One killed as lawyers don outlaw garb
Drive to cushion petro price hike blow
Left team meets President
BJP wakes up to floods
PM renews Pak attack
SC draws pay panel line on pensioners
Taxmen sniff overseas assets
25 drown in police chase on Ganga
Singing her heart out for a mission

Lucknow, Sept. 28: 
Lawyers turned into outlaws as a senior Kanpur advocate was shot dead after an altercation between two rival groups suddenly snowballed. Two men were hospitalised with serious wounds.

The clash occurred around noon when a mob of nearly 150 lawyers, angry at the volte-face by Uttar Pradesh Bar Council chairman Yogendra Swarup on the statewide lawyers’ strike, barged into his Civil Lines residence, apparently to “teach him a lesson on solidarity”.

With tempers running high on both sides, one of Swarup’s supporters, identified as Tej Singh, suddenly whipped out a gun and, from point-blank range, shot dead senior advocate Ratan Dube.

Both Swarup and Tej Singh were seriously injured in the incident. Singh, who was nearly lynched by the advocate mob, was taken to KGMC Hospital in Lucknow.

Nilesh Shrivastava, additional superintendent of police (Kanpur city), said the situation was tense and forces had been put on alert and posted at the site of the murder.

Lawyers of the State Bar Council had decided to continue their 14-day strike, called to protest against the police lathicharge on a group of 200 advocates in Etawah on September 15. Around 150 lawyers were injured in the police caning with many sustaining fractures on their hands and legs.

The protesting lawyers had been demanding a CBI probe into the murder of Ranvir Senger, a senior advocate. Senger, along with his two advocate daughters and his wife, was butchered to death earlier this month.

The lawyers had expressed dissatisfaction at the police claim that the case had been “solved” with the arrest of Senger’s son-in-law, Suresh Pal Singh.

Though the Allahabad High Court had, on September 26, ordered a CBI inquiry into the murders, the Bar Council remained adamant on its demand that the Etawah district magistrate, additional DM and the senior police superintendent be transferred.

The council had urged all advocates to gather in Lucknow on October 10 and gherao the chief minister.

However, in a statement yesterday, Swarup had expressed doubts about the “validity and moral propriety” of the strike since legal work had come to a standstill.

The Bar Council chairman asked his colleagues to relent and “think over” their strategy. This angered a section of lawyers.

The attack on Swarup follows the assault on another advocate, Jeetendra Singh, who wanted to argue his client’s case before the district court magistrate in Etawah as he felt the delay was “not fair on his poor client”.

On Tuesday, he was roughed by his colleagues and suffered multiple fractures.    

New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
Petroleum minister Ram Naik has said the Centre will pass on the “least burden” to consumers in the new oil schedule as the finance ministry has agreed to share at least two-third of the Rs 23,600-crore oil pool deficit.

Prices of petroleum products will be hiked in the next two days to mop up the remaining one-third of the deficit, amounting to around Rs 8,000 crore.

Naik added that the finance ministry will reduce import and excise duties and issue oil bonds to bail out his ministry.

“The finance ministry has agreed to cut customs and excise duty on crude and petro products to provide relief to consumers from the impending hike in prices necessitated by the tripling of international crude oil prices in one-and-a-half years... We will pass on only one-third burden (about Rs 8,000 crore) to consumers,” Naik said.

He added that the finance ministry has also agreed in principle to part with the petroleum ministry’s Rs 4,429-crore deposit with the exchequer.

Despite these measures, the government was forced to take the “hard” decision of increasing prices of five controlled petro products — petrol, diesel, kerosene, LPG and aviation turbine fuel (ATF). The announcement on the hike would be made by September 30, the minister said.

“Prices of petro products will be hiked to the extent of one-third of the oil pool deficit... We have ensured that only the least burden is passed on to the common man,” he said.

The ministry has also set in motion a proposal to cut up to 10 per cent petroleum consumption by the government machinery to reduce non-plan expenditure on the pro- duct.

The reduction in excise and customs duties will deal a blow to the finance ministry.

It expected to mop up about Rs 41,000 crore from excise and customs as against the budgetary target of Rs 27,000 crore during 2000-2001 on account of a spurt in global crude prices, Naik said.

