Cricket cabinet calls the cops
Azhar: bookie, what bookie?
Sonia disarms probe team
Made for each other at 7 and 12
Scientist blasts Barc with torture charge
Calcutta weather

 
 
CRICKET CABINET CALLS THE COPS 
 
 
BY LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Calcutta, April 18 
Respecting “public perception,” the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) today announced it will “welcome” an investigation by Delhi police into match-fixing and betting allegations.

For the BCCI, this is a significant break from the past.

Even in 1997, when Manoj Prabhakar’s allegations made the biggest headlines, an inquiry (by Justice Y.V. Chandrachud), not an investigation, was launched.

The official statement, released after International Cricket Council (ICC) president Jagmohan Dalmiya’s lengthy meeting with BCCI office-bearers at Taj Bengal, includes: “In view of recent allegations, there is a public perception that Justice Chandrachud’s inquiry did not have much investigative powers...”

Dalmiya, who wields maximum influence within the BCCI, convened the meeting to “gauge” the mood within the most high-profile of India’s sports bodies.

It was an occasion for the BCCI to act. It did.

While the heat won’t now be much on the BCCI, the foreheads of some players who regularly feature in the allegations could see many more creases.

“Hopefully, where the public is concerned, we’ll regain some of the credibility lost,” remarked an office-bearer. In the short-term, certainly, the BCCI’s stock will soar.

Incidentally, this unprecedented step suggests Delhi police have already widened its investigation.

Thus far, at least officially, the focus has been on last month’s ODIs between India and South Africa. But if the investigation was actually limited to that, a carte blanche from the BCCI would be terribly out of sync.

“We don’t intend deputing an office-bearer to sit with Delhi police. Instead, we will send relevant documents (including the reports of some managers) and furnish whatever else is required,” BCCI president A.C. Muthiah told The Telegraph.

To facilitate the investigation, the BCCI will formally “request” the government to provide security to those who wish to “disclose” material facts.

Then, to pre-empt “mischief” from disgruntled elements, the BCCI has even declared it would welcome an investigation “from any other appropriate agency appointed by the government, which is seized of the matter”.

The words have been carefully chosen.

The BCCI has acted on another front as well: The Justice Chandrachud report, submitted in end-1997, will be made public.

Specifically, the sports ministry will be “requested” to table it in Parliament — a move that should be welcomed by the MPs who have already made the demand. It will also be posted on the Net. The website, though, has not been finalised.

The BCCI will, sooner rather than later, introduce an exclusive Code of Conduct. The thrust, predictably, will be on eliminating interaction with dubious characters and financial speculation.

One understands the Code will be modelled on the ICC’s Code of Conduct, introduced in 1991-92, and binding on international cricketers and team officials.

While the Code may not incorporate a clause on assets, BCCI joint secretary Jyoti Bajpai confirmed he will “propose” it be mandatory for all India players to declare them nevertheless.

A draft is expected to be placed at the BCCI’s next working committee meeting. It will, of course, be in the BCCI’s interest to adopt this proposal.

Though today’s meeting was convened by the ICC president, Inderjit Singh Bindra-bashing was very much on the cards.

Indeed, quite a bit of time was spent in taking the former BCCI president apart. But, then, Bindra himself invited such attention by making outrageous remarks.

To rub it in, the BCCI has “requested” him to “reveal everything” to Delhi police. It remains to be seen whether Bindra will play ball.    


 
 
AZHAR: BOOKIE, WHAT BOOKIE? 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, April 18 
On the eve of the Ranji final against Mumbai, Mohammed Azharuddin arrived at the Wankhede stadium in his Opel Astra in the afternoon. Dressed nattily as ever, the former Indian captain hadn’t come equipped with his cricket gear.

He wasn’t there to practice the flick between square leg and mid-wicket — Sachin Tendulkar had completed his nets a couple of hours earlier. He wanted to talk. Are any journalists around, please? he asked one of the cricket aparatchiki.

What Tendulkar did yesterday, Azhar did today. No bookie had ever approached him, or any other player — to the best of his knowledge — as alleged in a report in a news magazine.

The report had claimed that Mumbai police have taped conversations between bookies and Indian players and had named Azhar, Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia.

“I am a dedicated player and the game of cricket is my love and passion... It is high time they stopped vitiating the atmosphere and creating chaos in the minds of the public,” Azhar said, going on to dismiss allegations made in the report one by one.

First, he said, had the Titan Cup final against South Africa in 1996 been fixed, India would not have won the match. The tapes claimed to be in possession of Mumbai police apparently relate to the final.

Second, according to the report, phone calls by bookies were made to the Indian dressing room. “This statement cannot stand scrutiny because no phones are provided in the dressing room. Furthermore, no player is permitted to carry cellphones during matches (the ban was put into effect by the then coach, Sandeep Patil),” he said.

