Snails lay siege to home and hearth
Supreme Court muscle for govt on temple control
Atal sounds Lucknow alarm
Samajwadi bandh-start to poll war
Farooq Cabinet seal on army sway in Jammu
Speaker blow to Independents
Flying colours of freedom in capital
Travelling George crosses BJP’s path
Sarees set for London shelves
Eight strangled in Mumbai bangle factory

Jamboni (Jhargram), Aug. 9: 
It’s a giant problem for the villagers of Dubra.

After dark, it’s tough to cycle the 5-km distance between this village and Jamboni because of the problem. After daybreak, scores of villagers busy themselves with mugurs (bamboo-made dumb-bells) in getting rid of the problem. The problem has eaten up acre after acre of vegetables. It has impeded the functioning of the panchayat a s. The “problems” have even crossed the village courtyards and can now be seen snuggling up to furniture and books.

Villagers say they never dreamt that some peaceful, slow-moving creatures they have seen all their life could really become a nightmare of this magnitude. But, now, the nightmare is a reality. Hordes of giant snails have invaded this 1,200-family village, upsetting life as the villagers have known in this area which is very slow to see any change.

The entire economy of the mainly agriculture-dependent village, which switched over from paddy to cash crops like chilli and beans and fruits like guava and sugarcane because of lack of proper irrigation facilities, was in a shambles, panchayat chief Kanailal Murmu said.

“None of the crops, except the few fields still cultivating paddy, has been able to avoid the giant snails’ interest,” he added.

Destroying the village’s fields is not the only woe that Murmu holds the snails responsible for. A few months ago, many of the guests invited to grace his daughter’s wedding fled without eating after seeing the snails snuggling up on the tables and chairs hired for the wedding feast.

“The village has stopped having functions after dusk when the snails come out of their day-time hiding,” said Murmu. Farmers now spend more time trying to decimate the snail population. But it is a Herculean task, says Apurba Satpati, who now takes time off from tilling the land to kill at least 150 snails every day.


New Delhi, Aug. 9: 
In a judgment that would affect all Hindu temples in the country, the Supreme Court today ruled that a deputy commissioner, under the Hindu Religious Institutions & Endowments Act, “has power and jurisdiction” to decide whether a temple or endowment is a public or a private body.

A division bench of Justice S. Rajendra Babu and Justice Shivraj V. Patil, which handed down the verdict, said: “Having due regard to all aspects, we are of the view that the deputy commissioner has power and jurisdiction to decide whether the temple in question is a public temple or a private one.”

The apex court also fixed the “burden of proof” on the person who claims that the temple in question is his private property. Till he proved it, the judges said, the presumption that the temple is a public one would prevail.

The court, however, said the decision of the deputy commissioner will be effective only after the approval of his order by the commissioner.

“When a dispute arises as to whether an institution is a religious institution or, to put it straight, whether a temple is a public or a private temple, the deputy commissioner has power and jurisdiction to enquire into and decide such a dispute,” the judges said. However, if there is no dispute, no such inquiry would arise, they clarified.

In cases of dispute, the court said: “The deputy commissioner, having jurisdiction (over the area wherein the temple is situated) shall have the power to enquire into and decide, after giving notice to the person concerned, any dispute as to the question a) whether an institution or endowment is a charitable institution or endowment and b) whether an institution or endowment is a religious institution or endowment.”

Various Hindu organisations and most of the Shankaracharya mutts in the country have been complaining of government interference, especially in Hindu places of worship. But the Supreme Court’s ruling has settled the issue that the law of the land will squarely apply to the temples.

The judgment came on an appeal against an order of the Andhra Pradesh high court which upheld the powers of the deputy commissioners. Agreeing with the high court decision, the apex court said “a private temple in course of time, depending on various factors and developments, may gradually acquire the nature of the public temple”. Hence it was essential that an inquiry is conducted and a decision taken by the deputy commissioner to be endorsed or rejected by the commissioner later.

However, the aggrieved party can appeal against the orders of the commissioner and his deputy.

The court said that if the argument that the law “does not apply to private temples” was to be accepted, it would be enough for any person or body to claim a temple as private property so as to take away the power and jurisdiction “otherwise conferred on the deputy commissioner”.

“A merely self-serving design of a party to claim a temple as a private one cannot defeat a specific statutory provision conferring powers on an authority to decide a question,” the bench said. It also said the deputy commissioner exercises quasi-judicial power while holding an inquiry and deciding on a dispute.


