Bouncer burst strikes Denness dumb
Howzaaaaaat, Mr Referee!
Client curtain on privacy pirates
Engine hits train to Howrah
CBI steps in, Unicef team tastes public backlash
Delhi sees plot in Pervez terror fight
Hizb keeps door for Kashmir truce open
Maoist money seeks out route to market

Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
At some point last night, an angry Indian team at Port Elizabeth thought of pulling out of the second Test and, obviously, the tour.

Tempers were running high after match referee Mike Denness decided to punish in a never-before action six players of the team, with icon Sachin Tendulkar standing accused of ball-tampering.

“The team members were extremely disturbed last night and at one stage decided to pull out of the remaining part of the second Test,” cricket board chief Jagmohan Dalmiya said today.

As outrage in India and elsewhere greeted Denness’ decisions, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) threw his weight behind the team.

Describing the match referee’s decisions as “inconsistent and shocking”, the BCCI gave the International Cricket Council (ICC) two options. The match referee be either replaced for the third Test at Centurion beginning Friday, or the decisions be kept in abeyance and judged by a neutral panel consisting of reputed persons.

Dalmiya, however, declined comment on the possibility of withdrawing the team if the ICC chose not to play ball. “It’ll be a bit too early” to comment on that, he said.

The board is examining if the decisions can be challenged in court, a source said. Former South African wicketkeeper Dave Richardson, a lawyer, said on television that his country’s law allowed such an action.

Dalmiya said he has been in constant touch with the team management since late last evening and persuaded it to continue with the game.

“After a long chat with the captain, coach, manager and other senior players, I managed to persuade them to get on with the game saying that a pullout would be unfair to the United Cricket Board of South Africa and cricket lovers there.”

On Dalmiya’s advice, board secretary Niranjan Shah met ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed in Mumbai this morning. Shah told Speed that the board would welcome any ICC panel match referee for the third Test. If no one is available, a former cricketer of repute can also officiate.

“Such decisions have failed to inspire any confidence among the players that they would get fair treatment from Denness in the future,” Dalmiya said.

Speed, who will leave for London tonight, will speak to ICC president Malcolm Gray tomorrow and then announce the decision. It obviously has to act, if at all, well before Friday.

“There’s little we can do,” Speed told a TV channel. But Dalmiya said the ICC can intervene and cited his decision as its president to revoke the ban on Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar, called for chucking.

If the ICC does not act, there are indications that the board will come up with a strong response.

“It’s most unfortunate that the decisions have been targeted against only one team. I don’t know whether that is due to coincidence or by design,” the board president said.

Dalmiya spoke to Speed later about the “inconsistencies in the decisions” and the flaws in the procedure followed by Denness. “The loopholes have been many. First, the match referee acted on a complaint lodged by a person whose identity remains undisclosed. (Denness said today he had acted on his own.)

“Second, the meeting with the players was adjourned without any valid reason and then reconvened. According to the rules, the match referee has no authority to do this. The decisions have not been supported by adequate reasoning, though he can do so within 48 hours.”

Denness did issue a statement today, but did not explain his decisions.


Port Elizabeth, Nov. 20: 
Just a shade over 25 years ago, Mike Denness was at the receiving end of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee’s fury. This morning, he didn’t quite know how to handle the media’s assault. By evening, he had to counter the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s expected hostility.

The one difference between then and now is that the former England captain’s newest avatar is that of a match referee. Denness isn’t a rookie at the job. Yet, never in the past decade, ever since the International Cricket Council (ICC) introduced match referees, has any ICC representative punished six players of a single team at one go.

Denness created history last evening. Today, he simply issued a statement listing code of conduct violations by the players and the penalties he thought appropriate.

There were no answers to a host of questions.

How has Sachin Tendulkar been held guilty of ball-tampering when the onfield umpires neither changed the ball nor reported to the match referee? What exactly were the abusive words used by Virender Sehwag? More to the point, how did umpire Ian Howell know he was being abused? Also, how did captain Sourav Ganguly bring the game into disrepute?

Denness kept mum. And mum. And mum. At St George’s Park, however, the Indians did “talk” — forcing a morale-restoring draw in the second Test.

The code, too, has been in vogue for a decade but there remains no provision for appeal. As an incensed Geoffrey Boycott insisted, natural justice “demands” that avenue be there.

The United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) chief executive, Gerald Majola, spoke of getting the ICC to amend the code. “Tomorrow, a clutch of our boys could be similarly penalised. What then? The UCBSA, therefore, will move the ICC to incorporate a provision for appeal (in the code)...,” Majola said.

