15th August 1997 - Telegraph
Or here for 14 August 1997
More powers to West Bengal panchayats
Freedom chronicles fade out
Red alert in Tripura for I-Day functions
Manipur cabinet vows to protect state territory
15 killed in Meghalaya road mishap
48 villages to boycott I-Day celebrations
Boycott calls may mar I-Day celebrations

Calcutta, Aug. 14 

The government today decided to offer more administrative powers to panchayats, allowing them to plan and execute projects of almost half of departments in their respective areas. The decision is likely to have a far-reaching impact on powers and functions of departmental ministers, district planning committees and panchayats. The panchayats will handle 29 departmental works, including power, irrigation, roads and education.

The decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting at Writers’ amidst stiff opposition from Left Front constituents like RSP and CPI. CPI and RSP ministers felt the role of ministers was being marginalised while that of the panchayats enhanced. This is especially since most panchayats are controlled by the CPM.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta defended the decision saying the 73rd and 74th Amendments have made it mandatory to vest more powers in the panchayats.

Nearly 50 per cent of West Bengal’s Plan funds are already being spent through panchayats. The Cabinet decision would help usher in more decentralisation. Now, the administrative relations between different departments, district planning committees and panchayats will have to be clearly defined. “It was easier said than done,” Mr Dasgupta said.

RSP and the CPI ministers were not convinced. They expressed fears of misutilisation of public funds, and a reduction in their role. “Who will answer the people if panchayats misuse funds?” asked PWD minister Kshiti Goswami, who belongs to the RSP.

Irrigation minister Debabrata Bandopadhyay also crossed swords with Mr Dasg-upta. Water resources minister Nandagopal Bhattacharya of CPI also opposed Mr Dasgupta, calling it “an unwise decision”.

The Front partners highlighted rampant misuse of Central funds for rural development schemes by panchayats, and warned of an escalation.    

Calcutta, Aug. 14 

The story of India’s Independence has practically been wiped out from the National Library. Readers and students carrying out research on events which led to Freedom will come across only yellowed, moth-eaten, brittle and illegible pieces of some newspapers at the library’s Esplanade East reading room.

To commemorate 50 years of Independence, National Library will hold a week-long exhibition, “15th August 1947: Momentous Events on that Particular Date”, starting August 19.

There is hectic activity in the microfilm, reprography and bibliography divisions, where the staff are trying to salvage whatever newspaper editions have survived. But it is a near-impossible task, as a number of editions have been damaged beyond repair.

New director Ramanuj Bhattacharya admits some newspapers of that time have turned “brittle as there is no arran-gement at Esplanade reading room for protection and preservation”.

Agreeing that previous administrative heads “ought to have” microfilmed all editions, Mr Bhattacharya said: “There was no previous project to preserve such priceless documents. It will now hopefully be done in the Ninth Plan.”

The Esplanade reading room has already dispatched about a dozen English newspapers in various stages of decay, to National Library’s bibliography division.

These newspapers cannot be accessed by ordinary readers since they need “more than careful handling”. Although the micro-film division was set up in 1969, little effort was made to preserve the papers. A library official says: ‘‘They are kept in such poor condition that readers will not like to have the dirt on their dresses”.

The library does not have a single edition of any Bengali newspaper describing the saga of Independence. Efforts are on to photocopy relevant portions, but till now it has proved a difficult, if not impossible, task. In several cases, old positives of prints from microfilm are being used, but they are in parts.    

Agartala, Aug. 14 

The Tripura government has put all security forces, including the police, on maximum alert to foil any possible attempt by militant groups to disrupt the golden jubilee celebrations of Independence tomorrow.

All police stations in the “disturbed” as well as in the interior areas have been asked to remain on round-the-clock vigil and extend full cooperation to the state administration in celebrating Independence Day. Besides, all other security forces, including the military and Assam Rifles, have also been asked to stand by to face any eventuality.

To ensure fool-proof security, the state government has imposed restrictions on entry into the local Assam Rifles ground where the main official function of Independence Day will be held. Only invited guests, mediapersons, officials and ministers will be allowed into the ground. No vehicle will be allowed to pass through the main gate after 9 am. Also, visitors will not be allowed to carry any bag, club or stick.

Deputy chief minister Baidyanath Majumder will hoist the national flag on the Assam Rifles ground as chief minister Dasarath Deb is ill and unable to participate in the function. The AIR and Agartala Doordarshan have been broadcasting the chief minister’s speech appealing to the people to defeat the conspiracy of militant groups as well as to participate in the Independence Day celebrations tomorrow in large numbers.

The extensive preparations by the government on security has been necessitated by the boycott call given by the banned All-Tripura Tiger Force and the National Liberation Front of Tripura militants. Since early last month, the Tiger Force rebels have been carrying on a propaganda asking people to boycott the golden jubilee celebrations of Independence Day. They have also threatened officers of the state administration in the interior areas to desist from hoisting the Tricolour.

However, Brig. B.S. Chowdhury of the Assam Rifles said he saw no reason to panic because of the boycott call given by the militants. Brig. Chowdhury, who has toured the interior areas of the state extensively during the past week said the forces were alert and there was no reason to give much importance to the insurgents.

