Crisis over Sehwag, escape in Sachin
Scent of bargain in half clean chit
Amma in mother of all reforms
Sonia topper in Joshi’s class
Military aid for Nepal
Nepal appeals for help, Atal responds
New Year court deadline for poverty blitz
Terror law talks before PM trip
Jailed Laloo jammed in gizmo trap
Calcutta Weather

London & Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
The Indian cricket board and the game’s world body appeared headed for a showdown after Virender Sehwag was picked today for the first Test against England at Mohali.

In another show of defiance of the International Cricket Council (ICC), Indian cricket board chief Jagmohan Dalmiya dismissed the Friday deadline for deciding if Sehwag will be in the playing eleven.

An ICC spokesman said the council was “disappointed” that Sehwag had been included and added that there was unwillingness to extend the deadline set by chief executive Malcolm Speed.

But behind the display of belligerence on both sides, frantic talks were taking place to avert a crisis and rescue England’s tour of India, which will come under threat if Sehwag is played.

The ICC confirmed tonight that Speed had talked to Dalmiya yesterday and today and discussions will continue until the Friday deadline.

The ICC has threatened to derecognise the Mohali match as a Test if Sehwag is fielded since he has to serve a one-match ban handed by Mike Denness.

Replying to Speed’s letter setting the Friday deadline, Dalmiya said in a tone of ridicule: “You will appreciate that the participating teams announce their playing eleven before the start of the match. If you are going strictly by the rules, Clause C-10 (viii) of the players and team officials’ code of conduct specifically forbids disclosure of the composition of teams and pronounces appropriate penalties.”

Dalmiya said if India were to disclose the playing eleven in advance at ICC’s bidding, he and Speed could come under probe by the anti-corruption unit, which could even examine if the decision had “financial implications”.

He added that it would not be possible to say if Sehwag would be in the playing eleven before the morning of the match.

The ICC responded by saying that it was not asking for the whole team to be named but only that Sehwag would not play.

Throwing its weight behind the ICC, the England Cricket Board (ECB) said it would not play if the Mohali match was stripped of Test status. Its chairman, Lord MacLaurin, said: “We will not play a friendly Test match. We are there to play real cricket.”

In Dalmiya’s long reply to Speed, there is no mention of the possibility of the English team pulling out of its current tour. “Just as no one can dictate a deadline, individual opinions can’t dictate serious matters like calling off a tour. We’ll see what happens.”

Reacting to Speed’s apprehension that there could be “risk of injury in a highly charged atmosphere” if the Sehwag issue was not settled in advance, Dalmiya was again at his mocking best. “What is he talking about? The English team has been assured of adequate security measures at all centres. They are satisfied and that’s why they are here.”

Amid the noise of clashing swords, a PTI report from London quoted ICC spokesman Jonathan Hemus as saying: “Sachin Tendulkar has not been found guilty of ball-tampering. The punishment was for removing grass from the ball but not having informed the umpires, which is very different from ball-tampering.”

The ICC’s position has always been that Tendulkar was not penalised for ball-tampering but for not seeking permission to clean the ball, the spokesman said.

He added, though, that “if this helps to defuse the situation, we welcome it”. For the ICC, Sehwag, and not Sachin, is the key issue.

Speed said: “We have made it clear that we will defend the authority of umpires, referees, and the ICC itself, and will not accept that Sehwag can play.”

“We are, however, more than happy to ‘sit down, discuss and to find solutions and avert the crisis’, as Mr Dalmiya suggests in his letter. Indeed, that is why I initiated contact with Mr Dalmiya.”

For all his fire and aggression, Dalmiya too signed off on a conciliatory note. He said he is prepared to fly to “anywhere from US to Australia” to sit with the ICC and resolve the crisis.


Johannesburg, Nov. 28: 
The ball-tampering stigma seems to be off icon Sachin Tendulkar.

An International Cricket Council (ICC) spokesman said today Sachin did not tamper with the ball during last week’s Port Elizabeth Test. He “removed grass” without the umpire’s permission. Under the relevant law, such permission (actually, supervision) is mandatory.

The statement was made to a wire service.

What happens to Sachin’s one-Test suspended sentence, slapped by Mike Denness, isn’t clear but, with the ICC apparently going soft, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) may “reciprocate” by not playing Virender Sehwag in the Mohali Test versus England from December 3. Sehwag made the XIV selected in Jaipur today.

It may be recalled Denness had not received any complaint from either of the on-field umpires. The action was initiated by him.

