SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

Modi meets BJP top brass
Says Bhutto’s assassination to fuel ‘Jiye Sind’ movement
New Delhi, December 29
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi talks to the media at former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence after a meeting with him, in New Delhi on Saturday. Having led the party to a resoun- ding victory in Gujarat, Chief Minister Narendra Modi today came to the capital to meet the party’s central leaders and discuss the formation of his cabinet.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi talks to the media at former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence after a meeting with him, in New Delhi on Saturday. — Tribune photo by Manas Rajan Bhui

Benazir’s Haryana connection
New Delhi, December 29
Slain Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto had a Haryana connection. Not many people must be aware that Bhuttos are originally from Bhattu Kalan or Bhatto Kalan, a big village in Fatehabad district, near Sirsa city, now in Haryana and formerly part of undivided Punjab.


EARLIER STORIES





Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus interacts with schoolchildren who won the Udayer Pathey Scholarship during his visit to the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences at Mukundapur in Kolkata on Saturday.
Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus interacts with schoolchildren who won the Udayer Pathey Scholarship during his visit to the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences at Mukundapur in Kolkata on Saturday. — PTI

Pakistan: India keeping a close watch
New Delhi, December 29
As India keeps a wary eye on the post Benazir Bhutto assassination period in Pakistan, the most important factor that interests New Delhi is whether the Pakistan military will remain cohesive.

Thar Express cancelled
Hundreds stranded
Jodhpur, December 29
Hundreds of Pakistanis have been stranded here after the Thar Express connecting the desert sate with Pakistan’s Sindh province was cancelled due to security reasons in the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Jaya against giving free TV sets
Calls Karunanidhi a ‘joker’
Chennai, December 29
AIADMK supremo Jayaram Jayalalithaa today launched a scathing attack on the ruling DMK for spending huge amounts of money on procuring and doling out television sets to millions of people even as the state was awaiting Rs 1,500 crore from the Central government for flood relief.

AIDS epidemic staring hard at armed forces
New Delhi, December 29
The AIDS epidemic after affecting over 2.5 million people in the country, is also staring hard at the Indian Armed Forces which have been getting at least one HIV/AIDS patient every day.

Viplove to meet Sonia
To discuss reasons behind party’s defeat
New Delhi, December 29
Himachal Pradesh Congress chief Viplove Thakur is likely to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday to apprise her of the reasons for the party’s defeat in the Assembly polls and discuss the election of new CLP leader.

Terror outfits using Bihar, Jharkhand
Patna, December 29
The states of Bihar and Jharkhand are now uneasily watching the lengthening shadow of global terrorism - the resonance of which has already been felt in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Rajasthan and UP.

Three years after tsunami, thousands still homeless in TN
Chennai, December 29
Even after three years since the tsunami struck disaster in Tamil Nadu more than 20,000 people are still homeless and living in shelters as construction for a large number of houses is yet to start.

Basu accuses partners of dividing front
Kolkata, December 29
Veteran leader Jyoti Basu lashed out at the Forward Bloc (FB) and the RSP, the two major partners in the Left Front, and accused them of dividing the Front, which was helping the opposition parties and other reactionary forces.

ISRO ready for lunar venture, plans manned missions
Bangalore, December 29
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is all set for its lunar honeymoon in 2008, accomplishing critical components for its maiden outer space mission Chandrayaan-1.

About 40 pc turnout in Ballia, Bikramganj
Ballia/Patna, December 29
Polling for byelections to the Ballia and Bikramganj Lok Sabha constituencies ended peacefully this evening with each recording about 40 per cent voter turnout.

RTI Denial
CIC asks officer to show cause
New Delhi, December 29
The Central Information Commission has asked the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) in the office of the joint commissioner of police, crime (women’s cell) in Nanakpura here to show cause as to why he should not pay a penalty for denying information to an applicant.

Over 40 pc voting in Ballia byelection
Ballia, December 29
Over 40 per cent electorate today cast their votes in the the Ballia Lok Sabha by-poll with no untoward incident being reported from anywhere in the constituency.

