SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

Ex-secy of SIMI nabbed
Patna, March 11
In a major breakthrough, the Bihar Police around late night yesterday arrested former secretary of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India Hasib Raza alias Habi from Phulwarisharif near Patna. City SP Anwar Hussain said Raza was later sent to jail in connection with a criminal case lodged in 2001 against him.

Ex-dacoit on way to Parliament
Lucknow, March 11
After ruling the ravines of Chambal, playing herself in a feature film based on her life, the latest challenge that former dacoit Seema Parihar is taking up is to enter the Lok Sabha as the Indian Justice Party candidate from Mirzapur, a seat once occupied by another legendary queen of Chambal, Phoolan Devi.

Mamata calls it quits on Singur
Kolkata, March 11
Finding Singur a lost battleground, Mamata Banerjee has beat a retreat from the movement. She has blamed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for supporting Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee against the poor farmers whose farms land has been forcibly acquired for Tata Motors.



EARLIER STORIES


Madhya Pradesh tourism, sports and youth welfare minister and BJP candidate Yashodhara Raje Scindia is welcomed by party workers after she won the Gwalior Lok Sabha byelection in Gwalior
Madhya Pradesh tourism, sports and youth welfare minister and BJP candidate Yashodhara Raje Scindia is welcomed by party workers after she won the Gwalior Lok Sabha byelection in Gwalior on Sunday. State BJP president Narendra Singh Tomar (right) was also present on the occasion. — PTI

White tiger cubs play in a water pond in their enclosure at the National Zoological Garden in New Delhi
White tiger cubs play in a water pond in their enclosure at the National Zoological Garden in New Delhi on Sunday. — PTI

“Atal never intervened in Bofors probe”
New Delhi, March 11
Seeking to end the controversy over his remarks that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had asked him not to open the Bofors file, NDA convener and former defence minister George Fernandes today said he had been misquoted and the senior BJP leader had made the comments in a lighter vein.

News Analysis
Who’s afraid of Pakistan Chief Justice?
New Delhi, March 11

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has begun consolidating power before the general election, due this year-end. Removal of Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is yet another sign of this.

Don’t bend backwards on EU demand, liquor industry to govt
New Delhi, March 11

The Indian liquor industry has strongly opposed any move by the UPA government on slashing additional customs duties on whiskies and spirits under the European Union pressure through the WTO until level playing fields is provided between Indian and foreign liquor producers.

Nitish up in arms against Centre on BPL list
Patna, March 11
The ruling NDA in Bihar will not hesitate to take to the streets if the Centre fails to address its concerns regarding the anomalies on the BPL list depriving about 35 lakh poor people of the benefits of the scheme in the state.

Nitish to ensure fair deal to women
Patna, March 11
As the country observed Women’s Day with the resolve to ensure fair deal to fairer sex, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has worked out a plan to offer better toilet facilities for women across the state.

Nitish brings BJP, Apna Dal closer
Patna, March 11
The BJP has finally acknowledged the move by its central leadership to fight the forthcoming UP assembly polls along with the JD(U) and the Apna Dal. The development came close on the heels of the views expressed by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar favouring a respectable alliance among the BJP, the JD(U) and the Apna Dal to fight the UP polls.

JD(U), RJD men exchange blows
Patna, March 11
In a development that embarrassed Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, JD(U) and RJD workers today clashed and hurled chairs on one another during a function at Munger. Nitish was present on the dais to announce projects worth Rs 600 crore for the state's development.

25 per cent subsidy for setting up agriclinics
Chandigarh, March 11
In order to give a fresh lease of life to its much-publicised Agriclinics and Agribusiness Centre Scheme, the Union Ministry of Agriculture, in association with NABARD, has decided to give 25 per cent subsidy on the capital required for setting up agriclinics and agribusiness centres.

HRC seeks report on foreigner’s death
Hyderabad, March 11
The Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Commission has asked the superintendent of police, Anantapur, for a report on the mysterious death of a foreign national at Prashanti Nilayam, the headquarters of Satya Sai Baba.

