SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

10 lakh each for next of kin
New Delhi, February 19
The government today announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each for the next of kin of those killed in the explosions on the Samjhauta Express. While President, Prime Minister, and political leaders cutting across party lines condemned the blasts, the BJP accused the Centre of “complete failure” in tackling terrorism.
IED packets that were found on the track An unidentified relative of an injured traveller breaks down outside Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi.
IED packets that were found on the track. — A Tribune photograph An unidentified relative of an injured traveller breaks down outside Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi. — Tribune photo by Mukesh Aggarwal

Samjhauta driver, guard quizzed
Ambala, February 19
The Samjhauta Express driver and guard were detained for questioning at Ambala Cantt early this morning. The passengers were visibly shaken by the incident and were aghast over the tragedy that struck their fellow passengers.

Help desks were of little help
Panipat, February 19
All 13 persons injured in the devastating fire which broke out in the two coaches of the Delhi-Attari Express train near here last night following blasts, were shifted to the Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi. They were given first-aid at the local Civil Hospital named after former Chief Minister of Punjab Bhim Sen Sachar.

‘Don’t derail peace train’
Chandigarh/lahore,  February 19
The common man in the provincial metropolis reacted to the Samjhauta train blasts with shock and disbelief. Those expecting their relatives aboard the ill-fated rail, rushed to Wagah and Lahore railway stations to get the latest update.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi at the launch of Backward Regions Grants Fund at Mandia in Barpeta district of Assam on Monday
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi at the launch of Backward Regions Grants Fund at Mandia in Barpeta district of Assam on Monday. — PTI

EARLIER STORIES




BJP blames Centre
New Delhi, February 19
The BJP today condemned the blast on the Samjhauta Express calling it a terrorist attack and held the UPA’s soft policies towards terrorism responsible for the tragic incident.

World condemns attack on ‘Friendship Train’
New Delhi, February 19
India and Pakistan united in grief today, condemning the terror attack on a Lahore-bound train that left at least 67 people, mostly Pakistanis, dead near Panipat.

Lahore message: Don’t derail peace train
Chandigarh/lahore,  February 19
The common man in the provincial metropolis reacted to the Samjhauta train blasts with shock and disbelief. Those expecting their relatives aboard the ill-fated rail, rushed to Wagah and Lahore railway stations to get the latest update.

Left to live alone
Srinagar, February 19
Mohammad Maqbool Qureshi has been left to live a lonely life as his wife, Yasmeena Akhter, was one of the 66 persons killed in the blasts on the ill-fated Pakistan-bound Samjhauta Express.

Thar Express security tightened
Jaipur, February 19
The North-Western Railway (NWR) has decided to tighten security on the Indo-Pak Thar Express in the wake the Delhi-Attari Samjhauta Express blasts near Panipat in Haryana.

Timeline

SC notice to Virbhadra on ministry strength
New Delhi, February 19
The Supreme Court today took cognisance of a writ petition against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh for an alleged violation of the amended Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution by keeping the strength of his ministry short of the mandatory 12 ministers.

Saif normal, say docs
Mumbai, February 19
Actor Saif Ali Khan, who was admitted to Lilavati Hospital, Bandra, late Sunday evening after complaining of severe chest pain, is doing well, according to doctors at the hospital.

Campaigning ends in Uttarakhand
Kashipur, February 19
Campaigning Uttarakhand for the February 21 Vidhan Sabha election came to end this evening. In the past several weeks this state witnessed a galaxy of stars from the political and film world campaigned across the state zipping from the snow lines mountains to the plains in Terai.

Lalu acquittal challenged
Patna, February 19
The Nitish government today filed an appeal in the Patna High Court challenging the acquittal of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi in the politically sensitive disproportionate assets (DA) case.

What’s up?
CWC wants Mulayam Singh sacked
New Delhi, February 19
The Centre appeared to be inching towards imposition of President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh with the Congress today giving the go-ahead to the ruling coalition for the dismissal of the Mulayum Singh Yadav government.

