SC clamps smoking ban in public places
Army cries restraint in face of Pak build-up
Atal isn’t talking, Jaswant may
Administration torn asunder by influx
Filmmaker lures viewers with pearls
Terror-scare push to law
Sonia’s trouble-shoot trio
Lone escapes murder bid
Delhi formula for Kabul rule
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SC CLAMPS SMOKING BAN IN PUBLIC PLACES 
 
 
BY R. VENKATARAMAN & ANIEK PAL
 
Nov. 2: 
The Supreme Court today directed all states and Union Territories to immediately issue orders banning smoking in public places.

The court also defined a public place. It has listed bus stops, trains, public transport, hospitals, health institutes, public offices, court buildings, educational institutions, libraries and auditoriums in the category.

After the order was issued, stock prices of tobacco companies like ITC and VST dropped. The cigarette industry, bracing for some time for a clampdown like this, did not expect to be affected much by the order.

“It is unlikely to have a major impact on cigarette manufacturers. Bidi makers are likely to bear the brunt,” said a cigarette company official.

The interim order by the court came on a public interest litigation seeking a ban on smoking filed by Congress leader Murli Deora. The petition seeks a direction to ban sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to persons below the age of 18. The court adjourned the matter for six weeks.

The petitioner has also sought a direction to create an “anti-tobacco fund” so that victims, even passive smokers, can be given financial assistance. This fund is to be created with contributions by tobacco companies.

The division bench directed the commissioners of police of Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Ahmedabad to submit a status report detailing action taken against cigarette manufacturers for violating advertising codes.

A Central Bill clamping restrictions on smoking and on tobacco companies is pending before a parliamentary standing committee.

The Bill was introduced in the last session but went to the standing committee in an indication that it would meet with the same fate as similar other legislation. Standing committees are used as standard burial grounds.

An earlier Supreme Court bench had thrown out a similar petition, observing that the petitioner was free to approach the standing committee.

The proposed Bill bans sponsorship of sporting and cultural events by cigarette and other tobacco product companies. “The Bill provides that no person engaged in tobacco products-related activity will advertise and no person having control over media shall advertise tobacco products,” it says.

Christened The Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products (prohibition of advertisement and regulation of trade and commerce, production, supply and distribution) Bill, 2001, it was introduced on March 7 in Rajya Sabha.

Health minister C.P. Thakur had then said: “I expect this legislation to have a smooth sailing in Parliament.” Four days after being moved, the Bill was referred to the human resources development standing committee.

None of its members is in Delhi and it is not known if the committee’s recommendations have been sent to the government for a debate in the winter session.

“The measures were aimed at cutting the large number of premature deaths in the country from smoking and to bolster an anti-tobacco drive,” Cabinet spokesman Pramod Mahajan said.

Of the estimated three million tobacco-related deaths a year in the world, nearly one-third take place in India. India is the world’s fourth largest producer of tobacco and ranks 14th in cigarette manufacturing. If bidis are taken into account, India jumps to second place after China.

An official of the Tobacco Institute of India, an industry body, said: “We support any legislation aimed at discouraging smoking so long as it is reasonable and not discriminatory.”

The industry is, however, happy that restaurants and roads have been left out of the Supreme Court order.

“Not many people smoke in and around places of worship, hospitals and schools. Hence, the order should not have any major impact,” the tobacco company official said.

The stock market did not agree. ITC, the country’s largest tobacco company, was hammered down by 8 per cent to Rs 672.45 while the illiquid VST share lost Rs 2 at Rs 163 on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

There were also indications that mutual funds may review their exposures in tobacco stocks.

ICICI Prudential managing director Shailendra Bhandari said: “Putting restrictions on smoking is a global phenomenon and tobacco companies must learn to live with it. Yet, this is a major development and we would review our exposure to the sector.”

   

 
 
ARMY CRIES RESTRAINT IN FACE OF PAK BUILD-UP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 2: 
The army has asked its units to be extra-cautious after the troop build-up by Pakistan along the Line of Control opposite Akhnoor in Jammu and across the international boundary in Rajasthan.

“The word that is out is restraint, restraint, restraint,” a senior army officer said.

The army is noncommittal on whether forces will be moved to match the deployment by Pakistan. Even if there is any movement, it is to stock up for the winter. Fresh “routine” deployment that is taking place does not involve elements of strike forces. The army is not moving armoured units.

“Routine” movement does not mean that the army is not deploying forces at all. This is the time of the year when the army prepares for “Operation Rehearsals” — training exercises — and this necessitates the deployment of forces. “There is no movement of offensive forces,” a source said.

