Old vision gets new jargon
Govt stops funds to 7 civic bodies
Speaker goodwill-gag on Atal and Sonia
Tehelka tantrums rock Samata
Medical report cloud on starvation
Centre stands by US adviser
Tamil Maanila orphaned
CM sees defeat in Das murder
Cable TV choice hope for viewers
Beijing rules out Valley role

Calcutta, Aug. 30: 
It was labelled �Vision for West Bengal� but what the gathering of exuberant youth and expectant businessmen and executives got was revision and revisitation.

Never mind, there was Kapil Dev.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee spoke today at a Confederation of Indian Industry-organised event, not adding too much to his already-stated views on Bengal�s rejuvenation, except for offering a variant of the �Do it now� slogan. The catchphrase now is: Can do. The most frequently-spoken word: new. New mindset, new focus.

Much of what he said was old, though, sometimes very old � the renaissance, for instance, and land reforms, of more recent vintage. But Bhattacharjee takes care to skirt the question: if �can do� is to be the slogan now, was �can�t do� the refrain earlier? If a �new mindset has to be developed to give a new focus to all forms of activity�, what was wrong with what came before him?

He wasn�t replying, speaking glowingly instead of Bengal�s rural development record, to be used as launching pad for second-stage programmes built around agro-industries, food processing and floriculture.

Maybe the answer lay in a comment from the other side of the fence, industry. Sanjiv Goenka, CII president who does some of his business in Bengal, said the state has staged a remarkable turnaround in public perception. With infrastructural support and quick clearance of projects, investments could follow image.

The chief minister trotted out all the steps the government was taking to cut out procedural delays, such as recasting Shilpa Bandhu, the single-window clearance agency. An investment promotion board under the chairmanship of the chief minister, and with representatives from chambers of commerce, will be set up in an advisory capacity.

McKinsey, he said, had been appointed to assess investment opportunities in information and communication technology and agro-processing. The other M-word, the chief minister�s favourite, had come out earlier. �The government has recently signed an MoU with Microsoft. We need their cooperation in some important IT-related projects,� he said.

In Bhattacharjee�s scheme of things, biotech will go hand in hand with infotech to escort Bengal in the 21st century that is �bustling with energy and enthusiasm�. �The state government will soon announce a biotech policy,� he said.

By way of infrastructure initiatives, he cited the long-known project to build a north-south corridor and the Calcutta-Haldia and Calcutta-Kulpi expressways.

A senior executive of a tea company said: �We had come here to listen to the CM�s vision for West Bengal. But his speech has disappointed us.�

�Vision for West Bengal� was an occasion to celebrate the launch of CII�s youth forum here and they had their celebration all right when CII secretary-general Tarun Das, in cheerleader-style, threw to the audience: �Who is the Haryana hurricane?�

�Kapil Dev�.

�Who scored 175 in the World Cup ...?�

�Kapil Dev.�

The former all-rounder took the stage to do some very uncharacteristic straight batting, holding forth on Bengal�s past glory, admitting first, of course, that he was on an unfamiliar pitch.

�Sometimes it is easier to score runs or set a goal in life, but it is difficult to speak.�

Particularly about visions.


Memari (Burdwan), Aug. 30: 
The government today stopped development funds to seven municipalities assailed by allegations of financial irregularities, illegal appointments and diversion of funds.

Municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya said FIRs have been lodged against three chairpersons and they would be arrested soon.

�I don�t want to name all the seven municipalities for the sake of investigation. But I can tell you that the civic bodies of Baidyabati, Joynagar, Rajarhat and Behrampore are among them. These municipalities are functioning in a dishonest manner and hampering development of the respective localities,� he said after inaugurating a water-supply project here this afternoon. The Rs 45-lakh scheme will supply piped water to nearly 10,000 people.

Bhattacharya, however, ruled out the immediate possibility of the government superseding these municipalities.

He said the government was concerned about the activities of a section of promoters. �These promoters are grabbing lands of middle-class people and keeping them under threat. A three-member committee has been formed to probe into whether promoters were trying to grab land, particularly in the wake of the Rangmahal fire. It will submit a report within three months,� he added.

