SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI
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N A T I O N

Naroda Riot
Minister led mob, Gujarat tells HC
Ahmedabad, February 21
The government in an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court has said that state minister Maya Kodnani led the mob, instigated them and distributed weapons to carry out Naroda riot which left 95 people dead in 2002.

Alliance with RLD certain: BJP
New Delhi, February 21
BJP’s national president Rajnath Singh said today the party’s electoral alliance with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) would surely materialise. “There is no reason as to why it (the alliance) should not happen. We are optimistic,” Singh said in the capital today.
BJP president Rajnath Singh addresses party workers in New Delhi on Saturday.
BJP president Rajnath Singh addresses party workers in New Delhi on Saturday. A Tribune photograph


EARLIER STORIES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS



The ex-servicemen, who are demanding ‘one rank one pension’, collect gallantry medals which would be handed over to President Pratibha Patil, in New Delhi on Saturday.
The ex-servicemen, who are demanding ‘one rank one pension’, collect gallantry medals which would be handed over to President Pratibha Patil, in New Delhi on Saturday. Tribune photo: Mukesh Aggarwal

Nano comments: Modi raps Rahul
Surat/New Delhi, February 21 Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi today criticised Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, asking him not to comment on the state's economic initiatives. The Congress responded by saying that Modi’s BJP was pro-corporate and had little concern for the masses.

Plays Telangana card to woo voters
Hyderabad, February 21
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was the star attraction at a BJP rally held today in the Telangana heartland to highlight the party’s support for the cause of separate state.

Gunbattle in UP court kills five
Lucknow, February 21
Three unidentified assailants shot dead two men in an Uttar Pradesh court today before they themselves were gunned down by the police. The two undertrials were accused of rape and murder.

4 kids charred to death in MP
Singrauli (MP), February 21
Four out of five siblings were charred to death and one sustained severe burns after the blanket they were covering themselves with while sleeping caught fire from a candle at Chakla village near here, police said today.

Arrest warrant against Raj Thackeray
Muzaffarpur, February 21
A local court today issued a warrant of arrest against Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray for his failure to turn up to answer accusation of having hurt Bihari sensibilities by his remark on “chhath” festival.

Reform projects in 1,420 cities
Technical losses eating into power pie
New Delhi, February 21
The Electricity Act has obviously failed to prevent power losses in India, with 34 per cent of the total generated power being wasted to technical and commercial losses.

Funds for projects lying unused: CAG
New Delhi, February 21
Even as the government hikes the budgetary allocations each year and makes grand announcements about increased plan outlays, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India has bared how crucial schemes for welfare, health, education and defence were being hampered, as ministries just could not spend the allocated money.

PG Medical Courses
Assam wants to do away with outsiders’ quota
Guwahati, February 21
In need of a large number of specialised medical professionals to augment services in the state hospitals and medical colleges, the Assam government has decided to do away with ‘outsiders’ quota’ in postgraduate courses in the state’s medical colleges subject to approval of the Supreme Court.

PM likely to attend last day of LS session
New Delhi, February 21
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to put in a brief appearance on the last day of the ongoing Parliament session on February 26 which will also be the UPA government’s last day in the treasury in the 14th Lok Sabha.

Peace delegation to leave for Pak today
New Delhi, February 21
Close on the heels of a “peace mission” by a Pakistani delegation to India, an Indian group of artistes, activists, academicians and journalists is leaving here tomorrow for Pakistan on a week-long visit, carrying the message of peace.

Talibanisation Remark
FIR registered against Renuka
Bangalore, February 21
The Mangalore Rural Police today registered an FIR against Union Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury for allegedly promoting enmity between groups with her remarks on “Talibanisation of Mangalore” following attack on women at a city pub by activists of Sri Ram Sene, a Hindu right-wing group.

Former Naxalites back Chiranjeevi
Hyderabad, February 21
After attracting politicians from rival camps, actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi is now seen as a role model for former Naxalites who have pledged support for his fledgling Praja Rajyam Party (PRP).

Pranab on Lanka
Political solution only way out
Berhampore (WB), February 21
India today expressed concern over the latest turn of events in Sri Lanka, particularly the air raids by the LTTE over Colombo, and appealed to the government and the militant organisation to come to a peaceful negotiated settlement.

Pranab may clarify his position on Lanka crisis
New Delhi, February 21
With political parties from Tamil Nadu deeply agitated over his comments on the Sri Lankan crisis, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is likely to clarify his position in a statement in Parliament sometime next week.

Planned violence a plot to topple govt: Karuna
Chennai, February 21
Alleging a conspiracy to topple the DMK government in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister M Karunanidhi today said “planned incidents of violence” were being organised as part of this conspiracy.

Lankan Conflict
TN leaders turn to US
Chennai, February 21
The Sri Lanakn Tamils Protection Movement yesterday appealed to the US to stop the war in Sri Lanka and save the Tamil population in the island, while actor and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) leader Vijaykanth held a massive rally, disrupting traffic for several hours in the city, with a similar plea to the US.

Pranab to meet Qureshi in Colombo
New Delhi, February 21
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is likely to meet his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the margins of the SAARC foreign ministers’ meeting in Colombo on February 27-28.

