Govt to table Bills for three states
Mamata in model citizen mode
Bet-busters on lady conduit trail
Battered witness behind iron curtain
British help for Kashmir widows
Court boost to district collectors
Atal attack sermon to archbishop
Uma swallows pride and protest

 
 
GOVT TO TABLE BILLS FOR THREE STATES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 7 
The Vajpayee government is going to introduce the three statehood Bills — Uttaranchal, Vananchal and Chhattisgarh — within the remaining 10 days of the budget session and does not want the Opposition parties to create any stumbling block.

All three Bills have received the assent of the legislatures in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Now they need parliamentary approval. The government does not want any of the Bills to be contested in either House.

The government is aware that Chhatisgarh alone would probably pose no problem. But Vananchal will witness acrimonious debate because the Rashtriya Janata Dal, which has ensured its passage in the Patna Assembly under pressure from Sonia Gandhi and the Congress, is worried about the economic fallout.

RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav has already demanded Rs 75,000 crore for a truncated Bihar which would no more have any access to the resource-rich south. Laloo has said even the new Vananchal administration would need another Rs 75,000 crore to set up its own establishment.

It cannot be predicted now how serious the RJD would be in stalling the early passage of the Vananchal Bill. Besides, there is a ray of hope because Laloo is aware that the RJD alone with its few MPs cannot really prevent the Bill from becoming a legislation.

In fact, it would be embarrassing both for itself and its Bihar coalition partner, the Congress, if it puts up roadblocks. The Congress has been insistent of late that Jharkhand would have to be given the separate state of Vananchal. The Congress wants to promote its own interests in southern Bihar. It has a substantial following there.

On the other hand, Laloo also knows that his influence will be limited to north and central Bihar. He will have a near-majority and will not be too dependent on Congress support in a truncated Bihar legislature. It is only the money that is worrying him.

However, if Laloo decides to create trouble he may also find some sympathy from the CPM which is against division of any state — a stand taken under pressure from the West Bengal unit of the party.

West Bengal is allergic to any talk of state division because it fears that it would prompt Subhash Ghising to renew his clamour for a separate Gorkhaland state.

The BJP itself does not have any worries of its own regarding either Vananchal or Chhatishgarh. But the BJP’s Garhwal and Kumaon leaders are not very happy with the way Uttaranchal’s geographical boundaries have been outlined in the Bill. They want Hardwar in it. Otherwise, they fear the nascent state’s exchequer will be deprived of huge tourism revenues that flow in during Kumbh Mela.

It is not just the BJP MPs from the region who are demanding the inclusion of Uttaranchal. This view cuts across party lines. Most politicians from the region are thinking along these lines.    


 
 
MAMATA IN MODEL CITIZEN MODE 
 
 
FROM JAGDISH YADAV
 
Balawali (Uttar Pradesh), May 7 
This railway minister will not deny anyone his rightful place. At least on a train.

It was the Mussourie Express. Mamata Banerjee, on way to Garhwal, had trooped in with an anxious entourage and headed straight for the one empty berth available: number 27. An old man, a freedom fighter, also climbed into the coach. Walking with difficulty, he looked around for his reserved berth. It was the same seat Mamata was occupying.

The officials cringed. They tried to make him understand that the minister herself was occupying his seat. But the freedom fighter — hard of hearing — would not listen. He wanted his reserved berth.

The argument reached Mamata’s ears. Rising with a jerk, she was now arguing with officials on behalf of the old man who had not yet made out who she was.

Mamata demanded another berth. How could the railway authorities deprive a freedom fighter of his rightful seat? She picked up her glasses and her Santiniketan bag of coarse fabric, and started looking for another berth. She was a minister and a model citizen.

The officials had to find her another seat.

At Old Delhi station, from where she boarded the train on Friday evening, she had established another example of fairness. Railway officials had lined up, waiting for her to board the AC first class compartment. A compartment-load of journalists and officials were to accompany her; but they were to travel in AC second class.

Clad in her crumpled, pink-white sari and her ever-present smile, didi made her way through the waiting crowd around 10.10 pm. But climbing into the compartment, she frowned. She would not be here with the journalists and junior officials in the second class. She came down immediately, shaking her head violently: she would travel with them. On board the second class, her smile returned; as did her voluble self.

