SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI



THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

I am being harassed mentally, seer tells NDA team
Chennai, December 15
A five-member National Democratic Alliance (NDA) delegation met the Kanchi Shankaracharya at the Vellore Central Prison today and later alleged the Shankaracharya was mentally tortured in custody.

SC to hear seer’s bail plea tomorrow
VHP lambasts NDA leaders
Cops inspect trust, girls hostel records
HC says no to euthanasia     In video (28k, 56k)

PM to make statement in Parliament on foreign policy
New Delhi, December 15
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intends to make a comprehensive statement in Parliament by next week on foreign policy, well placed sources told The Tribune today. The PM's statement is likely to be made on December 22 or 23, the last day of the Winter Session.

Advani had prior knowledge of Babri demolition: CBI
Lucknow, December 15
The CBI today told the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court that BJP president L. K. Advani had prior knowledge that the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was going to be demolished.

Sonia invites Laloo, Paswan to dinner
New Delhi, December 15
United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi has invited the two warring political veterans of Bihar — Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav and Steel Minister Ram Vilas Paswan — for dinner at her official residence tomorrow.

Adivasis from Assam, under the banner of the All-Adivasi Students Association of Assam, in their traditional dress demonstrate against the Central Government at Parliament Street in New Delhi on Wednesday.  Adivasis from Assam, under the banner of the All-Adivasi Students Association of Assam, in their traditional dress demonstrate against the Central Government at Parliament Street in New Delhi on Wednesday. 
—  Tribune photo by Rajeev Tyagi



This bronze sculpture depicting an anguished Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati and captioned "Curse or cross" is the latest creation of Shihan Hussaini, a well-known karate expert and sculptor of Chennai.
This bronze sculpture depicting an anguished Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati and captioned “Curse or cross” is the latest creation of Shihan Hussaini, a well-known karate expert and sculptor of Chennai. — Photo by S. Sukumar

EARLIER STORIES

 

Oppn walkout over Cabinet minister’s absence in RS
New Delhi, December 15
The government today faced embarrassment as Opposition NDA members vehemently protested the absence of a Cabinet minister in the Rajya Sabha during Special Mentions and later staged a walkout.

More decisive role for Parliamentarians
New Delhi, December 15
Following up on its commitment to focus on development works in rural areas, the UPA government has decided to give a more decisive role to parliamentarians in the implementation of these schemes. Consequently, the state and district level monitoring committees of all rural development schemes have been reconstituted to provide membership to elected representatives on these panels.

Cabinet clears Right to Information Bill
New Delhi, December 15
In a move to bring in transparency in the functioning of the UPA government and usher in rural prosperity, the Union Cabinet today approved the introduction of two important legislations, National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill and Right to Information Bill, in the current session of Parliament.

Air Chief to be part of promotion body: Pranab
New Delhi, December 15
Asserting that the government would abide by the Supreme Court’s directions in the IAF Promotions Case, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee today said Air Chief S. Krishnaswamy would be part of the Special Promotion Board reviewing the disputed promotions.

Govt to construct fence along B’ desh border
New Delhi, December 15
The government today said that situation in Manipur had improved considerably after it initiated a number of measures to contain insurgency and meet the aspirations of people in the state. Home Minister Shivraj Patil told the Rajya Sabha that situation had considerably improved in the state.

Delhi’s foundation stones unveiled
New Delhi, December 15
Standing testimony to the 93 years that passed by since they were first erected, foundation stones marking the establishment of Delhi as the capital of the British empire were unveiled here today. The stones in two identical chambers of the North Block and the South Block, near Rashtrapati Bhavan, were unveiled by Home Minister, Shivraj Patil and Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee at a function titled 'Yaadgaar'.

UP panel to accommodate Ajit’s protege
Lucknow, December 15
To humour its coalition partner, Ajit Singh’s RJD, the Mulayam Singh Cabinet has okayed the constitution of a commission for the development of irrigation and flood-control measures which, in all likelihood, will have former Irrigation Minister, RJD’s Anuradha Chaudhary, as its head.

NSCN (Khaflang) ceasefire for peaceful Xmas
Dimapur (Nagaland), December 15
In what appears to be a shot in the arm for the political leadership in Delhi, NSCN(Khaflang) faction of Nagaland has offered a ceasefire with effect from today to ensure a “peaceful Christmas” in Nagaland.

BJP for continuing subsidy on LPG, kerosene
New Delhi, December 15
In an apparent bid to woo back the alienated middle class, the BJP today came out strongly in support of continuing subsidy on cooking gas and kerosene, saying the poor and the middle class could not be forced to use firewood for their needs.

Narasimha Rao undergoes surgery
New Delhi, December 15
Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao today underwent a surgical procedure for his heart problem at the All- India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) here.

Dehra Dun rail traffic affected for 12 hours
Dehra Dun, December 15
Railway traffic came to a standstill for over 12 hours today, in Dehra Dun to facilitate the replacement of old girders on the Ganga Canal bridge on the Jwalapur-Haridwar track. Lull swept through the Dehra Dun railway station, which caters to over 5000 passengers per day on an average.

Zaheera’s mother alleges threat by Teesta
Mumbai, December 15
Ms Sehrunnisa Sheikh, mother of prime witness in the Best Bakery case Zaheera Shaikh, told a court here today that she was threatened by social activist Teesta Setalvad. Ms Shaikh told the special court hearing the Best Bakery re-trial here that Ms Setalvad and her colleague, Raeis Khan, had visited her house in Mumbai a month ago and had threatened to shoot her dead. She also alleged that four men dragged away her son, Nafitullah, in a vehicle on the same day.

20 join Karnataka Ministry
Nine slots for Cong, 11 for JD(S)
Bangalore, December 15
The uncertainty surrounding the Cabinet expansion of Karnataka’s first-ever coalition government came to an end today, with 18 Cabinet ministers and two ministers of state being sworn in by Governor T.N. Chaturvedi.

NRI marriages: govt examining suggestions
New Delhi, December 15
The government is examining a draft convention, submitted by the National Commission for Women, for the safeguard of Indian girls married to NRIs. This includes the compulsory registration for such marriages, Minister of State for Overseas Indian Affairs Jagdish Tytler told the Lok Sabha today.

Jagir Kaur’s remarks against Sonia flayed
Chamkaur Sahib, December 15
The Parliamentary Secretary (Industry and Commerce), Mr K.P.S. Rana, yesterday criticised the SGPC President, Bibi Jagir Kaur, for passing remark against the Congress President Ms Sonia Gandhi, in connection with her proposed visit to Chamkaur Sahib.

Indo-US pact on customs cooperation
New Delhi, December 15
In a landmark event, India and the USA today signed the Customs Co-operation and Mutual Administration Assistance Agreement to combat custom offences. The agreement was signed in North Block by the US Ambassador, Mr David Mulford and the Central Board of Excise and Customs Chairman, Mr A. K. Singh.

Left extremism posing threat to internal security: BJP
New Delhi, December 15
Stating that the Left extremism posed a grave threat to the internal security situation in the country, BJP member S. S. Ahluwalia today alleged in the Rajya Sabha that the Congress was repeatedly compromising with the national security of the country.

