Winter Bill to monitor medical research rules
Clerics see bias in crackdown on Simi
Cong seeks ‘even-handed’ Bajrang ban
Bachchan to breathe life into don’s desi av
Delhi links Simi to Osama
Minority vote ‘fraud’ in UP rolls
First step in defence reform
Army rush to better data links
Atal lashes out at US terror turnaround
‘New beginning’ after surprise patch-up

 
 
WINTER BILL TO MONITOR MEDICAL RESEARCH RULES 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
The Centre is planning to introduce a Bill to monitor guidelines in medical research in the winter session of Parliament, following the recent controversy in Thiruvananthapuram’s Regional Cancer Research Centre. The Bill will provide scope to punish those violating the guidelines laid down by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

“The Bill will authorise random audit checks of clinical trials,” a health ministry official said.

Last November, the ICMR had framed guidelines for medical research, while the Drugs and Cosmetics Act was amended to give them more teeth. It became mandatory for a research centre to seek a licence from the Drug Controller even if it wanted to import a molecule.

The health ministry will now issue an order enforcing the guidelines in research centres before tabling the Bill.

The issue of “ethics and procedural norms” in medical research came to the fore after the reputed Cancer Research Centre, working with Johns Hopkins University, was found “guilty” of violating medical research guidelines and “harming” patients on whom experiments were being carried out.

Soon after the controversy broke out, the health ministry sent an investigating team to Thiruvananthapuram. The report submitted by the team sought an explanation from the institute as to why it violated some procedural norms.

“It basically asked the centre to explain why the government should not make it suspend all its research activity for six months,” said a ministry official.

The centre has been accused of not following the basic guideline, which says research institutions working with international universities should seek the permission of the health ministry’s screening committee.

Health minister C.P. Thakur, himself a doctor and a researcher, has been trying to bring the long neglected area of medical research under focus. In the National Health Policy document currently being put together, medical research as a topic has found space.

Conceding that medical research has been “very limited”, the document says there are only a few such institutions functioning under the ICMR guidelines.

In 1998-99, the amount spent on medical research in both public and private sectors was just about Rs 1,150 crore.

“It is therefore reasonable to infer that with such low research expenditure, it would be virtually impossible to make any dramatic breakthrough within the country by way of new molecules and vaccines,” the health policy document stressed.

   

 
 
CLERICS SEE BIAS IN CRACKDOWN ON SIMI 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Sept. 28: 
Clerics condemned yesterday’s violence in Old Lucknow and the two-year ban on Simi, calling it a “biased step aimed at harassing and terrorising” the community.

Seniormost cleric Kalbe Sadiq, who is vice-president of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, Kalbe Jawwad, imam of the Tilewali Masjid, Fazloor Rehman and other leaders of the community released a statement protesting the ban imposed by the Centre.

In New Delhi, however, Syed Ahmed Bukhari did not mention the Simi ban when he gave the ceremonial khutba (Friday sermon) at Jama Masjid. Instead, he concentrated his fire on the United States for planning to strike Afghanistan.

Old Lucknow was deserted today as the administration, fearing a backlash, refused to relax curfew even for the Friday namaaz. Prohibitory orders will remain in place till Sunday.

An anxious state government received 15 more companies of the Rapid Action Force (RAF), ordered to remain on high alert in 12 “super-sensitive’’ districts of Uttar Pradesh. Thousands of police personnel have been patrolling the curfew-bound areas since last morning.

In a day of hectic developments, the state government ordered a high-level probe into yesterday’s violence and the police firing which killed five people.

Arrests of Simi workers continued in the state and across the country. The outfit’s all-India president, Shahid Badr Salhi, was among those held.

More than 150 Simi activists have been arrested in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Madurai, Kerala, Calcutta, Indore and Nagpur and the outfit’s offices sealed.

In West Bengal, 30 Simi workers were arrested, eight of them from Calcutta. The outfit’s offices on Lenin Sarani and Darga Road in the city were sealed last night. Police conducted raids in South Dinajpur, North 24-Parganas, Malda, Murshidabad and Burdwan.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told the police to remain on alert but made it clear he had not sought a ban on Simi. “I have not written to Delhi about banning anyone,” he said.

As stray incidents of violence punctuated the silence that followed Thursday’s bloodbath, political camps resounded with more than their share of noisy, tumultuous activity. The netas in the political hub of the country were back in business after the lull forced by the developments in America.

