SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

After Kalam, who?
Left backs his candidature
Pranab front-runner for presidency

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam New Delhi, May 17
External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee has emerged as the front runner for presidency with the Left parties today openly backing his candidature, even as the Congress continued to remain undecided.

Terrorism: UK, India to share information
Guwahati, May 17
The UK today expressed its willingness for greater cooperation with India in combating terrorism and reiterated its support to India’s claim for a permanent membership in the United Nation’s Security Council.

Justice Sodhi’s book released
Noted jurist Fali S. Nariman (centre) presents a book to former Chief Justice R.S. Pathak (left) while Justice S.S. Sodhi looks on at the book release function in New Delhi on Thursday. New Delhi, May 17
“The Other Side of Justice”, a book written by former Chief Just- ice of the Allahabad High Court, Justice S.S. Sodhi, was released here today at an impressive.

Noted jurist Fali S. Nariman (centre) presents a book to former Chief Justice R.S. Pathak (left) while Justice S.S. Sodhi looks on at the book release function in New Delhi on Thursday. — Tribune photo by Manas Ranjan

PM elected unopposed to RS
Guwahati, May 17
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Congress candidate, and Asom Gana Parishad’s Kumar Dipak Das were elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha from the state after Matanga Singh, the Assam United Democratic Front candidate, pulled out of the race today.

Quota issue referred to larger bench of SC
New Delhi, May 17
A larger bench of the Supreme Court will examine the legal and constitutional validity of a controversial law for reserving 27 per cent seats for Other Backward Classes (OBC) students in higher educational institutions.



Writer Arundhati Roy addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday regarding the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen, Vice-President of the People's Union Civil Liberties (PUCL), by the Chhattisgarh Police and demanded the immediate withdrawal of cases and his release.
Writer Arundhati Roy addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday regarding the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen, Vice-President of the People's Union Civil Liberties (PUCL), by the Chhattisgarh Police and demanded the immediate withdrawal of cases and his release. —  Tribune photo by Mukesh Aggarwal

EARLIER STORIES


First set own house in order: Cong to Badal
New Delhi, May 17
Taking strong exception to remarks of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal blaming the party for the sectarian trouble in the state following controversy over certain actions of the chief of a Sirsa-based religious sect, the Congress said today that it had nothing to do with events in Punjab.

Burns not coming next week, but N-deal on course
New Delhi, May 17
Assistant secretary of state Nicholas Burns, Washington’s point man on Indo-US nuclear deal, is not coming here next week. However, Indian and American diplomats here stress that the development could not be construed as a setback to the nuclear deal negotiations.

Plan to beautify Jallianwala Bagh
New Delhi, May 17
The Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust has chalked out an action plan for the beautification and renovation of the Jallianwala Bagh memorial site in order to develop it as a “world-class monument”.

5 killed in blast at explosives factory
Dehra Dun, May 17
A blast in a private explosives manufacturing factory on the outskirts of the capital city today claimed the lives of three workers (five according to PTI) and left seven injured. Two of them were rushed to a Delhi hospital in a critical condition.

SC grants bail to Monica Bedi
New Delhi, May 17
The Supreme Court today granted bail to Bollywood starlet Monica Bedi in a passport forgery case but the companion of gangster Abu Salem will remain behind bars for now as she was denied a similar relief in another case.

Nandigram talks: CM, Bose opt out
Kolkata, May 17
The Nandigram peace talks received a setback following the decision of the Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the Left Front chairman Biman Bose to skip the meeting.

Dr Manmohan SinghBridge gap between public, private schools, says PM
New Delhi, May 17
Stressing upon the need to bridge the quality gap between public and private schools, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said today that a high-quality public schooling system was the only guarantor of equality of opportunity to all groups, irrespective of their social or economic conditions.

Maya guns for  Big B, the ‘farmer’
Lucknow, May 17
Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan could be in trouble as the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh is set to expedite a probe into alleged irregularities in the land allotted to him by the government.

Killing of Hindi-speaking persons in Assam
RJD wants PM to intervene

Patna, May 17
The RJD, the main Opposition party in Bihar and a coalition partner of the Congress-led UPA at the Centre, today demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should intervene to stop the killing of innocent Hindi-speaking people in Assam by the extremist outfit ULFA.

