States crack Central Bill bottleneck
Selloff hits wall of missile metal
‘Intruder’ child stoned to death
Silent battle with loneliness
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 20 
The President and Governors can no longer hold back their assent on Bills passed by state legislatures without citing reasons for doing so.

An agreement was reached at today’s meeting between chief ministers and the Centre on amending Articles 200 and 201 of the Constitution and setting a time-frame within which the President and the Governors would have to spell out why they were against a Bill.

The chief ministers also reached a consensus on cooperating with the Centre to tackle terrorism. The Prime Minister has summoned a meeting of chief ministers on terrorism in August.

The decision not to allow Governors and the President to hold back Bills was unanimous. Almost all chief ministers felt that states could not implement laws cleared by the Assemblies because the legislation had not received the approval of either the Governors concerned or the President.

Henceforth, a Governor can withhold assent for one month. The President, who acts in consultation with the Centre, can remain silent on a legislation for a maximum duration of four months. No response in this respect would be construed as assent.

Home minister L.K. Advani, who briefed the media after the Inter-State Council meeting, said the decision was in no way an effort to curb the powers of either the Governors or the President. They will retain their right to seek clarifications from the state government, but they must act within the deadline set for them. Otherwise, states will suffer, Advani argued.

The home minister pointed out that 100-odd state Bills were either pending with the Union government or with the President. Advani said that in most cases, the Centre had asked for necessary clarifications from the states concerned, but the haven’t replied.

The chief ministers, however, differed on the use of Article 365. The law, allowing the Centre to dismiss a state government for not complying with its directives, has been referred to a sub-committee headed by defence minister. While some agreed with the law, others found it “repugnant”.

None of the chief ministers — including those from the Congress — objected to the government’s decision to review the Constitution. The Congress has often stalled Parliament to protest against the move.

A Sarkaria Commission recommendation that Governors should be allowed pensionary benefits was turned down by most chief ministers. They argued that such benefits should not be granted to persons holding offices to which they are nominated. Such reliefs should be given only to elected representatives, the dissenting chief minister said.    

New Delhi, May 20 
Following in Chandrababu Naidu’s footsteps, the Trinamul Congress has questioned the BJP-led government’s overdrive on the selloff track.

Taking tips from the RSS’ security objections to the Sankhya Vahini data carrier project, Trinamul leader Sudip Bandopadhyay has shot off a letter to the Centre, criticising its decision to divest its stake in Balco.

In his stern missive to divestment minister Arun Jaitley yesterday, Bandopadhyay pointed out that Balco possess secret knowhow on special alloys used for India’s ballistic missile programmes, and selling off the company would be against the nation’s security interests.

“There is no justification to sell Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd to a single private party,” the Trinamul leader said in his letter, which virtually accuses the Centre of having worked out its privatisation plans for the aluminium major based on wrong assumptions of its future profitability.

Balco has an unit in Asansol and some union leaders had met Mamata Banerjee last year, requesting her to intervene and stall a sell-off.

The letter attack coincided with the sparring between the alliance partners over seats in the coming Calcutta civic elections.

Just hours before Bandopadhyay’s move, Naidu had raised objections to the decision to sell off the steeped-in-loss Vizag steel plant, prompting three ministers — Yashwant Sinha, Jaitley and Dilip Roy — to sit with the chief minister and persuade him to allow the Centre to go ahead.

Naidu also insisted on being provided with a status report on the entire public sector divestment programme.

The double attack by the BJP’s allies is an extension of the battle waged by the two parties in Parliament. The Telugu Desam and the Trinamul had coordinated on the floor of the Lok Sabha to protest against the increase in prices of fertilisers and foodgrain sold through the public distribution system.

But amid the howls of protest, the government stood firm, refusing to rescind the decisions. The hard stand did not go down well with either party, which depend on the lower middleclasses and the poor for support.

By mounting pressure on the government, the two parties want the pace of reforms in the public sector to slow down as they fear these sudden spurts of liberalisation could further alienate their voters.

If the BJP buckles under the pressure, it not only stands to lose face and open up a pandora’s box on similar demands on a string of other harsh measures, it also faces the danger of slipping deeper into the red. The government expects to end this year with the highest-ever fiscal deficit of over Rs 1,11,000 crore.

Any mess-up in earning targets will mean the Centre will have to borrow even more to pay for its bills, an eventuality which, if repeated every year, could push it towards ultimate bankruptcy.    

Jamuvati (Barabanki), May 20 
A 10-year-old girl had to pay with her life for straying into a neighbour’s precincts, even as the entire village watched mutely.

Anita, who had come to spend the weekend at her uncle Changa Lal Raidas’ house here, was stoned to death on Friday evening by two women.

