SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI



THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

26/11
India may replicate US anti-terror steps
New Delhi, February 25
India will try to replicate select anti-terrorism strategies, which the US had adopted after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Home Minister P Chidambaram said today.

A Tribune Special
26/11: FBI probe not over yet
New Delhi, February 25
While a chargesheet was filed in a Mumbai court in the 26/11 terrorist attacks by the police on Wednesday against the lone-surviving terrorist Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab and over 20 others, America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s parallel probe is not yet over.

Poll Pressure
Govt withdraws quota bill
New Delhi, February 25
Under pressure from allies, the UPA has withdrawn the controversial Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation in Posts and Services) Bill, 2008, that seeks to keep 47 institutes of national importance outside the quota purview. The bill was listed for consideration and passing in the Lok Sabha today but it did not come up.


EARLIER STORIES



Mediapersons gather outside the metropolitan magistrate’s court in Mumbai on Wednesday. — Reuters

Sonia lays down road map for polls
New Delhi, February 25
Unfolding the contours of the party’s campaign strategy for the upcoming Lok Sabha poll, Sonia Gandhi today asked party men to seek a renewed mandate on the strength of the UPA government’s performance and by projecting the Congress as the only party that is alive to the concerns of the entire country.

Sonia’s Andhra visit begins tomorrow
Hyderabad, February 25
Congress president Sonia Gandhi would kick off her party's election campaign in Andhra Pradesh during her two-day visit to the state, beginning on February 27.

Defence panel for setting up of federal spy agency
New Delhi, February 25
The Standing Committee on Defence has “strongly” advocated the involvement of armed forces in apex decision-making process. It has also asked the government to set up a federal spy agency and bring the entire military intelligence network under its ambit.

DIG, constable held on graft charge
Lucknow, February 25
The CBI today arrested CRPF DIG Vinod Sharma and head constable Brij Bhuvan Choubey allegedly in connection with a recent recruitment scam in the CRPF.

Lanka Conflict
UPA constituent hits out at Pranab
Chennai, February 25
Differences within the UPA on the Sri Lankan Tamils issue today surfaced with the PMK, one of the constituents of the Union Cabinet, openly charging Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee with contradicting the statement of President Pratibha Patil on the issue.

‘Muthalik not against love’
Bangalore, February 25
Sri Ram Sene leader Pramod Muthalik, who is under the spotlight for his tirade against V-Day celebrations, is not against love between a man and a woman. Muthalik’s counsel Meenakshi Kulkarni, a Dharwad-based woman lawyer, is gearing up to argue this point in the court as she sifts through the messages accompanying the panties that were sent to the leader by rights activists as a mark of protest against his threat to disrupt the celebrations.

SC stalls Green India project
New Delhi, February 25
The Supreme Court today restrained the Centre from transferring about Rs 10,000 crore collected as compensation from business enterprises and agencies for allowing projects in forest areas to the Consolidated Fund of India. The fund was for utilisation for a Green India project and allocation to states for afforestation works.

Former minister quits DMK
Chennai, February 25
Former state minister and DMK MLA Raja Kannappan today quit the DMK and hinted that he would join the AIADMK again. He also resigned his MLA post alleging that he was sidelined in the party.

Bal Thackeray roots for Pawar, blasts Advani
Mumbai, February 25
Relations between the Shiv Sena and the BJP are worsening with Bal Thackeray questioning LK Advani’s commitment to Hindutva even as he rooted for Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar.

2 devotees immolate themselves
Hyderabad, February 25
In a bizarre incident, two ardent devotees of Lord Shiva immolated themselves in a remote tribal hamlet in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh in the hope the Lord would grant them “darshan”.

Explain action against lawyers, SC tells TN
New Delhi, February 25
The Supreme Court (SC) today ordered immediate closure of the police station within the Madras High Court premises and wanted to know by tomorrow from the Tamil Nadu government as to who ordered the police action against the agitating lawyers on February 19.

CISF bill passed
PSUs to get priority in deployment
New Delhi, February 25
The government today made it clear that public sector undertakings would get the first and top priority insofar as the deployment of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) was concerned.

PM unlikely to attend House today
New Delhi, February 25
Against earlier expectations, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to attend the last day of the 14th Lok Sabha, which will be adjourned sine die tomorrow. The government will not dissolve the House, which means MPs will continue to draw benefits till the time the new Lok Sabha is formed.