Bajpur poll put off after candidate’s death
Bajpur (Terai), February 19
Uttarakhand will witness polling to 69 of the 70 Assembly seats as the election to the Bajpur Assembly constituency has been put off following the death of Congress candidate Janak Raj Sharma in a road accident.

Sex test threatens girl child in North
Patna, February 19
The three-day 16th annual conference of the Indian Federation of Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology (IFUMB), which concluded here yesterday, warned against the clandestine sex-determination tests, particularly in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, by violating the Pre-conception and Personal Diagnostic Technologies (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.

Embassies to help deserted Indian wives 
New Delhi, February 19
The government has decided to provide financial assistance for legal services to women deserted by overseas Indian spouses. The assistance would be provided to those Indian women, who have either been deserted or divorced by their overseas Indian spouses within two years of marriage.

Moily report: BJP forms panel
New Delhi, February 19
BJP president Rajnath Singh today appointed a five-member committee to go into the report on ethical governance submitted by Administrative Reforms Commission chairman Veerappa Moily.

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10 lakh each for next of kin
R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 19
The government today announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each for the next of kin of those killed in the explosions on the Samjhauta Express. While President, Prime Minister, and political leaders cutting across party lines condemned the blasts, the BJP accused the Centre of “complete failure” in tackling terrorism.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad said the ministry would give jobs to one family member of each Indian killed in the blasts. A relief of Rs 50,000 will be given to those injured.

President A P J Abdul Kalam expressed grief over the loss of lives in the explosions. He conveyed his condolences to the next of kin of those who lost their lives and prayed for the early recovery of those injured.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh voiced anguish over the train tragedy and said the culprits would be caught.

Condemning the ghastly blasts on the train, Congress President Sonia Gandhi appealed to the people of India and Pakistan to stand firmly against the “enemies of humanity.”

“ Mrs Gandhi has condemned the barbaric act and appealed to the people of India and Pakistan to stand firmly against such enemies of humanity," she said.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil said the incident was aimed at disturbing peace with other countries. "Whoever is behind the incident is against peace and wants to spoil our growing relationship with other countries," he said.

“The UPA government’s approach lacks a concerted policy to tackle terrorists," senior BJP leader L K Advani told the media over the phone from Pantnagar in Uttarakhand.

He flayed the UPA for scrapping POTA and accused it of attempts to save Parliament attack convict Mohammad Afzal from execution.

"The BJP feels that the UPA government should adopt zero tolerance towards terrorism.”

“This incident shows the Centre’s neglect towards public safety,” BJP vice-president Mukhthar Abbas Naqvi said. Demanding a high-level inquiry into the incident, he said, “there is an urgent need to review the security in the country.”

The CPM Politburo said it was clear that the blast was the handiwork of forces aiming to derail the peaceful dialogue process between India and Pakistan.

Noting that a large number of those killed were Pakistani citizens, the party asked the government to spare no effort to uncover the conspiracy. It also asked the people to remain united.

“It is an attempt to break up the good links that are being established with Pakistan. It is also aimed at disrupting the communication links between the people of the two countries,” CPI general secretary A B Bardhan said, adding that the talks should go on.

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Samjhauta driver, guard quizzed
Rahul Das
Tribune News Service

Ambala, February 19
The Samjhauta Express driver and guard were detained for questioning at Ambala Cantt early this morning.
The passengers were visibly shaken by the incident and were aghast over the tragedy that struck their fellow passengers.

The train chugged into the Ambala Cantt railway station around 4.55 am. It was an unscheduled stop, which was provided by the Railways to grant relief and refreshment to the train passengers. The train left for Attari around 6.20 am.

During the stopover, the passengers were provided refreshment by the railway officials. They were allowed to make phone calls from a STD booth located at platform No. 7. Incidentally, some of the railway officials even offered their mobile phones to the passengers to call up their relatives in Pakistan.

However, the train arrived at Ambala Cantt from Panipat without any security personnel. A Railway Protection Force (RPF) official said two RPF personnel on board the Samjhauta Express died in the blast while a third was stated to be missing. The rest of the security staff was involved in carrying out arrangements at Panipat.

