Delhi first step towards nuclear check
Bandh drowns Atal speech
Jairam tirade nettles Cong
Centre set to resume talks with Naga rebels
Inheritance boost for women
Kamtapur party plans protest
Family wants Barc scientist to return to roots

 
 
DELHI FIRST STEP TOWARDS NUCLEAR CHECK 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
New York, May 11 
On the second anniversary of the Pokhran-2 nuclear tests, India has embarked on the difficult journey of becoming a part of the global non-proliferation regime. This involves accepting the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) even if New Delhi continues to resist putting its signature to either of these treaties.

At the NPT review conference now going on here, delegates from across the world are interpreting external affairs minister Jaswant Singh’s statement on NPT in Parliament on May 9 as a historic first step towards joining the mainstream in global non-proliferation.

Jaswant Singh told both Houses of Parliament: “Though not a party to the NPT, India’s policies have been consistent with the key provisions of NPT that apply to nuclear weapons states.”

This is the first time since NPT went into force nearly three decades ago that New Delhi has gone on record as conforming to the commitments imposed by the treaty on a state which is signatory to it. In the past, successive Indian governments have simply torn the treaty apart as being unequal and discriminatory.

The Atal Behari Vajpayee government is already committed to the key provisions of CTBT and has imposed a voluntary moratorium on further nuclear testing although it has refused to sign that treaty as well. Further, the Prime Minister has repeatedly said that India will not stand in the way of CTBT entering into force.

But that is not all. Three weeks ago, a group of Indian officials were in Washington for quiet talks which significantly expanded India’s export control regulations for sensitive weapons materials, a key demand on New Delhi by the international community in the light of the Pokhran-2 tests.

These talks brought in chemicals and organisms as part of India’s composite export control regulations, thus including biological and chemical weapons into their ambit.

India is still not part of any global export control regime. But significantly,in rationalising its export control laws during last month’s talks in Washington, Indian officials followed the parameters of the chemical weapons convention, to which it is a signatory.

Delegates to the NPT review meet here believe that although the external affairs minister was addressing the Indian Parliament, his statement was aimed at those assembled in New York. As a non-signatory, India is not represented here and New Delhi has refused to take part in the review as an observer.

The ground for Jaswant Singh’s historic statement to Parliament had already been prepared by Kamlesh Sharma, India’s permanent representative to the U.N. here. Responding to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s remarks on the opening day of the review conference, Sharma had said that while India could not join the unequal NPT, “this does not mean that we do not hope that the treaty will succeed. we remain advocates — very strong advocates — of global nuclear disarmament, despite being a nuclear power”. Sharma’s statement wishing success to the NPT in seeming contradiction to the Indian stand hitherto had created considerable discussion in the conference lobbies.

Jaswant Singh’s categorical assertion on the eve of the Pokhran-2 anniversary that India will fulfil the requirements of NPT even if it is not a party to the treaty has made Indian intentions of joining the global non-proliferation mainstream clear. Jaswant Singh also made it clear in Parliament that New Delhi’s record on fulfilling the responsibilities of nuclear weapons states under the NPT regime is exemplary — indeed,he said it was a far better record than those of the five nuclear powers accepted by the NPT.

It has not been lost on delegates to the npt review that once again, for the first time, india used NPT as a benchmark for judging its record on non-proliferation instead of simply turning its back on the treaty as it used to. It struck a chord among a large number of delegates who, although signatories to the NPT, are extremely critical of the proliferation record of the nuclear powers.

Ironically, these developments relating to India’s nuclear policy coincided with a statement by White House spokesman Joe Lockhart who was asked about China’s refusal to guarantee that it will not sell nuclear and missile technology to countries like Pakistan and Iran. Lockhart said: “We are better able to make our points and to articulate our national security concerns when we are engaged and we bring China into rules-based organisations rather than by isolating China.” New Delhi’s hope is that U.S. and the rest of the world will one day say this openly about India’s status as a nuclear weapons power as well.    


 
 
BANDH DROWNS ATAL SPEECH 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
May 11 
A vociferous Opposition, screaming solidarity with the 24-hour Left-led bandh against the price rise, did not allow Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to voice his statement in Parliament on the Indian population touching the billion mark today.

The trade unions claimed the strike was a success, while the government dismissed it as a “flop”. The countrywide bandh, called by 56 organisations, paralysed life in Calcutta and elsewhere in West Bengal.