Victim spreads awareness on AIDS
Patna, March 11
Lalita Devi, a victim of AIDS herself, is not an official attached to any AIDS awareness campaign. But over the years she has emerged as an icon in her area for single-handedly taking the campaign on AIDS right up to the most vulnerable section,the truck drivers, among others.

Yamuna water quality bad in spite of action plan
New Delhi, March 11
While the quality of water in the Yamuna in Delhi and parts of Uttar Pradesh had shown no desired improvement, the water quality of the river in Haryana was within prescribed limits, minister of state for environment and forests Namo Narain Meena informed the Rajya Sabha on Friday.

Fishermen forced to carry refugees
Rameswaram (TN), March 11
Three armed Sri Lankan boatmen allegedly forced a local fishing boat owner to transport 10 refugees from a point near Katchativu in the Palk Straits to Rameswaram today, the police said.

Congress wins Sidhi LS seat, BJP Gwalior
Sidhi (MP), March 11
Congress candidate Manik Singh today won the byelection to the Sidhi Lok Sabha constituency, defeating his nearest BJP rival Kunwar Singh by 1,586 votes, official sources said. Gwalior: BJP candidate Yashodhararaje Scindia has won the byelection to the Gwalior Lok Sabha seat by defeating her nearest Congress rival Ashok Singh by 35,771 votes, officials said.— PTI

Namdhari quits
Ranchi, March 11
JD-U MLA Inder Singh Namdhari tonight resigned from Jharkhand Assembly. He submitted his resignation letter to Speaker Alamgir Alam. Yesterday Namdhari had threatened to quit the party and Assembly if the JD-U candidate for the Palamau Lok Sabha byelection did not pull out from the fray in favour of alliance partner BJP’s candidate.— PTI



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Now electronic identification of elephants in Kerela.
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Ex-secy of SIMI nabbed
Tribune News Service

Patna, March 11
In a major breakthrough, the Bihar Police around late night yesterday arrested former secretary of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) Hasib Raza alias Habi from Phulwarisharif near Patna.

City SP Anwar Hussain said Raza was later sent to jail in connection with a criminal case lodged in 2001 against him. He had been evading arrest for several years.

Raza had reportedly been staying in Patna for the past six months and the police was now trying to find out his motive behind it.

This was not the first time a SIMI activist was arrested from Phulwaraisharif in Patna. Over 12 SIMI members, including its top functionaries,were arrested from here in the past 10 years.

Sources in the intelligence said as Mumbai was witness to the growing threats of global terror in India between 1993 and 2006, the underdeveloped Bihar too emerged as one of the major epicentres of such evil acts.

The arrest of the Dawood aide Fazl-ur-Rehman, alias Fazlu, from the Indo-Nepal border near Gorokhpur in eastern UP last year on his way to his hometown at Darbhanga in Bihar was a pointer to this apprehension.

Besides the arrest of the Bihar-born Fazlu, who was also reportedly linked to both Chhota Rajan gang and the notorious gangster of UP Babloo Shreevastav, the arrests of two prime suspects in connection with the 7/11 Mumbai serial blasts from Madhubani in Bihar on the Indo-Nepal border further bore testimony to this suspicion.

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Ex-dacoit on way to Parliament
Shahira Naim
Tribune News Service

Lucknow, March 11
After ruling the ravines of Chambal, playing herself in a feature film based on her life, the latest challenge that former dacoit Seema Parihar is taking up is to enter the Lok Sabha as the Indian Justice Party candidate from Mirzapur, a seat once occupied by another legendary queen of Chambal, Phoolan Devi.

The similarity doesn’t stop here. Like Phoolan Devi, she was kidnapped at the tender age of 13 by dacoits one Holi day and continued to live in the ravines for 18 years before surrendering in 2000.

Last November after joining Udit Raj’s Indian Justice Party (IJP) she had been appointed its national secretary. The decision to field her from Mirzapur was confirmed by IJP president Dr Udit Raj. The byelection for the Mirzapur parliamentary seat is on May 3 along with the sixth phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.

