Delhi missive for Dalits and women judges
PM promises tech funds to ‘ramp up’ IITs
Mulayam junks Basu formula
Split spectre looms on Samata
Atal musings catch Cong napping
Jaswant to call on a friend forgotten after Indira era
Keshpur tempers aflame again
Mamata drive to woo Ghani
Surrenders in delivery-death case
Teenagers held for cook murder

New Delhi, Jan. 3: 
The Centre has written to state governments and Union Territories to submit a list of suitable candidates from among the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and women for appointment as judges in high courts and the Supreme Court.

The move follows pressure from President K.R. Narayanan and the parliamentary standing committee on the issue.

The letter from the Union law ministry has requested chief ministers and chief justices of high courts to “identify” persons from the SC/ST, OBC and women categories and hand on the list, law ministry sources said. The entire exercise is along the lines of the President’s view on the matter.

The letter is significant in the wake of the parliamentary committee openly accusing the Supreme Court in its report of “practising untouchability” and Narayanan’s note on a file. The committee’s criticism came after the apex court refused to divulge information on the number of SC/ST and OBC judges in the court.

Narayanan put a note on the file pertaining to the appointment of judges that there were “eligible” candidates among the backward categories and women, which the Chief Justice of India should keep in mind while making recommendations for the appointment.

The then Chief Justice, M.M. Puncchi, did not act on the file as his term was coming to an end and the present Chief Justice, A.S. Anand, declared during the golden jubilee celebration of the Indian judiciary that merit alone should matter in the appointment of judges.

The parliamentary standing committee report followed the remarks of the Chief Justice at the golden jubilee celebration.

Law ministry sources said the government did not mention any quota for these categories or whether there would be sub-categories within the quota in the letters dashed off to the chief ministers and high court chief justices, but was “keen” that more judges from these categories should be appointed.

The law department said Articles 124 and 217 of the Constitution, which deal with the appointment of judges, do not provide for reservation for any caste or class and the law commission also did not make any recommendation for caste, class or gender-based reservation in the judiciary.

According to the government’s estimates, there are about 10 women and 20 SC/ST judges among the 610-strong judges in various high.

“Therefore, the government is keen that weaker sections are represented in the judiciary and that the state governments and the chief justices of all high courts who recommend candidates for judgeship in their respective high courts recommend suitable persons from these categories to the Centre,” law ministry sources said.

In its second report, the 31-member parliamentary committee said: “It is abundantly clear that the SC/STs have dismal representation in the judiciary and other equally important wing of the state either in the administrative side or in the judicial side”.

The committee also criticised the apex court of “practising untouchability”. The committee said there was no bar on caste, class and gender-based reservations in the judiciary and certainly there was no constitutional bar.

The Centre has also received representations from several states, particularly Tamil Nadu, requesting it to provide for the appointment of judges from the SC/ST and OBC categories.


New Delhi, Jan. 3: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today made a clutch of promises to scientists while inaugurating the 88th session of the Indian Science Congress. He promised them a National Mission for Technology Education which will “ramp up, on a crash basis, the facilities at the IITs, RECs and other premier science and engineering colleges”.

Vajpayee reminded the scientists that after his pledge at last year’s Congress of increasing investments in research and development to two per cent of the gross domestic product over the next five years, some steps have been taken.

“Many more (steps) will follow,” the Prime Minister said.

For example, the finance minister has earmarked Rs 50 crore for the India Millennium Missions to be executed by the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council and an additional Rs 50 crore for the New Millennium Technology Leadership Initiatives by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

“The message of these initiatives is clear and simple. India should be ahead of, and not lag behind, other nations in at least some areas of technology in the 21st century,” Vajpayee said.

The National Mission for Technology Education will address the need to bridge the gap between academia and industry on the one hand, and between teaching and research institutions on the other.

“To realise these objectives, we will take necessary measures to radically reform the governance structures of our higher education institutions and encourage the flow of philanthropic funds from alumni and the Indian diaspora abroad.”

The Prime Minister also spoke of reducing bureaucratic control over science affairs.

“For Indian science to flourish, the administration and government offi- cials should serve as facilitators of science and not as masters of scientists. I have said this before, but I feel it bears reiteration,” he said.

