Buddha springs penal code trial on bandh brigade
Army shoplist for ordnance unit
Days before anniversary, fear ripples through Gujarat
Consensus cracks in Congress fury
Sonia sticks to Ramayan
BJP drops terror poll plank
Amitabh apolitical on political stage
Delhi loads speech scanner
ISI trail takes police to Burrabazar
Probe into officer nexus charge

Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
The SUCI-sponsored bandh to protest against a hike in hospital charges, power tariff and education fees went down as the first in the state in which bandh-supporters were slapped with specific charges for obstructing traffic and violating the law.

One hundred and fifty-six SUCI supporters, including 35 women, arrested from various parts of the city became the first casualties of the government�s get-tough attitude and got charged with specific clauses of the Indian Penal Code. Earlier bandhs saw enforcers being released after signing personal recognition bonds. The bandh, which they were trying to enforce, however, passed off peacefully barring a few incidents.

The bandh was backed by assorted Naxalite groups and got � amidst refusal from the original sponsors � the �moral support� of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee claimed the bandh had some impact in Calcutta but failed to affect life in the districts and stop the wheels of industry. Describing the call for the bandh � the first during his regime � as an act of irresponsibility, he explained that the government had already initiated moves to revise the enhanced hospital charges.

�Bandh or no bandh, we have already initiated the move to lower hospital charges,� he said, but added that the state government had no role to play in the hike in power tariff.

Pro-bandh demonstrators were arrested from different parts of the city like Taratala, Tollygunge, Shyampukur, Cossipore and Hazra. Violence occurred in the Taltala area as bandh-supporters damaged four state-run buses and a police vehicle.

The day started with a police-SUCI face-off at the crossing of Hyde Road and Sonai Road in the West Port police station area. A burning tyre on the road caught the notice of a patrolling police team which was greeted with brickbats as soon as it tried to get off the van. Four of the arsonists were arrested but not before they had smashed the windscreen of the police vehicle.

A private bus on route 30B was intercepted by bandh-supporters around 9 am on S.N. Banerjee Road; passengers were asked to get off and the bus damaged. There, too, four SUCI activists were arrested.

A scuffle broke out at Hazra between SUCI supporters and policemen around 1 pm. An SUCI procession which squatted at the crossing was chased away by policemen; 40 people, including 18 women, were arrested.

Attendance in offices in Calcutta was moderate, ranging from 60 per cent in most state and Central government offices to about 70 per cent at Writers� Buildings, the seat of government in the state and with a work-force dominated by the CPM-supporting Coordination Committee. Though banks and various commercial establishments and some cinemas were open, the roads were definitely less-crowded as a large section of office-goers and most students preferred to treat the day as a holiday.

There was, however, no paucity of transport as the state government deployed its full fleet.

In the districts, over 100 SUCI supporters were arrested after clashes with the police in East and West Midnapore.

In Midnapore town, police arrested 25 SUCI supporters who tried to prevent government employees from going to work.

Train services in the Howrah-Kharagpur section of the South-eastern Railway were disrupted as bandh supporters squatted on railway tracks at Kolaghat station. They also dumped wooden slippers in various areas to stall movement of trains. In the Eastern Railway, train services in the Howrah division were almost normal. In the Sealdah division, services were disrupted on the Baruipur-Lakshmikantapur section and Ashokenagar-Habra section.

In north Bengal, barring a stray incident in Dinhata in Cooch Behar district, the bandh, which had a partial impact, passed off peacefully.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
The Army has placed an immediate order with the Gun and Shell Factory, at Cossipore, for state-of-the-art, 84-mm rocket-launchers and 81-mm mortar barrels and shells. Army sources said the rocket-launchers are light, portable and �extremely effective in the terrains of Kashmir,� according to an Eastern Command official.

�There is an urgent need to upgrade supplies and spares,�� said the major-general, who refused to be named. According to S.C. Talukdar, assistant general manager of the Cossipore factory, the Army has asked for 300 rocket-launchers, to be delivered �immediately.�� �We also have an order for 20,000 shells,�� he added.

