Cash shackles on women in divorce cases removed
Tough BJP gets Samata to soften
Sonia prevails on Singh to stay
Morality debate on live-in sanctity
Culture-corporate cocktail for CM
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 22: 
A nearly 30-year-old clause applicable to divorce proceedings is being abolished to enable courts to order realistic interim maintenance allowance to be paid to the woman.

The Union Cabinet tonight approved a proposal to scrap the interim maintenance limit of Rs 500 and make it mandatory for courts to grant maintenance within 60 days.

Announcing the decisions, law minister Arun Jaitley said the limit, fixed in 1973 under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, was outdated.

Women’s organisations welcomed the decision, but said it had taken the government far too long to realise the limit was absurd.

The Indian Divorce Act, Hindu Marriage Act, Special Marriage Act and the Parsi Marriage Act will be amended so that women involved in divorce proceedings are granted interim maintenance within 60 days of issue of notice on an application before a court, the minister said.

“In the year of women’s empowerment, the award of interim maintenance has to be made expeditious and the quantum made realistic keeping in view the present inflation level,” he said.

Waiver of the limit would mean that courts would be free to decide the maintenance according to their discretion. “There will now be no ceiling,” Jaitley said.

Bills introducing the statutory 60-day limit for granting interim maintenance are expected to be tabled in the monsoon session.

The Janwadi Mahila Samiti, which runs a legal centre, reacted positively, but also sounded a note of caution. “Some of these amendments look very positive at first, but when we go deeper into it we find there is some hidden bias,” said Kalindi Deshpande, a spokeswoman.

For many years, women’s organisations have been demanding removal of the maintenance ceiling. “We want it to be consonant with the husband’s income and economic status. It should not be less than Rs 10,000,” said Jyotsna Chatterjee of Joint Women’s Programme.

Bengal has shown the way in putting in place a realistic ceiling by raising it to Rs 1,500 in 1993, said Amitava Ganguly, a Calcutta lawyer. He said the amendments proposed leave one grey area untouched: whether maintenance is to be decided singly for the separated wife plus additional amounts for children or jointly.

Kirti Singh, a lawyer who deals with divorce cases, said she felt the amendments were piecemeal. “We welcome the setting of a time frame for providing interim relief, but what about the other retrograde features in the Hindu Marriage Act and the Indian Divorce Act?” she asked. For instance, the Indian Divorce Act stipulates that final maintenance should not be more than one-third of the average income of the husband in the last three years.

“We have been demanding that it should be in accordance with the present income,” said Singh.


New Delhi, May 22: 
The shadow of Manipur continued to loom large over Delhi as a meeting between Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Samata Party leader George Fernandes today failed to resolve the tangle.

Both sides were willing to give each other one more chance and have agreed to meet again on May 28. The meeting is expected to be attended by Vajpayee, Fernandes, BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi and the Manipur leaders of the BJP and Samata.

But with events unfolding at a fast pace in Imphal, the two sides were sceptical if the summit would take place at all. There was speculation in the BJP and the Samata that the state was lurching towards President’s rule.

The fall of the only Samata-led government in the country shook the Centre yesterday. The party, one of the BJP’s most trusted allies, threatened to retaliate by walking out of the Vajpayee government. Twenty-four of the BJP’s 26 legislators in Manipur had voted against the Koijam government.

But after his meeting with the Prime Minister today, Fernandes said the Samata would not pull out of the ruling National Democratic Alliance now. “We all have a stake in this government. How can it (the Manipur development) affect the government at the Centre? It cannot,” he said.

The softening in the Samata’s stand arose as much from the BJP’s reluctance to come down on its rebels who had voted out the Koijam government as from differences within the Samata.

The BJP had yesterday promised to crack the whip on its Manipur legislators, but today it turned reluctant. “Whatever action is to be initiated against the rebels will be taken up after the May 28 meeting,” BJP spokesman Narendra Modi said. He was silent when asked why the Samata was being involved in an internal matter of the BJP.

Sources close to railway and agriculture minister Nitish Kumar said he had offered to quit but had told Fernandes that he would not at any cost withdraw his resignation later because he did not want to ruin his credibility. Fernandes wanted to use the resignations of the Samata ministers as a bargaining chip with the BJP for his political rehabilitation, the sources claimed.

Fernandes denied that he was bargaining for more berths for his party in the Union ministry. “There can be no more foolish act than this. This is the biggest lie.”

