Jaswant jumps to adviser Arun’s defence
Seat freeze gift for birth control
Delhi dangles deal on Pak terror tag
Vajpayee to clear air on conversions
Jatiya spoke in reform wheel
Laloo cry for lootera scalp
Wail of the unborn girl rends Punjab
November date for Bowrings take-off
Surrender term for editor bail
Sunderbans flood

 
 
JASWANT JUMPS TO ADVISER ARUN’S DEFENCE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
Defence minister Jaswant Singh today defended Arun Singh’s appointment as special adviser to his ministry, saying there was no violation of rules and that the appointee had subjected himself to an intelligence scrutiny.

“He (Arun Singh) has subscribed impeccably to every requirement of law when it comes to the Official Secrets Act and there is nothing he does which is not directed by the defence minister to help him,” Singh told the Rajya Sabha in response to a question raised by the CPM’s Nilotpal Basu on Arun’s status.

Arun’s role as a special adviser in North Block was questioned last week in the Lok Sabha by the Opposition, which demanded a clarification on whether the “extra-constitutional authority” — as he was described — had direct access to the meetings of the defence ministry and those held by the three service chiefs.

The Opposition’s allegation was based on reports in a section of the press, which said the defence minister had entrusted the running of the ministry to Arun, who, they added, was neither answerable to Parliament nor accountable to the government.

Singh contended that Arun was not there on a permanent basis. He added that the new adviser had volunteered to subject himself to an intelligence scrutiny as he had done in 1999, when he was appointed adviser to the foreign ministry post-Kargil.

Singh told the House that four task forces were set up for border management, internal security and intelligence and defence restructuring as recommended by the Group of Ministers under home minister L.K. Advani’s chairmanship. Arun agreed to head the task force on defence only after Advani requested him, given his “vast experience and demonstrated ability on defence matters”. Singh added that the necessary official clearance was taken before his appointment.

Singh took the opportunity to also clear the air on the appointment of veteran journalist B.G Verghese as information adviser to the defence ministry. He said the public information structure of the ministry was “not satisfactory” and Verghese would shortly complete his report on revamping the information structure.

The clarification on Verghese came in the wake of reports claiming that he had extensively travelled the world for a first-hand study of the existing information warfare systems in other countries. It was also alleged that with Verghese’s appointment, the publicity wings of the three defence services were relegated to the background because he derived his authority directly from the defence minister.

   

 
 
SEAT FREEZE GIFT FOR BIRTH CONTROL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
The Lok Sabha today passed the 91st Constitution Amendment Bill seeking to freeze the current number of Lok Sabha seats till 2026.

The Bill, as a result of which no fresh delimitation of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies will be undertaken till 2026, was approved with 297 voting in favour and two against after a three-hour debate.

In his reply, law minister Arun Jaitley said the amendment was brought to motivate state governments into stabilising the population.

Had the Bill not been passed, states that did not encourage family planning would have benefited as Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in those states would have gone up.

Earlier, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh especially had strongly protested against delimitation, forcing the government to chalk out a plan to freeze seats till 2026.

Jaitley said that keeping in view the progress of family planning programmes in the country, the government had decided to bring this amendment as part of the national population policy strategy.

He said the government had also decided to undertake readjustment and rationalisation of territorial constituencies in the states to remove the imbalance caused due to uneven growth of population or electorate.

The Bill also proposed to re-fix the number of seats reserved for the SC/ST in the Lok Sabha and Assemblies on the basis of the population ascertained at the census for the year 1991, the law minister said.

Jaitley said it was open to Parliament to change the date of the census year now pegged at 1991.

He said the question of increasing the number of seats in legislatures and the Lok Sabha would be decided by the Delimitation Commission to be set up by an Act of Parliament.

A. Krishnaswamy (DMK) and T.M. Selvaganapathy (ADMK) asked the government to implement a clear-cut and uniform family planning policy across the country.

Pointing out that, if the Bill freezing Lok Sabha seats was not passed, southern states would lose a number of seats while northern states would gain, Selvaganapathy demanded that the Centre spell out incentives to states where family planning measures have been implemented.