While there’s much sympathy for Sehwag being banned for one Test, what has infuriated just about everybody is Sachin’s punishment — a one-Test suspended sentence, operative till December 31. The suspended sentence specific to Sourav, Harbhajan Singh, Shiv Sundar Das and Deep Dasgupta stays till January 31, 2002.

Strictly speaking, Sachin did infringe a section of Law 42.3 by removing grass/mud without the umpire’s “supervision”. But, then, match referees should regularly be slapping suspended sentences, if not banning players.

The point made by Sunil Gavaskar (chairman of the ICC’s Cricket Committee, Playing) needs to be noted. “He (Denness) has gone by the letter of the law, not the spirit…”

No one will go on record. Yet, the one word (racist) hated most in these parts is being freely lobbed around. Privately, Indian and Pakistani cricketers keep talking about being discriminated against by “first world” match referees.


New Delhi, Nov. 20: 
Anyone who has applied for a cellphone connection or a credit card knows just how intrusive service providers and banks can get in their attempts to ferret out personal details. The inquisition is usually embarrassing and can sometimes raise the hackles of a prospective client.

There’s good news for all those who have been subjected to aggressive in-your-face questioning by customer relations personnel.

One regulator — the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India — has decided to clamp down on privacy busters by forcing service providers to behave and cut out the intrusion. For starters, it has set a precedent by banning private fixed-line telephone service providers from seeking personal information that has nothing to do with the offer of a simple connection.

The regulator’s decision today has spooked cellular and Internet service providers who fear the ban could be extended to them. Most of them make commercial capital from their huge database.

The move by the regulator comes in the wake of a series of complaints against all the six fixed-line telephone service providers.

Senior officers at the regulatory body said: “We were informed that a few private fixed-line telecom service providers were not giving connections to residential customers. When we investigated the allegations, we found that the connections were not being given on demand and these operators were targeting the big companies and customers with huge purchasing power.”

He added: “When we examined the registration process adopted by private fixed-line service providers, we discovered the application for registration was seeking details that were not relevant to the basic objective — a telephone connection.”

For instance, the form sought details like information on ownership of a four-wheeler, computer, type of music preferred, frequent-flying membership, educational qualifications, monthly income, marital status, nature of profession, monthly expenditure on telecom and details of family members.

The regulator has, therefore, decided to issue a directive. It stipulates that each basic service provider has to provide telephone connections to prospective subscribers on a first-come-first-served basis without any discrimination on the basis of their lucrativeness/economic criteria. Fixed-line operators have been told to split the application form into two parts to ensure that no section of prospective subscribers faces any (perceived or real) handicap at the time of applying for a telephone connection.

Part ‘A’ of the application should be brief and seek only that information which is considered essential for providing a telephone connection. Part ‘B’ may seek more information, but it will be up to the customer to provide it or not.

The regulator has also made it mandatory that the conditions printed on the reverse of the registration form should be easily readable.

Now, will the Reserve Bank of India rein in those credit card wallahs?


Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
At least 13 people were killed and 10 injured when an engine slammed into the Howrah-bound Mokama passenger train from behind near Dumri Halt in Bihar this evening, Eastern Railway said.

A PTI report quoted a railway release as saying that the single-engine was sent to haul the passenger train’s engine which had developed a snag. Confusion reigned through the evening with officials putting the toll at 13 and later revising it to three. However, after midnight, the figure was changed back to 13.


Guwahati, Nov. 20: 
The beleaguered Tarun Gogoi government today woke up to another piece of bad news: 26 people who underwent cataract surgery at a state-sponsored eye camp have been admitted to Guwahati Medical College and Hospital with “post-operative complications”.

Three of the patients, all suffering from post-operative corneal infection since November 5, are in danger of losing their sight, sources said.

The eye camp where they were operated upon was organised by the District Blindness Control Society in association with Kamrup-based NGO Sambhidan Gosthi as part of a national campaign launched by the National Society for Control of Blindness. It was held at a school in Malowbari under Khetri police station from November 2 to 7.

An eight-member team from the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology (RIO), headed by Deepak Bhuyan, performed cataract operations on 47 people aged between 50 and 70 over a period of six days, sources said.

Health minister Bhumidhar Barman visited the institute. He asked the ophthalmology institute and the District Blindness Control Society — the deputy commissioner is its chairman — to submit reports within three days.

Barman said all the patients had contracted post-operative infections. “I have asked RIO to seek advice from leading ophthalmologist Harsha Bhatta,” he said.

