Commandos land with army tips
CPM mulls political strikeback
All-party meet demands rail split panel
Party silent, others defend Venkaiah
Governor push for early polls in Gujarat
Manhunt squads fan out for Sharma
Amar supports Mahajan, slams media
Cloud on Pak Saarc summit
Bhairon reaches out
Vial of hope on blood-poisoning

Aug. 19: 

Borders sealed to snap Ulfa link

Forty-eight hours after militants gunned down five CPM functionaries at the party office in Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri district, police today sealed Bengal�s border with Assam and Bhutan to cut off supply lines to KLO and Ulfa camps there.

Director-general of police D.C. Vajpai, now camping in Dhupguri, said a massive combing operation would be launched tonight to arrest KLO militants with cooperation from the Assam force.

�Till this evening, we have arrested eight persons. Two of them are hardcore KLO activists while the others are sympathisers,� he said.

In Calcutta, inspector-general of police (law and order) Chayan Mukherjee said a crack force of nearly 100 commandos, trained by the army at Jalaphar in Darjeeling, was sent across to Jalpaiguri during the day to assist the district police in their search for KLO militants in the hilly terrain.

�This commando force is the first batch to come out after receiving training from the army. More policemen will receive specialised training from the army in batches,� he added.

Sources at Writers� Buildings said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has ordered the police to �leave no stones unturned� to nab the militants responsible for Saturday�s killings. Bhattacharjee will visit Jalpaiguri on September 1.

Home department sources in Guwahati said Bengal police had sought an exchange of information from their Assam counterparts in an effort to cut off supplies to the KLO and Ulfa camps in Bhutan.

�The Bengal police have sought our help on the methods to cut off the continuous supply of essential commodities to the militant camps in Bhutan,� a high-ranking police official said in Guwahati. The Bengal police had sent a letter saying they could use the experience of the Assam force in handling situations involving militant outfits like the Ulfa.

Sources said the KLO is assisting the Ulfa in maintaining the supply line through the �porous� Bengal-Bhutan border after the army sealed the entire stretch of the Himalayan kingdom�s border with Assam.

Unlike Assam, where the unified command of the army and the police patrols the frontier, Bengal�s border with Bhutan is manned by the state police and the CRPF.

The Assam police said the sealing of their border with Bhutan had been so effective that there were reports of �hunger deaths� as well as outbreak of diseases caused by malnutrition from several Ulfa camps.

Senior police officials said KLO militants were in constant touch with the Ulfa and had attended training camps in Bhutan.

�One of the main sources of information is tracking cell-phone messages. We are also trying to step up our source network within the KLO and other outfits like the Ulfa in order to gather more information on the militants. It is true we have arrested key KLO leaders like Bharati Das. But it is also true many others are at large,� an official said.

Police sources said ever since the KLO came into prominence some two years ago, it has been known to maintain close relations with the Ulfa, which has also been providing arms and training to the Kamtapuri activists.

Intelligence sources monitoring militant activities said the Bengal police had at first been baffled by the largescale lifting of foodstuff from the numerous haats, or rural markets, that dot the Dooars area of Jalpaiguri.

�But now the police are more or less sure that the food supplies are being taken to Ulfa camps in Bhutan, mostly through the jungle routes of the Buxa tiger reserve,� sources added.


Siliguri, Aug. 19: 
Taken aback by the strike in Dhupguri, the CPM plans to launch a �focused campaign� to tackle the Kamtapuri challenge in north Bengal.

The party leadership is thinking of reintroducing political literature and pamphlets to instil confidence among its cadre and draw their attention away from the agitation for a separate state.

CPM leaders in north Bengal are united in their resolve to chalk out a �common agenda� to fight the Kamtapuris politically.

Municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya, who is also the MLA from Siliguri, told The Telegraph: �We won�t resort to violence to counter the Kamtapuri menace. We had contained the movement at its peak in August 2000. We will create awareness among the people of north Bengal and marginalise the Kamtapuris. Devising innovative tactics (read pamphleteering and launching awareness campaigns) is the need of the hour.�

The CPM had earlier used �paper strategies� to win back its supporters who had crossed over to the Kamtapur People�s Party (KPP). CPM leaders feel the KLO strike was the result of a �reactionary tendency� surfacing in the Kamtapuri fold and had little to do with serving the interest of the public.

