SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI



THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

Nitish scores legal victory against Lalu-Rabri
Patna, September 20
In what appeared to be a major legal victory for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the Patna High Court today admitted a writ petition filed by the Bihar government against the acquittal of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi in connection with the disproportionate assets case, an offshoot of the multi-crore fodder scam. The next hearing on the case is slated for September 24.

Advani predicts mid-term poll
Chennai, September 20
BJP leader L.K. Advani said here today that the DMK and the Left parties would lead to destabilisation of the UPA government and mid-term elections will be held. Addressing a press conference here today while returning from the BJP’s state unit meeting at Tirunelveli.

Wanted ‘CPM leader’ arrested
Patna, September 20
In its anti-naxal operation, the police arrested a top CPM leader wanted by the police of seven states from his residence yesterday. The arrest was made on the eve of the alert sounded by the union home ministry in the aftermath of the Maoists withdrawing support from the Nepal government.



EARLIER STORIES


Russian Railway representative look at a billboard featuring high speed and main lane railways during the inauguration of the India Rail Tech 2007 exhibition in New Delhi
Russian Railway representative look at a billboard featuring high speed and main lane railways during the inauguration of the India Rail Tech 2007 exhibition in New Delhi on Thursday. Over 75 international and domestic companies will display their products and services at the exhibition, the first-ever dynamic railway exhibition in India. — AFP

SC questions race for inclusion in OBC list
New Delhi, September 20
The Supreme Court today said a race was on for inclusion of more and more castes in the backwards’ list to get the OBC quota benefit even by those sections who had opposed inclusion of their names in the backward list in the 1931 caste-based census.

OBC Quota Case
Apex court delinks contempt petition against Karunanidhi
New Delhi, September 20
A five-judge constitution Bench hearing the OBC quota case today delinked a contempt of court petition against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi from the main case and said it would be taken up after deciding the reservation issue.

SC to HC: Decide Punjab employees’ case on financial benefits afresh
New Delhi, September 20
A case of high financial stakes for the Punjab government, pertaining to arrears to daily paid and work-charge employees’ after confirmation claimed by nearly 500 workers since 1988, was today referred back to the Punjab and Haryana High Court by the Supreme Court for fresh hearing.

Devotees get their garlands checked by security on way to offering prayers at a 45-foot idol of Ganesh at Khairatabad in Hyderabad
Devotees get their garlands checked by security on way to offering prayers at a 45-foot idol of Ganesh at Khairatabad in Hyderabad on Thursday. — AFP

Lobbying on to change CM of Maharashtra
Mumbai, September 20
Opponents of Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh are pressing for a change in leadership, especially if mid-term Lok Sabha elections are held in the coming months.

ULFA feels the heat
Guwahati, September 20
Arrests or killing of at least three of its battalion commanders in recent times have put the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in a tight spot much to the glee of the Army and the police.

Selling land to bidders tough
Hyderabad, September 20
The ongoing land struggle by Left parties has poured cold water over the Andhra Pradesh government's ambitious plans to raise funds through public auction of prime lands in and around Hyderabad.

Soni briefs PM on Ram Setu
New Delhi, September 20
Amid indications that the Congress leadership was keen to end the controversy on the issue of Ram Setu, Tourism and Culture minister Ambika Soni today met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and showed him all documents concerning the “erroneous” affidavit which had raised questions on the existence of Lord Ram.

Buy PDS grains from open market, says Pawar
New Delhi, September 20
Feeling elated that the farmers were selling their produce to private traders for higher prices, union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar today said the government should buy foodgrains from the open market for distribution under the social welfare schemes.

India may have to quit Tajik airbase
New Delhi, September 20
India is likely to be evicted from its sole, albeit fledgling, overseas military facility at Ayni air base near Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe under pressure from Russia, which is concerned over New Delhi’s burgeoning ties with Washington.

Country’s first free pacemaker programme
HC clears hurdle for Assam govt
Guwahati, September 20
The Guwahati High Court has paved the way for the Assam Health Department to go with its free pacemaker implantation programme, first of its kind in the country. In an interim ruling on a petition challenging purchase of pacemaker from a multinational company by the Assam government, Justice Ranjan Gogoi allowed procurement of 100 out of 400 pacemakers, for which an order was placed. The final hearing has been fixed for November 13.

Additional relief for Gujarat riot victims
New Delhi, September 20
With an eye on the coming assembly elections in Gujarat, the Congress-led UPA government has made available to the Gujarat Government Rs 70.55 crore for providing additional ex-gratia assistance to the victims of the communal violence of 2002 in the state.