Contacted at the Sandton Sun Intercontinental, the team hotel, Sachin responded with palpable happiness. “I haven’t heard anything officially but, really, this is good news. Yes, it does make me feel better... It’s not to suggest I regarded myself as guilty, but it’s pleasing that the ICC itself has issued some clarification,” he said.

ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed spoke to BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya last night for “around 10-15 minutes”. While Speed is understood to have focused on the Sehwag issue, Dalmiya also made the point about the “unwarranted stigma” on Sachin.

More than the one-Test ban on Sehwag, what infuriated the cricket fraternity (not just in India) was the guilty-of-ball-tampering verdict — though not in as many words — on Sachin. Now, the controversy should be viewed a little differently.

Earlier today, with the row having reached the who-blinks-first stage, the BCCI decided to send a signal which could either actually “improve” bargaining power or severely damage chances.

Yet, it was important for the BCCI to pick Sehwag, or, else, it would have been seen as having given in. According to sources, captain Sourav Ganguly and coach John Wright specifically asked for the Delhi allrounder. Just as important, the directive to the selectors was unambiguous: “Select the best XIV”.

As one of the selectors put it: “It’s not for us to determine the technicalities of where Sehwag stands vis-a-vis the ICC. Not that we don’t otherwise pick the best, but we were reminded (by BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah) to do precisely that.”

The allrounder’s selection came less than 24 hours after Speed set a Friday deadline for Dalmiya to revert on the Sehwag issue. Dalmiya replied this afternoon itself, giving a point-by-point response.

The ICC is adamant that Sehwag, following the ban slapped by Denness, shouldn’t be fielded in Mohali. The BCCI maintains it honoured that decision by not playing him in Centurion — a match which didn’t have ICC sanction.

Now, of course, the BCCI too may “soften”.


Chennai, Nov. 28: 
Everything Yashwant Sinha and chief ministers of all hues want to do but can’t has been done in one stroke by Jayalalithaa, neither a chief minister nor a finance minister.

Amma today unveiled the mother of all reform packages which proposes a slew of harsh measures that spares almost none.

The reforms range from downsizing the government to raising power and healthcare charges, from increasing the sales tax on a whole host of products to ramping up college fees — issues that were hot potatoes for even the most daring of governments.

After having orchestrated the reforms by remote control, Jayalalithaa met reporters today and put the blame for the “tough measures” squarely on the DMK government’s “overall mismanagement”. The previous regime, she told reporters, had made Tamil Nadu bankrupt and pushed the state’s “economy on the path of ruin”, leaving the coffers “absolutely empty”.

But the harsh steps could provide fodder to the Opposition to hit back at the O. Pannerselvam government which announced that the state “may commit itself” to the Centre and international financial agencies on “holistic, fiscal and sectoral reforms” covering all sectors, including power, transport and food. The state also said it would initiate talks with the World Bank to obtain an “economic restructuring loan”.

One of the worst hit by the reforms package will be government employees. The plan is to reduce staff strength by 30 per cent over a five-year period with a “suitable voluntary retirement scheme for employees in the government, public sector undertakings, local bodies and cooperatives”.

Filling up of vacant posts has been banned except in certain departments for certain categories of posts such as teachers, doctors and police constabulary. Travel perks have been slashed for various categories of government staff. Air travel eligibility in executive class has been restricted to only the top officials.

The common man will be hit by the power sector reforms that call for a steep increase in tariff. But Jayalalithaa has not disturbed the free power scheme for farmers.

She has also spared the price below-poverty-line people pay for PDS goods. But those above the line will have to pay a lot more. Rice, for instance, will cost them Rs 9 per kg. The differential pricing will help the government reduce its annual Rs 1,540-crore food subsidy bill by Rs 600 crore.

People of Tamil Nadu will also be hit by higher milk prices. Bus fares will go up as part of transport sector reforms.

Higher education, too, will become more expensive. Not only will MBBS courses cost more but also visitors calling on patients will have to pay Rs 5 each as a token fee during visiting hours at government hospitals.

This was the “bitter medicine”, Jayalalithaa claimed, that the state had to swallow to get back to health. “I appeal to the people to cooperate in this endeavour,” she said, brushing aside suggestions that the measures were “anti-people and inspired by the World Bank”.


New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
With charges of ‘Talibanisation’ or ‘saffronisation’ of history flying thick and fast, it’s curious that Sonia Gandhi and Murli Manohar Joshi should find themselves sitting on the same side of the education fence.

