SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI



THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

India new haven for fashion drugs?
New Delhi, February 22
India is gradually becoming a major “source market” for synthetic drugs and other pharmaceutical preparations besides being a key “transit point” for traditional narcotics like heroin, top officials have said.

Alert after speedboats vanish off Mumbai coast
Mumbai, February 22
The Mumbai police, the Coast Guard and Indian Navy were on alert on Sunday after fishermen reported sighting two apparently mysterious speedboats off the coast near here, an official said.
Policemen inspect luggage at Borivali railway station after an alert was sounded in Mumbai on Sunday. Policemen inspect luggage at Borivali railway station after an alert was sounded in Mumbai on Sunday. — PTI



EARLIER STORIES

26/11 Probe
FBI grills Ansari, Sabbauddin
New Delhi, February 22
As officials of the FBI wind up the probe into the 26/11 strikes, the US agency has questioned Fahim Arshad Ansari, arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police last year, and confronted him with the lone surviving terrorist of the Mumbai attacks, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman Kasab.

26/11: Chargesheet soon
Mumbai, February 22
The chargesheet in the November 26 Mumbai terror strikes, which claimed over 180 lives during the three-day long siege, is likely to be filed in 2-3 days with the city police giving final touches to it.

Trinamool-Cong unity stumbles over verbal spat
Kolkata, February 22
Fresh uncertainty arose over the pre-poll alliance between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal after leaders of the two parties engaged in a verbal spat today.

Seat Sharing
Congress to start talks after Feb 26
New Delhi, February 22
The Congress will start the seat-sharing talks with allies for the upcoming general elections after February 26, when the curtains for the 14th Lok Sabha will be drawn.

BJP fields Rahul’s ex-confidant from UP
New Delhi, February 22
BJP has managed a coup of sorts by announcing candidature of Rahul Gandhi’s former confidante and IIM postgraduate from a Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh. The saffron party recently announced that Ranjan Kumar will fight on its ticket for the Mohanlalganj (SC) constituency seat located adjacent to Rae Bareli.

Ulema council to contest LS poll
Lucknow, February 22
The Ulema Council yesterday revealed its political ambitions by declaring historian-journalist Amaresh Misra as its Lok Sabha candidate from Lucknow for the forthcoming election.

Karunanidhi threatens to go on fast
Chennai, February 22
Piqued by the violent clashes in the Madras High Court on February 19 and subsequent agitation by lawyers, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi today said he would go on a fast from his hospital bed if an “amicable solution” was not found on the issue.

Kalam’s global varsity dream nearing reality: Sen
Patna, February 22
Former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s dream to set up a fully residential global university near the ruins of ancient Nalanda university in Bihar is now closer to reality. Nobel laureate and chairman of the mentor group of the proposed Nalanda International University (NIU) Amartya Sen, who was on a two-day visit here, stated this while talking to mediapersons.

Meltdown: Army officers rethink on exit
New Delhi, February 22
The economic slump has a silver lining for the officer-strapped Indian Army. Officers planning to seek premature retirement are having second thoughts and those who had applied have begun withdrawing their applications.

Two more Indian films in Oscar race
New Delhi, February 22
“Slumdog Millionaire” might be grabbing all the attention with 10 Oscar nominations, but it is not the only Indian connection at the coveted awards ceremony. For, unnoticed documentary films based in India like “Smile Pinki” and “The Final Inch” are also in the Oscars race this year.

Muthalik to sue ‘pink chaddi’ campaigners
Udupi (Karnataka), February 22
Irked by ‘pink chaddi’ campaign against him following his threat to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations, Sri Ram Sene leader Pramod Muthalik has said he would soon sue the rights activists behind it.

SC: Bail in bailable offence accused’s right
New Delhi, February 22
The Supreme Court has ruled that a person accused of a bailable offence is automatically entitled to be released on bail after furnishing the required surety or bond and such a right does not depend on the discretion of the court or the police officer.

Modi: Rahul is like aquarium fish
Panaji/New Delhi, February 22
The war of words between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress escalated today with the BJP leader in a veiled reference to Rahul Gandhi likening him to a “small aquarium fish” unlike leaders in the saffron party who are like “ocean fish” who can weather big storms.

Metro Corridor
Pranab, Buddhadeb lay stone
Kolkata, February 22
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today shared the same dais in laying the foundation stone of the Rs 4,874.58 crore Kolkata East-West Metro corridor project.

Suicides going on despite debt waiver
New Delhi, February 22
The Centre may claim that farm suicides were reported only from Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Gujarat in 2008-09, but what worries experts is the fact that these incidents are from districts where the much-publicised debt-waiver scheme was implemented.

Chauhan models ‘padyatra’ on Dandi March
Bhopal, February 22
It was perhaps keeping with the BJP’s new-found love for Mahatma Gandhi that Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan began his “Nyaya Yatra” (March for Justice) today by picking up a piece of coal from the Pathakheda coal mines in the Singruali district of the state, something similar to Gandhi’s Dandi March.