Miner killed: Tension gripped Rasulpur village in Baraboni following the death of a worker at an illegal mine last night. Angry villagers blocked roads this morning, demanding compensation from the operator of the mine. Police said Muchiram Ruidas (20) died when he fell into an abandoned pit inside the Gordhemo forest, adjoining Rasulpur.


New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi has made sure that the monsoon session does not conclude on an acrimonious note tomorrow.

There will be no Vajpayee-Sonia spat as was witnessed on the last day of the budget session on April 27.

The Speaker today decided not to allow the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition to deliver their speeches, a convention followed by the House since 1987.

The denial, of course, will rob them of the opportunity to score political points, but the country may be spared another spectacle and the session may end on a goodwill note. Instead of the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition, sources said, Balayogi would deliver a speech to mark the end of the session.

The Tehelka-tainted budget session had ended on a stormy and bitter note when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his winding-up speech, castigated the Congress for repeatedly stalling the House and calling him (Vajpayee) �a chor� (thief).

On April 27, immediately after Vajpayee completed his speech, Vande Mataram was sung and the House was adjourned, denying Sonia Gandhi an opportunity to rebut the Prime Minister. Moments after Vajpayee ambled out of the House, Advani walked across to the Congress benches with his hands folded in �Namaskar� to offer a courtesy greeting to Sonia.

But what Advani was greeted was a torrent of high decibel outbursts. �Do you recall the objectionable slogans raised against my husband and mother-in-law in this House?� Sonia had screamed, putting a startled Advani in an awkward situation.

�My husband was crucified in this House by the Opposition. Even my children are being subjected to all sorts of sacrilegious campaign. We will not take it lying down,� she said, as a stunned House and press gallery watched in disbelief. The reaction was spontaneous and grabbed headlines the next day, blunting much of Vajpayee�s speech.

It seems the government agreed with the Speaker in discontinuing the practice this session. Sources said Balayogi, before deciding to go against the convention, asked parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan if the government had any problem in not allowing the Prime Minister to have his say.

Mahajan, after consulting the Prime Minister, said: �No problem�. It would not only save Vajpayee much of the labour of delivering a speech, but also ensure that the session ends on a sober note. Sources in the parliamentary affairs ministry said the winter session was likely to begin from November 19. The monsoon session extended by nearly two weeks since the budget session was cut short.

A record of sorts will be created in Parliament if the government succeeds in passing at least one more Bill in the Rajya Sabha tomorrow - it would be the highest number of legislations passed in any monsoon session.

As many as 33 Bills have already been passed during the session, the same number was cleared in the monsoon session of 1956, the highest since 1953.

The government does not anticipate any problems in the passage of these Bills in the upper House tomorrow, sources said.


New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
A tehelka is simmering in the Samata Party with MPs loyal to railway minister Nitish Kumar slamming former party president Jaya Jaitly�s �irresponsible� talk in the media against Tehelka and George Fernandes offering to quit as Samata leader in the Lok Sabha.

Irked by media reports showing party leaders running down Jaitly, Fernandes had yesterday called a meeting of MPs to say he was fed up with the state of affairs and was ready to quit if it helped.

Sources said the MPs told Fernandes they had nothing against him and that, without him, the party would end up nowhere. The MPs complained that parliamentary party meetings were seldom held and they had no forum to air their views. Nitish and his deputy, Digvijay Singh, were not present at the meeting.

Sources said the members told Fernandes that Jaitly, who is under investigation by the Venkataswami Commission, has been defending herself and Fernandes on television, making it look as if it was a Tehelka-versus-Samata battle. Her overstatements, they said, had damaged the party�s image.

The MPs said though Bangaru Laxman was also shown on the Tehelka tapes accepting money, BJP leaders were not carrying out media campaigns to exonerate their former party chief. The MPs, sources said, urged Fernandes to restrain Jaitly.

One MP pointed out that they had also wanted to stop Jaitly from convening a news conference at Fernandes� residence to blast income-tax officials for raiding her house in connection with the match-fixing scandal involving Ajay Jadeja, who later married Jaitly�s daughter.