Police questions MPs in human-trafficking scam
New Delhi, May 17
The Delhi Police today claimed to have questioned two MPs over their involvement in a human-trafficking scam even as it claimed to have arrested the travel agent who arranged the forged travel documents on which BJP MP Babubhai Katara was trying to smuggle abroad a woman and a teenager last month.

Parliament adjourned sine die
New Delhi, May 17
The two houses of Parliament were adjourned sine die today, five days ahead of schedule.

Kalam lays stone of medical centre
Kolkata, May 17
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam expressed his disappointment today that countrymen, as a whole, were lacking in self-reliance and confidence which made India lag behind many countries in the world.

500 kg explosives seized
Patna, May 17
In a major breakthrough, the Bihar police recovered 500 kg of explosives from a village in the Mohanpur area of Gaya district today.

NHRC camp in Patna
New Delhi, May 17
To take stock of the human rights situation in Bihar, the National Human Rights Commission is holding a three-day camp from tomorrow in Patna. During the camp, 263 cases, including of custodial death, police torture and illegal detention, would be taken up.

SC bans cooking on pavements
New Delhi, May 17
The Supreme Court today imposed a ban on cooking of food items on pavements in Delhi. A bench comprising Justice B.P. Singh and Justice Harjit Singh Bedi, however, permitted preparation of tea and coffee on roadside eating joints provided it did not result in the disposal of any waste. — UNI


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After Kalam, who?
Left backs his candidature
Pranab front-runner for presidency
R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 17
External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee has emerged as the front runner for presidency with the Left parties today openly backing his candidature, even as the Congress continued to remain undecided.

“If the Congress and the UPA put up Pranab Mukherjee, we said we will support it,” CPM leader Sitaram Yechury told mediapersons here. But, the decision has to be taken by the Congress and UPA as to who they wanted to field, he said.

This is the first public statement by the Left leaders in support of any candidate for presidency. The four Left parties met here yesterday to set out the criteria based on which they would support the presidential candidature.

The term of President APJ Abdul Kalam is ending in July and the Left parties have not shown any willingness to support his re-election.

According to the criteria, the candidate to be “put up by all of us should be a person of political stature, should have requisite political background and experience to fulfil the responsibilities under the constitution, create a balance between executive, judiciary and legislature and have an integral knowledge of the functioning of the political system,” CPM general-secretary Prakash Karat said.

Pranab Mukherjee is one of the senior ministers in the union cabinet and is seen to be widely accepted by both the Left and other supporting partners of the Congress. He is also seen to be close to the Gandhi family having served as a minister under Indira Gandhi. A key man in the union cabinet, who is seen as the problem solver, as he heads more than two dozen GoMs.

The Congress is yet to consult its other UPA allies, but that is only a formality. The Congress is still uncertain about losing Pranab to Rashtrapati Bhavan given the key role he plays in the government.

Even if the Congress comes out in favour of the external affairs minister, Pranab’s road to presidency would have to pass through Lucknow as BSP supremo and UP Chief Minister Mayawati, with her party’s stupendous performance in the assembly poll, virtually holds the key to Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Apart from Pranab, other names being discussed are senior Congress leaders Sushil Kumar Shinde and Karan Singh.

Indications are that Pranab could also fit in the Mayawati’s new social engineering process, where she has been wooing the Brahmins to consolidate on her vote bank and march her steps towards Delhi.

The BSP chief has still not indicated whether she will support Pranab. Mayawati can bargain for her own candidate for the post, as she holds the crucial number of 61,319 votes in the Electoral College of 10.98 lakh votes.

The Congress could project Shinde to win over the Dalit vote bank, but is unlikely to find much support as his candidature is neither acceptable to the Left nor the BSP would back him. Royal tag seems to be proving as a burden for Karan Singh, as the communists have no inclination to support his case.

Although the NDA has left it to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to announce the alliance’s candidature after holding consultations, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat appears to be the front runner. Shekhawat not only enjoys strong support within the NDA, but also outside the alliance.

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Terrorism: UK, India to share information
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, May 17
The UK today expressed its willingness for greater cooperation with India in combating terrorism and reiterated its support to India’s claim for a permanent membership in the United Nation’s Security Council.

The British minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, Kim Howells, said here: “We (UK and India) are faced with similar problem of terrorism. Hence there is a need for sustained sharing of intelligence to counter the problem.”

