CBI gets one more week to question Hindujas
Govt in search of foreign spokesman
Vajpayee pushes hard on reforms
Usurper Naidu seeks ‘highest honour’ for NTR
BJP for ceasefire rethink
Two Indian Archbishops nominated Cardinals
Security net on fear track
Traffic trouble in Burdwan
Tempo high at Spring Fest
Fake sadhus rob passengers

 
 
CBI GETS ONE MORE WEEK TO QUESTION HINDUJAS 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 22: 
A special court today ordered the CBI to interrogate the Hinduja brothers for one more week in the Bofors case and declined to hear their appeal to leave India.

S.P. Hinduja, P.P. Hinduja and G.P. Hinduja were taken to the CBI headquarters for interrogation after today’s order. Arriving in India without receiving the summons, the Hindujas had submitted themselves before the court last week.

Additional sessions and district judge Ajit Bharihoke gave the order after CBI investigating officer Keshav Mishra told the court that he needed more time as only S.P. Hinduja had been interrogated over the past three days. Mishra said he needed “at least one more week”.

The judge said: “The investigating officer Keshav Mishra, DSP, states that he has interrogated only accused S.P. Hinduja and he requires time for the interrogation of the other two Hinduja brothers. He says he will need a further period of one week by which time he will be able to conclude the interrogation.”

The court was adjourned till January 30.

The order has forced the Hindujas to stay in India one more week. Their application seeking the court’s permission to go abroad would be taken up only after the CBI’s replies are filed in the court, which are expected by January 30.

Counsel for the Hindujas Arvind Nigam requested the court that if the interrogation of any of the brothers was completed before January 30 “that particular person” should be allowed to leave the country. The court directed the counsel to file a separate application for this purpose.

The Hindujas have been charged with amassing kickbacks of 81.6 million Swedish kroner in the Howitzer gun deal.

The Hindujas appeared before the court in person “despite not receiving the summons”, as their lawyers put it, but were granted bail on furnishing a bond of Rs 2 lakh and a similar amount as surety each.

Although they were not arrested or taken into custody, the judge refused to pass any order on their application to leave the country.

It appeared that the Hindujas were trying to reap dividends of the fact that they had voluntarily submitted themselves for questioning and not waited for the summons.

The judge had to record the fact that the Hindujas had offered themselves for questioning following a court order.

Their counsel said that the brothers are already facing a trial by the media.

The CBI official sounded sceptical about the nature of “facts” which the Hindujas were divulging in course of the interrogation. However, he added: “They are behaving nicely. Even we are treating them nicely.”

He insisted that “our job is to find out the truth and that is why we need to persist with the interrogation”. The CBI even hinted that they might come back a week later demanding more time with the Hindujas.

Quattrocchi hearing

A Malaysian court on Monday deferred to February 16 the hearing for extradition of Ottavio Quattrocchi, a main accused in the Bofors case, reports Reuters from Kuala Lumpur.

A Kuala Lumpur sessions was scheduled to take up for hearing Quattrocchi’s case. But the hearing did not take off as his lawyer filed for a stay of proceedings to have the case moved to Kuala Lumpur High Court, where he said Quattrocchi would fight both the extradition order and his arrest in Malaysia.

   

 
 
GOVT IN SEARCH OF FOREIGN SPOKESMAN 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 22: 
The hunt is on once again for a new spokesman for the foreign ministry.

The present spokesman and joint-secretary of the external publicity division, R.S. Jassal, is likely to take up his new assignment as India’s ambassador to Israel in Tel Aviv by the middle of this year. A decision on his appointment has already been taken, but the formal announcement will be made only after Jassal’s Israeli hosts approve it.

Jassal had taken up the high-profile spokesman’s post in March 1999, but within months came into national limelight articulating Delhi’s position during the Kargil war. The Christmas Eve hijack of the Indian Airlines airbus the same year ensured that he remained under the spotlight.

The foreign ministry’s spokesman’s job has always been a high-profile one, but it gathered prominence after the Pokhran II nuclear tests of May 1998. Jassal’s predecessor, K.C. Singh — now India’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi — did a remarkable job highlighting South Block’s position deftly in that charged atmosphere.

But not all were as lucky, removed from their posts unceremoniously by political bosses irrespective of their competence. The decisions of the United Front government created a situation where in three years the ministry had four different spokespersons.

