Sidelined Samata in suit retreat
George fires missing-tapes salvo
Another naval officer held
Tejpal shuns legal shield
Farooq rights sermon to forces
Campaign kickoff with youth meet
Development Digvijay gets UN perfect 10
Daughter takes blame for family murder
Cornell help to set up biotech park
Dalit stripped in Laloo land

New Delhi, Aug. 25: 
George Fernandes and the Samata Party seem reluctant to take the battle against Tehelka “too far” after receiving a lukewarm response from the BJP and NDA constituents.

The first sign of a comedown was manifested in the response of Samata spokesman Shambhu Srivastava to a spate of statements from a Fernandes loyalist and Lok Sabha MP, Brahmanand Mandal, against the Centre for not “taking action” against Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal. “He is a senior MP of the Samata parliamentary party and he is entitled to his opinion,” said Srivastava when asked to comment on Mandal’s warning that the Centre’s “inaction” could have serious repercussions.

Samata sources said Fernandes was unlikely to raise the fresh Tehelka revelations as a specific issue in the NDA meeting slated to be held here on Monday. This is the first occasion when the NDA MPs would meet after Tehelka’s fresh disclosures. Sources close to Fernandes, who is the NDA convener, said: “It will be an open-ended meeting. The only definite agenda is the formalisation of the re-induction of the Trinamul Congress and the PMK. Issues which were discussed in the monsoon session can figure and this includes Tehelka, too.” These sources were categorical that Fernandes himself would not bring up the issue or do anything that would adversely hit the NDA government’s image.

“We are long-time political players and are not certainly foolish enough to create trouble for the Prime Minister on an issue like Tehelka. It will seem as though Fernandes is doing all this only to get back into the government,” Samata sources said.

Having failed to extract solidarity from the BJP as well as the other NDA constituents, the Samata’s strategy is to keep the issue alive on the streets by egging on its workers to demonstrate against Tehelka.

With the much-awaited Cabinet reshuffle unlikely to take place after the monsoon session and Fernandes’ ministerial future even more uncertain, there was an admission within the Samata that the gamble to use Tehelka as a lever to facilitate his re-induction in the Cabinet had failed. It remains to be seen if the Samata leader will continue to use his out-of-power stint to create trouble or resolve problems within the NDA. BJP sources said Fernandes was more likely to go for the former option.

On the legal front, too, the Samata is being cautious after it failed to persuade the BJP to file a joint FIR against Tejpal. “We are consulting legal pundits,” Srivastava said.

Though the party leadership is publicly continuing its demand for an “immediate” FIR, privately, it is reconciled to wait as long as it takes to draw up a foolproof case against the news portal for its use of prostitutes in a sting operation miring a section of the ruling and defence establishment in corruption.

The law ministry is also looking into the pros and cons of moving court against the portal. The Samata may raise the issue of delaying filing of an FIR at the NDA meeting on Monday.

It is learnt that the government was unwilling to risk the embarrassment of pushing through a case which would have boomeranged.

Former Samata treasurer R.K. Jain has accused the portal of deliberately introducing the element of call girls into the conversation. “The Tehelka team was hankering after sex with call girls who were arranged by another person on the request of Mathew Samuel,” Jain said.


New Delhi, Aug. 25: 
George Fernandes has accused Tehelka of not submitting the entire transcript of its armsgate videotapes to the Justice K. Venkataswami Commission.

In his sworn affidavit filed before the commission, the former defence minister alleged that several pages were missing and disputed the “certificate” of Tarun Tejpal, editor of, that the entire transcript of the tapes was submitted to the commission.

Tejpal said the website had received a “clean chit from the Venkatswami Commission, stating that the tapes are not doctored”.

“On the cover page (of Tejpal’s transcript) there is a certificate by Tarun Tejpal saying this transcript is of what was exhibited on Zee TV. This certificate is disputed,” Fernandes said in his affidavit.

“The allegations and insinuations made against me in the Tehelka tapes are absolutely false and malicious and seem to be a calculated attempt to tarnish my reputation,” the Samata Party leader added.

