Freebies to net brightest and best
Medha rally over port crusader death
Sonia panel on reforms
Rights for widowed daughters
Left jitters over mahajot spread to souther
Cloud on death of Jagir daughter
EC plan to tie parties down to women’s quota

Hyderabad, April 21 
Colleges are making a beeline for students. With gifts.

“Enrol 10 intermediate students and get one colour TV free,” scream the handbills of a junior college offering the plus-two course in Hyderabad.

With the government in an infotech overdrive, the state has granted permission to educational governing bodies to start 12,000 new junior colleges which will prepare the students for professional courses either in Andhra Pradesh or elsewhere in the country. The state already has over 26,000 junior colleges and each has around 40-50 seats.

To meet the growing demand for professional courses, the government has increased the number of engineering, medical, pharmacy and dental seats in the state.

Though 32 lakh students appeared for the Secondary School Leaving Certificate (Class X) this year, only 8.46 lakh took the intermediate exams. With almost 17 lakh seats between them, the junior colleges are fighting an undeclared war to get the brightest and the best.

In their mad rush to lure the students, many of these institutes have hired scouting agencies and are even encouraging local residents to get them boys and girls.

Almost all residential educational institutions — numbering around 3,000 — have opened up branch offices in major towns of the state and in Chennai and Bangalore.

Up for grabs are everything from walkmans to colour televisions, music systems and white goods, depending on the number of students an agent can get.

Film tickets are also on offer. The school-leaving examination centres were flooded with teeny-boppers collecting information on all potential intermediate students. “Give names and addresses of 10 Class X students, win two tickets to Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai,” say banners put up near the centres.

The colleges are chasing students with incentives as they face a stiffer competition than ever before. The race to book students is so fierce that those who enrol before the secondary exam results are published have been promised a special rebate besides the choice of subjects. With the colleges charging anything between Rs 20,000 to Rs 1 lakh as tuition fee, the discount incentive is irresistible.

Some institutes in Guntur and Vijayawada, which earlier held lotteries for admission to junior colleges are now advertising on cable TV.

The colleges also want to net the students early as the academic session has come up. Officials of the intermediate board said the academic year for 2000 would begin by the first week of May to enable students to take up professional courses in the next EMCET (Entrance for Medical and Engineering etc.) examination.

Politicos — including Puvvada Nageswar Rao of CPI and Ramakrishna Reddy of Telugu Desam — figure prominently among those who obtained permission to set up the new colleges.

The institutions have sprung up mostly in the districts. “Most of them are located among the 210 towns in the state,” said B. Ramachandra Reddy, a teacher of Mahanandi junior college at Nandyal in Kurnool.    

Mumbai April 21 
The death of a retired colonel, who was leading a protest against the construction of a port on the Gujarat-Maharashtra border, following alleged police torture has sparked a sharp backlash in the two states.

The new port is coming up at Maroli-Umargaon in the Valsad district of Gujarat. Critics of the project say it will affect 20-25 villages and seven towns on the coastline.

More than 20,000 human rights and social activists from Maharashtra and Gujarat, led by Medha Patkar, will meet at Umargaon tomorrow to protest against the alleged “police killing” of Col Pratap Savre. He was leading the Kinara Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, an organisation of fishermen and farmers, in its protest against the construction of the port.

According to a fact-finding team of the Lokshahi Hak Sangathana, two companies of the Gujarat Reserve Police entered the area on April 7 and pitched tents on a private plot for the survey teams of the party developing the project.

Chief minister Keshubhai Patel had issued a letter of intent to Natelco-Unocal Ltd to develop the port. Unocal is a multinational based in California while Natelco is a private company which makes telephone instruments.

When villagers protested against the survey work, police lathicharged the activists and lobbed teargas shells. They later picked up Savre from his house, beat him up and kept him in the lock-up of the local police station.

When his condition deteriorated, Savre was taken to the local hospital which asked his relatives to rush him to Mumbai, 122 km away, as he had developed a brain clot. Savre was admitted to Hinduja Hospital here on April 9 and he died on Thursday morning.

Superintendent of police Hasmukh Patil has, however, denied charges of torture. “There was a violent attack on the police team. The villagers started throwing stones at us and Pratap Savre led the attack,” he said.

Tomorrow’s rally is significant because an earlier project in the same region was called off after widespread protests. A proposal to set up a port at Vadhavan, in Maharashtra, had to be abandoned. The BSES, which has just set up a thermal power plant in Dahanu near Vadhavan, is supporting the Maroli project as it needs a port to facilitate import of coal from Australia.

Savre’s death has raised the question why the pre-feasibility report of the project was not given to fact-finding teams like the Indian People’s Tribunal.

A representative of the Gujarat Maritime Board claimed that “the expert committee of the Water and Power Consultancy Services evaluated various options and recommended developing a lagoon harbour and port at Umargaon on the banks of the Varoli river”.