Ministry sources said there are 15-odd joint-secretaries who are on their way out to take up new assignments in key missions, including Myanmar, Jakarta, Bangkok, the Hague, Jordan, Damascus, Ashkabad, Cairo and Port Louis.

Though Chokila Iyer’s appointment as foreign secretary has choked movement at the top, with many senior diplomats refusing to move from their present posts, there is a lot of mobility at at the middle level.

Leela Poonappa, who looks after the Bangladesh-Sri Lanka-Myanmar division, is slated to take up the ambassador’s post in Bangkok. Poonappa was beaten to the deputy ambassador’s post in Washington at the last moment by Alok Prasad.

Shyamla Kaushik, now India’s ambassador in Cyprus, is, in all probability, headed for the Hague as chief of the mission. She is likely to be replaced by Pawan Varma, a former spokesman of the ministry who now looks after the Africa division in South Block.

Another former spokesman and number two in India’s embassy in Paris, Arif Khan, is likely to take up the ambassador’s post in Damascus. K.M. Meena is slated to go to Kingston to head the mission there, while O.P. Gupta and Virendra Gupta are likely to take up ambassadorial assignments in Helsinki and Port of Spain.

Mauritius, an important and key mission because of the Indian diaspora, is likely to have Vijay Kumar as ambassador. The top post in Port Louis has been lying vacant for some months.

Y.K. Gupta will take up the ambassador’s post in Angola, while Mutthu Venkataraman, India’s ambassador in Indonesia will go to Jordan to head the mission. He will be replaced in Jakarta by Shyam Saran, who is now the ambassador in Myanmar.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE PUSHES HARD ON REFORMS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 22: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today sold his government’s dreams of economic reforms at what was touted as the country’s first national conference on child labour.

“The principal aim of economic reforms is to eradicate poverty so that we can also eradicate several forms of underdevelopment, including child labour,” Vajpayee said in his speech which rounded up the day-long discussions at the conference, the first of its kind to be addressed by a Prime Minister.

Vajpayee emphasised the importance of the reforms that have come in for flak not only from the Opposition but from within the Sangh parivar as well.

“Our government has taken many steps to accelerate and broaden economic reforms,” he said. “I am confident that these will enable India to achieve a faster economic growth and remove both regional and social imbalances in development.”

However, some NGOs working with child labourers believe that unbridled market reforms is pushing the poor to the depths of poverty, which is one of the main factors responsible for the ever increasing number of child workers.

Vajpayee today pushed hard for quickening the pace of reforms. “I urge all sections of society to further strengthen the consensus behind the process of economic reforms,” he said.

Labour minister Satya Narain Jatiya said the national conference was an exercise to evaluate child labour projects in the country that have been going on for more than a decade. It was also a step towards converging different social aspects like education, health and gender with the aim of curbing and eventually eliminating child labour, he added.

The Prime Minister had a special word for girl children who, he stressed, are neglected both by their “family and society at large”. The National Democratic Alliance government has declared 2001 as the year for the empowerment of women. “It would be fitting that at this juncture, the programmes are restructured to pay special attention to women,” Vajpayee said.

The conference recommended universalisation of education as one of the most potent vehicles for ending child labour. Vajpayee also underlined the point in his speech.

“We have to ensure that working children not only come to schools, but are retained in the formal system,” he said.

The Prime Minister also turned his attention to the plight of children who work as domestic helps. “It should be the responsibility of the families that employ children as domestic helps to take care of their education,” he said.

District collectors involved with child labour projects were exhorted to work for better implementation of the government’s policies and programmes.

Vajpayee lauded them for their commitment. “Dear district collectors, I applaud you for your good work,” he said, then went on to add: “Both the government and the people have very high expectations from the district administration. There is tremendous hunger for development all over the country.”

   

 
 
USURPER NAIDU SEEKS ‘HIGHEST HONOUR’ FOR NTR 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 22: 
Chandrababu Naidu has yet another demand and is pressing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to oblige.

The Telugu Desam chief wants his father-in-law and Desam founder N.T. Rama Rao to be conferred the Bharat Ratna. But the Prime Minister has not yet given any commitment.

Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu said the Andhra Pradesh government has written to the Centre, urging it to bestow the honour on NTR. “I am requesting the government to announce the decision before the Republic Day,” he said.

