Somnath start to Singhal Ayodhya campaign
Cold-shoulder to Parliament ethics panel
Left MPs refuse pay hike
Centre amends Divorce Act
Stench, statistics greet victims’ kin
Kapil jumps on to brand bandwagon
Reforms rush with downsize delay
CM invites friends & foes
Hindutva party in ideology tussle
Death rolls down at express speed

Ahmedabad, Aug. 17: 
Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief Ashok Singhal will launch a nationwide campaign for the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya by performing jalavishek at Somnath temple on September 23.

The construction of the temple will begin “any day after March 13, 2002” as has been decided by the VHP’s Dharam Sansad, held during the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad.

The jalavishek programme will be followed by the suraksha rathyatra, which will be organised by the Bajrang Dal in villages across the country “to garner support for the cause of Hindutva and to unify the nation”, said Bajrang Dal vice-president Harish Bhatt.

Thereafter, around 30 lakh Bajrang Dal activists across the country would chant “Shri Ram jai Ram, jai jai Ram” for 65 days, according to Bhatt.

The Bajrang Dal, which has embarked on a recruitment drive, has decided to raise its current membership to 30 lakh from four lakh by September 25. The drive started on July 1.

“Once an army of 30 lakh dedicated youths is raised, it would be directed to execute the VHP’s programme for the construction of the temple,” Bhatt said.

According to the Bajrang Dal leader, in January 2002, around 2,000 sadhus from Ayodhya would march to Delhi to meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and request him to allow them to build the temple at Ayodhya.

The Prime Minister, Bhatt said, would be urged to hand over the disputed land to sadhus to facilitate the construction of the temple which is the “wish of millions of Hindus living in India and abroad”.

Bhatt said if the demands of the sadhus were not met the Prime Minister would be warned of “dire consequences”.

The sadhus would tell the Prime Minister that they would go ahead with the construction and not wait for clearance by the government or courts, the Dal vice-president said.

“If the government wants to avoid confrontation, it should pave the way for the construction of the temple,” Bhatt said.

According to Chandrakant Sompura, the architect who designed the temple, it will take four months to complete the construction, provided the work goes on uninterrupted.

Bhatt said the Sangh parivar had worked out its strategy to complete the construction.

If the NDA government raises objections, Bajrang Dal activists will “forcibly acquire the land and start the construction”, he said. This would be a repeat of the July 1992 incident, during the tenure of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, when the VHP had forcibly occupied the disputed land for 21 days and laid the foundation for the temple.

The Dal leader said that for 120 days, beginning March 13, about 20,000 Bajrang Dal activists from all over the country would descend on Ayodhya to provide “safety cover” to architects, engineers as well as all the others involved in the construction of the temple.

Though it hopes that the BJP will support the construction of the temple, the Bajrang Dal is ready for a showdown with the party.

“We may have to confront the BJP,’’ Bhatt said.


New Delhi, Aug. 17: 
The committee on ethics, constituted by Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi to oversee the “moral and ethical” conduct of MPs in the House, has evoked as little response as the NDA’s code of conduct committee.

The committee was set up in May 2000 mainly to devise a procedure for dealing with ethics-related complaints, financial disclosures and declaration of interests by members, besides evolving a code of conduct for them.

A letter sent by the chairman of the committee, former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, to all party leaders and presiding officers of state legislatures on April 3, 2001, has virtually been ignored by the political establishment despite the “enthusiastic” response from a large number of presiding officers, official sources said.

NDA sources claimed that there was considerable disquiet over the appointment of Chandra Shekhar because of the strictures served on him by the Supreme Court in the Bhondsi Ashram case. It was alleged that the former Prime Minister had misused the Bhondsi land on the Delhi-Haryana border for purposes other than what was originally stated and had usurped more land than was legally allotted to him.

Some MPs questioned his locus standi to head such a committee, which was supposed to prescribe a code of dos and dont’s for them. Chandra Shekhar’s appointment, NDA sources maintained, was one of the main reasons why parties were “lukewarm” to the idea of a code of conduct.

The Speaker has convened a meeting of the committee on August 23 to discuss the responses elicited so far. Official sources hoped this meeting would help them formulate a code of conduct. If the committee managed to get its act together, sources said, the Speaker was expected to convene a larger meeting to get additional inputs and ideas.