Chandi Pal, a CPM district secretariat member of Cooch Behar, said: �We have instructed our cadre to carry out campaigns in the remote rural areas.�

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas had said in Calcutta yesterday that his party would try and neutralise the Kamtapuri offensive politically and diplomatically.

Echoing Biswas, Bhattacharya said: �We will fight the Kamtapuris constitutionally and democratically. The ethnic Rajbanshsis, who had left us initially during the height of the Kamtapuri agitation, have returned to our folds. They had realised that sticking to the KPP won�t yield much politically. In fact, little is left of the KPP�s ideological fervour.�

According to the minister, many of those killed or wounded in Saturday�s strike were of Rajbanshi origin. This, he claimed, was proof that the KPP support base had eroded over the years. �The people should know that the KPP and the KLO are the same organisation operating under two labels. What we need to tell the public in Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Cooch Behar is the utility of aligning with the Left.�

Political analysts feel the fact that the CPM had managed to lure back a sizeable chink of its �lost cadre� was a pointer to the �growing unpopularity of the Kamtapuri movement.


Calcutta, Aug. 19: 
An all-party meeting chaired by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today strongly opposed the bifurcation of Eastern Railway and demanded from the Centre an expert panel to look into the issue.

The meeting at Writers� Buildings urged the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to put on hold railway minister Nitish Kumar�s decision to implement the bifurcation from October 1 till the proposed panel submitted its recommendations.

All political parties but for the BJP attended today�s meeting. The party�s state leadership had accused the government of �trying to make an issue out of a non-issue� while announcing its decision to boycott the meeting.

The chief minister said he would meet the Prime Minister in Delhi over the issue either on August 26 or 27.

�I will urge the Prime Minister to review the situation arising out of the bifurcation decision and its financial aspects, to appoint an expert committee and to stall the bifurcation till the panel submits its report. Several expert committees had opposed the bifurcation. The Rakesh Mohan committee, the CAG and the Planning Commission were against it. The bifurcation is a wastage of money and a threat to the unity and integrity of the country,� he said.

The railway ministry has got its priorities wrong, Bhattacharjee said. �The bifurcation will cost Rs 3,500 crore. This expenditure is unnecessary when we require funds to improve the railway�s safety measures and services, augment revenue and increase the number of trains.�

Bhattacharjee also maintained that there would not be any problem if the railway wanted to centralise its administration through a computer network. �But a carve-up is not necessary. The bifurcation is not a Bengal versus Bihar issue. It is a national problem,� he said.

Trinamul Congress� all-India general secretary Mukul Roy and state general secretary Partha Chatterjee represented the party at the meet. Mamata Banerjee�s men said the outcome of the all-party meet vindicated the Trinamul chief�s stand.

�She (Mamata) was the first to urge the chief minister to convene an all-party meeting and had also urged the Prime Minister to form an expert committee to go into the contentious issue,� they said. The Trinamul leaders slammed Bhattacharjee�s �failure to initiate a move to pressure the Centre to stall the bifurcation� and described today�s meeting as an �eye-wash�.

CPM MP Basudeb Acharya, who attended the meeting, said, as chairman of the Railway Standing Committee he had opposed the proposal to bifurcate Eastern Railway in 1996.

Asked about the possibility of an �all-party Bangla bandh� over the issue, Acharya and Left Front chief whip Lakshi Dey said: �It depends on the Prime Minister�s response to our demand for a review committee.�

State Congress vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya urged the chief minister to lead an all-party delegation to the Prime Minister. �But Buddhababu told us he would meet Vajpayeeji alone,� he said.


New Delhi, Aug. 19: 
After Pramod Mahajan, it�s Venkaiah Naidu�s turn.

Close on the heels of allegations that Mahajan is involved in journalist Shivani Bhatnagar�s murder, the BJP boss is being accused of grabbing 40 acres of land meant for the poor in Adangal and Pahani in his home state, Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP has been strangely reticent in defending its president, but Congress and Telugu Desam members back home have sprung to his defence. Well-placed sources said Naidu owned only 4.95 acres of �dry, uncultivable� land.

The sources said though Naidu hailed from a family of landowners, who possessed huge tracts across several villages in the pre-land reforms era, they lost much of it in a series of personal tragedies.

Loyalists in Andhra today rallied behind him, with several handing him clean chits. State information minister S. Chandramohan Reddy has gone on record saying that Naidu �came up in politics by dint of hard work, and not by improper means�. He has been backed up by U. Rajeswaramma, Desam MP from Nellore, Naidu�s hometown.

