April 3, 2009

Morcha-BJP poll nexus: Jaswant for Darjeeling seat

KOLKATA,03 April 2009: PLAYING THE Congress against the BJP, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has come up winners, roping in BJP heavyweight Jaswant Singh for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, having extracted a promise that the saffron brigade would consider the issue of a separate state of Gorkhaland sympathetically.

The Morcha brass had been after both national parties hammer and tongs for weeks, lobbying in New Delhi for all it was worth. It had held out the bait that it would support the candidate of either the Congress or the BJP depending on which party supported its statehood demand in the party manifesto. Given, that now the Morcha’s writ runs in the hills of Darjeeling, it is in a position to call the electoral shots. It has promised support to the BJP’s candidates in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar in North Bengal as well, which is home to a large number of Nepali speaking people. Again Jaswant Singh being a former Indian Army officer is likely to garner support from Gorkha soldiers and former servicemen. The BJP, which is not much of a political force in West Bengal, is likely to increase its presence in the state, especially in North Bengal with the help of the Morcha.

The Morcha has also promised support to saffron candidates in Northeast India, particularly Assam which has large sections of Nepali speaking voters. In fact Gurung was in Assam mobilizing support before he flew to New Delhi and met BJP Prime Ministerial candidate LK Advani at his residence to seal the ‘Jaswant deal’. Gurung was said to have insisted that the BJP field a real heavyweight. This was obviously to ensure that the BJP does not go back on its assurance of considering the statehood demand sympathetically in the event of its coming to power at the Centre. The Morcha on its part has spared no effort to woo the BJP, aware that the party is in favour of smaller states as it has reaped dividends from the formation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand.

The Morcha president Gurung was said to be “satisfied” with the assurance from the BJP brass that it would “pursue” the Gorkhaland cause, media reports said. The Morcha also tried to impress upon the BJP leadership that it could influence the poll outcome in at least 10 seats in the country.

For the last one and-a- half months, the Morcha has been pitting the Congress against the BJP. It met leaders including Advani at a dinner party and broached the subject of support, should the BJP support its cause. Not getting adequate response at that juncture, it then approached the AICC member in-charge of West Bengal Keshav Rao, offering to support the Congress candidate in return for some sort of assurance to the statehood demand.
But the hill leaders increasingly began to realize that the Congress would not play ball. In fact the External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee made it clear some time ago in the foothill town of Siliguri in North Bengal that there was no question of dividing Bengal. The BJP then sat up and began to wonder how to mention the Gorkhaland issue in its manifesto without making a commitment and get the Morcha’s support. It has now decided to consider the demand “with sympathy”. For both the Morcha and the BJP it has worked out to be a rather cosy arrangement as of now.

The BJP had announced its candidate for the Darjeeling seat, in former IPS officer Dawa Sherpa but he has not filed his nomination yet.

Gorkha Janamukti Morcha to be part of NDA

New Delhi : The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) will be a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and support Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Jaswant Singh for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat in West Bengal. Announcing this while releasing the BJP poll manifesto here on Friday, the party's prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani said the decision was reached after discussions with top GJM leaders.

GJM president Bimal Gurung and general secretary Roshan Giri have been camping in Delhi for the last two days, to hold discussions with the BJP. The GJM is spearheading an agitation for a separate state to be formed out of Darjeeling and the foothills of the Himalayas that are now a part of West Bengal.

BJP president Rajnath Singh announced earlier at the same venue that Jaswant Singh - now the party's leader in the Rajya Sabha - will be the party's candidate from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat. With the support of the GJM, he is expected to be a shoo-in.

Left Front in WB sees conspiracy to defeat it in LS polls

Kolkata (PTI): The ruling Left Front in West Bengal on Thursday alleged that a "conspiracy" was afoot by various forces including the US to defeat the coalition in the Lok Sabha elections. Left Front chairman Biman Basu referred to the book by former US ambassador to the country, Patrick Moinyhan, on how his country had played a role in toppling the E M S Namboodripad government in Kerala in 1957 and the United Front government in West Bengal in 1970.

"I warn leftist supporters and partymen that these forces are again working for the defeat of left candidates," Mr. Basu told a press conference here. "Imperialism, Congress, BJP and Trinamool Congress have jointly made the Left Front government the target of their attack," Mr. Basu said, while releasing a booklet containing a joint appeal by Left Front constituents to the voters in the state.

It said Left Front's return to power for 7th consecutive time with a massive mandate and its strident opposition to the "anti-people" polices of the Congress-led UPA government had made "reactionary" forces within and outside the country "desperate". He charged that with their support, the Trinamool Congress which had allied with the Congress for the Lok Sabha poll was working against the Left Front government.