Her party under the Jan Morcha umbrella is about to finalize an alliance with the Congress and Rashtriya Lok Dal for the Assembly elections in the state to provide a viable alternative to the caste-based SP and BSP parties.

Despite the uncanny likeness between her life and that of Phoolan Devi, she had never met the original Bandit Queen, though she has heard about the movie made on her life. Phoolan Devi had successfully contested from the Mirzapur parliamentary constituency in 1996 and murdered on July 25, 2001 in front of her official residence in New Delhi.

Speaking to this reporter from Mirzapur where she had addressed several meetings today, Seema said if the people supported her to enter Parliament her first priority would be to work on employment generation of the region.

This area is endowed with natural resources. “I would like to work on projects which can use the local resources like stone quarries to generate employment for the people so that they have something to look forward to”.

Now only six criminal cases remain pending in the courts of Etawah, Auraiya and Jalaun which she hopes will not hamper her election campaign. “I have been appearing at every court date and fully cooperating with the legal process”, she informed.

Hailing from Bawain village in Auraiya she admitted that she had no “real connection” with Mirzapur except empathizing with the suffering of the people struggling against injustices just as she herself had suffered gravely.

Seema who has been the star campaigner for the IJP ever since she joined the party said she wanted to expose politicians harboring criminals.

In the 2004 general elections, Bahujan Samaj Party won the seat when its candidate Narendra Singh Kushwaha defeated Bharatiya Janata Party’s Virendra Singh.However, Kushwaha was one of the 11 MPs who had to resign after he was found guilty of accepting Rs 55,000 in the cash for question scandal in the Lok Sabha.

Interestingly the film “Wounded” based on the true story of Seema’s life in Chambal is at present running in several theatres in Uttar Pradesh. “It was released just last week in one theatre of Lucknow as well,” claimed Seema hoping that the film will make the public understand her better.

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Mamata calls it quits on Singur
Subhrangshu Gupta
Tribune News Service

Kolkata, March 11
Finding Singur a lost battleground, Mamata Banerjee has beat a retreat from the movement.

She has blamed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for supporting Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee against the poor farmers whose farms land has been forcibly acquired for Tata Motors.

Encouraged by his success step at Singur, the Chief Minister today declared at a CPI(M) kisan rally at the brigade parade ground that they would continue to implement the present industrialisation policy in a larger way for the larger interests of the state and farmers.

He told the gathering that before acquiring land for industries in the future, consensus of opinion would be adopted, involving all concerned.

The CPI(M) Kisan Samiti, which had been divided for long, formally endorsed the government policy of utilisation of farm land for industries at the rally today.

The government yesterday formally handed over 645 acres at Singur to Tata Motors on a lease term of 99 years when Ratan Tata announced his decision to invest an additional Rs 500 crore on the motor car project, making total investment of Rs 1,500 crore.

Several other Trinamool Congress leaders openly resented the Prime Minister issuing certificate to Bhattacharjee, acknowledging his industrialisation policy vis-ŕ-vis the utilisation of agricultural land for industries and the SEZ.

Manmohan had acted against the interests of the poor by deliberately supporting the CPI(M), only to be in power for a full five-year term, senior TMC leader Saugata Roy alleged.

Manmohan had no knowledge and experience about the conditions and the livelihood of farmers and accordingly, he had certified the Chief Minister’s land use policy for industries, Roy said.

He charged that encouraged by the Prime Minister’s certificate, Bhattacharjee had started bulldozing not only poor farmers and opposition parties, but some allies like the CPI, the Forward Bloc and the RSP on the SEZ issue.

State Congress leaders and workers supporting the farmers and the Krishi Bachao Committee were also visibly disturbed at the Prime Minister commending Bhattacharjee’s industrialisation policy at the cost of livelihood of poor villagers and farmers.

It was uncertain if union information minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who had launched an agitation against the state government on the issue, would continue to lead the movement.

Dasmunsi’s main lieutenants, including Subrata Mukherjee, Abdul Mannan and Sankar Singh, who had visited Singur and Nandigram more than once for lending their support to the farmers against the CPI(M), were now more active in mobilising support in favour of Dasmunsi’s candidature as WBPCC chief, the post now lying vacant following the resignation of Pranab Mukherjee.

