US House keeps Pak in terror focus
Degree mafia traps teacher hopefuls
Stunned BJP to crack down on crossvote
Paswan snubs Opposition on data project probe
Police blink at sex abuse
LS ruckus on minority attack
Cloud on Christian marriage law

 
 
US HOUSE KEEPS PAK IN TERROR FOCUS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, May 5 
The public focus in the US on Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism is unlikely to go away, notwithstanding a careful effort by the Clinton administration to balance criticism of Islamabad and Kabul with back-channel talks to rein in the terrorists.

Three days after Michael Sheehan, the state department’s point-person for counter-terrorism spoke of Pakistan as a “friendly country” and let it off the hook of “state sponsor” of terror, pressure is mounting on Capitol Hill to begin hearings on Pakistan’s support to subversives across the world, including Kashmir.

Robert Wexler, member of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee and its sub-committee on Asia-Pacific, wrote to the panel’s chairman on Thursday seeking hearings on the state department’s latest report on global terrorism. The report, released on Monday, underscores a shift in terrorist activity from the West to South Asia, with Pakistan and Afghanistan as the hub of such subversion.

“I am increasingly concerned about developments in Pakistan, including the proliferation of terrorist organisations that threaten the US, India and our allies in the region. It is deeply troubling that the government of Pakistan allows terrorist organisations to operate for several of these rogue groups, including Harkat-ul-Ansar... which has also been linked to the Indian Airlines hijacking,” Wexler wrote.

Earlier, Sam Gejdenson, the ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee, had similarly sought hearings on Pakistan and international terrorism. The founder of the congressional caucus on India, Frank Pallone, had gone a step further, urging the Clinton administration to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Wexler’s demand comes at the end of a week which has generally been good for India what with the anti-terrorism report and President Bill Clinton’s open acknowledgement of the contribution of Indian-Americans to the US by declaring May as a month of Asian and Pacific heritage.

Support for India on Capitol Hill also received a major moral boost during the week when Congressman Jesse Jackson of Illinois joined the congressional caucus on India. Jackson, son of Rev Jesse Jackson, the tallest figure among African-Americans, brings with him the moral aura of his father to the caucus.

The hearings on Pakistan, demanded by Congressmen, is, however, unlikely to lead to any punitive action against Pakistan. Sheehan said at a briefing to release the anti-terrorism report: “I don’t believe Pakistan merits being designated as a ‘state sponsor’ (of terrorism). Pakistan is a friendly country. They cooperate with us on numerous terrorist issues... they have raised some issues which have been discussed at the highest levels by the President himself when he was in Islamabad, by the secretary (of state) and others. We continue to work with them.”

What the hearings will do, if they take place, is to continue the public spotlight on Islamabad which is now acknowledged here as being responsible for much of the violence in Kashmir.    


 
 
DEGREE MAFIA TRAPS TEACHER HOPEFULS 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, May 5 
B Ed degrees of over 6,000 students from fake colleges in Bihar have been cancelled.

Acting on reports sent by the vigilance department, which has been probing the multi-crore education racket in the state, the National Council for Teacher Education scrapped the degrees awarded between 1987 and 1992 by eight colleges.

“We were initially concerned about the fate of the students who were victims of the education mafia. But if they are allowed to become teachers, thousands of students will be cheated,” said an officer of the vigilance department.

Degrees received before 1992 have been declared invalid while those obtained between 1993 and 1998 are under investigation. The degree-holders have also been temporarily debarred from getting jobs in any state-run schools, colleges and universities.

Students from across the country had taken admission in these colleges. According to vigilance sources, 30 per cent came from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, 60 per cent from Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. There were over 700 students from West Bengal, the sources added. Some are already employed as teachers.

The disputed colleges, located in remote districts, were first registered under the Societies’ Registration Act and later granted affiliation by the NCTE, the regulatory body of teachers’ training institutes. But the affiliation was obtained fraudulently with the help of the state education mafia, which includes ministers, top officials and middlemen.

Initially granted provisional affiliation, the colleges existed only on paper till 1992. No classes were held. The students who enrolled after paying huge capitation fees were, however, allowed to sit for examinations in other colleges and get their degrees. In 1992, buildings were hired and classes started for the first time.

Four of the colleges have been identified as S.M. Zareef College of Education in Lalbag, Fakruddin Ali Ahmed TT college and S. Wakil Ahmed TT college in Laherisarai and National Teachers’ Training College in Madhubani. A fifth was the college in Katihar sanctioned by Cabinet minister Jayprakash Yadav. Yadav has been missing after the vigilance department asked its special court to issue an arrest warrant against him in the case.

All the fake colleges were run under the Lalit Narayan Mithila University at Kameswarnagar in Darbhanga. The vice-chancellor and several officers have been grilled by the vigilance department.

The special court has reserved orders on Yadav’s arrest warrant. The Cabinet minister met Laloo Prasad Yadav in jail yesterday and told him he had acted on the basis of reports by senior government officers. But Laloo did not appear to be convinced.

A minister in the Rabri Devi Cabinet said ministers were feeling extremely “unsafe” following the vigilance department move.