But in spite of this, the government has sounded a red alert and home minister Samar Chowdhury is personally monitoring the situation. He was happy over the positive response from the people irrespective of political affiliations to foil the insurgents’ boycott call.    

Imphal, Aug.14 

The Manipur Cabinet, in an emergency meeting last evening, has resolved to protect the territorial integrity of the state at “any cost.’’ The Cabinet also sought clarification from the Prime Minister and the Union home minister on the issue.

The main Opposition party, the Manipur Peoples’ Party (MPP), has set Sunday as the deadline for the Centre to clarify its stand on the matter. MPP president O. Joy Singh, said his party would launch a non-cooperation movement if the Centre failed to issue a statement on the matter.

Hectic politicking started yesterday after a Calcutta-based English daily quoted the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) chairman, Isak Chisi Swu, as saying that the Centre had accepted in principle the need to unify the Naga-inhabited areas of the state under a single administrative unit.

The Cabinet took a serious view of the matter and Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir reportedly called up Manipur chief minister Rishang Keishing after the news item appeared. Mr Jamir expressed his displeasure over the report.

Mr Jamir also convened a Cabinet meeting at Kohima. However, the outcome of the meeting is awaited. A senior Cabinet minister today said that the state government had contacted the Union home ministry officials last night to elicit response on the matter. The home ministry termed the report as “false.’’

Mr Keishing sent a fax message to Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and home minister Indrajit Gupta after yesterday’s meeting. He expressed his desire to protect the territorial integrity of the state at any cost.

He urged the Prime Minister to clarify the Centre’s stand in this regard. “There is apprehension in the minds of the people and tension is mounting among different communities which may lead to a serious law and order problem in the state,’’ Mr Keishing warned.

Meanwhile the MPP has decided to launch its agitation from August 18. The first phase will be an indefinite hungerstrike by MPP leaders and the second phase will be the resignation by the party MLAs from the Assembly if the Centre did not spell out its stand on the issue. The party president said MPP will boycott the Independence Day celebrations if the Prime Minister did not make an announcement during the midnight session of Parliament tonight.    

Shillong, Aug. 14 

At least 15 persons were killed and 20 others injured when a bus skidded off the road and fell into a 50-foot gorge at Sohryngkham, about 30 km from here, around 4.30 am today. The police said not a single passenger escaped unhurt. The injured have been admitted to hospital.

The driver of the bus, Shatra Singh and his companion, Maiphu Singh, who escaped with serious injuries, said they lost control while trying to make way for a speeding truck.

The bus, belonging to the Kangleipak Tours and, Travels was coming from Imphal. Four of the victims were women.

Most of the luggage of the passengers are missing. Some of the bags and suitcases were found open. It is believed that local people had robbed the dead passengers. Sources said one of the passengers who regained consciousness at the local civil hospital was heard asking for his suitcase and waist band which contained Rs 30,000.    

Shillong, Aug. 14 

A group of 48 villages along the Assam-Meghalaya border has decided to boycott the Independence Day celebrations tomorrow.

The elders of these villages, situated in the sensitive Block I and II areas, said they had nothing to celebrate about as they had been “orphans” for the last 47 years. The Union government had failed to solve their problems, they said.

The people have been demanding since the late Fifties that their villages be included in Meghalaya as their population was contiguous with the Pnars of the Jaintia Hills. They had opposed the Assam government notification including the areas in the Karbi Anglong District Council. They allege that the Assam government had neglected them. These areas have no roads, schools, hospital, electricity or water supply.

Meanwhile, the militant Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council has called a 36-hour bandh from 6 am today. A press release issued by the outfit said today was its tenth foundation day and that it had rededicated itself to the “cause of freedom.”

However, the powerful Khasi-Jaintia Presbyterian Synod, one of the units of the Presbyterian Church of India, has said that the golden jubilee of Independence of “our beloved country is a most joyful and eventful occasion.”    

Imphal, Aug. 14 

Boycotts and bandhs have marked the run-up to the year-long golden jubilee celebrations of the country’s Independence. Several insurgent groups and students organisations have called for a boycott of the celebrations.

Though the state government has geared up its law enforcing agencies to tackle the situation, tomorrow’s celebrations are not likely to rise to great heights. Troops were seen patrolling the city today as people rushed back home at sundown. Late in the evening bomb blasts could be heard in Imphal town.

The venue for the celebrations has been shifted from the Imphal polo ground to the First Battalion Manipur Rifles’ ground due to security reasons and the ongoing rains.

Four militant outfits in the state, the United National Liberation Front, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, and the Kangleipak Communist Party, have called a 24-hour “public curfew” from this evening to protest against “48 years of Indian colonial rule.”

This followed an earlier declaration by the the United Liberation Front of Asom, the Karbi National Volunteers, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), the Tripura Democratic People’s Front, the UNLF and Prepak. They had earlier decided to boycott Independence Day celebrations to protest against “Indian domination of the Indo-Burma region.”

The Kuki National Front also called a 48-hour bandh from today in protest against the exclusion of many outfits in the ongoing talks between the Centre and the NSCN(Isak-Muivah).

The Revolutionary People’s Front has also urged the people to boycott the celebrations saying the people of Manipur had nothing to be happy about India’s Independence. The All-Manipur Students’ Union has also decided to boycott the celebrations in protest against the Centre’s “attitude” towards various problems.    


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