Videos
Indian relative releases video of Bhutto's marriage.
(56k)
Rajesh & Twinkle Khanna share their B’day on Dec 29.
(56k)

 

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Modi meets BJP top brass
Says Bhutto’s assassination to fuel ‘Jiye Sind’ movement
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 29
Having led the party to a resounding victory in Gujarat, Chief Minister Narendra Modi today came to the capital to meet the party’s central leaders and discuss the formation of his cabinet.

Modi, whose swearing on December 25 coincided with former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s 84th birthday, met the senior leader at his residence.

Talking to mediapersons after meeting Vajpayee, Modi said he had come to congratulate the former Prime Minister on his birthday. “Since my swearing-in ceremony was on the same day as his birthday, I could not come then. I have come here at the first opportunity,” he said.

Referring to the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Modi said it would further fuel the ‘Jiye Sind’ movement. Expressing his anguish at the killing of Bhutto, he said the rise of terrorism in Pakistan was a cause of concern for all, and the humanity should think how to fight terrorism collectively.

Pointing out that the Gujaratis had a special relationship with Bhutto, he said the family had links with Junagadh and her father and other members of her family spent some years in Gujarat.

Modi, who drove to the residence of senior party leader L. K. Advani straight from the airport, discussed cabinet formation with him. Some other senior leaders, including Arun Jaitley and Jaswant Singh, also attended the meeting.

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Benazir’s Haryana connection
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 29
Slain Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto had a Haryana connection. Not many people must be aware that Bhuttos are originally from Bhattu Kalan or Bhatto Kalan, a big village in Fatehabad district, near Sirsa city, now in Haryana and formerly part of undivided Punjab.

Bhattu Kalan is the native village of Khudabaksh or Khuda Bux, her paternal great grandfather and father of her grandfather Shahnawaz Khan, who migrated from Bhattu Kalan before partition and settled in Larkana in Sindh province of Pakistan.

Encyclopaedia Wikipedia states that to remember the place they belonged to, Khudabaksh kept his surname as “Bhattu”. Shahnawaz Bhatto also used his native village name “Bhatto” as his identification. The spelling of “Bhatto” was changed to “Bhutto” by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father and the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Garhi Khuda Bux, now the ancestral home of the Bhuttos in Pakistan, is named after the man from Bhattu Kalan. Garhi Khuda Bux is where the Bhuttos are eventually buried. It is where her father Zulfiqar, her brothers and now Benazir were lying in eternal peace.

Wikipedia adds that Khudabaksh, the head of the family and Shehnawaz’s father, worked as a mechanic in the Railways.

Shahnawaz, who later became one of the wealthiest and most influential landowner and politician of Sindh, went to England for higher education and entered the service of the Nawab of Junagadh after his studies. It is in that service that Shahnawaz used the name of his native town “Bhatto” as his last name. This means that Benazir also had some share of roots in Junagadh town of Gujarat.

Historians say that her grandfather Shehnawaz Bhutto, who was the diwan of Junagadh, even advised Nawab Mahabat Khanji to go with Pakistan instead of India during the initial days of Independence. Later, in his capacity as diwan of Junagadh, Shahnawaz made the nawab of Junagadh sign the annexation of the state by India. After Junagadh, Shahnawaz left for Karachi and entered local politics there.

Benazir had visited Junagadh as a 10-year-old child when Zulfikar and his family had come to Junagadh to attend the wedding of Dilawar Khanji, the prince of Junagadh.

Benazir’s grandmother was a Hindu. Shahnawaz was married to Khurshid Begum, formerly Lakhi Bai, a girl belonging to a Hindu family. She later converted to Islam and came to be known as Khurshid Begum. Benazir’s father Zulfikar was their second child. It appears that Khurshid Begum’s brothers remained Hindu and eventually migrated to India.

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Pakistan: India keeping a close watch
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 29
As India keeps a wary eye on the post Benazir Bhutto assassination period in Pakistan, the most important factor that interests New Delhi is whether the Pakistan military will remain cohesive.

Pakistan military’s cohesion is important for two reasons: (i) only a cohesive military will be able to effectively deal with the growing unrest in that country, and (ii) this most powerful Pakistani institution controls the country’s nuclear weapons.

India’s primary concern is that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal remains firmly in the military’s hands - a strategic objective shared by the United States as well.

New Delhi feels that the role of Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is of pivotal importance and his bonding, or lack of it, with President Pervez Musharraf, would be crucial in the coming days as the Pakistani polity goes through a tailspin.

