Indian firepower reaches Nepal in dark
Govt in municipality tough talk
Alliance cloud on civic boards
Power bodies agree on grid shield
Teenager’s escape blows lid off sex racket
Dacoit in police net
Paswan grabs Gujarat & Goa to exit
Heartland link in resignation
Mayavati to rule UP and coalition panel
‘Sunken city’ surfaces in south

Siliguri, April 29: 
In the dead of night on April 23, a consignment of 20 armoured trucks carrying sophisticated weapons slipped into Nepal through a border post near here as the rebellion-racked kingdom slept uneasy under a general strike called by Maoist guerrillas.

The secret shipment, on the first day of the five-day strike, was part of Indian aid to its Himalayan neighbour to battle the insurgents, who have unleashed a bloody war to topple the constitutional monarchy.

The covert operation followed an earlier one in November last year when 11 trucks transported arms, surveillance gadgets and counter-insurgency equipment into Nepal.

Sources said last week’s cargo, comprising “off-the-assembly-line” army vehicles, passed through the Panitanki border post and was “received” by a team of Royal Nepal Army commandos at the Kakkarvitta border post in Nepal. The commandos then escorted it to the Nepalese army’s eastern headquarters at Charaney, 40 km inside the mountain kingdom.

The operation was set in motion well past mid-night to evade detection. The brand-new trucks did not have any Indian or Nepalese army markings to put any “unfriendly” spotters off the track.

An intelligence official told The Telegraph that the five-day Maoists-sponsored strike, which shut down Nepal, had come as a blessing as the operation had to be kept under wraps.

“The covert operation was part of India’s efforts to arm the Royal Nepal Army to help it fight the Maoist rebels. This is the second such consignment shipped through this region. Last week’s shipment was the largest so far,” he said.

According to the official, the consignment consisted of specially built armoured “light troop carrying” vehicles meant for counter-insurgency missions. “The vehicles,” he added, “were fitted with the latest state-of-the-art communication gadgets.”

Besides arming the Nepal army, India is also giving specialised anti-insurgency training to a “core” group of Nepalese commandos at the Indian army’s elite Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Virengti, Mizoram. India has already given Nepal Mi-8 transport helicopters, jeeps and arms of the AK assault series.

“Initially, India had plans to train an entire battalion of roughly 1,000 Royal Nepal Army troops at the counter-insurgency school,” the official said. “But due to the situation in Nepal and deployment of its forces in counter-insurgency operations in the Maoist-infested districts in the central and western regions, Nepal has sent only a core group of officers, junior commissioned officers and jawans,” the official said.

“Once they complete their training ‘capsules’, they will return and train their army there,” he added.

A senior army official here said the Nepalese commandos are mainly being trained in the use of light weapons like AK-47 rifles, which are used in both counter-insurgency operations and jungle warfare.

“Even US and Nigerian army officials are undergoing training at the Virengti centre,” he said, though he did not elaborate on whether US officials were also involved in training the Nepalese commandos at the centre.


Calcutta, April 29: 
Dissatisfied over growing incidents of financial irregularities and violation of official guidelines, the state government has decided to take action against at least 10 municipalities.

The municipal affairs department has also decided to send officers to different municipalities to check books of account and to assess the progress of projects under them.

A team of officers from the Institute of Local Government and Urban Studies (ILGUS), the municipal engineering directorate and the finance department will conduct surprise visits to the municipalities to check and verify their activities. The officers will also talk to local people on the activities of the concerned municipality.

Municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya said the government, under no circumstances, would allow any corrupt practice in the civic bodies. “We have been alerting some municipalities for the last few months to abide by the rules and regulations framed by the government and maintain financial transparency. Most have adhered to it, but some did not pay heed to our appeal. So we have no option but to take stern action against them,’’ Bhattacharya said.

Municipal affairs department sources said several municipalities had sent fund utilisation certificates for projects under which no work was done at all. “Our team will visit the spot to verify the project and see whether it has been implemented properly and maintaining quality,’’ they said.

According to officials from the department, the municipalities face charges of misappropriation of funds, financial irregularities, illegal recruitment, mismanagement in administration and gross violation of civic rules.