But Sonia did evoke friendly, dovish sounds from so-called Sangh hawk Joshi with her speech on the Bill that the Lok Sabha passed today to make education a fundamental right for children between the ages of six and 14.

At the end of a fiery discussion on the Bill, Joshi was quoting from the national education policy introduced by Rajiv Gandhi when he was Prime Minister.

“The Prime Minister and the human resource development ministry have given explicit directions to education policymakers to strictly go by the 1986 national education policy,” Joshi said in his reply to the debate.

It was as if the past week’s clawing over “distorting” history in textbooks published by the NCERT hadn’t happened at all.

“We want to develop a curriculum which is in the interests of the country and... help in meeting the goal of secularism and that it does not hurt religious sentiments,” Joshi said.

That was in answer to Sonia’s brief reference to the controversy when she said an “attempt was being made to review school syllabi to propagate a particular ideology”. And that wasn’t all. “If anyone raises any objections about the new textbooks, we are ready to remove the controversial portions,” Joshi said.

Sonia’s intervention came at the end of the discussion when she criticised certain provisions of the Bill without letting it sink to the level of the recent acrimony that has marked the debate on rewriting of history.

Opposition allegations of ‘saffronisation’ of education have nothing to do with the Constitution amendment Bill, but Sonia squeezed in a slice of criticism of the new syllabus in her speech. “While we want to ensure quality of education, we must also see that the content is in consonance with the tenets of the Constitution.”

The overflowing treasury benches did not start railing at the comment. And when it was Joshi’s turn to respond he thanked Sonia expansively for her “thoughtful, critical concerns”. “The Opposition leader, it is evident, has given a lot of thought to the Bill. And I am deeply thankful to her,” the minister gushed.

One of the main concerns voiced by Sonia was the provision in the Bill that would put the onus of educating children on the parents. “The word compulsory indicates enforcement rather than a fundamental right. Why should an illiterate landless labourer be considered guilty of an offence if he cannot send his child to school?” she asked.

Apart from the exclusion of children in the 0-6 age group from the ambit of the Bill, punishing parents was one of the main worries of the Opposition as well as government leaders.

“While we consider it necessary to make parents aware of their duty to send their children to school we have no intention of harassing them or penalising them if they are not able to do so,” Joshi replied.

The Bill was later passed unanimously.


New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today offered Nepal all assistance, including military help, after the kingdom sought India’s help to crush the Maoist rebellion.

Details of the assistance have not been spelt out but Delhi is expected to provide military gear like night-vision devices and share intelligence with Kathmandu.

Vajpayee spoke to King Gyanendra and assured him that “India will stand by Nepal at this difficult juncture”. The kingdom had earlier sought outside help. “We want support from wherever it comes, including from India, America,” home minister Khum Bahadur Khadka had told Reuters in an interview.


Nov. 28: 
The Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today spoke to King Gyanendra and assured him that India was willing to extend all assistance to Nepal in its hour of crisis.

Though the details have not been spelt out, much of this in real terms would mean military hardware and intelligence sharing between the two countries.

The Himalayan kingdom, which began the crackdown

This was the first conversation between Vajpayee and King Gyanendra since the massacre at the royal palace in Kathmandu in the middle of this year in which King Birendra and his entire family were wiped out. Yesterday, Vajpayee had spoken to his Nepalese counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba.

During this afternoon’s conversation between the two, the Prime Minister expressed India’s support for the emergency measures taken by Nepal to deal with the Maoist violence.

“India will stand by Nepal at this difficult juncture,” Vajpayee said. He also told King Gyanendra that he looked forward to visiting Kathmandu for the scheduled Saarc summit in January next year.

King Gyanendra explained the circumstances in which emergency was imposed in the country on the recommendations of the Nepal Cabinet. Referring to the old relations between the two countries, the king thanked India for standing by Nepal in the past and hoped that New Delhi will continue to do so even in the future and during the present crisis.

The Prime Minister told him that his government has already instructed the BSF (Border Security Force) to interact closely with their Nepalese counterpart and keep a strict vigil on the porous border between the two countries. Similar instructions have also been given to states which share a border with Nepal to ensure that Maoist supporters do not take advantage of the porous border and seek shelter in India.

The Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said the Maoist activists were nothing better than terrorists. “Such forces that take recourse to violence to achieve their objective pursue terrorist goals.” She, however, refused to give details of the kind of help that India was willing to give to Nepal.

