Mumbai green signal on Srikrishna action
Thackeray nephew faces slum fire
Advani waves ISI White Paper card
Notice brews against seminar-set Saifuddin
Cong sees hidden agenda in shrine Bill
Cyber cities vie for Clinton
Govt discovers smoking is injurious to health

 
 
MUMBAI GREEN SIGNAL ON SRIKRISHNA ACTION 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 7 
The ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine in Maharashtra today told the Supreme Court that it was prepared to refer the Srikrishna commission findings for further investigation.

The one-man commission, which probed the 1992 Mumbai riots after the demolition of the Babri masjid, had indicted the Shiv Sena and its chief Bal Thackeray.

Counsel for the Maharashtra government Ashok Desai told a three-member bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice N. Santosh Hegde that “the state of Maharashtra shall refer the report and conclusions of the Srikrishna commission to the crime branch, CID, Mumbai, for further investigation and take action in accordance with law”.

The Shiv Sena-BJP government, in an action taken report (ATR) tabled in the Maharashtra Assembly, had called the panel’s findings “one-sided and biased”.

Desai told the apex court that the “state of Maharashtra hereby clarifies that the investigation and related action by investigation agencies shall not be influenced by the ATR”.

A bunch of public interest litigations related to the Srikrishna report had been filed in the Supreme Court by the Human Rights Union of Supreme Court Lawyers, Jan Sangarsh Manch and the Lawyers’ Legal Aid Committee.

They have sought implementation of the panel’s proposals.

The panel, appointed on January 25, 1993, had said that the demolition of the Babri masjid, the celebration rallies taken out by Hindus and an insensitive police force were the primary reasons for the riots. At the time, Sharad Pawar was heading a Congress government in Maharashtra.

The Shiv Sena will wait and see how the present regime deals with the issue and whether it takes action against Thackeray and other party heavyweights like Madhukar Sarpotdar, former MP from Mumbai North-West.

The BJP, however, is not too worried since the Srikrishna report only blames it in passing, unlike the direct accusations against Thackeray.

Both the Congress and the NCP had said in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections that they would take action on the report if they were voted to power.

With that Congress-NCP combine in power for nearly three months, its time for chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to make good their poll promises.    


 
 
THACKERAY NEPHEW FACES SLUM FIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Jan. 7 
Raj Thackeray, nephew of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, and his associate Ashutosh Rane are involved in another controversy. A resident of a Dadar slum has complained to the chief minister that Raj pressured the police to tamper in a criminal case against gangsters who attacked him on behalf of Matoshri Realtors.

Sadanand Nagvekar, a resident of Kotwadi slums, has been a thorn in the side of Matoshri Realtors owned by Rane.

The case is reminiscent of the Kini murder case where Raj and Rane were accused of pressuring a resident to leave his house. Kini allegedly committed suicide inside a cinema hall in Pune.

Matoshri Realtors had allegedly been using strong-arm tactics to clear slumdwellers to construct a building under the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme.Nagvekar, who was resisting the builders, was attacked by two persons in December. He was seriously injured and was admitted to a hospital.

Nagvekar registered a case of attempt to murder against his attackers. Besides naming Suresh Gupta and Anil Thotte, he also named Rane as prime accused.

The police arrested Gupta and Thotte, but they were let out on bail by a magistrate.

Though the FIR charged the attackers with attempted murder, a non-bailable offence, the police allegedly tampered with the case and changed the charge to a bailable one, Nagvekar said in a complaint to the chief minister.

Nagvekar has also accused police commissioner Ronnie Mendonsa of asking the local police to dilute the charges under pressure from Thackeray’s nephew.    


 
 
ADVANI WAVES ISI WHITE PAPER CARD 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 7 
Conceding that freeing the militants as part of the hijack swap had given a temporary “boost to our adversaries”, Union home minister L.K. Advani today said the Centre had not dropped the idea of releasing a White Paper on ISI activities in the country.

“We have not dropped the idea of a White Paper on ISI,” he told reporters. Asked if he would speed up its release after the government’s statement that Islamabad was “deeply involved” in the hijack, he said: “Let’s see.”

Advani said the hijack had confirmed the ISI’s Nepal links, but declined to comment on the involvement of the Mumbai underworld and the “Dubai connection”. “I would not be able to say anything about the Mumbai underworld-Dubai-ISI connection, but the ISI-Nepal links have been established,” he said.