Cutting across party lines, members supported the Bill as a motivational measure for states to pursue population stabilisation.

Shivraj Patil of the Congress said if the seats are increased on the basis of population it would be a disincentive to checking population growth.

   

 
 
DELHI DANGLES DEAL ON PAK TERROR TAG 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
India is willing to stop insisting on the term “cross-border terrorism” and settle for only “terrorism” if Pakistan commits itself to seriously deal with the issue and assures New Delhi that it would take care of its concerns.

South Block mandarins have also indicated that talks between the neighbours could continue if Islamabad shows signs of giving up its insistence on solving the Kashmir tangle before progressing to other areas of mutual concern.

The issue was discussed in detail between foreign secretary Chokila Iyer and her Pakistani counterpart Inamul Haq when they met early this month in Colombo on the sidelines of the Saarc senior officials’ meet. Foreign ministry officials said Haq had made it clear to Iyer that while Pakistan was willing to address the problem of terrorism at the highest political level, it was not willing to accept the term “cross-border terrorism”.

Delhi is aware that the term is anathema to Pakistan as its implications are “self-accusatory”. But it is willing to accommodate the Pakistani view if Islamabad gives categorical assurances of dealing with terrorists operating against India from Pakistani soil.

India, till recently, has been insisting that Pakistan accept the term. But post-Agra summit, the two sides are trying to ensure that their dialogue process does not get bogged down by mere semantics. While a beginning has been made, indications suggest it could take a few more months before both are comfortable with a formula acceptable to the leadership and people of the two countries.

A lot depends on whether Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month. However, conflicting reports from Pakistan have left South Block officials confused.

Soon after the Agra summit, there were positive signals from Islamabad that it was keen that the two leaders meet on the sidelines of the UN session. South Block officials said though India was not averse to such a meeting, it was unwilling to make an announcement about it.

But a week ago, the Pakistan foreign ministry ruled out the possibility of such a meeting. However, two days ago in Washington, the Pakistan foreign secretary told reporters that the military regime was keen on a Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting in the city of skyscrapers.

Both the leaders are scheduled to be in New York between September 24 and 26. Musharraf is due to address the session on September 24 and Vajpayee the next day. Therefore, the opportunity for the two to meet on the sidelines is there.

But, so far, neither side has given any firm commitment. “If the Pakistanis are keen on the meeting, they must tell us so,” a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said. “But, so far, there have only been conflicting signals from Islamabad creating confusion.”

South Block is also comfortable with the possibility of contacts between the two sides being left at the foreign ministerial level for the time being.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE TO CLEAR AIR ON CONVERSIONS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is expected to clarify his remarks on proselytising by Christian missionaries during question hour in the Lok Sabha tomorrow.

Vajpayee, who is usually present in the Lower House every Wednesday to take questions, is likely to defend his position, stating that what was said about conversions was a small aspect of his overall remarks on Christian missionaries, which in essence were “positive and full of praise for them”, said sources close to Vajpayee.

In a function at his residence last Saturday to mark the release of a book on an RSS leader, Lakshmanrao Inamdar, Vajpayee compared the dedication of the Sangh cadre to that of Christian missionaries working in difficult terrain.

The Prime Minister disapproved of proselytising by the missionaries and said “this was not good”, but hastened to add that they were within their rights to do so.

His remarks triggered a furore in the House on Monday, with Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi alleging that they had the potential to cause insecurity among minorities. The CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee said the statement meant that he was going back to the Hindutva agenda.

The issue found an echo in a BJP parliamentary party meeting today, attended by both Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani, where members reportedly expressed concern over the alleged proliferation of madarsas in the Northeast and the border states, especially along the Uttar Pradesh-Nepal border.

Rajya Sabha MPs, B.P. Singhal and Narendra Mohan, and Union minister Bijoya Chakravarty claimed that many of these madarsas were used as “ISI dens” and the Centre should keep a watch.

BJP sources said a couple of members also accused Christian missionaries of fanning insurgency in the northeast. Singhal alleged that the Baptist Church in particular was instigating the militants.

