House hawks gag ‘illegal occupant’
People power to rein in parliamentarians
Baby death panel shies off naming culprits
Swoop on scribe with Veerappan ‘link’
Naxalites take battle to rival den
Crackdown on Christian baiters with arrest free hand
Naidu stick for pranksters
CPM ‘pat’ for Panja
Job hunt ends in road crash

New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
Opposition lawmakers tore into George Fernandes in the Lok Sabha today, branding him “untouchable” and raising the possibility that the defence minister might face a “social boycott” inside the House if tempers did not cool.

In an unprecedented move, a united Opposition did not allow Fernandes to answer a written question on defence matters listed against his name, saying he was an “illegal occupant” in the defence ministry.

The attack was so savage that within 15 minutes into question hour, Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi was forced to adjourn the House for three hours till 2 pm.

Trouble erupted as soon as the House assembled for question hour. The first question by CPI member Prabodh Panda and Congress MP Putta Swamy Gowda was on lifting the ban on arms agents.

When the Speaker asked Panda to pose his query, the MP said: “I don’t like to put a question as he (Fernandes) is illegally occupying the chair.” Panda was immediately supported by other Opposition members who raised slogans against the government for reinducting Fernandes even before the Venkataswami commission had completed its Tehelka probe.

“You are setting a new precedent,” Balayogi told Panda. But the CPI MP stuck to his stand.

Balayogi then asked Putta Swamy Gowda to pose a supplementary, but the Congress member echoed Panda. “Even though it is my right to put a question, I don’t want to put my question because he (Fernandes) is illegally occupying the chair,” he said.

“You (the Opposition) are creating a new precedent in the House,” the exasperated Speaker replied. “If you are not interested, you allow other members to put supplementaries.” But the Opposition was in no mood to relent.

To Fernandes’ discomfiture, no BJP heavyweight was around to come to his rescue when the Opposition launched into him. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan were absent.

Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj, the only senior Cabinet minister present, did not speak up though she went up to Fernandes to empathise with him. Senior BJP member V.K. Malhotra made an attempt to defend the National Democratic Alliance convener, but his voice was drowned in the din.

Some members warned they would not allow Fernandes to reply in the future also.

Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said his party would continue to boycott Fernandes by not asking him any questions in future. On Monday, the Congress had walked out on the issue, which Das Munshi said was a “living issue” for his party.

Later, outside the House, in a bid to further embarrass the government, the Congress gave a notice under Rule 184, which entails voting, to discuss Fernandes’ reinduction. Balayogi, however, has not yet taken a decision on the censure motion.

Government sources said admission of the notice depended on its language. Maintaining that the Opposition could not discuss the Prime Minister’s prerogative in appointing his ministers, they said the Speaker could reject the motion on technical grounds.

Later, talking to reporters, Malhotra strongly backed Fernandes’ reinduction and condemned the manner in which the Opposition had stalled proceedings. The BJP spokesperson said the Venkataswami commission was taking too long. “We are not happy with the commission,” he said. “We cannot play with the life of a good political person.”

He said even after it had been agreed that question hour would not be disrupted, the Opposition was indulging in this kind of action and the issue will be taken up at the meeting of presiding officers convened by the Speaker on Sunday.

Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy told reporters that the reinduction of Fernandes had no parallel or precedent in political history of independent India as the Samata leader had earlier declared he would not return to the Cabinet till he was cleared by the commission.

Reddy said the protests against the defence minister was “spontaneous”. “It is a contaminated Cabinet. There are so many tainted ministers. We can take them on only in instalments,” he quipped when asked why his party was not targeting the three ministers chargesheeted in the Ayodhya case.


New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
In an effort to bring some discipline in Parliament, the Lok Sabha ethics committee today recommended that citizens should be allowed to complain against any MP for unethical conduct.

Rules are likely to be framed specifying acts of commission or omission which constitute unethical conduct and are not already mentioned in the rules and directions.

To check misuse of the provision, complainants will have to submit an affidavit saying the complaint has been made in good faith and is not false, frivolous or vexatious.

The complaints can be sent to the Speaker who will forward them to the chairman of the ethics committee.

Other recommendations of the committee, headed by former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, are:

It may be made mandatory for all members of the House to disclose their income, assets and liabilities and they should be required to file financial disclosure statements immediately after their election.

Members may file revised forms whenever any change occurs and also at the end of the tenure of the Lok Sabha.