Howells, who was here to inaugurate a British Information Centre for the North-East, pointed out that India was located in a “tough neighbourhood”.

“India is surrounded with countries with great problems. If those states transform into failed nations, it will pose a threat not only for India but the entire world. India has already suffered much due to the confusion in Kashmir, problems in Afghanistan and the Taliban movement along the border with Pakistan,” he said.

In response to a question whether Britain will put pressure on Bangladesh and Myanmar to respond to India’s request for eviction of North-East militant camps in those countries, he said the interim government in Bangladesh had shown positive attitude in this respect while the previous regime persistently denied existence of Indian militants camps in that country. He hoped that the new government that would be installed in Bangladesh after the election would continue with the attitude of the interim government.

Regarding Myanmar, Dr Howells said: “Britain has poor relation with Myanmar due to the tyrannical rule in the country. They treat their own people in a brutal manner and Britain can never support it.”

He said killings of innocent people in conflicts-ridden North-East should stop and that the UK government was extending cooperation to New Delhi in tackling the situation.

Stating that innocent citizens were murdered in London by Islamic fundamentalists and there was greater threat from terrorism, Howells underlined the need for sharing intelligence to tackle the global dimension. He said Britain had been helping India to train its police and intelligence officers in that country.

“India shares borders with countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. It should share any information of suspicious movement of terrorists in those countries in the interest of global security,” he said.

The UK minister observed that India should be made a permanent member of the UN Security Council in view of the changed geo-political environment.

“Britain had spoken in support of India, the world’s largest democracy and a power in the new world, and will continue supporting its claim for a permanent seat in the UN,” the minister added.

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Justice Sodhi’s book released
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 17
“The Other Side of Justice”, a book written by former Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court, Justice S.S. Sodhi, was released here today at an impressive function attended by dignitaries from various walks of life.

Noted jurist Fali S. Nariman released the book. Justice R.S. Pathak, President of The Tribune Trust, and H.K. Dua, Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune, were among those present.

After releasing the book, Jurist Nariman presented the first copy to Justice Pathak and later during his comment he cited various reasons for Justice Sodhi not being elevated as a Judge to the Supreme Court. He was critical of the present selection system for the judges of the apex court and referred to bias entering judges’ mind while selecting new incumbents.

He pointed out that the former Chief Justice of India and a former Judge of the Allahabad High Court and then a Judge of the Supreme Court, whom Justice Sodhi had not given favours, pitched in against him to ensure that he was not elevated to the apex court.

The book is the story of Justice Sodhi, a trustee of The Tribune, told with remarkable candour and objectivity. A compelling and disturbing examination of the Allahabad High Court, this volume provides a rare glimpse into the sordid episodes that usually remain hidden on ‘the other side of justice’.

The book begins with Justice Sodhi being transferred in the February of 1994 from the Punjab and Haryana High Court after a run-in with Bhajan Lal, the then Chief Minister of Haryana. He was moved to Allahabad in what is typically described as a “punishment posting”, and which many of his contemporaries judiciously avoided.

He took up the job with no hesitation. However, little did Justice Sodhi know what lay in store for him? Once renowned for its decorum, etiquette and ethical conduct, the Allahabad High Court and several other courts in Uttar Pradesh had been virtually hijacked by a band of belligerent lawyers who had scant respect for the law.

These lawyers had attained the dubious distinction of being able to browbeat the judges at will, some of whom were also not entirely above board.

Justice Sodhi made serious efforts to rectify the situation as judge and later as the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court, the post from which he later retired.

He utilised his tenure in Allahabad to clear the cobwebs, streamline the system and navigate the politico-legal labyrinth he found himself in. In the process, he encountered caste prejudices, had his religion and character questioned contested arbitrary judicial diktats and tackled low cunning that masqueraded as legal wisdom.

During his term in office, he made several enemies - who deprived him of an elevation to the Supreme Court - and many friends too, which comes out in a brilliant fashion in the book.

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PM elected unopposed to RS
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, May 17
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Congress candidate, and Asom Gana Parishad’s Kumar Dipak Das were elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha from the state after Matanga Singh, the Assam United Democratic Front candidate, pulled out of the race today.

The election to two Rajya Sabha seats was scheduled for May 24. The ruling Congress fielded Manmohan Singh as its candidate leaving the second seat open for the opposition parties in the Assam Assembly.

