Landmine kills J&K minister
Backdoor entry for cyber police
Blast on mandir maker
Advani touches RAW nerve
Basu pilots holdback-BA drive
Calcutta weather

 
 
LANDMINE KILLS J&K MINISTER 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, May 15 
A Jammu and Kashmir minister was blown up in a landmine blast this morning, the first to be assassinated since insurgents returned to strike terror 11 years ago.

Fortyfive-year-old Ghulam Hasan Bhat, power minister in the Farooq Abdullah government, was killed when his car struck a landmine at Chamran Mandipora village in South Anantnag district. Four others, including two of his security guards, also died in the massive explosion.

Eyewitnesses said a crumpled mass of metal was all that was left of the bullet-proof car. The bodies were mutilated beyond recognition and the minister was identified from the remnants of clothings.

The Hizbul Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the assassination. A spokesman for the outfit call up reporters in Srinagar to say that Bhat was on the Hizbul’s hitlist for a long time for his “active participation in anti-movement activities”. He added that the outfit’s strike-list includes the chief minister and his advisers.

Describing the assassination as a “dastardly act”, Union home minister L.K. Advani blamed Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence for the attack, and said “it will only strengthen the people’s resolve to put down terrorism and bring back normality”.

In Delhi, a home ministry spokesman said Bhat’s killing was a desperate bid by Pakistani mercenaries to disrupt the dialogue that the government wants to hold with leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organisation of Kashmiri militant groups.

Islamabad does not want the Hurriyat leaders to talk with Delhi, the spokesman added.

A police official in Srinagar said Bhat was returning from his home in Dooru in Anantnag when his car hit a landmine at Chamran village on the Dooru-Qazigund road, 70 km from here. The minister was on his way back to Srinagar after spending the weekend at his native village.

The others killed were two security guards, Ghulam Qadir and Farooq Ahmad, a local National Conference leader, Ghulam Mohammad Wani, and the car’s driver, Rajeev.

Bhat’s murder is a blow to Abdullah’s efforts to paint an all-is-okay picture of the valley. The government has gone into an overdrive to bring back the tourists to Kashmir, claiming that “everything is perfect in paradise”.

The area has been cordoned off and a massive combing operation has been launched.

The valley reeled under the impact of powerful explosions as two Border Security Force personnel were killed at Kulhar village in Mandipore, near the site of the minister’s killing, when their jeep struck a landmine. In another incident, seven policemen were injured when their vehicle hit a mine at Nowgam Banihal on the Srinagar-Jammu highway.

Bhat, who represented Dooru Shahabad constituency, was elevated as minister of state two months ago. His wife and two children live in Jammu.    


 
 
BACKDOOR ENTRY FOR CYBER POLICE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 15 
The Centre today dropped from the infotech Bill a clause that would have allowed it to keep track of Internet surfers in cybercafes, but retained a more draconian one which critics said could be misused to enforce an “inspector raj”.

The Bill proposes to give police and government officers power to enter a public place, search and arrest without warrant any person present there on suspicion that he had committed or was about to commit a cyber offence.

The clause, number 79, empowers police officers of the rank of deputy superintendent as well as “any other officer of the Central or state government” who has been authorised to exercise the entry option. Any “public convenience, hotel, shop or any other public place intended for use by or accessible to the public” will be brought under the purview of the law.

Opponents of the law said the definition of a “place accessible to the public” could be stretched to curtail privacy and used as a potent weapon by law enforcers to harass individuals.

The clause has been made impregnable by a follow-up rule which says that the infotech Act will override any other law of the country.

The Bill made a tumultuous entry in the Lok Sabha today with the Opposition concentrating its firepower on another clause which sought to force cybercafes to record the name of every customer and the sites he visits. The provision, suggested by a parliamentary committee, had been cleared by the Cabinet on Saturday. However, it was abandoned today in the face of stiff resistance by the industry and politicians.

An angry Opposition stalled the government from passing the Bill today, protesting not just this clause but the entire legislation, which it said was too complex and needed to be studied further.