Rampant use of Indo-Pak border by drug traffickers
New Delhi, February 21
In what is yet another signal of India being surrounded by a troubled neighbourhood, about 55 per cent of all contraband drugs like heroin seized in 2008 in India had been sent in from Pakistan. The most popular route for sending the goods being the Indo-Pak border in Punjab and Rajasthan.

K’taka to set up turmeric market
Bangalore, February 21
Turmeric farmers in Chamarajanagar and Mysore districts of Karnataka, who hitherto found it difficult to get their crops transported to the market in Erode in Tamil Nadu, now have a reason to feel happy with the announcement by Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa yesterday of setting up a turmeric market in Chamarajnagar.

Vaccine Policy
SC notice to Ramadoss, HP
New Delhi, February 21
The Supreme Court today issued notice to Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, Himachal Pradesh and seven others on a PIL, challenging a January 2008 order stopping vaccine production in the public sector to the detriment of public health programmes and to the benefit of private companies.

15 Maoists held in Maharashtra
Mumbai, February 21
As many as 15 Maoists have been caught in eastern Maharashtra during an offensive by the police, nearly three weeks after the rebels brutally killed 15 cops in the same area, a top official said here yesterday.

Missing Articles
MP asks SGPC to clarify
New Delhi, February 21
Rajya Sabha MP Tarlochan Singh, today sent a letter to Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Avtar Singh Makkar, asking him to clarify as what was the position of the articles that were missing from the Golden Temple since operation blue in 1984.

All parties eyeing Puducherry seat
Puducherry, February 21
The union territory of Puducherry has just a lone seat in the Lok Sabha, but is drawing the attention of all political parties, including regional and state-level units.

A village whose denizens speak in Sanskrit
Rajgarh (MP), February 21
A visit to this district’s Jhiri village might make you feel transported back in time to a Vedic era gurukul as all the residents use Sanskrit even while conversing with one another.





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Naroda Riot
Minister led mob, Gujarat tells HC

Ahmedabad, February 21
The government in an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court has said that state minister Maya Kodnani led the mob, instigated them and distributed weapons to carry out Naroda riot which left 95 people dead in 2002.

The affidavit was filed in the court on Thursday on the basis of findings of Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court challenging anticipatory bail given to Kodnani by the lower court.

“She was the leader of mob and was an MLA and allegations against her is she was instigating the mob to commit crime and therefore she was playing the main role,” the affidavit said.

The affidavit said, “from one of the statements of witnesses it has been revealed that she had fired from her pistol, as well as, from another statement it has been revealed that she had come to the spot in a car with other persons and had distributed swords among the mob.”

Kodnani is a Minister of State for Higher Education in the Gujarat government and is regularly attending the ongoing Assembly session.

Kodnani had gone underground after SIT declared her absconder and resurfaced only after the lower court granted anticipatory bail to her. — PTI

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Alliance with RLD certain: BJP
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 21
BJP’s national president Rajnath Singh said today the party’s electoral alliance with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) would surely materialise. “There is no reason as to why it (the alliance) should not happen. We are optimistic,” Singh said in the capital today.

The tie up is important for the BJP, which is banking on the RLD’s support for Rajnath Singh’s victory from Ghaziabad in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. The RLD wields influence in this area, considered a bastion of RLD chief’s father and former Prime Minister Choudhury Charan Singh.

The BJP, meanwhile, also demanded a joint parliamentary committee probe into the Satyam scam - a matter it had yesterday vehemently argued in the Lok Sabha while opening the debate on the Interim Budget.

“Is the government trying to protect Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister by shying away from its responsibility of constituting a JPC on the matter?” BJP’s Ananth Kumar had yesterday asked.

Rajnath went a step further, accusing the UPA of shattering India’s economy which was growing at a rate of 8.4 per cent during the NDA regime. “The growth rate is down to 6.5 per cent. When Atalji demitted office, the growth rate was stable at 8.4 per cent. After five years, the UPA has destroyed the economy, causing millions of job losses. Small investors have been wiped out,” Rajnath said, at an investors’ meet here.

He also remembered that the NDA had sustained the economic growth in the face of economic sanctions imposed by the US, post Pokharan-II and the Kargil War. “If voted to power, we will put in place an effective regulatory system to prevent Satyam like frauds,” he said.

The BJP meanwhile again urged for 4 per cent interest rate on farm loans, with Rajnath saying the party favoured a policy of providing farm subsidies directly to farmers instead of industrial house. “Farmers should get their subsidy money directly, in their bank accounts, not through industries,” he said.

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Nano comments: Modi raps Rahul

Surat/New Delhi, February 21
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi today criticised Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, asking him not to comment on the state's economic initiatives. The Congress responded by saying that Modi’s BJP was pro-corporate and had little concern for the masses.

“Some people come from Delhi and give us advice on the Tata Nano project without full information,” Modi said in Surat. He was reacting to Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s criticism of the Gujarat government. Gandhi, while visiting Surat on February 14 had said the Modi government had doled out special favours to Tata Motors for shifting its Nano project from West Bengal to Sanand.

