Kidnap cartel busted
Centre rings Bhutan border alarm
Tamluk readies for giant�s partition
Backroom flurry to stockpile arms and men
Border holes plugged, Punjab-style
Ripples of anger as last train to Pak chugs out
Closure cloud on 19 mines after merger snub
Last Post for terror war heroes
Joshi turns sitting target
Funky themes for birthday dreams in steel city

Siliguri, Dec. 30: 
In true Bollywood style, Bengal police and their Krishanganj counterparts last night foiled the attempted kidnapping of a tea-plantation owner in Uttar Dinajpur.

The police also busted the �Sittu and Senti� inter-state cartel, which is responsible for a series of kidnappings in North Bengal and Bihar.

The gang, which has operated in Siliguri, was about to kidnap the tea-plantation owner in neighbouring Islampur when its luck ran out. The police got wind of their plans and rushed to where the gang had assembled.

Though most of the gang members managed to flee, two of its �planners and executioners� � Pappu Singh and Tausif Alam � were caught. The arrest also led to eight other gang members being caught in night-long raids stretching from Siliguri through Krishanganj to Purnia.

Parading the two �prize catches� today, Siliguri additional superintendent of police K. Jayaraman said: �During investigations into businessman Mukesh Agarwal�s kidnapping in August, we stumbled upon the involvement of the Sittu-Senti gang, which had been responsible for at least three major kidnappings in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts alone over the past two years.�

�On Saturday, we got a tip off that the dreaded Bihar-based gang had chalked out a plan for another kidnapping in the region. We learnt that the gang had assembled on National Highway 31A to kidnap a tea-estate owner from Islampur,� the officer added.

�A joint team of Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling police rushed to the spot. Though the gang gave us the slip, we caught Singh and Alam at their native village of Lohaghar under Bahadurganj police station in Krishanganj in Bihar,� the officer said.

�The duo turned out to be the executioners for the Siliguri-based �ringleaders� Sittu Singh and Senti Singh,� he added.

�Following the arrest of Singh and Alam, joints raids by Bengal police and our Krishanganj counterparts in Bhaktinagar, Naxalbari, Khoribari, and Bahadurganj netted eight more gang members,� Jayaraman said.

�They include Nittu and Jyoti, two hard-core criminals with records of extortion cases, from Haiderpara under Bhaktinagar police station on the outskirts of Siliguri,� he added.

�Five other members of the gang � Om Raj Khotwal, Amit Parasher, Shekar Sahani, Sushil Kumar Mishra and Sailendra Kumar Mishra were picked from the Khoribari-Naxalbari area on the Indo-Nepal border. Another member, Bittu, was arrested from his residence in Krishanganj,� the police official said.

Kotwal, who was earlier arrested in connection with the attempted ambush on GNLF chief Subash Ghising in February, was on bail, he added.


Calcutta, Dec. 30: 
Concerned over the influx of militants from across the border and their links with the KLO and the Ulfa, the Union home ministry has decided to strengthen vigilance along the Indo-Bhutan border.

The Union ministry has urged its counterpart in Bengal to keep a close watch on the movements of suspected Ulfa militants.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee reviewed the situation with senior officials. Buddha had recently asked for more BSF forces to be deployed along the border with Bhutan.


Tamluk, Dec. 30: 
Tamluk will make a new beginning on New Year�s Day. On January 1, 2002, the subdivisional town will become the headquarters of Purba Midnapore, after the largest district of the country bifurcates.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will announce Midnapore�s division into Purba and Paschim Midnapore at a function at Tamluk Rakhal Memorial football ground on Tuesday, increasing the number of districts in the state to 19.

The Tamluk administration has left no stone unturned in its efforts to make the day a memorable one. Invitation letters signed by chief secretary Sourin Roy have been sent well in advance to eminent personalities of the district.

PWD engineers are working round the clock to give a new look to all roads and administration buildings. Artists engaged by the municipality are busy repairing and colouring nine statues, including those of Satish Samanta, Kshudiram, Matangini Hazra and Vidyasagar. Hundreds of mercury-vapour lamps have been installed.

