Ansari case watertight: Police
Bandit queen in police net
Banking on trust to revive dream
Minister gives up in court
Sonia reads out the riot act
Gujarat comes to capital
FIR scare for relief camp
Re-test lifeline under court duress
Tansi stalks Jaya again
Riots shadow falls on Valley

Calcutta, April 26: 
Calcutta police today filed a chargesheet against Aftab Ansari, alleged mastermind of the American Center attack, claiming that it had sewn up the case.

The police filed a 100-page document in the chief metropolitan magistrate’s court three days before expiry of the 90-day deadline for filing the chargesheet. The chargesheet mentions 14 of Ansari’s associates — five of them (Sadaqat, Amir Reza Khan, Niaz and Fiaz Hussein and Hasan Imam) are now believed to have fled to Nepal, Bangladesh and Dubai — for conspiring against the country. Three of them — Jamaluddin Nasir, Musarat Hussain and Shakeel Akhtar — had made confessional statements about their involvement in the crime.

Two youths on a motorcycle had sprayed bullets on policemen in front of the American Center on January 22.Five policemen died in the attack.

Ansari and his associates were charged under 11 sections of the Indian Penal Code — including waging war against the country, collecting arms, engineering multiple murders of policemen and the Arms Act — said detective department officials.

The seizure-list in the chargesheet mentions arms and ammunition, Pakistani flags, photographs of Osama bin Laden and literature that can be ascribed to him, a road-map of Calcutta featuring the American Center and several other documents.

The detective department has incorporated statements of Mumbai bar-dancer Swati Pal who identified Ansari from voice-recorders and photographs.

The chargesheet gives five reasons for Ansari’s American Center strike:

to cause disruption and spread terror;

to boost the morale of the gang after their India commander, Asif Reza Khan, was killed in a police encounter;

to spread the language of jihad;

to send a message to the city’s rich about the importance of the gang which would have later helped it to extort money for buying arms and ammunition;

to enhance the credibility of the gang in the eyes of other jihadi organisations.

Detectives said slain militant leader Asif Reza Khan’s father had helped in sewing up a few loose ends in the case. “Senior Khan had volunteered to make a statement to the police which would be important during the trial,” a detective said.


Siliguri, April 26: 
As a strikingly beautiful adivasi, Laxmi Hembram attracted hordes to her illicit liquor den. Little did they realise that it was a camouflage for the bandit queen, alleged to be the brains behind dacoities and highway robberies that had baffled police in Uttar Dinajpur and Bihar.

The bandit queen’s cover was blown last night. Her husband, Ram Nath, was arrested recently in connection with a dacoity at the house of a businessman near Panjipara police post. Ram Nath’s interrogation led the police to Laxmi.

“When we learnt that Laxmi had frequently visited the household, we picked her up. We found that she was the leader of the dreaded gang. We also recovered from her a major portion of the Rs 4 lakh looted from the businessman’s house,” said Uttar Dinajpur superintendent of police Arun Kumar Sharma.

“Laxmi, a 35-year-old mother of two, was the mastermind behind the major dacoities in the district committed recently,” the police chief said.

“Laxmi, a resident of Kutibasti under Panjipara police station, was initiated very early into the world of crime. An adivasi, she had been engaged in the family’s illicit liquor trade of brewing the local favourite. She used to sell the home-brewed concoction at local markets and fairs,” he added.

“When she was very young, Laxmi married Sunil Murmu, who deserted her and her son. To earn her living, she set up a liquor den, where she came in contact with dreaded criminals,” Sharma explained.

The liquor vendor turned into a bandit queen after her marriage to dacoit Ram Nath Hembram who introduced her to other gangsters.

“Laxmi meticulously planned operations once she took over the reins of the gang. She used to visit the targets’ house and befriend members of the household,” Sharma said. “She sought employment, sometimes as a maidservant.”

“Laxmi used her rustic good looks to the hilt. Once she was conversant with the entry points, elaborate plans were made and men handpicked for the job,” Sharma said.


Calcutta, April 26: 
If plan A falls flat, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and work out plan B. With the grand Bank of Bengal failing to hit the jackpot, the main stake holders in the project have decided to try and salvage the revival dream.

The Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and The Boston Pledge had announced the setting up the Bank of Bengal to facilitate the growth of business and industry in the state, during the Udyog Shibir at Calcutta in December 2001. Four months on, the Bank of Bengal team, which also includes the state government, has hit upon a twist in the tale — turning the financial institution into a trust.

