SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI



THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

Taliban common threat: Holbrooke
Richard Holbrooke New Delhi, February 16
US special envoy Richard Holbrooke
today heard the views of India on the
volatile security situation in South Asia
and later emphasised that the Taliban
posed a “common threat” to India,
Pakistan and the US.

Satyam sacks senior VP
Hyderabad/New Delhi, February 16
Satyam Computers today asked one of its senior vice-presidents Anil Kumar to put in his papers immediately.

Kerala MP falls ill
New Delhi, February 16
An otherwise uneventful Interim Budget presentation
Lok Sabha MP Virender Kumar collapsed during the Budget speech at the Parliament house.by the Finance
Minister today saw
the Lok Sabha MPs
on their feet when
JD(S) member from
Kerala MP Veerendra
Kumar complained
of uneasiness.

Lok Sabha MP Virender Kumar collapsed during the Budget speech at the Parliament house. A Tribune photograph


EARLIER STORIES


No big announcements but FM plays ‘hand’ card

New Delhi, February 16
Although an economic slowdown and the Constitutional constraints of presenting an Interim Budget prevented Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee from making any big-ticket announcements, he did manage to canvass support for the Congress in his speech on the basis of the UPA government’s continuing commitment to the “aam aadmi” and its deft handling of the fallout of the global meltdown.

Pranab does it all
Budget in morning, diplomacy in afternoon
New Delhi, February 16
Veteran Congress politician Pranab Mukherjee is the archetypal multi-tasker and role-player. In the morning, he presents the Interim Budget, does a spot of number- crunching and tom-toms myriad achievements of the poll-bound UPA government.

RTI has infused more accountability: Pranab
New Delhi, February 16
Presenting the Interim Budget 2009-2010 here Minister for External Affairs holding charge of the Finance Ministry Pranab Mukherjee said the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 had made public servants more accountable than before.

Former cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin with his wife Sangeeta Bijlani at the dargah of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer on Monday.
Former cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin with his wife Sangeeta Bijlani at the dargah of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer on Monday. — PTI photo

Oppn: Budget like Satyam’s
balance sheet

New Delhi, February 16
Opposition parties today said the Interim Budget was like “Satyam’s balance sheet” as it hid the real fiscal deficit while painting a rosy picture of the economy and offered “poll lollipops” with the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in mind without tackling real issues.

Jugglery of figures: Maya
Lucknow, February 16
Chief Minister Mayawati today described the Interim budget 2009-10 as a jugglery of figures meant to fool the common people.

B’desh-based ultras under pressure
118 Tripura militants surrender
Guwahati, February 16
In the wake of surrender by 118 tribal militants coming out of their Bangladesh base, the Tripura police today said it would be a major boost to the morale of the forces that had been hot on the trail of militants in the state.

‘Nagaland CM Rio bribed MLAs to quit’
2 Cong legislators had joined ruling DAN
Guwahati, February 16
The Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee (NPCC) has accused the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) of bribing two MLAs who resigned from the Assembly to joint Nagaland People’s Front (NPF), the main constituent of the DAN.

Assembly Polls
Cong, BJP, CPM join hands in Sikkim
Gangtok, February 16
Setting aside ideological differences, the Congress, BJP and the CPM have joined hands in Sikkim to unitedly fight Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling's Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) in the assembly polls scheduled to be held later this year.

Rane may find place in M’rashtra cabinet
Mumbai, February 16
Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has scored a few points over his predecessor Vilasrao Deshmukh with the Congress party leadership revoking the suspension of dissident Narayan Rane.

No SC relief to eunuchs
New Delhi, February 16
The Supreme Court today refused to entertain a petition by eunuchs seeking direction to the Centre to constitute a National Commission for Kinnars for the rehabilitation of the "most neglected" segment of society.

Vajpayee’s condition improves
New Delhi, February 16
The condition of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is undergoing treatment at AIIMS, is improving with his pneumonic infection under control, a senior doctor said today.

Top Maoist leader surrenders in AP
Hyderabad, February 16
In a major jolt to an already waning Naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh, a top Maoist leader Sambasivudu, who carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head, surrendered before the police here.

India to help if LTTE agrees to lay down arms: PC
Chennai, February 16
It would be possible for the Indian government to arrange negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE, if the latter `declared its willingness to lay down arms’, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has said.