Shaky start to BJP election campaign in MP
Bhopal, February 25
It can be considered an unfortunate beginning for the ruling BJP in Madhya Pradesh. The ‘Nari Shakti Mahsammelan’ (women power mega congregation), with which the party was slated to launch its campaign for the upcoming general elections here today, turned out to be a damp squib.

SC for change of prosecutor against Badals
New Delhi, February 25
The Supreme Court today suggested changing the public prosecutor in the corruption cases against Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal and his son and Dy CM Sukhbir after Capt Amarinder Singh’s counsel charged the Punjab government with trying to “wind up” the trial through him.

Flats allotted to ‘Slumdog’ kids
Mumbai, February 25
Maharashtra Chief Minsiter Ashok Chavan has sanctioned houses to Bandra’s Garib Nagar slum kids Azhar and Rubina, who had acted in the eight Oscars-winning movie, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. This was announced by Mumbai Congress chief Kripashankar Singh, who met Chavan yesterday.

Jairam quits ministry
New Delhi, February 25
Minister of state for Commerce And Power Jairam Ramesh today resigned from the Union Council of Ministers to work on the Congress party’s publicity campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

3 ‘Naxalites’ lynched
Khunti (Jharkhand), February 25 Angry villagers lynched three suspected Naxalites when they were allegedly extorting money in Jharkhand’s Khunti district.

 





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26/11
India may replicate US anti-terror steps

New Delhi, February 25
India will try to replicate select anti-terrorism strategies, which the US had adopted after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Home Minister P Chidambaram said today.

Insisting that the government is much more prepared now for handling terror strikes than three months ago, he told Rajya Sabha that there will be better coordination between various security and spy agencies from next month when the multi-agency centre ( MAC) will be in place.

“Our level of preparedness is much higher than it was three months back and in the event of any attack, our response will be swift and deterring,” he said, responding to members’ concern on internal security during the Question Hour.

Reply to Pak after chargesheet: PC

India will respond to Pakistan's questions on dossier after filing of chargesheet in Mumbai attack case, Home Minister P Chidambaram said.

“After the chargesheet is filed, we will reply,” Chidambaram told reporters outside Parliament on being asked when India would respond to the set of 30 questions posed by Pakistan on the Indian dossier.

Chidambaram was speaking when the chargesheet in Mumbai case was about to be filed in a court in the financial capital. Minister of State for Home Shakeel Ahmad said the government will seek to clarify whatever doubts Pakistan may have with regard to the attack.

Chidamabarm said that he would be presenting his third report on the level of preparedness on February 27. “A team had gone to the US to study their anti-terror strategies, which they had prepared in the wake of 9/11 attacks. The team has come back and we are trying to replicate the strategies studied there, that suit our requirements,” he said.

“By March 31, there will be better coordination between MAC and its subsidiaries and between MAC and special branch of police and various data centers. By May this year, all these agencies will be much better placed to reply to any kind of terror attacks,” the Home Minister said.

Chidambaram assured the House that he is personally monitoring the investigations in the bomb blasts which took place last year in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Assam and Mumbai. “All the cases are currently at various stages of investigation. The probe in Delhi blasts is at an advanced stage. Other cases too are at different stages of investigation. There are different accused in these cases. While many are arrested, some are yet to be caught. Chargesheets in both the Malegaon blast cases have been filed,” he said.

He further added that armed forces have been equipped with assault rifles, including INSAS, AK series and sub-machine guns, including MP-5 and MP-9. “I have conducted regular meetings with police chiefs of different states and will be visiting various states next month to review the situation,” “All applications for visas by people having Sri Lankan passports are also being closely monitored.”

Chidambaram also said the government is expanding paramilitary forces, is involved in strengthening of institutional mechanisms for sharing of intelligence and operational coordination with states, and also construction of roads and fencing with floodlighting on the Indo-Pak and Indo-Bangla borders. — PTI

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A Tribune Special
26/11: FBI probe not over yet
Man Mohan
Our Roving Editor

New Delhi, February 25
While a chargesheet was filed in a Mumbai court in the 26/11 terrorist attacks by the police on Wednesday against the lone-surviving terrorist Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab and over 20 others, America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s parallel probe is not yet over.

Besides Kasab, nine other Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists killed in the encounter, over a dozen accused, including Yosuf Muzzamil and Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, the suspected mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, have been named in the 11,500-page chargesheet.

