Dalit-bias case builds up against Keshubhai
BJP sings Advani terror-troop tune
House panel cloud on Lok Pal
DMK keeps rally pot boiling
Simi throws down ban gauntlet
Beach is speech in America, goddit?
Editor held over CM’s speech
Woman cop charged with custody death
Desam damper on Surjeet
Sangma restive in statute panel

Ahmedabad, Aug. 20: 
The Indian People’s Tribunal, which has just completed four days of public hearing in quake-devastated areas of Kutch and Saurashtra, says it has gathered damning evidence of the state government’s failure in responding to a disaster of such magnitude.

The tribunal, headed by former Kerala High Court judge Sukumaran, is expected to submit its report to the Centre and the Gujarat government by September-end. Affected villagers, people’s representatives and even government officials testified before the panel.

Sukumaran recounted what he called were “heart rending and shocking experiences”. He said the tribunal would urge the SC/ST commission to look into allegations of discrimination against Dalits and minorities as many of them, who had testified before the panel, felt they had been discriminated against when it came to rehabilitating quake victims.

The former judge said he was hopeful that the commission would look into the matter because the tribunal had collected enough evidence of alleged discrimination. Many Dalits and minority community members, he said, have not been compensated even more than six months after the quake flattened vast areas of the state.

If the demand for an inquiry was not met, the tribunal would explore other “options”. These include filing a public interest litigation and seeking the intervention of the President, who has the constitutional powers to direct the SC/ST commission to initiate a probe.

Those who testified before the panel in Anjar, Bachau (in Kutch) and Maliya town said that while rehabilitation measures had remained grossly inadequate, getting compensation for lives lost in the days following the quake was cumbersome because of the lack of medico-legal documents.

People without property entitlement or tenure records have been denied compensation. Even banks have refused them loans. The psychological needs of the survivors and the special needs of those physically disabled have not been adequately addressed, survivors told the tribunal.

According to the panel, evidence given by the survivors suggest that the government has no disaster-management plan that focuses on people, their livelihood and survival strategies. “There has been no attempt by the authorities to make information available to the affected people,” said Dhanu Roy, a member of the panel.

Roy maintains that Gujarat-based non-government organisations, who were involved in relief operations after the disaster struck, cannot carry on rehabilitation work as they have no experience. Instead of the so-called “experts” and outside agencies, the rehabilitation work, Roy said, should be assigned to panchayat raj institutions, involving only local residents as they know what their needs are and what suits them.

Unnikrishnan, another member of the panel, called for a comprehensive disaster-management policy which would look into rescue and relief operations, rehabilitation, restoration of the rights of the affected and their active participation in rebuilding their lives.


New Delhi, Aug. 20: 
The BJP today endorsed the government’s move to give legal protection and relief to forces in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast. The securitymen, the party said, were performing their duty under trying circumstances and their morale needed to be kept high.

Though NDA allies like the Akali Dal and the National Conference may not favour it, home minister L.K. Advani said in Jalandhar on Sunday that the government was contemplating relief for security forces facing prosecution for alleged excesses during anti-insurgency operations.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said if such relief was granted in accordance with law, it would have no problem. The commission, however, said it would keep a strict vigil. “Home minister L.K. Advani’s statement that the Centre wants to give relief to security forces in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir would help the government in tackling militancy and boost the morale of military and paramilitary forces fighting militancy in these regions,” said BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra.

The BJP leader said the rights panel could keep tabs on alleged excesses by paramilitary forces. He added that there was need to keep the morale of the forces high so that they could tackle militancy effectively.

NHRC chairman J.S. Verma said: “The statement of Advani, reported in the media, is not indicative of a new legislation. And if the relief was very much in accordance with existing law under the Constitution, the NHRC does not feel an occasion has arisen to question the government’s motive in considering the relief measures for securitymen deployed in insurgency-affected areas.”

“As reported, the decision will be taken only after due consultation with the law ministry. Therefore, it will not be fair to react without a concrete decision from the government,” Verma told a news agency.

The BJP also played down Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s remarks on conversions by Christian missionaries and termed the Congress’ criticism “unsubstantiated”. Malhotra said Vajpayee had appreciated the work done by the missionaries in backward and tribal areas but felt that they should not carry out conversions. “However, the Congress wants some issue to be raised and, therefore, it makes such unsubstantiated charges. It is not proper to make it an issue in Parliament,” the BJP spokesman said.