The Indian position is that it looks at the peace with Pakistan as a continuous process and is ready to be engaged with anyone who is at the helm of affairs in Islamabad.

Another high point of interest for New Delhi is how the Pakistani government tackles the growing unrest in the country. Riots have already spread to Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Hyderabad, Lahore, Karachi, Gizri, Lyari, Nazimabad, Sukkur, Mirpukhas, Shikarpur, Peshawar and Quetta. Benazir Bhutto’s supporters have led the demonstrations in these cities.

New Delhi is aware of the fact that the Pakistani government cannot be expected to deal with the violent unrest with an iron hand as this may exacerbate the provincial divide in that country. Pakistan's other three provinces - Sindh, NWFP and Baluchistan - have always looked upon Punjab as a big brother, bringing to fore the provincial factor in the post-Benazir assassination period.

Sindhis, in particular, have to be treated with kid gloves, particularly when Benazir Bhutto is the third Pakistan Prime Minister from Sindh to have been killed in Punjab.

The fact that the Pakistan army is seen as dominated by Punjabis is a political faultline that can deepen further if the bogey of provincialism were to be raised. Six of Pakistan army’s nine corps are based in Punjab, while only one corps is stationed in Karachi (Sindh).

Pakistan-watchers in the Indian government are also looking at the political realignments in Pakistan. The moves of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Jamaat-e-Islami are being watched closely here. If PML-N and JI were to team up with the slain Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the three parties can take the anti-Musharraf campaign and political unrest to a new level.

In such a scenario, these three parties can make demonstrations and rioting last so long and be so widespread that the army chief Gen Kayani steps in and removes Musharraf from power.

New Delhi’s assessment is that the political landscape of Pakistan is full of all kinds of possibilities, particularly when the PML-N and JI have collaborated in the past and are likely to do so again.

Such a scenario becomes even more likely now that Nawaz Sharif has joined JI and other smaller parties in boycotting the polls. The JI can mobilize its student wing, Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba (IJT) in organising street campaigns against the government.

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Thar Express cancelled
Hundreds stranded

Jodhpur, December 29
Hundreds of Pakistanis have been stranded here after the Thar Express connecting the desert sate with Pakistan’s Sindh province was cancelled due to security reasons in the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Most of the Pakistanis were worried as their visas were to expire in a day or two.

The train was scheduled to leave Jodhpur last night and 465 passengers had booked their tickets to visit Pakistan, but in the wake of violence in Pakistan, particularly in Sindh, the train was cancelled till further orders.

Railways, however, had refunded the ticket amount to the passengers.

“Taking in view the passenger’s security, Railway Board has decided to suspend the services of the peace train till further orders and we have paid back the amount to passengers," said S.K. Sood, divisional railway manager of the North Western Railway.

Salma Bano, a passenger from Karachi, said, “We understand the compulsion of both the governments, but what to do? My visa is going to expire on Sunday and if it is even extended, I will not have sufficient money to wait till the next trip of the train in a city, where I do not have any relations.”

Another passenger, Habbibur Rehman of Pakistan and his family members reached here from Madhya Pradesh to go back home as their visa was expiring on Sunday.

But now they were not in a position to go to their relatives in Madhya Pradesh or wait till the next trip, as they did not have enough money. — PTI

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Jaya against giving free TV sets
Calls Karunanidhi a ‘joker’
Arup Chanda
Tribune News Service

Chennai, December 29
AIADMK supremo Jayaram Jayalalithaa today launched a scathing attack on the ruling DMK for spending huge amounts of money on procuring and doling out television sets to millions of people even as the state was awaiting Rs 1,500 crore from the Central government for flood relief.

She said, “The people of Tamil Nadu are witnessing the sorry spectacle of a joker Chief Minister who touts gifting of TVs as a major achievement but fails to organise any flood relief,” and demanded that the state government immediately stop its free distribution and divert the funds for flood relief.

Free distribution of colour televisions sets was part of the DMK’s election pledge and the state government had allocated Rs 750 crore for the same in its last two budgets. It has assured that the free distribution would go on till every family in Tamil Nadu was covered by the scheme.