CPI to contest 8 seats in UP
New Delhi, February 22
The CPI that has not sent a single MP from Uttar Pradesh to the Lok Sabha for nearly 20 years, will be contesting eight seats in the state in the next general elections.

Nepotism set to become key poll issue in AP
Hyderabad, February 22
As elections draw closer, leaders of major political parties in Andhra Pradesh are turning to their family members to boost their prospects.

VHP writes to 13 Muslim bodies
Asks them to issue fatwa to build Ram temple
New Delhi, February 22
The VHP has written to 13 Muslim organsations of Ulema, including All India Milli Council, to issue a fatwa for the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya.

11-yr-old held for minor’s murder
Jaipur, February 22
An 11-year-old boy was arrested yesterday for the unintentional murder of a four-year-old boy in Sikar town, which observed a bandh on Friday over the incident.

Four held with 5 kg heroin
Mumbai, February 22
The Anti Narcotics Cell (ANC) of the city police claimed to have busted an inter-state drug peddlers gang by arresting four persons with 5 kg heroin at Nagpada in south Mumbai.

Snake poison worth Rs 84 lakh seized
Udupi, February 22
The police seized one litre of snake poison worth about Rs 84 lakh and arrested three persons in this connection here last night. The police said the accused Nijamuddin, Ravindra and Prakash were nabbed while they were trying to sell the poison.





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India new haven for fashion drugs?

New Delhi, February 22
India is gradually becoming a major “source market” for synthetic drugs and other pharmaceutical preparations besides being a key “transit point” for traditional narcotics like heroin, top officials have said.

“We have reports that there are some meth labs which have come up in the last two-three years in North, West and East India and manufacture synthetic drugs or those which are more popularly known as fashion drugs. We have busted almost six such labs in the last two years,” a senior official of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) said.

In November last year, the NCB had busted an international drug racket run by a Canadian of Chinese origin after it raided a factory in Sawli village, 30 km from Vadodara (Gujarat), from where 30 kg of highly pure synthetic drug ‘Methamphetamine’, a base of rave drug “Ice”, was recovered.

The unit had a fully functional laboratory, which was used to manufacture the drug. After that it was being sent to Philippines which is a transit point for onward distribution in American and European countries.

The annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board released recently too point out how the lacunae in the system were working in favour of drug cartels. Pharmaceutical preparations like pethidine and codeine-based cough syrups are increasingly being smuggled out to neighbouring countries, the UN body had said.

It said the diversion of pharma products like ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and morephedrine for production of amphetamine -type stimulants (ATS) was a “matter of concern” in India as it is world’s third largest producer of such chemicals.

“Till recently, India was only a transit point for heroin which use to come in from western borders, which was usually Afghan heroin. The cartels keep trying new places and methods and it seems that now they have set their eyes here to manufacture synthetic drugs. It does not take too much capital and equipment to set up a lab for such products,” a senior official of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence said.

Also a worrying factor for anti-narcotics officials are the Internet pharmacies because of which the NCB has started scouting the net and keeping close watch on smaller call centres to keep a tab on any rackets that may involve them. — PTI

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Alert after speedboats vanish off Mumbai coast

Mumbai, February 22
The Mumbai police, the Coast Guard and Indian Navy were on alert on Sunday after fishermen reported sighting two apparently mysterious speedboats off the coast near here, an official said.

The Coast Guard's ships and an aircraft were searching the Arabian Sea coast off Mumbai to trace out the two mysterious speedboats, the Coast Guard official said in the evening.

“The boats were sighted by some fishermen around 10 nautical miles of the Satpati coast (110 km north of Mumbai). They immediately informed us and we in turn alerted the authorities concerned in Mumbai,” Shashikant Mahavarkar, DSP, Vasai (Division) in Thane, said.

The police immediately placed roadblocks on all the coastal towns in Thane district, and launched strict checking at all large and small ports, jetties and other landing points dotting the northern Konkan region, and sounded a general alert for suspicious persons, he added.

The matter assumed seriousness owing to the strategic location of Satpati, which is among the largest fishing villages in the Palghar sub-district of Thane.

In close proximity is Tarapur where four nuclear power plants are located and a power generation plant is located in the nearby Dahanu, around 110 km north of Mumbai.

The Coast Guard official said the agencies concerned were in a state of high alert in the entire Konkan coastal region following the reports of the mystery speedboats. "Even the Sagar Suraksha Dal has been kept on alert," he said.

Authorities are not taking any chances as the 10 terrorists who struck Mumbai had come by the Arabian Sea route from Pakistan and landed in south Mumbai.

Last month, the government deployed a fleet of high-speed patrol boats to guard the coastal regions of the state in an effort to prevent terror attacks. — IANS

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26/11 Probe
FBI grills Ansari, Sabbauddin

New Delhi, February 22
As officials of the FBI wind up the probe into the 26/11 strikes, the US agency has questioned Fahim Arshad Ansari, arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police last year, and confronted him with the lone surviving terrorist of the Mumbai attacks, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman Kasab.

The FBI agents, accompanied by central security agencies, quizzed Ansari and another Lashker militant Sabbauddin for several hours before winding up their Indian chapter of investigations and planning their next stage of probe in Pakistan, official sources said.

