Trade ties stay strained on summit-eve
Faiths rally against foeticide
Left unions in power tussle
Opposition pounces as Laloo turns to god
Assam storm over MLA son’s death
Police taste rod for club ‘laxity’
Homoeo, dogs’ new best friend
Badal slams pilgrim attack
Early poll fear drives BJP brass to villages
Goa last nail in Portuguese land relic

New Delhi, June 24: 
Attempts to sweep aside possible hurdles from the path of next month’s summit between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf notwithstanding, Pakistan continues to deny India the most-favoured nation (MFN) status.

Unlike what the name suggests, the status does not provide special trade privileges but provides those basic for trading between two countries.

The misnomer has led countries like the US to rename the MFN status to “normal trading relation” to make it more acceptable and comprehensive for its domestic audience, especially in its dealings with countries like China, which had often been demonised.

Granting the MFN status to India is unlikely to bring about a sea change in Indo-Pak trade relations overnight.

But over the years, the issue has gathered a political dimension and the gesture, or the lack of it, shows the sorry state of relations between the south Asian neighbours.

Both Delhi and Islamabad are signatories to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement and as per its rules should grant the MFN status to each other.

Though India has given this to Pakistan, the latter is yet to reciprocate.

There is a national security clause in the WTO agreement which allows a country to deny the MFN status to another. The Pakistani leadership uses this special clause to justify its decision to deny India.

The signal is clear: Pakistan sees the lack of a “forward movement” on the Kashmir dispute with India as something which hampers its vital security interests. Indications from Islamabad suggest there has been no change in the Pakistani stand.

Indian high commissioner in Islamabad Vijay Nambiar met Pakistani minister of commerce and industry Abdul Razak Dawood on Friday to discuss steps to “enhance economic cooperation between India and Pakistan”.

The issue of according the MFN status to India was also raised but Nambiar failed to get a commitment on whether Pakistan was willing to review its stand before the July summit.

Instead, Dawood seemed more enthusiastic in talking about a joint strategy to face global challenges, particularly from the developed economies, in view of the ministerial meeting of the WTO in Doha in November.

There are indications that officials of the two countries might meet after the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit to evolve the joint strategy.

Official trade between India and Pakistan stands at a meagre $200 million, though unofficial trade between the two sides, and also through third countries, is over $1 billion.

The two sides are talking about finding ways and means to boost the two-way trade. An attempt is being made to expand the list of 600 items to be imported from India under the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement (Sapta).

According to a South Block assessment, Musharraf — from the coup that brought him to power in September 1999 to his decision of taking over as the country’s President — is trying to take Pakistan in a particular direction and improving its economy plays an important part in his scheme of things.

In the past, Pakistan has refused to improve economic ties with India and, as a result, ignored the region’s biggest and strongest economy.

More than Delhi, it is Islamabad which has lost out because of this lack of engagement. Today, Pakistan’s national savings stands at only 12.7 per cent of its GDP and foreign investment as low as 14.7 per cent.

With very little progress expected on the Kashmir issue as the positions of both India and Pakistan are so well entrenched, Delhi is trying to stress on expanding its economic engagement with Islamabad.

Two years ago, during the Lahore peace process, Nawaz Sharif had been persuaded to try the economic route to improve relations with India.

It remains to be seen whether Musharraf, who ousted him from power through the coup, is willing to try the same route.


New Delhi, June 24: 
For a few hours at least, the shadow of patriarchy receded from religious establishments as their leaders gathered in the capital to speak out in one voice against female foeticide spiralling across the country, especially in north India.

Religious leaders have been known as upholders of patriarchy, but at today’s meeting, organised by the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the Unicef and the National Commission for Women (NCW), they attacked a practice which feeds patriarchy.

The conclave of leaders from diverse faiths included Sadhvi Rithambhara, Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s rabble-rouser, who shared the dais with Muslim leaders. “I am seeing a new avatar of Rithambhara,” said Swami Agnivesh of Arya Samaj.

In the “new avatar”, the Sadhvi disregarded her organisation’s animosity towards minorities and urged religious leaders of all hues to come together on the same platform on the issue.