The Prime Minister was assisted by Krishnamurthi and the party’s Manipur in-charge Padmanabha Acharya in the talks with Fernandes. At the end of an hour-long meeting, the leaders only agreed to have another meeting on May 28.

Samata spokesperson Shambu Shrivastava said the party was not satisfied with the talks. It is not averse to President’s rule as that would be a face-saver.

But the anti-Samata formation might not accept the option. BJP legislature party leader R.K. Dorendra Singh has formed a 40-member group in the 59-member House and is likely to stake claim to form the government. This group received support from the Janata Dal (United) today.

Sources said though Vajpayee appeared keen to resolve the crisis by reinstating Radhabinod Koijam, some BJP leaders were trying to sabotage the effort.


New Delhi, May 22: 
The good doctor is going to be back in action. Sonia Gandhi has persuaded Manmohan Singh to stay on for six more years as Rajya Sabha MP from Assam and continue as the leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, ending all speculation.

Under attack from the anti-reforms lobby, Manmohan had not campaigned for the party in the Assam elections. There was talk of him going back to academics and taking up Track II diplomacy.

But as soon as Manmohan returned from Baltimore, where he had gone in connection with an eye operation, Sonia called him and said: “Nothing doing. We need you in Rajya Sabha.”

Congress general secretary in charge of Assam, Kamal Nath, today formally announced Manmohan’s candidature.

Sonia is taking precautions to prevent any “untoward incident” of the kind that saw Congress nominees in Bengal and Maharashtra being defeated due to cross-voting. She has asked Nath to camp in Guwahati to ensure that the former Union finance minister is elected.

The Congress has not yet announced a second candidate though it has 28 surplus votes. The leadership is divided over fielding a local candidate as that might queer the pitch for Manmohan. It has shortlisted Bodo leader Jawan Singh and P.S. Enty for the second slot, provided they can get the support of Independents. There are 17 MLAs who belong to the “Others” category, and the Congress needs 14 votes.

Party leaders ruled out the candidature of Delhi politician Jagdish Tytler on the ground that he was not a voter from the state. Jamiat-e-Ulema, a representative body of Muslims in Assam, wants their leader Mahmood Madni to be nominated. He had campaigned for the Congress.

Party leaders said Sonia opted for Manmohan in view of his clean image and popularity with the middle-class. “In a way, he continues to be her nominee at all party fora. Almost all chief ministers of Congress-ruled states told Sonia to persuade him to stay. He may have lost the South Delhi seat but he is still our link with the great Indian middle-class,” an AICC functionary said.

Manmohan’s nomination puts an end to the speculation over his successor in the Rajya Sabha as leader of the Opposition. “If he is elected, he cannot be denied the slot he is holding,” party leaders said.

Manmohan’s candidature is important because he could emerge as a compromise candidate for Prime Minister in case a “secular alternative” replaces the NDA regime. The Samajwadi Party, the RSP and the NCP have made it clear they will not back a Sonia-led government.


Lucknow, May 22: 
The Allahabad High Court ruling granting legal sanctity to live-in relationships has triggered a debate on its impact on relationships and permissiveness in society.

“A man and a woman, even without getting married, can live together if they so wish,” the court ruled yesterday. An adult has the “right to go anywhere and live with anyone”, it underlined.

The order came in response to a petition filed by Payal Sharma, who said she was being “detained” by a city-based Nari Niketan against her wishes and that it was an infringement of her liberty and right to freedom. Payal said the protection home was refusing her permission to live with a man because she was “not married”.

The division bench, which ruled that Payal was at liberty to go anywhere and live with anyone, clarified that it was not making a moral judgement. “This act may be regarded immoral by society, but it is not illegal,” the bench of Justice M. Katju and Justice R.B. Mishra said. “There is a difference between law and morality.”

The court decision has sparked a heated debate on live-in relationships, seen by some as a symbol of a degenerate “Western” lifestyle and by others as the ultimate expression of individual liberty.

Senior VHP leader Purshottam Narayan Singh warned: “Yeh dukhdayi hoga, sukhdayi nahi.” (It will bring sorrow, not happiness). “Unlike in the West, a marriage in India is not a contract, it is part of an institution, a tradition,” he said, adding that live-in relationships were “impractical and unnatural”. Such relationships would not be accepted by Hindu society, Singh declared. But he did not discount the fact that “in big cities, where westernisation has seeped in, people might find it very convenient”.