Army sources said units of Pakistan’s 10 Corps based in Rawalpindi, 31 Corps based in Bahawalpur and 5 Corps based in Karachi had moved over the last fortnight. When the movements first started a little over two weeks ago, it was initially presumed that they were being moved to the border with Afghanistan. But reinforcements that have moved close to the Afghan border are mostly from its paramilitary.

India, too, carried out exercises in Barmer sector around that time. Information available suggests that the troops have not been totally withdrawn after the exercise was completed. They are not in forward, offensive positions but in the barracks.

Senior army officers have been drawing historical parallels. One officer suggested Pakistani tactics were remarkably close to the situation that led to the undeclared 22-day war in 1965.

Apart from the northern army commander, Lt Gen. R.K. Nanavaty, who was outspoken in drawing the parallel earlier this week, there were others talking of a similar situation.

In 1965, Pakistan’s Major General Akhtar Hussain Mallik, the general officer commanding the 12 Infantry Division in PoK, drafted a strategy codenamed Operation Gibraltar to push in Kashmiris from Pakistan who would use local help to attack strategic targets.

This was around August 5. Infiltration then, as now, took place with covering artillery firing. Over the past week, there have been exchanges of firing. There was also an attack on the Avantipora airbase and before that the Srinagar Assembly strike.

To nix the Pakistani plan (in 1965), Indian forces took offensive action around August 14. Units of the Punjab Regiment captured three mountain positions, including the Haji Pir Pass, 8 km inside PoK. Pakistan tried to attack in the Chenab-Jhelum corridor — the place where this time, too, there has been a build-up.

The conflict was further widened when Indian forces attacked elsewhere. That war ended with the Tashkent agreement following which India returned Haji Pir Pass, an action that continues to be a sore point with the army.

This is the kind of situation that military planners are trying to avoid. In 1965, an offensive action was taken but the response that could be provoked has to be more measured today.

   

 
 
ATAL ISN’T TALKING, JASWANT MAY 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
Amritsar, Nov. 2: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said he was against resuming talks with President Pervez Musharraf not because of “feelings of enmity” but because the exercise would not “achieve any objective”.

Speaking on the opening day of the BJP national executive, he said: “Talks should be held to achieve a certain objective. In today’s environment this does not seem possible. That is why I refused to meet him (Musharraf). This was not done with any feeling of enmity. When world leaders tell me you should talk to Musharraf and I present them the facts (on Kashmir), even they acknowledge that cross-border terrorism must stop.”

Vajpayee seemed to have toned down his anti-Musharraf rhetoric that touched a new high earlier this week in Somnath where he spoilt for a debate on “which side was wearing bangles”.

His statement today makes it clear there will be no meeting with Musharraf in New York, where both will be present next week at the UN. There could, however, be a meeting between the two foreign ministers, Jaswant Singh and Abdus Sattar.

Recalling the Lahore yatra of 1999, he said: “We were always in favour of resolving everything through talks. After all, Pakistan is an immediate neighbour. It is better if the two countries learn to co-exist in peace and wage a joint war on terrorism and jointly tackle other common problems….”

But the olive branch Vajpayee tenuously sought to extend came with several caveats. Though he said at one point that Kashmir should not be allowed to become a sticking point, the conditions he set were embedded in the dispute.

“Kashmir is legally and constitutionally part of India. For Pakistan, Kashmir is a piece of land, for us it is part of our motherland, an inseparable portion of our nation,” he said.

He clarified he was even ready to talk on Kashmir, but Pakistan must halt cross-border terror, quit invoking the two-nation theory to justify the demand for secessionism and give up hopes of usurping the state by force.

“Religion cannot be a basis because Bangladesh, despite being Muslim-majority, was dismembered from Pakistan,” he argued.

He said India would do nothing to provoke tension on the border, but “the army is ready to face any challenge”. He declared that “fair and independent” elections would shortly be held in Jammu and Kashmir.

Vajpayee’s references to terrorism were Pakistan-related. There was no mention of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in his speech.

   

 
 
ADMINISTRATION TORN ASUNDER BY INFLUX 
 
 
FROM SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Malda, Nov. 2: 
Infiltration in one district but not exactly so in a neighbouring district of the same country. “Refugee” for one law-enforcing agency but “illegal entrant” for another, again in the same country.

The administration, it seems, is as confused as the shelter-seekers from Bangladesh about their legal status in India.

