Govt puts RSS ball in Gujarat court
‘Silent’ allies in Sonia line of fire
Court upholds tax on allowances
Eye in sky to track Naxalites
Geeta cremated
Shabnam’s handshake brings House down
German show

 
 
GOVT PUTS RSS BALL IN GUJARAT COURT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 6 
Hours after RSS chief Rajendra Singh absolved the outfit of any responsibility in enforcing the Gujarat government’s controversial circular, the Centre took the official stand of “having done its bit” and “not having any responsibility in the state government’s final decision”.

It appeared this evening that the Centre was not totally certain if the Gujarat government would sign a fresh order rescinding its earlier circular which lifted the ban on employees joining RSS activity.

Or it could have been signalling to the Opposition that all that was to be done from Delhi had been taken care of.

A government spokesman hinted that the “Centre was still keeping its fingers crossed” and would wait for Gujarat’s reaction.

The Keshubhai Patel government may take some time to respond to Rajju Bhaiyya’s statement. This evening, there was no sign of any meeting of the Gujarat Cabinet or parleys among state BJP leaders.

It is not that the Gujarat government is keeping the Centre on tenterhooks. It is simply that it would like to take its own time and play out its political game.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s move to take up the issue with the RSS was not made only to appease the Opposition. More than the belligerent Congress and the Left, it is the division in the National Democratic Alliance itself that forced Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani to speak to the Sangh outfit.

From all counts, the Centre will feel the Gujarat government has acted quite fast if Gandhinagar withdraws the circular by tomorrow afternoon. Like the state, the Centre is in no rush to ensure that Rajju Bhaiyya’s statement is interpreted in the “right” spirit.

Gujarat, too, is considering the fallout of revoking the circular. Though it does not have to contend with too much of an Opposition, large chunks of the BJP-friendly electorate are likely to feel let down if the ban is reimposed.

The groundwork for employee participation has been done by Advani, who represents Gandhinagar. The home minister defended the RSS strongly in the Rajya Sabha last week.

The Centre is also weighing the countrywide political impact of this “rollback”. There are some sections who still suggest that the government should have allowed the Opposition to persist with its “tamasha” and thereby expose its “irresponsible” attitude to serious legislative business.    


 
 
‘SILENT’ ALLIES IN SONIA LINE OF FIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 6 
Addressing an impressive rally, Congress president Sonia Gandhi took potshots at “secular” NDA partners for not speaking out against the Gujarat government’s decision to let employees join the RSS.

Alleging that the allies were desperately seeking to “save their chairs”, Sonia accused the Vajpayee regime of “unleashing an era of cultural policing”.

She said: “The real face of the RSS is now showing over the mukhota (mask) of the BJP.”

In her 20-minute speech at the anti-RSS rally, Sonia, however, refrained from referring to the developments in Bihar. Her silence was seen as a sign of sharp division within the party — both at the central and state levels — on supporting Laloo Prasad Yadav.

She said several ministers in the Union government were not only RSS members but had even sworn allegiance to the RSS philosophy before taking the Constitution oath.

“I would like to know from these ministers about their real commitment, whether they are with the fundamentalism of the RSS or the Constitution of India,” she asked. “I also want to know whether the NDA constituents subscribe to this communal agenda.”

Surrounded by the chief ministers of five Congress-ruled states and CWC members, Sonia’s speech criticised the Sangh outfit and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s economic policy of globalisation.

Taking a left-of-the-centre line, Sonia wondered why the government had lifted import restrictions on about 1,000 items.

She said the Gujarat government’s move to allow its staff to attend RSS activities would make the neutral civil service partisan.

“The NDA government is trying to rewrite the country’s history by giving it its own colour.... This is fascism and cultural terrorism,” Sonia said.

The Congress chief said the Vajpayee government was playing into the hands of the RSS and the Sangh parivar. “They have started targeting secular and liberal organisations and trying to spread hatred through text books of schools and colleges,” she charged.

Sonia was critical of the decision to review the Constitution, alleging that the BJP-led regime was bent upon destroying the basic structure of the statute, side-tracking the vision of communal amity and brotherhood of Mahatma Gandhi and the social justice of B.R. Ambedkar.

Even Gandhi’s assassins belonged to the RSS, Sonia said, adding: “Perhaps in order to hide this fact it is taking shelter in falsehood.”

