Most frequent VIP visitor back in Beur
Advani hands peace baton to Pakistan
Ominous kick-off to ceasefire
Bandh over, MPs snooze on workers’ plight
Seats Bill stuck in north-south cleft
‘Witness’ Advani to face panel
Second shot at federal crimes clone
Age-twist lawyer takes ill in court
Bid for fast-track labour reforms
Summit seeks nerve for action

Patna, Nov. 28: 
For the third time in three years, Laloo Prasad Yadav went to Beur jail after Patna High Court deferred hearing on his petition for bail renewal.

The RJD chief who was present at the CBI special court hearing on the disproportionate assets case today, had filed the bail renewal petition before Justice Sasankh Sekhar Singh of Patna High Court this morning. Yadav raised the issue of his bail petition and his decision to surrender if the interim bail expired after he was at the CBI court hearing till 3 pm. A restless Yadav then asked for leave from the court premises to address a meeting in Jehanabad but was told to wait till 4 pm.

The special court waited till the high court adjourned without taking up Yadav’s petition. “It was Patna High Court which had granted Laloo Prasad Yadav interim bail and this court is not authorised to release him on bail,” the special court said in its order.

Directing the RJD chief be incarcerated in Beur jail, the court also ordered the inspector general of police and the DIG to ensure his security.

Yadav, who had spent the whole day in the CBI court, said: “Ever since I inaugurated the Beur jail, I have involuntarily become its most frequent visitor.”

“I have faith in the judiciary and this dispute is one of legal technicality,” he added, while being escorted from the court.

However, he made light of the unexpected turn of events. “Today our Muslim brothers are observing Ramzan. I also observed Ramzan as I have not even touched water since morning,” he said.

But Beur jail was unprepared for its VIP visitor. Minutes after Yadav reached the jail, hectic preparations were made to clean up his “fixed” cell. The inmates also greeted him with “namaste”.

Yadav will be produced before the CBI court tomorrow in connection with the fodder scam case. If the high court decides to defer the hearing again, Yadav will be sent back to Beur jail.

Imprisoned for the first time at Beur jail in 1997, Yadav surrendered before the CBI court on April 5 this year after he was chargesheeted in the disproportionate assets case. While the court sent him to jail, chief minister Rabri Devi, also an accused in the case, was granted bail.

On May 10, the high court granted Yadav a three-month interim bail. He was again given a three-month extension on August 16. When the bail expired on November 16, the court granted Yadav 10 days to file a fresh petition for its renewal.    

New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
Union home minister L.K. Advani today claimed the NDA government had created the “best possible climate” to restore peace with Pakistan.

“Communal tension has been minimised and our government has established good relations with the Islamic countries,” he said, while talking to BJP MPs, in a parliamentary party meeting, about the Centre’s decision to declare a unilateral ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir during Ramzan.

Advani went on to say that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was another reason for opening a door for rapprochement with Pakistan.

“When we were part of the Janata Party government and Atalji was the foreign minister, India had the best of relations with Pakistan. When Nawaz Sharif (former Pakistan Prime Minister) met Atalji at Rajiv Gandhi’s funeral, he made it a point to remind him that when he was the foreign minister, India and Pakistan had extremely cordial relations,” he said.

Advani, who had indicated last week in Wagah that India was ready to talk to Pakistan if “all goes well” during the Ramzan ceasefire, told party MPs that the peace ball was squarely in Pakistan’s court and it was up to it to accept India’s “second peace initiative”.

“The ceasefire announcement is not only addressed to the terrorists but primarily to Pakistan and to tell it to come to terms with reality and stop funding the ISI and terrorist activities,” he explained.

Describing the move as a “calculated risk”, the home minister said: “We will not claim we will be one hundred per cent successful but there will be no repetition of Lahore because we have taken the necessary precautions.”

Although it was a suo motu address and not a response to questions asked by the MPs, Advani clarified that the ceasefire meant that “pro-activism had been frozen for one month”.

“It means the armed forces will not be the first to engage in combat operations but it does not mean they have laid down arms,” he stressed.

Advani also made it clear the ceasefire did not apply to the Line of Actual Control and “the terrorists will not be allowed to take advantage of it”.

He also said the Centre had taken the ceasefire because “the maximum number of terrorists were killed in Jammu and Kashmir in the last three months and that is why we took the decision after we felt we had the upper hand in the area.”

While conceding that Pakistan had backstabbed India after Vajpayee’s Lahore bus yatra, Advani told the MPs: “It had increased our credibility in the world. This time too people in the Valley and the entire Opposition have hailed our move.”

