Agriculture reforms hit partner hurdle
Board results today
Mamata loses Konnagar
Cloud on Trinamul office
Peace push on eastern border
Bush backroom pressure on Pak
Victims raise wall of distrust
Rights snub to US team
Gill springs knife test
Animal research clash brews

Calcutta, May 21: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee again succumbed to pressure from Left Front partners, particularly ministers from the CPI and the Forward Bloc, and put on hold the proposed agriculture policy that was supposed to push forward farming reforms.

After the Cabinet meeting, the chief minister told reporters at Writers� Buildings: �We could not arrive at any decision today. There were differences of opinion on the issue. I have asked my Cabinet colleagues to place their views to me in writing. We shall arrive at a decision in the next Cabinet meeting.�

The Front partners had earlier voiced dissent and complained against the CPM�s �big brother� attitude while drawing up the draft for the Bill against organised crime.

Planning and development minister Nirupam Sen�s policy on agriculture and food processing was vehemently opposed by minor irrigation minister Nandogopal Bhattacharjee and agriculture minister Kamal Guha as soon as it was placed for the Cabinet�s approval.

Nandogopal Bhattacharjee was surprised how the policy could be drafted on the basis of recommendations formulated at a seminar where representatives from neither the minor irrigation nor major irrigation departments were present. He argued that no agriculture policy could be drafted without taking the irrigation department into confidence.

He warned of a possibility of being misled. �The success that we have achieved through land reforms so far might get reversed,� he said. He suggested that before going for any major change in the agriculture policy, the views of peasant�s organisations should be obtained.

Guha of the Forward Bloc sought a clarification on the �global marketing process�. Agreeing that the policy was formulated on the basis of recommendations at a seminar organised by his department, the minister said: �But a lot of things have been altered and there is a scope for misunderstanding.�

The ministers then made a litany of complaints. Nandogopal Bhattacharjee expressed his grievance over the frequent power failures in rural Bengal that affected irrigation. He demanded immediate measures to maintain uninterrupted power supply for agriculture. The ministers also voiced concern over the falling prices of paddy and demanded that a support price be fixed.

The Cabinet also discussed the �growing torture� inflicted on villagers in the border districts by the Border Security Force personnel.


Calcutta, May 21: 
Madhyamik examination results which will decide the fate of 5.78 lakh candidates across the state will be published tomorrow, the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) said today. Marksheets and certificates will be available with schools from Thursday, officials added.

The results will also be available on the board�s website, the address of which will be announced tomorrow, the official added.

The board has requested school authorities to collect the marksheets and certificates from the respective camp offices. Altogether 12 camp offices have been opened in Calcutta, South and North 24-Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Nadia and Murshidabad.

There are 14 camp offices under the Burdwan regional office from where marksheets and certificates will be given to the schools in Burdwan, Asansol, Durgapur, Kalna, Katwa, Arambagh and Chandannagore in Hooghly district, Bankura, Bishnupur, Khatra in Bankura district and Bolpur, Suri and Rampurhat in Birbhum. Schools in the two Midnapore districts can collect their documents from six camp offices, officials said.

For the schools in the five north Bengal districts, results will be available from 10 camp offices in Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Birpara, Jalpaiguri, Siliguri, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Raiganj, Balurghat and Malda.

External candidates who appeared for the examination from the Calcutta region will get their marksheets and certificates from the schools where they took the tests.

Madarsa exams

The results of the high madarsa examinations were published today, madarsa board president Abdus Sattar said. He said 68.03 per cent candidates cleared the tests.


Hooghly, May 21: 
The Trinamul Congress today lost control over the Konnagar Municipality after four councillors quit and joined hands with the Congress.

In the 19-member civic board, Trinamul had 11 councillors. The Congress had four, the CPM three and there was a lone Independent.

The Trinamul rebels moved a no-trust motion against chairman Swapan Das with support from the Congress, the CPM and the Independent. The move was passed by 12-0 votes. The chairman and six Trinamul councillors abstained from voting.

Sub-divisional officer Tapan Adhikari said according to rules, Das will have to convene a board meeting within a week to prove his majority. If he fails, the Congress, the CPM and the Independents � the four rebel Trinamul councillors are being treated as Independents as they formed one-third of the party�s councillors � will get the opportunity to form a new board.

The four councillors, Pallab Basu, Amit Banerjee, Chaina Das and Tapati Majumdar, had resigned from Mamata Banerjee�s party on April 27 in protest against corruption and the illegal activities of the chairman.

�We supported the rebel Trinamul councillors as we found that the allegations brought against the chairman are true. He is involved in corrupt practices and illegal activities. We had sent a report to the state government, highlighting the corruption. He was warned by the municipal department and the district administration several times,� said Ajit Bag, a district CPM leader.

