Delhi nod to new states
Cyber-cop government targets surfers in infotech B
Tigers await pause in air raid
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 13 
The Cabinet today approved the three Bills for the creation of the new states — Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh. The Bills will be introduced in Parliament on May 17, the last day of the budget session.

Although both Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh were in the pipeline for this session, the inclusion of the Jharkhand statehood Bill is a surprise. There was speculation that it could be delayed on procedural grounds as the Centre felt it needed more time to review the 40-plus amendments to the Bill made by the Bihar legislature before it was sent back to Delhi.

However, Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar, who was chief minister of Bihar for seven days before he quit for lack of numbers on the floor of the Assembly, reportedly met Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee a few days ago and underlined the need for not delaying the Jharkhand Bill.

Kumar said if the Centre put it off further, Laloo Prasad Yadav and his ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) would draw full political mileage by arguing that it was the BJP and its allies who were delaying Jharkhand. Convinced, the Centre has pushed through the Jharkhand Bill.

Cabinet spokesman and information technology minister Pramod Mahajan refused to elaborate when asked about the fresh amendments made in the Bills. He said the amendments could not be disclosed now since Parliament was in session and the Bills would be circulated among MPs first.

The Vajpayee government made it clear last week that it would introduce the states reorganisation Bills in the closing days of Parliament and did not want the Opposition to create a stumbling block. All three Bills have received the respective green signals from the Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh legislatures.

Although the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh legislatures approved the Bills sometime ago, it was only early last week that the Bihar legislature sent over the Hindi version of its approval and comments after adopting a resolution. These were studied by the Union home ministry which sent them to a number of ministries and departments like finance and law for their comments. The three Bills were placed before the Cabinet for its nod only after that.

The Bills propose to create separate states of Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh. While Jharkhand and Uttaranchal would be carved out of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively, Chhattisgarh would be created by delineating the tribals of Madhya Pradesh.

The RJD had earlier been opposed to the creation of Jharkhand. Laloo Yadav’s party had, in fact, run the campaign for the Assembly elections of March on a strident anti-Jharkhand ticket. But it had to change its tune after the elections and ensure its passage and approval in the Assembly following pressure from the Congress. The Congress is a coalition partner in the Rabri Devi government in Bihar and its support is essential for her to stay in power.

However, the RJD remains worried about the economic fallout since the proposed Jharkhand has all the mineral resources of Bihar which contribute a substantial amount to the national exchequer. Laloo has demanded Rs 1,80,000 crore as compensation for the truncated state. But the Centre believes that the RJD is not in a position now to obstruct the Bill in Parliament because of its political compulsions in the state. Besides, it has too few — only seven — members in the Lok Sabha.

The BJP has agreed to go along with the RJD in naming the proposed state in south Bihar as Jharkhand although earlier it was in favour of calling it Vananchal.

The BJP is not overly worried about the fate of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. But the party’s Garhwal and Kumaon unit leaders are not very happy with the way Uttaranchal’s geographical boundaries have been outlined in the Bill. They have been demanding that Hardwar be included within the proposed Uttaranchal.    

New Delhi, May 13 
Beware, Big Brother intends to keep tabs on you. The information technology Bill, which was cleared by the Cabinet today and will be placed before the Lok Sabha on Monday, proposes to allow the government to snoop into your private Net life.

The offending clause — number 73 (see chart) — makes it mandatory for cybercafes to maintain a record of all its subscribers and the websites they visit. The idea is to enable them to be in a position to provide a trail to police whenever there is a suspicion that a cyber crime has been perpetrated at a particular cafe.

The provision has been dubbed draconian by the National Association of Software Service Companies (Nasscom) and the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI). If the clause is retained when the Bill is passed, it could nix the dream of communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan of having cybercafes in every nook and corner of the country.

Objecting to the clause, Nasscom president Dewang Mehta said: “We feel that the amendments suggested by the (Parliament) committee on Clause 73 are not practical and would curtail free use and proliferation of Internet facilities in the country.

“It isn’t practical to force cybercafes to maintain details about all persons and the Internet sites they access. It is neither economically viable, nor will it help in curbing crime. The suggestion will hurt the growth of cybercafes and prevent lakhs of people from using the Internet.”

ISPAI secretary Amitabh Syngal said: “This clause could be used by the police to enter a house of an Internet subscriber who allows his friends to use his computer. Further, this would result in a establishment of a “police state” while the Internet is supposed to moving towards a free state. We will oppose this.”

