Posts Tagged ‘mamata’

Mamata’s Al-Qaida Link

October 5, 2014

IM men killed making IEDs in Trinamool leader’s house

BURDWAN, Oct 2, 2014: Two suspected Indian Mujahideen militants were killed and a third injured critically in West Bengal’s Burdwan town when an IED they were allegedly making exploded in the house of a Trinamool Congress leader which also doubles as the local party office.

The blast took place on Thursday afternoon.

Locals say that when police arrived, two women held them off at gunpoint threatening to blow up the house and delaying them long enough to burn several documents and evidence. Among the half burnt papers found later were leaflets of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and Indian Mujahideen. Only a month ago, Zawahiri had warned of ‘jihad’ in India.

Police sources said 55 IEDs were seized along with RDX, several wrist watch dials, maps and SIM cards. Some half-burnt books were in Arabic, say police sources. Security agencies believe that since the militants were already assembling IEDs, they had planned to hit an Indian city in a few days.

NIA, IB and other central agencies are already in Burdwan but say they are getting no cooperation from the state police. Local cops are accused of trying to hush up the blast. They destroyed the seized IEDs, bombs and explosives on Friday before central investigators could arrive. SP SMH Meerza claimed those dead did not have any criminal antecedents and that the bombs were crude socket-bombs. But CID inspector Amar Kumar Mondal, who led the bomb squad, said he defused 55 IEDs and RDX.

While Shakeel Ahmed from Nadia was killed on the spot, East Midnapore’s Shobhan Mondal died in hospital. Hasan Saheb of Murshidabad is in critical condition. Shakeel’s widow Rumi Biwi and Hasan’s wife Amina Biwi have been detained along with landlord and Trinamool leader Nurul Hasan Choudhury. The Opposition BJP and CPM demand a probe into the “Trinamool-terror nexus”.

The blast took place around noon on Thursday. Fire brigade and police believed they were responding to a domestic fire and were shocked to see two women brandishing revolvers and threatening to blow up the house if they dared enter.

In an instant, a ‘cylinder blast’ had transformed into a national security issue. Locals say they saw the two women burn several documents before they let police enter after an hour. Police took away the IEDs in sand-laden trucks. It took seven hours for a CID team from Kolkata to destroy them in controlled detonation the next morning.

When central agencies arrived on Friday afternoon, they were stunned to learn that the IEDs and RDX had been destroyed.

A four-member IB team was the first to arrive from New Delhi. An IB inspector alleged that Burdwan sadar police were not cooperating with them. “Neither the Burdwan SP nor the thana is helping us. They have destroyed all the bombs and explosives instead of retaining them for examination. The case will now become useless because of lack of evidence. The seized explosives would have been crucial in the case,” he said.

An NIA team arrived on Saturday, followed by a Central Forensic Science Laboratory team from Hyderabad. CFSL’s P D Ganesh said that the sand samples collected from the detonation site on the riverbank point to Indian Mujahideen. He said that police should have kept the explosives, and waited for them instead of destroying them. NIA and CFSL experts entered the house for the first time around 12pm on Saturday, two days after the blast.

The ruling Trinamool Congress is in a tight spot because the house served as its local party office. Trinamool leader Nurul Hasan has told police that he had given the first floor on rent to Shakeel Ahmed for Rs 18,000 three months ago and claims he does not know the others.

BJP district secretary Sandeep Nandy has demanded a CBI probe. “NIA and CBI should interrogate the three detainees and the injured person. The house is the local party office of Trinamool and you can see its flags even today. Burdwan SP SMH Meerza is trying to hush up the incident, claiming police have seized 15 crude bombs. He is trying to save the Trinamool leader. The Trinamool-terrorism link should be probed. This is a very serious matter,” Nandy said.

CPM leader Amal Haldar said burnt papers posters of Indian Mujahideen have been found. “The Trinamool-terror link has now been proved. We demand an NIA probe,” said Haldar.

Shakeel was in Mumbai for a long time before coming to Burdwan, sources say. IGP-CID R Shiva Kumar and IGP-western zone Siddhinath Gupta are interrogating the three detainees. “We have told the women to call their guardians. All 55 crude socket bombs have been destroyed by CID yesterday. The victims have no criminal background. The condition of the third victim is serious,” Meerza said.

Courtesy: TOI

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Singur Set to Switch Loyalties Again?

April 22, 2012

 

Singur set to switch loyalties again?The closed site of Tata’s Nano project in Singur

    SINGUR: TNN Apr 23, 2012: Singur has always been a harbinger of political change in Bengal. This was once a Congress bastion, but turned its back on the party after police firing led to deaths of a few farmers agitating for land rights in the early 1970s. It then became one of the first CPM citadels in Bengal and heralded the victory of the CPM-led Left Front in 1977. For two decades, Singur remained loyal to the CPM, but the forcible land acquisition in May 2006 changed all that.

    Singur switched loyalty to the Trinamool, bringing it to power in the 2008 panchayat polls that were a curtain raiser to the Trinamool’s rousing capture of power in Bengal last year. If she had not been swept by the swell of support, Mamata Banerjee might have been wary of the Singur legacy. But she has, in less than a year, managed to turn this administrative block about 45km from Kolkata against herself.

    Those who were willing to let go of their lands, of course, never forgave her for driving Tata out but even those who were unwilling – they formed the backbone of her support base – are now furious with her. She has not visited Singur since she came to power; and she hasn’t kept her promise of restoring the land back to those who signed it off.

    Beraberi Purbapara, one of the hamlets where the anti-acquisition stir started, is enraged. "We were the first to protest the takeover of our farmlands. Mamata then took over the agitation. None of us accepted the compensation cheques. We participated in Mamata’s dharnas, blockades and agitation. But while she became the CM, we gained nothing," says Malati Das, 51, who lost six bighas of land to the car project.

    This now-desolate swathe of land along the Durgapur Expressway was supposed to have kick-started Bengal’s industrial and economic turnaround. Instead, it has now come to symbolise all that has gone wrong with Bengal. Singur is today a depressing picture of acute despair and deprivation.

