Basu calls Cabinet in sign-off signal
Congress in labour on baby false alarm
High tide in hitech city
Rape law gaps plugged
Catwalk trips at cash register
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, Aug. 24 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu will on Tuesday officially inform the state Cabinet of his decision to retire next month.

The Cabinet is meeting after almost two months. In the past, the ministers used to meet once every fortnight but Basu’s failing health stood in the way of holding regular Cabinet meetings.

Front partners RSP, CPI and Forward Bloc want Basu to assume chairmanship of the Left Front committee after he steps down. The state CPM leadership has no objection to the proposal as Basu will be in a position to offer valuable advice before the Assembly polls.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya will succeed Basu and is expected to take oath shortly after the chief minister puts in his papers sometime in the middle of September.

Along with Bhattacharya, one senior minister belonging to each Left Front constituent is likely to be sworn in. However, no portfolio reshuffle is expected.

The new Cabinet has to be in place in September because state government offices will be closed for the Durga Puja in the first week of October.

Bhattacharya’s coronation will be effective till the Assembly polls next year. The CPM has not yet decided on the chief ministerial candidate for the elections.

Basu has no official appointment after September 15, when he will visit Bolpur to inaugurate Rabindra Bhavan. He was initially reluctant to attend the function because of poor health, but was persuaded by Bhattacharya to change his mind.

An indication of Basu’s impending retirement had come on Tuesday with the revelation that the chief minister’s office had stopped accepting official engagements for him after September 15. The CPM-ruled Tripura government even brought forward an investors’ meet in the state from September 16 to September 12 only to have Basu inaugurate it.

Bhattacharya met Basu at his Salt Lake residence this evening to discuss the impending change of guard. The issue will be taken up at a meeting of the state CPM secretariat tomorrow.

Bhattacharya will leave for north Bengal in the evening after attending the secretariat meeting. The deputy chief minister, who will review law and order in the wake of the Kamtapuri movement, is expected back on Monday.

A meeting of the CPM politburo to discuss Basu’s retirement, originally scheduled for the first week of September, has been deferred due to general secretary H.S. Surjeet’s absence. Surjeet, who is in China, is expected to return in the second week of September and convene the meeting.

Sources said the politburo had decided to allow Basu to step down and go by the decision of the party’s state committee on the timing of his retirement.    

New Delhi, Aug. 24 
It eventually turned out to be a false alarm but for many hours, it kept the entire Congress parivar on tenterhooks.

Senior party leaders kept their cellphones free while several 10 Janpath telephone lines were choked with numerous “What is the good news, is it a boy or a girl?” calls. Local leaders had put ladoo- and mithaiwalas on alert.

But by late evening the enthusiasm had ebbed and several mithai orders were hurriedly cancelled. Priyanka Gandhi had not delivered after all.

She had been rushed to a private west Delhi hospital two days ago and since last night, she had developed low-intensity labour pains. But by this afternoon, the pain receded and by the evening doctors attending to her said she could go back to her 35 Lodhi Estate residence.

For dozens of photographers it was a disappointing day, but they were heard requesting the Special Protection Group (SPG) guards: “Sir please, next time, please give us a ring. It would be a great favour.”

No one wanted to miss the “great opportunity” — almost the Indian version of the birth of Prince William. Though no survey has been conducted on Priyanka’s popularity, many equate her glamour with that of the late Princess Diana.

Throughout the day, would be-grandma Sonia Gandhi, who had cancelled her visit to the US, paced up and down in 10 Janpath. Each time the telephone rang, she checked if it was from Ganga Ram hospital. Sonia visited the hospital twice and talked to a battery of gynaecologists and obstetricians attending to Priyanka.

Amid the excitement, someone purchased A Book of Hindu Names by Maneka and gifted it to 10 Janpath, almost forgetting the estranged relations between the two daughters-in-law of Indira Gandhi.

In Congress circles, the day turned out to be one of fun and jokes. Many betted on whether the baby would be a boy or a girl. If Ajit Jogi is to be believed, the odds favour a girl child. He claimed that he had himself placed bets worth Rs 7000.

