Dhindsa warns cricket board of intervention
Court strikes at Delhi babel on Bal Thackeray
Cong picks up Tiger gauntlet
Panel pill helps cure allies’ rollback ache
Patna airport landing route redrawn

 
 
DHINDSA WARNS CRICKET BOARD OF INTERVENTION 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT & AGENCIES
 
New Delhi, July 21 
The government today warned the cricket board that it would not hesitate to intervene in the board’s functioning to set things right in the wake of the match-fixing scandal.

“The Board of Cricket Control of India should not think that the government cannot interfere in its working even if it commits mistakes,” sports minister S.S. Dhindsa said.

The minister was commenting on the reaction of some board officials to his earlier statement that coach Kapil Dev and skipper Azharuddin should quit voluntarily. The board, an autonomous body, saw this as government meddling.

The joint income tax-CBI raids on cricketers, cricket officials and bookies continued today with the seizure of property papers, cash and jewellery during the nationwide “search-and-survey” operation. Several bank accounts have been frozen, though the income tax authorities are unwilling to say whom these belong to.

Income tax sources said the department would soon confront those against whom the raids were conducted with the documents recovered.

Over the next few days, the department will assess the seizures made, but the focus of the investigation will be on players and officials with unaccounted money and those who have not filed their tax returns.

Yesterday’s raids shook the entire cricketing fraternity. Kapil Dev, Azharuddin, opener Navjyot Singh Sidhu, Ajay Sharma, Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia, whose houses were raided, have gone silent. Barring Kapil Dev and Prabhakar, most are abroad.

The raids evoked some response only from former all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar, who had tried to expose Kapil Dev with a secretly filmed videotape and later tried to convince the world that several top Indian players were involved in match-fixing.

Despite coming under the scanner, Prabhakar said: “At least the income tax department and CBI are performing their duties sincerely.”

Income tax sources said the raids were productive. Over 50 bank lockers and accounts have been sealed. Raids were also conducted in 37 other places in Delhi, five in Mumbai, three each in Ahmedabad and Patiala and a few others in Hyderabad, Calcutta, Chandigarh and Bangalore, the sources said.

The documents seized relate to properties owned by the cricketers, investments, expensive gifts and unexplained expenditure.

Prabhakar said the raids were justified. “They are good for the game,” he added. Henceforth, said the former Test player, people would have faith in the CBI and would believe that it was working sincerely.

Replying to how he viewed the raids on his own home, Prabhakar said: “I have nothing to hide. Nothing to declare.”    


 
 
COURT STRIKES AT DELHI BABEL ON BAL THACKERAY 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, July 21 
The Supreme Court today blasted the Centre for “speaking in different voices” in the case against Bal Thackeray, even as a tentative calm returned to Mumbai, which was gripped by panic in the wake of the Shiv Sena chief’s anticipated arrest in connection with the 1992-93 communal riots.

The three-judge bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice K.G. Balakrishnan hauled up the Union Cabinet for making conflicting statements and directed the Centre to come out with a clear stand through an affidavit on the Srikrishna Commission report which had blamed Thackeray for whipping up communal frenzy through his “writings, pronouncements and directives”.

It also asked the Maharashtra government to file an affidavit stating its stand on the report. Both governments were given six weeks to file their affidavits.

The court was reacting to an earlier affidavit — dated September 10, 1999 — in which the Centre had said that law and order was a state subject and it had nothing to do with it.

“The Central government is not the appropriate government either to implement the findings of the Sri Krishna Commission or to conduct prosecution and it cannot also direct the state government on these two aspects since the jurisdiction of the appropriate government is exclusive, both under the law as well as by practice,” the affidavit had said.

Contradicting this stand, law minister Ram Jethmalani and disinvestment minister Arun Jaitley — also a leading lawyer — said the Thackeray issue was time-barred and the state could not arrest him.

Jethmalani went to the extent of saying that the Centre could even give a directive to the state government which could not be defied, which again contradicted home minister L.K. Advani’s statement that the Centre would not interfere in the matter.