Citing example, officials said Suri municipality in Birbhum district has filled up a water body defying a ban and the director of land and land reforms department has lodged an FIR against the chairman.

Besides, the civic body has failed to provide documents supporting expenditure amounting to several crores. Irregularities amounting to crores were detected in the civic body after a special audit.

Bolpur, Sainthia and Rampurhat municipalities, the officials said, did not adhere to official directives and carried on activities on their own. The civic bodies, run by the Congress and Trinamul Congress, misused public money, it was alleged.

“Directed by the state government, the Birbhum district magistrate held meetings with the chairmen and councillors of the four municipalities and asked them to run the civic bodies as per government rules and regulation. Even after repeated appeals and directions from the magistrate, the civic bodies did not rectify,” said a senior officer from the municipal affairs department.

“We have been disbursing funds for local development to provide better civic amenities to the people. So, we shall not tolerate if the funds are spent otherwise. Despite crisis of drinking water and problems in sewerage systems, three municipalities failed to utilise funds worth crores given to them for the purpose. Despite repeated orders, the civic bodies did not constitute ward committees. This cannot continue. We are discussing the level of punishment, which may include blocking of funds and dismissal of the guilty chairman,’’ the minister said.


Calcutta, April 29: 
The strained relations between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress are threatening the stability of some municipal boards, governed by the two parties together.

The crisis at Bansberia, Rampurhat, Bolpur and a few other municipalities erupted after Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee parted company with the state Congress, dubbing it as the “CPM’s B team”.

The fate of the 22-member Bansberia municipal board appears uncertain with seven Trinamul councillors and a Congress member deciding to bring a no-confidence motion against Congress chairman Amiya Kumar Kundu. Sub-divisional officer Chandan Charan Guha today said he received a letter from these councillors on Friday, seeking the chairman’s removal.

Seven Trinamul and five Congress councillors had joined hands to form the municipal board, with 10 CPM members sitting in the opposition. However, Trinamul councillors, including vice-chairman Bijan Kanti Sarkar, and the Congress councillor of ward number 19 have been boycotting the board since August 20, alleging that the chairman was not cooperating with them in running the administration.

Confirming that the motion has been brought against him, Kundu said: “I am ready to quit if nobody wants me to continue in the post.”

Somnath Ghosh, a Congress leader in Hooghly, also accused the municipal chairman of not paying heed to the party’s directives. “As a result, our organisation is suffering in the district and development work has been affected,” he said.

A drinking water crisis and the municipal employees’ threatened strike from May 16 in support of their demands have brought things to a standstill.

The standoff between the Congress and the Trinamul has also affected the Rampurhat and Bolpur municipalities of Birbhum district, where Trinamul councillors have threatened to sever ties with their Congress counterparts.

Officials said in both municipalities, Trinamul councillors are against having a Congress member as the chairman.

Trinamul has decided to forge an electoral alliance with the BJP in all the five municipalities going to polls on May 26.


Calcutta, April 29: 
The Eastern Regional Electricity Board decided in its meeting last Saturday that power supply would not be allowed to climb down below the frequency of 49 cycles per second to safeguard the eastern grid.

Representatives of all the board constituents — Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Sikkim — attended the meeting at Chalsa in north Bengal. Officials from the Central units — National Thermal Power Corporation, the National Hydel Power Corporation and the Power Grid Corporation — also attended the meet balong with observers from the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission.

“The meeting decided that that the safety of the eastern grid was paramount and it couldn’t be compromised. If strict grid discipline was not maintained, the eastern grid could collapse any day. The last time the grid collapsed was on July 25, 2000,” said an official who attended the meeting.

Board chairman V.K. Agarwal, also the chairman of the Bihar State Electricity Board, presided over the meeting.

The meeting was particularly important for Bengal as fluctuation in the frequency of power supply in the eastern grid has led to widespread power cuts in the state. The fluctuation in frequency was primarily due to the unscheduled drawing of power by Orissa’s Gridco.

Bengal power minister Mrinal Banerjee had instructed officials from the power supply agencies in the state attending the meeting to clarify that the fluctuations could lead to a failure of the grid, despite adequate generation by power plants in the state.

