Hindujas set up date with Kumbh
Pawar wins cricket crown
Sushma stars in filmdom remake
VHP pulls trigger on three Ts
Bush picks up bonhomie baton
Roadblock to protest hit-and-run
Congress to contest all 294 seats
Crane trap for bus victims
IIT fest begins
New home for Howrah police

New Delhi, Jan. 19: 
The special trial court hearing the Bofors case today granted conditional bail to the three Hinduja brothers who appeared in person before additional district and sessions judge Ajit Bharihoke.

Granting the bail on a bond of Rs 2 lakh and a surety of like amount, Bharihoke ordered them not to leave India without the court’s permission. The judge posted the case to January 30 for further hearings.

The brothers — SP, GP and PP — immediately moved applications seeking permission to go to the US. These applications will be heard tomorrow morning after the CBI files relevant replies, opposing or agreeing to their demand.

The bureau indicated that it might not prevent the brothers from going abroad when it informed the court that it “may allow” them to travel after imposing appropriate conditions.

The CBI has accused the Hinduja brothers of receiving 81 million kroners as kickbacks from the now-defunct AB Bofors which bagged the howitzer gun contract in 1986 from the Rajiv Gandhi government.

The brothers said they were considering visiting the Mahakumbh Mela around January 24, the most auspicious day of the festival. Speaking to reporters after the court proceedings, Srichand Hinduja said the visit to the Kumbh was aimed at gaining more “spiritual energy”.

The court also extended the non-bailable warrant issued against Malaysia-based Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, also an accused in the case. CBI counsel N. Natarajan informed the court that extradition proceedings against Quattrocchi in a Malaysian court will come up for hearing on Monday.

Natarajan added that there was every likelihood of Quattrocchi being extradited. Throughout the hearing today, the Hindujas insisted that they should not be taken into custody and should be allowed to go abroad.

A battery of lawyers — Arvind Nigam, Amit Desai, Rajinder Singh and a score of juniors assisting them — argued the case in favour of the Hindujas. The lawyers said they were “worried” that the tycoon brothers’ multi-national business operations worth billions of dollars would suffer if they were taken into custody.

One of the Hindujas will have to attend a “global meeting” on economy. The lawyers said their clients were ready to pay any amount in cash to the satisfaction of the court but they “should not be arrested at any cost”.

“Even the mention of their custody will affect their global business,” the lawyers said.

Their application was full of details about the Hindujas’ business interests across the globe and the lawyers pleaded that since the financial year was coming to an end in March, the brothers were to take part in various board meetings of group companies.

G.P. Hinduja is also required to attend the world economic forum meeting at Davos in Switzerland from January 24, the application added.


Mumbai, Jan. 19: 
The roar of the tiger was drowned by the ticking of the clock tonight when former chief minister Sharad Pawar ambushed former India captain Ajit Wadekar in the Mumbai Cricket Association election, wresting the country’s most prestigious cricket club from Shiv Sena control.

The flags of Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, sporting its symbol timepiece, went up as the Sena banners with the snarling face of a tiger came down as reports flowed in that the former skipper, backed in the poll by none other than Sena leader Bal Thackeray, had been defeated.

Unconfirmed reports said Pawar swept the poll, winning 180 of the 323 votes and sealed the fate of Wadekar and the Sena. The official result was yet to be announced till late tonight.

Pawar confirmed his victory and said he was “very happy”. Wadekar refused to comment.

Pawar’s victory signalled the dwindling influence of the Sena chief in the NCP-Congress-ruled state, where he is the most dominating political player.

The bitterly-fought election marked a new low in cricket — already convulsing from charges of match-fixing — where politics had grabbed the front seat and media attention.

Both sides had tossed charges back and forth in what turned out to be a no-holds-barred contest for the top post of the country’s premier sports association.

With his victory, Pawar will now control both Garware Club and the cricket association, already engaged in a costly property dispute which has cost them more than Rs 1 crore in court cases over the past decade.

Pawar is also the chairman of the Garware Club, situated in the MCA premises.

Solving the raging wrangle would be his first priority, Pawar said, in the run-up to the poll. “I want to spend the funds on cricket and not on court cases,” he said.

With Wadekar’s defeat, the Sena suffered a major loss of face in the political arena. For Thackeray, who had thrown his weight behind the former India captain and manager, it was a major embarrassment as he had tried to settle a score with Pawar for the government’s decision to arrest him last year.

Wadekar was until now vice-president of the association headed by Manohar Joshi, Union heavy industry minister and a senior Sena leader.

Things turned ugly on Wednesday when Wadekar’s driver was assaulted by some unidentified assailants.

