Tehelka panel seeks time, Yashwant date
I can do better than Gandhi: Chauhan
Alimony hope in Wakf Bill
Sangma pushes ‘foreigner’ agenda
Koijam topple blame on Advani
Competition law bonus for Microsoft
Amartya partner in drought fight
Plea on passenger offload
Do-it-now pins 3
India bid to join health club

New Delhi, June 28: 
The Venkataswami commission investigating the Tehelka disclosures has issued fresh notices to, among others, finance minister Yashwant Sinha.

Sinha was mentioned indirectly in the tapes as being an alleged beneficiary of a large sum of money purportedly collected on his behalf by a Bihar MP, Rajiv Pratap Rudy. The “information” was fed in the tapes by former Samata Party treasurer R.K. Jain.

The minister had promptly denied the allegation, as did Rudy, while Jain later claimed his quotes were “doctored”.

A. Rao, officer on special duty to Justice K Venkataswami, said the commission had sought Sinha’s response in his personal capacity and not as the finance minister. This clarification is likely to be used as an argument by the BJP to counter a possible Opposition demand for the finance minister’s scalp.

Sinha has been given until July 2 to respond. Notices were earlier issued to former BJP president Bangaru Laxman, who was seen accepting money in the tapes, and Samata leaders George Fernandes and Jaya Jaitly.

The commission, whose term was to expire on July 23, has sought a four-month extension. “Given the voluminous task under the terms of reference, the commission, in spite of its best efforts, is forced to ask for an extension by four months,” Rao said. The request for an extension will be made after the next hearing on July 2.

If the extension is granted, and government sources believe it will be, the immediate political fallout will be that Fernandes is unlikely to be reinstated in the Cabinet. The former defence minister was banking on a clean chit from the Venkatasami Commission at the earliest to come back to power.

Though he was retained as the NDA convener even after he was mentioned in the Tehelka tapes — which also showed his official residence being used to entertain arms dealers — Samata sources admitted that with the loss of ministership, much of Fernandes’ sheen had been dulled.

It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee carries out a limited ministerial shuffle before the monsoon session. Government sources had earlier said that Vajpayee was likely to fill in the berths vacated by Fernandes and Mamata Banerjee.

BJP sources said though the names of other Central ministers such as Ram Vilas Paswan and Santosh Gangowar were listed by the Tehelka probe panel, notices might not be issued to them as there was no “direct” mention of their involvement.

It is learnt that Laxman, who had earlier deferred filing a reply, has submitted one. Sources close to him said his main plea was that while he had taken the money, it was promptly deposited with the BJP to be used in the party’s corpus of funds.

The commission has also issued a “letter interrogatory” to tehelka.com after Justice Venkataswami was informed about some irregularities in the transcripts, including missing pages.

Of the 13 files mentioned in the tapes, the defence ministry has sent the files of six transactions to the commission. According to Rao: “The remaining seven files will soon be handed over to the commission for scrutiny.”


Chandigarh, June 27: 
Back home after 22 years in exile, Khalistan ideologue Jagjit Singh Chauhan today admitted that the terror unleashed in the eighties had been a “blunder” but described the non-violence as preached by Mahatma Gandhi as “dead”.

Chauhan, who returned to the city from the UK yesterday, said the non-violence doctrine he wanted to preach was all-encompassing. “It is neither passive nor real, but better than Gandhi’s,” he said, but refused to elaborate.

The self-declared president of the Republic of Khalistan reiterated he would continue his struggle but “in a democratic manner” and claimed he had always advocated a non-violent movement to get a separate state for the Sikhs. “Violence begets violence and Punjab has witnessed a lot of bloodshed. I have come to stay and will live in India now. I have a lot to catch up with my Hindu friends,” he said.

Chauhan said that at 74, he was too old to dabble in electoral politics. “I will spread my message in favour of Khalistan by writing articles, talking to the intelligentsia and projecting my views at seminars. It will not be the work of one generation,” said the man who claims he is a descendant of Prithviraj Chauhan, the last Indian king to rule from Delhi.

Chauhan conceded that the violence triggered by terrorists in the name of Khalistan in the eighties and early nineties had been a “blunder”.

He, however, brushed aside the suggestion that the families of those who laid down their lives for Khalistan could now possibly look to him for help, saying martyrs sought no compensation.

“It is the Congress which began the practice of paying compensation to people who fought in the battle for independence. Those who went to jail for two days were given Rs 2,000 per month. As far as the Sikhs are concerned, Ahmad Shah Abdali had almost succeeded in wiping out the community. But the handful of Sikhs left sought no help from anyone. They reorganised themselves and, before Abdali could realise it, built a strong force and began fighting against him again, this time to emerge victorious. Real martyrs do not seek compensation,” he said.