The child had unthinkingly chased her uncle’s calf into his neighbour Siyaram’s house. Furious, Siyaram’s wife Phoolmati and niece Purnamasi started hurling bricks and stones at the girl.

The dozens of villagers, who stood watching, refused to budge even when Anita fell bleeding and unconscious on the ground, hit by a brick on her chest.

She was taken to a nearby hospital only after Raidas, on hearing the commotion, rushed towards the crowd. But by then it was too late.

The sleepy village of Jamuwati had never witnessed a more gruesome incident. It has shaken even the Barabanki police, a hardened lot, as the district is one of Uttar Pradesh’s most violent zones. The killing was an act by rakshashis (female demons), said a policeman.

Says Braj Bhushan, superintendent of police in the district: “Barabanki has seen many crimes but something like this had never been witnessed before. I can understand hardened criminals doing something like this, but housewives?”

Both the “killer” women are absconding. In a swift combing operation, the police raided most nearby houses, but failed to find them.

Bhushan feels there is a lot of latent violence among the people in the district, as in many parts of western and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

There is not much the police can do, he says, adding: “Barabanki has seen much and will see more.” In an economy that revolves around opium and where status is measured by the number of firearms one possesses, violence is common.

But Anita’s uncle is not in a mood for sociological explanations. He dreads the prospect of facing Anita’s father, who has still not got the news.

“Such a little girl,” the uncle repeats, crying inconsolably. “God will never forgive those who killed her.”

No less frightening than the killing was the villagers’ apathy. Asked why the dozens of men did not come to the girl’s rescue, Shohanlal, a villager, says shamefacedly: “Aaj kal pata nahi chalta, choti si cheez bhi bhayankar mod le sakta hai. Sab ko jaan pyari hai. (You never know these days. Even a small incident can take a terrible turn. Each man is for his own.)”

Kanhai Lal, another villager, sums up the fearful inertia. “Something is very wrong here. Ab kuch nahin ho sakta.”    

Calcutta, May 20 
Time is yet to start healing in the Bhattacharya family. Twelve months have gone by since Captain Kanad Bhattacharya fell to Pakistani bullets in Kargil, but the clock of life has stood still for his parents.

Father Kamala Kanta, a retired income-tax officer, has lost heart and withdrawn into a shell where he fights his silent battle with loneliness.

Kanad’s mother has stopped believing in God. “I used to continuously pray for his well-being from the day he left for training as an officer. I stopped the day it was confirmed that he was no more. God had not listened to my prayers,” says Purnima Bhattacharya, her eyes welling up.

The 24-year-old officer, deputed to the Sikh Regiment from his parent Ordnance Corps, was killed on May 21 last year while leading an assault on Tiger Hill. But his body was found only after the height was recaptured a month later. His funeral took place with full military honours in Calcutta on July 18.

In a bid to be as close to their parents as they can, elder sister Jaba comes in every day from her in-laws’ place nearby, while Kanad’s second sister Purba has taken up a job at a computer training institute near the family’s B.T. Road flat.

“The army authorities have been cooperative and helpful,” says Jaba. “They’ve taken care of everything,” starting from arranging for dues to offering canteen services and even jobs. “But we did not take that up because of the family,” she adds.

The family received invitations to a spate of functions organised by various organisations. “We did not attend most of them as the mental stress would have been too much for our parents,” says Jaba.

Pragati Sangha, the youth club in the family’s Bonhooghly (Baranagar) neighbourhood, has kicked off an annual football tournament in Kanad’s memory. St James School and Jaipuria College, where the young officer studied, held separate functions to honour their brave alumnus.

But one ceremony that the entire family went to was the day Kanad was awarded the Sena Medal for outstanding action on the battlefield. The award was announced on August 15.

The medal was handed over to Purnima at a function in Fort William on January 15 (Eastern Command Day). “There were 14 other recipients that day, but my son was the only one who was awarded posthumously,” she said, fighting back the tears.

The Ordnance Corps has taken Kanad’s photographs and articles on him for their museum. The unit has, in turn, sent the last pictures of Kanad, clicked by his colleagues in Kargil. “We look at the pictures and recall the past...”

“No matter how many people come forward to help us, we ourselves have to cope with life without him,” says Jaba. “It’s his fighting spirit that helps us. He was able to face the bullets, if he could do it, we will have to fight it too.”    

Temperatures: Maximum: 29.9°C (-6) Minimum: 23.3°C (-4) Relative Humidity: Maximum: 96% Minimum: 71% Rainfall: 35.8 mm Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be 34°C Sunset: 6.09 pm, Sunrise: 4.56 am    

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