He vouchsafed that his party’s ousted treasurer, R.K. Jain, had falsely claimed that he (Jain) struck several defence deals through him (Fernandes) when he was the defence minister, and pledged that all the defence deals were on merit and in accordance with the defence needs of the country. “I submit that the entire Tehelka tape is replete with false, vague and boastful assertions,” Fernandes said in his affidavit.

He contended that the claim that “Brajesh Mishra, principal adviser to the Prime Minister, will order defence minister” (to strike the defence deal with West End International, the fictitious arms company floated by Tehelka,) was also false as “all procurement decisions pertaining to defence were taken either within the defence ministry, when required, in consultation with the finance ministry or were taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security”.

“There was no question of Brajesh Mishra ever having issued directions to the defence minister,” the former defence minister said in his affidavit.

He pointed out that Jain was appointed Samata treasurer in the “formative years of the party” after he had shown an inclination towards the Samata Party on “ideological grounds”. Fernandes also vouchsafed that Jain’s claim of donating Rs 50 crore to the Samata Party was false.

Fernandes denied that his house or office were used for any extraneous purpose and claimed that “incoherent, scandalous and completely false statements appear in every frame of the Tehelka tapes”.

“I have been in public life... more than 50 years and never indulged in any wrongdoing. The question of anyone being a conduit to me does not arise,” the former defence minister said.


Hyderabad, Aug. 25: 
Police today arrested a senior official of the eastern naval command at Visakhapatnam for passing on vital defence information to Pakistani agents.

Rajkumar, chief security officer of the naval armament depot, was produced in a city court, which remanded him in judicial custody, Visakhapatnam police commissioner A.K. Kahn said today.

Rajkumar, who was detained for interrogation three days ago, is the third official of the eastern naval command involved with the ISI-operated spy ring. Birender Singh Panwar, who retired from service in 1996, and Rajbeer Singh, a deputy chief petty officer in the navy, are the other two.

“It appears that it was a well-oiled operation as the moles functioned very freely with access to sensitive information. The Pak intelligence must be laughing at our security system as the moles were copying everything on floppies and sending them through cyber cafes or office systems for almost a year,” the police commissioner said.

Rajbeer was arrested earlier this month at a cyber cafe while he was transmitting a confidential file to an ISI contact in London.

Police officials say the operation has been going on for almost five to six years.

Visakhapatnam police also contend that some ISI hawala operators were using the naval officers for transferring funds through the navy to Calcutta and Sri Lanka.


New Delhi, Aug. 25: 
Just three days after Tehelka got embroiled in another controversy — for arranging prostitutes to have sex with three army officers — editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal said they would not go in for legal action to counter the charges made against them.

“We do not anticipate any problem and we will not take any form of legal action,” Tejpal said. “Eminent lawyers like R.K. Anand and Ram Jethmalani had stated that the website had not violated law by arranging prostitutes to carry out the exposé because the videotapes were to be used for exposing corruption and not for any form of commercial benefit.”

Twenty-nine pages of the transcript and three tapes exposed two meetings that reporters from Tehelka arranged between army officers and prostitutes at a five-star hotel in the capital in September and November last year. The transcript also reveals that the reporters not only provided prostitutes but also helped get condoms for their guests.

Tejpal accused the establishment of victimising the news portal. “This is nothing new. Since the last six months, certain institutions are carrying out a vindictive campaign against us. The people who exposed corruption are now being victimised,” he said.

These tapes did not figure in the earlier exposé. Tejpal called the revelation “a calculated leak to distract attention from the main findings of the Tehelka exposé so that the important issues get sidetracked”.

“If we wanted to suppress any information, we would not have given the tapes to the army five months ago and to the Venkataswami Commission three months ago. We did not tamper with the tapes. If we wanted to hide facts, we would have burnt the tapes. This sting operation was not about sex but about corruption,” Tejpal said.