The heads of the Ramakrishna Mission and Parsi Anjuman, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi and many more turned up to drive the fear of divine retribution into those practising female foeticide. The Archbishop of Delhi could not come because of an urgent meeting elsewhere. “Otherwise, it was like a gathering of a who’s who of religious leaders,” said Sanjiv Mallik, honorary secretary of the IMA.

Nowhere do our religions preach or sanction foeticide, stressed the religious leaders. Driven to a dead end by the rising rate of female foeticide, the IMA and the Unicef had planned the meeting of religious leaders hoping to make some headway in a blind alley. A government team, too, showed up, promising to strictly enforce the Act that bans foeticide.

For six hours, the leaders spoke out against foeticide, evoking religious texts which negate the very concept of destroying life. “They did not even break up for lunch as some said they could fast for a few hours for such an important cause,” said Mallik. At the end of the meeting, all took an oath drawn up by the IMA to fight against foeticide.

The organisers of the meeting said there could be no miracle overnight. But in their daily discourses, the religious preachers will bring in the subject of foeticide and condemn it as violating the basic tenets of all religions.

Kanchi’s Shankaracharya felt that religious leaders could, if they wanted, play a more active role in battling “social evils”.

Female foeticide is growing by the day and the latest census figures of male-female ratio have left the government and voluntary organisations stunned. According to the latest census, the ratio of the female child to the male child has dipped to 927 from 945 with cash-rich states like Punjab and Haryana topping the list. Embarrassed by the state’s blatant disregard for women, the Akal Takht threatened to excommunicate those who practise female foeticide a few weeks ago.

Warning to doctors

The IMA admitted that, so far, it has not been able to stop the medical fraternity from carrying out abortions of the female foetus. It issued a statement today declaring that the association will not protect professionals who abet or carry out foeticide. “We will also de-recognise those doctors,” said the IMA’s honorary secretary.

The IMA has woken up to the threat posed by some doctors who are minting money by performing illegal abortions. “Not a single doctor has been punished so far despite the rising rates of female foeticide,” said Vibha Parthasarathy, chairperson of the National Commission for Women.

She has already spoken to the ministers of health and family welfare in Chandigarh about the spiralling rate of foeticide. “They were disturbed but nobody knew how to stop the killings,” Parthasarathy added.


New Delhi, June 24: 
Behind a public display of trade union solidarity, the Citu and the Aituc — the two major Left trade unions — are freely slinging mud at each other in a game of brinkmanship.

The CPI-backed All India Trade Union Centre (Aituc) has charged the CPM’s Centre of Trade Unions (Citu) with wanting to call the shots in the trade union movement.

“Oneupmanship does not help in building up trade union unity,” says Trade Union Record, an Aituc mouthpiece. The unsigned article written by a commentator lists a series of decisions where the Citu has played “foul” with the Aituc and also with other trade unions. Whether in the coal industry, in NTPC, or Balco, the Citu has been accused of shrugging off the decisions reached by other trade unions and striking out on its own.

The Citu and the Aituc, both claiming Left ideology, have always walked on a sharp edge of competition. The article confirms that there has been no let up in the tension, regardless of public posturing about trade union unity.

The list of industries where the Citu has played a “renegade” covers some important strikes and agreements. In the coal industry, four central trade unions, the Indian National Trade Union Congress, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the Hind Mazdoor Sabha and the Aituc signed a memorandum of understanding which, the Citu, disowned. Refusing to sign it, the Citu leadership called for a strike against the agreement.

After a part of the signed agreement was flouted by the management, spontaneous strikes took place in coal mines. “The Citu claimed it was due to their call,” says the Record. another agreement was signed. When Citu now wanted to be part of this agreement, other trade unions insisted that Citu sign the MoU as well.

The conflict between the Citu and other unions peaked in the NTPC after the Citu refused to sign an agreement others had accepted. “The Citu gave a call for strike but only 240 workers of a total of 7,000 joined the protest,” stressed the Aituc mouthpiece.

In SAIL, all trade unions decided to strike work on March 28 and 29 but Citu managed to postpone the strike because of an “assurance it had earlier given to the steel minister”.