New Delhi, Aug. 9: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has decribed the pre-poll scenario in Uttar Pradesh as “critical” and the country’s overall political situation as “grim”.

Vajpayee’s observation, at a dinner meeting with MPs from Uttar Pradesh last night, referred specifically to the Jammu and Kashmir situation.

As MPs spoke animatedly about the various problems in Uttar Pradesh and especially the ongoing power crisis, Vajpayee asked them to pull up their socks, work harder, and spend more time in their constituencies instead of “sitting at home”, according to BJP sources.

Although Vajpayee was present at the dinner meeting — hosted by Khurja MP Ashok Pradhan at his residence — for just half-an-hour and spoke for barely 10 minutes, sources felt a “pep talk” from him was long overdue.

Vajpayee coated the mild warning in his speech with a layer of optimism. “The media is trying to build a climate of opinion against the BJP and claims we have almost lost the election. But this is not true and on our part we must go out of our way to belie this perception. You must concentrate on vikas (development) because UP polls are likely to be a close call and also critical for our future,” sources quoted him as saying.

He referred to the Rs 34,200-crore road project which the Cabinet cleared yesterday.

The MPs thanked Vajpayee for launching this project which proposes to link unconnected habitations in rural areas having a population of over 1,000 with all-weather roads within three years.

“We now expect Central funds to pour into UP and we are sure the state government will take up this project on a war-footing,” said a BJP MP from western Uttar Pradesh.

BJP sources claimed the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna was being implemented at this juncture mainly with an eye on the state. “The stakes for the Prime Minister and the NDA government are very high in the polls,” they said.

Sources said shortly before Vajpayee arrived, the MPs discussed whether chief minister Rajnath Singh ought to recommend dissolution of the Assembly by October this year. The state party unit has sought legal opinion on whether Singh could continue in office for another six months.

The BJP was initially in favour of holding polls in February-March 2002 when the five-year Assembly tenure comes to an end. But with the main Opposition party, the Samajwadi Party, taking to the streets on the legality of the move to hold polls in March and not October, the BJP seems to have developed cold feet. The Samajwadi Party has threatened that if the term is extended, its MLAs would resign en masse.


Lucknow, Aug. 9: 
The Samajwadi Party kicked off its poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh with a statewide bandh today, virtually laying siege to Lucknow.

Sporadic incidents of violence and arson marked the Samajwadi Party’s Kisan-Jawan Sangharsh Diwas even as shops and educational institutes in Lucknow remained closed fearing violence.

The Samajwadi Party is pressing for an early election in October and has threatened en masse resignation of its MLAs and MLCs if the government stuck to its March 2002 deadline for the Assembly elections.

The BJP has, however, dubbed the threat a gimmick and expressed its “heartfelt sympathies” for the Samajwadi Party leaders.

Today’s bandh evoked a mixed response. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said it was a “total success”, but chief minister Rajnath Singh claimed it was an “absolute failure”.

The government had provided unprecedented protection to traders and institutions. Nearly 15,000 security personnel patrolled the streets today. Around 8,000 Samajwadi Party workers courted arrest and a few were hurt in a lathicharge by the police in the main Hazratganj market.

As a precautionary measure, the government had clamped Section 144 in Lucknow, though Samajwadi Party workers defied it for much of the day.

But it was a busy day for the administration as other Opposition parties chipped in as well, adding to the woes of the BJP government.

While the Congress began its 10-day “BJP gaddi chhodo” stir, the CPI-ML resorted to a rasta roko. Activists of the Poorvanchal Banao Manch attempted to gherao the Raj Bhavan and force the Governor to accept their petition for a separate Poorvanchal state.

An angry Rajnath, who had yesterday threatened to deal “very firmly” with “mischief makers” of the Samajwadi Party, said the protests were a sign of the frustration within the party.

“Dalits have now realised that the SP and the BSP are not their messiahs as they have been totally unable to ensure development and progress of the backwards,” the chief minister said, adding: “They are desperate and frustrated because the Dalits are slowly coming towards the BJP.”

The chief minister has also denied reports that he will dissolve the Assembly for an early election. “Elections will be held as scheduled in March next year,” he said, adding, however, that it did not mean the party was not ready to face an early election.