In Parliament, a determined Opposition today crippled the functioning of both the Houses. Protesting the rise in the price of essential commodities and the government’s refusal to roll it back, a large number of MPs rushed to the Well of the House and shouted slogans, forcing the presiding officers to adjourn the Houses.

Vajpayee was forced to read out his prepared statement outside Parliament.

Though the Congress did not take part in the bandh, it was on the forefront of protests in both the Houses. In Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi made a plea for rollback.

Lok Sabha was first adjourned soon after Question Hour began as MPs from the Congress, Left parties, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Republican Party of India rushed to the Well demanding rollback, saying bandh had been called in protest against the government’s decision. Within 10 minutes Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi adjourned the House till 2 pm as the bedlam reached a crescendo.

The act was replayed at 2 pm as the Opposition members again trooped into the well of the House shouting slogans. In the din, the Speaker adjourned the House till 4.30 pm. The Opposition raised a ruckus again at 4.30 am and the chair adjourned the House for the day. In Rajya Sabha, too, the Opposition was clamorous. The House was adjourned thrice at 11 am, 12 noon and at 2 pm for the day. The members raised slogans such as “Bol Mazdoor, Halla Bol”.

Government sources ruled out the Congress demand for a discussion on subsidy cut.

Dubbing the strike as “anti people”, BJP spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu claimed that the strike was a failure. He said the Opposition wanted to show that they succeeded in paralysing the House as the bandh outside had evoked poor response.

The trade unions have claimed that the strike was a success. Barring the Congress-affiliated Intuc and the BJP-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, all trade unions joined the strike.

“Over two crore workers participated in today’s strike which had an impact greater than the general strike in December two years ago,” said Citu general-secretary M.K. Pandhe.

Trade union leaders claimed greater participation than before from the unorganised sector. “Fifty lakh state government employees of a total of 70 lakh participated in the strike,” said labour leaders. They also hailed the large-scale participation by central public sector, bank and insurance employees. In West Bengal, the strike was total and by and large peaceful. The Trinamul Congress, the BJP did not take part and the Congress did not actively oppose the bandh.

Flights were severely affected. A total of 59 flights, including seven international ones, were cancelled. Several Howrah and Sealdah-bound long distance trains were detained at various stations as bandh supporters blocked railway tracks.

Youth and children took over the streets since morning with shops, markets and business establishments being closed and transport being off the roads. Attendance in government and other offices was thin.

Metro Railway authorities decided not to ply trains after about 60 CPM workers entered Dum Dum station and threatened the staff.

CPM youths stopped vehicles and deflated their tyres in front of the New Alipore police station.

The CPM’s labour arm, Citu, justified the party workers. “Bandh supporters have every right to convince people not to join work,” said Chittrabrata Majumdar, Citu state secretary.    


 
 
JAIRAM TIRADE NETTLES CONG 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 11 
The Congress high command today asked Jairam Ramesh, secretary of the AICC’s department of economic affairs, to either publicly disown his tirade against Sonia Gandhi or face stern disciplinary action.

Ramesh was reported to have said that under Sonia’s leadership the party would not return to power in the next 50 years. He was also credited to have compared the Congress chief with Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi.

Party sources said Ramesh will face stringent disciplinary action if he does not distance himself from the remarks made in Asiaweek magazine and Vaarta, a Telugu daily. This is the second time within a month that Ramesh is in trouble. Earlier, the Andhra Pradesh unit of the party had demanded action against him after he was offered a membership of the Chandrababu Naidu-led Economic Advisory Council.

Although Ramesh could not be contacted — remaining unavailable to even senior leaders like Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Ambika Soni and Margaret Alva — sources close to him said that many party leaders were in touch with him.

Though a Sonia aide claimed that Ramesh had told a former MP that he had been “misquoted”, party sources said the economist has written to the AICC chief explaining the circumstances in which he made the remark, but did not disown them. Sonia, they added, was consulting Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh to take a final decision.

Officially, the Congress has refused to comment, saying that they are ascertaining facts from him. Privately, however, party leaders admitted that Ramesh had crossed the “Laxman-rekha” of party discipline.

The high command, sources said, will wait for a formal response. But if he stood by the “unrecorded statement”, Ramesh would be removed as AICC secretary and vice-chairman of the Karnataka state planning commission, a rank at par with a minister of state. Party leaders said Ramesh — once considered close to 10 Janpath — had been disillusioned with the state of affairs.