The Asom Gana Parishad fielded Kumar Dipak Das, while the Assam United Democratic Front nominee was Matanga Singh, a former union minister in the Narasimha Rao government.

However, the election is no longer necessary as Matanga Singh today decided to opt out of the race in the “honour of the Prime Minister”.

After withdrawing the nomination, he said that he decided not to contest due to respect to the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said the ruling Congress was feeling honoured to have been able to facilitate the PM’s re-election to the Rajya Sabha unopposed. The present term of the PM in Rajya Sabha expires on June 14.

It will be Manmohan Singh’s fourth term in a row in the Upper House as representative from Assam.

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Quota issue referred to larger bench of SC
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 17
A larger bench of the Supreme Court will examine the legal and constitutional validity of a controversial law for reserving 27 per cent seats for Other Backward Classes (OBC) students in higher educational institutions.

The bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice L.S. Panta said today that the composition and number of judges on the bench would be decided by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan.

Counsels dealing with the quota issue believe that the number of judges on the larger bench should at least be five as the central government wanted the matter to be heard by at least a five-judge bench.

Even though Justice Pasayat and Justice Panta decided to refer the quota issue to a larger bench, the Congress-led UPA government’s keenness to implement 27 per cent reservation in higher educational institutions from the current academic year itself has been stymied.

With the Supreme Court proceeding on summer vacation, it is unlikely that the hearing of various parties can be completed in time for a verdict before the start of the academic session.

On its part, the bench had accepted a comprehensive set of more than three dozen questions relating to the constitutionality of the Constitution (93rd amendment) Act and the related parliamentary legislation, the Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admissions) Act, 2006.

The matter to be decided by the larger bench pertains to the justification of reservation after nearly six decades of independence as well as the constitutional right to equality.

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First set own house in order: Cong to Badal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 17
Taking strong exception to remarks of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal blaming the party for the sectarian trouble in the state following controversy over certain actions of the chief of a Sirsa-based religious sect, the Congress said today that it had nothing to do with events in Punjab. It asked the SAD leader to first set his own house in order.

Congress Spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said it was “unfortunate and deeply regretful” that a constitutional functionary chose to make “irresponsible” statements. “The Congress has nothing whatsoever to do with events in Punjab. The Chief Minister should first set his house in order before indulging in irresponsible finger-pointing,” he said.

Singhvi said it was very clear that the Chief Minister was trying to sidetrack the issue to transfer responsibility. “He is indulging in politics of diversion,” the spokesman said, adding that the SAD-BJP government had not enjoyed even the honeymoon period of 90 days.

Comparing the SAD-BJP government with the previous Congress regime in Punjab, Singhvi said the party had not allowed law and order situation to degenerate.

“The Congress is a responsible party with impeccable secular credentials and the party-led government at the Centre is headed by a man of stature, Dr Manmohan Singh.”

The Congress does not practise policies based on religion or divisiveness. Be it the SAD, the BJP, the VHP or anyone else, anything done to hurt religious sentiments of a group is wrong, he said.

Condemning the violence, Singhvi appealed to people to work for peace. Asked if the Congress was right in taking political support from Dera Sacha Sauda during the Punjab Assembly elections, Singhvi said there was no question of the Congress seeking support.

“If a group decides to support the Congress, we are not going to say no to votes,” he said.

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Burns not coming next week, but N-deal on course
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 17
Assistant secretary of state Nicholas Burns, Washington’s point man on Indo-US nuclear deal, is not coming here next week. However, Indian and American diplomats here stress that the development could not be construed as a setback to the nuclear deal negotiations.

Indian and American officials here and in Washington had been saying that Burns would be visiting New Delhi in the third week of May for wrapping up the 123 agreement on Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation. It is understood that the two sides have made substantial progress on the N-deal but they are yet not there.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush are scheduled to meet during the G8 Outreach Summit in Germany in the second week of June.

Manmohan Singh leaves here for Berlin on June 6 and returns on June 9.

Both the sides are keen to wrap up the 123 agreement before the Bush-Singh meeting. The Prime Minister is expected to travel to Washington for signing the bilateral agreement later this summer.