Srinagar, Aug. 9: 
Farooq Abdullah’s Cabinet this evening decided to declare all the six districts of Jammu disturbed areas under the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990.

The chief minister held an emergency meeting immediately on his return from Delhi, where it was decided yesterday to extend the Act to all of Jammu.

An official spokesman said the Cabinet decision is being sent to Governor Garry Saxena for approval and the notification would be issued immediately.

The six districts in the Kashmir valley — Srinagar, Budgam, Kupwara, Baramulla, Pulwama and Anantnag — are already covered under this Act. Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu were already covered under the Act.

Today’s Cabinet decision brings under it the other four Jammu districts — Udhampur, Doda, Kathua and Jammu.

Under the Act, any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area:

If he is of the opinion that it is necessary to do so for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapons or firearms, ammunition or explosive substance;

Arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a cognisable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognisable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest;

Enter and search without warrant any premises to make any such arrest as aforesaid or to recover any person believed to be wrongfully detained or confined or any property reasonably suspected to be stolen or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances believed to be unlawfully kept in such premises, and may for that purpose use such force as may be necessary.

After the Cabinet meeting, the chief minister said: “This measure will help in strengthening the security forces in combating militancy more effectively in the Jammu region which has seen a spurt of violence after the Agra summit.”

Farooq said security forces have been able to deal firmly with militants in the Kashmir valley which is covered under this Act.


New Delhi, Aug. 9: 
The plan of six Lok Sabha MPs belonging to the Indian Federal Democratic Party (IFDP), who intended to give “issue-based” support to the NDA with an eye on Cabinet berths, has gone haywire as Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi has declined to recognise their group as a separate entity.

The IFDP has neither a constitution nor has it been recognised by the Election Commission. It is also debatable whether a person who gets elected as an Independent can later join a political party.

The motley group of MPs such as Pappu Yadav (Independent), who is now on bail in a murder case, P.C. Thomas, a rebel of the Christian-dominated Kerala Congress (Mani group), two RJD dissident members and two Independents, one from the Northeast and the other from Dadra and Nagar Haveli, had formed the IFDP in January.

Thomas had told reporters that the party would have a “federal nature with autonomy for state units”. “They will be free to have political alliances subject to the approval of the national unit,” he had said.

The other four members of the party are Mohammed Anwarul Haq (who was appointed president of the IFDP), Sukdev Paswan (deputy leader in the Lok Sabha) — both from Laloo Yadav’s RJD — and Mizoram’s Vanchal Zawama (parliamentary party secretary) and Mohan Delkar (Dadra and Nagar Haveli, working president).

Another RJD rebel Nagmani was also supposed to join them, but he did not. The two RJD rebels, along with Nagmani, had earlier formed a separate group and on April 28 had written to the Speaker requesting him that they be recognised as RJD (Democratic) and allotted separate seats.

The Speaker sought comments from the RJD, which on May 8 informed him that Nagmani was expelled from the party before he and the other two MPs formed a separate group and hence action should be taken against them for violating Anti-Defection Act.

RJD parliamentary party leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh met the Speaker on August 6 and informed him of the sequence of events. The other two MPs had later joined the IFDP, violating the anti-defection law for the second time, Singh said.    

New Delhi, Aug. 9: 
On any other day, the narrow bylane of Bazaar Lal Kuan in Old Delhi is a run-down line of rugged hardware shops.

But a week before Independence Day, the lane is a splash of multi-coloured kites. The tri-coloured ones dominate as they get a better display, while the bright blue, red and yellow ones take a back seat. The patang mela has picked up, with kite-sellers even staying up the whole night for the final days of their sale.

“Earlier, flying kites was the favourite pastime of children. Now, this art picks up only before Independence Day,” says Rakesh, as he displays a colourful manja (string) specially made for the I-Day.

“Just before Independence Day, ‘patang melas’ are held in Chand Mohalla and Jaffarabad in East Delhi, while Filmistan in Central Delhi has retail shops of kites. But the largest kite mela in the capital is held in Lal Kuan,” says Rakesh .

Haji Mohammed Rafi, who owns a kite stall, says: “There are only 12 kite shops in Lal Kuan. But a month before Independence Day, over 200 temporary stalls mushroom in this congested lane. These are mainly outstation kite-sellers from Aligarh and Agra.” The largest contingent, according to him, arrives from Jaipur.