There were bets on the baby’s name as well. Some said in case of a boy, it should be “Jawahar”, but others felt it was too old-fashioned. However, there was unanimity that the name should have the letter “R” in it as so far all Prime Ministers have that. Sonia does not have the magic “R”.

Congressmen believe that the new baby should carry the “Gandhi” surname even if Vadra is attached to it. “You never know, the new arrival may one day take control of the party,” one joked. Another leader said the party should start a “Bal Congress”, the children’s wing of the party, and Priyanka’s baby could head it.    

Hyderabad, Aug. 24 
The rising waters in Andhra Pradesh have claimed 94 lives, rendered 2 lakh homeless and reduced Chandrababu Naidu’s Cyberabad to a garbage dump.

Over 2,000 people are marooned on their rooftops in the flash flood-affected areas of Hyderabad, where 20 people have died, even as the relentless rains keep lashing the state for the second day. Four deaths have been reported from Kurnool district, which is badly affected.

With the flood waters carrying dirt from all garbage points around the city, Hyderabad — drowned in darkness with the long and frequent power cuts — is looking like one huge cesspool. “We spent our night in our neighbour’s house on the second floor, leaving our valuables in our first floor flat,” said Shailaja, a government employee. This morning, she woke up to find the water in her flat was knee-deep and it had damaged her television, fridge and clothes.

Over 2000 houses on the banks of the river Musi were washed away with almost 35,000 rendered homeless in the city.

The weather office said Hyderabad had set a new record by registering a rainfall of 25 cm after the depression in the Bay of Bengal hit the coast early this morning.

Infotech has proved helpless against nature’s fury. While computers are floating on the swirling waters, Internet Service Provider Satyam Online could not operate today due to the power failures. Most IT pros did not venture outside into the stinking water.

The overflowing drains became a treasure-trove for some. Bunches of youngsters were seen jumping into the waters to carry away furniture, televisions, utensils, clothes and even PCs.

The floods have also helped Naidu to divert attention from the Congress’ agitation against the power tariff hike. As the Assembly budget session was adjourned for two days, the Congress and Left parties allowed their MLAs, who were on hunger-strike, to visit their constituencies and take up relief activities.

The chief minister, who made an aerial survey of Nandyal, Kurnool and Hyderabad, said: “I am writing to the Prime Minister to help us to provide proper relief to the affected people all over the state.”

“With the forecast of rains in the next 20 hours in major parts of Telengana, including Hyderabad, there is no final assessment of the damage,” he told newsmen here.    

New Delhi, Aug. 24 
The Supreme Court has held that the absence of spermatozoa on the body or clothes of a rape victim could not be cited as conclusive evidence to disprove the charge.

The ruling plugs a loophole through which several rape cases have fallen through, keeping the national conviction rate low. The order also sets the stage for a radical change in judicial approach to law of evidence.

The court said the absence of “consent” is sufficient to establish the charge and removed the ambiguity surrounding the term.

The court’s conclusion came in a case in which a 17-year-old girl alleged that she was raped by her uncle. The court rejected the argument that the charge did not hold since there were no marks of violence on the girl and that “she herself had not deposed anything about the extent of penetration”.

It was also argued that the absence of sperm in the clothes of the girl indicated that there was no sexual act. But a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice A.S. Anand, refused to accept this contention. “The absence of consent on the part of the prosecutrix (victim) has clearly established that the accused had committed rape on the prosecutrix and is liable for the offence punishable under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code,” the court ruled.

The difficulty in proving penetration and consent accounts for most of the acquittals. Often, the victim submits herself under fear, which has been interpreted as “consent obtained by her not amounting to rape”. But the court said: “Submission of the body under fear cannot be construed as a consented sexual act. Consent requires voluntary participation not only after the exercise of intelligence based on the knowledge of the significance and moral quality of the act but after having fully exercised the choice between the resistance and assent.

“Whether there was consent or not is to be ascertained only on a careful study of all relevant circumstances. From the evidence on record, it cannot be said that the prosecutrix had given consent and, thereafter, she turned round and acted against the interest of the accused.”