The minister was going to Garhwal to attend a number of functions, including the centenary celebrations of railways in Doon Valley.

A fawning catering attendant served a special dinner to the minister — with the right crockery and cutlery. But the Trinamul Congress chief — eager as ever to prove her grassroots credentials, had already brought out her humble plastic box. It contained her ruti and alubhaja. But since the nervous attendant wanted her to have just a little from the tray, Mamata consented. Only a piece of fried bhindi. No, she was not allowed to have anything that was remotely jhaal.

The night lengthened. Mamata wanted the officials out of her way. But they would not budge: their insomniac minister was chatting away, keeping the dozen journalists awake.

Barkatda kept cropping up in Mamata’s conversation, a mixture of Hindi, Bengali and English. She kept talking about the proposed mahajot, Bidyut Ganguly’s suicide (she seemed to have liked Ganguly) and the issue of sending troops to Sri Lanka.

The early risers saw her standing at the open door. She was leaning out to find out the name of the station where the train had come to a halt. It was 5.30 am. The train was one hour late.

Railway officials had kept milling outside the first AC through the night at every station. It took a while for them to find out the minister had boarded a different compartment. The passengers knew that the minister was travelling in the same train. Some of them came and greeted her. Especially women passengers.

The minister had already cast her spell. A sub-inspector said he had never seen anyone so simple, so good-natured. “I am reminded of Lal Bahadur Shastri,” he said.    


 
 
BET-BUSTERS ON LADY CONDUIT TRAIL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, May 7 
The special team interrogating Bollywood actor Kishen Kumar in the crime branch headquarters in Mumbai has informed the Maharashtra government that the questioning will be over by tomorrow evening.

The minister of state for home, Kripa Shankar Singh, told The Telegraph that based on information given by Kumar, the Mumbai police will conduct more raids.

Police raided three houses in central Mumbai to get leads on the movements of a young woman, Yasmin, who is believed to have been a key conduit between the players and bookies during the Titan Cup in 1996 as well as the Pepsi series versus South Africa earlier this year.

Kumar is reported to have said during the interrogation that Yasmin worked closely in tandem with one Hamid Banjo Kassim, a middleman in South Africa. Kassim was met by London-based NRI Sanjeev Chawla when he went to South Africa last year.

Singh said: “We feel that some key pieces of the betting puzzle are in Mumbai, including bookies who had close links with cricketers. By tomorrow evening, we expect the Mumbai police (which is working with a team from the Delhi police) to give us complete details of the interrogation. This information can then be passed on to the CBI when asked for.”

So far, the interrogating team seems more than satisfied with the “extent to which Kishen Kumar has cooperated”.

The joint commissioner of police (crime), D. Shivanandan, has told the minister of state for home that today was “most fruitful”. According to police sources, the interrogating team asked Kumar whether he knew the watch trader and high profile society climber Ashraf Patel who was killed last week.

A senior police official revealed that Kumar had given vital leads that has led the trail of investigation to other relatively unknown operators who actually dealt with key cricketers whenever “business had to be discussed”.

“It is only now that names like Ashraf Patel, Yasmin and Hamid Banjo Kassim — unheard of earlier — are coming into the picture,” said a senior Mumbai police official. He said all three had easy access to the players’ rooms in their hotels and could always be spotted in the players’ enclosure during international matches.

The Mumbai police has asked for recorded tapes of about 10 international one-day matches, six of them in Sharjah. The team is expected to watch the closing overs of both the teams and check if the sequence of events in the matches were similar to what was discussed between players and match-fixers.

However, much would depend on the availability of the increasingly crucial tapes of conversations between Indian and South African cricketers and bookies during the Titan Cup.    


 
 
BATTERED WITNESS BEHIND IRON CURTAIN 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Agra, May 7 
Santosh Singh, a landless labourer battling for his life, is the “most protected” man in Agra. His claim to fame: he is the sole witness — and survivor — of a police brutality which claimed four lives.

At a private clinic here, where Santosh is gasping for breath — his neck is broken and deep gashes run through his badly battered head — the police form an impenetrable wall around him. “He is more important to us right now than even Vajpayee,” says R.P. Chaturvedi, the Etmatdaulah station house officer in charge of Santosh’s security.

Santosh saw the police shoot four farmers, his companions, at point blank range in the fields of Basai near Ferozabad on Tuesday.