LS polls: Cong seeks PMK support in TN
Chennai, February 16
Fearing a debacle in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections following allegations against the Centre that it had provided military support to the Sri Lankan government in its war against the LTTE, the Congress today sought the support of the PMK, which has openly declared its support to Tigers.

12 security men hurt in landmine blast
Paralakhemundi (Orissa), February 16
About a dozen Special Operation Group (SOG) personnel were injured when a landmine planted by maoists blasted their vehicle in Orissa's Gajapati district today, the police said.

BSP MLA Murder Case
Prime accused held after 5 yrs
Allahabad, February 16
Five years after the murder of BSP MLA Raju Pal, the police has arrested one of the key accused in the case and recovered the weapon allegedly used in the killing.

RSS: Promote Indian languages
Pune, February 16
RSS chief KS Sudarshan has lamented the continued domination of English in free India and asked parents to insist on children's education in mother tongue while promoting Hindi as a link language.

300 taken ill due to food poisoning
Jamnagar, February 16
More than 300 persons have been hospitalised in the Jamkhambalia area in the district with symptoms of food poisoning.

 





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Taliban common threat: Holbrooke
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 16
US special envoy Richard Holbrooke today heard the views of India on the volatile security situation in South Asia and later emphasised that the Taliban posed a “common threat” to India, Pakistan and the US.

Winding up his three-nation tour of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, Holbrooke held meetings with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, National Security Adviser MK Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon during course of the day.

Officials said the meetings went off “very well” and the two sides discussed a number of issues.

The US envoy also briefed his Indian interlocutors on his assessment of the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which he visited before reaching here last night.

In his brief interaction with the media after his meeting with Mukherjee at the South Block, Holbrooke said, ‘’I carry no messages. I just wanted to hear the views of India on a wide range of issues.”

He said ‘’what happened in Swat (valley of Pakistan) demonstrates a key point and that is that India, US and Pakistan all have a common threat now: an enemy which poses a direct threat to our leadership, people and capitals”.

He was alluding to the threat from developments in Swat, which is virtually being run by the Taliban, as the strong Pakistan armed forces find themselves unable to measure up to the task of containing the militia.

The officials said the Mumbai terror attacks figured prominently during the discussions between Holbrooke and the Indian side with New Delhi asking the US to exert more pressure on Islamabad to bring to justice the perpetrators of the strikes.

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Satyam sacks senior VP

Hyderabad/New Delhi, February 16
Satyam Computers today asked one of its senior vice-presidents Anil Kumar to put in his papers immediately.

“Anil Kumar has been asked to out in his papers with immediate effect,” a company spokesperson said.

Asked why Kumar, senior vice-president of BFSI vertical, was asked to leave, the spokesperson said, "In keeping with current situation and need to optimise management structure, there are certain decisions that have been taken."

Kumar's will be the second senior-level exit at Satyam that is struggling to get back to normalcy after its founder B Ramalinga Raju confessed to manipulating company's account books and inflating profits over the last many years. The company would soon announce who would succeed Kumar.

Sources said that it has started a process of reviewing and more resignations may be tabled in the next few days.

Kumar had been with Satyam for over eight years and is the first member of its leadership council to be sacked.

Last week, Subu D Subramanian, a senior vice- president and the global head of manufacturing and automotives vertical, put in his papers citing personal reasons.

The exits come at a time when the firm is struggling to retain clients and some of
its key associates.

Meanwhile, the Satyam fraud investigation has been handed over to the CBI, Corporate Affairs Minister PC Gupta said today.

"CBI will look into all aspects of the investigation." Gupta said, adding the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) and the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) would continue with their respective investigations into the fraud. — PTI

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Kerala MP falls ill

New Delhi, February 16
An otherwise uneventful Interim Budget presentation by the Finance Minister today saw the Lok Sabha MPs on their feet when JD(S) member from Kerala MP Veerendra Kumar complained of uneasiness.

Fifty minutes into the budget presentation, Kumar suffered from breathlessness, prompting Speaker Somnath Chatterjee to stop the proceedings.

Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury, who was one of the first to rush to Kumar's aid, was heard telling others, “Move back. Let him breathe.”

Kumar was provided water and doctors were called in. He decided to walk out instead of using the foldable stretcher, which was brought in. Chatterjee made a rare gesture of walking down from his seat to enquire if he was fine.

The House was adjourned for 10 minutes. While the Speaker went out to ensure Kumar was taken to hospital immediately, others chatted among themselves.