This comes in the wake of the realisation that banking on the generosity of 1,00,000 non-resident Bengalis settles in North America to mobilise the Rs 200 corpus for the dream was not financially sound. Besides, getting the clearance from the RBI to set up a bank would be tough. The movers, spearheaded by West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation chairman Somnath Chatterjee, have decided to tread the ‘trust’ path.

The state government has decided to provide “full support” to the new project. “The chief minister has promised that the state government would write to the RBI to obtain the necessary regulatory clearances,” said a city-based industrialist associated with the project.

While a new structure is being worked out to steer clear of regulatory pitfalls, the Bank of Bengal think-tank has also changed strategy to mop up the requisite corpus for the trust. “It’s primarily due to the lukewarm response from the expatriate Bengali community that we are exploring other options,” said the industrialist.

The trust will have a foreign bank as a partner, which will pump in 49 per cent of the required Rs 200 crore. The remaining 51 per cent will be mobilised from Indian sources.

“Partha Ghosh of Partha Ghosh and Associates is in touch with banks in the US to forge an alliance. As of now, the government has decided to chip in with Rs 22 crore — 11 per cent of the corpus,” sources said.


April 26: 
Minister of state for transport and CPM leader from Dakshin Dinajpur Narayan Biswas, accused in three criminal cases, today surrendered to court in Balurghat after being instructed to do so by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the party leadership.

Biswas, an MLA from Gangarampur, surrendered this afternoon to special bench judge, Mahadev Ghosh at the SDJM’s court, where he arrived in his official car.

Sources in Balurghat said the MLA was wanted in connection with three criminal cases dating between 1983 and 1986, including that of an attempted murder under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code. He was also charged with “rioting and threatening public peace”.

The CPM leader was granted conditional bail for the 1983 case on a personal bond of Rs 1,000. He will have to appear before court for the next hearing on May 2. In the other two cases of 1986, the judge directed that, as the relevant records and documents of the case were lying with judicial magistrate Subhra Ghosh, the next hearings for them will also be on May 2.

The minister’s surrender, the first of its kind in recent times, evoked a sharp reaction from the chief minister and the party’s senior leaders. The chief minister ruled out the possibility of Biswas’ resignation. “He will not be asked to resign. A charge against someone does not prove that he is guilty. We asked him to surrender,” the chief minister added.

Bhattacharjee said Biswas was not even aware that the police were continuing with the old cases. He also dismissed any suggestion that the surrender would tarnish the image of the government and the party.

In a similar vein, state party secretary Anil Biswas and Left Front chairman Biman Bose also said there was no question of Biswas resigning from his ministerial post.

“The cases against Biswas are politically motivated. Biswas thought that the cases were disposed off years ago. Nothing has been proved against him so far and so the question of his resignation does not arise,” said the Front chairman.

“There were cases against me and even (CPM veteran) Jyoti Basu under the Preventive Detention Act. There were even murder charges against me,” said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

“I don’t think that this will adversely affect the credibility of our party. An undertrial is not necessarily guilty,” he added.

However, the chief minister and the party leadership failed to explain why Biswas did not surrender earlier. “Better ask this question to the police,” said Bhattacharjee.

Before becoming a minister Biswas had held influential party posts in the district bodies, party sources said.


New Delhi, April 26: 
When Anu Aga, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) western region chairperson, toured Gujarat last month and made scathing comments against the Narendra Modi government, Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not react. When former US ambassador to India Frank Wisner said US investors were spooked by the riots in Gujarat, Vajpayee refused to comment. When a string of European embassies, including the UK and Germany, sent out their people to the riot-ravaged state to assess the situation, an incensed Prime Minister said they should mind their own business.

Today, Congress president Sonia Gandhi took up that growing refrain: the riots in Gujarat, she said, had riven its society and badly damaged the prospects for local industry.

Worse, Sonia added, “it had created a negative effect on the international community. Foreign direct investment inflows into the country would suffer because of such incidents.” The blistering attack came while she was addressing the plenary session of the CII’s national conference today.

Speaking at the inaugural session of the annual meeting of the CII, Sonia said: “An economy cannot be divorced from its larger societal reality. Equally, economics cannot be independent of its political context.”

The Congress leader urged the government to bring about radical changes in the Indian economy after keeping in mind the social framework of the country.