West Bengal banks providing loans to SHGs

KOLKATA: Banks operating in West Bengal have provided a fresh loan of Rs 175.5 crore to local self help groups (SHG), taking the total outstanding SHG loan to Rs 726 crore till February 2009. Yet, on an average basis, banks offered merely Rs 26,286 per group as loan, which is significantly lower than the national average of Rs 65,000 a group. Banks’ average lending to SHGs in the state have grown by a modest Rs 2,000 from last year.
National Bank of Agriculture & Rural Development chief general manager P. Mohanaiah attributed this smaller size of loans largely to banks’ indifference to SHG development in the state. "In states like Andhra Pradesh, banks’ average lending to SHG is around Rs 1 lakh." Under Nabard’s SHG-bank linkage programme, nearly 60,000 groups have been formed in West Bengal during 2008-09. This is, however, a provisional data. Banks are yet to furnish the latest annual data to Nabard. Of these new groups, nearly 47,600 received financing support from banks. Cumulatively, a whopping 4.13 lakh groups exist in the state and 2.76 lakh groups received bank credit. "In 2009-10, we intend to focus more on micro-financing activities. This area needs renewed focus as the momentum seems to be losing steam,"
Mr Mohanaiah said here on Thursday as he announced Nabard’s future annual plan for the state. According to the executive, focus would also be given in creating 1,000 new farmers’ clubs which act as catalysts between banks and villagers. In 2008-09, 351 such clubs has been formed taking the total tally to 2,081. During the period under review, Nabard’s refinanced investment credit for agri development, worth Rs 522 crore, surpassed its annual target of Rs 485 crore. It disbursed production credit of around Rs 350 crore.
Mr Mohanaiah informed that West Bengal is expected to get Rs 1,500 crore of financial assistance under the Centre’s Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) in 2009-01, if the Centre okays the state’s proposal to include rural electrification projects under the ambit of RIDF. The state has sought loans worth Rs 300 crore for rural electrification. In 2008-09, Nabard sanctioned projects worth Rs 801 crore under RIDF, surpassing the normative allocation of Rs 761 crore. ends

Alternative policies to tackle economic slowdown: Left

Kolkata: The Third Front should try formulating alternative economic policies to deal with the economic slowdown if it came to power at the centre, West Bengal's ruling Left Front chairman Biman Basu said here on Thursday.

"The economic condition of the country is affected due to the slowdown. We have to try to establish a third front at the centre, which should try to formulate alternative economic policies to overcome this slowdown," Mr. Basu told a press conference. "We have to find a solution to the economic crisis," he said underlining the Third Front's thrust area.

Facing a tough challenge in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls from the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance, Bose asked the left cadres to apologise to the people if they (cadres) commit any mistake. "If there are any mistakes, then apologise for these," he said. Mr. Basu alleged a conspiracy was on to divide the state and said that the Left Front will not allow it to be successful.

Prisoners should be allowed to vote: WB Govt

Kolkata (PTI): The West Bengal government has forwarded a proposal to the Election Commission that prisoners be allowed to vote during polls. A draft rule to the West Bengal Correctional Services Act empowering prisoners to cast votes has been forwarded to Election Commission.

"The proposal has been sent by IG (Prisons). We are looking at how it can be worked out in the state. A lot of work needs to be done," Jail minister Biswanath Chowdhury said. Convicts and undertrials are debarred by the Representation of People's Act 1951 from exercising their franchise. "According to the Act undertrials or convicts are disallowed to vote, but if they are out on bail or those in preventive detention are allowed to do so," Inspector General of Prisons, B D Sharma told PTI.

Sharma, giving an example, said that a murder accused on bail would be able to vote, while those who could not arrange for bail would be deprived of the right as they were behind bars. "This is unfortunate and the Act demands amendment. I have been fighting for it from a long time," Sharma said, adding that even prisoners in Bangladesh were allowed to vote, besides in all developed nations.

April 9 date for FAW team visit

KOLKATA: The Nano dream is buried. But hope still flickers in Singur. With Tata Motors pulling out of Bengal, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is gearing up for a meeting with a delegation from the Chinese automobile major, First Automobile Works (FAW). The team will arrive in the city on April 9.
The five-member FAW delegation's visit to the city is actually a follow-up exercise. In November last year, a team of company officials met the chief minister. FAW has already signed an agreement with Ural India, an Indo-Russian joint venture company, in which the WBIDC has 11% stake. Last week, state commerce and industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen had been to the FAW car factory in China and inspected the truck assembly line. Sen also held talks with FAW officials over their investment opportunities in Bengal, particularly in the small car, bus and truck segment.
The proposed small car (with engine capacity of 700 cc to 800 cc) would cost between Rs 1.6 lakh and 2 lakh. On Thursday, Ural India's chairman J K Saraf will meet the chief minister to do the groundwork for the proposed meet with FAW top brass. FAW officials are likely to visit the abandoned Nano compound in Singur next week. The CM does not want to miss the opportunity this time. In fact, the commerce and industries secretary is likely to submit a detailed report on the FAW assembly line so that the government can explore the possibility of setting up such a facility in Singur.
For, the FAW team is not interested in alternative sites at Kharagpur and Kalyani. The official said that FAW was also keen on setting up a plant in Haldia, close to the Ural factory, which is now manufacturing trucks and other heavy vehicles for the army and police, along with dumpers. Ural director Aniruddh Kanoi, who had been to China to meet FAW officials, said they are willing to go for truck, bus and small car factories in Bengal. "If the plot is big enough, bus, truck and small car can be produced from the same place."
The company has already had similar offers from other states, including Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Haryana. "The proposed support from the end of the Bengal government can only help us to decide the destination," Kanoi said. FAW is ready to invest Rs 1,500 crore for their auto factory.