Chauhan has over 10 cases against him in the state. However, senior police officers said they “have not received any communication” on his arrest.

Cong allegations

The Congress today accused the Centre and the Akali Dal government of acting hand-in-glove with Chauhan and according “special treatment” to him with an eye on the Assembly polls, adds our special correspondent from Delhi.

Accusing the Akalis of “vitiating atmosphere” in Punjab, the Congress today demanded Chauhan’s arrest.

Punjab Congress chief Amrinder Singh said “escalating developments” on the return of Chauhan, Satnam Singh Ponthia and Wasan Singh Zaffarwal, all pro-Khalistan leaders, would “destabilize” Punjab which was limping back to normality after a decade of militancy.

“First it was Satnam Singh Ponthia, then Wasan Singh Zaffarwal and now Jagjit Singh Chauhan.... Their reported statements meant that they want to vitiate the atmosphere in Punjab again,” Amrinder said.

The former maharaja of Patiala said: “Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal knew that he has lost the support of people in the state. Badal, in connivance with the home ministry, was engineering every thing.”

Wondering why the Centre was hesitating to arrest Chauhan, Amrinder said: “More than 200 police officials are still languishing in jails for defending the country against militancy while those who established a Khalistan government in exile, printed its own currency and announced a price on the head of the then prime minister are being allowed to roam freely.”


New Delhi, June 28: 
The government is considering a legislation that would allow divorced Muslim women to get alimony for as long as they don’t remarry.

The Centre has proposed amending the Wakf Act to allow Muslim women to get maintenance beyond the Shariat fixed period of 100 days or three menstrual cycles.

“The matter has been referred to the Central Wakf Council, the apex body of all state Wakf boards, and the proposed Bill is also with the Parliament standing committee concerned,” law ministry sources said.

The amendment, however, would have no bearing on the controversial Muslim Women (Protection of Rights) Act, 1986, introduced by the then Rajiv Gandhi government.

The law was passed by Parliament following widespread protests triggered by the verdict in the Shah Bano case, in which the Supreme Court had ruled that Muslim women, too, were entitled to alimony like women from other religions under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

“Position of the Shariat law that a Muslim woman would be given maintenance only for a period of 100 days or three menstrual cycles or remarriage since the divorce, was not altered in that enactment. Now what is proposed is the creation of a corpus fund through all state Wakf boards and the Central Wakf Council. Alimony would be granted to the Muslim women from the corpus fund till they remarry, irrespective of the Shariat-sanctioned 100-day period,” the sources said. This period is known as tuhr.

For this, the Wakf Act, 1954, has to be changed and Wakf boards in all states will have to be consulted.

Under existing Islamic laws, read with the Muslim Women Act, 1986, women from the community do not “get a penny” beyond 100 days from the date of divorce. “Without dragging into picture the already controversial Muslim Women Act or notwithstanding the Act, alimony could be granted through the proposed amendment to the Wakf Act,” explained legal circles.

A portion from the annual revenue of the Wakf boards would be earmarked for the corpus fund along with the total income to the Central Wakf Council. The composition of the members who would manage the corpus fund is under discussion.

“The effort is also to complete the task of empowerment of the women of India this year, which has been declared so,” the sources said.


New Delhi, June 28: 
Former Lok Sabha Speaker and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Purno A. Sangma has written to Constitution review panel chairman Justice Venkatachaliah, insisting that the foreign national issue should be included among the terms of reference.

Venkatachaliah did not include the issue in the commission’s agenda, despite the advocacy of Sangma — a member of the panel — and the NCP’s demand that persons of “foreign” origin be disqualified from occupying offices of power in India, a move targeted primarily at Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

In a recent letter to Venkatachaliah, Sangma also suggested that Article 5 of the Constitution should be dropped, according to sources close to the NCP leader.

The article says if a person has come from East or West Pakistan on or after July 18, 1948, they can become a citizen of India through registration, provided they have stayed in India for six months.

Sangma feels that if this provision was retained “any Bangladeshi can become a citizen of India after six months” and this had to stop in the context of the “influx” of thousands of Bangladeshis, sources said. They, however, denied rumours that the NCP leader is likely to pull out of the panel in the event of Venkatachaliah not accepting his suggestions.

The Constitution review panel was part of the NDA government’s common minimum agenda. However, despite the earlier hype over the disqualification of citizens of “foreign” origin, it was not part of the panel’s brief.