But the Krishi Bachao Committee, Siddhekullah Chaudhury’s Jamet-e-Ulema, the SUCI, the CPI(M-L) and some other organisations, which had been agitating against the forcible acquisition of land for Tata Motors, Indonesia’s Salim group and other industrialists, decided to continue their stir.

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“Atal never intervened in Bofors probe”
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 11
Seeking to end the controversy over his remarks that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had asked him not to open the Bofors file, NDA convener and former defence minister George Fernandes today said he had been misquoted and the senior BJP leader had made the comments in a lighter vein.

Fernandes said Vajpayee was joking when he asked him not to touch the Rs 64-crore Bofors scandal file.

“You all know the way Vajpayee talks. He has a great sense of humour”, Fernandes said, adding that the former Prime Minister told him in a lighter vein not to lay hands on the file.

The former defence minister said he wanted to go through the file to see how the Bofors guns had performed in the 1999 Kargil war.

He said he was not probing the Bofors scam.

Fernandes denied being sidelined in the NDA.

He circulated a copy of a letter that he claimed was written to him by a Swedish police officer in charge of the probe into the alleged payment of kickbacks in the bofors gun deal.

He claimed that the officer was willing to share information in the matter with the CBI, but the agency had not contacted him even once in the past 20 years.

Fernandes was yesterday quoted as saying that when he was defence minister, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had asked him not to open the Bofors file for reasons not known to him.

The BJP had reacted to the remarks by saying that it was during Vajpayee’s tenure that legal proceedings had moved ahead in the Bofors case.

Yesterday’s remarks by Fernandes came at a time when the NDA was trying to corner the UPA over the delay in sharing information about the detention in Argentina of Ottavio Quattrocchi, a key accused in the Bofors case.

Fernandes, who had played roles of coordinator and trouble-shooter during the NDA government, had been losing hold within the Janata Dal (United).

Senior leaders of the JD(U), including Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, had been talking to the BJP leaders independently.

While Fernandes was seen to be growing closer to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish wanted the NDA to contest the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections as an alliance.

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News Analysis
Who’s afraid of Pakistan Chief Justice?
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 11
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has begun consolidating power before the general election, due this year-end.

Removal of Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is yet another sign of this.

It also demonstrates that General Musharraf’s iron grip on his nation’s polity has not loosened and he can change even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as he changes his corps commanders.

Suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is the fifth CJ to be changed in seven years under General Musharraf’s rule.

Among the five Chief Justices, he is the second after Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui to be forced out, though his tenure was to last till 2013.

Chaudhry could have played a spoilsport in President Musharraf’s bid to get re-elected by the current assemblies.

The CJ was increasingly beginning to assert himself, which was an obvious threat to General Musharraf.

Sample a few instances which highlight the assertiveness of the suspended Chaudhary.

On June 23, 2006, he blocked the sale of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) to a private consortium consisting of Tawairqi Steel Mills, Magni Togorsk Iron and Steel and Arif Habib Securities of Pakistan.

The PSM was scheduled to be handed over on May 29, 2006, at a total cost of Rs 21.68 billion.

In the PSM case, Chaudhry headed a large Bench and ruled that the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation (CCoP) grossly violated the law in the PSM sell-off.

Certainly, the government would not have liked this judgement because the Prime Minister headed the CCoP.

On December 15, 2006, the Supreme Court stopped the North-West Frontier Province Government from enacting the Hasba Bill, which was passed by the NWFP Assembly on July 14, 2005.

Earlier this year, a harsh encounter took place between Chaudhry and the inspector-general of Punjab, Maj (retd) Zia-ul-Hasan, during a hearing on increased crime in Punjab.

He reprimanded the IG for not controlling the increased crime rate in Punjab and consequently, the IG was removed from his post.

On January 23, 2007, he ordered the cancellation of allotment of thousands of acres in Gawadar to politicians, judges, generals and other officers of the armed forces under various schemes.

