Basu seeks watchdog for judges
SC to hear plea on Sonia origin
Allies slam Atal on VHP meet
Centre to turn up Bengal heat
TN firm on prisoner release
Fernandes
ABC post

 
 
BASU SEEKS WATCHDOG FOR JUDGES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 11: 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu has suggested the setting up of an agency to look into grievances against judges.

“The judges are not above the law and there must be some agency to look into complaints against them,” Basu said, inaugurating a housing complex for high court judges in Salt Lake this afternoon.

However, Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court A.K. Mathur said forming such an agency was not possible as there were no such rules on the issue.

The proposed housing complex, comprising 18 spacious flats and named after former Chief Justice of Supreme Court Bijan Mukherjee, will cost the state government nearly Rs 6 crore. Several judges was present on the occasion along with Chief Justice Mathur.

Basu indicated that his government was “unhappy” over delayed disposal of cases pending with the high court.

“It is unfortunate that complaints are also coming in against judges. Judges hear the complaints of the litigants and deliver judgement, but who will hear the complaints against them?” he asked.

Basu said he had raised the matter earlier at a meeting of chief ministers and high court chief justices in Delhi.

“I remember that one judge from South India was charged with corruption, but was allowed to go scot-free after intervention by an influential Congress leader,” the chief minister said.

Expressing concern over the piling up of cases involving Public Interest litigations (PILs), Basu said several development projects are being stalled due to this.

“Anybody can move a PIL against the government by exercising his or her democratic right, but if the cases are not disposed of, development work in the city gets either stalled or delayed,” he said.

He requested Chief Justice Mathur to sort out the pending PIL cases by constituting a special bench.

Referring to the setting up of a circuit bench in North Bengal, Basu also urged Chief Justice Mathur to constitute the bench as early as possible.

“We want the circuit bench be set up in Jalpaiguri where infrastructural facilities are ready. But differences of opinion over the selection of the venue have stood in the way,” Basu said.

He added that a committee of three judges has also submitted a report.

Basu also expressed unhappiness over the excessive delay in appointing judges at the high court for which lakhs of cases are lying unheard.

“I do not know why the posts of judges are lying vacant. Three lakh cases are pending and I do not know when they will be cleared. I urge Mr Mathur to take the initiative on this score,” Basu said.

The chief minister said the government has constructed residential complexes for judges.

“We have planned a new building beside the Assembly building, so that the judges can work in a spacious place. We are also ready to provide all assistance to the judiciary. I expect that the judges will make efforts to sort out the pending cases,” Basu said.

Chief Justice Mathur said six judges had already been appointed and some others would join soon.

Later, he said there was neither a provision in the Constitution nor any rules to redress the complaints against the judges.

Asked if he agrees with Basu, the Chief Justice said: “To implement what he says, Parliament will have enact a law. Let the initiative be taken by the lawmakers.”    


 
 
SC TO HEAR PLEA ON SONIA ORIGIN 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 11: 
The latent debate on Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin resurfaced today with the Supreme Court admitting an appeal challenging her election to the Lok Sabha from Amethi.

The bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice Santosh N Hegde and Justice K.G. Balakrishnan issued notices to Sonia on the petition filed by Hari Shankar Jain, an Independent candidate who lost to the Congress president in last year’s polls.

Jain argued that Sonia was not qualified to contest elections on grounds of citizenship.

“A person who acquired citizenship by way of registration or by way of naturalisation cannot be termed a citizen of India under Articles 84, 326 and 102 of the Constitution,” he said.

Sonia’s detractors could use the petition to kick-start the controversy on her Italian origin.

“With this petition, the citizenship issue has come back to haunt the Congress leader,” a lawyer said, adding that since the apex court has admitted the petition, it has to “go through the questions raised in the election petition”.

Last year, Jain challenged Sonia’s election in the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court. The court dismissed the case in May this year.

Asking the Supreme Court to set aside the high court verdict, Jain said: “The respondent, being an Italian national and the citizen of Italy, should have renounced her citizenship of Italy. She cannot be an Indian citizen.”

Jain has asked the court for directions on whether “a person can continue (to hold) citizenship of another country while acquiring Indian citizenship and, if so, what is the time limit for continuance of such dual citizenship”.

Sonia retained her Italian citizenship even after her marriage to Rajiv Gandhi and continued to live as an Italian citizen in the Prime Minister’s house.

Jain contended that under Article 326 of the Constitution, Sonia did not have the “qualifications” for election as a member of Parliament.

The petitioner also asked the court to look into “how and when Antonia Maino became Sonia and under what law she was married to Rajiv Gandhi”.

The high court had earlier observed that to challenge a marriage after 30 years without disclosing any grounds was nothing but frivolous and scandalous.

Jain said this judgment of the high court should overruled and his election petition should be heard.    


 
 
ALLIES SLAM ATAL ON VHP MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept.11: 
Atal Behari Vajpayee today came under attack from both BJP allies and the church for attending yesterday’s VHP-organised function in Staaten Islands.

