Subhas eyes skies with new airline
Suri ragging singes student and parents
Handloom goes hi-tech
Drive to alter crop profile
Lodhas serve fast ultimatum
Bolpur gears up to battle thalassaemia
Summons after twin shocks
DMK reins in restive cadre
Tamper twist in tape case
After America, Europe pats Pak

Calcutta, Sept. 25: 
Bengal is finally taking to the skies. The state�s transport department has finalised a joint venture airline to service industrial and tea centres in the state and in nearby Jharkhand and Orissa.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty told The Telegraph: �We have worked out the details and will be announcing the launch in another month.�

The equal stakes joint-venture partner is an yet unnamed industrial house, which Chakraborty described as �one of the country�s leading ones�. ICICI is also expected to pick up a stake in the airline and is currently holding talks with the joint venture partner to pick up equity and board positions. �Their (ICICI�s) stake will be from the partner�s quota,� the minister clarified.

�An earlier effort to start an airline here (Bengal Air) had unfortunately flopped. We don�t want a repeat and so are being a little guarded,� Chakraborty added.

A few years ago, WBDIC chief Somnath Chatterjee tried to set up Bengal Air in collaboration with Nepal�s Necon Airlines, but the project never saw the light of day. Chakraborty�s bid to restart the project under his ministry is being seen by many as in some ways a game of one-upmanship with his detractors within the party.

Though he has been mired in controversies over his relations with the ruling CPM as well as dealings of his close aides, Chakraborty has been trying to be pro-active in promoting several transport projects. These include truck terminals, canal development plans, an elevated pedestrian conveyer belt pathway linking Sealdah rail junction with the central business district of Dalhousie and an elevated tram service between Sealdah and Howrah.

The new airline, which is yet to be named, will have an initial capital of just Rs 50 crore and has already received permission from the directorate-general of civil aviation to start operations, the minister revealed.

The airline will use rented Dornier 328s to fly to Cooch Behar and Siliguri in the tea belt and to industrial centres in Haldia, Dhanbad, Jamshedpur and Ranchi. The airline also plans to service Purulia and Birbhum, which the state government is trying to develop as tourism attractions.

The transport minister said a study was also being conducted on the feasibility of connecting smaller northeastern airports with Calcutta using the Dorniers.

�We plan to start services with two dry-leased planes and then build up our fleet,� Chakraborty said.

Aviation industry sources said the plan is to build a fleet of six planes within a period of three years and to eventually buy up the leased fleet which would save the airline a recurring expense.

The airline is expected to fly into profits in about five years from its launch date. The airline�s kick off will also necessitate spends on improvement of small airports that have largely been lying in a state of disuse.

�All in all, I see this airline as not just a moneyspinner but as a catalyst which could well create new industrial avenues here,� Chakraborty said.


Calcutta, Sept. 25: 
Unable to bear the �inhuman� ragging, a fresher ran away from the Birbhum Institute of Engineering and Technology in Suri.

Aniruddha Bhattacharya�s parents lodged a complaint with the local police station after bringing him back home at Dankuni in Hooghly. The case has been referred to the Suri police station.

Birbhum police superintendent Jayanta Basu said tonight he had sought a report from the officer-in-charge of Suri police station. �I have sought the details from the O-C. A case has been registered against the offenders,� he added.

Hiranmoy Bhattacharya, Aniruddha�s father, said they could not lodge a complaint with the Suri police as they were scared. �We were threatened and chased by a group of senior students and youths on motorcycles on our way to the railway station from the college hostel. We were so frightened that we changed our route and returned to Hooghly via Panagarh,� said Hiranmoy.

He said Aniruddha, who had joined the electrical engineering course, was subjected to ruthless torture by drunk seniors on his first night at the hostel on September 9. Fortunately, he could place a desperate phone call to his parents the next day.

�At noon on the very first day of his college, we received an SOS from our son, imploring us to rush there and save his life as he could not endure the brutal mental and physical torture the seniors inflicted on him since we left him there,� said his father.