Nine get life term for killing 33 Dalits
Patna, September 20
Seven years after armed Ranvir Sena men killed 33 Dalits in Mianpur village of Bihar, a lower court, through speedy trials initiated by the Nitish government, today handed out the verdict against the 11 accused.

SC reverses HC order on engineer’s conviction
New Delhi, September 20
An order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court suspending the conviction of a junior engineer in a corruption case has been set aside by the SC, holding that its view on legal position on the issue was not “correct”.

Undertrial shot in broad daylight
Patna, September 20
A group of unidentified assailants shot dead an undertrial, Harivansh Rai Pahelwan, besides injuring four others in broad daylight here today. The incident occurred at the Patna civil court premises and three of the wounded included advocates.

ICICI Bank agents held for borrower’s suicide
Mumbai, September 20
The Mumbai police has arrested the owner of a collection agency Nishant Uttamrao Nagrale (29) and three of his employees Hiren Vaidya (25), Kailash Chowdhury (27), and Tushar Pargaonkar (25) for the suicide of a man who was allegedly harassed for the non-payment of a personal loan.

Budhia joins sports hostel today
Bhubaneswar, September 20
After spending nearly 45 days among children in the city’s biggest slum, wonder kid Budhia Singh is all set to join the sports hostel here. Budhia Singh’s mother Sukanti Singh and many of his supporters have arranged a big show when the six-year-old “marathon kid” walks down to the state-run sports hostel inside the Kalinga Stadium here.

India set to launch Israeli spy satellite
Bangalore, September 20
An Indian rocket may lift an Israeli spy satellite into orbit within days in the second deal to grab a share of the 2.5-billion-dollar global launch market, officials and reports said on Thursday.

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Nitish scores legal victory against Lalu-Rabri
Ambarish Dutta
Tribune News Service

Patna, September 20
In what appeared to be a major legal victory for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the Patna High Court today admitted a writ petition filed by the Bihar government against the acquittal of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi in connection with the disproportionate assets case, an offshoot of the multi-crore fodder scam. The next hearing on the case is slated for September 24.

The development comes soon after the summon issued to Lalu Prasad by the Jharkhand High Court three days back to appear before it in connection with the fodder scam case hearing on November 23.

The Nitish government had filed a petition in the Patna High Court against the acquittal of Lalu and Rabri by special CBI judge Muni Lal Paswan on December 18 last year.

The duo was acquitted in the case that had charged Lalu with having amassed assets worth Rs 46 lakh beyond his known sources of income when he was the chief minister between 1990 and 1997. Rabri Devi was made a co-accused.

The Nitish government appealed against the CBI court verdict on February 19 this year after the central agency, which had probed the disproportionate asset case, decided not to challenge the acquittal.

Even though the CBI did not challenge the acquittal, it was the same central agency that had filed the charge sheet in the case in 2000 after which both the accused had surrendered in court. While Rabri got bail, Lalu was sent to jail.

Justice Ramesh Kumar Datta, who had on September 12 reserved his order on the petition filed by the state government, ruled that the appeal was maintainable and posted the matter for September 24 for hearing on the issue of admission.

Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi had contested the state government’s appeal claiming that it was not competent to file an appeal in the disproportionate asset case and all other fodder scam cases, which were investigated by the CBI, which is under the central government. Noted lawyer and former minister in previous NDA cabinet at centre Ram Jethmalani had fought the case in favour of Lalu-Rabri.

Dismissing the plea of Jethmalani and other counsels fighting for Lalu-Rabri, the court said the appeal could be entertained under Section 378 of the CrPC relating to a case of acquittal.

Earlier, the ruling NDA here accused the CBI of shielding Lalu-Rabri in the disproportionate asset case and other corruption cases related to fodder scam.

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Advani predicts mid-term poll
Tribune News Service

Chennai, September 20
BJP leader L.K. Advani said here today that the DMK and the Left parties would lead to destabilisation of the UPA government and mid-term elections will be held.

Addressing a press conference here today while returning from the BJP’s state unit meeting at Tirunelveli, Advani said, “The UPA government as well as the alliance are in the doldrums. The government will not last till 2009 and Lok Sabha elections are likely to be held in the first half of 2008.”

He said that the Indo-US nuclear deal and the Ram Setu issues would be the reason behind the UPA regime’s downfall.

Advani said that spiralling prices of essential commodities, corruption, the agrarian crisis and the ruling UPA’s lackadaisical attitude towards security issues including the Naxalite problem or terrorism were the BJP’s plan of campaign for the next elections and added, “Now they have given us one more issue, one of instability despite having a majority.”

