Endless rain maroons millions
Sonar Bangla snub to Basu
Big Bull caught in scam lasso
Army of generals drains Karan war chest

Calcutta, Sept. 27 
Relentless rainfall has marooned millions in the flood-hit districts of the state even as the official death toll from the floods climbed to 33 today.

So far nearly four million people have been hit by rising waters in 15 districts, state home minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya said in Writers? Buildings today. The toll, he admitted, could be higher as there are reports of more deaths which are yet to be confirmed.

With the water in several parts of the city refusing the recede for the third consecutive day and the situation in the districts going out of control, chief minister Jyoti Basu convened an emergency all-party meeting today. He warned against ?playing politics with this tragedy? as it would only harm the people of this state further.

Despite the fact the thousands of polling booths have gone under water, Basu said that the polls would not be deferred.

Meanwhile, cases of gastroenteric diseases began to trickle in from different parts of the city that are still submerged in water. Several cases were reported from the Ekbalpore region, where doctors were treating the patients with oral rehydration solution. The situation is similar in Tiljala and Topsia.

Hospitals were also gearing up for an increase in such patients. An official at the ID hospital in Beliaghata said: ?We expect an influx of patients within the next few days.? IV fluids and ORS have been stocked at the hospital.

The mood was grim in Lake Town and parts of Ultadanga where residents had to use boats to ferry essentials. Many people living along the E.M. Bypass have moved out of their homes and shifted to the upper floors of houses under construction there.

Chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones K. Ramanujam announced that it may take days to restore the 25,000 telephone lines that are down.

Most of the deaths in the districts have been reported from Murshidabad, Burdwan, Midnapore and Howrah.

In Malda, the situation is very grim at Manikchak, Kaliachak, Ratua and Harishchandrapur and Bhutni island. Over 200 villages in these areas are still submerged. Over 400,000 people have been affected and only 150,000 rescued so far.

In Murshidabad, Kandi, Dhulian, Lalbag and Jiyaganj areas are the most affected. In Nadia, the Bhagirathi has breached its embankments at different places, flooding Krishnagar, Shantipur and Nabadwip.

Several parts of National Highway 34 are under water in Murshidabad and Malda, cutting it off from south Bengal.

Over 100,000 people are trapped in Bhutni island in Malda. Encircled by weak embankments, the last line of defence from the rising water in the Bhagirathi, the villagers have been completely cut off from the mainland.

The continuing rainfall has affected the army?s effort of dropping of food packets and rescuing marooned people with the help of helicopters. The choppers air-dropped relief in Burdwan, Murshidabad and would begin operations in Birbhum from tomorrow.

Bhattacharya said the Bhagirathi was flowing above the extreme danger level in Farakka and Kalna and the Jalangi was well above the danger limit in several places in Nadia and Murshidabad.

Train services were hit in the Eastern Railway?s Howrah division. Agitated people held up trains at Bandel and Champdani protesting against rising flood waters in Hooghly.

With an increasing number of polling booths getting submerged in flood waters, state chief electoral officer, Jawhar Sircar, said his office had received proposals for shifting of around 1,500 of them from inundated areas. Of them, nearly 1,000 booths were in Murshidabad, another 525 booths are scattered in Malda, Burdwan and Nadia districts.

Sircar assured that rains and widespread inundation would not affect polling on October 3. ``We have already sent ballots and other polling materials of 39 parliamentary constituencies to the designated offices. There will not be much problem in shifting booths as we have six more days to go before the actual polling??, Sircar said.

Meanwhile, representatives of parties in the state today passed an unanimously resolution seeking Rs 250 crores from the centre under the National Calamity Control Fund. The damage in West Bengal has been put at over Rs 1,200 crore.    

Calcutta, Sept. 27 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee tonight came down heavily on chief minister Jyoti Basu for ?ruining? Bengal during his 23-year regime.

?Give us a chance to form a stable government at the Centre. We will turn your state into Sonar Bangla,? Vajpayee said amid applause.

Vajpayee arrived here this evening for a two-day visit to address a number of election rallies in support of candidates from the Trinamul Congress and the BJP.