Aniruddha is being treated by an orthopaedic surgeon. Doctors attending on him apprehend long-lasting psychological trauma that could upset his career.

Elaborating on his son�s suffering, Hiranmoy said Aniruddha was ragged for three-and-a-half hours the day he was admitted. �After we left the hostel on September 9, some senior students dragged him to their room at 11 pm and beat him ruthlessly. Then they took him to a group of drunk senior students in another room, who offered him cigarettes and liquor. When he refused, he was beaten again and forced to drink the alcohol. Aniruddha fell unconscious when they forced him to do some head-rotating exercise with his hands in a crucified position.�

When he went to fetch his son from college the next day, Hiranmoy found a group of seniors shouting at and abusing Aniruddha.

Institute director Amitabha Dasgupta said the student had not lodged any written complaint with the college authorities.

�He told me he was not beaten by his seniors. Some of the senior students had only threatened to beat him up,� Dasgupta said.

�Even his father had not lodged any specific complaint with us. Hiranmoy Bhattacharjee sent us a fax describing the incident. We have taken stern action against two of our senior students for torturing the newcomer. They had to pay a fine of Rs 2,000 each. Now ragging in our institution has been stopped and already 230 new students have taken admission,� Dasgupta claimed.


Calcutta, Sept. 25: 
Computers will soon enter another field in Bengal � handloom products. The state government has decided to computerise the entire handloom industry, from designing and colour combination to colour separation and weaving.

A special software will be created to improve the quality of handloom products, especially those for which Bengal is famous, such as Baluchari and Kantha stitch. Some weavers, according to officials, will be given intensive computer training to create designs according to the demands of the market. The software will also help in speedy production, colour choice and evaluation of market statistics.

The West Bengal State Cooperative Bank will conduct the programme with technical assistance from a Delhi-based computer company, NIISTAR. Nabard has assured financial assistance for the programme.

Initially, 10 weavers from Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia and Purulia will be provided training. The programme will then be extended to others.

�We are facing tough competition, so we must adopt hi-tech methods. To create more modern designs, colour varieties and to ensure speedy production, we have no alternative but to computerise the system,� said WBSCB chairman Ashok Banerjee.

According to officials of the cooperative and cottage industry department, handloom items from various states, which are cheaper and of better quality, have flooded Bengal. As a result, the state�s handloom industry is losing customers.

This is evident at the outlets of Tantuja, Tantusree, Bangasree, and Khadi Bhandar, where the old designs are failing to attract customers leading to mounting losses. As a result, the livelihood of about seven lakh people, who solely depend on the handloom industry, are at stake.

To save the industry, the cooperative department has decided to produce and sell modern dress material and garments, according to the latest demands of the market. Display windows of shops that used to be filled with handloom saris, bedsheets and khadi kurta-pajamas will now display T-shirts, jeans, and Bermudas among other clothing.

�A sizeable section of Bengali women has shifted to salwars from saris and men are leaving dhuti-panjabis to wear jeans and T-shirts. As we cannot stop the change in fashion, we felt it wise to change our business strategy,� Banerjee said.


Calcutta, Sept. 25: 
The West Bengal government has decided to formulate a new agricultural policy that will lay down fresh crop pattern guidelines in view of India signing the WTO agreement.

Sources at Writers� Buildings said the policy will be based on the suggestions of the experts who participated in an agriculture workshop earlier this month.

The experts have advised farmers to cut down on boro cultivation and concentrate on oilseeds, wheat and vegetables, which have better marketing prospects. Though West Bengal tops in rice production because of extensive boro cultivation using high-yielding varieties, paddy was not fetching farmers a good price as demand was low.

�The situation can turn worse if the Centre continues to import rice from Myanmar and Thailand at a lower price to fulfil WTO obligations,� a senior official explained. The government has done a preliminary survey on the use of the total agricultural land in the state for diversified �market-ready� crops.