Officials from the municipal affairs department said officers will visit the municipality soon for an inspection. �We have received complaints of misappropriation of funds and several illegal activities against the chairman. The officers will check all the papers and verify projects. We shall take action against the chairman if the allegations are found to be true,� officials said.

Though the Trinamul board members were not available for comment, party MP Akbar Ali Khondekar reacted sharply. �The four councillors have betrayed the party. They have resigned for personal gain. We will not spare them.�


Calcutta, May 21: 
Sundarbans development minister and former mayor-in-council Kanti Ganguly today wrote to mayor Subrata Mukherjee to initiate a probe into how land belonging to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation was donated to a political party to build its headquarters.

Ganguly said the six kottah plot on the E.M. Bypass, where Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee laid the foundation stone of her party�s office yesterday, belongs to the corporation. �How could mayor-in-council Javed Ahmed Khan claim that the land belonged to him and donate the land for construction of the proposed Trinamul office?� Ganguly asked.

The mayor had abstained from the function on health grounds. Several other prominent leaders, including Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Sadhan Pande and Trinamul Congress-supported Rajya Sabha MP Jayanta Bhattacharya also stayed away.

In his letter to Mukherjee, the minister alleged that �a person (a councillor) with vested interest in the area has donated some land for constructing the office of a particular political party�. A thorough probe will find out who the real owner is, he said.

Stating that the land belongs to the corporation, the minister argued: �If the CMC wants to donate the land, it is its own business. But how can a plot belonging to the CMC or the government be usurped by an individual and then be donated by him to a political party?�

Khan challenged the minister�s claims and said he was ready to resign as mayor-in-council if Ganguly could substantiate his charges. He said he would write to the chief minister giving details of the land and request him to �restrain his half-literate� colleague.


Siliguri, May 21: 
While clouds of war loomed large on the western front, reconciliation and peace were the watchwords on the country�s eastern flank.

The Border Security Force (BSF) and Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) have decided to thrash out their differences through parleys at the BSF�s north Bengal frontier headquarters at Kadamtala on the outskirts of Siliguri.

Led by the BDR�s deputy director-general S.M. Golam Rabbani, the Bangladeshi team will hold a four-day meeting with BSF inspector-general, north Bengal, K.S. Vora from May 27 to 30. The talks will also be attended by the BSF inspector-general, South Bengal, and 11 sector commanders from both nations.

Besides the maintenance of international border pillars, cross-border crimes, smuggling and illegal infiltration, the border sentinels will take up contentious issues like the un-demarcated patches along the border which, of late, have been the major bone of contention between the friendly neighbours.

BSF deputy inspector-general P.P. Gupta said hundreds of border pillars are either damaged or missing. �Most of the border pillars will have be repaired and some new ones erected. Apart from cross-border cattle rustling and instances of kidnapping, smuggling of salt, onion and sugar is rampant along the international border. This apart, sophisticated weapons and narcotics also form the mainstay of smuggling cartels in operation on both sides of the border. These issues will be taken up for discussion during the joint meet.�

A major point of friction, Gupta pointed out, was the 1.5-km stretch of land, measuring 88 acres, in Daikhata under Jalpaiguri district. Though both sides lay claim to the plot, Bangladeshis �illegally� occupy 68 acres. The remaining 20 acres of fallow land is the centre of a tussle between citizens of the two countries. However, neither country can stake claim for want of proper demarcation. �There are no border pillars in the area to demarcate either country�s jurisdiction over the disputed territory,� the officer said.

Another issue on top of the agenda will be the increase in infiltration from Bangladesh. Over the past year, there has been a rise in infiltration-related deaths and the Indian side is expected to pile pressure on the BDR to arrest the flow of infiltrators into India.

Another unresolved issue to be taken up is the cross-border firing at Nayabari tea estate in Uttar Dinajpur district in March. The Bangladeshi authorities have been voicing their protest against new tea plantations cropping up along the international border.


Islamabad/Washington, May 21: 
Signals coming out of the Pakistani and US capitals suggest heavy American engagement with the military regime of Pervez Musharraf to avoid a possible conflict with India.

President George W. Bush�s national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said there is �a lot of active diplomacy� on the Pakistan front. �We take the assurances and commitments that President Musharraf made�, that Pakistan would �end activity across the Line of Control from the territory of Pakistan (and) that they would deal with the infrastructure of terrorism� quite seriously�.

�We expect them to be fulfilled,� she said.

Rice is the second top US official after state department spokesman Richard Boucher to refer to �infiltration� since the attack on the army camp in Jammu, an incident that has suddenly raised the temperature in the subcontinent. Today�s killing of moderate Kashmir leader Abdul Gani Lone will only strengthen the chances of a conflict.