Cong, SAD leaders exploiting youths: Khera
Hoshiarpur, December 15
Mr Balwant Singh Khera, Chairman, Malta Boat Tragedy Probe Mission, in a press release here yesterday alleged that certain Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal leaders recommend young men for grant of visas and get lakhs of rupees from them. Travel agents also get bogus visas thus both exploit and loot youths who want to go abroad.

Night power for farm pumpsets “impractical”
Mumbai, December 15
Despite tough opposition from engineers of the Maharashtra State Electricity Board, the state government is planning to introduce night supply of power for agricultural pumpsets across the state.

AP irrigation tender scam: SC stays HC order
New Delhi, December 15
In a major setback to the Andhra Pradesh Government in the Rs 5,000 crore irrigation tender scam raised by the Opposition, the Supreme Court today stayed a high court order allowing shortlisted contractors, who have been allotted tenders, to continue work.

Ceasefire expires in Andhra today
Hyderabad, December 15
With the Andhra Pradesh Government maintaining silence over extending the six-month ceasefire period that expires tomorrow, uncertainty looms large over the second round of peace talks with naxalites who have hardened their stand and threatened to launch a ‘counter-offensive campaign to resist police repression’.

Pepsi, Coke contain harmful chemicals, allege NGOs
New Delhi, December 15

Charging cola giants Pepsi and Coke with “deliberately” adding chemicals like phosphoric acid and ehthylene glycol in their products, some NGOs today came on one platform to announce their agitation of forming a human chain around all facilities of the two MNCs on January 20, 2005.

Naxals hold big rally in Kolkata
Kolkata, December 15
Naxalites organised a large procession in the city, which hit the traffic and transport network. Seven Naxalite groups, belonging to Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, also held a joint rally at the brigade parade ground and vowed to fight against misrule, injustice and deprivation. It was after over three decades that the Naxalites took out such a big procession in Kolkata, which surprised the ruling CPM and other Left Front partners.

Police picks up lesbian couple
Patna, December 15
A working woman, Pooja Singh, landed in jail after entering into an illegal ‘wedlock’ with Sarita, a college student. The two were living as married couple when the police arrested them. The police detected the lesbian couple at Jhansi, in Madhya Pradesh, following a complaint lodged by Sarita’s father alleging that his daughter had been ‘kidnapped’ by Pooja Singh, an employee in a private nursing home in Patna, on November 27.

NHRC to hold public hearing on healthcare
New Delhi, December 15
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will hold a two-day national public hearing on “Right to healthcare” from tomorrow.

Videos
A mango tree that bears fruits round the year!
(28k, 56k)
Bhansali all set for "Black".
(28k, 56k)

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I am being harassed mentally, seer tells NDA team
Tribune News Service

Chennai, December 15
A five-member National Democratic Alliance (NDA) delegation met the Kanchi Shankaracharya at the Vellore Central Prison today and later alleged the Shankaracharya was mentally tortured in custody.

The delegation leader and BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Mr Balbir Punj, alleged that the seer had been “mentally and psychologically harassed during his days in police custody”.

The team also visited the Sankara Mutt at Kancheepuram and alleged the police had unleashed a “reign of terror” against the employees, students and associates of the mutt in the name of investigation.

Replying to a question at a press conference here this evening, Mr Punj said: “He told us he was mentally tortured in police custody.”

The Biju Janata Dal MP, Mr Prasanna Patsani, alleged the police had tried to force the seer to make some calls on a mobile phone during his custodial questioning, but the Shankaracharya refused.

He quoted the seer who told the delegation. “Physically, I am fine but I am being harassed mentally and psychologically.”

Mr Punj said mutt employees complained of severe torture by the police and added “people were picked up at midnight, hung upside down and questioned and asked to implicate the mutt and the Shankaracharya in some case or the other.”

Another NDA team member, Ms Jayaben Thakkar, said they had visited a girls’ hostel belonging to the mutt and found the inmates were terrified to speak.

She alleged the police made attempts to make the woman official in charge of the hostel testify that an 11-year-old girl, who died some months ago, had died under suspicious circumstances. The girl’s parents did not suspect any foul play as their child had been suffering from an ailment for the past few months before her death.

Mr Punj said the case should be shifted outside Tamil Nadu to ensure free and fair justice and remarked. “Only the courts can say if he is innocent, but this sort of mudslinging, campaign of vilification and trial by the media should stop.”

He said the team’s main demands were that the case should be shifted out of the state and the campaign against the mutt be stopped immediately.

The seer has been in jail since November 11 following his arrest in connection with the murder of a former manager of the Vardaraja Perumal temple in Kancheepuram, Sankararaman.

Earlier, the delegation called on the junior pontiff, Sri Vijayendra Saraswati, at the Kanchi Mutt, 70 km from here.

Mr Punj then said: “Efforts are on to deliberately bring a bad name to the mutt and tarnish its image. The inmates of the mutt are simple persons, unexposed to the world. They are naturally isolated after the case.”Top

 

SC to hear seer’s bail plea tomorrow
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, December 15
The Supreme Court today fixed Friday for arguments on the bail petition of Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Sarswati after his counsel today sought its early hearing stating that the pontiff had been incarcerated for over a month even as the Tamil Nadu Government and the police had launched a systematic campaign to defame him and the mutt.

A direction to this effect was issued by a Bench of Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti, Mr Justice G.P. Mathur and Mr Justice A.K. Mathur after the pontiff’s counsel, Mr Fali S. Nariman, made a special mention before it about filing of the petition by the Shankaracharya.

The seer, who moved the apex court yesterday, in his petition alleged that despite the investigation being at a preliminary stage in the mutt official Shankar Raman murder case, a systematic campaign had been launched by the Tamil Nadu Government and its police to defame him and the Kanchi Mutt.

Claiming that there was “no evidence” to link him to the murder case, the seer in his pointed rebuttal of the prosecution charges said he was even described as an “undeserving criminal” by the state government counsel before the high court when his bail was argued and Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa in the Assembly made a statement about “clinching evidence” against him.

When the investigation in the case was still on, how could he be described as a “criminal” and how such statements could be made by the Chief Minister against him, said the seer in his Special Leave Petition (SLP), challenging the Madras High Court order rejecting his bail plea.

While the police had claimed that a lot of amount was withdrawn from ICICI bank which was recovered from the “actual assailants”, the SLP said it was factually untrue as the mutt had no account with the said bank.

Regarding the police claim of the Shankaracharya using a cell phone to talk to the assailants, he said he neither owned a mobile phone, nor had any for his exclusive use.

Even the issue of the alleged conversation linking him to the alleged assailants was not a subject matter of argument before the court and there was also “no voice recording to prima facie establish that calls were allegedly made by the petitioner (pontiff),” the SLP said.

Assailing the single judge order of the high court dismissing his bail plea, the seer said the court had failed to take into account factual material of the case and rather relied upon the legal question by linking his case to RJD MP Rajesh Ranjan, alias Pappu Yadav, whose bail was cancelled by the apex court for “violating” the bail condition.

On the alleged confession of a co-accused before the police that the seer was involved in the murder conspiracy, he said any statement made to the police by a co-accused under duress, was “inadmissible evidence”.