He wanted a Rajya Sabha berth from Karnataka but was denied. Besides being an AICC secretary, he was also a member of Sonia’s think-tank and a regular contributor to her speeches.

A section of the Congress — including Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna, Murli Deora, Margaret Alva — is trying to save him from disciplinary action. Manmohan Singh and Ambika Soni also exuded confidence that Ramesh would “toe the line”.

But Ramesh-baiters allege that he has struck a deal with the Telugu Desam Party and the BJP and was set to go the P.A. Sangma-Sharad Pawar way.

With quite a few fence-sitters and dissidents unhappy with her style of functioning, the Sonia camp, sources said, is keen to avoid disciplinary action as it could precipitate a crisis. As a dissident leader said: “We are waiting for some action. Once she cracks the whip, there will be more trouble.”

MPs close to Sonia feel that if Ramesh does not relent, stringent action should be taken. “He is not indispensable. No doubt he is a good economist, but there are dozens who have similar calibre itching to join the Congress,” said an MP from West Bengal.    


 
 
CENTRE SET TO RESUME TALKS WITH NAGA REBELS 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, May 11 
The stalled meeting of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group (CFMG) between the Centre, Nagaland government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) is set to resume in the first week of June after a gap of five months.

Although no date has been finalised yet, the meeting, to be held in Dimapur, is being considered significant since it could be the prelude to a resumption of the political dialogue between the Centre’s principal interlocutor, K. Padmanabhaiah and the NSCN(I-M) leadership. The talks could not be held in February following the arrest of the outfit’s general secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah, in Thailand in January. It is believed that the government has opened a “third channel’’ of dialogue with the NSCN(I-M).

The meeting between Padmanabhaiah and Muivah was scheduled to take place in The Hague in early February. Since then the political dialogue for ushering in peace in Nagaland has remained in cold storage primarily because Muivah has steadfastly refused to “appoint’’ any other leader from his outfit to carry forward the talks abroad.

Padmanabhaiah is believed to be keen to talk to the NSCN(I-M), but the government continues to maintain that the talks could be continued only if Muivah selects a “deputy’’ to head the insurgent group till as along as he remains incarcerated in a Thai jail.

Nonetheless, the resumption of the tripartite CFMG, which was brought to an abrupt end by the Nagaland government after the NSCN(I-M) ambushed and tried to assassinate state chief minister S.C.Jamir somewhere between Dimapur and Kohima, in November.

The CFMG’s role was to meet almost every month and monitor whether any of the parties, including NSCN(I-M) cadre and the security forces, violated the agreed ground rules.

“The Nagaland government was furious over the evident hand of the NSCN(I-M) in trying to kill Jamir. Moreover, it was clear violation of the ground rules between the Centre and the insurgent outfit, not to mention the charter of the CFMG,’’ an official said.

The arrest of Muivah and the subsequent “silence’’ on the part of the NSCN(I-M) leadership and the cadre, also contributed to creating a generally “fluid situation’’, preventing the Centre, the state government and the underground outfit to shy away from restarting the CFMG meetings. Just before the attempt on Jamir’s life, the NSCN(I-M) representatives had sprung a surprise on the Centre, stating that they were “not authorised’’ to pursue any “substantive’’ discussions at the CFMG.

Additional secretary in the Union home minister, P.D. Shenoy, who is the chairman of the CFMG, will preside over the next meeting in June.    


 
 
INHERITANCE BOOST FOR WOMEN 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, May 11 
In a major step effecting sweeping changes in Hindu law regarding succession and inheritance of property, the law commission has recommended to the Union government to confer equal property rights on Hindu women, including coparcenary rights for daughters.

Once enacted, it would be the first time in the nation’s history and in Hindu law that girl-children would have equal rights and control over inherited property.

So far, under the Mitakshara system of Hindu law — followed by almost all Hindus in India, irrespective of region and language — only males constitute a coparcenary.

In lay terms, coparcenary means that along with a Hindu father, his sons constitute a body corporate which would share the property in the event of a partition. After the death of the `karta’ (father) of a family, the elder son becomes the karta, while the other sons form the coparcenary. So far, women have been excluded from it.