But Preeti Verma, a member of the Indian People’s Tribunal which conducted an independent assessment, said: “Some months back, a Central organisation, the Water and Power Consultancy Services, carried out detailed studies of the region in a secret and stealthy manner. When villagers questioned members of this organisation while they were carrying out some drilling work at Umbargaon, they claimed to be from the ONGC. These people later confessed they were surveying the area for the port project.”    

New Delhi, April 21 
Sensing disquiet within the party over support to economic reforms, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is planning to set up a panel to review the party’s stand.

Another working group is being formed on foreign policy to “finetune” the party’s position on CTBT, minimum nuclear deterrent, nuclear weaponisation, disarmament and other related subjects.

According to sources, these panels — comprising senior leaders — will submit their report to Sonia after interacting with MPs, MLAs, party functionaries, experts and other segments of society. The AICC chief will then place them before the Congress Working Committee for approval.

Senior party leaders conceded that there was a lot of confusion and ambiguity on key economic and foreign policy issues which were causing embarrassment both inside and outside Parliament.

Congress leaders like Arjun Singh, Jitendra Prasada, A.K. Antony, Rajesh Pilot and Vayalar Ravi want the leadership to take a “left-of-centre” line on economic matters instead of ensuring smooth passage of reforms-related Bills in the Lok Sabha.

Opposing the idea, the pro-reforms lobby argues that many of these legislations were part of the backlog of the previous Congress regime. For instance, they said, the party couldn’t go back on its commitment to ensure smooth passage to WTO-related Bills.

The conflicting standpoints have left Congress MPs pondering how the party would discharge the role of Opposition if it were to endorse government Bills and legislations without critically examining them clause by clause.

The debate over economic reforms has a political dimension to it, said sources. With the entry of Arjun Singh in the Rajya Sabha, the battle for the number two slot in the party hierarchy has hotted up.

Party leaders said Arjun was aiming to upstage Manmohan Singh — the leader of the Rajya Sabha — by deflecting the heat on him. “If there is a popular sentiment against reforms, it would amount to a snub to Manmohan,” a Congress MP close to Arjun said.

Sonia is also keen to clear the air over the recent controversy surrounding her remarks on the need for minimum nuclear deterrent during her meeting with President Bill Clinton. Though she has made it clear that she had not talked about it, her partymen are a divided lot, debating whether the Congress should pitch for complete disarmament or take a pragmatic view after the Pokhran tests.    

New Delhi, April 21 
The Supreme Court today ruled that a widowed and destitute Hindu daughter is entitled to maintenance from her father if she has nothing to fall back on. The court also ruled that her right over the property of her father would become an absolute right and not just a “life interest”.

Delivering its judgment, the apex court said the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act “creates an independent, personal right against the father (or mother) if the daughter is unable to maintain herself out of her earnings”.

In their judgment, Justice S.B. Majmudar and Justice M. Jagannadha Rao said the property — which might have been willed to her by her father or mother — would “mature into full ownership” even if the will was only for a life-time interest.

Section 19 of the Act also creates an independent and personal right.

“This provision also indicates that in the case of a widowed daughter-in-law of the family — if she has no income of her own or no estate of her husband to fall back upon for maintenance — then she can legitimately claim maintenance from her father or mother,” the judges ruled.

In a relevant case related to property dispute, one Sham Singh had willed one-third of his property each to his widowed daughter, who was dependent on him, and his two brothers.

In his will, Singh had made it clear that though the sole right of the one-third property rested with his daughter Balwant Kaur, it would revert to his brothers upon her death.

After Singh’s death, his daughter claimed full ownership of the property willed to her. But Balwant Kaur’s uncles — Sham Singh’s brothers — challenged her claims, saying that according to the will, her share would revert to them after her death.

But the judges said that even if Singh had left no will, the widowed, destitute daughter had a pre-existing right over the property of her father which would become an absolute one.

“It is easy to visualise that if the testator had created a life-interest to the extent of one-third of his property in favour of his maid-servant or a female cook — who might have served him during his lifetime — then such female legatees could not have claimed the benefit of Section 14(1) (which confers absolute right),” the judges said.

“But the appellant, as a destitute, widowed daughter of the testator, stands on an entirely different footing,” they ruled, saying that the “will in her favour recognises her pre-existing right”. The judges added that the will was “different from the will created in favour of a maid-servant or a cook”.

“Under these circumstances, Section 14(1) can legitimately be pressed into service on the basis of the legal right flowing to her (the widowed, destitute daughter) under the relevant provisions of the Maintenance Act,” the judges said.    

New Delhi, April 21 
Left parties are becoming uneasy at the possibility of a “grand” anti-Left alliance in West Bengal, though they are putting up a brave public face.

The CPM is hoping that the “chemistry” of the “grand alliance” (mahajot) will not work on the people. “After all politics is not just about numbers. It also has a lot to do with the chemistry of political alliances,” said a CPM leader.

According to insiders, the Left Front is far from comfortable with the “ganging up” of the Congress, Trinamul and BJP in West Bengal. The CPI national executive today passed a resolution expressing concern at the “grave” situation confronting the Left Front. The party leadership believes that if the mahajot extends to Kerala, it will surely spell trouble for the Left.

