Gupta scraps law on temple survey
Congress sniffs Atal plot on autonomy
Jitters over China link with Nepal
Aspirin alert for asthma patients
Farooq knocks on Basu door
Storm over BSP tie-up
Left mulls Thackeray rerun for Mamata
Centre eases foreign stake leash in uplink policy
Panel to probe Bengal blackout
Delhi in Bush and Gore shuttle

 
 
GUPTA SCRAPS LAW ON TEMPLE SURVEY 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, July 26 
Succumbing to pressure from the saffron brigade, the Uttar Pradesh government today scrapped the Hindu Public Religious Places (prevention of misuse) Act 1962, which called for a periodic survey of temples, trusts and peeths.

Justifying his decision, chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta said: “The Act was of no use. Actually, there is no point in angering sadhus. The Act was unnecessarily worrying the heads of Hindu religious organisations.”

Gupta had come under fire from religious leaders who have long been demanding repeal of the Act. Furious sadhus in some of the country’s most important peeths had even labelled the government “anti-Hindu” and threatened to launch an agitation for its removal.

Minister of state for culture and religious affairs Ramesh Pokhriyal said a new Act would be brought in place after “consultations with religious heads and after taking their advice”.

The BJP’s consistently critical ally, the Loktantrik Congress Party, also supported the decision. With Assembly elections due next year, the party is not taking any chances. “It was good the government scrapped the Act because it would do no good to anger the sadhus,” party chief Naresh Aggarwal said.

The December 1999 government order that directed district magistrates to keep tabs on the administration and functioning of religious trusts had already irked sadhus in Hardwar, Ayodhya, Mathura and Rishikesh.

The government was earlier planning to take over three important trusts and temples at Mathura, Sitapur and Vindhyachal that conducted melas and were a centre of religious tourism. But as soon as word got out, the sadhus created a furore and alleged that “their own government” was trying to take over all Hindu religious places. They rallied together to “save their freedom and rights”. Rattled by the vitriolic protests, Gupta rushed Pokhriyal to Mathura to pacify the sadhus.

The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have vowed to raise the government order scrapping the Act both in the Assembly and in Parliament.

Declaring that the party would oppose the move tooth and nail, the Samajwadi Party’s Ram Sharan Das said there could be no greater example of the “fact” that the Sangh and sadhus were calling the shots in the ruling BJP-led alliance. Das pointed out that the action came after several district magistrates had reported “gross misuse of funds” in a number of Hindu trusts and temples. Apart from the irregularities, mismanagement during religious melas also created problems, the reports had said.

Gupta’s sop to sadhus comes barely a month after his government allotted Sadhvi Rithambara 43 acres of prime land in Mathura worth Rs 15 crore for a token fee of Re 1.    


 
 
CONGRESS SNIFFS ATAL PLOT ON AUTONOMY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDEN
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
The Congress today accused the Vajpayee government of playing “politics” with its ally, the National Conference, while rejecting its demand for a pre-1953 status for Jammu and Kashmir.

Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Madhavrao Scindia suggested that the Centre start a well-structured and transparent dialogue based on the 1975 Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord with all political forces in the state to resolve the autonomy issue.

Scindia, who started the autonomy debate, lashed out at the Atal Behari Vajpayee regime for saying that the resolution passed by the Assembly was within the purview of the Constitution.

He said the government “pushed” the National Conference to play the “autonomy card” by contemplating talks with the Hurriyat Conference and militant outfits on the subject.

“By wanting to have a dialogue with the Hurriyat you have pushed your own partner to play the autonomy card,” Scindia said, pointing out that neither the Hurriyat nor the Hizbul Mujahideen had at any time talked of abiding by the Constitution.

Referring to the resolution, Scindia said it “obviated and violated Article 370 as, in effect, it took us to the pre-1953 position by opposing the jurisdiction of the President, Parliament, the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor-General”. He wondered how, despite this, the Prime Minister and home minister L.K. Advani could say that the resolution was within the Constitution’s purview and that the issue would be resolved by Parliament.