Other sources seeking to defend him said when the seventies� Congress government in Andhra offered every legislator a plot in the posh parts of Hyderabad, Naidu � then a Jan Sangh MLA � and some from the Left were the only ones to refuse.

�For this, they were heckled by others who gladly accepted the land and sold them recently for a premium,� the sources said. Naidu was �content� with a house inherited by his spouse in Hyderabad.

The sources claimed that after entering the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka, Naidu could have accepted chief minister S.M. Krishna�s alleged offer to each MP of a plot of land in Bangalore�s upcoming JP Nagar and a car worth Rs 10 lakh. But he turned down the offer despite Krishna�s �persistence�.

�As the rural development minister, Krishna was impressed with the work Naidu had done for the state and insisted he must accept a present from him,� they said.

Naidu was an infant when his mother was gored to death by a bull while trying to save him. Sources said his father lost his mental balance soon after and could take no interest in the family land, which was gradually appropriated by his relatives.

Naidu was brought up by his maternal grandparents. When he was a teenager, a relative told him he owned about five acres, but he was too involved in his studies and student politics to take interest.

In the seventies, he obtained the D-form patta for this land. But sources claimed that after joining the RSS, he was supported by his wife�s land-owning family.

Congress MLA from Podalakuru Anam Ramanarayana said Naidu was not a land-grabber but the �pride of Nellore district�.

In a statement, he commended the BJP chief for getting roads worth Rs 30 crore built, drinking water facilities costing Rs 40 crore installed and fast-track central clearance for the Rs 150-crore Somasila project.


New Delhi, Aug. 19: 
Gujarat Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari, a former RSS pracharak, did his bit to make a case for early elections in the state and indirectly disputed the Election Commission�s report.

Bhandari, who met the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister today while on a visit here, told reporters that �normal situation prevailed in the state for holding elections� and asserted Central rule was not a �remedy�.

�Presidential rule is a consequential step. It will depend on political activities going on. So presidential rule is not a remedy, it is a stopgap arrangement. It does depend on normalcy or otherwise in the state,� he said.

�The new Assembly has to be constituted by October 3, which is the six-month period stipulated for this purpose. We now have to await the verdict of the Supreme Court,� Bhandari said without quoting Article 174, the constitutional provision on which the BJP�s argument for early elections is based.

He claimed Hindus and Muslims were living in the same neighbourhoods where they used to earlier. �Even then, if Muslims in certain localities feel the area polling booth is unsafe for them, special arrangements can be made easily for casting their votes,� the Governor said. Bhandari indirectly countered the poll panel�s finding that the ground situation in Gujarat was far from normal and asserted, �I am in touch with every section of society. I attend their programmes not only in Ahmedabad but also in other places in Gujarat.�

�Communal harmony is not complete, I agree but there is no communal divide,� he said, adding that except for three camps in Ahmedabad, �the situation is normal. Some compensation claims have not yet been finalised and the process is being speeded up.�


Panchkula, Aug. 19: 
Over two dozen Delhi police teams are scouring the region to trace senior Haryana IPS officer Ravi Kant Sharma, the prime accused in the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case.

�We have teams in practically all states in north India looking for Sharma,� said a Delhi police personnel camping in Chandigarh to �arrest� Sharma. �We have definite leads and are working on them,� he added.

Sharma is reportedly hiding either in Haryana or in the neighbouring hill states of Uttaranchal or Himachal Pradesh. More teams have been despatched to Himachal after Sharma�s wife Madhu mentioned that she had gone to the hills with her husband when he was on leave earlier this month. Himachal police have denied conducting raids to arrest Sharma and also said he is not hiding in the state.

Shivani, a journalist with the Indian Express, was found murdered on January 23, 1999, in her East Delhi residence.

In Delhi since yesterday, Madhu has petitioned the National Human Rights Commission alleging harassment by Delhi police. She would also approach the women�s commission with a petition citing maltreatment of her daughters at the hands of the police when their house was raided early this month.

Madhu has alleged that the Delhi policemen who had come searching for her husband had �used abusive language�. Their family counsel said Madhu would return tomorrow night and address reporters immediately on her arrival.