Malhotra said since Tada’s lapse, there was need to have a law in place to deal with terrorism and drug-trafficking under extraordinary circumstances.

Hurriyat rap on Centre

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference has criticised the Centre’s move to give relief to securitymen, accused of human rights violations, and said the move has reinforced “our view that the security personnel have official patronage of the government to violate human rights in the state”.


New Delhi, Aug. 20: 
The Lok Pal Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha on August 16 is likely to meet the fate of its predecessors. Cleared by the Union Cabinet and introduced in the Lower House, the Bill may be referred to a standing committee, sources said.

Like the women’s reservation Bill, all parties support the Lok Pal Bill on record but none want to enact it. Some MPs, the sources said, had even approached Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, pleading against the passage of the Bill in its present form. They wanted the MPs to be excluded from the purview of the Lok Pal.

The Bill, which brings the Prime Minister, Union ministers and MPs under the Lok Pal’s purview, was first introduced in Parliament in 1969 and aborted six times thereafter.

While there are differences within the NDA and the Congress over the Bill, the Samajwadi Party is opposed to it. The Left parties are backing the Lok Pal.

Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi today cleared the decks for considering a Bill seeking to formalise the government’s takeover of the Indian Council of World Affairs by rejecting the Congress’ demand to refer it to a standing committee.

Though Congress member Shivraj Patil raised legal objections and pleaded that the Bill be referred to a standing committee, the Speaker ruled that he was not inclined to do so.

Former Speaker Patil contended that three Ordinances were promulgated to declare the Indian Council of World Affairs as an institution of national importance, but each time they were not enacted. He said the earlier Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, but was withdrawn from the Rajya Sabha. The spate of Ordinances and Bills on the same issue reflected the government’s “non-performance”.

Urban development minister Jagmohan said the Bill was listed for consideration in the Upper House on December 21 last year. However, the House was adjourned before it could be taken up. The Ordinance lapsed after the expiry of six weeks from the date of re-assembly of Parliament and hence a fresh Ordinance had be to promulgated.

Law minister Arun Jaitley said Article 123 of the Constitution stated that when the House was not in session, Ordinances could be promulgated and that not every such decision had to be referred to parliamentary standing committees.

The ICWA Bill, 2001, seeks to replace a fresh Ordinance with some modifications mainly pertaining to the council’s composition. The Bill proposes that the council be more broadbased with the Vice-President of India being its ex-officio president.


Chennai, Aug. 20: 
The DMK today stepped up pressure in the Tamil Nadu Assembly and kept away for most part of the proceedings after a furore led to one of its members being suspended for two days.

Enraged by a demeaning expression hurled by DMK leader and former Deputy Speaker Paruthi Ilamvazhuthi, the ADMK members rose to their feet, vociferously protesting against the use of the words which Speaker K. Kalimuthu termed as “most uncivil and undignified”.

The verbal duel began when Ilamvazhuthi, initiating the debate on the state budget, referred to the high-handed police action against DMK rallyists on August 12. Ilamvazhuthi pointed out that a party MLA, V. Perumal, had died of shock following “the police beating of DMK cadre”.

Chief minister Jayalalitha dismissed the claim and said that Perumal, who participated in the rally and fainted mid-way, had been admitted to a hospital even before the police action began. She added that the truth — whether police had attacked the rallyists or vice-versa — will be known only after the inquiry commission submits its report.

The heated exchange reached a flashpoint when Ilamvazhuthi used derogatory language, triggering cries of protest from the ruling party. The Speaker expunged the remarks and asked ADMK’s P.R. Sundaram to speak on the debate. However, the ADMK insisted on an apology from Ilamvazhuthi as did Congress leader D. Yashoda and Abdul Latheef of the Indian National League, who said the “dignity of the House should be upheld”.

The Speaker then suggested that House leader C. Ponnaiyan move a resolution suspending Ilamvazhuthi from the Assembly for two days. DMK floor leader K. Anbazhagan signalled to his colleagues to remain calm and tried to reason with the Speaker that as the remarks made by Ilamvazhuthi had already been expunged, the two-day suspension could be reconsidered.


New Delhi, Aug. 20: 
The Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi) has challenged home minister L.K. Advani to ban the organisation, accused of having a hand in various incidents of violence throughout the country. It has also thrown an invitation to the home minister to “embrace Islam”.