Scindia said the essence of Article 370, which his party wanted to stay, was that all decisions regarding Jammu and Kashmir would be taken in consultation with the state government.

“If autonomy means devolution, decentralisation, greater financial powers and more powers to panchayats and grassroots- level bodies, then go ahead and have a dialogue,” Scindia said. But he made it clear that his party would not allow autonomy which came anywhere near secession.

Participating in the debate, BJP MP Lt-Gen. (retd) S.P.M. Tripathi supported the government’s role in trying to resolve the Kashmir issue. He claimed that the militants had gone on the defensive because of the Centre’s pro-active policy.

Fernandes claim

Two days after the Centre welcomed the Hizbul Mujahideen’s unilateral ceasefire for three months in Jammu and Kashmir, defence minister George Fernandes said there was “rethinking” among some of the major militant outfits operating in the Valley. Claiming the “rethinking” to be in favour of peace and linking it to Pakistan’s defeat in the Kargil war, Fernandes said that the ceasefire “should hopefully lead to a process of dialogue and peace in the Valley”.

An emotional Vajpayee met the widows and close relatives of the Kargil martyrs and soldiers who had been disabled in the war.

He received a first-hand account of the various welfare schemes launched by the government for them and how they were being benefited by them.    


 
 
JITTERS OVER CHINA LINK WITH NEPAL 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
India is worried about China’s growing commercial activities in Nepal, particularly its attempt to establish an East-West optical fibre highway in the Terai region along the open Indo-Nepal border.

Coupled with the presence of Pakistani companies, which are suspected to be front organisations of the ISI, this has caused serious concern in South Block.

These issues will come up for discussion during Nepal Prime Minister G.P. Koirala’s five-day official visit beginning on Monday. Koirala will hold talks with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, foreign minister Jaswant Singh, finance minister Yashwant Sinha and defence minister George Fernandes.

Over the past few years, attempts by Chinese companies to set up operations in Terai, close to the Indo-Nepal border, have come to Delhi’s notice. China is planning a textile factory at Bhadarpur in Jhapa district and, through its participation in Nepal’s sixth telecommunication project, is trying to establish the optical fibre highway.

Several Pakistani companies have bagged orders in Nepal for developing its infrastructure. Indian officials suspect that these companies are front organisations for the ISI and want to warn the Nepal leadership to stop the activities which, they feel, will ultimately be used against Delhi.

Koirala’s visit is significant as he will be the first Nepal Prime Minister to visit the country in over four years. Sher Bahadur Deuba had visited India in February 1996. Though a four-year gap is not unusual for other countries, it is rather long for India and Nepal.

This will also be the first high-level visit from Nepal since the Christmas-eve hijack of an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu. The Centre was forced to free three Kashmiri militants in exchange for the release of the hostages and the incident severely affected bilateral relations.

Koirala’s five-day official tour of the country, which is being described as a “goodwill” visit, will give the Nepal Prime Minister the opportunity to get acquainted with the BJP leadership.

That Delhi has given the green signal to this visit, which had been pending for months, indicate that serious attempts are being made by both sides to bring bilateral relations back on track.

Issues relating to India’s security, particularly Pakistan’s attempts to use Nepal as its base for furthering hostility against Delhi, and the growing Chinese commercial activities will be the main focus of discussions.    


 
 
ASPIRIN ALERT FOR ASTHMA PATIENTS 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
Ignorance is not always bliss. For Ravi, who took an Aspirin tablet on an empty stomach, it was the beginning of an end he narrowly escaped.

Within hours his stomach started haemorrhaging and Ravi had to be rushed to the hospital. The bleeding was so acute that he had to be given 15 units of blood in the next 10 days.

Even a “safe” drug like Disprin of the Aspirin family can precipitate a severe medical crisis, triggering the Reye syndrome which kills the liver and the brain, putting the patient into a deep coma.