The Dalit farmers had just returned from Tundla where they had taken their potato crop, to Basai, their village. The Tundla police shot at them to pass them off as the dacoits behind a masjid robbery.

When Basai, a mostly Dalit village, woke up to the tragedy, it also knew the police were behind the killings. There was a police cap under one of the bodies which bore gunshot wounds and electrocution marks.

The police claim the security ring around Santosh is for his own safety.

It takes more than an hour to penetrate the defence. An elaborate ritual takes place before anyone is allowed to visit Santosh. An officer takes out a register where the visitor has to enter all particulars, including his father’s name. The district magistrate or the superintendent of police usually grants the permission, but very few are finally allowed to meet Santosh.

At Santosh’s “VIP” room at the Goyal Nursing Home, Bhagwati, his wife, sits in a corner, absolutely still. She doesn’t utter a word. Her eyes fill up every time Santosh’s name is mentioned.

The doctor attending to Santosh is impatient to discharge him despite his condition. He says: “Santosh is ready to be discharged. I would have let him go three days back but his family insisted that he remain here for some more time.” The three deep gashes on Santosh’s nape and a strangulation mark on his neck, the result of his body being dragged over a distance, show no sign of healing, though.

His family wants Santosh not to leave the nursing home because they are afraid for his life, but unlike the police, they believe the police themselves will kill him off to eliminate the only witness.

“We fear for his life,” says Santosh’s nephew Darab Singh.

The police try to turn the table on Santosh’s family. “Khatra hai (there’s danger)” says a policeman. “But from his own people. They may kill him off to get hold of the compensation.”

But the villagers from Basai, who had brought Santosh to the clinic surreptitiously to avoid the police eye, react angrily. Like his family, they also feel that the police will try to kill Santosh. The villagers are also angry that the post-mortem reports of the dead have not yet been made public.    


 
 
BRITISH HELP FOR KASHMIR WIDOWS 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, May 7 
A UK-based charity organisation, which has worked in all major conflict areas of the world, including Bosnia and Kosovo, has decided to begin operations in Kashmir.

The organisation, Save the Children Fund, will come to the help of the orphaned children and widows of Kashmir as it feels that the magnitude of human suffering here needs immediate attention.

A study paper of the organisation says the 11-year-long violence in the state has left 60,000 people dead, besides orphaning 20,000 children and leaving behind 16,000 widows.

Martin Kelsey, the head of the organisation in India, announced his organisation’s desire to work in Kashmir while releasing the study report: “Impact of Conflict Situation on Children and Women in Kashmir”.

The study, sponsored by the organisation, was carried out by the sociology department of Kashmir University and a local NGO, Better World.

The study was based on detailed fieldwork carried out in all districts of Kashmir, involving 300 orphans (50 in each district) and an equal number of widows.

The project selected 300 families affected by militancy. Of these, 48 families have been adopted by the organisation.

Kelsey said: “Conflicts reflect one of the greatest abuses of children’s rights, resulting in exploitation, child abuse and poverty.”

Immediately after their fathers’ death, 163 of the 300 children had to leave their homes and live in unfamiliar and often hostile surroundings.

The study reveals more students drop out of school after the death of their fathers. They have to be content with working as domestic servants or in various workshops. Of these child labourers, only 71 per cent got regular wages.

Most were unhappy with their pay and felt exploited. Progressively, these orphans suffered from health problems, developed a negative personality and lost out in the job and marriage markets.

Of the 300 widows who were studied, only 36 were lucky to get remarried.

According to the survey, the widows were exposed to greater possibilities of sexual harassment, physical insecurity and inferiority complex.    


 
 
COURT BOOST TO DISTRICT COLLECTORS 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, May 7 
The Supreme Court has ruled that district collectors were empowered by the Governor to suspend a government servant under their jurisdiction.

The division bench of Justice V.N. Khare and Justice S.N. Phukan rejected an argument that suspension was a “major punishment” which could not be imposed by the collector of a district, who was empowered to hand out only minor punishments.

Baidhar Sahu, a stipendiary engineer in Orissa’s undivided Koraput district, challenged his suspension by the collector. The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) upheld his contention.

On an appeal, the apex court said the CAT’s view that “since the collector is empowered to impose only minor punishments, the power of suspension could not be delegated to the collector, as suspension is exercisable only in the case of major punishment is not legally correct”.