The Prime Minister expressed concern over the people marooned after the floods that followed last week?s torrential downpour in the state.

?See, this small downpour has submerged the city of Calcutta and its suburbs. The Left Front government has done nothing to improve the city?s sewerage system during the last 23 years it has been in power,? he said, adding, ?It seems that a government does not exist in Bengal.?

After saying a few words in Bengali ?Aamra Sonar Bangla Garte Chai (We want to build a prosperous Bengal),? Vajpayee switched over to Hindi while addressing a moderate gathering at the airport ground near gate number 2 tonight in support of state BJP president Tapan Sikdar. Sikdar is seeking reelection from the Dum Dum Lok Sabha seat.

Using the platform to steer his campaign against the ruling communists, Vajpayee said the leftists would be seen nowhere in the country within a few days. ?The Leftists are present these days only in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura..But in the near future, their influence will dwindle all over the country,?he added.

Vajpayee appeared very harsh towards Basu for his ?unsavoury? remarks against home minister L.K. Advani. He demanded that ?Jyotibabu should tender a public apology for using intemperate language against Advani.?

Reacting to Advani?s statement that the law and order situation had deteriorated in Bengal, Basu said, ?Is he a home minister? He is a criminal, charged with demolition of the Babri Masjid.?

?Basu has become old these days and nobody expects him to use such language against the country?s home minister. This portrays his bad tastes,? Vajpayee said, adding, ?Advani has not been indicted by any court. Moreover, he is a seasoned politician and is loyal to the country.?

Lashing out at the CPM, Vajpayee urged the electorate to think before casting their votes this time.

?The CPM had imposed this untimely election on you. The Communists had conspired with the Congress to pull down the BJP-led coalition at the Centre?, he said.

Urging the people to vote for the Trinamul Congress and BJP candidates to help him ?retrieve the glory of Bengal? Prime Minister said, ?It?s a pity that your state is fast becoming bankrupt. Factories are closing down rendering people jobless and young educated youth are deserting the city in search of jobs elsewhere..?

He announced that the BJP-led coalition would provide jobs to one crore youth every year if it is voted back to power.    

Mumbai, Sept. 27 
Harshad Mehta, the stockbroker whose shenanigans seven years ago triggered the biggest securities scandal in the country, has been convicted along with three others for misappropriating Rs 38.97 crore from car maker Maruti Udyog Ltd between April 1989 and May 1991.

The verdict, delivered today by special court judge M.S. Rane in a jampacked court-room, is the first that directly implicates Mehta who earned the moniker of Big Bull after ramping up shares in early 1992.

The others convicted along with Mehta were Pramod Kumar Manocha, former deputy finance manager of Maruti Udyog, Vinayak Narayan Deosthali, former assistant manager of United Commercial Bank, and Ram Narayan Popali, former officer of ANZ Grindlays Bank. Ambuj Jain, former senior executive of Maruti Udyog, was exonerated.

Justice Rane is expected to announce the sentence tomorrow after hearing all the parties. Mehta could face a prison sentence of seven to nine years.

Shares on the Bombay stock exchange plunged after news of Mehta?s conviction spread through the market. Early in the day, the 30-scrip sensitive index had soared 113 points to 4871.34 points from Friday?s close of 4757.82, but tumbled to 4715.67 at close.

Mehta was suspended from trading after the stock bubble burst in April 1992 but dealers say brokers loyal to Mehta have been trading on his behalf.

This is only the second verdict delivered by the special court that was set up to hear the 44 scam-related cases. Earlier this year, the court had convicted Hiten Dalal in another case. The Supreme Court has already granted Dalal a stay on the sentence while he appeals against the conviction. Harshad Mehta and his lawyers led by Mahesh Jethmalani are also likely to appeal to the Supreme Court.

According to the special court, the accused were found guilty of entering into a criminal conspiracy in Bombay and Delhi in order to divert surplus Maruti Udyog funds lying in its account with Canara Bank, Sansad Marg branch in Delhi to Harshad Mehta?s account with ANZ Grindlays Bank, New Delhi.