Mukherjee took this opportunity to have a chocolate to energise himself, much
to the amusement of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who enquired what he was
up to. — PTI

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No big announcements but FM plays ‘hand’ card
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, February 16
Although an economic slowdown and the Constitutional constraints of presenting an Interim Budget prevented Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee from making any big-ticket announcements, he did manage to canvass support for the Congress in his speech on the basis of the UPA government’s continuing commitment to the “aam aadmi” and its deft handling of the fallout of the global meltdown.

Mukherjee did not name the Congress directly while seeking support for it in the coming elections but the reference to the “hand”, the grand old party’s election symbol, did not require any explaining. He said, “I have no doubt that when the time comes, our people will recognise the hand that made it all possible.”

UPA sources said the government had considered some populist measures like doing away with the education cess to gain political mileage in the coming elections but this was dropped, as it would have meant a loss of Rs 15,000 crore to the exchequer. “Such a move would have been highly irresponsible at this stage when the economy faces a slowdown, the expenditure has increased and revenues are down,” said a UPA minister.

Ashwani Kumar, Minister of State for Commerce, maintained that the Finance Minister had deftly harmonised the imperatives of addressing the concerns of the most vulnerable sections and the need to observe constitutional propriety by leaving major investment decisions to the next government.”

Since Mukherjee was unable to announce any populist measures in an Interim Budget and in the backdrop of the current economic situation, the focus of his speech which would also form the basis of the party’s election campaign, would highlight as to how the UPA government stepped up its allocations for the social and rural sectors as compared to the previous NDA government.

“There has been at least a five-time increase in the allocations for these sectors. The expenditure on agriculture, for instance, has gone up by 300 per cent since this government came to power, ” PK Bansal, Minister of State for Finance said later, and indicated that the Congress would seek votes not on the basis of this Budget but on the basis of the government’s performance over the past five years.

Besides focusing on the fulfilment of its promises to the weaker sections, the Finance Minister’s speech also underlined as to how the UPA government was able to contain the fallout of the global economic crisis while acknowledging that India had not remained immune from this meltdown.

Taking a cue from Mukherjee’s speech, the Congress plans to turn this adversity to its advantage.

“It is a matter of great satisfaction that we managed to weather the storm successfully,” PK Bansal, Minister of State for Finance said. “It is a measure of its success that at the time of a global recession, the Indian economy continued to be resilient,” remarked party spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan.

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Pranab does it all
Budget in morning, diplomacy in afternoon

New Delhi, February 16
Veteran Congress politician Pranab Mukherjee is the archetypal multi-tasker and role-player. In the morning, he presents the Interim Budget, does a spot of number- crunching and tom-toms myriad achievements of the poll-bound UPA government.

A few hours later, he is cosseted with US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, discussing Mumbai, Pakistan and Afghanistan. What next?

It’s not the first time Mukherjee has juggled diverse things on his plate. Or, for that matter, presented the Budget as he did today.

Exactly 25 years ago, Pranab babu or dada, as he is affectionately called by fellow-politicians, was at the Finance Minister's podium.

“It’s nothing new for him. He was a successful Finance Minister. He is a multi-dimensional person actively involved in governance of the country,” senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily said.

Although a lot has changed since - the country's economy has been radically transformed and liberated from the tyranny of the licence-quota regime - some things have not changed.

Last time, Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. This time round, Manmohan Singh may be the Prime Minister, but a Gandhi is again at the helm of the party.

The only difference is that he was a Rajya Sabha member 25 years ago and now he is a member of Lok Sabha.

Not many politicians in India can boast of Mukherjee-like rich and diversified experience. In the UPA government, where Mukherjee started as Defence Minister, he now heads over half a dozen inter-ministerial committees in areas ranging from telecom spectrum to finance.

Political folklore has it no big decision is taken without his nod. He is perhaps the only minister in the government who has been Finance and Defence Minister before he returned to South Block for a second innings as Foreign Minister over two years ago. — IANS

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RTI has infused more accountability: Pranab
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 16
Presenting the Interim Budget 2009-2010 here Minister for External Affairs holding charge of the Finance Ministry Pranab Mukherjee said the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 had made public servants more accountable than before.

”The enactment of the Right to Information Act 2005 at the Centre and in many states has bridged a critical gap in the public decision-making process and ushered in greater accountability of public servants,” Mukherjee said.