The people of Tamluk are preparing to celebrate another Diwali on December 31, according to municipality chairman Rabindranath Sen. Shopowners will illuminate their shops with coloured lights and residents will decorate their homes.

The organisers say 1,000 women will blow conch shells and 100 white pigeons will be released after the chief minister announces the formation of the districts at noon on January 1.

This will be preceded by a padyatra around town, in which thousands of students from different schools will take part. People from all walks of life, including eminent personalities, will also take part in the rally. Cultural events will be held at night.

Discordant notes will, however, ring out through the sounds of celebration. The Midnapore Suraksha Samity has decided to wear black badges on New Year�s Day to protest the bifurcation.

Elaborate security measures have been taken as ministers, MPs, MLAs, senior bureaucrats, as well as the director general of police, are expected to attend the ceremonies. �We don�t want to take any risk as PWG activists may create trouble. Over 1,000 policemen, including Rapid Action Force personnel and specially-trained commandos will be deployed in the town. Armed security personnel will take positions on roofs near the venue,� said a district police officer.

Purba Midnapore will consist of four subdivisions, including Tamluk, Haldia, Egra and Contai, while the subdivisions of Midnapore, Kharagpur, Jhargram and Ghatal will make up Paschim Midnapore.

The present district magistrate and superintendent of police � M.V. Rao and K.C. Meena � will hold the posts for Paschim Midnapore, with Anil Verma and Anil Sharma being appointed as the district magistrate and superintendent of police for Purba Midnapore.

However, the Midnapore zilla parishad will not be bifurcated now as the new zilla parishad would be formed after the panchayat elections scheduled for 2003.


New Delhi, Dec. 30: 
The army has begun calculating the stock it would need for a war with Pakistan. An exercise to calculate war wastage reserves is currently on at the army headquarters and in the Union ministry of defence.

War wastage reserves are calculated on the experience of previous wars and an estimate of requirements over the duration that a conflict is estimated to last.

If say, previous wars have lasted three weeks� � the 1971 Indo-Pak war lasted 16 days � reserve projections will be made at three levels: for a conflict lasting a month, two months or three months. Usually, the Indian army tries to ensure wastage reserves for three months.

The calculations also factor in the changes in ammunition and weapons technology since the last war. This is an exercise every army undertakes in preparation for war to ensure continuous replenishment of men and material as casualties occur at the front.

The exercise to calculate war wastage reserves for a possible conflict with Pakistan is yet another pointer to the seriousness with which the armed forces are going about their mobilisation, irrespective of the diplomatic and/or political moves that might nix an outbreak of hostilities.

The mobilisation of the forces, the largest in 30 years, is taking place under the world�s gaze. Troop movements on such a scale are visible to the naked eye; spy satellites will only give details of their location and positions.

Security experts assess that India and Pakistan are drawing closer to a war but still do not say that war is inevitable. Far from allaying fears, Pakistan President�s spokesman Maj. Gen. Rashid Quereshi�s statement on Friday that Pakistan will not use nuclear weapons is being interpreted by strategic experts here as an indicator that a conflict is more likely than in the past. This has to do with the doctrine of nuclear weapons as a deterrence.

In the Indian security establishment, the predominant belief has been that a �window� exists for a �limited, conventional war� despite both India and Pakistan going nuclear. The �window�, say experts, may be smaller for Pakistan than for India. That is, they fear Pakistan is likely to make first use of the nuclear option to overcome the Indian forces� numerical superiority.

It is being interpreted that if Quereshi has correctly articulated the mindset of the Pakistani security establishment, that �window� has become larger because both Delhi and Islamabad have negated the idea of �nuclear deterrence�.

�It is possible that �American deterrence� matters more than �nuclear deterrence� but to what extent the US can keep India and Pakistan apart is a matter of conjecture,� one security expert said, meaning the presence of US forces in the subcontinent and America�s continuing war in Afghanistan are more significant factors against an India-Pakistan war.

On Friday, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld had said that the US was concerned by the escalating tension in the subcontinent because of the large presence of American military and civilian personnel in Pakistan right now.


