Warm-up for US military ties
Court marathon to record book
Terror law meet
Advani sings dual tune on Ayodhya
Rabri blinks to let Laloo take off
BJP left in bandh lurch
Strike ultimatum on coal Bill
Hospital in hospitality business
Tremor rocks Sikkim, Darjeeling
Calcutta Weather

 
 
WARM-UP FOR US MILITARY TIES 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 3: 
The apex body of Indian and US defence officials met today for the first time since the Buddha smiled — the last Pokharan nuclear tests — with the Americans holding out the prospect of wide and intensive military cooperation if an agreement that prevents sharing of military secrets with third countries were signed.

A US delegation led by undersecretary of state for defence policy Douglas Feith told the Indian team headed by defence secretary Yogendra Narain the signing of the General Security of Military Information Agreement will pave the way for heightened military cooperation.

Neither side expects the agreement to be clinched at the two-day defence policy group (DPG) talks that began here today. At the same time, neither believes there is an insurmountable hurdle to greater military cooperation.

“Let’s get three things clear — first, the DPG has been revived; second, the agreement is not conditional but we are closer to it than ever before and third, our discussions in this meeting have been on a range of subjects, have gone beyond the exploratory and into specifics,” a defence ministry source said.

“The talks being held with Douglas Feith and his delegation will establish the links between the two countries from the standpoint of military to military co-operation and training and various educational opportunities and other aspects of the relationship,” an official source said.

The signing of the agreement is not conditional for joint military exercises, procurements and training up to a certain level. The agreement — which the US insists on signing with any country before entering into a “deep” military understanding — has been raised by the US in its defence-related talks with India for about a decade now. For the last five years, though, such talks at the DPG level have remained frozen.

Among the reasons for India to tread cautiously on signing the agreement is its traditional military relationship with Russia, the CIS countries and, more recently, France, Israel and South Africa. So far, for India, defence procurements from these countries have proven to be cheaper than imports from the US. The agreement bans sharing of military information with third countries.

Feith said the talks were “positive”. The delegations may issue a joint statement tomorrow.

In the two sessions today, the Indian side said since the US had lifted the sanctions, it should release the equipment for combat aircraft that were impounded by Washington after the nuclear tests.

   

 
 
COURT MARATHON TO RECORD BOOK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Calcutta High Court has what no other high court has — a sessions court.

For 38 years, 40 people have been converging in this courtroom to solve a case, in which the accused is absconding since 1970. But until the case closes, the sessions court will exist and convene twice a year.

Today, one more hearing was held on the high court premises. The cage for the accused – a special stairway leads up to it from the ground – was empty, as usual. But there was no mistaking the solemnity. The judge asked police to seek out the accused and the police promised to hunt him down.

For this biannual affair, which lasts about five minutes, the court maintains a staff of 40, who otherwise have no work except drawing salary.

The sessions court has been handling the case since 1963. Customs officials, led by assistant collector S. Parolekar, had seized from Howrah station three boxes of camphor which were on their way to Chennai. The officials also arrested a man, P.N. Sharma in this connection. The court later directed the Calcutta detective department to investigate.

Two years later, after he was released on bail, Sharma wrote to the collector of customs, saying Parolekar had demanded a bribe of Rs 2,000. Sharma claimed he was arrested because he had refused to pay up.

Soon after, Paroleker filed a defamation case against Sharma. The court is now looking after both the cases.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner of police, detective department, said sleuths had traced Sharma’s two other residences in Etawah and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, but could not track him down despite several trips.

According to sessions court’s protocol, sheriff Suchitra Mitra and her deputy were present in Room No. 11 — like previous hearings. Representatives of the investigating agency, including additional commissioner of police-I S.I.S. Ahmed, were also in the courtroom.

The five-minute episode was like a playback to 1963. Two guards, armed with lances, manned the front door. In keeping with tradition, an orderly, with a silver mace, escorted the sheriff and her deputy to the courtroom. The other peons were turned out in red uniform.

The guard announced the entry of Justice S.N. Banerjee, who walked in in a red, long gown and white wig. Kazi Safiulla, the public prosecutor, appealed for another date for hearing, as the accused, Sharma, was still at large. The judge then adjourned the case till next April. He brought the hammer down on the table and left the room.

“It may be possible that the case will be closed after the next hearing in April. With its closure, the sessions court will also close for ever,” detective department chief Mitra said.