Political observers believe that Sangma — a founder member of the NCP along with Sharad Pawar and Tariq Anwar — cannot afford to jettison the issue and go along with the commission’s decision as the reason for the party coming into being was its rejection of Sonia Gandhi’s claim to Prime Ministership as she was of Italian origin.

Despite the NCP’s high-pitched campaign against Sonia, it failed to strike a chord with Assam’s voters in the recent Assembly polls, though Sangma had left no stone unturned to ensure the Congress’ rout.


New Delhi, June 28: 
Ten days before he is to chair yet another meeting in an effort to resolve the crisis sparked by the ceasefire extension agreement between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M), home minister L.K. Advani has come under fire from Radhabinod Koijam, former Manipur chief minister and a confidant of Samata Party chief George Fernandes, for mishandling Manipur situation.

In an interview to The Telegraph, Koijam indicated that the home ministry had a hand in toppling the only Samata-led government in the country. Asked if Advani was behind the toppling game, the former chief minister said: “It was felt by many and also me that the effort to topple my government was not the work of local BJP MLAs. They were guided and inspired by some leaders of BJP at the Centre and the government in Delhi.”

Though he did not mention Advani’s name, the former chief minister maintained that he could not say “what was the exact reason why the BJP-led Centre could not tolerate a Samata-led government in Manipur”. “But it is true that from day one of forming my government the Central government, especially the home ministry, was unkind towards my government and blocked release of funds by the finance ministry. The home ministry also did not respond to my SOS for additional security forces to fight insurgency,” Koijam added.

The former chief minister said the home ministry also did not like his opposition to the extension of ceasefire outside Nagaland and the month-long ceasefire he had declared in Manipur in March. “This was endorsed by all parties in Manipur and they wanted it to be extended but the home ministry did not agree.”

Koijam said he had got several cases registered against bureaucrats, doctors and engineers having nexus with politicians and insurgents and some of them were arrested. “In May, I dropped six ministers — two ministers of state and four of Cabinet rank — for their suspected links with militants and on corruption charges. Later on they joined the BJP, all six of them,” he said.

Koijam said during Kargil war a large posse of security forces deployed in Manipur was withdrawn, leaving insurgency-prone areas unprotected. “I made frantic requests through personal meetings and SOS for restoration of forces but in vain.”

The Koijam government, which assumed charge on February 15, was toppled on May 21. Koijam continued as caretaker chief minister till President’s rule was clamped on the state on June 2.

The Fernandes camp had all along suspected the hand of the home minister in destabilising the Samata-ruled state as part of its strategy to contain the former defence minister in the NDA power equation, especially after the Tehelka expose and his subsequent resignation from Vajpayee Cabinet.

Implying that the home ministry sabotaged his bid to improve law and order, the former chief minister said: “It was my belief and also my colleagues in the council of ministers that peace could be ushered in only through political dialogue. That is why we went in for ceasefire.”


New Delhi, June 28: 
Guess who will benefit out of the competition law that the Cabinet cleared early this week? For one, Microsoft, the $3-trillion company that fell foul of US anti-trust laws.

Bill Gates’ company had also failed to meet the requirements of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act. But this piece of legislation will be repealed when the competition law comes into force, providing relief to one of the world’s biggest companies.

Last August, Microsoft was in trouble when investigations by the MRTPC revealed that the US giant’s Indian subsidiary had “never entered into an agreement with the buyers of software or the company’s other products”. This was in violation of the regulatory body’s provisions.

Investigation revealed that the restriction imposed on the buyers of software products in terms of end-user licence agreement were attributed to the principal company in the US.

The case is still pending before the MRTP Commission. But once the competition Bill comes into force, two things will happen: the competition commission will not be able to carry out suo motu investigations unlike its earlier avatar — the MRTPC.

Secondly, the proposed Bill abolishes the MRTP Commission itself and the “pending cases shall, under section 36(A) of the Act, stand transferred to the National Consumer Commission”.

The new proviso envisages that all cases “pertaining to Unfair Trade Practices, other than those relating to tie-in sales, purchases or cases falling under clause (x) of sub-section (1) of section 36A shall stand transferred to the National Commission constituted under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986”.

According to some parts of the Bill available with The Telegraph, “The proposed law (Competition Bill) provides for the post of director-general and a host of his deputies in various places to assist the Competition Commission in its inquiries. Unlike in MRTP Act, the director-general will not have powers to initiate investigations suo motu”.

However, one change is that after an inquiry or a complete hearing of a case, the MRTPC did not have the “powers to prevent or punish”, whereas the Competition Law contains punitive provisions.

