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N A T I O N

Scope of PIL widened on ‘tainted’ ministers
New Delhi, March 24
The Supreme Court in a significant move today broadened the scope of a writ petition on inclusion of chargesheeted MPs in the Union Ministry by brining state ministries in its ambit and referred the matter to a five-judge Constitution Bench to lay down the law.

BJP sees drama in Sonia’s resignation
New Delhi, March 24
Accusing Congress President Sonia Gandhi of trying to make “virtue out of compulsion”, the BJP dubbed her resignation from the Lok Sabha as “theatre of the absurd” and demanded immediate convening of a Parliament session to debate on the issue of ‘office of profit’ in detail.

Office of profit: EC flooded with petitions
New Delhi, March 24
Congress president and National Advisory Council (NAC) chairperson Sonia Gandhi could claim moral high ground by resigning from the Lok Sabha for allegedly holding an office of profit, but that would not deter the Election Commission (EC) from acting on complaints against her forwarded by President Abdul Kalam.




EARLIER STORIES

 
NSUI activists led by Delhi University Students Union President Ragni Nayak (right) and General Secretary Amrita Dhawan (centre) raise slogans in support of Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s decision to resign from the Lok Sabha and her post as Chairperson of the National Advisory Council outside 10 Janpath in New Delhi on Friday.
NSUI activists led by Delhi University Students Union President Ragni Nayak (right) and General Secretary Amrita Dhawan (centre) raise slogans in support of Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s decision to resign from the Lok Sabha and her post as Chairperson of the National Advisory Council outside 10 Janpath in New Delhi on Friday. — Tribune photo by Rajeev Tyagi

Resignation an attempt to fool nation, says Jaya
Chennai, March 24
AIADMK supremo Ms Jayalalithaa launched a blistering attack against Congress President Sonia Gandhi terming her resignation as a melodrama. “The grand melodrama of sacrifice has come unstuck and the attempt to fool the nation again will not work,” Ms Jayalalithaa said.

Advani, arms dealer framed me in Scorpene deal: Abhishek Verma
New Delhi, March 24
Saying he had nothing to do with the Scorpene submarine deal, businessman Abhishek Verma has broken his silence by alleging that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani was seeking to frame him with the backing of an international arms dealer.

PM may visit Pak in July
New Delhi, March 24
The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, is likely to embark on his maiden visit to Pakistan in July-end or August. But before that, the two neighbours are expected to engage themselves in an intense outreach diplomacy with one another.

Couple sells daughter for Rs 800
Bhubaneswar, March 24
A poverty-stricken couple in Orissa sold their eight-month-old daughter to another couple for Rs 800, according to media reports on Friday.

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Scope of PIL widened on ‘tainted’ ministers
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, March 24
The Supreme Court in a significant move today broadened the scope of a writ petition on inclusion of chargesheeted MPs in the Union Ministry by brining state ministries in its ambit and referred the matter to a five-judge Constitution Bench to lay down the law.

The court, which had issued notices to the Attorney-General and Election Commission on the petition earlier, issued notice to the Centre and all states through their Advocate-Generals, seeking their replies within four weeks.

Since there was no explicit provision in the Constitution whether persons facing serious charges like murder should be included in the ministry or not, a Bench of Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Mr Justice C.K. Thakker said this was an issue of utmost importance and the problem was of "vital magnitude" and needed to be examined.

The court, however deleted the name of the Prime Minister as respondent in the PIL, filed by Mr Manoj Narula and also four chargesheeted ministers—Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mohd Taslimuddin, M.A. Fatmi and Shibu Soren — from it, saying it was not the question of a particular person but involved a broader issue of defining the law.

Also directing the Centre and states to file affidavits and any other relevant material relating to any such appointments in the states, the court ordered listing of the matter for further direction after summer vacation.

As Additional Solicitor-General (ASG) Gopal Subramaniam raised the issue of general principle of law that a person was presumed as "innocent" until convicted by the court, the Chief Justice observed "I don't know how far this presumption goes. Would you appoint a person who is charged, as a Judge or Election Commissioner? You have to balance it in the context of good governance, directive principles (listed in the Constitution) and the spirit of the Constitution."

"Right to be appointed as minister is one thing and purity of system is another. It also involves the image of the country internationally. The theory of innocence has to be looked into by taking this also into account," the court said.

The petitioner had challenged the appointment of "tainted" MPs as ministers in the UPA government on the ground that it was clear violation of the "oath of office and secrecy" that persons chargesheeted for heinous crimes like murder, misappropriation of government money and under the Arms Act, were bestowed with the power of decision making in the government.

This was against the directive principles of state policy, which emphasised on good governance and purity in the democratic process, the PIL said, while urging the apex court to law down guidelines in this regard.

