Law ministry blow to empty benches
Vajpai declares war on corrupt cops
Tipu chandelier fished out of pond
Parched plateau prays for rain
Prison congestion
Truce ends when security clawback begins
BJP tom-toms trishul formula
Cong lines up 11 CMs for heartland frontline
Tagore paintings set for Stockholm
Fugitives’ honesty backfires

 
 
LAW MINISTRY BLOW TO EMPTY BENCHES 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, May 24: 
The number of vacancies in high courts may go up, thanks to the Union law ministry’s decision to make two important modifications in the appointment process of high court judges.

This will have an impact on Calcutta High Court which has 14 vacancies.

The law ministry recently informed all the high courts and state judicial departments of the changes.

The first modification will make a large section of advocates ineligible for selection for the post of judge, fear high court officials and advocates. It stipulates that only advocates earning more than Rs 3 lakh per annum can apply for vacancies on the bench. Till now, all advocates earning more than Rs 1.5 lakh were eligible.

The second decision, say officials, will increase the discrepancy in service conditions of two categories of judges; one group comprises persons who become judges after giving up their practice and the other comprises promotees from state Higher Judicial Service cadre. This decision now enables all 40-plus practising advocates to apply for appointment as judges while promotees from the HJS cadre can only apply after reaching 58.

Previously, too, there was a discrepancy — all advocates above 45 could apply for judges’ vacant posts — but this decision, say high court officials, instead of minimising the discrepancy, adds to it.

The decision virtually seals all avenues of promotion for the HJS promotees, explain officials, besides adding to the discrepancy in the pay of judges in the same age-group. A person who becomes a judge at 40 will draw a much higher pay when he retires than an HJS promotee who becomes a judge after 58.

But it’s the first decision — to raise the income-eligibility — that has caused more heartburn among officials and advocates.

Also, those earning Rs 3 lakh and above may not be tempted to apply for the post of judge as their average annual emoluments work out to Rs 4.5 lakh per annum.

Chances are that their earnings will increase in proportion to their experience and, therefore, advocates with more financially-rewarding careers may give the judicial service a miss, say officials.

State judicial department minister Nisith Adhikari admitted receiving the twin modifications from the Centre.

But the state government was not consulted in the decision-making process, he said. “I feel the Centre has made an incorrect decision by lowering the age-limit and laying more stress on the earnings of an advocate,” he added.

   

 
 
VAJPAI DECLARES WAR ON CORRUPT COPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 24: 
The new director-general of state police, D.C. Vajpai, promised stern action against the boorish and the corrupt in his force.

Any complaint against policemen about boorish behaviour with the public would result in an inquiry and necessary disciplinary action if the charges were proved true, Vajpai said when asked about chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s recent comments that policemen often misbehave with the poor.

There was need for more effective community policing and better police-public relations, admitted Vajpai, whose tenure as commissioner of Calcutta Police saw policemen organising football matches between neighbourhood clubs as a public relations drive.

Vajpai also promised stricter supervision and monitoring by circle inspectors and sub-divisional police officers to keep a check on corruption. Such ombudsman-like posts will be increased if necessary.

He, however, didn’t have anything to say about corruption among senior police officials.

   

 
 
TIPU CHANDELIER FISHED OUT OF POND 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chinsurah, May 24: 
Twenty-four hours after a 150-year-old chandelier that belonged to Tipu Sultan was stolen from the Hooghly Imambara (picture above), part of the antique was fished out of a pond at Protappur. Police recovered the remaining half from a house in Calcutta.

Tipu Sultan’s family had given the chandelier — made of Belgium glass and valued at Rs 15 lakh — to Haji Mohammad Mohasin in whose house the Imambara is located. There was a break-in at the Imambara in the wee hours of Wednesday. The chandelier was in the ground-floor prayer hall. The caretaker detected the theft and alerted Chinsurah police.

After arresting Subrata Sinha alias Gopal and Sumit Pathak alias Hulo, police recovered parts of the chandelier from a pond 3 km from the Imambara where the antique smugglers had hidden parts of it.