A consultation paper prepared by the ethics committee branch of the Lok Sabha secretariat, which was appended to Chandra Shekhar’s letter, posed 12 questions, answers to which were supposed to help the committee draw up a tentative code. Some of the posers were:

Should a complaint about an MP’s unethical conduct be addressed to the Speaker who could then refer it to the committee on ethics?

Should it be open for any citizen to make such a complaint?

Should the committee be empowered suo motu to investigate ethics-related matters?

Did political parties favour the mandatory disclosure of income, assets and liabilities by members?

Should financial disclosure statements be filed every year?

Should financial disclosure statements and declaration of interests be tabled in the House?

Should the committee evolve its own procedure of investigation consistent with the “principles of natural justice” and the procedure adopted for inquiry and determination of breach of privilege committed by a member?


New Delhi, Aug. 17: 
The Left’s objection is due to “ideology”. The BJP calls it “hypocrisy”.

The reason why the CPM is opposing a hike in the salary and perks of MPs, however, lies somewhere between the two.

Left MPs are at pains to explain why they do not want a hike and their counterparts in the BJP are accusing them of “acting like saints”, while others do their “dirty work”. “Why don’t they then refuse the hike and live in slums?” said BJP MP Vijay Goel.

But the CPM is trapped in a paradox of ideology and party diktat. Its MPs are not allowed to spend the salaries they earn in Parliament on themselves and their families. The money, instead, has to fill the party coffers, as laid down by a fiat of financial discipline the communist parties have been following for decades. There is a joke they share among themselves. “After all, what good is the money to us when we cannot use it,” they say.

“Out of a monthly salary of Rs 13,500, we have to give up Rs 13,000 to the party,” said CPM MP Suresh Kurup. Yes, they are allowed to keep allowances —- a daily sum of Rs 400 when Parliament is in session, a monthly constituency allowance of Rs 8,000, along with a monthly transport bill of about Rs 10,000. But all this is much less than what politicians from other parties enjoy once they step inside Parliament.

Where organisational rules for opposing a hike falter, the idelogical props stand up. “The decision leaves a bad taste. There are many other important issues to raise and the MPs should not get bogged down demanding a salary hike,” said senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee, within hours of the Cabinet clearing the recommendations for a salary jump. He agreed there were MPs who were dependent on their salaries, but insisted on a mechanism for settling the issue.


New Delhi, Aug. 17: 
After more than a decade of dithering, the Central government has cleared an amendment to the outdated Indian Divorce Act, bringing relief to scores of Christian women who have been pressing for a change in the Act since the 1980s.

According to the present Act, a man can seek divorce on grounds of adultery by his wife but the woman, in case she wants to end the marriage, will have to offer one more reason beside adultery.

Aided by women’s organisations, delegations of Christian women have petitioned successive governments to make the grounds for divorce the same for both men and women.

The amendment that has been cleared by the Cabinet now means that out of the 13 existing grounds for divorce in the Hindu Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act, two of the most crucial ones — mutual consent and irretrievable breakdown of marriage — will now be incorporated in the Indian Divorce Act.

This is one in a series of legal measures announced by the Centre — all aimed at “gender justice” and removing the clogs in the way. Recently, the law minister had announced the Centre’s decision to scrap the ceiling on maintenance for divorced women, a long-standing demand of women’s organisations.

“The decision to amend the Indian Divorce Act is a major victory for Christian women. It is a victory for gender justice,” said Jyotsna Chatterjee, chairperson of the Joint Women’s Programme.

Chatterjee’s organisation, which was the first to take up the issue, had drafted the first amendment in 1994 and since then, Chatterjee says, “we have been waiting for a response from the Centre”. It took them some time to get the Church to veer around to their view, especially as the Catholic Church has no room for divorce.

“We do not believe in divorce. But this does not mean that we will prevent others within the Christian Church from seeking it,” said Father Donal D’Souza, deputy secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, which has a following of 60 million.

He was aware that there would be dissonant voices within the Catholic Church criticising the Centre’s decision as an intrusion on privacy. “But on the two issues of mutual consent and irretrievable breakdown of marriage as grounds for divorce, there has been total consensus among us,” said Father D’Souza.


Vellore, Aug. 17: 
In the end, there was only the unbearable stench of death and a small alteration in the death statistic.