He, however, claimed that it was only the two reporters who, in a fit of enthusiasm, made a call to a prostitute and that he was not party to the arrangement. “The call was made by the field reporters. I agree what they have done is wrong. But they were working under a difficult condition.”

“I am taking the moral responsibility of the action of the reporters because I head the portal,” Tejpal added.


Srinagar Aug. 25: 
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah today asked police and security forces to “ensure that no custodial killing or human rights violation takes place in the state”.

“Our fight is against militants. Innocents should not get punished,” Abdullah told the Cabinet-cum-district development board meeting at Baramullah.

The chief minister’s announcement follows the opposition to Union home minister L.K. Advani’s proposal to give amnesty to security forces and the police involved in human rights violations in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.

Abdullah asked the police to register an FIR against human rights violations when “someone approaches with such a complaint”.

“Howsoever highly placed the violator might be, there should be no hesitation in filing the first information report if a complaint is made at a police station,” the chief minister said.

Addressing the meeting attended by senior district police and civil officials, Abdullah “opposed actions amounting to human rights violations” and said “nobody has been given permission to indulge in custodial killing”.

Local residents had recently alleged that several youths were killed in custody. The killings sparked off protests in Kashmir. Curfew had to imposed in Kishtawar in Doda district after a boy died in the custody of security forces.

“We have to protect human rights from being violated and take necessary measures in this direction,” Abdullah said. He added that the police “should give maximum attention to safeguard human rights and watch out against elements indulging in violations”.

“I have not imposed any restriction on security forces or the police to deal with militants firmly. But the common people cannot be treated in the same way,” the chief minister said.

Abdullah added that the state was “confronted with a very difficult situation thrown up by foreign-sponsored militancy that calls for greater vigil and alertness on the part of security forces”.


New Delhi, Aug. 25: 
The BJP plans to kick off its Uttar Pradesh election campaign from Agra in October with a gathering of its yuva morcha (youth wing).

The show of strength, sources said, is meant to send out the message that far from being a “spent force” in the state, the party is “alive and kicking” with its “youth brigade” behind it.

The All-India Yuva Morcha convention will be inaugurated on October 13 by home minister L.K. Advani. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will address the concluding session the following day.

Other BJP stalwarts like party chief Jana Krishnamurthi, Kushabhau Thakre, Pyarelal Khandelwal and senior ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Pramod Mahajan are expected to be present. Uttar Pradesh will be represented by chief minister Rajnath Singh and state unit chief Kalraj Mishra.

Six senior functionaries — Krishnamurthi, Khandelwal, Sunil Shastri, Thakre, Narendra Modi and Kailashpati Mishra — have been camping periodically in Uttar Pradesh to interact with the cadre and get their feedback on aspects like constituency profile, attitude of workers, poll prospects and organisational drawbacks, if any.

Their inputs will be the main subject of discussion at a meeting of BJP office-bearers and prabaris (central functionaries in charge of states) in Jodhpur on September 12 and 13.

Krishnamurthi — who was in Lucknow for the past week and met workers from 42 Assembly constituencies of west Uttar Pradesh — told reporters today that his assessment was the BJP was not up against any “principal opponent” in the state. “Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayavati have their pockets of influence as does the Congress, for example, in Amethi. Our main opponent will be that party which is influential in a particular area,” he said.

Krishnamurthi denied that the Samajwadi Party was emerging as the leading force in the state. “It is not as big as is being projected. It is not in a challenging position,” he said.

The BJP chief also denied that the recent spate of scams that had rocked the Centre had adversely affected the government’s image as well as that of the BJP. “Our image has not been affected by Tehelka and UTI. How does it affect the BJP and the government if Tehelka uses prostitutes to get armymen?” he said.

Asked if the BJP would give tickets to persons with a criminal background or those facing trial, Krishnamurthi said: “We are trying to evolve a system of selecting candidates in such a way that the necessity of asking questions with respect to giving tickets to criminals or not does not arise.” He, however, clarified that the BJP’s norms will not apply to its allies.