He took up the responsibility of the human rights cases under his suo motu jurisdiction.

A separate human rights cell was set up at the Supreme Court that received thousands of complaints from poor victims across the country.

By pursuing these cases, Chaudhry implicitly made a number of foes.

The entire police hierarchy, bureaucracy, politicians from the ruling as well as opposition parties, feudal lords and several incumbent rulers, directly or indirectly, came in the line of fire when Chaudhry either gave decisions against them or passed stern directions for them to comply with.

While pursuing the case of missing citizens, who were allegedly picked by the intelligence agencies, the judge fixed responsibility on the government and observed that it was the duty of the state to protect people’s lives and ensure their safety.

There were a lot of judicial officers, allegedly appointed by his predecessor, who were removed or sidelined by the CJ.

In the public interest cases, he also went off the government line and issued directions for the authorities to benefit the common man.

Chaudhry was sworn in as the Chief Justice of Pakistan on June 30, 2005, with his longest-ever service tenure of eight-years-and-a-half, till December 11, 2013. Such a long tenure certainly gave him a sense of protection and prompted him toward judicial activism.

Pakistani opposition parties went ballistic over the filing of the reference against the CJ and declared it to be a systematic conspiracy against the judiciary.

Popular cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan appealed to the nation to stand united against the dictator and his junta.

Exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party announced that the judiciary issue would be on top of the agenda of

the forthcoming All Parties Conference in London.

Chaudhry has become the first CJ of Pakistan to face a presidential reference on charges of misconduct and misuse of authority before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

Four judges of the superior judiciary had faced the SJC before: Justice Shaukat Ali, Justice Akhlaque, Justice Fazl-e-Ghani and Justice Safdar Shah.

While Justice Shaukat was found guilty and dismissed, Justice Akhlaque and Justice Ghani resigned and proceedings against Justice Shah remained inconclusive because he retired while proceedings were continuing.

The SJC consists of the acting Chief Justice of Pakistan, the next two senior most SC judges and two senior most Chief Justices of high courts.

The SJC stopped Ifitkhar Muhammad Chaudhry from functioning as the Chief Justice of Pakistan or as judge of the highest court of the country.

Immediately after the oath of the acting Chief Justice was taken, a formal meeting of the SJC was convened.

The council has invited Chaudhry to appear before it and defend himself on March 13.

The council further ordered that Chaudhry should not perform in the office of judge of the Supreme Court or as the Chief Justice of Pakistan until further notice.

The SJC issued the order unanimously, comprising the three judges of the Supreme Court, including the acting Chief Justice of Pakistan and two of the senior most chief justices of high courts, according to provisions of the constitution.

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Don’t bend backwards on EU demand, liquor industry to govt
S. Satyanarayanan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 11
The Indian liquor industry has strongly opposed any move by the UPA government on slashing additional customs duties on whiskies and spirits under the European Union (EU) pressure through the WTO until level playing fields is provided between Indian and foreign liquor producers.

They have also warned that any reduction in the additional duties on foreign wines and spirits will not only result in a lot of cheap whisky flooding the Indian market but also have an adverse impact on the state governments’ revenue as this industry generates close to Rs 30,000 crore for the government exchequer.

Besides, they also point out that the domestic industry also generates employment for over three lakh people, both directly and indirectly, and any move that impacts the survival of the domestic industry would prove detrimental.

The industry reaction is in the wake of union commerce minister Kamal Nath recently hinting at cutting import duties on wines and spirits.

“India wants to avoid having the matter go to the WTO’s dispute settlement body. I hope a solution can be found as the matter is being discussed at the highest level,” Nath had said after a meeting with EU agriculture commissioner Marianne Fischer Boel.

The EU, which has been mounting pressure on India to cut additional duties, considers that India’s measures over import of wine and spirits are inconsistent with regard to its obligations under the GATT, 1994.

The EU has accused India of practising discriminatory market access by the high duty levied on the import of wines and spirits. The additional custom duties were levied on top of high federal basic customs duties (of 150 per cent for spirits and 100 per cent for wines), raising the cumulative federal duty “burden” to between 177 per cent and 540 per cent (depending on the import price of the products).