Children suffering from chicken pox or influenza should not touch Disprin. “Even as recently as last year I have treated a patient who came to me with this syndrome caused by the intake of Aspirin to bring down fever and headache in influenza,” says paediatrician Arvind Taneja.

Continued use of Aspirin caused the child to vomit blood, there was a sudden fall in his blood sugar and the patient turned critical.

Taneja’s concern is shared by another child specialist Arun Jain. “The intake of Disprin can be extremely risky in cases of influenza or gastric problems. Even in the best of situations the Reye syndrome claims a high mortality,” stresses Jain.

Both Taneja and Jain believe there is still a lot of ignorance about drugs like Aspirin and their side-effects.

“Very often youngsters have this habit of popping pills like Disprin or Brufen. Fifteen to 16 percent of Indians have gastric problems, without even being aware of it. In such cases the intake of Aspirin can be dangerous,” says general physician Sunil Maheshwari.

It is not that Disprin is a “deadly” drug — the simple rule is it should be avoided in cases of influenza, ulcers and also asthma.

Doctors arguing against indiscriminate use of Aspirin, at the same time, are pointing out that it is used as a “blood thinner” and is prescribed for heart patients.

In the US, guidelines for using Aspirin were issued almost two decades ago, after it was discovered that its use can be disastrous in specific cases.

In India, these tablets are sold across the counter and very often even the doctors are not aware of the strong, sometimes fatal side-effects. “Unfortunately all drugs have some side-effects and painkillers cannot be avoided. Some arthritic patients have to keep taking painkillers all through their lives. But the question is of monitoring and knowing about the drugs you are taking,” points out Maheshwari.

In India, the doctors stress, there is still a lack of awareness, a tendency to randomly buy pills across the counter and most chemists will not bother to stick to medical guidelines.

For instance, a tranquilliser like Alprax which should not be sold without a prescription, is routinely given out to customers.

The lack of information is most acutely felt in an age where private clinics are proliferating and quacks are making quick money.

“I will warn an asthmatic patient against swallowing Disprin, but I wonder how many others would,” says Jain.

The dearth of proper information becomes more and more obvious as you climb down the social hierarchy and the less well-heeled are forced to make do with “quacks” who dole out cheap treatment and medicine without a thought.

“Among the upper middle classes there is an awareness about the negative side of Aspirin. All Aspirin products are now generally avoided in fever,” says Anjali Raina, a paediatrician.

But there are doctors who do not allow themselves to be bound by any medical ethic or the rulebook. For instance, a doctor running a profitable “business” from his clinic in East Delhi, is passing off his membership in the Delhi Medical Association (DMA) as an additional qualification.    


 
 
FAROOQ KNOCKS ON BASU DOOR 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
July 26: 
Hours after meeting Rabri Devi and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Patna, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah arrived here this afternoon to seek Jyoti Basu’s support on autonomy.

Basu spent about half-an-hour with Abdullah at his Salt Lake residence before leaving for Delhi to attend the CPM Politburo meeting. The meeting was part of Abdullah’s countrywide campaign to drum up support for his party’s stand on autonomy. His next destination is Assam, where he will meet chief minister Prafulla Mahanta.

“I don’t know what the Centre thinks about the autonomy Bill. But I will go around the country interacting with all chief ministers and trying to convince them about its constitutional necessity,” he said.

Abdullah said he had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and several BJP leaders. “Everywhere, I am trying to explain my position because a lot of confusion and misunderstanding has been created on autonomy,” Abdullah told reporters.

Asked if he had succeeded in convincing Basu, Abdullah said: “ I told him I want the restoration of Article 370 to its original status within the framework of the Indian Constitution.”

“It is absolutely wrong to say that we have been asking for our own currency, own Reserve Bank and even secession from India,” he added. “We are part and parcel of India and we want autonomy within the jurisdiction of the country”

In Patna, Abdullah told reporters he did not know if Union ministers had gone through the autonomy report carefully before rejecting it.