But the Rashtriya Janata Dal did not dub the case against the minister as a conspiracy by the BJP and investigating agencies. The proximity of D.P. Ojha, additional director-general of vigilance department, to Laloo is well-known and party circles felt the case against the minister would not have been pursued without his consent.

Jayprakash Yadav’s personal properties are being scrutinised by the vigilance and income-tax departments. Hundred cottahs of land purchased by the minister and his relatives near Baily Road have come under scrutiny.

Jitenram Majhi, a former minister of state for education allegedly involved in the case, has gone into hiding. But Majhi said over phone that he had been made a scapegoat by the vigilance department. “It is a cabinet minister like Jayprakash Yadav who could take a decision on such a sensitive case as this. A minister is not empowered decide on this,” he said.

The vigilance department, however, said both the ministers had been giving tacit consent to the operations of the education mafia.

   


 
 
STUNNED BJP TO CRACK DOWN ON CROSSVOTE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 5 
A shocked BJP top brass has taken serious note of cross-voting in the elections to the Uttar Pradesh legislative Council and decided to probe the malpractice and fix responsibility.

This comes close on the heels of the Rajya Sabha polls, which, too, were marred by cross-voting.

In the elections to the state Council yesterday, official candidate Sunil Shastri, a former Union minister, lost though the BJP has a strength of 180 in the Assembly. Shastri polled a mere 20 votes and BJP minister Ram Chand Balmiki scraped through by securing just 23 votes.

BJP vice-president Rama Pati Ram Tripathi was also defeated, while Independent candidate Jai Prakash, a liquor baron, won in the first round of counting along with chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta.

“We have taken this matter seriously and are inquiring into it. As it is by secret ballot, it will take time to find out those who had indulged in cross-voting. We will take action at an appropriate time,” party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said here.

He told reporters that the party’s central election committee today met at Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s residence to finalise candidates for the forthcoming byelections to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies.

The BJP has left the Aska and Panskura Lok Sabha seats to its allies — the Biju Janata Dal and Trinamul Congress. Aska fell vacant after Union minister for mines and minerals Navin Patnaik took over as Orissa chief minister. The byelections in Panskura was necessitated by the death of sitting member and veteran CPI leader Gita Mukherjee.

Senior party vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy presided over the meeting as party president Kushabhau Thakre was not keeping well. Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi attended the meeting, Naidu said.

For the Assembly byelections in Bhongira, Andhra Pradesh, the party will support the Telugu Desam while for the Raghopur and Jamui bypolls in Bihar, discussions with allies — Janata Dal (United) and Samata Party — are on, the spokesman said.

Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav, who also won from Danapur, has vacated Raghopur. Jamui fell vacant as sitting MLA Narendra Singh won from two Assembly constituencies and resigned from here.

The BJP is fielding Ashok Mandal for the Nirsa Assembly seat of the Dhanbad parliamentary constituency in Bihar, which fell vacant as sitting MLA Gurudas Chatterjee of the Marxist Coordination Committee was shot dead.    


 
 
PASWAN SNUBS OPPOSITION ON DATA PROJECT PROBE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 5 
Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan today rejected the Opposition demand to set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the Rs 1,300-crore Sankhya Vahini data carrier network project.

The Left parties led the Opposition charge on the government and asked for a JPC inquiry. But the minister turned down the plea, tossing aside fears that the project — a joint venture between the US firm IUNet and the Department of Telecommunications — would be a security threat. Dissatisfied with his reply, the Left members walked out.

CPM member Nilotpal Basu and J. Chitharanjan (CPI) demanded a JPC probe into the project and the manner in which the deal was clinched. They questioned the credibility of IUNet and said it was unclear who controlled the shares of the company.

Chitharanjan accused the government of taking the decision with “undue haste” by avoiding a global tender.

Countering the charge, Paswan said the Sankhya Vahini project would not affect national security. He said the joint venture would be subject to security regulations and its functioning would be monitored by the home ministry.

The minister argued that V.S. Arunachalam, a former scientific adviser to the defence minister who has been drafted in as senior partner, is well versed with the country’s security requirements.

The project, Paswan added, has got all required clearances, including that of the Telecom Commission and the Foreign Investment Promotion Board and was approved by the Cabinet on January 19, 2000.

However, the minister refused to pay heed to the Opposition’s request to table the legal documents related to the project.

Paswan clarified that the project’s equity structure has been designed to ensure that its control would not be with the foreign partner. Of the eight directors, three each would be from the Department of Telecom Services and IUNet, while one director will be nominated by the participating educational institutes.

He also assured the House that the project would be for data communication and would be subject to existing licensing conditions of the government.

Opposing the project, Congress MP Kapil Sibal said the economic and legal aspects of the deal lacked transparency and demanded that all facts be placed before the House.

Former army chief Shankar Roy Chowdhury, an Independent member, and the Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Nirupam echoed the Left’s security concerns and asked if the project had received clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security. The BJP and the Telugu Desam sprang to the minister’s defence, saying Sankhya Vahini was in the nation’s interest and had been approved by the Planning Commission.    