The FBI had made the request through proper channels for questioning Ansari and Sabbauddin, militants of the banned Lashker-e-Toiba, who were brought to Mumbai in December last year as a follow-up to the probe into the 26/11 attacks, the sources said.

During the questioning, 35-year-old Ansari, a resident of Navi Mumbai, allegedly told his interrogators about his training in Pakistan, including the 21-day ‘Daura Aam’ (ordinary tour) for basic combat course which was followed by a rigorous three-month advanced ‘Daura Khaas’ (special tour) and later by ‘Daura-e-Ribat’ (intelligence course). Ansari was also believed to have been identified by Kasab as the person who had been tasked by Lashker operative Muzammil, a Pakistani national wanted in connection with the 26/11, of providing details of important places in Mumbai, the sources said, adding that the two were confronted during the questioning.

Ansari reportedly told his interrogators that Muzammil showed him Google Earth satellite maps of Mumbai and asked him to investigate the perimeter security at key locations, including government buildings, office of the Director-General of Police, Bombay Stock Exchange, airports, office of Reliance Energy, Haji Ali shrine and Taj Mahal and Oberoi Hotels.

The interrogators were also reportedly told by Ansari that he had learned guerrilla warfare techniques as well as use of maps, compasses and global positioning systems.

Giving details about his return from Pakistan after the training, Ansari said he was provided a fake Indian driving license and a Pakistani passport and he returned to India via Nepal. Ansari had also allegedly said after registering himself as a computer student in one of the institutes near the Mumbai Stock Exchange, he used to spend time in photographing and mapping the targets he had been shown, among them, the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus and the Taj Mahal Hotel.— PTI

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26/11: Chargesheet soon

Mumbai, February 22
The chargesheet in the November 26 Mumbai terror strikes, which claimed over 180 lives during the three-day long siege, is likely to be filed in 2-3 days with the city police giving final touches to it.

“Final touches are being given to the chargesheet and will be filed within two to three days before the Magistrate,” special public prosecutor Ujwal Nikam said.

The chargesheet will be filed before a Metropolitan Magistrate, who will then transfer the case to the special court constituted inside the high security Arthur Road Jail.

Kasab will face charges ranging from murder, attempt to murder and theft to waging war against the country, official sources said.

Apart from the nine terrorists killed in the stand-off with security forces, the chargesheet may also name Yosuf Muzzamil and Zaki-ur-Rehman, both Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) members, who allegedly handled the operation from Pakistan.

Their names, if it figures, will be against column two of the chargesheet (those who could not be brought for trial) which will enable the police to seek a non-bailable warrant against them and subsequently an Interpol Red Corner Notice. — PTI

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Trinamool-Cong unity stumbles over verbal spat

Kolkata, February 22
Fresh uncertainty arose over the pre-poll alliance between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal after leaders of the two parties engaged in a verbal spat today.

Trinamool leader Partha Chatterjee today strongly objected to West Bengal Congress president Pranab Mukherjee’s indirect reprimand of party chairperson Mamata Banerjee for opposing development projects of the state government.

“In a country like ours, there are many roadblocks in the way towards development. Funds or technology, for example. But nothing is more sad than anyone putting up self-created obstacles,” Mukherjee said at the foundation stone-laying ceremony of East-West Metro Project at Salt lake.

Mukherjee’s comment came just two days after he denied Mamata’s charge that he was close to the CPI-M by becoming involved in development projects in the state.

Mukherjee said the projects were taken in the overall interest of the state and for the welfare of the people.

“If this cannot be kept above politics and thorns are strewn on the road to development, it will only hurt the feet and not serve any other purpose,” he said in the ceremony.

Mukherjee expressed gratitude to the state government for inviting him to the foundation stone-laying ceremony.

Without naming him, Chatterjee alleged Mukherjee was “always available to the CPI-M, but not accessible to the people of Bengal”.

He also said that Mukherjee was “nowhere” when Mamata Banerjee was fighting for the people of Nandigram, Singur and Lalgarh. He also did not come forward to open closed industries in Bengal, Chatterjee said.

The Trinamool leader said that they did not attend the foundation-laying ceremony of the East-West Metro Corridor project at Salt Lake though invited because “it was the CPI-M’s political stunt of laying foundation stones prior to Lok Sabha elections”.

Chatterjee, however, said party chief Mamata Banerjee, would decide the party’s future stand vis-a-vis the Congress.

Mamata herself chose not to comment on today’s development. — PTI

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Seat Sharing
Congress to start talks after Feb 26

New Delhi, February 22
The Congress will start the seat-sharing talks with allies for the upcoming general elections after February 26, when the curtains for the 14th Lok Sabha will be drawn.

“We want to start talks with allies at a time when there will be no pressure on us in Parliament,” a senior Congress leader said. The talks will be carried out by concerned AICC general secretaries, PCC chiefs and other senior party leaders, party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said.

The party’s decision not to go for a national alliance and instead go for state specific tie-ups has not gone well with some of its allies and supporting parties which have been drawing up counter strategies.