He explained away the rash of violence that had erupted after the ceasefire declaration as “inevitable”. “After such steps terrorists will increase their activities,” he added.    

Srinagar, Nov. 28: 
Militants greeted the government’s unilateral ceasefire with a blast, killing three soldiers. In a string of other incidents, 11 persons, including five militants, were killed across the state.

Three soldiers were killed and 12 others wounded in a powerful landmine blast late this afternoon. A bullet-proof army vehicle hit the landmine at Kreeri Nowpora village near Dooru in southern Anantnag district.

The injured jawans, five of whom are said to be critical, were shifted to hospital.

The Hizb-ul Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the blast.

All prominent militant groups had threatened to intensify attacks, rejecting the Prime Minister’s announcement of a unilateral leash on combat operations against separatist militants in the Valley in view of Ramzan.

Army and security forces had suspended operations against militants since early this morning. A police officer said patrolling has been intensified to maintain law and order.

Earlier, troops mounted a massive operation in the bor- der village of Saujiyan in Poonch district of Jammu after a group of militants managed to sneak in across the Line of Control.

The militants opened heavy fire after the soldiers threw a ring around them. The troops retaliated, killing five. Fighting continued till this afternoon. A soldier and two civilians were also killed in the encounter, police sources said. Eight villagers were wounded.

In another fierce encounter in Poonch, two foreign militants were killed in Fazalabad village. A woman, identified as Naseema Akhtar, died while another civilian received injuries.

Militants ambushed an army vehicle near Erin Bandipore in north Kashmir this morning, forcing the troops to open fire. But no one was injured.

A jawan was hospitalised with serious injuries sustained in another powerful blast at Arnas in Udhampur district of Jammu.    

New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
Yesterday the Lok Sabha would have done Marx proud. Seething with anger at the injustice to displaced Delhi workers, MPs were ready to lead them in their struggle.

But this afternoon when a “pro-worker” Bill, an amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Act, was discussed, the House was almost deserted. Most of the few MPs present were dozing off.

The Bill, though considered important, was moved by labour minister Satyanarain Jatiya in the presence of not more than 50 members from the BJP, less than 10 from the Congress and a handful of Left MPs. Not many MPs, who had raised a din over the pl-ight of Delhi workers, were there.

The Bill seeks to amend the compensation Act for the 26th time and increase the compensation for the families of workers and also give them the interest accumulated in case of delayed payment.

There were suggestions that contract labourers be brought under the Bill’s purview and that it takes into account cases of death due to occupational hazards.

But the sparse benches and a headcount revealed the low interest in a subject that most parties claim as their own. “It just shows our leaders are only interested in vote-bank politics. The workmen’s compensation Act, even though a workers’ issue, is not directly related to electoral politics. Therefore the lack of interest in the Lok Sabha,” said a labour activist.    

New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
A fresh north-south divide over population control is likely to derail the passage of Constitution Amendment Bill, 2000, aimed at freezing Lok Sabha seats till 2026.

The Constitution Delimitation Bill introduced by law minister Arun Jaitley yesterday may come up for consideration next week, but it may be held up for the time being. The Congress and several other parties from northern states today raised objections to freezing the seats for another 25 years as some constituencies have become unwieldy with population of 20 to 30 lakhs.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan told the leaders that he will consult the law ministry to ascertain if there was a need to pass the Bill during the current session and report to the Business Advisory Committee next week, sources said.

Government sources said the Bill does not address internal contradictions, such as how to deal with disproportionate population growth in constituencies of the same state. For instance, in Delhi, one constituency has a population of about 20 lakhs, while another MP represents just 5 lakh people. Huge population gaps are also seen in Mumbai constituencies.

The Congress said there was no urgency to pass the Bill. Though the suggestion to have a relook at the Bill came from the Congress, several party leaders, especially from the northern states, were not happy with the government’s decision to freeze the size of Lok Sabha as politically they stood to gain from more seats.

Before Uttarakhand was carved out, Uttar Pradesh sent 85 MPs to the Lok Sabha, having a major say on who becomes the Prime Minister. But BJP allies such as the Telugu Desam and the DMK have cautioned the government on the potential injustice to states which implemented family planning programme efficiently. Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu has said his party would oppose any move to reward northern states which did not bother about population control.

Though the Cabinet had okayed the move, the government has taken note of the Congress suggestion today to refer the Bill to a committee under home minister L.K. Advani to study the implications of restricting Lok Sabha seats for such a long time.    