The RPF Commandant, Mr S.Z. Khan, who was at the station, said he had provided security personnel for escort duty to Attari. The escort personnel comprised one Assistant Sub-Inspector and four constables.

Mr Faizal, a resident of Karachi, said he was in the adjoining coach when the incident took place. “There was a loud noise and we saw a lot of smoke. As soon as the train came to a halt, we jumped off the train to save ourselves. There was panic and chaos. We could hear shrieks from the affected coaches. It was heartrending,” he said.

Mr Alamgir, a resident of Gujranwala in Pakistan, said they were shocked over the incident. “We were travelling in the coach behind the affected coaches. We got down from the train and ran. There was fire in the adjoining coach. It is only by God’s grace that I am alive today,” he said. “Later, I helped in extricating two charred bodies from the burnt coach,” he added.

Another passenger, Mr Jamaluddin, said they hardly got any time to react. “We heard the loud blast and there was panic in our compartment,” he said. He added after the train re-started its journey from Panipat, the passengers pulled the chain twice as they could smell something burning. “Apparently, there was some problem with the brake but we were all worried. The guard of the train had to climb onto our coach so that we could be reassured of safety,” he said.

The RPF personnel led by its Commandant, Mr Khan, carried out a thorough checking of the train. Each and every luggage was checked by to ensure that there were no explosives on board. Platform Nos. 6 and 7 were sealed off when the train arrived. A posse of police personnel stood guard.

The train driver, Mr Narender Kumar, and the guard, Mr R.D. Singh, were detained for questioning and they were replaced by driver Virender Kumar and guard R.D. Pal, respectively, for the rest of the journey.

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Help desks were of little help
Tribune News Service

Panipat, February 19
All 13 persons injured in the devastating fire which broke out in the two coaches of the Delhi-Attari Express train near here last night following blasts, were shifted to the Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi. They were given first-aid at the local Civil Hospital named after former Chief Minister of Punjab Bhim Sen Sachar.

Since the local hospital does not have a specialised burn unit, the injured train passengers, who had suffered burns ranging from 15 per cent to 40 per cent, were shifted to Delhi where the Safdarjung Hospital has a specialised burn unit.

According to the Haryana Financial Commissioner, Health, Mrs Urvashi Gulati, who reached here from Chandigarh early this morning, after providing initial treatment to the injured, 30 doctors are engaged in completing the post-mortam formalities.

Realising that the bodies, a large number of them of Pakistani nationals charred beyond recognition, may have to be kept longer than usual, the authorities were making special arrangements to preserve these.

The bodies had been kept on ice blocks. Special airconditioners had been installed in the mortuary. Coffins had been arranged by the Railways. Mrs Gulati said a team 20 medicos had come from the Command Hospital, Ambala cantonment, and another team of six specialists had come from the Rohtak Medical College for embalming the bodies.

Hundreds of persons, who reached here to search for their relatives, were a harassed lot. Despite the authorities setting up several help lines, no information was available to them. The persons manning the help lines and help desks were themselves in as much dark as those seeking information. Since the bodies were beyond recognition, the authorities had to adopt the process of elimination to identify the missing persons.

The authorities only knew that 604 passengers had boarded the train and after the incident, 527 passengers had left for onward journey. Atik-ur-Rehman of Delhi had come here in search of his cousin Imran Islamudin, who had come from Lahore about a month ago. Bilqis, also from Delhi, was looking for her brother and father, who had come from Multan to visit her after 17 years.

The President of the All-India Anti-Terrorist Front, Mr Maninderjit Singh Bitta, took a delegation of the harassed relatives, who had come from places like Delhi, Nuh and Muzzafarabad, to the Haryana Chief Secretary, Mr Prem Prashant, to hear them out.

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‘Don’t derail peace train’
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh/lahore, February 19
The common man in the provincial metropolis reacted to the Samjhauta train blasts with shock and disbelief. Those expecting their relatives aboard the ill-fated rail, rushed to Wagah and Lahore railway stations to get the latest update.