Referring to the downturn in the Indian diamond polishing industry, most of which is concentrated in Surat, Modi said, “It is for the Central government to take care of the diamond industry. My government has already given VAT concessions.”

In reply, the Congress said the basic problem with the BJP was its ideology which was pro-corporate and had nothing to do with the masses.

“It is the fault of the party ideology which supports the corporate world. It is extremely sad that in the land of Mahatma Gandhi, the corporate world is favoured, who are earning crores of rupees,” Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh said in New Delhi.

“The Modi government has nothing to do with medium and small-scale industries,” he added. — IANS

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Plays Telangana card to woo voters
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, February 21
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was the star attraction at a BJP rally held today in the Telangana heartland to highlight the party’s support for the cause of separate state.

The rally, christened as “Telangana Sankalp Sabha”, was organised at Karimnagar town, the nerve centre of the statehood movement. It is represented by president, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), K Chandrasekhar Rao in the Lok Sabha.

The BJP, if voted to power in the forthcoming elections, would grant statehood for Telangana “within 100 days of forming the government at the Centre,” Modi said while addressing the rally.

He was the cynosure of all eyes as a large number of people mobilised from neighbouring districts in the Telangana regions surged forward to have a glimpse of the BJP leader.

Modi said the BJP was the only party that was genuinely committed to the creation of Telangana state in deference to the wishes of the people.

Lashing out at the UPA government for failure to check the growing menace of terrorism, Gujarat Chief Minister said the security situation had been deteriorating ever since the Congress-led coalition took over the reins of the country.

“Only NDA government will ensure safety and security for the people and restore the country’s pride,” Modi said.

The president of Andhra Pradesh unit of the BJP, B Dattatreya and several state party leaders participated in the rally.

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Gunbattle in UP court kills five

Lucknow, February 21
Three unidentified assailants shot dead two men in an Uttar Pradesh court today before they themselves were gunned down by the police. The two undertrials were accused of rape and murder.

The duo, Satyaveer Singh and Kamlesh Singh, were shot dead in the district court in Hathras district — about 300 km from Lucknow — while they were being taken for a hearing in a case, police inspector Naresh Pal Singh said on the phone.

“ The police gunned down the three assailants. While one of them died on the spot, the other two died while they were being taken to the hospital,” Additional Director-General of Police (Law and Order) Brij Lal told reporters said here.

Four country made pistols were recovered from the assailants, added Lal.

Aligarh range DIG Brij Bhushan Singh told reporters that the assailants were yet to be identified.

Following the incident, several lawyers in the court demanded that security in and around the court premises be strengthened. However, the DIG said the security on the court premises “is adequate”.

“Senior police officials are inquiring into the case,” district police chief JP Singh said.

According to the police, the two undertrials were kept in an Aligarh jail and had been brought to Hathras today. — IANS

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4 kids charred to death in MP

Singrauli (MP), February 21
Four out of five siblings were charred to death and one sustained severe burns after the blanket they were covering themselves with while sleeping caught fire from a candle at Chakla village near here, police said today.

The siblings Shamsher, Jamshed, Rehana, Ruksana and Kurshid Ali were studying for exams yesterday night in candle light beside their bed. While studying the children dozed off and the blanket with which they had covered themselves caught fire from the flames of the candle, they said.

Shamsher and Jamshed died before they could be rescued while Rehana and Ruksana succumbed to their burn injury while undergoing treatment at hospital. Kurshid's condition is critical and he is battling for life, police said.

The village is witnessing 12-hour load-shedding and school children have no option but to study in candle light for their examinations, villagers said. — PTI

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Arrest warrant against Raj Thackeray

Muzaffarpur, February 21
A local court today issued a warrant of arrest against Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray for his failure to turn up to answer accusation of having hurt Bihari sensibilities by his remark on “chhath” festival.

First Class Judicial Magistrate Ram Surat directed the Mumbai police to ensure execution of his arrest order at the earliest.

The magisterial order came after the petitioner pleaded for a warrant on the ground that Thackeray did not turn up before the court two months after it had issued summons to him.

The magistrate acted on a petition filed by advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha on Thakeray’s remarks made on January 31 last year. — PTI

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Reform projects in 1,420 cities
Technical losses eating into power pie
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

PSU tariffs

The government is examining why PSUs like the National Thermal Power Corporation remained handicapped when bidding for tariff based projects. Recently, NTPC lost the Jharkhand Ultra Mega Power Project to a private bidder who quoted lesser tariff than it. As per the government policy, all power projects in India - public or private - would be awarded on the basis of tariff-based competitive bidding by 2011. “Considering our policy, the disadvantage which PSUs face must be removed urgently. I agree they face some problems,” Jairam Ramesh said.

New Delhi, February 21
The Electricity Act has obviously failed to prevent power losses in India, with 34 per cent of the total generated power being wasted to technical and commercial losses.

The government data show that the level of power losses remains unacceptably high despite reforms and laws being in place to curb them.

Alarmed by the situation, the Ministry Of Power has now sanctioned the first round of projects under the Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme, which seeks to reduce commercial and technical losses from 34 per cent to 15 per cent by the end of the plan period.

