CPM bets on new faces
Goodbye delta blues
Dawn free run for dacoits in robbery belt
District drive against sex test centres
Indian Oil plan skids on Tiger territory
Rattled Naveen at Atal door
Mayor or MLA choice for Stalin
Chanakya sets off second-coming whispers
Delhi tilts towards Arafat
Retest boost in DNA fudge case

Calcutta, April 3: 
The CPM today elected its 16-member secretariat, inducting six new faces into the party�s highest decision-making body at the state level.

Public works department minister Gautam Deb and two district unit secretaries Dipak Dasgupta and Amitabha Bose were among the six picked as part of plans to energise the monolithic organisation.

The other three new faces in the secretariat are Burdwan district unit secretary Madan Ghosh, Calcutta district unit secretary Raghunath Kusari and state committee member Mridul Dey.

�Like its predecessors, the newly constituted secretariat will help the party chart out a path of larger growth,� said CPM state secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas.

By most accounts, the inclusion of two functionaries from the North 24-Parganas unit, Deb and Bose, means further marginalisation of transport minister Subhas Chakraborty in the organisation.

The outgoing secretariat, though originally constituted with 14 members, has been reduced to an 11-member body following the deaths of Sailen Dasgupta, Benoy Chowdhury and Niren Ghosh.

Those retained in the apex body are Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Anil Biswas, Biman Bose, Chittabrata Majumdar, Shyamal Chakraborty, and three key ministers � Md Amin, Suryakanta Mishra and Nirupam Sen.

Party veteran Dipen Ghosh, who was already stripped of editorship of the party�s mouthpiece, Ganashakti, for a combination of reasons, was dropped from the secretariat on health grounds.

Like in previous occasions, the CPM did not induct any of its women functionaries in the core organisational body even though speculations were rife in party circles that Shyamali Gupta might make it.

Asked about non-representation of women members in the apex body, Biswas said: �Don�t try to read much into this. We have formed the secretariat on the basis of class approach.�

Hours after formation of the secretariat, Biswas told reporters at the party office that a secretariat member would henceforth oversee the education of the party rank and file.


Calcutta, April 3: 
He has anchored a silent revolution of self-reliance through micro-finance in over 210 villages in South 24-Parganas. Now, Kapilananda Mandal is ready to take his vehicle of change, the Vivekananda Seva Kendra O Sishu Udyan (VSSU), to one of the most neglected areas � the Sunderbans, Bengal�s riverine delta.

�We were catering to around 7,000 people spread over 30 square km in the district. Now, our target is a new market, which will give us the chance to serve people in the most remote corners of the district,� said Mandal. The frail, middle-aged man was hosting a team of observers at Ullon, a dusty village near Lakshmikantapur in South 24-Parganas.

�The plan to expand is not only a natural follow-up of our success in Ullon,� said Mandal. The decision to set up branch offices in Raidighi and Kakdwip and mobilise resources to serve the credit needs of the people living well below the poverty line is a �calculated step� to reach out to more people and make a �significant� impact on their lives.

In 1983, Mandal � who did not study beyond Class X � started �a small movement� to protect the environment and promote child literacy in Ullon. But he soon realised that the economic well-being of families was a must before trying to raise environment awareness or ensure a better future for the children. So, he shifted the focus of his mission to micro-finance in the early nineties.

Based on the simple doctrine of return-on-savings, the organisation charted the path to self-dependence by giving small loans to the rural poor living in Lakshmikantapur and adjoining villages.

More and more people started joining the march towards self-reliance and soon the �small movement� snowballed into something of a �mini miracle�. From an initial corpus of just Rs 150, the organisation today boasts cumulative deposits of Rs 8.16 crore. Monthly collection from clients spread in 20 panchayats in six blocks of South 24-Parganas ranges between Rs 55 lakh and Rs 60 lakh. A record recovery rate of �near 100 per cent� makes it possible for the outfit to build social and physical infrastructure in the region.

The Small Industries Development Bank of India has also sanctioned Rs 80 lakh to the project. Oxfam, the Boston-based US funding agency, has expressed willingness to help the movement. CARE India is also poised to back the organisation�s �one-stop micro-banking� project under the agency�s innovation fund scheme.

�Unlike others, Mandal and his team don�t depend on donor agencies and can fund their own projects. We are keen to be associated with them,� said Harish Chotani, director, Credit and Savings for Household Enterprises of CARE India.

The VSSU success story has also inspired the likes of Graham Wright, director, Microsave Africa, and Stuart Rutherford, chairman, Safesave, Bangladesh.


Sonarpur, April 3: 
The clock was set back when a gang of armed dacoits went on a looting spree here in the wee hours and decamped with ornaments and cash in a repeat of a string of robberies some two months ago.

Additional forces had been deployed after the previous round of looting, but policemen were nowhere to be seen when the armed gang raided houses and beat up their owners today.