With no official word from any side, their anxiety increased with each passing moment. Talking to The News reporter Awais Saleem, Ilyas and Amjad, members of a distressed family, criticised the delay in releasing the names of the dead and injured.

Another elderly man, Muhammad Ali, whose daughter and son-in-law were travelling on Samjhauta, was in tears and said the culprits should be brought to book. A sobbing Shabana, whose husband was coming from India on Samjhauta, said she had no information of his whereabouts.

With no official word from any side as the Pakistani authorities were awaiting the train to arrive from India , their anxiety only increased with each passing moment.

Farah Warraich , News Editor, The Daily Jung , Lahore, condemned the incident and said the peace process must not be allowed to be derailed. There was no question of any blame game, she added.

“This appears to be an attack on the forthcoming peace talks between India-Pakistan which has on its agenda easing of the visa regime as well as travel means between the two countries,” said Mr Hussain Naqi, human rights activist and a former editor of The News.

Said Muhammad Akram, a journalist with SAFMA, that the security to train passangers should be made visible not to the passangers but the terrorists. Akram, who travelled by this train to Delhi and back to Lahore, said the time had come for a joint mechanism on terror.

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BJP blames Centre
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 19
The BJP today condemned the blast on the Samjhauta Express calling it a terrorist attack and held the UPA’s soft policies towards terrorism responsible for the tragic incident.

Addressing a specially convened press conference, BJP president Rajnath Singh said his party condemned the terrorist attack and expressed sympathies and condolences to the bereaved families. He said the terrorist incident was the result of the UPA’s soft approach towards terrorism.

“The UPA government has not taken any effective steps even after terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Malegaon and Ayodhya”, Mr Rajnath Singh alleged.

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World condemns attack on ‘Friendship Train’

New Delhi, February 19
India and Pakistan united in grief today, condemning the terror attack on a Lahore-bound train that left at least 67 people, mostly Pakistanis, dead near Panipat.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while condemning the "heinous" bombing of the Samjhauta Express from New Delhi vowed not to allow such acts of terror derail the Indo-Pak peace process.

“We will not allow elements which want to sabotage the ongoing peace process and succeed in their nefarious designs," Musharraf said in a statement in Islamabad.

He underscored the need for Pakistan and India to move forward undeterred in the quest for dispute resolution and lasting peace in the region and expressed profound shock over the tragic loss of lives in the attack.

Dr Manmohan Singh, who received a call from his Pakistani counterpart Shaukat Aziz, said India was committed to doing everything possible to ensure that perpetrators of the heinous act were punished.

“The Prime Minister declared India's abhorrence for this heinous terrorist act and reaffirmed our commitment to doing everything possible to ensure that its perpetrators are punished," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

Dr Manmohan Singh also conveyed his condolences to the Pakistani victims of the tragedy and indicated the steps taken to provide all possible assistance for the injured and the bereaved.

World leaders condemned the terror strike and expressed hope that it would not derail the Indo-Pak peace process.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid M Kasuri, who is arriving here tomorrow on an official visit, said response to the attack is that the "peace process must go on." PTI

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Lahore message: Don’t derail peace train
Tribune News Service

Ahmedabad artist Aejaz Saiyed’s impression of Samjhauta blasts
Ahmedabad artist Aejaz Saiyed’s impression of Samjhauta blasts. — Reuters photo

Chandigarh/lahore, February 19
The common man in the provincial metropolis reacted to the Samjhauta train blasts with shock and disbelief. Those expecting their relatives aboard the ill-fated rail, rushed to Wagah and Lahore railway stations to get the latest update.

With no official word from any side, their anxiety increased with each passing moment. Talking to The News reporter Awais Saleem, Ilyas and Amjad, members of a distressed family, criticised the delay in releasing the names of the dead and injured.

Another elderly man, Muhammad Ali, whose daughter and son-in-law were travelling on Samjhauta, was in tears and said the culprits should be brought to book. A sobbing Shabana, whose husband was coming from India on Samjhauta, said she had no information of his whereabouts.