“We have already sanctioned projects to the tune of Rs 880 crore for 1,420 cities of the country. The projects have been sanctioned for Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Haryana,” minister of state for Power Jairam Ramesh said replying to a query on high degree of power losses in Parliament yesterday. He said the government was committed to reduce aggregate commercial and technical losses to 15 per cent by the end of the 11th Plan.

Cornered on the issue of privatisation of power distribution, which was causing even greater losses than in normal cases, the government admitted that the two districts, where the power distribution had been fully privatized, were in fact reporting unacceptably high-levels of technical losses.

“In Orissa the losses are in excess of 40 per cent. The figure is over 50 per cent for Delhi. These are only two states where power distribution is fully privatised now,” Ramesh said.

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Funds for projects lying unused: CAG
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 21
Even as the government hikes the budgetary allocations each year and makes grand announcements about increased plan outlays, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India has bared how crucial schemes for welfare, health, education and defence were being hampered, as ministries just could not spend the allocated money. Rather crores of rupees were unspent each year.

The CAG, commenting on the fiscal ending March 31, 2008, tabled a report in the Rajya Sabha yesterday and showed how a whopping Rs 1.09 lakh crore were unutilised. In some cases, especially in case of education and minority welfare, the entire allocation, shockingly, went unutilised.

Seventeen of the ministries “persistently” return the allocated money without spending. It also raises a question mark over the claims made to have allocated more money for the social sector.

The CAG report reveals how the Defence Ministry could not spend Rs 4,417 crore meant for capital outlay - purchase of arms and sprucing up of weaponry. Separately, defence public sector undertaking involved in aircraft and ship building have been getting crores of rupees without spending their allocated money.

Sanctions were made in the month of February and March, 2008, withdrawing Rs 2,745 crore for the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and the Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL), however, these could not be utilised. Also another instalment of Rs 1,094 crore released during the earlier financial years lies unspent with these companies. Notably, the HAL is building the light combat aircraft that is to be inducted in the IAF in 2010 and also the advanced light helicopter that has been inducted. The MDL is presently building six scorpene submarines at its Mumbai plant in collaboration with France.

The principal defaulters were the Department of Higher Education - 2,952 crore; Department of School Education and Literacy - Rs 2,668 crore; Department of Health and Family Welfare - Rs 1,467 crore; Department of Telecommunications - Rs 1,033 crore and the Ministry of Panchayati Raj - Rs 1,082 crore. Not a single penny was spent out of the allocated Rs 247 crore on Navodaya Vidayalas. Same was true for Rs 451 crore earmarked under the National Mission For Education and also for the Rs 1,149 crore meant for universal access and quality at the secondary stage. Not a penny was given out of Rs 70 crore meant for pre-matric scholarships for children of minorities or the Rs 108 crore meant for the development plan for minorities.

The CAG also pointed out how a sum of Rs 1,325 crore was un-constitutionally retrained by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and insurance regulator IRDA. This was kept outside government accounts.

The CAG also rapped the government for transferring liabilities to the future generation as the government’s outstanding liabilities on account of oil bonds alone consistently increased to Rs 71,288 crore as on March 31, 2008. The same was not reflected in the Union Budget.

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PG Medical Courses
Assam wants to do away with outsiders’ quota
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, February 21
In need of a large number of specialised medical professionals to augment services in the state hospitals and medical colleges, the Assam government has decided to do away with ‘outsiders’ quota’ in postgraduate courses in the state’s medical colleges subject to approval of the Supreme Court. As per the Supreme Court directive, the medical colleges in Assam are required to reserve 50 per cent of seats in postgraduate courses for students from outside Assam, who appear in the All -India Postgraduate Medical Entrance Test. “However, the Assam government has decided to file a petition in the Supreme Court seeking exemption from the mandatory reservation of seats for outside students in the postgraduate medical courses so that the institutions in the state can produce enough specialised doctors to serve in public hospitals of the state,” Health Minister Dr Himanta Bishwa Sharma said.

He said in the next few years, Assam would require a large number of specialised medical professionals.

Sharma said the Assam government would bring in legislation, most likely in the monsoon session of the state Assembly to enforce a new reservation policy in respect of the postgraduate medical courses available if it got a favourable response from the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, to tackle the massive shortage of doctors to serve in the rural area hospitals in the state, the Assam government has made it mandatory for MBBS graduates to serve in rural areas for at least one year before they take up postgraduate courses.

 

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PM likely to attend last day of LS session
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, February 21
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to put in a brief appearance on the last day of the ongoing Parliament session on February 26 which will also be the UPA government’s last day in the treasury in the 14th Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister has not been attending the session as he is recuperating from a heart bypass surgery. UPA sources said the PM is keen to attend Parliament next Thursday precisely because it marks the end of the UPA government’s tenure as the ruling coalition in the Lok Sabha.

“It’s a historic occasion and he does not want to miss it,” remarked a senior UPA minister. His doctors, however, will have the last word in this regard. Once the curtain comes down on this session, Lok Sabha MPs will all head to their constituencies to prepare for the upcoming general elections. The new Lok Sabha will convene by May-end or early June. PMO sources said though Manmohan Singh has started meeting officials and has been attending to urgent files at his residence, he may not spend much time in Parliament.