    Six years ago, all scorn and vitriol had been reserved for (then CM) Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was seen as the architect of the forcible land acquisition, and for Tata Motors. Today, Mamata has replaced Bhattacharjee. So intense is the anger that Singur MLA Becharam Manna hasn’t managed to find the nerve to visit the villages whose residents’ farmlands were taken over for the car plant.

    Even though Mamata acted on her promise to return 400 acres (?) of farmland to the ‘unwilling’ farmers immediately after coming to power and enacted a Bill – this was challenged in the Calcutta high court by Tata Motors – to pave way for the return, the people here are unimpressed. Says Angurbala Das, 63, who was beaten up by police thrice for protesting: "We had total faith in Mamata and believed her promise to return our farmlands. Now we feel we were fools to have been taken in by her promises. She simply used us to ascend to power."

    Ashtu Das who does odd jobs to make both ends meet regrets turning down the enhanced compensation that the agitation had resulted in. "We lost out lands and didn’t accept any compensation at Mamata’s behest," he says.

    Robin Das, 45, of Gopalnagar Modhyo-Ghoshpara, who lost four bighas, feels the same way. "We all feel we should have accepted the compensation and allowed the factory. We now realise that the factory could have changed the face of Singur and Bengal. The locals would have got jobs and a lot of development would have taken place here. Tata Motors had promised to set up a hospital, a school, build roads and sponsor other development projects. They had initiated some such projects too. In hindsight, we all feel that we should have reposed faith in Tata rather than Mamata," says Das, a carpenter’s assistant now.

    That Mamata has not visited Singur after coming to power is seen by people of all the 16 gram panchayats – the Trinamool bagged 15 in the 2008 panchayat polls – as betrayal. "Till the (assembly) elections, there used to be a steady stream of Trinamool leaders. They used to provide rations and any help we asked for. They arranged for medical help and even private tuitions for our kids. But it all stopped as soon as they came to power," says Das. His sentiments find wide and easy resonance across Joymalla, Beraberi, Gopalnagar, Bajemelia, Kamarkundu, Doloigachi and all other villages in this area.

    The anger against Mamata Banerjee is more intense among those who accepted the compensation.

    "A lot would have happened here if Mamata didn’t drive Tata away. We counseled our fellow farmers who were agitating, hoping to get them to accept the cheques and allow the plant to come up. But they didn’t listen and all of us are suffering now," says Gayaram Pakhira, 50, of Joymalla village who gave up 16 bighas of farmland.

    Bikash Pakhira, 35, of the same village, would have been working as a machinist at the plant today for at least Rs 12,000 a month. "Tata sponsored my training as a machinist for 18 months and I worked for nearly a year as an apprentice at the project. Now I am a security guard at Rs 4,000 a month," he says.

    Narayanchandra Pakhira of Joymalla says Mamata should now give Singur the kind of development Tata would have ensured. "But is she capable of doing all that? Does she even have the will and the vision?" he asks.

    People accept that they were foolish to have fallen for her promises. "She knew very well that her attempt to return land would run into legal wrangles. But she misled us. She’ll have to pay a heavy price for this," says Nakibuddin Ahmed of Joymalla.

    The next panchayat polls are slated for April 2013, but Mamata has been talking of bringing them forward to this year-end. But no matter when they’re held, Singur says it has a few nasty surprises up its sleeves for her.

Courtesy: TOI, Kolkata

Mischief Minister

April 21, 2012

 

West Bengal’s populist chief minister is doing badly. Yet she typifies shifts in power in India

    April 21st, 2012: BUYER’S remorse is common enough in the dusty markets of Kolkata, a delightful if crumbling great city, once known as Calcutta and still  capital of the state of West Bengal. Those who buy cheap plastic goods or plaster-of-Paris busts of Rabindranath Tagore, Bengal’s cultural hero, may come to regret their haste. Likewise, many who voted in last year’s state election. Sickened by 34 years of  Communist rule, they handed power to Mamata Banerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress. The sense of regret is palpable.

    Her faults are not the usual ones. She appears honest; home remains a two-storey whitewashed box in a humble bit of Kolkata, wedged between a fetid river and a tumbledown bakery. Her passions are not accumulating Ferraris but landscape painting and poetry. A prominent Bengali businessman praises her energy and direct manner, forgiving her much as she struggles with a dire legacy. The state is India’s most indebted, and, despite a little spurt in the Communists’ relatively reformist final years, enjoys little development beyond Kolkata, which has sprouted a property boom and outposts of India’s outsourcing empires.

    One set of complaints is over her style. “Mindset of a Hitler”, a journalist concludes. Cabinet colleagues “live in mortal terror”, a senior party figure says. Her rule is “a one-man army”, a young critic jeers. An autocratic bent leads to grotesque blunders. She claimed that a victim of gang rape was conspiring to discredit her rule, and punished a bright policewoman who caught the assailants. Then this month she failed to disavow the arrest of two academics, one of whom was beaten. He had merely shared a cartoon about her on Facebook and by e-mail. This suggested that she cannot take even mild criticism. So does the alleged banning of newspapers she dislikes from public libraries. Aveek Sarkar, a tycoon whose media group is critical, expects her to order his arrest: he has lodged “anticipatory bail” in eight as yet imaginary cases.

    Defenders claim she is growing in the job, for which a few years as a minister in Delhi running the railways (badly) failed to prepare her. Derek O’Brien, her Anglo-Indian spokesman, claims somewhat limply that “you haven’t seen the best of Mamata yet”. Complaints about her style seem mainly confined to the urban elite. A bigger concern is what she does with power. She has notched up one success to some degree: cracking down on Maoist insurgents in their rural base. Otherwise, things look grim. Most worrying, her economic policies outflank even the Communists on the left. Trinamool, which means grassroots, won after she led a campaign against plans by Tata, India’s biggest firm, to build a car factory on land she claimed was taken unfairly from farmers. Tata fled to a friendlier state, Gujarat, taking jobs, but voters cheered.