Trouble started in the eastern grid around mid-March after the NTPC restricted its supply to Gridco because of non-payment of power purchase dues to the tune of Rs 870 crore.

By the end of March and early April, the NTPC closed its units in Farakka resulting in a sudden drop in the quantum of power flowing through the grid. This led to wild fluctuations in the frequency of power supply and the grid was often on the verge of collapse.

“West Bengal cannot suffer for no fault of its and the regulation imposed by the NTPC on Gridco is resulting in under frequency operations, particularly in peak hours. As a result, we have to resort to power cuts to save the grid from a possible collapse. Gridco and the NTPC should resolve the matter at the earliest,” said G.D. Gautama, chairman of the state electricity board, who attended Saturday’s meeting.

The meeting decided that the power supplying agencies in the region would cooperate with each other to maintain the frequency of supply between 49 and 51 cycles per second. If the frequency dips below an accepted minimum, the grid collapses.


Suri (Birbhum), April 29: 
Police have arrested two persons, including a middle-aged woman, from Purandarpur village near here for allegedly selling a teenager to a brothel in Chandigarh.

The girl, however, managed to escape and came back home to Haripur last night.

Soon after, she lodged a complaint with the Suri police station with the help of some villagers.

“We have arrested Netai Karmakar and Jharna Bagdi on the basis of the complaint lodged by the girl. The allegation is very serious and we have started investigating the case. We apprehend that there is a racket in the area supplying poor tribal girls to red light areas in other states. We hope the entire thing will be clear in a few days,” said additional superintendent of police Manoj Verma.

Police said the girl used to work as a maidservant in a house at Ukra. In February, Netai and Jharna offered her a better job in Chandigarh which the girl accepted. A middle-aged person took the girl to Chandigarh.

Her father, meanwhile, lodged a missing diary at Suri police station.

Police have recorded her statement giving information about the place she was kept in and the description of the people who took her to Chandigarh.


Asansol, April 29: 
Police arrested the kingpin of a gang of dacoits from Magma in Jharkhand last night.

The gang had raided a fish market at Muchipara under Kanksha police station on April 15 and looted cash worth several lakh. Four fish traders were injured when they tried to resist the dacoits.

This is the second time that dacoits from Bengal have been arrested in Jharkhand.

Last week, the district police had arrested two members of another gang from Gopalpur and Raota village in Jharkhand. The dacoits had robbed a spice merchant on February 10 in Ranigunj.

Dilip Tiwari, the mastermind of the dacoity in Muchipara, was arrested last night from his house in Magma by a special investigation team which raided the area with the help of Jharkhand police.

Rs 10,000 has been recovered from him.

Preliminary investigations revealed that Tiwari, a criminal based in Durgapur, hails from Magma. He had earlier been arrested in an arms case from Durgapur and was in jail for a few months.

“Tiwari hatched the conspiracy while he was in jail and after being released, he carried out the operation with few of his associates who were his fellow inmates,” said an officer investigating the case.

The police had arrested two others, Samsuddin and Nimai Dhibar, in connection with the dacoity three days ago.

“Acting on their tip-off, we arrested Tiwari from Magma,” said Umashankar Mukherjee, circle inspector of police.

Police had earlier cracked down on another gang in February. Ramavtar Bajoria, a businessman in Ranigunj, was looted of Rs 5 lakh and jewellery worth Rs 4.5 lakh. Two gang members were arrested in Jharkhand. Rs 35,000 was recovered from their house, police said.


New Delhi, April 29: 
In a jolt to the NDA government, coal minister Ram Vilas Paswan today resigned from the Union Cabinet protesting against the government’s inability to contain the violence in Gujarat.

The Lok Janshakti Party leader said he felt the Centre could have acted right at the beginning to stem the communal carnage. “The country’s image is getting tarnished,” he added, after sending his papers.

The Dalit leader was also agitated over Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s remarks in Goa against minorities.

The resignation came a day before the crucial motion under Rule 184 is taken up for voting in the Lok Sabha and hours after his bete noire, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayavati, formally staked claim to form the next government in Uttar Pradesh.

