Court hauls up Sharad over ‘hijack’
Pak-wary India lobbies for Fiji censure
Chitkora’s cry for crash relief
Cong steels nerve for war
Sahara silver lining for AIDS outcasts

 
 
COURT HAULS UP SHARAD OVER ‘HIJACK’ 
 
 
FROM K. SUNIL
 
New Delhi, July 19 
Delhi High Court today hauled up civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav for allowing a Lucknow-bound Alliance Air flight to be diverted to Patna in May under pressure from a group of MPs from Bihar.

The court issued notices to Indian Airlines and its subsidiary, Alliance Air, urging them to provide all records relating to Flight CD 7411 of May 12.

A group of 27 MPs from Bihar had insisted that the plane be taken to Patna first instead of Lucknow. According to the other passengers, Sharad Yadav, who was summoned to the airport by the netas, told the aviation authorities: “Inko Patna utar dena, phir jahan chahe chale jaana (Drop them at Patna first and then go wherever you want to).”

The division bench of Chief Justice Ajit Pasayat and Justice D.K. Jain today told the two airlines to file their replies along with affidavits stating the circumstances under which the flight was diverted. The airlines have been asked to submit the documents by August 21.

The directive came on a public interest litigation filed by Srikant Gupta, a teacher at the Delhi School of Economics.

Gupta quoted from the report published in the May 19 edition of The Telegraph and reproduced verbatim quotes, including Samata Party MP Prabhunath Singh’s reprimand to a flight steward: “Chup kar, main tere baap se baat kar raha hoon.

Prabhunath, who was speaking to Sharad on his cellphone, had been requested by the steward to switch off the instrument.

The court took exception to this. “After boarding the plane, no passenger is allowed to use the mobile phone. The phones have to be switched off,” the bench said.

Among the other MPs on the aircraft was health minister C.P. Thakur, then in charge of the water resources department. Thakur later said he had not uttered a single word when the other MPs had demanded that the plane be taken to Patna.

Gupta, the petitioner, was one of the passengers scheduled to travel to Lucknow. Following the MPs’ demand, the flight had taken off late from Delhi and reached Patna around 11.30 pm. The aircraft could not travel to Lucknow the same night.

This is not the first time that Gupta has filed a public interest litigation against VIPs. The economic professor was also a victim of the wrath of security guards of Delhi lieutenant-governor Tejinder Khanna when he unknowingly refused to give passage to the VIP’s convoy in the heart of the capital.

Police escorts of the lieutenant-governor had snatched Khanna’s licence and had even slapped a fine on him. Gupta’s case against alleged VIP high-handedness is pending in a Delhi court. The professor has sought guidelines from the high court on the movement of VIPs on Delhi’s roads.    


 
 
PAK-WARY INDIA LOBBIES FOR FIJI CENSURE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 19 
Worried that General Pervez Musharraf may be encouraged to continue in power if Fijian coup leader George Speight went unpunished, India has called on the international community for strong measures to prevent “criminal elements” from changing the polity of the Pacific island nation.

As part of this diplomatic initiative, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee spoke to his Australian counterpart, John Howard, over telephone and discussed the developments in Fiji. On Saturday, foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh will leave for Pretoria to take part in the Commonwealth senior officials’ meeting, where progress made by Pakistan towards restoring democracy and developments in Fiji would be discussed.

Both Pakistan and Fiji are Commonwealth members, and they are currently under suspension from the councils of the multi-lateral body. The senior officials’ meeting will review the situation in the countries and decide on the steps they could suggest for restoration of democracy.

Howard called up Vajpayee this afternoon to discuss the developments in Fiji and the steps taken by Australia to deal with the situation. Both leaders expressed concern over the situation, specially Speight’s attempt to form the government and change the multi-racial constitution. Vajpayee said the international community should take “strong action” to ensure “effective progress” in Fiji in restoring democracy.

Howard told Vajpayee that Fiji’s ousted Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry was in touch with him and had discussed steps that can be taken under the Commonwealth framework to restore democracy. Both Prime Ministers agreed to keep in touch over the situation in Fiji.