Negotiators from the two sides, who have been working on civilian nuclear cooperation for over two years that is unprecedented in the world history, are confident of crossing the camel’s hump in weeks. There is a strong possibility that Burns’ crucial India visit could finally take place a fortnight later.

The two sides had broken new grounds when foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon held talks with Burns in Washington on April 29-30. Since then, two drafts are moving back and forth through diplomatic channels. These negotiations have reached a sensitive and decisive stage and if a breakthrough is achieved, as is expected, Burns would be here at a short notice.

Ministry of external affairs’ spokesman Navtej Sarna, when asked whether Burns had cancelled his India visit, said: “No particular date had yet been finalised. We are in the process of exchanging suggestions and examining them. We will let you know when a visit is scheduled.”

David Kenedy, spokesman for the US embassy here, told The Tribune that talks on the 123 agreement were moving forward.

“We achieved good progress in April. The bottomline is that no date had been set for Burns’ visit to New Delhi. The talks are on course.”

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Plan to beautify Jallianwala Bagh
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 17
The Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust (JBNMT) has chalked out an action plan for the beautification and renovation of the Jallianwala Bagh memorial site in order to develop it as a “world-class monument”.

The high-level meeting of the board of trustees held here last evening under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh included Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, minister of tourism and cultural affairs Ambika Soni, Punjab Governor Gen S.F. Rodrigues, former PM I.K. Gujral, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other members of the Trust, among others.

Government officials said Badal recommended that the names of Amritsar MP and SGPC President be included in the managing committee after its reconstitution.

It was also decided that the Amritsar Improvement Trust would hand over certain adjoining buildings to the JBNMT for the expansion and beautification of the memorial.

The CM also agreed to raise some portions of the outer wall of the Jallianwala Bagh. Among other issues discussed, corrective measures to immediately check the high level of pollution in the air within the periphery of memorial were considered.

Besides this, a light and sound programme would be organised at the site to familiarise visitors with the tragedy. Besides this, videos and CDs of the show would be made available throughout the country as part of the awareness campaign.

The action plan includes the setting up of a mini-library, museum and art gallery and a life-size painting or photograph of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at the proposed museum, other national museums and the Parliament, it was stated.

It was also decided to hold national-level seminars and symposium on the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy.

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5 killed in blast at explosives factory
Raju William
Tribune News Service

Dehra Dun, May 17
A blast in a private explosives manufacturing factory on the outskirts of the capital city today claimed the lives of three workers (five according to PTI) and left seven injured. Two of them were rushed to a Delhi hospital in a critical condition.

The blast, which occurred at around 7.20 am at Narendra explosive and accessories manufacturing factory in Raipur, was so powerful that the body of a worker was blown to pieces while two bodies were found at a distance of about 500 metre from the blast site. Its deafening sound caused panic among the residents of the area as a trail of black smoke was seen on the eastern side of the city.

In the past, a blast had killed three workers of the factory that supplies gunpowder and explosives to ordnance units in Pune, Jabalpur and Kanpur. It has a manufacturing and storage licence issued by the controller of explosives, Nagpur.

The deceased have been identified as Mohan Sharma, Ravi Parsad and Gam Bahadur. Seriously injured Teg Bahadur and Thamman Bahadur sustained 100 per cent burns.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri, along with tourism minister Parkash Pant, visited the spot to oversee the rescue and relief operations. He announced a magisterial inquiry into the incident and ex-gratia relief of Rs 50,000 to the families of deceased and seriously injured and Rs 25,000 to other injured.

More than a dozen fire tenders were pressed into service to douse the flames as police personnel and bomb disposal squad of the Uttarakhand police rescued the affected workers.

SSP Sanjay Kumar Gunjial, who supervised the rescue operations, told The Tribune that the blast occurred while 11 workers in section six of the factory were sieving explosive material. The police has arrested factory general manager Rahul Malhotra. The proprietor, Dinesh Jain, is on a visit to China.

Sanjay Thakur, who survived the blast, said nearly 150 kg of ammunition was stored in the factory when the mishap occurred. “The workers have told us that more explosive material was being stored on the factory premises. We will also investigate into the safety aspect along with a team of explosive experts,” added the SSP. The police has asked the factory management to shut all operations.

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SC grants bail to Monica Bedi

New Delhi, May 17
The Supreme Court today granted bail to Bollywood starlet Monica Bedi in a passport forgery case but the companion of gangster Abu Salem will remain behind bars for now as she was denied a similar relief in another case.

A bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice R.V. Raveendran granted bail to Bedi in a passport forgery case in which she was sentenced to three years imprisonment by the Andhra Pradesh High Court.

The bench denied her bail in another case being tried in Bhopal. However, it directed the Bhopal trial court to expeditiously conclude the proceeding in the case registered against Bedi, Salem and three others for allegedly procuring passports on the basis of fake documents in 2001.

Bedi has been lodged at Central Jail in Bhopal since last year. She was arrested in Portugal along with gangster Abu Salem in August, 2002 for using fake passport and the two were extradited to India in November, 2005.

Senior counsel K.T.S. Tulsi appearing for Bedi contended that she had already undergone three years of imprisonment in Portugal for the offence of using forged passport and she could not be convicted twice for the same offence.

“A person cannot be punished twice for the same offence or alleged different offences arising out of the same facts. It is a violation of her fundamental rights granted by the Constitution if she is punished again by an Indian court,” her counsel argued.

The actress pleaded before the apex court today that she needed to collect documents from Dubai to prove that she was out of country when the passport was allegedly released on her name. — PTI

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Nandigram talks: CM, Bose opt out
Subhrangshu Gupta
Tribune News Service

Kolkata, May 17
The Nandigram peace talks received a setback following the decision of the Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the Left Front chairman Biman Bose to skip the meeting.

On the other hand, the convenor Ashoke Ghose, a senior Forward Bloc leader, made it clear that there would be no peace meeting, if Biman Bose and the TMC leader Mamata Banerjee decided to stay out.

Ghose told mediapersons today that the Chief Minister conveyed to him about his decision of not attending the proposed all-party talk at Mahajati Sadan on May 26.

Biman Bose also said since he was not convening the meeting, there could be no question of his attending it. But he said the CPM as a whole would be involved in the peace process for resolving the Nandigram crisis and restoring peace and normalcy to Nandigram.

Though it was not officially stated either from the state government or the CPM, why Bhattacharjee and Bose suddenly decided not to attend the proposed meeting but party sources indicated that they felt insulted at the odd handling of the peace talk process with Mamata Banerjee by the three front partners - the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc - which was lowering down the importance of the CPM and other partners.

The Chief Minister, however, told a TV channel that the party had not yet decided who would represent it in the proposed all-party meeting. The CPM state secretariat would soon finalise the name of the leaders who would be present at the meeting, he added. But he said the date of the meeting and its venue had not been finalised yet.

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Bridge gap between public, private schools, says PM
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 17
Stressing upon the need to bridge the quality gap between public and private schools, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said today that a high-quality public schooling system was the only guarantor of equality of opportunity to all groups, irrespective of their social or economic conditions.

Speaking here today at a conference on “Empowerment of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Minorities through Elementary Education”, organised by the All India Forum of Legislators (SCs, STs and others), the PM said the quality of education in public school system was not satisfactory and there was a feeling that quality gap between public and private schools may have widened over the past few decades.

“I believe that greater effort is required to bridge the quality gap if good education is not to become a preserve of the privileged classes only,” he noted.

Starting on a personal note, Dr Singh said as a young adult, he had no asset other than a benefit of good education which he received due to scholarships he earned and his family’s commitment.

“Education enhances human capabilities. This, in turn, empowers us socially and economically,” he said, adding the route to social and economic empowerment of all disadvantaged groups, including Dalits, tribals, women or minorities, was through education.

The PM said the policy of reservations in public educational institutions had helped in improving enrolment in higher education and had facilitated entry into jobs for the Dalits.

“This has been an important source of social mobility which has had a wider impact on the development process. We must persist with this effort,” he said.

Referring to the Sachar committee report, Dr Singh said that Muslims had lagged behind in the field of education. He said the government was committed to providing equal opportunity to all in securing access to credit and to employment opportunities.

Lok Sabha deputy speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal, who took the initiative for organising the conference, said there was a cloud over reservations being extended to the private sector and the “unhealthy” debate was being premised on the undesirability of reservations for the sake of efficiency.