The Shankaracharya said the high court had ignored the fact that the two co-accused had filed applications before the Judicial Magistrate, Kanchipuram, alleging that they were “illegally detained and tortured by the police to force them to make statements against him.”

He also challenged the police claim that they had recovered copies of 39 letters written by the assailants to him from the house of Shankar Raman stating that it had “no relevance whatsoever in as no such recovery had ever been made pursuant to his statement.”

Refuting the allegation of the prosecution that two witnesses had seen him in the company of assailants in his office in the mutt, the Shankaracharya said how a “sinister inference can be drawn on this account by anyone when thousands of people meet him every day.”

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VHP lambasts NDA leaders
Says seer victim of conspiracy
Our Correspondent

Kolkata, December 15
VHP leader, Ashok Singhal today called the BJP MPs and leaders “bunches of eunuchs” who could not stall even for a single day the proceedings of Parliament as a mark protest against the arrest of the Kanchi Shankaracharya.

He alleged that Jayendra Saraswati, who was a saint, had been treated like a criminal by the ruling UPA Government but the BJP and other NDA partners were acting like “bunches of eunuchs.”

Mr Singhal said they had some specific information that the Shankaracharya had been a victim of conspiracy, hatched at the highest level at the instance of Mrs Sonia Gandhi. But the BJP and other NDA MPs could protect him.

The VHP leader was talking to mediapersons at the Calcutta Press Club this afternoon during his short stay in the city. Accompanied by another VHP leader, Giriraj Kishore, Mr Singhal arrived in Kolkata this morning on an official invitation from the VHP's state unit.

Mr Singhal alleged the BJP had betrayed the countrymen on the Ram janmabhoomi issue. He reiterated that a Ram temple would be built at Ram janmabhhomi in Ayodhya at all cost.

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Cops inspect trust, girls hostel records

Kancheepuram,  December 15
The police today conducted searches the office and records of the Kanchi Kadigasthanam Trust, which is run by Raghu, a brother of junior Shankaracharya Vijayendra Saraswati, and a girls’ hostel here as part of investigations into the Sankararaman murder case.

The four-member police team, which is working with the team investigating the murder case, in which Kanchi seer Jayendra Saraswati has been arrested, searched the office of the trust and verified the records, sources said.

The team also checked the records of a girl’s hostel near the Kamakshi Amman temple.

They later visited two houses nearby which the police claims, belong to Raghu. — PTI 

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HC says no to euthanasia
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, December 15
The Andhra Pradesh High Court today rejected a writ petition pleading for advancing the death of 25-year-old Venkatesh, who wanted to donate his organs.

The petition was filed by Ms K Sujatha, mother of Venkatesh, who has been bed-ridden with a severe form of muscular dystrophy at a private hospital here. The doctors had earlier refused to concede the request of the youth as such a step amounted to euthanasia, which is not legally permissible in India.

The court said that organs could be harvested only from the brain dead and that the law did not provide for transplantation of organs from a person still alive.

“Though we understand the anguish of the mother, the act has no such provision and hence, such a request cannot be conceded,” the Bench consisting of Chief Justice Devender Gupta and Mr Justice Narayana Reddy said, dismissing the petition.

Meanwhile, Ms Sujatha said she would approach the Supreme Court to fulfil the last wish of her dying son.Top

 

PM to make statement in Parliament on foreign policy
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intends to make a comprehensive statement in Parliament by next week on foreign policy, well placed sources told The Tribune today. The PM's statement is likely to be made on December 22 or 23, the last day of the Winter Session.

This will mean that External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh will have to reschedule his two-day visit to Bhutan as Dr Manmohan Singh is keen on his EAM's presence in Parliament at the time of his statement.

Mr Natwar Singh's Bhutan visit, scheduled for December 22-23, is important as his main engagement in the tiny Himalayan state is to inaugurate a big hydel power plant in Kareechu which has been built with Indian help. The Bhutanese King will also be present at the inauguration ceremony.

The Opposition, particularly the NDA, has been pressing the government for clarifications on a host of foreign policy-related issues.

In his statement, the Prime Minister will identify the broad contours of his seven-month-old government's foreign policy, give a broad picture of the foreign policy initiatives of the UPA government in different areas, touch upon the major bilateral vists to India by high-profile foreign dignitaries such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and update Parliament about the ongoing India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue Process.

The Prime Minister is also likely to talk about China, the fast-expanding Sino-Indian economic relations and the two rounds of Special Representatives-level talks his government has held with Beijing on the border dispute.

Dr Manmohan Singh is also expected to talk about his own visits abroad as Prime Minister, all of which were multi-lateral in nature. The Prime Minister is to embark upon his first bilateral visit to Mauritius later this month.

India's growing diplomatic and economic clout in the comity of nations and its summit-level interactions with such important international groupings as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and countries like the United Kingdom and Russia are also expected to find a mention in the PM's statement.

Sources said India's recent engagements in the immediate neighbourhood, particularly Myanmar's military operation of last month against north-eatsern insurgent outfits, as well as India's Look East policy were also expected to be highlighted by the Prime Minister.

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Advani had prior knowledge of Babri demolition: CBI

Lucknow, December 15
The CBI today told the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court that BJP president L. K. Advani had prior knowledge that the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was going to be demolished.

During the hearing of the CBI petition challenging the Special Rae Bareli court order discharging Mr Advani and summoning orders against six others, including former Union Minister Murli Manohar Joshi in the Babri Masjid demolition case, CBI counsel P. K. Chaubey said the BJP president knew very well the disputed structure was going to be demolished.

As the counsel's arguments remained inconclusive, Justice Y.R. Tripathi posted the matter for further hearing on December 21.

Mr Chaubey read out in the court the statement of the then Additional Superintendent of Police (Faizabad) Anju Gupta, who also had been escorting Mr Advani on December 6, 1992, when the structure was demolished at Ayodhya.

He contented that Ms Gupta's statements clearly indicated that Mr Advani knew what was happening inside the disputed complex and had also queried the officer about the happenings.

Mr Advani and other senior BJP and VHP leaders had been regularly briefed by Ms Gupta about the happenings, he said. — PTI

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Sonia invites Laloo, Paswan to dinner

New Delhi, December 15
United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi has invited the two warring political veterans of Bihar — Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav and Steel Minister Ram Vilas Paswan — for dinner at her official residence tomorrow.

Much political significance is being attached to Ms Gandhi’s dinner invitation in view of the recent spat between the two UPA partners.

Though the two leaders have publically made statements saying that they never made allegations of corruption against each other and that there were no differences between them at the personal level.

However at the political level, the rivalry between them has been more than apparent with both declaring their intentions to contest the Assembly elections in Bihar without any tie-up, unlike the one formalised during this year’s Lok Sabha polls.

According to sources in the Lok Janshakti Party, the Steel Minister had received a personal invitation for dinner from the Congress chief.

Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi, along with her husband and Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, had also been invited at the dinner by the Congress President.

In political circles, this dinner invitation was being viewed as an occasion where Ms Gandhi might mediate between the two feuding leaders and deflate the Opposition’s charges of dissension in the 15-party UPA coalition. — UNI

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Oppn walkout over Cabinet minister’s absence in RS
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
The government today faced embarrassment as Opposition NDA members vehemently protested the absence of a Cabinet minister in the Rajya Sabha during Special Mentions and later staged a walkout.