The Congress chief, who is also the leader of the Opposition, attacked the latest budget proposals, claiming they would severely affect farmers, the poor and the middle class and widen the gap between the rich and the poor.

“The Vajpayee government did not spare the salaried class by reducing the interest rate on provident fund,” she said.

Mocking the BJP for its globalisation, Sonia said: “Sadly, it is being done by those who claim to be more nationalists than others and shout for swadeshi.” She declared that the government had failed on “all fronts”.    


 
 
COURT UPHOLDS TAX ON ALLOWANCES 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 6 
The Supreme Court has ruled that dearness allowance (DA), city compensatory allowance (CCA) and house rent allowance (HRA) are taxable income.

Dismissing a batch of petitions by employees unions, a division bench said: “However equitable it may be that CCA cannot be held to be ‘profit’ in the hands of the assessee or it is not share out of profit, it cannot be helped from being taxed in view of the inclusive and exclusive meanings given under the Income-Tax Act.”

However, the bench said: “Since counsel for the employees did not make any submission with regard to other allowances including night allowance, tuition fee, leave encashment linked with leave travel concession and running allowance, we do not pass any order with regard to those.”

The case was brought before the apex court by Agra Karamchari Union contending that these allowances should not be taxed.

The appeals were directed against the judgments of the high courts of Allahabad and Calcutta. The Allahabad High Court had held that CCA, HRA and DA would be taxable income, while the Calcutta High Court had ruled that these allowances did not have the character of income within the meaning and scheme of the Income Tax Act, 1961.

The Supreme Court in its judgment said that in view of the amendment with effect from April 1, 1962 of Section 2 of the Act, it would be difficult to say that the amount received as CCA or HRA would not be covered by the inclusive definition of the word “income”.’

The court said: “HRA, DA and CCA are not the reimbursements of necessary disbursements. It is only for determination of CCA that the Central government will take care that grant of compensatory allowance does not become a source of profit to the employees, but it does not mean that the allowance in the nature of HRA, CCA and DA do not amount to an advantage. The allowances are surely in addition to pay.”

Similarly, the high court had held that leave encashment linked with leave travel concession is taxable, being the “profits in lieu of salary” within the meaning of Section 17 (3) (II).

The court said that equity or hardship would hardly be a relevant ground for interpretation of the tax law. It is for the government or the statutory authorities to do the needful, it added.

Deepak Bhattacharya, a leading Supreme Court lawyer who has been fighting cases on behalf of and against most public sector giants, said: “Big fish would have taken advantage if the apex court had ruled in favour of the petitioners. Legally too, its an impeccable judgment. The Supreme Court is right in considering it to be profit other than salary. It is not a reimbursement.”

Lawyers human chain

Lawyers will form a human chain around Parliament tomorrow to protest against the “police brutality” unleashed on them on February 24.

Police had teargassed and lathicharged lawyers protesting against amendments in the civil procedure code and entry of foreign firms.    


 
 
EYE IN SKY TO TRACK NAXALITES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 6 
The home ministry is considering the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or sophisticated space technology to keep track of Naxalites in five states, even though special training to the police forces in these states is yet to reach a satisfactory level.

After the sixth meeting of the Co-ordination Centre, comprising the police chiefs of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Orissa as well as home ministry officials, Union home secretary Kamal Pande said here today that aerial reconnaissance will be used depending on the cost effectiveness of the available technology.

“The states demanded that aerial survey be undertaken to monitor the movements of Left wing extremist outfits. We will consider whether UAVs or space technology can be utilised to achieve the objectives. However, it will depend on the cost effectiveness,” he said.

The proposed strategy is being considered despite the fact that some of the state police forces do not even have wireless communication sets which are, however, used widely by the militants.

The home secretary said that of late there had been reports of the Pakistani ISI’s influence on outfits like the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre, active along the Indo-Nepal border in Bihar. “Information suggests that the ISI has been providing support to the outfits for the past two years,” Pande said.

Denying that the recent spurt in Left violence was the result of poor co-ordination between the police forces, Pande said five separate India Reserve battalions would soon be raised and deployed in the affected districts.

The new battalions will be given special training and modern equipment.

Pande admitted that the states did not have enough policemen to take on the radical organisations. “The home ministry will provide all resources for the proper training of the police forces. The Intelligence Bureau will impart focused training to the police so that they are able to gather information,” added the home secretary.