The state has asked Agridev, an Israeli firm, and Bejosheetal, a joint venture of Maharashtra-based Sheetal Seeds and Bejo of Holland, to carry out extensive experiments so that better vegetable seeds can be provided to farmers.

Sources said the benefits of these experiments would percolate to cultivators through cooperatives. The government is likely to provide assistance through co-operative banks and panchayats to encourage farmers to shift to commercially lucrative crops like oilseeds, wheat and vegetables.

�We are looking for a qualitative change in agriculture, which will not only help the farmers become rich but also protect them from the onslaught of indiscriminate import under the WTO agreement,� the official said.

Agridev has set up farms in two south Bengal districts, Bankura and Purulia. Bejosheetal will use the government farm near Krishnagar in Nadia to promote high-yielding vegetable seeds.

The government has also signed an agreement with the Centre for setting up the country�s first agri-export zone in north Bengal. Pineapples will be processed there for export to Europe and West Asia.


Midnapore, Sept. 25: 
Nearly 1,000 Lodhas have threatened to fast till death if the administration does not take steps to integrate them in the mainstream.

More than 25,000 Lodhas, assembled under the banner of the Lodha-Sabar Kalyan Samiti, gave a 22-point charter of demands to the Midnapore district magistrate today. This included the resignation of Phullara Mandal, the officer in charge of tribal development who they charged with misappropriation of funds, and an end to the community�s harassment in every sphere of life.

The protesters pointed out that Uttara Mallik � the niece of Chuni Kotal, who became the first woman Lodha graduate � is struggling to become the community�s first woman post-graduate.


Bolpur, Sept. 25: 
Concerned over the high incidence of thalassaemia in Birbhum, the district administration has decided to set up a permanent centre here for detection of the debilitating disease.

The plan has been okayed by the state health department, officials said.

The administration was spurred into action after government and non-government organisations found last year that more than 12 per cent of the blood samples collected from people of various age groups across the district tested positive for thalassaemia.

�The situation is alarming. We are seriously considering measures to create awareness. In the new centre, people will be able to get their blood tested free of cost,� said Manabendra Ghosh, sub-divisional medical officer.

Various schools in the district have decided to join hands with the administration to battle the disease. They will hold camps and organise awareness programmes. NGOs like the Homeopathic Treatment and Research Centre for Thalassaemia and government agencies like Red Cross Society have offered to help organise camps.


New Delhi, Sept. 25: 
Stung by the recent defeat in the prestigious Sabarmati Assembly byelection, the BJP top brass has summoned Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel to the capital tomorrow. Sabarmati is part of the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat held by L.K. Advani. The BJP also suffered a setback in the Sabarkantha Lok Sabha constituency.

Patel, who is expected to arrive tonight, will be accompanied by Gujarat BJP chief Rajendrasinh Rana, state general-secretary Sanjay Joshi and senior ministers Vajjubhai Valla and Suresh Mehta. Patel is slated to meet BJP chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi and is likely to call on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani.

The byelection defeat is the second major reverse suffered by the state BJP under Patel�s leadership. The party was routed in the civic and panchayat polls, which took place just before the January earthquake. There was a clamour to drop Patel but the BJP high command waived the idea for fear of �antagonising� the dominant Patel community, which has rallied behind the party since 1995 and has largely accounted for its success.

While BJP sources did not rule out the resurfacing of an �oust Keshubhai� campaign, they said the Delhi leaders would not �risk� changing him at this juncture when Vajpayee and Advani were preoccupied with the war threat in the subcontinent. The sources felt it would have been politically expedient to drop Patel after the local bodies� election or even after the quake when he was criticised by a section of the BJP for not being sufficiently �hands-on�.

