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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

BJP wants fresh polls in Jharkhand
New Delhi, January 8
The BJP today demanded imposition of President’s rule and fresh elections in Jharkhand. Referring to the firm rejection of Chief Minister Shibu Soren who lost by over 7,000 votes from Tamar Assembly segment in Jharkhand, the BJP said the Congress-directed “political drama in Jharkhand must end”.

Shekhawat puts BJP in bind
New Delhi, January 8
The BJP today inched deeper into trouble, with its former leader Bhairon Singh Shekhawat firmly reiterating his urge to contest the Lok Sabha elections if health permitted. The former Vice-President of India said there could be no retirement age in politics.
Senior BJP leader and former Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat addresses mediapersons in New Delhi Senior BJP leader and former Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat addresses mediapersons in New Delhi on Thursday. Tribune Photo: Mukesh Aggarwal



EARLIER STORIES



Lok Sabha Polls
SP to field Sanjay Dutt from Lucknow
New Delhi, January 8
Sanjay ‘Munna bhai’ Dutt is going to perform a brand new role, this time in politics. The film star would be the Samajwadi Party candidate from Lucknow in the coming Lok Sabha poll, party general secretary Amar Singh announced here on Thursday.

Excesses by paramilitary forces: 591 cases in 5 yrs
New Delhi, January 8
Excesses by paramilitary forces seem to be touching new heights, with 180 complaints lodged with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in the last year alone.

Day 4: Truckers in no mood to relent
Five states invoke ESMA
New Delhi, January 8
As the truckers, demanding a reduction in diesel prices by Rs 10, waiver of interest on truck finance and toll tax exemption, continued their strike for the fourth day today, as many as five states declared their stir illegal and invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to ensure that there was no shortage of essential commodities.
Trucks parked at a terminal in Navi Mumbai on the fourth day of the nationwide strike, called by the All India Motor Transport Congress
Trucks parked at a terminal in Navi Mumbai on the fourth day of the nationwide strike, called by the All India Motor Transport Congress, on Thursday. — PTI

Strike Fallout
Oil crisis looming in Capital
New Delhi, January 8
The national capital is heading towards a crisis situation, with employees of critical oil and natural gas sectors in no mood to call off their ongoing strike. Add to that the stir by truckers, who have hit hard the availability of essential commodities in the region.

Assam blasts: Prime accused killed in encounter
Guwahati, January 8
The Assam police today claimed to have gunned down a United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militant, who was also one of the prime accused in January 1 serial blasts in Guwahati, Pranjal Deka, alias Biju Sarania, in an encounter at Halikuchi in Rangiya sub-division of Kamrup district this afternoon.

Harshad Mehta’s flats up for auction
Mumbai, January 8
The custodian appointed to deal with the assets of scamster Harshad Mehta, who masterminded the 1992 securities scam, has put up eight flats belonging to the family for auction in order to recover the dues on behalf of the Income Tax department.

Centre steps in to control onion prices
New Delhi, January 8
In a bid to rein in the spiralling prices of onion, the commodity known to posses the power of bringing down governments, the Center has decided to increase its minimum export price (MEP) so as to discourage its export. Nafed, the monitoring agency for export of onion, increased its (onion’s) MEP for all destinations across the board by $50 to restrict exports and augment domestic supply.

Noida Gang Rape
Ensure women’s safety, NCW to Maya
Lucknow, January 8
Taking a serious note of the alleged gang rape of a management student in Noida, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has asked Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati to ensure the safety of women in the state, particularly in the suburbs adjoining the national capital.

AICTE cautions correspondence students
New Delhi, January 8
The All-India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) has come across a number of institutions offering technical education in distant mode in violation of the norms. The council has issued a note of caution to the students who are interested to pursue studies in distant mode.





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BJP wants fresh polls in Jharkhand
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 8
The BJP today demanded imposition of President’s rule and fresh elections in Jharkhand.

Referring to the firm rejection of Chief Minister Shibu Soren who lost by over 7,000 votes from Tamar Assembly segment in Jharkhand, the BJP said the Congress-directed “political drama in Jharkhand must end”.

The principal opposition party also dared the Congress to announce its prime ministerial candidate on a day when External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee hinted at AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi following in his father’s footsteps.