With no official word from any side as the Pakistani authorities were awaiting the train to arrive from India , their anxiety only increased with each passing moment.

Farah Warraich , News Editor, The Daily Jung , Lahore, condemned the incident and said the peace process must not be allowed to be derailed. There was no question of any blame game, she added.

“This appears to be an attack on the forthcoming peace talks between India-Pakistan which has on its agenda easing of the visa regime as well as travel means between the two countries,” said Mr Hussain Naqi, human rights activist and a former editor of The News.

Said Muhammad Akram, a journalist with SAFMA, that the security to train passangers should be made visible not to the passangers but the terrorists. Akram, who has travelled by this train to Delhi and back to Lahore, said the time had come for a joint mechanism on terror. Maheen Piracha, a peace activist, said the blast should be taken as a lesson by the two governments that their apparatus must be more focused on the security of the people.

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Left to live alone

Srinagar, February 19
Mohammad Maqbool Qureshi has been left to live a lonely life as his wife, Yasmeena Akhter, was one of the 66 persons killed in the blasts on the ill-fated Pakistan-bound Samjhauta Express.

Qureshi's two daughters and only son have reportedly settled in Pakistan and he was living with his wife at Panthachowk here.

Fayaz Ahmad, a neighbour, said the couple had been alone for quite some time now. Their son had visited them last year.

"We cannot believe she is dead. She was waiting to meet her daughters," said a sobbing relative.

Qureshi had accompanied his wife and had identified her body.

However, the police said they had received no official correspondence from Delhi about the death of any Kashmiri in the blasts. - PTI

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Thar Express security tightened

Jaipur, February 19
The North-Western Railway (NWR) has decided to tighten security on the Indo-Pak Thar Express in the wake the Delhi-Attari Samjhauta Express blasts near Panipat in Haryana.

Additional railway police personnel and dog squads have been pressed into service for its security from now, NWR General Manager S.B.Bhattacharya has told a high-level meeting called here.

He has directed Chief Security Commissioner P.M.Singh Deo to tighten the security on the Thar Express for its next trip on February 24.

The peace train plying between Munabao in Barmer district and Khokrapar in Pakistan's Sindh province had left with 71 passengers on board from Jodhpur on February 17. — PTI

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Timeline

December 30, 1996: 33 persons had been killed in a bomb blast in lower Assam.

July 8, 1997: 33 persons killed in a bomb blast in a passenger train at Lehra Khanna railway station in Punjab's Bhatinda district.

June 22, 1999: A powerful explosion rocked the New Jalpaiguri railway station. killing at least nine passengers, including two Indian soldiers. 85 others were injured, including 10 soldiers.

March 13, 2003: A bomb attack on a commuter train in Mumbai had killed 11 persons.

July 11, 2006: 185 persons had died in seven bomb explosions at railway stations and on trains in Mumbai.

February 19,2007: 67 people killed in explosions on the Samjhauta Express at Deewana near Panipat. Haryana. - PTI

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SC notice to Virbhadra on ministry strength
S.S. Negi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 19
The Supreme Court today took cognisance of a writ petition against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh for an alleged violation of the amended Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution by keeping the strength of his ministry short of the mandatory 12 ministers.

Describing the issue, raised in a petition by former Principal Virendra Kumar as an important question of law, a Bench of Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan and Mr Justice R. V. Raveendran issued notices to the Chief Minister, state government and the Centre, seeking their replies.

Mr Virendra Kumar, who appeared in person to argue his case, said the provision of ‘1A’ inserted by the 93rd Constitutional Amendment in Article 164 had made it mandatory that the number of ministers, including the Chief Minister, in a state “shall” not exceed 15 per cent of the total number of MLAs, provided that the number of ministers, including the Chief Minister, “shall” not also be less than 12.

He said the fixation of both minimum and maximum limits of the number of ministers by the insertion of ‘1A’ in Article 164 had thus been made mandatory and binding on the Chief Ministers.

Agreeing with him that he had raised an “important question of law”, the court said it would examine the matter.