For India, the Fijian developments are important for mainly two reasons. First, nearly 44 per cent of the population there are of Indian origin, and so was Chaudhry, who was overthrown by Speight and his gang. Second, the events in Fiji will have their repercussions elsewhere in the world, particularly in South Asia. After the military coup in Pakistan last October which dismissed the Nawaz Sharif government and brought Musharraf to power, there has been considerable pressure on Islamabad to restore democracy.

If Speight is not punished and “criminal elements” form the government in the island, it may encourage Musharraf to continue in power. The Commonwealth has given Islamabad two years to restore democracy. If the pressure relents, some countries may accept the military dictator in Pakistan and do business with him.

As far as India is concerned, it does not have problems doing business with the military rulers in Pakistan. But India has been steadfastly refusing to sit across the table with the junta leadership as Pakistan has not taken any steps towards giving up cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. Moreover, Delhi has a grudge against Musharraf as he was behind the Kargil armed intrusion.If he gains legitimacy, it will be difficult for India to force Pakistan to create the “right atmosphere” for bilateral talks.    


 
 
CHITKORA’S CRY FOR CRASH RELIEF 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, July 19 
Angry residents of Chitkora colony in Gardanibagh today demonstrated at the site where the Alliance Air Boeing crashed on Monday, demanding compensation.

A day after cremating their near-and-dear ones, the relatives of the ground victims descended on the site even as 12 Airports Authority of India engineers sifted through the wreckage for a clue to the crash, complaining that the authorities had not even bothered to make arrangements for their accommodation.

“We stayed under a tree yesterday, while the women had to be accommodated in our relatives’ houses,” said Anirban Dutta, a relation of Vaidyanath Dutta, whose house was razed to the ground in the crash. Dutta is being treated in Delhi.

Civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav had promised on Monday that all those affected in the area would be compensated. “We will compensate all the relatives of the deceased, the (owners of) animals and we will even rebuild the houses,” Yadav had said. But many Indian Airlines officers contradicted his stand, triggering angry reactions.

The demonstration began at 11.30 am, when the residents were stopped from coming near their damaged houses, which were cordoned off. This sparked frayed tempers and the residents squatted on the wreckage site.

The protesters complained that no compensation has come their way even two days after the crashing aircraft killed their kin and severely damaged their houses and cattlesheds. “We are yet to get a farthing as compensation for our relatives who died in the crash although it was announced by the civil aviation department,” said Rohit Mishra, whose relative’s house was among the three government apartments destroyed.

Also demanding compensation was the owner of a cattleshed, which was damaged. He lost four cows and two goats when the adjoining building came hurtling down under the impact of the crash. Besides, Flight CD 7412 also wrecked a tree and damaged a part of the three-storey private building owned by Lakshman Singh.

The residents have filed an FIR against unnamed persons, blaming the airport authorities for the damages. “If the FIR fails to prompt the police to get any compensation for us, we will move the high court,” the protesters warned.

District magistrate Amit Khare said the Bihar government yesterday wrote a note to the civil aviation ministry, justifying the residents’ claim for compensation. “Even the chief secretary, in his report to the Centre, listed the names of the affected persons and those who were killed,” Khare added. However, as the residents said, nothing has come their way till now.

When asked about the agitation, Airports Authority of India director Ganesh Chandra Chowkiwal said he had approached Indian Airlines for compensation.    


 
 
CONG STEELS NERVE FOR WAR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 19 
The Congress high command has directed Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh not to buckle under pressure and ensure rule of law while dealing with Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray.

According to the Congress assessment, the drama in Mumbai was proving to be a test of neves.

“Whosoever blinks first, would be the loser,” a party functionary said, claiming that the Congress was more comfortably placed than its partner, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). “Both the NCP and the Shiv Sena have a lot at stake and cannot afford to lose,” he said.

Party president Sonia Gandhi spoke to the chief minister to get first hand information about the situation in Mumbai.

Party general secretary Motilal Vora called Deshmukh, asking him to requisition the army if the situation goes out of control.

“We are in touch with the state government after every two hours. We have grave apprehensions about the role of the Sena, and the BJP regime at the Centre,” the AICC functionary said.

A CWC meeting has been convened on Friday to take stock of the situation. Since a case relating to the Srikrishna Commission is coming up for hearing on July 21, the Congress does not expect anything to happen before Friday.

According to the Congress, the resignations of three Union ministers belonging to the Sena at the Centre were part of pressure tactics.