Not sparing any chance of hitting out at the Congress, the BJP said it (Congress) should come clean on the issue. About Soren, the BJP referred to how he had wanted to contest from another seat, but was eventually convinced by the Congress and RJD to fight from Tamar.

“They pledged to support Soren and look at the results. It is typical of the Congress tradition of using and throwing,” said BJP’s national spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad, who dared Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to explain why the massive Satyam Computers fraud went undetected for so long.

The scam, said the BJP, had put question marks on the legitimacy of Indian markets, and irreparably harmed the interests of small investors. “Over 53,000 employees of Satyam are on the verge of losing their jobs. We want the PM, under whose ministry SEBI falls, to explain how India’s regulatory mechanism is functioning,” said Prasad, alleging political protection to Satyam, which has many other group companies promoted by the same family, particularly in real estate sector.

The BJP immediately sought the government to set up an interim management to see after Satyam’s affairs. The government can invoke Section 401 of the Companies Act and approach the Company Law Board to get an interim management for Satyam.

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Shekhawat puts BJP in bind
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 8
The BJP today inched deeper into trouble, with its former leader Bhairon Singh Shekhawat firmly reiterating his urge to contest the Lok Sabha elections if health permitted. The former Vice-President of India said there could be no retirement age in politics. He even beckoned good friend and BJP stalwart Atal Behari Vajpayee to contest.

“Even Vaypayeeji should contest Lok Sabha elections, subject to health considerations. LK Advani is not the only one fighting elections,” 86-year-old Shekhawat said today, shrugging off party president Rajnath Singh’s remarks that a holder of constitutional position should, traditionally, not return to the cut and thrust of politics.

A buoyant Shekhawat hit back at Singh, saying he was not obliged to heed to his advice. “Rajnath Singh was not even born when I joined the party. He will take long before he can understand either me or the party. I may have taken a dip in the Ganges but I have also bathed at the wells,” said the veteran former BJP leader, voicing his hurt at Rajnath’s take on his decision to contest elections. Rajnath had yesterday clarified that Advani was NDA’s choice for PM’s post.

The BJP kept the same line today, with national spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad saying that Advani’s selection had been cleared at all levels. He, however, added that Shekhawat was BJP’s guardian and the party respected him highly.

Not that Shekhawat was impressed. He said he had no idea when Advani was made the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP. “I was not consulted,” he said, backing his return to politics with the example of India’s last governor general Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari, who not only held the office of chief minister of Madras state after demitting office but also floated the Swatantra Party.

Shekhawat’s repeated fanning of political ambitions comes at a time when the RSS had indicated to Advani that it no longer holds his pro-Jinnah remarks against him. That front having been vanquished, another one has now opened up for Advani, who faces a fresh challenge of leadership - this time from Shekhawat (if the latter were to contest). Shekhawat’s influence in politics cuts across party lines, and his base in Rajasthan is still very strong.

Confident of his prospects, Shekhawat today dismissed Rajnath Singh’s indications of the BJP not wanting to give him a ticket. “That’s BJP’s will,” said the three-time Rajasthan Chief Minister, hitting out at the BJP, which, he said, was in dire need of “cleansing”.

He further pushed the BJP into a spot by writing to Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlote and demanding a probe into the Rs 22,000 crore corruption case against the former Vasundhara Raje government. “That was not Congress or BJP money. That was public money and public must know where it went,” Shekhawat said. On its part, the BJP chose to stand by Raje, with Ravi Shankar Prasad saying: “Raje is our party leader. We trust her.”

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Lok Sabha Polls
SP to field Sanjay Dutt from Lucknow
Anita Katyal/Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 8
Sanjay ‘Munna bhai’ Dutt is going to perform a brand new role, this time in politics. The film star would be the Samajwadi Party candidate from Lucknow in the coming Lok Sabha poll, party general secretary Amar Singh announced here on Thursday.

Singh also said if Dutt was disallowed from contesting the elections because of criminal cases against him, the party would seek permission from the Supreme Court and the Election Commission. Dutt has been convicted under the Arms Act and is currently out on bail.