No one was arrested till late this evening. Police believe those who raided the houses today were also involved in the previous attack.

Additional superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar Singh said the dacoits struck around 2.30 am when most of the local people were at a soiree in the village.

According to Singh, the dacoits first knocked on the house of local Trinamul panchayat member, Prava Mondal, and asked for a glass of water. �As soon as she opened the door the dacoits stormed into her room and threatened her to give up cash and ornaments. She protested, but the dacoits overpowered her,� Singh added.

After that, the gang raided 10 more houses. �Preliminary investigations reveal that at least seven persons, including women, received minor injuries while fighting the dacoits,� said officer-in-charge of Sonarpur police station Sahabul Hossain.

Local people alleged police �inaction� and said that had they acted fast, the dacoits could not have got away.

Superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly, however, claimed the number of dacoities had come down in recent times.


Paschim Midnapore, April 3: 
District health officials followed the Calcutta example and raided pre-natal sex determination centres here. Yesterday, officials had conducted a similar raid in Calcutta and sealed 13 ultrasonography centres.

In a joint drive, the health department and the police sealed 26 ultrasonography machines in nursing homes and diagnostic centres after they found that the centres had flouted a Supreme Court order and used them for sex determination.

Last year, the Supreme Court had ruled that all centres must get their ultrasonography machines registered and put up a prominent notice saying sex determinations tests would not be carried out there.

Sources said of the sealed centres, 10 were in Midnapore town, five in Kharagpur, four in Ghatal, two in Jhargram and one in Debra.

Local people alleged that the centres had so long been functioning with the connivance of a section of officials in the health department.

Expressing his determination not to allow unauthorised ultrasonography centres to function, the district�s chief medical officer, Dr M.G. Mondal, said: �There are only three ultrasonography centres in the whole district which have valid licence.�

Dacoity at Lalgarh

A gang of armed men looted Rs 2.75 lakh from the Lalgarh forest range office last night and injured ranger Pashupati Mahato. District superintendent of police K.C. Meena said he was not sure if the PWG was involved.    

New Delhi, April 3: 
India is probing the possibility of taking on long-term lease from Sri Lanka 10 large unused oil tanks located in the eastern port town of Trincomalee, home ground of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. But the LTTE�s hostility and suspicion of Indian motives are likely to derail the process.

India wants to further its commercial prospects and have no strategic interest in Trincomalee, officials point out. �Nothing concrete has taken shape yet, we are just exploring the possibilities,� a senior oil ministry official said.

What the government probably did not realise was it was stepping onto a political minefield. The LTTE, which fought Indian forces in the north and east, have already suggested that New Delhi wants a foothold in their territory to further its expansionist designs.

The Tigers see Trincomalee as the capital of the proposed Tamil homeland, which can function within the Sri Lankan Constitution if the Norwegian peace efforts finally bring peace to the island. Trincomalee also houses the island�s biggest naval base.

Last fortnight, an Indian Oil Corporation team was part of an Indian official delegation which went to Colombo for talks. The IOC, wanting to make use of its international trading experience, is planning to expand its operations.

India�s refining capacity annually is 115 million tonnes. Domestic consumption fluctuates between 100 and 102 million tonnes, leaving a surplus of around 12 million tonnes, which the IOC hopes to export.

With this in mind, IOC has been looking around for countries which may be interested in buying refined oil from India. Sri Lanka was an obvious choice as it imports most of its refined oil. IOC officials say the project could benefit both sides. It would reduce Colombo�s oil costs because transportation charges from India would be nearly half that from other countries.

The vacant World War II storage tanks already in Trincomalee could be utilised for storing the refined oil, which can be ferried by tankers from Chennai and other Indian ports to the harbour for distribution island-wide.

Indian diplomats should have warned the IOC about Trincomalee and the exaggerated importance Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese have placed on it.

In the early eighties, when India was helping the Tigers to fight President Jayawardene�s army, the Lankan government believed that New Delhi�s support for the Tigers was motivated by hopes of getting access to the Trincomalee harbour, which is one of the finest natural harbours in Asia. The UNP regime felt India wanted this eastern port for military and strategic purposes.

Now that both the UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and People�s Alliance President Chandrika Kumaratunga have excellent relations with New Delhi, it is the LTTE�s turn to impute motives to India�s commercial interests.

The LTTE chief, V. Prabhakaran, shut out from the changing world still believes that India is smarting from the blow the LTTE believes it gave the Indian army.

The decision to target Rajiv Gandhi was largely because of fears that he would come back to power and settle scores with the LTTE.

The Tigers are, therefore, suspicious of Indian motives and will make sure that the IOC deal falls through.


New Delhi, April 3: 
Faced with rebellion from within his party and ally BJP, Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik today came to the capital to seek the Prime Minister�s support.