“It is now the test of Vajpayee’s leadership. Can he rein in Sena hawks? Or we will see a repeat of 1993, when Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had failed to act swiftly,” a Congress MP said.

Party spokesman Anil Shastri wondered how Thackeray was allowed to make inflammatory statements and get away with it. “No one is above law and such remarks have no place in a civilised society,” he said reacting to Thackeray’s alleged comment that Mumbai will burn if he is arrested.

According to the Congress, the outcome of the row over Thackeray will have a crucial bearing on both the Sena and the NCP.

“It is now clear that the Sena was plotting to break the NCP. Bhujbal’s move to book Thackeray has reduced such a possibility. The chief minister was also under pressure to shift Bhujbal from the home department, but now that possibility is ruled out,” a Congress leader from Maharashtra said.    


 
 
SAHARA SILVER LINING FOR AIDS OUTCASTS 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, July 19 
In the cradle of death, Kamini and her son have found renewed joy in their lives drained bit by bit by AIDS.

Kamini was thrown out of her home in Pune by her in-laws after her HIV positive husband died a few months ago. Her son, also HIV positive, was only one year old. Kamini, too, was infected with the virus. She was 21.

Kamini went to Sahara, a non-governmental organisation, running a comprehensive HIV/AIDS programme. The staff of the organisation sent her to their Delhi office. “She came to our office in Pune and asked for help. She was really ill when she reached Delhi,” says Neville Selhore, in charge of Sahara.

Leukaemia was draining one-year-old Ravi. He needed blood transfusion. Both mother and son were put on the Sahara “package” of nutrition and care. Ravi was taken to Safdarjung hospital where Sahara had been admitting its AIDS patients. “About 45 per cent of our inmates are HIV patients,” said Neville.

At a de-addiction centre at the heart of a posh South Delhi colony, Sahara provides a roof for addicts and HIV patients from all over the country. They have travelled from Calcutta, Mumbai, Manipur and Nagaland, hoping for a new life.

Most inmates have picked up AIDS from needles that they had used to inject drugs. Sahara and the National AIDS Control Organisation (Naco) are working on projects for a “hands-on crisis” centre.

Five months ago, doctors had given Ravi two months. But defying death, he lived on to find another home — today, he is like any other child of his age — playing pranks and running around. Kamini has married again. Her husband, Francis, is also an HIV patient in the Sahara shelter. A couple of months ago, they moved out of the three-storied care centre to their own house.

Before their marriage, Francis had found a job as a night watchman in a factory. “But someone told the owner that he was an AIDS patient. Immediately he was sent packing,” Neville said.

For Sahara, one of the most nerve-racking tasks has been to find social acceptability for the patients. When Francis was summarily dismissed, Sahara provided him alternative employment in one of its centres. “Francis was very happy when he found a job in the factory. He was paid just a thousand rupees. But he felt good,” Neville said.

Having run the centre for 17 years, Neville and his wife are now more than familiar with the social cringing and the stand-offish attitude of the people when dealing with HIV patients.

Sahara is still fighting a public litigation case against Safdarjung hospital where an HIV patient had bled to death three years ago, lying on a stretcher in the hospital corridor. The reason: no doctor was willing to touch him.

Sunil Batra, a lawyer with Sahara, said: “We keep getting cases like this. A truck driver infected with HIV met with an accident and was admitted in Safdarjung hospital. But the orthopaedic surgeon refused to operate.” Worse still, the surgeon refused to transfer the patient to another colleague who was willing to operate on him. “After four months, we virtually had to hijack him so that his leg could be operated upon,” Batra added.

But attitudes are changing among doctors, if not the general public. “It is among the educated and the middle class that we find maximum ignorance. Our inmates have the most harassing of experiences when they encounter people living in this affluent Greater Kailash colony,” Neville said.

Faced with social stigma, the HIV-afflicted in Sahara are forced to look for alternative employment within the Sahara structure. The volunteers say many of them are now in a position to work but as a rule, they are turned away from offices and establishments where they apply for jobs.

There are other activities at the centre for young people. Every afternoon, they play football in the park or watch movies. Some even have girlfriends. There are crisis situations when patients have to be rushed to Sahara’s own crisis management centres or to hospitals.

“We have now evolved a friendly relationship with the doctors. It is no more like the past when a patient would be left dying in the hospital corridor,” Neville said.    

 

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