   

 
 
TERROR LAW MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 3: 
Refreshing his offer to consider changes to the terror law, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has called an all-party meeting tomorrow in a bid to thrash out a consensus, says our special correspondent.

The Opposition, has however, turned down the offer, claiming the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance is too flawed to be righted through amendment.

   

 
 
ADVANI SINGS DUAL TUNE ON AYODHYA 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 3: 
L.K. Advani today spoke in two voices about Ayodhya, saying there was nothing communal about the movement but that the Babri demolition day had been the “saddest day” in his life.

“I don’t associate it (the Ayodhya movement) with any communal sentiment. It has strengthened cultural nationalism and there is no communal tinge in it at all,” he said during a debate in the House.

Replying to a discussion on the storming of the disputed site at Ayodhya on October 17, he likened it to the Chauri Chaura incident, which forced Mahatma Gandhi to call off the Quit India movement.

At the end of the five-hour debate, Advani did not give any assurance to the Opposition or the allies that the Centre would do anything to rein in provocative statements by VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders and their threat to construct a Ram temple.

He made no reference to the demand by the Opposition and NDA allies —- the Trinamul Congress and the INLD —- that VHP leader Ashok Singhal and others should be booked for trespass.

Merely condemning the October 17 incident, Advani quoted a 1993 Supreme Court order —- on maintaining status quo at the disputed site —- to establish that the VHP leaders had not exactly violated it and that the Centre would allow normal maintenance work there.

But in what appeared to be a balancing act, he assured hawks in the House that the government would not allow any violation of status quo and would ensure full implementation of court orders.

“The government will not allow any addition or alteration or structural changes at the disputed site,” he said.

Advani added that the Uttar Pradesh government had stepped up security and clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC to block any attempt to defy the police cordon at Ayodhya.

Earlier, the Opposition attacked the government for failing to protect the disputed site and sought to know how the government would ensure security at the site given the VHP’s plans to begin construction from March 12.

Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi alleged that the Centre showed “inaction and lethargy” during the forcible entry as “courage” to arrest Singhal even for 24 hours would have led to the collapse of the government.

Alleging that Advani and his ministry were to blame for the inaction, Das Munshi rued that the offence of the VHP leaders was not even made cognisable. Terming the Bajrang Dal and the VHP as “neo-fascist forces”, he asked the government how it would deal with “these fanatics” if the matter was not disposed of by the Supreme Court by March 12.

The BJP’s Swami Chinmayananda urged that an expert committee be set up to go into the 250-odd evidences given before court on what sort of structure existed at the site before 1528.

Mulayam Singh Yadav accused the BJP of consistently playing politics on Ayodhya for the sake of power. He warned that any attempt to start construction at the disputed site would be fraught with serious consequences. He demanded that a meeting of National Integration Council be convened soon to discuss the issue.

Mamata Banerjee asked the Centre to take action against those guilty of storming the disputed site last month. “If there is any lacunae in the FIR (lodged in Ayodhya over the forcible entry of VHP leaders), then you (Centre) should make necessary changes in it to book the culprits who violated the law,” she said.

   

 
 
RABRI BLINKS TO LET LALOO TAKE OFF 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Dec. 3: 
Laloo Yadav returned to his home turf today, but not before a bitter battle between the Jharkhand and Bihar governments over an aircraft nearly held up his “freedom” from the Ranchi camp jail.

However, after hectic discussions between officials of the two states, a relieved RJD chief finally boarded the three-seater state plane provided by Bihar en route to Beur Central Jail in Patna. Laloo has to appear before a trial court in the Bihar capital on December 6 in connection with a disproportionate assets case.

A tug-of-war between the two governments began early this morning on who should provide the much-needed aircraft to ferry Laloo to Patna.

Sources said the Jharkhand government made it clear to Bihar that it had no aircraft ready and requested the state to provide its own plane. Much to the dismay of Laloo’s supporters in Ranchi, Bihar turned down the request in writing.

The sources added that after the Marandi government received Bihar’s reply, it informed the Rabri Devi regime that it make alternative arrangements to hire a chartered plane to carry Laloo but clarified that the arrangements would take at least two more days.

The stern reply shocked the Rabri government as it feared that unless it agreed to provide the aircraft, a jailed Laloo would have to remain in Ranchi for some more time.

The standoff ended after the Bihar government despatched its three-seater aircraft around 10.30 am from Patna. The plane landed at Ranchi an hour later.