The minister stoutly defended the role of intelligence agencies in the hijack. But he refused to elaborate on his earlier remark that the hijack had dented only the BJP’s image, and that of the nation was intact. “I will not say anything, that chapter is over,” he said.

He maintained that the hijack had not exposed any chinks in the intelligence set-up. “My press conference (held in Delhi yesterday) confirmed that the intelligence set-up was fine. You people, perhaps, expected me to talk about the so-called Advani-Vajpayee differences, but you were in for a surprise.”

On the militants’ release, he said: “I would not call it a setback, but for a brief while it has given a boost to our adversaries.” But he added: “The world over, the war against terrorism is not a smooth, linear affair. There are ups and downs.”

Advani said a democratic polity suffered from inherent disadvantages in its fight against terrorism. “There are initial disadvantages in a democratic country. It is concerned about legitimacy and human rights values. When an authoritarian set-up becomes a terrorist state, it has an initial advantage,” he said.

But he was confident the Centre would eventually come to grips with terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. “Just as we got around them in Punjab, we will get around them everywhere else. I myself was a victim of cynicism when militancy was at its peak in Punjab. But we got around,” he said.

On how arrested terrorists would be tried following the abrogation of Tada, he said: “Criminal law is a concurrent subject. If a state thinks the present law is inadequate, it is free to frame its own legislation.” He cited the case of Tamil Nadu which has enacted Pota to tackle terrorism.

Advani, however, rued the passing of Tada. “Barring the BJP, all parties had demanded that Tada should go. There is always a tendency by the executive to abuse the law. The first anti-Tada conference was organised by the BJP in Gujarat because it was used against farmers. But when it was used properly all the other parties got together to describe it as an anti-minorities law. Then the complexion of the debate itself changed.”But he categorically ruled out the possibility of framing an alternate anti-terrorist law. “The Centre is not thinking of any law,” he said.    


 
 
NOTICE BREWS AGAINST SEMINAR-SET SAIFUDDIN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 7 
The CPM will issue a showcause notice to former central committee member Saifuddin Chowdhury next week, nearly a fortnight after taking the decision to clamp down on dissidents.

The showcause letters would be served by January 15, state secretary Anil Biswas said today.

CPM leaders added that the delay in issuing the letters should not be interpreted as the party having second thoughts about taking a hard line. They said the dissidents’ attempts to break the party would not be tolerated.

Addressing the party’s Calcutta District Committee (CDC) on Thursday, Biswas had said some partymen were trying to split the organisation. Claiming that the rebels had links with “enemy forces”, he urged the committee members to thwart such a move. “To keep the party united, we have to take stern action against such elements,” he said. “It is more difficult to fight them than the external forces.”

Referring to the two Forward Bloc leaders, including one sitting MLA, who switched over to the Trinamul Congress yesterday, Biswas said: “It is good they have joined Trinamul. Leaders who have no ideology should not remain in Left parties as they harm the Left movement in the state and are responsible for lowering the image of the Left.”

Though he did not name anyone, Biswas hinted that there were still many in the CPM who had secret links with the Trinamul Congress.

However, undeterred by the developments, Chowdhury will address a seminar on “socialism” at Nimta Book Fair tomorrow, in what will be his first public appearance since he was asked to showcause on December 31.

Though the CPM leadership will monitor tomorrow’s function, hardliners in the party feel the choice of the topic was deliberate: it would provide Chowdhury an opportunity to speak out against the leadership.

Sources say the party’s North Dum Dum unit, the main organiser of the fair, has earned the leadership’s wrath for inviting Chowdhury to the seminar. According to them, the Nimta unit of the CPM is dominated by supporters of transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who has already been marked out as “one of the rebels”. Last month, at a function at Picnic Garden organised by the state’s department of youth services, Chowdhury had attacked the party leadership. Chakraborty and youth service minister Manab Mukherjee were also present.    


 
 
CONG SEES HIDDEN AGENDA IN SHRINE BILL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 7 
The Congress today came down heavily on the BJP-led government in Uttar Pradesh for enacting a legislation imposing curbs on construction of places of worship, dubbing the move “unconstitutional” and designed to whip up communal passion.