But he appeared to have won a sympathiser in Laloo Yadav. Pointing out that Abdullah had promised to delete any part the Bill that was against the Constitution, Yadav said: “When he (Abdullah) himself is saying this, what’s wrong in having a discussion on the proposals?” he asked.    


 
 
STORM OVER BSP TIE-UP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
Eyebrows have been raised at Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Salman Khurshid’s proposal to have an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the coming Assembly polls though there has been no reciprocal gesture.

In Khurshid’s scheme of things, the Congress should also explore the possibility of getting BJP allies like the Loktantrik Congress and the breakaway Jantantrik BSP on its side.

Senior leaders were surprised to receive Khurshid’s note detailing his plans in the party’s first coordination panel meet, which was ostensibly convened to revive the Congress in the state. They wonder how the party will be able to maintain its identity if it was to tie up with so many parties.

Congress Working Committee members Narain Dutt Tiwari, Jitendra Prasada and Mohsina Kidwai, who are part of the coordination panel, reportedly questioned the rationale behind Khurshid’s proposal at a time when Assembly elections are a little more than a month away in the presence of party general secretary Sushil Shinde. These leaders asserted that the Uttar Pradesh unit’s priority should be to broaden its base instead of looking for allies known for their “opportunistic instincts”.

The coordination panel meeting, in fact, turned out to a free for all with senior leaders from the state criticising each other bitterly. Shinde and Congress secretary Ramesh Chennithela, who were supposed to enforce discipline, remained mute witness to the war of words.

Sonia Gandhi had formed the panel to bring together the factions in the state unit. Sources close to her told The Telegraph that Sonia was worried about the state of the party in Uttar Pradesh, which sends the highest number of members to the Lok Sabha. She has got inputs from “independent sources” that going by the present situation, the Congress may finish well behind the Samajwadi Party, the BSP and the BJP in the polls.

Some party leaders, while supporting a tie-up with the BSP, said Khurshid’s proposal was “ill-timed”. They said the party should have driven a hard-bargain with the BSP instead of showing eagerness to ally with it. “Our experience in the past has shown that the BSP would not concede many seats. In the 1996 Assembly polls, the Congress was forced to contest only 125 of the 425 seats,” a CWC member recalled.

The Khurshid camp, however, defended the proposal to ally with the BSP. “What is the harm of having a debate? Let the district units decide what they want,” a Khurshid supporter said.    


 
 
LEFT MULLS THACKERAY RERUN FOR MAMATA 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
Taking cue from the Maharashtra government, the ruling Left Front in West Bengal is toying with the idea of arresting Mamata Banerjee for misusing her position as a Central minister and “terrorising” state and police officials.

Biplab Dasgupta, who along with eight other Left MPs called on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today to urge him to restrain the railway minister, said Mamata had issued threats much along the same lines as Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray.

“The Trinamul Congress is the Ranbir Sena of West Bengal. She is a law unto herself and can be arrested for inciting violence,” Dasgupta said, adding that Mamata was once arrested as a minister for gheraoing chief minister Jyoti Basu.

Asked if the state government had plans to arrest her, Dasgupta said in a terse reply: “Option of arresting her not abandoned.” We will initiate the process, he said.

As a prelude to the step, the nine leaders submitted a memorandum to Vajpayee detailing the Trinamul chief’s “provocative” actions.

They said Vajpayee gave them a “patient hearing” and said that “violence has to be stopped”.

The leaders said they also told Vajpayee that state BJP leader Tapan Sikdar had called Mamata “a fascist” in public. Sikdar, according to them, had alleged that Mamata was trying to split the BJP.

“She wants to eliminate all political parties, including your party also,” Dasgupta told Vajpayee.

The MPs, however, admitted that they failed to fathom Vajpayee’s response. The Prime Minister, they said, “laughed” but they were not sure if he laughed at the prospect of a split or Mamata’s trouble-courting ways.

