Banks offer extended golden handshake
Cautious Bangaru hedges on Hindutva
Dalai absence smudge on Atal US tour
CPM plenum heads for showdown with rebels
Demolition man tamed on pandal row
Court teeth for poll panel
SC boost for retirement-seekers
Law panel chief named

 
 
BANKS OFFER EXTENDED GOLDEN HANDSHAKE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Aug. 31 
The Indian Banks Association (IBA) today proposed a broad voluntary retirement (VRS) and sabbatical scheme that all permanent bank employees with 15 years of service or 40 years of age will be eligible for.

The package comes with ex-gratia amounting to 60 days’ salary (pay+stagnation increment+ special allowance+dearness allowance) for each completed year of service or salary for the number of months’ service left, whichever is less. The scheme will be open upto March 31, 2001.

The IBA said that an employee who is not keen on taking VRS immediately, can opt for sabbatical for 5 years which can be further extended by another term of 5 years. After the period of sabbatical is over, the employee may rejoin the bank on the same post and on the same payscale he was getting at the time of taking the sabbatical.

It added that the period of sabbatical will not be considered for increment, qualifying service of promotion, leave, etc.

Chief executives of public sector banks had held a meeting with Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha which was coordinated by the IBA, to discuss issues concerning improvement in the working of nationalised banks, including human resource management.

Based on the deliberations, a committee was constituted to look into all the aspects of human resource management in the public sector banks.

Other benefits to be made available to employees include gratuity, pension and leave encashment. It will be a prerogative of the bank’s management either to accept a request for VRS or to reject the same, depending upon the requirement of the bank.

Banks are also required to ensure that there will be no recruitment against vacancies arising due to VRS and that before introducing it, they must complete manpower planning and identify the number of employees who can be considered under the scheme.

On funds for the scheme, the IBA said that coinciding with their financial position and cash flow, banks may decide on payment partly in cash and partly in bonds or in instalments. But a minimum 50 per cent of the cash would be paid instantly and the remaining after a stipulated period.

Moreover, funding of the scheme will be made by the banks themselves, either from their own funds or by taking loans from other banks or financial institutions.

Unions oppose scheme

In a meeting of the United Forum of Bank Unions, which took place in Calcutta today, it was decided that the issues of privatisation and VRS would be opposed tooth and nail.

The meeting decided to go on a one-day strike within 72 hours in the event of the promulgation of an Ordinance or otherwise by the government regarding privatisation of banks.    


 
 
CAUTIOUS BANGARU HEDGES ON HINDUTVA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 31 
New BJP chief Bangaru Laxman has decided to tone down his liberal pro-minorites posture and stick to being on the “right” side of hardline Hindutva.

In his first press conference in the capital after becoming party president, Laxman — who declared in the Nagpur BJP council session that the three issues of building a temple in Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 and a common civil code had become “irrelevant” — did a quick turnaround and said they were part of the BJP’s policies.

“These three issues are part of our policy document and a part of our recorded history,” he stated when his own remarks in Nagpur were quoted back at him. But he added that these “policies” were adopted at a “particular time”, but now that the BJP headed a coalition government, it was bound to follow the National Agenda of Governance drawn up by the NDA.

Laxman refused to commit himself to an answer on whether the issues were buried forever or merely put on the backburner, though his replies gave the impression that the “burial” was just a tactical retreat. “For five years we are bound by the agenda of governance for which we obtained the people’s mandate in the general elections. The BJP is not a single-agenda party. It never was and will never be one,” he stressed.

He also seemed to have “softened” his pro-Muslim rhetoric which was enshrined in his now famous quote of Muslims being the “flesh of our flesh and the blood of our blood” during the presidential address at Nagpur.

Laxman was at pains to clarify that this was not the first time a BJP leader had tried to reach out to the minorities. “We have not talked of the Muslims for the first time. The previous presid- ential addresses too have mentioned such things. The only difference is that I have elaborated and spelt out the party’s stand clearly,” he said.

When pointed out that Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had reportedly threatened to pull his party out of the NDA in case Laxman did not retract his “pro-Muslim” statements, the BJP chief said: “There is nothing new in what I said. I have merely elaborated our party’s policy and Balasaheb knows this.”