A register of members’ interests may be maintained in the Lok Sabha secretariat on the basis of information furnished by the members. The interests mean primarily financial interests, such as investment in shares.

The register should be treated as confidential and the information made available to a complainant only with the permission of the Lok Sabha Speaker.

Legislature parties inside the House and political parties outside should take an interest in disciplining MPs.

The committee may also suo motu take up for investigation matters relating to ethics, wherever felt necessary.

The procedure to be followed by the committee for the purpose of examining complaints of unethical conduct of members may, as far as possible, be the same as the procedure adopted by the committee of privileges for inquiry and determination of any question as to breach of privilege of the House or a member.

These recommendations will come up for discussion in the meeting convened by the Speaker, G.M.C. Balayogi, here on November 25 to find ways and means to discipline MPs and smoothen functioning of Parliament.

The meeting will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and attended by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, chief ministers, Union ministers and other dignitaries.


Lucknow, Nov. 22: 
The third committee probing the death of 11 infants of alleged oxygen shortage at King George Medical College has concluded that the allegation was genuine but failed to hold anyone responsible.

The committee has found no fault with either the doctors or the staff at the hospital.

Hope of justice for the bereaved parents was dashed as the government-appointed committee, headed by special secretary R.S. Dubey, gave the medical college administration a clean chit.

Earlier, two committees, one set up by the college itself and another by the Prime Minister’s Office, had both shied away from pinning the blame on those responsible for the oxygen shortage.

The death of the infants, on November 3 and 4, had triggered state-wide protests. But the Dubey committee said: “No one was directly responsible for it (the deaths).’’

In their reports to the government, the two earlier committees had said the infants “had not died due to lack of oxygen at the hospital”.

The state committee has, however, issued a showcause notice to the head of the neo-natal department and the superintendent of the hospital.

Relieved at the committee’s “findings’’, a cheerful Narendra Gaur, minister for medical education, said the matter had come to an end. Gaur said another committee was being formed to check the “technical flaws of the hospital system”.

There have been reports that the equipment in the infants’ ward were not in working condition that day and the ventilator and oxymeter were out of order.

Gaur himself admitted to have found leakages in the oxygen supply during his inspection of the hospital after the incident.

Surprisingly, though the medical college has denied any fault of its staff or in its systems, it has called in experts from Delhi to repair the gas pipelines.

Gaur has also admitted that of the eight ventilators in the ward, only three were working. Out of five incubators, only three were technically sound. Snags were also found in several infant-warmers. The ward was functioning with a minimum of nursing staff.

The minister admitted that not buying the 26 sanctioned oxygen cylinders was gross negligence but added that “all this had nothing to do with the death of the infants”.


Bangalore, Nov. 22: 
A Nakkeeran journalist who was the first to interview Veerappan has confessed that he was planning to supply electronic gadgets to the forest brigand, police claimed.

Thirty-one-year-old reporter Sivasubramaniam was arrested on Tuesday by the Special Task Force patrol at the Yediherhalla forest range and remanded in judicial custody. He has been charged with having a nexus with Veerappan.

“It is not a suspicion. He has confessed,” Chamarajnagar superintendent of police P. Harishekharan said. Chamarjnagar is a border district close to Gajanur village from where Veerappan abducted actor Raj Kumar.

But Sivasubramaniam’s editor in Chennai, R.R. Gopal, who played emissary during the Raj Kumar hostage crisis last year, has cried foul. He alleged his reporter might have been abducted by the task force personnel to provide leads on Veerappan’s whereabouts. During Gopal’s frequent forays into the jungle to negotiate with Veerappan for Raj Kumar’s release, the editor was accompanied by Sivasubramaniam.

Although both the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu police have failed to track down Veerappan, Nakkeeran’s editor has had easy access to the sandalwood smuggler, giving rise to speculation of a possible nexus between the forest brigand and Gopal. But the editor, who also sports a Veerappan-style handlebar moustache, has denied the charges.

Police in Karnataka had booked cases in the early nineties against Gopal for alleged links with Veerappan. But the government was forced to drop the charges last year as Gopal made it a pre-condition for playing the role of emissary to secure Raj Kumar’s release.

While the sale of Nakkeeran soared during the kidnap drama, it has never been proved that Gopal made money during negotiations. But the editor of Nettrikann, Nakkeeran’s rival magazine, produced an audio tape last week in which Veerappan allegedly says that Gopal made several crores of rupees during talks to release Raj Kumar.