Referring to BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu’s case , the party general secretary said, “Like a BJP MP, who is a known cricketer, was allowed to contest despite being convicted, we too will try our best to field Dutt...if we fail, he will be our star campaigner.”

Singh said Dutt had agreed to be party’s candidate. “Dutt told me you are like my elder brother. He said he would do anything I ask him to, though he said he was not a political person,” Singh added.

Lucknow is presently represented by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Both the SP and the Congress, which are in the process of finalising an alliance in Uttar Pradesh, wanted to field a strong candidate with mass appeal and no political baggage for the prestigious Lucknow seat. Dutt’s name was considered by the two parties but the Samajwadi Party stumped the Congress with its unilateral announcement today.

While declaring Dutt’s candidature SP general secretary hoped the Congress would support his candidature since his father Sunil Dutt had been a senior and respected Congress leader while his sister Priya Dutt is the party MP from Mumbai.

Unlike his father and sister, Sanjay Dutt has never evinced any interest in politics. Not only has he been persuaded to take the plunge but his decision to go with the Samajwadi Party has led to heartburning in the Congress. Though nobody is saying so openly, it is being viewed as an act of betrayal, something akin to superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s decision to align with the Samajwadi Party after his fall-out with the Nehru-Gandhi family.

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Excesses by paramilitary forces: 591 cases in 5 yrs
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 8
Excesses by paramilitary forces seem to be touching new heights, with 180 complaints lodged with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in the last year alone.

Data gathered from the commission shows a consistent rise in the number of complaints of alleged human rights violations by paramilitary forces, with the maximum - 180 - recorded between 2007 and January 2008. The year previous to that, the corresponding figure was 173. What’s worrying is that the trend is being revealed at a time when the government is busy strengthening the hands of the state to combat terrorism.

In the last five years, 591 such cases were reported to the commission, which has ordered compensation in five - the only proven cases. The rest simply drag on for years or rot in the files in the absence of government’s sanction to proceed against the officers involved.

That is one reason why the people of northeast and Jammu and Kashmir have been clamouring for end to the Forces Special Powers Act, which grants immunity of sorts to security personnel found committing excesses. Permission to prosecute officers thus involved has to be sought from the Home Ministry, and is a long-drawn process.

Analysis of the complaints filed with the NHRC shows that in most of the cases the victims have died in firing. Over 46 cases out of 591 pertain to death due to firing, followed by 15 cases of fake encounters, 14 of custodial torture and seven involving death in encounters.

Arbitrary use of power was alleged by complainants in as many as 159 cases. Other cases pertain to illegal detention (19), victimisation (41), abduction and rape (11).

The commission, in five cases tried against the paramilitary forces to the logical conclusion, ordered a compensation of Rs 7.5 lakh. What’s more, the mounting allegations of atrocities by men in uniform prompted the commission to hold a national consultation on detention.

The commission has now given elaborate recommendations on the human rights of detainees and said, “There is a need to understand that a person in custody is under the care of the state and it is the responsibility of the state to ensure protection of his/her basic rights.”

This should, however, not be confused as advocacy for rights of criminals and terrorists, the NHRC has added.

The paramilitary forces apart, the commission received in the last three years 45 complaints of deaths in police custody by one NGO alone, namely the Asian Centre for Human Rights. On its own, the commission took note of 75 such cases, ordering a whopping Rs 100 crore as compensation to the victims’ families.

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Day 4: Truckers in no mood to relent
Five states invoke ESMA

Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 8
As the truckers, demanding a reduction in diesel prices by Rs 10, waiver of interest on truck finance and toll tax exemption, continued their strike for the fourth day today, as many as five states declared their stir illegal and invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to ensure that there was no shortage of essential commodities.

As the agitation seemed to be taking a political colour with transporters turning to the political parties in an effort to break the ground with the government, there was not much effect on the supply of commodities around the country although the prices continued to rise for the second day.

The All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) has also called for an emergency meeting of its representatives tomorrow to discuss the emerging situation, especially in view of the government cracking the whip.

The AIMTC also sought political support to its agitation by first meeting CPM leader Prakash Karat and later BJP’s President Rajnath Singh. The Transporters said that both the party leaders were sympathetic to their demands.