RJD supremo Lalu Prasad’s assertion that the Left parties are “permanent friends” and “natural allies” is the latest example of a non-Congress party in the UPA reaching out to secular parties.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar has said in the changed scenario, his party has the options open to tie up with outfits other than the BJP. — PTI

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BJP fields Rahul’s ex-confidant from UP

New Delhi, February 22
BJP has managed a coup of sorts by announcing candidature of Rahul Gandhi’s former confidante and IIM postgraduate from a Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh. The saffron party recently announced that Ranjan Kumar will fight on its ticket for the Mohanlalganj (SC) constituency seat located adjacent to Rae Bareli.

Kumar, who started his political career with Congress in May 2004 after working abroad, claims to have nursed Amethi and Rae Bareli constituencies for Rahul while being associated with the party. “I had accompanied my sister Reena Choudhary (a two-term Samajwadi Party MP from Mohanlalganj who was with Congress in 2004) to a program and met Congress leader Jairam Ramesh there. He asked me to join the party,” Kumar told PTI. Kumar worked with Ramesh and then UP Congress chief Salman Kursheed. “Later I worked for the team that looked after Rae Bareli and Amethi constituencies,” he said.

Kumar, a Pasi by caste, did his postgraduation from IIM-Lucknow. He worked for the Power Grid Corporation and then for ANZ Bank in Melbourne. On the reasons for quitting the Rahul brigade, Kumar said, “For five years, Congress did nothing but criticise the Samajwadi Party and then the BSP. And in UP all the focus was on Amethi and Rae Bareli and nothing else.” However, Congress maintained that Kumar’s impatience and his rising ambitions led him away from the party.

“One problem with some of these youngsters is that they want many things and very fast. Only those who are ideologically stable, work for the party and wait for their turn,” UPCC chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi told PTI.

Joshi said Kumar wanted to contest the 2007 assembly polls on a Congress ticket from Bachhrawan constituency in Rae Bareli district. He was denied the ticket. “Maybe, he felt that since his sister was in Congress, he could carved a place for himself but left when he couldn’t,” she said. — Agencies

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Ulema council to contest LS poll
Tribune News Service

Lucknow, February 22
The Ulema Council yesterday revealed its political ambitions by declaring historian-journalist Amaresh Misra as its Lok Sabha candidate from Lucknow for the forthcoming election.

After presenting their case in New Delhi, the Ulema Council on Friday took to the streets of Lucknow to bring the attention to the victimisation of Azamgarh district in the name of combating terrorism.

Arriving amidst tight security at the Charbagh railway station in two trainloads from Azamagarh yesterday morning, the clerics and youth from the district gathered at the historic Teele Wali Masjid near Bara Imambara on Friday afternoon.

Calling upon the people to unite to fight the terrorism against Azamgarh district the well-attended public rally was addressed by a galaxy of Muslim Ulemas as well as Swami Hari Dayal Mishra, a mahant from Ayodhya.

The Ulema Council has been demanding probes by the CBI and the judiciary into the Batla House encounter.

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Karunanidhi threatens to go on fast

Chennai, February 22
Piqued by the violent clashes in the Madras High Court on February 19 and subsequent agitation by lawyers, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi today said he would go on a fast from his hospital bed if an “amicable solution” was not found on the issue.

In a statement here he said the police and lawyers should erase the “bitterness” that had emerged between them following the clashes.

Karunanidhi alleged that there were some forces that were trying to deepen the differences between the police and lawyers and expressed concern that such forces were only trying to disrupt the law and order maintained in the state.

Lawyers and police officials should not fall prey to those forces that are trying to complicate the crisis, he said.

Referring to Supreme Court Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and other judges’ request on creating an amicable situation between lawyers and the police, Karunanidhi alleged there was some forces that were making the lawyers continue their agitation.

“Both police and lawyers should ignore small number of persons attempting to instigate lawyers and they should join hands to help the democratic rules. Let bygones be bygones, whatever is going to happen should be for the good and for that we should all sit and discuss,” said Karunanidhi.

However, he warned that if the lawyers and the police did not heed his appeal for unity, he would go on a fast from his hospital bed.

“Whether I need to go on fast is based on the decision you take,” he said, and added that the date of the fast would be announced later. — PTI

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Kalam’s global varsity dream nearing reality: Sen
Sanjay Singh
Tribune News Service

Patna, February 22
Former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s dream to set up a fully residential global university near the ruins of ancient Nalanda university in Bihar is now closer to reality. Nobel laureate and chairman of the mentor group of the proposed Nalanda International University (NIU) Amartya Sen, who was on a two-day visit here, stated this while talking to mediapersons.

The 12-member group visited the site of the proposed NIU near Rajgir for the first time and they were very much impressed by its scenic beauty. Bihar’s Principal Secretary of Human Resources Development department Anjani Singh was accompanying the mentor group during its Tour. Singh informed the team that the state government had already acquired 486 acres of land for starting the NIU and it was in the process of acquiring additional 500 acres of land for the project.