Describing the present crisis within the UPA-Left alliance as “the wages of opportunism”, he said from the beginning such an alliance was an opportunistic one from the beginning.

Advani felt the present situation in India was like the one in 1975 before the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency.

He said the country’s political course had been changed then by two events - the judgment of the Allahabad High Court nullifying Indira Gandhi’s election and the results of the Gujarat Assembly elections. ‘Today, the Indo-US nuclear deal and the Ram Setu issue will change the course of politics of the country,” he remarked.

Regarding the ASI’s affidavit stating that there was no historical proof for the existence of Ram or the characters in the Ramayana, Advani demanded that the Prime Minister should fix “ministerial responsibility for the controversial affidavits”.

Dismissing union law minister H.R. Bharadwaj’s explanation that it was a mistake, he quipped, “How can it be called a mistake, when it is a penal offence under Sec. 295A of the Indian Penal Code to offend religious feelings?”

Advani also demanded that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi immediately withdraw his disparaging remarks against Ram and said he wondered how the DMK president could describe the “Ram Setu” issue being raised as a “conspiracy to scuttle the Sethusamudram project. “If so, does he say the UPA regime, which withdrew its affidavits, is also part of the conspiracy?” he asked.

Replying to a question on possible poll alliances he said that he did not foresee any political realignment at the moment and added that the BJP regarded the Congress and the Left parties as the main opposition.

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Wanted ‘CPM leader’ arrested
Tribune News Service

Patna, September 20
In its anti-naxal operation, the police arrested a top CPM leader wanted by the police of seven states from his residence yesterday. The arrest was made on the eve of the alert sounded by the union home ministry in the aftermath of the Maoists withdrawing support from the Nepal government.

Tushar Kant Bhattacharya, the alleged accused in a number of cases of mass murders in naxalite violence prone Karimnagar, Prakasam and Adilabad districts of Andhra Pradesh between 1974 and 1980, was arrested by the Special Task Force (STF) and district police from a rented house in Dujra locality here, the police said.

The arrested Maoist leader was the underground outfit’s chief for "Triple U" (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and ‘Uttar’ (North) Bihar) and a member of the international department of South Asian forum of Naxalite organisations, added the police.

IG (Operations) S.K Bharadwaj, in-charge of anti-naxal operations, told reporters today that besides AP, Bhattacharya was also wanted in connection with several cases in Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Delhi.

From Kagaznagar village in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh, Bhattacharya shifted to Maharashtra in the 1980s when police turned the heat on him. He was appointed as a member of the state committee of the organisation then known as People’s War.

Acting on specific intelligence input, a team led by Deputy Superintendent of Special Task Force Vinod Kumar raided Bhattacharya’s hideout where he was living for about a month-and-a-half and arrested him.

Though no firearms were recovered, the police seized a huge volume of naxal literature, a pendrive and a timer used to detonate bombs.

He was produced before Chief Judicial Magistrate R.K Singh who remanded him to judicial custody for 14 days.

Sources said officials of central intelligence agencies, as well as police from six other states would reach here soon to interrogate him.

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SC questions race for inclusion in OBC list
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, September 20
The Supreme Court today said a race was on for inclusion of more and more castes in the backwards’ list to get the OBC quota benefit even by those sections who had opposed inclusion of their names in the backward list in the 1931 caste-based census.

“In 1931 many castes opposed putting them in the backward categories but after the Independence it has been a competitive practice to get them included in the list of backwards,” said a five-judge Bench, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, hearing arguments on the validity of the new OBC Reservation Act.

The court rejected arguments that it should also take into account the thesis of four varanas - brahmin, kashtriya, vaishya and shudra - while deciding the case, saying the concept of varnas had become irrelevant in the modern concept when there was a mushrooming of the castes even within them.

If the identification had to be on the basis of the varnas, it would have been the easier task, the court said.

But at the same time it said it was not the duty of judiciary to identify the castes, which were legally entitled to be included in the list of backwards for the benefit of reservation as it was purely the duty of the executive.

Senior advocate M.L. Lahoti, appearing for doctors of the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, who were the first among those challenging the quota, said super-specialty institutions like AIIMS and Post-Graduate Institutions of Medical Sciences should be kept out of the quota ambit to maintain excellence.

Since these institutions impart high skilled training directly relating to the human health, the admission in these should be strictly on the basis of merit otherwise it would play havoc with the health of people.

He said many good doctors from among the reserved classes have come out of these institutions who got there on the basis of their sheer merits, and, therefore, no impression should be allowed to be created that doors of these institutions of excellence were closed for them.

The court today completed hearing of arguments by anti-reservationists’ lawyers, which continued for 14 days in different phases of the constitution Bench sitting starting from August 7.