He is unlikely to spend more than an hour each in both Houses where he will make brief speeches thanking the people and members for their support to his government. Singh was confined to a sanitised room at his residence after his operation last month and was only allowed to meet g key officials for urgent work. However, he has now started meeting more visitors and is likely to start work from his residential office at 7, Race Course Road from Monday. However, it will be some time before he can make it to his South Block office although he has been following a strict exercise regimen which has enabled him to regain his strength.

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Peace delegation to leave for Pak today
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 21
Close on the heels of a “peace mission” by a Pakistani delegation to India, an Indian group of artistes, activists, academicians and journalists is leaving here tomorrow for Pakistan on a week-long visit, carrying the message of peace.

Concerned over the events between the two countries following the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the India delegation will meet civil society members, the media and politicians in Pakistan, urging that the peace process should not be deferred.

The delegation will return on February 27.

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Talibanisation Remark
FIR registered against Renuka
Tribune News Service

Bangalore, February 21
The Mangalore Rural Police today registered an FIR against Union Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury for allegedly promoting enmity between groups with her remarks on “Talibanisation of Mangalore” following attack on women at a city pub by activists of Sri Ram Sene, a Hindu right-wing group.

The FIR was filed following a directive in this regard on February 18 by a local court on a criminal complaint filed by Mangalore City Corporation Mayor and BJP leader Ganesh Hosabettu and some others, praying for registering an FIR against the minister.

The FIR has been filed under Sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, etc), 153 B (remarks prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (statements amounting to public mischief) of the IPC.

A copy of the FIR registered was also submitted to the Judicial Magistrate First Class (third court), who had ordered the registration of the FIR.

Hosabettu and 15 others had contended in their complaint that the minister’s remark that the January 24 pub attack by Sri Ram Sene activists amounted to “Talibanisation of the city”, showed Mangalore and its people in poor light.

Earlier, they had issued a legal notice to her demanding an apology. The minister, however, claimed she never received the notice.

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Former Naxalites back Chiranjeevi
Suresh Dharur
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, February 21
After attracting politicians from rival camps, actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi is now seen as a role model for former Naxalites who have pledged support for his fledgling Praja Rajyam Party (PRP).

Over 3,000 former Naxalites, who had quit the Ultra Left Movement and returned to the social mainstream, are set to join the PRP in the presence of the megastar of Telugu cinema.

A convention of former Maoists will be held here on February 24 during which they are expected to join the actor’s camp en masse.

Chiranjeevi, who floated the PRP in August last year on the main plank of “change and social justice”, will attend the convention and welcome former Naxalites into his party fold. His actor-brother and president of the PRP’s youth wing Pavan Kalyan is also expected to participate in the gathering.

“We see a ray of hope in Chiranjeevi. He comes across as a person genuinely interested in social justice and equality,” a former Naxalite Satyanarayana said.

Another surrendered extremist Sambasiva Rao said the film star had promised to address the problem of Naxalism from the socio-economic angle as against the “ruthless policies” adopted by the two main parties- the Congress and the TDP-who always treated it as a law and order issue.

“Both the Congress and the TDP governments have pursued a policy of oppression and ruthlessly crushed the Maoist movement in the state. Fake encounters have been the order of the day. Chiranjeevi has promised to look at the issue from the socio-economic perspective,” Satyanarayana said.

Fifty-three-year old Chiranjeevi, whose entry into politics is expected to alter the electoral equations in the state, has promised to hold peace talks with the Maoists if his party is voted to power in the April-May elections.

The popular star has also assured that there will be no fake police encounters if the PRP comes to power.

“We have a fresh and reasonable approach towards the Naxalite issue. The successive governments of the TDP and the Congress have failed to solve the problems of poverty and social inequality which are the root cause of extremism,” the PRP spokesman P Mitra said.

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Pranab on Lanka
Political solution only way out

Berhampore (WB), February 21
India today expressed concern over the latest turn of events in Sri Lanka, particularly the air raids by the LTTE over Colombo, and appealed to the government and the militant organisation to come to a peaceful negotiated settlement.

It also said unless there was a congenial and peaceful atmosphere, attacks and counter-attacks would continue.

“An LTTE plane has been shot down. This is of concern. Political solution has to be found to the LTTE issue and military action will not do,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukhjerjee told reporters today.

Maintaining that a political solution is the only way out, he said, “The two sides should sit across the table for a negotiated settlement of the issue. And for that a congenial and peaceful atmosphere has to be created. Till that is not forthcoming, attacks and counter-attacks will continue to hit the country.”

Stating that India’s stand was ‘very clear’, Mukherjee said, “We are concerned for the huge Sri Lankan Tamil population who has been caught in the crossfire. They are being killed and their normal life is seriously affected.” He said India would appeal to Colombo to ensure that the rights of the minority Tamils were protected. — PTI

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Pranab may clarify his position on Lanka crisis
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 21
With political parties from Tamil Nadu deeply agitated over his comments on the Sri Lankan crisis, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is likely to clarify his position in a statement in Parliament sometime next week.

