George turns gun on Tehelka
Army officers wanted sex: Tejpal
Dubai link raises Interpol interest
Rail fare hike before Cabinet
Basmati revisited in 100 items
Calcutta Weather

 
 
GEORGE TURNS GUN ON TEHELKA 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
Wine had flowed for all to see on television. There were women, too, supplied by Tehelka, apparently on demand from army officers.

It was revealed today that the dotcom had used prostitutes to swing fictitious deals with defence officials during its sting operation.

The news, in The Indian Express this morning, provoked a furore in the Lok Sabha with members, particularly those from the ruling coalition, demanding the arrest of the team involved in the filming of the tapes.

Samata Party MPs rallied around George Fernandes, who had to resign following the March exposé, and stalled proceedings. Some BJP members requested leaders of allied parties to go on television and support Fernandes. Desam parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu, sources said, refused to oblige.

Fernandes said the portal, by using prostitutes to nail officers, had committed a “crime against the country by demoralising” the army. “There cannot be any doubt that a crime against the country has been committed,” he said.

The former minister and his supporters in the coalition are miffed with the slow progress of the investigation by the Venkataswami Commission into the Tehelka revelations. Fernandes, the sources said, had initially thought he would be reinducted into the Cabinet in July after the panel submitted an interim report. But that did not happen.

The sources added that Fernandes is peeved with the commission for first trying to examine the dubious defence deals instead of investigating the sting operators and ascertaining the credibility of the tapes.

The Samata leader betrayed a hint of impatience when he said the commission could take years to submit its report. In a veiled suggestion that the probe is jeopardising the nation’s security, Fernandes told reporters that many key defence purchases had been held up because the files were before the commission.

“The purchase of Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) for training pilots has not been effected since the files are before the commission. Several pilots have been killed in the absence of AJTs. Second, officials are unwilling to look into the files (in the wake of the exposé),” he said.

However, the commission may not take kindly to news leaking out that prostitutes had been used by Tehelka to trap army officers. Many hours of footage were never released, but copies of everything the website’s journalists filmed with their hidden camera were handed over to the commission and the army.

Tehelka chief Tarun Tejpal said the unscreened footage did indeed show military officers asking for sexual favours and even one officer having sex with a prostitute.

The report kicked off a debate on media ethics and privacy with the Samata MPs demanding Tejpal’s arrest. The House had to be adjourned after the NDA members repeatedly rushed to the well demanding action against the dotcom.

Tejpal scoffed at the politicians’ demand, saying they were trying to shift the focus away from the investigation into the corrupt defence deal.

Fernandes said his party colleagues felt the government should register a case against Tehelka under the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (SITA). “I am told (by my party colleagues) that this is a serious criminal offence under SITA,” he said. He, however, parried a question that the sting operation had exposed certain army officials who had accepted money in fictitious deals. “The portal is justifying its operations. I have edited quite a few journals. I did not know that journalism could be such,” Fernandes said.

Legal sources said the Tehelka investigators could be arrested under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code and SITA. But, they pointed out, for the case to sustain against the sting operators, the government would also have to lodge FIRs against those who took favours from the Tehelka team members who had posed as arms middlemen.

Among those against whom FIRs would have to be lodged are then BJP president Bangaru Laxman, who was seen in the tapes as accepting Rs 1 lakh in cash, and Jaya Jaitly, who was the chief of the Samata Party when the scandal erupted, for the same reason.

Fernandes said he knew of the methods used by the portal. He added that he had told the Prime Minister at a Cabinet meeting on March 13 that the government should have no fears on the functioning of the defence ministry despite the exposé. “I knew from the beginning what they had resorted to.”

   

 
 
ARMY OFFICERS WANTED SEX: TEJPAL 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi & Calcutta, Aug. 22: 
Tehelka, the Internet news site at the centre of the have-sex-will-scoop row that stalled Parliament today, has staunchly defended its tactics.

Tarun Tejpal, Tehelka’s editor, said his reporters, who posed as representatives of a fictitious arms company called West End, were asked by the army officers to arrange for prostitutes. “Posing as arms dealers, Tehelka’s reporters had to conform to what was expected of them as arms dealers in order to not blow their cover and derail the investigation. There was discomfiture about the grey area they were being forced to tread, but the larger public and national interest was seen as far more important,” Tehelka today said in a statement to the press.

The portal’s editor said he did not go public with the sleaze because it was not called for. “Operation West End is about rampant and pervasive corruption in governance — it is not about anyone’s private life or sexual peccadilloes. It is about the abuse and misuse of public office and money. In the early course of the investigation, the reporters were forced to push the rules of the game when key officers began to routinely demand other services apart from money and alcohol. Clearly, this is the way arms-dealing operates in India (perhaps globally),” he said.