 
 
POLICE BLINK AT SEX ABUSE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, May 5 
Police are yet to register a case against the principal of St Xavier’s School whose alleged attempt to sodomise a 10-year-old student set off a storm of protests in the school compound yesterday.

The incident was taken up in an emergency meeting at the Bishop’s House today, where the church fathers discussed the circumstances leading to the flare-up. Though church officials refused to comment on what transpired at the meeting, insiders said the Bishop was informed of both versions — that of the principal and members of the parents’ body. According to them, some of the fathers were reluctant to believe that Father Peter, SJ, was entirely blameless and that the boy had misunderstood what counselling meant.

Piecing together the sequence of events, the Bishop was told that Father Peter, who had taken a special class for Class VIII students, looked for a thin 10-year-old after the class was over. However, the boy had gone for a debate, from where he had gone to watch an inter-class cricket match. It was from the playground that he was summoned to the principal’s room.

In the meeting, Father Peter brushed aside the allegation that he had tried to undress the boy. He said the boy showed some “behavioural disorder” and panicked when asked to hold his breath.

But in contrast to yesterday’s uproar, the school campus was calm today with the students not agitating any further in public. They, however, stuck to their demand for the principal’s removal. They even cited at least seven similar cases when the principal had allegedly tried to “sexually assault” some students.

The police have also refused to take action, saying the school administration should sort it out. “It is a minority school and we have to protect the dignity of the institution. But if the parents insist on pursuing the complaint, we have to take action,” said Patna district magistrate Amit Khare.

According to a father of a student, what is stopping them from filing an FIR is that it could not only jeopardise the boy’s career but also of all those who would have to testify if the case came up in court. The school administration is also under pressure from senior church members to remove the principal. The authorities are also probing another angle: the principal’s allegation that a section of teachers had instigated the students.

Allegations of sodomy by teachers in minority schools in Bihar are not new. In 1997, Father Christu Das was humiliated on the streets of Dumka after a student complained that he had been sodomised by him. Later, another priest was killed in Gumla in 1998.

However, realising the sensitivity of the issue, both the BJP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have refrained from making any overt statements. But the school has been flooded with telephone calls from other St Xavier’s institutions, expressing concern for the safety of the teacher.

   


 
 
LS RUCKUS ON MINORITY ATTACK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 5 
The Lok Sabha today witnessed heated exchanges between Opposition and BJP members over attacks on minorities and alleged anti-Sikh activities of the RSS.

The Centre contended that the findings of the National Commission of Minorities did not point towards a communal angle in many of the recent incidents. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said the report did not suggest “any majority-minority string” in many of the incidents it probed, many of which were actually “atrocities against citizens of the country and not aimed at minorities”.

Congress MP Priya Ranjan Das Munshi challenged the government to table the report and wanted to know whether the members who had raised the issue in the House were lying.    


 
 
CLOUD ON CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE LAW 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 5 
The tough posturings by the government and the Church have put a question mark on the fate of the proposed Christian Marriage Bill.

During their meeting with law minister Ram Jethmalani yesterday, the Church refused to give assent to the Bill unless the Centre amended a key clause in the legislation. Four representatives of the Church flatly told the minister they will oppose the Bill if it was introduced with the sticky clause.

According to this clause, the new law will only govern marriages between two Christians. Marriages between a Christian and one who is not will be covered by the Special Marriage Act.

The Christian representatives are also opposed to a provision in the legislation which places on a par a minister who solemnises weddings in Church and a civil registrar who conducts marriages, but does not have religious sanction.

“How can both a religious and a civil person share the same legal status?” the Church asked.

Though the government is keen on introducing the Bill this session, the standoff may force Jethmalani to keep it on hold until the differences are thrashed out.

During yesterday’s three-hour meeting, Bishops Alan De Lastic and Oswald Gracias entered into a verbal duel with Jethmalani along with their lawyers, Francis Julian and Jos Chiramel.

Jyotsna Chatterjee, director of the Joint Women’s Programme who has been plugging for a change in the 1972 Christian Marriage Bill, has been caught in the crossfire between the Church and the government.

Along with most Christian women, Chatterjee believes the Bill should be introduced at the earliest since many of its provisions would, for the first time, put a Christian man and a woman on the same legal footing.

Jethmalani seemed nonplussed by the onslaught launched by the Church and refused to give an assurance. He turned to Chatterjee, the only woman representative at the meeting, for help. Chatterjee said she was all for passing the Bill but the objectionable clause should be amended.

“What is the need to change the provision which already sanctions religious marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian in the existing Bill?” she argued.

The row has unwittingly pitted Christian women against Christian men. The Church appears to give religious sanctity topmost priority while pushing gender justice to the second place.

Christian women, on the other hand, feel they have won a crucial battle and the opportunity to push through a fair legislation in their favour should not be squandered in the squabble over a couple of provisions.

“The Bill is essentially pro-women and will set right a historic wrong. I hope the debate will not push it off the agenda,” Chatterjee said.

Once the legislation is introduced in Parliament, it is likely to have a hassle-free run since most MPs have petitioned the government to drop the “anti-women” Christian Marriage Act.    

 

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