Statute above people’s will: SC
Indian Oil seeks Haldia management control
Pervez plays Zia’s prisoner card
Cellphone players dial audit umpire
Born-again Himalaya awaits Asoka
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Sept. 6: 
The Jayalalitha case today took a new turn with an assertive Supreme Court observing that it would invoke its “constitutional obligation if necessary” and intervene “to debar corrupt and convicted persons from holding high constitutional offices”.

“The situation in the country today is such that if necessary we may even go into the question of imposing moral values for persons to hold public offices,” Justice S.P. Bharucha, heading a five-member Constitution bench, observed while hearing petitions challenging Jayalalitha’s appointment as Tamil Nadu chief minister.

Taking a tough stand, the judges also stated “the Constitution is above people’s will”. “If public will is in contravention to the Constitution, then the latter has to be upheld”, they said.

“People’s will is subordinate to the Constitution. It is subservient to the Constitution,” the judges observed, when Jayalalitha’s counsel K.K. Venugopal repeatedly argued that the people had given a massive mandate to his client and courts of law should respect “people’s will”.

The judges were irked by Venugopal’s contention that “people... give their verdict and repose their confidence in a leader who ensures two square meals a day. Courts can preach moral values.” The bench retorted: “If people’s will is not subordinate to the Constitution, then we have to examine whether our interpretation is right or not. That’s what we are doing now”.

When Venugopal argued that the “issue of all pervading corruption is no issue in this case and the constitutional propriety of appointing Jayalalitha alone is the question”, the judges cut him short, asking “how come a mandate in an election washes off the conviction of a person”?

The judges said “judicial intervention” to correct the wrong was constitutionally mandated and it was an obligation on the part of courts in a democracy.

An unrelenting Venugopal argued that it has to be examined under Article 164(4) that a person invited to be the chief minister should fulfil the norm of becoming a member (of Assembly) within six months of such appointment and there was no question of probing whether the person suffered a disqualification.

When he insisted that Article 164(4) should be read in isolation to decide that there was no qualification fixed on a person to be sworn in chief minister, Justice Bharucha retorted: “Then you scrap the Constitution and Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People’s Act.”

Eminent jurists representing the petitioners challenging Jayalalitha’s elevation have contended that other provisions in the Constitution prescribe qualifications for a person to be appointed a minister or chief minister or Prime Minister. If these provisions are read with Article 164(4), Jayalalitha would not qualify, attorney-general-Soli Sorabjee, solicitor-general Harish Salve and the others have argued.

The five-member bench will continue with the hearing after a day’s break as Jayalalitha’s other application to vacate the stay on Madras High Court proceedings on the Tansi case is coming up for hearing. Justice Bharucha is the presiding judge of this bench also.

Earlier, a bench presided by Justice Bharucha had stayed proceedings in the high court on a plea that fair trial might not be possible and the case should be posted to some other high court. Jayalalitha has pleaded that this stay should be vacated.


New Delhi, Sept. 6: 
Indian Oil Corporation has refused to play second fiddle in Haldia Petrochemicals and will insist on management control as a condition for its participation in the Rs 5,170-crore project.

“We won’t settle for anything less than 26 per cent and management control,” said a senior Indian Oil official, creating the scope for another potential logjam in the discussions among the Bengal government, Purnendu Chatterjee and Indian Oil.

The three parties have been locked in discussions over the past week to find a way to break the impasse that has held up Indian Oil’s entry as the fourth equity partner in the project.

Indian Oil has tagged on two other conditions: first, it is insisting on a reduction of the equity capital by Rs 500 crore which, it says, can be converted into redeemable bonds; second, it wants a 100 per cent naphtha supply contract. A source in Indian Oil said: “The conditions will have to be met before we make any investment in the project.”

Indian Oil chairman M.A. Pathan said: “We are keen on investing in HPL, but will not settle for anything less than 26 per cent and management control. A decision on the investment will be reached by the month-end.”

The issue of management control is the biggest sticking point in the discussions. Under the original proposal, the equity capital was supposed to be Rs 1,969 crore and the debt component was around Rs 3,200 crore.