The minister was of the view that the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, set up by the government in August 2005, had brought out a number of reports with practical recommendations, providing a starting point for improving efficiency in the delivery of public services.

An ordinance was promulgated for establishing 15 central universities and in addition to this, six new IITs in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Punjab and Gujarat started functioning in 2008-09, he said.

He added that the two new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) will commence academic sessions in 2009-10.

Two more IITS, in Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, will commence academic sessions in the next fiscal, Mukherjee said.

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Oppn: Budget like Satyam’s balance sheet

New Delhi, February 16
Opposition parties today said the Interim Budget was like “Satyam’s balance sheet” as it hid the real fiscal deficit while painting a rosy picture of the economy and offered “poll lollipops” with the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in mind without tackling real issues.

Accusing the government of “fudging” figures, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said: “Fiscal deficit figures are unrealistic. It is much more. The Budget figures are like the Satyam balance sheet. We are living in a period of grave world-wide economic crisis but the government did not try to address issues of unemployment.”

While CPM Politburo member Sitaram Yechury said the Interim Budget was nothing but a lengthy document and the government had, in fact, lowered the expenditure on major social structure schemes, CPI leaders Gurudas Dasgupta and D Raja called it a “lollipop” Budget meant for the coming elections.

Another Politburo member Brinda Karat said the budget was an “election manifesto” and added: “Though the impact of recession on the economy is very clear, the Budget did not address the issue... it was not even mentioned in the Budget.”

Reference to Cong symbol vulgar: Left

CPI floor leader in the Lok Sabha Gurudas Dasgupta deplored that Mukherjee had even mentioned the Congress symbol -“haath” in his speech, which he termed as “unfortunate and vulgar”. — Agencies

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Jugglery of figures: Maya
Tribune News Service

Lucknow, February 16
Chief Minister Mayawati today described the Interim budget 2009-10 as a jugglery of figures meant to fool the common people.

Responding to the UPA’s Budget, the BSP supremo said it was made keeping the interests of the industrialists in mind leaving the “aam aadmi feeling cheated”.

She said during the UPA government only, the number of ‘crorepatis’ had increased while the poor had been left to fend for themselves.

Charging the UPA government of alleviating poverty only in figures, Mayawati said the poor felt caught in a web of statistics.

She alleged that the Budget had completely overlooked the interests of the farmers, and it did not generate enough employment opportunities.

Criticizing NREGA, UPA's flagship programme, Mayawati asked if providing minimum wages for 100 days was enough for the poor.

“How did the UPA government expect the rural poor to cope during the remaining 265 days?” asked Mayawati.

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B’desh-based ultras under pressure
118 Tripura militants surrender
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, February 16
In the wake of surrender by 118 tribal militants coming out of their Bangladesh base, the Tripura police today said it would be a major boost to the morale of the forces that had been hot on the trail of militants in the state.

“We have a reason to believe that more militants based in Bangladesh hideouts across the border are likely to surrender because of the geared-up vigil along the 856-km border that has been fenced and threat of flush-out operation that is haunting north-east militants based in Bangladesh after the change of government in that country. The cross-border movements of militants have come down of late,” Tripura police spokesman DIG NC Das informed The Tribune from Agartala.

The police officer said Saturday’s surrender of 118 Bangladesh-based militants from Borok National Council of Tripura (BNCT), a sub-group of the banned National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), might be the beginning of a trend that may see surrender of many more militants from different groups.

He said the surrendered militants had revealed that pressure was already building on N-E militants based in Bangladesh after an “India-friendly” regime came to power in that country.

The 118 BNCT militants surrendered before the Tripura police at bordering Dhalai district on Saturday night with large number of arms and ammunition, including AK 56 assault rifles, SLRs, .303 rifles, 9 mm pistols, grenades, mortar shells and landmines.

Meanwhile, the Army in Assam has mounted vigil in Goalpara and Dhubri districts of western Assam bordering Bangladesh to prevent cross-border movements of ultras from the neighbouring country through the river route.

The Army has launched operations against militants in river isles (‘char’ areas) of the Brahmaputra in the two western Assam districts to curb movements of militants.

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‘Nagaland CM Rio bribed MLAs to quit’
2 Cong legislators had joined ruling DAN
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, February 16
The Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee (NPCC) has accused the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) of bribing two MLAs who resigned from the Assembly to joint Nagaland People’s Front (NPF), the main constituent of the DAN.