BJP sources said Laxman’s attempts to “redefine” the BJP as a party more in tune with “modern times” and the needs of a secular polity and a pluralist state rather than an anachronism frozen in medieval times did not go down too well with either the RSS or the party’s own cadre. He sought to make amends for them when in his first interview with Panchajanya, the RSS mouthpiece, he declared that Hindutva was integral to the BJP and the question of giving it up never arose.

Laxman, who finally resigned today as the minister of state for railways (though he was unanimously elected as BJP president a month ago), said his endeavour for the next three years would be to help the Centre further its agenda of “good governance”.    


 
 
DALAI ABSENCE SMUDGE ON ATAL US TOUR 
 
 
FROM K. P. NAYAR
 
New York, Aug. 31 
The large saffron presence at the unprecedented world religious summit here may turn out to be an albatross around Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s neck when he arrives here next week for the Millennium Summit of heads of state and government.

The summit, which has attracted more than 1,000 religious leaders of all faith from across the globe has run into serious controversy on account of its decision to exclude the Dalai Lama.

The exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader was excluded from the conference after the Chinese government insisted that the UN General Assembly hall could not be used for its meetings if the Dalai Lama was being invited for the event.

Since the summit’s organisers were more keen on the General Assembly hall than in the Dalai Lama’s presence, they bowed to the Chinese pressure. The Tibetan leader was invited for sessions being held in a New York hotel, but he declined the invitation.

The exclusion of the Dalai Lama has angered Senator Jesse Helms, the mercurial chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whom Vajpayee is to meet in Washington next month.

Richard Holbrooke, the powerful US ambassador to the UN is also upset at the Dalai Lama’s exclusion and demanded that it be “rectified immediately”.

Helms, who helped tone down opposition on Capitol Hill to India’s nuclear explosions in 1998, wrote to Holbrooke: “Surely, you share my dismay that the organisers of the `world peace summit’ would choose to exclude a Nobel Peace Prize winner.”

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan conceded that Chinese sensitivities were behind the Tibetan leader’s exclusion but he rationalised the decision: “Let me say that I understand that many people are understandably and deeply disappointed that the Dalai Lama will not be here ... But let me also say that this house is really a house for the member states and their sensitivities matter.”

Yesterday, the Chinese official delegation walked out of the summit when a message from the Dalai Lama was read out in the General Assembly hall. Although Annan delivered the keynote address to the summit, the UN is not the official sponsor of the event.

The summit is funded primarily by two foundations set up by media mogul Ted Turner and has prestigious academic and theological institutions among its “strategic partners”, India has come to be closely identified as one of its prime movers.

India has the largest presence in the summit — 108 delegates, which one of the organisers said was the number of beads in the traditional “rudraksha mala”. Bawa Jain, secretary-general of the “Millennium World peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders” is an Indian and the advisory Council of the Summit is made up of prominent Indians — L. M. Singvi, BJP MP, Karan Singh, Abid Hussain and B. K. Modi.

Besides, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America Inc. And Overseas Friends of the BJP have been actively involved in organising the event and the presence of S. P. Hinduja and S. N. Goenka have been noted at key summit-related events.

Also here for the summit are Narendra Modi, BJP general secretary, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, president of the VHP and Ashok Singhal, its general secretary. K. R. Malkani, BJP MP, was here earlier to oversee the arrangements.

If the Americans are angry at the Dalai Lama’s exclusion and privately accuse the Indians involved in the summit as having gone along with it, the Chinese link the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to the original idea of getting the Tibetan leader into the UN General Assembly hall.

In a belated effort to contain the damage, New Delhi cancelled plans by the human resources minister Murali Manohar Joshi to attend the event. But the effort to distance the government from the controversy was too little too late and may stymie recent efforts to show the BJP in a more acceptable light abroad.    


 
 
CPM PLENUM HEADS FOR SHOWDOWN WITH REBELS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 31 
CPM rebels are warming up for a big fight at the party plenum in Thiruvananthapuram next month.

Dissident leaders are becoming increasingly vocal against the party apparatchik and the updated party programme.

Yesterday, dissidents from West Bengal submitted a pile of amendments to the programme at the CPM headquarters in Delhi.

“You cannot achieve anything in Indian society by dodging caste, religion, language,” said Subhas Chakraborty. He said the Left parties never got more than 10 per cent votes for failing to understand the dynamics of Indian society.