    A populist not an ideologue, Ms Banerjee’s success reflects a long-term trend across India: the rise of regional parties at the expense of the national ones. Poorer, less educated, rural people (“the Lumpen! the Luddites!” an educated Bengali sighs, in his plush office), who vote in greater numbers than the wealthier minority, seem increasingly to prefer local parties, often, at least in the north, with a statist bent. Ms Banerjee’s political approach is to dish out public jobs and welfare and protect small farmers, and to duck reforms that might lure investors to the state. Her government did recently pass a law allowing business to lease modest plots of public land. Yet she vows loudly never to help industry buy it. And with land titles a confused mess of fragmented ownership, it is likely that land-hungry firms will stay away.

    More energy is devoted to symbols and aesthetics. The state has a new name, “Paschim Banga”. And Ms Banerjee seems to think the way to lure tourists to Kolkata is to paint every railing, kerbside, public urinal, roundabout and bridge in blue-and-white stripes. She has also ordered that loudspeakers blast Tagore’s music at junctions in the city, while Karl Marx is purged from the school curriculum. Yet she will not go to business forums, and rejects meetings with ambassadors hoping to promote industry ties. The state’s budget last month re-imposed a barmy entry tax on goods from elsewhere in India. That will distort trade but raise almost no revenue. Then this week Infosys, a big software firm, put on hold a development centre that would have created over 10,000 jobs. Ms Banerjee refused to allow a special economic zone offering tax relief.

    All this will prove costly, in time. Farmers alone produce too little tax revenue to pay for planned roads, electricity, schools and hospitals. All her government’s revenue goes to pay salaries and interest on its 2 trillion-rupee ($40 billion) debt. That leaves Ms Banerjee with a single destructive strategy: begging and threatening the central government in Delhi in order to secure debt relief. As a crucial ally of the ruling Congress party, she is in a strong position. But the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, her main Bengali rival, refuses special help. The result is paralysis for West Bengal and India. She helps block the government’s reforms—on foreign investment in supermarkets; cutting fuel subsidies; the railways budget; a water-sharing deal with Bangladesh; an anti-graft bill. But she gets no relief.

Follow the blue-and-white brick road

    The stand-off will continue. Congress wants its candidate elected as India’s president in July, and will need her help. She and some other state leaders want to wrest more powers from the centre, notably by scuppering a planned national counter-terrorism body. As the ruling coalition’s spoiler-in-chief, she typifies rising regional clout at a time when the centre is weakly led. Her party talks grandly of a concept of “operative federalism”, meaning that states should get more control of public funds. So the tensions with Congress will rise. But nobody expects her to fly away from its coalition soon. She may be seen as a mischief-maker; but, at least as yet, not quite as the wicked witch of the East.

Courtesy: The Economist

Madam, It is High Time You Resign & Go

April 16, 2012

 

THE MORAL MINEFIELD

– Thirty-four years in thirty-four weeks

Ruchir Joshi

mamata10

Madam Chief Minister Banerjee,

    I am writing this letter to you on my own computer and sending it out for publication via my own email. I am not, and have never been, a member of any political party, of any communist party anywhere including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M).

    I am a citizen of India, of West Bengal, of Calcutta, and I live in the constituency you formerly represented as an MP — South Calcutta.

    I have also never been a supporter of yours or of your party, though I was certainly among the millions who celebrated after the election results last year. All of us were celebrating the end of the long, incompetent, corrupt, oppressive rule by the Left Front, even though I’m certain some millions of us were anxious as to what your tenure in power would bring.

    But we had believed in the hope of paribartan. I think we, the sceptical West Bengali millions, were hoping that you would lead a better, cleaner, fairer government than the disgraced, departing Left Front. In the euphoria of the election results it was impossible to imagine that you could do worse than Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government.

    I myself made a resolution that I would not write anything critical of you or your administration for at least one year. It was only fair, given the huge mess you were inheriting, a mess that was not only administrative and financial but also, centrally, moral. The Left had so completely dismantled and thrown away all decency and humanity in matters of State that you could trace the roots of all their other failures to this institutionalized immorality; surely you had to be given a fair chance to begin to clean up this overflowing sewer?

    Sadly, despite my best efforts, I’m going to fall short of my promise by exactly one month. I am now forced to write to you openly in this column. Madam, in only eleven months you have proved yourself to be a grotesquely disastrous chief minister.

    Before taking on any of the other challenges, your primary challenge was the moral one: to stem the corrosion of morality and honesty in public service.  The Left had ruthlessly attacked anyone who criticized them, using State machinery to silence and sideline dissent, you were supposed to ensure that democracy and freedom of speech were once again protected, and yes, precisely, even at a cost to yourself and your party.

    Instead, we can now see that you yourself were already deeply corroded by those years of Left rule. Instead of being the chief surgeon who could excise and help cure the corruptions of absolute power, you yourself were terminally infected by the Baam Front rot, by their poisonous paranoia, by their vengeful megalomania.

    You and your administration have achieved what we thought was impossible in such a short time: you have actually increased misery and sadness inside the state, even as you’ve turned Bengal into the laughing stock of the rest of India. If, under the Left Front, the rest of India used to pity us and snigger at us, now the country is just laughing at us, belly-laughter mixed with open contempt.

    If the communists spent the last fourteen years of their rule doing nothing other than clinging on to power by whatever means, fair or foul, it was after they had tried to actually do something for the people for the first twenty years, even if they were wrong-headed, even if they were incompetent and without any genuine vision, even as their too-long reign began to inject acid into their souls and spines. What we did not foresee, what is truly terrifying, is that you seem to have scrunched that trajectory of thirty-four years into thirty-four weeks.

Madam, perhaps it might be time for you to resign and go.