The Congress was irked that the Act had specifically mentioned that there could be no appeal against it before a court of law. The party also assailed the Gujarat government for allowing its employees to attend RSS sakhas and said “we see a definite design in what it did in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat”.

Congress spokesman Ajit Jogi told reporters that the Bill in Uttar Pradesh, which was passed in the Assembly “amid protests and a walkout by the Congress” two days ago, was “ultra vires to the Constitution, against the spirit of the Constitution and violates the inalienable rights guaranteed in Chapter 3 of the Constitution”.

According to the Bill, permission of the district magistrate is necessary for construction of a temple, mosque, church or gurdwara as well as educational institutions associated with places of worship such as madrasas, Jogi said. The Bill is ostensibly meant to check ISI infiltration.

Jogi said the existing laws were adequate to deal with foreign spies and their institutions. “It is because of the failure of the government to implement the existing law that they have not been able to curb ISI activities along the Nepal border,” Jogi said.

The Congress leader said the courts should take a serious view of the Bill should someone challenge it. “As a political party we will not go to court. But we will fight the issue politically,” he added Jogi said: “Ours is a country which is governed by the rule of law. We follow the cardinal principles of separation of judiciary and independent judiciary. To exclude the judiciary from these Acts militates against the basic principles of our Constitution.”    


 
 
CYBER CITIES VIE FOR CLINTON 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, Jan. 7 
Bangalore today joined cyber-rival Hyderabad in the race to host US president Bill Clinton during his India odyssey in late February or early March.

Karnataka state government officials claimed that the Clinton administration has accepted chief minister S.M. Krishna’s invitation to visit the country’s first Silicon Valley.

The president could then see for himself what Newsweek magazine described as “one of the world’s top ten hottest tech cities”, though the tour itinerary has not been finalised yet. Both Clinton and Krishna are Rhodes scholars.

Earlier Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu had also invited Clinton to visit the state through ambassador Richard Celeste. Clinton had sent a personal reply to Chandrababu Naidu saying that he was keen to visit Hyderabad but that the schedule was yet to be finalised.    


 
 
GOVT DISCOVERS SMOKING IS INJURIOUS TO HEALTH 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 7 
It has taken almost eight months for the finance ministry to realise that cigarette smoking is “not in public interest” and is, in fact, “injurious to health”.

The realisation dawned after intense pressure put on finance mandarins by the ministries of health and labour and by five major trade unions, including those of the CPM and the RSS.

The combined effort forced the finance ministry to withdraw its notification extending excise duty exemption to cigarette and cigar manufacturing units in Assam and Tripura.

Sources said the Prime Minister’s Office and the Indian Medical Association also agreed with the health ministry and labour unions.

The finance ministry notification dated July 8, 1999, exempting cigarette manufacturing units, was replaced on December 31 as a millennium gift to those spearheading the anti-smoking campaign.

The matter was also raised by S. Ramaiah, former Lok Sabha member. Health ministry officials told him they had expressed fear that the finance ministry’s earlier decision would have “adverse impact on the health interest of our people”.

The health ministry said the consequences of the earlier notification would have been disastrous. Objecting to the licence to produce and sell cigarettes without central excise, the ministry said:

It would mean more cheap cigarettes, luring youngsters.

Cheaper cigarettes would make existing smokers puff more.

Cheap cigarettes would be a social lure for even the poor.

Bidi smokers would switch to cigarettes since they would cost less.

The labour ministry objected to the pro-cigarette stand for a different reason. The ministry argued that it had consistently opposed lower excise rates for mini-cigarettes as it would hit the bidi market and affect 18 million workers.

Leaders of five trade unions — Citu, BMS, AITUC, HMS and TUCC — had on December 18 submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, requesting him to restrain the finance ministry.

Several foreign companies had also applied for licence to set up cigarette and cigarillo units in Assam and Tripura, sources said. Among these was the Indonesian giant, PT Gudang Garam.

The memo said: “On the plea of complying with the declared policy of promoting the development of backward regions, the ministry of finance, through its notification (since withdrawn) has extended excise duty exemption to the cigarette and cigarillo manufacturing units located in the growth centres, integrated infrastructure development centres, export promotion industrial parks, industrial estates etc. in the two states of Assam and Tripura.    

 

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