During the negotiations, the Karnataka government had given a clean chit to Gopal in public, but in private it had expressed reservations on the editor’s credentials.


Gaya, Nov. 22: 
The extremist Maoist Communist Centre struck last night in the heart of the Ranbir Sena territory in Gaya district by blowing up a paramilitary patrol jeep, killing six people including five jawans.

The blast took place in a village located about 85 km from the state capital just four days before the Naxalite-sponsored Bihar-Jharkhand bandh.

Observers said the attack was aimed at reviving old rivalries. A series of killings and counterkillings by the Naxalites and the Ranbir Sena in the nineties had transformed the Belagunge-Mukdumpur area into a zone of violence.

Although the last two years had been relatively calm, the Naxalites have openly challenged the private militia and the security forces by engineering the blast inside Ranbir Sena territory.

MCC activists are believed to have borrowed landmine technology from the PWG after the two groups recently decided to close ranks and work together.

The Naxalites entered Chirmichibigha village under Belagunge police station area to lay the landmine on an unmetalled road, which fell on the patrolling route of the security forces. The villagers, celebrating the Chhat festival at a nearby village fair, did not suspect anything.

“The road ran through a patch of forest and the MCC as well as PWG cadres hid themselves in it to monitor the operation,” said a police officer posted at the Belagunge police station.

As the patrol van carrying five Bihar military Police jawans moved down the unmetalled road around 7 pm yesterday, the landmine went off engulfing the vehicle and its occupants in a ball of fire.

“The police van splintered into 50 small pieces and went high up in the air to get scattered around the village,” said Nitin Sharma, an eyewitness and resident of the village. Immediately after the deafening blast, the Naxalites swooped on the site of the explosion and snatched the weapons belonging to the jawans.

According to the police, the guerrillas carried away four self-loading rifles, one carbine and one revolver. The MCC also shouted slogans against the Ranbir Sena before fleeing.

“The MCC appears to have acquired the landmine technology from the PWG which first introduced the device here in Bihar. But this may be one of the very few cases in which they got involved in the blast,” said Ashis Ranjan Sinha, additional director general of police, Bihar.


Bhopal, Nov. 22: 
Chief minister Digvijay Singh has ordered police to arrest anyone caught circulating posters and handouts in the Dhar-Jhabua tribal belt with messages branding Christians “anti-nationals”.

Pamphlets with slogans like “Rashtra birodhi Isai samudai ke khilaf awaaz uthao (raise your voice against the anti-national Christian community)” are already doing the rounds.

“The posters have no name of any printer on them. But the culprits have been identified. We have registered cases under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and race) and they will be arrested,” the chief minister said.

The needle of suspicion points to the RSS, which has declared a Dharam Jagran Abhiyan in Dhar and Jhabua districts of south-west Madhya Pradesh.

In the massive religious campaign starting Sunday, nearly 3,000 RSS swayamsevaks will hit villages in the tribal belt with Hanuman, Ganesh and Shiva idols and portraits.

Though the RSS official version says less than 3,000 volunteers will be at work, the BJP’s spokesman here, Prabhat Jha, puts the figure at nothing less than “11,000 Sangh parivar workers” who have been given the job of preaching tribals the virtues of Hinduism.

The seven-week mission’s prime objective will be reaching Hanuman to every Bhil and Bhilala tribal home. Bhils and Bhilalas, who make up the majority in Dhar and Jhabua, belong to the Hindu community. But they do not worship the main Hindu gods. Nor do they keep pictures of Hindu deities in their homes.

Each Bhil tribal village has its own adivasi idol, which they call the “gram devta”. Most of these idols are placed beneath a mahua tree.

The Bhilalas, who are offspring of Bhils and Paramar/Solanki Rajputs, believe in worshipping their “kuldevta”, who may not necessarily be a well-known Hindu deity.


Hyderabad, Nov. 22: 
Parents of 6,500 college students received a personal letter from chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, urging them to keep a watch on their children after freshers were harassed by their seniors at a college here.

When the envelope was opened by the parents, the message was loud and clear: The letter warned that severe punishment awaited children whose pranks led to other students committing suicide.

Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu also directed that copies of anti-ragging Act be displayed in all colleges of Andhra Pradesh.