The proposed amendments stipulate that daughters of a Hindu father or karta would also have coparcenary rights, if there is a partition or if the father dies. So far, only sons have been getting their share after the death of the family head, and the daughters — married or not — kept away.

“Despite the Constitution having proclaimed equality before the law as a fundamental right, a daughter is excluded from participation in ancestral property merely by reason of her sex and this is certainly discriminatory,” Justice Leila Seth, member of the law commission, told reporters.

“The Mitakshara system of the joint Hindu family permits only males to be members of the coparcenary and devolution takes place by survivorship rather than by succession,” she pointed out.

In 1986, Andhra Pradesh had passed Act 13 of 1986 amending the Hindu Succession Act to confer equal property rights to Hindu daughters. Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra followed the Andhra model. Kerala went to the other extreme, abolishing the joint Hindu family system. Now with the Union enactment, the amendment would be applicable nationwide.    


 
 
KAMTAPUR PARTY PLANS PROTEST 
 
 
FROM KESHAV PRADHAN
 
Siliguri, May 11 
Barely a day after clashes between police and Kamtapur activists over a road block near the Bengal-Assam border, the Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP) has decided to organise more such blockades in Darjeeling district tomorrow.

The KPP, which is spearheading the agitation for a Kamtapur state for Rajbanshis in north Bengal, shifted its agitation here when state authorities are worried about reports of Kamtapuris receiving support from their brethren in Assam and Nepal.

KPP central committee president Atul Roy said: “We are holding the blockades to demand compensation for the victims of yesterday’s firing, a judicial inquiry into the incident and an immediate halt to harassment of innocent Rajbanshis by the police.”

He said efforts were on to organise similar blockades in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar tomorrow. He added: “We have not been able to contact our leaders in the two districts because of the bandh today.”    


 
 
FAMILY WANTS BARC SCIENTIST TO RETURN TO ROOTS 
 
 
FROM UTPAL BANERJEE
 
Meerapotabazar (Burdwan) May 11 
Prithwish Sain is determined to fight his battle against his superiors at the country’s nuclear cradle, but his fellow villagers want their son of the soil to return to his roots.

Thirtythree-year-old Prithwish says he was forced to wage a war as Bhabha Atomic Research Centre denied him research facilities and “feasible” projects. Without salary for two years, the health physicist says penury has compelled him to put his kidney on sale and raise Rs 5 lakh.

The authorities have denied the charges and advised him to seek “psychiatric treatment”.

Concerned by his plight, Prithwish’s family now wants him to come back to the village and till the land.

Says elder brother Pannalal: “I told him so many times he has better things to do. Let him come back. He is fighting a losing battle against all powerful authorities. They will not just allow him to grow there. We’ve lost all peace ever since we learnt from newspapers that he was planning to sell his kidney.”

Prithwish’s ailing 65-year-old mother is devastated and has offered to sell her only asset: a 22-bigha plot of land.

Buddhadev, the youngest of the three brothers, too, wants Prithwish to return instead of carrying on the fight against the “hostile” Barc.

Buddhadev, who has M. Com and M. Phil degrees from Burdwan University, looks after his family’s cattle. “I would rather tend cattle than beg the political dadas for a school teacher’s job,” he says.

According to Buddhadev, his brother’s ordeal began as soon as he joined the super-conductivity department in Tata Fundamental Research Centre. He worked there even on Saturdays and Sundays without any remuneration or stipend.

Apart from academic deprivation, Prithwish has accused his bosses at Barc of instigating mental torture and physical assault. He has also alleged that after Barc transferred him to IRE Aluwa in Kerala in July 1998 — a public sector undertaking — the unit there refused to let him join.

Prithwish’s former teachers are standing by their star student. Says Debiprasad Ghosh, retired headmaster of Kaity Nibaran Chandra High School: “Prithwish was our pride possession. He was a brilliant student and could have opted for any better school. He stayed back as we wanted him to.”

Ghosh describes as “bogus” Barc’s charges that Prithwish is a shirker and publicity crazy.

Agreed Prof. Pradeep Duttagupta, retired head of chemistry at Vivekananda Mahavidyalaya from where Prithwish graduated. “He is a determined boy and very shy. It is unbelievable that he would bring any false charge against anybody,” he said.

Prithwish, however, is determined to fight and has told his family that he has many more battles to wage before he retires.    

 

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