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BJP sees drama in Sonia’s resignation
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 24
Accusing Congress President Sonia Gandhi of trying to make “virtue out of compulsion”, the BJP dubbed her resignation from the Lok Sabha as “theatre of the absurd” and demanded immediate convening of a Parliament session to debate on the issue of ‘office of profit’ in detail.

“It was under compulsion that Ms Gandhi had to quit. Otherwise, she could have faced the Parliament or the Election Commission. When the self-engineered conspiracy seemed set to devour its own leader, her resignation under compulsion is being projected as another ‘sacrifice’,” BJP president Rajnath Singh told mediapersons after a meeting of the party’s top Central leaders, including Leader of the Opposition L. K Advani.

Faced with the possibility of fingers being pointed at BJP’s own legislators on the issue of office of profit, Mr Rajnath Singh declared that if any BJP MPs or MLAs are holding an office of profit, they would face the Election Commission inquiry or Parliament “if necessary”.

Significantly, the party took a u-turn today on whether it favoured a law on office of profit from retrospective effect. While, BJP General Secretary and former Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley had yesterday stated that the party was against any law from retrospective effect, the party president today maintained that the state Legislatures had the power to enact laws on their own.

Although the BJP president demanded immediate convening of Parliament session, he remained non-committal on whether or not his party would support any Bill on widening the scope of office of profit.

Stating that there is no political morality at any stage in the bizarre developments that have led to the present situation, the BJP chief said “the post of Chairperson NAC is not only an office of profit but is also an appointment that wields supreme power sans accountability”.

Mr Advani said the resignation of Ms Gandhi was “not a sacrifice but a compulsion, not morality but drama”.

“Someone has rightly said ‘tyag nahin majboori hai, naitikta nahin nautanki hai (It’s not sacrifice but a compulsion, not morality but drama)’”, he told mediapersons after the party office-bearers’ meeting.

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Office of profit: EC flooded with petitions
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 24
Congress president and National Advisory Council (NAC) chairperson Sonia Gandhi could claim moral high ground by resigning from the Lok Sabha for allegedly holding an office of profit, but that would not deter the Election Commission (EC) from acting on complaints against her forwarded by President Abdul Kalam.

The poll panel has received petitions seeking disqualification of Ms Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and nine other Left party MPs from West Bengal for holding offices of profit.

Chief Election Commissioner B.B. Tandon said petitions have also been received against Rajya Sabha members — Karan Singh, T Subbirami Reddy and Kapila Vatsyayanan (all Congress); Lok Sabha member— Chandrapal Singh Yadav (SP), Anuradha Choudhary (RLD).

Mr Tandon said the commission had received a reference from President Kalam, filed by the Trinamool Congress against the Left party MPs. These include besides Somnath Chatterjee, Mohd Salim, Hannan Mollah, Lakshman Seth, Amitava Nandi, Tarit Baran Topdar, Bansa Gopal Chowdhury, Sujan Chakravarti and Sudhansu Sil (all Lok Sabha) and Nilotpal Basu (Rajya Sabha).

Since the petitions lacked requisite information like the period from when they were holding the office of profit and whether they occupied it prior to their elections or after that, the commission has decided to send a notice to them seeking relevant information by April 17.

Mr Tandon said if the period pertained to post-election, the commission would come into the picture. Otherwise the petitioners should approach the courts, he said.

The CEC said the commission today received a reference from the Jharkhand Governor seeking disqualification of four MLAs -- Khiru Mahato, Karia Munda, Chatrulal Ram Mahato and Saryu Rai.

He clarified that the poll panel would act on only those complaints forwarded by the President or state Governors.

The EC recommendations based on its findings would be binding on the President and the Governor under Article 102 of the Constitution, as had happened in the case of Ms Jaya Bachchan, who was disqualified by President Kalam.

MR Tandon said the commission has not received any reference from President Kalam against Mr Navin Chawla, who is under attack for his alleged links with the Congress party.

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Resignation an attempt to fool nation, says Jaya

Chennai, March 24
AIADMK supremo Ms Jayalalithaa launched a blistering attack against Congress President Sonia Gandhi terming her resignation as a melodrama. “The grand melodrama of sacrifice has come unstuck and the attempt to fool the nation again will not work,” Ms Jayalalithaa said.

“The recent panicky knee-jerk reaction is yet another bid to protect her position. The act of vindictiveness against Jaya Bachchan has resulted in Sonia Gandhi being hoisted with her own petard,” the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister said.

The Left wasn’t spared from Jayalalithaa’s anger either. She demanded the resignation of all Left MPs since they were “holding offices of profit.” — TNS

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Advani, arms dealer framed me in Scorpene deal: Abhishek Verma
Murali Krishnan

New Delhi, March 24
Saying he had nothing to do with the Scorpene submarine deal, businessman Abhishek Verma has broken his silence by alleging that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani was seeking to frame him with the backing of an international arms dealer.