Faced with a problem that it has not confronted for quite some time, the administrations of the neighbouring districts of Malda and South Dinajpur are still — despite being into the third week since the problem started — grappling with fundamentals like the nomenclature of the problem.

For the administration of Malda, it’s not a problem at all. Superintendent of police Pankaj Datta denied any influx into Malda of people belonging to the minority community in Bangladesh. “There has been no influx of Bangladeshi Hindus into Malda,” he said.

Malda district magistrate A.R. Bardhan, however, is not so sure. “We have received messages alerting us about a probable influx,” he told reporters.

“We are keeping a very close watch on the situation,” he added, refusing to say whether the district administration had found any basis to the messages it had received.

The South Dinajpur administration, however, is eager to take a more practical view. “Yes, we know of cases of Bangladeshis belonging to the minority community there coming to seek refuge in India,” superintendent of police Anuj Sharma said.

The administration knew of the six families — as reported earlier — that were staying in Dikul village of the Kushmandi area of the district, he admitted.

Senior officials of the two districts differ on the status of people entering India from Bangladesh.

Officials in Malda said anyone entering Indian territory would be branded an “infiltrator”, irrespective of the reasons for crossover, and action would be taken accordingly.

South Dinajpur officials, however, say that will create even more problems. Branding shelter-seekers who have lost everything “infiltrators” could create a volatile situation in the district and elsewhere in the state, they admitted.

“How can we call a person who has just about managed to enter India, saving his/her life, an ‘infiltrator’?” a senior South Dinajpur official wondered.

The difference of opinion over the shelter-seekers’ legal status leads to even stronger differences over the action to be taken.

Datta, Malda’s SP, is sure of the route his administration is going take. “If any news of infiltration comes to our notice, we will first trace out the infiltrators, then charge them under various provisions of the Foreigners’ Act and then push them back to where they came from,” he said.

“In the absence of any written directive from the ministry of external affairs, how can we do otherwise?” he asked.

South Dinajpur officials, however, have taken a diametrically opposite view. Any attempt at pushing back shelter-seekers could create a flare-up in the district, officials said. “Who is going to take that responsibility?” a senior district official asked.

Besides, “human considerations” demanded a more “even-handed” approach, officials said. “Can one really take the responsibility of a refugee’s possible death if he/she is pushed back?” they asked.

Officials of neither district, however, would comment on the differences between the two administrations.

Although it is “desirable” that a “common methodology” be thrashed out to tackle the problem – “we are, after all, living in the same country,” said a senior South Dinajpur official — it is early days yet.

The governments at the Centre and the state should have thought out things by now. “After all, we can’t say that it has taken us unawares,” a home department official posted in Malda said, admitting that they had intelligence reports warning of a possible influx in the case of an Awami League defeat.

   

 
 
FILMMAKER LURES VIEWERS WITH PEARLS 
 
 
FROM MONIDEEPA CHOUDHURI
 
Guwahati, Nov. 2: 
As far as marketing gimmicks go, this one is a gem. Assam-based astrologer-turned-film producer Kero Young is giving away a pearl free with every audio cassette of his maiden celluloid venture, a move that has left many wondering how any businessman can afford to tag such an expensive freebie with an item that is priced several times lower.

Dealers in precious stones say the pearls being given away for free are not genuine, but this has not stopped people from thronging music stores. Indeed, cassettes of Tyaag’s musical score are disappearing fast off the shelves, encouraging the man behind the project to conjure another gimmick to lure people to cinema halls when the film is released.

Kero Young cited complex mathematical equations to justify his argument that the investments he had made so far would fetch heavy returns.

“The investments will pale into insignificance. Anyone who buys the cassette will invariably listen to the songs. And the numbers have been so arranged that the listener will be hypnotised. Once the numbers become popular, people will naturally throng the theatres where the film is released. Logically, the film will be a super hit,” he said.

Tyaag, a bilingual in Assamese and Bengali, is slated for release in December. It stars popular Assamese actor Jatin Bora opposite a Moscow-born Bengali debutante. The music of the film’s Bengali version will be released shortly.

The film’s producer said he had another “ace” up his sleeve to draw people to the theatres. If things go according to plan, everyone who watches the film will walk out of the theatre with either a free pocket colour television or a walkman, he said.

Kero Young claimed to have already tied up with a Japanese electronics company that is set to launch its products in India. By distributing walkmans and pocket colour televisions manufactured by the company in theatres that screen his film, he hopes to advertise the products as well as become the Japanese company’s authorised distributor in the Northeast.