Khandelwal, however, refused to give a direct answer. Asked what the BJP’s selection criteria would be, he said: “A good image among people, commitment to the party and winnability.”

Pressed further on whether criminals would be blacklisted, his answer was: “If a criminal has a good image among people why deny him a ticket? Who after all is a criminal? In politics, false cases are often slapped against people.”


Bhopal, Aug. 25: 
The United Nations has been bowled over by Digvijay Singh. Whether it be the World Water Forum at The Hague in March last year or the Economic Forum at Davos earlier this year, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister has enthralled UN summits with his speeches.

However, the world organisation broke all records today. At an international conference on decentralisation here, organised by the state government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN spokespersons went on record praising Digvijay as the “ultimate driving force behind the sub-national human pioneering in India”.

“We are simply fascinated by Digvijay Singh. Madhya Pradesh is the first state in the world which in 1995 came out with a human development report,” said Hafiz A. Pasha, the UN assistant secretary-general and UNDP assistant administrator. “We have not seen as yet that kind of a phenomenon where the state initiates its planning on the basis of findings of a report on human development. We acknowledge this as the best practice for human development and planning.”

Pasha was referring to Digvijay’s first attempt at understanding the state’s development needs after taking office during his first tenure from 1993. After a survey, Madhya Pradesh became the first state in the country to document its state of education, health and livelihood.

The human development report brought about a drastic change in the government’s approach to development priorities.

Digvijay had started a massive exercise to decentralise power in all sectors. Under his leadership, Madhya Pradesh introduced people’s participation and redefined government responsibility. From panchayati raj, education and water management to health, security and agriculture, the chief minister made the common man living in about 51,000 villages and 1.25 lakh habitations in the state, responsible with governance.

Today, when a village in the state needs a school, the inhabitants organise a building and appoint a teacher who is answerable to the villagers for his efficiency. The state’s role is limited to providing the teacher’s salary, his training and supply of books and stationery.

While an embarrassed chief minister sat at the conference, Brenda McSweeney, the UN resident coordinator in India and UNDP’s resident representative, could not stop praising Digvijay. According to the UN resident coordinator, the world body is impressed with Digvijay’s Gyandoot Project in the southern Dhar district.


Chandigarh, Aug. 25: 
The statement of Sonia, the married daughter of murdered former Haryana Independent legislator Relu Ram Punia, that she killed her parents and six other family members on Thursday night, has left many questions unanswered.

The mutilated bodies were discovered by villagers early on Friday at Punia’s farmhouse near the Litani bypass in Hisar.

Police said Sonia mixed opium in the dinner served to the family, which was celebrating her sister Priyanka’s birthday, before clubbing them to death. “I killed everyone because I was not being given the proper share in the family’s property,” Sonia, who was found unconscious at the murder site, told investigators today. “I have suffered a lot and hope no one gets the kind of parents I had.”

According to sources, property owned by Punia runs into crores of rupees. He was also running a profitable business in furnace-oil.

Sonia claimed she wrote a suicide note after killing her family members before swallowing poison. The note was recovered by the police late last night from the farmhouse. Yesterday, preliminary investigations had revealed the hand of an “insider” in the massacre.

Sonia claimed that she single-handedly killed Punia, his wife Krishna, son Sunil, daughter-in-law Shakuntala, another daughter, Priyanka, and three grandchildren — Lokesh, Shiwani and Preeti. Lokesh, who was four years old, was the youngest victim.

Investigations have revealed that Punia’s servant Rohtash — who had entered the residential area of the farmhouse on Friday morning to inform the family that Lokesh’s schoolbus was waiting for a long time — was the first to stumble upon the bodies.

Police said Rohtash found Sonia lying unconscious and immediately sensed something was wrong. He then entered an adjoining room to find the blood-splattered bodies.

His cry for help brought in the villagers who had, by this time, found it “strange” that Punia had not reached the spot where they used to gather every morning.

The district police are exploring all angles to the killings. “One person couldn’t have planned the murders. There seems to be a bigger conspiracy behind the act,” a senior district official said.