In a related development arising out of another case, the state government withdrew its appeal against the Himachal Pradesh High Court order setting aside the appointment of a large number of parliamentary secretaries in 2005. The appeal was also pending before the Bench of CJI.

The state government, which has got a law passed in winter session of the Vidhan Sabha, giving the Chief Minister powers to appoint the chief parliamentary secretaries and parliamentary secretaries, preferred to withdraw the appeal as state’s Additional Advocate-General J. S. Attri told the court that with the passage of the legislation it had become infructuous.

But this was strongly opposed by senior advocate Arun Jaitley, appearing for the NGO, Citizen’s Rights Protection, on whose petition the High Court had quashed the appointments. He said the state government by the legislation had given legality to an executive order appointing parliamentary secretaries to overcome the provisions of 93 Amendment for downsizing the ministries in the state.

Consequent to the passage of the legislation, Mr Virbhadra Singh had reportedly cleared the appointment of 12 parliamentary secretaries to accommodate party legislators in positions with facilities akin to ministers, which was likely to be given effect soon.

However, Mr Jaitley told the court that his client would challenge the constitutional validity of the legislation itself in a fresh petition.

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Saif normal, say docs
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, February 19
Actor Saif Ali Khan, who was admitted to Lilavati Hospital, Bandra, late Sunday evening after complaining of severe chest pain, is doing well, according to doctors at the hospital.

Khan was rushed to hospital while he was to perform at the Stardust Awards ceremony last evening. After performing an emergency angiography on Khan, the doctors said the chest pains did not mean that the actor had suffered a heart attack.

“We have kept him under observation for two days. His angiography is normal,” Dr N Trivedi, Dean, Lilavati Hospital, said.

His sister Soha said Khan had been working very hard and was suffering from exertion. He returned from South Africa early Sunday morning and rushed to the MMRDA grounds, where he practised for his performance at the awards function. Later in the day he returned for the rehearsals where he practiced for three hours.

He suffered from chest pains shortly before he was to take the stage for the actual performance.

After the actor was rushed to a local hospital, the doctors advised Khan to be taken to Lilavati suspecting that he had suffered a heart attack.

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Campaigning ends in Uttarakhand
Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

Kashipur, February 19
Campaigning Uttarakhand for the February 21 Vidhan Sabha election came to end this evening. In the past several weeks this state witnessed a galaxy of stars from the political and film world campaigned across the state zipping from the snow lines mountains to the plains in Terai.

The Uttarakhand sky was dotted with helicopters carrying people like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and BJP stalwart L K Advani, who hopped from one rally to another. The BJP put up Hema Malani to counter Sonia Gandhi, while Navjot Sidhu campaigned in the Terai to elicit Punjabi votes, especially in the Terai in favour of the BJP.

The Haryana Congress leaders campaigned in Uttarakhand relentlessly, while most Punjab Congress leaders were conspicuous with their absence. Though, the Uttarakhand Congress leaders and workers were unhappy with the Punjab Congress leadership’s indifferent attitude, they forgave them saying that the Punjab Congressmen need rest after a hectic poll activity there.

The polling on Wednesday will seal the fate of 806 candidates that include 251 independents and 69 each from the Congress, BJP and BSP. Election to the Bajpur seat has been put off following the death of the Congress candidate in a road accident while returning from campaigning. Uttarakhand Kranti Dal and Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party have 62 and 56 candidates.

Though the main contest is seen to be between the Congress and the BJP, but since the BSP polled nearly 11 per cent of the total votes in the 2002 elections it is considered to have a tremendous potential for damage. In the last house, the BSP had won 7 seats, while out of the 70 seats the Congress had won 36 seats, BJP 19, UKKD 4, NCP 1 and remaining 4 went to independents, two of whom later joined the Congress taking its strength in the house to 38.

Interestingly, in the 2002 poll though the Congress came to power, but it polled under 2 percent more votes than the BJP. In fact even in terms of number of votes the Congress had polled 76, 9991 votes as against the BJP that polled 72, 8134 votes across the 70 assembly segments. It was a close contest which is likely to repeat this time with the BSP and Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKKD) – a local party - playing spoilers.