Aituc leader Gaya Singh wrote to Citu general secretary M.K. Pandhe, urging him to convene a meeting of trade unions. “Pandhe wrote back saying the Citu has already decided to go on strike on April 17. He asked other trade unions to join the action,” says the Record.

While the other trade unions stuck to a common agenda, the Citu went about its own business, unilaterally scheduling a strike ignoring others’ viewpoint.

The Aituc’s list of complaints is suggestive of the pulls and tensions underlying the trade union movement which, as far as actions and visibility are concerned, is dominated by the Citu. Official records put the membership of the BMS at the highest.

In the recent strike over disinvestment of shares in Balco, the Citu kept itself separated from the action. “The Bidhan Bagh unit of Balco controlled by the Citu did not join the strike and later the Citu campaigned that it did not sign the agreement like the Aituc,” the Record says.

The Aituc defended itself explaining that it has a 3,000-strong membership of contract workers in Balco. “And no trade union leader can leave contract labour in a lurch when permanent workers, including those following the Citu, have joined duty,” the Record adds.


Patna, June 24: 
RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav had an appointment with god yesterday on the state’s development.

Hounded by the Opposition on the flight of industrialists, education centres and banks, Yadav asked god if Bihar would be prosperous in his lifetime. To his shock, god began crying. On being asked the reason, god answered: “Son, I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.”

Most popular after Bill Clinton where Internet jokes are concerned, Yadav remembered god in real life when he visited the family of long-time associate and RJD’s Muzaffarpur district vice-president, Parmeswar Yadav, who was shot by unidentified assailants yesterday. Yadav ended up muttering what his detractors have said for long: “Bihar is at the mercy of god.”

After his remark made headlines, senior party members realised the damage done. They made frantic calls to the RJD chief’s house and some asked if he had taken on the garb of the Opposition to punish his ministers. But Yadav, after maintaining silence till this afternoon, declared: “It was media mischief.”

However, the Opposition were quick to seize on the gaffe. BJP state vice-president Kiran Ghai said: “The admission has come late. But I am happy that Yadav has finally admitted it.”

Yadav’s critics felt that he could no longer escape the degeneration that was taking place in the state. The past fortnight has been marked by misery for Bihar. Two weeks ago, Care India withdrew all welfare programmes in the state and shifted to Ranchi. The NGO, which was in the state for a decade, folded up its operations after it felt threatened by the declining law and order situation in the state. However, the government refused to make even a formal request to the NGO to reconsider its decision.

The British Council is all set to wind up, too, from Patna 42 years since its establishment. The move has worried academicians and students, who have benefited from the library’s 8,000 books and journals and its counselling centre on studying abroad. The library cited the declining academic environment, the steady fall in membership and the migration of students to other states as reasons for its departure.

The litany of Bihar’s woes do not end here. The UBI has decided to close down some unprofitable branches. Tisco has downgraded its office after the state’s bifurcation. Coal India is also planning to wind up its offices here.

Attend any day’s proceedings at the Patna High Court, and ministers and bureaucrats are seen facing strictures for failing to ensure basic amenities to citizens. Powers cuts have halted trade and business activities. Even the Governor’s house is not spared and the generator is mostly out of order due to lack of maintenance.

Besides, the government and the Raj Bhavan are on a constant collision course. Recently, both crossed swords on the issue of selecting vice-chancellors for various universities in Bihar. Governor V.C. Pande turned down the names recommended by the state for the posts. As a result, the universities have to do with part-time vice-chancellors, who are commission-rank IAS officers.


Dhubri, June 24: 
The death of the foster son of an AGP MLA in an alleged encounter with security forces has kicked up a storm in the state. The Opposition has demanded a judicial probe into the incident.

Police claimed that Kamal Barua, teenage son of Bilasipara East constituency MLA Prasanta Kumar Barua, was shot dead in an “encounter” with security forces on Thursday in Daokibari under the Salkocha police station. Kamal was an active member of the banned National Democratic Front of Boroland.

However, the MLA denied that Kamal, a higher secondary student of the Swadeshi Academy, had links with any militants. Villagers of Thurubari, where the teenager lived with his foster father,also endorsed the MLA’s claim.