�This is after all just a byelection, a much smaller affair than the civic polls. While the outcome could be a pointer to future trends, it is still not enough to sack a chief minister,� the sources said. They conceded that apart from the �caste factor�, there was no consensus on who would replace Patel. The names doing the rounds are Union textiles minister Kashiram Rana and former chief minister Suresh Mehta, who are neither a Patel nor enjoy the support of a majority of legislators.

But there is also a feeling that if the leadership does not �act fast�, things will go further adrift in Gujarat, which is slated to go to polls in early 2003. �A new incumbent should be given a year at least to salvage the situation instead of expecting him to work miracles at the last minute,� said a BJP leader.

The BJP criticised the ADMK for its protests against the Supreme Court verdict on Jayalalithaa. �It is very unfortunate for the country and democracy to hold rallies against the apex court�s judgment,� said party spokesman Narendra Modi. �At a time when the entire country is burning effigies of the symbols of terrorism, the ADMK is burning Vajpayee�s,� he added.

Modi demanded that the Congress and the Left, the ADMK�s allies, should �clarify� their stand on the ADMK�s protests. He also urged the Tamil Nadu Governor to sack the ministers who had participated in yesterday�s demonstrations and asked the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognizance of the incidents and initiate contempt proceedings against them.


Chennai, Sept. 25: 
Worried over the likelihood of a sympathy wave for Jayalalithaa after the Supreme Court ruled against her remaining in office, as had happened before the May Assembly elections after her nomination papers were rejected, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi urged party cadre not to retaliate to the ADMK�s �acts of high-handedness�.

The DMK will discuss with its allies about the ADMK venting its anger against the apex court verdict �in such a brazen fashion, spearheaded by their own ministers�, Karunanidhi said after a meeting of his party district secretaries and zonal coordinators to discuss strategies for the local body polls.

The DMK chief struck a note of caution after ADMK protesters burnt his effigies and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s alleging a �DMK-BJP conspiracy� to oust Jayalalithaa. He urged his party workers to be patient and warned against any impulsive reaction, as it may prove advantageous to Jayalalithaa.

Instead, Karunanidhi extolled partymen to enlighten the people on the state election commission�s declaration that the disqualification provision for candidates seeking election under the Representation of the People Act will also apply to those contesting the three-tier panchayat elections next month.

This should do away with the impression that only under the previous DMK regime were these norms applied during scrutiny of nomination papers, he argued. The election law will hold good irrespective of the government in power, Karunanidhi added.

However, already enraged by ADMK men burning Vajpayee�s effigies, Tamil Nadu BJP leaders have dashed off a complaint to Governor C. Rangarajan who is now in Hyderabad.

The BJP is also organising a demonstration in Chennai tomorrow to protest the ADMK�s attitude, even as Jayalalithaa, in one more fervent appeal to her party cadre, urged them to call off their protests, stop attempts at self-immolation and maintain calm.

In this backdrop, the state government is trying to find a house for chief minister O. Panneerselvam, who is settling down in his new job. The bureaucracy prefers that the house be situated in Poes Garden, to ensure smooth coordination between Jayalalithaa and the administration.

With Panneerselvam candidly admitting that he will function under Jayalalithaa�s �guidance�, the bureaucracy hopes for a problem-free interface while implementing the government�s decisions.

�There is no problem in the administration after the new chief minister took over,� sources said. They are wary, though, of any move to have an advisory council that would include non-officials for Panneerselvam.

Senior officials in the administration, however, see nothing wrong in Panneerselvam �seeking guidance and advice from an experienced and intelligent leader� like Jayalalithaa. �After all, even Karunanidhi used to consult Murasoli Maran on certain issues,� one of them underscored.


New Delhi, Sept. 25: 
A filmmaker has suggested to the Venkataswami Commission that the Tehelka tapes could be doctored and called for their examination by government experts. This could delay the proceedings of the commission probing the Tehelka expos�.

Filmmaker Milind Kapoor gave a live demonstration before the panel to show that the tapes could be digitally tampered.