The NDA members, led by senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, raised the issue demanding that the House be adjourned for 10 minutes until a Cabinet minister came.

Ms Swaraj accused the UPA government of breaking the convention of the House when important Special Mentions were being made and said they had pointed out earlier also that the government was paying scant respect to the issues raised by the members and also to Parliament.

The Opposition claimed that the Congress party, when in Opposition, had forced the adjournment of the House in similar situations, and it was only appropriate that the House be adjourned for 10 minutes till a Cabinet minister came in.

The Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Suresh Pachouri, while assuring the Opposition that their point had been well taken, however, contested the Opposition demand, saying there had been many occasions when there was no minister present in the House during the NDA regime but the House was never adjourned.

The atmosphere got surcharged when he claimed that there were occasions when no Cabinet minister was present in the House when Ms Swaraj was Parliamentary Affairs Minister. She was immediately on her feet to challenge it.

As both Mr Pachouri and Ms Swaraj stuck to their stand, the chair intervened to pacify them. The Chairman also tried to pacify the Opposition urging them not to press for their demand and let the House take up Special Mentions.

The Opposition did not agree with the Chair that the government had been directed to call a minister to the House and they should remain seated in the House. Ms Swaraj and others insisted that the House should be adjourned till then and staged a walkout.

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More decisive role for Parliamentarians
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
Following up on its commitment to focus on development works in rural areas, the UPA government has decided to give a more decisive role to parliamentarians in the implementation of these schemes.

Consequently, the state and district level monitoring committees of all rural development schemes have been reconstituted to provide membership to elected representatives on these panels.

Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh recently wrote to all MPs about the decision to give them a more effective role on these committees, a long standing demand of parliamentarians.

Mr Singh’s letter pointed out that though the Centre provides a large component of funding for the rural development schemes, the implementation is the responsibility of state governments. It is, therefore, important to have better coordination between the Centre and states, the letter said, adding that MPs can play an effective role in this process.

MPs have been clamouring for a greater say in the implementation of projects in their respective constituencies on the plea that they are elected representatives. Although nobody is saying so publicely, it is an acknowledged fact that only a fraction of funds earmarked for the rural poor actually trickle down to them.

Welcoming the Rural Development Ministry’s decision, MPs maintained that as members of the monitoring committees, they would be able to play a direct and decisive role in the effective implementation of Central schemes.

For instance, BJP Lok Sabha member Manvendra Singh pointed out that the constituencies in Rajasthan near the border have an annual budget of Rs.11 crore for border development programmes. “However, most of these funds are spent on purchase of vehicles... as a member of this committee, I can now question how this money is being spent,” he explained.

Mr Jitin Prasad, Congress Lok Sabha member from Shajehanapur, said this decision would be of immense help in cases where the MP does not belong to the party in power at the state. There is a tendency by such a state government to block development work in an opposition MP’s constituency. “Till now, we were powerless to do anything. But, I will now be able to ensure that the projects in my constituency are not neglected,” he added.

Speaking in the same vein, Congress MP Sachin Pilot said an MP is in a better position to decide the requirements of his or her constituency. As a member of the monitoring committee, he or she can ensure that priority is accorded to those schemes which the people of the area want.Top

 

Cabinet clears Right to Information Bill
Tribune News Service

Lok Pal Bill for GoM
New Delhi, December 15
The Union Cabinet today decided to refer the Lok Pal Bill to the Group of Ministers (GoM). This was announced by Information and Broadcasting Minister S. Jaipal Reddy after a Cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. — PTI

New Delhi, December 15
In a move to bring in transparency in the functioning of the UPA government and usher in rural prosperity, the Union Cabinet today approved the introduction of two important legislations, National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill and Right to Information Bill, in the current session of Parliament.

The Cabinet meeting was presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The winter session concludes on December 23.

The Employment Bill seeks to provide 100 days of employment to one member of each family in rural areas, Information and Broadcasting Minister S Jaipal Reddy told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

The Information Bill will replace the Freedom of Information Act, 2002, which will be repealed, he said.

The new bill would be “more progressive, participatory and meaningful than the earlier act,” he added.

The National Advisory Council of the UPA has made several suggestions, most of which have been incorporated in the new Bill.

He, however, refused to elaborate on the provisions of any of the bills approved by the Cabinet tonight in view of the on-going session.

The UPA government in its attempt to control the social malaise of child marriage today approved measures to strengthen the existing legislations.

The Prevention of Child Marriage Bill, 2004, Mr Reddy said was aimed at checking marriage of children below 18 years and to strengthen laws against such practices. The Bill will be introduced in the ongoing winter session of Parliament.

The Cabinet also approved the bill to confer the status of Central University to Allahabad University. Some of the Bills would, however, be referred to Standing Committees, Mr Reddy said without specifying the Bills.

The Cabinet also paved the way for building a greenfield airport near Hyderabad, a Draft Concession Agreement to be executed between the Centre and the newly set up Hyderabad International Airports Ltd (HIAL).

The project is proposed to be implemented on a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis with private sector participation at a total estimated cost of Rs.1385 crore, an official release said.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) today approved revival plan of Bangalore-based Indian Telephones Industry at an outlay of Rs 1100 crore.

As part of the revival plan, the government will infuse Rs 200 crore equity, Rs 458 crore for the VRS, Rs 50 crore for capital expenditure, and Rs 93 crore for clearing provident fund dues in the current year, Finance Minister P Chidambaram told reporters after the CCEA meeting.

The government has also written off interest and penal interest rate of Rs 23.67 crore for the revival of ITI.

The CCEA also approved a Rs 800 crore proposal of HRD Ministry for the introduction of information and communication technology in schools.

Of the Rs 800 crore allotted for the 10th Five Year Plan, 75 per cent of the cost would be borne by the Centre and the remaining 25 per cent by the states. As per the plan, 9380 secondary and high schools all over the country will be coverd, Mr Chidambaram said.

The CCEA also approved the setting up of transmission system for Khelgaon Phase-II costing Rs 464 crore.

The project will be implemented over 33 months and transmission line will be set up between Ranchi and Sipat, he said.

The CCEA also approved the Ministry of Power’s proposal to revise the cost of 84 MW gas turbine project at Ramachandra Nagar in Agartala (Tripura). The revised cost is Rs 322 crore against the original approved cost of Rs 294 crore.

In another decision, the CCEA permitted the Ministry of Steel to withdraw the revival package for Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd (RINL), approved in May 1998, in view of the company turning around and making a profit for the last two years.Top

 



Nod to Bill for equal rights to daughters
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
To protect the rights of Hindu daughters’ property, the Union Cabinet today gave clearance to the “Hindu Succession Act (Amendment) Bill” that brings them on par with sons to inherit the family property. 

Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Jaipal Reddy told mediapersons after the Cabinet meeting that the clearance for the Amendment Bill was given today and it would be introduced in Parliament soon. The existing Hindu Succession Act of 1956, deprived the daughters from claiming partition of ancestral property under Section 23, if the father or its rightful owner dies without making a will in her favour. Various human right organisations had been demanding the amendment in the law.Top

 

 

Air Chief to be part of promotion body: Pranab

New Delhi, December 15
Asserting that the government would abide by the Supreme Court’s directions in the IAF Promotions Case, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee today said Air Chief S. Krishnaswamy would be part of the Special Promotion Board reviewing the disputed promotions.

