Jethmalani pays for big mouth
Govt knocks on door of delay in Thackeray crisis
Support swells for education fee rise
Corruption crusader bureaucrat shot dead
12-year Pinky ‘sold’ in marriage
Calcutta weather

 
 
JETHMALANI PAYS FOR BIG MOUTH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 23: 
Determined to uphold the dignity of various arms of the state, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asked Ram Jethmalani to quit after the law minister sought to “illuminate” judges of the Supreme Court with his legal wisdom.

President K.R. Narayanan accepted Jethmalani’s resignation today. Yesterday, Vajpayee called up Jethmalani in Mumbai, asking him to resign, angered at the way he was repeatedly inviting disputes with Chief Justice Ajay Singh Anand.

The Prime Minister’s action is in tune with his known detestation of pursuing a line of confrontation with institutions like that of the President and the chief justice.

A furious law minister complied without delay, faxing his papers from Mumbai. The usually media-friendly Jethmalani was so angry he did not even meet journalists last evening and drove over to Pune, where he chose to make his displeasure known today. The legal luminary said in Pune that he was “unhappy” with the Prime Minister who had to “make a choice between a pliant attorney-general and a no-nonsense law minister. Now, he has made his choice.”

The former law minister also minced no words when he said he resigned “under compulsion”. Jethmalani alleged that attorney-general Soli Sorabjee had alienated him from Vajpayee.

But sources in the capital’s corridors of power said Vajpayee had been watching the law minister’s ongoing tussle with the head of the judiciary for some time and Jethmalani’s latest outburst over the court’s observations on the Srikrishna Commission report on the Mumbai riots was “virtually the last straw”.

The constitutional lawyer in Jethmalani often overshadowed his duties and role as minister and he appeared to be itching for a fight with the judiciary. It is now known that he had sharp differences with Anand on the appointment of the chairman of the Monopolies Commission. Even during the long agitation by lawyers earlier this year, Jethmalani would not brook compromise even though the government felt embarrassed with litigants complaining of cases piling up.

Vajpayee felt that while Anand, being the head of the judiciary, could not bare his views, it was unfair on Jethmalani’s part to criticise him. The Prime Minister wanted his law minister to restrain himself, since he knew full well that the chief justice could not defend himself and could only say whatever he had to on any subject through his or his fellow judges’ observations in court. Jethmalani’s statement — soon after the judiciary said in the Srikrishna Commission case that the government was speaking in a number of voices — caused quite a few flutters at 7 Race Course Road. The Prime Minister was more than upset.

Jethmalani had hit back at the court, saying: “The learned chief justice should at least have realised that he was making comments about a minister who knows his law as well as anyone else.”

Immediately after the censure, Vajpayee had held a meeting on Friday not just to deal with implementation of the Srikrishna Commission report, but also the larger issue of trying to find a way out of the Bal Thackeray tangle. Sorabjee and noted lawyer-turned information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley, who attended the meeting, did not recommend, as Jethmalani would have preferred, a path of conflict with the court.

On the Thackeray crisis, too, Jethmalani was not treading a cautious path. He had been advising the government that it had every right to intervene and prevent the Shiv Sena chief’s arrest. The Prime Minister does not want to make Central intervention look so obvious as to court controversy.

The Prime Minister was aware that Jethmalani’s intemperate comments would cause more problems for the Centre once Parliament reconvened for the monsoon session tomorrow. So, without delay, Jethmalani was communicated Vajpayee’s wish.    


 
 
GOVT KNOCKS ON DOOR OF DELAY IN THACKERAY CRISIS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
July 23: 
Armed with a report from Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander that there may be a communal flare-up if Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray is arrested, the Vajpayee government is now almost confident of averting the crisis.

Over the past 48 hours, this has been the issue dominating discussions at South Block and North Block and the Centre now claims it is close to finding a solution.

The legal step which is being firmed up in consultation with the Maharashtra government and through several informal channels, including Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, is that the Vilasrao Deshmukh regime would not approach the court immediately.

In Mumbai, the state government was also sending signals that delaying filing of a chargesheet was very much on its mind. Already a week has passed since the government announced it was going to prosecute Thackeray. Only today, it gave the formal go-ahead to police to proceed against the Sena leader for writing inflammatory articles during the 1992-93 Mumbai riots.

Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal sought to explain the delay, arguing that the file had to be first vetted by the law department before being despatched to the police. The police struck the same wavelength, saying that having received the green signal, they would follow the normal procedure — produce the accused in court along with the chargesheet — but set no timeframe.

The Sena chief appeared relaxed, meeting his followers as usual at his residence Matoshree.

Sources in Delhi said an arrest cannot be carried out without the state government responding to a court query on the inordinate delay in acting on its earlier orders. A chargesheet is going to be filed nearly eight years after the riots.

The prosecution can file charges against Thackeray and move in for his arrest only after the court condones the delay.

Despite the police build-up in Mumbai, the sources said there was no reason for expecting the imminent arrest of Thackeray. The Maharashtra government has deployed forces across the capital in a show that it is serious about upholding the legal process.

The sources said that at the meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday, Deshmukh was told that making paramilitary forces available to the Maharashtra government was not going to be a problem, but the Congress-NCP ruling alliance must decide whether they were willing to pay a political price for the violence that might result in the wake of the arrest. Deshmukh was non-committal but New Delhi hopes that Pawar, now trying to emerge from his political wilderness, will be able to convince fellow NCP leader Bhujbal.

In the Governor’s report, examined by home ministry officials first before being passed on to the PMO, there are broad hints that the arrest would not yield political dividends to any party. Alexander is convinced that the only consequence will be violence.    


 
 
SUPPORT SWELLS FOR EDUCATION FEE RISE 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, July 23: 
High-powered academics in top educational institutions are throwing their weight behind the Centre’s move to raise tuition fees in colleges and universities.

Far from hedging a stand on the prickly issue, the newly-appointed “liberal-Left” vice-chancellor of Delhi University, Deepak Nayar, is openly saying it is time to reconsider the fee structure frozen since 1938.

“The time has come for universities and higher education institutions to reflect upon a restructuring of fees. For a variety of complex reasons a decision has been delayed,” says Nayar.

But he does insist that whatever the hike, there must be alternatives like free tuition and scholarships for those who cannot pay.

It is also a decision that cannot be rammed through. “There should be a debate, consultation and consensus. By consensus I do not mean unanimity but there must be a consensual position,” says the university head.

The debate has been going on for years, with successive human resource development ministers admitting that higher education fees are “ridiculously low”.

The debate was recently re-energised after a Central committee recommended a fee hike. The Centre has indicated its willingness to act on the panel’s report.

“But there are always public and private stances. The government may say one thing in private and do exactly the opposite in public,” says an academic. No party is willing to advocate or support a fee hike in public — even many academics, including heads of institutions, falter when it comes to making their opinions known.

Nayar underlines that education should be “supported” by the state, but that the state also helps those “who help themselves”.

Badal Mukherjee, director of Delhi School of Economics, is equally vocal on the need to reduce subsidy and raise fees. “Since 1933, students are paying the same tuition fees. I want to go on the record — fees for higher education should be rationalised,” stresses Mukherjee. “I do not like hiding behind anonymity. I believe fees should be hiked and I want to say it in public.”

Delhi School of Economics students pay a monthly tuition fee of Rs 18. A student’s monthly bus pass comes for just Rs 12.50.

Nayar holds out a simple argument. “In three years, Delhi Transport Corporation buses will be grounded because there is no money for maintenance,” the vice-chancellor says. The Supreme Court has already driven a third of the DTC fleet off the road because they cause pollution.

The signs of a resource crunch are visible all over Delhi University. Its post-graduate women’s hostels are tottering, making do with the monthly Rs 1,200 it gets from its inmates.    


 
 
CORRUPTION CRUSADER BUREAUCRAT SHOT DEAD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Lucknow, July 23 
A senior Uttar Pradesh bureaucrat, known to be a crusader against corruption, was gunned down by two unidentified men this morning.

Bacchi Lal, director-general of the state family welfare department, was shot around 6 am when he was taking his daily morning walk.

Eyewitnesses said after firing at Lal, the motorcycle-borne assailants waited until they were sure he was dead. They first fired at Lal from behind and when he fell they emptied their gun into his chest.