The scheme came under severe criticism after media exposes of government sets being sold off for Rs 1,500 each to agents who were smuggling them to neighbouring states.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi had recently defended the scheme and appealed to critics not to make a mountain of a mole hill citing minor irregularities.

Jayalalithaa today described Karunanidhi as “irresponsible and a comic figure” for implementing such a strange scheme at an exorbitant cost to the exchequer and said the Chief Minister had sanctioned Rs 200 crore as an immediate measure while awaiting support from the Centre for an estimated sum of Rs 1,500 crore.

She said, “The government’s primary duty is to the people affected severely by recent rains. If the Chief Minister is genuinely concerned with the people, he should immediately halt the television distribution scheme and attend to flood relief.”

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AIDS epidemic staring hard at armed forces
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 29
The AIDS epidemic after affecting over 2.5 million people in the country, is also staring hard at the Indian Armed Forces which have been getting at least one HIV/AIDS patient every day.

Lieutenant-General Yogendra Singh, director general of the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS), said here today that currently there were 6,180 HIV/AIDS patients among the Indian Armed Forces ranks. “Every month we are getting 30 to 40 HIV/AIDS cases among our personnel, but the infection rate was lower than in civilians,” he said.

Although he said nine more armed forces hospitals were coming across the country and there were plans to induct 10,590 new health professionals to meet growing health demands and reduce doctors and patients’ ratio in the defence service, but the scenario on the AIDS front was quite worrisome.

This year alone (by the end of November), 323 personnel of the three armed forces - army, navy and air force - have been detected with the HIV/AIDS. In 2006, health authorities had found 409 HIV positive cases among the armed forces.

Talking to mediapersons here ahead of the AFMS rising day, the DG AFMS said there were 10 centres across the country to treat such personnel. When asked specifically whether the services of these personnel were terminated, he said, “There are four stages of the disease. If someone is in the fourth stage and not eligible to serve the country, then his job is terminated, but the rest get treatment and continue in the service.”

He, however, pointed out that not all personnel were in the last stage of the disease and just about 2 per cent of them were in that category.

On its effort the officials said massive information, education and communication campaign was being carried out among the personnel, and there had been success.

Meanwhile, the government has given its clearance for the setting up of nine more armed forces hospitals. Currently, there are 127 armed forces hospitals and the new hospitals would be in place in the next three to four years.

“The government of India has already given a go ahead for nine hospitals, which will be in place in three to four years. One hospital in Kargil (Jammu and Kashmir) is expected to be commissioned by October 31, 2008,” said Lt-Gen Singh.

The hospitals will be located in Jammu, Drass (both in Jammu and Kashmir), Bhuj (Gujarat), Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh), Tezpur (Assam), Suratgarh (Rajasthan) and Mhow in Madhya Pradesh.

He said the Centre had approved appointments to 10,590 vacant positions as recommended by the Standing Committee of Parliament on Defence in its 23rd report, keeping in view the increased commitments.

The AFMS, which celebrates its 244th rising day anniversary on January 1, has one health official for every 53 personnel.

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Viplove to meet Sonia
To discuss reasons behind party’s defeat
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 29
Himachal Pradesh Congress chief Viplove Thakur is likely to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday to apprise her of the reasons for the party’s defeat in the Assembly polls and discuss the election of new CLP leader.

The PCC chief, who arrived in the capital today, will also apprise the Congress president of performance of the party candidates in all regions and constituencies of the state.

The Central leadership’s decision on the choice of CLP leader would be seen with interest, as none of the incumbent Chief Ministers in the states the party lost, in the recent past, was made a CLP leader.

While Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were given responsibilities at the AICC, former Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was also not appointed as CLP leader.

Sources said the party leaders from Himachal Pradesh belonging to faction opposed to the Chief Minister are likely to convey to the high command that several sitting ministers had lost the election and the party had performed poorly in the segments under the Mandi parliamentary constituency represented by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh.

The party has won only four of 17 seats in the Mandi parliamentary constituency. While it won eight of 17 segments in Shimla Lok Sabha seat, in Kangra, the party won five. The party slightly improved its performance in the Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat by winning six seats instead of three, in which it had surged ahead when Prem Kumar Dhumal won the byelection earlier this year.