The government, led by solicitor-general G.E. Vahanvati and former attorney-general K. Parasaran would open up their arguments on September 25 in their attempt to rebut the arguments put forward by anti-reservationists’ lawyers for striking down the Act.

The entire focus of the Centre’s argument would be to prove that the OBC quota for admission in educational institution could not be equated with reservation in public employment as the government’s main contention was that new Reservation Act was an affirmative action to uplift the students belonging to socially and educationally backward classes.

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OBC Quota Case
Apex court delinks contempt petition against Karunanidhi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, September 20
A five-judge constitution Bench hearing the OBC quota case today delinked a contempt of court petition against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi from the main case and said it would be taken up after deciding the reservation issue. “We will deal with the matter after we have decided the present case,” the Bench, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan said.

In a petition filed by Traffic Ramaswamy, a citizen from Chennai, had alleged that the Chief Minister had committed the contempt of the Supreme Court while making sharp comments against the judges for staying the implementation of the new Reservation Act, providing for 27 per cent quota for OBCs in central institutions of higher learning.

According to the petition, Karunanidhi in a public statement allegedly had attacked the apex court by saying that the two judges could not decide the fate of one billion people in the country after a division Bench had stayed the implementation of the OBC Reservation Act on March 29 last.

He further had sought to incite the people to revolt against the apex court’s order, the petitioner had alleged.

Earlier, the constitution Bench, having Justices Arijit Pasayat, C.K. Thakker, R.V. Raveendran and Dalveer Bhandari as the other four judges besides the CJI, had said that the contempt petition would also be heard along with the main case.

But the court today changed decision and said for the present it would only deal with the main matter relating to reservation issue and nothing else and the contempt petition would be taken up later.

The DMK-led alliance in the Tamil Nadu has also moved a petition in the apex court to counter the anti-reservationists’ bunch of petitions challenging the OBC quota.

The Tamil Nadu government, which has provided 69 per cent reservation, 19 per cent higher than the 50 per cent ceiling fixed by the apex court, has engaged former Attorney-General K. Parasaran to plead its case in favour of implementing the new OBC Reservation Act.

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SC to HC: Decide Punjab employees’ case on financial benefits afresh
S.S Negi
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 20
A case of high financial stakes for the Punjab government, pertaining to arrears to daily paid and work-charge employees’ after confirmation claimed by nearly 500 workers since 1988, was today referred back to the Punjab and Haryana High Court by the Supreme Court for fresh hearing.

A Bench of Justices A.K Mathur and Markandey Katju directed the High Court to decide the case afresh as it had not applied the law correctly relating to the employees’ entitlement to certain consequential benefits on confirmation.

Allowing Punjab government’s special leave petition against the High Court’s order, caught in a series of litigation, the apex court said the law laid down by it in 2000 relating to computation of service for such benefits had not been applied by the High Court.

The High Court has decided the case merely on the basis of its own rulings. The apex court order was neither placed on record by the parties, it observed.

The High Court in its verdict of 2000 held that the daily-wage and ad hoc work-charge employees’ were entitled to all consequential benefits applicable to regular employees’ even for the pre-confirmation period after regularisation.

This include computing of daily-paid period of service for special increments to be given after completion of 8 and 18 years of service to the employees’ apart from the annual increments and pension benefits.

Since 500 such employees’ financial interests were involved in the case, the High Court’s order would have put a burden of several crore rupees on the state ex-chequer for the law not being applied properly by the High Court, the state had sought its correction, Punjab’s standing counsel Ajay Pal said.

He said the apex court accepted Punjab government’s plea that the High Court ignored the law laid down by the Supreme Court in 2000, holding that the period of daily wage service would not be taken into account for computing the consequential benefits to such employees after their confirmation.

Their service for entitlement of such benefits would only be counted from the date of their confirmation in permanent service, Ajay Pal said. He also pointed out that the High Court had based its order at the Haryana employees’ case while the factual as well as legal position in the two cases were entirely different.

The Punjab government had issued a clear cut notification in September 1989 laying down the rules and guidelines on promotion and pensionary benefits to such employees’, and their cases would have to be decided in accordance with those.

Hence, the precedent of the Haryana employees’ was not applicable to them, the Punjab government counsel said.

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Lobbying on to change CM of Maharashtra
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, September 20
Opponents of Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh are pressing for a change in leadership, especially if mid-term Lok Sabha elections are held in the coming months.

Among those opposed to Deshmukh, including Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president Prabha Rau, were part of a jumbo delegation that went to Delhi recently to lobby for a regime change.