Sonia advocated “equitable and broad-based” economic growth which needs to be correlated with the larger social reality and reminded industrialists that it was their responsibility to fulfil this enormous task to make globalisation locally meaningful.

Sonia said the Opposition had supported the ruling government on issues like insurance liberalisation, WTO-related legislation and company law changes. “But we feel that the effort on the part of the government to create a consensus has been lacking,” she added.

Sonia charted out the immediate economic priorities of the Congress — strengthening the foundations of Indian agriculture, creating new employment opportunities, reviving investment momentum in the economy through the manufacturing industry and infrastructure development and ensuring a strong public sector even in the era of privatisation.

“We will launch a massive food-for-work programme, a national employment guarantee scheme and make sure that the public distribution system provides adequate security to the most vulnerable sections of our society,” the Congress president said.

Sonia condemned irresponsible fiscal management and spoke in favour of hard measures and campaigns to mobilise revenue.

“During a grave fiscal crisis, it is our collective responsibility to nurse the fiscal system back to health. We need to step up public expenditure in social infrastructure and for this, radical steps have to be taken to mount a vigorous campaign to mobilise revenues,” she said.

Sonia also spoke about mixed economy as a platform that integrates effective public investment with vibrant private initiative, where faster economic development combines with social development.

“This will give us greater globalisation with deeper social self-reliance. In this set-up, enterprise will be free of control but by no means should the government lose control. The Congress seeks to achieve this balance,” she said.


New Delhi, April 26: 
Gujarat came to the capital today with all its horrors. Around 40 victims of the pogrom that continues to rage in Gujarat narrated their personal experiences in the wake of the Godhra burnings to the media. Tomorrow, they will speak to politicians, contributing to the Opposition campaign as parties muster support for the debate and vote in Parliament on April 30.

The victims’ visit to Delhi was kept a secret till they actually arrived this morning, courtesy the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust and Communalism Combat, a Mumbai-based journal run by journalist-activist Teesta Setalvad.

Some of the testimonies — in most instances, there are only oral testimonies to rely on because police refused to record first information reports of the victims — are by now legion.

Such as 11-year-old Raja Bundubhai’s. Raja’s mother Jerina and sister Nasreen were stabbed, burnt and killed. He saw it happening. Then, one in the mob pulled him up by the hair but he escaped miraculously because an elderly man asked him to flee. Raja and his family lived in Naroda Patiya, about 15 km from Ahmedabad. He now lives in the Shah Alam refugee camp in Ahmedabad.

He narrates his story as if by rote. He has done it so many times since February 28 that there is desensitivity in the way he speaks.

Unlike Raja, Fazl Gandhi, some five times his age, breaks down helplessly. The restaurateur is one of the complainants who have accused Gujarat revenue minister Haren Pandya, MLA from Ahmedabad’s Ellis Bridge constituency, of leading mobs on February 28. The police refused to record his FIR. His flat in Tarana Apartments was looted thrice.

“I have received threats saying ‘you named Pandya. We have burnt your home. Next we will burn you’,” Gandhi says between sobs.

Aftab Kadri, a lawyer, and his wife, Ghizala Kadri, too, saw Pandya leading packs of killers. He was a neighbour of Justice Divecha’s. The retired judge’s flat was ransacked and torched.

“In our building, Kazmi Apartments, there are 12 flats, all belonging to Muslims. By the morning of the 28th (February), there were only 10-12 of us around. Some were out of town and others had left. We sent off our families elsewhere and I spent the whole of 28th watching a 2,500-3,000 strong mob wreak havoc in the area. I am a lawyer and I told the police to record an FIR. The police said no, they filed the FIR themselves.”

Ibrahimbhai Ismailbhai Kanchi, a soldier with the army’s 237 Field Regiment for 17 years before he retired in 2000, lost his family to the killers in Abasana village, about 70 km from Ahmedabad. The ex-serviceman worked as a security supervisor with ONGC in Kalol. In Abasana, his father and uncle were cut down with swords and burnt. The killers were from the locality, identifiable.

Ibrahim still has the bearing of a soldier. He shakes uncontrollably as he narrates his story. “I do not know what I would have done if I was still in the service. All I plead for now is a place where we Muslims can live together and feel a little secure.”

Till this afternoon, Reshma’s story was but a passage of words that was read in print or on the email. She was here today, in the flesh, carrying her three-year-old son in her arms.