Congress legislator I Imkong today alleged that the NPF leader and Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had stooped to the level of bribing the two Congress legislators to the ranks of his party.

The two Congress MLAs, who had resigned from Nagaland Assembly, formally joined the ruling Nagaland People’s Front (NPF).

Kejong Chang from Tuensang Sadar-II seat and Aloh Wangham from Tizit constituency, whose resignation were accepted by the Speaker of Nagaland Assembly on Friday, had also quit primary membership of the Congress.

With the resignation of two MLAs, Congress’ strength in the 60-member Nagaland Assembly has reduced to 21 from 23 while ruling DAN has 37 MLAs under its fold.

The resignation by two MLAs left the Congress red-faced in the hill state before Parliamentary elections, besides exposing intra-party problems.

Senior Congress legislator and former NPCC president I Imkong today stated that Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had lured the two MLAs by paying whooping amount of money even as all development and welfare activities in the state had taken a back seat because of misuse of funds provided by the Central government.

However, one of the two MLAs who quit Assembly as well as the Congress, Kejong, in a statement said he and his supporters decided to join the NPF to “strengthen the hands of Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and party president Shurhozelie” and dismissed the allegation that they were being lured out of the Congress.

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Assembly Polls
Cong, BJP, CPM join hands in Sikkim

Gangtok, February 16
Setting aside ideological differences, the Congress, BJP and the CPM have joined hands in Sikkim to unitedly fight Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling's Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) in the assembly polls scheduled to be held later this year.

The alliance between the three national-level parties and two regional parties - Sikkim Himali Rajya Parishad Party (SHRPP) and Sikkim Gorkha Prajatantrik Party (SGPP) - has been named United Democratic Front (UDF), senior Congress leader and the front's chief coordinator K N Upreti told reporters here last night.

The assembly polls would see a direct contest between the SDF and the UDF in all 32 seats in the state, he said.

The decision to form the UDF was taken in a meeting of opposition leaders, including former Chief Minister and Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee (SPCC) president Nar Bahadur Bhandari, BJP state unit president Hare Ram Pradhan, SHRPP president A D Subba, SGPP leader N B Khatiwada and CPM state committee member Anjan Upadhyaya Upreti said.

Appealing to voters to elect the UDF, he alleged that during the last 15 years of its rule, the SDF had trampled upon people's fundamental rights.

Calling for "parivartan (change)", Upreti asked other opposition parties too to join the UDF banner to prevent division of votes against the the ruling party.

"The UDF's doors are open to all like-minded parties," he said. — PTI

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Rane may find place in M’rashtra cabinet
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, February 16
Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has scored a few points over his predecessor Vilasrao Deshmukh with the Congress party leadership revoking the suspension of dissident Narayan Rane.

For the past several weeks, Chavan had been batting all by himself for the Shiv Sainik-turned Congressman who was all set to be thrown out into the cold just before the Lok Sabha elections.

Having vented his ire at party president Sonia Gandhi after being denied the top job when Deshmukh was shunted out following the terror attacks in Mumbai, Rane suddenly had nowhere to go.

His only supporter, Margaret Alva, former general secretary of the All-India Congress Committee, also in the doghouse, most Congressmen eagerly awaited formal axing of the ambitious Rane.

Sources said, Rane’s followers had even sounded some industrialists about the prospects of forming a separate party.

However, with the slowdown in the economy, some of the corporate bigwigs were reportedly not even taking phone calls of Rane’s intermediaries.

But, as they say, politics makes strange bedfellows. The greenhorn Chavan was quick to extend an olive branch to Rane in a bid to checkmate the supporters of Deshmukh who have found a place in the Cabinet.

Now with Rane on board, Chavan can breath easy, at least till the assembly elections due later this year.

According to sources, Rane has promised both the Lok Sabha seats in the Konkan region where he holds sway, apart from another half a dozen seats.

In all, Rane can influence the outcome of 13 LS seats spread over Mumbai, Thane and the Konkan region where he has built a support base since his Shiv Sena days.

The compromise worked out between Rane and the Congress party leadership also includes a Lok Sabha ticket for Rane’s son Nitesh, according to sources.

Nitesh may contest the Lok Sabha polls from Sindhudurg, the family borough, according to sources.

Over the past weeks, Rane was lobbying with the NCP to ensure a berth for Nitesh.

Chavan is now said to be working towards expanding his Cabinet with either Rane or some of his close supporters in the team.

