Hooch, tariff hikes rock reform drive
Bandh call to protest Jaya plan
Rebel-hit Naidu pads up for PM
Authors protest history snips
Low-key anniversary
Public heat melts terror law seal on house

Chennai, Dec. 1: 

Killer brew toll climbs past 50

Ayyanar was on his way home when he stopped for a drink.

The 30-year-old farmhand from Natham, a village near Panruti, was returning after telling his mother-in-law that his pregnant wife, Chandra, had been admitted to the government hospital in Cuddalore.

He wanted to celebrate.

But Ayyanar mistook the “killer brew” for the arrack he was so used to. Within minutes, the poison liquor started churning his stomach. The young man vomited, then collapsed. He was taken to the Cuddalore government hospital, where he died.

In another ward of the same hospital, Chandra went into labour even as her husband’s body was being taken to the mortuary.

Stories like these are reaching Chennai from Cuddalore, even as the toll climbed past 50 in one of the worst hooch tragedies in Tamil Nadu that hit a cluster of villages near Panruti. Over 150 people are still in hospital. They are said to be “out of danger”.

While PTI put the toll at 53 this evening, including eight who died since morning, official sources in Cuddalore put the figure at 50. Most of the victims died at the Cuddalore government hospital. One died in the Jipmer hospital in Pondicherry.

The sources denied local reports that at least 50 patients had become blind. They maintained it could have happened only if the spurious liquor contained “methanol”.

Top police officials, including director-general B.P. Nailwal, and a team of doctors have reached Cuddalore. The police have constituted four teams to probe the cause of the tragedy.

The sources claimed that illicit distillation of arrack had been contained in the district, but did not rule out misuse of rectified spirit coming to various chemical industries in the area. One of the arrested bootleggers, a woman, has confessed to buying the spurious liquor from a seasoned hand in neighbouring Pondicherry, which, unlike Tamil Nadu, is not partially dry.

Apparently, a “new intoxicating agent” had been tried out in this batch of liquor sachets that was smuggled into the state, the sources said. They said the symptoms this time were different from earlier cases when people fell ill after consuming illicit arrack. Many of the victims just collapsed, the sources added quoting eyewitnesses.

Later in the evening, district authorities clammed up when asked for more details. Three police personnel have been suspended and several others of the Prohibition Enforcement Wing have been transferred.

The tragedy sparked another round of political confrontation with PMK leader S. Ramadoss demanding that the ADMK government accept moral responsibility and quit.

Ramadoss said hooch-related incidents had become a recurring affair in the state, which proved that the prohibition policy had “failed”.


Chennai, Dec. 1: 
Led by the Congress and the Left parties, the Opposition today called for a statewide bandh on December 7 to protest against the reforms and the tariff hikes even as ADMK chief Jayalalithaa tried to hardsell her party’s economic restructuring.

Reiterating that the reforms package was necessitated by the “utter mismanagement” of the economy by the previous DMK regime, Jayalalithaa said the total “debt burden” left behind by the DMK amounted to Rs 4,460 crore.

“Things were so bad that this financial year had to begin with Rs 242 crores borrowed from the Reserve Bank of India. Had we deferred the reforms package any further, Tamil Nadu would have been on the brink of bankruptcy,” she said seeking support, irrespective of party differences, for the fiscal restructuring.

Jayalalithaa said people living below the poverty line and other weaker sections will not be affected. She argued that there was no need to convene the Assembly to discuss the issues as a white paper on the state’s finances, placed in the last budget session, had detailed the fiscal crisis.

But the Opposition was not convinced. The Congress, Tamil Maanila Congress, CPM, CPI, Congress Jananayaga Peravai, Makkal Tamil Desam and the Dalit Panthers of India among others, decided to call a dawn-to-dusk bandh to express their rejection of the reforms package.


Hyderabad, Dec. 1: 
As Naxalite violence raged in Andhra Pradesh for the second day today, the state government swung into action to beef up security ahead of the Prime Minister’s scheduled visit tomorrow.