It was not 25 people who had died in the blast that ripped apart the Tamil Nadu Explosives Ltd factory, but 24, according to the district authorities. One dead body — or parts of a blown-up body — had been counted twice. That explained the discrepancy.

District collector K. Mohan Das said the bodies were so badly mangled that it was difficult to count.

In some cases, only the head could be found; in some cases only the limb, or the trunk. That made it difficult for the authorities to fix the identification tags.

It was difficult for the relatives also to identify the dead. A birthmark, a piece of jewellery, the colour of a shirt, a chappal, memories — that was all they had to go by. And one of them got it wrong. The relative of the deceased identified the wrong person and the body had to be taken back for a second verification.

Till afternoon, 23 bodies had been identified and post-mortem conducted on all of them. But the post-mortem was a mere legal formality. Something the weeping relatives at the Pentland Government Hospital could do without. The blast that shook the explosives factory at Katpadi near here, also maimed the lives of many whose loved ones made up the figure of 24.

After a meeting between rural industries minister K. Pandurangan, district collector Das, officials from the state-owned explosives company and an insurance firm, it was announced that the next of kin of the dead permanent workers will each get Rs 3.74 lakh as compensation. The families of the dead casual labourers will get Rs 75,000 each. This is in addition to the Rs 50,000 solatium that chief minister Jayalalitha has announced for the families of the dead.

Like the relatives of those killed in the blast, who have to come to terms with their loss, the explosives factory will also have to pick up the pieces. The first question before the company’s officials is that of safety. Twelve of the dead are casual labourers. This has raised the question whether that many casual labourers can be deployed in the detonator final crimping building where the explosion took place yesterday.

However, the collector, who has ordered a probe by the district revenue officer and set a one-month time frame for the report, said deploying trainees to learn the rigorous process was not uncommon.

While refusing to go into the cause of the explosion, he said as it took place in the building housing the “finishing stage” process of detonators, even a little more pressure in “pressing the cap” or “dropping” some of the detonators by mistake, could have triggered the explosion.

“But there was no safety or security lapse. It was an unfortunate accident,” Das said.

He dismissed rumours that one of the trainee employees at the factory had slipped out shortly before the blast and had been admitted to a hospital in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittor district, known for the presence of extremists.

“The person named is on the list of the dead,” he said. The factory complex, he added, was a fully cordoned-off area that “you cannot penetrate”.

Claims that some local people were allowed into the complex on Independence Day for flag-hoisting were also unfounded. The ceremony was held at the foothills where there is a housing colony, the collector said, dismissing the possibility of sabotage.

Some of the local share-holders in the explosives company were also shocked. “The unit had just begun turning around, but this tragedy has dashed all our hopes,” one of them said. However, officials assured that other manufacturing units of the explosives company will soon commence operations.


New Delhi, Aug. 17: 
Is Kapil Dev the former cricketer trying to reinvent himself as Kapil Dev the brand? It would seem so, going by the interactions that followed his speech at a function — Dev Talk — on tourism organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry here.

Asked during a question-answer session whether he would like to be brand ambassador — or, in other words, the face of Indian tourism — Kapil, who had been urging improvements in infrastructure, said he was game.

Chamber officials also felt that it was an idea that could be developed. CII director-general Tarun Das said Kapil was a symbol of the new tourism movement. Das also spoke of Dev’s fitness and said he would be ideal to promote ayurveda, yoga — or health tourism, in other words.

However, media circles question the effectiveness of the CII’s choice of Kapil as a brand ambassador. Said Sushil Pandit of The Hive: “Kapil Dev does not have the appeal of a timeless icon.”

The former captain of the Indian team has been out of cricket for six or seven years. Besides, cricket has a limited appeal outside India with little international reach. Other media pundits have pointed out that the image of cricket has become tainted in recent times.

Kapil spoke of the potential of Indian tourism but pointed out that the country did not have world-class infrastructure. The former India captain was not very hopeful about the prospect of sports tourism. The reason, he felt, is the low level of sports performance in India.

While the presence of Kapil at the CII public event on tourism drew media attention, there was considerable behind-the-scenes activity. The new CII tourism and heritage committee under the chairmanship of Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur took over this morning.

The Confederation of Indian Industry’s committee has also set up a sub-committee to consider and respond to the draft proposals of the new tourism policy. The department of tourism has asked various industry bodies to react to the draft and submit recommendations by August 24.