In Lahore, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, said Washington was in constant touch with Islamabad and New Delhi to defuse the tension.

�President Bush and secretary of state Colin Powell are urging both the nations to observe restraint to de-escalate the prevailing tense situation on both sides of the border,� she told reporters after visiting Jamia Naeemia, a prestigious religious school.

While India is leaning on the Americans to pressure Musharraf into stopping what it calls �cross-border terrorism� so that a conflict can be averted, Pakistan is using the tension on its eastern borders to suggest that it may have to take forces away from the western front, a possibility Washington does not relish, given its campaign in Afghanistan.

Although Pakistan has been playing down the tension, security measures have been strengthened on the borders with the deployment of more forces. In Karachi, anti-aircraft guns have been deployed along the port. Musharraf has called an all-party conference tomorrow to brief political leaders.

Defence secretary, retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Nawaz, said today: �We are not anticipating a war.�

�Pakistan being a peace-loving country has always been pleading to seek a solution of the problem through dialogue instead of going for any extreme option like war,� he said.

�It is India that has escalated tension by forcing its troops on the common borders with Pakistan and as a retaliatory step we deployed our troops and it�s better that they (Indian) be asked what their future plans or anticipations about war are.�

In Washington, Boucher suggested that India be patient with Musharraf as the Pakistan President continues his efforts to stamp out terrorism. The argument on both sides has reached a dead-end with India saying Musharraf is not doing enough.

Visiting Indian defence secretary Yogendra Narain has been meeting top US officials in Washington and as part of his interactions, he held talks with deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, who is expected to travel to New Delhi and Islamabad in June.

During his trip, Armitage will press on with the US advice to India to �exercise restraint� and deal with terrorism internally while asking Musharraf to do more.

Rice praised India�s �statesman-like stance� in recent months, starting with the attack on Parliament, and said Bush communicated this to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee a few days ago.

�We expect the Indian government to recognise that war will help no one here, that neither side, Pakistan nor India, is going to benefit from war,� she said.


Ahmedabad, May 21: 
When trust is low, the walls rise higher.

Unsure of their safety, residents of Burhani Apartment in Saraspur, who have returned home from the swarming relief camps, have decided to raise the height of their apartment�s boundary wall from six to nine feet.

At the back of their mind is the horror of April 24, when a bloodthirsty mob surrounded the 36 families living in the block and another 60-odd in Dosumiya ni Chawl.

�They won�t be able to jump over the wall so easily,� says Yusufbhai Dorajiwala, who fled his home four times in the last two months and returned on Sunday under police protection.

After spending three weeks in relief camps or with relatives, the families have come back to their homes to rebuild their broken lives. But the nightmares refuse to go away.

The locality would have turned into another blazing inferno if a Border Security Force patrol had not come to their rescue. �It was around 11.30 pm when a mob, armed with crude bombs surrounded the locality. We had to resist the mob and at the same time evacuate the residents,� said a BSF officer who was forced to open fire. He himself had a providential escape � a bomb thrown at him did not explode.

Because of the BSF�s presence the mob could not do much damage to the apartment but exacted their revenge on 20 houses in Dosumiya which were looted and torched. �We could not protect each and every house despite regular patrolling,� the officer said.

But the residents are not complaining. Instead, they are all praise for assistant commandant G.S. Gupta who, they claim, saved their lives and protected their properties. But they hate the men in khaki.

Contrary to what the police claim, the 50-odd families from Burhani Apartment and Dosumiya, who had taken shelter at the relief camp in GM Compound, say they were forced to return home because of the searing heat and unhygienic conditions at the camp. �We came on our own. The police played no role. We do not trust the police,� says Usmalbhai Khabula, a resident of Dosumiya.

�In fact, we have not come back in the true sense,� he said. �We still go back to stay in the camp at night where we eat as we have nothing left in our house which was looted and burnt. Only during day we are at home.�

The residents say it is because of Gupta, not the local police, that many of them decided to return. �Officially�, however, it is the police that persuaded them to go back.

Gupta�s efforts, however, ruffled feathers in other quarters. The officer was �blamed� for helping the minority community and the VHP wanted him transferred out of Saraspur, but the then police commissioner put his foot down.

Now that he is returning to the border, where he was posted till March 1, residents of Dosumiya and Burhani Apartment are once again apprehensive.

�We felt safe with Gupta around because. Whenever we contacted him, he was here within five minutes,� says Dorajiwala.

So the walls of distrust are rising higher.


New Delhi, May 21: 
A US delegation led by assistant secretary Michael Parmly met officials of the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Minorities to get their perspective on the Gujarat riots.

However, rights commission chairman J.S. Verma,who was attending a workshop in Chennai, said there was no need for foreign intervention.

