HC concerned over pardon
Terror alert after ISI arrests
Buddha says trip fruitful
Pension gift with PF recast
Clubbed with Pak, Delhi bristles
Vajpayee to sound allies, Opp.
Pak safe passage to militants
Spurned Cong snips Jaya ties
India to wage fringe war
British ‘identity’ to change forever

 
 
HC CONCERNED OVER PARDON 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 24: 
The room swarming with men in black; the corridors crowded with policemen, reporters and curious bystanders; the role of the Union home ministry, the West Bengal government and, in passing, the President, being put under the scanner. It was all happening in Court No. 6 of Calcutta High Court at high noon on Monday.

The spotlight was on Peter Bleach, appearing in person to argue his case “of prejudice” in his appeal against conviction before the bench of Justice Noor-e-Alam Chowdhury and Justice Narayan Chandra Sil.

But it was Justice Chowdhury who caused the first flutter by expressing “concern” over the manner in which the Union home ministry and the state government had allowed the five Russians, co-accused and co-sentenced in the Purulia armsdrop case, to walk free in July 2000, keeping the lone Briton in custody.

“A lot of disturbing facts have come up in the case, and we are very concerned about the manner in which the entire thing (the Russians’ release) was conducted by the law department of the Union home ministry and the state government. We are looking into whether the pardon was in order or not. If we feel that we cannot resolve it ourselves, we will definitely refer the matter to a higher court,” Chowdhury said before seeking “all help” from Bleach and promising him “all help and cooperation from this court”.

Bleach, in a spotless white safari suit, alleged that he was a victim of prejudice. “The facts of the case, from where I stand, are simple. The charges, the convictions and the sentences of the Russians were identical to mine. Now, they are gone and I am still in jail. This is a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution and contrary to law…. How can the home ministry decide that the Russians aren’t dangerous and so can go, while the Briton is dangerous, so he stays behind bars?”

Referring to the recent Jayalalithaa judgment in which the Supreme Court “overturned the people’s mandate”, Bleach stressed the point that “the Constitution is paramount”, within which even the President has to act.

This sparked protest from D.P. Sengupta, representing the Union of India, who objected to “the nonchalant manner” in which such “grave issues” were being discussed.

But Justice Chowdhury allowed Bleach “some latitude” as he was “arguing his own case” and “there does appear to be a case of discrimination against him”.

The bench – after lauding Bleach for his “impressive and eloquent argument” – asked him to file an affidavit by October 5. “After that, we will be in a position to refer the matter to a higher court,” the Justices said.

   

 
 
TERROR ALERT AFTER ISI ARRESTS 
 
 
BY UTPAL BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Sept. 24: 
With war clouds looming large over Afghanistan, the West Bengal government has put its various security agencies on maximum alert throughout the state “to prevent ISI agents and other subversive elements” taking advantage of the situation to create disturbances.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today admitted that 17 suspected ISI agents trained in Dhaka had been arrested in a swoop from Burdwan, Murshidabad and North 24-Parganas. He added that a huge amount of explosives and narcotics was seized from those arrested.

“The Centre apprehends that the terrorist groups sponsored by Pakistan’s intelligence wing, ISI, may try to target vital installations, including bridges, railway tracks, power plants, among others,” a senior home department official said on condition of anonymity.

The Centre has also advised state governments to be vigilant against clandestine efforts by fundamentalist organisations to spark tension.

Vigilance has been intensified along Bengal’s borders with Bangladesh and Nepal. The inter-state borders with Bihar and Jharkhand are also under close watch. Acting chief minister Mohammed Amin on Friday issued an appeal to the people of the state to maintain peace and harmony.

Vital targets

District police authorities have sounded a red alert all over Midnapore following several hoax-calls, threatening important installations and educational institutions, after the multiple hijack-attacks on key buildings in the US, reports our correspondent.