Two days before the chargesheet was filed in the Mumbai court, FBI director Robert Mueller gave a gist of it and explained his agency’s role in the investigation to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

The FBI has asked the police for permission to interrogate other suspects in their custody, who may be able to provide critical information on attack planning and group leadership. The agency had flown special counter-terrorism forces -- the Los Angeles Rapid Deployment Team (FBI LA) and several critical personnel from FBI’s headquarters — to Mumbai soon after the attacks began, after obtaining the approval of the Indian government and the American Embassy in New Delhi.

A copy of the chargesheet was made available by the Mumbai police in advance to the FBI, which carried out its own detailed independent investigation into the attacks. In the three-day siege, more than 180 people, including six American citizens and many other foreigners, were killed and over 300 wounded.

When contacted, the FBI’s New York headquarters informed The Tribune that their investigation team in India had conducted more than 60 interviews of eyewitnesses and security personnel. The team also interrogated the lone surviving terrorist, Mohammad Ajmal Amin Kasab, who claimed that the Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba provided him training and direction for the attack.

“The FBI wanted to know whether there was any American link to the planners and attackers. The FBI disseminated more than 15 confidential reports to the American intelligence community, based on information collected in Mumbai,” the FBI headquarters informed. The American intelligence agencies are of the view that the Al-Qaida and its affiliates may attempt to emulate the Mumbai attacks in the USA or somewhere else.

From the attack sites, the FBI’s forensic specialists pulled fingerprints from improvised explosive devices and recovered data from damaged cell phones -- in one case by literally wiring a smashed phone back together.

The FBI’s New Delhi-based special agent Steve Merrill was the first agent to reach the spot. Amid gunfire and explosions, Merrill established lines of communication with his Indian and intelligence community counterparts, coordinated the arrival of American Rapid Deployment Team, and helped rescue trapped Americans inside the Taj Hotel.

When the Mumbai attacks began, agent Merrill, who operates as an assistant legal attache, was on his way to Jodhpur to play in a cricket tournament when he learned of the unfolding terrorist attack in Mumbai. He immediately left for Mumbai.

The FBI team arrived in Mumbai on November 29 to assist the Indian government with its investigation, to determine who was responsible for the deaths of Americans in the attacks, uncover any possible US nexus to the attacks and any other related threats to US citizens or interests abroad, and share intelligence and other lessons learned with rest of the US intelligence and law enforcement communities.

On December 17, several additional FBI personnel were deployed to Mumbai to assist in the local investigation. The FBI’s headquarters and the FBI Los Angeles team established 24/7 command posts to support their investigation team in Mumbai.

The FBI counter-terrorism agents and analysts are still working “to analyse who was really responsible, assess lessons learned, and determine if USA may be vulnerable to a similar attack”.

“In Mumbai, the Indian government gave the FBI unprecedented access to evidence and intelligence related to the attacks from the Mumbai police and the Intelligence Bureau. The FBI was provided access to most of the attack locations and technical evidence recovered from the scenes. The FBI was able to use advanced forensic and technical exploitation techniques to develop critical leads for both the Indian and US investigations,” Mueller told the Council on Foreign Relations.

“This type of attack reminds us that terrorists with large agendas and little money can use rudimentary weapons to maximise their impact,” the FBI director observed.

The FBI’s effort to fight against global crime and terror is coordinated by its Office of International Operations at the headquarters, and carried out by a network of FBI Legal Attaché Offices, located in US Embassies around the world. In India, the FBI operates with the cooperation of its counterpart, the CBI.

The FBI’s chief intelligence officer, Donald Van Duyn, recently in a statement before the senate committee on homeland security and governmental affairs, said “the principal lesson from the Mumbai attacks reinforces the notion that a small number of trained and determined attackers with relatively unsophisticated weapons can do a great deal of damage”.

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Poll Pressure
Govt withdraws quota bill
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 25
Under pressure from allies, the UPA has withdrawn the controversial Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation in Posts and Services) Bill, 2008, that seeks to keep 47 institutes of national importance outside the quota purview. The bill was listed for consideration and passing in the Lok Sabha today but it did not come up.

Explaining the UPA’s change of mind, Minister of State in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan said the government needed to consult the National Commission for Scheduled Castes before bringing the bill to the House. “We sought legal advice on the matter after commission chairperson Buta Singh sought a presidential reference. The Law Ministry replied today saying a consultation with the commission is necessary,” Chavan said.