Relatives of the patients said the camp was not organised properly. “Had they taken care of the patients in the manner they are doing now, there would not have been any problem,” said Kasta Thakuria, whose 70-year-old father Bane Thakuria is undergoing treatment at GMCH.

Chitra Rajbongshi, daughter of septuagenarian Pratibha Deka, said there had been no improvement in her mother’s condition since November 14.

Mohammad Ghalib, programme manager of the blindness-control society, told The Telegraph that it was still not clear what caused the post-operative complications. “We hope to know by tomorrow what exactly happened,” he said.

The general secretary of the NGO that helped the society organise the camp is Ashok Das, president of the All-Assam Junior Doctors’ Association.

Doctors at RIO, located in the GMCH complex, said two of the patients came to the hospital with post-operative infections on November 5 and 6. Twenty-four more complained of similar problems over the next few weeks, it said.

Denying that the surgeons who conducted the operations had not taken adequate precautions, RIO said the picture would be clear soon. “In 10 to 14 days’ time, we will know the extent of damage or the rate of recovery. The patients are responding well to treatment. We do not think the infections are vision-threatening. What happened is very unfortunate,” Bhuyan said.

The principal of the GMCH, Munindra Mohan Deka, said several things could cause post-operative complications.

Pulse polio to continue

The Union health ministry said the pulse polio programme would go ahead as scheduled on December 2 this year and January 20 next year across the country.

It said only campaigns related to vitamin A have been put on hold, and not as reported in yesterday’s edition.


New Delhi, Nov. 20: 
Initial hopes that the US campaign against terror and Pervez Musharraf’s turnaround on Afghanistan would force Pakistan to gradually change its policy of bleeding India in Kashmir has quickly petered out.

“We see no real change on the ground in Kashmir since September 11. We believe Pakistan continues to support terrorism in Kashmir and encourage infiltration of foreign mercenaries to destabilise the state. The incidents of terrorist attacks in the state have remained the same since Musharraf joined the anti-terror coalition,” minister of state for home I.D. Swamy told The Telegraph.

Swamy believes that Islamabad’s support to the anti-terrorism campaign is hollow, and has been brought on by Musharraf’s hopes of breaking his international isolation.

Pakistani officials corroborate the Indian government’s views, though they maintain that Islamabad’s support for Kashmir is moral and diplomatic. “Afghanistan and Kashmir are two very different cases,” a diplomat explains.

Most people in Pakistan believe that the outflow of weapons and drugs from Afghanistan has been a major problem for their country.

“Whether it is sectarian violence, gun-running, drug trafficking or general crime, many people point a finger at Afghanistan as the source of Pakistan’s internal problems. This happened even before the Black Tuesday attack on the US,” a Pakistani official explained.

This was the reason that ordinary people went along with President Musharraf’s decision to support the US campaign against the Taliban.

The official said that Kashmir was a very different case and could not be compared to Islamabad’s earlier support for the Taliban regime. “Pakistan has, since the time of independence, supported the just cause of the people of Kashmir. Public opinion in Pakistan will not allow any government in Islamabad to abandon Kashmir.”

What the official meant was plain: Islamabad will continue to fuel militancy in the state. No amount of pressure from the US or its Western democratic allies can force a change of policy. Militants in Kashmir are, in Pakistan’s view, freedom fighters waging a relentless war against India’s “ruthless domination” of Kashmiris through brute force.

However, it is clear that Pakistan can no longer allow militants to focus on soft targets. The October 1 strike on the Assembly in Srinagar, where many civilians were killed, was embarrassing for Pakistan and the foreign office condemned the attack.

Terrorist groups will be instructed to make sure that civilians are not attacked. Instead, the offensive against security forces as legitimate targets will be stepped up.

The Indian government now knows that Pakistan’s covert help to terrorism in Kashmir will not end, despite the shifting of a few training camps in PoK soon after September 11.

Musharraf and many senior and retired Pakistani military commanders feel that terrorism in Kashmir is gradually bleeding India.

Retired general’s like Hamid Gul believe that disillusionment and battle fatigue has crept into the Indian armed forces in Kashmir. If terrorists continue their struggle, the security forces will quickly cave in.

It is a surprisingly simplistic view for an army and intelligence set up which have constantly monitored India for decades.


Srinagar, Nov. 20: 
The pro-Pakistan militant outfit, the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, today said Kashmiri militants would announce a ceasefire if the international community initiated steps to peacefully resolve the Kashmir issue.