The trail led to a house in Calcutta — 133, APC Road. The two confessed that 14 prisms of the chandelier, each weighing 2 kg, had been sent to this house for sale. Police raided the house and recovered the prisms. However, they could not arrest the man who had paid Rs 26,000 for the prisms. SP (Hooghly) N. Ramesh Babu said three people were involved in the theft. The third man was absconding.

   

 
 
PARCHED PLATEAU PRAYS FOR RAIN 
 
 
FROM UTPAL BANERJEE
 
Purulia, May 24: 
The queues of empty vessels in front of near-dry taps are long and winding.

It hasn’t rained well for three years now. Two districts — Purulia and Bankura — are parched.

The farmers are idle. Agricultural labourers are moving to prosperous Burdwan in search of work. Some have sold their cattle because there is no fodder.

“The situation is alarming. I hate to think what will happen in the coming months if it doesn’t rain,” said zilla parishad chairman Swapan Banerjee.

According to Nirmalendu Nandi Roy, principal agricultural officer, Purulia received 1,000 mm of rain on an average for the past three years when the “normal” is 1,500 mm and above.

As a result, boro cultivation could be carried out on only 1,900 hectares this year against the usual 4,000 hectares. Standing crops are also wilting. “Summer vegetable production in the district is by and large good,” said Roy. “But this has also been hard-hit this time.”

Onion is usually cultivated over 1,000 hectares and green chilli over 500 hectares. But this year, not even 50 per cent of the target could be achieved. “I am not sure the farmers will be able to save even that,” said Roy.

He said farmers had been advised to plough the land after sundown to take maximum advantage of the dew. They had also been advised to “conserve moisture”, covering the seedlings with leaves and wet clothes.

Same is the condition in adjacent Bankura where over 30 per cent of the cultivable land has dried up. There has been virtually no rabi or boro crop this season. Rivers like the Gandheswari, Kasai and Damodar have dried up.

Swapan Banerjee, the sabhadhipati of Purulia zilla parishad, said: “A Rs 10.50-crore joint sector project with an Israeli company, Agridev, has been initiated in Purulia to tackle recurrent droughts in Purulia and Bankura.”

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed with the Israeli company when chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee visited the two districts last January.

   

 
 
PRISON CONGESTION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 24: 
Bangladesh Rifles’s refusal to take back Bangladeshi prisoners without a long-drawn verification of their citizenship rights is one of the reasons behind congestion in prisons close to the border, feels prisons and social welfare minister Biswanath Choudhury.

Though matters have improved of late, the minister has had to meet the state home secretary to request him to take up the matter with the Centre.

BDR’s refusal to take back prisoners in the recent past often led to a peculiar situation where the prison authorities were forced to keep back the prisoners after conferring on them the status of “released prisoners”, Choudhury said today. “We can’t keep them in prison as they have served their sentence, neither can we let them free as they are foreign citizens without valid papers,” the minister explained.

Choudhury met senior departmental officials at Writers’ Buildings today. It was decided at the meeting that all prisoners would be photographed so that there wasn’t any confusion about their identity.

   

 
 
TRUCE ENDS WHEN SECURITY CLAWBACK BEGINS 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, May 24: 
A day after the Vajpayee government decided to invite Pakistan chief executive Pervez Musharraf to India, L.K. Advani said “more militants were killed and more action taken against terrorists” in the last two months.

The home minister, along with foreign and defence minister Jaswant Singh, had chaired a meeting of the Unified Headquarters in Srinagar on May 19 on the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir over the past three months.

Advani hinted today that a solution to the Kashmir problem would be difficult to come by considering that the “problem itself is old and there are a number of implications. Besides, there is a gulf between the positions of both India and Pakistan”.

Speaking to reporters, Advani said: “I did feel that in the last two months more militants were killed and more action taken against terrorists by the security forces. But, of course, the position is not as it was in September-October last year.” Then, the security forces, who had stepped up counter-terrorism operations, “went after” terrorists and busted several of their hideouts.