The move comes days after the MPs stormed the Lok Sabha demanding the government to drop the clause that rules out job quota in 47 institutes, including IITs and IIMs. While the BSP demanded withdrawal of the bill, others, including the BJP, SP, RJD and the LJP wanted suitable amendments - a proposal the government agreed to. The possibility of the bill not being passed in this session was earlier reported in these columns.

Interestingly, on February 20 Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi had even said the government would bring the amended bill. Today, however, he was in a tight spot - left alone to explain the development. He dismissed the MPs’ apprehensions saying the government was not withdrawing the bill and was just “keeping it under consideration.”

The UPA’s stance was, however, not taken lying down. The MPs strongly objected to the move today and sought copies of the comments made by Buta Singh. The House also reminded the government of how it had pushed the bill in the Rajya Sabha last December.

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Sonia lays down road map for polls
Anita Katyal and Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 25
Unfolding the contours of the party’s campaign strategy for the upcoming Lok Sabha poll, Sonia Gandhi today asked party men to seek a renewed mandate on the strength of the UPA government’s performance and by projecting the Congress as the only party that is alive to the concerns of the entire country.

Addressing the last meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party of the 14th Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi told members to keep the focus on national issues in the coming elections as they are contesting national elections.

As the party MPs get ready to hit the campaign trail, Sonia Gandhi reminded them that though local-level issues may be unavoidable, the party’s campaign strategy should be to emphasise that the coming polls are for the election of a national government with an all-India perspective.

“We will go to the people on the basis that India needs, most of all today, a national party which is equally sensitive to regional and local sentiments,” she underlined.

The Congress president apparently felt the need to underline this fact as elections are becoming increasingly local and regional in nature as caste affiliations become an overriding factor. Having completed five years in power, the Congress is predictably keen that its campaign is not derailed by these factors and instead keeps the focus firmly on national issues, notably, the UPA government’s achievements.

In this connection, Sonia Gandhi pointed to the ruling coalition’s flagship programmes, its skillful management of the global economic recession and its successful diplomatic policy that ensured Islamabad’s admission that on the involvement of Pakistani elements in the Mumbai attacks.

Referring to the Congress’ first experience in running a coalition, Sonia Gandhi admitted it has not been a cakewalk. “These last five years have been satisfying and rewarding but, by no means, easy,” she said, adding that the Congress had always been mindful of the ‘lakshman rekha’ when it comes to public pronouncements. As the Congress and its allies prepare to drive a hard bargain in their seat-sharing negotiations, Sonia Gandhi clarified that though its pre-poll alliances with like-minded parties will continue, but this will not stop the party from strengthening its organisation.

Urging party men to face the upcoming electoral challenge with “boldness, confidence and determination to win,” Congress president Sonia Gandhi once again asked its faction-ridden state units to put an end to their infighting and to remain united. “I have pointed out that we are often our worst enemies. Let the 2009 Parliamentary elections herald a new beginning of discipline and cohesion,” she said, adding that everybody stands to gain if the party comes back to power.

The Congress president was all praise for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for leading the UPA coalition in a “dignified manner” and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee for his “dedication and diligence” in carrying out his onerous responsibilities. Manmohan Singh could not attend the meeting as he is recuperating after a heart bypass surgery.

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Sonia’s Andhra visit begins tomorrow
Suresh Dharur
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, February 25
Congress president Sonia Gandhi would kick off her party's election campaign in Andhra Pradesh during her two-day visit to the state, beginning on February 27.

Sonia would address two public meetings, targeted at contrasting audience. A large number of tribals are being mobilised for the first public meeting to be held at Kothagudem in the backward Khammam district while the second meeting would be held in the state capital.

The mood in the ruling Congress is upbeat amid expectations that the party president’s address would enthuse the cadre ahead of the simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and the state Assembly in April-May.

Sonia is scheduled to arrive here on February 27 at 10.15 am and have a brief interaction with the members of women self-help groups and launch ‘Abhaya Hastham’, a contributory pension scheme for them.

She would then proceed to Kandi village in neighbouring Medak district to lay foundation stone for the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus. The Congress president would proceed to Kothagudem to address a public meeting in the tribal dominated area, kicking off the party’s poll campaign. Over three lakh people, mostly tribals, are being mobilised from neighbouring districts for the meeting. After visiting Port Blair, Sonia would reach the state capital the next day and address a public meeting at Parade Grounds.

Amidst indications that the Election Commission would announce poll schedule anytime during this week, the Congress chief’s meetings assume significance as she is expected to unveil the party’s core campaign issues.