Patnaik saw red when his bete noire, former Union minister Dilip Ray, won the Rajya Sabha election due to cross voting by MPs of the Biju Janata Dal and the BJP.

Much to the chief minister�s consternation, Ray managed to get the votes of 13 BJD and eight BJP legislators. He is said to be livid that the state BJP leadership did not take action against its eight MLAs who voted for Ray. Patnaik had expelled from the BJD last year.

Sources said Patnaik lodged a strong protest against the state BJP leadership which is allegedly working in tandem with Ray to unseat him. However, it is not known what assurance Atal Bihari Vajpayee offered.

The BJP-BJD tussle, which began a few months ago, reached a crisis point in the recent panchayat polls. Though the BJP failed miserably, it upset the BJD at several places much to the advantage of the Congress.

Ray is believed to have begun moves to split the party in collaboration with more than a dozen rebel MLAs and 38 BJP legislators. In the 147-member Assembly, the BJD has a comfortable majority with 73 members. But if 20-odd MLAs break away, Patnaik would be in trouble.

Speculation is rife that the rebels may first try to split the parliamentary party. Sources said at least four of the 10 Lok Sabha MPs are in touch with Ray. However, Patnaik has announced a Cabinet expansion to stem the crisis against his leadership.

The chief minister today said he met Vajpayee to discuss the state�s financial needs. Some of the issues that came up for discussion were coal royalty, tribal block segments and the Paradip oil refinery. Patnaik also invited the Prime Minister to inaugurate the pig iron plant in Orissa.

Later, he also met home minister L.K. Advani.

After meeting the Prime Minister, Patnaik dismissed as �nonsense� speculation that moves were afoot to displace him. He said Ray would not be able to split the BJD. �Ray�s election is no concern of mine. He does not belong to my party,� he said.

Asked on the possibility of a BJP member replacing him as chief minister, he replied �it is all nonsense�.

However, a senior BJD leader did not rule out a rebellion, saying the party had become a personal fief. �The political situation in the state is taking a turn. What direction it will go, we don�t know,� he said.

The leader added the ploy of Cabinet expansion would not work. �Can you offer ministerial berths to two dozen MLAs? It works in bureaucracy, not in politics,� he said.


Chennai, April 3: 
Jayalaithaa today served her archrival M. Karunandidhi�s son, M.K. Stalin, an ultimatum: either he remain Chennai mayor or an MLA, not both.

�He (Stalin) bravely offered to quit the mayor�s post, but in this very budget session we are bringing in an amendment (after which) Stalin can either continue to be an MLA or be the mayor of Chennai Corporation, but not both,� Jayalalithaa said in the Assembly to cheers from the ADMK benches.

At the end of the budget debate, Stalin had said he was �ready to resign the Chennai mayorship� if the time-honoured convention of allowing only the mayor�s car to sport the �municipal crest� and flag on its bonnet was not strictly adhered to. This had annoyed Jayalalithaa who today made it clear who was boss.

�As we have sufficient majority in the Assembly, this new enactment will definitely come into force and Stalin will have to soon decide between his mayorship and membership of the Assembly,� Jayalalithaa said.

�Perhaps, he anticipated this Bill and offered to quit the mayor�s post,� she added, leaving the DMK members surprised.

The car flag controversy started when deputy mayor Karate Thyagarajan � of the ADMK � insisted that his vehicle should also fly the official municipal corporation flag and sought the commissioner�s permission. Stalin protested, but when nothing came of it, he surrendered his official car.

Stalin insisted that this was not a case of blowing beyond proportions a �small, personal issue�, but a matter of honouring a 1939 resolution of the corporation.

Jayalalithaa was also upset as Stalin had not paid her a �courtesy call� after she became chief minister. She was not convinced with Stalin�s explanations.

Speaker K. Kalimuthu chipped in at this juncture: �If only you had asked me, I would have got an appointment with the chief minister for you.�

Stalin did not argue further, but left the House with other DMK members.


New Delhi, April 3: 
With his acquittal in the JMM bribery case, P.V. Narasimha Rao is gradually emerging out of the political wilderness.

That the rehabilitation process has begun was evident from Rao�s presence at a function of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation where Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri said terrorism could not be justified or accepted whatever be the reasons.

The former Prime Minister will be the chief guest at a function in Visakhapatnam on April 6 where Asha Bhosle will receive a lifetime achievement award. The function has been organised by Congress MP and AICC media secretary T. Subbi Rami Reddy. Sonia Gandhi recently drafted Reddy into the Rajya Sabha.

A few days ago, Rao was invited by human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi for a concert by Pandit Jasraj.

Senior Congress leaders are keeping a close tab on Rao�s increasing importance in the social circuit. Many see it as a prelude to his �second coming� in politics. The Chanakya is out of all legal tangles except for a weak Lakhubhai Pathak bribery case where the complainant has passed away.