The locations under increased vigilance include the Kalaikunda air base, Haldia Petrochemicals, Indian Oil Corporation, Haldia Port, Kolaghat Thermal Power Plant and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.

The district police recently received directives from the state government and the state intelligence branch on the necessity to step up vigilance at these installations, superintendent of police K.C. Meena said.

A crime conference was called today to discuss what should be done. Besides increased police watch, officials have decided to introduce mobile vigil groups. Talks are also on with the telephone authorities to set up caller-line identification machines at key installations in the district and increase links with police stations nearest to the installations.

Meena said the number of hoax-calls had shot up appreciably at these installations after the twin attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon headquarters. The police stations responsible for the security of these installations are receiving the calls as well.

   

 
 
BUDDHA SAYS TRIP FRUITFUL 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 24: 
A “satisfied and successful” Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee returned last Saturday from his tour of Japan, where he projected West Bengal and Calcutta as a “safe destination” for investments.

“My six days in Japan have not been unfruitful and what I have learnt from my meetings with top corporate officials and ministers is that they were giving serious thoughts to taking up projects here,” the chief minister told reporters today.

Bhattacharjee, in his first tour abroad as chief minister, claimed to have scored with power companies like Marubeni and infrastructure giants like Itochu. “As far as I could make out, they were waiting for the sanctions imposed by Japan on India after the nuclear tests to be lifted,” Bhattacharjee said.

   

 
 
PENSION GIFT WITH PF RECAST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 24: 
Labour minister Sharad Yadav today opened his account with a sweep of reforms, amending the Employees Provident Fund Act that will extend the benefit of old-age pension to workers in the informal sector.

Following his first meeting with the central board of the Employees Provident Fund Trustees, the labour minister said it was “time to break the glass ceiling” and extend the social security net to vulnerable workers. This was Sharad’s first important meeting with the labour ministry officials after he was shunted out of the civil aviation ministry.

The broad range of “pro-poor” decisions suggested that the minister wanted to make the most of his tenure here — fortify his constituency among weaker sections and perhaps reduce criticism if he has to support the controversial labour law reforms.

The minister suggested that the provident fund scheme could be delinked from the pension scheme. Under the Employees Provident Fund Act now, both the schemes are inseparable. He said delinking the schemes would benefit a large section of workers in the unorganised sector like those working in cooperatives, home-based workers, self-employed and tendu-leaf pickers.

“For these sections, a contribution to the Provident Fund may prove to be too burdensome. It will be attractive and possible for them to be a member of just one of the schemes, depending on their choice,” stated the labour ministry.

The other notable measure proposed was to expand the limit of extending social security schemes to notified occupation groups. At present it is limited to only 180 sections of industry and trade. And those who do not fall within the categories are excluded from the benefits regardless of the fact that they may employ over 20 employees. “This is a landmark decision that will broadbase the benefits even within the formal sector and bring more workers under the ambit of social security schemes,” said the labour ministry.

The Employees Provident Fund board recommended a reduction in the threshold level of employees from the present 20 and suggested measures for improving efficiency, lessening the scope of disputes and improving compliance.

It accepted the valuation of the Employees’ Pension Fund would give 4 per cent relief to all existing pensioners to the tune of Rs 10 lakh. “This will also have a cushioning effect that will see them through the high inflation period,” said the labour ministry.

   

 
 
CLUBBED WITH PAK, DELHI BRISTLES 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 24: 
India has blasted an “offensive” Western press which clubbed it with Pakistan, describing Washington’s decision to lift the sanctions as a “reward” for the nuclear twins for joining America’s war on global terrorism.

“It is not only offensive and patronising in describing our stand. It also completely misses India’s principled and decade-long stand against terrorism,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said. “This description also misses the essential building of an international coalition against terrorism.”

Leading Western media, including the CNN and the BBC, had described Washington’s decision to lift the sanctions on India and Pakistan as a US way of “rewarding” the nuclear twins for joining America’s fight against terrorism. “Through such an attitude you cannot fight terrorism,” Rao said.