A senior Janata Dal (United) leader said the Prime Minister’s action seemed “absolutely foolish” at a time when party president Bangaru Laxman was going all out to woo the minorities, especially the 15-crore Muslim population. Vajpayee has poured cold water on Bangaru’s efforts, he added.

According to him, Vajpayee may have been trying to mend fences with the RSS, which was, of late, unhappy with his style of functioning.

The Prime Minister had also visited the smriti shrine of RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar in Nagpur on August 27, while the BJP national council was in session.

However, the RSS top brass snubbed him by staying away. No senior leader was present at the Sangh headquarters when he visited Nagpur.

In a concerted criticism, JD(U), Samata Party and Telugu Desam leaders came down heavily on Vajpayee for saying that he would remain a swyamsevak even when he was not Prime Minister. However, they did not want to be quoted.

Fr Donald D’Souza, deputy secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said Vajpayee should have avoided the function.

“When the VHP is generally not accepted by a significant section of the Indian society, it does not appear to be prudent on the part of the Prime Minister to identify with it,” he said.

However, Samata spokesman Shambhu Srivastav said he found nothing wrong in Vajpayee attending “a multi-religious function” to mark the 108th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.

“It is not a typical Hindutva function. Some VHP men might have spoken something, but the Prime Minister has not made any commitment contrary to the NDA agenda. He merely said that he was a volunteer (swyamsevak) of the nation,” Srivastava said.

Steering clear of any future controversy, Desam leader Yerran Naidu left his party’s reaction to Chandrababu Naidu, but said there was nothing extraordinary in the Prime Minister’s statement.

His party will not doubt the Prime Minister’s concern, he said, but reminded that the Desam’s objective was to protect secularism. If anybody tried to “infringe” on it, the Desam will not sit idle, Naidu said.

“Nobody doubts the Desam’s concern for secularism,” he said. “We were the first to oppose the Gujarat government circular on the RSS and the statement of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta on the Ayodhya temple. We are here to safeguard secularism.”    


 
 
CENTRE TO TURN UP BENGAL HEAT 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Sept. 11: 
The Centre is unlikely to soften its stand on the “deteriorating” law and order in West Bengal.

Government sources said today that the Union home ministry is yet to receive a reply to any of the three advisories that were despatched to Writers’ Buildings over the past fortnight — in view of increasing clashes between the CPM and the Trinamul Congress in five districts.

There is a also proposal to send a team of senior North Block officials to review law and order and the general functioning of the bureaucracy and the police.

While the date of the trip has not been finalised, there is a possibility that Union home minister L.K. Advani may also visit the state — where Assembly polls are due next year — as part of a “strategy” to highlight the “failure” of the state administration.

The BJP government has also begun consultations with the Congress on invoking Article 356 in Bengal.

Long before Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee left for the US, a senior Cabinet minister had reportedly held preliminary discussions on imposing President’s Rule on the state.

Government sources said the NDA government will also be pursuing the matter with Congress president Sonia Gandhi whose “go-ahead” and “parliamentary support” will be necessary for invoking Article 356.

“If the issue has to be discussed, then it will have to be with Sonia,” a top government source said. The Centre will also take up with the Election Commission the matter of ensuring free and fair Assembly polls next year.

But the government is keeping “all options” open now and will continue “turning up” the heat on the Marxists as the elections draw closer. Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee will be happy with this “strategy”.

Government sources believe that the despatching of advisories and a central team will only bring to the fore that the state government is doing little to bring the situation in Midnapore, Bankura, Birbhum, Burdwan and Hooghly to normal.

“Even though the Centre may not be able to save lives of people, the target, for both the Trinamul Congress-BJP and the Leftists, are the elections,” a source said.

“The government wants the situation to build up to mould public opinion the failure of the Left Front regime.”

Even if Writers’ does not reply, the home ministry will continue to send more hard-hitting advisories.

The Centre has three “broad” options before it: imposing President’s Rule, declaring the districts as disturbed area and sending directives.

While a political consensus on Article 356 — even within the NDA — is unlikely, the Centre is not in a position to amend the Disturbed Areas Act in operation in the North-east.

With Parliament not in session, the Centre can only issue a Presidential Ordinance which “is not legally viable” at the moment.

The state’s recommendation to declare particular areas as disturbed is mandatory. The Centre believes that it is already pursuing the third option of issuing advisories and seeking reports from various quarters, including the state administration and the Governor.

However, all these issues will be discussed only after Vajpayee’s return from the US. The Cabinet will also take up the plan of action in Bengal.    


 
 
TN FIRM ON PRISONER RELEASE 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 11: 
Triggering a debate that could lead to a confrontation between the judiciary and the executive, the Tamil Nadu government today contended in the Veerappan case that the state could withdraw cases against any detainee “in public interest”.

