswas.

Biswas, however, made it clear, that his party workers would not block railway tracks during the the agitation.


New Delhi, Aug. 29: 
The Supreme Court today said it would not go into the question of whether Balco was valued correctly before the Centre sold it for Rs 551.5 crore, but added that it would consider whether there was any “arbitrariness” in the sale of tribal land.

A three-judge bench of Justice B.N. Kirpal, Justice Shivraj V. Patel and Justice P. Venkatarama Reddy made this observation during resumed hearing of petitions challenging the government’s sale of Balco to Sterlite Industries.

The Balco Employees Union has challenged the sale, contending that the company was assessed to be worth Rs 1,072 crore by P.V. Rao, an officer, but was sold for half its value. Besides, Balco’s mines are on tribal land. According to provisions of the Constitution, such land is protected and cannot be sold to a private party.

Appearing for the union, former additional solicitor-general Deepankar Gupta argued that the entire disinvestment process was “illegal, arbitrary and unfair”. The counsel contended that the employees were never involved in the divestment process though they were the worst hit by the selloff.

The advocate-general of the Chhattisgarh government contended that the Centre “knowing fully well that tribal land could not be transferred to a private party” went ahead with the sale and transfer of management control of the public sector unit. He said that the Supreme Court had ruled in an earlier case that tribal land cannot be transferred to a private party.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

Ranjit Kumar, counsel for an unrecognised union, said the government had not followed guidelines while selling its shares in Balco.

He claimed that a viable unit cannot be sold to a private party and Balco was a “viable unit” which made profits of at least a few crore rupees every year.

The divestment, he said, was “shady” as there was no transparency in the sale and the “strategic partner” chosen (Sterlite) was not efficient enough to carry on a business venture with.


Srinagar, Aug. 29: 
With only two days to go before the Lashkar-e-Jabbar’s burqa deadline expires, a separatist women’s organisation has come out in support of the Islamic dress code.

“I thank all those who initiated the purdah campaign in Kashmir,” Asiya Andrabi, the chief of the only women’s separatist organisation in Kashmir, Dukhtaran-e-Milat, said in a statement in Urdu.

“We should even boycott those families which live an un-Islamic life in Kashmir,” Andrabi added.

However, frontline outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen had opposed the imposition of the dress code.

But Dukhtaran-e-Milat’s support to the burqa diktat has spread fear among women in Kashmir who had been assured by the stance of the frontline outfits.

“After the Dukhtaran-e-Milat’s support to the veil campaign, we cannot take any chances,” said Amina Khan, a school teacher, while shopping for a veil along with her female colleagues in Srinagar. “The threat now sounds genuine. That’s why I am buying an abiyah (veil).”

There’s a great rush here as women are busy buying burqa. There was also a burqa sale on Monday. “We have been flooded with orders,” said Ghulam Mohammad, a tailor. “We are working overtime to meet the demand for burqas. I am working day and night along with my helpers to beat the deadline.”

Many Muslim women in Srinagar also supported the veil campaign. “A veil is good thing for Muslim women, but acid attacks have no logic. Let them (militants) convey their message to women through religious preachers,” said a veiled Nighat Yasmeen.

“By adopting the Islamic dress code, Kashmiri women have silenced the opposition voices ... (and people) who tried to sabotage the massive dress code campaign in Kashmir,” Andrabi said.


New Delhi, Aug. 29: 
Taking a leaf out of Rajiv Gandhi’s crusade against starvation deaths, Sonia Gandhi has summoned 11 Congress chief ministers on Friday to take up the matter with the highest echelons of power.

Soon after taking up the issue in the Lok Sabha, the leader of the Opposition spoke to the 11 chief ministers, directing them to come to the capital.

Sonia plans to call on President K.R. Narayanan who is indisposed. If the chief ministers fail to get an audience with Narayanan, they will forward the representation to him and call on other leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to draw attention on starvation deaths.

Rashtrapati Bhavan sources said “logistically” there would be no problem as Narayanan was recovering. “He can meet visitors and if the leader of Opposition calls on him, he will meet her,” said a source.

In the Lok Sabha today, Sonia, who was moved by the plight of Bonita Podho, an Orissa tribal who was sold to a blind man by her family for a handful of grain, when Rajiv was the Prime Minister, lashed out at the Vajpayee regime, accusing it of being “a mute spectator” to the tragedy. She said the situation was even more appalling considering the bumper crop and the government’s difficulty to store foodgrain.