She said India has been fighting terrorism for over two decades and more than 50,000 families have been directly affected by the menace. “Please recognise that a nation of one billion people such as India needs no reward for the stand it takes on an issue of principle. The only recompense to this effort is the widest possible international coalition against terrorism and the eradication of this evil from our lives,” she said.

Rao pointed out that India has never regarded its “healthy and growing” relations with the US through the constricted prism of US-Pakistan relations. “To do so would be to diminish the continuing validity and importance of US-India relations,” the spokesperson said.

She said Delhi had been expecting the sanctions to be lifted and was aware of the decision for some time. The lifting of “restrictive economic measures”, she said, would help the two countries in deepening and strengthening relations in a multifaceted manner.

Despite Delhi’s sharp reaction, indications are the Bush administration’s decision would, so to say, open the floodgates on defence cooperation. Though it won’t affect restrictions India faces regarding access to dual-use and sophisticated technologies — denied since Delhi’s first nuclear test in 1974 – yesterday’s decision paves the way for greater access for India’s defence establishment to American military hardware.

Yesterday’s decision will, perhaps, make loans from international financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank more accessible to India.

The Entities List, under which 149 Indian firms were barred from exporting their ware to the US, will be directly affected. The list was pruned in December 1999, when 51 firms were taken out of it. Yesterday’s announcement will dismantle the entire list.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE TO SOUND ALLIES, OPP. 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 24: 
The Prime Minister has convened a meeting of NDA allies on Wednesday to brief them on the situation arising out of possible US strikes against the Taliban. Atal Bihari Vajpayee will have a meeting with 10 major opposition parties the following day, said sources.

Vajpayee had convened an all-party meeting on September 15, four days after the attacks in the US by suspected operatives of Osama bin Laden. The parties, while urging caution, had backed the government on steps to combat terrorism.

Before the all-party meeting, the Prime Minister had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh. Opposition parties and some NDA allies had complained that the government had not kept them posted on developments in the aftermath of the terrorist strikes.

Besides the Opposition, allies like the DMK, the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United) had cautioned the government against offering land base to the US for launching military operations against Afghanistan. Some parties felt that while President Pervez Musharraf turned an adverse situation into an opportunity, India had once again failed to make any diplomatic gains.

A major criticism against the government was that it had failed to put Pakistan in the dock for terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Congress had demanded that the government consult political parties on a daily basis as “things are moving so fast” following the terror attacks. The main opposition party has favoured a broad-based international coalition against terrorism as envisaged in UN resolutions and maintained that any international strategy “must be credible, just, effective, sustainable and defensible in the eyes of the international law and world public opinion”.

   

 
 
PAK SAFE PASSAGE TO MILITANTS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 24: 
Pakistan has offered safe passage to militants in Jammu and Kashmir who are heading for Afghanistan, a senior Indian defence ministry official claimed citing communication intercepts.

“Since Pervez Musharraf’s announcement for support to the US in its war against terrorism, there are signs of a rolling down of militancy in Kashmir. We have signal intercepts of Pakistani advisories to militants to get out of Kashmir,” the official said.

“We have to wait and see how the situation develops over the next fortnight — whether the militants really leave. There are indications of a movement but the full impact is yet to be seen,” the official added.

In the week following Terror Tuesday, these messages had confused militant ranks, the official said. Subsequently, signals intercepted by the military have shown that the militants moving out of their camps will be “escorted” to the Afghanistan border.

Officials in the security establishment believe that there are 3,000 to 4,000 armed militants in Jammu and Kashmir of whom about half are foreigners. Some are from Afghanistan and Pakistan and some from Sudan and other Islamic nations.

Security officials believe an easing of militancy in Kashmir is possible following pressure by the US on Pakistan. They said in the first week of September, there were 40 incidents of attacks on security forces, while in the past week there were 12 such incidents.