With an eye on the upcoming Assembly elections, parties lost no time in blaming each other for the violence. While chief minister Rajnath Singh accused the Samajwadi Party of fomenting the unrest, Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav saw a “BJP conspiracy” behind the incident.

Rajnath pointed his finger at Samajwadi Party, saying: “It is shameful when senior leaders belonging to a major political party blatantly fan communal trouble.”

Principal secretary, home, Naresh Dayal and director-general of police R.K. Pandit yesterday said three senior Samajwadi workers were spotted leading the mob that attacked four thanas, and spreading rumours that the BJP was arresting religious leaders.

Slamming the Samajwadi Party for disrupting communal harmony “for political gains’’, Rajnath said the party’s role “puts a lot of question marks on the ideals political parties are supposed to uphold”.

Mulayam, in turn, charged the BJP with hatching a conspiracy to divide his party’s votes and gain “sympathy’’ from the majority community. Calling for a thorough investigation into Simi’s “so-called anti-national activities”, he said the outfit should not be crucified before its complicity in terrorist and other subversive activities is proved.

The Samajwadi chief demanded that the Centre lift the ban on Simi and call an all-party meeting, where the home ministry report on the outfit should be tabled. Mulayam said the BJP was trying to “break the morale” of the minority community.

Disputing allegations that his brother Shivpal Yadav and other Samajwadi leaders were involved in fanning the tension, Mulayam said: “The principal secretary and the DGP are behaving like politicians and parroting what the BJP is tutoring them…. They should honour their offices and not indulge in politics.’’

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayavati, another key player in Uttar Pradesh politics, blamed both the BJP and the Samajwadi for trying to gain “profit from blood.’’ Coming down heavily on the BJP, Mayavati said: “If the BJP had been keeping tabs on the Simi, why has the ban come just before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections? There is something fishy about it.’’

Unlike Mulayam, Mayavati refused to defend Simi but asked for a ban on all “similar set-ups, such as the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena’’.

   

 
 
CONG SEEKS ‘EVEN-HANDED’ BAJRANG BAN 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Sept. 28: 
Joining the chorus of protests against the ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi), the Congress today urged the Vajpayee government to be “even-handed” and take action against the Bajrang Dal.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the BJP government was only interested in “reaping the electoral harvest in Uttar Pradesh by seeking to divide the people along communal lines” and was not acting in “enlightened self-interest of the nation”.

He wondered why the government should have chosen to act at this juncture when the international environment was “exceptionally tense”.

“While imposing a ban on Simi, the government has turned a blind eye to the nefarious record of organisations like the Bajrang Dal which has been linked to the murder of Graham Staines in Orissa. It was also accused of planning attacks on Christian missionaries in Gujarat,” Reddy said.

He said the “naked attempt” to fan communal discord would not help the BJP in Uttar Pradesh as people in the state will vote against the BJP because of its “misrule”.

However, two of the party’s chief ministers – Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh and Vilasrao Deshmukh of Maharashtra – welcomed the ban. But Digvijay said: “I personally have nothing against these outfits…. (But) let us be fair. Fundamentalism is reprehensible in any garb.” He demanded a similar ban on the Bajrang Dal.

Laloo Prasad Yadav took the confrontation a step forward, saying he would enforce the ban on Simi in Bihar only if the Bajrang Dal also met the same fate.

While Simi office-bearers were being arrested in different parts of the country, the RJD president said he was consulting legal experts to find out if he could “invoke any legal provision… to stop the activities of the Sangh parivar’s militant wings”.

Simi offices were open in Patna today. The office-bearers briefed reporters about “communalised politics”. “We never indulge in anti-national activities. We only propagate the teachings of Islam,” said Bihar zone Simi general secretary Reyazul Mushahid.

State home secretary U.N. Panjiyar, however, said: “We will notify the ban by today.”

The CPM also saw no merit in the ban. “The Centre must come out with full information on the basis of which it has banned the organisation,” the politburo said.

It said the Rajnath Singh government in Uttar Pradesh, which already has a “communal bias”, could use the ban to target the minority community and further vitiate the atmosphere in the state.

“The CPM politburo strongly condemns the indiscriminate firing in Lucknow in which three young men lost their lives,” the party said.

Referring to the Bajrang Dal, the CPM said: “Their activities are inimical to national unity but the government has been silent in such disruptive activities.”

   

 
 
BACHCHAN TO BREATHE LIFE INTO DON’S DESI AV 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, Sept. 28: 
Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan are to star as another famous father-son duo: the Corleones.