They have also sent letters to Leader of Opposition L K Advani, besides UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat have invoked ESMA to maintain smooth supplies of essential commodities. Earlier, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi also invoked ESMA ensuring there was no shortage of supply.

The Centre had earlier advised states to act on the 18-point action plan that it had issued two days back to deal with the situation. It included implementing provisions of the Essential Commodities Act, Essential Services Maintenance Act and National Security Act and impound trucks, if needed, against the striking transporters.

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Strike Fallout
Oil crisis looming in Capital
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 8
The national capital is heading towards a crisis situation, with employees of critical oil and natural gas sectors in no mood to call off their ongoing strike. Add to that the stir by truckers, who have hit hard the availability of essential commodities in the region.

Vegetable prices have already started to soar and are expected to hit the roof if the stir continues. It remains to be seen if the invocation of Essential Commodities Management Act in the capital will do any good to the supply side.

While that’s a part of the crisis, the bigger problem stems from imminent shortage of fuel across India. Around half of the petrol stations in the Capital have already dried up. By Thursday evening fuel was left only at HPCL-owned petrol stations. Their stock, too, would dry up by tomorrow, leaving the commuters stranded.

Power situation worsened during the day, with zero production reported at all gas-based power stations across New Delhi and other metros. Load shedding further added to the woes of residents. So dismal was the situation at the power stations that they ended up producing 500 MW less power than they do in normal days. The power situation will go from bad to worse with the employees of oil public sector undertakings showing no signs of relenting on their demands of better pay.

Lastly, the water supply across homes and restaurants will also be hit, courtesy power shortage. No wonder, several restaurants shut shop early today, unable to handle the client rush in the wake of shortage of essential oil, power and water supplies.

At another end, the aviation sector reeled under fuel shortage, with Mumbai and Chennai reporting inordinate flight delays due to dearth of aviation turbine fuel. Sources said around 70 flights were delayed, largely at Mumbai and Kolkata airports, by an average of 15 to 30 minutes on the second day of the strike.

The delay in flight operations, they said, started since early hours as refuelling was taking more time than it usually takes in absence of executive-rank officials of oil companies at airports. Night operations, however, remained normal as flights operated per the schedule.

The sources said Air India and foreign airlines had been hit more as their supplies were from IOC and BPCL where the officers are on strike. IOC is the major supplier of ATF to airlines. Private airlines are less affected as they uploaded most of their fuel from Hindustan Petroleum whose officers are not participating in the strike.

Delhi International Airport Limited officials said there was no delay in flights at Delhi, barring those whose arrivals here were already delayed in Mumbai and Kolkata. As many as 57 flights in Mumbai were delayed by an average of 35 minutes and about 15 in Kolkata by 15 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, Territorial Army personnel have been deployed along with senior management staff to help refuel aircrafts. The strike is expected to impact air services more from tomorrow as jet fuel stocks are expected to dwindle at major airports.

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Assam blasts: Prime accused killed in encounter
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, January 8
The Assam police today claimed to have gunned down a United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militant, who was also one of the prime accused in January 1 serial blasts in Guwahati, Pranjal Deka, alias Biju Sarania, in an encounter at Halikuchi in Rangiya sub-division of Kamrup district this afternoon.

Director General of Police GM Srivastava informed that the militant was killed following an encounter with a joint team of the police and the Army, led by Nalbari district Superintendent of Police Jitmol Doley. The encounter took place at Halikuchi on the bank of Nona River. Another militant managed to escape by crossing the river. The place of occurrence is a tri-junction of Kamrup, Baksa and Nalbari districts.

“The slain militant has been identified as Pranjal Deka, alias Biju Sarania, one of the main accused who triggered three blasts in Guwahati city on January 1, killing five persons and injuring over 50 persons,” the state police chief said.The police had earlier released the photograph of Pranjal Deka branding him as the prime accused in the serial blasts. The police have so far arrested about 18 persons in connection with the blasts.

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Harshad Mehta’s flats up for auction
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, January 8
The custodian appointed to deal with the assets of scamster Harshad Mehta, who masterminded the 1992 securities scam, has put up eight flats belonging to the family for auction in order to recover the dues on behalf of the Income Tax department.