Sources said there is a move by the Nitish camp to isolate Jaitly and Digvijay, both of whom are considered close to Fernandes. They said that apart from Jaitly�s �uncalled for� and �abusive� language against the Tehelka journalists, supporters of Nitish are using the opportunity to hit out at Digvijay too.

Sources said the Nitish camp is not happy with the speed with which Digvijay has been brought back into the railway ministry by Fernandes, much against the wishes of Nitish. Digvijay had been shifted to the commerce and industry ministry as minister of state, but he refused to take charge. External affairs minister Jaswant Singh and Fernandes then impressed upon the Prime Minister to give him additional charge of railways.

The sources said Jaswant did not want Digvijay either in the ministry of external affairs or in the defence ministry as junior minister. They said Jaswant, who holds additional charge of defence, is wary of Digvijay�s proximity to his political rivals like former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar.

Fernandes, sources said, is cut up with Jaswant for issuing a statement contradicting him. Fernandes had on Monday said the Venkataswami Commission should speed up its Tehelka probe as several important files were in its custody. But Jaswant had denied that files held up by the commission were hampering defence purchases and putting the country�s security at risk.

In protest, Fernandes had boycotted the Tuesday dinner hosted by Atal Bihari Vajpayee for NDA members.


Bhubaneswar, Aug. 30: 
As Sonia Gandhi prepares to wage a war against the 19 �starvation deaths� in Orissa, medical reports have punched a hole in the claim saying that the tribals died not because of lack of food but from food-poisoning.

Opposition parties and NGOs have taken up the deaths of the 19 tribals from four blocks of poverty-ridden Kashipur block to highlight �corruption in the government� at a time when FCI godowns are packed with foodgrain. But medical reports suggest that the tribals died because of unhealthy food habits � which include eating the pulp of mango kernel, which may have turned poisonous.

The Raygada district administration has dismissed all speculation of starvation deaths, saying that by �no stretch of imagination� can the tragedy be termed so.

On July 26, Biswanath Majhi, a marginal farmer of Panasguda village, had prepared a meal of mango kernel, mushroom and millets. The food was shared by Biswanath�s mother, his wife son and several others. The next day, Majhi�s 5-year-old son Chandara started vomiting and died soon after. On July 28, Warna Majhi, his mother, died in hospital. On July 29, Harsha, Biswanath�s wife, also died due to �food poisoning� as diagnosed by doctors. Harsha�s vomit was tested by the doctors, who found that the millet he had eaten was �contaminated�. The same day, three more people from the same village fell victim to food poisoning. A day later, Lachhi Majhi, a 27-year-old woman, died after she started vomiting. District collector Bishnupada Sethi said Biswanath had called some labourers to work in his field and provided some food. �When one is employing labourers, it�s absurd to talk of starvation,� he added.

In neighbouring Bilamal village, Sethi said, the first victim of food poisoning was Suruda Majhi on August 9. The same day, another woman, Sulema Majhi, also died. A couple of days later, Sada Majhi, a resident of the same village, died. Ironically, Sada had lifted his quota of 32 kg of below-poverty-line rice on August 5. Similarly, in Pitajodi village of the same block, Lekma Majhi, a farmer with a three-acre land, also died after eating wild mushrooms. His three daughters, however, survived. In Badamalibhata, four persons died of diarrhoea and fever.


New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
The Opposition today walked out of the Lok Sabha when the government rejected its demand to cancel the appointment of B.K. Agnihotri as adviser in the Indian embassy in Washington.

Agnihotri, an RSS leader in the US, is a member of the Overseas Friends of the BJP. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan rebutted the Opposition�s charges, asserting that the government had not committed �any crime� by appointing Agnihotri.

�Being a member of the RSS is not a crime. There is no bar on appointment of RSS members. The decision will not be changed,� he said, adding that there was nothing wrong in making this �political appointment�.

The Opposition, dissatisfied with the minister�s reply, called the appointment �totally illegal�. The Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the ADMK and the Left parties accused the government of trying to propagate �Hindutva� through such appointments.