There have been other Hindi movies based on Mario Puzo’s Godfather, but Kutumb will bring the Bachchan men together on the big screen for the first time.

Amitabh will play a Vito Corleone-like mafia don and Abhishek one of his sons.

Akshay Kumar will be cast as another son. But there’s no knowing how much resemblance they will have to Sonny or Michael Corleone, as only the casting of the three male actors has been finalised. No actress’s name has yet been decided on for the rugged, macho story.

Mahesh Manjrekar, who has made his career out of screen portraits of underworld heroes like Sanjay Dutt’s character in Vaastav, will direct the movie. It will be produced by A.J. Nadiadwala.

Kutumb is inspired by Godfather. But it will be a mainstream movie with songs, dances and comedy,” said Nadiadwala.

It is also not clear whether Amitabh will re-enact the gravelly voice of Marlon Brando in Godfather or his own in Agneepath, another movie allegedly inspired by Godfather; or whether Michael Corleone’s character, played by Al Pacino in the English movie, will go for higher studies prior to a career in the underworld.

“No details have been finalised,” said Nadiadwala. “The story is going on.”

The script is being worked on by Manjrekar, who is shooting in the US now. Amitabh, too, is in the US. The shooting for Kutumb will begin early next year.

   

 
 
DELHI LINKS SIMI TO OSAMA 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
Osama bin Laden apparently has his uses.

Home secretary Kamal Pande justified the ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi) on the grounds that the outfit had links with al Qaida, the group the US says is responsible for the September 11 terror attacks.

But in a press note issued by the home ministry to justify the ban, the only reference to bin Laden was Simi’s “unabashed lauding of Osama Bin Laden as the quintessential Mujahid and portraying Maulana Masood Azhar as Mehmood of Ghaznavi”. Azhar was one of the four persons swapped for the safe return of the hijacked passengers of IC-814.

The home secretary could give no rational explanation for the timing of the ban. He merely said the Centre has long been asked by several state governments to take note of the anti-national activities of the outfit. The ministry, he added, had completed examining the details and come to the conclusion that the demand of the state governments were justified.

Analysts believe the government has deftly used the terror card to push through the ban. Some officials privately say the Centre could not have gone through with this in normal circumstances because of the stiff opposition from the states. These sources point out that the general mood of the country since the September 11 strikes has undergone a drastic transformation. “Imagine, even the Marxist-led government of West Bengal has not protested but gone ahead with our decision,” they said.

Pande said Simi’s links with bin Laden was just one of the reasons for the ban and there were several others.

The group’s anti-national activities listed by the home ministry are clandestine support for jihad in Kashmir, praising the “death defying mujahideen” in Kargil and absolving Pakistan of involvement there. The Centre said the Simi also condemned India’s nuclear blasts and carried out subversive propaganda against secularism, democracy, nationalism and freedom of religion.

The evidence against Simi will be placed before a tribunal, headed by a sitting high court judge, within 30 days of the ban. The tribunal will judge if the government has sufficient reason to order the ban. If it is convinced, the tribunal will send a notice to Simi to prove its bona fides and reject the government’s charges. Within six months, the judgment would be delivered by the tribunal.

The decision to declare Simi an illegal organisation was taken at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Following yesterday’s notification, Simi activists were rounded up in many parts of the country.

At least 240 students were arrested, the largest number of 90 from Uttar Pradesh. Maharashtra was the second highest with 45, followed by Bengal with over 30.

Pande was defensive when questioned about the Bajrang Dal. He said though there were charges against Bajrang activists, no chief minister had sought its ban in writing.

   

 
 
MINORITY VOTE ‘FRAUD’ IN UP ROLLS 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
Murky details are emerging in the run-up to the elections in Uttar Pradesh.

In the Assembly constituency of 35-Thakurdwara, Moradabad, names of 15,800 Muslim voters were found deleted from the rolls and 21,000 names of Hindus added without proper verification.

The fraud was detected by Election Commission secretary K.J. Rao, who was deputed by chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh to probe the irregularities following complaints he received during a visit to Lucknow to review the progress of issuing photo identity cards.

The commission today ordered the suspension of four officials, including the district magistrate, and transfer of 10 others after it found out about the “shocking state of affairs”.

Commission sources said the deletion of so many Muslim names and the inclusion of the Hindu names could not have been possible without the DM’s knowledge.

The probe was conducted on a complaint lodged by Congress MP Noor Banu, who represents Rampur Lok Sabha constituency in Moradadbad.

