Khurana sacked in snub to Sangh
Open-ended CBI probe into match-fixing
Azhar quizzed on bookie
British Airways grounds city flight
Blaze at army ammunition depot
Parched prison explodes in rebellion
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 28 
Madan Lal Khurana was today sacked from the post of BJP vice-president for publicly challenging the Centre’s economic policies and speaking out against the Sankhya Vahini data carrier project.

The decision was taken in a high-level meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence in which home minister L.K. Advani and BJP president Kushabhau Thakre were present.

The former Delhi chief minister, who is now an MP from the capital, had yesterday made public a letter he had written to Atal Behari Vajpayee in which he alleged that the government had taken certain economic decisions “against the nation’s interest” and under US pressure.

Khurana threatened to follow up his missive with a notice for a discussion in the Lok Sabha under Rule 193 on three economic-related matters: the price hike and subsidy cuts, the exim policy and Sankhya Vahini. He had reportedly secured the support of some MPs from the BJP and its allies for serving the notice next week.

The BJP leadership is, however, not likely to expel Khurana from the party immediately. “A strong enough signal has been conveyed down the line,” a source said.

His sacking was interpreted in BJP circles as a rebuff to the RSS and the swadeshi lobby which has been campaigning against the same issues. The RSS had brought out a booklet against the Sankhya Vahini project, dubbing it as “anti-national” and had passed a resolution condemning the government’s move to facilitate restriction-free import of 1,429 agricultural and textile items.

The buzz in the BJP headquarters was that while the Centre may yield to its allies’ demands partially on price rise and the subsidiy cut, it may not “compromise” easily on the exim policy and the Sankhya Vahini. Sources said RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, who has consistently plugged the swadeshi line, was “habituated” to asking BJP MPs to pose “embarrassing” questions in the House and had possibly used Khurana to fire on the Sankhya Vahini project.

Within minutes of Khurana’s ouster from the vice-president’s post, some MPs, who had reportedly backed his notice quickly distanced themselves and pleaded ignorance. “When Parliament is on, we are constantly being handed over memos and other communiques for our signature. I must have signed Khurana’s notice absent-mindedly,” claimed Lal Muni Choubey of Buxar.

A senior BJP office-bearer said action may be taken against the “errant” MPs later. In its recent parliamentary party meetings, the MPs had been specifically directed not to publicise their problems but sort them out at the party fora. Therefore, sources said, the MP’s association with Khurana’s notice would be construed as an act of indiscipline.

BJP sources said Vajpayee had taken note of Khurana’s alleged meetings with former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar which were supposed to have become “frequent” of late. The Prime Minister is reportedly peeved with Chandra Shekhar who cornered him on Constitution review during his reply to the motion of thanks on the President’s address.

After a successful stint as Delhi chief minister from 1991 to 1996 — when he resigned following his implication in the hawala scam — Khurana was out in the cold.    

New Delhi, April 28 
The Centre today asked the CBI to probe the entire gamut of match-fixing in Indian cricket but made it clear that this was independent of Delhi police’s inquiries into the Hansie Cronje betting scandal.

The government, however, did not provide any term of reference to the CBI nor did it set the investigative agency any cut-off date.

It merely said that while Delhi police would take their investigations to a logical conclusion, the CBI was expected to probe the larger match-fixing scenario.

The brief indicates that the CBI is expected to unravel clandestine deals struck in the past but will have little evidence to base their case upon. The government has also laid down that care be taken to avoid unnecessary slander.

Much of the evidence the CBI is likely to stumble upon will be in the nature of one person’s word against another’s. Even if Manoj Prabhakar names the cricketer who tried to lure him with Rs 25 lakh, it will be his word against that of the other player who will obviously deny the charge.

Sports minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa announced the CBI probe in the Lok Sabha this morning. This was a follow-up to the meeting he held with cricketers and cricket organisation officials yesterday. Most members had insisted on a thorough inquiry by the CBI.