    Had someone in your administration, whoever was in charge of fire safety, taken responsibility and resigned after the AMRI fire, it may not have come to this. Had you fought your own rising paranoia and kept from commenting after the Park Street rape, it may not have come to this. Had you realized that you had not only offended the modesty of a rape victim but the collective conscience of Bengal and unreservedly apologized to the woman, it may not have come to this. Had you not transferred the police officer who proved that rape, you could have perhaps escaped this situation. Had you kept from compounding your mistake by similar irresponsible and callous comments about other assaults on women, or on the murders in Burdwan, it may have been different now. Had you not treated every bit of tragic news as only a lens through which to gaze lovingly and protectively at yourself, you may still have kept some credibility. Had you avoided attacking newspapers and TV channels that were critical of you, you would have been left with some democratic honour. Had you not pushed out your own minister from the door of the runaway train of your rule, there would have been no mild photo-cartoon sent to 25 of the 90 million people you rule and no criminal over-reaction from your party goondas and your paaltu police. As it is, you now oblige us to remember that adage about history repeating itself, first as tragedy and then as a farce: if the Left Front was the tragedy, you — and since there is no one but you in your Trinamul, you, solely — are the macabre farce.

    Madam, one of the most bizarrely funny things you’ve kept repeating during your election campaign and afterwards is how you want to turn Calcutta into London. Well, perhaps it’s high time we imported some aspects of London culture. For instance, let me tell you how the last four British prime ministers have been portrayed in cartoons in London newspapers: John Major, always wearing his underpants outside his trousers; Tony Blair, as a one-eyed monster, sometimes as a one-eyed poodle trotting after George W. Bush; Gordon Brown, as a square, financial thug and bouncer; David Cameron, repeatedly, as an empty, blown-up condom. Along with these, they have also repeatedly had George Bush as a rampant, psychopathic chimpanzee, (once actually wiping his bottom with the UN logo), they’ve had Nicolas Sarkozy as all sorts of ferret-like animals, Berlusconi as a lecherous octopus and, recently, Angela Merkel as a dominatrix in skimpy black leather costume and fishnet stockings, wielding a financial whip over the exposed backsides of other European leaders. Besides this, one of the most widely read British satirical magazines, Private Eye, almost always has actual photographs of leaders and royalty with fictional speech bubbles coming out of their mouths, saying the most outrageous things. Let me tell you, no one has ever sued about these portrayals, no one is beaten up, no one is arrested, no one even lodges a written protest.

    Madam, as one who had set such high hopes in you, I might be speaking for millions like myself: you need to resign and go, leaving us at the beginning of this Bangla new year to recover the best we can. May I suggest that after you resign, you plan a short or long visit to London? You will find they actually do dynamic new things to the city, like the huge Crossrail construction that’s now in progress, but that no one, neither premier nor mayor, can unilaterally decide to paint the city a bilious blue. You will also find they take rape and assault very seriously over there, and cartoons very lightly indeed. As you take in the reality of this culture and the courage of this freedom of speech, may I hope that you will begin to realize why you never deserved — forget being a world or national leader — but why you never actually deserved to be in charge of a state such as Bengal for even thirty-four days?

Courtesy: The Telegraph

Ashim Dasgupta Criticizes Mamata’s Maiden Budget

March 25, 2012

 

Asim dubs Amit’s budget ‘incomplete’

    Mamata Banerjee gave 100 out of 10 to Amit Mitra for presenting a “stable budget” without adding any fresh burden on the common man despite the problems — ranging from high debt burden to lack of support from the Centre — facing the Bengal economy.

    Former finance minister Asim Dasgupta — a veteran of around 30 budgets and votes-on-account — on Saturday termed Mitra’s budget proposals “incomplete and uncertain” during a news conference at the CPIM’s headquarters at Alimuddin Street.

    The PhD in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) divided his criticism of Mitra’s maiden full budget into two sections — first, he sought explanations on proposals in the Trinamul government’s first budget and then tried to drill holes into some claims made by Mitra and Mamata about the Left’s mismanagement of Bengal economy.

POSERS FOR MITRA

Missing mop-up target

    Dasgupta’s demand: Mitra needs to explain why he failed to meet his tax revenue targets and the basis behind his projection of a 25 per cent rise in collections in 2012-13.

    Background: Against a target of Rs 27,690 crore and a 30 per cent growth in collections, the revised estimates for 2011-12 show that Mitra’s mop-up has been Rs 24,934 crore, a mere 18 per cent rise, while the Left had achieved a 25 per cent growth in tax collections. “Figures available on the revenue collections of other states suggest that till December 2011, the growth in revenue collection has been in the range of 22 to 23 per cent,” said Dasgupta.

Break up of higher earning

    Dasgupta’s demand: Mitra has to explain how he proposes to earn Rs 200 crore extra through his tax measures in which he has given some exemptions, increased rates in some categories and introduced a new tax.

    Background: Mitra mentioned in his budget speech that the government will earn Rs 200 crore extra. In his tax proposals, Mitra raised the limit for professional taxes besides making some products like paneer, sticks used to make kites and packing boxes cheaper by slashing or abolishing taxes. He also raised tax rates on a few luxury items by 1 per cent and introduced entry tax. “He should answer how much he will lose because of exemptions and how much he will earn from each of the proposed raises,” said Dasgupta.

Details on entry tax

    Dasgupta’s demand: Mitra needs to provide details of what he meant by local area entry tax.

    Background: The finance minister proposed to introduce a new bill to levy tax on entry of goods into local areas to create a Compensatory Entry Tax Fund with the objective of facilitating industry and trade. The absence of the applicable rate and the definition of local area created confusion amid fears of rising prices and corruption at collection points. “We had abolished entry tax in 1995 because of its regressive nature. He has to explain his plans about its reintroduction,” said Dasgupta.

Arithmetic on allocations

    Dasgupta’s demand: Mitra has to explain the reason behind minimal or no increase in plan allocation in key areas such as minor irrigation, irrigation and waterways, small-scale industries, rural development, western region development and land and land reforms.

    Background: Some departments such as power, youth services, minority affairs and madrasah education were promised significant higher plan allocation in Mitra’s budget. Dasgupta hailed the generous allocations for these departments but wondered why the finance minister was miserly in his allocations to some key departments.

Opaque employment generation claim

    Dasgupta’s demand: The finance minister has to explain why his promise of around 11 lakh jobs was not mentioned in the budget speech.