The AGP has dubbed the incident as “state terrorism”, an allegation the Congress had often brought against the former when it was in power. The Bilasipara unit of the AGP cited the incident as another instance of “secret killing”.

The MLA said if the police had information of Kamal being a member of the rebel outfit, they could have taken him into custody as he was “always available” in the village or in Guwahati.

Minister of state for home Pradyut Bordoloi said he has asked the police to submit a detailed report on the incident. “Till the report comes, I cannot comment on the subject,” he added.

Villagers said the teenager was proceeding towards Thurubari on a bicycle when he was shot dead by a CRPF patrol led by Dhubri deputy superintendent of police (headquarters).

Daokibari goanburah (village headman) Sontola Basumatari said he heard “only three gun shots”. He alleged that he was not allowed to see the body. Villagers also denied reports that Kamal was armed when the incident happened.

The district police official in charge of the case corroborated the villagers’ claims and said, “The incident site had no signs of an encounter”.

Kamal lost his mother, a Nepali, immediately after his birth and his father, a Bhutia, died when he was just four years old. The politician adopted the child in 1984 and since then, Kamal had been staying with him.

According to the villagers, Kamal was a shy and studious teenager. He passed the high school leaving certificate examination in the first division with letter marks in three subjects from Gordon Higher Secondary School in Nalbari. Next, he moved to the capital for higher studies but returned without appearing for the HS final examination.

An AGP leader accused the Congress government of launching a “vendetta war” against the party by targeting its leaders and their family members. “Today, it is the son of an MLA; tomorrow, it may be the MLA himself,” he said.

A source said after Kamal returned home, he was admonished by his father for not completing his studies. An infuriated Kamal left his home and was staying with other villagers.

“It was a just a case of a father-son ego clash and nothing else,” a neighbour of the MLA said. “Kamal was never involved in quarrels with anyone. He was not that kind of a boy,” he added.


New Delhi & Calcutta, June 24: 
The Assam government today sent Sivasagar superintendent of police T.P. Singh on leave for the police’s “failure” to prevent the killing of 12 Sulfa activists by suspected Ulfa and NSCN militants at Moran on June 21.

Former militants of the district have called a 12-hour bandh from 6 am tomorrow in protest against the killings. A similar bandh was called by the Dibrugarh unit of the Sulfa on Saturday.

Singh, whose official vacation began today, has been replaced by K.V. Singhdeo, commandant of the Assam Police Commando battalion at Mandakata.

An official spokesman said Singh was asked to go on leave “for his sluggish reaction” to the sequence of events that led to the bloodshed at the Moran Polo Club, which is on Sivasagar district’s border with Dibrugarh district.

The order was issued after deputy inspector-general (eastern range) A.P. Rout indicated “laxity on the part of the police” in his preliminary findings on the Moran incident.

The state government had on Saturday directed Rout to probe the matter and submit his report within two days. “The inquiry has been completed. I will submit the report tonight,” the DIG told The Telegraph.

He declined to divulge the findings of the inquiry. “I have not yet submitted the report. It will not be good to divulge details now,” he said. The government had also placed the officers-in-charge of Moran and Moranhat police stations under suspension.

Minister of state for home Pradyut Bordoloi had blamed the local police stations for not having information about such a huge gathering of surrendered militants at the Moran Polo club. It was nothing but laxity on the part of the local police, Bordoloi told The Telegraph at the club a day after the incident.

The DIG was asked to investigate whether the Sulfa members of Sivasagar district had informed the then Sivasagar SP about the meeting.

Samar Kakati alias Mridul Phukon, one of the Sulfa leaders who organised the meeting, has alleged that despite informing Singh in writing about the meeting, no security was provided. Phukon left for Delhi the very morning the incident took place.

The Sivasagar SP denied the allegation and said he was not informed.

Sivasagar deputy commissioner Ravi Kota said there was something fishy about the whole incident. He wondered why the surrendered militants of Sivasagar district convened the meeting at the polo club in Moran.


New Delhi, June 24: 
A sweet succour is sweeping into dogs’ life as more and more people are switching to homeopathic medicines for their pets.