Notably, AP is a crucial state for Congress as it contributed a major chunk of 29 Lok Sabha seats to the party’s kitty in the 2004 elections when it contested in alliance with left parties and TRS.

However, the ruling party is going it alone this time around with its former allies joining the opposition alliance led by TDP. 

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Defence panel for setting up of federal spy agency
Ajay Banerjee

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 25
The Standing Committee on Defence has “strongly” advocated the involvement of armed forces in apex decision-making process. It has also asked the government to set up a federal spy agency and bring the entire military intelligence network under its ambit.

The committee, headed by Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, expressed grave concern over the prevailing situation and strongly recommended “the government to take immediate steps to constitute a federal intelligence agency, covering under its umbrella even the intelligence gathering network of the three services”.

At present, various agencies under the ministry of Home Affairs gather intelligence, which is shared at the multi agency centre (MAC) that has nodes in almost all state capitals.

The committee said the Kargil intrusion in 1999 and the November 26 terror attacks in Mumbai have brought out instances of lack of coordination among different intelligence gathering agencies, including those of military. On involving the forces in the decision-making process, the committee said the staffing pattern in the Ministry of Defence could be changed.

“The armed forces personnel may be appointed at the level of joint secretary and additional secretary so that the armed forces headquarters is involved in national security management and apex decision-making processes,” it said.

This, it said, was needed as the required interface between the Ministry of Defence and armed forces was missing in spite of being suggested by the Kargil Review Committee (KRC).

The Ministry had itself admitted before the committee - constituting MPs from all parties and both Houses of the Parliament - that renaming of Army and Naval headquarters as Integrated headquarters is merely “cosmetic”. The committee, that presented its report in the Lok Sabha yesterday

In another suggestion it said the Prime Minister and Defence Minister must have direct meetings with the Army Commanders and their equivalents in the Navy and Air Force. This could provide a broad-based opinion on defence management.

It also said there was an immediate need for the creation of an additional post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to ensure optimum level of togetherness among the different wings of the armed forces and to provide “single point” military advice to the government. The CDS should be four-star General with a fixed two-years’ tenure.

The post of CDS presently exists in 67 countries, including France, Germany, the UK and USA. The committee also asked the government to constitute a high-powered expert panel to advise on armed forces reforms and restructuring in view of the new security challenges such as the Mumbai terror attacks.

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DIG, constable held on graft charge
Tribune News Service

Lucknow, February 25
The CBI today arrested CRPF DIG Vinod Sharma and head constable Brij Bhuvan Choubey allegedly in connection with a recent recruitment scam in the CRPF.

The CBI team that arrived here on Tuesday also arrested a tout involved in the scam, Dimpi Sardar.

According to sources, following complaints of widespread irregularities in the recruitment process, a CBI team had come to the state capital last week but had to return empty handed in the absence of concrete evidence.

Arriving on Tuesday the team raided the Patrkarpuram residence of Choubey from where they recovered Rs 1.5 lakh that could not be explained by the head constable. Along with the money the police also recovered an unlicensed .3 bore revolver.

After that Choubey was taken to the CBI office where he was closely interrogated for well over two hours.

After collecting sufficient evidence against the DIG in connection with the recruitment scam the CBI team raided his CRPF headquarters residence late at night.

The raids continued till Wednesday morning after which the DIG and the head constable were formally arrested. Both the arrested DIG and head constable had known each other for a long time and were reportedly involved in taking money from candidates through touts for their recruitment in the CRPF.

Speaking to reporters ADG (Law and Order) Brij Lal said a case under Arms Act had also been registered at the Gomti Nagar police station against Choubey for being in possession of an unlicensed revolver.

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Lanka Conflict
UPA constituent hits out at Pranab
N Ravikumar
Tribune News Service

Chennai, February 25
Differences within the UPA on the Sri Lankan Tamils issue today surfaced with the PMK, one of the constituents of the Union Cabinet, openly charging Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee with contradicting the statement of President Pratibha Patil on the issue.

The Sri Lankan Tamils Protection Movement, of which the PMK is a member, has announced black flag demonstrations in Madurai against Mukherjee during his visit to Tamil Nadu on February 28. Speaking to reporters there, PMK leader S Ramadoss said the President, while appealing to the Sri Lankan government for cessation of hostilities, had urged the LTTE to declare their willingness for a ceasefire. But Mukherjee’s refusal to appeal for a ceasefire is in contradiction to the President's statement.