Disciplinary proceedings were only “in contemplation” against Sahu when the collector suspended him. Sahu contested it, claiming that the collector had no authority to suspend him in “contemplation of the departmental inquiry against him”. The CAT allowed the application, holding that the collector had no power to suspend the respondent. Striking down the CAT decision, the apex court said “such a view of the tribunal is neither borne out from a reading of Rule 12 nor on the interpretation of the order”.

The judges said: “We are of the view that once the collector was empowered by the governor to suspend a government servant, the said power continued to be exercisable by the collector even after delegation of power on the collector to impose only minor punishments”.    


 
 
ATAL ATTACK SERMON TO ARCHBISHOP 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, May 7 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee yesterday criticised the archbishop of Delhi and president of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, Alan de Lastic, in a one-to-one.

Vajpayee told de Lastic that the archbishop and his colleagues in the forum should not have questioned the National Minorities Commission report on the recent attacks on Christians at Agra and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh.

The archbishop had sought an appointment with the Prime Minister on the issue of reservation for Dalit Christians. He was granted an audience at the Prime Minister’s Race Course Road residence on Saturday evening.

Taking this opportunity, Vajpayee frowned on the doubts expressed on the commission’s report. The commission’s probe team, after visiting both the sites, had given a clean chit to Hindu fundamentalist organisations, whose involvement was initially suspected. The commission said in its report the motive was probably financial gain.

Last week, an angry Opposition came down heavily on the report in the Parliament and said they did not accept the conclusion reached by the commission.

The Prime Minister said he was hurt because the forum, which is a religious rights organisation, should not view the subject politically. The panel, he argued, was headed by a former judge, Mohammed Shamim, and doubting his conclusion was tantamount to questioning the credentials of an autonomous institution like the commission.

The Prime Minister assured the archbishop that he was critical of any incident of violence on any minority community. But his job was made difficult by “irresponsible” statements from “responsible” representatives of the minority community.

He said he had himself told all chief ministers that they should handle such incidents with authority and not let off the perpetrators of these crimes.

On the issue of reservation for Dalit Christians, the Prime Minister was categorical. He said he did not want to open a Pandora’s box by granting such a request.

Vajpayee argued that the issue of reservation had become murky. He said it would be easier to do something for poor Christians.

The Prime Minister pointed out that he was more interested in the policy of financially helping the economically oppressed. He said he would have to discuss the issue with the minorities who are now demanding these benefits along caste lines.

He felt that this was not the answer to the oppressed. He told the archbishop that there was a need for further debate on the subject and was unwilling to accede to this request at present.    


 
 
UMA SWALLOWS PRIDE AND PROTEST 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, May 7 
After seven days of high drama, Uma Bharti’s hunger-strike ended in anti-climax.

The fiery sanyasin, who went underground and resurfaced with fiery speeches against chief minister Digvijay Singh for his decision to retrench 30,000 daily-wage earners — ended her fast-unto-death when she gulped down a glass of juice this evening.

Even yesterday noon, Uma was confident of carrying on her crusade without a grain of food. “I have not broken my hunger-strike. Leave alone food or fruits, I have not even put a pinch of sugar or salt in my mouth,” she had said.

When she appeared at a public park this morning, she was still spitting fire. “We will cut off all electricity lines, stop water supply and the milkman and the grocer from going to the bungalows of Digvijay Singh, his ministers and his bureaucrats,” she thundered into the microphone. “Let them know what it means to starve.”

Before they could, Uma did. “My acetone level is so high I can get a heart attack any moment. I really cannot talk,” she told The Telegraph at around 1 pm.

For the next two hours she did not speak but sat on a cot under the shade of a tree. The police just stood by, belying hopes of arrest and forced-feeding.

But by then Uma had found a face-saver. She said Digvijay had met her delegation. “The chief minister has ousted daily-wage earners will be recruited whenever and wherever there is recruitment,” she said.

A little after 5 pm, the mother of Kishen, a dismissed daily-wage earner who committed suicide, came up to her with a glass of juice. “You will not die,” she told Uma. “If you die, who will carry on the agitation?” And the fast was over. Uma, however, has vowed to continue the fight and live only on a liquid diet.    

 

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