New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
Union home minister L.K. Advani has decided to appear before the Liberhan Commission probing events leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid, BJP sources said.

The party said since Advani had been summoned as a witness to depose before the commission, there was no way the Opposition could demand his resignation on “moral or political ground”. “He is not going there as an accused,” said sources. Advani has been summoned by the commission on December 29.

Another BJP minister, Uma Bharti, has already testified once before the commission but has been asked to come again on December 12. Murli Manohar Joshi, also a Cabinet minister, has been summoned on December 19 and 20.

BJP sources said a high-level meeting was held at Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s residence on November 23, the day on which the Liberhan Commission had issued summons to Advani and the others.

Apart from Vajpayee and Advani, law minister Arun Jaitley and Uma Bharti were also present. Uma was specially asked to come and give her account of the recording of her statement, the first part of which was made on that very day.

Sources said the “objective” was to “get an idea” of the kind of questions that had been asked and at what level the investigation was being carried out.

Once the leaders were convinced that neither their image nor that of the BJP would suffer if the ministers appeared before the commission, it was decided they would testify.

Following the decision, BJP president Bangaru Laxman — who had earlier said that if a CBI chargesheet was served against Advani in the Ayodhya case, the issue of whether he should demit office would be considered — changed tack and claimed he would appear as a “witness” and not as an accused.

The other source of comfort for the BJP is that along with its own top brass, Congressmen P.V. Narasimha Rao and Arjun Singh have also been summoned by the commission.

“There is no way in which they can demand the resignations of Advani, Joshi and Uma after this,” claimed the BJP sources.    

New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
Five months after L.K. Advani gave up the proposal to set up a Central law enforcement agency, Delhi has revived the concept of “federal crimes”. This may lead to another round of friction between the Vajpayee government and the states, which had earlier struck down the government’s initiative to establish a Central agency empowered to investigate federal crimes throughout the country.

A home ministry statement today said a four-member committee under the chairmanship of V.S. Malimath, former chief justice of both Karnataka and Kerala High Court, has been set up to examine the “feasibility of introducing” the concept of federal crimes which can be put on List I of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. A one-man committee of former Union home secretary K. Padmanabhaiah had recently recommended a Central law enforcement agency with powers to probe federal crimes.

The committee will examine whether there is a need to “rewrite” the CrPC, the IPC and the Evidence Act to “bring them in tune with the demand of the times and to bring them in harmony with the aspirations of the people”.

The other members of the committee are former planning commission adviser S. Vardhachari and former Rajasthan director-general of police Amitabh Gupta. Home ministry’s department of justice joint secretary Durgadas Gupta will act as secretary to the committee. The panel will submit its report within six months.

This means the government intends to pursue its objective and is prepared to amend the Constitution to incorporate the concept of federal crimes and the need for a Central law enforcement agency as its provisions. A Central agency will also require legislation.

The concept of federal crime was first mooted in December last year by home secretary Kamal Pande at a conference of state directors-general of police. The proposed Central agency will not require the consent of the states to investigate certain categories of crimes, designated as federal crimes. Under existing law, the CBI has to seek permission from state governments to probe crimes committed within their territories.

Delhi believes a Central law enforcement agency is imperative and is the “need of the hour”, considering how various types of crimes are becoming more complex and assuming international dimensions. The proposed agency would also investigate crimes committed by terrorists and criminal syndicates.

Top government sources confirmed that though several states had objected to a Central law enforcement agency on the lines of the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in June last year, the Centre “had never given up the idea of reviving it” and “seeing to it that it becomes a reality”.    

New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
S.K. Sundaram, who faces contempt of court charges in the Chief Justice age case, collapsed during proceedings today, even as former Union law minister Ram Jethmalani, who had accused A.S. Anand of declaring a false year of birth, joined the case as an intervener.

Chennai lawyer Sundaram, 62, against whom charges were framed by the apex court for sending a telegram to Justice Anand asking him to step down, suddenly fell down on the floor inside the court room during proceedings.

He was rushed to the Supreme Court dispensary on the ground floor where doctors said he had suffered a mild heart attack. Sundaram was then shifted to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital.

A division bench of Justice K.T. Thomas and Justice R.P. Sethi, hearing the contempt of court case against Sundaram, adjourned hearings to December 6.

Sundaram lay on the floor for some time before he was noticed by fellow advocates. Sundaram collapsed 45 minutes into the proceedings.