“From Thursday to Monday (February 28-March 4), I remained hidden in the locality.” Reshma lived in Naroda Patiya. “My whole family was scattered here and there. I hid inside the SRP quarters along with seven children of the locality. I found my mother-in-law and son later.

“Before escaping to the SRP quarters, I saw Kausar Bano being brutally raped in the Javan Nagar Maidan. Her stomach was carved open, her baby flung into the fire and she was molested and burnt.”


Ahmedabad, April 26: 
The Dariyakhan Ghummat relief camp in the city is terror-struck after an FIR was lodged against the camp in-charge, Inamul Iraki, forcing him to go into hiding.

Iraki, a businessman and social worker, has been declared “wanted” along with 16 others for the arson outside the police commissioner’s office on Tuesday. A local resident has been arrested.

The FIR, registered by a head constable, says around 2 pm on Tuesday Iraki led a group of about 60 camp inmates and local residents that pelted stones and burnt shops near the police commissioner’s office.

Contacted on his cellphone, Iraki said he was being framed “at the behest of some political leaders who want the camp to be disbanded or shifted”.

“The shops that were burnt belonged to Muslims. Do they think that Muslims will destroy shops owned by Muslims? It is a ridiculous charge,” he said.

Civil supplies minister Bharat Barot has been demanding that the camp, which falls in his constituency, be shifted.

Iraki claimed that when the arson took place, he was at Kankaria railway yard to receive a relief consignment.

“Even the policeman who registered the complaint against me is aware of it. I had sought permission to take the consignment from a different route as Gomtipur was under curfew,” he said.

DGP K. Chakravarti, who has been camping in the police commissioner’s office for the past few days, said: “There is no substantial proof that camp inmates are indulging in riots. There have been such allegations but nothing substantial to support such allegations.”

Police commissioner P.C. Pande pointed out that a lot of people who have lost their livelihood are eating at relief camps. If they are involved in rioting, the camp’s inmates are getting the blame.

The commissioner said the FIR against Iraki could be “one of such wild allegations against him”. “It will be difficult to establish his involvement,” he said.

If the camp inmates were really involved in arson, the 25-odd shops owned by Hindus at Devjipur market in front of Dariyakhan Ghummat would have been set on fire, the police said. The market was closed today.

Mahendrabhai, who was the only one to open his shop, said the “others have not opened their shops because of the tension”. But he did not fear any trouble.

Ataullah Khan, joint in-charge of Dariyakhan camp, said the civil supplies minister was piling pressure on the police and the local administration to shift the camp.

Earlier, the minister had written to the chief minister, the home minister and other senior government officials, asking them to shift the camp from his constituency because Hindu residents of the locality were feeling insecure. When contacted today, the minister refused to comment.


New Delhi, April 26: 
The Gujarat government today informed the Supreme Court that it would conduct supplementary examinations for students who could not appear in April because of the tense communal situation.

The government even went to the extent of saying that those who did take the tests in April would also be allowed to sit again for the supplementaries provided they were willing to forego the marks obtained in their first attempt.

The state government’s decision came under pressure from the apex court, though no dates were indicated in today’s proceedings.

Earlier, on a public interest litigation by a Gujarat-based social organisation, the Lok Adhikar Sangh, the court had told the government that if it was not willing to hold supplementary examinations, it would be compelled to pass an order for holding them.

The counsel for the state government, P.H. Parekh, had then sought time from the court to seek instructions from his client. Parekh today told the court that the government was willing to conduct the tests again.

A bench of Chief Justice-designate B.N. Kirpal, Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice H.K. Sema was also told that “even those students who had taken the examination(s) would be allowed to appear in the repeat test…”. However, they would have to give an “undertaking” that marks scored by them in the April examinations “should not be taken into account”.

Solicitor-general Harish Salve blasted the petitioners, saying the Lok Adhikar Sangh had based its contention on press reports to allege mala fide intention on the part of the government. “The government, M’Lords, is fully alive to the situation and would do everything to prevent the children from being used for political purposes,” Salve contended.

He said the attendance of the students in the examinations conducted and concluded for classes X, XI and XII was normal as it was around 98 per cent against an average of 96 to 97 per cent in the previous years. “However, the decision of the state government to conduct ‘repeat examinations’ has been taken because unfortunately certain students were misled into abstaining from the examinations held in April,” Salve added.