Vajpayee requested the scientists to “seize the big new opportunities arising on the horizon”. One of them, he felt, is the information generated by the Human Genome Project in the open domain, which is now available to the Indian scientists.

Once the “base” is established, it is the knowledge of “variation” over the base that matters and India’s “vast human genetic diversity provides that knowledge like no other country does”.

He said India already has excellent IT manpower and also people trained in biosciences. “Thus bioinfomatics is the next wave in which India should be in the vanguard,” Vajpayee stressed.

He said India was late in catching up with the Silicon Valley phenomenon. But he hoped that the country could provide leadership in the creation of new Genomic Valleys in the 21st century.


New Delhi, Jan. 3: 
Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav today reaffirmed his resolve to rebuild the Third Front but rejected Jyoti Basu’s formula of backing Congress candidates wherever the Third Front was weak to defeat the BJP.

He also ruled out any truck with the Rashtriya Janata Dal as long as it thrived on Congress support.

Without naming Laloo Prasad Yadav, who is also an ally of the CPM, the Samajwadi leader said: “How can we accommodate parties which are in power with Congress support in the Third Front?”

Addressing the press along with party general secretary Amar Singh, Yadav announced the merger of the United People’s Party of Assam with the Samajwadi. The United People’s chief and Assam irrigation minister Abdul Mahim Mazumdar was also present at the press briefing.

Reiterating that his party felt that the Third Front should not ally with the Congress or the BJP, Yadav said he would not support Basu’s formula of tacit understanding with the Congress in constituencies where the third force was weak or non-existent. He, however, did not come up with any alternative proposal to avert split in anti-BJP votes.

Yadav said he was glad that the CPM had realised the necessity of a Third Front.

Yadav said he was not impressed with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Kumarakam musings, especially on the Ayodhya issue. He said the Prime Minister should instead restrain the Sangh parivar outfits — the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal — from speaking on the Ram temple.


New Delhi, Jan. 3: 
The Samata Parliamentary Party is set to split with seven of its 12 MPs opposing the proposed merger of the party and the Janata Dal (United) and deciding to elect a new president for the Bihar unit.

Even as George Fernandes tonight held last-ditch talks to avert a break-up, rebel leader Prabhunath Singh went ahead and announced that Samata had split and seven MPs had decided to float a new party on Friday. Singh added that Raghunath Jha would be elected the party’s Bihar unit president the same day. Raghunath is heading the Samata’s state unit at present.

Union agriculture minister Nitish Kumar had unilaterally announced that the Bihar unit chief would be elected on January 5, said a rebel leader supporting Raghunath. He alleged Nitish had manipulated the election of district presidents with fake documents.

Nitish has been advocating a merger of the Samata and the Dal(U). Along with Dal(U) chief Sharad Yadav, Nitish has been trying to split the Laloo Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal. But the crisis in the Samata has wrecked his plans.

Barring the four Samata ministers - Fernandes, Nitish, Digvijay Singh and Sreenivas Prasad - all other party MPs appear to be with the rebel faction.

Six MPs had met at Arun Kumar’s residence today. Arun, Prabhunath, Raghunath, Manjay Lal, Mahindera Baitha and Brahmandand Mandal attended the meeting. Renu Kumari, who is out of Delhi, was not present. Prabhunath claimed she was also with them.

The immediate provocation for the split is the scheduled election of Samata’s Bihar unit president on January 5. Nitish wants one of his loyalists - Satish Kumar, Jagannath Yadav or Shyam Sunder Singh Dheeraj - to get the post. But Raghunath does not want to step down.

Samata has 29 MLAs in the Bihar Assembly. On December 25, Nitish got them to adopt a resolution proposing immediate merger.

Opposing the merger move, the rebels said the Dal(U)’s base had shrunk after Ram Vilas Paswan left. Sharad Yadav, had no mass base, they claimed. “We are ready for merger, but minus Sharad Yadav,” they said.

Prabhunath said like the parliamentary party, the legislature party will split. “Most of them will come to our side,” he said.

The rebels were waiting for a “final communication from Fernandes” on the merger and the election of Raghunath but none was forthcoming. As soon as Prabhunath announced the split, the Fernandes camp got activated and talks were on till late into the night to find a solution to the crisis.