Apart from pointing to the presence of the BSP, which damaged the Congress prospects in several seats, state party leaders would also list out other reasons that led to the party’s defeat. Some state Congress leaders are insisting that it is not the party, but the state government, which lost the polls.

Congress sources said apart from the weaknesses in campaigning and inability to translate appeal of a leader into votes, the party leadership would look at factors coming in the way of denying tickets to the sitting MLAs facing anti-incumbency.

Even though the surveys had pointed to the need of changing MLAs in several seats in Himachal Pradesh, the Congress chose not to do so. Both factions in the state Congress apparently wanted maximum of their candidates to be accommodated in the list.

There seemed some difference of perception between the party and government on the response to the EC’s decision to advance the date of polls by about two months. Several ministers came to Delhi to meet the Chief Minister on his return from a visit abroad to convey their opposition to the decision, which had implications to curtail their tenure.

The Election Commission eventually did not agree to the plea to defer the polls. The state government, which apparently wanted to make some populist announcements in the last few months of its government, included as a last resort some of these proposed decisions as promises in the party’s election manifesto.

The party is also likely to look at the ways to respond to issues of price-rise and unemployment, which became factors in the polls.

It may also review its strategy not to project a chief ministerial candidate.

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Terror outfits using Bihar, Jharkhand
Ambarish Dutta
Tribune News Service

Patna, December 29
The states of Bihar and Jharkhand are now uneasily watching the lengthening shadow of global terrorism - the resonance of which has already been felt in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Rajasthan and UP.

The biggest challenge before these two states in the eastern part of the country now seems to foil the reported evil designs of some terror groups to use their land to plan and execute various sinister acts in other parts of the country.

The problem assumes more ominous proportions with the unbridled Naxalite violence in these two states in last few years.

Left-wing extremism, reportedly, linked to various anti-national elements both within and outside the country, has already been described as the biggest threat to internal security of the country by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The latest twist to Naxal violence in Bihar-Jharkhand is linked to the intelligence inputs exploring the links between the All-Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA) and Left-wing extremists.

AANLA was believed to be involved in the recent blast on the Rajdhani express in Assam that had killed five people.

Formed in 2004 with the main aim of protecting the interests of the people belonging to the Adivasi community and to put pressure on the government to grant the status of Scheduled Tribes to an estimated 70 lakh Adivasis working mostly in tea gardens in Assam, AANLA, reportedly, now has around 200 trained cadres.

Sources also revealed the ongoing investigation into the reported assistance that AANLA received from two Northeast militant outfits, the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) and the NSCN (I-M), in the recent past in helping the outfit’s bid to get transformed into a major force to reckon with in the days to come.

Incidentally, the Adivasis working in the tea gardens of Assam once had migrated from Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa.

This only confirms AANLA’s desperation to establish links with Naxals operating in Jharkhand and adjoining Bihar and Orissa. The development, undoubtedly, broadens the canvas of the problem.

Sources in the intelligence claimed that the self-styled commander AANLA chief Nirmal Tarki alias David was now in Jharkhand and the state may have a much bigger problem on its hands with his reported move to come closer to the Naxals.

It is believed that once AANLA and the Naxals succeed in coming closer, this tribal militant outfit from Assam might be an ideal platform for Left extremists not only to establish contacts with other Northeast militant groups, but also to try and expand their base in that region which has international borders with Bhutan, Myanmar and China.

In October, the police had arrested one Khuswar Rahman from Godda district of Jharkhand in connection with the bomb blast at the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer. Rahman, a teacher at a Madrasa in Ajmer had left his place and shifted to Godda district just before the blast. Rahman had completed his graduation from Bihar.

Such terror links in Jharkhand were found way back in 2002 as well when a Central police team had gunned down two terrorists in Hazaribagh. The two terrorists were hiding there after having carried out the attack on the American Centre in Kolkata.

The investigation after the attack on the American Centre had exposed the designs of various Islamic terror outfits to use the eastern border of Bihar and West Bengal with Bangladesh to sneak its agents into India to carry out subversive activities in various parts of the country.

Bihar too was a witness to these global terror designs during the same period. This was evident when the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), Mumbai, in July 2006, arrested Kamal Ahmad Ansari and Khalid Sheikh from Madhubani in Bihar near the Indo-Nepal border.