At the present price level, the subsidy on kerosene was Rs 8 for a litre and Rs 170 for a cylinder of cooking gas. Diesel was subsidised by Rs 5 a litre and ATF by Rs 2 a litre, while consumers of petrol were being charged Re 1 more to subsidise other products.    

New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
A delegation of Left Front MPs today met President K.R. Narayanan to apprise him of the grave flood situation in West Bengal.

In their memorandum to Narayanan, the MPs said the flood has “adversely influenced the lives of more than one crore people and caused a damage of over (Rs) 3000 crore”.

Before meeting Narayanan, the delegation met Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to request a grant of Rs 962 crore so that the state administration could tackle the catastrophe which has already claimed over 500 lives and left thousands marooned.

Earlier, the CPM-led Left Front government had urged the Centre to declare the floods a “natural disaster” and asked it to send a team of experts to suggest ways of tackling the post-flood situation.

In today’s meeting, the MPs also raised the issue of President’s rule — that Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has been demanding — and the law and order situation in the state.

“It is only a small part of the territory which is disturbed. The statistics provided by the home ministry indicates that West Bengal is one of the most peaceful and least crime-prone states among the 16 big states in India,” the memorandum said.

This is the second time that Left MPs have petitioned the President on West Bengal.

The delegation stressed that Trinamul, desperate to widen its support base, was whipping up hysteria over the state’s law and order. They pointed out that BJP national president Bangaru Laxman, who visited Bengal after defence minister George Fernandes, “spent even less time in reaching the same conclusion as Fernandes”.

Yesterday, Left parties had organised a public meeting in Delhi to warn the Centre against meddling in Bengal’s law and order situation.

According to sources, Narayanan had earlier summoned home minister L.K. Advani to probe the facts behind the hue and cry over West Bengal.

Slamming the Trinamul campaign and Fernandes’ disparaging comments on the political bloodspill in some districts, today’s memorandum said: “If the objective of the campaign is to hold the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) together and to maintain its wafer-thin majority, this should not be at the cost of the public exchequer.”

It added that the alliance could also not destabilise “what has been for the two long decades the stablest component of the Indian political system”.

The memorandum outlined a summary of the electoral graph of political parties in Bengal and added that “If people are on their side, the Trinamul-BJP alliance can capture power through votes in the forthcoming election.”    

New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
Waking up to the fact that its continuing clamour for President’s rule had sent “wrong signals” in flood-hit Bengal, the BJP today asked Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to depute a Central team to assess the ground situation and extend all possible help.

BJP vice-president in charge of Bengal, Kailashpati Mishra, and general secretary Venkaiah Naidu told reporters the Prime Minister had promised to send a team after Nitish Kumar returns from Bihar. He also promised to meet the food requirements of the people, they said.

The BJP also demanded that the Bengal government immediately call an all-party meet to discuss the floods and constitute all-party committees to oversee relief and rehabilitation.

The BJP appears to have put the floods on the top of its agenda after party chief Bangaru Laxman received “negative” feedback during last week’s survey of districts wracked by Trinamul-CPM clashes. Laxman chose to harp on Article 356 and the Left Front’s “culpability” in the violence even when large parts of the state was knee-deep in water. Sources said Laxman’s “wrong” prioritisation did not go down well with the people.

Naidu was non-committal on when the Centre would release additional funds to Bengal. Told how promptly the Centre had sent money to BJP-ruled Himachal during a recent round of floods, he said: “Release from the next quarter of funds for Bengal is not possible because there is no money in its quota.... There is no discrimination against Bengal.”

Co-spokesman Kailashpati Mishra accused the state government of withholding information on the floods. “Jyoti Basu’s only job is to oppose Mamata Banerjee and make intemperate statements against the home minister. He is not interested in upholding democracy or helping people.”    

New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
Kicking off from where he had finished in the US, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today renewed his verbal assault against Pakistan and said its terror campaign was in “direct proportion” to the “mounting desire” for peace in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Prime Minister appeared ill at ease as he delivered his speech sitting at the conference of state directors-general and inspectors-general of police. He even needed help while giving away medals to senior officers.

But his tone and tenor remained focused. “There has been no dilution in Pakistan’s attempts to intensify its proxy war against India and everybody knows the manner in which Pakistan-backed terrorist outfits sabotaged peace talks in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Vajpayee described the situation in the Northeast as “worrisome” because apart from criminals bereft of ideology, separatist groups and militant organisations had stepped up violence and extortion. This, he said, was hampering the government’s plans for development in the region.