“Despite this, Tehelka took a judgement call to not release any of that sleazy footage in the public domain because it didn’t want the focus of the story to be deflected from corruption. Also, Tehelka deemed the footage, by its very nature, not fit for public release. At no stage did Tehelka exploit that footage,” the statement said.

Most media luminaries preferred not to air their opinion in public on the ethics of using prostitutes. Only two, Shekhar Gupta, CEO of The Indian Express, and Dileep Padgaonkar, consulting editor of The Times of India, spoke out.

“The revelations raise interesting questions about media methodology and ethics. But it is ridiculous that those caught doing something wrong are now trying to fudge the issue,” Gupta said. He emphasised that even if questions were raised about the methodology, they did not make the earlier revelations about the system vanish.

Padgaonkar said he would not allow such a “modus operandi” in his organisation, but clarified that he was not going to “sit in moral judgement on others”.

He said the earlier exposé centred around systemic corruption — individuals were just “pantomimes”. But the latest one focuses on the vulnerabilities of these people.

“The revelations underline how rotten the people in key positions can be.”

   

 
 
DUBAI LINK RAISES INTERPOL INTEREST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 22: 
Arrested bar singer Swati Pal not only tipped off a Dubai gang about Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman’s movements, but may also have collected information about some “middle-level” Bollywood actresses and passed it on to her contacts in the Gulf.

Even though Swati is not revealing much during interrogation, investigations have revealed that she had been passing on information about people “of interest” to Dubai-based gangsters.

“A number of intelligence agencies, including the wing of the Interpol dealing with the D (Dawood)-company, have shown interest in the activities of Swati, especially since she travelled to Dubai so often,” an official said.

“Depending on what Swati says in the next few days about her connections with Dubai-based gangsters, we may see her being questioned by several intelligence agencies, including the Interpol.”

As it is, the police here have to seek the help of the Interpol to get to the Dubai-based gang which masterminded the kidnapping since India does not have an extradition treaty with the UAE. “We have no option but to get the Interpol to help us,” an official said.

“We might round up the rest of the criminals connected with the abduction, but our reach would not extend to the Gulf.”

The police indicated that the Interpol is more interested to know about the networking of the international gangsters and the manner in which they operate than in the kidnapping itself.

“Swati is too small a fry in this criminal nexus to know many details about the Dubai gangsters and their larger plans,” an official said. “But what she would be able to shed light on is how the D-company networks with its agents and how they go about achieving their goals.” The police said the Interpol believes that since Swati travelled many times to Dubai, she may be able to provide some leads.

“They are monitoring the progress of the case. They want to find out for what purpose the ransom money is being used — whether it is being used to buy arms and build up terrorist outfits,” an official said.

Interrogators said Swati had befriended a number of less-prominent Bollywood actresses and some businessmen and passed on information about their financial status to the gangsters.

According to P. Ramulu, the commissioner of Hyderabad — where the ransom was paid — Dubai-based gangster Mohammed Shafique has “larger plans” on businessmen across the country.

Pawan Kumar Maheswari Thaparia, arrested in Hyderabad, was brought to Calcutta tonight.

Excise visit: Central excise officials visited different godowns and offices of Khadim’s. Siddhartha Roy Burman, speaking for the company, said: “Given the nature of our business, Central excise has no role to play. We don’t know why the visit took place.”

He said the officials inspected papers and may have taken some during their day-long visit.

   

 
 
RAIL FARE HIKE BEFORE CABINET 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
The Union Cabinet is likely to clear later this week a proposal to increase railway fares by imposing a safety cess on passengers.

The increase will be the lowest for monthly pass-holders at Rs 10. Second-class travel beyond 500 km will cost Rs 20 more. The same distance in an AC chair-car will cost Rs 40 extra, while in an AC sleeper coach ticket prices will go up by Rs 80. The cess will be halved for distances less than 500 km.

The Cabinet appears to be in a hurry to clear the cess that is expected to net the railways around Rs 700 crore a year. The rush is because the government wants to have the cess in place before Mamata Banerjee joins the ruling coalition. As there’s a possibility that Mamata, who had resisted pressure to raise rail fares, might be back in her old department, the government doesn’t want to take any chances.

While the money from the cess will add to the railways’ depleted coffers, it is not enough. Over and above the extra Rs 700 crore raised from the cess, the railways will need some Rs 2,000 crore as budgetary support to fund its ongoing safety programmes.