On the debate over the genuineness of the pearls being distributed free with cassettes, the astrologer said, “I have procured the pearls from Japan. I have the documents to prove it. Everything is legal and above board.”

However, gem dealers are far from convinced. One of them said the pearls were of inferior quality, costing less than Rs 100 each. But Kero Young claimed each pearl was worth between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000. He dared his detractors to prove that the pearls were not real.

“The genuineness of the pearls can be tested at the Geological Survey of India laboratory,” he said.

The astrologer-turned-producer said a section of jewellers was up in arms as the pearl market had been hit by his marketing strategy. He said genuine marine oyster pearls were found only in the Arab Basra and Venezuela, with each being priced between Rs 20,000 and Rs 25,000 per rati.

Kero Young claimed that jewellers based in Upper Assam had bought cassettes of his film’s music in bulk so that they could make “huge profits” by selling the free pearls.

“They are selling the pearls and throwing the cassettes into dustbins. Steps have been initiated to prevent this. We want people to listen to the songs,” he said.

   

 
 
TERROR-SCARE PUSH TO LAW 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 2: 
Home secretary Kamal Pande today wrote to state chief secretaries, painting a scare-scenario and imminent threat to India from terrorists operating in the country and from across the border.

The object of the exercise is to shore up support for the new Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. Despite growing opposition, the Centre is bent on pushing it through in the winter session.

Pande’s letter was in keeping with the Centre’s attempts to build up public opinion for a strong anti-terrorism law. L.K. Advani had spoken passionately yesterday for fresh laws to tackle the unprecedented threat faced by the country. Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj have also reassured those opposed to the Ordinance.

Pande’s letter was along the same lines: the need for a new law to fight the scourge of terrorism. Writing of the “extraordinary situation” after the September 11 strikes on the US and the retaliatory war on Afghanistan, Pande said “the dividing line between external and internal threats to our security is getting increasingly blurred”.

“Terrorist threats from across the border are getting heightened by the day and can be ignored only at our own peril,” he added.

The Centre had earlier said that states, especially Opposition-ruled Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, were keen on a new anti-terrorist law. The new Ordinance was projected as a gentler, kinder version of the hated Tada. The response to the Ordinance has surprised the government and the effort now is to soothe suspicions of state authorities.

In Amritsar, Jaitley expressed confidence that the Ordinance would become law despite Congress opposition to it and the government lacking numbers in the Rajya Sabha. He sought to turn the tables on the Congress by saying the Ordinance borrowed heavily from anti-terror laws passed by the Congress government in Karnataka and from those being implemented by the government in Maharashtra.

Throwing the gauntlet at Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Jaitley asked: “But for special rules of evidence under Tada, there would not have been a single conviction in the Rajiv Gandhi case. After all this, can Sonia really oppose the Ordinance?”

The BJP has always stood for a strong government but in the last two years its attempts to live up to its self-image has clearly been unsuccessful. The pulls and pressures of coalition government as well as the problem of numbers in the Upper House have often stood in the way.

The September 11 attacks and the worldwide paranoia gave the government the opening it was looking for. Gauging the popular mood, it brought in the Ordinance. The hardsell will continue in the run-up to the Parliament session.

A senior BJP leader said: “At a time the US has deployed its planes thousands of miles away from home to hunt out Osama, why should India not pursue terrorists and bomb their camps in Pakistan is a question the BJP has to answer over and over again.’’

   

 
 
SONIA’S TROUBLE-SHOOT TRIO 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Nov. 2: 
An uneasy Congress has begun thinking about the political fallout of three scenarios. What happens if the country gets embroiled in a limited Kargil-like confrontation? How would it defend its opposition to the Tada clone Bill in Parliament. And how would it respond to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s move to bring the old Somnath debate to the centrestage in the context of the Uttar Pradesh elections?

Sonia Gandhi has deputed Arjun Singh, Manmohan Singh and Natwar Singh to find answers to the three searching questions. Assisting them are Ambika Soni, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Salman Khurshid. Their brief: a “political response” that could stand the test of time.

Congress leaders today admitted they had received feelers from the Vajpayee regime to soften their stand on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. But Sonia would not budge.

Spokesman Jaipal Reddy reiterated the party’s stand that the Ordinance will be opposed at all levels, including in Parliament. The legal-eagles in the Congress are, however, exerting pressure on Sonia not to take a sweeping stand on the Ordinance. The party, they said, has already begun walking a minefield.