Jammu, Dec. 30: 
Despite heavy to intermittent shelling by Pakistani troops from across the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border, the army has accomplished the most important task it had set out to achieve: flood the area with heavily armed personnel and make infiltration impossible.

�We have achieved our first objective and that is to ensure that infiltration by Pakistan-trained and foreign terrorists is either stopped or minimised. Infiltration, as of today, is negligible. We are of course prepared for everything and the morale of the troops is high,� a senior officer said on condition of anonymity.

The army has decided to use similar tactics it adopted to fight terrorism in Punjab. �Our role in Punjab was to plug all loopholes on the border and make infiltration difficult. Once that objective was realised, the police stepped into the act in the state,� the officer said.

While controlling Punjab was easier because of the flat terrain, the army, till a month ago, was finding it difficult to choke infiltration in mountainous Jammu and Kashmir. �The political leadership was not willing to move more troops to the international border and LoC due to international pressure. But things changed after the attack on Parliament,� the officer explained.

The army and police are now planning to conduct operations in the state together. �We will provide the police with the help they require. But we want them to identify and bring the terrorists to task. Our main job will be on the LoC and the international border,� the officer said.

The shadow of war, which till a couple of days ago had loomed large, has receded with peace sentiment emanating from Pakistan. What had turned into war hysteria, forcing border villagers to flee their homes, has passed, though people living in Pakistan�s line of fire are still continuing to migrate to �safer� areas. Some are moving due to �requests� from the army, others because nothing is left of their homes but rubble.

The army, however, is continuing to deploy heavy arms and personnel to the border region. �We are not taking any chances. For the first time, we have the upper hand in the state. Pakistan, too, is amassing troops along the border and shelling villages. But things have quietened down considerably,� the officer said.

Adding to the high troop morale is the resolution of the villagers along the border, who have chosen to stay behind, to fight shoulder to shoulder with the army against the �enemy�.

�This is the time to end the proxy war that Pakistan has been fighting in the state. We are prepared for anything. Despite continuous shelling, we have not left our village,� said Chaudhury Anand Ram in Ramgarh. He was here to buy food for his family and others �as it has become difficult� in the area. The state government is not making adequate arrangements for food for the border villagers, Ram complained.

Government officials said more than 7,000 families of 14 border villages of the Samba sector have been compelled to migrate to safer areas due to continuous shelling from across the border. Though things have quietened down, villagers fear another round of shelling in the next couple of days.

The army, which has occupied land and houses along the border belt, has decided to pay rent to the owners. Rent will also be paid to those who had voluntarily given their house to the force.

4 killed by militants

Militants gunned down four and set fire to a school and six houses in Rajouri late last night. The incidents come close on the heels of the grenade attack on Jammu�s Hira Market yesterday.

The terrorists cordoned off Kanthi village and opened fire indiscriminately on villages killing four members of a family.


New Delhi, Dec. 30: 
For the post-partition generation, it was a scene out of Gadar. But this was no replay of 1947. There was no exodus and there was no fear or violence in the air. However, anger was palpable as the Samjhauta Express chugged out of platform No.8 of Old Delhi railway station tonight, its last journey to Pakistan.

India had announced the termination of the Samjhauta, a relic of the Simla agreement signed between Indira Gandhi and Z.A. Bhutto in 1972, from New Year�s day as part of New Delhi�s diplomatic offensive against Islamabad.

Milling crowds, both Pakistanis and their Indian kin, gathered on the platform to bid each other good-bye. Men, women, children were seen carrying luggage of all shapes and sizes � iron boxes, briefcases, cloth bundles and an assortment of household goods. Some had brought neatly packed scooters and motorcycles to take back to Pakistan.

Children hardly reflected the solemn atmosphere around them. While some of them stood pensive, others who were yet to enter their teens laughed and jumped in sheer mirth.

But their parents hardly had a cause for joy. They were irked with the Indian government for �abruptly� discontinuing the train and inconveniencing them. The adults lamented that both the governments were �rushing� into things.