Freshers of the Gandhi Medical College were asked by their seniors to undress in public and were photographed. The photographs were then used to blackmail the students.

Though a number of complaints were made to the college authorities, the incident was reportedly hushed up.

Following a media exposure this week, the students were arrested by the police, and later released on bail.

Naidu has directed the health secretary and the director general of medical services to investigate the incident .

A press release from the chief minister’s office said that Naidu plans to hold a meeting with parents and the Opposition to provide more teeth to the anti-ragging Act.

The Act states the following:

Six months remand and Rs 1,000 fine for first and minor offences

One year jail and Rs 5,000 fine for incidents leading to suicidal attempts of juniors

Ten years of rigorous imprisonment and a penalty of up to Rs 50,000 for killing and suicides of students

While police are investigating the case, the Andhra Pradesh Mahila Commission has summoned the college officials and the parents of the accused students for an enquiry.

The incident has generated much anger in the city. Last evening, agitated parents at the JNTU college decided to take matters into their hands. A girl’s guardians caught a senior student ragging her and punished him with the consent of others around.


Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
The Trinamul Congress has slammed urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya’s decision to nominate rebel MP Ajit Panja as a member of the Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Committee, dubbing it a clever ploy of the ruling Marxists to “undermine the status and authority of their bete noire, Mamata Banerjee”.

The move, Trinamul leaders claimed, was aimed at “placating the suspended MP with a view to politically utilising his services against Mamata Banerjee”.

“We have a number of MPs from Calcutta and Jadavpur who could be made members of the committee, but the state government preferred to nominate a suspended MP for obvious reasons. It wants to give Panja some kind of recognition. The state government’s decision is totally undemocratic and indicates (Bhattacharya’s) low political taste,” leader of Opposition in the Assembly Pankaj Banerjee said.

“The state government should have consulted us before nominating Panja who has been suspended for anti-party activities. We are the official party and there are other MLAs and MPs in our party who could have been taken in the committee. They have the expertise on urban development and are in a position to make important suggestions for the city’s development. It is also obvious the CPM is trying to play politics by ignoring us,” Trinamul chief whip Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay said.

Bhattacharya recently nominated 20 people from different walks of life to the 60-member panel after elections for 40 posts. The Left Front partners swept the polls, occupying 28 posts with 12 going to the Opposition parties.

Bhattacharya, however, refuted the Trinamul charge, saying: “There is no politics behind the nomination of committee members. Our aim is to speed up development works in the city. It is immaterial who belongs to which political party.”

Panja appeared elated over his new assignment. Asked about the Trinamul reaction, he said: “Let the dogs bark, the elephant will reach its destination.”


Siliguri, Nov. 22: 
They set off from home in the hope of a better life, 90 of them from Cooch Behar, packed into an open lorry. But before they could reach their destination — a brick kiln in Bihar — their lorry collided with a truck on Phuleshwari Bypass, leaving seven dead, including one of the drivers, and 52 injured. Among the dead were three girls and two women.

A contract labourer, Ashir Ali, had promised these seasonal workers from Choto Salbari and Boro Salbari in Cooch Behar jobs at a brick kiln in Gopalgunj in east Bihar and put them on a lorry on Wednesday night.

“The lorry collided head-on with an iron rod-laden trailer truck some 20 km from here around three this morning. Six persons died on the spot; another succumbed to injuries at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital. Fifty-two were injured, 10 of them seriously,” a police official said.

Lying in the male casualty ward at the medical college with a chest injury, 25-year-old Ananta Saha from Choto Salbari said: “We were hired by Ashir Ali. He had promised to pay me Rs 120 for every thousand bricks I made. He even paid an advance of Rs 100 yesterday before we boarded the truck. It was still dark when there was a sudden impact and I was tossed in the air. I was lucky to be thrown out of the lorry which was packed like sardines. The next thing I remember was lying here at the hospital.”

For 40-year-old mother of two, Ashana Saha, the trip to Gopalgunj was to be a ticket to a full belly for her husband and two minor girls. She took her daughters along.

Lying on the floor with a fractured leg and clutching on to her six-year-old injured daughter, Ashana says she does not know where her husband and other daughter are.

Contractor Ali’s name does not figure on the list of injured. Doctors at the medical college said only one of the dead, 40-year-old Nurjahan Bibi from Boro Salbari, has been identified so far.


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