Advani’s assessment shows that the security forces were slowly gaining an upper hand over terrorists since the unilateral ceasefire or “non-initiation of combat operations” was extended by three months from February 26.

In fact, statistics prove that the level of violence unleashed by militants in the third phase of the ceasefire — January 26 to February 26 — was higher compared to the three-month period which, had the government not called it off, would have come to an end on May 26. In the fourth phase — February 26 till May 26 — the total number of terrorism-related deaths was 189 (figures available till March 20) which includes 72 civilians, 65 terrorists and 52 security personnel.

But between January 26 and February 26, the corresponding figure is 235 with 97 civilians, 93 militants and 45 security personnel being killed. In the second phase, 203 persons (83 civilians, 76 terrorists, 44 securitymen) were killed and in the first the bodycount was 211 (96 civilians, 59 terrorists and 56 securitymen).

Interestingly, the casualty figure two months before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared the Ramzan ceasefire on November 22 was 611. Of this, 341 were militants and 119 security personnel, suggesting the security forces’ “proactiveness”.

The total ratio of securitymen killed to terrorists killed during the first three phases and three weeks into the fourth phase of the ceasefire is 1:1.49. Three weeks into the fourth phase of the truce, the ratio of jawans killed to militants killed was 1:1.25. The best ratio of securitymen killed to terrorists killed during the ceasefire was during the third phase and peaked at 1:2.06. The ratio of security forces killed to terrorist killed during the second phase was 1:1.73.

It is an indication that the level of militancy-related violence in Jammu and Kashmir was higher during the first three phases rather than in the fourth, which was aborted yesterday.

Hurriyat meet

The All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) executive is meeting early next week to take stock of India’s invitation to Pervez Musharraf for talks and also the move to call off the ceasefire, according to our correspondent in Srinagar.

“We will react after through discussions early next week,” APHC chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said. “No one can isolate the Hurriyat conference,” he added.

Jamaat Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said: “If the intention of the Indian government is to invite Musharraf to honestly resolve the dispute in its historic perspective then I welcome the decision and see it as a very positive development. It is a positive development in light of the fact that till yesterday India didn’t recognise Pakistan as a party.”

   

 
 
BJP TOM-TOMS TRISHUL FORMULA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 24: 
The BJP welcomed the Centre’s decision to invite Pervez Musharraf for talks and said it was in keeping with the government’s policy to “seek peaceful solution of bilateral problems with all our neighbours”.

“Since the Kargil war, we have taken the position that Pakistan must cease cross-border terrorism before we hold any bilateral talks. We hope that Pakistan will approach the forthcoming talks with India in a positive manner and they will be held in peaceful atmosphere and on the basis of the Simla agreement and Lahore declaration,” BJP general secretary Narendra Modi said in a statement.

Modi, however, made it clear that the BJP was against involving the Hurriyat Conference in the talks. Pakistan’s military spokesman Rasheed Qureishi had said in a televised interview today that the Hurriyat must be part of any talks between India and Pakistan.

“India never favoured tripartite talks. If Pakistan insists on pre-conditions, India must not accept them,” Modi asserted. Suggesting that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s invitation to Musharraf was something of a diplomatic coup, the BJP spokesman said: “From the Lahore bus yatra till now, whatever steps India has taken (vis-a-vis Pakistan) have isolated Pakistan completely.”

“The world is now divided into two distinct blocs — those who back terrorism and those who are against it. In this scenario, Pakistan has been isolated. We hope the Prime Minister’s invitation will force Pakistan to accept the ground realities and it will not repeat its mistakes,” he added.

Modi recalled how Musharraf had scoffed at Vajpayee’s Lahore bus yatra but said there was a “significant shift” in his outlook over the last two months. “He said he was ready to hold talks within the framework of the Lahore declaration and Simla agreement and this position indicates that Pakistan is looking for peace,” the BJP spokesman said.

The three-pronged “trishul formula” adopted by the Centre was the best way of tackling the Kashmir situation, he said. The three prongs were: confronting terrorism head-on after an “appreciation” of the ground realities, holding a dialogue with Pakistan’s chief executive and the Centre’s new Kashmir interlocutor K.C. Pant’s peace offer to the militant outfits.