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No SC relief to eunuchs
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 16
The Supreme Court today refused to entertain a petition by eunuchs seeking direction to the Centre to constitute a National Commission for Kinnars for the rehabilitation of the "most neglected" segment of society.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, however, granted them the liberty to approach appropriate authorities for redressal of their grievances.

Counsel for the petitioners submitted that no government had taken any steps for the welfare and rehabilitation of kinnars (eunuchs), forcing them to beg on streets.

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Vajpayee’s condition improves

New Delhi, February 16
The condition of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is undergoing treatment at AIIMS, is improving with his pneumonic infection under control, a senior doctor said today.

"He is fully conscious and breathing on his own. The infection is under control. We are waiting for the chest to clear now. We have kept him under observation," Sampath Kumar, chief of Cardio-Thoracic Vascular Sciences Department at the hospital, told here.

Kumar said Vajpayee is doing well without the respiratory support. "We have removed the ventilatory support and all the basic parameters are normal," he said.

The 84-year-old veteran BJP leader was admitted to AIIMS on February 3 following chest infection. He was later diagnosed with pneumonia and put on ventilatory support. — PTI

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Top Maoist leader surrenders in AP
Suresh Dharur
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, February 16
In a major jolt to an already waning Naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh, a top Maoist leader Sambasivudu, who carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head, surrendered before the police here.

Forty-one-year old Sambasivudu, whose real name is K Ailaiah, was involved in several sensational cases, including the assassination bid on the then Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu in October, 2003 and the murder of former MLAs C Narsi Reddy and Ragya Naik.

A key military strategist of the CPI (Maoist), Sabasivudu held several important positions in the outlawed organisation during his 16 years of underground life and was made the secretary of the AP committee in September 2006, a position he held till the end of 2007.

He was the secretary of Karnataka committee when he decided to bid adieu to the Maoist movement and join the social mainstream.

Amid tight security, the Maoist leader was brought to the state secretariat here today and produced before the media in Home Minister K Jana Reddy’s chambers.

Citing “ill-health and yearning to lead a normal life with the family” as the reasons for his dramatic surrender, the top Maoist gun, however, sounded unrepentant about the violent agenda of the Naxalite movement.

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India to help if LTTE agrees to lay down arms: PC
N Ravikumar
Tribune News Service

Chennai, February 16
It would be possible for the Indian government to arrange negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE, if the latter `declared its willingness to lay down arms’, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has said.

“Carefully note my words. I am not asking you to lay down your arms immediately. It is enough if you declared your willingness to lay down arms. Then, it will be possible to arrange negotiations,” the Minister said at a public meeting last night.

In a direct appeal to LTTE chief Prabhakaran, the Home Minister said, "I have always called you thambi (younger brother). Still, I am calling you with the prefix. Thambi Prabhakaran should understand that no country, in recent times, has achieved separation using armed struggle. No country will come forward to negotiate with an armed organisation."

India itself was facing insurgency in many states and it could not negotiate with any armed organisation. So, it would not be possible for India to ask another sovereign country, to negotiate with an armed outfit, he clarified.

The Congress leader also made it clear that his government would not accept the LTTE as the sole representative of island Tamils and Prabhakaran would not be allowed to rule the Tamil areas in an autocratic manner.

Any solution would be possible only within the framework of the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement signed in 1987, Chidambaram asserted.

Chidambaram's appeal accepting the LTTE as one of the parties for negotiating with the Sri Lankan govenment is a significant shift in Centre's policy, which could pacify the people of Tamil Nadu, whose support to the protests organised by the Sri Lankan Tamils Protection Committee, comprising the MDMK, CPI, BJP, PMK and VCK is growing everyday.

The Home Minister's call, if it bore fruits, would pre-empt the imminent interference of Britain, US, Canada and other foreign players, whose mediation would result in strenghthening the LTTE's role as the sole representative of Sri Lankan Tamils.

Chidambaram recalled his secret meeting with the LTTE chief in Chennai, in the ‘80s and said the Congress decided not to accept Prabhakaran as the sole representative of Tamils after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

"The Tigers do not represent the 13 lakh Tamils, who migrated from Tamil Nadu and working in tea estates in Sri Lanka. About 13,00,000 Tamils living in east Sri Lanka do not consider Tigers as their representatives now,” he said.

Chidambaram appealed to all leaders in Tamil Nadu to appreciate the Centre's stand and support it. Only then, would it be possible to persuade the Sri Lankan government, he added.