Likewise, while the MRTPC could not inquire into cartels of foreign origin in a direct manner, the proposed competition law seeks to regulate them.

The proposed law also provides for a competition fund which “shall” be utilised for promotion of competition advocacy, creating awareness about competition issues and training in accordance with the rules that may be prescribed.

“The MRTP Act is based on the pre-reforms scenario whereas the new law will be based on the post-reforms reality,” legal circles said. Unlike the MRTP Act, wherein agreements were mandated to be registered, the new law does not mandate that an agreement should be registered.

The proposed Act, however, will not apply to government departments and enterprises performing sovereign functions and policy-making aspects of governmental activities, decision-making by ministries, departments and various other offices and local bodies.


New Delhi, June 28: 
For a man of his stature in academia, the gaunt figure of Jean Dreze, visiting professor at the Delhi School of Economics, is surprising because he comes so close to looking like the victims of his subject of study: hunger.

More than 20 years spent in researching the peculiar paradoxes that deny food to millions — much of it in association with Amartya Sen — has not tired out Dreze whose scholarly analysis is combined with a feisty activism. He pursues with single-minded devotion the effort to put hunger back on the national agenda.

Just back from a tour of Rajasthan where he sat on a fortnight-long dharna and participated in demonstrations by hungry villagers from the state’s dry and dusty outbacks, Dreze is set to release a report on the severity of a drought that continues to wreak havoc across the country but has fallen off newspaper headlines.

His current studies will go into the writing of another book in association with Sen. The report, to be released tomorrow, has been prepared by Dreze in association with the Centre for Equity Studies and Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Sansthan (MKSS).

“Our association continues. Yes, of course,” says Dreze. “Amartya is not yet involved so deeply in this study but I will bring him into it soon enough.” They are currently working on a book, Dreze says somewhat ambiguously, “on India’s development”.

For years Dreze and Sen have explored why, in a world of food surpluses, hunger kills millions more than do wars and political conflicts. As he sat through a meeting today making notes and listening to the accounts of villagers from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and Orissa, the contours of the next Dreze & Sen work was taking shape.

“The government constantly says the drought situation is not that bad. My experience is that that there is complete abdication of state responsibility in providing relief. There are some 50 million tonnes of food lying idle in godowns. It is scandalous that so little of it is being used,” says Dreze.

Dreze personally surveyed 105 villages in Rajasthan in May-June. In these villages, crop production is at 20 per cent of the output in a normal year, livestock is at 50 per cent — which means cattle is dying by the thousands. It was so severe, he says, that “initially I did not believe these figures”. His own investigations revealed many indicators of extreme hunger. “People are eating just rotis and chillis. This extreme hunger adds to the burden of chronic hunger in ordinary years,” he says. His study also revealed, he says mischievously, that there is a positive indicator. “To give credit where it is due, even though the system (for relief) was in place by September (last year) and there has been an unprecedented abdication of state responsibility as far as drought relief is concerned, the extent of corruption is much less.”

The public distribution system (PDS), he found, is in its death throes. The policy of dividing PDS beneficiaries into Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL) households is also flawed. “The poverty line is merely a statistical artefact that has actually become a social division.”

Dreze’s conclusions are borne out by first-hand reports. In Bolangir, Orissa, says Alok Rath, a relief worker, 17 starvation deaths have been reported. In Palamau, Jharkhand, says Ajay Tirkey, the PDS outlets open just once or twice a month — the villagers are not told when — and even then they have to walk eight to 10 kilometres to buy grain. There is an exodus of villagers, families are breaking up and going in for bonded labour in Mumbai and Silvassa. Rakesh Dewan from Indore says the minimum wages are fixed at Rs 52 per head per day but rarely is more than Rs 23 paid. In Rajasthan, Dreze found, there are eight people queueing up for every job that is available. The upshot is that few get work, and even if they do, it is not for more than three days in a month. That means just Rs 150 a month for a whole family to survive!

“I do not accept the argument from the government that there is a minimum level of food security and that the evidence for this is that there are no starvation deaths. I doubt if that is a scientific way of studying the causes of hunger,” says Dreze.

Next month, the Supreme Court will hear a public interest litigation filed by the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) that quotes from government figures to show that out of 36 crore people living below the poverty line, there are five crore who are victims of starvation. Should that petition, inspired, among others, by Dreze, find a patient hearing, many of India’s hungry will remember kindly a scholar with a conscience.


New Delhi, June 28: 
The civil aviation ministry today asked international airlines to stop the practice of offloading passengers holding confirmed tickets during peak travel season.