Rising to announce the inquiry, Dhindsa said: “The issue of match- fixing has been at the centrestage of media reporting for the past few weeks. It has also been debated in the two Houses of Parliament. I have already made statements, I had mentioned that the government will not hesitate to initiate an inquiry in the matter of match-fixing by any agency of the government as required.”

Spelling out the government’s policy, he continued: “The government believes that those who are guilty must be punished, those who are innocent must not be slandered, those who have evidence must cooperate and shall be given adequate protection, and those who make ill-founded allegations must be exposed.”

Dhindsa said the government had decided to entrust the CBI with the job of conducting an appropriate inquiry and taking necessary action keeping in mind the sentiments expressed by MPs, the sensitivity of the case and the complexities involved, as well as the issue of jurisdiction.

Prabhakar welcomed the government decision, saying that it was a “somewhat vindication” of his allegations on the issue.

“I will provide all details to the CBI,” he said, adding, “I will help all those who want to weed out corruption from the system.”

SC blow to Kumar

The Supreme Court today stayed the anticipatory bail granted to actor Kishen Kumar, reports our legal correspondent.

The court rejected the argument that Kumar was entitled to pre-arrest bail as his name was not in the FIR.

Kumar is in the custody of the Enforcement Directorate.    

Mumbai, April 28 
Mohammed Azharuddin has been questioned by Mumbai police in their investigation of the murder of a watch and diamond trader who also doubled as a cricket bookie.

Actors Sunjay Dutt and Sunil Shetty were also asked about their relations with Ashraf Patel, a jet-setting businessman who was shot dead on Monday as he was getting out of his car outside his home in central Mumbai.

Police spoke to the three celebrities over phone, but they have been asked to be available for further questioning in person.

Sources said that superstar Shahrukh Khan, too, would be questioned shortly. However, a PTI report said the investigators had already had a chat with the actor.

Patel, who was one of the city’s biggest retailers of Swiss watches and owned a string of galleries selling premier brands, was frequently seen with Azharuddin and had lunch with Dutt the day he was killed, deputy commissioner of police Jaijeet Singh said.

According to sources, Patel got a watch firm to sponsor the premiere of Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, co-produced by Shahrukh.

A senior crime branch officer believes Patel was the victim of rivalry between two betting syndicates. He was a regular visitor to Dubai and Sharjah, which, together with Mumbai and Karachi, form the betting quadrangle.

“Preliminary questioning of Azharuddin has been done. He will be questioned again and again,” Singh told Associated Press. “This is not a small case.”

“We’re working on the matchfixing link. He was definitely party to the matchfixing deal,” he added when asked about the possible cause of Patel’s murder.

Police inspector Feroze Ali, who is investigating the case, said actress Tabu would also be questioned. Tabu was present at the trader’s prayer meeting held at his residence in Noon Baker apartments in Agripada.

Known for his life on the fast track and his lavish parties — his collection of crystal and fine wine was the talk of town — Patel’s business dealings helped him build ties with cricketers, filmstars and models. He gifted a timepiece worth Rs 12 lakh to Yukta Mookhey after she won the Miss World title.

The trader used his clout to set up outlets selling the expensive watch brands in the exclusive Heera Panna arcade in Haji Ali.    

New Delhi, April 28 
Come October, Calcutta will disappear from the map of one of the world’s leading airlines. British Airways will stop flying to the city from October 30, snapping a once-interrupted relationship that dates back to the thirties.

The airline has decided to terminate its twice-weekly London-Calcutta flights at Delhi instead. It will also stop its five-a-week service to Dhaka via Delhi. The Bangladesh capital will be served by a separate routing.

Alan Briggs, British Airways head for South Asia, said: “Naturally we regret the decision to suspend services to Calcutta. However, this is a carefully calculated move based on commercial reasons and the continuation of the service could not be justified on economic grounds.”

“If market conditions permit a successful return, we will naturally be keen to resume services...We are now concentrating on an alternative seamless service for our passengers to and from Calcutta.”

This implies the airline will try to get Jet Airways, with which it has an inter-line pact, to draw up its winter schedule for Calcutta in such a manner so as to be able to pick up and fly down its passengers for the Delhi-London long haul.