Several states, particularly Orissa, were in the grip of a severe drought, Sonia said, pointing out that things had come to such a pass because of the government’s “bad policy and bad management” of the public distribution system.

“It is heart-breaking that deaths due to starvation are taking place today. It is even more painful that this should be happening when we have over 60 million tonnes of buffer stock in our godowns,” Sonia said.

Sonia referred to the Madhya Pradesh government’s food-for-work programme suggesting that it should be launched on a massive scale. “It should have been done long ago, but it is not too late even now,” she said.

The Congress chief said suggestions were given by experts and some chief ministers to set up foodgrain banks. However, she lamented, the government did nothing.

The government, the Congress chief added, must formulate a policy to enhance storage capacity before more foodgrain are wasted.

Sonia scored a victory of sorts when she pushed through the starvation agenda for a full discussion tomorrow. The Lok Sabha was slated to discuss national security but now it will have to wait till winter session since the monsoon session ends on Friday.

The leader of the Opposition found support from unexpected quarters such as arch-rival Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party.


New Delhi, Aug. 29: 
Private radio has been turned on again — two years after being switched off — and will be playing in your car, at homes, on the streets and the nearest cigarette shop by December.

National public broadcaster Prasar Bharati today told private broadcasters, sulking because their licences are due to run out in December, that All India Radio will hire out its facilities in 19 cities and 37 centres across the country. The FM Radio licensees for Calcutta are Entertainment Network (Bennett Coleman) and Radio Today (Living Media).

“We have been worried that our policy was not yielding results and the private broadcasters’ licences were due to expire on December 29. With the Prasar Bharati CEO today announcing that AIR was willing to let out/lease out space on its towers for transmitting radio signals, FM radio will take off,” claimed Union minister for information and broadcasting Sushma Swaraj.

It was Swaraj who brokered the arrangement, but since Prasar Bharati is an autonomous body, that will never be formally admitted. Also, the Prasar Bharati’s decision today could kick up a row from within the organisation. The employees’ unions have been alleging that the public broadcaster was letting out its facilities on the cheap to private competitors. All India Radio runs its own FM channel and is slated to start a second FM channel (FM2) in the four metros from September 1.

Tenders for FM licences were invited in January this year and spectrum (“room on the airwaves”) licences were issued by the Wireless Planning Commission. The licences require private broadcasters to become operational within a year. After several bids were rejected and a host of the original bidders — including Zee — that had bid for FM licences in 29 cities, withdrew, fears that the radio privatisation had gone awry had been creeping up on the information and broadcasting ministry.

At the moment, there are 16 companies that have licences to operate FM radio stations in 19 cities. In the second phase of FM radio privatisation, more bids will be invited. But that is still a long way off. So far, only Bangalore has a private FM station in operation — it began just last month. Times FM is likely to start broadcasting in Indore soon.

Swaraj said All India Radio has capacity in its transmission towers and a commercial arrangement with the private broadcasters will be mutually beneficial. All India Radio will earn revenue while the private broadcasters will have to invest less in infrastructure. FM radio transmission towers would have been 75 to 300 metres high — depending on the city of operation — and would have required substantial investment in time and money.


New Delhi, Aug. 29: 
The Communications Convergence Bill approved by the Union Cabinet this week proposes to bring almost every telecom and Internet service under licensing.

The Bill details the categories under which the Communications Commission of India (CCI) will issue licences for a fee after the Bill is passed by Parliament and enacted. Licensers will:

Provide or own network facilities. Example: bandwidth providers (cellular and fixed line telephony) and cable operators

Provide networking services. Example: Internet Service Providers

Provide network application services. Example: e-mail

Provide content application services. Example: dotcoms

Provide value-added network application services. Examples: e-banking, Internet-over-telephone.

It was explained to the Cabinet that each of these categories was “broadbanded enough” and almost any network service would fit into one or the other of these categories. However, existing licences will remain valid even after the new rules are framed.

It is still not known when the fate of the Convergence Bill will be decided. It is now almost certain that the Centre will not be able to keep its commitment of introducing the Bill in the current session of Parliament. There are only two more days to go before the session ends and the President, who has to be presented the Bill before it is moved, is indisposed.