The current election is being contested by the Congress on the issue of continuing development, while the BJP is seeking vote on the issue of rising prices, unemployment, lack of development, etc.

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Lalu acquittal challenged
Tribune News Service

Patna, February 19
The Nitish government today filed an appeal in the Patna High Court challenging the acquittal of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi in the politically sensitive disproportionate assets (DA) case.

A special CBI court had acquitted Mr Lalu Prasad and Ms Rabri Devi in the Rs 46-lakh DA case on December 18.

The move by the Nitish government came ahead of the CBI’s success to seek the Union Law Ministry`s nod to appeal against the acquittal of Lalu in the DA case.

The development was a first of its kind when a state government stepped in to thwart what it saw as the Centre's alleged attempt to misuse the CBI by withholding consent for appeal against acquittal in certain cases.

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What’s up?
CWC wants Mulayam Singh sacked
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 19
The Centre appeared to be inching towards imposition of President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh with the Congress today giving the go-ahead to the ruling coalition for the dismissal of the Mulayum Singh Yadav government.

The overwhelming opinion at a late night meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) today was that the recent Supreme Court order left the UPA government little choice but to impose Central rule in UP. In fact, the general mood was that the Centre should act within the next two days as it will serve no purpose to take this decision once the budget session of Parliament gets underway.

Except for Satyavrat Chaturvedi, who sounded a note of caution, all other CWC members from Uttar Pradesh who were invited to take the floor by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, said the Centre could not afford to backtrack on imposing President’s rule after going so far.

None of the speakers referred directly to the CPM ‘s strong opposition to this move but the tone and tenor of their presentations appeared to suggest that the government should press ahead despite the CPM’s objections.

While agreeing with his colleagues, Mr Chaturvedi remarked that this decision should not be at the cost of the UPA government’s survival. Stating that “UPA is more important than UP”, he said the Congress should also take into account the message it will be sending to the minorities in case of a growing perception that the Congress joined hands with the BJP to topple the Mulyaum Singh Yadav government. He further said that the Centre should also take President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam into confidence to avoid any embarrasment later.

Briefing presspersons after the meeting, Congress media department chairman Janardan Dwivedi said the CWC was firm that the Mulayum Singh Yadav government had no moral right to continue in office after the recent Supreme Court judgement but left it to the government to take a final view.

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Bajpur poll put off after candidate’s death
Tribune News Service

Bajpur (Terai), February 19
Uttarakhand will witness polling to 69 of the 70 Assembly seats as the election to the Bajpur Assembly constituency has been put off following the death of Congress candidate Janak Raj Sharma in a road accident.

Sharma’s vehicle rammed into a stationary tractor-trailer while he was returning after addressing an election rally in the constituency late last night.

Located in the Terai belt of Uttarakhand, Bajpur is an important constituency for Punjabis, comprising agriculturists, many of them Jat Sikhs of Punjabi origin who moved here to occupy large tracts of land over four decades ago.

Sharma, a confidant of Chief Minister Narain Dutt Tiwari, had contested the 2002 elections as an Independent and lost by a narrow margin. This time the Chief Minister had prevailed upon the party high command to allot the ticket to Sharma.

As the news of Sharma’s death spread, parties immediately suspended poll-related activity.

On Monday morning, the entire Bajpur constituency, comprising the small town with the same name and several villages on its periphery, went into mourning and pulled down shutters, shut off loudspeakers and gathered at Sharma’s theatre.

The Election Commission is yet to announce a new date for the election, but it is now likely to be held in March along with that of the Beas constituency in Punjab.

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Sex test threatens girl child in North
Ambarish Datta
Tribune News Service

Patna, February 19
The three-day 16th annual conference of the Indian Federation of Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology (IFUMB), which concluded here yesterday, warned against the clandestine sex-determination tests, particularly in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, by violating the Pre-conception and Personal Diagnostic Technologies (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.

Experts participating in the conference raised doubts about the role of the administration in checking the violation of the Act.