Talukdar said the factory is currently manufacturing the Mark-II version of the rocket-launcher. An upgraded version, Mark-III, with improved range and precision, is in the pipeline.

�The rocket-launchers can be compared with the best in the world and are priced at around Rs 3 lakh each,�� he said.

Minister of state for defence (production and supplies) Harin Pathak confirmed the Army order for shells and rocket-launchers. �I have asked the workmen and engineers to step up production,�� he told Metro when contacted on phone. Factory general manager R.M.K. Pillai, too, held several meetings and inspected the unit to take stock of production.

According to sources, the Army plans to use the rocket-launchers against militants across the border in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). It has also placed orders for L-70 40-mm anti-aircraft guns and shells for anti-tank high-explosive hollow charges.

Sources said a tank requires around 40 shells, which cost Rs 10,000. The Gun and Shell Factory is manufacturing 125-mm shells for the T-72 tanks. There are about 500 T-72 tanks deployed in the frontiers. The factory produced around 20,000 shells last year. In 1999, it manufactured around 15,000 shells, but the demand has grown in the past two months, with the threat of a war between the two countries.

The shells used in anti-tank high explosives have flames that suck out tank insides within seconds, destroying them completely. The L70 40-mm anti-aircraft guns can fire 240 to 300 rounds per minute and are manufactured in collaboration with Bofors of Sweden.


Ahmedabad, Jan. 10: 
I woke up as the bed started shaking. It was a low-intensity tremor, but strong enough to wake up my wife and me. In fact, she was the first to feel the impact. �The building is shaking, it�s an earthquake,� she said, as memories of Republic Day last year came rushing back.

Instinctively, she rushed towards the door, asking me to follow. But just as it had started, the tremor stopped and we did not need to run after all.

The early morning �shock� just days before the first anniversary of the killer earthquake ensured that we did not go back to sleep.

But not many people in Ahmedabad were aware of the tremor at 5.23 am. Even some residents of highrises that developed minor cracks did not feel it. �I did not know. When did it occur?� asked one. The regional chief of the Met department, R.K. Kankane, said he did not feel it either.

But Meenal Kothari, a resident of Ambawadi who suffered during last year�s quake, did. �I was very scared. But before I could run, it was over.� Meenal�s family had spent several nights in the open last year after their house developed big cracks. The house has since been repaired but the tremor brought back memories of the nightmare that began early morning on January 26 last year.

For Aslam and Niranjan, two youngsters who were innocently asking whether there would be another earthquake this Republic Day, as predicted by some little-known astrologer, today�s tremor was �precursor of a bigger quake�.

The Met chief, however, said the tremor that rocked the north and west of Gujarat this morning was an �aftershock�. It was normal for such shocks to recur after a big quake, sometimes even two-and-a-half years later, he said. The tremor, measuring 4.1 on the Richter Scale, rocked Kutch district and had its epicentre near Khavda, 80 km west of Bhuj. There were no reports of casualty or loss of property.

A resident of Bhuj said over phone that not many had felt the tremor. �After all, we survived the massive quake (measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale) which killed more than 18,000 people and crippled thousands in Kutch alone. So this morning�s tremor is just an aftershock,� he added.

The state government, however, has one more reason to �worship mother earth� on the first anniversary of the killer quake.


New Delhi, Jan. 10: 
The fragile consensus on the diplomatic offensive against Pakistan received a severe jolt today when the Congress pulled out of all-party delegations going abroad on the ground that Sonia Gandhi was not consulted either on the composition of the delegation or the places to be visited.

�We are distressed at the cavalier manner in which the government has gone about planning for all-party delegations to go abroad to explain India�s position on cross-border terrorism,� the Congress said in a statement released here today.

