Jaya handed jail term
Water afloat after dilution
Chase for Clinton bonus
Purulia six sentenced to life
Bio-diversity Bill ready
Calcutta weather

Chennai, Feb. 2 
A special court today sentenced Jayalalitha to a year’s rigorous imprisonment in a hotel corruption case, sparking lethal violence in which three students were charred to death after a mob set on fire a university bus.

Special judge V. Radhakrishnan, however, suspended the sentence till March 3 to enable the ADMK leader and four others convicted to file an appeal in the high court. Legal experts pointed out that with the high court swarmed with cases, the hearing could be a protracted one.

The one-year sentence ensures that Jayalalitha will be able to contest elections. A sentence of a minimum of two years under the Prevention of Corruption Act is necessary to invite the disqualification clause.

As a grim Jayalalitha — who was recently discharged in the Tansi land case — came out of the court, confidante Sasikala in tow, incensed ADMK supporters went on the rampage across the city and in some parts of the state. Party volunteers hurled crude petrol bombs into a university bus in Dharmapuri, 300 km from Chennai, sparking a blaze in which three students were killed. The students were from an agriculture university in Coimbatore.

Buses were stoned outside the court and in other parts of Chennai as the ADMK supporters battled with the police. Over a hundred people were taken into custody as they tried to take out a protest march to chief minister M. Karunanidhi’s residence.

Though Karunanidhi claimed that the verdict was a lesson to those who ‘‘indulged in corruption’’, observers said the ADMK leader’s adversaries were expecting a stiffer sentence.

Tamil Maanila Congress chief G.K. Moopanar ruled out reviewing his party’s support to the ADMK in this month’s bypolls. ‘‘She can always appeal,’’ he said.

The judge found Jayalalitha guilty of granting favours to the management of the Pleasant Stay Hotel in Kodaikanal. The prosecution claimed that between May and December 1994, the then ADMK government exempt the hotel from the rule preventing the construction of more than two storeys in buildings in hill resorts. The law, ironically, had been cleared by the Jayalalitha regime in 1992 to help conserve the eco-system in hill areas.

The hotel promoters were allowed to construct seven floors. Even as a conservationist group obtained an injunction from the high court, the ADMK government was accused of working overtime to ensure that the promoters got what they had demanded.

Holding Jayalalitha guilty, the judge wondered how bureaucratic procedure could be skirted so blatantly. An official who had questioned the decision was transferred and the government followed it up with a legislation regularising the exemption.

In 1995, the Madras High Court set aside the new law and reprimanded the ADMK government. The hotel’s additional floors were demolished. Sensing that the case was strong enough to nail its enemy, the Karunanidhi regime placed it before the special courts.

While Jayalalitha was acquitted of the charge of falsifying records, she was convicted under the IPC for criminal conspiracy and under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Though Radhakrishnan handed out two separate one-year sentences, he ruled that they would run concurrently.

The other accused — former minister Selvaganapathy, IAS officer H.M. Pande and two directors of the hotel — were awarded similar jail terms which have been suspended till March 3.    

Feb. 2 
Water has been diluted by “some words” to keep it from drowning.

Deepa Mehta today agreed to make “requisite” changes in the Sangh-stalled film’s script after the Vajpayee government convinced her that the project could not be salvaged otherwise.

The government will now instruct the Uttar Pradesh administration that the shoot be allowed with tight security.

Union information minister Arun Jaitley, back from a trip abroad, held talks with Mehta before she came back with a Hindi script incorporating the changes.

Government sources said Jaitley had been in touch with the Prime Minister, soliciting his advice on resolving the tangle.

Mehta had earlier submitted her original proposal cleared by the information and broadcasting ministry in English. But the film is in Hindi and today’s script written by Anurag Kashyap was submitted in Hindi. Kashyap has written the script for Satya and Shool and hails Varanasi, the centre of the Water storm.

Mehta’s friends said the changes were “nominal” and did not affect the essence, substance and tenor of the film. “You know how she is,” a friend said. “She is never going to accept a major alteration that changes the very content of the film she has conceived.”

Mehta, in a note to the ministry, said: “I am a film-maker and I am committed to meaningful film-making. It has never been my intention to hurt the sentiments of any city or of people living there. Some words used in the dialogue of my film are being misinterpreted to give them a meaning which has never been intended.

“In order to avoid any ambiguity, I have submitted a fresh proposal to the I&B ministry wherein I have changed some words in my script to avoid any scope for misinterpretation. The approach of the ministry has been positive. It has, after consideration of my request and the script, granted me an approval.”

Mehta, who had suspended shooting after Sangh parivar supporters went on a rampage on the sets of Water, said: “I hope this ends the controversy and I can go back to my only passion — film-making.”

She said if the script had not been changed, she would have had to shift to “artificial sets”, which would have taken away the film’s essence.

The breakthrough came as the production unit was growing restive in Varanasi.

David Hamilton, producer of Water, told The Telegraph this morning in Varanasi: “We are losing Rs 20 lakh a day to keep the crew and cast here. Our budgets are going through the roof. I have no desire to spend the rest of my life here.”

Hamilton also indicated that if Water is not shot in Varanasi, it would not be shot anywhere else. “If we pack up tomorrow, we stand to lose Rs 2.5 crore. I am prepared to write that off as a bad debt but I am not willing to sink in more money. Going anywhere else will not make our task easier,” he added.

Earlier, the BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “We have to inquire how the I&B ministry cleared the (original) script.”