Chaos took over as soon as the train arrived on the platform at 8.20 pm. For about half-an-hour, the doors were not opened and there was no electricity inside the compartments. The reservation charts pasted on the bogies were hand-written. Officials were conspicuous by their absence to help nervous passengers who could ill-afford to miss the last train.

Many of the passengers had come to attend marriage ceremonies of their kin. �January is the marriage season and I came here on 7th. It took me eight months to get a visa. Meanwhile, my Ammi died,� said Lahore-bound middle-aged Khursheed, who also fulminated against the Indian authorities.

�We do not want war. Big people have no problems. War brings us untold miseries. We have small kids, what do we gain by fighting each other?� asked Khursheed�s sister Warisha, in her mid-twenties.

Khursheed�s husband, Sabir, said they had come to attend the marriage of his nephew fixed for January 1. He added that on receiving the abrupt order from police to leave the country, his mother had fainted.

Karachi residents Zaira and Samar had also come to attend the wedding of their niece on December 24 on a month-long visa. �We are very poor. We spent a fortune to come here. Now who will bear the expenses? The government should have given us some time.�

Carrying a toddler on his shoulder, a bitter Taj Mohammed, 35, from Islamabad said: �Let Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf fight. Why are we ordinary mortals harassed? This is not insaniyat.� He added that there were lakhs of Hindus in Pakistan and the communities had no problem co-existing.


Ranchi, Dec. 30: 
The Union finance ministry has turned down a proposal to merge all the eight Coal India Limited (CIL) subsidiaries into a single entity.

This will result in the closure of 19 loss-making Central Coalfield Limited mines. Union state minister for coal Ravi Shankar Prasad told newspersons here today that as part of the efforts to cut down operation costs of the mammoth CIL, his ministry had submitted a comprehensive proposal to scrap all the eight CIL subsidiaries and merge them into a single company.

He said the merger would have saved Rs 550 crore as corporate taxes being paid by four profit-making subsidiaries despite the overall losses incurred by the holding company.

Ravi Shankar said though the merger proposal was submitted twice, it was rejected by the Union finance ministry.

The minister said his department was now trying to mop up its resources to cut down on operation cost every month.

He said the ministry has now decided to close down at least 19 loss-making mines of the Central Coalfields Limited (CCL). He, however, clarified that the workers of these mines would be re-deployed.

The minister said the mines facing closure include Kathara, Dhori, Pidra, Kuju, Toda, Govindpur, Swang and Jarangdih. All these mines together had been incurring annual losses to the tune of Rs 200 crore.

He added that chief minister Babulal Marandi has agreed to provide all facilities for acquiring fresh land, including clearance of forest areas, for mining operations. He has also agreed to appoint a nodal officer to speed up the land acquisition process on a priority basis, said the minister. Ravi Shankar said the Centre had agreed to provide necessary finances for new projects at North Karanpura under Amrapali and Magadh projects, which have nearly 30 billion metric tonnes of high-grade coal.

He said CCL has identified five mining areas at Bermo, Ashoka, Kara, North Urimari and Topa, where production will be stepped up. He added that over the past two months, CCL has increased coal output by over 12 per cent which has earned the company a profit of Rs 5 crore.

Asked about the rampant corruption in coal transportation, the minister said a consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers, has been asked to determine a uniform transport charge structure to avoid arbitrary fixing of rates by individual companies.

The minister said coal companies were paying high demurrage charges on account of late loading of coal at various sidings. He said his ministry has decided to fix individual responsibilities and payment of demurrage charges would be recovered from those found guilty.

Sources said the coal minister had pointed out that despite the overall losses of Rs 794 crore in the last fiscal, various CIL subsidiaries had to pay Rs 515 crore as corporate taxes based on their profit margins.

CIL�s overall losses after payment of taxes in 2000-2001 had shot up to Rs 1,309 crore. Citing output figures of CIL subsidiaries for the last fiscal, sources said Ram Vilas Paswan had indicated that Bharat Coking Coal Ltd had grossed up losses to the tune of Rs 1,276 crore followed by Central Coalfields Ltd with Rs 917 crore and Eastern Coalfields Ltd with Rs 792 crore. Another profitable subsidiary � the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute, Ranchi � was also in the red in 2000-2001 though its losses were negligible, sources added.