A Delhi police team visited Sharma�s house here early today and questioned the tenants. One of the members said they had information that the IPS officer could return home to �destroy� evidence and had no other option but to keep a close watch on the residence.

While Haryana police are being kept informed on the moves made by the Delhi police team, sources said the state police are unhappy at the manner in which their counterparts are conducting investigations. Though some Delhi policemen have been hinting that Sharma is hiding in Panchkula and is being �protected� by senior officers, a senior Haryana police officer said: �We ourselves do not know where Sharma is.�

The case has turned out to be a big story for the media with dozens of reporters from different dailies doing shifts outside House No. 19, Sector 6. For nearly two weeks now it has been carnival time for reporters in the region.

While Madhu has kept reporters busy with her statements, her two daughters, Pragati, 25, and Komal, 23, have turned spokespersons for their father. They have been coming out with statements and accusations of deep-rooted political conspiracy against Sharma.


New Delhi, Aug. 19: 
Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh came to Pramod Mahajan�s rescue, even as Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav urged the communications minister to subject himself to investigation for his alleged role in the murder of journalist Shivani Bhatnagar.

�Let Mahajan clear the air and prove his innocence by subjecting himself to an investigation in the Shivani case,� Laloo said.

Asked whether Mahajan should resign on moral grounds, he said: �There might be no chargesheet in the case yet, but people were baying for my blood even before I was named an accused in the fodder case.�

Singh, on the other hand, said his party was against witch-hunting, character assassination and levelling of allegations without substantial evidence and blamed the media for carrying out a trial. �It is not fair to point the needle of suspicion at Mahajan,� he contended.

Asked whether Mahajan should quit the government, the Samajwadi leader said it was for the minister to decide. Singh said his party was not against a CBI probe.

Samajwadi salvo

The Samajwadi today criticised the Cabinet decision to make a presidential reference on the Election Commission�s order on Gujarat polls.

It said the Centre had set a wrong precedent by questioning the decision of an autonomous constitutional body.

Singh said the Cabinet decision was a symbol of fascism and neither the President was bound to take opinion of the court, nor was the court compelled to advise him.


Kathmandu, Aug. 19: 
India might skip the next Saarc summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad in April if its strained relationship with Pakistan continues. Pakistan will be the chairman of the forum next year.

Though the heads of government of all the seven member-countries traditionally attend the summit, indications suggest that unless there is a dramatic improvement in bilateral ties, it may have to be called off.

�We have never said we will not attend the Saarc summit if it is held at a particular capital,� foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said, but argued that a �lot� depends on the political situation. �If the tensions continue, then it may create a problem for India to attend the summit.�

In the past, too, scheduled summits had to be called off because of strained India-Pakistan relations. The Saarc charter demands that all the heads of government of the member nations attend. If any one of them is unable to do so, it has to be rescheduled.

Sibal, who arrived here yesterday, attended the meeting of the foreign secretaries of Saarc nations today to streamline several proposals, including a protocol on terrorism, issues relating to a children�s development and enhanced economic cooperation among the South Asian neighbours. The members also stressed on setting a deadline for implementation of the South Asian free trade area and preferential trade arrangements.

The Indian foreign secretary exchanged pleasantries with his Pakistani counterpart, Riaz Khokhar. But there was no attempt from either side to arrange an exclusive meeting on the sidelines. This clearly indicates that when foreign minister Yashwant Sinha arrives tomorrow, he too will not make an attempt or respond to any gesture from Inamul Haq, the Pakistani minister of state for foreign affairs, for a one-to-one meeting.

But to ensure that their strained relationship does not cast a shadow on the progress of Saarc, the Indian delegation has put forward a number of suggestions for closer interaction among the member-countries. One proposal is for Saarc to come up with a protocol to strengthen the convention on terrorism.

For this, the members have to bring about amendments and improve their existing domestic laws to fight the menace. Member countries have been asked to designate senior officials to deal with issues like exchange of information on counter-terrorism and to be in touch with the Saarc monitoring office in Colombo.

Senior police officials of the Saarc will meet here next month to discuss ways of improving communications so that they can tackle terrorists and other criminals operating in the region.


New Delhi, Aug. 19: 
Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was today sworn in the country�s 12th Vice-President, making him the first BJP stalwart to occupy the office.

The 79-year-old former Rajasthan chief minister was administered the oath of office and secrecy at a brief ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan�s majestic Ashok Hall by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi, Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee, Governors, Union ministers, chief ministers and Shekhawat�s close relatives were present when the newly elected Vice-President took oath in Hindi.