The “sweet pills” are supposed to do wonders for dogs. They have no side effects and help cure chronic skin problems, liver disorders, stomach ailments, lameness, renal failure, kidney stones and even treat fractures. Apart from being economical, homeopathic medicines are easy to administer.

Pradeep Rana, a well-known vet in the capital, said he has been increasingly prescribing homeopathic medicines for dogs, particularly to treat common skin diseases like Dermatitis, Pruritus, Scabies, cuts, wounds and itching in dogs. “Skin is the organ most exposed to the highly polluted and toxic environment. Canines with poor tolerance are easily affected by ticks, lice and mites, which live on the surface of the skin,” Rana said, explaining the cause of the most frequent complaints among dogs.

Ashna Singh, a resident of Delhi’s New Friend’s colony, said she was sceptical when Rana first suggested homeopathy for her dog. “But within days, his kidney stones got dissolved. As you know, in allopathy there is no treatment for dissolution of kidney stones,” she said, claiming that her dog had now “got hooked” to homeopathy. “Perhaps it’s got to do with the sweet taste,” she said.

Another dog-owner, Rajesh Kumar, said homeopathy saved his dog from cirrhosis of the liver. “When we used to give him allopathic medicines, he used to sulk. But since we switched to homeopathy, I noticed a degree of interest for medicine,” Kumar said.

Sensing a vast market, a leading homeopathy medicine manufacturer, Bakson Drugs and Pharmaceutical Pvt Ltd, has floated a full-fledged animal care division to research and develop more combinations.

Dr S.P.S. Bakshi believes that the dictum “we are what we eat” applies not only to human beings but also to pets. So, Bakson is also preparing food products and shampoos for dogs, on the lines of those manufactured in the US by PRO PAC.

“Research has shown that dogs fed on pre-packed food are healthier, have fewer skin, digestive and renal disorders,” Bakshi said, underlining the need for balanced food for pets. “Deficiency of fatty acid cause itchy skin, ear infection and dandruff problems in dogs,” he said.


Chandigarh, June 24: 
Taking serious note of yesterday’s attack on Sikh pilgrims, aboard a special train carrying the Guru Granth Sahib, at Uttarpara station in Hooghly district, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has decided to write to all chief ministers to ensure safety of the pilgrims.

Badal, who had yesterday spoken to West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and the Union home secretary, said: “I will write to all chief ministers seeking initiatives to prevent such attacks as they can vitiate the atmosphere and complicate the law and order situation in the country,” he said.

Condemning the attack in which seven pilgrims were injured, the chief minister said the issue will also be raised at the chief minister’s conference in Delhi on July 6. A frenzied mob had allegedly tried to set fire to a reserved compartment of the special train at Uttarpara station yesterday.

Shops in and around the Golden Temple remained closed today and the local unit of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal youth wing called a bandh. The Shiromani Prabandhak Gurdwara Committee, however, did not endorse the call.

Akal Takht jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti asked Sikhs to pray for the safety of the pilgrims and the Guru Granth Sahib.


Lucknow, June 24: 
Top BJP leaders today descended from their ivory towers to grassroots as part of their mission to “go towards the villages”.

Activated into action by the rumblings of an early election, the BJP’s top order has fanned out in four directions, trudging weary roads to mosquitoes and dacoit-infested areas, as their programme to reach out to the masses, christened Chalo Gaon Ki Ore, kicked off with much hope and more trepidation.

As part of the ambitious village march, all BJP ministers, MPs, MLAs, party leaders and senior workers will adopt a village and stay overnight with the villagers, listening to their problems and hopes.

In their biggest ever attempt at reaching out to the masses, BJP leaders will cover 9,000 panchayat offices all across the state, burning the midnight oil in each village as part of their ratjaga (laying awake at night) ritual.

While chief minister Rajnath Singh will be spending the night in dacoit-infested Jalaon, state BJP president Kalraj Mishra will stay at a village in Rae Bareli, where the threat will be more from mosquitoes than bandits.

During the course of the pre poll mission, the BJP leaders will be taking diligent notes and recording statements which they will later use to create an information bank for campaigning.