The court said the medical evidence had to be appreciated in the background of the oral evidence given by the prosecutrix.

The apex court went by the medical report which said “there was laceration of the hymen at 6 O’ clock position and clotting of blood was seen at the vaginal orifice”.

This legal position would also change the approach to the law of evidence in rape cases as some offenders resort to the argument that “the victim is a woman of easy virtues”. The Supreme Court order has now given precedence to the medical report and the alleged victim’s oral evidence.    

New Delhi, Aug. 24 
Too many bustiers and too little business.

If that was the garment industry verdict on the India Fashion Week that ended yesterday, the Shiv Sainiks who descended on the venue on the last day got the point they were trying to make at least half right for the wrong reason. Spot on about the bustiers — the protest was against “nudity” — but missing the mark on the business part. But then it was “Indian culture”, or the assault on it, that was on their mind and not commerce.

Commerce was on the mind of the Fashion Designers’ Council of India, which organised the international-style fashion week. But it found out how difficult it can get to marry couture with commerce.

There were dollops of glamour, leggy girls with raven black, gelled hairstyles, hunky males with the lean and hungry look sporting earrings, the air thick with kisses blown all over the place. There were also the bickerings and snipings. But business was slow, given that Rs 2 to 3 crore was spent on staging the extravaganza.

Considering that India Fashion Week was declaring the designers’ aim to cater to the ready-to-wear segment of the market, even on the final day yesterday it was not quite clear what it had achieved in business terms.

In the afternoon, attendants sat at the near-empty stalls in the exhibition hall with a bored, glazed look. One stall-owner from Calcutta’s Monapali said she had received queries, but only from her usual contacts.

Young designer Monisha Bajaj, however, claimed: “It is only the beginning. A platform has been created and business is bound to improve.” After spending Rs 1 lakh on the stall and staging a fashion show, her optimism was the biggest endorsement of the event.

Retail interest was high. Buyers from Shopper’s Stop, Premsons and Vama were there. Outlets which specialise in stocking designer collections like Melange in Mumbai or Zenon in Calcutta were present, too.

Retail consultant, Simran Singh, who runs her own consultancy unit, said: “Retailers are always looking for ways to differentiate themselves. So a link with designers would always be useful.”

But no one is talking about money, honey. A spokesperson for a large retail consultancy said: “It had the air of a party with everyone sporting organiser’s badges. It hardly signalled a business forum.”

Spokespersons for retailers said this was only the first stitch. It could open up areas of interaction between retailers and designers. One retail chain has identified three or four designers with whom it could work. The same sentiment was expressed by Aashish and Namrata Goenka of Zenon.

The foreign buyers, though, were not very active. Neerja Handa of Conifer Trading said: “Our clients abroad would not be interested in this sort of clothes. This would only interest the NRIs.” Handa and her husband Sarwandeep Singh, who own KSP and supply to Ralph Lauren, felt they gain nothing from such a show. Handa said foreign buyers already know what they can get from India.

A merchandiser from Triburg, a big buying house, however, defended the show saying it gives design direction and the garment business is design driven. Nevertheless, few foreign buyers signed deals.

Retail consultants saw a mismatch between the stated emphasis on ready-to-wear garments and what was on show. Simran Singh said: “Basically, these clothes were not pret-a-porter stuff. Pret clothes should have a big market in mind and designed accordingly. Those at the show seemed to have a little too many details, a little too much embroidery and quilting. It would be difficult to replicate in larger volumes.”

Singh added that Indian designers are yet to develop the kind of segmentation that exists in the West. Armani, for instance, has the label Giorgio Armani at the top end; for the mid-market there is Armani Emporia and for the mass market Armani Express. All designers have similar segmentation.

Arvind K. Singhal, managing director of KSA Technopak, said: “Something like this is needed. Indians are willing to pay for products which are differentiated. But they have gone about it the wrong way.”    



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Minimum: 27.2°C (+l)


0.2 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 94%,
Minimum: 67%


Possibility of light rain in some parts of Calcutta and its suburbs
Sunset: 5.59pm
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