Shekhawat succeeds Krishan Kant, who passed away days before his tenure was to end.

After the ceremony, Shekhawat, like Kalam, mixed freely � a departure from convention in which the President and the Vice-President would sit at a specific place to receive those calling on them. Traditional Rajasthani turbans were all over the place as the high and the mighty mingled with ordinary persons from the state.

Defeated Congress leader Shushil Kumar Shinde was also present. Shekhawat walked up to him to give him a warm hug. Then, in a surprise move, he turned to the leader of the Opposition and posed for a group photograph with Sonia, a gesture that moved the Congress chief.

Some political leaders present at the swearing-in felt it was Shekhawat�s way of communicating to Sonia that he was no longer a political entity. But given the strained relationship between their party and the BJP, Congressmen said they would watch his performance as presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha before believing that.

Aware of what was going though the minds of all those present, Shekhawat said he would rise above party lines and ensure that major issues facing the country were thoroughly debated in the Upper House. �I will rise above political affiliation and see that debates take place in the Upper House on main issues before the country and make efforts to resolve them,� he said.

The ruling National Democratic Alliance does not enjoy a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

Shekhawat then went on to demonstrate his affinity for his home state. He searched out Rajasthan�s Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot, brought him before the photographers� stand, and posed for photographs. Earlier, Union home secretary Kamal Pande read out the notification of the Election Commission declaring Shekhawat�s election.

Soon after being sworn in, Shekhawat drove to Rajghat, the samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi, and placed flowers there.


New Delhi, Aug. 19: 
It�s being touted as a miracle cure � a vial of hope for people with severe sepsis and on the brink of certain death.

Eli Lilly and Company (India) Pvt Ltd plans to bring Xigris � an anti-blood poisoning drug that has been described as the world�s first treatment for adults with severe sepsis � to India this October.

Xigris isn�t cheap: a 20-ml vial will cost Rs 80,000 and, on an average, a patient with sepsis will need seven vials over one to two days. This means that patients will have to shell out Rs 5.6 lakh for the cure.

Xigris is a recombinant form of human-activated protein C. It is meant for severe sepsis which is known in the common parlance as blood poisoning.

According to Criticare Society of India, 80 per cent of the patients in ICUs have sepsis, out of which 40 per cent develop severe sepsis. �It is an infection where the entire body gets affected and that has a cascading effect resulting in multiple organ failure leading to death,� said Anurag Khera, manager corporate affairs of Eli Lilly and Company (India).

Sepsis is a devastating disease that hits suddenly and until Xigris came along there was no cure. The scariest part is that one minute you feel okay and the next you are about to die.

Sepsis claims 1,400 lives in the US every day � or one victim on an average each minute.

The drug was developed by Eli Lilly after 20 years of product research; the necessary approvals to market it in the US were received only last November.

The Indian subsidiary has already obtained approval from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) to import and market Xigris.

Khera told The Telegraph: �We plan to bring in Xigris in early October. We are still awaiting the import licence which will also comes from the office of the DCGI.�

The company is planning to import 5-mg and 20-mg injectible vials of the drug.

�We intend to import about 700 vials of the 20-mg pack; the numbers will be proportionately more if we import the 5-mg vials,� Khera said. �The intention is to import for 100 therapies in the first year.�

Khera said the drug attracts a peak custom duty of 58 per cent. The company has approached the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) to seek customs duty exemption on the import of the 5-mg and 20-mg vials of Xigris.

�Customs duty exemption has been sought as this is a life-saving drug,� said Khera. He said the 20-mg vial would cost about Rs 50,000-55,000, if customs duty is waived. The company estimates drug sales of Rs 2-3 crore in the first year.

Eli Lilly literature on the product gives a vivid description of sepsis. �At first, it feels like the flu. Your muscles ache, and you feel feverish and dizzy. Suddenly, you are in real trouble. Your blood pressure plummets, Then, your kidney stops working. Your fingers bloat like sausages. Finally, your lung s fail.�

The syndrome is triggered by a bacterial, viral, parasitic or fungal infection, often the result of events such as trauma, surgery, and burns, or illnesses such as cancer and pneumonia.

India will be 11th country in the world where the drug has been approved. Last year, Eli Lilly India notched up a turnover of Rs 110 crore.    


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