Terror Bill joint session on Atal table
SC keeps judiciary out of economic policy
Father, brother and a friend
For lesson in short, get Jimmy
Controversy clouds software job policy
Victory yagnas on war footing
Khonglam probe pledge
SC extends Laloo Ranchi stint
Monkey tastes milk of human kindness
Calcutta Weather

 
 
TERROR BILL JOINT SESSION ON ATAL TABLE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 10: 
Faced with the inevitability of a defeat of the Bill to enact the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance into law in the Rajya Sabha, the government has readied a contingency plan to get it passed through an unprecedented joint sitting of Parliament.

Official sources said the government proposes to hold the sitting on December 22, a day after the winter session ends. If this is inconclusive, it will be resumed on December 24 after the Sunday break.

The sources, however, stressed that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would have the final word on the matter. But all parties have been sounded out on the joint sitting and asked to ensure that their members stay in Delhi until December 24.

Although senior BJP sources admitted a division within their ranks on passing the anti-terrorism Bill in this unusual way, an influential section favours a joint sitting. “From the beginning we knew that we did not have the numbers to get it through the Rajya Sabha. A defeat was inevitable. Then why should we have wasted so much time on the Ordinance? A joint sitting is the only logical conclusion or else we might as well have referred it to a standing or consultative committee of Parliament,” a BJP Cabinet minister said.

It is believed that the Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal MPs were keen for the BJP to seize the political initiative after a defeat in the Rajya Sabha to “expose” the Opposition. “We can go to town saying our efforts to fight terrorism have been thwarted by the Congress and Samajwadi Party who seem keen to be on the side of the terrorists. But if the Bill becomes law, the plank goes for a toss,” said an MP from Uttar Pradesh.

Government sources, on the other hand, argued that while issues like the anti-terror Ordinance and the ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi) may click with urban voters, they would not work on the ground.

“Even the Ram temple plank, which briefly managed to unite Hindus, has lost its appeal. If that is the case, can you reasonably expect something like this Ordinance to bring together the upper castes, backward castes and Dalits on the BJP’s side? It’s unrealistic,” they said.

The anti-terrorism Bill will be introduced in the Lok Sabha tomorrow with all the amendments. The amended Bill has already been circulated. Government sources said they expected a division at the stage of introduction. Some members may speak, after which the Speaker is expected to give his ruling. A discussion has been slated for December 12.

The sources said according to the schedule, they expected the Bill to fall through in the Upper House on December 18, after which Vajpayee would “apply his mind” to the possibility of a joint session. If he decides in its favour, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan will inform K.R. Narayanan of the date and time because the President’s assent is necessary.

Government sources said the Speaker would preside over the sitting, which would be held in the Central Hall of Parliament. If the legislative business is completed before December 21, when the winter session ends, and if the members concur, it could be held before the House is adjourned sine die.

   

 
 
SC KEEPS JUDICIARY OUT OF ECONOMIC POLICY 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Dec. 10: 
Giving a sort of legitimacy to the government’s economic policy and its logical sequence of disinvestment and privatisation, the Supreme Court today upheld the sale of Bharat Aluminium Company (Balco).

A three-judge bench of Justice B.N. Kirpal, Justice Shivraj V. Patil and Justice P. Venkatrama Reddy said in a judgment the Centre’s decision to sell and transfer 51 per cent shares in Balco to Sterlite Industries for Rs 551.5 crore was valid and legal.

Challenge to the sale had come from the Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh government, besides the Balco employees’ union and a plethora of public interest litigations (PILs) in the first of the fiercely-fought cases relating to disinvestment. No other divestment process has so far met with such political and legal battles.

The court said the highest bidder, Sterlite, got the deal done in a “transparent” manner and there was nothing wrong in the government selling its shares to it as part of its economic policy and divestment programme.

The judgment made a major point clear that courts of law would not go into the issue of the government’s economic policies, which could not be called into question by the judiciary. It said it was not for the court to consider the merit of the economic policies of the government. “Parliament is the proper forum for questioning such policy.”

The apex court rejected the argument that tribal land could not be transferred to private parties. It said the Chhattisgarh government could not raise a hue and cry now as the land was given to Balco years ago. Further, if a government company were to be divested, the land, structure, building and property, too, go to the new owner, the court implied.

The judges reprimanded the Chhattisgarh government for “raising allegations against the Union government” in its petition and contentions. “We strongly deprecate such allegations made without any basis,” the judges observed.