But Naidu hinted that his party was willing for a compromise. “A way has to be found to ensure that everything goes smoothly, to see that the film-maker respect the sentiments of the people and the authorities take appropriate steps to see there is no disruption on the sets,” he said.    

New Delhi, Feb. 2 
Foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh will visit Washington next week to persuade US officials not to put Pakistan on President Bill Clinton’s itinerary when he visits South Asia next month.

Mansingh’s three-day talks with his US counterpart Thomas Pickering begin from February 9 and will follow a two-day discussion on efforts to combat international terrorism.

Clinton will visit India for five days from March 20 and leave for Bangladesh on March 25. The US, however, was silent on whether the President will go to Pakistan.

The government knows that while it can describe Clinton’s visit as a diplomatic coup, a trip to Pakistan will spoil the party.

During his talks with Pickering and Bruce Reidel, Clinton’s South Asia adviser, Mansingh will hardsell Delhi’s stand that a presidential visit to Islamabad will send out the wrong signal to the global community fighting international terrorism. Since the Airbus hijack, India has been urging the US to tag Pakistan a terrorist state. But Washington has refused to do so, saying it does not have sufficient evidence.

Clinton is believed to be keen on visiting Pakistan, even if it is a brief stop-over. The President wants to bow out playing peacemaker between the nuclear twins.

‘‘I don’t think we are looking at a tilt one way or another. We have important issues on both sides. They are not mutually exclusive,’’ US National Security Council spokesman David Leavy said. ‘‘The relationship with India stands on its own. It is not a zero sum game with any other country.’’

Though the foreign ministry here has refused to comment, some officials believe that Delhi should not allow Clinton to visit India were he to go to Pakistan as well. However, another group argued that the two nations have covered a lot of ground on issues such as disarmament and non-proliferation. By calling off the tour, India would undo all the hard work, they said.    

Calcutta, Feb. 2 
Peter Bleach and five Latvians, convicted in the Purulia arms drop case, were sentenced to life imprisonment today.

Labelling it the “rarest of rare cases”, Judge P.K. Biswas of the city civil and sessions court found the six “guilty” under Section 121(A) of “involvement in an international conspiracy” with “some insurgent groups in India” to smuggle “a huge cache of lethal arms” to “overthrow and overawe the duly-elected government of West Bengal”.

The judge said: “A crime of this nature having serious implications on our national security, both external and internal, ... deserve(s) exemplary punishment.”

The convicted will remain at Presidency Jail, where they are lodged since January 1, 1996, following the arms drop on December 17, 1995.

When the court convened, the accused were given a chance to speak. Bleach, in blue suit and red-blue tie, simply iterated that he was “innocent” and left the rest to the “learned judge”. But the Latvians, the crew of the plane from which the arms were dropped, spoke at length of how they, and their families, had suffered for four years.

Bleach later said: “I am disappointed but not surprised. I shall immediately prefer appeal based on the fact that the judgment has been given on the basis of false evidence.”    

New Delhi, Feb. 2 
The Bio-diversity Bill which will lead to codification and conservation of the country’s flora and fauna is finally ready.

The Bill, to be placed in Parliament in the budget session, stipulates the institution of National Bio-diversity Authority and corresponding State Bio-diversity Boards.

The idea of such a legislation was first mooted after the convention on bio-diversity in December 1993. The convention, which has 176 countries as signatories, focuses on the “conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources”.

The Bill is also essential in view of World Trade Organisation requirements and other international laws on intellectual property, trade and investment. In its absence, scientific agencies and scientists were being forced to battle it out in courts abroad against unauthorised patenting or assumption of Intellectual Property Rights over flora and fauna found only in India. The patenting of neem, basmati and haldi caused a big controversy.

India was losing out “in the context of IPR of plants used in traditional medicines” without this statute. Several offences have been identified to safeguard against unauthorised exploitation of bio-diversity and theft of traditional and local communities’ knowledge.

The Bill also entitles the local communities, who part with their knowledge, to share the benefits. For example, a tribal having knowledge of the use of a particular medicinal plant can gain financially by parting with the information.

The Act, to be known as the Biological Diversity Act, 2000, also covers the maritime exclusive economic zone.

The National Authority, under the Act, is proposed to be a body corporate with its head office in Delhi. The chairman and 12 members will be appointed by the Union government. The Bill stipulates that two members shall be from botany or zoology disciplines, while five ex-officio members will have a background in agricultural research and education, biotechnology, ocean development, law and patents.

Five other members will be chosen from among specialists and scientists conversant with conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of biological resources, conservation and creation of biological resources, industry and commerce and legal expertise in all these matters. The term of all members, including the chairman is four years.

The Centre is also empowered to remove the chairman or any other member with a showcause notice. The authority is empowered to issue orders and directions for the protection of bio-diversity in India.

Each state and Union territory will also constitute an authority with the name of the state or Union territory concerned prefixing the board. State governments will frame rules for their respective boards.

The provisions also relate to management committees in municipalities and panchayats. They contain penal provisions for violation of the Act. The Bill also provides for declaration of bio-diversity areas as “bio-diversity heritage” and provides for “protection of knowledge of local people relating to bio-diversity”.

The Bill bans transfer of knowledge by any Indian on biological resources and other researches to foreigners and NRIs. NRIs are prevented from access to bio-diversity areas without prior permission.

The central government is also empowered to dissolve the authority.    

Temperature: Maximum: 27.6°C (normal) Minimum: 17.4°C (+2) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 94%, Minimum: 55% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of light rain in some areas. Not much change in minimum temperature. Sunset: 5.20 pm Sunrise: 6.20 am    

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