Third, he pointed out a factual error. “The Titan Cup match was in the year 1996 while the magazine alleges that the crime branch tapped bookmakers’ phones in 1997. That means the crime branch recorded the conversations a year after the match.”

Mumbai police, however, continue to claim they have evidence and are upset at not being given the go-ahead to reveal details of the alleged involvement of at least five Indian players in match-fixing since 1995.

The police say they also have tapes of conversations between bookies in India and Sharjah and Indian players during a 1995 tournament in the emirates.

“There is so much evidence to blow the lid off many well-kept secrets. We have been told by the highest quarters not to part with information till a formal investigation is ordered,” a senior Mumbai police officer said.

Azharuddin evaded a direct reply when asked if he would take legal action against the magazine. “Let the competent authorities do their job,” he said.    


 
 
SONIA DISARMS PROBE TEAM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 18 
Betraying nervousness on the mahajot muddle, Sonia Gandhi today converted the Rajya Sabha cross-voting “probe panel” into a “team of observers”, fuelling protests from some state party leaders.

As soon as the AICC announced that R.K. Dhawan, Kamal Nath and Vayalar Ravi would visit Calcutta as “observers” to look into the cross-voting incident, the Priya Ranjan Das Munshi group reacted sharply, threatening to “completely dissociate” with the state unit. What infuriated Das Munshi was not the composition of the team but the label given to it.

Das Munshi and others were also upset with AICC general secretary Prabha Rau’s remark that the high command will not “interfere” in the June municipal elections. “It means that Ghani Khan Chowdhury has been given a free hand for the civic polls. What will happen to the Congress’ focus on secularism and its claim of no trucks with the BJP directly or indirectly?” a disgusted party MP from Bengal said.

The AICC, however, defended Sonia on the ground that she was not in a position to force a split in the Pradesh Congress.

“The need of the hour is to take everyone along. Chowdhury should be given time to persuade Mamata (Banerjee) and if he fails to do so, the AICC chief will take the next step,” a party functionary said.

Congress sources said Sonia was still keen on a tie-up with Mamata on the basis of a “three-way formula” under which the party will have seat-sharing arrangements with the Trinamul, while putting up candidates against the BJP. The formula is being considered for the civic polls. “We will not compromise with the BJP,” Rau asserted.

However, Das Munshi disagreed with the “three-way formula” and felt that in the process, the Congress will be seen as being hand-in-glove with the BJP. “It will have national-level ramifications,” he cautioned.

The Sonia camp played down the controversy over the change in description of the “probe panel”. An AICC office-bearer said though the team may not have been given the tag of a “probe panel”, its task will include taking disciplinary action.

“Do not overlook the fact that Dhawan is a member of the AICC’s central disciplinary committee,” he said.

Ravi is another 10 Janpath nominee known for his anti-BJP stand. “What will influence Ravi will be the political situation in Kerala where the IUML is threatening to walk out of the UDF alliance if the Congress joins hands with the Trinamul with Mamata continuing to be part of the Vajpayee government,” a party MP said.    


 
 
MADE FOR EACH OTHER AT 7 AND 12 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, April 18 
Kirti and Raja were made for each other. But since they were too young to know it — Kirti is seven and Raja is 12 — their parents took over and got them married.

With aplomb. The parents —none is illiterate: Kirti’s mother is a school teacher and so is Raja’s mother, while his father is a state electricity board officer — even invited the media to over to today’s reception.

It was held at Raja’s apartment in the bustling Bhadrone Garh area of central Patna. The two-storey building was glittering with lights all over, with a board proudly claiming: “Kirti is made for Raja”. Outside, long queues of cars were causing congestion. Inside, the bride and the groom were playing in separate rooms, too busy to be disturbed.

When the five reporters trooped in, the two children were asked to dress up hurriedly to smile before the camera. With a glum face, the child bride put on her red dress worked with silver sequins. Looking equally downcast, the young groom got into a light grey suit.

Asked if she knew what was happening, Kirti maintained a sullen silence for three minutes before muttering: “Shadi.” Asked if she was getting married on her own, Kirti said: “On the wishes of my mother. ”

The parents’ have “noble” aims. They said they were getting their children married “to bring about a revolution in society and for that they were ready to face police action”. “We are ready to go to jail,” declares Sushma Singh, Raja’s mother.

“I wanted my daughter to remain secure in a social system. Can the police ensure security of my daughter if she is molested on the road to school?” asks Jagatnandini Pandey, Kirti’s teacher-mother. Sushma believes that her son, a Class X student, will not be “sexually distracted” now that he is married.

The couple got married on April 16, Raja’s birthday. The reception was held today, on Kirti’s birthday.

Both sets of parents have also been encouraged by Asharamji Bapu, their guru. He reportedly advised that if the children were married before adulthood, “the couple would live longer”.

The parents, though they know child marriage is a punishable offence, are not too worried as they are confident of legal loopholes. “We have learnt that if there is no complaint on child marriage, the police cannot touch you. Who will complain when parents on both sides are willing?” asks Sushma.