�Against this backdrop, the minister pointed out that Northern Coalfields Ltd earned profits to the tune of Rs 1,025 crore followed by Mahanadi Coalfields with Rs 641 crore, South Eastern Coalfields Ltd with Rs 117 crore and Western Coalfields Ltd with Rs 28 crore. North Eastern Coalfields and Coal India Ltd had jointly posted profits of Rs 280 crore,� sources said.


Ranchi, Dec. 30: 
When you go home, tell them about us. For your tomorrow, we give our today.

The capital today received the bodies of the two jawans, who died fighting for the country in Jammu and Kashmir last week. Slogans of Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata ki jai rent the air as coffins of the two martyrs were placed outside Birsa Munda airport.

The bodies were received with full military honours. The band played the Last Post and an army contingent reversed its arms before loading the bodies on trucks bound for their respective villages. Bleary-eyed Meghu Oraon was one of the first to arrive at the airport to receive the coffins of his mates wrapped in Tricolour. He wanted to pay homage to his friend, sepoy Somnath Oraon.

The bodies of havildar B.T. Bhagat of Lohardagga and Somnath Oraon from Gadhgaon near Itki were flown in from Delhi today. The jawans of the 14th Bihar Regiment were fending off attacks by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists north of Jammu sector when they were killed.

�Tension has been brewing on the border since the terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13. There have been skirmishes between the army and insurgents,� said Col. P.C. Singh of Ranchi military station, who came to receive the bodies.

�We are not sure how they were killed as we were not briefed by our superiors. It will take some time for information to trickle in. But this is battle casualty,� he added.

Meghu, who has been Oraon�s buddy since training days, rued, �I could not meet him the last time he came home. I was sent on a commando course to Belgaum and could not accompany him to Jammu. We had joined the army together and this was his first posting. I feel lost and alone now.�

Twenty-one-year-old Somnath Oraon had joined the army last year. �He was a very shy and simple boy. After his matriculation from Patracholi in Rani Khatanga, he wanted to study further and joined the Bero College. His desire to join the army came as a surprise to us. He always said he would go out and do something different,� said his aunt Boddi Kachhap.

Somnath was the second of four brothers. His younger brothers are studying in school and the elder one is unemployed. He was the only earning member of the family and the breadwinner.

Somnath�s uncle Ajit Oraon said: �We are sad, but at the same time we are proud that our boy has laid down his life fighting for the country. He will become a source of inspiration for the children of our village. Somnath was very popular among them. He was always there to help anybody, who came to him with a problem.

�The news of his death was not conveyed to us by any proper channel. The army was informed about it yesterday, barely hours before the flight carrying their bodies was scheduled to arrive. There has been some communication gap, too. No one from the administration or the army informed us. We came to know about it from newspapers. Had we known, then more people would have come to receive our heroes.�


Bhopal, Dec. 30: 
Eminent left-minded historians engaged in BJP bashing at the three-day 62nd History Congress which ended today.

Their favourite targets: Union human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi and the Sangh parivar with upper-caste Hindus not far behind. The favoured topic: Hindu �fanaticism�.

Completely outnumbered within the congress, the BJP failed to field a speaker who could put forward a potential argument in support of the Centre�s decision to delete portions from history textbooks.

While Marxist historians were raging in fury against the Sangh, sometimes comparing the Indian freedom movement to China�s nationalist movement of the 1920s, the BJP backers were less than a dozen in number, dhoti-clad with tilaks on their foreheads, and fumbling for words.

Sitaram Singh, professor of Bihar University in Muzaffarpur, was one of the few BJP backers at the meet. �Just look around you. The Marxists do not want to view Indian history from India�s point of view. Have they seen Aurangazeb�s rule? No, neither have I but I have a right to interpret the Mughal era my way. I can only quote the Bible for them: �Judge ye not that ye may not be judged.�

But while the Leftists were avenging the loss in the textbook controversy with all their might, the BJP, riddled by factionalism in Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh, could not even take to the streets to stage a face-saving demonstration. A handful of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (the party�s youth wing) activists tried a meek, inaudible protest on the first day. Twenty of them courted arrest. The protests sank without a trace.