The apex court had earlier this week directed the Special Promotion Board of the Indian Air Force to draw up within 3 weeks a fresh list of promotions based on the new Promotion Policy-which reduces the discretionary element of assessment from the earlier 20 per cent to 5 per cent.

Speaking on the sidelines of a function this morning at the South Block here, the Defence Minister said he saw “no reason why” Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy should not be present on the review promotions board.

The SC is hearing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) against a Delhi High Court judgement quashing the IAF’s 2002 Promotion Policy which had a high discretionary element of assessment.

Besides setting aside the 2002 Promotion Policy, the high court had also quashed the February 2003, Special Promotion Board, which, while appointing as many as four Air Marshals, had denied promotion to Air Vice-Marshals T.S Chhatwal and Harish Masand. — UNI 

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Govt to construct fence along B’ desh border
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
The government today said that situation in Manipur had improved considerably after it initiated a number of measures to contain insurgency and meet the aspirations of people in the state. Home Minister Shivraj Patil told the Rajya Sabha that situation had considerably improved in the state.

He said unified headquarters had been established in the state for coordinated operations against militants by security forces.

Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal said a total of 7,458 persons were killed in 10,788 incidents in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern States and Naxal-affected states during 2003-2004.

To a question on foreigners, he said as per available information, 46,587 foreigners were staying illegally in India as on December 31, 2003. The minister said that about 60 illegal Pakistani immigrants were residing in Punjab and around 4,000 in Rajasthan.

To a query, he said no Kashmiri migrant family had returned to its native place so far.

He said 34,690 Kashmiri migrant families were living in Jammu, 19,338 in Delhi and 2120 families in other parts of the country. As announced by the Prime Minister during his visit to Jammu and Kashmir in November, an inter-ministerial team had been constituted to prepare a plan to rehabilitate them.

Minister of State for Home S Regupathy said it had been decided to construct fence along the Indo-Bangladesh border within 150 yards from the international border except wherever unavoidable due to habitations and terrain factors.Top

 

Delhi’s foundation stones unveiled
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
Standing testimony to the 93 years that passed by since they were first erected, foundation stones marking the establishment of Delhi as the capital of the British empire were unveiled here today.

The stones in two identical chambers of the North Block and the South Block, near Rashtrapati Bhavan, were unveiled by Home Minister, Shivraj Patil and Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee at a function titled 'Yaadgaar'.

These stones were inaugurated by King George V and Queen Mary of England on December 15, 1911, to mark the shifting of the British empire from Kolkata to Delhi. They were initially placed at the Kingsway Camp and later shifted to their present locations on July 31, 1915, after the construction of the two buildings, which now house offices of important ministries.

Witness to an era that continues to dominate the history of the nation, these stones were a picture of neglect in recent years, what with the historic chambers, used mostly by security personnel and left to deteriorate.

It was pointed out that the restoration work was carried out on the stones only when the significance of the chambers dawned on the government, which then decided to open these to the public as museums.

Pictures of the construction of the two buildings have been put up in the two chambers, close to Vijay Chowk, to remind citizens of the imperial origins of the city. The museums will soon be open to the general public, which will be allowed to see the structures on selected days of the week.

The stones, it was further added, would not just be a tourist attraction in themselves, but would also pave the way for the masses to see portions of the North Block and the South Block, which are currently out of bounds owing to security reasons.

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UP panel to accommodate Ajit’s protege
Tribune News Service

Lucknow, December 15
To humour its coalition partner, Ajit Singh’s RJD, the Mulayam Singh Cabinet has okayed the constitution of a commission for the development of irrigation and flood-control measures which, in all likelihood, will have former Irrigation Minister, RJD’s Anuradha Chaudhary, as its head.

The 18-member commission to be nominated by the CM is to have a Chairman holding Cabinet rank and enjoying full ministerial benefits. In the cash-starved state this new commission is definitely not for preventing natural calamities. It is meant to keep in check political damage by checking the ever-widening gap between the Samajwadi Party and the RJD, point out political observers.

It may be pointed out that the Ms Anuradha Chadhury had reluctantly resigned from the Mulayam Singh Cabinet earlier this month after the expiry of the mandatory six-month period since her resignation from the Vidhan Sabha. She had to quit her Vidhan Sabha membership within 14 days of her election to the Lok Sabha from Kairana in May.

According to political observers, the decision to “rehabilitate” Ms Anuradha Chaudhury with full ministerial glory was taken after disturbing signals were detected from her mentor Ajit Singh’s camp. Ever since the UPA Government has assumed office at the Centre, it is being rumoured that Mr Ajit Singh may join it the day he is “disillusioned” by Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party.

In recent weeks Ajit Singh’s assertion for a separate “Harit Pradesh” had become shriller. Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav even made a public announcement condemning the move to further divide the state. 

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NSCN (Khaflang) ceasefire for peaceful Xmas
Manjula Bhatacharyya

Dimapur (Nagaland), December 15
In what appears to be a shot in the arm for the political leadership in Delhi, NSCN(Khaflang) faction of Nagaland has offered a ceasefire with effect from today to ensure a “peaceful Christmas” in Nagaland.

This comes in the wake of the arrival of, Isak Chisi Swu and Mr Thuin-galeng Muivah NSCN(IM) Chairman and General Secretary respectively from Delhi yesterday at Dimapur, to work out the modalities of talks with fellow outfit leaders before they return to Delhi to evolve a political solution to the Naga problem, including their demand for greater Nagaland (Nagalim).

Mr N.Kitovi Zhimomi, a spokesman of NSCN (Khaflang), issued a press statement, promising to halt all military operations, including rivalry with the NSCN(IM) with effect from today, a much-desired goal of Naga people after NSCN had split decades ago. However, the NSCN (Khaflang), did not specify the time limit of its ceasefire.

The NSCN (Khaflang) pointed out that the decision to halt all military operations was taken despite the fact that the Indian and Myanmar Governments were continuing their operations to destroy NSCN(Khaflang) bases on the Indo-Myanmar Border.

After reaching Dimapur, Mr Isak Swu and Mr Muivah , were taken to the NSCN(IM) base at Hebramn, 65 km from Dimapur.

During their stay in Nagaland, NSCN (IM) leaders were expected to interact with Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, along with other leading NGOs of the state to work out a viable solution to the Nagaland problem.

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BJP for continuing subsidy on LPG, kerosene
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
In an apparent bid to woo back the alienated middle class, the BJP today came out strongly in support of continuing subsidy on cooking gas and kerosene, saying the poor and the middle class could not be forced to use firewood for their needs.

BJP Parliamentary Party spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra told newspersons that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar and the Mid Year Economic Review of the Finance Ministry had given ample indication of the government’s intention to do away with the subsidy on gas and kerosene. The logic of stopping “untargeted subsidies” on these two essential commodities was “preposterous” and it would be opposed, he said.