The tourism department is also planning to hold a three-day seminar, scheduled to begin on September 10, to discuss the draft proposals of the new tourism policy.

Maharaja Gaj Singh said his committee was trying to get different types of people involved to come up with suggestions.

The sub-committee comprises S.K. Mishra, former director-general of tourism, Yogesh Chandra, Indian representative of the World Travel and Tourism Council, Jayanta Sanyal of the Planning Commission, Priya Paul of The Park Hotel group and Ragini Chopra of the Oberoi group.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry has also formed a core committee of three to study the proposals of the draft policy.

The Ficci committee includes Sushil Gupta of the Hyatt Regency, Dr Shailendra Mittal of Trade Wings and Pradeep Madhavji of Thomas Cook.

While the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry is campaigning for new categories like rural tourism, the CII is highlighting the procedural aspects, including reconsideration of the 40 per cent taxation on the sector. Tourism is not just a luxury activity but has to have a wider base, feels the chamber.

A CII spokesperson said tourism does not even find a mention in the Constitution. Both the CII and Ficci would like the aviation policy to be tourism-friendly.


New Delhi, Aug. 17: 
The Cabinet today cleared the controversial draft Tenth Plan approach document, which calls for speedier reforms, after failing to clear it in two meetings over the past 10 days. However, it has yet to take a final decision on certain recommendations such as downsizing of government and winding up of ministries.

The draft will be sent to the chief ministers on Monday. It will be taken up by the National Development Council, which is slated to meet on September 1.

“Ministers have voiced their opinions. There will be no major changes, but there may be certain changes in the language of the draft. Emphasis on certain sectors will be reworked,” Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant said.

“We have taken note of these suggested changes and will be looking into them tomorrow. We will try to accommodate these provided they fall in the broad picture of the approach paper,” he added.

The draft lays emphasis on accelerating reforms during the Tenth Plan period, which begins next fiscal. On the agenda are an 8 per cent GDP growth target, a disinvestment goal of Rs 16,000 crore a year, labour law reforms, a stiff 25 per cent hike in tax collections and pruning Central government staff by 3 per cent. The draft seeks to extend value-added tax (VAT) to all service sectors.

Though some Cabinet ministers expressed concern over the stiff disinvestment target, Sinha and Pant had their way. They believe an 8 per cent growth rate is possible only if reforms are speeded up.

Before the meeting, smaller parties in the NDA like the Biju Janata Dal held hectic parleys with their leaders to decide on the stand they would take on controversial issues. Had the clause on downsizing been accepted in its entirety, some ministries like water resources, irrigation, agriculture and social welfare, which are mostly being manned by ministers from these parties, would have had to be disbanded.

The Cabinet note had sought an in-principle decision to shut down ministries that subjects falling in exclusive domain of states. The argument the Planning Commission had advanced was that all these ministries do is administer certain Centrally-sponsored schemes, which could just as well be done by state governments, and collate statistics, which the Central Statistical Organisation can do just as well.

The Cabinet, presided over by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, however, did bring in minor modifications to the draft prepared by the Planning Commission. It laid greater stress on sectors like urban development, agriculture, rural development, tourism and entertainment.

The Cabinet is giving more emphasis on the urban sector as the government believes India will be urbanising at a faster pace. Within the farm sector, dairy farming will be given priority as it is considered a potential foreign-exchange earner.


Calcutta, Aug. 17: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has convened a meeting of his non-BJP counterparts in Delhi on September 2 to chalk out a strategy to oppose the BJP’s education policy.

The Centre’s decision to implement the policy has again resulted in an outcry, with Bengal once again spearheading the protest. In 1998 in Chennai, ministers had walked out of a conference of education ministers for playing the Saraswati Vandana at the venue.

Bhattacharjee has written to the chief ministers of 20 states — including Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, whose chief ministers support the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre — asking them to make the meeting a success. Sources close to the West Bengal chief minister said that Orissa’s Navin Patnaik, whose Biju Janata Dal is an NDA constituent, has confirmed his participation.

Patnaik may also have Farooq Abdullah and Chandrababu Naidu for company at the chief ministers’ meet. Abdullah’s National Conference is an NDA partner. According to the sources, six chief ministers have so far confirmed their presence.