Asking the police top brass to “deal with a firm hand” the “scourge” of Left-wing extremism, Vajpayee said there was no place for violence in a democracy. “A joint effort can take us a long way in defeating political extremism that rests on violence,” he said.

Clearly expecting more from the police, Vajpayee asked the bosses to create an “impeccable image” among the people and build “unimpeachable integrity”. “I would urge you to ponder upon what needs to be done to correct popular impressions about the police. These may not be entirely founded, but the fact that such impressions should exist is by itself cause for concern,” he said.

Earlier, Intelligence Bureau chief Shyamal Dutta took a bold line, saying there was a “long overdue investment” on the part of the government in intelligence gathering, keeping in view new-generation crimes like cyber terrorism.

Dutta regretted that the failures of the intelligence agencies were being highlighted and their achievements ignored. “Intelligence and police organisations are paraded in public for their failures but their successes in protecting top politicians and thwarting several cases of terrorist violence and crime have gone unnoticed,” Dutta said.

However, he, added: “We are not in the business for headlines.”

The conference, organised by the IB, was inaugurated by home minister L.K. Advani yesterday.    

New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
The Supreme Court has ruled that the recommendations of the Fourth Pay Commission were not with retrospective effect and hence employees who had retired before the recommendations came into effect would not get all retirement benefits.

A division bench of Justice V.N. Khare and Justice S.N. Phukan in a judgment said the recommendations were enforced from January 1, 1986, and the service years required to qualify for pension were reduced to 10 years from 20. These created a new category of pensioners, “but the recommendations were not enforced with retrospective effect”.

“Where an employee under the terms and conditions of service is not eligible to earn pension, any amendment to the rules covering a new class of pensioners would not confer pensionary benefits to the employee who has retired prior to the coming into force of amended rules,” the apex court said.

Secondly, if an employee is entitled to pension at the time of retirement, “any subsequent amendment to the relevant rules enhancing pension or conferring additional benefits would be also applicable to him.”

But “the position would be different if such an amendment in the relevant pension rules is with retrospective effect to cover a new class of employees including those who, at the relevant time, were not entitled to earn pension under the then existing rules or conditions of service,” the court said.

If the amendment is with retrospective effect, then those employees who retired earlier to the amendment would also be entitled to the benefits.

An employee of the eastern naval command, Vishakhapatnam, retired in November 1980. On her petition, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) granted pro rata pension in view of the recommendations of the Fourth Pay Commission to include all the benefits. According to the tribunal, denial of pension benefits would violate Article 14 of the Co-nstitution providing for equality before and equal application of law to all citizens.

Reversing the decision and putting an end to a major controversy among various categories of employees, the apex court said since the employee had retired six years before the recommendations of the pay commission, she could not get the benefits.    

Mumbai, Sept. 28: 
In one of their biggest finds, Income-Tax officials, who raided the houses of Bollywood stars and directors for two days, have traced several crores of rupees stashed away by a superstar in overseas fixed deposit accounts.

Tax department sources said the star, who has several recent hits under his belt, also had close to Rs 45 lakh in different banks around the country and invested an yet-undetermined amount in real estate.

Officials suspect the actor might have remitted a huge sum of money abroad.

According to sources, the department will now ask the actor to explain how he had amassed so much wealth and will only initiate action after his reply.

Nearly 150 tax officials, accompanied by policemen, raided a total of 33 premises in Bandra, Santacruz, Versova and other areas in Mumbai on Tuesday and Wednesday.

As hidden treasures kept tumbling out of star cupboards, the investigators, the sources added, also found Rs 20.3 lakh in cash and jewellery from the house of an actress.

Documents seized from the residence of another actor revealed that he had invested Rs 60 lakh in mutual funds and another 65 lakhs in real estate.

The taxmen are investigating if their assets are disproportionate to their known sources of income.

Investigators found that another actor has been engaged in horse breeding and developing resorts, besides renting out expensive film equipment.

The department has so far seized Rs 6.19 crore in cash and jewellery from the premises of top people in the film industry. Stars who had their houses searched include Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Urmila Matondkar and Bengali belle Rani Mukherjee.