Chakraborty and his “like-minded” colleagues are bent, more than ever before, on punching holes in the party progra- mme.

As the dissidents crowded Saifuddin Chaudhury’s flat in Delhi yesterday, disaffection ran high and the rebels made clear their intention to turn the party plenum into a battleground.

But the CPM leadership is as combative as their detractors. “If anyone wants to leave the party he is free to go,” said a party politburo member.

He said his party was democratic enough and those who felt it was not were free to quit.

Chakraborty persisted with his criticism. Indian society, he said, is grounded in the four Vedas — a truth the CPM cannot afford to ignore.

There is a whole range of issues that have remained unresolved in the updated party programme. The programme has skirted the key issue of democracy.

“At present the party has democracy on paper but not in practice,” said a dissident leader. The pro-changers also do not want the CPM to continue with the principles of “democratic centralism” and “proletarian dictatorship”.

“We are functioning in a parliamentary democracy and our whole objective is to strive for a higher form of democracy,” said Chakraborty.

The dissidents want the CPM to be flexible and free from dogmas, which the leadership says it already is.

That the confrontation over ideas is irreconcilable seems apparent — and though the dissidents are fighting shy of talking about quitting, the divide within the CPM is sharper than ever.

The timing of the plenum is significant. West Bengal goes to polls early next year and the CPM would not like to go to the electorate with its baggage of internal str- ife.

If the party splits, the dissidents would wish to project themselves as a Left alternative to the CPM — how much they can dent the CPM’s base will depend on the momentum they are able to generate.

According to the rebels, their supporters are waiting for a signal and will come out in the open once a decision is taken.

“The party programme is being debated. There is a huge army of frustrated and unhappy party cadre and when the time comes they will be with us,” says a rebel leader.

He claims they have supporters in the villages which are the CPM’s pillars of sup- port.

The CPM bosses, on the other hand, maintain it will not be easy to dismantle the structure that has stayed in place for more than 20 years.    


 
 
DEMOLITION MAN TAMED ON PANDAL ROW 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Aug. 31 
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation authorities today reined in G. R. Khairnar, preventing him from demolishing the Ganapati pandal of an underworld don.

Khairnar, officer on special duty with the corporation, fumed as the authorities regularised the 100-foot-tall replica of the Dakshineswar Kali temple erected “illegally” on a municipal playground by Chhota Rajan, a notorious mobster, in Tilaknagar in northeast Mumbai.

“The municipal authorities sent a wrong message that a mafia can make the illegal legal in 24 hours,” a seething Khairnar told The Telegraph. “The authorities should not have done this because it created a wrong precedent,” he said.

Khairnar said he was preparing to demolish the pandal after the deadline for permission ended last night. “Then I got the news that the joint municipal commissioner had regularised the structure as well as the illegal occupation of land as a very, very special case,” he added.

The official said Sahyadri Krida Mandal, Chhota Rajan’s organisation, had taken permission to use the playground for puja from September 1-12, but had occupied it illegally since August 1. “Moreover, the group had not taken any permission to put up the huge pandal,” Khairnar said.

The municipal authorities, who went on a collision course with Khairnar over his threat to demolish the pandal, refused to call the structure illegal.

Additional municipal commissioner Gautam Chatterjee said the municipal guidelines, followed by all community puja organisers, did not set any height limit. “So you cannot really say that the puja organiser in Tilaknagar had violated the rules by erecting a 100-foot-tall pandal,” he said.

Chatterjee said the corporation could have dismantled the pandal if local residents had complained that it blocked light or air. “But no such complaint was received,” he said. Chatterjee said Khairnar had not raised any objection when the pandal was being erected. “At that time, the corporation could have taken action against the organiser, but now it was too late,” he said.

However, he said the corporation planned to form new guidelines next year, specifying the height and width of puja pandals. “Khairnar’s suggestions in this regard will be taken into account,”, he said.

Joint commissioner Sahu Dange said the corporation’s structural engineer failed to find any unauthorised encroachment. “On the contrary, the area they have occupied this year is two feet less than what they occupied last year,” he informed.

Dange said Khairnar did not have any legal authority to issue an ultimatum to the organiser. “He should not have also issued a deadline. If there was any illegal occupation, it should have been sorted out by the municipal authorities and the organiser,” he opined.