In private, BJP members could scarcely conceal their glee at the government’s decision to end the ceasefire. The decision was a “direct fallout” of home minister L.K. Advani’s growing participation on the Kashmir front, they said.

BJP sources confirmed that there were differences on the issue between Advani and external affairs and defence minister Jaswant Singh. While Advani wanted the ceasefire to end, Jaswant wanted it to continue.

“Jaswant’s is a diplomat’s viewpoint taken from a distance. That is why the Prime Minister insisted Advaniji must also visit Jammu and Kashmir with Jaswant and assess the ground realities before a decision was taken.

“His statement in Jammu and Kashmir where he talked of how militants have crossed the borders and emerged from their hideouts to mingle with civilians and even enter security barracks was an indication of his perception that the ceasefire was counter-productive and ought to go,” sources said.

The only worry was a possible escalation of incidents of sabotage by “elements backed by Pakistan”, they added.

   

 
 
CONG LINES UP 11 CMS FOR HEARTLAND FRONTLINE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 24: 
Pitted against the might of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayavati and Rajnath Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Sonia Gandhi plans to mobilise all her party’s 11 chief ministers and senior leaders to recover lost ground in the coming Assembly elections in the state.

The Congress Working Committee will meet here on Monday to finalise a strategy for UP and review the political situation in the country.

For the Congress, the UP polls are vital, especially after its success in the just-concluded Assembly elections in five states in which the NDA and its allies failed to make any headway.

“It is the biggest challenge before her — both at the personal and the political level,” a CWC member said, while admitting that the task before Sonia was daunting.

Sonia plans to depute 11 chief ministers of Congress-ruled states at the district level and hold them accountable for the party’s performance in the Assembly elections. A similar test is in store for most CWC members and senior leaders from other states.

The idea of sector-wise accountability was floated by Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh. Nath has offered to take up the revival plan of any state assigned to him.

But not everyone in the party is enthusiastic about Congress chief ministers and senior partymen landing in UP to hit the campaign trail.

“It may lead to complete chaos — a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. We saw how during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Karan Singh contest, leaders of little or no consequence landed in Lucknow and dried up resources,” a UP leader said.

But Nath says it will be different this time as leaders will not be camping in Lucknow alone.

“We all will be out in the field,” he said. Nath had tried a similar system in Assam where leaders from Delhi — Jagdish Tytler and Subash Chopra — supervised the campaign. AICC treasurer Motilal Vora visited Lucknow yesterday to hold preliminary talks with the state Congress leaders.

Sonia is keen to relaunch the National Herald-Quami Awaz-Navjivan group of newspapers to provide effective voice to the party. Founded by Jawaharlal Nehru, these publications abruptly closed down when the party lost its political relevance in the state.

   

 
 
TAGORE PAINTINGS SET FOR STOCKHOLM 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, May 24: 
As soon as the National Committee on Art Treasures gives clearance, a show of Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings will travel Stockholm to be hosted by the Nobel committee.

Though the paintings have been selected from the Rabindra Bhavan collection in Santiniketan, the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) is coordinating the exercise.

The first meeting of the new NGMA advisory committee endorsed these and several other shows which were in the pipeline. The meeting also discussed certain policy issues. Gallery director Rajeev Lochan said: “The NGMA is desirous of clarity of vision.”

Sculptor and advisory committee member Dhruv Mistry added: “The meeting envisaged a vision for the future. It is important to define NGMA’s role and spell out how it is distinct from the Lalit Kala Akademi. The whole operation of the NGMA has to be systematised.”

“A decision has been taken to have continuous exhibitions from NGMA’s own collections. And major retrospectives must travel to various parts of the country,” said sculptor Ravinder Reddy.

While Lochan said the discussions went off wonderfully, sources within the committee said some sensitive issues came up for discussion and decisions have been deferred till the next meeting.