Raising the matter during zero hour, Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM said the government had created an �extraordinary situation� by appointing a functionary of a political organisation as �ambassador-at-large� to look after the interests of NRIs.

Seeking a clarification from the government, he said the government should explain Agnihotri�s role as there was already an ambassador in Washington.

He accused the government of �gross misuse of power in making an open partisan appointment�. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, too, expressed his reservations and alleged that the government wanted to propagate �Hindutva� in this manner. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said the appointment was �totally against� national interests.


Chennai, Aug. 30: 
G.K. Moopanar, one of the last symbols of Gandhian simplicity in Congress politics in Tamil Nadu and a staunch Gandhi family loyalist, died early this morning at the Sri Ramachandra Medical College hospital, where he was admitted nearly a month ago.

Moopanar, a Rajya Sabha MP and president of the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), had turned 71 on August 19.

The veteran leader was admitted to hospital on July 31 for surgery to mend a hairline fracture he had suffered in his hip in March.

Ignoring doctors� advice of complete rest, Moopanar strained himself during campaigning for the Assembly elections in May, aggravating his injury.

His health took a turn for the worse after he developed a lung infection. A fortnight ago, he was put on a ventilator. As his condition worsened after the surgery, doctors adjusted the ventilator for better oxygenation of the lungs. But they gave up hope in the wee hours today when his pulse rate dropped, sources close to his family said.

Moopanar leaves behind his wife Kasthuri Ammal, daughter Usharani and son Govindavasan. The funeral is scheduled for tomorrow evening.

As hundreds converged on the massive Kamarajar Arangam on Anna Salai, where Moopanar�s body was placed to enable the public to pay homage, Congress president Sonia Gandhi � accompanied by Ghulam Nabi Azad and C.K. Jaffer Sharief � made a telling impact when she laid a wreath and paid her last respects.

�It is with great sadness that I have come to bid my last farewell to Moopanarji,� Sonia said, hailing him as a �symbol of the Congress� for a quarter of a century. Even though Moopanar had floated the TMC in 1996, �he never really left the Congress and his heart was always with the Congress�, she said, adding that the moment was too painful to talk about politics, mainly the TMC�s merger with the Congress.

Earlier, scores of Congress workers, well-wishers and family members wailed �Aiyah, Aiyah� � as Moopanar was endearingly called � when his embalmed body was brought to the TMC chief�s Warren Road residence.

A large crowd had started gathering from early morning as news of his death started spreading.

Senior TMC leaders Jayanthi Natarajan and S.R. Balasubramaniyan, Congress leader Murli Deora, TNCC president E.V.K.S. Elangovan and Pondicherry chief minister Shanmugham also paid handsome tributes.

�We have been orphaned; rarely does politics and public life see a leader like this,� Natarajan said.


Calcutta, Aug. 30: 
When chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee first learnt about Sailen Das� daylight murder he thought it was a blow to his personal efforts to strengthen Bengal�s political culture.

�I felt shattered as I saw in it my personal defeat. It is only natural to think that way because I am heading the government,� the chief minister said at a talk on �A gruesome murder: A relevant discussion�, organised by the Bharatiya Gananatya Sangha, the cultural wing of the CPM. Bhattacharjee said he and his government were concerned because they were committed to safeguarding the already-rich political culture.

This was the chief minister�s first public appearance after Das� murder. Bhattacharjee appeared emotional as he recollected his memories of Das, who, he said, was a selfless doctor and an exponent of Rabindrasangeet.

He recollected his last meeting with Das at Rabindra Sadan on May 8. �Campaigns for the Assembly elections had concluded on that day. I went to Rabindra Sadan to attend the birth anniversary of Tagore when Das met me. I told him that I came to listen to his songs. He talked about the elections and said he was sure the Left will win without any hassle.�

Bhattacharjee added: �Das was also a physician, but never hankered after money. He was the man who loved Tagore�s songs and was himself a very good singer.� The chief minister, however, avoided making any direct comment on the course of investigations.