Wadekar accused the Pawar camp of masterminding the attack to cow him down. A Pawar aide denied the allegation and accused the former cricketer of trying to whip up sympathy for his candidacy.


New Delhi, Jan. 19: 
Sent reeling by the crackdown on Bollywood over underworld links, the film industry received a steadying helping hand from information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj today.

She set in motion two initiatives to put some order in the financial structure the industry sits on. Declaring that “good cinema has a direct relation to good money”, Swaraj promised to put in place a system where filmmakers do not have to depend on questionable means of finance.

At the upcoming state information ministers’ conference, the film industry’s proposal for a uniform entertainment tax will come up for discussion, she said, disclosing her second move.

Lenders like banks and financial institutions have been hesitant to put up money for filmmaking even though the business received industry status some time ago. Swaraj will suggest a system under which bank loans will be easy to obtain for the industry.

She intends to set up a meeting on this with the industry. The minister appeared interested in a suggestion made by the South Indian Chamber of Commerce that banks and institutions should form an expert group with film industry stalwarts to assess if a movie will be viable.

A convergence of interests between the I&B ministry and the film industry is acting as a trigger for Swaraj’s initiatives. With the ministry becoming increasingly irrelevant in the process of dismantling of such entities as the Films Division and after liberalisation, Swaraj is trying to reinvent a role for it.

She said: “Earlier it used to be a thought propaganda ministry, now it is an economic ministry.”

The film industry is the cornerstone to the transformation to an “economic ministry” with its large revenue-earning and export potential. The film business annually is estimated at Rs 6,000 crore.

The industry on its part is looking for a legitimate source of finance, particularly after the arrests of a producer and a financier for suspected underworld links.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will open the state information ministers’ conference here on January 21, the biennial session having been last held when, too, Swaraj was the I&B minister.

She will apprise the ministers of the changes that have taken place since, such as uplinking for satellite channels from India and the direct-to-home broadcast policy.

But topping the agenda will be uniform entertainment tax. The tax now varies from as low as 7.5 to 17.5 per cent in Punjab to 125 per cent for upper-class seats in Haryana.

Several states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Karnataka charge 100 per cent and above.


Allahabad, Jan. 19: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee may have managed to tame the RSS, but the Sangh’s militant progeny, the VHP showed no signs of being reined in at its dharam sansad, which began here today.

From Vajpayee’s ceasefire initiative in Kashmir, to the Centre’s “failure” to tackle the threat of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, to the closure of polluting industries in Delhi and of course putting the Ram temple on the backburner — the Centre came in for flak at an open session of the dharam sansad. The criticism was sometimes veiled, sometimes direct, but the VHP did not utter a single word in praise or support of the government.

The most trenchant criticism came from Acharya Dharmendra, one of the leading figures of the Ramjanmabhoomi “movement”. In the sing-song voice of a preacher using the right intonation when needed, Dharmendra said the Ram temple construction was not a hidden agenda as far as he was concerned.

Dharmendra began his address by urging the crowds to chant “Shri Ram Jaya Ram, Jaya, Jaya Ram” and raise clenched fists to express “solidarity” with the “temple cause”. The Acharya’s punchline was: “If somebody does not like it he can go to hell.”

A former BJP MP, D.B. Rai — who was the senior superintendent of police in Ayodhya when the Babri mosque was demolished and quit office promptly to be rewarded with a Lok Sabha ticket by the BJP — circulated a leaflet titled “See the games played by politicians: all politicians are living in luxury while poor Ram lalla has been abandoned”.

Reminding his readers of how the BJP cashed in on the temple card to acquire power in Uttar Pradesh and the Centre, Rai hit out at home minister L.K. Advani: “Those politicians who went on rath yatras and announced from public platforms that a Ram temple will be built have begun to kowtow before the establishment and even gone to the extent of disowning the temple agenda.”

Rai trained his guns at Vajpayee and BJP president Bangaru Laxman for allegedly threatening to use force against those who dared to “upset” the status quo ante at Ayodhya. “Does this not prove that the campaign to build a Ram temple was used purely for political ends?” he asked.

VHP working president Ashok Singhal denied that the structure that was demolished by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992 was a mosque. Singhal said: “People are under an illusion that what was brought down was a mosque. But I want to tell the press that it was a functioning temple, which was broken down for the purpose of renovation.” His statement puts an end to the “bomb theory” floated by K.S. Sudarshan.

Singhal alleged that under the Vajpayee dispensation Hindus were being killed in large numbers. “Whether it is Biharis, Nepalis, Marwaris or Kashmiri Pandits, Islamic terrorists have not spared anyone,” he added.


New Delhi, Jan. 19: 
Signalling continuity in Washington’s policy towards India, George W. Bush today said he wanted to work closely with Delhi to meet the challenges of the new millennium and advance “peace, freedom and prosperity” for people of the two countries.