   

 
 
JATIYA SPOKE IN REFORM WHEEL 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
After blocking reforms in labour laws his colleague Yashwant Sinha was so keen on pushing through, labour minister Satyanarayan Jatiya has again chosen to swim against the tide of government thinking.

In an article on the merits of “skill globalisation”, Jatiya has voiced concern not only on the fall in employment but also its poor quality, the lack of education, skill and security in income of workers. Not a globalisation proponent, Jatiya has become an embarrassment for the finance minister and disinvestment minister Arun Shourie, while winning friends in the swadeshi brigade.

When Shourie is talking about shifting the second phase of economic reforms into high gear, Jatiya is warning about their dark side and telling the government not to ignore skill development of workers.

The swadeshi lobby in the government and the RSS are happy with Jatiya for “spiking” at least some of the hard decisions that go hand in hand with reforms.

In his article, Jatiya has underlined the National Sample Survey figures revealing a dangerous slide in the growth of employment in the public sector from 2 per cent a year from 1983 to 1993-94 to less than 1 per cent from 1993-94 to 1999.

“Economic liberalisation and globalisation has led to slow expansion in employment opportunities in the organised sector in this transition period,” says Jatiya. He draws attention to rampant “under-employment and the low quality” of employment.

“Many people are spending long hours on poorly-paid activities, yet others find only part-time work with little choice in seeking a reasonable wage,” Jatiya has written.

Officials in the labour minister say Jatiya — because of his trade union past — is “anti-reform”. The labour minister, however, stresses that the hand of the clock cannot be turned back and economic restructuring is a necessity.

“India needs rapid economic growth with effective and efficient utilisation of labour by upgrading skills to ensure employment generation,” he says. But he does not see this happening.

Only 5 per cent of the total labour force in the 20-24 age group has vocational skills as compared to 28 per cent in Mexico and 96 per cent in Korea. Jatiya believes in formulating a different approach to employment.

The task force appointed by the Centre and headed by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, when he was in the Planning Commission, has pointed out that a “purely quantitative approach (of creating job opportunities) ignores the very important issue of low quality of employment”.

   

 
 
LALOO CRY FOR LOOTERA SCALP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
Dharnas brought Bihar into focus today. While National Democratic Alliance (NDA) MPs staged a sit-in near the Gandhi statue inside Parliament compound demanding the dismissal of the Rabri Devi ministry, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav organised a dharna at the Jantar Mantar to demand the resignation of finance minister Yashwant Sinha.

At Jantar Mantar, Laloo demanded the arrest of lootera finance minister Yashwant Sinha for duping two million “poor people” of the country. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Congress leader Mahabir Singh Prasad accused the NDA government of being involved in corruption and “saffronising” education.

Leaders of the Congress, the CPM and the CPI stressed the need for joint efforts by Opposition parties to “throw the Vajpayee government out”.

“The BJP is only a mask. Actually it is the RSS that is running the government,” the RJD chief told the gathering. He accused the government of saffronising education by changing the syllabus and giving the curriculum a communal touch. The government is involved in a series of scandals, including the Tehelka exposé, the share scam and the UTI scam, he alleged, demanding Sinha’s resignation and arrest.

Laloo Yadav also termed as a “gimmick” Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s offer to resign after Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam pointed an accusing finger at the Prime Minister’s Office.

   

 
 
WAIL OF THE UNBORN GIRL RENDS PUNJAB 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Aug. 21: 
Respected and dear Dr Uncle,

My parents will come to you with a request to get me killed on knowing my sex through the ultrasound test conducted by you. Doctor saheb, you have sworn to respect life and save lives. It is my humble request to you that please do not kill me. I have given birth to kings and even the political leaders who make laws have been given birth by me. If you spare me, I promise I will become your regular patient. And by doing that you will be able to earn more than the Rs 500 that you would have charged to kill me. God will give you everything for not doing “ladka-ladki” tests. Please save me.