A police officer said it was strange no one cried for help when Sonia was bludgeoning her kin to death. “Sonia says she tied her mother Krishna’s hands to a bed” but no one raised an alarm while she was doing so, the officer said.

“Was Krishna alive when other members of the family were being clubbed to death? Did anyone resist the attack by iron rods? There can be more people involved in the killings,” he added.

Punia had shot into prominence in 1996 when he defeated the current Indian National Lok Dal MP, Surendra Singh Barwala.


Chennai, Aug. 25: 
The Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation today entered into an agreement with Cornell University of the US, to set up a Rs 62.5-crore biotechnology park in Chennai.

Chief minister Jayalalitha, in whose presence the “technical service agreement” was signed, thanked the university, represented by its dean, Ronnie Coffman, for giving preference to Tamil Nadu for this “pioneering collaborative venture”.

Cornell, one of the world’s top research institutions in biotechnology, will provide technical assistance to set up the park on a five-acre plot adjacent to the information technology park, known as the ‘TIDEL Park’.

The project, for which Tidco will fork out Rs 9 crore and also transfer five acres of land at a concessional rate for the venture as its equity, aims to put in place a “successful mechanism” with access to the best technologies and biological material for commercialisation.

The park, to be called ‘TICEL’ (Tidco Centre for Life Sciences), is scheduled to take full shape by July 2002. It will provide under one umbrella complete technical and other services, including technology transfer, networking, contract-research work, product validation, patent rights, documentation and training. Cornell has completed the feasibility study.

The park proposes to attract fresh investments to the tune of Rs 1,000 crore from 50 new companies supposed to come up here, Tidco said. It has approached the Centre’s Technology Development Board, the International Finance Corporation, Exim Bank and the State Bank of India for funds to the tune of Rs 33 crore.


Patna, Aug. 25: 
A Dalit woman was stripped and paraded naked in Laloo Prasad Yadav’s home district — Gopalgunje — providing more fire power to the NDA-led Opposition to blast the government.

Coming close on the heels of the August 22 massacre of Dalits in Masaurhi, it will only help the Opposition which has been clamouring for President’s rule in the state.

Twenty-one-year-old Lalti Devi was stripped and paraded on the streets of Piprahi village on a day when the RJD chief was touring Masaurhi.

According to the police, Lalti Devi and her husband Toni were returning home after working on the paddy field of Nazir Ahmed, the mukhia of the area. They were stopped on the way by four men, allegedly relatives of the former mukhia, Seikh Sahban. After whipping Toni, they took out a knife to kill him. His wife rushed to his rescue. That is when the four stripped her and paraded her in the village with her husband.

Police, quoting eyewitnesses, said the four were abusing Toni for refusing to work on the paddy fields of the former mukhia. They wanted to teach Toni that the former mukhia was still powerful.

Lallan Mohan Prasad, the additional superintendent of police, Gopalgunje, said the accused were at large but a hunt was on to nab them. He said an FIR had been lodged against them under the Dalit Atrocities (Prevention) Act.

The Gopalgunje MLA blamed the feudal mentality of the mukhias for the behaviour.

“Whoever is the mukhia, runs the show. Everybody has to be at his beck and call. It is strange that despite 10 years of Laloo’s social justice movement, the message seems to have bypassed his own district,” said Naiym Ansari, an RJD worker in Gopalgunje.

While the spurt of atrocities on Dalits put the ruling RJD on the defensive, the fresh incident is expected to put more political pressure on the state government.

Many Central ministers, including Nitish Kumar and Ramvilas Paswan, are camping in Bihar to cash in on the social convulsions rocking the state.

Paswan, who visited Masaurhi today, came back to narrate his experience of meeting the Dalits. Sounding an ultimatum to the ruling party, Paswan said: “Stop the Dalit killings or quit the government.”

He threatened to start a series of agitation against the “RJD-sponsored Yadav gangs killing the Dalits in the state”.


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