Though none of them could get a hearing from party chief Sonia Gandhi, it became known that Deshmukh himself received a tongue-lashing from the party chief for his remarks on the farmers committing suicide in Vidarbha.

At a public meeting there earlier this month, Deshmukh along with Union Textiles Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela ridiculed the farmers.

Deshmukh himself accused the farmers of rigging the weights of their crops by adding water and stones to earn extra money. The remarks coming at a time when more than 700 farmers have committed suicide this year has sparked off protests within and outside the Congress party.

"We have to bring about a leadership change or we will lose because of Deshmukh's unpopularity," an opponent of Deshmukh said after returning from Delhi.

A number of names are being bandied about, including Sushilkumar Shinde and Prithiviraj Chavan, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.

But Deshmukh’s opponents are in disarray after it transpired that Rau herself met with Sonia Gandhi and pleaded for the top job.

So far Rau had been championing the case of Union Revenue Minister Narayan Rane who defected from the Shiv Sena to the Congress party.

Observers here feel that Deshmukh himself may have played a big role in the leak to a section of the media to prevent a united front against him.

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ULFA feels the heat
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, September 20
Arrests or killing of at least three of its battalion commanders in recent times have put the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in a tight spot much to the glee of the Army and the police.

A senior police official said three of the outfit’s four active battalions are now virtually without a commander. It was a body blow to the outfit when Prabal Neog, the commander of the outfit’s main strike force, the 28th battalion, was apprehended by the police at Tezpur on Monday.

Neog was put in charge of the 28th battalion last year after his predecessor Mrinal Hazarika had been arrested by West Bengal police in Siliguri. As the commander of the 28th battalion, Neog has been giving tough time to security forces by masterminding mass killings of scores of Hindi-speaking settlers in Eastern and Central Assam areas since January this year besides planning bomb blasts and coordinating all major extortion operations

Two other battalions of the outfit, the 27th and 109, have been keeping a low profile of late in absence of commanders. The commander of 27th battalion, Pallab Saikia was arrested by police sometimes back while commander of ULFA’s 109 battalion, Lal Deka was killed in a recent encounter with police in Goalpara district in western Assam.

According to a police source, the ULFA leadership recently appointed a new commander to its 27th battalion, but he was yet to take firm grip of the job assigned to him. In fact, it was Neog who was coordinating with the 27th battalion during the carnage of Hindi-speaking settlers in Karbi Anglong hill district in August this year.

The only ULFA battalion that is now operating under a very active commander is the 709 battalion. This battalion operates in Western Assam areas including Guwahati city under the leadership of self-styled commander Hira Sarania, the most wanted ULFA leader at this moment after the outfit’s commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah.

The 709 battalion was responsible for the abduction of Food Corporation of India (FCI) executive director (Northeast), Dr P C Ram who later died in crossfire between police and his captors from the ULFA.

The police and the Army often make the allegation that the outfit has tried to shield its hardcore cadres left by hiring criminals, anti-socials and even vulnerable students to carry out bomb and grenade blasts in the state.

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Selling land to bidders tough
Ramesh Kandula
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, September 20
The ongoing land struggle by Left parties has poured cold water over the Andhra Pradesh government's ambitious plans to raise funds through public auction of prime lands in and around Hyderabad.

The cash-strapped Congress government has asked the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA) and AP Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (APIIC) to sell lands to highest bidders to mobilise resources for funding various development projects in the city.

However, an aggressive opposition, particularly the Left, has been staging protests against auction of government lands, often creating law and order problems.

While opposition parties accused the government of running a "real estate business" by selling away prime lands to private parties and depriving the poor of their basic rights, Chief Minister Y.S.Rajasekhara Reddy defended the move, saying that resources mobilised through this exercise were being used for infrastructure projects like Outer Ring Road (ORR) and metro rail.

Ever since CPI and CPM embarked on "bhooporatam" (land struggle) four months ago, the authorities have been finding it difficult to push through land auctions with opposition activists attempting to occupy the lands meant for auction and holding out threats to the prospective buyers.

As a result, the response to public auctions has been lukewarm, despite the locational advantage of the lands. The dampening effect was clearly visible during the four-day long land auctions held by HUDA last week. There were no takers for 112 plots out of the total 265 plots, which were put for auction at Miyapur and Pokalwada near Hi-Tech city, the IT hub of the city.

Of the nine plots on sale in the Pentagon area, only one plot of 23 acres went under the hammer in favour of Bangalore-based Mantri Developers.

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Soni briefs PM on Ram Setu
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 20
Amid indications that the Congress leadership was keen to end the controversy on the issue of Ram Setu, Tourism and Culture minister Ambika Soni today met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and showed him all documents concerning the “erroneous” affidavit which had raised questions on the existence of Lord Ram.