Government sources, however, said it was unlikely the award will be conferred on NTR on Republic Day. The government, according to them, is of the view that NTR did not merit the highest civilian award in the country. There are several film personalities who have acquired equally legendary fame. Even Kannadiga film icon, Raj Kumar, should then have got the honour for his contribution to the film industry.

As a politician also, NTR had not achieved anything extraordinary. If he is chosen for his contribution to politics, what about Karunanidhi or for that matter, Jyoti Basu, they ask.

However, political exigencies may supersede all these reasons and a last-minute change of mind in South Block and Raisina Hills cannot be ruled out, said a source. Usually the Prime Minister and the President decide on a Bharat Ratna recipient.

Earlier, the Andhra chief minister had failed to convince the United Front government, of which he was the convener, to honour NTR.

Arguing the case of NTR who died in January 1996, Desam sources said ADMK leader and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) had been conferred the Bharat Ratna. Critics said a Congress government intent on pleasing its ally had bestowed the honour on him.

The Desam has sought the Bharat Ratna for NTR on the ground that he is an eminent person who changed the political history of the state and “immensely contributed to art and culture”. NTR also dominated the Telugu silver screen for decades, before joining politics. He initiated several schemes for the poor and the landless “and created political awareness among them”, the sources added.

NTR was chief minister for three terms: 1983-84, 1984-89 and December 1994-September 1995.

Desam sources said the party also recommended one Rama Rao, a professor with an American university, for Padma Shree. An NRI from Andhra, Rao is a also a painter and has been living in the US for the past 30 years.

Rajya Sabha MP and actress Jaya Prada is lobbying for him and Naidu has been canvassing support for her.

   

 
 
BJP FOR CEASEFIRE RETHINK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 22: 
Even as defence minister George Fernandes said a decision on extending the Kashmir ceasefire would be taken on January 26, the BJP has begun mounting pressure on the Centre to rethink the move.

Party spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy took the cue from president Bangaru Laxman who had said in Hyderabad on Thursday that it was time to review the situation in Jammu and Kashmir in the context of continuing violence. “In the present circumstances, it will be extremely difficult for the government to continue ceasefire after January 26,” he said.

Laxman had described the assassination attempt on Farooq Abdullah as a “cowardly bid”, showing the “desperation of the militant organisations”, and said militants and their leaders from across the border had not “displayed any intention to reciprocate the Prime Minister’s gesture”.

Taking up Laxman’s statement, Krishnamurthy said: “His sense was that Pakistan should understand the sentiments in our country. We cannot have a ceasefire with continuing violence.”

However, the BJP spokesman claimed that the Centre’s peace initiative had resulted in “several positive total gains”. “India has shown it is serious about solving the Kashmir issue. India’s decision was a bold one in the face of provocations and Pakistan has not even reciprocated,” Krishnamurthy said.

The BJP leader took strong exception to the Hurriyat Conference’s allegation that “hardline elements” within the government were derailing Vajpayee’s peace process. “If the home minister and defence minister are holding back the travel documents (of certain Hurriyat leaders), it reflects the decision of the entire Cabinet. The Hurriyat’s game of dividing the government into hawks and doves reflects a decision on their part to not abide by the government’s decision.”

Commenting on the Hurriyat’s charge that the peace process was heading for a collapse, he said: “Through this they want to seek an alibi for a possible failure of their proposed trip to Pakistan.”

   

 
 
TWO INDIAN ARCHBISHOPS NOMINATED CARDINALS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 22: 
Acknowledging the importance of the Church in India, Pope John Paul II yesterday named Major Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil of Kerala and Archbishop Ivan Dias of Mumbai among the 37 Cardinals.

Archbishop Vithayathil, 73, and Dias, 64, will be officially appointed as Cardinals on February 21 by the Pope at a religious ceremony in Vatican.

The Pope had named only four new Cardinals from Asia, including the two from India named during his Sunday Angelus message at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Sources said the Pope was keen to name late Alan De Lastic, Archbishop of Delhi, who died in an accident in Poland last year.

“By including the two Indian Archbishops in the college of Cardinals, Pope John Paul II has recognised the importance of the Church in India in the affairs of the Universal Church,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBCI) said here today.

The Cardinals, who follow the Pope in the church hierarchy, elect the Pope after the death of a reigning Pontiff. However, Cardinals who are 80 years old or more, do not enjoy voting rights.

The Catholic Church in India is overjoyed on hearing the news of the nomination of two Indian Archbishops as Cardinals, said CBCI public affairs spokesman Dominic Emmanuel.