“How are we going to defend similar provisions in Karnataka and Maharashtra where state governments have enacted similar laws?” asked a senior party leader. Those opposed to the Ordinance in “totality” said Sonia should follow the example of the CPM and direct these governments to drop such “draconian” clauses.

Apart from the Ordinance, what is bothering Sonia and senior working committee members most is the Sangh parivar’s reported move to “gag” minorities and polarise voters in Uttar Pradesh. Arjun, Natwar and Manmohan said Vajpayee’s remarks on the Somnath temple should be seen in this context.

Congress leaders see a “sinister design” as the controversy over the reconstruction of temple had been settled long ago. “The BJP is trying to plagiarise the legacy of Sardar Patel,” said spokesman Reddy, pointing out that it was Patel who had slapped and defended the ban on the RSS.

Reddy said it was hypocritical of the BJP to expect support from the Congress on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance when it did not bother to consult the opposition at any stage.

Referring to the BJP’s deliberations at Amritsar, Reddy said: “The appeal in support of the Ordinance is a mala fide attempt. It is intended to confuse the people of India. The problem with the BJP is that it is good at propaganda but bad at administration.”

The Congress is preparing a detailed note on Somnath to highlight that the temple’s reconstruction was sacred to all and events, which took place hundreds of years ago, should not be used to divide the country today on communal lines. The task before Arjun, Natwar and Manmohan is to prepare such a draft that would not offend the minority community while satisfying the majority community.

   

 
 
LONE ESCAPES MURDER BID 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Nov. 2: 
Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone and his family escaped an attempt on their lives late last night even as security forces today shot dead at least 20 militants in a fierce gunbattle near the Line of Control in Jammu’s Poonch district.

Lone said gunmen sprayed bullets on his house last night. The police guards returned fire and the exchange continued for some time.

The state administration had recently downgraded Lone’s security from “Z” category to “X”. According to a source, the decision to downgrade his security was taken after a review by senior police officials taking into consideration the “threat perception”.

Early this year, Lone was accorded “Z” category security following his “tirade against the foreign militants in Kashmir”.

“Slight damage was caused to the house,” said a police officer. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Police in Jammu said security forces and the special operations group mounted operations in the Loren, Mandi and Saujian villages near the LoC in Poonch district early today.

Jammu Range police chief R.V. Raju said the forces engaged a group of heavily-armed militants in a fierce gunbattle in the three villages. “The gun battles continued for several hours and by this evening, bodies of 20 militants were recovered. Intermittent firing is still going on,” he added.

Sources said the militants had sneaked into India from Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and were hiding in the mountains. Yesterday, security forces had shot dead three militants in Rajouri district. Two armymen were also killed in the exchange of fire.

   

 
 
DELHI FORMULA FOR KABUL RULE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 2: 
India has mooted a formula to replace the Six-Plus-Two Group on Afghanistan that has Islamabad as a key member but not Delhi.

According to the formula, members of the G-8 countries, along with Afghanistan’s neighbours — which, of course, includes Delhi — should be roped in to help install a broadbased, multi-ethnic and representative regime once the Taliban are toppled.

Sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who begins his three-nation visit from Sunday, will impress upon Moscow, Washington and London the need to expand the existing group to make it more relevant to the situation.

Foreign secretary Chokila Iyer told reporters the expansion of the Six-Plus-Two Group will be one of the topics of discussion between Vajpayee and the other leaders during his 10-day foreign trip. Besides the US and Russia, the group now has China, Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan — which have borders with Afghanistan — as members.

Despite several meetings over the past few years, the group has not been able to bring about a regime in Kabul that could bring peace to the country, ravaged by years of war and ethnic rivalry. But Terror Tuesday and the subsequent American strikeback have thrown open the door to countries like India to be part of the decision-making set-up.

The Group of Eight — countries with the strongest economies — has the US, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada and Russia as its members. Neighbouring countries that India wants to be part of the new dispensation will definitely include almost all the six nations that have a border with Afghanistan and were part of the earlier group, sources said.

It is important for India to be part of a structure that is likely to play a key role in deciding the new political structure in post-conflict Afghanistan.

Delhi has always had strong ties with Kabul. But the first hiccup in its Afghan policy came in 1979, when Soviet troops invaded the country. A close ally of Moscow, India — though opposed to the Soviet move — decided to maintain a low profile, alienating Kabul from Delhi. The alienation was complete once the Taliban seized control in the mid-1990s.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.4°C (+2)
Minimum: 23.2°C (+3)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 96%,
Minimum:56%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to around 23°C
Sunrise: 5.47 am
Sunset:    
 

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