The Bill seeks to legally recognise and control e-commerce and monetary transactions on the Internet. “We support the Bill but feel that there is a need to study it further,” said Congress’ Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

Stung by the protest and wary of the Congress upper hand in the Rajya Sabha, infotech minister Pramod Mahajan agreed to let the debate continue into the next day.

However, Mahajan managed to land the Opposition in a fix by pointing out that this would mean the debate on the controversial Sankhya Vahini project might have to be curtailed or scrapped.

The Opposition is keenly awaiting the debate to expose the rift in the government over the project, which has been approved by the Prime Minister, but opposed by the RSS.    


 
 
BLAST ON MANDIR MAKER 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Faizabad, May 15 
Tension gripped the twin cities of Faizabad and Ayodhya as a powerful remote-controlled device, aimed at “eliminating” an influential leader of the Ram temple movement, ripped through the main gate of the district hospital, injuring him and 17 others.

Sri Ram Sharan Das Paramhans, the 95-year-old ailing chairman of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas Samiti, was taking a stroll in the hospital premises around 6.30 am when the bomb, wrapped around the handle of a bicycle, exploded.

Recuperating in hospital with a broken leg, which, general surgeon Dr Rakesh Tiwari said, is serious, the head priest said: “Some people don’t want to see the completion of the Ram Janmaboomi Mandir in Ayodhya, but they have failed.”

Sitting in a heavily-guarded hospital bed, the mahant added: “Some people have made an attempt on my life, but I’m not worried. I will die only when Ram Lalla has a mandir built for him in Ayodhya.”

District magistrate Navneet Saigal, who has asked for the mahant’s security to be upgraded to “Z category”, said the remote-controlled device was targeted at the priest.

Ram Sharan Das Paramhans, mahant of Digambar Akhara, one of the most powerful in the country, had been in hospital for almost three weeks, being treated for hydrosil. He had been going out for morning walks for the past four days.

Senior police officials do not rule the involvement of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in the attack. The Gorakhpur-Faizabad belt is an important networking zone for the ISI, the porous border with Nepal making it easier for them to execute their plans. Only four days ago, Faizabad police had recovered a huge cache of arms following a raid on a house.

Police said they have identified some people whom they suspect to be behind the blast. But they refused to divulge names.

Incensed by the attack, the Sangh parivar has called a bandh in Faizabad on Wednesday.

In Delhi, VHP leader Ashok Singhal called for a nationwide bandh, while condemning the “heinous” attack on the mahant. Singhal asked the government to crush ISI activities in the country with an “iron hand”.

Addressing a news conference along with VHP general secretary Praveen Togadiya, Singhal demanded the arrest of the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in Delhi, Syed Bukhari, for allegedly claiming to be an ISI agent.

At a recent public meeting, the Imam had sarcastically said he was an “ISI agent”. “No civilised society can tolerate it. He is openly encouraging Muslim fundamentalists,” Singhal said.    


 
 
ADVANI TOUCHES RAW NERVE 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, May 15 
Going beyond its brief, the Union home ministry will now “task” the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Directorate-General of Military Intelligence so that these agencies can unearth actionable intelligence.

The home ministry had set up a Core Intelligence Processing Unit in September last year to activate the Intelligence Bureau (IB) so that the internal security service would answer to demands of timely and actionable intelligence. But North Block has now entered an area which is specifically dealt with by the Cabinet secretariat and the army headquarters.

The move to “task” RAW may not go down well with the external intelligence agency and the Cabinet secretariat, to which it reports.

In the case of IB, the home ministry did not face much “opposition” since it is the cadre-controlling authority of all the agency’s operatives. Though the IB director is accountable to the Prime Minister, the agency sends all intelligence inputs on security and counter-intelligence to the home ministry.

RAW also sends reports to North Block, but only on a “need-to-know basis”. The agency’s chief reports directly to the Prime Minister. Most officers belong to a separate cadre service — the Research and Analysis Service. Although RAW chief A.S. Dulat is from the Indian Police Service, the presence of IPS officers in the agency is negligible.