According to government sources, Mukherjee would restate the Government of India’s known position that New Delhi was concerned over the plight of civilians caught in the ongoing conflict and appeal to the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to return to the negotiating table.

Some of Mukherjee’s harsh comments against the LTTE appear to have annoyed the Tamil parties no ends. In fact, members of the MDMK and the PMK, which are allies of the UPA regime, have met Mukherjee and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi and taken up the issue with them.

They have demanded that Mukherjee withdraw his statement, contending that it contradicted with what President Pratibha Patil had stated in her address to the Joint Session of Parliament on February 12.

In her address, Patil said the two sides in Sri Lanka must return to the negotiating table. This could be achieved if, simultaneously, the Sri Lankan government suspended its military operations and the LTTE declared its willingness to law down arms and begin talks with the government.

However, Mukherjee sharply attacked the LTTE in his statement, saying it had done much damage to the Tamil community and was now reportedly using civilians caught in the conflict as human shields.

Yesterday, MDMK and PMK members sat on a silent dharna in the Parliament House to draw attention to the cause of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. They were of the view that Mukherjee should have consulted UPA partners from Tamil Nadu before making his statement.

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Planned violence a plot to topple govt: Karuna
N Ravikumar
Tribune News Service

Chennai, February 21
Alleging a conspiracy to topple the DMK government in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister M Karunanidhi today said “planned incidents of violence” were being organised as part of this conspiracy.

Speaking at the inauguration of the ‘Padi grade separator’ here through video-conferencing from his hospital bed where he is recuperating from a spinal cord surgery, the chief minister said he was “watching all the planned incidents of violence”.

“There is a conspiracy to topple my government which is striving for the welfare of people. The conspirators are being aided by some politicians and a section of the media. But, it is not fair to trouble a government delivering good governance”, he said.

He also ordered the transfer of Joint Commissioner (Chennai North) M Ramasubramani, under whose charge is the Madras High Court. The police officer, who was accused of high-handedness, during a previous rally by the MDMK to condole the death of LTTE political wing chief S P Thamichelvan, was posted as DIG Railways.

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Lankan Conflict
TN leaders turn to US
N. Ravikumar
Tribune News Service

Chennai, February 21
The Sri Lanakn Tamils Protection Movement yesterday appealed to the US to stop the war in Sri Lanka and save the Tamil population in the island, while actor and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) leader Vijaykanth held a massive rally, disrupting traffic for several hours in the city, with a similar plea to the US.

The movement led by coordinator P. Nedumaran submitted a similar petition to the US embassy here asking the US government to interfere in the Sri Lankan conflict and find a solution through the UN.

MDMK leader Vaiko, PMK founder S. Ramadoss, BJP state president L. Ganesan and VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan were also present. The leaders said they would collect 2 crore signatures from Tamil Nadu people and submit them to the US as en evidence for the support of Tamils for the US intervention.

CPI state secretary D. Pandian, who is a part of the Sri Lankan Tamils Protection Movement, did not turn up indicating that the Communist Party was averse to the US intervention in South Asia.

A rally held by Vijaykanth with an appeal to the US to intervene in the conflict to save the Tamil population in Sri Lanka rocked the city yesterday, as thousands of cadres and supporters marched through the arterial roads of the city to submit a petition to the US embassy here.

Vijaykanth, who secured about 8 per cent votes in the 2006 Assembly elections and managed to match the vote bank of the Congress, said the statement of Foreign Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee that the LTTE should lay down their arms was similar to the stand taken by the Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa, who is massacring Tamil children and women by conducting aerial bombings and by firing at hospitals and schools.

The DMDK leader, who has named his first son after LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, said the Tigers could lay down their arms only after a political solution to the issue.

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Pranab to meet Qureshi in Colombo
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 21
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is likely to meet his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the margins of the SAARC foreign ministers’ meeting in Colombo on February 27-28.

The occasion will obviously provide him an opportunity to directly convey to Pakistan that it ought to take “credible and verifiable” steps to bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Mukherjee is also expected to hold talks with Sri Lankan foreign minister Ronitha Bogollagama on the situation in the island nation, arising from the ongoing military offensive against the LTTE. The military operations in Sri Lanka has become a major issue in Tamil Nadu with even UPA allies like the DMK and the PMK demanding that India must intervene to mitigate the sufferings of the innocent civilians caught in the war.

However, all eyes will be on the Mukherjee-Qureshi meeting as this will be the first high-level interaction between the two countries after the Mumbai attacks, which affected their ties to such an extent that New Delhi was under intense public pressure to launch surgical strikes on terrorist camps across the border.

Indications are that Mukhejee would reiterate New Delhi’s demand that Pakistan hand over the fugitives to India. Islamabad has been insisting that it can’t hand over any of its nationals to India since there is no bilateral extradition treaty between the two countries. However, India has countered Pakistan’s argument, contending that the extradition could be done under the SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism.

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Rampant use of Indo-Pak border by drug traffickers
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 21
In what is yet another signal of India being surrounded by a troubled neighbourhood, about 55 per cent of all contraband drugs like heroin seized in 2008 in India had been sent in from Pakistan. The most popular route for sending the goods being the Indo-Pak border in Punjab and Rajasthan.