The sources said the first salvo against the BJP could be fired tomorrow itself, when Bhattacharjee shares the dais with human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi at IIT Kharagpur.

“It is unlikely that Bhattacharjee would let the opportunity slip, especially as he would be speaking at an institute of technical excellence like the IIT which will be celebrating its golden jubilee,” a senior education department official said.

Bhattacharjee, in his letter to his counterparts, said his role was that of a facilitator to build up a consensus among non-BJP states against “saffronisation” of education. Appealing to the secular and democratic ideals of non-BJP parties, he said the meet would criticise the Centre for not following the suggestions made by education ministers at the 1998 Chennai conference. As education was on the Concurrent List of the Constitution, the Centre’s violation of norms by not consulting the states was also on the agenda.

Bhattacharjee said the meet would criticise the NCERT and the UGC for unilaterally passing instructions without the knowledge of the states.

The chief minister said a resolution will be adopted to declare the opposition of non-BJP states to the education policy. The resolution would also criticise the Centre, the NCERT and the UGC’s diversionary tactics while making policy decisions.

A copy of the resolution will be sent to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Sources said the introduction of astrology in formal education will be the focus of discussions on September 2. The UGC has already instructed universities to introduce the subject without notifying the state governments.


New Delhi, Aug. 17: 
Yesterday he spewed fire and brimstone inside Parliament and outside as he trashed “communist” historians for “distorting” history texts. Today he was the epitome of moderation when he shared his “concern” over the burning of the Quran in Rajasthan and insisted that all religious texts were alike and to attack any of them was a “sacrilege”.

Was BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra playing Jekyll and Hyde? Or, did he merely reflect his party’s ideological dilemma on how far it ought to go in espousing hardline Hindutva as the head of the NDA coalition? Both, say observers.

Home minister L.K. Advani, while addressing a BJP national executive two years ago, had stressed the need for “de-ideologising” governance when there was considerable disquiet within the party for putting issues like the Ram mandir and the abrogation of Article 370 in deep-freeze. But party sources admitted it was not always possible to divorce ideology from governance, especially when the BJP had to face elections in Uttar Pradesh and participate in a debate on the saffronisation of education in the House which defined political battlelines.

Malhotra was upfront when he justified the distortion of history yesterday. “If the communists do not want children to read about the destruction of temples by Mughals, why do they insist on textbooks that talk about beef-eating in the Vedic period?” he asked.

Within 24 hours, the shades of saffron paled into pink. It was a different Malhotra who urged the Rajasthan government to nab the culprits involved in burning copies of the Quran.


Calcutta, Aug. 17: 
The toll in last night’s collision between the Muzaffarpur-Sealdah fast passenger and detached wagons of a goods train at Jamui station has gone up to 10 with four more bodies being extricated from the mangled coaches, railway sources said.

One of the bodies identified is that of Rajkumar Ram of 7, South Tangra Road in the city.

According to an Eastern Railway spokesman, four more mutilated bodies were extricated from the smashed coaches of the passenger train this morning. Fifteen seriously injured passengers, five of them “very critical”, were shifted to Jamui and Danapur railway hospitals. Thirty-three others, who suffered minor injuries, were discharged after first-aid, the spokesman said. Five of those killed have been identified.

Railway minister Nitish Kumar has announced an ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh to the next of kin of those killed, Rs 25,000 to those seriously injured and Rs 5,000 to those who received minor injuries.

The railway spokesman said 11 wagons of a goods train got detached and started rolling down a gradient from Giddhaur station towards Chaura when an alarmed cabinman signalled the driver of the passenger train approaching Chaura to return to Jamui station to avoid a collision.

Though the driver of the passenger train succeeded in returning to Jamui station, the goods train’s wagons crashed into it at high speed. Two wagons of the goods train climbed atop the engine of the passenger train under the impact, the spokesman said. A train carrying medical aid reached the accident site.

The railway ministry has ordered a statutory inquiry by the commissioner of railway safety (eastern region). The inquiry will be held at Jhajha station on Sunday and Monday, the spokesman said. Four railway staff have been suspended in connection with the accident.

In a suo motu statement in the Lok Sabha on the collision, the minister said the guard, driver of the goods train, station master and porter of Gidhaur station were placed under suspension. Prima facie, the cause of the mishap appeared to be rolling down of wagons, he said.


Sealdah — 350-3535
Howrah — 660-1415

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