It was the fifth meeting of the group. Earlier, the group had held such meetings at Singapore, Tokyo and other places. Sen said that the NIU will have all the characteristics of the ancient university. He also informed about the decision of the mentor group to add a school of Information Science and Technology to the six proposed faculties of Peace , History, International Relationship, Language and Literature, Development and Management and Ecology and Environment. He further informed that the mentor group will submit a concrete proposal for the NIU at the next summit of south-east Asian countries which, in turn , will send the same to the Government of India for further action. The Govt. of India would bring a bill in the Parliament to recognise the international character of NIU, Sen added.

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Meltdown: Army officers rethink on exit

New Delhi, February 22
The economic slump has a silver lining for the officer-strapped Indian Army. Officers planning to seek premature retirement are having second thoughts and those who had applied have begun withdrawing their applications.

In comparison to the situation some months ago, when many Army officers were leaving the force for greener pastures in the corporate world, now one official is withdrawing his application for premature retirement every third day, according to Army sources.

“In the past six months, 65 officers have withdrawn their applications for premature retirement,” a senior Army official said on anonymity.

The Army's sanctioned strength is 46,615 officers, but it faces a shortage of 11,238 officers. The problem got aggravated as about 3,000 officers sought premature retirement in the last three years, with most moving to the lucrative corporate sector.

Now, the Indian Army is hoping the financial crisis would help in restoring the balance and bring in many more to the armed forces that is facing a shortage of middle-rung officers.

"In 2004, 430 officers applied for premature retirement. Of these, only 290 were accepted. In 2007, the number increased to a staggering 1,260," the official said.

Nearly 1,200 applications were also received last year. According to army officials, the number would have crossed 1,500 had the officers not been waiting for the Sixth Pay Commission.

"The trend started reversing after September 2008. As the global economy was hit by recession and the private companies started laying off employees, the Army personnel who were planning to join telecom, aviation and management firms started doing a re-think," the official said. "Since then no application seeking premature retirement has been received and every third day one officer is withdrawing his application," the official said.

According to Indian Air Force (IAF) sources, no application has been received for premature retirement since October. Last year more than 280 IAF officials had applied for retirement. The exodus of officers from the Indian Navy has also stopped.

The trend of defence personnel seeking premature retirement was on the rise with the Army receiving 535 applications in 2005, 810 in 2006, and 1,265 in 2007. The defence ministry's approval depends on the need of the armed forces. The Army approved the voluntary retirement of 365 officers in 2005, 464 in 2006 and 608 in 2007.

Speaking ahead of the Army Day (January 16), Army chief General Deepak Kapoor had hoped that the recession might result in more youngsters opting for the armed forces as career.

"With the recession in the civilian side, the demand for a career in the Army in the service of the nation may go up. Besides, we are taking a series of steps so that people do not leave the Army and more numbers join it," Kapoor had said.

The Army chief had said that the Sixth Pay Commission, which raised salaries for all government employees, including those in the armed forces, has also helped in bringing down the number of officers seeking premature retirement. — IANS

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Two more Indian films in Oscar race
Rashi Agarwal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 22
“Slumdog Millionaire” might be grabbing all the attention with 10 Oscar nominations, but it is not the only Indian connection at the coveted awards ceremony. For, unnoticed documentary films based in India like “Smile Pinki” and “The Final Inch” are also in the Oscars race this year.

All the three films have one thing in common: they all show the impecunious section of the Indian society, something that is not new for India.

Notably, Satyajit Ray, a veteran filmmaker of the country who set landmark for the Bollywood, too, had worked in the same direction and was criticised for selling poverty of India to win awards outside.

While “Slumdog Millionaire” is a film based on the journey of a Mumbai-based slumdweller from rags-to-riches, another Oscar nominee, “The Final Inch” (by American documentary-makers Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant), deals with battle against polio, a disease that is being ignored worldwide.

The film is about health workers travelling throughout Uttar Pradesh, urging parents to vaccinate their children against polio. The documentary revolves around the fact that in spite of a good polio campaign, India still hasn’t been able to eradicate polio. The film has been nominated for Best Documentary (Short Film) Feature at the 2009 Academy Awards. But if seen otherwise, it has highlighted the life of a small-town man (the lead protagonist) whose life has been a struggle.

“Smile Pinki”, ‘a real world fairytale’ as the film subhead says, is a 39-minute film by Megan Mylan. It shows how Pinky, a poor six-year-old girl from a small village in Mirzapur district, who was an outcast in her village because of her cleft lip, got her smile back after a team of medico-social workers corrected her deformity through surgery.

However, the good news is that this year three Indian child actors, Azharuddin and Rubina of “Slumdog Millionaire” and Pinki of “Smile Pinki” would mark their presence in the Oscars.

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Muthalik to sue ‘pink chaddi’ campaigners

Udupi (Karnataka), February 22
Irked by ‘pink chaddi’ campaign against him following his threat to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations, Sri Ram Sene leader Pramod Muthalik has said he would soon sue the rights activists behind it.

Terming the action of protesters as a “perverted act,” Muthalik told reporters here that a 25-member advocates team comprising women has been formed to file defamation cases against the senders of “ panties parcel.”