He told the court that the state government had provided free books and notebooks to students living in the relief camps. The government, he added, was even holding special classes with teachers specially appointed to prepare the students in the camps so that they could sit for the examinations with confidence.

The court asked the government to put its submissions on an affidavit and posted the matter for further hearings on April 29. It also warned the state government through the solicitor-general that “perpetrators of trouble” should not be allowed to play with the lives of “innocent students”.


New Delhi, April 26: 
The case that once cost her the crown has come back to haunt Jayalalithaa. The Supreme Court has posted the Tamil Nadu Small Industries (Tansi) land deal case for hearing in July, soon after it reopens after the summer vacation.

A three-judge bench of Justices B.N. Kirpal, Arijit Passayat and H.K. Sema which heard an appeal by DMK activist R. Sai Bharathi told Jayalaithaa’s counsel K.K. Venugopal: “In your own interest, the case should be heard out.”

Bharathi and Janata Dal president Subramanian Swamy had moved the apex court, contending that Madras High Court had erred in acquitting the ADMK chief despite strong documentary evidence against her. The trial court had rightly convicted Jayalalithaa, they added.

Madras High Court had acquitted her citing “lack of evidence” and “lack (of) impropriety”. The high court said the Tansi land was not public property. Jayalalithaa won the Andipatti byelections to become chief minister again.

Bharathi and Swamy appealed against the verdict.

Appearing for Jayalalithaa, Venugopal contended that “she must be allowed to rule the state in peace”. “What was the urgency for this appeal, when thousands of appeals were pending, affecting the lives of common men?” he asked.

Venugopal said Madras High Court had weighed all the pros and cons and deliberated on the evidence before acquitting Jayalalithaa. The high-profile lawyer won the case for the ADMK chief in the high court.

Appearing for Bharathi, senior counsel Anil Baburao Divan contended that the issue before the court was not that of a personality or any particular individual, but one “concerning the entire nation” and “probity and accountability in public life”.

Divan said the case would set a precedent all over the country. A convicted person, though acquitted on appeal by a high court, should be tried till the apex court level. “In this sense”, the question of law had to be decided “in the interest of the country”.


Srinagar, April 26: 
Gujaratis have been the traditional harbinger of the tourist season in Kashmir.

Their arrival in early spring would set the mood for the rest of the season. Small groups of tourists from the state had even braved the worst periods of secessionist violence in the Valley. But violence at home has snapped their fascination with Kashmir and robbed the hoteliers, ponywallahs, taxi drivers, houseboat owners, handicraft sellers and many others of the season’s first business.

Hardly any Gujarati tourist has shown up this year. “They would normally start arriving early March and continue to come till end of April. The two-month Gujarati season in Kashmir is over minus a tourist,” says Mohammad Ashraf, the director-general of tourism of the Jammu and Kashmir government.

Ashraf, however, is hopeful that tourists from other states will arrive in good numbers from May.

Nobody feels the absence of the Gujarati tourists as dearly as Mohammad Rafiq, a hotel owner on the once fashionable Boulevard Road on the Dal lake. “The Gujarat carnage has dealt a serious blow to Kashmir tourism. Last year, it was the earthquake. Still some tourists came. Tourism this year is over. There are no bookings. Even people from north India, who would usually come here to work in our hotels, have not turned up,” he says.

The state government’s efforts and the recently-announced packages have failed to lure the visitors. The houseboat owners and hoteliers have announced a 30 per cent rate cut.

But chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s dip in the Dal to prove the waters in the state were safe at the onset of the season has still not fetched results. And the Valley has ceased to be the “cool” holiday destination of the sweltering months.

Despite several administrative exercises and attractive hotel discounts, there appears little promise for the new season.

“We still hope the tourists will begin arriving here in June and July. We are trying to persuade the pilgrims returning from the Vaishno Devi temple to visit the Valley. Our efforts will bear fruit,” says Abdul Razak, the president of the houseboat owners’ association.

Floating on the gentle waves in his decorated Shikara, Abdul Rashid stares vacantly at the beautiful Boulevard. The newly done up but empty seats of the boat bear testimony to the reality but the shriek of every halting vehicle sends his heart soaring.

“I still believe that god would be merciful and the tourist season would pick up. My family would be saved,” says Rashid, his eyes fixed on the Boulevard.


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