None of the other morning walkers around dared to protest, silenced by the sight of automatic pistols.

Police were tightlipped about the incident, but sources claimed that the assailants fired from 9 mm automatic pistols. The two men were obviously aware of Lal’s daily routine as they were trailing him as he left his Butler Palace residence and headed towards the Secunderbagh crossing in the heart of Lucknow city. They shot him just as he reached the crossing.

The police, who arrived on the scene after a morning walker called them up, said in spite of some leads, it was too premature to make any claims about the identity of the assailants or the motive for the murder.

Satyanarayan, Lal’s brother, suspects that the attack is related to the director-general’s move to punish 135 allegedly corrupt officials of his department.

Lucknow district police chief B.B. Bakshi said departmental rivalry was one of the possibilities the investigators would examine.

Lal was a senior medical cadre officer belonging to the Dalit community.    


 
 
12-YEAR PINKY ‘SOLD’ IN MARRIAGE 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Sirpurwa, (Gonda), July 23: 
There is nothing to tell Sirpurwa apart from the hundreds of other villages in eastern Uttar Pradesh that lie separated more by time than distance from the towns around them.

Only the hush of silence over the village makes it different. No one here wants to talk about the “sale” of Nirmaladevi’s 12-year-old daughter to a farmer old enough to be her grandfather.

“Please don’t ask about it saab, we are a village that has been shamed,” says Om Prakash Sharma.

But Nirmaladevi, a mother of 10 daughters, doesn’t think so. She remains stoic in the face of the villagers’ scorn and excommunication.

Afraid only of incurring the wrath of law, she is convinced what she did was for the good of her daughter. “The villagers are angry with me,” she says as she wipes her tears. “In this village of Kulin Brahmins, pride means everything to us and they feel I have brought shame on them by giving off my daughter for a price to an old man.”

Nirmaladevi won’t say what the price was, but a sum of Rs 10,000-12,000 pops up in village gossip. She won’t even admit it was a sale. “I did not sell her,” the 50-year-old woman says. “I got her married. I saw an opportunity to free her from this terrible poverty and I grabbed it. I know she is a little girl and he is an old man but I do not care for the man’s age. He has promised to look after her.”

Villagers, who quickly gather around her, hurl abuses as Nirmaladevi justifies her stand. “Stupid, ignorant woman,” they scream, “this old hag has sullied the reputation of the whole village.”

Nirmaladevi, a landless labourer who has lost some of her 10 daughters to death and her husband to a debilitating disease, went ahead with the “marriage” even though some villagers got together and promised to pool in money and get Pinky married later. “We told her that Pinky should at least attain puberty,” says Uma Shanker, “but the stupid woman couldn’t wait a few more years.”

Tottering under the weight of an oppressive poverty, Nirmaladevi couldn’t afford to take chances. “I still have two more daughters (Pooja, 6, and Babuni, 3) to look after. Will the villagers promise the same for them?” she asks.

At Teliani, the village where 51-year-old Devnath Vajpayee is now living with Pinky, no one wants to talk about the “marriage” either. All that some of the villagers would say is that Nirmaladevi “must have been mad”.

Vajpayee is a scared man. He knows he has married a girl who was in her third year of school. Insisting that he is not “all that old”, Vajpayee says circumstances forced him to marry Pinky.

“I lost my wife two years ago. I needed someone to look after my two children. I haven’t done anything wrong. The marriage was by mutual consent.”

He has no answer, however, when asked how he feels having a wife who is younger than his sons.

In a corner of Vajpayee’s house, Pinky looks awkward in her newly-bought saree, but not awestruck. Wiser beyond her years, she speaks up for her mother. “I am happy here,” she says, replying, when asked, she doesn’t know how old she is.

The only time she slips up is when confronted with the question if she would like to continue going to school. “Yes, yes,” she answers, her eyes lighting up briefly. “I would have been in class four.”    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 27.4°C (-5)
Minimum: 24.9°C (-1)

Rainfall: 52.8 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 76%

Today

A few spells of rain with one or two showers or thundershowers.
Sunset: 6.20 pm
Sunrise: 5.07 am
   
 

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