The police had arrested one suspected SIMI activist Ziauddin Ansari from Phulwarisharif near Patna too in connection with the same Mumbai blasts.

Close to the arrests of the two prime suspects in connection with the Mumbai blasts from Madhubani, it was Dawood’s aide Fazl-ul-Rahaman who was picked up by the police from the Indo-Nepal border near Gorakhpur in eastern UP while he was on his way to his hometown at Darbhanga in Bihar.

Even though the present dispensation in Bihar is apparently serious in dealing with any anti-national designs, be it Naxals or others, the terror groups with a global network, reportedly, favour Bihar either to hide or plan such acts because of the state’s geographical location which shares international borders with Nepal and Bangladesh.

Kishanganj in Bihar is easily linked to Siliguri in West Bengal, which shares common borders with Nepal and Bangladesh, besides being the entry point to North eastern states.

Public memory is still fresh about the arrest of one Farhan Malik for the attack on the American Centre in Kolkata in 2002. Malik was reported to have procured a fake passport from Patna after furnishing a false address.

Similarly, the Delhi police reportedly had arrested two hardcore activists of Al-Qaida - Pir Baba and Laddu Mian - from Phulwarisharif near Patna for allegedly conspiring to bomb the US Embassy in Delhi.

One may recall the revelation made by the two arrested prime suspects from Madhubani for last year’s Mumbai blasts, Kamal Ahmad Ansari and Khalid Sheikh. During interrogation, they reportedly admitted of having been trained in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan.

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Three years after tsunami, thousands still homeless in TN
Arup Chanda
Tribune News Service

Chennai, December 29
Even after three years since the tsunami struck disaster in Tamil Nadu more than 20,000 people are still homeless and living in shelters as construction for a large number of houses is yet to start.

Only half of the houses proposed to be built for the victims of the Asian catastrophe, which hit on December 26, 2004, have been completed and handed over to the beneficiaries while construction has not even started for more than 15,000 houses.

According to figures available after the tsunami’s third anniversary, out of 53,291 houses to be built by NGOs during the first phase of the post-tsunami rehabilitation schemes, only 31,376 houses have been completed. Out of these, only 27,599 houses have been provided to the people whose houses were raised to the ground.

As many as 3,777 houses have been constructed and ready to be occupied but because of red-tape and bureaucratic procedures they are yet to be handed over, while another 6,442 houses are under construction.

Compared to the rural areas, urban areas are lagging behind in the housing programme, as out of the 15, 473 houses for which construction work has not begun, 14,433 are in urban locations. The state government’s tsunami recovery website states that these remaining houses will be completed by September 30, 2008.

The point to note is that all these figures relate to the first phase, in which housing is being handled by NGOs and corporate houses who chipped in huge funds after the Asian calamity ravaged Tamil Nadu, which was worst affected in mainland India.

In the second phase, in which the state government has a huge role to play, 52,569 houses are to be built for vulnerable people in the 13 coastal districts of Tamil Nadu.

The state government has issued an order for construction of 22,000 houses under a central government package at a cost of Rs 552 crore. According to it, by next month, 500 houses will be ready, while 8,000 houses will be completed by May and 9,000 by August next year respectively, and that the entire programme would be completed by March 2009.

Meanwhile, the cost of each of these 325-square feet disaster-resistant houses have been raised up to Rs 2.38 lakh each for 2007-08.

However, these official figures reflecting the present position underscore the huge challenges faced by both the government and private organisations and charities involved in the tsunami housing programmes.

The United Nations, in a recent report, noted that only half the houses intended to be built have actually been constructed, and listed the adverse factors plaguing the housing component of the rehabilitation efforts.

The report released a few weeks ago, stated, “Firstly, although construction was distributed among a large number of organisations, progress has been slow. Secondly, the government faced the dilemma of ensuring that the people are not displaced to places far away from their earlier habitat and livelihood. There were difficulties in acquisition of land as the size of site that was required was often large. As a compromise, in several instances, land not suitable for house construction was identified.”

The UN report also commented upon the delay in provision of basic infrastructure such as water, sanitation, electricity and roads. In some cases, houses had been handed over to the tsunami victims without these infrastructural facilities. It noted that shortcomings in supervision and monitoring also led to poor quality of construction both in terms of materials used and techniques employed.