�We have a well-built internal mechanism for taking corrective actions. We have (the) NHRC, (the) Supreme Court and a vigilant and vibrant democracy to take care of such things. There is no need for any foreign intervention on this,� Verma told reporters when asked about the concerns expressed by the European Union and some other countries on the rights violations.

�You wait for my next order,� he said when asked about the continuing violence in the state.

Rights officials told the US delegation that India was �quite capable� of looking after its minorities. The US, in fact, should have a similar commission, they said. The delegation met commission member Virender Dayal in the absence of Verma.

India is capable of dealing with the issue because it is a vibrant democracy and it has a �pro-active judiciary�, the US delegation was told.

Sources said the Gujarat government had failed to file a comprehensive report to the rights commission on the communal riots even after the expiry of the extension sought by it.

The rights commission had given the state government time till May 15 to file its response to its �confidential� observations on the situation resulting in the riots. However, the government had sought an extension of 2-3 days to file its response, sources said.

The US delegation called on members of the minorities commission yesterday and wanted to know about various issues pertaining to the minority communities in the country.

Parmly, who deals with racial affairs and human rights, and his team discussed the recent events in India for 90 minutes. The minorities commission members told them there was no problem as such and isolated incidents such as Gujarat could not be seen as a permanent phase in the country.

Anti-India heat in UK

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is under pressure from labour MPs to impose economic sanctions on India �if (the) Gujarat government continues to adopt a policy of discrimination against minorities in its relief and rehabilitation programme�.

Addressing a meeting on Gujarat in Boston, the labour legislators and a member of the European Parliament also asked the government to immediately release its report on the violence, Lord Adam Patel told PTI.


Ahmedabad, May 21: 
The chief minister�s security adviser in Gujarat, K.P.S. Gill, has claimed that withdrawal of the army from the riot-ravaged state will have no effect on policing and law and order.

In an informal chat with reporters at the CRPF guesthouse in Gandhinagar, the supercop said: �The army is never deployed permanently in such situations to maintain law and order.�

He expressed hope that the measures enforced by him would instil confidence among the minority communities.

When asked repeatedly about how safe the state and its capital Ahmedabad actually were, the supercop dared a scribe to move around with a knife. �Why don�t you test us and try to move out with a knife?� he asked.

�Peace is a state of mind. I keep telling people, we can only stop the violence ... Peace has to come from the society itself.

�What is more important is that the feeling of remorse should prevail. I call it the Kalinga phenomenon... That needs to take place at the earliest,� said Gill, who also heads the Institute of Conflict Management in Delhi.

Gill, however, assured the people against militants, saying they would never get a toehold here as the common Gujaratis would not like to collude with such elements. �The situation and social mindset in Gujarat is such that there is very little chance for emergence of full-fledged terrorism,� he said.

On his relationship with chief minister Narendra Modi, the former Punjab police chief said he was �getting full co-operation from everyone�.

He refused to answer questions regarding his appointment. Asked if Modi had appointed him, as the chief minister now claims, Gill quipped: �I cannot disclose these things. I will write it in my memoirs. If I tell you everything now, what shall I write then.�


New Delhi, May 21: 
Maneka Gandhi�s penchant for animal rights and her continuing crackdown on research institutions is beginning to make health minister C.P. Thakur edgy.

Following her latest fiat directed at Pune�s high-profile National Institute of Virology, the health minister has decided to join issue with Maneka, the minister of state for programme implementation and animal welfare. He claims that Maneka�s love for animals is making it difficult to conduct any serious research.

�We are not against her preventing cruelty to animals but if she expects animal houses here to replicate the animal houses abroad, it is not possible,� Thakur said at a news conference this evening.

Tension between Thakur and Maneka has been simmering for some time over the issue of research on animals. Thakur wants a �rational� approach and Maneka is not willing to make any compromises.

The Cabinet secretary and the health secretary met today to discuss the issue which is likely to turn into a full-fledged row between the two government departments. �It is not proper for one ministry to go against another,� said Thakur. But in the �interest� of medical research, he has decided to take it up with the authorities at the top. A draft note is being prepared for the Prime Minister�s consideration.

By targeting one of the most well-known research institutions in the country, Maneka has ensured publicity for the issue. Based on the findings of the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experimentation on Animals, Maneka put the virology institute in the dock. The report, according to her, showed that the institute was not taking proper care of sick animals.

Thakur, however, is defending the institute to the hilt. �The report is not correct. In fact, the authorities were shifting from the old building to the new building when the report was made. They were shifting to make available better facilities,� said Thakur. He maintained his ministry was all for protecting animals but Maneka was terrorising research institutes.

Thakur quoted the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to buttress his argument that the health ministry was not violating any provision. �But it is a fact that medical science can�t progress wihout research.�


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