“The home minister should embrace Islam since this is the only way to eternal success,” said Simi leaders at a press conference today. It was not their business to preach hatred against other communities but “we are issuing an invitation to all to join Islam”, the leaders stressed.

The Centre’s tentative proposal to outlaw the organisation is on the ground that Simi was engaged in “anti-national and terrorist” activities.

The BJP leadership backed the home minister, saying: “Three non-BJP governments in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have already sought a ban on the organisation.”

Though widely reported about, Simi, a student outfit of the Jamaat-i-Islami, is marginalised in the Muslim community. It carries out inflammatory propaganda among minorities — one of the reasons why it has attracted the Centre’s wrath.

Rebutting the government’s charges that Simi was involved in terrorist and anti-national activities, the organisation’s press secretary, Shahbaz Hussain, said: “Advani himself had led the rath yatra in 1991 that left behind a trail of death and devastation. Led by the Sangh parivar, he also had a hand in pulling down the Babri masjid.”

Reacting to the demand made by some state governments to ban Simi, its leaders said: “These governments have become tools in the hands of the Centre.”

A dominant section in the Muslim community believes that Simi is doing more “harm” than “good” to them with their insidious posters plastered in communally-sensitive areas. They feel such rabid and marginalised organisations strengthen the BJP’s campaign and shore up the government’s oft-repeated statement that madarsas are a breeding ground for “anti-national” elements.

In his last meeting with West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the home minister had alerted him on the dangers of “harbouring terrorists” in madarsas which have been mushrooming in the state.


Mumbai, Aug. 20: 
How to wreck a nice beach? In the US, maybe with beer bottles, Pepsi cans and rude kids. But in India, with a taught course.

For, “to wreck a nice beach” is “to recognise speech”, but in American. Courses which teach the accent — applying American “intonation, liaisons and pronunciation” — similarly convert “Did you eat?” to “Jeet?”, “Did you?” to “Joo?” and “Can we get it?” to “Kwee geddit?” And people are turning up in hordes for smore (some more).

It is primarily to cater to the burgeoning business of call centres.

The centres are servicing outfits for companies based in the US. The American company, say a bank, directs the queries of its clients to the call centre here, where personnel, trained both in the American accent and the niceties of company matters, answer the questions. The account-holder hangs up satisfied, unaware that someone in India is answering his call.

The US company gets to gain, because it is offering the service at a small price. A call centre in India costs much less in terms of infrastructure and personnel than it would in the US. Technology and communication come cheaper here, so does labour.

Big American companies often set up their own call centres in the “other” parts of the world — India, Philippines, Ireland. But some outsource their business to firms whose job it is to run call centres.

Transworks in Mumbai, which counts Citibank and MSN among its clients, is one such place. Here, young, aspiring graduates — there are about 250 of them at the centre — are trained by an in-house American teacher. She focuses especially on the Indian weaknesses — the “v”s and the “w”s, the “t”s and the “d”s.

At the end of a few weeks, the accent-savvy start work in night shifts, when it’s day in the other part of the planet, and are paid between Rs 5,000 and Rs 15,000 per month for having learnt to say “Hole dana sek’nt” instead of “Hold on a second” and “Sko” instead of “Let’s go”.

The effect may not be perfect — it’s not easy to speak American after having spoken English in India for more than 20 years — but the American at the receiving end often believes he or she is speaking to someone from Europe with a peculiar accent. As there is no “one” American accent after all, it serves the purpose.

The business is booming. There are a number of big call centres in the city with their own American training courses, like E-funds and Global Telesystems, employing hundreds of people.

“Call centres are a sunrise industry,” says Baljit Ahluwalia of Transworks. It is reported that a well-known Indian company is thinking of a call centre with one lakh seats.

But that’s the business part. There are others who would acquire a nasal twang — for better living.

Every English language teaching centre in the city — at least 50 — now boasts of an American accent training course, which is thronged by students enrolled at American universities and other would-be visitors to the US.

The American accent taught here, however, doesn’t seem too perfect. Nor do the credentials of the teachers. One person, who agreed to teach the course at Rs 100 per hour at his “institute”, said he could speak “American” because he had been to the Gulf some years ago.



Siliguri, Aug. 20: 
Investigators from Sikkim raided the office of a Nepali daily published from here and arrested its editor-cum-publisher on charges of spreading communal disharmony.