New Delhi, Jan. 3: 
The Congress is struggling to formulate a response to A.B. Vajpayee’s Kumarakom musings as they aim at puncturing its projection of the Prime Minister as a swayamsevak and a Hindutva hardliner.

Following the winter session of Parliament, the Congress had decided to train guns on Vajpayee after his Ayodhya remarks in the Lok Sabha and at a minister’s iftaar seemed to endorse Hindutva hawks. The party had planned to print posters of Vajpayee in minority-dominated areas of Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, going to Assembly polls in the next two months.

The idea was to “expose” and “unmask” Vajpayee’s liberal and moderate face on the basis of his Lok Sabha speech on Ayodhya. The move was also aimed at embarrassing “secular” NDA allies like the Trinamul Congress, the DMK, the AGP, the Telugu Desam Party and others.

However, Vajpayee’s Kerala musings have caught the party off guard and the Congress think-tank is unsure whether to go on the offensive or tread cautiously.

The confusion has been aggravated in the absence of AICC chief Sonia Gandhi, who is on vacation in Lakshadweep. Most of the AICC office-bearers and Congress Working Committee leaders are also away from the capital. In the past 72 hours, Congress spin doctors tried to get senior leaders to respond to Vajpayee’s articles but the exercise proved futile.

AICC spokesman Prithviraj Chavan today feebly protested against Vajpayee’s dig at “dynasties.” Without naming the Nehru-Gandhi family, he said many of these leaders had participated in the freedom struggle and won successive general polls earning the people’s mandate to serve them.

Few in the Congress are willing to speak out against Vajpayee without “Madam’s” permission. She has been authorised to name all the 24 CWC members and a slip of the tongue can make or mar a ticket to the apex decision-making body. The AICC functionaries have been reduced to a “lame duck” status till she declares the new team of general secretaries, secretaries and department heads. Sonia is biding time due to the “planetary movement” till January 14 when undertaking any new work is considered “inauspicious”. As a result, most of the rooms in the 24 Akbar Road headquarters remain empty for days. It has also been a long time since Sonia visited the AICC office or convened a CWC meeting now functioning as a steering panel.

The AICC’s media department, which is expected to articulate the party’s response, is in disarray. A battery of spokespersons is constantly at loggerheads to hog the limelight on prime TV channels or during routine party briefings. The panel’s daily meetings prior to the press conferences are thinly attended with senior leaders skipping them.


New Delhi, Jan. 3: 
Foreign minister Jaswant Singh is embarking on a crucial mission to Saudi Arabia this month to build an enduring partnership with one of the most important members of the Muslim world.

Singh, the first Indian foreign minister to visit Riyadh, will be going there armed with the knowledge that Pakistan dictator Pervez Musharraf’s last two trips to Riyadh had been less than fruitful and the Wahabi kingdom in the Gulf is as concerned about the rise of international terrorism as Delhi.

Singh’s tour is also the first attempt by Delhi since the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s visit in 1982 to establish a structure for a regular dialogue between the two sides.

The foreign minister, who is scheduled to be in Riyadh from January 19 to 22, will meet most key players in the Saudi government.

The line-up includes the current ruler, King Fahd, the crown prince and deputy prime minister, Abdullah, the defence minister, Prince Sultan, the interior minister, Prince Naif; and the governor of Riyadh, Prince Salman. Singh’s host will be his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud Al-Faizal.

Ties with Saudi Arabia hold considerable significance for India. First, it is the main source of petroleum products. Second, it houses over 1.5 million Indian expatriates who send back home nearly $4 billion every year, making it the largest single contribution from any country.

Third, Mecca and Medina are one of the most important destinations for a considerable number of pilgrims from India. Four, the kingdom is an economic and political powerhouse which is listened to in the Islamic world.

Indira Gandhi’s visit to Saudi Arabia was considered extremely successful. This was reflected in a joint communiqué issued after her visit, noting that “the security of South Asia and the Arabian peninsula is best served by strong Indo-Saudi Arabian relations”.