In a letter to the government, the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ASSOCHAM) president Venugopal N. Dhoot has also urged the government not to yield to the pressure of overseas whisky and spirit manufacturers under protection from EU and reduce the tariffs. He also cautioned that the rationalisation of duty structure on imported whiskies and wines as sought by the EU would mean dumping of overseas liquor and wines into India, which was totally uncalled for.

He said the EU should provide a clear picture of the subsidies granted to their domestic producers and also remove the barriers on Indian spirit exporters before seeking reduction in additional customs duty.

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Nitish up in arms against Centre on BPL list
Tribune News Service

Patna, March 11
The ruling NDA in Bihar will not hesitate to take to the streets if the Centre fails to address its concerns regarding the anomalies on the BPL list depriving about 35 lakh poor people of the benefits of the scheme in the state.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was particularly critical with the inclusion of just 65 lakh families on the BPL list in the state due to the yardstick fixed by the Centre.

Nitish said if the standard 13 mark was modified to 16 by the Centre, 35 lakh more families could easily be counted for the BPL benefits."This will increase the total beneficiaries to 1 crore in Bihar", he claimed.

Nitish was up in arms against the UPA ministers from the state, both RJD and Congress, for doing injustice to the poor by not raising this issue on the proper forum. He regretted that despite being aware of the reality, they were silent on this issue.

Arguing that marks given to each family to avail the benefit on the BPL list should commensurate with their status, Nitish wanted a "standard of poverty" to be declared by the Centre.

Nitish already brought the matter to the notice of both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia."The Centre has noticed our views, but yet silent in addressing the problem", he said.

Meanwhile, the opposition RJD charged the NDA with discrepancies on the existing BPL list following inclusion of the names of some well-off families in place of the needy ones in some pockets. The RJD already submitted a memorandum on this issue to the Governor and stalled the proceedings of the ongoing budget session in the Assembly protesting against it.

Nitish, however, argued that whatever anomalies were still prevailing on the BPL list was due to the failure by the previous RJD government to upgrade the list.

The ruling NDA updated and corrected the BPL list twice last year and planned to repeat the exercise in future again.

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Nitish to ensure fair deal to women
Ambarish Dutta
Tribune News Service

Patna, March 11
As the country observed Women’s Day with the resolve to ensure fair deal to fairer sex, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has worked out a plan to offer better toilet facilities for women across the state.

The purpose of the move is to check the growing incidents of violence against them.

The recent findings on the profile of rape victims by the state home department indicate that almost 70 per cent of all rapes in Bihar occurred when girls and women, particularly in villages, head for the fields early in the morning or after sunset to relieve themselves.

While the police registered 1,083 rape cases in 2006, women were said to be hesitant to report rapes in view of the low conviction rates in the past.

According to police sources, following initiatives by Chief Minister, pro-active measures have now been taken to persuade the victims to overcome the social stigma attached to rape and report cases for justice.

Besides, the government has initiated measures to extend financial support to every deserving household to set up toilet at their homes. It is learnt that special budgetary provisions have been earmarked in the next fiscal to ensure better toilet coverage for women.

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Nitish brings BJP, Apna Dal closer
Ambarish Dutta
Tribune News Service

Patna, March 11
The BJP has finally acknowledged the move by its central leadership to fight the forthcoming UP assembly polls along with the JD(U) and the Apna Dal.

The development came close on the heels of the views expressed by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar favouring a respectable alliance among the BJP, the JD(U) and the Apna Dal to fight the UP polls.

National general secretary of the BJP Ravishankar Prasad said the party was seriously exploring the options to face the UP polls by expanding the ambit of the NDA. “This includes the Apna Dal, besides our tested ally, the JD(U),”he said.

The possible inclusion of the Apna Dal into the NDA thus can be viewed as a victory of Nitish against the wishes of NDA convener and former JD(U) chief George Fernandes, who opposed this new tie-up.