Though Paswan’s resignation will not destabilise the BJP-led government, the news has unnerved NDA managers.

The four-member Lok Janshakti has decided to vote against the government tomorrow. Paswan did not attend the NDA meeting convened today to discuss the voting. There is no question of supporting the NDA from outside, he said.

Paswan’s brother and Lok Sabha MP Ramchandra and party vice-president Ramvir Singh Biduri submitted the resignation in the Prime Minister’s Office this morning.

Vajpayee tried to contact him soon after, but Paswan was not available.

Ending speculation that the NDA managers may try to convince him to take back the resignation, the Prime Minister forwarded his letter to President K.R. Narayanan after Paswan demanded President’s rule in Gujarat.

Denying that his resignation had anything to do with the BJP courting Mayavati for a second time, he said: “I took the step because as a minister it would have been difficult for me to remain neutral. I have received tremendous love and affection from the minorities and I cannot betray them at this crucial juncture.”

Earlier, speculation was rife that Paswan might forge an alliance with the Congress in Bihar if the latter snapped its ties with Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. A Congress-Paswan alliance could attract upper caste votes and emerge as a formidable force in the state.

The Dalit leader had been uncomfortable for some time in the NDA. In the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh elections, the BJP had dumped the Lok Janshakti and opened covert dialogue with Mayavati. The BSP leader was allegedly responsible for Paswan’s demotion from communications to coal.

Both Paswan and Mayavati are Dalit leaders in their own right. The BJP preferred the latter as the saffron party plans to forge electoral alliances with the BSP in the Hindi belt to bolster its dwindling fortunes.

Paswan spoke to Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah — all partners in the NDA — and requested them to decide their party’s stands on tomorrow’s motion.


Patna, April 29: 
Gujarat may have been his immediate provocation, but Ram Vilas Paswan’s resignation from the Union Cabinet today has more reasons than that. To woo minority voters in Bihar is one of them, said his party workers here.

Humiliated since he was stripped of the telecom ministry last year, Paswan received a further raw deal after he launched his own outfit, the Lok Janshakti, and wanted to be a significant NDA partner in the Uttar Pradesh polls. Instead, his party was confined to eight seats in the state to help, as Paswan claimed, Mayavati.

Disillusioned, the coal minister declared that he would strike out on his own in future polls. In private, he fumed against the “arm-twisting of the BJP and its tacit understanding with the BSP”. Looking for an opportunity to retaliate, Gujarat came in handy for Paswan.

He had realised that having snapped ties with the BJP in Bihar, the Lok Janshakti had become a one-caste outfit. If the minister were to win the next poll in his constituency, he would require a section of the Muslim and Yadav votes to keep him and his party in the reckoning.

Paswan had found favour with the minorities in his constituency, Hajipur. But following the 1999 general elections, when he joined the NDA, the minority voters drifted to the Laloo Prasad Yadav camp. The trend continued in the Bihar polls the following year in which the winning margin of Paswan’s candidates dropped sharply.

Ramchandra Paswan, the minister’s brother and one of the three party MPs, said: “The Bihar dynamics of Paswan politics will not create any confusion though Paswan, like Laloo Prasad Yadav, has been demanding Modi’s resignation. We are bound to touch a soft chord of the minority members.”

Lok Janshakti state president Narendra Singh said the minority community in Bihar had expressed satisfaction with Paswan’s decision to resign. “What Yadav speaks about, Paswan has demonstrated his courage of actually doing it,” he said.

In recent meetings with state party leaders, Paswan had disclosed that he would quit the NDA if Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi did not resign by April 30.


Lucknow, April 29: 
Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayavati today formally staked claim to form a coalition government in Uttar Pradesh with the BJP and its allies. She will be sworn in on May 3.

There will be no deputy chief minister in the new government. Mayavati will head the co-ordination committee of the coalition partners.

In return for the support from the BJP and its allies, the BSP will stay with the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre from outside. It has also agreed to fight the next Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh in alliance with the BJP.

After Mayavati called on him this morning, Governor Vishnukant Shastri told reporters he was satisfied with the letters of support from 211 legislators submitted by the BSP leader. Shastri said he would soon recommend revocation of President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh.