The Subrahmanyam Committee, which reviewed the events leading to the Kargil intrusion, had held RAW primarily responsible for the intelligence failure.

The military intelligence wing also functions independently, though it sometimes sends inputs on Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast to the home ministry.

The intense rivalry between RAW and IB on one hand and the military intelligence wing on the other is no secret. It has also been referred to by the Subrahmanyam Committee. The army has often complained about the secret services’ “unwillingness” to part with sensitive intelligence.

There have been several instances — Kargil was a classic example — when the three agencies did not share intelligence, with disastrous consequences. In the past attempts have been made to “coordinate” their activities, especially in Kashmir and the Northeast.

North Block officials argue that “tasking” RAW and the military intelligence wing is essential, even if it is only on an “informal” and “case-to-case” basis.

The aim of the home ministry’s intelligence-processing unit has so far been to prepare a broader assessment of national security and, on the basis of intelligence inputs received, task the IB and paramilitary forces to produce “actionable” intelligence.

“Neither is any attempt being made to encroach into other people’s territory, nor will operational matters be affected,” an official said.

“It is simply an attempt to analyse inputs which have a bearing on the country’s internal security which, in today’s environment, is intertwined with external security,’’ he said.

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BASU PILOTS HOLDBACK-BA DRIVE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 15 
In a rare show of solidarity, industry and government in West Bengal have forged an alliance to persuade British Airways to continue and intensify its operations to Calcutta.

Spearheaded by industrialist B.M. Khaitan and the Indian Chamber of Commerce, which galvanised the state government into action, the move has now involved chief minister Jyoti Basu and all Members of Parliament from West Bengal. The Bengal brigade has mounted pressure on the Centre to abandon a policy that gives the East and Calcutta a patently raw deal.

Basu has written to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The MPs, too, are likely to meet him and present a memorandum soon.

British Airways announced late last month that its twice-weekly (Tuesdays and Saturdays) flights to Calcutta will be terminated at Delhi from October 30. The announcement shocked industry because it came even as traffic from Calcutta was increasing, as studies carried out by the Chamber and the government show.

In separate representations to British Airways and the Centre, the Bengal brigade has suggested that Calcutta be taken out of the purview of the recently concluded India-UK bilateral agreement on landing rights. British Airways should be allowed to fly Calcutta-London and its flights to Dhaka should fly Dhaka-Calcutta-London-Calcutta-Dhaka. This will allow for three to five weekly flights between Calcutta and Dhaka.

Problem: Even if British Airways is willing, the Centre has to make the crucial decision of allotting privileges outside the bilateral agreement.

A source associated with the studies suspected the ministry of civil aviation might well say that where British Airways chooses to terminate its flights is not its concern. The Centre’s responsibility technically was negotiating the bilateral agreement that has allotted 16 flights in the India-UK sector. “The ministry can say that BA is free to move some of its flights from Delhi to Calcutta,” the industrialist feared.

But the Bengal brigade is unwilling to accept such an agreement. It has pointed out that BA wanted to increase its number of flights to India but the proposal was not enthusiastically received by Delhi. First, because this would have meant Air India accepting the reciprocal offer of additional flights to London, which it could not for lack of enough aircraft. Second, the British were unwilling to give the additional landing-departure slots in Heathrow but offered berths in distant Gatwick.

As a result, the recently-concluded bilateral agreement allows only three additional flights by each country. The British government has decided to allot these flights to Virgin Airlines. This means British Airways has not been able to expand in the India-UK sector.

Against this background, the Centre’s policy of sticking to the letter of the bilateral agreement but not its spirit will take a toll on the East and Calcutta.

As a leading member of the chamber put it: “People are not for policies; policies are for people. Air India has systematically ignored the East. So, the other airlines filling the vacuum should be encouraged, not penalised.”    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 36°C (normal) Minimum: 25.8°C (normal) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 95%, Minimum: 47% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be around 37°C. Sunset: 6.07 pm Sunrise: 4.58 am    
 

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