Soni later said she was “very satisfied” with the meeting. Soni told the Prime Minister that she had not spoken to the media after September 15. The Prime Minister, who was already aware of Soni's position, asked a few minor queries. “It was a good meeting,” she said.

Replying to questions on suggestions for her resignation by a few party leaders, Soni said she was a loyal party worker and would abide by the decision of the party president.

Asked if she was hurt over such statements, she said there was nothing like being hurt in politics. “I have been forced to think that working honestly and according to rules was not enough in politics. One also has to take care of the other aspects and I have something more,” she said.

Her remarks were seen to be directed at those leaders who sought to lay the entire blame of the affidavit controversy at her door.

Soni who was keen on meeting the Prime Minister on the affidavit controversy, had called off her visit to the US. She had earlier submitted all documents pertaining to the issue to the PMO and clarified her position to the Congress president.

Though the Congress had on Monday asked its leaders to desist from publicly airing their views on the affidavit controversy, the party felt the need to issue a written statement today which said that the maintenance of discipline by its members was of utmost importance. The statement referred to “uncalled for comments” on Ram Setu, indicating that the party's concern over some remarks of DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, which had given ammunition to the BJP target, the Congress-led UPA, on the sensitive issue of the existence of Lord Ram.

The statement made it quite clear that the party leadership was not in a mood to tolerate out of the turn remarks by partymen on the issue. Coming within hours of Soni telling the media that she felt working honestly was not enough in politics, it led to speculation about a link between the official statement and her remarks. However, party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi denied any such link.

On the Ram Setu issue, it said that in view of the prompt withdrawal of the affidavit, reflecting the party's and the government's “alacrity and sensitivity on matters of personal belief and faith, the matter should be treated as closed and uncalled for comments be avoided.”

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Buy PDS grains from open market, says Pawar
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 20
Feeling elated that the farmers were selling their produce to private traders for higher prices, union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar today said the government should buy foodgrains from the open market for distribution under the social welfare schemes.

“I am very happy when the farmer is getting proper price. If any government wants to implement the scheme (PDS), it should provide money from the state revenue to purchase foodgrains from open market,” Pawar said at a two-day FICCI conference on agriculture marketing here.

Concessions that the government wants to extend to the economically weaker section of society should be factored into the budget, he said. He expressed reservations over fixing the minimum support price for procuring foodgrains from the farmers to fulfil government’s social responsibilities.

Pawar said, a few years ago the farmers had no choice but to sell their produce to the designated agency. He was referring to farmers selling their produce to private traders at higher price than government-fixed rate, making it difficult for official agencies to procure adequate amount of food grain for welfare schemes.

On import of wheat, Pawar said he was not worried despite getting brickbats for the decision. The Food Corporation of India, which buys foodgrains on behalf of the government for distribution in the PDS and other welfare schemes, procured 11.1 million tons against a target of 15.1 million tons in the 2006-07 rabi marketing season. He said contract farming could empower farmers with technology and provide them better market access. He expressed the hope that pricing arrangements through contract farming can significantly reduced the risk and uncertainty of market place.

The minister stated that emergence of organised retailing in recent years has led to demand for quality produce and thereby private investment in supply chain infrastructure in getting a boost.

Modern food retailing will lower marketing costs and lead to lower prices for consumers and higher realisation for farmers. Concerns being expressed about the impact of contract farming and organised retail chains for rural India and the small farmers need to be addressed, he added.

Pawar pointed out that the establishment of Modern Terminal Market complexes would ensure both backward and forward linkages to farmers. The newly proposed electronic spot markets can provide a viable alternative to the existing practice of the mandi system, by improving the decision making capability of the farmers and strengthening their bargaining power.

The minister called for an in-depth analysis of how marketing development infrastructure can be catalysed in public-private partnership mode.

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India may have to quit Tajik airbase

New Delhi, September 20
India is likely to be evicted from its sole, albeit fledgling, overseas military facility at Ayni air base near Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe under pressure from Russia, which is concerned over New Delhi’s burgeoning ties with Washington.

Senior military officials said the emerging possibility of India looking to Washington and other western suppliers for military hardware was responsible for Russia leveraging its considerable influence with Tajikistan to try and terminate New Delhi’s loose arrangement regarding Ayni if it declined to be “co-operative”.

India’s refurbishment of the Ayni military base, 15 km from Dushanbe, for around $1.77 million was completed earlier this year nearly 24 months behind schedule by the quasi-military Indian Border Roads Organisation under the 2002 bilateral defence agreement with Tajikistan.