The possibility that militants wanting to leave Kashmir and go to the aid of the Taliban in Afghanistan— following an appeal for help from Kabul’s fundamentalist regime — may not be able to make it is also worrying the security forces.

The US has insisted that Pakistan should seal its border with Afghanistan. In that case, forces have been asked to ready for a return of the militants.

India is also assessing the impact of a schism in Pakistan-Taliban ties. In one assessment, about 5,000 to 6,000 Pakistanis are said to be fighting alongside the Taliban. Volunteers who have opted to aid the Taliban are likely to continue with their activity. But the Taliban is less trustful of its Pakistani advisers now that Islamabad is working out the kind of support it will extend to the US.

   

 
 
SPURNED CONG SNIPS JAYA TIES 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Sept. 24: 
The Congress today snapped its ties with the ADMK and decided to contest the October panchayat elections on its own even as Jayalalithaa’s party intensified its protests against the Vajpayee government for allegedly “conspiring to oust” her.

Short of formally calling it a split with the ADMK, the 14-member Pradesh Congress Election Committee, headed by E.V.K.S. Elangovan, unanimously decided to go it alone in the polls.

Jayalalithaa, who had held a round of discussions with the TMC and the Left parties, had not even called the Congress for seat-sharing talks. After this “insult”, the party’s hopes of an “honourable adjustment” were dashed late last night when Jayalalithaa announced ADMK nominees for most plum contests at the level of mayors of corporations and municipal chairpersons.

The AICC secretary in-charge of Tamil Nadu, Ramesh Chennithala, informed Sonia Gandhi of the views of party workers and office-bearers, with whom he has been talking. He also spoke to Ghulam Nabi Azad, the AICC general secretary in charge of the state.

With the high command leaving a decision on the alliance to the state election committee, Chennithala and Elangovan held another round of talks today and announced that the Congress would go it alone. No rapprochement signal was forthcoming from the ADMK.

Chennithala pointed out that the Congress leadership had left it to the respective state units to decide on the alliance strategy for local bodies’ polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.

In the last Assembly elections, the then TMC president G.K. Moopanar had bargained for seats on behalf of the Congress amid reports of a tacit understanding that there would be a post-poll merger. But, after Moopanar’s death, the scenario has changed completely, Chennithala said.

New TMC president G.K. Vasan ruled out a merger of his party with the Congress, and “we decided to go by the opinion of our partymen here after talking to all sections,” Chennithala said. The merger ball was in the TMC’s court, he said. The district-level election committees have been given a carte blanche in finalising party tickets, Chennithala added.

The state election commission today notified the two-phase elections on October 16 and 18 for various local bodies, including six municipal corporations, municipalities, town panchayats and panchayat unions.

The Congress has already attracted the two Dalit parties, the Puthiya Tamizhagam and the DPI, to its fold, besides the Makkal Tamil Desam headed by former minister Kannappan. Barring the NDA partners, the district Congress committees are free to have adjustments with others.

Chennithala said they considered the ADMK a “friendly party”, but the question of an alliance was irrelevant for the panchayat polls as “it is purely local bodies’ elections with local issues and personalities really mattering”.

   

 
 
INDIA TO WAGE FRINGE WAR 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 24: 
India will remain “on the borders of conflict without being sucked into it” in the wake of the US Operation Infinite Justice, defence ministry officials have concluded in a preliminary assessment of the security situation in the subcontinent.

Indian involvement in the event of US strikes on Afghanistan will be limited to giving routine and regular backroom support. Should the US ask for specific and “non-routine” assistance, it will be sorted out bilaterally at the official and political levels.

The Indian security establishment is particularly enthused after US secretary of state Colin Powell said terrorism was a scourge whether it was in Ireland, or in the Basque country or in Kashmir.

A senior defence ministry official said: “It has been our consistent policy that terrorism cannot be bisected or trisected. It cannot be confined to caste, community or religion — which is why we do not use the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’ — which is why we use the phrase ‘international terrorism’.”