BJP leaders taking part in the programme have been asked to follow certain guidelines. They are to first elaborate on the various development programmes undertaken or completed by the BJP.

They have also been directed to “listen carefully” to the people, all the while taking copious notes, before promising them more after the elections. Special attention, party workers have been told, should be paid to the villagers’ problems and their suggestions.

After the programme ends, BJP workers fill forms in specific proforma, which they will have to submit at the party headquarters. The forms will not only have information relating to the particular village panchayat, but also describe the health of the BJP’s panchayat samity, the development efforts made after 1997, the production and sale of food crops and the law and order situation in the village.

That the “night stay” programme has been taken very seriously by the BJP is evident from all the district collectors and police chiefs being informed of it well in advance. A list of “who’s where” has also been distributed so that there is no confusion.

Describing what has been widely perceived as an early beginning to the BJP’s poll campaign, Mishra says the programme is the most ambitious ever by a political party attempting direct interaction with the masses.

“Though we are the ruling party, we will go towards the villages and listen to the problems. We will then pass on the information to the government.”

Party agenda

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh today said the BJP will form a coalition government but will not have any truck with the Bahujan Samaj Party. The chief minister, who is here to participate in a workshop on self-help groups, said Ayodhya will not be on the party’s agenda for the Assembly polls due next year.

“Ayodhya is an issue raked up by other political parties. For us, it is only a law and order problem.”

Asked why there was a delay in issuing notifications to L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi in the pending cases, Rajnath said he had sought legal opinion and would take action soon. “I will pursue on what is justified and legal in this case,” he said.


Panaji, June 24: 
The Goa government has moved a Bill seeking to amend a practice that dates back to the 16th century and legalising houses built on common lands.

The Opposition is, however, up in arms against the move, saying this would regularise illegal buildings on “communidade” land — land that belonged to the early settlers (gaunkars, in local parlance) or the dominant caste groups. No one individual owns this land; the ownership would be somewhat equivalent to the modern-day cooperative system.

Besides, Congress leader Luizinho Faleiro argued, the Bill to amend what became law in 1961 needed a closer study by legislators before it was introduced in the Assembly.

Communidade institutions in Goa that own these lands were recognised under Portuguese law. These bodies, too, have begun protesting against the BJP move, but have lost their powers over the years and are unlikely to make much of an impact.

However, since 1961, these communidades have taken some knocking. In the name of agrarian reforms, some parties managed to corner parts of these common lands. Sometimes, parties encouraged encroachments to gain political mileage.

Also, over the decades, these communidades, which looked after the requirements of villages, lost out to panchayats. They also withered as revenues dwindled.

So, in Goa, though communidades survived into the 21st century, it was vastly withered. Industries had eaten into the common lands, as had some individuals.

The latest Bill — which the BJP has moved and the Congress is fighting — if passed, would legalise all constructions on these common land built before June 15, 2000. They would be protected against demolition.

Faleiro said the Bill amounted to “selling Goa to encroachers” while destroying the communidades.

The Bill states that an “unauthorised occupant” of communidade land will “be entitled for the regularisation of such unauthorised occupation or wrongful possession or encroachment”, provided required fees are paid and application made to the state authorities. Official estimates say that 8.4 million square metres of communidade land has been encroached upon in north Goa, and another 16 million square metres in south Goa.

Chief minister M. Parrikar said a Cabinet committee is going into the “very complex” issue. He said that an estimated six to eight thousand families are encroachers on communidade land.

Those campaigning for the continuation of common lands, say the government’s move is a “wholesale regularisation of acts of land terrorists with an evil-design to eliminate communidades from the face of the state”.

Advocate Andre Pereira of the Association of Components of Communidades, the body spearheading the campaign, said the BJP government’s action was aimed at “securing political vote-banks”. In the sixties, land reforms were introduced in Goa, but many now question the manner in which it was introduced.

Middle land-holders in some cases lost their properties or homes to a new class of politically-influential people.

Land-ceiling laws were never brought in, meaning some tenants managed to corner huge areas. The bigger landlords were also unaffected. Besides, the land reforms did not improve agricultural productivity, as government officials now concede.


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