Replying to President K.R. Narayanan’s letter congratulating him on his victory, the US President-elect wrote: “During the campaign, I stressed that America’s friendship with India is one of the most exciting and promising relationships. I look forward to working with you to strengthen relations between our two nations.”

The letter stressed on the growing camaraderie between the two.

“We will undoubtedly face a number of challenges in the years ahead,” Bush wrote, but said he was “confident that with a spirit of mutual respect, cooperation and open dialogue, we can successfully meet these challenges”.

He also talked of “enormous opportunities” in the future. “Together we can use these opportunities to advance the peace, freedom and prosperity of our peoples,” Bush wrote.

Narayanan, in his letter, had also underlined the need for partnership and cooperation.

“As two great democracies of the world, India and America share common ideals, values and aspirations and we entertain a new vision of partnership and friendly cooperation. I am confident that under your Presidency, the relationship between our two countries will acquire a new depth and vigour,” he had said.

India’s normalisation process with the US began towards the end of Bill Clinton’s term. But Delhi hopes that under the Republican government, bilateral ties will be strengthened further.

So far, indications from Washington have been encouraging. Observers believe the Bush administration will be essentially unilateralist. A direct benefit of this is that both Kashmir and CTBT may no longer be priority items on the US agenda.

While in the Opposition, the Republicans had torn apart the CTBT and blocked it from being ratified by the Senate. So it’s unlikely that the treaty will become a pressure point between the two sides in the near future. Kashmir, too, is not high on the Republican agenda. Bush has already got rid of special envoys and representatives to the relief of South Block.


Budge Budge (South 24-Parganas), Jan. 19: 
Residents of Budge Budge in South 24-Parganas blocked roads for more than two hours in the area on Friday after two persons, including a woman, died in an accident last night.

The demonstrators were demanding the immediate arrest of the truck driver who had fled immediately after the accident. They also demanded that traffic policemen be posted to regulate traffic in the area.

Earlier, in last night’s accident, a lorry going towards Calcutta hit a rickshaw. The rickshaw puller, Sufal Mondal (45) and the passenger, Syron Bibi (50), who were seriously injured, were taken to the local hospital where they succumbed to their injuries.

A mob that had gathered at the spot damaged the vehicle, which the driver had abandoned while fleeing the spot. The situation was brought under control by the police personnel from the Budge Budge.

Later, additional superintendent of police (industrial) Gyanbant Singh said that police have been posted in the area to prevent further disturbances. Attempts are also being made to arrest the lorry driver.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
Stung by Mamata Banerjee’s keenness to sew up an alliance with the BJP and fight the Assembly elections under a joint manifesto, the Congress today said it would field candidates in all the 294 Assembly seats in the state.

“We are now left with no option but to fight alone in the elections as the coming together of anti-CPM forces is a distant possibility. Ours is an all-India party and as such we cannot tie up with Mamata until and unless she severs links with the NDA and the BJP as well,” state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee said.

But Mukherjee left the door ajar for a realignment. “There is still time yet for the situation to change before the Assembly elections,” he added.

Mukherjee, who left for Chennai tonight on his return from north Bengal, met a host of state Congress leaders to discuss the party’s stand vis-à-vis Mamata’s announcement in Delhi yesterday.

Echoing Mukherjee, former PCC chief Somen Mitra reiterated that the Congress will have to fight the Assembly elections on its own without depending on any other party.

Some Congress leaders, however, wanted to keep options open on a pact with Mamata and were against the move to field candidates in all seats. The chief whip of the Congress Legislature Party, Abdul Mannan, said: “An alliance with Mamata is the need of the hour because this is the only way to oust the ruling communists from power,” he said this afternoon.

Asked how the Congress hoped to tie up with Mamata when she had decided not to part company with the BJP, Mannan said: “Where there is a will, there is a way. The simple formula is that we should not put up candidates in areas where we have little strength. What’s the necessity in fielding a party nominee in Garbeta where we bagged only 0.57 per cent and 0.47 per cent votes in two segments during the last elections?” he asked.

Last week, former PCC chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury had expressed his eagerness for joining forces with Mamata, ignoring her BJP connections, in a bid to “throw the communists into the Bay of Bengal”. But his request was turned down by Sonia Gandhi.

Mukherjee made it clear that the Congress will obey the high command’s wish, even if that led to a split in the state unit. “We have nothing to do if some Congressmen want to switch over to Mamata’s Trinamul Congress. But we cannot budge an inch from our all-India stand,” the state Congress chief said.

Earlier in Siliguri, Mukherjee explained the party’s stance on imposition of President’s rule in Bengal. “The onus lies with the Centre. It is true that the CPM has unleashed terror in villages these days,” he said.