A day after sending a chilling message by attacking factories, including one associated with chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s wife, People’s War Group activists went on the rampage again, blowing up a sub-court building and shooting a Congress activist.

Naidu held a meeting with defence minister George Fernandes and apprised him of the situation.

National Security Guards and Special Protection Group personnel have begun taking up position in the state capital, where the security problem has been compounded after senior ministers began arriving for the wedding reception of infotech minister Pramod Mahajan’s daughter. She is getting married to a software engineer from here.

But the tightest security ring has been thrown around the Indian School of Business where Vajpayee is expected to spend an hour. SPG forces are also being stationed at all key junctions and the airport.

Asked if the Prime Minister would have lunch at the Indian School of Business, dean Pramath Sinha said: “The Prime Minister will only walk around the main academic building and spend about one hour.” About 100 corporate bigwigs will also attend the inauguration of the Rs 225-crore business school.

Andhra director-general of police H.J. Dora said his forces were working out a strategy to provide security to private industry as the Naxalites have made them their new target. Politicians have also been advised to restrict their movements and take armed bodyguards.

The police chief claimed that the PWG attack on industry was a sure sign of desperation. The people, he said, resented their destruction of public buildings like schools, government offices and bus termini. Workers of factories, too, had begged the rebels not to destroy their units as their livelihood depended on these plants.

Naidu said a prolonged effort should be made to rein in the extremists. He told Fernandes that neighbouring Chhattisgarh had now become a haven for the militants.

Rebels today struck in Chhattisgarh as well, hacking a constable at Dantewada and fleeing with his rifle. In Andhra, six armed militants stormed the Asifabad sub-court in Adilabad district after Friday midnight and used detonators to blast a portion of the building. At Gajwel town in Medak district, guerrillas shot Congress activist J. Venkat Reddy.


New Delhi, Dec. 1: 
The entire panel of historians routinely reviled by the Sangh parivar and the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), barring Bipan Chandra, today held a news conference and slammed the deletions from history textbooks authored by them.

For the first time since the recent acrimony over history textbooks peaked, the “much maligned” spoke against the “Talibanisation” of education. “It is not a confrontation between the Right and the Left. It is a confrontation between professional historians, politicians and administrators,” said Romila Thapar.

The NCERT has applied the scissors to her textbook on ancient India — a book that has been taught in schools all over India since 1966. Textbooks by R.S. Sharma, Satish Chandra, Arjun Dev and Indira Dev met much the same fate.

The historians were not only enraged at the attempts to politicise and saffronise history but also at the violation of the authors’ fundamental right.

The historians have suddenly found themselves in the dock for their interpretations — Thapar for having suggested that the Aryans could have come from outside India, Chandra for pointing to a conflict other than religious between Teg Bahadur and the Mughals, and Sharma for underlining the varna system.

“History has become a precise and analytical discipline. People do not realise that historians are trained individuals. The subject cannot be reduced to just an opinion of some individuals,” Thapar said.

Students should be exposed to multiple theories and sources, not just from religious texts but also other disciplines like archaeology, the panel said. The policymakers are bent on tailoring history to suit a particular ideology, it added.

The NCERT’s fiat to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to trim portions from history textbooks is an infringement on the rights of authors, the historians argued.

“Deleting portions from the existing textbooks is a contravention of copyright. In the agreement drawn up with the NCERT, it was clear that no changes in the textbooks will be made without the authors’ permission,” said Thapar.

Arjun Dev, who retired from the NCERT after a 36-year association and after heading its history department, said: “The NCERT director was lying when he said the copyright of changing a textbook rests with the organisation and not the authors.”

Chandra, who has perhaps received maximum brickbats — for “degrading” Guru Teg Bahadur — said: “The basic discipline of history is to bring to the notice of the students multiple facts and teach them to think analytically.”

Chandra said all he had done was to suggest that the conflict between Tegh Bahadur and the Mughals was not solely on religious grounds. “There were personal, social and economic conflicts as well,” he said.