Yesterday, the Nepalese army chief Gen. Prajwalla S.J.B. Rana met his Indian counterpart Gen. S.Padmanabhan in New Delhi. Though details of the talks were not known, indications suggest he was requested South Block for military hardware. The hardware that Gen. Rana sought from India included ammunition for the infantry, weapons and artillery, engineering equipments and Maruti Gypsies to carry out operations in mountainous regions of Nepal.

Army operations

Today, soldiers hunted down Maoist rebels in remote mountain terrain and used helicopters to try to locate the Maoists. Officials said 66 rebels had been killed in army operations that began on Monday night.

The army had also foiled plans for major rebel offensives in Okhaldhunga in the east and Jajarkot in the west, the defence ministry said in a statement. It gave no other details.

It said troops had also recovered weapons, ammunition and explosives and some cash from Sallyan district, close to where Maoists had staged deadly attacks at the weekend. Nepal, which has some 45,000 soldiers, had previously used its ill-equipped police force to fight the rebels from the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

But its army, while better trained and renowned as fierce fighters, have been used of late for overseas peacekeeping missions and have little experience in guerrilla warfare in mountainous terrain suitable for deadly hit-and-run attacks.

Activist detained

Police today stopped a prominent human rights activist from leaving the country for examination of a heart ailment, and briefly arrested him without a warrant.

Police arrested Padma Ratna Tuladhar at the Tribhuwan International Airport as he was about to board an Indian Airlines plane bound for New Delhi.


New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
The Supreme Court today fixed January 1, 2002, as the deadline for the governments of all states, Union Territories and the central government to implement various pro-poor and poverty alleviation schemes.

The court further directed that rice and wheat “rotting” in government godowns be distributed free of cost to the poor and the needy.

A division bench comprising Justices B.N. Kirpal and K.G. Balakrishnan asked the various governments and administrations to provide relief to the poor, needy and destitute women.

The chief secretaries of states would be held responsible for implementation of the schemes.

The directive came on a petition filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties that contends “millions go hungry every night when rice and wheat rot in government godowns”.

The schemes include identification of below poverty line families, Antyodaya Anna Yojana, national old-age pension scheme, Annapurna scheme, integrated child development scheme, national maternity benefit scheme and national family benefit scheme.

The apex court in its interim order said that the governments should identify the beneficiaries of the schemes by January 1, 2002, and provide them identification cards and rations (of rice, wheat and other cereals) as provisioned in the various schemes by the deadline.

The directive also ordered that a compliance report be filed in court.

The court sought a status report on the mid-day meal scheme under which poor children have to be provided “cooked food” every afternoon in school. A majority of states have scrapped the programme and a few give “dry ration” instead.

The judges said, “dry ration supply is unacceptable,” and declined to entertain any argument that the states were running short of funds to implement some programmes like the mid-day meal scheme.

The apex court heard arguments both for the PUCL and the central government, represented by attorney general Soli J. Sorabjee.

“It is the case of the Centre that there has been full compliance of its obligations, if any, under these schemes. However, if any of the states give specific instance of non-compliance, the Union government will do the needful within the framework of the scheme,” the directive said.

“Either the governments frame schemes to implement or no schemes at all,” the judges observed, pointing it was meaningless to formulate schemes that could not be implemented.

The Delhi government was specifically directed to make available application forms free of cost so that its public distribution scheme could be made more effective.

Under the scheme, the state government is obliged to identify below poverty line families and make ration cards and at least 25 kilograms of wheat or rice available to them.

The court ordered the governments to distribute free of cost rice and wheat under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana to those families who could not afford to pay.

Earlier, the court had pulled up the governments for their failure to implement the “food for work” programme for poor families.

The court directed the governments to determine families below the below poverty line and appoint officers at the district and mohalla levels for effective distribution of free foodgrain.

The PUCL petition also sought a direction for effective implementation of the Famine Code, citing the example of starvation deaths in Orissa and other states.

The case will be taken up for further hearings and monitoring after January 1.


New Delhi, Nov. 28: 
The government has decided to call the all-party meeting on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance next week before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee leaves for Japan on December 7.

Government sources indicated that whatever the outcome of the meeting, they were determined to bring the anti-terror Bill in the House to replace the present Ordinance after Vajpayee returned on December 11.

