Search knocks on brother, in-laws
Jumbo links for Hathi
Bhujbal shifts Thackeray arrest onus
Krishnamurthi ahead in BJP top job race
Family survives crash
Alliance in snag-a-day air pocket

 
 
SEARCH KNOCKS ON BROTHER, IN-LAWS 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA IN HYDERABAD AND DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA IN MUMBAI
 
July 20 
The security guards did not have a clue to what was happening when a dozen white-collared and black-tied income-tax officials landed on Mohammed Azharuddin’s doorsteps this morning.

The massive gates at the house at Banjara Hills, Road no. 10, leads to a courtyard big enough to accommodate three cars.

The drawing room is sparse but for some silver framed portraits of yesteryear cricket giants. The dining room and the four bedrooms around it were lighted by huge chandeliers of the Nizam period.

The securitymen were posted at the Test cricketer’s house when the reports of a hate campaign against him erupted following his divorce of his first wife.

But though the security personnel are used to having journalists and television crews around since the “revelations” on match fixing, they hardly expected a team of income-tax sleuths.

When one of the senior officials wanted to meet the former Indian cricket captain, they informed that he was not inside, but his younger brother Abrar was there.

The appearance of the officials was a shock to the bleary-eyed Abrar, who was asleep in one of the four attractively done up bedrooms.

Thus began the income-tax raid on Azharuddin’s house from 8.00 am and lasted till 5.00 pm. The officials took away a suitcase full of documents in the early hours, but these were returned by evening when they finally left the place.

However, the news of the raid had already spread in the city, propelling a crowd of journalists to outside the house. It allowed some cable networks to broadcast old clippings of the interiors of the house.

In Mumbai, too, the houses of some relatives of Azharuddin were either searched or surveyed.

Income-tax officials also raided BCCI officials and a bookie, while screening the office of Mark Mascarenhas’ WorldTel.

The sleuths swooped down on the houses of Azharuddin and his wife Sangeeta Bijlani in Bandra and Santacruz, respectively.

The houses of Bijlani’s father in Bandra and in-laws of Kapil Dev in Lokhandwala were also searched, income-tax sources said.

Tax officials “surveyed” seven premises, including the office of WorldTel in Mumbai, but did not search them. The director general of income-tax (investigation), P.K. Sarma, said the officials found a huge amount of cash, fixed deposit and Indira Vikas certificates and jewellery. But he specified neither the amount nor the exact source of the haul.

The raid on the house of Sugan Mehta, said to be a bookie, resulted in the seizure of jewellery valued at Rs 11 lakh.

The officials also seized documents and computer floppies from some of the raided houses.

Sarma said the raids would continue for a couple of days in Mumbai and Pune, where two flats of cricketers would be searched.

He said details of the seizure would be revealed after tax officials scrutinised the seized documents.    


 
 
JUMBO LINKS FOR HATHI 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, July 20 
Income tax authorities raided the premises of a bookie, Hiren Hathi, here this morning. He is believed to be a close business associate of a former cricket captain.

Hathi, said to be involved in match fixing cases, was often seen in the company of office bearers of the Gujarat Cricket Association.

He was caught unawares when Income Tax officials of the city as well as Delhi and Mumbai swooped down on his house early morning. The raid is significant because Hathi is said to be a business associate of a former cricket captain and apparently boasted that he travelled with him around the world. The former player’s company had bagged the contract to install floodlights at the Modhera stadium in northern outskirts of the city.

The bookie’s neighbours in the upmarket Samrajya Apartments had no inkling that a man who could influence the outcome of cricket matches lived amidst them.

The raids were continuing till late this evening. The tax officials have locked themselves in the bookie’s house and no one was allowed entry.

Rungta residence raided

Income-tax officials today raided the office of the Rajasthan Cricket Association and the residence of Kishore Rungta, treasurer of the Indian Cricket Board, in Jaipur as part of simaltaneous operations carried out in various parts of the country.    


 
 
BHUJBAL SHIFTS THACKERAY ARREST ONUS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 20 
In an apparent softening of stance, Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal today said the police will decide on the arrest of Bal Thackeray for his alleged role in the 1992-93 Mumbai riots “after completing all legalities”.

“We have given the go-ahead to the police to prosecute the Sena chief. Now the police will decide on the arrest,” Bhujbal told reporters in Mumbai.

Bhujbal, who is also in charge of home affairs, had recently sanctioned Thackeray’s prosecu- tion for his ‘inflammatory’ writings in the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, during the communal riots.