    Background: Mitra sought the Speaker’s permission yesterday to announce that his proposals will create around 11 lakh jobs but the promise did not feature in his budget speech. Dasgupta recounted how he scrupulously referred to job creation potential of different schemes in his budget proposals. “The large sample NSSO survey of 2009-10 has shown that in terms of daily employment opportunities, job creation in Bengal grew at 7.2 per cent per annum between 1999-2000 and 2009-10, which was higher than the national average of 4.2 per cent,” said Dasgupta.

Need for actual figures

    Demand: The finance minister needs to explain how many teachers have actually joined before claiming about creation of 44,000 teaching jobs. He also needs to explain how much of Rs 80,000-crore investment proposals have materialised.

    Background: In his budget speech, Mitra referred to the government’s achievements in creation of jobs in the government and private sectors.

Rebuttal of claims by Mitra and Mamata

    Claim: Bengal has the highest debt burden and each child is born with a debt of Rs 21,000.

    Rebuttal: Per capita debt is not the proper measure to compare indebtedness of states. Even if it is used, Bengal is 12th among major states as the per capita debt burden is much higher in Punjab (Rs 26,000), Gujarat (Rs 22,000). Per capita debt burden for an Indian is Rs 32,321.

    Claim: Bengal has to pay Rs 22,000 crore each year — the highest in the country — as interest and repayment of past debt.

    Rebuttal: One cannot crib about paying interest and repaying parts of the principal as this is the norm. Maharashtra has been paying interest of Rs 16,000 crore every year.

    Claim: The Left government did not enact the fiscal responsibility and budget management (FRBM) act on time. They did it in 2010-11 only to make borrowings difficult for the next government.

    Rebuttal: Till the time of the 12th finance commission, enactment of FRBM would not have resulted in any gain for Bengal. The state enacted in the first year of the 13th finance commission as the rate of interest on small savings loan was reduced and the flow of central grants were tied to it. “We did not fight the election thinking that we will lose,” added Dasgupta.

    Claim: The closing balance on March 31, 2011 was negative, which meant that the Left government had left a burden of Rs 2838.01 crore — mentioned in the annual financial statement in August — on the next government. Mitra had referred to this amount as unpaid bills during a news conference.

    Rebuttal: The budget document tabled yesterday does not mention any negative balance and instead shows a surplus of Rs 169.24 crore in the actual figures of 2010-11. “This government’s earlier financial calculations were based on this negative balance, but finally, it has emerged that there was a net gain of Rs 3,007.25 crore (Rs 2,838.01+Rs 169.24) crore,” said Dasgupta.

Courtesy: The Telegraph

Mamata Could not Change Her Politics of No

March 14, 2012

 

POLITICS OF NO

    None other than the chief minister Mamata Banerjee has now declared that things are not going to change in West Bengal after all.

    By refusing to change her position on crucial issues such as land acquisition, urban land ceiling and granting of the special economic zone status to any industry, she has dashed all hopes of a new economic era for the state. It is a cruel blow for Bengal that comes, ironically, from one who rode to power promising to change Bengal.

    But it is not difficult to see why she has done this. Saying no has long been the winning formula in Bengal’s politics. The Left used it not only to come to power but also to retain it for more than three decades. As an opposition leader, Mamata Banerjee found it to be the most effective weapon against the Left. The sad thing for Bengal, however, is that she has stuck to the politics of no even in her new role as chief minister.

    Her refusal to budge from her policies on land is now compounded by her open declaration that farmers must not be penalized for defaulting on repayment of loans taken from rural co-operative banks. This is nothing if not an extraordinary call to farmers from the head of the state administration not to repay their loans. As a result, the rural banks’ losses will mount to staggering heights. Worse, all banks will be even more hesitant now to offer loans to farmers and to other sections of the people in Bengal.

    The chief minister’s pronouncements will further erode industry’s faith in the new government and — more importantly — in Bengal. Trade and industry circles were already apprehensive about the land policies of Ms Banerjee’s government. Her latest refusal to change them shows that she does not care much about these concerns. Obviously, her latest pronouncements are aimed at retaining her political appeal among farmers.

    Certain developments in recent months suggested that sections of farmers were becoming disenchanted with her government’s approach to agriculture and other aspects of farmers’ lives. Ms Banerjee seems to think that a reiteration of her land policies is needed to win back the support of these sections. Also, her government faces its first major electoral test in next year’s panchayat polls.

    But populism of this kind could ultimately prove to be her government’s nemesis. Ms Banerjee won a huge mandate last year in favour of changing things in Bengal. Her refusal to bring about some basic changes is a betrayal of that mandate.

Courtesy: The Telegraph, Kolkata

Mamata Gags Bratya, Stops Him From Speaking to Press

March 11, 2012

 

    Bratya Basu after meeting Mamata Banerjee on SaturdayKolkata, March 10, 2012: School and Higher Secondary Minister Bratya Basu — who is learnt to be opposed to the government’s decision to cut a day’s salary of school teachers who were absent on February 28, the day of the strike — was on Saturday summoned by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to Writers’ Buildings.

    Yesterday, the state government had issued a a circular declaring that teachers of government schools and colleges, including those working in government-aided institutions, who didn’t make it to their workplace on February 28 have to suffer a pay cut if they did not furnish a “proper reason” for their absence. The school education department on Friday forwarded the copy of the show-cause notice to government and government-aided schools. The higher education department followed suit.

    Bratya, who is learnt to be against this circular, had an hour-long meeting with Mamata today in the presence of Mukul Roy, general secretary of AITC.

    After the meeting, a police officer sent by the Chief Minister’s Office told the media persons waiting outside the CM’s room that Basu will not brief the media.

    Significantly, this is the first instance in which a police personnel was sent by the CMO to tell reporters not to pose any questions to Basu.

    This has sparked speculation that Mamata snubbed Basu for making such comments in public. Earlier on March 4, Basu had said he would not like to do “detective work” to find out who did not report to duty on February 28. He had added that “just as one has the right to work (when a strike is called) one also has the right not to come at work”.