Former Lucknow University vice-chancellor and social activist Roop Rekha Verma supported the decision, saying it was a good clarification. “Society won’t change overnight,” she said. “But this will send a loud message to society that live-in relationships can be morally right.” She also felt that coming from the high court the decision would help give live-in relationships a “moral approval”.

Naish, an activist working with the Association of Advocacy and Legal Initiatives, said the ruling was “very freeing” and would give individuals more “space”. “Though it depends on how society will take it, I feel it is a good decision,” she added.

I.B. Singh, a senior defence counsel in the Ayodhya case, said the ruling has lifted the “legal haze” surrounding relationships outside marriage. “Article 21 says that everyone is free to live a life of his choice, this order only takes it further,” Singh said.

“Often, courts send women who refuse to live with their families to protection homes instead of letting them live with a man of their choice because they feel it is not only immoral, but illegal,” he said. “Courts will now know what to do.”


Calcutta, May 22: 
A little bit of business, a little politics and a little of what ex-boss Jyoti Basu had once disparagingly called “culture-fulture” took up most of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s second full working day after being sworn in last Friday.

Besides individuals who dropped in to congratulate him, Bhattacharjee had four different sets of people coming in to see him — two were from business circles, one from an opposition political party and the last comprised artistes, mainly Rabindrasangeet exponents who have lent their voice to the lobby which has called for doing away with Visva-Bharati copyrights on Tagore’s songs. The artistes, expectedly, said they were happy and excited to have “their” chief minister but the industry captains also agreed with them: “This chief minister is different (from the last one),” one of them told the media before leaving Writers’ Buildings.

It was business first as separate delegations from the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BNCCI) and the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) came a-visiting.

Both delegations smilingly avoided commenting on the Confederation of Indian Industry’s decision to meet Bhattacharjee and industry minister Nirupam Sen at the Alimuddin Street party headquarters. And though they said it didn’t matter where such meetings took place, it was clear they would not have gone to Alimuddin Street to talk of industry-related matters.

The BCCI delegation, comprising president Satyabrata Ganguly and ex-president Bhaskar Banerjee, wanted the chief minister to set up a tripartite apex committee consisting of industrialists, trade unions and officials from the chief minister’s secretariat to look into industrial problems.

“We have asked Bhattacharjee to set up this committee which will have the ultimate authority to pass verdicts on any industrial problem,” Ganguly said.

Such a proposal was given to former chief minister Jyoti Basu as well, he added, but things hadn’t worked out. Both Ganguly and Banerjee were, however, hopeful that this chief minister would take up the issue seriously. “We don’t know why things didn’t work out then but this CM is different,” they added.

Bhattacharjee, confronted by the BCCI team on the central business district’s “dismal” image, asked it to present a paper on how the area could be given a facelift. The BCCI heads told the media that one of their first suggestions would be to ban any procession in the area between Dalhousie and Theatre Road. Bettering roads in the area, building flyovers, pushing away hawkers and keeping buildings — or at least their exteriors — spick-and-span would also figure prominently in their paper, they said.

Both teams were happy about Bhattacharjee’s new “Do it now” slogan. Delay — be it in granting an industry licence or constructing a flyover — was Bengal’s bane, they said, and such slogans, if sincerely implemented, could take the state forward. But slogans and policies would be of no meaning if they were not implemented, said BNCCI president S.K. Bagla and secretary D.P. Nag.

The artistes — Suchitra Mitra, Pijush Kanti Sarkar and Amrik Singh Arora — were more effusive in their praise. “We are hopeful of cooperation from the logical and learned chief minister,” Mitra, who is also Calcutta sheriff, said, in an oblique reference to Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. “We are happy and excited to get our own government,” she added, her Left sympathies unbridled.

There was, however, one serious issue that the Association of Performing Professional Singers would take up with the “logical and learned” chief minister, said Mitra. It was about the need to confer heritage status on a building at 10 Sudder Street where Tagore had worked for some weeks.

But it was not bouquets all the way as a team from the Congress came in between the business captains and the artistes. The “do it now” chief minister, for them, was only the CPM’s chief minister and not that of the whole state. They also had an explanation: post-poll “CPM terror” had claimed the lives of many Opposition activists and things in Jalpaiguri, Memari and Sabang were particularly bad with hundreds homeless and dozens at hospitals, PCC general secretary Pradip Bhattacharya and Congress candidate from Sabang Manas Bhuniya said.




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Relative humidity

Minimum: 58%


Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain in the evening.
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Sunset: 6.11 pm

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