A three-member crime branch team led by inspector D.P. Kaylon arrested Rajesh Bhattarai, the editor of Ajjo Bholi, from his Burdwan Road office around noon today. He has been taken to Gangtok where he will be produced before a magistrate tomorrow.

Bhattarai’s arrest comes a couple of months after Yubhraj Ghimire, the editor of the Kathmandu-based Nepali daily Kantipur, was taken into custody on sedition charges in the aftermath of the palace massacre.

Ajjo Bholi, in its May 3, 2000 issue, had attributed to Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling a derogatory remark against the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF). The state government subsequently denied that the chief minister had made such a statement.

Speaking to reporters just before his arrest — of which he had been informed earlier in the day — the 45-year-old Bhattarai said: “We had attributed to Chamling a public statement describing the GNLF flag as ‘Hario jhanda manche-marne jhanda ho (The green flag is the flag of killers).’ The report also carried some remarks purportedly made by Chamling against the people of Darjeeling. The article was filed by our Gangtok correspondent, who covered a public rally organised by the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) after the GNLF launched its Sikkim unit.”

Bhattarai alleged that though Ajjo Bholi carried as many as three corrigenda following notices issued by the Sikkim government’s information and public relations department, the SDF had taken the newspaper to court.

The editor said the arrest smacked of political vendetta as his publication had highlighted the post-poll “atrocities” committed by the SDF on its opponents last year. “Sikkim had seen largescale post-poll violence targeted at Opposition supporters. Many Sikkim Opposition leaders had reportedly approached GNLF chief Subash Ghising to formally launch the party’s state unit. The SDF, rattled by the growing influence of the GNLF in the state, had launched a bitter attack on the GNLF, leading to increasing animosity between the two parties,” he added.

Sikkim police scoffed at Bhattari’s claim, pointing out that he was arrested following a warrant issued by the high court. “Bhattarai was arrested on the basis of a case pending against him in the Sikkim High Court,” director-general of police R.K. Handa said on phone from Gangtok.

Om Prakash Bhandari, officer on special duty to Chamling, alleged that Bhattarai had continuously published defamatory articles against the chief minister, violating Article 19 of the Constitution. “We believe in the freedom of press, but not at the expense of continuous defamation of one single individual, that too of the chief minister’s stature,” Bhandari said.

The animosity between the SDF and the GNLF had intensified during last year’s Assembly elections. SDF leaders had accused Chamling’s arch-rival, Sikkim Sangram Parishad leader Nar Bahadur Bhandari, of helping the GNLF spread its tentacles in the state.


Lucknow, Aug. 20: 
In a first of its kind, a woman policeman has been charged with beating an accused to death in custody. Vijay Laxmi, the 45-year-old in-charge of Mahila Thana in Allahabad, has also been suspended.

Though Allahabad policemen found it difficult to believe that the matronly in-charge would beat 55-year-old Sivaraj Dubey to death, about 3,000 policemen have decided to each contribute Rs 50 from their salaries to Dubey’s daughter so that she can get married.

Dubey, a lineman in the Electricity Board, was the sole bread-earner of his family.

Shocked at the incident, Allahabad SSP R.K. Vishwakarma said: “Who could have imagined such a thing? We have initiated an inquiry into the incident and she has been placed under suspension with immediate effect.... Dubey is believed to have asked for medical treatment before he died, but he was refused.”

It all started with a murder case being transferred from Phulpur police station to the Mahila Thana headed by Laxmi. Ram Prasad Pandey, a lineman at the Sheikhpur sub-station, was murdered in May this year. On May 26, Pandey’s daughter, Madhu, filed an FIR at the Phulpur police station.

Pandey’s relatives said they suspected Dubey of killing his colleague as they had jointly bought a piece of land sometime ago. That, they maintained, had led to differences between the two.

Dubey was picked up and brought to the Mahila Thana for interrogation on Saturday night.

In the FIR that Dubey’s son Manoj lodged, he accused Laxmi and seven other policemen for the murder of his father. Manoj had accompanied his father to the police station.

Manoj claimed they beat up his father mercilessly during interrogation and didn’t even give him water when he asked for it. The policemen helping Laxmi to extract a confession from Dubey were brought in from the Civil Lines police station.

It has been alleged that Dubey was subjected to a second round of third-degree torture. Dubey was dead by Sunday morning.