In a meeting with representatives of 25 airlines, the ministry said “demand more or less matched capacity and there should not be any bottlenecks this year round”.

After reviewing seating capacity against demand, it was decided that there was no need for any seasonal increase in capacity in most sectors.

Carriers from the Gulf, however, demanded extra flights to deal with the incoming seasonal rush between end-June and early July and outgoing rush by the end of August, coinciding with school holidays in the region. Requests for extra sectors are being considered by the director-general of civil aviation.

The government had earlier signed several bilateral pacts which added flights and capacities on several key international routes, including those to the US, Europe, south-east Asia and the Gulf. Several airlines which had stopped India operations, like United Airlines and Cathay Pacific came back.

Last year, there was a spate of complaints against international airlines for offloading passengers after huge overbooking of flights. Several Indian missions abroad and chief ministers had joined the chorus of complaints.

To clear the rush, the ministry was forced to allow short-term capacity additions. Several meetings were later held under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office to work out a permanent solution to the problem of seasonal airline overload, resulting in “the rash of bilaterals signed this year”.

The bilaterals were criticised by many including sacked Air-India chief Michael Mascarenhas, who charged that they could undermine the value of the national carrier, Air India, which was being put up for sale.


Behrampore, June 28: 
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s do-it-now work culture drew first blood when three block development officers and 35 employees in Murshidabad were showcaused for dereliction of duty and unauthorised absence.

District magistrate Vivek Kumar said he, in accordance with the chief minister’s call for better work culture, paid surprise visits to different block offices in the district and found the BDOs of Domkol, Raninagar I and Raninagar II absent.

He also found 35 other staff absent without authorisation in different offices of the district.

The Murshidabad zilla parishad sabadhipati, Satchidananda Kandari, told reporters during a surprise visit to the Beldanga BDO office that employees, irrespective of their affiliation to any union, would be dealt with sternly if found not adhering to rules.

He said that at the Beldanga office, where they arrived at 10, besides BDO Enaur Rahaman, only three other employees had turned up. Eighteen employees reached late.

Kumar said most employees did not sign the register at the time of coming to office.

“I had asked them to change their work habits, but they did not respond,” he said.

The DM said a few days back he had visited the sub-divisional office at Jangipur at 4.30 pm and found that though 25 employees had signed the register, none was present.


United Nations, June 28: 
India has made a forceful plea to be included in the board that will be administrating the Global Health Fund. This fund has so far garnered about $1 billion in commitments from various donor countries and organisations.

The fund was announced by secretary-general Kofi Annan in February to tackle HIV/AIDS, mainly for the developing countries where resources are scarce. The fund would also address programmes against malaria and TB, the latter on the rise because of HIV.

The fund has a target of collecting between $7 billion and $10 billion annually to be effective, based on a study of the economical situation of low and middle income countries by the Harvard Business School. At present, the total amount being spent on AIDS the world over just touches $2 billion.

At the round table discussions in the first half of the concluding day of the UN General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS, which focused on resources to countries most-affected by the pandemic, the Indian delegation, led by health minister C.P. Thakur, explained why the country should be involved in the administration of the fund.

“India at the moment has 3.86 million people infected by the virus, and the number is growing every day. Efforts on prevention, the only weapon against the disease now, have to be intensified in order to contain the spread of HIV. With a population of over one billion, an increase in the rate of spread would be disastrous, even if this rate is less than in many countries in the world,” the members said.

A point in favour was that India already had a national programme in place for the past eight years, and has decentralised the steps being taken at the state level. Efforts have shown good results but much more needs to be done and could be done if adequate resources were made available.

India had also shown by recent example that it now had commitment at the highest political level, an essential prerequisite to take any programme forward. The fact that it was the only country at the 180-member special session that had both government and Opposition leader in the same delegation has been held in good stead here, and was a favourable weapon in the argument.

At a one-to-one meeting with Kofi Annan on Tuesday evening, the delegation apprised the secretary-general about the HIV/AIDS situation in the country.

The 25-minute meeting was attended by delegation leader Thakur, leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi (who delivered India’s keynote address in the Assembly on Tuesday), member, Planning Commission Kamaluddin Ahmed, director-general health services, S.P. Agarwal, and National AIDS Control Organisation project director J.V.R. Prasada Rao. Annan was assisted by UN’s director of public information Shashi Tharoor.

“We told him about the need to increase prevention efforts and the difficulties in providing ARV (medicine to contain AIDS) to all those infected. But most of all, we urged him to consider inclusion of India in the board of the global health fund, one of the main reasons being the country’s huge population and the huge threat AIDS imposes,” Thakur said.


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