The filmmaker showed video clippings of former BJP president Bangaru Laxman and Samata Party general-secretary Jaya Jaitly from Operation West End tapes. �There are chances of portions of the tapes being doctored by using audio and video superimposition,� he said.

While examining Laxman�s conversation with the Tehelka reporters, Kapoor pointed out that certain words could have been edited from the original tape. While discussing the defence secretary with the reporters, the video clipping showed Laxman saying: �I know him�. Kapoor said there was a slight slur after the word �I� and the original statement could have been �I don�t know him�.

The filmmaker said there were three dissolves in the shot featuring Jaitly talking to Matthew Samuel, one of the reporters who had posed as an arms dealer. Kapoor called for a panel of government experts to examine the tapes.

Before the demonstration, the counsel of George Fernandes said he had reasons to believe that the tapes were doctored and edited to adversely affect the former defence minister�s reputation. Laxman�s counsel said the tapes released by the news portal were edited.

According to the counsel present at the commission, the VHS tapes shown at the Imperial hotel and the five beta tapes telecast by Zee television were not the original tapes. The army�s counsel demanded that the original tape with 100 hours of footage be produced to verify the authenticity of the tape.

The army has initiated court-martial proceedings against three senior army officers. The officers, Major-General P.S.K. Choudhury, Brigadier Iqbal Singh and Colonel Anil Singh, were found guilty of misconduct in the fictitious defence deal by a court of inquiry looking into the Tehelka expos�.

The army has also issued show-cause notices to two senior officers, Major-General Manjit Singh Aluwalia and Colonel B.B. Sharma.


Islamabad and Washington, Sept. 25: 

EU joins rush to reward new friend

Western efforts to reward Pakistan for its support in the fight against terrorism broadened today with the European Union joining the US in promising assistance to carry forward economic reforms.

A EU delegation led by foreign policy chief Javier Solana began talks with officials in Islamabad to bolster Pakistan�s participation in the international coalition against terrorism with the economic spinoffs President Pervez Musharraf has been telling his country about to win their support for his decision to back the US.

While Musharraf was meeting the EU delegation, his army officers were huddled with the six-member US team of miltary and other officials in talks that a Pakistani spokesman described in the first official comment as �exploratory�. �This is not the main delegation,� the spokesman said. The current talks are aimed at preparing the ground for the visit by a second US delegation.

EU officials said they were looking at ways of developing ties with Islamabad, including moving forward on a cooperation pact that promises lucrative trade and other benefits.

�We think Pakistan is facing a very difficult moment,� team member and Belgian foreign minister Louis Michel said.

Islamabad will be seeking the EU�s backing in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for some $2.5 billion in loans. In Washington, state department spokesman Richard Boucher said the US would vote tomorrow for an IMF standby arrangement of $136 million for Pakistan.

�In addition, there are things like the provision of spare parts for military goods that we will be able to look at now that we weren�t before the waiver of the sanctions,� he said. The sanctions were removed on Sunday.

The spokesman surprisingly contradicted President George W. Bush and indicated that America was looking at the chances of lifting democracy-related sanctions against Pakistan as well. Bush has denied earlier that such a move was under way.

�We will look at the other pieces of legislation in place. We are talking to Congress about how to get the ability to move forward with Pakistan and with India.�

What is India�s role in all of this? What consideration is India being given in the campaign?

Boucher replied: �We have for a long time had a growing relationship with India, a very important relationship with India... We want to cooperate with every country. Every country will contribute probably in a different way... India, obviously, is an important country, and we look forward to working with them.�

In the meantime, benefits and praise continue to flow Musharraf�s way. �We recognise the brave decision which President Musharraf and the people of Pakistan have taken,� Chris Patten, EU external relations commissioner, said. Patten said the delegation would seek further assurances of Pakistan�s commitment to end terrorism without forgetting the country�s economic and humanitarian needs. He said the EU recognised the need to give Pakistan quick assistance for its economic reforms.


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