    According to sources, Mamata told Basu that his remarks were unwanted, and it was particularly so when the departments under him have circulated Chief Secretary’s directive before the strike to various educational institutions and are also preparing a list of the employees who did not report to duty on the day of strike.

    Reacting to the incident, leader of the opposition Surya Kanta Mishra said, “This is unprecedented. Chief Minister Mamata had asked the opposition to put a leucoplast on their mouth. Now she is trying to put a leucoplast on the lips of her own ministers to gag them”.

    Once again it is proved beyond doubt that this government has only one post and that is chief minister’s post; all other posts of ministers are for decorative purposes only. They should not have any opinion or voice of their own.

Trinamool’s Vandalism in College Campus

January 6, 2012

 

Trinamool tramples campus promise

OUR CORRESPONDENT

Principal Dilip Dey Sarkar being dragged out of the college on Thursday.

Raiganj, Uttar Dinajpur; Jan. 5: A college principal was caught by his lapel and beaten repeatedly by prominent Trinamool leaders and activists here in the latest manifestation of the turf battle with ally Congress and a resurrection of the campus curse Mamata Banerjee had vowed to exorcise.

    The immediate flashpoint was the rejection of a demand made by Trinamool activists to scrap and reschedule students’ union elections in Raiganj College, saying their supporters were prevented from filing nomination papers by the Chhatra Parishad, the student wing of the Congress.

    But the underlying cause was the tussle for political space between the allies, now playing itself out in many parts of Bengal over issues as diverse as the renaming of Indira Bhawan and paddy prices.

    The assault at the government college coincided with a blunt Trinamool reminder to the Congress that the government in Delhi exists “because of us”, not the other way round.

    The location of today’s flare-up was significant because Raiganj is considered the backyard of Congress MP and Mamata-baiter Deepa Das Munshi. Having gained a foothold in north Bengal, long considered a Congress stronghold, in the last Assembly elections, Trinamool is trying to widen its presence there, which the Congress is resisting.

    The assault at the college, well known in North Dinajpur, also brought under stress the new government’s promise to free education from the grip of politics, a legacy of the Left, though today’s incident had little to do with the current Opposition.

    Education minister Bratya Basu renewed the pledge and ordered action irrespective of political affiliations. But till late this evening, the main accused — Trinamool’s acting district chief (Tilak Chowdhury) — had not been arrested.

    “The incident at the Raiganj college is deplorable. At a time the state government is trying to de-politicise education institutes, such incidents won’t be tolerated. We have told the administration to take action against the offenders, irrespective of their political affiliation. Thirty-four years of Left rule have developed a culture of political interference in education institutes,” Basu said.

    Yesterday afternoon, members of the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad had turned up at the Raigunj College to pick up nomination forms. But they were allegedly blocked by the Chhatra Parishad, which now runs the union.

    A fight broke out and each side lodged an FIR against the other at the local police station. By closing time, the Trinamool members could pick up only 16 forms for the 56 seats.

    A police picket was posted at the college but neither the force nor the officer-in-charge present there could foil the rampage that erupted this morning.

    Trinamool activists, led by the party’s district working president Tilak Chowdhury, held a protest march, following which a group kicked open the locked main gate and stormed the room of principal Dilip Dey Sarkar.

    Around 40 intruders burst into the first-floor room of Dey Sarkar, pushed aside the inspector in charge of Raiganj police station, Madhab Das, overturned the table on the principal and rained blows on him.

    Subrata Saha, a teacher who came to the principal’s rescue, was also beaten up, a teacher said. The vandals then caught Dey Sarkar by his lapel and dragged him down.

    The beating continued till some policemen posted near the gate rushed in and rescued Dey Sarkar. The principal filed an FIR stating that Chowdhury had led the attack.

    Dey Sarkar told the media persons: “The police should have stopped Chowdhury and the others from invading the college. When they were breaking down the college gate the police should have stopped them. I have resigned from my post in protest. I have also informed the vice-chancellor to keep the election process in suspension. The college will also be shut from tomorrow for a few days.”

    To save his face, Chowdhury alleged that the attack on the principal was the handiwork of the Chhatra Parishad.

    “We had marched to the college to register our protest with the principal for not being allowed to collect the nomination forms,” Chowdhury said. “But the principal refused to meet us. So, some of our supporters got agitated and tried to enter the principal’s office. Taking advantage of this, the Chhatra Parishad supporters mingled with us and beat up the principal to malign us.”

    Das Munshi said the incident was “shameful”. “Trinamool is getting involved in all kinds of vandalism and giving a bad name to the government. Let us see if any Trinamool supporters are arrested,” she said.

Courtesy: The Telegraph, Kolkata

“DIDI” And Her Lunatic Antics… Politics of Decrees…

August 7, 2011

Indranil Banerjee

mamata1

    West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee might well be the political paradigm of our times. Last week, she stood by the River Hooghly and announced amidst much fanfare and media attention a multi-crore rupee riverside beautification programme, in accordance with her pre-poll promise to make Kolkata another London.

    Like a modern-day Victoria, Ms Banerjee promised to reward the city mayor if he could complete the project in four instead of the projected six months. She either omitted to mention or did not know that the municipality was facing an acute cash crunch and had been instructed to slash development expenditure on sewage works, roads, health schemes, slum development and water supply. The reality is that Kolkata’s finances are in dire straits and although the honourable chief minister has decreed that Kolkata will be another London she really has no means to effect that transformation.

    Ms Banerjee’s method of producing a public good through the waving of a make-believe magic wand is not her invention. Successive railway ministers, herself included, have shown the way by announcing new trains to woo politically important constituencies without bothering to first increase capacities in the railways. But that is not the concern of the modern-day Indian politician, who believes that public goods, public capacities and public revenues are nothing but means to further political aims.

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    The workings of the decree and be damned attitude are evident in two crucial pieces of legislation that are in the works. The first is the Land Acquisition Bill, vital for both development and social justice, and greatly overdue. The problem is not so much the provisions of the bill but the attempt to make it effective in retrospect. This means all the land acquired in the past decades to build townships all over the country would be affected. This would plunge the country into a frenzy of litigation and social turmoil.