Over the last two decades, however, the ties had turned lukewarm mainly due to Riyadh’s attempt to view the Kashmir dispute as a Muslim issue and highlight it at various international fora. Delhi’s decision to look at Saudi Arabia through the Pakistani prism did not help either.

But senior Indian diplomats dealing with the region pointed out that more often than not, Riyadh’s position was misunderstood in Delhi. They pointed out that though Saudi Arabia continued to talk about implementing the UN resolution on Kashmir, it also stressed on a dialogue between India and Pakistan in the spirit of the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration to resolve the dispute. “But this part is often overlooked in Delhi,” an official said.

Though Saudi Arabia is one of the three countries — apart from Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates — which recognises the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, it has frozen diplomatic ties with Kabul for more than two years.

The key reason for this is the presence of Saudi dissident and one of the most wanted men in the world, Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan. It was also interpreted as a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s opposition to international terrorism.

The choice of Saudi as the venue for a Kashmiri militant meet had generated speculation about the kingdom’s stand, but Indian officials have made it clear that the kingdom “neither has the interest nor the competence” to play the role of a third party in the Kashmir dispute.

This is, however, not to say that overnight there will be a shift in Riyadh’s position on Kashmir. But the Indian officials feel that Singh’s visit would help Delhi explain its position.

Moreover, relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are not as warm and cordial as they used to be. Over the years, Islamabad has lost its strategic importance as far as Riyadh is concerned and the kingdom now depends on the US security umbrella rather than on its Muslim brethren.

The nuclear tests in South Asia was not taken too kindly by Riyadh. Pakistan’s attempt to describe it as an “Islamic bomb” found few takers in Saudi Arabia, forcing Islamabad to hastily discard the tag.

The opposition to this from the Saudi leadership was because it went against the policy of maintaining status quo in the region. Besides, the Saudis were concerned that the South Asian twin nuclear tests may compel other countries, especially rival Iran, to follow suit and nuclearise the Gulf region.

The military coup by Musharraf further irked the Riyadh leadership, which was already unhappy with the Kargil intrusion. When Musharraf visited Saudi Arabia twice, the response from the host government was nothing more than lukewarm and the junta leader was unable to get any commitment, financial or otherwise, from Riyadh.


Keshpur, Jan. 3: 
Flames leapt up through the smouldering embers of Keshpur today as Mamata Banerjee hit the volatile belt crying for a “mass struggle against the CPM’s misrule in Bengal”.

An eruption of violence preceded and followed Mamata’s meeting, her first in Keshpur since chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took over as chief minister.

Tension ran high shortly before the meeting started as suspected CPM activists attacked buses carrying Trinamul supporters to the venue with country-made guns, bombs and bows and arrows. Four injured Trinamul supporters were rushed to a hospital.

The Trinamul workers retaliated by attacking a police jeep and a truck, injuring a home guard and a constable. Mamata had to rush to the spot to pacify her party workers.

After the meeting, home-bound Trinamul supporters clashed with CPM workers at Amdubi and Eluni villages under the Keshpur police station.

As many as 50 houses, most of them belonging to CPM supporters, were torched and two activists of the party were rushed to Keshpur hospital with injuries.

The CPM has called a “protest day” in Midnapore tomorrow. An undeclared bandh was enforced today in Keshpur by the CPM as shops downed their shutters and most of the houses were under lock and key.

The Trinamul supporters were not given drinking water, and only a few hundred residents of Keshpur are believed to have been present at today’s rally following a blanket ban from the CPM.

Mamata sought to share her party’s “secret strategy” vis-a-vis Keshpur with the massive crowd, marshalled from elsewhere.\

“It was our calculated move to intensify our political activities at Keshpur in order to keep the CPM busy here. We have exploited the CPM’s confinement here to increase our strength in other parts of the state. Keen to retain Keshpur and Garbeta, the CPM has lost ground elsewhere in Bengal,” she claimed.

Mamata also fired a salvo at the chief minister for giving “a freehand to the police to kill criminals.” “Why are not the police opening fire on those who are killing our supporters here and setting fire to their houses? Are not they criminals? I know Bhattacharjee’s police will not shoot them as they are eliminating our supporters under the CPM’s banner,” she said.