Foremost among the ticklish issues is that of collaboration with private galleries. Opinion is divided on the matter and a decision on a proposal by Vadhera Art Gallery for a retrospective of A. Ramachandran is pending. While the new committee has endorsed proposals of retrospectives of K.G. Subramanyan and the late J. Swaminathan, other names are being pushed forward for approval.

The committee will be under pressure for giving the nod to important artists from different regions.

Jamini Roy, Sankho Chaudhuri and Harkishen Lal are some of the names under consideration. Pressure is building up for retrospectives of Dhanraj Bhagat, Amarnath Sehgal, Mumbai painter Palsikar, sculptors Piloo Pochkhanawala and Adi Davierwala.

The metropolis-periphery syndrome; in other words, the Delhi versus regions rivalry continues to be a sore point.

Efforts have been made to include artist representatives from all regions in the new committee. Paramjit Singh, Anjolie Ela Menon, Anupam Sud, Arpana Caur from Delhi, Dhruv Mistry from Baroda, Prabhakar Kolte from Mumbai, Nandgopal, S.G. Vasudev, Ravinder Reddy from the south, Tombi Singh from the Northeast and Prem Singh from Chandigarh are some of the artists on the panel.

Art historian R. Sivakumar from Visva Bharati is a member, as is Ebrahim Alkazi and Nanjunda Rao. Photographer Raghu Rai has also been included in the committee. The NGMA directors are ex-officio members. The committee will meet again in a couple of months.

   

 
 
FUGITIVES’ HONESTY BACKFIRES 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, May 24: 
The Darjeeling hills have proved too hot for the Johri brothers. On the run for the last three months after they duped thousands of investors in Lucknow, Arvind Johri and his brother, A.K. Johri, were arrested by the CBI in Kalimpong on Wednesday.

Ironically, the Johris were caught while returning a local taxi driver some extra money passed on to them inadvertently. In fact, A.K. Johri had made a special trip back from his rented apartment to the taxi stand to return the lucky driver Rs 400.

The flash of honesty also yielded a glimmer of hope for thousands of investors who accuse the Johris of fleecing them of Rs 400 crore. The investors have been bombarding the local police stations with FIRs and phone calls.

The two Johri brothers, along with nine other family members, had not only rented an apartment in Kalimpong, but had also sought admission for their children in a school in Kurseong.

They had left Lucknow on March 16. On reaching Delhi, they headed for Calcutta by train. They reached Kalimpong on April 20 after leisurely stopovers at Malda, Siliguri and Darjeeling. By the time Johri had reached Kalimpong, his identity had changed twice. When the CBI nabbed him, A.K. Johri was living as Diwakar Prasad.

A frenzy is building up against them in Lucknow. Police officials have admitted that the Johris will have to be given adequate security when they reach on Friday. Newspaper offices and police stations received calls throughout the day enquiring about the Johris’ “homecoming”.

The Johris, who floated Century Consultants Limited, a stock broking firm, owe investors in Lucknow close to Rs 150 crore. They owe various banks Rs 75 crore. They are also directors of the City Co-operative Bank, a major banking unit of Lucknow with thousands of depositors.

Their terminals were shut down by the BSE after they failed to pay the margin money of Rs 50 crore. The CBI has sealed 24 offices of the Johris across India.

But if the investors are excited about their arrest and return, politicians and bureaucrats are an apprehensive lot. The Johris had connections with top BJP leaders and the state’s bureaucrats.

The ambitious software technology park, to be set up by Uptron in partnership with the Johris, was inaugurated by Vajpayee himself. The Opposition has been clamouring for a list of investors in CCL, which the government has refused. The Assembly today erupted over the same issue.

“Let the government permit the CBI to publicise the list of CCL investors, it will be a can of worms for the BJP,” an Opposition leader said. A senior CBI official confirmed that some of the state’s topmost bureaucrats had invested huge sums with the CCL and that a “substantial” number of ministers and politicians were involved with the Johris.

Apart from the political fallout of the scam, the CBI fears that the Johris may have transferred huge sums into foreign banks as they had offices in London, Dubai and Singapore.

   
 

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