I-G beats up wife

Hardly had the police top brass recovered from the shock of a woman police being involved in custodial death, when one of their senior-most officials beat up his wife in full public view in Lucknow.

Eyewitnesses said S.N. Chak, inspector-general of police and a joint director in the civil defence department, beat his wife Sadhna in front of her Indiranagar residence even as terrorised neighbours watched helplessly.

Chak and Sadhna had been living separately for the past six years. After an altercation, Chak brought over a dozen men in a Maruti car and a Tata Sumo and tried to drag his wife out from her house. When she refused, Chak and his brother Hari Ram, along with 10 others, began thrashing her. They also beat up Pradeep, Sadhna’s brother, when he tried to intervene.

Sadhna has filed a written complaint at the Ghazipur police station against her estranged husband. Though “investigations” are on, no action has as been taken against Chak yet.


New Delhi, Aug. 20: 
Two NDA allies — the Telugu Desam and the Biju Janata Dal — have decided to skip the meeting of chief ministers the CPM has called on September 2 to discuss the issue of saffronisation of education.

In a bid to embarrass the Vajpayee government, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet has reportedly written to all non-BJP chief ministers, requesting them to attend the meeting.

Desam parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu said his party chief Chandrababu Naidu will not attend the CPM-sponsored meeting.

He said though Desam was opposed to saffronisation of education and had raised its voice inside and outside Parliament, his party will not share the platform with political rivals. “How can we attend their meeting? There are some contentious issues and we may differ on them. We will take up all such issues within NDA,” he said.

Desam member Suganikumari had criticised the move to saffronise education in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.

Of late, the Desam-CPM relations have touched rock-bottom following violent clashes between the cadre of the two parties in Andhra Pradesh.

The Congress and Left parties are planning to launch a joint offensive against Desam’s “murder politics” by staging dharnas, said a source.

Biju Janata Dal sources said though their party, too, was opposed to saffronisation of education, it would not be able to attend the meeting convened by CPM.

“We are feeling uneasy in the company of BJP, which has become a liability. But it is too early to share a platform with the Left,” said a BJD leader.


New Delhi, Aug. 20: 
Former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno A. Sangma is contemplating pulling out of the Constitution review panel over its move to “defer” the issue of banning persons of foreign origins from holding key public offices.

Sangma and other members of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), including Sharad Pawar, are veering round to the view that there can be little point in continuing in the Constitution review panel if it gives a quiet burial to the foreign origins issue.

Sangma and Pawar had walked out of the Congress, challenging Sonia Gandhi’s claim to hold the highest offices in India.

NCP sources said Sangma will have a word with panel chairman Justice (retd) M.N. Venkatchaliah before making up his mind to stay or quit the panel.

In political circles, the former Speaker’s move to consider pulling out of the panel is seen as his growing disillusionment with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime.

Sangma was left sulking when the NDA government sounded him out for the post of Nagaland ceasefire interlocutor and then ignored him.

In Maharashtra, the NCP is sharing power with the Congress but at the national level, the breakaway group is constantly at loggerheads with the parent organisation.

The Constitution review panel headed by Venkatchaliah, had begun on a controversial note with Sangma preparing a report on the need for a law to ban persons of foreign origins from holding key public posts.

The Congress had reacted sharply, accusing the government of unleashing a politically-motivated campaign — a charge that was denied by Venkatchaliah.

The party had even directed all its MPs and MLAs not to appear before the commission. There was considerable bad blood when former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao deposed before the panel.

Rao, however, clarified that he had appeared to defend Indira Gandhi’s role in the merger of Sikkim.

Of late, Venkatchaliah has been at pains to clarify that the panel’s objective was not to “saffronise” the Constitution.

In his bid to steer clear of political controversies, Venkatchaliah wants to focus on issues such as enlargement of fundamental rights and codification of fundamental rights to sharpen the existing provisions in the Constitution.

But panel sources said Sangma wanted to stay focused on the foreign origins issue.

Venkatchaliah and Sangma had crossed swords once in the panel meet when the suggestion to ban persons of foreign origins had come up for discussion.

The panel members were sharply divided and the meeting had ended “inconclusively”. This time around, both sides are planning to clinch the issue in their favour.

The stakes are high and both sides are threatening to pull out in case they fail to push through their agenda.


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