He said it was ironic that the Congress and other UPA parties opposed the decision of three parliamentary committees to end the Haj subsidy to the rich Muslims, who could afford to travel without doles from the government. No Muslim nation in the world was providing the Haj subsidy.

He said the government earned Rs 30,000 crore in the form of taxes on the sale of petroleum products and profits of the petroleum companies.

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Narasimha Rao undergoes surgery
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao today underwent a surgical procedure for his heart problem at the All- India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) here.

Mr Rao was admitted to AIIMS on December 9, after he complained of breathlessness. An intracardiac defibrillator device (IDC) was implanted on him, which would help cut short serious heart rhythm disturbances before they attained a life-threatening magnitude, a press note, issued by AIIMS, stated.

The device would also perform the function of a cardiac pacemaker whenever required.

Mr Rao stood the procedure well and had overcome the crisis situation, the press note stated, adding that though he was on partial support for heart and kidney, his vital functions were stable.

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Dehra Dun rail traffic affected for 12 hours
Tribune News Service

Dehra Dun, December 15
Railway traffic came to a standstill for over 12 hours today, in Dehra Dun to facilitate the replacement of old girders on the Ganga Canal bridge on the Jwalapur-Haridwar track. Lull swept through the Dehra Dun railway station, which caters to over 5000 passengers per day on an average.

Most major trains from here were rescheduled from Saharanpur, railway officials said. The girders replacement work would be completed at a cost of Rs 4 crore, official sources said.

Even as the station authorities claimed that information had been released well in advance and communicated through newspapers and notices put up at the station, people were seen frazzled with the unexpected 12-hour wait.

Denying any lag in informing passengers two weeks in advance about the reshuffle, Deputy Station Superintendent R.C Yadav said the announcements were being made repeatedly and passengers were even being refunded fares in full. 

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Zaheera’s mother alleges threat by Teesta
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, December 15
Ms Sehrunnisa Sheikh, mother of prime witness in the Best Bakery case Zaheera Shaikh, told a court here today that she was threatened by social activist Teesta Setalvad. Ms Shaikh told the special court hearing the Best Bakery re-trial here that Ms Setalvad and her colleague, Raeis Khan, had visited her house in Mumbai a month ago and had threatened to shoot her dead. She also alleged that four men dragged away her son, Nafitullah, in a vehicle on the same day.

Ms Shaikh’s deposition also bore some drama with Judge Abhay Thipsay pulling her up for not answering questions properly.

The Best Bakery retrial is being held in Mumbai on the orders of the Supreme Court. Ms Zaheera Shaikh had claimed before the apex court that she was forced to turn hostile in a Gujarat trial court out of fear.

Ms Shaikh subsequently retracted her statement in the apex court and filed an affidavit before the Gujarat police stating that she was threatened by Ms Setalvad and her colleagues belonging to the NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace.

Ms Zaheera Shaikh and several of her relatives have already turned hostile in the Best Bakery retrial case.

PTI adds: The mother of Zaheera Shaikh was declared hostile by the prosecution after she refused to identify the persons who were part of the crowd that had attacked the bakery during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat.

She said her brother, Mr Quaser Ali, who had been declared missing by the police in the incident, was not present at the site when Best Bakery was set on fire on March 1, 2002.

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20 join Karnataka Ministry
Nine slots for Cong, 11 for JD(S)
Tribune News Service

Bangalore, December 15
The uncertainty surrounding the Cabinet expansion of Karnataka’s first-ever coalition government came to an end today, with 18 Cabinet ministers and two ministers of state being sworn in by Governor T.N. Chaturvedi.

Nine Congress ministers and 11 ministers from the junior coalition partner, JD (S) were sworn in, taking the total strength of Chief Minister Dharam Singh’s team to 32. Mr Dharam Singh sought to play down the delay in the expansion, citing the Bidar Lok Sabha by-election and the Maharashtra Assembly elections as the reasons. “The allocation of portfolios will take place soon, on the basis of the Maharashtra model. Appointments to various state corporations and boards would be made within a week.” he stated.

Mr Dharam Singh claimed that the government had successfully tackled various issues like the admissions to professional colleges, the Kaveri river waters dispute and the agitation for a High Court Bench in North Karnataka. “Neither the Congress, the JD (S), nor I or Mr Deve Gowda are responsible for the delay in expansion. It was just the political situation,” Deputy Chief Minister of the JD(S) Siddaramiah reiterated.

The following were sworn in as the Cabinet ministers from the Congress: H.K. Patil, R.V. Deshpande, Gurupadappa Nagamarapalli, Dr V. Nagappa, Ramalingareddy, Anjan Murthy, B. Shivaramu, B.M. Siddanagowda, and Jabbar Khan Honnali. The Cabinet ministers from the JD (S) are Dr H.K. Mahadevappa, D.T. Jayakumar, C. Chennigappa, Basavaraj Horatti, Mahadev Prasad, Amregowda Bayyapur, Alangur Shrinivas, Cheluvaraya Swamy, and Iqbal Ansari.

The two Ministers of state, both from the JD (S), are Sathyanarayana and Satish Jarakiholi.

With this expansion, only two slots are left to make a full ministry.

The opposition BJP boycotted the swearing-in ceremony and also staged a dharma in front of the Chief Minister’s residence.

PTI adds: Hours after Chief Minister of Karnataka Dharam Singh expanded his Ministry, the resentment in the Congress over the exercise came to the fore with supporters of two of its senior leaders picketing the party headquarters here.

Supporters of Mr D. C. Thammanna, who represents the Maddur Assembly constituency, once held by former Chief Minister S. M. Krishna, and former minister G. Parameshwara, raised slogans against Mr Dharam Singh for denying ministerial berths to their leaders.

KPCC President B Janardhana Poojary, in a damage-control act, pacified the agitated partymen and assured them that he would take up the issue with Mr Dharam Singh and render justice in the next round of expansion.

The Congress is yet to fill two berths out of the 17 ministerial slots it got. Mr Thammanna belongs to the dominant Vokkaliga community while Mr Parameshwara hails from the Dalit community.

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NRI marriages: govt examining suggestions
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
The government is examining a draft convention, submitted by the National Commission for Women, for the safeguard of Indian girls married to NRIs. This includes the compulsory registration for such marriages, Minister of State for Overseas Indian Affairs Jagdish Tytler told the Lok Sabha today.

The commission has also recommended that the government signs bilateral agreements with countries where there is a large presence of the Indian diaspora.

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Jagir Kaur’s remarks against Sonia flayed
Tribune News Service

Chamkaur Sahib, December 15
The Parliamentary Secretary (Industry and Commerce), Mr K.P.S. Rana, yesterday criticised the SGPC President, Bibi Jagir Kaur, for passing remark against the Congress President Ms Sonia Gandhi, in connection with her proposed visit to Chamkaur Sahib.

Mr Rana said Bibi Jagir Kaur seemed to have forgotten Sikh Guru’s preachings. Gurdwaras were open for everyone and anyone could visit Chamkar Sahib during the three-day samagam to be held here to commemorate 300th year of the martyrdom of Sahibzadas. He was addressing mediapersons at Market Committee Rest House here.

Mr Rana also reviewed the development at Chamkaur Sahib. He said he had directed the district administration to complete the widening and maintenance of the roads from Ropar to Chamkaur Sahib as soon as possible.