Ramadoss also charged the UPA government with failing to abide by the common minimum programme of the UPA that supported peace talks.

It was unfair for Sri Lanka to ask the LTTE to lay down their weapons when their forces were killing Tamils, he said. “When the LTTE is ready for a ceasefire, the Sri Lankan government should accept it. The United Nations and European countries are pressuring the Lankan government to stop the war.”

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‘Muthalik not against love’
Shubhadeep Choudhury
Tribune News Service

Bangalore, February 25
Sri Ram Sene leader Pramod Muthalik, who is under the spotlight for his tirade against V-Day celebrations, is not against love between a man and a woman. Muthalik’s counsel Meenakshi Kulkarni, a Dharwad-based woman lawyer, is gearing up to argue this point in the court as she sifts through the messages accompanying the panties that were sent to the leader by rights activists as a mark of protest against his threat to disrupt the celebrations.

“Some of the messages are really ugly. There are, however, some sober messages as well. Some of the protesters have even quoted from Mahatma Gandhi to make Muthalik see their point of view,” Kulkarni said while talking to this reporter over phone from Dharwad.

She said Muthalik’s stand had been given a deliberate twist by the protesters to paint him as someone who was against emotional bonding between men and women. “Opposing V-Day celebrations is one thing and taking a stand against love between men and women is another,” Kulkarni said.

“Muthalik has been misunderstood and misrepresented,” she added.

Saying that Muthalik was just “another client” for her, Kulkarni said she was going through the documents made available to her by him who wanted to file a defamation case against those who sent him the pink panties.

“I am going to draw up a petition in a day or two,” she said. Some of the parcels containing the panties had the names and addresses of the senders and they would be made respondents in the case, Kulkarni said.

“The panties were freshly bought”, Muthalik, who earlier earned notoriety following the ghastly attack by his followers on women customers in a Mangalore pub, clarified while reiterating his resolve to sue the “pink chaddi” campaigners.

Fresh trouble in Mangalore

In the tension-ridden Mangalore city of Karnataka there was fresh trouble this evening after Hindu right-wing activists prevented some Hindu girls from talking to Muslim boys.

IGP (western range) Gopal Hosur ruled out that the girls were beaten up by the zealots. “They had objected to the girls talking to the boys. There was no assault”, Hosur told the TNS.

He said the situation was brought under control. The police did not make any arrest in connection with the incident, Hosur said.

In the recent past activists of the Hindu right-wing outfit Sri Ram Sene assaulted women customers at a pub in Mangalore, which had triggered off a nation-wide furore. Soon afterwards Hindu activists handed over a girl, who had gone out with a Muslim boy, to the police. The girl later committed suicide.

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SC stalls Green India project
Our Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 25
The Supreme Court today restrained the Centre from transferring about Rs 10,000 crore collected as compensation from business enterprises and agencies for allowing projects in forest areas to the Consolidated Fund of India. The fund was for utilisation for a Green India project and allocation to states for afforestation works.

A Forest Bench, headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, ordered that the fund should continue to remain with the ad hoc Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Agency (CAMPA) that has been set up at its initiative.

The agency would “scrutinise” the 23 site-specific afforestation proposals already received from various states and submit its proposals to the court in six weeks, the Bench said.

Other states could also submit similar proposals within four weeks to the CAMPA for its perusal, the apex court said. The court would then release funds to the states and Union Territories, depending upon its recommendations.

The order came after amicus curiae Harish Salve objected to the Green India programme to be implemented by the Centre and the transfer of the fund, first to the Consolidated Fund and then to public account.

The two proposals were envisaged in the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2008, that was in the process of securing Parliamentary approval despite serious objections raised by the Standing Committee. The bill would make the SC plan “stand on its head” as the fund was meant to be given to the same states from where it was collected, counsel Salve contended. Differing with Salve’s contention, Solicitor General GE Vahanvati, however, did not oppose the apex court’s order for keeping the fund with the CAMPA.

Salve said it was unfortunate that the funds had remained unutilised for four years despite the Supreme Court order. Under the court-envisaged plan, Himachal Pradesh alone would be able to earn Rs 25 crore as interest on its share, which was three times higher than its annual plan allocation of Rs 8 crore for afforestation.

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Former minister quits DMK
Tribune News Service

Chennai, February 25
Former state minister and DMK MLA Raja Kannappan today quit the DMK and hinted that he would join the AIADMK again. He also resigned his MLA post alleging that he was sidelined in the party.