Thereafter, the defence ministry has been awaiting direction from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to officially begin operating from there.

The ministry had reportedly asked the CCS for a “formal mandate” on force levels before the Indian Air Force (IAF) transferred some of its assets to Ayni as part of India’s move to augment its “strategic reach” in a troubled area and to secure its galloping energy needs from the resource rich Central Asian Region (CAR).

Military planners also consider Ayni air base as a “limited, yet significant” platform to inject special forces into a hostile region in response to any emerging threat from the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan.

Ayni also serves as a conduit for India to funnel aid to war-torn Afghanistan as access via the shorter overland route via Pakistan is prohibited by Islamabad.

“This (Russian pressure) appears to be a ploy for more concessions and indulgence from India,” a senior military officer associated with the Central Asian Region said. It is Moscow's way of telling New Delhi not to “stray” into the American military hardware camp, the official said.

Moscow is understandably anxious to encash this potential and is wary of competition from other suppliers, particularly the US, in support of IAF's latest requirement of 126 multi-role combat aircraft.

Alongside, India is deadlocked in delicate discussions with Russia wanting to renegotiate its $85 billion Sukhoi 30MkI multi-role fighter deal. — IANS

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Country’s first free pacemaker programme
HC clears hurdle for Assam govt
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, September 20
The Guwahati High Court has paved the way for the Assam Health Department to go with its free pacemaker implantation programme, first of its kind in the country.

In an interim ruling on a petition challenging purchase of pacemaker from a multinational company by the Assam government, Justice Ranjan Gogoi allowed procurement of 100 out of 400 pacemakers, for which an order was placed. The final hearing has been fixed for November 13.

The Assam Health Department recently announced the country’s first free pacemaker implantation programme for the needy. Already, a large number of patients are waiting to get rolled in three medical college hospitals at Guwahati, Dibrugarh and Silchar and in a few other select government hospitals.

The state government had placed an order for 400 pacemakers with a multinational company after floating bids.

However, an Indian company, which failed to win the bid, went to the court challenging the government’s decision. A Health Department source informed that bidding for the pacemaker supply contract was started on May 3 and bids were scrutinised on May 29. After subsequent screening by three expert panels, the contract was finally settled by the purchase board on July 24.

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Additional relief for Gujarat riot victims
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 20
With an eye on the coming assembly elections in Gujarat, the Congress-led UPA government has made available to the Gujarat Government Rs 70.55 crore for providing additional ex-gratia assistance to the victims of the communal violence of 2002 in the state.

In the case of death, involving 1,169 cases, an ex-gratia assistance of Rs 3.5 lakh would be paid in addition to the assistance already given by the state government, an official statement said here today. In case of injury, involving 2,548 cases, an ex-gratia assistance of Rs 1.25 lakh would be paid minus the assistance given by the state government.

The entire expenditure on the payment of ex-gratia in case of death and injury would be borne by the Central Government, the statement said, adding that only those who received ex-gratia earlier would be eligible for the enhanced additional ex-gratia amount.

All claims would be verified by the local administration or agency of the state government, it said adding the Centre had asked the state government to ensure that the claims were settled and the utilisation certificates were sent to the ministry of home affairs within 45 days.

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Nine get life term for killing 33 Dalits
Tribune News Service

Patna, September 20
Seven years after armed Ranvir Sena men killed 33 Dalits in Mianpur village of Bihar, a lower court, through speedy trials initiated by the Nitish government, today handed out the verdict against the 11 accused.

The court held nine of them guilty and sentenced them to life imprisonment. Two of the accused were acquitted.

The incident took place on June 16,2000 when the state was under the RJD rule headed by the then Chief Minister Rabri Devi.

Additional district judge (III) Krishna Kant Tripathy found the accused involved in the operation carried out by the Ranvir Sena in retaliation to the killing of an equal number of upper caste people at Senari in neighbouring Jehanabad district earlier that year.

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SC reverses HC order on engineer’s conviction
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, September 20
An order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court suspending the conviction of a junior engineer in a corruption case has been set aside by the SC, holding that its view on legal position on the issue was not “correct”. “We are of the opinion that the HC was not correct in its view. We, therefore, allow this appeal (of Punjab government) by setting aside both orders (of the High Court),” a Bench of Justices S. B. Sinha and H. S. Bedi ruled.

A trial court in Fatehgarh Sahib in January 2005 had stayed the conviction of JE Deepak Mattu awarded 18 months sentence, accepting his plea that if the conviction was not suspended, he would face dismissal from service during the pendency of his appeal.