Dismissing arguments about decline in efficiency because of reservations, he said quantity and quality of services and output had improved considerably for the common man, the poor and the dispossessed over the past five decades. Paying tributes to Dr B.R. Ambedkar, he said the late leader had enshrined principles of social regeneration in the Constitution and emphasised that knowledge was foundation of a man’s life.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani said efforts should be directed at tackling educational backwardness among the Muslim community. He said there was need to look at welfare of the poor among upper castes and supported the suggestion of UP Chief Minister Mayawati for affirmative action for them.

Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral said the management of schools in rural areas should be given to panchayats.

Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said reservation policy should be extended to the private sector.

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Maya guns for Big B, the ‘farmer’

Lucknow, May 17
Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan could be in trouble as the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh is set to expedite a probe into alleged irregularities in the land allotted to him by the government.

Refuting reports of a fresh probe being ordered in the case, an official spokesman told IANS on Thursday: “We have not ordered any new probe. The inquiry initiated on account of a judicial intervention is only being expedited now.”

The actor was allotted some three and a half bighas (about 90,000 sq feet) of land at a prime site in Barabanki, 35 km from this state capital.

Bachchan is a close friend of Amar Singh, the high-profile general secretary of the Samajwadi Party that lost to Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the state assembly elections this month.

Documentation put forth by Bachchan raised the suspicion that the allotment was done in a clandestine manner.

According to informed sources, Bachchan has mentioned his name only as “Amitabh” and dropped “Bachchan” also from his father Harvansh Rai Bachchan’s name in an obvious bid to avoid identification.

“The objective behind the allotment was to not only get prime land for a song but also to entitle himself for acquisition of an agricultural plot of land in Maharashtra, where none other than a farmer could acquire agricultural land,” a source pointed out.

A complaint is pending before the Election Commission against Bachchan’s wife, Jaya Bachchan, for having concealed the ownership of the Barabanki plot as a part of her family assets that were declared when she filed her nomination for Rajya Sabha as a Samajwadi Party candidate. — IANS

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Killing of Hindi-speaking persons in Assam
RJD wants PM to intervene

Tribune News Service

Patna, May 17
The RJD, the main Opposition party in Bihar and a coalition partner of the Congress-led UPA at the Centre, today demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should intervene to stop the killing of innocent Hindi-speaking people in Assam by the extremist outfit ULFA.

Talking to mediapersons here, former Chief Minister and leader of opposition Rabri Devi said that the Prime Minister should convene a meeting of all political parties of Assam and Bihar, along with Chief Ministers of both states, in Delhi to find a permanent solution to this problem.

As many as nine Hindi-speaking people, mostly from Bihar, were killed by ULFA in the past two days.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also accused the Central and Assam governments of sweeping the issue under the rug for political gains.

Condemning the continuing ULFA attacks on Hindi-speaking people in Assam, Nitish conveyed his concern to union home minister Shivraj Patil and Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi last night.

Nitish, reportedly, also took strong exception to the alleged initial inaction of the Centre and Assam governments after the ULFA terror kingpin Jiten Datta openly made threats to all those who had protested against an ULFA rally a few days ago. "All Indians are entitled by the Constitution to live and work in any part of the country," Nitish asserted.

Shunning their political differences, both Nitish and Rabri asked all concerned quarters to take note of the positive contribution of Bihari people in the socio-economic life of Assam.

This was the second spell of attack on Hindi-speaking people by ULFA after January.

In January following a wave of attacks, ULFA, then, had killed about 70 Hindi-speaking people in upper Assam, known to be the stronghold of this militant outfit. This time too, the attacks were mostly around Dibrugarh and Tinsukia in the same area.

Sources here claimed that the prime reason behind targeting Hindi- speaking people was to force New Delhi to resume talks under ULFA’s terms. Since peace talks had collapsed between New Delhi and the rebels last September on the sovereignty issue, Assam has witnessed a series of deadly attacks that the authorities have blamed on the ULFA.

The Nitish government also blamed the withdrawal of 40 CRPF companies from vulnerable areas in Assam last month, to deploy them in Uttar Pradesh during Assembly elections, leading to the fresh attacks on Hindi-speaking people.

Rabri urged Nitish to create more job opportunities in the state to check the steady migration of Biharis to other states in search of a living.

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Police questions MPs in human-trafficking scam
Our Correspondent

New Delhi, May 17
The Delhi Police today claimed to have questioned two MPs over their involvement in a human-trafficking scam even as it claimed to have arrested the travel agent who arranged the forged travel documents on which BJP MP Babubhai Katara was trying to smuggle abroad a woman and a teenager last month.