New Delhi, Aug. 29: 
Following reports of attack on three Catholic nuns allegedly by Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists at Kali Dam near Dahod in Gujarat on August 25, a Church team led by Delhi Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao today called on home minister L.K. Advani to seek his intervention in stopping the recurrent attacks. The nuns had gone to a picnic with orphan children.

The Church leaders are also planning to write to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to express “disappointment” over his remarks at an RSS function on August 18 where he had said there was a “conversion motive” behind the welfare activities of Christian missionaries. The matter was raised in the Lok Sabha by CPM member Suresh Kurup who said Vajpayee’s “unwarranted and uncalled-for statement... have given an impetus for this type of attack”.

E. Ahamed of the Indian Union of Muslim League (IUML) said two days back in Gujarat, two people belonging to a minority community were killed by VHP and Bajrang Dal activists. “Unfortunately, while these things are happening, the state government is keeping mum and sleeping,” he alleged. Ahamed urged the government to take action against those harassing, attacking and ill-treating people belonging to the minority communities.

According to the All-India Christian Council, nuns and orphans from the IP Mission Orphanage at Jobat village in Madhya Pradesh were attacked at Dahod, 150 km from Ahmedabad. The council has written to the National Human Rights Commission.

Samson, a council member, has alleged that the children and the officials — on their way to a picnic at Kali Dam — stopped at Dahod to buy snacks. As the children were washing their faces at a hand pump, the Bajrang Dal workers, led by Kishan Singh, surrounded them, snatched the keys of their jeeps and beat up the women with sticks. When the orphanage officials went to complain at the local police station, instead of registering a case, the police beat up the women and asked them to leave Dahod immediately, Samson alleged.


Bhopal, Aug. 29: 
Sexual innuendoes flew thick and fast in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly today, sparking howls of protest from women MLAs and forcing the Speaker to adjourn the House for the day.

Trouble erupted when three BJP MLAs allegedly teased a Congress legislator and passed derogatory remarks linking her to a state minister during question hour.

Stung by the barbs, Pushpa Bharti, MLA from Mandsaur, broke down and alleged that the three MLAs — Gopal Bhargav, Deshraj Singh Yadav and Narendra Veerdhare — were habitual eve-teasers who pestered her constantly.

Bharti found immediate support from her woman party colleagues, who complained that a handful of BJP members always targeted them. The Congressmen joined the protest and raised anti-BJP slogans, condemning the Opposition for being disrespectful to women.

While the BJP Opposition leader remained tongue-tied, the Congress women MLAs, including deputy chief minister Jamuna Devi, raised hell under the leadership of eunuch MLA Shabnam Mausi.

The Speaker first adjourned the House for an hour. But the situation remained unchanged when the House reassembled, forcing Sriniwas Tiwari to adjourn it till the next morning.

Mausi and the women immediately marched to the Speaker’s office to submit an official complaint and demanded that the three MLAs be expelled from the Assembly. Thereafter, they went to Governor House to speak to Bhai Mahavir and press their demands.

Today’s incident flared up after Bharti had put a question to panchayat minister Ajay Singh. While answering, Singh fell short of statistics and told her: “If you want more details, you can meet me outside the House, I will talk to you.”

Veteran BJP leader Babu Lal Guar interjected: “Why outside? The question has been asked within the House, the minister should reply here.” Seeing that an Opposition leader was attacking the minister, Bharti said: “No. The question was mine. I am satisfied with the minister’s reply.”

BJP MLA from Sagar, Gopal Bhargav, butted in: “Yeah, ministers don’t take a minute to satisfy women. Women are always satisfied with ministers.”

Bhargav’s colleague from Shivpuri, Narendra Veerdhare, added: “Mantriji mahila ko bahar bulake sab set karenge (The minister will fix her outside).”

The third MLA Deshraj Singh Yadav sneered and spat another derogatory remark.

The exchange first left Bharti dazed, but then she burst out in tears. Kalpana Parulekar, the MLA from Mahidpur, immediately voiced her protest, triggering the trouble.

The Congress women MLAs later told reporters: “We are women from good families. Do we come elected to the House to be insulted by men. Is this why we are talking of a 33 per cent reservation for women? So that men may pass dirty comments? They have to be ousted now or else we will not let the Assembly function.”


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