“Any forward movement by the international community to resolve the Kashmir issue would be reciprocated through a ceasefire by the militants,” said Assad Yazdani, chief spokesman of the group.

“We are not against the possibility of a ceasefire in (the) near future if the international community takes steps to resolve the Kashmir issue peacefully,” Yazdani added.

The Hizb had never shut the doors on the possibilities of a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir problem, Yazdani said, adding that the Hizb favoured a peaceful settlement and was willing to play its role towards such an end.

“We have never closed the doors for a peaceful settlement of the issue. We want a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir problem and the Hizb will play its role,” he said.

Yazdani, however, added: “The gun has brought the Kashmir issue out of cold and focused international attention on it.”

The spokesman denied rumours that Taliban fighters evicted from Afghanistan were now entering the Kashmir valley. Foreign militants had no role in the political settlement of the Kashmir issue, he said.

“Rumours of Taliban fighters entering Kashmir to join the militant ranks is part of (the) propaganda to malign the indigenous freedom struggle of the Kashmiri people,” he said.

“Foreign militants working in the ranks of various militant groups in Kashmir have no role in the political settlement of the Kashmir issue,” Yazdani said, adding: “They are our guests and have no role in the final political settlement of the issue.”

Foreign militant groups fighting in Kashmir should operate under local leadership, the spokesman said. “Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e Mohammad and Harkat-ul Mujahideen groups should operate under the leadership of local commanders as the locals know what is in the interest of Kashmiri people,” he said.

Reacting to the proposal for a comprehensive ceasefire by Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat, Yazdani said there were differences of opinion among Hurriyat executive members who had made the truce proposal.

Plan to float party

The Hizb has indicated that it would float a political party, adds PTI. “The Hizb is seriously considering to form a political organisation in the state,” Yazdani said.


Latehar (Jharkhand), Nov. 20: 
Mao would probably not have approved, but Maoist Communist Centre rebels could not be bothered about such niceties.

Taking a leaf out of the United Liberation Front of Asom notebook, the MCC has begun investing its money in commercial ventures outside the state.

Palamau superintendent of police Anil Palta claims that the Naxalite outfit has invested heavily in transport and non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) in Calcutta and in urban centres of Bihar through its top leadership in Bengal.

“We have proof of its investment in a leading Calcutta-based NBFC, which has high stakes in tourism and health,” Palta said. Documents, including bills, receipts and challans indicating its business transactions were unearthed in a series of raids on MCC bunkers inside the forests of Palamau and Latehar over the past few months.

Sources said the outfit was inspired by the Northeast insurgents who have business interests in Bangladesh, Bangkok and Singapore.

The MCC first decided to diversify its finances and create a permanent resource base in 1999 when it opened accounts with nationalised banks in Gaya. But the police soon got a whiff of the financial transactions and seized the accounts. After lying low for some time, it changed tack and began funnelling funds to NBFCs and transport sector firms as these were “relatively safer”.

“Calcutta was a natural choice for them because of its proximity (to Jharkhand). (Also,) most of its top leaders hail from Bengal,” Palta added.

Police sources said the money is collected by way of levies, 10 per cent commission on the multi-crore kendu leaf (beedi) and timber trade, illegal coal mining, quarrying and heavy vehicles plying through its area of operations.

But the bulk of the cash comes from the 5 per cent cut on development grants routed through the block development officers. One BDO based in Garhwa was killed by the MCC in October last year for refusing to pay the outfit.

The authorities learnt about the MCC’s investments when police busted more than a dozen bunkers in Latehar, Palamau and Chhatra. One bunker in Palamau used to serve as the office-cum-residence of the leaders.

“It had nine cubicles equipped with office gear, modern technology, communication system, archives and storage facilities. We recovered most of the documents from these bunkers,” Palta said.

Jharkhand police have so far recovered Rs 55 lakh in cash from bunkers. The money was stashed away in water tanks and buried. “This is the tip of the currency iceberg. Total collections would run into crores,” said a senior officer in Latehar.

Quoting the confession of a zonal commander in charge of MCC’s finances in Gaya, a senior police officer said: “In the Magadh zone alone, MCC’s annual collections add up to Rs 10 crore. In Jharkhand, it is much more as the sources of income are varied.”

Capitalising on a rift between the cadre and the top brass in the cities over the “business transactions”, the authorities are now trying to establish an initiative between Jharkhand and Bengal to freeze the flow of funds.

Jharkhand police will convene a “high-level” meet with its Bengal counterpart to chalk out an “effective strategy” soon.


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