New Delhi, Dec. 1: 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has decided to observe December 6 in a low-key manner to stay “focused” on starting construction of the Ram temple and not get “distracted”.

VHP general secretary Acharya Giriraj Kishore told The Telegraph that the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition — normally observed as Shaurya Divas (Day of Valour) — will be marked by “small and local functions”.

“There will be no large-scale programme in state capitals or district headquarters as was the case in the past. Our entire attention and energies are concentrated on preparing for the great day,” he said.

The “great day” is March 12, the deadline set by the VHP for the Centre to find a solution to the Ayodhya “dispute”, failing which it would go ahead and start building a permanent temple on the disputed 2.77 acres.

Kishore said nobody from the Ayodhya cell, which the Prime Minister had promised to constitute as part of the Cabinet secretariat, had contacted the VHP.

“We are not even sure whether the officer who was asked to head the cell has taken over yet,” he said. Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said Shatrughan Singh, an IAS officer of the Uttaranchal cadre who was handed the job, will do so soon.

Another senior VHP leader, Acharya Dharmendra, today came out openly against the Centre and stated that the “inordinate delay” on its part had “closed all doors of negotiations with the government”.

He was quoted by agencies as saying in Jodhpur: “The only way left is to start construction of the temple after March 12.” Dharmendra reiterated that the temple was a “matter of faith” for Hindus and the proposal to leave it to the court was “bad thinking”.

Kishore said VHP activists were busy whipping up the “right climate of public opinion” in favour of the temple. They would conduct Ram naam jap yagnas across the country all through December and embark on a Chetavni Yatra from Ayodhya to Delhi in January.

It would end on January 27 with a meeting with the Prime Minister, in which, the VHP leader warned, he would be asked to hand over the disputed land to the VHP to enable them to start construction.


Srinagar, Dec. 1: 
Bowing to public pressure, police have handed back to its owner the house they had sealed invoking provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. Police had alleged that the house sheltered militants.

The police handed over the house in the Safakadal neighbourhood, from which the Special Operations Group had recovered a pistol and some ammunition, following reprimands from the state Cabinet, which met in Jammu under the chairmanship of chief minister Farooq Abdullah and expressed concern over the police action.

Labelling the action as “unreasonable” and raising apprehensions of future misuse of the anti-terrorism ordinance, the Cabinet instructed the police to ensure that “provisions of Poto are not misused or violated”.

Elsewhere, seven girls arrested by the security forces from Bandipora in Baramullah district were released late on Saturday, a senior police officer said. Two other girls arrested from Khapora and Khayar in Bandipora have been handed over to the police and remain in custody.

The police officer said a wireless set and documents were recovered from the homes of the two girls, Tahira and Rifat. “They have been handed over to the local police,” the official said.

Army and Special Operations Group personnel had arrested nine girls from various places in Bandipora for questioning in the wee hours on Saturday.

Bandipora residents, denying those arrested were involved in any militant activity, alleged that the girls were subjected to “severe torture”.

A spokesman of the Rashtriya Rifles, however, told local newspapers that the girls were arrested on “specific charges of being in league with militants”.

Massive protests rocked Bandipora town following the arrest of seven girls by the security forces. Mobs shouting anti-government slogans marched into the main town and attacked the office of the ruling National Conference party, setting furniture and records on fire. Protesters also pelted stones on the police station leading to retaliatory action from the police, who chased away the angry mob.

Village guards killed

Militants gunned down six villagers including four members of a village defence committee in Udhampur district late last night, police sources in Jammu said. The killing took place in Gahlot village in the Panchari block, the sources said, adding that four of those killed were Hindus while the remaining two were Muslims.

“The militants in army uniform came to the village and took the four Hindu village defence committee members and two Muslim villagers along,” the sources said. “After reaching the outskirts of the village, militants opened fire on the villagers. The bodies of all six persons were recovered early this morning by the villagers.”

A police official said the militants had asked the villagers to guide them to an adjoining village. The government has provided weapons to the village defence committee members, who frequently assist the police.


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