“But she will have to prove majority support in the House within three weeks of being sworn in,” he added. Late tonight, the Cabinet met and decided to recommend revoking President’s rule.

Mayavati, who would be assuming the reins of power in Uttar Pradesh for the third time, exuded confidence. “This time my government will rule for the full term,” she said at a joint news conference at the BJP state headquarters.

Her first 136-day stint as chief minister with outside support from the BJP in 1995 had ended when the BJP pulled the rug from under her feet. After her second six-month stint in 1997, it was she who had walked out of the coalition within a month of BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh assuming office as part of a rotating power-sharing deal.

Though Mayavati said the size of her ministry would be small, the way for her ascendance was cleared only after both the BJP and her party last night agreed to meet Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh’s demand for a greater share in the new government.

Together, the BJP and the BSP have 185 legislators in the 403-member House. So the support of “others” is vital. However, the effective strength of the Assembly at present is 399.

Former chief minister and BJP legislature party leader Rajnath Singh — who is believed to have opposed the BJP-BSP tie-up — did not accompany Mayavati when she called on the Governor with BJP leaders Kalraj Mishra and Om Prakash Singh and the RLD’s Kokab Hamid. Rajnath met Shastri separately to hand over the letter of support.

Mayavati appeared conscious of the BSP haters within the BJP. At the joint news conference, when Singh expressed hope that the new government would work for all sections of society, Mayavati was quick to point out that her first concern would be the “welfare of the Dalits and the religious minorities”.

She blasted the media for trying to drive a wedge between the BSP and the BJP. “The BJP had never demanded the post of the deputy chief minister or the chairmanship of the co-ordination committee,” she said.


Panaji, April 29: 
Oceanographers here have announced that they have made preliminary underwater archaeological exploration of what is believed to be a sunken city off Mahabalipuram.

The formal announcement has excited the international media, with a section of the press labelling the exploration an attempt to find “India’s Atlantis”.

It is believed that a great flood swallowed a city along the eastern coast some 1,500 years ago because the “gods grew jealous”.

The Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography said its team of “underwater archaeologists” along with the Scientific Exploration Society of the UK had “unearthed” evidence of submerged structures off Mahabalipuram earlier this month.

“There is a popular local belief that the Shore temple of Mahabalipuram is the last of a series of seven temples, six of which have been submerged,” the institute’s spokesman, S.R. Bhat, said.

During the exploration, underwater investigation was carried out at five locations in 5m to 8m of water depths, 500m to 700m off the Shore temple.

“Investigations at each location have shown the presence of stone masonry, remains of walls, a big square of rock-cut remains, scattered square and rectangular stone blocks and a big platform with steps leading to it. All this amid the geological formations of rocks that occur locally,” the spokesman said.

But most of the structures are badly damaged and scattered over a vast area, with centuries of biological growth of barnacles, mussels and other sedentary organisms.

It was found that the area covered by the construction was 100m by 50m. But scientists feel that the actual area covered by the ruins “may be much larger”.

“The possible date of the ruins may be 1,500 to 1,200 years Before the Present. The Pallava dynasty, which ruled the area during the period, had constructed many such rock-cut and structural temples in Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram,” the scientists said.

The other questions that arise are what structures did exist and the cause of their submergence.

British newspapers recently reported that photographs of what appear to be submerged ruins off the coastal town of Mahabalipuram in the Bay of Bengal corroborated the long-held myth. The pictures were taken by divers led by a former Royal Marines officer, Monty Hall.

Mahabalipuram is full of stone-carved temples. It was the chief port of the Pallavas, who ruled over much of southern India from the first century Before the Current Era to the eighth century AD.

British media reports said the location of the ruins was pinpointed by Graham Hancock, the best-selling author of The Sign and The Seal, who has studied the myths of the region as well as of similar lost cities in the Mediterranean.

“Mr Hancock believes cities such as Mahabalipuram were destroyed when waters rose at the end of the last Ice Age between 17,000 and 7,000 years ago, swallowing up about 25 million sq kilometres of formerly habitable lands,” said a report in London’s The Independent.


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