They said they have sought an appointment with President K.R. Narayanan to apprise him of the Trinamu chief’s blatant interference in the state’s law and order and were also compiling a booklet to expose her “atrocities” to political workers and the general public.

In their memorandum to Vajpayee, the leaders alleged that Mamata and her supporters had unleashed a reign of terror in some villages of Midnapore.

The letter said that on May 14, in several public meetings, Mamata “instructed her followers to chop CPM workers into pieces”, assuring them that she would take care of their widows if they happened to get killed in the process.

They also alleged that she had forced district and police officials into submission by saying that the Trinamul would soon assume power.

The leaders said they would give the Prime Minister some time to act on their complaint. “Let us see what he is going to do,” they said.

When it was pointed out that going to the President would be a virtual admission of the state government’s failure to maintain law and order, senior CPM MP Basudev Acharya said the President was the guardian of the nation and should be kept informed about the “constitutional impropriety” of Mamata’s activities.

The President will be told that one of the NDA allies is trying to “sabotage” the state government, he said.    


 
 
CENTRE EASES FOREIGN STAKE LEASH IN UPLINK POLICY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 26:  
The Centre today announced a new policy on uplinking to foreign satellites which extended this facility to television companies with a foreign stake of up to 49 per cent.

The new policy relaxes the ‘foreign stake’ eligibility critieria which had been pegged at 20 per cent under the policy announced in March 1999.

Speaking in Parliament, minister for information and broadcasting Arun Jaitley said the Union Cabinet had decided at its meeting on Tuesday to liberalise the satellite uplinking policy further so that an Indian company, which need not be a broadcaster, could set up a hub or teleport facilities which could then be hired out to broadcasters, provided they have the necessary security clearances.

A hub is a device that accepts a signal from one point and redistributes it to one or more points. Essentially, the facility will allow more television broadcasters to beam their programmes directly to television stations abroad after hooking up with a foreign satellite. It will particularly benefit those channels which are aiming to increase the component of live programming. <

The permissible foreign equity in such companies will be the same as in case of the telecom sector, which is pegged at 49 per cent inclusive of NRI/OCB investments with Indian management control,” Jaitley said.

These companies will be permitted to uplink only those TV channels which are specifically approved or permitted by the government.

According to Jaitley, “All TV channels irrespective of their equity holding, ownership and management control will be permitted to uplink their programmes from India, subject to necessary security clearances, provided they undertake to comply with our broadcasting code.”

The I & B minister feels that the new policy will bring a large number of TV channels within the purview of the broadcasting code.

Jaitley said the liberalisation will increase employment opportunities as India becomes an important hub offering state-of-the-art facilities. He reckoned that the relaxation was essential to bring back channels that currently uplink from hubs abroad and, therefore, remain outside the purview of Indian laws.

The minister said the news agencies have been seriously handicapped compared to their foreign counterparts as they have been deprived the latest technology of satellite news gathering because they face a time gap in distribution of news. As a result, the Indian point of view does not receive wide coverage.

The relaxation of uplinking facilities will help Indian news agencies that are accredited by the Press Information Bureau and which have 100 per cent Indian equity and local management control to avail of this facility. Said Jaitley, “It will give Indian news agencies the much desired competitive edge over the foreign news agencies.”

Uplinking facilities will be permitted with both Indian and foreign satellites. But proposals envisaging Indian satellites will be accorded preferential treatment.

Commenting on the government’s move, R.K. Singh, CEO of Zee Network, said it was huge “plus-plus’ for the industry. “The move will result in a big upside for Zee to the tune of 25 to 30 per cent,” he told The Telegraph.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. For networks like Zee that have multi-channel platforms, the move will result in greater speed and inter-activity in programmes. “We will be able to telecast real-time news stories,” Singh added.    


 
 
PANEL TO PROBE BENGAL BLACKOUT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
The Eastern Regional Electricity Board (EREB) today asked a fact-finding committee to probe the reasons behind last night’s grid collapse, even as the power situation in the districts limped back to normal.