Mohammed Nisa, who arrived in Delhi a month earlier, has brought with him colourful Jaipuri kites. “We manufacture 10,000 kites everyday in Jaipur,” he says. “I have 40 women workers who make them.” But he rates the Barelli kites as the best.

Though kite-sellers for this mela come from the adjoining cities of Delhi, the kites come from faraway places like Metiaburuz in Calcutta, which produces kites made of thin paper and are sold cheaper.. “Ahmedabad and Barelli produce fancy kites that are bought by shaukeens, who purchase expensive kites, some of them as steep as Rs 200,” says Rafi.

The kites are priced according to their size and the quality of paper used. “Small kites made of cheaper quality are sold for Re 1, while a full-size one is sold for Rs 2,” said a stall-owner as he wrapped three colourful ones for a customer.

Rafi talks of the golden days when kite-flying was the pastime of the rich. “Earlier, people coming from rich families would make people working at their havelis fly kites while they would sit back smoking hookah and watch the patang fly across the sky,” he reminisces.

But things have changed now and kite-sellers complain how the culture is fast disappearing. This year most of them present at the mela took home a maximum of Rs 2,000 a day. “Two years ago we would have a sale of Rs 6,000 daily, but over the years it has plummeted,” says Rakesh.


New Delhi, Aug. 9: 
Sometimes the destination is Chennai. At other times it is Imphal. One day he could be in Mumbai and the following day he could be headed for Calcutta.

As convener of the National Democratic Alliance and its supposed trouble-shooter, George Fernandes has ensured that being kept out of the government does not necessarily mean being away from the spotlight.

Fernandes has created a political space for himself within the NDA. But, for the BJP, this is not welcome news as it feels an “unemployed” Fernandes could spell trouble for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

The BJP — which hoped that the Venkataswami Commission probing the Tehelka tapes would keep Fernandes engaged for the next several months — is upset over his latest “dalliance” with Trinamul Congress, courtesy a rally he addressed jointly with Mamata Banerjee on Martyr’s Day in Midnapore today.

“Fernandes has gone as the Samata Party president and not the NDA convener,” BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said when asked by reporters to clarify his status vis-ŕ-vis Trinamul. BJP sources also maintained that the former defence minister had not sought Vajpayee’s go-ahead for attending the rally.

Party sources stressed that Fernandes’ presence on the Trinamul dais should not be interpreted as a sign that Mamata’s re-entry into the NDA and the Central Cabinet were the next logical steps. “All such issues will be discussed only after the NDA finalises its code of conduct,” sources said, adding that the first meeting of the four-member panel set up for the purpose is likely to be held on Sunday.

The BJP’s own suggestion — in keeping with the sentiments expressed by party chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi — was that a “cooling” period of “at least six months” should be stipulated for all those NDA constituents which parted company and then wished to join the Cabinet. If the ethics committee accepts this proposal, it means Mamata and the PMK have a long wait ahead.

BJP sources also said in case Mamata rejoined the coalition, Trinamul rebel MP Ajit Panja’s fate would be decided by her and not unilaterally by the BJP. “In other words, if she does not want him as a minister, the Prime Minister will not act against her wishes,” they said.

But with Fernandes traversing an independent path, even as the ruling coalition’s convener, BJP sources admitted that the ethical ‘dos and don’ts’ could prove to be a “non-starter”. “If the convener himself refuses to be bound by them, how can we expect our allies to fall in line?” they pointed out.

The BJP also did not like Fernandes’ air-dash to Mumbai to meet Shiv Sena boss Bal Thackeray in the midst of the crisis triggered by a Sena MP’s allegation against the Prime Minister’s Office in the UTI scam. Though the Samata leader had informed the Prime Minister, BJP sources questioned the rationale behind the decision given the “delicate” nature of the party’s equations with the Sena and the fact that the Samata itself did not have much of a stake in Maharashtra.

BJP sources said once Fernandes got “negative vibes” from their leadership, he tried to make amends by expressing his “anger” at Thackeray’s refusal to offer an outright apology to Vajpayee on Sanjay Nirupam’s behalf.

Sources said BJP-Samata relations started souring in the immediate aftermath of the Manipur crisis. After the Congress government was ousted, the BJP expected its own government to fall into place, but its game plan was stymied by Fernandes and company who ensured that a Samata dispensation took over the reins in Imphal.


Mumbai, Aug. 9: 
After Indian curry, a pre-stitched saree?