Kannappan, who was a minister in the AIADMK Cabinet, had quit the party in 2002 and floated Makkal Tamil Desam. In 2005, he merged his party with the DMK and contested on the DMK ticket from the Ilayankudi Assembly constituency in the last elections and won. With his resignation, the strength of the DMK in the 234-member state Assembly will come down to 96.

Addressing mediapersons he said: “After I joined the DMK, over 40,000 to 90,000 members belonging to the Yadava community (to which he belongs) voted for the party in the last Assembly elections. But they are getting a raw deal.”

Kannappan said he was “humiliated” by the DMK leadership. “There was no use in continuing in a party, which was neglecting my community,” he said.

Coming down heavily on the DMK government, Kannappan said: “The law and order situation has deteriorated in the state. The high-handedness of the police at the high court premises exposed the inefficiency of the state government.” He also alleged that the state and the Central government were adopting a double standard on the Lankan issue.

Queried whether he had quit the party for not being considered for a ministerial berth, the former minister said: “My cadres and supporters were sidelined and it was their requests that forced me to quit.”

On rumours that he would rejoin the AIADMK, Kannappan said: “It is my parent organisation. I was made a minister only during the AIADMK regime.”

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Bal Thackeray roots for Pawar, blasts Advani
Shiv Kumar

Tribune News Service

Mumbai, February 25
Relations between the Shiv Sena and the BJP are worsening with Bal Thackeray questioning LK Advani’s commitment to Hindutva even as he rooted for Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar.

In an editorial in Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna, Thackeray revealed that he had prevailed upon Advani not to sack Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi shortly after the 2002 riots. Thackeray said, Advani who was then the Union Home Minister had visited him shortly after the riots. The BJP leader was mulling dismissal of Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat and had sought Thackeray’s views on the same.

Thackeray’s revelation is expected to drive a wedge between Advani and Modi especially since the former’s opposition to the Gujarat Chief Minister isn’t in the public domain. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had openly chided Modi for violating ‘Raj Dharma’ amidst reports that the state government had actively backed the large-scale slaughter of the minority Muslims following the train-burning incident of Godhra.

Thackeray also hit out at state BJP leader Gopinath Munde for his remarks on Pawar. “We don’t need free advice from people like Munde about dangers of dealing with Sharad Pawar. In life danger comes from your own people,” Thackeray wrote.

The piece offered no indication that the Sena could tie-up with the NCP.

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2 devotees immolate themselves

Hyderabad, February 25
In a bizarre incident, two ardent devotees of Lord Shiva immolated themselves in a remote tribal hamlet in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh in the hope the Lord would grant them “darshan”.

The incident took place near Shivnoor village, about 400 kms from here, in the early hours of Tuesday when Ada Sitaram (27) and J Devidas (25) set up their own pyre and lit it. The two youngsters, who were on “Shiv Deeksha”, (a ritual of initiation) for the past 40 days, kept chanting “Om Namah Shivaya” even as flames engulfed them.

Their charred remains were found by Devidas’ brother Vishnu who went to the temple on the village outskirts looking for them. — TNS

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Explain action against lawyers, SC tells TN
R Sedhuraman/Our Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 25
The Supreme Court (SC) today ordered immediate closure of the police station within the Madras High Court premises and wanted to know by tomorrow from the Tamil Nadu government as to who ordered the police action against the agitating lawyers on February 19.

A Bench, headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, also made clear its intention to order a judicial probe and asked the lawyers from Tamil Nadu to suggest the name of a judge for the purpose.

The Bench, which also included Justices P Sathasivam and JM Panchal, asked the state government to explain why no permission was sought from the HC before sending the police inside the court premises.

The court was hearing a PIL filed by D Jayakumar, former Law Minister, seeking dismissal of the DMK government for its failure to maintain law and order. Senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi sought CISF security on the HC premises.

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CISF bill passed
PSUs to get priority in deployment
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 25
The government today made it clear that public sector undertakings would get the first and top priority insofar as the deployment of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) was concerned.

Replying to MPs’ observations in the Lok Sabha before the passage of the crucial CISF Amendment Bill 2009 that extends the security cover to private sector, Home Minister P Chidambaram said the government establishments would have the first claim on the CISF. The Bill is extremely vital in the post-Mumbai strike scenario, which saw the government flooded with requests for the CISF cover for hotels and other private installations.