Observing that it was “distressing that comments are made by Cabinet ministers while a petition seeking implementation of the commission’s report is pending before the highest court of the land”, the bench asked attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee to explain this “talk in different voices”.

“Is there something like collective responsibility or not?” asked Chief Justice Anand, wondering “whether this concept (of collective responsibility) is not known to this government”.

“Telling something to the court and playing to the gallery... saying something else to the public, hardly behoves a person in a civilised society,” the bench said.

[Thackeray, however, refused to comment on the Supreme Court directive, adds PTI. He said: “The matter concerns the Union and state governments. I will not like to comment on it.”]

The earlier Sena-BJP government had rejected the commission report through a resolution in the Assembly, saying that a government was not bound by a report made by a commission constituted under the Commissions of Inquiries Act. But the present Congress-NCP coalition regime wants to arrest Thackeray, whose writings in his party mouthpiece, Saamna, was one of the instruments that stoked the communal riots.

Jethmalani said the article written in January 1993 is time-barred and the Centre can intervene in the matter under Article 162 of the Constitution, which gives concurrent jurisdiction to both the state and Union government.    


 
 
CONG PICKS UP TIGER GAUNTLET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 21 
The Congress Working Committee (CWC) today directed Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to deal with Bal Thackeray with an “iron hand” and ensure supremacy of the rule of law.

After debating the Maharashtra situation for two hours, the CWC decided the party should go “all out” against the Shiv Sena’s threat to disrupt law and order if Thackeray is arrested.

“Here is a chance to wash off the blot of the Babri demolition and regain the confidence of the minorities,” a CWC member said, pointing at the failure of the Narasimha Rao regime to prevent the demolition.

The CWC said the state government should not hesitate to arrest Thackeray if it was required to uphold law and order. “We must send a strong and clear message that nobody is above law,” Jitendra Prasada said.

He said the party should not get into a one-upmanship game with the Nationalist Congress Party. “We must demonstrate that we mean business and that there is no compromise,” he said.

Arjun Singh and Prasada, who are not on the best of terms on many organisational matters, spoke in one voice for stern action. Members also expressed concern over the Centre’s refusal to send paramilitary forces to Maharashtra.

The CWC was, however, discordant on other matters. R.K. Dhawan lashed out at K. Natwar for allegedly favouring military intervention in Sri Lanka, and questioned how the head of AICC’s foreign affairs department could make such an “irresponsible remark”.

Dhawan also targeted AICC secretary Anil Shastri for favouring a tie-up with the PMK. “How can we join hands with the PMK which openly supports the LTTE?” he asked.

The CWC approved the party stand on rejecting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The Congress is upset with the Vajpayee regime for not consulting it on the issue. Moreover, it feels the CTBT has become a “dead treaty” following the US Senate’s refusal to ratify it and the Clinton administration’s move to go ahead with the National Missile Defence System.

“It shows that the US is unwilling to link the CTBT with disarmament,” a CWC member said. He wondered how Vajpayee was talking about consensus on the CTBT sign-up when there was no shift on Parliament’s 1996 decision to reject the treaty as it was “discriminatory”.

The CWC also declared that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India and any discussion on greater autonomy could take place within the Constitution and the framework of the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1975.

“Within the constitution and within the framework of the 1975 accord, it is possible for the government to hold discussions and consultations with the state government and all political parties and together work to bring about a positive and satisfactory solution,” a CWC resolution adopted today said.

It deplored the Vajpayee government’s “inept and clumsy” handling of the issue. “The whole thing exposes the immaturity, indecisiveness and confused approach of the government to a highly sensitive sector,” it said.    


 
 
PANEL PILL HELPS CURE ALLIES’ ROLLBACK ACHE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 21 
The Cabinet today decided to bring down the price of wheat and rice sold through the public distribution system by 70 and 50 paise per kg, respectively.

The Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam, two of the BJP’s allies, had been demanding for long a rollback in the price increase. The government, however, said the decision was based on recommendations of the Expenditure Reforms Commission.

The economic cost of wheat distributed through the PDS has been reduced from Rs 9 to Rs 8.30 a kg and that of rice from Rs 11.80 to Rs 11.30 per kg. Since the issue price for those below the poverty line is half of the economic cost, the revised price for wheat will be Rs 4.15 per kg and for rice Rs 5.65 per kg.