Also, 50 per cent of illegal hashish resin in the country came from Nepal. These startling figures were given by JK Batra, member (anti-smuggling) Central board of excise and customs, as he released a report compiled by international drug control bureau at the UN office of drugs and crime here on Thursday.

Deputy Director General of the Nacrotics Control Bureau (NCB) Om Prakash, in a media interaction at the event, refused to comment if NATO forces in Afghanistan were turning a blind eye to illicit drug cultivation in that country. On Pakistan being the preferred route to send drugs into India, he said “…Pakistan rangers and the ISI are involved in it.”

Notably, the INCB report points out another dangerous trend for Punjab and Haryana. In the past year, these two states, along with the North-East, have emerged as the three areas in the country where the use of pharmaceuticals for consumption as a drug is growing.

A growing trend is the diversion of pharma products like ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and morephedrine for the production of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). It was a matter of concern for India as it is the world’s third largest producer of such chemicals, the report said, it said.

The report said large part of the drugs for these pharmacies are procured from India. A large number of seizures made in the region in recent years point to the emergence of an illicit market for those substances, it said.

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K’taka to set up turmeric market
Shubhadeep Choudhury
Tribune News Service

Bangalore, February 21
Turmeric farmers in Chamarajanagar and Mysore districts of Karnataka, who hitherto found it difficult to get their crops transported to the market in Erode in Tamil Nadu, now have a reason to feel happy with the announcement by Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa yesterday of setting up a turmeric market in Chamarajnagar.

Yeddyurappa, who also holds the state’s finance portfolio, made the announcement while presenting the budget estimates in the Assembly here yesterday. Besides being used an ingredient for food items, turmeric is also used as a raw material in the manufacture of dyes and ayurvedic medicines and cosmetics.

There were further sops for the farming community as the Chief Minister, who presented a vote on accounts for four months till July 31, announced that a vegetable market would be set up a Belgaum at a cost of Rs 100 crore. He also announced that 1,000 farmers from the state would be sent abroad every year on study tour. It was also announced that Rs 2,100 crore would be allocated for providing power to farmers, including free power for irrigation pump sets, with 10 HP capacity.

The government also proposed steps that could bring relief to ailing sectors like the garment, textile, automobiles and tourism industries. Yeddyurappa said 10 apparel clusters would be set up in the state in 2009-10, with the help of private partnership. Apparel clusters would be set up in Gulbarga, Bellary, Hubli, Belgaum, Bagalkot, Shimoga, Davanagere, Mysore, Ramanagar and Chikballapur. An amount of Rs 40 crore had been provided in the budget to provide basic facilities in these clusters.

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Vaccine Policy
SC notice to Ramadoss, HP
R. Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 21
The Supreme Court today issued notice to Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, Himachal Pradesh and seven others on a PIL, challenging a January 2008 order stopping vaccine production in the public sector to the detriment of public health programmes and to the benefit of private companies.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan asked the Health Ministry and other respondents to explain the reasons for the move after senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, said production of vaccines by PSUs was essential for protecting citizens’ right to healthcare.

The petitioners, S.P. Shukla, former Special Secretary in the Union Health Ministry and NGOs Low Cost Standard Therapeutics, All-India Drug Action Network, Society for Scientific Values and Medico Friends Circle, have also sought a draft vaccine policy and an inquiry into stopping vaccine production by PSUs.

The PIL has specifically questioned the rationale for asking the 103-year-old Central Research Institute, Kasauli, the 100-year-old Pasteur Institute, Coonoor, the Haffkine Institute, Mumbai, and the 60-year-old BCG Vaccine Laboratory, Chennai, to stop production of vaccines.

After becoming Health Minister in 2005, Ramadoss started reversing the policy of self-reliance and self-sufficiency in vaccines, causing “much detriment” to India’s public health programmes. Even the US, the UK and other developed countries were regretting allowing vaccine production to drift into private hands and had started reviving the public sector once again.

“Despite these international examples, Dr Ramadoss steered the nation in the opposite direction to benefit the private sector vaccine companies,” the petition said. Further, India was an early bird in vaccines and a world leader in the invention and production of the plague vaccine. India was among the largest vaccine makers and buyers globally. The current vaccine market in the country was estimated at more than $150 million and $8 billion globally.

The government purchases for the universal immunisation programme ran into over Rs 1,000 crore, making it an attractive business opportunity for the private sector. But the predominance of the public sector manufacture of vaccines and their price competitiveness has been the biggest impediment for the private sector to capture the vaccine market, till respondent No. 2 (Ramadoss) and respondent No. 8 (Central Research Institute, Kasauli, HP) halted government production, the petition said.

“Vaccines are vital in the public health programme of all nations as they are necessary for immunisation programme which combats suffering, disability and death. The WHO campaign eradicated small pox. The global polio eradication initiative has caused infections to fall by 99 per cent.