The Trinamul leader alleged that a section of police and senior government officials were engaged “in a conspiracy against my party in connivance with the CPM”. “We have identified these officers and blacklisted them. They should know that a change in the government is imminent and they will regret their action,” she added.

Mamata directed her party workers to gherao police stations as well as offices of the district superintendents of police throughout the state. “We will gherao the police stations on January 9 and the SP offices on January 15 to draw their attention to the misdeeds of these police officials,” she declared. The Trinamul leader criticised the state Congress for its failure to put up resistance against the CPM’s violence.


Malda, Jan. 3: 
In a bid to woo former state Congress president A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, railway minister Mamata Banerjee will arrive here to inaugurate a computerised railway ticket reservation centre on January 9.

Mamata , who is believed to be working overtime to lure away Chowdhury from the Congress as part of her plans to influence the minority ballot, is scheduled to open the centre on the first floor of Atul market run by the municipality at Englishbazar.

Since last week, when the railway ministry issued a directive to Eastern Railway authorities asking them to speed up work, senior officials have been visiting the town in droves to ensure smooth arrangements for the inauguration.

Divisional railway manager Mohammed Ershad and divisional commercial manager S. Verma inspected the site today.

A section of officials, however, expressed doubts whether the arrangements would be completed by the stipulated date.

Chowdhury had started the town’s first railway ticket booking centre when he had been railway minister and enjoyed the confidence of Indira Gandhi. Eastern Railway had closed down the centre after Chowdhury’s tenure ended.

Residents and various organisations of Malda had urged Mamata to either revive the old centre or start a new one after she became railway minister.

Mamata is also scheduled to inaugurate a reservation centre at neighbouring Farakka, inspect the execution of the Eklakhi-Balurghat project at Gajole, attend a party workers’ session and address a public meeting. She will go to Malda from Siliguri.


Burdwan, Jan. 3: 
The case of the controversial death of Sarbani Mondal in a nursing home here took a new turn with the doctor who had operated on her, the anaesthetist and the owner of the clinic surrendering before a court.

The court has granted bail to the doctor, Benu Roy, the anaesthetist, Manick Banerjee; and the owner, Kalyani Konar. Sarbani Mondal had died on January 1 after giving birth to a girl.

The district magistrate, Swami Singh, has sought a report from chief medical officer of health on Sarbani’s death. The medical officer, Pradyut Kumar Saha, had ordered a probe yesterday.

Saha said the nursing home was illegal as it had not renewed its licence for the past two years. He has also asked a three-member committee to inquire whether other illegal nursing homes are operating in Burdwan town and submit a report.

A experts’ committee, which was set up a few months ago at the instance of the superintendent of police, has been asked furnish a report stating the circumstances and cause of Sarbani’s death as well as fixing responsibility for it, police said.

The eight-member committee is headed by C.R. Maity, principal of Burdwan Medical college. Other members include S.K. Das, Nabendu Choudhury and A.K.Pal.

A spokesman of the local branch of the Indian Medical Association said: “We do not want to defend a doctor or a hospital or nursing home guilty of negligence, but we would expect the police to move according to the law and on the strength of evidence. We hope they will not make arbitrary arrests.”

Poison deaths

The district police had to cope with two cases of unnatural death during the day.

Keka Pal, a 21-year-old home-maker, died last night at Khurka under Jamalpur police station in a case of suspected poisoning. The police arrested her husband on a complaint by Keka’s father, who said the in-laws used to torture her for money. In Batra under Memari police station, 30-year-old Rahima Bibi died of poisoning. Her husband is absconding.


Durgapur, Jan. 3: 
Andal police today arrested two teenagers in connection with the murder of a cook of Kajora Hospital of Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) on October 26.

Adhir Akure, 18, a school dropout and Sibkumar Ram,19, a student of Class X of Andul Hindi High School were arrested. The third accused, a student of the electronic school in Raniganj, however, is yet to be held.

Police said the boys used to pilfer medicine and other things from the hospital and was caught red handed by the cook, Subhankar Lau. The boys’ parents had been summoned by ECL authorities and threatened.

Angered over this, the boys took Subhankar to the banks of Damodar river where they strangulated him. They buried his body on the river bed.

The three confessed to their crimes after the arrest.


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