Appearing for Jethmalani, senior counsel and former Union law minister Shanti Bhushan argued that his “intervener’s petition” should have been heard even before the bench order for a CBI probe on the veracity of the documents obtained by Jethmalani from London.

Bhushan said the apex court had brought disrepute to senior counsels like him and Jethmalani as it ordered a CBI probe “not on the year of birth of the Chief Justice but on the documents produced by the intervener”, in this case Jethmalani.

Jethmalani in his book Small Men and Big Egos has annexed two certificates from the London examination records and the General Council of Bar of England and Wales to contend that Justice Anand’s year of birth is 1934 and not 1936 as declared in the records here. The apex court has not initiated any contempt action against him but initiated contempt charges suo motu against Sundaram for his “offending” telegram.

Praying for permission to intervene in the matter, Jethmalani in his sworn affidavit requested recall of the court order framing contempt charges against Sundaram.

Jethmalani said in his affidavit that notices should have been issued to him and the publisher of the book instead of the framing of charges against Sundaram who “has no interest in the case”.    

New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
The government is ready to go ahead with changes in labour law even before the recommendations of a commission are out, if a political consensus is reached.

The Union labour secretary, Vinod Vaish, made the announcement today at the World Economic Forum Summit. The second labour commission is scheduled to submit its report in October next year.

Sources said policymakers were more or less convinced that the Left trade unions — the Aituc and the Citu — would continue to be recalcitrant. However, if the BMS and the Intuc can be nudged closer to each other on labour issues, the government’s efforts at thrashing out labour reforms, including an exit policy, will gather pace.

But the government was not willing to put “undue pressure” on the second labour commission. “With great difficulty, the government has managed to convince all parties of the need for a labour commission. It has been given time till 2001. We are open to changes in executive orders if it does not require legislation,” he said.

Vaish said legislation could not be framed till a political consensus is reached. He said the government would insist on social protection and retraining in any significant labour reform.

The process of cleaning up antiquated labour laws has also begun. At last count, there were 34 such laws, said Vaish.

Vaish was speaking after Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Auto and co-chairman of the summit, demanded that industry be given the right to hire and fire, particularly because domestic companies were saddled with pressures that foreign companies did not have to face.

He said Bajaj Auto had last month shed 2,000 of its 9,000 workers through a separation package. “Bajaj Auto is an old company but profitable. Even companies that are five to seven years old will have surplus labour. The point I am trying to make is that it is possible to downsize labour even in profitable companies,” he said.

Aituc secretary K.L. Mahendra, the sole representative from trade unions, rubbished such demands. “Let us not live in an illusory world. You want to get rid of labour to maximise your profits at their cost,” he told the assembled industrialists from India and overseas.

“Market economy is not humane. How can labour reforms initiated by market forces have a human face?” he asked.    

New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
The World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit that concluded here today has urged the Indian government to “reward action and implementation, and not reward plans, budgets and good intentions”.

Percy Barnevik, co-chairman of the summit and chairman of Investor AB, Sweden, said the pious statements of faith in reforms was becoming a habit, and the evidence that the statements were backed up with action was scanty.

“There is a tendency in India to back down whenever confronted with anti-reform forces. This has to stop. The reform process is painful everywhere,” said Barnevik.

Barnevik said the reforms so far were lopsided. Information technology was the main sector to benefit from them so far. “You cannot live on information technology. In power, the nineties were the lost decade. You have to restructure all 24 state electri- city boards. It is time to move from the era of recommendation to the era of command in electricity,” he said.

Barnevik said the World Economic Forum message to the Indian government was that it was competing with moving targets. “The world has moved on to Formula 1 racing while you are still playing cricket,” he said, quoting a participant from one of the sessions.

Barnevik did not quote the secretary in Prime Minister’s Office, N.K. Singh’s repartee to that observation. It was: “Even cricket has changed from five-day tests to one-dayers.”

Rahul Bajaj, the Indian co-chairman of the summit, came out with a five-point agenda.

Indian industry has to accept that globalisation is here to stay. There will be no quantitative restrictions from April 1 2001, so it must gear up for intense competition. E-enablement of industries was a must.

The government must accelerate the pace of infrastructure reform first. “In power, the government has talked the most and achieved the least,” he said. Legislation on labour has to follow soon.

The government must move from disinvestment to privatisation.

In matters related to WTO, the government must do away with protectionist policies but ensure a level playing field for Indian industry and

Policy announcements must be accompanied with action.    


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