Cardinal-elect Vithayathil belongs to the oriental Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala and Archbishop Ivan Dias heads the Latin Church.

Both of them will be able to exercise their voting rights in electing the new Supreme Pontiff as they are below 80.

With four more new additions, the College of Cardinals strength has gone up to 128.

Hailing the Pope’s decision, Delhi Archbishop Vincent Concessao said: “We thank God for the Church in India for giving us these two Cardinals. I am sure they will be able to give the Church in India effective leadership in these difficult times and facilitate better the mutual enrichment of the Church in India and the Universal Church.”

Since 1950’s the Vatican had named only six Indian Archbishops as Cardinals. The Church in India has at present two Cardinals, one of whom, Cardinal Lourduswamy resides in Rome while Cardinal Simon Pimenta resides in Mumbai.

   

 
 
SECURITY NET ON FEAR TRACK 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Jan. 22: 
Increasingly targeted by militant groups in the Northeast, the vulnerable North-east Frontier Railway has drawn up an extensive security blueprint to guard its tracks and installations.

A major portion of the NF Railway network has been at the receiving end of militancy, particularly in Assam, where law and order has deteriorated over the last decade.

What has sent the alarm bells ringing is the increased activity of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) in north Bengal’s Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri districts adjoining Assam.

With intelligence reports indicating that the KLO separatists could target railway bridges in the region, the NF Railway authorities have beefed up security along the tracks passing through the region. Besides, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel of the West Bengal police has been deployed to man the Sankosh, Raidak-I and Raidak-II rail bridges round the clock.

A report prepared by the NF Railway underlines the threat from militant outfits.

Apart from the frontline groups such as the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), National Socialist Council of Nagaland, National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), the report has warned of the activities of the KNV, KPF, UPDS, RNSF — all active in Assam. Besides, as many as 27 extremist organisations are operating in Tripura while Manipur has another 25.

The report says that militants of various underground organisations have been involved in planting and exploding remote-controlled bombs on railway tracks and platforms during the last decade.

In view of the vulnerability of railway tracks and bridges, especially in the lower Assam region, the railway has beefed up security along the 240-km broad gauge line between Sreerampur on the Bengal-Assam border and Guwahati as well as along the 123-km metre gauge stretch from Rangiya in Assam to Rangapani in Bengal.

Security personnel patrol the tracks on “mobile pilot” engines and motor trolleys before major passenger and goods trains are due to pass on these stretches. Three pilot engines are being used on the broad gauge section and four keep vigil along the metre gauge sector.

This apart, the railway has pressed into service nine motor trolleys at several stations on the Assam stretch. One trolley is based at New Mayanaguri station for track patrolling by the north Bengal GRP between New Maynaguri and Altagram in Bengal.

Besides being targets of militant attacks, NF Railway personnel also face extortion threats from these groups, particularly in the Lumding hill section. A special team of Railway Protection Force personnel have been posted in the section to counter the extortion menace.

In April 1999, some NSCN militants shot dead a railway employee and injured two securitymen for their refusal to pay up.

Suspected KLO militants looted Rs 7 lakh from a railway pay trolley near Rangapani station in November 1999.

The railway is also worried about the militants’ penchant for kidnapping officials for ransom and political propaganda.

According to the NF Railway report, the number of bomb explosions and incidents of track tampering and sabotage have gone down from 22 in 1998 to 10 in 2000.

Besides security measures, the railway is coordinating stock-taking meetings between the state police and civil authorities. It has restructured its intelligence wing and the exchange of intelligence state and railway has been reorganised.

Sniffer dogs are being used at Guwahati, Dibrugarh and New Jalpaiguri railway stations to detect explosive devices within the station premises and railway coaches.

   

 
 
TRAFFIC TROUBLE IN BURDWAN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Jan. 21: 
Authorities here are losing sleep over the rush hour traffic that clogs the roads.

The main roads and intersections — like G.T. Road, B.C. Road, R.B. Ghosh Road, the Golapbag area and the Durgapur bypass crossing — are the worst sufferers every morning and evening.

The police have set up a separate traffic wing, but it has not been of much help. The homeguards and members of the National Volunteer Force mostly deployed by the wing are not trained in traffic management.

There isn’t adequate parking space either. As the township swelled haphazardly till the 1980s in defiance of the Town and Country Planning Act, it also grew a lot of narrow roads.