Rao said: “The commission is of the view that such large-scale violation and disregard of existing rules and provisions could not have been carried out in such a reckless and cynical manner without the involvement and active knowledge of the senior officers concerned, including the district election officer-cum-district magistrate of Moradabad, at the time when this revision (electoral) was carried out.”

The commission has recommended the suspension of S.K. Gupta, who is now a special secretary to the Uttar Pradesh government and was the district election officer-cum-district magistrate of Moradabad at the time of the revision.

It has also recommended the suspension of R.K. Singhal, electoral registration officer-cum-subdivisional magistrate, Thakurdwara, D.K. Sinha, the then tahsildar-cum-assistant electoral registration officer, and Satyendra Prakash, naib tahsildar, Thakurdwara.

   

 
 
FIRST STEP IN DEFENCE REFORM 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
A chief of integrated defence staff (CIDS) takes over for the first time next week in what is the first in a series of reforms being initiated in higher defence management.

The CIDS will be a tri-service command and there is still some ambiguity over its status. The first CIDS will be Lt Gen. Pankaj Joshi, currently general officer commanding-in-chief, central command, a three-star general. Each of the three chiefs of services are four-star generals.

The CIDS will report to the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee who is usually the seniormost of the three service chiefs. Currently the chairman is Admiral Sushil Kumar of the navy.

“The integrated defence headquarter is currently in the process of being set up. We are delegating powers to it. As envisaged by the Cabinet Committee on Security, the brief of the CIDS will be to integrate the functions of the three services with the ministry of defence,” said a senior defence ministry official.

The creation of the post of CIDS comes in the wake of the recommendation of the Group of Ministers led by home minister L.K. Advani to appoint a chief of defence staff (CDS). But the three services and policy-makers in the Centre are not fully convinced that the post needs to be created.

Differences persist not only on the need for such a post but also on who from among the services should be CDS. Among other issues, the services have not fully resolved with whom the command and control system of nuclear weaponry should lie. It is possible that the creation of the CIDS post is a compromise pending a decision on appointing a CDS.

The defence ministry official said over the months much of the services’ activity will be integrated. Among the first will be the integration of the intelligence agencies of the army, the navy and the air force.

The first experiment in integrating the services takes off in the Andaman and Nicobar Command which will be operationalised as a unified theatre command on October 8.

Vice-Admiral Arun Prakash will be the first commander-in-chief. Like the CIDS, he, too will report to the chairman, chiefs of staff committee.

Increased Chinese naval activity in the Bay of Bengal over the past few years and the route to the Pacific have been among the considerations that has led to the creation of the unified command in the Andamans.

As commander-in-chief, Arun Prakash will have command of all army, navy, air force and coast guard forces allocated to the islands. His deputy (chief of staff) will be a major general from the army.

The present force in the islands include the navy’s flotilla comprising fast attack craft and amphibious ships and a coast guard patrol vessel. The army has an infantry brigade in the Islands. The air force has a helicopter squadron.

Maritime aircraft of the navy and the coast guard operate from Port Blair, Car Nicobar, Campbell Bay and Dighlipur.

In another development, Lt Gen. N.C. Vij, currently commanding the southern command, will take over as the next vice-chief of army staff.

He takes over from Lt Gen. Vijay Oberoi who retires on September 30.

   

 
 
ARMY RUSH TO BETTER DATA LINKS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, Sept. 28: 
The army is upgrading its communications network in the light of increased security concerns and transborder terrorism.

The Rs 355-crore communications backbone project will connect forward areas with command offices through state-of-the art communication systems. The network will facilitate high speed voice, video and data communications using broadband and optical fibre connectivity.

“The project Ascon-Phase III will be a backbone network for faster and effective communication from different areas to the centralised command,” said Lakshmi Menon, chairman and managing director of ITI Limited, the Bangalore-based public sector telecom major that is implementing the project.

Menon said the broadband network would cover the entire country with special emphasis on forward areas.

“In the present security environment, information is paramount and the faster the better,” said Lt Gen. D.P. Sehgal, signal officer in chief, Corps of Signals.

ITI has completed the first and second phase of Ascon on a turnkey basis, which had covered the western and some of the northern regions.

   

 
 
ATAL LASHES OUT AT US TERROR TURNAROUND 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
Breaking his long silence, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today blamed the US for not speaking out against terrorism when India was facing the brunt of the menace in Jammu and Kashmir.