In another press conference on Tuesday the president of the Akali Dal (Longowal), Mr Pritam Singh Chandumajra also crticised the SGPC President Bibi Jagir Kaur for adopting dual standards. He said while, on the one hand Jagir Kaur claimed that the SGPC had sent invitations to all political parties to participate in the three-day samagam to be held here, on the other hand she was making statements against Sonia Gandhi.

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Indo-US pact on customs cooperation

New Delhi, December 15
In a landmark event, India and the USA today signed the Customs Co-operation and Mutual Administration Assistance Agreement to combat custom offences. The agreement was signed in North Block by the US Ambassador, Mr David Mulford and the Central Board of Excise and Customs Chairman, Mr A. K. Singh.

On the occasion, several senior customs officials of the two countries were present.

The agreement will more effectively coordinate responses and develop defences on the part of the two countries against terrorism, trade fraud, money laundering, narcotics interdiction, smuggling of weapons of mass destruction, cyber smuggling, child pornography, intellectual property violations and human trafficking.

It involves sharing of information and intelligence on customs matters.

The agreement entails making enquiries on behalf of other customs administrations and providing them available information with regard to the movement of goods and false declarations, certificates of origin, invoices and forged documents.

The agreement envisages sharing new trends, means and methods of combating custom offences or new custom law enforcement techniques.

It enlists providing information on entry into and exit of particular suspected persons and goods, including keeping surveillance on them.

Under the agreement the originals or copies of files and documents are to be provided regarding customs offences. It authorises the employees to appear as witnesses in judicial or administrative proceedings, who will be provided diplomatic or consular immunity.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Mulford said with the rapid expansion of the global economy in the recent years, international criminal activity has spread along with it, aided by the opening up of borders and greater sophistication in technology.

Accordingly, he said, it was essential for the USA to establish a network of bilateral agreements with the custom agencies to promote the rule of law and thwart the criminal and terrorist activities.

He said the USA had already signed 52 bilateral agreements of this kind.

“Today we are pleased to connect with India in this global partnership of law enforcement and criminal interdiction”, Mr Mulford said.

Mr A. K. Singh said the signing of the agreement would significantly help the Indian customs administration in getting reliable information to enable the detection and investigation of customs violation, particularly, in the crucial area of under-valuation of imports and over-valuation of exports and consequent frauds related with export incentives. — UNI

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Left extremism posing threat to internal security: BJP
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
Stating that the Left extremism posed a grave threat to the internal security situation in the country, BJP member S. S. Ahluwalia today alleged in the Rajya Sabha that the Congress was repeatedly compromising with the national security of the country.

Participating in the resumed debate on the internal security situation, Mr Ahluwalia alleged that the Left extremists in India had forged close links with Pakistan’s ISI and terror outfit Al-Qaida and the danger posed by them could be huge.

He said though the Andhra Government had opened negotiations with Naxalite groups, the Left extremists had repeatedly said talks could be no solution to their goals.

“Home Ministry officials say the pact the Andhra Pradesh Government has made with the People’s War Group for talks is most dangerous,” Mr Ahluwalia said.

He said the internal security situation in the country was grave and the Home Minister could not solve it on his own.

“If you like you can seek the cooperation of the Opposition and form some kind of a committee to deal with the internal security situation,” he told Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil.

Mr Ashwani Kumar (Congress) said ISI activities across the border, Maoist violence or Islamic fundamental activities in Bangladesh, should not be ignored while looking at the internal security in the country.

Stating that the UPA government had inherited a very difficult security situation, he said an all encompassing approach was being adopted by the government to tackle the situation.

Mr Shankar Roy Chowdhury (Independent) said the Centre needed to focus on the role of state governments and unless the state police became capable to meet the situation of crime and terrorism, internal security situation would not be satisfactory.

Mere supply of sophisticated arms and equipments would not suffice and the upgradation of police leadership, which was extremely poor now, was needed, the former Army Chief said.

Former J and K Chief Minister and NC leader Farooq Abdullah said it was the Army, which refused to give a sitting General to head the Unified Command in his state.

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Cong, SAD leaders exploiting youths: Khera
Our Correspondent

Hoshiarpur, December 15
Mr Balwant Singh Khera, Chairman, Malta Boat Tragedy Probe Mission, in a press release here yesterday alleged that certain Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal leaders recommend young men for grant of visas and get lakhs of rupees from them. Travel agents also get bogus visas thus both exploit and loot youths who want to go abroad.

Mr Khera, said the mission was going to publish a book about misdeeds of these miscreants. He stated that the Sikh Diwan Society, Vancouver, wrote a letter to SGPC to send ‘Panj Piaras’ to Vancouver for Baisakhi celebrations on April 13, 2001. Accordingly two Akali Ministers, Sohan Singh, Thandal, Sujan Singh, an SGPC member Tarlochan Singh Dipalpura and Sikh missionary S. Balbir Singh Changiara hatched a conspiracy and went to Canada. They held nagar kirtan and celebrated Baisakhi there. They deceived the religious minded masses and thus got huge sums of money. He alleged that J.S. Vedanti, Jathedar, Akal Takht, was shielding the culprits, because they all belonged to the Akali faction led by Mr Parkash Singh Badal. Mr Khera disclosed that he had filed a complaint in the court for the registration of cases against the culprits and the court has reserved its decision till April 11, 2005.

Mr Khera said the probe mission might visit Vancouver to collect more facts about this scandal and to procure videos and albums. He mentioned that Gurbux Singh Malhi, Federal Minister, Canada, had recommended visas for bogus ‘Panj Piaras’ and as a result had been debarred for issuing visas for some time.

Meanwhile the probe mission is organising a condolence meeting for the victims of the Malta Boat Tragedy on December 25 at Company Bagh, Jalandhar, at 11 a.m. 

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Night power for farm pumpsets “impractical”
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, December 15
Despite tough opposition from engineers of the Maharashtra State Electricity Board, the state government is planning to introduce night supply of power for agricultural pumpsets across the state.

According to the MSEB, the state currently faces a power shortage of 3000 MW daily as farmers encouraged by free power install pumpsets in large number ahead of the rabi season.

MSEB officials say the demand for power from agricultural pumpsets is to the tune of 1500 to 2000 MW. With a view to providing them power at night, the board is investing in single-phase transformers in areas where there is demand for power from agricultural users, sources say. So far the cash-strapped board has ordered 1.4 lakh transformers costing Rs 500 crore, officials say.

The agricultural pumps would be provided power between 11 pm and 5 am and 11 am to 6 pm, officials say. Power for normal domestic use would, however, be available throughout the day via parallel lines under this single-phase system.

However, engineers of the board have opposed the move, saying that it was a wasteful expenditure that can be technologically misused by farmers. The engineers association alleged that besides being impractical, the single-phase system would lead to increased power failures and higher maintenance cost, apart from rendering the existing infrastructure worthless.

MSEB engineers who monitored the single-phase system in Andhra Pradesh say it is open to misuse. “Converters are available which enable pumpsets to be run on a single-phase line. The converters convert single-phase power to three-phase power for the pumpsets,” an engineer said. This would increase the load on the power network and cause burn-outs, the MSEB Engineers’ Associations say.