Nitish hoped that an alliance among the BJP, the JD(U) and the Apna Dal would benefit the NDA in UP in the wake of its recent victories in the Punjab and Uttarkhand polls.

Sources in the BJP disclosed that Nitish had personally spoken to BJP president and former UP Chief Minister Rajnath Singh on this issue.

Besides, Nitish was also persuading Apna Dal chief Sonelal Patel asking him to soften his stand towards the BJP.

Having a sizeable presence among Kurmis in eastern UP, the Apna Dal was being considered as a key partner by the JD(U) in its expansion plan in UP in view of the common caste considerations of the two parties.

Once close to the BJP, the Apna Dal had dissociated itself from it in the 2002 elections owing to differences on seat-sharing and other related issues. Subsequently, the Apna Dal had made inroads into the BJP vote bank and caused the latter’s defeat in a number of seats in 2002.

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JD(U), RJD men exchange blows
Tribune News Service

Patna, March 11
In a development that embarrassed Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, JD(U) and RJD workers today clashed and hurled chairs on one another during a function at Munger.

Nitish was present on the dais to announce projects worth Rs 600 crore for the state's development.

The violence began after RJD legislator from Tarapur and former state minister Shakuni Choudhary attacked Nitish in an unusual gesture for "ruining Bihar".

Shakuni was invited to the programme as “a courtesy” for representing the area as an MLA.

The unprovoked attack by Shakuni angered JD(U) workers, who started hurling chairs on RJD supporters.

Several people are reported to have suffered injuries in the clash. The police had to take recourse to lathicharge to disperse the fighting people.

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25 per cent subsidy for setting up agriclinics
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 11
In order to give a fresh lease of life to its much-publicised Agriclinics and Agribusiness Centre Scheme, the Union Ministry of Agriculture, in association with NABARD, has decided to give 25 per cent subsidy on the capital required for setting up agriclinics and agribusiness centres.

Highly placed sources informed TNS that the move to grant this capital subsidy has been prompted by the poor success of the scheme in many states, including Punjab.With the government now offering a capital subsidy at the rate of 25 per cent (on a loan of up to Rs 10 lakh), the scheme is expected to pick up across the country.

The scheme, launched three years ago, aims at providing business opportunity to agriculture graduates, besides providing consultancy and professional agri-extension services to farmers. Agriculturists, including sericulturists, veterinarians, agri-foresters, dairy and poultry farmers, are also provided training by the government to set up these centres.

The agriclinics provide farmers advise on crop selection, best farm practices, post-harvest value-added option, key agricultural information, including weather forecast, price trends, credit and input access etc.The agribusiness centres are meant to supply seeds and other agricultural inputs.

The scheme was initiated with banks being given separate targets for extending finance to agriculture graduates to set up these clinics and business centres.The agriculture graduates are not required to provide collateral for loans up to Rs 5 lakh, and no margin (100 per cent finance made available by bank) is required.

Though the scheme has failed to pick up in Punjab, Haryana has managed to show a remarkable success.Against 39 agriclinics and agribusiness centres that have come up in Punjab,220 such centres have been set up in Haryana.

The Ministry of Agriculture had set a target for opening at least 10 agriclinics in each district within a year. While Haryana has achieved this target and in some districts like Hisar managed to set up more than 10 agriclinics, the scheme is yet to pick up in Punjab, which not only is an agrarian economy, but has also hundreds of unemployed agricultural graduates.

Though officials in NABARD point out that the bankers are not willing to popularise the scheme because of the risk involved in advancing finance without a collateral,bankers say the already existing network of agriculture extension services set up by the Agriculture Department and Punjab Agricultural University were doing well and were providing these services free of cost.

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HRC seeks report on foreigner’s death
Ramesh Kandula
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, March 11
The Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Commission has asked the superintendent of police, Anantapur, for a report on the mysterious death of a foreign national at Prashanti Nilayam, the headquarters of Satya Sai Baba.

Commission chairman Justice Subhashan Reddy sought the report from the police following demands from several organisations for a probe into the incident.