“Similarly, measles deaths have dropped dramatically. Production of essential vaccines in public sector units has had a major role in the success of the universal immunisation programme so far. The closure of production in three of the most important vaccine PSUs under the Union Health Ministry in January 2008 using regulator execuses has dealt a death blow to a century-old legacy of self-reliance in vaccine production and jeopardized the Indian immunisation programme,” it said.

The other respondents are Union of India, Tamil Nadu and the Drug Controller General of India, besides the relevant PSUs.

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15 Maoists held in Maharashtra

Mumbai, February 21
As many as 15 Maoists have been caught in eastern Maharashtra during an offensive by the police, nearly three weeks after the rebels brutally killed 15 cops in the same area, a top official said here yesterday.

The Maoists were caught by the police’s anti-naxalite squad (ANS) from Gadchiroli district on Thursday night, the police said. Seven locally-manufactured guns, bundles of wire and a mine were also recovered from the group.

This takes the number of Maoists arrested this month to 28, ANS chief Pankaj Gupta said. Thirteen Maoists were nabbed by the security forces on February 6.

Gupta termed the development as “a significant step forward” in the police’s fight against Maoists in eastern parts of the state and surrounding central India.

“The operation is the outcome of accurate intelligence inputs which we garnered, strict road blockades and massive combing operations by security forces in two sub-districts infested with Maoists,” Gupta told here.

Gupta said contrary to information coming in from various quarters, all the 28 Maoists have been found “very much from and around Gadchiroli”.

Gupta also dismissed reports that the group which attacked the 15-member police team and killed them on February 1 was led by a woman Maoist called Narmada.

“These were attempts by certain elements to misguide us on the wrong track, but we continued undeterred,” he said.

The latest development has boosted the morale of the police and security forces as it comes 19 days after 15 police personnel were brutally killed by Maoists in Marke village in Gadchiroli. — IANS

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Missing Articles
MP asks SGPC to clarify
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 21
Rajya Sabha MP Tarlochan Singh, today sent a letter to Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Avtar Singh Makkar, asking him to clarify as what was the position of the articles that were missing from the Golden Temple since operation blue in 1984.

Just two days ago the government had said in Parliament that the Indian Army was not in possession of any books, documents and miscellaneous items recovered from the premises of the Golden Temple complex during the Operation Blue Star.

The same have been handed over to the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Amritsar, Curator Museum (Punjab Government), Government Treasurer, Amritsar (Punjab, Department of Cultural Affairs, Chandigarh and also some documents to the CBI, New Delhi.

The representative of the SGPC had also certified that they have no further claim on the Army or the government.

Tarlochan Singh says this was in contradiction to claims of the SGPC that has been demanding these articles back and have written to the Prime Minister also.

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All parties eyeing Puducherry seat

Puducherry, February 21
The union territory of Puducherry has just a lone seat in the Lok Sabha, but is drawing the attention of all political parties, including regional and state-level units.

The PMK at present holds the seat, emerging victorious in the May 2004 polls with the backing of the Congress, DMK and a few other outfits that are constituents of the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA).

Though the decision on which DPA constituent would be alloted the seat will be taken by the high commands of the alliance parties, the Congress has evinced much more enthusiasm for an opportunity to contest the seat.

Union Minister of State for Planning and Parliamentary Affairs and AICC general secretary V Narayanasamy told reporters here last week that parties had the right to aspire for the opportunity. "We will abide by whatever decision AICC leader Sonia Gandhi takes," he had said.

On its part the election department is going ahead with all pre-poll works, including sprucing up voters list relating to all 30 Assembly constituencies in Puducherry (23), Karaikal (five), Mahe and Yanam regions (one segment each). This came about after delimitation of segments.

The Puducherry Munnetra Congress is scheduled to have its executive meet here on February 28 to take stock of the prevailing political scenario and finalise its strategy, a party press release said. — PTI

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A village whose denizens speak in Sanskrit

Rajgarh (MP), February 21
A visit to this district’s Jhiri village might make you feel transported back in time to a Vedic era gurukul as all the residents use Sanskrit even while conversing with one another.

The dedication of the villagers towards the classical language of yore has earned Jhiri recognition as ‘Sanskrit gram’, which has 141 families and a population of 976.

Jhiri’s teachers Uday Singh Chouhan and Lakshmi Narayan Chouhan said, about six years back, they formed the gram vidya vikas samiti (village knowledge development committee) as part of an endeavour for imparting knowledge to villagers about their mother tongue and Sanskrit.

Maximum credit for this interesting situation goes to a young tribal woman. The Sanskrit Bharati organisation’s Vimla came to Jhiri for a year in 2002 and whetted the villagers’ interest in Sanskrit to such an extent that an elder Gayatri Prasad Pande adopted her and she was accepted as ‘Sanskrit beti’ (Sanskrit daughter) Vimla Pande.

Though the aged residents are yet to master Sanskrit, they greet each other with “namoh namah” instead of the typical northern-belt “namaskar”. The morning greeting is “suprabhat” while the equivalent of goodnight is “shubhratri”. Kids and adults alike use Sanskrit even while undertaking routine chores such as cooking.

Special Sanskrit classes are conducted every morning and evening. Denizens of neighbouring villages Mundla and Susahedih also come to learn the ancient tongue. — UNI

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