Consumer rights’ groups have now approached the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission to look into this investment.

On Monday, the MSEB introduced extended hours of load-shedding in all major towns of Maharashtra. Power would be switched off 15 hours every week as per a pre-determined time-table, officials said. In the rural areas, however power is being switched, off for more than seven hours at a stretch, MSEB sources say.

MSEB engineers have asked for police protection as angry farmers attack MSEB facilities to protest load-shedding. In some places, the state government has even asked the local police to escort engineers to go out to repair facilities.

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AP irrigation tender scam: SC stays HC order

New Delhi, December 15
In a major setback to the Andhra Pradesh Government in the Rs 5,000 crore irrigation tender scam raised by the Opposition, the Supreme Court today stayed a high court order allowing shortlisted contractors, who have been allotted tenders, to continue work.

A Bench comprising Mr Justice N. Santosh Hegde and Mr Justice S.B. Sinha passed this interim order when a special Leave petition filed by Dolendra Prasad challenging the December 6 order of the high court was mentioned by counsel S Muralidhar.

The interim order was vehemently opposed by a battery of senior advocates appearing for the contractors and the Andhra Pradesh Government but the Bench, while staying the operation of the high court order, posted the matter for further hearing on January 4.

Mr Prasad had challenged before the high court the policy of the state government to divide all kinds of government work, including irrigation and bridge construction work, into various projects worth Rs 26,000 crore.

He had questioned the government policy of dividing the packages into various big, medium and small packages and shortlisting contractors for the packages on the basis of their capability giving a go by to the usual tender process adopted by governments.

The high court on November 18 had termed the policy of the government as irrational and arbitrary and had quashed it. However, on a review petition, the high court on December 6 upheld its order but modified it saying those contractors who have been allotted projects would continue. — PTI

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Ceasefire expires in Andhra today

Hyderabad, December 15
With the Andhra Pradesh Government maintaining silence over extending the six-month ceasefire period that expires tomorrow, uncertainty looms large over the second round of peace talks with naxalites who have hardened their stand and threatened to launch a ‘counter-offensive campaign to resist police repression’.

A decision on extending ceasefire would be taken after consulting the Cabinet colleagues, Home Minister K Jana Reddy told reporters here when asked about the demand for extending the ceasefire.

The first phase of the direct talks between Maoists and the Congress government were held in October during which both sides had kept aside the contentious arms issue and went ahead with the main agenda focussing on land reforms.

However, the government is now insisting that naxalites give up arms to make the dialogue process meaningful while Maoist parties have firmly ruled out giving up armed struggle and accused the police of resuming combing operations and arrests.

Three top leaders of the CPI (Maoist), including its state Secretary Ramakrishna, had called upon their cadre yesterday to ‘resist police actions’ and accused the government of violating all the provisions of ceasefire agreement. — PTI

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Pepsi, Coke contain harmful chemicals, allege NGOs

New Delhi, December 15
Charging cola giants Pepsi and Coke with “deliberately” adding chemicals like phosphoric acid and ehthylene glycol in their products, some NGOs today came on one platform to announce their agitation of forming a human chain around all facilities of the two MNCs on January 20, 2005.

Declaring that they wanted both Pepsi and Coke to leave India, Mr Banwarlilal Sharma, Chairman, Azadi Bachao Andolan, accused the two companies of “corporate colonialism” and said “they have no respect for scientific research and were using about one million litres of precious groundwater owned by village panchayats.”

Senior Supreme Court Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who has filed a public interst litigation against the two companies, alleged at a press conference here that the soft drink majors were not “abiding by Rajasthan High Court order asking them to disclose the contents and ingredients” of their drinks on their labels.

“Apart from pesticides, the chemicals which are added include phosphoric acid to give them ‘bite’, caffeine to make them addictive, large quantities of sugar to make it extra sweet”, Mr Bhushan claimed. — PTITop

 

Naxals hold big rally in Kolkata
Subhrangshu Gupta

Kolkata, December 15
Naxalites organised a large procession in the city, which hit the traffic and transport network. Seven Naxalite groups, belonging to Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, also held a joint rally at the brigade parade ground and vowed to fight against misrule, injustice and deprivation. It was after over three decades that the Naxalites took out such a big procession in Kolkata, which surprised the ruling CPM and other Left Front partners.

Speaking at the rally, the Naxalite leaders warned the CPM that they would have to pay a heavy price for serving the interest of capitalists and the bourgeois class against the poor people and landless labourers.

Calling the present CPM “ a pseudo-Marxists party” , the Naxalite leaders called upon the working class to come out on the streets to fight against the CPM for their larger interests. 

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Police picks up lesbian couple

Patna, December 15
A working woman, Pooja Singh, landed in jail after entering into an illegal ‘wedlock’ with Sarita, a college student. The two were living as married couple when the police arrested them.

The police detected the lesbian couple at Jhansi, in Madhya Pradesh, following a complaint lodged by Sarita’s father alleging that his daughter had been ‘kidnapped’ by Pooja Singh, an employee in a private nursing home in Patna, on November 27.

Pooja, now lodged in Beur jail on orders from the court, and Sarita insisted that they were ‘married’ and bound by a ‘sacred’ vow before God in a temple at Jhansi and pledged to live as ‘couple’.

Sarita is a student of BA in Patna City College, while Pooja is a widow. She lived in Asansol with her parents for sometime and came to Patna on the pretext that her stepmother was harassing her.

Sarita came in contact of Pooja only three months back through the former’s elder sister Rita.

The police said reported link of Sarita with some anti-social elements was also being investigated. — UNI 

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NHRC to hold public hearing on healthcare
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will hold a two-day national public hearing on “Right to healthcare” from tomorrow.

As many as 200 experts, including those from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Department of Women and Child Development, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the DGHS, the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare and Health Secretaries of all states and Union Territories will participate in the public hearing.

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BRIEFLY

Minister’s convoy attacked
RAJGARH:
Madhya Pradesh Minister of State for Agriculture Badrilal Yadav escaped unhurt when his convoy was stoned by some miscreants at Todee village. Providing details of Tuesday night's attack, the police said Mr Yadav was heading for Bioara after attending a public function. It was unclear why the villagers stoned the convoy. — UNI

Ex-soldier booked for forgery
INDORE:
The police has registered a case against a retired Army man for forging documents to gain entry into an engineering college. According to the police, a case of cheating has been registered against Mhow resident Hansraj Sharma on the charge of using fake documents to get his admitted to an engineering college while he was serving in the Army. — UNI

Young Achievers Awards
MUMBAI:
Filmstars Akshay Kumar and Shilpa Shetty, leading choreographer Farah Khan, film director Rajkumar Hirani, playback singer Vasundhara Das and television producer Ekta Kapoor are among the 21 recipients of the Young Achievers Awards-2004 instituted by the Indo-American society. The winners will be felicitated at a function on December 18 here. — UNI

MP’s son arrested
MIRZAPUR:
The police has arrested the son of BSP MP from Robertsganj in Uttar Pradesh Lalchandra Kol for allegedly injuring a village head in a clash. The police said on Tuesday that a case was registered. — UNI
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