The police have visited the house twice, but have not registered a case.

Sushil Modi, BJP legislator in whose constituency the marriage took place, was not aware of the event. “We hear of child marriages conducted surreptitiously. But I did not know it was happening in broad daylight,” he said.

The RJD also reacted with outrage. “The police must act,” said spokesman Shivanand Tiwari.

Till the police act, Kirti and Raja — or at least their parents — look set to live happily ever.    


 
 
SCIENTIST BLASTS BARC WITH TORTURE CHARGE 
 
 
FROM SUJAY GUPTA
 
Mumbai, April 18 
Prithwish Sain either “needs psychiatric help” or Barc, the cradle of India’s nuclear programme, has a tale of persecution of an individual to hide.

Thirty-three-year-old Prithwish’s long-drawn battle with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre could now blow up into an embarrassing public controversy for the nuclear establishment still radiating the Pokhran halo.

Without salary for two years, the scientific officer in Barc’s health physics department says penury has forced him to put his kidney on sale. He hopes to collect Rs 5 lakh and return to his home to “work as a farmer on his little plot of land”.

A physical chemistry student from Burdwan University in Bengal, Prithwish claims he was forced to wage a war since Barc was not giving him proper research facilities and “feasible” projects.

Academic deprivation is not the only serious accusation he has against Barc. He charges its bosses with instigating physical assault.

The controller of Barc, R. Ganeshan, says: “He (Prithwish) is a publicity-crazy, unstable man. He needs psychiatric help. We even offered it, but he rejected it.”

That could well be true, but it doesn’t settle questions the Prithwish-versus-Barc saga raises. First, Ganeshan’s statement is not corroborated by colleagues who live in the same block as Prithwish whose flat is now empty as he has sold nearly all his personal belongings to meet expenses.

All of Prithwish’s complaints “are 100 per cent true”, his colleagues and neighbours say, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“People were sent to my room, I was beaten up, my legs were broken and so was my furniture. I have been receiving threatening letters asking me to leave the place,” Prithwish claims. He insists he can produce documents to prove the threats.

His colleagues and neighbours back his version up. “We have witnessed people barging into his flat and abusing and assaulting him. But we are scared of losing our jobs, so we don’t protest.”

In almost a hundred letters written to the Barc bosses, MPs and even the President and the Prime Minister, Prithwish has accused the institute’s authorities of even trying to murder him.

Barc director Anil Kakodkar brands Prithwish a “shirker who created stories so that he could avoid work. He is one of the unfortunate things that has happened to this institution.”

Worse misfortune has struck Prithwish, though. “I transferred him (Prithwish) to Barc’s small unit at IRE Ltd at Aluwa (Kerala) so that he would change his attitude. But he is bent upon creating trouble,” Kakodkar said.

According to a note from the personnel department on February 23, 2000, Prithwish was transferred on July 29, 1998. Since then payment of his salary and other dues has stopped in Mumbai.

Prithwish says he had gone to Aluwa but was not allowed to join as there was no vacancy. The executive director at IRE, N.R. Nair, said he had not received any information from Barc about Prithwish’s transfer. “The unit at Aluwa is not fully operational and even had a layoff last year. I really do not know how Barc can send one more guy there,” Nair said.

Prithwish returned to file a case in Bombay High Court. In an order in December last year, the court asked Barc to pay travel/dearness allowances to Prithwish since he had gone to Kerala.

The money was paid by Barc after two months. After withdrawing the Rs 23,000 he was paid in February, Prithwish was returning to his home on the Barc campus. On the way, he was “searched” and the money was taken away from him. In a complaint to local police, he said he was beaten by “some henchmen of the institution”.

Prithwish claims relations between him and the institute plumbed such depths because of his constant protests against the way it functioned. Barc’s Ganeshan wonders: “How is it that only this scientist has made these complaints in all these years?”

One how, however, leads to another why. Prithwish speaks of two incidents that do not offer ready explanations for the way Barc acted. First, Prithwish claims, he had an offer to pursue doctoral work at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, which Barc did not allow.

Second, in 1996, he was put on a project for which Barc did not have the facilities. “We were not provided basic lab equipment. Finally, my lab supervisor asked me to scrap the project,” he said.

A year ago, Indrajit Gupta, former home minister, wrote to the Prime Minister about Prithwish’s complaint, but there is no evidence of a response.

That is not unexpected considering what Barc thinks of the man. “It is he versus the rest. How can you believe him?” asks Ganeshan. What is credible though is the extent to which Prithwish has taken his personal battle. He has sold almost all his clothes, his computer and writing table. His family sends him a couple of thousand rupees every month.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 34.1°C (-1) Minimum: 25.9°C (+1) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum: 55% Today: Partly cloudy sky with possibility of a thundershower during the evening. Sunset: 5.55 pm Sunrise: 5.15 am    
 

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