However, the three partners brought in only Rs 1,010 crore and only 51 per cent of the equity capital was issued with the Bengal government holding 22 per cent (Rs 433 crore), The Chatterjee Group 22 per cent (Rs 433 crore) and the Tatas 7 per cent (Rs 144 crore).

The remaining Rs 969 crore came in the form of a bridge loan from IDBI (Rs 500 crore), over Rs 300 crore worth of optionally convertible debentures, and advance against equity (Rs 100 crore by the WBIDC and Rs 36 crore from the Tatas; TCG refused to pay up last November until several issues surrounding the project were resolved).

The big question is how Indian Oil will get the 26 per cent stake: the reordering of the equity holding pattern will call for a stake reduction by the other three players. Chatterjee has been loathe to divest a part of his stake and it isn’t clear how Indian Oil will get management control unless he is persuaded to do so.

Indian Oil officials appeared to be sending out the signal that this is precisely what they would like Chatterjee to do. “The differences between the promoters will have to be sorted out between themselves, but we would like the West Bengal government to play a larger role,” Indian Oil sources said.

The sources said the company would insist on a full naphtha supply contract. “This is crucial for our foray into the petrochemicals business. We are willing to provide all the necessary concessions and the price will also be negotiable,” they added.


Islamabad & Lucknow, Sept. 6: 
As the diplomatic temperature soared on both sides of the border in the run-up to the New York meeting, Pervez Musharraf sprang a surprise once tried out by Zia-ul-Haq. The President has thrown open Pakistan’s door to 54 Indian families, who believe their relatives are being kept in Pakistan as prisoners of war.

However, the gesture, as unexpected as the invitation he held out to the Indian media after Agra, has been greeted by an initial wave of scepticism in India.

After a Cabinet meeting yesterday, Musharraf asked his foreign ministry to facilitate the visit of the Indian families who will be allowed to search Pakistani jails for their relatives missing since 1971. “We will help them all the way to find out their relatives, if they intend to visit Pakistani jails,” his spokesman Rashid Qureshi said today. He, however, reiterated the Pakistani stand of denying the existence of POWs there.

In 1983, Zia-ul-Haq had allowed six families to visit Pakistan but the mission drew a blank.

“We were only allowed to visit the Multan jail. In a small cell, 40 to 50 prisoners were living in inhuman conditions. Some of them had been in the prison for 25 years. But none of them were missing soldiers. We were shown prisoners who were caught for petty crimes like crossing the border or smuggling,” said Damayanti Tambay, wife of fight lieutenant V.V. Tambay, who was reportedly taken captive during the 1971 war.

Vipul Purohit, 30, was born the day his father flight lieutenant Manohar Purohit was taken prisoner by Pakistani forces. He has spent much of his adult years fighting for the release of his father and 53 others like him.

“The outcome (of the invitation) depends on the integrity of Musharraf. If he is honest in his intention, we will surely progress towards a solution and some success,’’ he says. Vipul’s mother Suman is still waiting for a “last chance for a miracle.’’

Sources said the Pakistani interior ministry told the Cabinet yesterday that it has checked all the prisons but did not find any Indian POW. Intelligence agencies, including the ISI, had combed the prisons for the Indians, it was told. Delhi had earlier sent photographs of the reportedly missing soldiers.

“No Indian prisoner-of-war is held in any prison or jail in Pakistan,” a press release issued by the foreign office after meeting said. The kin of the missing personnel have suggested that both countries should stop using the word POWs and set up a neutral tribunal to settle the issue.

Atal on dialogue

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said India would continue the dialogue it had started with Pakistan in Agra, in what seemed like an effort to clear the air after the series of accusations and counter-accusations between Delhi and Islamabad.    

Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
The mobile phone industry, which is in the middle of one of the fiercest marketing wars in the country, has taken a tentative step to introduce “third-party” auditing to validate the claims of operators about the number of cell users.

The Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) has sounded PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on the audit and the need to formulate a “standard and uniform” methodology for calculating the number of cell users.

The roller-coaster rides of the head-count had left the industry breathless in both Calcutta and Mumbai recently.

The customer base of Spice Cell in Calcutta hovered around 90,000-plus between December 2000 and May 2001, before shooting up to 1,01,291 in June 2001 and slipping to 79,877 by July-end.