According to Mukherjee, the Centre has the constitutional obligation to promulgate Article 356 in any state for two years without consulting any political party. “It is for the Centre to decide whether the situation warrants imposition of President’s rule or not,” he added.

Addressing a public rally at Tarbandha village near Phasidewa, Mukherjee lauded Rajbanshi villagers for their courage in standing up to police “high-handedness”.

The Congress leader lamented the poor development of north Bengal and said the government should be more “sensitive” towards the region.


Howrah, Jan. 19: 
One person died of suffocation and at least 17 were injured this evening when a bus lost control and skidded off the Howrah-Amta highway into a 12-foot-deep ditch filled with muddy water.

The more than 100 passengers who had boarded the Rampur-bound express vehicle at Howrah Maidan went through two harrowing hours trapped inside the bus stuck upside down in the slime as the lack of a crane hindered rescue operations.

District police personnel, who rushed to the spot, were joined by local residents in their rescue efforts. A crane was finally available around 9.30 pm, but by then all the survivors had been evacuated.

The deceased was identified as Bechuram Bera, a 45 year old who suffocated to death inside the tin cage as rescue operations dragged on in the absence of a crane. The injured have been admitted in three different hospitals.

“We were sending wireless messages to every police station to arrange for a crane but got the same reply everywhere — ‘not available’,” said an official of Jagatballavpur police station who supervised the rescue work. “Finally, Liluah police station responded to our call and arranged for a crane.”

Senior police officials of Howrah admitted that rescue work suffered in the absence of a crane which could have lifted the bus from the ditch.

“We don’t have a crane. During emergencies, we have to requisition them cranes from private agencies, but they are not always available,” Rajiv Mishra, additional superintendent of police (town), Howrah, said.

Mishra, who had rushed to the accident site, said he was glad that the death toll was not higher. “A major accident was averted,” he said. “Our officials were quick to act and most of the passengers were extricated after breaking open the emergency doors and some windows.”

According to district officials, the Howrah-Amta highway has of late become an accident-prone zone because of the steep downslide that runs parallel to the 25-foot-wide road.

They said buses often skidded off and landed in the shallows and that, in the past, quite a few passengers had also died.

Behrampore accident

Two persons died on the spot and 26 were seriously injured after a jam-packed bus going to Behrampore town from Lalgola skidded off the road and fell into a ditch today morning.

The deceased were identified as Ainul Seikh (45) and Ashok Saha (35). Three women and two infants are among the injured, who have been admitted in Lalbag Mahakuma Hospital. According to hospital sources, the condition of three is ‘serious’.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
Spring Fest 2001, touted as the biggest inter-college fest in eastern India, kicked off at the IIT Kharagpur this evening.

Every year, the tech school fest draws thousands of students from different campuses. The four-day fiesta is “bigger and better” this year, claimed IITians.

After today’s inauguration, it was time for a musical night titled Taal with pop group Silk Route of Dooba dooba fame taking centrestage. But Spring Fest is not all about fun with prizes worth Rs 1 lakh, and lots of pride at stake.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
The Howrah district police will finally get a new headquarters.

The move comes at least five years after the present office, located inside the Howrah court premises, was declared “condemned” by the public works department.

The initiative to transfer the headquarters to a better place was taken by the superintendent of police, Surajit Kar Purakayastha, who is set to take charge of the state branch of the Research and Analysis Wing.

The headquarters will be relocated at 40 Salkia School Road, a sprawling plot spread over 37 kottahs behind Golabari police station.

According to police sources, a three-storeyed building will be constructed which will house the offices of the police superintendent, additional superintendents and deputy superintendents. The blueprint of the plan is almost ready. The file will be sent to the chief minister’s office for approval.

The land belongs to the cash-strapped Howrah Improvement Trust, which had approached the district police a year ago. The land had been lying vacant for the last 15 years and is used as a playground by the local boys.

“We cannot definitely say when we are planning to do it. The proposal is still in a very nascent stage. We are making doubly sure that the project does not lose steam in the absence of Mr Purakayastha,” said Rajiv Mishra, additional superintendent of police (town).

Officers are glad that they will finally get a new office. “I will be very happy if this proposal comes through. Our present office is inside the Howrah court. You can well imagine the problems that we face daily,” said the additional superintendent of police (south), Rahul Srivastav.

“Our headquarters looks very shabby from outside. We are hoping that this proposal will come through very soon,” added Mishra.

The main hurdle could be the high cost involved. The Howrah Improvement Trust has reportedly asked for a whopping sum, much more than the current market price for this land.

Police authorities have asked the trust to revise their quotation.


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