Selfridges, the famous London department store, will shortly house a collection from Indian designers. But like the ready-to-make curry masala it sells, the designs from Delhi and Mumbai will be diluted to suit British tastes.

A six-member team from Selfridges, which has pitched its tent at the Lakme India Fashion Week here, is taking a close look at the designers on display — becoming the high point of the four-day event.

While there have been complaints that the week, avowedly a business affair being held to attract domestic buyers – wholesalers and retailers associated with the rag trade – is showcasing collections that cannot be mass-produced and marketed, the talk of a huge Selfridges deal has pumped new blood into the event. “Something very big is on the way,” gushed Sumeet Nair of the Fashion Design Council of India, the organisers.

Selfridges has not made its final selection, but a shortlist is in place, which includes names of designers Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal and Aki Narula. Anshu Arora Sen, a lesser-known designer from Delhi exhibiting here, has also been looked up – and she is upbeat, but tight-lipped.

The team had touched Delhi before landing here. “We have a very tight selection to make and we are yet to look at some more designers,” said Richard Sanderson, Buying Manager, Men’s Formalwear. “We will make the announcement on reaching London this weekend.”

But would anyone other than Indians or Cherie Blair be interested in Indian designer clothes? “London is open to ideas, so we are looking at all kinds of clothes,” said Liz Riding. “But we cannot buy Indian designs as they are. They will have to be diluted for the British market. For example, we might have a pre-stitched saree.”

“We of course have in mind the large Indian community in the UK. But since London is receptive, we are looking at not the Indian customer alone,” Riding added.

But even from Indian designers, it is not the Indian look alone that is desired. The Indian elements should be there, but the look should be international. “We don’t want anything Indian-Indian — we don’t want to project stereotypes.”

How big is the deal going to be? “We cannot specify in terms of money. It is really less about quantity and more about quality,” said Sanderson. On Indian fashion, both Sanderson and Riding have only nice things to say. “It is very new and vibrant. There’s a very fresh quality about it. There’s dynamism and energy,” Sanderson said.


Mumbai, Aug. 9: 
In what could be the fallout of an industrial unrest, a small plastic unit owner, his two relatives and five employees were found strangled in an industrial estate in the financial capital today. Police suspect some workers, not traceable, were behind the killings.

The eight bodies were found dumped in vats at Poonam Plastic, a bangle-manufacturing unit in the Rocky Industrial Estate in the western suburb of Goregaon. Police said all of them were throttled with ropes.

The dead include the owner Duglaram Chowdhury, his brother Jeparam and his brother-in-law Achalaram Chowdhury. Among the killed employees was the unit manager, Mahadev Singh.

The unit, opened by the Chowdhurys who came from Rajasthan about six years ago, employed about 11 people. Rocky Estate has long been known as one of the industrial areas free of unrest.

Police officials, on the site, said at least three of the workers were not traceable, raising suspicion that they were behind the murders. Three other workers who were at the factory last night were taken away for questioning.

The incident triggered panic in the industrial circle, with minister of state for home Kripashankar Singh rushing to the spot.

“The government has taken the incident very seriously and will not spare any effort to arrest the culprits quickly,’’ Singh said.

R.P. Avral, president of the Bombay Smallscale Industries Association, said Rocky was known to be one of the most peaceful industrial estates in Mumbai with no records of unrest. “We are shocked.”

Joint commissioner of police (crime) Bhujangrao Mohite, who was at the site with other senior officers, said the crime might have taken place between 4 pm yesterday and early this morning. He called the killings a “pre-planned, well-thought-out conspiracy”.

Mohite said police were not sure about the motive, but it could be an industrial or a family dispute.

The owner’s family told the police one of the workers had called the owner, who was resting at home, to the unit around 4 pm yesterday to check the raw material which the man said had just arrived. He was presumably killed the moment he arrived at his factory.

When the owner did not return home till late in the evening, his brother and brother-in-law went to the unit to look for him. They never came back.

Police suspect that the manager and four workers were killed because the assailants had feared they would report them to the police. There could be another reason for their murders. These workers might have been close to the owner and so incurred the assailants’ wrath.

Police questioned workers of neighbouring units, but none of them had heard any screams coming from the factory. The assailants may have decided to strangle the victims to prevent any screams for help.

Mohite said the unit did not have any guards. “We have repeatedly told the industrialists to appoint security people to man their units, but they have paid no heed.”


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