Dr J. S. Romana from Bathinda pointed out that the practice was still widely prevalent in Punjab.

What was more shocking to note that even ministers, bureaucrats and influential people, who were supposed to enforce the Act, were getting the sex determination test done on their pregnant wives. “We are under pressure to do this or face harassment”, Dr Romana said.

Sex ration in the 0-6 age group has been consistently declining over the past few decades. Going by the surveys conducted by both government and non-government agencies, against the national average of 976 girls per 1,000 boys in 1961, the said ratio alarmingly dropped to 927 girls per 1,000 boys in 2001.

The findings further pointed out that the sex ratio was most distorted in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, which had less than 900 girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age-group in 1991.

In the Census-2001, the sex ratio plunged further to the level of around 800.

The experts also differed with the views cited frequently that it was poverty and related burden of dowry on poor families as a reason for female foeticide. “Poverty has little to do with female foeticide. Rather, it is prosperity, which allows improved access to medical technology, that is fuelling the trend”, experts claimed.

Data collected by the Voluntary Health Association of India suggests that the level of education has little to do with female foeticide.

For example, even though Hoshiarpur district in Punjab has a literacy rate of 81.4 per cent, its child sex ratio had declined in the latest census from 864 females in 1991 to 810 per 1,000 males in 2001.

The experts called upon the radiologists to be honest and maintain records of each case to reverse the disappearing trend of girl child.

In early 1979, North India’s first sex determination clinic was opened in Amritsar. Soon similar clinics mushroomed in Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

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Embassies to help deserted Indian wives 
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 19
The government has decided to provide financial assistance for legal services to women deserted by overseas Indian spouses.
The assistance would be provided to those Indian women, who have either been deserted or divorced by their overseas Indian spouses within two years of marriage.

The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs proposes to introduce this scheme in the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, places from where such cases are being mostly reported.

The assistance would be provided to Indian women, who were victims of fraudulent marriages and deserted by their overseas Indian husbands or were facing divorce proceedings in a foreign country.

The Indian missions concerned would involve credible Indian women’s organizations and NGOs working in these countries and give them financial assistance to the tune of $ 1,000 per case.

The organisations would be expected to provide documentation and initial support for legal proceedings and counselling for the deserted women.

The objective of the scheme is to provide advisory and legal services to women of Indian origin in distress as a welfare measure.

A panel of community advocates, through credible Indian associations and women’s organisations, would provide legal services.

The scheme would cover Indian women, deserted in India or overseas, within two years of their marriage and divorce proceedings initiated by the overseas Indian husbands within two years of marriage.

Legal aid would also be provided in the cases of an ex-parte decree of divorce or annulment of the marriage obtained by the overseas Indian husband and a case of maintenance or alimony is required to be filed.

The scheme would be circulated among Indian community associations by the missions concerned for information and publicity and sent to women’s groups and NGOs inviting them to apply for empanelment under the scheme for providing legal services.

The women’s organization/NGO would make efforts to enlist community advocates to extend further legal assistance/appearance in court.

The applications for legal aid received by the missions and authorising the missions to take up their case legally would be examined and approved by the mission.

A committee in the ministry would examine the applications received in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs from women seeking assistance.

Based on the scrutiny and approval of the ministry, the cases would be recommended to the missions for giving assistance to women in distress.

The government’s decision to put in place the assistance mechanism comes in the wake of increasing number of complaints of Indian women, who opt for NRI/overseas Indian marriages but were abandoned or ill-treated by their husbands.

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Moily report: BJP forms panel
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 19
BJP president Rajnath Singh today appointed a five-member committee to go into the report on ethical governance submitted by Administrative Reforms Commission chairman Veerappa Moily.

A party release said while former Union Minister Sushma Swaraj would be the convener, senior leaders Yashwant Sinha, Arun Jaitley, Arun Shourie and V.K. Malhotra would be the members of the committee, which would submit its report within a month.

The Parliamentary Board would consider this report and decide the BJP's stand on the various aspects of the report, the release said.

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