Police could not interrogate the main accused in the Das murder case, Sudhir Bhattacharya, as he was ill. A police team that tried to talk to him at the SSKM hospital during the day failed. The former head of the Dum Dum municipality was arrested on August 24.

Khadim�s case

A CID team probing the abduction of Parthapratim Roy Burman today detained three persons in Rajkot, expecting leads on the four miscreants who whisked away the shoe magnate on July 25.

The sleuths reached Rajkot yesterday on information that members of the gang behind the kidnap might be in the city. Early this morning, a team of the CID and Rajkot police picked up the three from a slum. �The team is trying to verify information that the kidnap mastermind, Md Shafique alias Raju, was holed up in Gujarat for some time,� a CID official said.


New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
Pay television channels reaching viewers through cable operators will have to be routed through conditional access systems (CAS) primarily set-top boxes � that allow viewers to pick and choose the channels they want to see, if a proposal mooted at a meeting convened by Union I&B minister Sushma Swaraj this evening is accepted.

A spokesman of the Cable Operators� Federation of India said after the meeting that the minister has asked the industry to evolve a method for the conditional access system to be implemented. The system requires a set-top box that will receive signals from operators. Subscribers can choose to see only those channels they want to pay for. The CAS will not apply for free-to-air channels.

Swaraj convened the meeting after repeated complaints from the cable television industry that pay television channels were distorting the system of collection and generation of revenues. This has been at the core of disputes on cable television across the country. Cable operators beam the channels they get while broadcasters complain that the subscriptions are under-reported and that they are denied revenues. Swaraj has made it clear that the government will persist with its hands-off approach because it has left the market to decide the viability or otherwise of pay channels.

Industry estimates the pay television subscription market to be about Rs 3,200 crore annually � already more than the advertisement pie estimated at Rs 3,000 crore � and growing. The disputes were non-existent so long as all channels were free-to-air. But broadcasters have been hardpressed to keep their businesses viable solely on the strength of advertisement revenue.

But cable operators were fuzzy on how the system can be implemented. It would require an amendment of the Cable Television Networks Act, which itself is set to be repealed once the Communications Convergence Bill, approved by the Union Cabinet earlier this week, is passed.


Beijing, Aug. 30: 
China today said it was not in favour of an outsider mediating in the �complicated� Kashmir issue as this could lead to a decision that is �politically motivated rather being objective�.

�Kashmir is not only a territorial dispute, it also involves religious and ethnic contradictions,� Chinese vice-foreign minister Wang Yi said. �India and Pakistan should sit together and discuss the issue as no one understands it better than these two countries.�

Wang � the equivalent of India�s foreign secretary � added: �If others, who do not understand the Kashmir issue so well have to make a judgment, it is very likely to be a political judgment and not an objective one, that is, one would lean in favour of the party whom one favours. I think, we must be extremely cautious about this.�

Though China has been stressing a bilateral settlement of the Kashmir dispute over the past few years, this is the first time that it has categorically ruled out either its own involvement or that of other countries.

The timing is also significant. Pakistan has indicated that if its efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue at the bilateral level fails, it would not be averse to third-party mediation. But Beijing, one of its closest allies, has now made it clear that such a move will not find favour with it.

On China�s close military ties with Pakistan, Wang said this was not in violation of Beijing�s international commitments and not aimed at a third country. He argued that China�s relations with either India or Pakistan should not be seen as a �zero-sum game�.

�As a neighbour of both India and Pakistan, China needs to maintain traditional friendship with Pakistan, and at the same time, we very much hope to develop good neighbourly and friendly relations with India,� Wang said.

�We do not need to oppose India in order to develop relations with Pakistan or to improve relations with India we do not need to abandon our old friend (Pakistan),� he added.

Wang � China�s pointsman in dealing with South Block � is perhaps attempting to make it clear to the Indian leadership that though Beijing is keen to improve and strengthen ties with New Delhi, it will not do so at the cost of Islamabad. At the same time, it also tried to reassure India that Sino-Pakistani relations should not be a cause of alarm for it.

The Chinese leader also made it clear that though Beijing was opposed to terrorism in any form, it was not willing to publicly admonish Pakistan for it.


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