In its counter affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the state said that if it was satisfied that withdrawal of cases would lead to “public peace and tranquillity”, then it could do so under Section 321 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Suggesting that the judiciary should not interfere, the Tamil Nadu government told the court that once the public prosecutor, on the state’s recommendation, was satisfied with the circumstances leading to the withdrawal of cases, he had the power to withdraw them.

Forest brigand Veerappan, holding Kannada film icon Raj Kumar and three others hostage, has demanded the release of 127 Tada and NSA detainees from Karnataka and five Tamil separatists from Tamil Nadu in exchange for the hostages.

The Supreme Court had stayed the release of the detainees on a special leave petition filed by the father of one of Veerappan’s victims.

The apex court bench, headed by Justice S.P. Bharucha, had even asked the Karnataka government to “quit” so that a new regime could tackle the menace of Veerappan.

In its counter affidavit filed today, the Tamil Nadu government said the release of the detainees was necessary to secure the safe release of Raj Kumar and others and in the larger interest of the Tamils and Kannadigas, clashes among whom look imminent. The state has to act in “a particular manner” to avoid worsening of the law and order situation.

The counter said the charges under the NSA were withdrawn against four Tamil militants and in the case of the fifth one, Tada charges were withdrawn.

However, other charges under “normal” criminal laws, like the Indian Penal Code, Arms Act and other provisions, continue to be held against them.

Withdrawal of the NSA and Tada charges against the accused were “only with a view to enable them to come out on bail” so that the release of Raj Kumar and others was secured, the government argued.

Veerappan has demanded that the detainees be released “in front of him” as was done during the “Kandahar flight hijack” crisis, when external affairs minister Jaswant Singh had accompanied the Kashmiri militants to the air base to secure the release of the hostages.

“When the minister could himself go to secure the release of the air hostages, why not my Tamil brethren be released in front of me?” Veerappan had asked Nakkeeran editor R. Rajagopal, acting as the emissary of the state governments.

   


 
 
FERNANDES 
 
 
 
New Delhi, Sept. 11: 
Defence minister and Samata Party leader George Fernandes has come under fire from his own party MPs for going overboard to please Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

The MPS are up in arms over Fernandes’ observation that the law and order situation in West Bengal is worse than that of Bihar.

The NDA leaders in Bihar have been demanding President’s rule time and again, missing no opportunity to paint the Laloo-Rabri government as jungle-raj. However, a party leader supporting the Fernandes line said the defence minister’s statement was calculated to put the Congress leadership on the mat. Without the support of the Telugu Desam, the Akalis and the DMK — all opposed to Article 356 — imposition of President’s rule in West Bengal is impossible, they said.

“The whole exercise is to keep the morale of Trinamul Congress up till the Assembly elections. George did a good job. Just by visiting three villages he managed to create an impression of sinking law and order situation in the state,” the leader said. However, a Samata MP from Bihar said Fernandes’ statement has unwittingly helped Laloo Prasad Yadav. “You are exonerating Laloo. It will also stick the charge that Samata and the RJD chief are cosying up,” he said.

Though the Samata leaders declined to go on record, a senior MP said they understood the compulsions of the Vajpayee government in “creating some sound and fury” to keep Mamata in good humour. However, he felt there was no need for Fernandes to compare West Bengal with Bihar, especially when it is known that getting Article 356 imposed on West Bengal is just a pipe dream.

After his visit to the violence-hit districts of West Bengal yesterday, Fernandes had said in Delhi that the situation was “worse than Bihar.” On a scale of 10, he said he would give 10 points to West Bengal and 9 to Bihar.

“Democracy in West Bengal was facing the worst threat ever. It would fade away if something was not done to correct the situation immediately,” Fernandes was quoted as having said after handing over his report to home minister L.K. Advani.

Some of the MPs are also critical of Fernandes’ becoming “errand boy” and presenting the report to Advani in public glare. By doing so, Fernandes, who to them is “Number 2” in the Vajpayee Cabinet, has conferred the position to Advani.

Fernandes could have just called on the home minister and briefed on his visit. The report should have been handed over to the Prime Minister, they say.    


 
 
ABC POST 
 
 
 
Mumbai, Sept. 11: 
Aroon Purie, editor-in-chief and chief executive of The India Today Group, has become the new chairman of the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Ravi Kant, executive director (commercial vehicles business unit), Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company, takes over as the deputy-chairman.

Other members are Philip Mathew (The Week), C.B. Sen (Ananda Bazar Patrika), A.K. Bahl (The Sunday Times of India), K.N. Shanth Kumar (Prajavani), Ashwini Kumar Chopra (Punjab Kesari), Shobhana Bhartia (The Hindustan Times), C.H. Kiron (Eenadu), Goutam Rakshit (Advertising Avenues), Krishan Premnarayen (Prem Associates Advt. & Marketing), Anil Kapoor (FCB-Ulka Advertising), Rajiv Agarwal (Enterprise Nexus Communications), Sunil Alagh (Britannia Industries), Kurush N. Grant (ITC) and Vikram Kaushik (Colgate Palmolive India).    

 

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