Vice-president of the congress Irfan Habib said: �We are against any deletions. Joshi and the RSS wish to delete historical truths of upper class oppression on Dalits, one of the chief reasons for the success of Buddhism and Jainism. The BJP wants to portray one era of history as the perfect image of India while another as an epoch of oppression and resentment.�

A replacement of Prof R.S. Sharma�s book on ancient history is being sought in one by P.P. Verma and Makhanlal, Habib said. �Verma is the man who wrote a book full of fantasies on Ayodhya and Makhanlal cut the wires when Sharma was delivering a speech on secularism at a world conference in 1994.�

No one was available to counter Habib�s contention. According to Habib, Joshi�s claim that historians don�t write about Muslim atrocities for fear of raking up minority emotions is weird. �Muslims don�t feel bad unless they are congratulated on Muharram,� he said.

At a panel discussion, Towards Freedom, last evening, India�s freedom struggle was viewed by K.N. Pannikkar of the Jawaharlal Nehru University as a secular endeavour by the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League as opposed to the fanatical calculations of the Hindu Mahasabha.

According to Pannikkar, the divide emerged in 1940 when the British asked Indian soldiers to join World War II. �The Indian National Congress was prepared to support but laid several conditions. So did the Muslim League. In contrast, the Hindu Mahasabha was enthusiastic of imperialism.�


Jamshedpur, Dec. 30: 
Nine-year-old Rohan Gupta is a bundle of energy. Since morning, he is restless as usual. But more so, because it is his birthday today and he has invited his friends to meet Dennis, the menace!

He finally manages to peep into the room where preparations for the party are on. His eyes light up at the sight of the huge cut-out of Dennis on the wall and balloons and streamers in red and yellow. What�s more, even the return gifts are wrapped in matching colour paper.

Welcome to the age of theme birthday parties for children in the city. The popularity of these parties is on the rise.

From decorations to the birthday cake and the return gifts, all of them portray a specific theme.

The brain behind the �themes� is Vinita Elijah. She �conceptualises� these parties to suit the needs of every family. The decorations, without the return gifts, cost between Rs 650 and Rs 2,500.

Vinita, who returned to the city after spending three years in Mumbai, initially sold return gift items from her home.

�It all started when I was asked to do up a �smily� theme party for one of my friend�s� daughter last year in August,� says Vinita.

�I made a khoi bag in yellow and black, wrote Happy Birthday in the same colour, put up yellow balloons and even made �smily� badges for kids, who came to the party,� added a vivacious Vinita. That party was a hit and several parents approached her later.

Shivani and Shivika, two four- year-old twins, had a �pink-and- yellow� party at Beldih club. Two huge bunches of frosted balloons in yellow and pink and lovely pink bows adorned the walls, which gave it a girlish look. �The kids loved the decor so much that they insisted on putting up the bow back in their room and it is still up there,� says their mom, Arti Sachdeva.

Manjushree Kumar of Kadma wanted to celebrate her daughter Malaika�s first birthday in a special way. So she sat down with Vinita one day to chalk out a plan. It was the �pink� party that they agreed upon for little Malaika. Pink net turned into some frilly stuff along with pink bows, which made the decorations gel with the occasion.

Sometimes, Vinita proposes the themes and at other times, the guardians themselves come up with ideas. �I do not insist on any dress code for the parties because the parties should be a pleasure and not a pressure for the children and their parents,� says Vinita. Eight-year old Tanvi Maniktala wanted to wear a white dress for her birthday and she was celebrating it at Jubilee Amusement Park and from there sprang the theme � �Snow white and seven colours�.

�Every kid coming for a theme birthday party wants a similar one to be arranged for his or her own birthday, too,� says Vinita. With so many parents opting for theme parties for their kids, it is clear that they are here to stay.


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