“Private sector will get the force once its strength is enhanced - that is being done,” Home Minister said, clarifying that the private sector included both joint sector and cooperative sector undertakings. The government also warned the private industry against using the CISF for watch and ward work, saying it was a highly trained workforce meant to perform only specialised duties of security enhancement.

Minorities bill too gets approval

The Lok Sabha today also passed the National Commission for Minorities Education Amendment Bill that grants statutory power to the commission, which will no longed need to consult states before according minority status to any educational institute. The Bill further enhances the strength of members of the commission, which has several disputes pending for redressal.

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PM unlikely to attend House today
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 25
Against earlier expectations, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to attend the last day of the 14th Lok Sabha, which will be adjourned sine die tomorrow. The government will not dissolve the House, which means MPs will continue to draw benefits till the time the new Lok Sabha is formed.

The PM is, meanwhile, recuperating after his re-do bypass heart surgery in AIIMS and has been reportedly advised by his medical team not to over exert. Sources in the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry said a request had been made to the Prime Minister to attend the session for at least five minutes. “But we have not yet got a positive response from the PMO,” they said.

The request was made over the phone earlier, but the PMO is yet to get back, indicating that the Prime Minister’s much-awaited brief visit to the House might not fructify. Only yesterday, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, while replying to the debate on the interim Budget in the Lok Sabha, had wished the Prime Minister well and hoped for his speedy recovery.

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Shaky start to BJP election campaign in MP
Tribune News Service

Bhopal, February 25
It can be considered an unfortunate beginning for the ruling BJP in Madhya Pradesh. The ‘Nari Shakti Mahsammelan’ (women power mega congregation), with which the party was slated to launch its campaign for the upcoming general elections here today, turned out to be a damp squib. As against the projected two lakh, less than 10,000 women turned up for the meeting that was to be addressed by party top guns like LK Advani and Rajnath Singh.

Advani and Singh did not turn up at the show-of-strength venue, apparently after having been apprised of the poor turnout. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, state unit chief Narendra Tomar and BJP Mahila Morcha national chief Kiran Maheshwari addressed the thin crowd.

The party leaders declined comment on the poor turnout officially though in private they blamed the fiasco on the poor organisational skills of the Mahila Morcha.

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SC for change of prosecutor against Badals
Our Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 25
The Supreme Court today suggested changing the public prosecutor in the corruption cases against Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal and his son and Dy CM Sukhbir after Capt Amarinder Singh’s counsel charged the Punjab government with trying to “wind up” the trial through him.

Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, heading a three-judge Bench, asked for the opinions of the two sides as Amarinder’s counsel cited the conduct of public prosecutor Pradip Mehta as the main reason for seeking the transfer of the trial from Mohali to some other place in Punjab.

Counsel Altaf Ahmed, arguing for Amarinder, said 35 of the 59 witnesses examined so far had turned hostile, but the public prosecutor had not sought their cross examination.

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Flats allotted to ‘Slumdog’ kids

Mumbai, February 25
Maharashtra Chief Minsiter Ashok Chavan has sanctioned houses to Bandra’s Garib Nagar slum kids Azhar and Rubina, who had acted in the eight Oscars-winning movie, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. This was announced by Mumbai Congress chief Kripashankar Singh, who met Chavan yesterday.

According to city Congress sources, the sanction would be made from the two per cent quota of the Chief Minister.

Chavan has sanctioned a house each for the two slum child artists - Azhar and Rubina, who had been to Los Angles to witness the Academy Awards function. — UNI

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Jairam quits ministry
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, February 25
Minister of state for Commerce And Power Jairam Ramesh today resigned from the Union Council of Ministers to work on the Congress party’s publicity campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Ramesh, who is a member of the Rajya Sabha from Andhra Pradesh, put in his papers after getting the nod from Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who felt he would not be able to devote time for the party’s election work along with his ministerial responsibilities.

The Rashtrapati Bhavan issued a formal communiqué tonight saying Ramesh’s resignation had been accepted. Ramesh was a key member of the Congress party’s war group, which put together the election campaign in 2004 and subsequently played an important role as member of the committee that drew up the UPA government’s Common Minimum Programme.

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3 ‘Naxalites’ lynched

Khunti (Jharkhand), February 25
Angry villagers lynched three suspected Naxalites when they were allegedly extorting money in Jharkhand’s Khunti district.

The three were beaten to death yesterday when they were allegedly extorting money from shopkeepers at the village market in Gulu, DSP AK Rai said, adding that the bodies were recovered today. — PTI

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