Rights activists across the country had dispatched “pink chaddi” consignments to Muthalik at his Hubli headquarters on February 14, when the right wing Sene leader was cooling his heels in a Gulbarga jail following his arrest. In all, the Sene chief received 1,500 pink panties.

Muthalik claimed that the outfit’s tirade against pub culture and Valentine’s Day has brought it into focus. Demands have been to open Sene’s branches outside Karnataka, he said.

Muthalik, whose men by attacking women at a Mangalore pub on January 24 had sparked nationwide protests, said yesterday that the Sene would not take law into its hands and peacefully protest against pub culture.

Muthalik also said he would write to the state government to take action against illegal pubs. Hitting out at the state government for filing criminal cases against him in connection with the “pub attack,” he said, “Out of the 54 cases filed against me, courts have acquitted me in 41 cases. I will be acquitted in the remaining cases also.”

After facing heat on pub attack issue and the threats to disrupt Valentine’s Day, the Sene has now set its eyes on ‘Datta Peeta’ in Bababudanagiri shrine in Chikmagalur district where Hindus and Muslims worship.

Muthalik said an executive meeting of the Sene, scheduled at Belgaum today, would set a date for “karseva” at Datta Peeta, where Sangh Parivar outfits have been demanding pooja rights to Hindus.

Various issues including the Sene strategy towards pub culture would be decided, he said. — PTI

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SC: Bail in bailable offence accused’s right

New Delhi, February 22
The Supreme Court has ruled that a person accused of a bailable offence is automatically entitled to be released on bail after furnishing the required surety or bond and such a right does not depend on the discretion of the court or the police officer.

“As soon as it appears that the accused person is prepared to give bail, the police officer or the court before whom he offers to give bail, is bound to release him on such terms as to bail, as may appear to the officer or the court to be reasonable,” a bench of Justices RV Raveendran and JM Panchal observed.

In other words, those booked under IPC Sections like 304 A (causing death due to rash and negligent act) accidents, 309 (attempt to commit suicide), 330 (voluntarily causing hurt to extort confession), 332 (causing hurt to public servant with a view to deter him/her from carrying out official duties), 500 (criminal defamation) etc, are now entitled to automatic bail benefits.

The apex court passed the direction, while setting aside a Madhya Pradesh High Court order cancelling the bail of Rasiklal in a defamation case.

The bench, however, said a high court has the inherent power to cancel the bail of an accused who “forfeits his right to be released on bail if his conduct subsequent to his release is found to be prejudicial to a fair trial.” — PTI

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Modi: Rahul is like aquarium fish

Panaji/New Delhi, February 22
The war of words between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress escalated today with the BJP leader in a veiled reference to Rahul Gandhi likening him to a “small aquarium fish” unlike leaders in the saffron party who are like “ocean fish” who can weather big storms.

The Congress quickly reacted sharply to Modi's fish remarks targeting the scion of the Gandhi-Nehru family in the intense debate on experience versus youth issue ahead of general elections saying he was like a "piranha, which devoured human beings." "If Rahul is like a fish in the aquarium, then Modi is a piranha, which devoured human beings," Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said in New Delhi.

The remarks of Modi poking fun at Gandhi while addressing a rally at Margao, 40 km from here, came on a day when the 38-year-old AICC general secretary began his two-day Gujarat tour, his third visit to the state in the last 20 days, Modi said youths in the Congress are incapable of taking on challenges while the BJP’s youth wing can handle any hostile weather.

"We are not small fish floating in the comfort of aquariums but we weather huge storms to win," Modi said in an apparent referenc to Gandhi, who is being projected as a youth icon for the coming elections.

In a veiled attack again at Gandhi, Modi said, "we are not flowers cultivated by gardeners of the rich, we have grown up in the forests of our own." — PTI

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Metro Corridor
Pranab, Buddhadeb lay stone
Subhrangshu Gupta
Tribune News service

Kolkata, February 22
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today shared the same dais in laying the foundation stone of the Rs 4,874.58 crore Kolkata East-West Metro corridor project.

The 14.67-km long metro rail will run between Salt Lake and Howrah en route the EM bypass, Fulbagan, Sealdah, Central Avenue, BBD Bag and Howrah station, of which 8.9 km will be underground and the remaining 5.77 km on the surface.

From BBD Bag to Howrah, about one-km stretch, the train will pass through the specially built underground tunnel down below the Ganges.

The project, which will take five years to complete, will be implemented with the technological assistance of Japan in which both the Centre and the state government will have financial partnership.

Speaking at the function held at the Salt Lake’s Central Park today morning, both the External Affairs Minister and Bhattacharjee asked all the political parties to remain apolitical and instead get themselves united on the question of developments of the state.

Mukherjee said he did not think that the new project, when completed, would belong to any particular party or any individual. Since the project was in the interest of the state and its people, he thought it was his right decision to be present and he expressed his gratitude to the Chief Minister for inviting him to attend the function.

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Suicides going on despite debt waiver
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 22
The Centre may claim that farm suicides were reported only from Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Gujarat in 2008-09, but what worries experts is the fact that these incidents are from districts where the much-publicised debt-waiver scheme was implemented.

In reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, the Ministry of Agriculture on Friday went on explaining how measures being taken by the government, including implementation of debt-waiver scheme for farmers in the 2008-09 budget package, were benefitting the farm sector in the country.

However, experts say despite the multi-crore-relief package offered by the state and Centre to help crisis-hit cotton growers in Vidharbha, cases of farm suicides have continued.

Reason: The aid failed to reach the target group. Some independent surveys peg the figure of farmers who have committed suicide during 2008 in the Vidharbha region at 1,246, a sharp contrast to official data of 573 till September 2008.

The agriculture ministry also said that as per the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), the number of farm suicides has come down to 16,632 in 2007 from 18,241 in 2004. In all, it clarifies that situation is getting better. However, the fact is that while the Interim Budget presented by the UPA government may have shown a rosy picture of the rural India, the situation appears to be contrary. The NCRB data also shows that 1,82,936 farmers committed suicide between 1997-2007 in the country due to crop failure, debt, drought and other social and economic insecurities.

The number of suicides was particularly high in states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. However, the figures from relatively more prosperous states like Haryana, Punjab and Delhi are a telling tale of farmers’ struggle there.

Official data reveals that between 1997-2007, 1,884 self-employed farmers committed suicide in Haryana. The numbers for Punjab and Delhi were 784 and 188, respectively.

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Chauhan models ‘padyatra’ on Dandi March
Amrish Herdenia
Tribune News Service

Bhopal, February 22
It was perhaps keeping with the BJP’s new-found love for Mahatma Gandhi that Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan began his “Nyaya Yatra” (March for Justice) today by picking up a piece of coal from the Pathakheda coal mines in the Singruali district of the state, something similar to Gandhi’s Dandi March.

“Our coal belongs to us. And we will take it any cost,” the Chief Minister declared at a public meeting at Sarni, before starting his 7- km “padyatra” to the coal mines. The “Nyaya Yatra” will see the Chief Minister trudging on foot for five days to draw people’s attention to the “injustice” being done to the state by the Central government.

The state government’s case is that it is being forced to spend more than Rs 300 crore every day on purchasing electricity while its thermal power plants are running on low capacity, owing to shortage of coal. Against the installed capacity of 5000 MWs, the hydel power plants were producing only 320 MWs owing to the rain gods playing truant this year.

“Less than 23 per cent of the coal production from the coal mines in the state is being given to us,” the Chief Minister said, alleging that it was a deliberate design on the part of the Centre to “vilify the BJP government in the eyes of the common man”.

Some, however, see in the Chief Minister’s padyatra not a quest for justice but for votes. Madhya Pradesh is in the throes of a severe power crisis with power supply going on the blink in rural areas for up to 12 hours a day.

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CPI to contest 8 seats in UP
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 22
The CPI that has not sent a single MP from Uttar Pradesh to the Lok Sabha for nearly 20 years, will be contesting eight seats in the state in the next general elections.

CPI general secretary AB Bardhan stated this after concluding the two-day meet of his party’s national executive here today. The national executive, he said, had decided to contest a total of 50 seats in different states of the country, including eight in UP.

The party announced its candidates for 40 seats. The 10 remaining seats it proposes to contest will be announced after finalisation of negotiations with its Left Front allies in West Bengal and Kerala as well as its new comrades, the AIADMK, in Tamil Nadu and TDP in Andhra Pradesh, said Bardhan.

After a long time, the CPI had created a record by winning 10 seats in the 2004 general elections when, as a member of the Left Front, it contested in several parts of the country as a tacit ally of the Congress-led coalition later christened as the UPA. It had then contested 37 seats, the CPI general secretary disclosed today in reply to a specific question.

He said, “Our effort is not just to maintain the number of seats we won last time but to improve upon our tally.”

The CPI leader explained, “We discussed electoral strategy. Our objective is to form a non-Congress, non-BJP government at the Centre after the elections.”

He conceded though that there was no chance of securing any seat adjustment with Mayawati’s BSP in UP, but reiterated the Left’s understanding with her. The CPI leader also dismissed as media speculation reports of Mayawati, Jayalalitha and JD-S chief HD Deve Gowda having any secret parleys with the Congress.

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Nepotism set to become key poll issue in AP
Suresh Dharur
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, February 22
As elections draw closer, leaders of major political parties in Andhra Pradesh are turning to their family members to boost their prospects.

From devising electoral strategies to selection of candidates, kin of the leaders are playing a key role in the party affairs.

No wonder then that charges of nepotism and favoritism are set to become key campaign issues affecting all major parties as they gear up for the simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and Assembly in April-May.

Providing a glimpse of the bitter battle ahead, the four-party opposition alliance, led by TDP, is targeting the alleged ‘illegal business activities’ of Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy’s son Y S Jaganmohan Reddy.

The allegations of ‘money-laundering’ by 14 firms, promoted by Jaganmohan Reddy, will be one of the main campaign issues of the opposition. On its part, the ruling Congress is using ‘Sakshi’ Telugu daily and a 24-hour news channel of the same name, owned by Chief Minister’s son, as a platform to launch a no-holds-barred attack on the opposition.

TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu has roped in the family members of matinee idol and his father-in-law late N T Rama Rao to boost the party’s prospects.

NTR’s actor-sons Harikrishna and Balakrishna and grandsons and young heroes Junior NTR and Kalyanram will be the key campaigners for the party.

After losing power in the 2004 elections, Naidu has been making conscious efforts to get closer to NTR family. His only son Lokesh was married to Balakrishna’s daughter Brahmani last year, further cementing the family ties.

Megastar of Telugu cinema Chiranjeevi, the recent entrant to politics, is also banking heavily on the family in his bid to capture power and repeat what NTR did with the TDP in 1983.

His brother-in-law and noted producer Allu Arvind is a key strategist of the fledgling Praja Rajyam Party while his actor-brother Pavan Kalyan has been made the president of the party’s youth wing ‘Yuva Rajyam’.

Chiranjeevi’s another brother Nagendra Babu, a producer-turned-actor, is also playing an active role in the party.

Similarly, the promotion of kinship is also evident in Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS), fighting for the statehood cause, as the affairs are run by the party president K Chandrasekhar Rao’s nephew Harish Rao and son K Rama Rao.

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VHP writes to 13 Muslim bodies
Asks them to issue fatwa to build Ram temple
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 22
The VHP has written to 13 Muslim organsations of Ulema, including All India Milli Council, to issue a fatwa for the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya.

VHP international president Ashok Singhal said he had written to Darul Uloom Deoband, Jamiatul Ulemae Hind, Tablighi Jamaat and All-India Organsation of Imams to issue a fatwa which should include a ban on cow slaughter, and declare India a friend of Islam.

This he said was born out of the concern for jihadi violence by sections of Muslims and hoped that once such a fatwa were issued it would put an end to jihad against India. He sought in his letter that India be declared a “Darul Aman (the land of peace).”

He said the decision to this effect was arrived at the Parishad’s Dharm Raksha Manch - a congregation of seers - which demanded that the said fatwa should clearly state that Hindus were not Kafirs and therefore jihad did not apply to the community.

The manch took into account the e-mails by the terrorist group Indian Mujahideen citing religious dictum justifying the terror attacks on Ahmedabad and Delhi.

The letter asked the Muslim scholars to clear such misconceptions, and declare India a land of peace where all Muslims could practice and propagate their religion without any hindrance.

The manch feared that till such time, drawing inspiration from Islamic scriptures, such terrorist attacks would recur.

Singhal said the fatwa should state clearly that all those defying such a fatwa would not be termed as true Muslims.

He said, “We are expecting these organisations will respond to our appeal in a positive manner. We firmly believe that till the time Islamic leaders do not condemn religion-inspired violence, terrorism in this country will not come to an end,” Singhal, said.

“If Islam is a religion of peace, as they propagate, then we expect them to issue a fatwa clearing these views,” he said.

The letter mentioned a 11-point agenda that included declaring India a spiritual nation, construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, and declaring cows, river Ganga and Ram Sethu as crucial to India’s cultural heritage.

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11-yr-old held for minor’s murder
Jupinderjit Singh
Tribune News Service

Jaipur, February 22
An 11-year-old boy was arrested yesterday for the unintentional murder of a four-year-old boy in Sikar town, which observed a bandh on Friday over the incident.

Sikar SP Nitindeep told reporters that the accused Ravi Meena had confessed that Harishit was asphyxiated on February 9 evening when they were playing a game with a piece of cloth by wrapping it around each other's neck.

The police has also arrested Suresh Meena, maternal uncle of Ravi, on the allegation of hiding the crime and attempt to destroy evidence and the body. When a panic-stricken Ravi told him about the “mishap”, Suresh threw the body in a septic tank.

The police is yet to crack the mystery on how the body reach the bank of the drain from where it was recovered two days ago.

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Four held with 5 kg heroin

Mumbai, February 22
The Anti Narcotics Cell (ANC) of the city police claimed to have busted an inter-state drug peddlers gang by arresting four persons with 5 kg heroin at Nagpada in south Mumbai.

The accused identified as Dinesh Vishwakarma (26), Mansingh Rajput (35), Kishor Rathod (43) and Sitaram Patidar(35), who hail from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were caught on Friday near Maharashtra College in Nagpada when they came to sell the consignment to local drug peddlers, ANC Senior Police Inspector Anil Jadhav said.

"Acting on a tip off, we laid a trap near Maharashtra College. The accused were intercepted when they were moving about suspiciously and five kg heroin worth Rs 15 lakh in Indian market and Rs 5 crore in international market was seized from them," Jadhav said. — PTI

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Snake poison worth Rs 84 lakh seized

Udupi, February 22
The police seized one litre of snake poison worth about Rs 84 lakh and arrested three persons in this connection here last night. The police said the accused Nijamuddin, Ravindra and Prakash were nabbed while they were trying to sell the poison.

Efforts were on to trace another person identified as Manmatha. — UNI

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