It also stated, “With some positive exceptions, the approach has been provision of houses, rather than developing habitats. The housing programme would have benefited from a more holistic approach, if the various dimensions of housing such as community infrastructure, water, sanitation, environment and conservation and livelihood had been addressed in a more integrated and timely manner.”

After the third anniversary of the Asian tsunami, several rights groups too made adverse comments on the manner in which rehabilitation efforts were being pursued and which were in fact detrimental to the interests of the coastal people.

A ‘People’s Tribunal’ held here recently by NGOs on the problems related to tsunami rehabilitation work pointed out that in reality “relief work has been used an opportunity to exploit the people”.

One of the members of the tribunal, a retired Mumbai High Court Judge, H. Suresh, said he was astounded that the tsunami survivors were still living in “temporary shelters” even three years after the disaster. The tribunal concluded: “The present condition of the tsunami survivors in a clear violation of their right to live under Article 21 of the Constitution.”

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Basu accuses partners of dividing front
Tribune News Service

Kolkata, December 29
Veteran leader Jyoti Basu lashed out at the Forward Bloc (FB) and the RSP, the two major partners in the Left Front, and accused them of dividing the Front, which was helping the opposition parties and other reactionary forces.

But the FB and RSP leaders counteracted Basu’s charges and alleged that the CPI(M) alone was solely responsible for the present disunity in the Left Front.

They demanded that instead of blaming them, Basu should better ask the Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the party secretary Biman Bose to correct themselves and eschew their big-brotherly attitude towards the small parties.

Promptly reacting to Basu’s allegation, both the FB leader, Debabrata Biswas and the RSP’s Monoj Bhattacharyya charged that the arrogance and high-handedness of the CPI(M) leadership, particularly of Bhattacharjee and Bose, towards the small parties had already destroyed the unity of the Front.

They declared they would no more allow themselves to be treated like the CPI(M)’s slaves and accordingly, they had taken the decision of “going alone” and contesting the election in their respective “individual capacity”.

Basu was talking to the media persons today at the Alimuddin Street party office after attending the party’s state committee meeting in which Bhattacharjee and Bose, among others, were also present.

He criticised the decision of the FB and the RSP to contest the forthcoming panchayat polls on their own and not as Left Front candidates. He said he did not know if the CPI would also follow the same step. But he warned these parties that their decision would facilitate the return of the BJP, the Congress(I), the Trinamool Congress in the state.

Basu also expressed his resentment at the state committee meeting that the Left Front was gradually breaking.

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ISRO ready for lunar venture, plans manned missions

Bangalore, December 29
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is all set for its lunar honeymoon in 2008, accomplishing critical components for its maiden outer space mission Chandrayaan-1.

The work towards realising the Chandrayaan-1 mission was on the ISRO-initiated dialogue during the year for an Indian manned mission.

It would be taken up as a national effort for the development of a fully autonomous orbital vehicle carrying two to three crew members to a 400-km low earth orbit and safely return them home.

ISRO chairman G.Madhavan Nair told that it would take at least eight years to realise such capabilities.

The ISRO had carried out a detailed study on the feasibility of undertaking indigenous manned space missions with an aim to build and demonstrate the capability for carrying humans to low earth orbit and their return to the earth. A project report is being prepared for submission to the government for its approval.

The year 2007 was a significant in mastering some of the critical technologies by the space organisation. Besides putting in place the necessary hardware and software for the moon’s mission, it had successfully recovered a Space Capsule as a precursor to future capsule recovery programmes and reusable launch stages. Another significant milestone was the launch of the first dedicated commercial payload AGILE from Italy on the PSLV-C8.

The successful launch of the PSLV-C7, carrying four satellites namely India’s CARTOSAT-2 and Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE-1), Indonesia’s LAPAN-TUBSAT and Argentina’s PEHUENSAT-1 and bringing back the SRE-1 in the pre-determined location, has given a coveted status to the country in the comity of space faring nations, Nair said.

“The first Indian unmanned lunar mission Chandrayaan-1 crossed major milestones and a series of reviews were held with the participation of experts from India and principal investigators of the experiments on board Chandrayaan-1,” Nair said. The satellite subsystems had completed all quality and reliability requirements and is undergoing integration and testing.