The houses of directors Yash Chopra and Yash Johar were also searched in the major crackdown on the industry.

The taxmen also searched the houses of a raw-film manufacturer and a chartered accoun- tant who has a wide clientele among top Bollywood personalities.    

Patna, Sept. 28: 
Twenty-five persons were feared drowned in the Ganga near Katihar when a boat chased by the police capsized last night.

The police swung into action on receiving a tip-off around 9.30 pm yesterday that a businessman, Dayanand Singh, had been abducted and the miscreants were escaping in a boat.

They chased in a hired mechanised vessel and soon caught up with the fleeing abductors midstream.

The cornered miscreants propped up some villagers on their boat as a shield. The innocent villagers panicked and in the tumult the boat capsized.

The police, however, managed to save the trader.

Kursela police station officer-in-charge Rajendra Singh, under whose jurisdiction the incident took place, confirmed that a boat carrying around 25 persons overturned.

However, he could not say whether there were any casualties.

Local persons feared that since the Ganga was in spate, there was little chance of any survivors.

But police sources said there were Mallar fishermen on the boat, and they could swim to safety.    

Bhopal, Sept. 28: 
Her schedule is packed. Her concerts are sellouts though there are no tickets. And by the time eight-year-old Palak Muchhal takes her last bow for the night, the misty-eyed audience is on its feet, happily loosening their purse strings.

While most other kids her age are still fighting over teddy bears or busy collecting tazos from packs of wafers, little Palak sings to raise money for children with heart ailments.

In one year, she has sung through London, Leicester, Lucknow, Mumbai, New Delhi, Vizag, Jaipur and Jodhpur and raised several lakhs which has been used for successfully operating on 11 children with holes in the heart.

Dressed in a frilly frock, she confidently walks down the aisle to the stage and introduces herself to an audience of 2,000 gathered on a school campus. Every three minutes, her eyes wander away from the crowd to her mother, Amita Muchhal, at the wings.

Palak thanks God for having given her a voice which makes it possible for her to fulfil a “mission”: collect money so she can help 42 children suffering from chronic heart diseases.

She starts with the title song from Satyam Shivam Sundaram, and, as the evening progresses, the kid-nightingale enthrals the audience with her rendition of hits, both old and new. She doesn’t have to ask: the people eagerly fish out the notes, varying from Rs 50 to Rs 500. Even schoolchildren hand over their pocket-money.

“There are no tickets for the programme,” said Hero Gyan Chandrani, the organiser of five of Palak’s shows here last week. “We invite the audience and as Palak sings, the money flows in. Initially people attend thinking they would be donating money for a good cause, but later they give the money with tears in their eyes.”

Backstage, Palak displays no signs of fatigue as she talks about her passion. “I have seen singing ever since I started talking,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “I have been performing on stage for shows. But I had no ‘mission’ then.” One such show a year ago changed her life. “I was being honoured at a function after a three-hour performance,” Palak said. “A little boy’s parents approached my mother. The boy is Lokesh, he is now a friend. His parents asked my mom and dad if I would sing to raise some money for Lokesh’s heart operation. My parents immediately agreed.”

Palak sang for Lokesh and collected Rs 55,000. Bangalore-based heart specialist Devi Shetty readily joined Palak’s “mission” and operated Lokesh free of cost.

“The Rs 55,000 I raised was saved. So my parents gave an ad asking for a similar child who would have to undergo a heart operation and needed money,” Palak recalled. “Seven children came to us. We couldn’t choose one from them. So I told my parents I would sing and raise money for all.”

Amita claimed her daughter has already collected Rs 4.5 lakh in one year. After the five-day concert last week, one of them attended by Madhya Pradesh Governor Bhai Mahavir, Palak collected another Rs 2.5 lakh.

But what about her studies? “She is studying in the fourth standard in Indore but she has to learn her lessons and practice for functions at the same time. The school principal has instructed the teachers that when Palak is away singing, her teachers should make special notes for her so she does not miss-out on the lessons. Most of the time, she learns her lessons either on the train or in buses,” says her mother.

On August 29, TV star Shekhar Suman interviewed Palak on Movers and Shakers and donated Rs 1 lakh. Tips Music, too, is pitching in and has agreed to record her first album titled A Child for Children. The money collected will be used to bring the smile back on the face of yet another helpless mother.    


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