The main Opposition party said it was forced to reject the government offer, as Sonia Gandhi had not been consulted. The Sonia camp was particularly upset that the Vajpayee regime had not bothered to extend the invitation to her, but had randomly picked senior leaders such as Manmohan Singh, Najma Heptullah and P.M. Sayeed and had chosen destinations that were incompatible with their political stature and protocol.

Congress leaders said the government should have observed the established parliamentary norm of approaching leaders of respective political parties to name their representatives.

The otherwise sober Manmohan Singh lambasted the government and said the Congress came to know of the composition and itinerary of the delegations from newspapers.

�This indicates the non-seriousness of the BJP (in) dealing with vital national affairs and in sustaining a national consensus on crucial issues,� Manmohan said.

Congress leaders were upset on a number of counts. They questioned BJP spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra�s locus standi on announcing the names of delegations.

Congress spokesman Anand Sharma pointed out that the government had promised to get back to the Congress during the all-party meet on Indo-Pak relations on December 30.

At the meeting, the government and the Opposition had agreed that all-party delegations should visit abroad to articulate India�s point of view on Kashmir and cross-border terrorism.

Apart from propriety issues, the Congress found fault with protocol, wondering how P.A. Sangma had been asked to lead a delegation to influential Asean countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, while a person of Manmohan�s stature had been asked to go to North African countries such as Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

Congress leaders resented the fact that the government had tried to bypass Sonia Gandhi and picked Congress nominees on its own. �The whole idea was so ill-conceived. Who are they to select Manmohan, Najma and Sayeed? The Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are round the corner. It is for Sonia to decide who she wants to spare,� said a senior Congressman.

Sources close to Sonia wondered why she had been ignored particularly when she was keen to lead a delegation to some important country.

At the all-party meet, Vajpayee had personally asked Sonia if she would be interested in leading a team to foreign capitals, and she did not turn down the offer.

�She had said she would consult party leaders once a formal invitation comes,� a Congress Working Committee member said. But the invitation never arrived.


Kanpur, Jan. 10: 
The Congress launched its poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh today with a lacklustre address by party president Sonia Gandhi that avoided any personal attack on Opposition leaders.

Speaking at a well-attended rally, Sonia compared �Ram�s Uttar Pradesh�� with �Ravan�s Lanka nagari�. �I will not advise you to act like Hanumanji and set it on fire but to restore honour and dignity,� she said.

Focusing on the BJP�s attempt to make terrorism the main poll issue for the Assembly elections beginning on February 14, Sonia said: �How can that be possible? Tell me, what does terrorism have to do with poverty, unemployment, degradation and crime that is rampant in Uttar Pradesh?�

With three Congress leaders �sacrificing their lives at the altar of extremism�, Sonia maintained that no other party was in a better position to talk about terrorism.

The Congress president, however, made it clear that there would be no understanding with �any other party�, for the elections. �We will come to power on the strength of our principles, ideals and performance,�� she said.

The Congress had so far been quiet on a poll pact with the Samajwadi Party. Speculation was rife that Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav was going soft on Sonia and that would translate into an alliance for the heartland polls. Mulayam has already denied any understanding with a �party that is on the throes of a natural death�.

Regretting that the state had �fallen into bad days� in the past 12 years of non-Congress rule, Sonia said Uttar Pradesh, home to Prime Ministers like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Rajiv Gandhi, was made a backward region by communal and casteist forces.

Tugging at the heartstrings of the crowd assembled at Kanpur�s historic Phul Bagh ground, Sonia said: �Each of you have a great responsibility that has been thrust upon you, a responsibility that can either make or break the state. You can save Uttar Pradesh now if you want. But make a wrong decision and you will suffer for another five years.��

Emphasising on the Congress� performance in other states, Sonia said: �Compare the 11 states we are in power with Uttar Pradesh and you will feel sad. In Congress-ruled states there are industries, there is power. The marginalised are being brought to the mainstream. Technology and education are also being pursued aggressively. In fact, I personally oversee and direct the performance of the Congress governments.��

Once called the Manchester of India, Sonia rued the conditions in Kanpur today.