Speaking for the first time since the corruption scandal erupted naming him as the middleman, the Delhi-based businessman said he was being "nailed" by Advani and Suresh Nanda, who is working with HDW, the German submarine manufacturer.

"I have nothing to do with the (Scorpene) submarine deal. BJP leader L.K. Advani is trying to drag me into this cooked up controversy and he is being assisted as well as funded by Suresh Nanda, an international arms dealer who is working with HDW," Verma, who is alleged to have received kickbacks, told IANS in an exclusive interview.

He said he was not involved either in the Rs.187.98 billion ($4.2 billion) Scorpene submarine deal, which the government facing charges of corruption strenuously defended in parliament, or in the war-room leak of the Naval Directorate last year.

In October last year, India, after four years of negotiations, signed one of its biggest ever arms purchase deals to procure six Scorpene submarines from the French company Thales.

Introducing a new dimension to the ongoing controversy involving the submarine deal, Verma maintained that Nanda had not only funded Advani but also masterminded the effort to link him in the defence deal so that the multibillion dollar contract could either be put on hold or be renegotiated.

"Remember, Nanda was negotiating for the HDW submarine deal that did not come through. Now, he is using the BJP to raise corruption charges on the submarine deal after media reports," said Verma, who heads Atlas Interactive, a telecom solutions company.

According to Verma, Nanda was being assisted by a cartel that included a Supreme Court lawyer close to spiritual guru Chandraswami and a disgraced former Enforcement Directorate official.

Suresh Nanda, when contacted by IANS, dismissed the allegations. "These are ridiculous charges. I am very busy now and in Austria for business." Verma said the alleged e-mail to him from Thales' top honcho Jean-Paul Perrier ---- published in the weekly newsmagazine Outlook - promising a 4 per cent commission for the Scorpene deal was a "forgery".

"The e-mail is a complete forgery. You think commissions are confirmed on e-mails. Please credit me with more intelligence! I have already sued Outlook, which first published these fabricated e-mails. I have initiated criminal legal proceedings against all the three NDA (National Democratic Alliance) leaders -- Advani, (George) Fernandes and Jaswant Singh -- who held a press conference and distributed these fictional e-mails to the media," he said.

In an expansive mood, Verma also denied involvement with the navy war room leaks that led to the dismissal of three senior naval officers.

"Sure, I know Ravi Shankaran, the relative of the naval chief Arun Prakash.

But like I keep insisting I have no official dealings with him. I don't know anything about his business." "Just because photographs are published that does not mean I am at fault. — IANS

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PM may visit Pak in July
Rajeev Sharma

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 24
The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, is likely to embark on his maiden visit to Pakistan in July-end or August. But before that, the two neighbours are expected to engage themselves in an intense outreach diplomacy with one another.

The expected icing on the cake of Dr Manmohan Singh’s proposed Pakistan visit would be the signing of a treaty of peace, security and friendship between the two nations which the Prime Minister offered in Amritsar today.

The “step-by-step” approach for improving Indo-Pak relations, as advocated by Mr Singh at Amritsar today, may have the following templates.

One, the Government of India will intensify its dialogue process with all Kashmiri political parties and entities — mainstream as well as separatists.

Two, steps are afoot to organise a meeting between Pakistan occupied Kashmir Prime Minister Sikander Hayat Khan and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. The meeting would focus on greater interaction between the people and governments on either side of the Line of Control (LoC). It is in this context that Dr Manmohan Singh’s following remark in Amritsar should be seen: "I have often said that borders cannot be redrawn, but we can work towards making them irrelevant —towards making them just lines on a map. People on both sides of the LoC should be able to move more freely and trade with one another. "

Three, Baglihar Dam controversy is going to come under a renewed focus of diplomatic activities — back-channel and official — and the World Bank may well make efforts to bring about a rapprochement between India and Pakistan on the issue.

Four, two more disputes between India and Pakistan — Siachen and Sir Creek — would inch towards their final resolution in the coming months.

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Couple sells daughter for Rs 800

Bhubaneswar, March 24
A poverty-stricken couple in Orissa sold their eight-month-old daughter to another couple for Rs 800, according to media reports on Friday.

The incident took place in the western district of Deogarh on March 16. It came to light only after some Congress activists staged demonstration in front of the office of the District Collector on Thursday protesting the child sale, reported Oriya daily The Samaja.

Mr Bijay Badara, a resident of Badabahal village, and his wife Kanaka, used to earn their livelihood as daily wage earners. After the birth of a girl, Kanaka developed illness and could not support her husband. On March 16, Kanaka was admitted to the district headquarters hospital.

When she and her husband could not meet the treatment expenses, they decided to sell the child. — IANS

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