MPs, Ramswaroop Koli (BJP) and Mohd Tahir Khan (BSP), were questioned separately for over two hours.

Meanwhile, the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police claimed to have arrested travel agent Santhu Masih from near Gargi College in South Delhi last night.

The police said that Santhu, a resident of Punjab, was involved in arranging the travel of a woman, Paramjeet Kaur, and a teenager, Anmarjeet Singh, who were posing as Katara’s wife and son when they were arrested on April 18 at the IG International Airport before they could fly out to Toronto on the diplomatic passports of Katara’s family.

We arrested Santhu and would seek his remand for further interrogation. We have not recovered any passport from him, but his arrest is very significant as far as the course of investigation is concerned, a senior officer said.

Khan said that dragging his name in the scam was a conspiracy against him and his party. It is a conspiracy by the Opposition against me and my party. I have done no wrong. I am not involved in any human- trafficking scam, Khan said after his interrogation.

We are cooperating with the Crime Branch and I am ready to come anytime before the investigating agency or any parliamentary committee, he added. The BSP MP said that he had travelled twice abroad but refused to divulge the details.

Travel agent held

The police claimed to have arrested the ttavel agent who arranged the forged travel documents on which BJP MP Babubhai Katara was trying to smuggle abroad a woman and a teenager last month.

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Parliament adjourned sine die
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 17
The two houses of Parliament were adjourned sine die today, five days ahead of schedule.

The Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die soon after Finance Minister P. Chidambaram replied to the debate on price rise under Rule 193.

The second phase of the budget session of Parliament was earlier scheduled till May 22.

The budget session, which began on February 23, was marked by passing of the General Budget, Finance Bill, Railway Budget and Appropriation Bills.

The session, spread over two phases with a recess in between, saw several adjournments on issues like Nandigram police firing, government policy on SEZ and debate on price rise.

The human trafficking case after the arrest of BJP MP Babubhai Katara became a matter of concern compelling the speaker Somnath Chatterjee to constitute an 11-member committee to define guidelines for the conduct of the MPs.

While noting that the session was able to transact several financial businesses, the speaker expressed his displeasure over the loss of 73 hours of business of the house due to adjournments.

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Kalam lays stone of medical centre
Tribune News Service

Kolkata, May 17
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam expressed his disappointment today that countrymen, as a whole, were lacking in self-reliance and confidence which made India lag behind many countries in the world.

He advised the students community and the young generation to work to make India the world's best nation latest by 2020 in every sphere.

Kalam was speaking at an interactive session of IIT students at Kharagpur. He had gone there to lay the foundation stone of the special medical research centre in the name of the former Chief Minister Dr B.C. Roy.

During his one-day stay in the city, Kalam attended three other functions at Jadavpore University, National Library campus and the Science City, respectively, before returning back to the capital in the evening.

During his brief stay in the city, the people, particularly office-goers, felt harassed following restrictions imposed on vehicular movements. Book readers at the National Library also felt inconvenienced as they could not easily access the library campus in the afternoon.

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500 kg explosives seized
Tribune News Service

Patna, May 17
In a major breakthrough, the Bihar police recovered 500 kg of explosives from a village in the Mohanpur area of Gaya district today.

Gaya is among the 23 districts of Bihar that are presently under the Maoist influence.

Gaya SP Amit Jain said marks on the bags indicated that the explosives were brought from Hyderabad. The police suspect that Maoist guerrillas dumped the explosives. Links between Maoists in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh have been established in the past too.

The explosives seized were identified as ammonium nitrate - used for making improvised explosive devices and bombs.

Sources in the intelligence have not ruled out the possibility of retaliatory actions by the Maoists following the recent arrests of some of their top leaders.

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NHRC camp in Patna
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 17
To take stock of the human rights situation in Bihar, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is holding a three-day camp from tomorrow in Patna. During the camp, 263 cases, including of custodial death, police torture and illegal detention, would be taken up.

On May 19, the commission will hold a review meeting with the state authorities. During the meeting, various recommendations and concerns expressed by the NHRC, especially on economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, will be discussed.

The NHRC will also hold a meeting with the chief secretaries and the DGPs from Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal on May 20.

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