“When I addressed the US Congress I told them that we are the victims of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. I told them about the bloodshed and the loss of innocent lives. But apart from sympathy, they had nothing else to offer,” Vajpayee said. “They thought if India was subject to terrorist attacks, let it be. After all, they were living in peace. Perhaps, they thought Jammu and Kashmir was far away.”

Vajpayee poured his heart out to a gathering of Muslim intellectuals at his 7 Race Course Road residence this afternoon. Though his main objective was to reassure them that the government’s decision to ban the Students’ Islamic Movement of India was not a move against Muslims in general, Vajpayee’s criticism seemed to be aimed at the Americans who were speaking “so eloquently against terrorism today”.

Vajpayee said: “Terrorism has scant regard for distance. It does not respect either religion or reason or human life.” But he stressed that even in this hour of crisis no one should equate Islam with terrorism.

Vajpayee’s statement comes at a time when foreign minister Jaswant Singh is on his way to the US for talks with the George Bush administration on how the two sides could coordinate their fight against global terror.

Sources said one reason for the Prime Minister’s outburst was to take care of the domestic audience. His initial offer of “all possible help” to the US after the September 11 aerial strikes had been interpreted by some sections as Delhi’s readiness to extend its airbases and territory to American troops in their military offensive against the Taliban.

France also joined in the finger-pointing, making it clear that the terrorist strikes had created a situation where the international community had to make a more concerted effort in resolving the existing crisis, like the one in West Asia.

The remark is obliquely aimed at the Americans, who have been accused of double-standards by the Arab world and other key players for not pulling up Israel and forcing it to return to the talks table with Palestine.

French ambassador Bernard MontferrandX told reporters that Paris valued Delhi’s views on the evolving situation and said the two countries should cooperate to combat the growing menace of terrorism. He was also quick to point out that unlike the US, France did not have a list declaring various outfits as terrorist groups. Instead, he said, its fight was against all terrorist activities anywhere in the world.

Jaswant, who is in Paris, has already held detailed discussions with President Jacques Chirac and senior government leaders about the fast-paced developments since Terrible Tuesday.

Montferrand stressed that the recent developments were a clear indicator to the threats that terrorists pose to “open societies and democracies” and the time had come when like-minded countries should form an international coalition against the scourge.

He blamed the Taliban for creating instability not only in the region but also in Europe, but made it clear that any move to “impose a regime from outside” might not be prudent.

   

 
 
‘NEW BEGINNING’ AFTER SURPRISE PATCH-UP 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Sept. 28: 
The Congress strategy in Tamil Nadu to open up a new political front for the October panchayat elections in Tamil Nadu has brought estranged former finance minister P. Chidambaram closer to party president Sonia Gandhi.

Chidambaram sprung a surprise by aligning his organisation, the Congress Janayaga Peravai, with the Congress instead of going along with the DMK for the local body polls as he did during the May Assembly elections.

At a press conference addressed by Chidambaram, AICC secretary Ramesh Chennithala and Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president E.V.K.S. Elangovan among others, the formal launch of the new front as an alternative to the DMK and ADMK-led fronts was announced.

“This is a leading front and not a third front,” asserted Chennithala. The AICC secretary added that other like-minded parties ready to support the Congress in the panchayat elections included the Makkal Tamil Desam led by former ADMK minister M. Kannappan, the New Justice Party headed by A.C. Shanmugham and the Puthiya Tamizhagam led by K. Krishnasamy.

The DPI, which was part of the DMK-led front in the Assembly polls, was also now talking with the Congress, Chennithala said.

In response to his plea to all-like minded people to return to the Congress, former PCC chief Kumari Ananthan had rejoined the party earlier in the day, he said.

The Congress leader also did not envisage any difficulty in the seat-sharing arrangements to be finalised tomorrow. He termed this front a “new beginning in Tamil Nadu politics”. Elangovan, on his part, did not see any room for a one-man show in the Congress-led front, “as all of us are equal”.

Chidambaram asserted that both the DMK and the ADMK-led fronts were not representative of the people.

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s dream was that more powers should be given to the panchayats, he said, adding that the constitutional mandate in that direction was yet to be fulfilled in its entirety.

Dismissing criticism that he had campaigned for the DMK in the last Assembly elections just a few months ago, Chidambaram said the issues during that poll was entirely different.

“We need to achieve Rajiv Gandhi’s dream in giving more powers to the local bodies and we believe this front is more representative of the people,” he said. His new party will, however, retain its identity, the former finance minister added.

Stalin to contest

The DMK decided late last night to field M.K. Stalin again for the post of mayor of the Chennai Corporation.    
 

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