While many cyber cafe owners are still unaware of the proposal, those who have learnt about it expressed concern.

“Nowhere in the world does such a law exist which keeps track of where you are going and what you are doing unless it is a matter of national security. The nearest example of such a system can be former Soviet Union or China. Even there things have changed. If the law is passed with this clause, we will protest,” said a cyber cafe owner in Delhi.

However, a similar clause has been incorporated in the licence agreements that the mobile phone companies have signed with the government and had helped Delhi police unearth the cricket match-fixing scandal involving Hansie Cronje.

The Bill also proposes stringent punishment for injectors of virus, such as the ‘ILOVEYOU’ bug that wreaked havoc in several countries last week. The committee has enhanced the fine to Rs 1 crore, instead of the earlier provision Rs 10 lakh. This has been welcomed by the industry.

The industry has applauded most of the other provisions in the Bill. “We feel that the Bill is well drafted and would facilitate e-commerce revolution in the country,” Mehta said.

But he frowned on the “re-registration” clause. “Websites are now hosted by even 10-year-olds and why should we unnecessarily force them to re-register their sites because when they register their domain names, they anyway provide all such particulars.”

According to Nasscom, e-commerce transaction in India could increase by 500 per cent to Rs 2,500 crore in the current financial year as against Rs 450 crore in 1999-2000.    

May 13 
There is a sudden lull in Jaffna with the Tigers unable to break through the Lankan army’s defences on the outskirts of the town.

The situation report released by the Sri Lanka government says attempts by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to breach the forward defences near Jaffna have come to naught. It adds that Jaffna is not in the grip of terror, as claimed by the Tiger lobby.

A statement issued by the LTTE from London virtually admits that it has not been able to make much headway since the successful strikes a few days ago.

The statement takes pains to explain the hiatus, saying the LTTE combat units are consolidating their newly-secured positions along the coastal belt of Jaffna, preparing for the final assault on the heart of the town. “Strategically important outskirts of Ariyalai, Manianthodam, Columbuthurai, sections of Passaiyur, Puliyankulam and Nedunkulam have already fallen to the Tigers, making the city-centre vulnerable to LTTE assault,” it says.

According to defence commentator Taraki, the LTTE does appear to have been checkmated for the moment, thanks to relentless strafing by the Israeli-built Kfir fighter bombers.

“They seem to be helpless against the carpet-bombing of their positions by the deadly Kfirs. Possibly they will try to break out of their bunkers during a lull. Strafing cannot go on endlessly, they would be hoping,” he said.

Even in the LTTE statement there is tacit indication of the Kfir bulwark. It says the Kfirs have been hitting civilian areas in Jaffna and Poonagarin indiscriminately, resulting in some casualties.

An AP report says curfew in Jaffna was lifted for three hours today after the Lankan army repulsed a dawn offensive by the LTTE. Three soldiers were killed and 38 injured, the report quotes a government spokesman as saying. Hundreds continue to flee towards India, the report adds.

Once the LTTE is able to find a way out of the raining bombs and crash through Jaffna’s defences, the rest will be easy for them. The Lankan government cannot afford to bomb the town itself as it could invite adverse international attention.

Surprisingly, Lankan soldiers have been able to put up a plucky show despite the talk of their low morale.

Colombo is quite calm, though both the Sinhalese and the Tamil communities are watching the unfolding events anxiously with contrasting emotions.

The Tamils seem to be excited about the prospect of Jaffna falling to the LTTE.

Shankaran, a young hotel executive, said: “I’m no great admirer of Prabhakaran. His intransigence has brought us lots of miseries. Still I’d indeed be happy if Jaffna is recaptured. It is the Tamil heartland — the Lankan army and the Sinhalese have no business to occupy it and drive us out. That’s a humiliation that should be set right.”

The Tamils in general seem disappointed that the Tigers “are not as fast as they would like the boys to be”. There have been some sporadic arrests in Colombo. Checks have also been intensified as a consequence of the Jaffna developments. But they do not seem to cool down the Tamil ardour.    

Temperature: Maximum: 37.9°C (+2) Minimum: 28.6°C (+3) Relative Humidity: Maximum: 02% Minimum: 51% Today: Another hot and humid day ahead. Maximum temperature likely to be 38°C Sunset: 6.06 pm, Sunrise: 4.59 am    

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