Begfully Yours,

Still-to-be-born girl

This letter in Gurmukhi hangs in the shape of a poster advising against female foeticide at a private hospital in Punjab. In this north country, where the male-female ratio under the age of six is way below the national average, determining the sex of a foetus is known as the “ladka-ladki business”.

Business is good. Advertisements of X-Y separation and ultrasonography splashed across hoardings scream at passers-by in the small towns of Punjab and Haryana. All of them advise family planning — the hidden persuader lurking underneath speaks of foetus gender test.

Daffarpur, a small hamlet about 25 km from here, is known for its strong representation of women in the panchayat. But most women here prefer to kill their girls in the womb itself. The costs are minimal: for Rs 500, a mobile ultrasound specialist delivers the certificate while a government hospital takes care of the rest.

Most abortions take place in connivance with social workers — many claiming to represent political parties. “The practice of aborting a girl after ultrasound tests began during the terrorism era. Everyone in the state wanted a boy as boys were seen as protectors during times of strife. A girl has always been seen as a paraya dhan (others property). Marrying a girl in Punjab involves a large dowry which most parents cannot afford. On the other hand, having a son means getting dowry. It is against the Sikh code of conduct, but who follows it these days,” says Lajwanti, who works with the local Shiromani Akali Dal’s Mahila Mandal.

Many women, who abort simply because the foetus they are carrying happens to be that of a girl, claim to know why they are doing what they are doing but are helpless because of pressure from in-laws and even parents.

Surinder Kaur in Fatehgarh Sahib, a district which prides itself on being online in matters of governance but has earned the notoriety of having the lowest female ratio in the country, has had to undergo two abortions in less than three years. Someone’s ticking in her womb again.

“What can I do? Get beaten up for refusing to abort. Everyone wants boys. What can I do?” she asks. Other women in the district refused to answer questions. “Mera aadmi gal karega (My husband will answer all your queries),” they giggle. “Our elders want a boy as they have to look after all the property,” says Channo.

While the government has warned that ultrasound tests to determine the sex of the foetus are punishable, Punjab health department sources said penal action in cases of female foeticide can be initiated only after the mother complains that she was forced to undergo a test.

“Unfortunately, the number of such complaints coming to the knowledge of the state government is almost negligible. It is the ladies who have to come forward,” says a senior official. Not so easy in so overwhelmingly male-dominated Punjab.

The machines are everywhere. Sixteen new ultrasound clinics have sprung up in Fatehgarh Sahib after the recent government ban on tests to determine the sex of the foetus. Nothing is given in writing now. The “sex” is mentioned verbally.

The Voluntary Health Association of Punjab has done extensive surveys in the districts having a low female-child ratio. Says executive director Manmohan Sharma: “Unless the act against female foeticide is strictly enforced, the situation is unlikely to improve. The scars will show 15 years from now. It is now or never.”

   

 
 
NOVEMBER DATE FOR BOWRINGS TAKE-OFF 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
Following the launch of fine arts auction house Bowrings, arrangements are underway to put together the first sale of the house on November 5.

According to Patrick Bowring, the deputy chairman of the auction house, the auctioneers will fill an important niche. The first sale will be a modest one, with a minimum of 200 lots which may increase to 300.

The fine art auctioneers, with some 20 Indian shareholders headed by P.R.S. Oberoi, chairman, Bowrings, hope to open up new areas of collectibles. For instance, a prized piece at the first auction will be a crystal chandelier, circa 1915-1920, made by F&C Ostler.

Besides contemporary Indian art, the auctioneers will bring on the block, European porcelain, oriental ceramics, glassware, low-value jewellery, watches and clocks, Indian and European silver, textiles and Italian marble statuary. These new lines will be developed further to include Bollywood memorabilia, toys, craft objects.

Bowring says the new auction house will have a strategic advantage because it is located in India. The auctioneers will be able to save on all the expenses incurred in transporting art objects to New York, London and other distant auction centres. This could easily be passed on to the sellers. Besides, Bowring is charging a 15 per cent buyer’s premium which is less than what the other international auctioneers charge. So there is likely to be a price advantage for both buyers and sellers.