    This would not merely affect the middle classes who have bought houses in towns such as Noida and Gurgaon but would also bring down the fortunes of states like Uttar Pradesh and Haryana which depend on new urban clusters for economic development. Any sensible government would not have considered passing such a sensitive piece of legislation with retrospective effect; unfortunately, the bigger concern here appears to be the need for a regime change in a state ruled by a political rival.

    The Food Security Act is another conjuror’s trick. Unexceptionable in intent, the legislation is completely unaffordable and impossible to implement fairly. As it is, the government is having a hard time paying subsidy on the existing Public Distribution System (PDS), the bill for which is climbing exponentially; it jumped 65 per cent in 2010-11 to over Rs 74,000 crore from Rs 58,228 crore in the previous year.

    While the food subsidy bill is skyrocketing, much of the food meant for the poor continues to be stolen. The World Bank has warned that 60 per cent of food subsidies do not reach the poor and that it would be folly to push more money into a putrefying system without first fixing it.

    The Right to Education (RTE) Act passed in 2009 is another example of how little can be achieved by mere legislation and budgetary allocations. A New Delhi-based NGO, Accountability Initiative, has pointed out that currently only an estimated 11 per cent of government schools have the necessary infrastructure as per the act and several thousand crores would have to be pumped in to bring them to minimum standards.

    It is not as if the government is being miserly; it has in fact upped expenditure on the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan from Rs 15,000 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 21,000 crore for this fiscal year. This money is to be transferred to state governments for implementing the scheme. Problem is there are no mechanisms to enforce basic performance parameters in government schools; absent teachers, broken-down school buildings and abysmal academic standards have become the norm. Even in rural India more and more parents are sending their children to private school if they can afford it. India still has the largest number of illiterates in the world.

   No one can dispute that the country needs more prosperity but little can be achieved by pompous promulgations and financial allocations read out in Parliament. In the past, politicians relied on strategising, long-term planning, gradual accretion of assets and building capacities to implement public development initiatives. They scoured the world for appropriate technology, expertise and finances; managers and workers were trained for the new enterprises; and it was through this process that the country was built up.

    It would be a wonderful world if poverty, hunger and ignorance could be removed by decree; but this has not happened anywhere in the world, not in the erstwhile Soviet Union or China, and will not happen in India either. What will happen instead is that the government would fast become insolvent, paying out the bulk of its earnings on subsidies and interest payments, borrowing funds it cannot afford, slashing expenditure on new investments and infrastructure, and gradually but surely running the country into the ground. Already, in fiscal 2010-11, interest payments and subsidies accounted for 49 per cent of the Central government’s non-plan expenditure.

    Given the country’s severely eroded mechanisms for implementing development projects, enforcing laws, adjudicating disputes coupled with the enormous corruption machinery that drains the financial allocation system, the politics of decrees translates to very little on the ground. Yet politicians continue to wave their mythical wands and hope the electorate will remain enthralled.

Courtesy: The Deccan Chronicle

Journalism In Mamata’s Regime

June 22, 2011

 

ajitha-menon-webIt is not clear whether ‘Didi’, who had portrayed herself as a champion of democracy, approves of such behavior but it is obvious to the field reporters in Kolkata that the media is on its knees.

Here is AJITHA MENON’s tales of the new media regime.

    West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently opened a new chapter in the media-government relationship when she publicly declared that she will “compensate” a news channel with a substitute story if they miss something. This was her official response to a question on why the State Higher Secondary Examination results were leaked by the concerned government department to a private news channel (Star Ananda), known for its close affiliation to the Trinamool Congress, ahead of the formal announcement.

    The entire media fraternity gathered at Writers’ Buildings, the state secretariat, responded to the statement with scattered laughter, almost condoning the fact that the government will play favourites with the media on official matters – even at the cost of institutional breach of trust – and in case of objection from someone, there will be “compensation” in the form of another story. First your turn, then my turn – wait for the handouts.

    The more serious issue of betrayal of trust by an institution reposed with the charge of conducting these examinations without bias and ensuring formal publication of results to the satisfaction of lakhs of students, their teachers and guardians, was ignored by the mainstream media almost as one.

    As any professional journalist will vouch – an exclusive will be carried if the source is credible and the facts verifiable. So, the channel which carried the results ahead of schedule can hardly be blamed for “scooping” their rivals. However, the responsibility for the leak should have been fixed on the government department responsible for the examinations – in this case the Bengal Higher Secondary Education Council. Not because the results were handed out ahead of time – though one doubts that a similar media compliance would be witnessed if the UPSC results were given to one particular channel before the merit list is officially posted – but because of the breach in security of the entire process of conducting exams, correcting answer sheets, tallying the marks, preparing the merit list and publishing the results.

    Interestingly, the Council President, Omkarsadhan Adhikary, when pushed to the wall on the issue admitted, “everything was done in accordance with the instructions of the state government”. He was mum on who in the state government ordered the disclosure.

    If a breach can happen in this case, why then not for influencing results, adding or deducting marks of certain candidates, for even changing the merit list? Since the weak link in the department is already exposed – a link which is susceptible to media glamour or political interference, whatever it maybe in this case – why can’t the weak link be exploited for perpetration of more nefarious designs? Or for that matter, why should this remain restricted to one government department only? After all, the Chief Minister herself has sanctioned the weak link now, refusing to order an enquiry into the matter!

    A pro-Left channel (Choubis Ghanta – Bengali) picked up the issue only to be categorically dismissed by the Chief Minister in the following words – “What can I do if a certain channel gets information. I can’t order an enquiry into what channels are doing. Choubis Ghanta is CPI(M)’ s channel. They are always saying bad things about me. Maybe they are sad that they missed the story. Don’t worry, I will give them another story to ‘compensate’.”