New Delhi, Jan. 10: 
The BJP is having second thoughts on using terrorism as an issue in the Uttar Pradesh polls.

An indication of the rethink was given by its general secretary and spokesman Sunil Shastri. Asked what the dominant election issue in Uttar Pradesh would be, he said, �We will fight them on our record of governance of the last five years and our achievements in this period.�

BJP sources in the state said chief minister Rajnath Singh has followed the same line in his recent meetings with partymen. The ploy to project its five-year governance rather than Indo-Pak relations, the military build-up on the border, the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and the ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi) was formulated after a feedback that these were not working on the ground.

�Terrorism is a sensitive issue. If we raise it, the Opposition will pose 10 counter questions, all of which are bound to put us on the defensive,� said a Uttar Pradesh leader.

Had the government launched a military offensive against Pakistan immediately after the attack on Parliament, it would have been seen as �proof� of its determination to countenance cross-border terrorism and, by implication, its commitment to the �nationalist� plank, the sources said.


Rampur, Jan. 10: 
After a decade�s political hibernation, Amitabh Bachchan today made a comeback to its platform. A day after he wound up KBC on Star Plus Bachchan, wife Jaya in tow, addressed a huge gathering in this dusty, non-descript west Uttar Pradesh town famous for its brand of knives, �Rampuri�.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, general secretary Amar Singh, Mulayam�s local pointsman and Rajya Sabha MP Azam Khan and Jaya were among those who addressed the �social� function a month before the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections.

The rally was organised by Khan under the banner of Maulana Mohammed Ali Johar Welfare Trust to distribute artificial limbs and tricycles to a group of physically challenged people.

Though the leaders were extra cautious not to give the meet a political colour, the subtle messages were clear. There were no party flags, banners or billboards around the rally ground but the jeeps which brought in the crowds were sporting Samajwadi flags. Banners with the name of the trust in Urdu and Hindi, festoons and coloured balloons were seen across the Old Stadium.

And even apart from the hordes that were ferried in, there were people every where perched on rooftops of cowdung-plastered houses and trees.

Amitabh and Jaya spoke briefly. And all of it politically correct.

Calling Mulayam her elder brother and Singh the younger, Jaya said from today, �Azam Khan is also ours�.

�You are not weak,� she told the crowd. �If Mulayam Singh Yadav is with you why you feel weak and helpless. We are also with you. If Mulayam Singh Yadav, Amar Singh and Azam Khan wishes we will come again to meet you.�

The megastar turned quizmaster spoke at last.

Earlier, Khan had said Rampur is a small town. �I don�t agree with Khan. The town which has a large heart cannot be small,� Amitabh said. Mulayam Singhji is a �saral insaan (innocent man) and very determined�. What touched him most was Mulayam, as Uttar Pradesh chief minister, had conferred a Saraswati award to his poet father, Harbans Rai.

�But my father was sick and was not able to make it to Lucknow to attend the function. But Yadav himself came to Bombay and presented the award, I cannot forget that gesture,� Amitabh said.


New Delhi, Jan. 10: 
Anticipating that Pervez Musharraf�s speech on terrorism might fall short of meeting India�s concerns even while it satisfies the Western audience, South Block has begun to tell the outside world that this would not help scale down the temperature in South Asia.

Musharraf is expected to make his national address either tomorrow, after Friday prayers, or on Saturday to target the West�s prime-time attention. But it is the content and thrust of his speech that is still being debated in Delhi.

The Vajpayee government feels the steps taken against terrorists so far by the military regime in Islamabad are �cosmetic� and no serious attempt has been made to fight them.

If Musharraf continues along the same line, India might decide to snap diplomatic ties with Pakistan and even abrogate the Indus Water Treaty may be the harsh measures which will be taken by India to step up the pressure further.

India will be satisfied if Musharraf says he will not allow terrorist activities in Pakistan as well as in areas under Islamabad�s control, meaning Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Anything short of this will be seen as an attempt by the Pakistani President to buy time. If he manages to make an unambiguous speech against terrorism and follows it up with hard action, resumption of dialogue is possible.