Bowring will abide by an international auctioneers’ code of ethics. For instance, the auction house will not own any of the art objects which are sold through it. All objects not eligible for export will be marked in the catalogue.

Bowring will consult best experts both internationally and locally to establish the authenticity of objects on sale. Each item will be catalogued in detail. In spite of best precautions, if a buyer can prove deliberate forgery, then his money will be refunded.

Deputy chairman Bowring feels that getting in touch with international buyers won’t be a problem. Situating the auctions in India will open up a larger Indian market. He hopes to bring into play his experience with Sotheby’s and his associate and Bowring’s CEO Christopher Elwes’ experience with Christie’s and Bonhams.

Bowring is the first proper auction house in India modelled on the major auction houses in the west. It has been incorporated in Delhi as a private limited company with approximately fifty-fifty shareholding between foreign and Indian stakeholders. There will be just one auction this year but the number will increase next year.

Bowring plans to open offices in all the metro cities by next year. Already, besides Delhi, the Mumbai office is functioning.

Says Oberoi: “The Indian art market has matured and is now on the threshold of major expansion and integration with world markets.” He feels the services of international class auction house will help the process and hence the incorporation of Bowring.

Bowring deputy chairman Bowring, after whom the auction house is named, has been visiting India to study the art scene since the ’70s. He has worked with the Sotheby’s for more than a couple of decades. He conducted charity auctions in India, as well as the 1992 Sotheby’s auction in Delhi, which faced a number of problems.

   

 
 
SURRENDER TERM FOR EDITOR BAIL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, Aug. 21: 
Rajesh Bhattarai, the editor of Ajjo Bholi who was arrested yesterday on charges of spreading communal disharmony, today got interim bail from the Siliguri subdivisional judicial magistrate.

However, SDJM Madhusudhan Dutta laid down the condition that Bhattarai would have to “surrender” before the chief judicial magistrate in Gangtok within 10 days.

The editor was picked up by a team from the Sikkim police around noon yesterday after a court issued an arrest warrant against him.

Speaking to The Telegraph over phone from Gangtok, the superintendent of police (crime branch), Avichal Sharma, said: “A team of CID officials had arrested Bhattarai on a cognizable offence charge. A warrant of arrest was issued by a Sikkim court.

Though we had produced him in the SDJM’s court on Monday to secure a transit bail, the case could not be heard because he was produced before the court late. Bhattarai, who was later taken to Sikkim guest house under police custody, complained of illness and was shifted to the Siliguri subdivision hospital later in the night.”

Dutta granted bail to Bhattarai and ordered the editor to furnish a personal bond of Rs 3,000 and said that he would have to surrender before the CJM’s court in Gangtok within 10 days.

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 and the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) had subsequently denied that Chamling had ever made such a statement.

Sikkim Governor Kedar Nath Sahani, en route to New Delhi, assured a delegation from the Siliguri Journalist Club which met him at the Bagdogra airport that he would take up the matter with the chief minister.

   

 
 
SUNDERBANS FLOOD 
 
 
FROM DEBASISH CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Kakdwip (South 24 Parganas), Aug. 21: 
Vast areas of the Sunderbans in South 24-Parganas continue to remain inundated even 24 hours after the high tide lashed the low-lying areas, rendering thousands of villagers homeless.

Kakdwip subdivision is the worst hit where tidal water has flooded the local police station. Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly, who visited the affected areas yesterday, said the enbankments at several places have been severely damaged. He added that he has asked the district authorities to repair the enbankments before September 17, the day for the next high tide.

The areas of Sagar which are heavily affected include Bhasan, Ghoramara, Mousuni Island, Boatkhali and other areas. The flood occurs whenever the Muri Ganga is in spate water gushes in from the Bay of Bengal.

Boats have been pressed into service to ferry water logged people in various low-lying areas. Mantu Pakhira, Trinamul MLA from Kakdwip, said: “We had warned the administration well ahead.But they remained quite unconcerned. As a result, the people had to suffer a lot.”

   
 

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