Even as Rao�s supporters are tight-lipped about his future course, all eyes are on Sonia to see how she will use the former Prime Minister�s services. A section of the party feels that the Congress chief will stand to gain from Rao�s political acumen and experience.

However, another influential section views him as a threat. Rao�s detractors within the Congress are raising the Ayodhya bogey, pointing out that his rehabilitation would scare away the minority voters.

Rao�s supporters said the former Prime Minister was unlikely to take the lead in staging a comeback. �A lot would depend upon the future scenario. At present, Sonia is well in command and there is no rival power centre,� a Congress MP close to Rao said.

Congress leaders felt that Rao�s political stock would go up if Sonia failed to use the current situation to her advantage. If the party failed to cross the 250 mark in the next general elections, Sonia would not be able to form government on her own. If the tally fell below 200, restless party MPs would start looking for a �tried and tested� leadership, capable of running a coalition. In such a scenario, Rao could become a rallying force.

Sonia�s supporters acknowledged the leadership�s difficulty in revitalising the party in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Tamil Nadu that contribute more than 200 Lok Sabha seats. At present, the Congress has 18 MPs from these four politically significant states.

Party leaders said Sonia was planning to revamp the AICC with an eye on the four states.

Besides, she was keen to get the �optimum� out of states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh where the party had not won many Lok Sabha seats despite a strong support base.


New Delhi, April 3: 
In what appears to be a slight shift in its position on West Asia, India has told Israel that its virtual imprisonment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was standing in the way of peace returning to the region.

Arafat had made a personal plea to India, urging it to tell the US and Israel �not to destroy us�.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee expressed concern for Arafat�s well-being when he met the Palestinian leader�s special envoy Hani Al Hassan at South Block this afternoon. Vajpayee assured him that Delhi stood ready to do whatever it could to work for peace in West Asia.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who is in South Korea, spoke to Arafat in Ramallah last night and assured him that India continues to see him as the symbol of Palestinian authority and was concerned about his safety.

Describing the situation as �distressing and not acceptable�, he said India stood by the people of Palestine in their hour of need.

Till yesterday, the Indian stand on developments in West Asia was an attempt to maintain a fine diplomatic balance between its two allies � the Palestinians and the Israelis. But today, there appeared to be a shift in favour of Arafat.

Though Delhi is vocal in condemning terrorism anywhere in the world, it realises that there is growing sympathy for the Palestinians, particularly Arafat, in the wake of the Israeli siege of his headquarters at Ramallah and other Palestinian cities.

The foreign ministry statement, issued this afternoon, said the government�s position was a �reflection of the nationwide concern in India� at the situation in West Asia.

Singh had spoken to Israeli foreign minister and deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres on Monday to discuss the fast-paced developments in the region.

On the face of it, India continued to maintain a balance between its two allies by calling upon Palestine and Israel to implement the UN Security Council resolution asking both sides to go for a meaningful ceasefire and immediate cessation of all acts of violence. It also urged both sides to cooperate with the US special envoy Anthony Zinni.

Peres told Jaswant that Israel would want Arafat to declare that terrorist violence is unacceptable and to take action against those responsible for it. He assured Singh that Israel intended no harm to the Palestinian leader.


Srinagar, April 3: 
A forensic team from two of India�s premier laboratories today collected fresh DNA samples from the exhumed remains of �terrorists� killed at Pathribal in March 2000 and their relatives to match them.

Dr A.K. Sharma from Calcutta�s DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics Laboratory led the four-member team. Dr G.V. Rao of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Hyderabad was also part of the forensic team that flew in here on the invitation of the state government.

The army and police had killed five persons who were allegedly �foreign terrorists� responsible for the massacre of 35 Sikhs at Chattisinghpora in March 2000.

To ensure it was foolproof, the entire exercise of collecting samples took place in the presence of senior police and government officials, including senior superintendent of police, Anantnag, Ghulam Hassan Bhat, who is the chief investigator of the case.

The relatives of the five persons killed also accompanied the team and identified the graves.

�My Allah exposed the state government. I have full faith in Him. The government had attempted to fudge the samples to save those involved in the killing of my son and four others,� said Raja Bano, mother of Zahoor Dal, one of the men killed at Pathribal.

Earlier, a media expos� on the fudging of DNA samples had forced the government to suspend Dr Balbir Kaur, head of forensic medicine department of Government Medical College, and six others who were assigned to collect samples from the relatives.

The government then requested forensic experts from the two laboratories to depute teams to collect fresh samples.

The team collected DNA samples from the relatives on Monday and Tuesday and left for Calcutta today.

�The state government failed to give me justice. My only hope is these persons who have come from Calcutta. I hope they will conduct the tests honestly. They won�t disappoint me,� Raja Bano said.


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