The sources said that given the mood at the last meeting of the consultative committee attached to the home ministry, a consensus seemed elusive. The Opposition stuck to its stand with the Congress, the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and others making it clear that the Ordinance was unacceptable to them. On its part, the government refused to discuss what changes, if any, it was willing to concede in the Bill.

The matter appears deadlocked on who should first moot the changes: while the government wants the Opposition parties to come up with suggestions for changes they may want in the proposed legislation, the Opposition wants the government to first lay its cards on the table.

The government had informally disclosed that it was amenable to make amendments, especially after some NDA constituents made it clear that they would not accept the anti-terror Ordinance in its existing form and wanted certain clauses relating to the media to be dropped.

The government now seems more or less reconciled to the defeat of the proposed Bill in the Rajya Sabha where it lacks the numbers. Sources also sounded less categorical on the idea of a joint session of both Houses to get the Bill through after the Prime Minister rejected it while speaking to newspersons last week.

The only political option before the BJP, said party sources, was to exploit the Ordinance’s “divisive” potential in the Uttar Pradesh elections and consolidate its Hindutva votes.

Srinagar stays in

Normal life in Kashmir ground to a halt today in response to a general strike called by the Kashmir Bar Association against the implementation of the proposed Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, reports our correspondent.

Shops and business establishments were closed in the Valley as stone-throwing youths took over the streets. Most state government offices, banks and educational institutions remained closed. Traffic was thin.

As part of the security bandobast, police had sealed the house of Ghulam Mohammad Dar in Safakadal. State police chief A.K. Suri said special operations group recovered a pistol, 37 rounds of ammunition and two wireless sets from Dar’s house.

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah told reporters that his government would make full use of the anti-terror Ordinance.


Ranchi, Nov. 28: 
Laloo Yadav, now lodged in the makeshift jail at the Bacon Factory guesthouse on the outskirts of the capital, has been caught in a “gizmo-trap”.

Abiding near perfectly by the jail manual and court directives, the Jharkhand government — the Ranchi district administration to be exact — has ensured that the high-profile fodder scam accused gradually loses his contacts with the outside world.

The Uptron mobile-jammer installed at the jail is working fine, frustrating all attempts by Laloo’s cellphone-savvy aides to keep in touch with their master.

A senior Bihar cadre IPS officer, who had parked his official car some half-a-kilometre from the jail, was heard hurriedly passing on instructions to people in Patna on his cellphone from there after he came out of a meeting with Laloo.

“The biggest problem that Laloo, on his third day of confinement, is facing is how to run his wife’s government in Bihar. That is why some senior Bihar officer manages to meet him inside the jail every day. By now, chief minister Rabri Devi has met him thrice in two days,” said a senior Jharkhand police official.

The former Bihar chief minister has been provided with a black-and-white television that beams just DD-1 and DD-Metro, sources said, adding that Laloo made a request to bring him all newspapers this morning.

By now, Bihar home secretary U.N. Panjiar and director-general of police R.R. Prasad, besides some Bihar ministers, have met Laloo. Incidentally, the Bihar police chief said he was in Jharkhand to attend an official meeting on the Naxalite menace. Sources at the Jharkhand police headquarters, however, denied any such meeting was held. Asked about the matter, Jharkhand DGP T.P. Sinha said: “No comments.”

“For someone like Laloo who is so used to taking crucial decisions everyday, this confinement is like being caged. I can safely say that Rabri used to consult her husband on matters of governance. Now that channel is completely broken. A few more days in jail, and the impact will be felt in Bihar,” said a senior RJD leader.

Asked how Rabri was allowed to meet her husband thrice in two days, a senior district official said the jail superintendent had the discretion to do so under Rule 619. The rule is also applicable to a relative who has come to meet a prisoner from a distant place.

Unlike yesterday, when scores of cars were parked outside the camp jail, the number of visitors went down today. Still some vehicles bearing Patna registration numbers were seen parked outside the prison.

The jail is located too far from the capital, 3 km off the main Kanke Road. This, sources said, has been a handicap for those who intend to visit the former Bihar chief minister. Yet, Jharkhand speaker Inder Singh Namdhari and Jharkhand Vikas Party leader Suraj Mandal met Laloo today.

Another Bihar cadre IPS officer, Gupteshwar Pandey, the former Ranchi senior superintendent of police, is reported to be in the capital from Day One of Laloo’s arrival. Sources said Pandey, who was Nalanda SP, has been appointed officer on special duty to civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain, though the Bihar DGP is yet to relieve him.




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