Italian Lora Carlo (58) was found dead in his room on February 24 at Prashanti Nilayam at Puttaparthi. Carlo was believed to have died four days earlier.

According to ashram officials, Carlo had come to Puttaparti on January 26 for a darshan of Sai Baba. He had been staying in room number D8 in South Building; the construction of which he made a donation to.

Blaming the baba for the mysterious death of foreigner, the representatives of rationalist organisations said several cases of people found murdered in the ashram premises were hushed up without proper investigation.

Security officers broke open the door when a bad odour started emanating from the room. The body of Carlo, only wearing an underwear, was found at the entrance to the bathroom.

The police, who claimed not having found any internal or external injury on his body, said they were investigating if Carlo died of an electric shock or a heart attack.

Carlo's body was cremated without post-mortem or panchnama, which was against the required procedure, Veeranna of Jana Vignana Vedika and Innaiah from the Centre for Scientific Inquiry, said in their complaints.

The organisation of Sathya Sai boasts of an estimated 1,200 centres in 130 countries and millions of followers all around the world. Controversy dogged the spiritual guru for decades; the killing of four students by the police in the baba's bedroom in 1993 being the most infamous one. Critics maintain that the miracle man's proximity with powerful men in the country prevents proper investigation into such incidents.

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Victim spreads awareness on AIDS
Ambarish Dutta
Tribune News Service

Patna, March 11
Lalita Devi, a victim of AIDS herself, is not an official attached to any AIDS awareness campaign. But over the years she has emerged as an icon in her area for single-handedly taking the campaign on AIDS right up to the most vulnerable section,the truck drivers, among others.

In her 40s, the dreaded HIV virus has failed to cloud her fighting spirit. Once subjected to social ridicule, Lalita is now an inspiration for her die-hard spirit and relentless efforts to spread awareness on AIDS.

Lalita holds awareness sessions at a local dhaba in Nalanda. Her husband too succumbed to AIDS a year ago. Not a literate herself, she explains the causes behind AIDS like unprotected sex, using common needle for injections and transmission of contaminated blood.

According to offficials of the health department of Nalanda, Lalita spends her day on roadside dhabas, sticking posters and distributing condoms among truck drivers. She also goes to nearby villages to talk to families and spends time with other patients.

Official findings suggest that in Bihar’s rural hinterland nearly 35 per cent married men and 70 per cent women do not know about AIDS. In the urban areas there were nine per cent men who have never heard of it.

Sources in the Bihar AIDS Control Society say that more than 100 persons died of AIDS in the state since 2003 and 10,000 were affected.

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Yamuna water quality bad in spite of action plan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 11
While the quality of water in the Yamuna in Delhi and parts of Uttar Pradesh had shown no desired improvement, the water quality of the river in Haryana was within prescribed limits, minister of state for environment and forests Namo Narain Meena informed the Rajya Sabha on Friday.

A phenomenal increase of population and largescale extraction of water from the river for drinking and other purposes have had an adverse impact on quality of its water, he said.

The National River Conservation Directorate launched a two-phased Yamuna action plan at a cost of Rs 1,339 crore to control pollution in the river. An expenditure of Rs 686 crore has been incurred under both phases of the plan till November 30, last year.

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Fishermen forced to carry refugees

Rameswaram (TN), March 11
Three armed Sri Lankan boatmen allegedly forced a local fishing boat owner to transport 10 refugees from a point near Katchativu in the Palk Straits to Rameswaram today, the police said. The boat owned by Alphonse was incercepted by Sri Lankan men, who forced the refugees to board the boat and asked him at gun point to take them to Rameswaram, the police and fisheries department officials said.

Alphonse said his boat was intercepted by the men while he was fleeing after the Sri Lankan Navy fired at several Indian fishing boats.

After arriving here today, the refugees told officials that they had paid huge amounts to armed Sri Lankan boatmen for traveling to India.

The 10 Sri Lankan Tamils, including two children, were taken to the Mandapam transit camp.

Alphonse’s boat was among several Indian boats that were fired at by the Sri Lankan Navy yesterday, the officials said. — PTI

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