Explaining the decision to terminate the flights in Delhi, a spokesperson for British Airways said: “There is greater demand from Delhi. It makes more sense.” Travel agents here said the demand for flights to Europe is highest in Delhi compared to all other South Asian cities.

Debasish Chatterjee of Citi Travels disagreed that flights to Calcutta were uneconomical. “I don’t think any London-Delhi-Calcutta operation is financially unviable.”

“But,” he added, “possibly it is more profitable to terminate the flights in Delhi, save fuel and pick up Calcutta passengers from your domestic partner airline.”

British Airways, which now operates out of Calcutta on Tuesdays and Saturdays, had once earlier stopped flying to the city in November 1985, complaining it was commercially less viable. But the company restarted its flights in 1993.

The airline, in its earlier avatar of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), was one of the first to operate flights out of Calcutta.

With British Airways’ exit, Calcutta will be left with a handful of international airlines: KLM, Thai, Aeroflot, Singapore Airlines, Royal Jordan, Royal Brunei, Druk, Biman Bangladesh and Royal Nepal.

Recent agreements between India and UK have restricted the number of weekly BA flights to 16, but allow the airline to reschedule its operations in any of the four cities it services.    

New Delhi, April 28 
An army ammunition depot at Bharatpur in Rajasthan exploded in flamed this evening, sparking panic among thousands of people living in the vicinity. PTI said late tonight one person has died.

Unconfirmed reports said people have stared fleeing homes as a huge column of smoke billowing from the warehouse enveloped the skyline. The depot stored heavy calibre shells of 130-mm long-range guns.

The fire, which broke out at 5 pm, was still raging at 10 pm. Fire engines have been requisitioned from Mathura and soldiers have been deployed to fight the fire.    

Titlagarh (Orissa), April 28 
Inmates of a local jail here, who have not had water to drink for the last two days, today rebelled against the authorities and threatened to break free.

As the mercury leapt to 48°C, 55 inmates baked in three cells without even an electric fan, stormed into the jail courtyard in protest and threatened to scale the walls. Panicky jail authorities sounded alarm bells as the prison guards tried to calm the agitators.

The prisoners, most of them undertrials, shouted: “Pani do nahi to mar do (give us water or kill us).” They began to throw cooking pots, pans and plates over the walls into the street outside the jail. Police reinforcements were brought in to control them. Policemen immediately occupied the high look-out posts surrounding the jail. Later a water tanker was brought in.

However, the agitators refused to drink the water saying they would do so only if the district collector apologised for the delay.

The inmates did not cook their food either and refused to eat the food offered by the jail authorities. “Treat us like human beings, not as beasts,” said Chitra Sen Kumbhar, a school teacher awaiting trial.

Fearing a water crisis, the jail authorities had written to the sub-collector on March 31 to arrange for at least one tanker of water every day in April and May. Jail superintendent Tarini Charan Behera said the inmates needed 6,000 litres of water a day for drinking, cooking and bathing. But he had sought only 1,000 litres in view of the water shortage in the area. “We thought we would manage but then even this one tanker did not turn up,” he added.

Behera said he had written to the Bolangir district collector to intervene but “our appeal fell on deaf ears”. The administration agreed to send one tanker only after the jail authorities petitioned the district and session judge. “At least the prisoners were getting water to drink. But, from Wednesday, the supply was abruptly stopped,” Behera said.

Last evening, the inmates threatened to strike work, including cooking and cleaning their cells. Behera immediately called the sub-collector who promised to sort out the problem.

“However, when trouble broke out today, we found that the sub-collector had left for Tureikela on an official tour,” Behera said.

Titlagarh block development officer Sahoo said he had informed the sub-collector of the trouble this morning, but did not know why he “he had not taken it seriously”.

The heat wave here claimed its first victim when a ticket collector died of heat stroke at a nearby railway station.    

Temperature: Maximum: 35.6°C (normal) Minimum: 27.4°C (+1) Humidity: Maximum: 92% Minimum: 44% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening Sunset: 5.59 pm, Sunrise: 5.08 am    

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