Last July, the court had ordered a CBI probe into Mehta?s claim that he had paid huge amounts of money as donation to Congress bigwigs. Mehta claimed that he had instructed his manager in Delhi, Mohan Kandelwal, who turned approver in the case, to withdraw the amount from the bank to make the payments.

Justice Rane had said the probe was necessary to determine where every single rupee of public money diverted by the alleged scamster had gone.

However, the judge ruled that the CBI probe would be independent of the outcome of the MUL case.    

New Delhi, Sept. 27 
Karan Singh is finally feeling the pinch, courtesy not his formidable foe but his faithful friends.

Having to make do with a modest budget, Singh has despatched an SOS to 10 Janpath to stop the stream of leaders who have descended on Lucknow to help the maharaja slay Atal Behari Vajpayee.

In his letter, which is addressed to AICC treasurer Ahmad Patel, Singh says he is fast running out of money picking up tabs for his partymen. ??The Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee is extremely capable of handling the campaign. Please stop sending leaders to Lucknow,?? he says. The UPCC has 265 office-bearers and the majority of them have taken upon themselves the ??responsibility?? of ensuring Singh?s victory.

The former maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, who was pitchforked into the battle against Vajpayee, has made it clear he cannot ??fight?? on two fronts. He is expected to play host to at least a dozen Congress Working Committee members, former chief ministers, ex-Union ministers and other self-proclaimed VIP leaders.

Singh is not alone in his distress. Even the usually unruffled Priyanka Gandhi was upset by the hordes of Congressmen who had arrived in Amethi. She discreetly let it be known that top leaders would do better to march out of Amethi. ??We do not need so many leaders. Please leave us alone,?? she is believed to have told some of them.

Party sources said the ??VIPs?? were simply insatiable. Anybody who claims to be somebody has reached Lucknow and is demanding five-star hospitality with a car, mobile phone and secretarial assistance thrown in.

??One AICC general secretary wanted a presidential suite in the Taj, along with five rooms for his staff. Another leader booked a room in the Arif Castle for three days but instead of using it, kept it locked. The UPCC office-bearers had to cough up the bills,?? a party functionary said.

But many senior leaders justified the need to camp in Lucknow. They claimed that each one of them was doing a ??wonderful job?? to mobilise support for Singh.

??Jaffer Sharief is in touch with noted Islamic scholars Maulana Ali Mian and Maulana Tauseef Raza. If the two Muslim leaders declare support for the Congress, things could become difficult for Atalji,?? said a leader.

Similarly, Naval Kishore Sharma?s presence is being justified on the ground that he wields considerable influence on Brahmins.

Rajesh Pilot, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Madhavrao Scindia are also in the city: they are ??good orators?? and have been sent to match Vajpayee, speech for speech.

While Motilal Vora?s stint as Uttar Pradesh Governor has made him an ??expert?? on Lucknow, party spokesman Ajit Jogi ? a former IAS officer ? is also there, ??just in case?? the party needs to speak to middle-rung bureaucrats.

Delhi Congress leader Harcharan Singh ??Josh?? is there, too, working on ??Sikh voters??.

Also camping in Lucknow are Narain Dutt Tiwari, Chandrajit Yadav, Mohsina Kidwai, Salman Khurshid, Jitendra Prasada and Syed Sibtey Razi. They have a ready explanation: as ??senior state leaders??, they ??ought?? to be present to boost the Congress? prospects.

The Congress also has a plan to tilt the balance in its favour if Lucknow decides to vote along ??gender lines??. Girja Vyas, Mohini Giri, Sheila Dixit, Selja and Ambika Soni are ensconced in the city.

Not to be left behind, former Youth Congress chief Anand Sharma has parked himself in Lucknow to discharge the responsibilities of a ??party spokesman??, leaving the state unit fuming.

But the galaxy of leaders was caught off guard when Priyanka decided to visit the city for three hours yesterday to oversee poll arrangements. Since many partymen were not in sight, she instead went to Hazratgunj shopping.    


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