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LS polls: Cong seeks PMK support in TN
N Ravikumar
Tribune News Service

Chennai, February 16
Fearing a debacle in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections following allegations against the Centre that it had provided military support to the Sri Lankan government in its war against the LTTE, the Congress today sought the support of the PMK, which has openly declared its support to Tigers.

Congress Legislature Party leader D Sudarsanam today met PMK founder S Ramadoss and pleaded with him to support the Congress in the next Parliament elections, while receiving suggestions from the PMK leader on measures to be taken for protecting Sri Lankan Tamils.

However, Ramadoss refused to accept the Centre’s condition that the LTTE should declare its willingness to lay down arms.

Speaking to reporters, Ramadoss demanded that the Centre should not stop with mere appeals to the island government to stop the war. It should firmly insist on a ceasefire, he asserted.

The PMK leader, who is a member of the Sri Lankan Tamils Protection Movement, along with MDMK leader Vaiko, also asked the Centre to raise the Sri Lankan Tamils issue at the UN. “These things should be done within two days”, he said.

Earlier, Congress leader Sudarsanam said the PMK was already in the UPA and the Congress wanted the alliance to continue.

The Congress party had worked for the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils in the past, he said and hoped that people in Tamil Nadu would not display anti-Congress sentiments in the next elections.

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12 security men hurt in landmine blast

Paralakhemundi (Orissa), February 16
About a dozen Special Operation Group (SOG) personnel were injured when a landmine planted by maoists blasted their vehicle in Orissa's Gajapati district today, the police said.

The blast near Andheri Ghati under the Adaba police station, about 120 km from here, took place when the SOG personnel were on a combing operation in the maoist-affected area, Superintendent of Police SA Khan said.

The injured were taken to a nearby hospital where the condition of two was stated to be serious, he said.

Additional police forces were sent to the spot. A special team equipped with anti-landmine equipment were also deputed to locate and neutralise explosives if found in the area. — PTI

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BSP MLA Murder Case
Prime accused held after 5 yrs

Allahabad, February 16
Five years after the murder of BSP MLA Raju Pal, the police has arrested one of the key accused in the case and recovered the weapon allegedly used in the killing.

On a tip-off, the special operations group of the local police arrested Gufran, a close aide and alleged sharpshooter of don-turned-MP Atiq Ahmed, from the Colonelganj police station area of the city late last night, the police sources said today.

A pistol, which Gufran claims to have used in the fatal attack on the MLA on January 25, 2005, has also been recovered from one of his relatives' place in Jhusi locality in the district's trans-Yamuna region.

Pal was gunned down in broad daylight barely a couple of months after making his electoral debut from the Allahabad constituency in a by-election necessitated by Atiq Ahmed getting elected to Lok Sabha from Phoolpur in the 2004 general election.

He had defeated Ashraf, the younger brother of Ahmed who had represented the constituency five times in a row.

The brothers, who owed allegiance to the then ruling Samajwadi Party, were named in the FIR lodged in this connection and also chargesheeted, but were granted bail by a court.

While Ashraf is still absconding, Atiq was arrested in Delhi in January last year after having eluded the UP police for more than six months.

He is currently lodged in the Naini central jail here and facing trial in a number of criminal cases, including those under the Gangsters Act, besides threatening of witnesses in the BSP MLA murder case. — PTI

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RSS: Promote Indian languages

Pune, February 16
RSS chief KS Sudarshan has lamented the continued domination of English in free India and asked parents to insist on children's education in mother tongue while promoting Hindi as a link language.

The Macaulay-led imposition of education system during the British India was still in vogue to the detriment of Indian languages, strengthening the misconception that the path of progress lay in the pursuit of English, he told a gathering of 'Swayamsevaks' here last night.

"One can learn English just as any other foreign language. But do not harbour the notion that progress of nations depends only on knowledge of English."

Countries like France, Japan, Italy, Spain and Germany did not depend on English, yet were some of the most advanced nations in the world, he pointed out. — PTI

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300 taken ill due to food poisoning

Jamnagar, February 16
More than 300 persons have been hospitalised in the Jamkhambalia area in the district with symptoms of food poisoning.

The affected people fell ill after having lunch in a marriage ceremony, organised yesterday, police sources said.

The ceremony was organised by one Jilubha Jadeja at Jakhar village in Jamkhambalia taluka of the district. — UNI

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