If Musharraf says he will not allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorist activities, it may satisfy the US, but not India.

�This would then mean that in future Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) may well become the hub of terrorist activities,� a senior Indian official said. He said Pakistan describes Kashmir as �disputed territory�.

�The caveats and finer print that we see in Pakistani speeches will have to be picked up by the western nations as well,� the official said.

South Block has already started preparing diplomats for what India expects from Musharraf. �We want to de-segregate cross-border terrorism, support for terrorists and infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir as a tool of Pakistan�s foreign policy,� a senior Indian diplomat said. He added: �Islamabad needed to state in clear and simple terms the inadmissibility of violence and terror in its policy of dealing with India.�

According to South Block�s assessment, Musharraf is fully in control in Pakistan. �He may have 10 or 15 per cent of the people who are against him or are unhappy with his decision to join the international coalition against terrorism.

�But by and large the military dictator, who has brought close aides and trusted people in key positions, does not feel any serious threat.�

But Pakistan watchers here feel that once Musharraf takes serious action against terrorists based on Pakistani soil and in territories under its control, he will not be able to stop. �He will then have to go farther and farther as, otherwise, it will prove counter-productive,� a foreign ministry official said.

If he fails to address its concerns, India will have no choice but to take tougher measures.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
The police today claimed they had obtained several leads that linked Mohammad Dilshad, the ISI operative arrested from Siliguri, to his network in Calcutta.

�We have been able to establish a clear connection between Dilshad and his Burrabazar-based hawala operators,� a senior intelligence official said.

Today, several raids were carried out in Howrah and Burrabazar areas in search of the hawala operators.

�Several persons have been detained. Our suspect is highly respected among the business community in central Calcutta,� the official said.

The investigators came to know about the two hawala operators in Calcutta after grilling Dilshad in Siliguri.

�Both the operators fled as soon as Dilshad was arrested. This also speaks volumes of the kind of network these criminals have built up over the years,� the official added.

The Intelligence Bureau had repeatedly warned the state government through the Union home ministry that several �subversive elements� were taking shelter and building a base in and around Calcutta.

A team of Special Branch (SB) and Intelligence Branch (IB) officials stormed Tarakhand Dutta Lane in Jorasanko police station area on Wednesday morning and detained three associates of those two hawala operators.

After keeping a round-the-clock watch on the Jorasanko area, the IB and SB officials finally managed to find another house where the operator used to reside. �Several documents were also seized from the place,� the official said.

According to IB officials, the hawala agents sheltered ISI operatives in and around the city. �Dilshad was given shelter by them in Calcutta a few months ago when he came here to receive hawala money. These hawala operators regularly contacted Dilshad,� an IB official said.

The Darjeeling police also tipped off IB officials about more hideouts in Howrah. Superintendent of Darjeeling police Sanjay Chander had mentioned names of some who have links with Dilshad. �We cannot disclose those names for the sake of investigation,� he said.

The police raided some places in Salkia, Shibpur and Howrah town areas. �But none of the suspects was found during the raids. We are looking for some more specific information from Darjeeling police,� said an official.IB officials are also trying to find out whether Dilshad had contacted any army officials in Calcutta during his city visit.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
With chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee pressing for action, police and the vigilance department today began a probe into the corruption charges levelled by a subordinate officer against Burdwan superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh.

Director-general of police D.C. Vajpai is overseeing the twin investigations involving Ramesh, officials said. They added that Bhattacharjee sought the report to initiate corrective measures.

The move follows the decision of Burdwan additional superintendent of police Anirban Roy to go on leave, saying he was unable to carry on with the investigation into the alleged nexus between the Burdwan coal mafia and a section of the police, including one of his superiors.

Roy had raided a hotel and arrested one Madhusudhan Sarkar.

According to documents with The Telegraph, Roy, in his report, said some associates of coal mafia Rocket were involved with a police officer.


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