Sources said the police top brass had also opposed the demolition order issued by Khairnar to avoid trouble on the eve of Ganpati Puja, the state’s biggest festival beginning tomorrow.    


 
 
COURT TEETH FOR POLL PANEL 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 31 
The Supreme Court has ruled that the supremacy of the Election Commission cannot be called into question by courts once the poll process has begun.

The bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand and Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice K.G. Balakrishnan pointed out that Article 329 of the Constitution had put a “bar” on intervention of courts in the affairs of the Election Commission during the poll process.

“If a petition calls in question the election itself, then the bar of the article is attracted,” the court said.

However, the judges explained that “blatant” actions of the commission — such as refusal to count votes or frequently deferring polls — could be challenged.

The judges said high courts could intervene if the petition challenging an order or behaviour of the poll panel was “merely to correct or smoothen the progress of election proceedings and / or to remove the obstacles therein or to preserve a vital piece if the same would be lost or destroyed by the time results are declared”.

Setting general guidelines, the apex court said :

If a petition in a court interrupts, obstructs or protracts the poll proceedings, the case has to be postponed until the elections are over.

At the same time, a petition that could help the progress of the elections will be exempt from the bar.

The arbitrary and mala fide use of powers by the commission and other statutory bodies can be subjected to judicial review.

The judiciary can intervene to remove obstacles in the poll process.

The courts should guard against any attempt at interrupting or stalling of the elections. High courts must be very circumspect and act with caution while entertaining any election dispute brought to it during the polls.

The judgment came on a petition filed by the Election Commission challenging a Kerala High Court order staying the notification on the manner of counting of votes during the general elections last year.

The panel had earlier ordered that counting would start after all ballot papers are mixed to ensure that political parties don’t come to know the “pattern” of voting in a particular area or polling booth.

However, during the 1999 elections in Kerala, the commission ordered that there was no need to mix ballot papers as “different circumstances prevailed”.    


 
 
SC BOOST FOR RETIREMENT-SEEKERS 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 31 
The Supreme Court today ruled that no government can deny voluntary retirement to an employee on grounds that the employee “indulged or would indulge” in political activity.

A division bench of Justice S. Rajendra Babu and Justice Shivraj V. Patel set aside verdicts on the matter by “High Courts of Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh”.

“The discretion of the management or authority to grant Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) to an employee is not absolute and it is coupled with a duty,” the apex court said.

Settling a four-year-old dispute, the court added that no “unfettered discretion” was conferred on the government to refuse the scheme’s benefit to an employee.

Manjushree Pathak, an employee of the Assam Industrial Development Corporation Ltd., had sought voluntary retirement in 1996. But the corporation did not respond to her repeated letters.

The corporation later sent a show cause notice to Pathak alleging that she was indulging in political activities and asking why her application should not be rejected.

The high court, on a petition, said there was discretion vested in the corporation and hence an employee need not be essentially given VRS benefits, although it is made clear that once an employee sought VRS he could not go back on that.

Setting aside the high court verdicts the apex court said: “The high courts failed to see that the scheme conferred discretion on the corporation coupled with the duty to act judicially when application for voluntary retirement was made by an employee.”

However, an organisation can refuse VRS to an employee if the employee is involved in a case or if he or she is wanted as a witness. This apart, there is a notice period which depends on the standing orders of individual organisations.    


 
 
LAW PANEL CHIEF NAMED 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi Aug. 31 
Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, a retired Supreme Court judge, was today appointed chairman of the 16th law commission. The panel was reconstituted to function from September 1.

An official communiqué announced the appointment, saying that the commission would “review and repeal obsolete laws”. Justice Reddy was also the head of the 15th law commission, whose term ended today.

Legal sources said there was a battle among three candidates for the post. Justice D.P. Wadhwa was seen as law minister Arun Jaitley’s candidate and Justice S. Saghir Ahmad’s name was also doing the rounds. But Justice Reddy made it, pushed by BJP’s powerful ally, the Telugu Desam sources said.

Chandrababu Naidu virtually led a campaign for Justice Reddy’s re-appointment. Sources said when he was in New Delhi for the chief ministers’ conference, he had lobbied for Reddy. Justice Reddy is only the second man to get a second term as commission chairman. The first was Justice M.C. Shetalvad.

The work of the commission includes review of obsolete laws, taking measures to harness law and the legal process for poverty alleviation and review of judicial administration, the release said.    

 

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