In Mumbai, the BPL Mobile count was 2,72,649 in February, before dropping to 2,58,453 the next month and settling at 3,07,560 by the end of July.

Conceding the “need for a standard norm” for counting subscriber volume, COAI director-general T.V. Ramachandran confirmed that the association was formulating a guideline on the basis of norms specified by DoT.

“Since we come out with monthly figures of operators’ subscriber numbers, there is a need for auditing once in a while. We have approached PwC in this regard, but things are yet to be finalised,’’ he added.

A senior partner at PwC said the company had held “preliminary talks” with COAI for “third-party audit and method standardisation of calculation”.

“In the absence of any scrutiny and validity of claims, the rise — and sometimes fall — has confused everyone related to the industry starting from the operator to shareholder, the financial institution to customer,” said a senior official of a national cell operator.

The reaction from cell operators in the city was positive. Rajiv Sawhney, CEO of Command, said: “We welcome the proposed move as it will pave the way for a transparent basis of calculating a crucial data like subscriber base.”

Bharti Mobitel, which owns Spice Cell, has welcomed the decision. A Delhi-based official of the cell operator said: “The COAI move will reduce the scope of speculation.”

According to sources, the need for standardising the process of calculation has been felt from within the cell industry.

COAI had recently written to its constituent members, expressing concern over the “basis of reporting subscriber numbers”. Cell operators have been asked to “show maturity” and follow a “consistent and standard” practice.


London, Sept. 6: 
In its heyday it was the meeting point for the Indian community in London. The best of Bollywood films — from old Raj Kapoor starrers to blockbusters like Sholay — were screened here in the famous Liberty Cinema in Southall.

Exuberantly designed like a Chinese temple, it was where the immigrant community came to have a knees-up and wallow in motherland nostalgia. Bobby ran here for six months before the cinema closed its doors to the public in 1982 and took away Southall’s most famous landmark.

Twenty-two years later, the historic building is to be returned to the people of Southall, courtesy an elaborate restoration project by English Heritage, which has given a £113,500 grant to bring Bollywood films back to the area. The grade II listed cinema hall has been carefully restored in the old Chinese style with a magnificent Art Deco colour scheme.

Renamed the Himalaya Palace Cinema, it will open its doors to the public on September 12 as a three-screen cinema with screenings of Nayak, Gadar and Lagaan.

It dazzled Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor, who dropped in a week back and were very impressed with the building. If schedules permit, Khan is likely to appear at the London premiere of Asoka on September 20 at the newly restored Himalaya Palace Cinema.

“Restoring this hall has been a dream for me,” Surjit Pandher, owner of the cinema, said. “I grew up in Southall and lived in a house opposite the cinema. I saw Bobby half a dozen times in the hall. It was a beautiful cinema and meant a lot to the community. I am delighted to bring it back to them even better than before.”

Built in 1929 by architect George Coles, the cinema’s exuberant style in the form of a Chinese temple was unique to Britain. Its exotic tiled exterior with a red pagoda roof complete with dragons made the cinema a much-loved landmark.

Then called The Palace cinema, it used to screen Hollywood films through the war years. In 1972, it became the Liberty cinema and started screening Bollywood films for the large local Indian community which had settled there from the sixties. Soon it became a community meeting point and Indians from all over London congregated on the weekends to see Indian films at Liberty.

After its closure in 1982 it became a market stall in Southall. In 1998 a fire destroyed the building. Since it enjoyed a Grade II listing, all restoration work would have to be carefully done in conformity with the original style.

“I knew then that I had to do something about it,” said Pandher “and I decided to get the old cinema back. English Heritage was interested and the three year restoration project started.”

Experts from English Heritage carried out extensive paint research on the blackened and fire-gutted interior. They discovered the real colour of the ceiling which resembled a finely lacquered Chinese box with pinks, reds, greens and blacks.

The analysis revealed that real gold leaf was used to embellish the exotic dragons and gold flowers on the arch. At night the gold would have been illuminated by Chinese lanterns which once hung in the auditorium.

“Coles, the architect, had desired that his building should inspire the mind with the romance that is associated with the ancient culture of distant lands,” said Louise Henderson, architectural paint researcher at English Heritage.




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