But locked in the test of nerves with the Congress-NCP government, the BJP today appeared smug, saying that “the law of limitation” will favour Bal Thackeray.

According to the BJP, the ruling coalition does not have any solid ground to convince the courts to sanction Thackeray’s arrest because of the inordinate delay in proceeding against the Sena chief.

Senior vice-president K. Jana Krishnamurthi said under the law of limitation, the case, after a lapse of three years, could not be revived.

During the riots and three years after that two Congress chief ministers — Sudhakar Naik and Sharad Pawar — were at the helm.

After that the Sena-BJP combine ruled for another five years but no action was taken against Thackeray, Krishnamurthi said, maintaining that the state government ought to explain the delay.

The BJP leader, however, ruled out any Central intervention under Article 356.

“I do not see any scope for Central intervention. Dismissal of the government does not arise. Even in the case of Bihar, which was crying for Central intervention, we all know what happened,” he said.

Though he dismissed as mere “politicised rhetoric” the threats of Thackeray and other Sena leaders that Mumbai would burn if Thackeray was arrested, Sena and BJP MPs, who met here to take stock of the situation, termed the government’s decision as “provocative”.

Sena leader in the Lok Sabha Anand Geete said Thackeray was agitating for the cause of Hindutva and if any action was taken against him, people in the country would take to the streets.

“Instead of taking action against Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi, who had spoken about the break-up of the country, the state government is playing with the sentiments of the people,” Geete said.

Union minister and senior BJP leader from the state Ram Naik alleged that the Congress-NCP government was resorting to “political vendetta” and urged the “Centre to take cognisance that a dead issue is being made alive after seven years”.

Naik accused the government of attempting to link the Thackeray issue with that of Azmi.

He declared that both parties would unitedly agitate on the issue, and hoped that wiser counsel would prevail on the Maharashtra government so that it “withdraws from the decision it has announced”.    


 
 
KRISHNAMURTHI AHEAD IN BJP TOP JOB RACE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 20 
Senior BJP vice-president K. Jana Krishnamurthi seems set to become the new president of the party. Incumbent chief Kushabhau Thakre has decided to opt out of the race on health grounds, highly placed sources said today.

If there is no last-minute hitch, Krishnamurthi will be appointed party chief by August 8. The election process will begin on August 1 and end seven days later. Notwithstanding the election process, “it will be selection by consensus”, a senior party leader said. Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Thakre, Murli Manohar Joshi and RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan will sit together and select the new president.

Though there are a few more candidates, a consensus has already emerged on Krishnamurthi. The suave and non-controversial lawyer is expected to energise the party in south India, where the saffron party is yet to join the mainstream. Krishnamurthi, however, is not without detractors. Some north Indian leaders have been lobbying against him on the ground that he cannot speak Hindi fluently.

Speculation about Thakre getting a second term were set at rest by Advani yesterday and Krishnamurthi today. Advani told a private television channel that Thakre, who took charge in May 1998 for a two-year term, wanted to retire as his health did not permit him to head the party.

Krishnamurthi today told reporters: “Advaniji has told yesterday that Thakre, our present president, has conveyed to him that he does not want to seek a second term. There have been speculation in the press for sometime and especially after his (Thakre’s) health improved that he may seek a second term. Now by the statement of Advaniji that speculation cannot be carried forward further. As far as the matter of who will succeed him, Advaniji has given a very clear reply that a consensus is being evolved.”

Others who were in the reckoning are Gujarat Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari, former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, party spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu and senior leader and ideologue K.N. Govindacharya.

At one point, the party was toying with the idea of giving a second term to Thakre, whose tenure was not crowned with glory as the party was plagued by factionalism not only in Madhya Pradesh (his home state), but several other states as well.

But Thakre’s low profile suited the government, especially Vajpayee, fuelling speculation that the PMO was looking forward to a pliable party president, and therefore, was interested in a second term for Thakre. But Advani was averse to the idea.

Krishnamurthi, also from the RSS and close to the Advani camp, had, of late, established a rapport with the Prime Minister. While Advani is not keen on a second term for Thakre, the home minister is not averse to Krishnamurthi taking over the mantle.

S.S. Bhandari, a hardliner from the RSS school, is neither in the good books of Vajpayee nor Advani. Shekhawat is too close to the Prime Minister and at 80-plus is not considered fit to lead the party. Venkaiah Naidu, though a good organiser, has no mass base and has fallen out of RSS favour.    