    A case of missing the forest, as well as the trees and offering bribes to media to boot? The denizens of the fourth pillar of democracy in Bengal seemed extremely subdued on the matter. ‘The Bengal Post’ story with the headline “HS council ‘fails’ as channel leaks results”, had some teeth, while the Kolkata edition of ‘The Hindu’ had a small paragraph on the matter. The CPI(M) mouthpiece ‘Ganashakti’ of course went to town about it and the Bengali ‘Bartaman’ also had a story stating the Chief Minister had refused to order an enquiry into the leak.

    It may be recalled that a similar leak of Secondary Board exam results ahead of the formal announcement had occurred in 2007 and the then government was forced to order an enquiry which led to the dismissal of the then President of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, Ujjwal Basu.

    The low key response from mainstream media this time is worrying in the context that a new era of total media obeisance to both the Chief Minister and her council of ministers has been ushered into the state post Assembly elections.

    That Mamata Banerjee has a select coterie of favourite journalists is common knowledge and acceptable in India where most politicians cultivate media persons to suit their ends, where journalists are more often than not “cultivable” and where “paid news” is norm. However, it is dangerous territory for democracy when journalists outside this coterie are not even allowed to ask questions – not just to any politician but even to the democratically elected Chief Minister in office.

    A young agency reporter, who had the “temerity” to ask Bimal Gurung, the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) leader “Have you dropped the demand for a separate Gorkhaland?”, after his first meeting with the new Chief Minister, was shot down by the Chief Minister who did not allow Gurung to reply and instead said “don’t insist, that may deteriorate the situation”! However, the matter was tolerable till after the press conference, when a trio of senior reporters converged on the rookie and demanded to know “why did you ask such a question? ‘Didi’ was offended”.

    The message was, don’t ask unpleasant questions, only ask what ‘didi’ wants to be asked, please her and her ministers at any cost. The media should in no way anger ‘didi’. Its not clear whether ‘didi’, who had portrayed herself as a champion of democracy, approves of such behavior but its obvious to the field reporters in Kolkata that the media is on its knees.

    Notably, when Mamata Banerjee finally announced a tentative agreement with the GJMM on Tuesday (June 7), she repeatedly said the “Darjeeling” problem has been settled. The media obliged, and the word “Gorkhaland” was not even whispered, and the GJMM representatives were not asked anything about their long pending demand for a separate state – it was as though it never existed!

    While giving an interview, Partha Chatterjee, the new industry minister, took it upon himself to order the ETV cameraman in the Assembly, “Keep us in two-frame” (meaning the newly elected Speaker Biman Banerjee and himself). When he realised that the cameraman had not kept a “two-frame”, zooming in to his own face alone, Chatterjee actually threatened “you think just because you hold the camera in your hand, you also hold your job? You think Hyderabad is far away? Don’t think that its that far”.

    In another instance, a young reporter with NE Bangla channel angered the Mayor Shovan Chattopadhyay, who was criticizing the condition of Subhas Sarovar Lake a few days after the new government took charge, by asking “but this lake comes under Kolkata Corporation, which has been with TMC for over two years now, so why hasn’t something been done yet?” . The Mayor walked off in a huff without replying, while other journalists from R Plus Channel and Mahua TV charged her with, “why do you ask such things? You angered him and we lost our chance. Because of you we could not ask our questions”.

    As the angry young reporter said, “their questions were, of course, of paramount importance as usual – how many bulbs will be put up to light the lake area and which other lake will you visit? This is what journalism has come to in Kolkata”!

    Television viewers across the country saw the lead anchor of a Bengali news channel sitting behind Mamata Banerjee on the day the election results were announced, while she was giving an interview to Barkha Dutt of NDTV. Even, Dutt, a journalist of some stature, had not dared to ask the “in-coterie celebrity anchor” to move out of her frame!

    For young reporters working for the pro-Trinamool Channel 10, a nightmare is unfolding. One of them asked a question to the Mayor, which the latter did not like. He picked up the phone and called the channel editor and complained. It was made clear to the hapless scribe, by his boss, that asking difficult questions to Trinamool leaders or ministers was a strict no-no. “Keep them happy. Anyway such stories will not be carried on our channel and you will surely lose your job”, the young reporter quoted his boss as saying. Most reporters of this channel admit that they are afraid of losing their jobs if Trinamool leaders complain to the editor.

    Mamata’s coterie journalists belonging to Star Ananda, The Telegraph, etc., also interface between her and other media persons. A reporter from IndiaVision Channel, Kerala details his experience outside Mamata Banerjee’s house – “I waited for six hours for a sound bite from her. She came out and called one journalist inside. He came out after sometime and showed us all an SMS on his mobile from her which said “I will not talk to any reporters today, please ask them all to leave!”.

    A Sahara TV reporter, who was desperately trying for a one-to-one interview with Mamata Banerjee on the day of the election results but categorically refused was told by a Star Ananda reporter, “You should have come to me. I would have fixed it up with her for you”. A broker?

 

    The IndiaVision reporter’s final comment on the matter – “I had also tried for an interview when she visited West Midnapore. I waited outside for almost four hours and sent in messages through the security personnel and other Trinamool leaders. She refused to talk to us but journalists from Star Ananda and some Bengali papers were with her throughout. How can a politician be selectively accessible? Aren’t we part of a democracy? If it is like this now, I wonder what will be situation when she becomes Chief Minister” – is currently echoing down the powers of corridor in Bengal!

    Besides interference in free and fair discharge of journalistic duties, stories of political leaders filling petrol/diesel for the cars owned by reporters, throwing parties for them and even paying EMI for their flats are doing the rounds now. A whole lot of journalists are also flexing their muscle now – showing off their closeness to ministers and the ability to save one from traffic fines, get a railway reservation at the nth hour, arrange school and college admissions, sanction the plan for a new house or extension, a government/railway job, a transfer to the preferred place of posting, a place on a committee etc – all with a mere telephone call.

    This culture is new to Bengal. Is it more power to journalists at the cost of democracy?

The writer is the West Bengal Bureau Chief of the Asian News International (ANI). This column was published in www.thehoot.org on Wednesday, Jun 08, 2011.