“If they succeed in West Bengal, they will also succeed in Kerala,” said a Left leader.

For the time being, the Left strategy is to caution the Congress against any tie-up with the BJP or Trinamul. Left leaders are drilling into the Congress that it will lose its secular credentials if it enters into a deal with the Trinamul and BJP in Bengal. It is hoping that the Congress’ state unit will split if there is a tie-up with the Trinamul.

However, the bigwigs in the state Congress have already voted in favour of an alliance with Mamata Banerjee’s party.

“Though the Congress is maintaining that it wants the alliance only in West Bengal, it should see the BJP’s larger gameplan in the move,” said CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet. The Left perceives in the mahajot a move to damage Left politics as much as possible, especially in its two strongholds — West Bengal and Kerala.

Sensing danger, Left Front partners are suggesting that the CPM broadbase the Left alliance by including fringe parties like the SUCI and CPI(ML). “Why should we overreact to the development?” asked a CPM MP. He maintained this was not the first time that anti-Left forces were trying to come together. “In the past they never succeeded,” said Mohammad Salim, a Rajya Sabha MP of the CPM.

However, underneath all the bluster and bravado there are tremors of apprehension — a realisation that the Left Front in West Bengal will go to the Assembly polls next year with its back to the wall. There is already a lot of disaffection among the people against the Left Front which has been ruling the state for more than 20 years.

A section of the CPM is aware that people in the state are looking for an alternative to the Left Front and may swing towards the viable “grand alliance”.

The CPM central committee, which begins its meeting here on April 25, will discuss the new turn in West Bengal politics and assess its impact.    

Chandigarh, April 21 
Controversial Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee chief Jagir Kaur’s 18-year-old daughter, Harpreet Kaur “Rosy”, died in mysterious circumstances in Ludhiana’s CMC Hospital late last night. Her body was cremated in her village in Kapurthala today in the presence of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

While family sources said Rosy had been ill for some time and had to be rushed to the hospital when her condition suddenly deteriorated last night, a hospital spokesman insisted that Rosy had died of heatstroke. However, Jagir Kaur’s aide, who had rushed to Kapurthala on hearing the news, said the death was due to food poisoning.

Kapurthala police refused to comment initially, but later admitted that no postmortem was conducted as a case had not been lodged. “It is a natural death,” a district police spokesman said.

Rosy’s death has left behind a trail of unanswered questions. Many government officials here suspect it to be suicide.

No one in the government, however, is willing to go on record on what the actual cause of Rosy’s death could be. “You have three contradictory statements on the cause of death. While it is too early to jump to the conclusion that Rosy committed suicide because of personal problems, the matter should be thoroughly investigated,” a senior government official said.

“It is shocking,” said one of Rosy’s friends, who lives here. Refuting claims that Rosy committed suicide, she said: “She was not one who could take her own life.”

The hurried last rites within hours of the death are adding to the mystery. The incident will add to Badal’s woes as dissidents are bound to use the issue for political gains. “We will not raise the issue immediately. But yes, we will start an agitation soon to force the government to order a probe into the death,” a Gurcharan Singh Tohra loyalist said.    

New Delhi, April 21 
With the women’s reservation Bill hanging fire, the Election Commission is considering putting the onus of female representation in Parliament and legislatures on the political parties.

If the panel has its way, it will be mandatory for all parties to set aside a fixed quota of seats for women to retain their national or regional status.

“There will be no need then for a constitutional amendment Bill. There can be a simple amendment in the Representation of People’s Act,” said chief election commissioner M.S. Gill.

He added that the percentage of reservation will be left to the parties and they will be free to allot as many seats as they want to women candidates belonging to backward classes and minorities.

The Election Commission has summoned all parties to a meeting on April 29 where the proposal will be on the agenda, which also includes de-limitation of constituencies and the panel’s jurisdiction over government employees during polls.

The women’s Bill has been in limbo for the past five years following the failure of successive governments to push through the legislation in the face of opposition from various groups, including the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

The opponents of the Bill, which seeks to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in Parliament and Assemblies, have spiked the legislation on the ground that it does not include a separate quota for those from the backward classes and the minorities.

The anti-reservation lobby will find it difficult to shoot down the Election Commission’s proposal since it will give the parties freedom to decide the percentage of seats for backward and minority women.

“The fact remains that none of the parties wants to leave seats to women,” said a Left leader. Apart from the social justice parties of Mulayam Yadav and Laloo Yadav, sections of the BJP and the Congress have opposed the move to set aside 33 per cent seats for women.

The Election Commission believes the parties will find it embarrassing to reject its proposal once the ticklish issue of percentage of seats for backward and minority women is left to them to decide. “On what grounds will these parties now oppose the Bill?” asked CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan.

For the past few months, Gill has been informally interacting with political leaders to sound them out on his proposal.

The Election Commission is aware that the parties may leave “losing seats” to women candidates — and to prevent this, it wants to link reservation to survival and power for political formations.

“For instance, if a party wants to hold on to power in a particular state then it will have to give winning seats to women in order to retain its tally,” Bardhan said.    


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