 
 
FAMILY SURVIVES CRASH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, July 20 
Bharat Rungta, who leapt out of the fireball engulfing the ill-fated Alliance aircraft, was one of the lucky seven survivors of the crash. Like him, all the six members of a family, who were trapped in their Chitkora colony residence as the Alliance aircraft crashed, have been spared by fate.

Amarendra Mishra, his 35-year-old wife who got almost buried in their toilet, their three sons who were in the kitchen and their daughter have managed to come out of the living hell, after remaining trapped in the rubble for hours.

The five-member Dutta family, their neighbours, was not so lucky, however. Vidyanath Dutta and his wife Minakshi Dutta died. The three others, undergoing treatment at AIIMS in Delhi, are fighting for their lives.

Amarendra Mishra has been declared stable and out of danger; his wife is recovering fast and their children seem to have got over the shock.

But it is only the beginning of another kind of woes for the Mishra family. After being discharged from the hospital, they have nowhere to go.

Their house is reduced to rubble. The area around it looks like an open field, where the engineers are still at work.

The Mishras, who had written to the authorities for rehabilitation, have been accommodated at 6, Road No. 23, in Gardanibag. But the house neither has a power connection, nor water supply.

However, says Mishra: “These are minor difficulties compared to what we faced after the crash.”

On Monday morning, when they heard the explosion in the sky, they thought the Naxalites had struck on a revenge spree. “I had gone to the toilet. I got trapped. I was drowning as rubble broke through the roof of the toilet and the floor opened up. Suddenly the roof cracked up. I saw the sky and screamed for help,” said Sashibala, Amarendra’s wife. Later other residents pulled her out.

Kishore and two of his other sons were in the kitchen where they were having tea. “The thunder-like sound turned us deaf and then the wall started crumbling down on us. For about half an hour, we struggled to get up, but the heat was too much. We waited till the firemen came and pulled us out,” he said.

The airport authorities have remained indifferent to the fate of the local survivors: the Mishras were allotted the house by the state government. Enraged local residents have filed an FIR against airport authorities to get the rehabilitation quick- ened.

The Bihar Governor has sought a list of the victims who were not on board the aircraft. The Governor has announced a compensation from his discretionary fund to the affected.    


 
 
ALLIANCE IN SNAG-A-DAY AIR POCKET 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, July 20 
One crash and three “technical snags” later, Alliance Air planes continue to roam the skies as if nothing ever happened.

A day after a 20-year-old Boeing 737 crashed into a residential colony in Patna killing 56 people, 72 others were sitting on the edge of their seats as Flight 7411 wobbled dangerously above the tarmac in Lucknow.

The plane circled for nearly 20 minutes before it touched down after freeing one of its jammed wheels. “It would have been a belly landing,” an Amausi airport official said, adding, “there was what we call an undercarriage problem.”

He said a landing gear fault, which required some troubleshooting, had delayed the landing by about half an hour.

Ambedkar university vice-chancellor D.R. Gadekar, who was on the flight from Delhi to Lucknow, said the landing was “distinctly very rough”, but pointed out that passengers were neither warned nor informed about the snag.

“We learned about it only the next day,” he said, “information was not forthcoming at all.”

All 26 passengers proceeding to Patna were asked to disembark and put up at Hotel Taj. Four engineers worked on the plane for five hours with little luck. Repairs were completed only the next day after a service crew arrived from Delhi.

The plane then flew to Patna with the service crew on board. It then picked up a few passengers and returned to Delhi.

The next day, the same plane flying to Lucknow from Delhi developed a weather radar fault. It was taxiing on the runway before the captain realised something was wrong.

Taking no chances, he announced that the plane had developed a technical fault “through no human error” and would take some time to repair. But passengers were asked not to panic or get off.

A shaken Vijay Chopra, general manager with a TV channel, said: “It was amazing. They were confident that nothing would happen. In that kind of weather, when they knew it was raining in Lucknow, the functioning of a weather radar can mean the difference between life and death.”’

Chopra, a frequent flier with Indian Airlines, said it took no time for the people on board to realise that everything was not all right. Soon after, agitated passengers got into a heated argument with Captain Mishra who was in charge of the flight.

Vowing never to take an Alliance Air flight again, Chopra said he heard some crew members explaining to the passengers that the plane was being forced to fly much below its required height.

“Throughout the journey they kept telling us nothing would happen. When we got down at Lucknow airport, I saw many passengers looking heavenward and thanking God,” he said.    

 

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