“Keeping in line with the government’s stated policy of fixing the issue price at 50 per cent of the economic cost, we have brought down the prices of wheat and rice sold under the PDS,” consumer affairs and public distribution minister Shanta Kumar said.

The commission had submitted its report on food subsidy on July 10 to rein in the food subsidy bill. The norms for calculating freight and transit losses have been changed.

The charges paid to states for holding wheat stocks has also been reworked to a lower level. The committee has also recommended averaging the price of grain bought in the previous year with new grain bought at higher rates to work out the economic costs. The measures have helped in reducing the prices of wheat and rice.

Kumar said the government, when criticised for raising the PDS prices, had stated that it would be permanently fixed at 50 per cent of the economic cost. Since the economic cost of rice and wheat have now been lowered, the government has decided to reflect that in the issue price.

Most other recommendations of the committee require inter-ministerial consultations and dialogue with the states. Therefore, these would be considered separately after talks, Kumar said.

The Cabinet considered only those recommendations which concerned the determination of the Food Corporation of India’s economic cost of wheat and rice and the consequent issue prices for PDS consumers.The Cabinet also cleared the draft recommendations of the Eleventh Finance Commission. An action taken report would be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament.    


 
 
PATNA AIRPORT LANDING ROUTE REDRAWN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, July 21 
Less than a week after the Alliance Air crash, civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav came here on his second visit to scrutinise the facilities at Patna airport and inspect the crash site.

The Airports Authority of India, too, has started a process to restructure the instrumental landing system (ILS) here. Patna airport has a two-way ILS which beams light to guide the landing of aircraft on its two runways.

The ILS line would now be redrawn, said AAI director P.K. Chowkiwal. However, he denied that the change had anything to do with the crash and said it was due anyway.

The airport was described as a virtual disaster zone by the B.C. Jain Committee, which looked into the safety aspect of the country’s airports. The crash has now brought the air traffic control and other systems here under the purview of a judicial inquiry.

Experts said the AAI was changing the beam pattern because pilots had been facing difficulty in making full use of the runways. Though the total length of the runways is 7,500 feet, only 6,400 feet are used because trees and highrises around the landing strip pose a hurdle.

The changed ILS is expected to give pilots more room for manoeuvre. The ILS at Patna had become obsolete, Chowkiwal said.

Sharad said he had directed Indian Airlines to soon go shopping for new aircraft, organise technology update and raise revenue. He admitted that there had been no expansion of the airline since 1985 and the aviation ministry had to bear the bulk of the expenditure on maintenance of aeroplanes.

“There is no doubt that the aircraft in the Alliance fleet are old. New aircraft would certainly have some advantage in terms of maintenance,” Sharad said. But, he added, “there has been a little insincerity in the maintenance of the existing aircraft”.

The minister spoke to senior AAI officials and engineers studying the broken components of the destroyed plane. The 12-man engineering team is close to finalising its report on the condition of the plane’s parts. The report will be submitted to the court of inquiry.

But it is feared that some evidence might be lost because of two days of rain.

“We have already seized the essential bits, including the black box and the cockpit voice recorder. But the black box will not be decoded till the court begins inquiry. We want to maintain transparency at all levels of inquiry,” said Sharad. He said he would talk to the chief justice of Patna High Court and request him to begin the inquiry as soon as possible.

The minister refused to stop Boeing 737 flights following this accident and denied that there was any major snag in the aircraft carrying victims’ bodies from Patna to Calcutta.

He reiterated that families of those killed in the Patna colony would get the same compensation as the passengers’ kin. The injured, too, would be entitled to a compensation of Rs 2 lakh, besides having all their medical expenses paid for.

Stating that he was aware of the Jain panel report, Sharad said: “The technological aspects of airports would undergo an overhaul. Every recommendation will be paid heed to.”

The Jain report underlined that airports in India had outdated technology and inadequate security equipment. There was also a lack of co-ordination between the various units to ensure fool-proof security either of the aircraft or of the airport premises, it said.    

 

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