The administration, too, has done precious little to earmark areas specifically for parking purposes. “The problem of traffic congestion in Burdwan can only be tackled with a massive overhaul of the town planning. Lots of subways and flyovers need to be constructed to distribute the vehicular and pedestrian traffic,” a district official said.

Admitting the problem, district magistrate Swami Singh said the administration was in constant dialogue with the civic authorities to evolve a better system to manage the town traffic.

The town, with an area of 13.2 square km, is bursting at “the seams with 3 lakh people struggling to cope with the congestion. An additional 80,000 people visit the town daily to attend offices, schools, colleges and business.

The rising number of illegal rickshaws, which line both sides of the major roads creating traffic snarls, has further compounded the situation. Incidents of road mishaps are also increasing.

Hawkers add to the problem as they block the pavements on both sides of the major roads with scant regard to pedestrians who are forced to walk on the streets. The police appear unfazed.

The district transport department occasionally launches drives jointly with the police but mostly ends up booking illegal rickshaws plying in municipal areas.

Burdwan Municipality and the Sadar police station admit that whenever they plan crackdowns on illegal hawkers and rickshaws, they are rendered inactive by political pressure. Almost all the rickshaw or hawkers’ unions belong to the CPM, who allegedly protect their members.

   

 
 
TEMPO HIGH AT SPRING FEST 
 
 
FROM DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Kharagpur, Jan. 22: 
It’s 12.30 in the afternoon, the winter sun blazing down on the IIT, Kharagpur, campus. That doesn’t stop music buffs from crowding the open-air theatre and swinging to the rhythm of rock numbers belted out by an amateur band... The show ends at 3 pm and the janta moves from the Oat to the Netaji auditorium for the quiz finals... From the world of Q&A to the dance floor. The gang changes gear and takes up position for Centrifuge — the group-dance competition. For two hours, the army of 1,500 campus crowd claps and croons with the troupes....

Spring Fest (SF) 2001, at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, which ended today. The organisers of the four day fiesta had lined up a perfect blend of fun and funda events to involve more than 800 students representing more ham 40 colleges and universities.

So, there were fashion shows for the bold and the beautiful, panel discussions, theatrix workshop and quiz contests for the thinking ones, vocal and choreo competitions for the budding performers, a cyber cafe for the technically inclined, informal village for those who fancy ‘weird stuff’ and a lot more at the SF 2001 presented by The Telegraph.

Added to these, there were professional nights ranging from Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Malhar Ghosh to Indipop band Silk Dooba Dooba Route.

Shounak Roy Choudhury, general secretary of IIT Students’ Gymkhana, was “satisfied” with the way “eastern India’s biggest fest” went off this time. “Despite the academic pressure, a group of 410 IITians, spearheaded by the A (action) and P (publicity) teams worked day and night from August, 2000, to make this happen,” he explained.

“We even had classes till 4.30 pm on the inaugural day, but we still managed to kick off the show by 5.30 that evening,” added Apurva, the other general secretary.

“SF ka tempo high hai”, was the anthem on the 18-acre campus which attracted students from all over. “It’s a pilgrimage for bands like ours as a prize here will improve or ratings and give us more shows,” confessed Bhaskar of Dhruva, the band from Darjeeling.

The curtains came down on SF 2001 today after the finals of the Wildfire (the Western music competition), which had the crowd rocking till midnight.

“Now, it’s time for us to catch up on some much-needed sleep,” smiled Souvik, one of the key organisers, exhaustion elation. The contestants will head back home and IIT will limp back to normal. But the SF hang-over, promise the boys and girls, will remain in the air for some time to come, with the slogan switching to “KGP ka tempo high hai.”

   

 
 
FAKE SADHUS ROB PASSENGERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, Jan. 22: 
Miscreants robbed 11 passengers of two trains last night after they lost consciousness consuming “Kamakhya temple prasad” offered by them.

The miscreants, in the guise of sadhus, robbed all that the passengers had.

A family from Maharashtra was the worst affected. They boarded Darjeeling Mail to go to the Kamakhya temple in Guahati.

The sadhus feigned to be co-passengers and offered sandesh. All the members of the family lost sense after eating the prasad.

Sada Seu, from Prabani in Maharashtra today said he was carrying Rs 9,300. “After I regained consciousness I found the bag missing. The Sadhus were also no where to be seen. Now I do not have money to return home,” he added.

   
 

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