He said Andhra Pradesh had agreed to make available its special training facility — Greyhound — to personnel from the four other states.

In certain cases, the services of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Central Reserve Police Force and the Border Security Force can be utilised for training the police in jungle warfare.    


 
 
GEETA CREMATED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 6 
The body of veteran CPI leader and MP Geeta Mukherjee was cremated at the Keoratala burning ghat this afternoon.

Her body was taken out in a procession from Bhupesh Bhavan, the state CPI office on AJC Bose Road. The procession passed through AJC Bose Road, Sarat Bose Road, Hazra crossing and Rashbehari Avenue before reaching the burning ghat. CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan led the procession along with other state party members.

In the morning, Governor Viren J. Shah and chief minister Jyoti Basu paid their last respects to the leader.    


 
 
SHABNAM’S HANDSHAKE BRINGS HOUSE DOWN 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, March 6 
As first-time MLA Shabnam Bano shook hands with the Speaker after taking oath, the Madhya Pradesh Assembly broke into sniggers.

The reason: “something in a saree shook hands with the Speaker instead of folding her hands in a namaskar”, the accepted greeting from those who usually wear sarees.

But Bano, the first eunuch to enter an elected house of representatives, was sporting. She hid her face in the pallu of her olive green saree and joined in the giggling. Later, she quietly took an empty back seat along with other Opposition members.

Bano’s swearing-in had turned into a spectacle, with curious officials, party workers, policemen, journalists and even some ministers filling up the empty corridors to catch a glimpse of the “eunuch MLA”, who was sporting gold jewellery and a mangalsutra, and crack jokes at her expense.

Heading straight to Speaker Sriniwas Tiwari’s office, Bano complained: “The press is troubling me”. “You will soon get used to being in the public eye,” Tiwari consoled her.

At her first press conference a couple of hours later, Bano was confident, intelligent and, at times, emotional. She spoke on issues ranging from corruption to construction of roads and poverty. Claiming she knew 14 languages, Bano answered queries in Hindi, English, Tamil and Marathi.

“First I was told to fill the form for the Congress. But my friends advised me otherwise as the Congress would have never given me a ticket,” she said, completely at ease with reporters.

“Then somebody suggested the BSP. But it was the public which stopped me this time and said I would not get a single vote if I contested on behalf of the BSP. ‘Don’t become another Mayawati’, they warned me,” Bano said. “They already tell me I look like Mayawati. But believe me, I don’t want to be her.”

Bano refrained from speaking about her birth and childhood. “I was a child when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister,” she had said earlier. Today she said she was 40. The new legislator also has a Bollywood connection, having acted in several Amitabh Bachchan blockbusters.

“Never in my dreams did I think I would be an MLA. I suppose this is God’s will and I have taken the responsibility,” she said, her eyes welling up. “I may be a eunuch but God has given me a head to think, eyes to see and a heart to feel. But people look down upon us.” Bano claimed she would make a better legislator than any man because she would not be corrupt. Arguing that men turned to corruption to meet the demands of their families, Bano said she had no reason to want to make money.

“I have contested and won the elections with only Rs 1 lakh. Wherever I went to ask for votes, they came to me hungry. ‘Bai, first give us something to eat and then talk of votes’, they said.”

Bano said the women in her constituency were touched when she told them she was not rich enough to feed everyone but wanted one chance to make a difference. “The women of Sohagpur agreed to vote for me. Some even persuaded their husbands to vote for me,” she claimed. Bano alleged that during her campaign, she was twice attacked by hoodlums of a political party who threatened to kill her if she did not back the party.

The new legislator was ready with her plans. “To start with, I will ask the government to open an inquiry on all the funds allotted for the construction of roads, supply of drinking water, electricity and sanitation in my constituency,” she said.    


 
 
GERMAN SHOW 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 6 
It is going to be a heady cocktail of the Berlin Ensemble, the German Philharmonic Orchestra, contemporary German art, rock music, jazz and ballet. The culture ministry has planned a “Festival of Germany,” a cultural extravaganza that will travel throughout the country for at least six months.

The German government has submitted a detailed proposal listing the cultural shows they plan for India. The festival’s German commissioner G. Lechner will arrive here to negotiate the details.    

 

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