Mamata among the ten worst performing MPs

Kolkata: Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee's zealous anti-acquisition drive might have given her some browniepoints, but her poor record as an MP is nullifying those gains.

From a recent survey conducted by PRS Legislative Research on the legislative performance of the Lok Sabha members within and outside Parliament, findings reveal that Mamata Banerjee belongs right at the bottom of the heap -- among the ten worst performing MPs.

Not only has Mamata performed dismally as MP, she has not used the money allotted as part of the Member of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD)to improve public services in her constituency, the survey shows.

Of the 332 working days in parliament, she was present on 56 days. Moreover, she wasn't present a single day the sixth, ninth and 15th sessions of Parliament. As regards the use of MPLAD funds, Mamata ranks last among all the 42 Lok Sabha members from West Bengal, a report by the Centre. In terms of the percentage use, she fares badly both at the state and central levels.

Scope for Tata Motors to return to Singur

KOLKATA: There may be a possibility of the Tatas using the Singur facility later, if local objections can be resolved through dialogue, West Bengal Industry Secretary Sabyasachi Sen has said.

“We have lost the chance of being the first production unit of Nano. However, there may be a possibility of Singur also later, if local objections can be resolved through dialogue because ultimately Tata Motors may go for more than one production unit in India. But the decision rests with Tata Motors,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Sen made these comments in Malaysia where he is on a trip to promote the State as an investment destination. He said several automobile companies there were keen to enter India.
“We told them that the government will provide support to any investment decision and West Bengal has good potential for the small car segment.”

However, even as Mr. Sen was renewing the State government’s efforts to attract industrial investment, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee thundered at a meeting which was being held jointly with her new-found ally, the Congress.

She said an investigation should be launched to find out how the State government was proposing to bring in another company on a plot of land which had already been leased out (the lease with the Tatas still exist).

Praharaj appointed as Chairman of LA standing committee on Commerce & Industries

KOLKATA: West Bengal Legislative Assembly speaker Hasim Abdul Halim on Wednesday appointed CPI(M) MLA Srutinath Praharaj as chairman of the Assembly standing committee on commerce and industry. " Mr Praharaj will function as chairman of the said standing committee till July," Mr Halim told reporters.
The standing committee on commerce and industry is being touted as among the most important legislative panels in West Bengal. Previously, Sudip Banerjee, Congress MLA, was chairman of the standing committee. But recently, Mr Halim expelled him under anti-defection laws after the leader of the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) Manas Bhunia lodged an official complaint with Halim against Banerjee. Sudip was expelled after he rejoined Trinamool Congress despite being elected to the state Assembly from the Bowbazar assembly seat during 2006 polls on a Congress ticket.
Naturally, Halim on Wednesday, filled up the vacant post of the standing committee chairman by nominating Praharaj. Congress, however, demanded that the post be given to it as the standing committee was headed by a Congress MLA. "I urged the Speaker to appoint our MLA from Katwa, Rabindranath Chatterjee as the chairman of the standing committee. But the speaker told me that he could not do so as Chatterjee is not a member of the said standing committee," CLP leader Manas Bhunia said on Wednesday. "But we strongly oppose the Speaker’s decision and want him to appoint some of our MLAs as the chairman of the committee," Bhunia mentioned.
Trinamool Congress, however, described the Speaker’s actions as "politically motivated and unethical." The opposition leader and Trinamool Congress MLA, Partha Chatterjee said on Wednesday that "the way the speaker has appointed a CPI(M) MLA who has not completed a full five year term in the state Assembly clearly shows his political bias." "We strongly opposed the Speaker’s decision of appointing the CPI(M) MLA as the standing committee chairman. The monsoon session of the House will begin on June 15 and the speaker could wait till that time before appointing the chairman of the standing committee. His act has hurt the democratic values and we are sorry to say that by appointing the ruling party MLA, the speaker has shown his loyalty to the CPI(M)," said Mr Chatterjee.
Praharaj won the Uttarpara assembly seat during 2006 Assembly election on a CPI(M) ticket. Chatterjee also said that "Praharaj was elected chairman only because he belongs to Hooghly district where Singur is located."