The flats are located at the upmarket Madhuli co-operative housing society in Worli where the Mehta family resided. Harshad Mehta and his family owned nine flats in the building of which eight are to be auctioned. One flat belonging to Rasila Shantilal Mehta, Harshad’s mother, won’t be auctioned for the time being, officials said.

The custodian has invited bids from prospective buyers by February 4.

According to submissions made by the Mehta family in court, the properties were purchased by them in 1990 before the scam broke in 1992. The flats were merged and turned into a single unit in order to accommodate the entire family.

They have been thrown open for prospective buyers to check them out before placing their bids. However, the interiors are in a dilapidated condition since the property has been under lock and key for more than a decade.

The Mehtas have, so far, managed to delay the auction of the properties on the ground that these were acquired before the stock market scam of 1992. Only in November last did the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead to the custodian to proceed with the auction of the property.

However, the apex court accepted the submission by the custodian that relatives of Harshad Mehta were fronting for him in the purchase of the property since the funds for the same were arranged by the former scamster. Mehta’s mother Rasila and sister-in-law Rina, who had challenged the bid to sell off the properties, have been accused of receiving more than Rs 1,700 crore from Mehta by way of cash and securities.

The proposed disposal of the properties come at a time when the real estate market has taken a beating. According to brokers in the area, property prices in Worli is around Rs 37,000 per square foot after falling from around Rs 47,000 per square foot at the height of the boom more than a year ago.

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Centre steps in to control onion prices
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 8
In a bid to rein in the spiralling prices of onion, the commodity known to posses the power of bringing down governments, the Center has decided to increase its minimum export price (MEP) so as to discourage its export. Nafed, the monitoring agency for export of onion, increased its (onion’s) MEP for all destinations across the board by $50 to restrict exports and augment domestic supply.

Notably, the MEP for Gulf countries was fixed at $330 per MT in December last, which has been increased to $380 per MT this month. Besides, Nafed is also starting retailing of onion at a reasonable price from its outlets in Delhi.

The wholesale price of onion in important pockets of Maharashtra and also in the main terminal markets of fruits and vegetables, like Azadpur in Delhi, has been showing an upward trend.

Reports suggest the price in Maharashtra mandies presently was between Rs 800 to Rs 1,352 per quintal, with total arrivals being around 44,000 quintals.

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Noida Gang Rape
Ensure women’s safety, NCW to Maya
Shahira Naim
Tribune News Service

Lucknow, January 8
Taking a serious note of the alleged gang rape of a management student in Noida, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has asked Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati to ensure the safety of women in the state, particularly in the suburbs adjoining the national capital.

In a letter to Mayawati, NCW Chairperson Girija Vyas, has emphasised that being a woman the UP Chief Minister was in a better position to empathise with the problems being faced by women in her state and should therefore address them.

According to Vyas crime against women in Uttar Pradesh was rising by the day. It was exceptionally bad in areas adjoining the capital like Ghaziabad and Noida. The commission has already formed a two-member team to inquire into the Noida incident. The team visited the scene of crime on Wednesday and even recorded the statements of senior police officers investigating the case.

A 24-year old MBA student was allegedly gang-raped by a group of ten young men near a mall in Sector 39 in Noida two days ago. Of them five were arrested on the first day, while another was arrested today.

Incidentally, NCW figures show that rape cases in UP have shown an increase of 30 per cent during 2007 as against 2003. The NCW analysis of the nature of crime against women shows that the largest numbers of rape cases (429) were registered in UP, followed by Rajasthan at 107, Delhi at 72 and Haryana at 59.

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AICTE cautions correspondence students

New Delhi, January 8
The All-India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) has come across a number of institutions offering technical education in distant mode in violation of the norms.

The council has issued a note of caution to the students who are interested to pursue studies in distant mode. The technical institutes offering education in distant mode need to take approval from the Joint Committee of UGC-AICTE-DEC for conducting courses. Any programme of technical education conducted through distant mode without prior approval from the joint committee is not recognised, the AICTE said.

Such universities, including deemed universities, and institutions are liable for appropriate action for offering the unapproved programmes, the council said. — PTI

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