The installation of a 32-meter antenna at the Deep Space Network at Byalalu, Bangalore, was a major accomplishment in setting up necessary ground infrastructure for the Chandrayaan-1 mission and beyond.

Planning ahead for the second mission, ISRO had already signed up with Russian Federal Space Agency Roskosmos for a joint lunar research and exploration to be realised through Chandrayan-II.

The cooperation agreement signed during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Russia in November 2006, envisaged an Indo-Russian lunar mission involving a lunar orbiting spacecraft and a lander/rover on the moon’s surface. The mission is to be realised by 2011-12.

“The launch of the dedicated commercial payload AGILE amidst stiff competition has given us a firm footing in the commercial launch market,” he added.

The crowning glory of the year, however, was the successful testing of the cryogenic upper stage on November 15. The cryogenic stage has now been fully qualified to meet the requirements of the GSLV launch mission for putting a 2.5 tonnes class satellite into the geostationary transfer orbit.

“The successful testing of the indigenous cryogenic upper stage for the full mission duration of 720 seconds is a major achievement in our march towards total self-reliance in the launch vehicle technology,” he said. — UNI

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About 40 pc turnout in Ballia, Bikramganj

Ballia/Patna, December 29
Polling for byelections to the Ballia and Bikramganj Lok Sabha constituencies ended peacefully this evening with each recording about 40 per cent voter turnout.

The Ballia Lok Sabha seat had fallen vacant following the demise of former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, while the byelection to the Bikramganj constituency was necessitated following the death of JD(U) MP Ajit Singh, who was killed in a road accident in Siwan this year.

About 38.7 per cent voting was recorded in Ballia, concluding peacefully at 5.00 pm.

Barring reports of technical flaws in EVMs from some areas, no untoward incidents were reported during the bypoll.

Voting was halted for five to ten minutes at booth numbers 73 and 166 at Chilkahar Assembly segment due to technical flaws in the EVMs, which were later replaced.

The voting process began at 7.00 am this morning amid unprecedented security arrangements. In all 16 candidates were in the fray for the bypoll.

The principal opposition, the Samajwadi Party (SP) had fielded Neeraj Shekhar, son of late Chandra Shekhar, as its candidate while the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had pitched in Vinay Shankar Tiwari -- son of former Uttar Pradesh minister and strongman Hari Shankar Tiwari.

The BJP and the Congress gave tickets to Virendra Singh Mast and Rajiv Upadhyay, respectively.

The Election Commission had banned the entry of outsiders, including ministers, in the constituency from Thursday till the voting process, which ended today.

Polling for the by-election to the Bikramganj Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar ended peacefully this evening with reports of 34 per cent voting, the election office said. — UNI

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RTI Denial
CIC asks officer to show cause
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 29
The Central Information Commission has asked the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) in the office of the joint commissioner of police, crime (women’s cell) in Nanakpura here to show cause as to why he should not pay a penalty for denying information to an applicant.

Admitting the application of Sarabjit Singh of Kotkapura, Punjab, as a complaint petition under the provisions of the Right to Information Act, the chief information commissioner (CIC) has asked the concerned CPIO in the women’s cell to provide Singh information within 10 working days from the date of receipt of the decision.

The CIC, Wajahat Habibullah has directed the CPIO to show cause as to why a penalty of Rs 250 per day (not exceeding Rs 25,000) from February 23, 2007 when the information was due to the date it was given, should not be imposed on him/her under Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act.

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Over 40 pc voting in Ballia byelection

Ballia, December 29
Over 40 per cent electorate today cast their votes in the the Ballia Lok Sabha by-poll with no untoward incident being reported from anywhere in the constituency.

There were 249 hyper-sensitive and 221 sensitive polling booths in the constituency and elaborate security arrangements were made for a free and fair election.

There are about 15,21,916 voters in this prestigious Lok Sabha constituency in which 16 candidates, including the BSP’s Vinay Shankar Tiwari and the Samajwadi Party’s Neeraj Shekhar, son of former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar, contested the election.

While the Congress fielded Rajiv Upadhyay, Virendra Singh Mast was the BJP’s candidate for the seat.

SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati along with her close aide Satish Chandra Mishra had campaigned for the by-poll. — PTI

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