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Undertrial shot in broad daylight
Tribune News Service

Patna, September 20
A group of unidentified assailants shot dead an undertrial, Harivansh Rai Pahelwan, besides injuring four others in broad daylight here today. The incident occurred at the Patna civil court premises and three of the wounded included advocates.

While giving information, the police said four gunmen, riding on scooters fired at a group of undertrials being brought from the high-security Beur jail as they were getting down from the van. The prisoners were being taken to the court of judicial magistrate.

Harivansh Rai Pahelwan, an accused in a triple murder case, who stopped to buy tobacco while being taken to the court, died on the spot.

Another undertrial, Madan Paswan, was critically injured and admitted to the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH). Besides, three advocates, one of them identified as Ajit Kumar, suffered splinter injuries and was given first-aid. As senior cops rushed to the spot, security was tightened at the court premises following the incident.

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kundan Krishnan suspected old enmity as the reason behind the attack.

The killing comes as a big jolt to Chief Minister (CM) Nitish Kumar’s effort to tone up the police machinery after 10 suspected thieves were brutally lynched by a mob in Vaishali last Thursday. Yesterday night only the CM transferred 82 DSPs across the state on lines of his promised measures to not to allow any police official to continue in any particular area for more than two years.

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ICICI Bank agents held for borrower’s suicide
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, September 20
The Mumbai police has arrested the owner of a collection agency Nishant Uttamrao Nagrale (29) and three of his employees Hiren Vaidya (25), Kailash Chowdhury (27), and Tushar Pargaonkar (25) for the suicide of a man who was allegedly harassed for the non-payment of a personal loan.

The MIDC police said the four were arrested on the basis of a suicide note written by Prakash Sarvankar (38), who said he was taking the extreme step after being harassed by them.

The police said Sarvankar had borrowed Rs 50,000 from ICICI Bank, but was not able to pay back the money as he had contracted jaundice and could not go to work. Though he had paid part of the loan taken in January this year, he was under pressure by the recovery agents.

"If you cannot repay the bank loan, sell off your wife, your kids, yourself, sell everything at your home. Even then if you cannot not pay back the due amount, then it's better if you commit suicide. But you dare not dupe the bank," the suicide note quoted the agents as telling him. Sarvankar also stated that he was under pressure for more than two months by the agents.

The police is now treating the collection agents as accessories to suicide.

The collection agents reportedly told the police that ICICI Bank had threatened to stop their contract if they were not able to recover the money from Sarvankar.

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Budhia joins sports hostel today

Bhubaneswar, September 20
After spending nearly 45 days among children in the city’s biggest slum, wonder kid Budhia Singh is all set to join the sports hostel here.

Budhia Singh’s mother Sukanti Singh and many of his supporters have arranged a big show when the six-year-old “marathon kid” walks down to the state-run sports hostel inside the Kalinga Stadium here.

“We are planning a big road show with band parties when Budhia will formally come to hostel,” said Basti Surakshya Manch president Anjan Nath.

The Manch has been sheltering Budhia and his family members ever since the boy separated from his trainer Biranchi Das. “We expect more than 1,000 slum dwellers to accompany Budhia till Kalinga Stadium”, Nath said adding that tomorrow will be a memorable day for the people of Salia Sahi slum which sheltered the child for more than one-and-a-half month.

Meanwhile, official sources said all arrangements have been made at the sports hostel to house Budhia who set a record by running 65 km from Puri to Bhubaneswar at a stretch last year. — PTI

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India set to launch Israeli spy satellite

Bangalore, September 20
An Indian rocket may lift an Israeli spy satellite into orbit within days in the second deal to grab a share of the 2.5-billion-dollar global launch market, officials and reports said on Thursday.

The Jerusalem Post said the launch of the 300-kilogramme (660-pound) Tecsar, Israel’s most advanced satellite, could take place by the end of the week.

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle is to take the device into space.

The launch “will take place when Israel wants it,” said KR Sridhara Murthi, head of Antrix Corp, the marketing arm of the Bangalore-based Indian Space Research Organisation.

Murthi declined to give further details on the mission including a time-frame for the launch, beyond saying it will happen sometime this year. Lior Weintraub, spokesman for the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, declined to comment.

The satellite has a camera that can take pictures of small targets under cloudy and foggy conditions, the Jerusalem Post said.

Israel took the decision to launch it from India three years ago. It contracted India because Israel lacks a vehicle capable of boosting the satellite into a polar orbit, said BK Pandey, a defence affairs analyst.

India also charges much less than space agencies in the West, Pandey said.

On September 2, India successfully launched a rocket carrying a replacement for a communications satellite destroyed last year after a booster rocket failed about a minute into flight. — AFP

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