Laloo left the Ranchi camp prison at 1 pm accompanied by a handful of RJD supporters who had made the long journey to the jail. At Ranchi airport, he “reminded” the Marandi regime that he would extract every single penny for the cost of his transportation from Ranchi.

Asked to describe his eight-day stay in prison, the former chief minister said: “Initially it was difficult but later things became comfortable”.

Laloo reminded the reporters that since he was in judicial custody, it would not be proper for him to either give a detailed interview or make a speech. He thanked the Ranchi deputy commissioner and the senior superintendent of police before boarding the plane.

Two policemen accompanied Laloo to Patna. His brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav returned to the Bihar capital with the Garib Chetana Rath that had brought Laloo to Ranchi.

Laloo reached Patna around 3.15 pm and was driven straight to Beur jail where he was lodged in judicial custody.

   

 
 
BJP LEFT IN BANDH LURCH 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Dec. 3: 
The decision of the Congress and the Left to dovetail their protest against the Centre’s economic reforms with their objection to the economic restructuring and price hikes by the ADMK regime in their proposed bandh on Friday has isolated the BJP in Tamil Nadu.

The BJP felt particularly left out when the DMK along with its allies called for a separate bandh on the same day.

Initially faced with the dilemma of backing the bandh called by the Congress and the Left, the DMK decided against it as that would mean endorsing the attack on the economic policies of the BJP-led NDA to which the DMK is a party.

The state BJP has announced a protest week beginning on Saturday against the latest announcements. But it did not want to be seen to be taking on the ADMK following Jayalalithaa’s assurance of support for the anti-terrorism Ordinance.

Though state leaders conferred with the DMK, the BJP has refrained from being a party to the bandh call.

After a meeting of the DMK’s state executive today, M. Karunanidhi said the BJP did not favour calling a bandh on such issues and that it did not support the trade unions when they struck work over the transport workers’ bonus issue.

“Hence, they (the BJP) did not wish to be a party to our bandh call,” Karunanidhi said, adding that if the media expected a rift between the DMK and the BJP, it would be disappointed.

Karunanidhi said the BJP was opposed to the economic reforms package and “they will help us by not opposing our bandh.” Its allies will support the DMK, though the PMK’s Ramadoss had a separate agitation plan for December 5, he added.

Karunanidhi said he did not see any contradiction between DMK and its partners calling for a bandh on the same day as the Congress and the Left parties.

The people’s force against the ADMK “will not get divided and the bandhs, though separately called, will conjointly be successful,” he said.

CM plea

Chief minister O. Panneerselvam urged the people to reject the bandh. He also appealed to political parties not to go ahead with it.

   

 
 
STRIKE ULTIMATUM ON COAL BILL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 3: 
The Citu today laid down an ultimatum of an indefinite strike in the coal industry unless the Centre withdrew the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill that would allow privatisation of mines.

The Bill introduced in Parliament is yet to be passed.

Four trade unions — the Citu, the Aituc, the BMS and the HMS — today began a three-day strike at the coal mines to protest against the Bill. The Congress-backed Intuc’s central leadership kept out of the strike though its local units took part. “So far, reports received from the striking unions all over the country is that the action has been totally successful,” said Citu general-secretary M.K. Pandhe.

Trade unions claimed that ECL, which covers the Raniganj coalfields in West Bengal and Mugma and Rajmahal coalfields in Jharkhand, was paralysed. So were the coalmines run by the BCCL in Dhanbad.

“The officers are also supporting the strike because they feel that we can produce all the coal needed and there is no need for the government to import coal,” said Pandhe.

Other demands of the unions include reorganisation of the coal industry as a unified company with full authority, restoring custom duty on imported coal to the level of 1989-90, putting an end to coal import, immediate payment of arrears and implementation of the last wage agreement.

Earlier this month, the union leaders had met coal and mines minister Ram Vilas Paswan. According to them, Paswan was not in favour of bringing the Bill but told the labour leaders that he could do nothing since the Bill had already been introduced.

Though the Intuc did not join the strike, its leaders met party chief Sonia Gandhi, senior leaders like Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh to voice their support for the protest against the Bill.

   

 
 
HOSPITAL IN HOSPITALITY BUSINESS 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 3: 
Staffers in navy blue designer suits stitched by Anita Dongre. Soft music — only instrumental. Dim lights. Stone Ganeshas in discreet niches. Carpeted floors, vacuum-cleaned twice a day. But it’s a hospital, not a plush hotel lobby.