The breakdown had plunged West Bengal — excluding CESC-served areas — and most of Bihar, Orissa and Sikkim into darkness.

J.P. Ghosh, state electricity board member in charge of transmission, will head the inquiry committee and submit a report within a month.

The panel was set up at a meeting convened by West Bengal power secretary R.S. Bandopadhyay with all power generating agencies in the state and the regional electricity board.

The meeting was attended by state electricity board chairman G.D. Gautama and officials of the NTPC, DVC, DPL, the CESC and the EREB.

The NTPC, too, has ordered an in-house probe into the circumstances in which its 500-mw unit tripped at Farakka at 9.11 pm which led to the collapse of all power-generating stations in the eastern region, except those under the CESC.

“However, our main concern today was restoring the power generating units. The situation at night can be said to be near normal,” Bandopadhyay said.

Authorities today brought back on stream at least a dozen units in various power plants. Power department officials said 90 per cent of the units had been synchronised in phases during the day and the situation would be fully normal by tomorrow.

Three units at Kolaghat, five at Bandel and three at Santaldih were operational by today evening. NTPC units at Farakka, Kahalgaon and Talcher have also started generation.

However, throughout the day the dismal power situation led to acute water scarcity in large areas.

As its position was yet to stabilise, the state electricity board supplied only 92 mw to the CESC grid, which is over 100 mw less than the usual. The shortfall led to deficit of around 113 mw in the city and adjoining areas.

A similar grid failure had occurred in July, 1995. The Central Electricity Authority had then asked all power generating agencies and state electricity boards to follow a strict grid discipline and maintain a frequency of 49.5 cycles per second.

“When the 500-mw unit collapsed in the NTPC’s Farakka plant last night, the frequency was less than 48 cycles per second because there was no balance between generation and distribution of power in the eastern grid. So, the system could not withstand the impact of the collapse of a giant unit,” said a senior power department official.    


 
 
DELHI IN BUSH AND GORE SHUTTLE 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, July 26: 
India has set in motion high level consultations with aides to both the Republican Presidential nominee George W. Bush and his Democratic rival and current Vice-President Al Gore.

The process was formalised this week by the visiting national security adviser and principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra, conscious of the fact that there would be a change of guard at the White House within weeks of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to the US in September.

Mishra, who returned to New Delhi last night, had meetings with Condolezza Rice, who is tipped to be secretary of state in a Republican White House and with Paul Wolfowitz, who may be nominated national security adviser if Bush is elected president.

He met Leon Fuerth, assistant to Gore on security issues and held wide-ranging talks with top officials of the Clinton administration and leaders of the US Congress.

Among those he met were Sandy Berger, national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, Gene Sperling, economic adviser to the President and Thomas Pickering, under-secretary of state for political affairs.

On Capitol Hill, Mishra met, among others, Gary Ackerman, chairman of the India caucus in the Congress and senator Sam Brownback, chairman of the senate foreign relations sub-committee on east and south Asia.

Mishra told a press conference that his talks with officials of the current administration focussed primarily on Vajpayee’s visit.

His talks with Berger dealt with non-proliferation issues, including Indian efforts to create a national consensus on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), economic cooperation between India and the US and Indo-Pakistan relations.

Berger also briefed Mishra on the Camp David talks on the Middle East which collapsed without agreement between Israel and the Palestinians yesterday.

Replying to a volley of questions on US sanctions against India following Pokhran-2, Mishra said the sanctions were an impediment to realising the full potential of Indo-US relations. But he said: “We are not pleading for lifting of sanctions,” and it was unlikely Vajpayee would raise the issue at all during his talks here in September.

Mishra said there had been no let up in Pakistan’s efforts to export terror across the border or foment violence in Kashmir. But he said India would watch how the ceasefire declared by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in Kashmir would be implemented.

He said the Central government was willing to hold talks with any Indians in Kashmir at any time.    

 

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