On New Delhi’s radarscope of assistance it could give to a “US-led offensive against terrorism” is air mobility command movement facility. This means use of airspace, landing and refuelling rights to military aircraft transporting men and material from one theatre (of conflict) to another. This would not be an extraordinary development, officials said.

“It is a request that the US is likely to make to several countries and their are well established automatic procedures in the defence and external affairs ministries that will ensure such assistance that we give to friendly countries,” an official said. It was a facility given at the time of the 1991-Gulf War and extended also in normal times.

India will also consider, if requested, allowing use of its ports, apart from giving medical and humanitarian help.

Defence ministry officials said: “India was not in a race with Pakistan to extend facilities.” Indeed, if Pakistan were to keep its commitment of military assistance, it is unlikely that India will be asked for much help.

“We are happy if Pakistan keeps its word in the fight against terrorism. We do not want to overburden its agenda,” an official said. There was no information yet that Pakistan was moving troops from its border with India to the Afghanistan frontline, he added.

For the moment, defence ministry officials assess the offensive against terrorism is going the way India would have liked it to. “Right now a propaganda war is being waged. The US is terrorising the terrorists and there are conflicting signals from the ranks of the terrorists,” another official said.

Within Pakistan, the situation was still fluid but there appeared to be little signs of an imminent threat to Pervez Musharraf, the official said. Signs of divisions in the Pakistan army command, too, were not yet visible though security experts said the offer of help to the US could not be swallowed whole by all in the army. Of particular interest was former ISI chief Hamid Gul’s statement against Islamabad’s decision to support the US against the Taliban.

Officials said that in the near future, India and the US could look forward to increased military cooperation with the lifting of the remaining sanctions yesterday.

This year alone, about 100 Indian military officers had gone to the US for training. Officials said they would work towards joint military exercises now.

   

 
 
BRITISH ‘IDENTITY’ TO CHANGE FOREVER 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Sept. 24: 
England, the land of the free, is about to change forever. The psychological impact of the blowing up of the World Trade Center has been so great that the British are about to dump hundreds of years of cherished freedom and adopt the most restrictive of anti-terrorist legislation.

In particular, it looks as though we are in for “identity cards”. In the past, whatever was happening elsewhere in the world, the British prided themselves on erring on the side of democracy. Name an international liberation or terrorist movement, and you would have found its representative in London.

“We might not like their message,” has been the British attitude, “but they have the right in England to state their case.”

This is the kind of enlightened attitude that made England, England. All this, sadly, is about to change, a grievous loss for people who prided themselves on being different from the French or the Germans or the Americans, and, let’s face it, a cut above the rest.

However, David Blunkett, the blind home secretary who relies on his guide dog to get around, is living up to his reputation as a tough, Right-wing politician.

He can longer ignore the evidence that British banks have been used to launder the money that finances terror and London has been home to numerous groups, many Islamic, who have waged a propaganda war against regimes all over the world.

Now that some of these groups have turned their firepower against the US, can Britain be far behind? This is the big worry. How do you keep out a terrorist, who might be already be inside the country? As an immediate measure, an extra 1,500 extra police officers are patrolling the streets of London this weekend.

According to Blunkett, the Prime Minister would have been failing in his duty if he had not asked relevant government departments to draw up a package of measures intended to combat terrorism. Compulsory ID cards — once anathema to the average Englishman — are being considered “very seriously indeed”, the home secretary admitted today.

There was a need, he added, to reach a “balance” between the provisions of the European Human Rights Act and the need to provide security for the people of Britain. “It is possible that we will have to change the balance,” he said.

What this means in practice is that the police will be given wider powers to arrest people they want to question about terrorism, and to allow the transcripts of telephone taps as evidence in courts. Banks will also be obliged to inform the police of accounts suspected of belonging to terrorist organisations and possibly even freeze them. Some Muslims will come under closer scrutiny. All in all, a new culture is being born in Britain.

   
 

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