At Beams, Mumbai’s “one-of-its-kind” clinic for women devoted exclusively to gynaecological endoscopic surgery, surgeon’s knives are relegated to history. Surgery is done through “minimally invasive” methods — through a telescope, using laser techniques in cases where that is necessary; with little blood loss and no scar running through the abdomen.

But that’s not all. Other benefits for women: a 5-star treatment, a drop back home in an AC car, no smell of disinfectants and nothing to make them feel self-conscious.

Hospitality, no less than medical services, is high on the agenda at Beams, short for Bombay Endoscopy Academy and Centre for Minimally Invasive Surgery.

The clinic, though operational for over eight years, reinvented itself this month as a swank, 32-bed, club-class hospital with rooms with pretty views and lounges where visitors are welcome for 24 hours. Bright curtains flutter from the windows — each room has a different colour scheme. There’s also a terrace garden, with a forest of potted plants.

All this with an eye on women. “A hospital usually intimidates a woman who has gynaecological problems. It is embarrassing for her to go from counter to counter asking where to go, because she is bleeding excessively or has a menstrual problem,” says Dr Rakesh Sinha, managing director. His bright office inside the clinic looks like a corporate boss’; the examination table is tucked away into an adjacent room.

“We don’t like to cut up women. So we perform ‘keyhole’ surgery. There are a few apertures made at strategic points. The surgery is done through telescopes. It means less pain, less bleeding and usually a one-day stay,” adds the doctor.

“Our stress is on making women feel comfortable. We encourage the would-be patients to take a look around before being admitted,” says Sinha.

The rooms come in three kinds — executive, twin-sharing and single — while the technology is state-of-the-art, he says.

The hospital runs separate clinics, each focusing on a particular gynaecological problem. There are 10 speciality clinics: for infertility, hysterectomy, menorrhagia (excessive bleeding), fibroids (benign tumours), endometriosis (when the uterus lining bleeds from inside, breast-related problems, cancer, pain, urinary stress and out patient hysteroscopy (telescopic visualisation of the womb).

The costs are on the higher end. But they are not prohibitive and the hospital is not for upper class women only, stresses Sinha. A fibroid removal can cost between Rs 5,000 to Rs 50,000, including stay. It is not steeper than the charges at other good hospitals, if accommodation is taken into account, Sinha adds.

Fibroids, says Sinha, are the most common problem.

The clinic also treats poor patients for free, as part of a collaboration with an NGO.

   

 
 
TREMOR ROCKS SIKKIM, DARJEELING 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Dec. 3: 
Residents of Sikkim, Darjeeling hills and parts of north Bengal were shaken out of their sleep early today after a high-intensity tremor rocked the region.

Sources in the meteorological office in Gangtok said the earthquake, which measured 4.8 on the Richter scale, lasted for about 15 seconds from 4.11 am. Its epicentre was located in remote tribal-dominated north Sikkim between Chungthang and Lachung, 121 kilometres north-east of the state capital, Gangtok.

Though there were no reports of casualties or major damage to property from any part of the Himalayan state, the vibrations rocked the whole of Sikkim and neighbouring Darjeeling hills and parts of the north Bengal plains. Sikkim lies in seismic zone four, the second highest in the vulnerability order.

Sikkim chief secretary S.W. Tenzing confirmed there were no reports of any loss of life or property except for some minor damage, as the epicentre was in a remote and mainly uninhabited region.

Geological experts in north Bengal said it was a narrow escape because a tremor of this intensity could have wreaked havoc.

“The origin of the quake was about 33,000 metres under the surface at the epicentre in north-east Sikkim. It was fortunate that a massive mass of solid rock base near the quake centre took the brunt of the impact,” said Subir Sarkar, head of the geography department and in charge of the weather station at North Bengal University.

Voicing fears about the region’s susceptibility to quakes, environmental experts also drew attention to the ongoing work on the 8,000 MW Teesta hydel power project.

Work on the project, cutting right across the vulnerable seismic plate from north Sikkim to the Kalimpong sub-division, is going on in a phased manner to dam the turbulent Teesta.

Environmentalist Umesh Dwivedi said the project will be disastrous for the region.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 27.3°C (-1)
Minimum: 15.4°C (0)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 87%,
Minimum: 43%

Today

Sunrise: 6.07 am
Sunset: 4.47 pm
Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 15°C
   
 

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