Sources said the plan to slap a safety cess was taken up last month. But it got temporarily derailed when finance ministry officials demanded a hefty cess. But the PMO and the railway ministry vetoed the steep increase for political reasons.

With elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly not far off, the government does not want to become too unpopular by ordering huge fare increases. Even the token increase is likely to be opposed by major Opposition parties like the Congress and the CPM.

The proposal for a safety cess on rail commuters was first mooted by finance minister Yashwant Sinha during the discussions he had with Mamata before the former railway minister presented her budget in February. At that time, he had suggested a cess in the range of Rs 2 to Rs 10 on second-class fares, Rs 15 to Rs 22 for sleeper class, and between Rs 22 and Rs 30 for the upper classes.

Sinha had even suggested that the cess be levied separately and not integrated with the fare printed on railway tickets. But a determined Mamata had turned down the proposal.

Mamata, who had an eye on the Bengal elections, had won the day, but officials argue that such populist policies — unless curbed at the outset — are going to batter the already-bruised finances of the railways.

   

 
 
BASMATI REVISITED IN 100 ITEMS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Aug. 22: 
The basmati patents issue over which Parliament was stalled yesterday is merely the tip of an iceberg.

At least 100 Indian plants and crops have been patented in various forms all across the developed world — from the US and the UK to Japan, Canada and Germany as a globalised world grapples with new rules on intellectual property rights.

In the US alone, 14 patents have been granted on mustard, which is inalienable from the Indian tradition, seven others on castor, two on bitter gourd or karela. US patents also exist for amla, kumari and black cumin.

Patent experts say that if Parliament were to deal with the issue by Tuesday’s yardstick, the legislature ought not transact any business for the rest of its term since the developed world has pirated through patents an incredible range of Indian products such as guruchi, harad, jangli and chottagokhuru, to name a few.

The Indian government considers its successful fight against a 1995 US patent on haldi to be a landmark in its campaign against bio-piracy. The case involved two non-resident Indians at the University of Mississippi Medical Centre.

Suman K. Das and Hari Har P. Cohly had been granted a US patent (patent number 5,401,504) for turmeric for its wound-healing properties.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) filed with the US Patent Office an ancient Sanskrit text and a paper published in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association in 1953 as proof that Das and Cohly had invented nothing new.

The US Patent Office upheld the objection and cancelled the patent.

But the CSIR is probably unaware that the US Patent Office database currently has nine patents on turmeric: among its uses is the treatment of degenerative musculoskeletal diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Tuesday’s controversy over basmati rice which hit the headlines has more to do with its timing than substance. The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) ministerial meeting due to be held in Doha in November is already mired in controversy and is raising the hackles of not only Third World leaders but also liberals in the developed countries.

The protests during the recent G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, and its aftermath have conclusively demonstrated that globalisation is a volatile issue with a network of vocal opponents world-wide, India not excluded. For them, an issue such as the bio-piracy of rice grown in India and Pakistan is a handy weapon for the assault on the world trade order.

It is not surprising that in the US, the campaign against RiceTec’s controversial basmati patent is led by a global coalition of 90 organisations from 20 countries.

For these organisations, the basmati patent is a test case in their fight to change the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) agreement allowing biopiracy patents on food crops in developing countries.

It is significant that the brouhaha in Parliament has taken place shortly before a meeting of the Trips Council, which is to review an agreement on the exclusion of plants and animals, but requires a system of protecting plant breeders’ rights.

A lesser known, but interesting, sidelight to the controversy is that commerce minister Murasoli Maran has been invited next week to a meeting of 20 like-minded trade ministers to be held in Mexico.

The meeting, to be hosted by Mexico’s trade minister, will try to formulate a common developing country agenda for the Doha meeting.

The US Patent Office’s decision upholding the RiceTec patent may be a setback for India, but it — followed by the uproar in Parliament — has strengthened Maran’s case made to US trade representative Robert Zoellick this month that there is grave disquiet in developing countries about the WTO.

Experts here are comparing the merits of the Indian case on basmati to a similar case fought by India against two US patents on neem granted in 1990 and 1994.

The patents granted to W.R. Grace and Co. were for improving the storage stability of neem seed extracts containing azadirachtin and for storage of stable insecticidal composition comprising neem seed extract.

India accused the American company of copying an Indian invention, but withdrew its complaint when it concluded that W.R. Grace and Co. had, indeed, invented a new neem extraction process.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.5°C (+1)
Minimum: 26.9°C (+1)

Rainfall:

4.6 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 92%,
Minimum: 72%

Today

Light to moderate rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.18 am>
Sunset: 6.01 pm
   
 

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