It also categorically said that no ex parte relief should be given to anyone when an economic policy is being implemented, unless the affected party proves that “grave irregularities” have been committed by the government.

In the rarest of rare cases, interim relief could be given. “Only when the court is prima facie satisfied that there would be irreparable damage caused, then the interim relief could be granted”.

The court refused to interfere in the valuation process “unless grave irregularities”, which would result in irreparable losses and injustice, were pointed out in the petition. In the case of Balco, the charge was that it had been undervalued.

Attorney-general Soli S. Sorabjee, appearing for the Centre, argued that courts had a limited role to play in scrutinising economic decisions and policies.

This limited role is to ensure that no irreparable loss to anyone takes place, besides “grave injustice” to an individual due to a particular policy of the government. This too is limited to “specific cases”, the court said.

   

 
 
FATHER, BROTHER AND A FRIEND 
 
 
AS TOLD TO DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 10: 
Dadamoni laughed out loud when I made the request. “You have stars falling over backwards to work in your films, what are you going to do with me? I am only a character artiste,” I still remember him telling me, pulling my legs slightly.

But I was not going to let him off so easily. I said I had written the script keeping him in mind and the film would fall through if he refused.

Dadamoni agreed. That’s how Ashirwad was born, one of his most memorable films. When he won the national award for best acting in that film, he refused to go to Delhi, saying I would have to collect it for him. “You made a star of me, so you better collect it,” he had told me. I had to.

Ashok Kumar was a natural actor. But for all his talents, he remained a character artiste. He was never a star. In a way, it hurt us, but never him. He was so content with being what he was.

I sometimes wondered if he had ever wanted to be a star. He was so different from the others of his generation, or for that matter of any generation.

I was lying on my back staring into space when the phone on my bedside table rang this afternoon. A journalist called to break the news that Dadamoni was no more.

It was numbing. I could not believe my ears. I had spoken to him just four days ago and he was worried about me. He said he wanted to come and see me sometime and was sorry that I could not go out any longer to meet him at his Chembur house.

I have been down with a painful spinal chord infection for the last four months. I remain on my back all the time, in bed. I cannot even turn over. But I always waited for his phone calls, which he never failed to make and which made me forget about my pain. We spoke once a week on the phone. It had almost become a habit. I feel so empty today, so drained emotionally.

My friend Subrata Mitra, the cinematographer of Pather Panchali fame, died last week. Now Dadamoni is gone. They are all leaving me one by one.

My relations with Dadamoni go back a long way, 51 years to be precise. Ours was a strange relationship. Sometimes, he treated me like he was my father, sometimes elder brother and sometimes my friend. You could say he was all three rolled into one.

Ashok Kumar was virtually running the Bombay Talkies when I first met him in the early fifties. Actually, Bimal Roy, who had brought me to Bombay (now Mumbai), had introduced me to him.

We got to know each other when I edited Sarat Chandra’s Parinita, directed by Bimalda. Besides Ashok Kumar, Asit Burman and Meena Kumari were also in the film. He liked my editing and that brought us closer.

I sometimes wondered whether I should call him Dadamoni. But then, he was Dadamoni to everybody aged eight to 80.

He was a powerful actor. You gave him a role and he made it look like real. The character he had played had always stood out in a film. He was versatile, acting in dozens of films in a career spanning almost six decades.

I can’t tell you what he meant to me. When I won the Dadasaheb Phalke award this year, everyone came around to meet me. But I went over to see him.

Amrish Puri and I had gone together and spent more than two hours chatting with him. He was bubbling with excitement. He was so happy for me.

That was the last time I saw him.

Ashok Kumar died on Monday in Mumbai. Friend and film-maker Hrishikesh Mukherjee reminisces

   

 
 
FOR LESSON IN SHORT, GET JIMMY 
 
 
FROM INDRANIL MAJUMDAR
 
Ahmedabad, Dec. 10: 
Mohinder Amarnath did it against the fearsome foursome — Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall — with an Imran Khan thrown in for good measure. Why can’t Sourav Ganguly?

Throughout the just-completed series, the South African bowlers exploited the Indian captain’s weakness against shortpitched bowling. There’s no more awkward sight on a cricket field than to see a batsman jump with the jumping ball, shut his eyes and hope his head doesn’t exist. Experts of every colour and creed commented upon it.

Mohammed Azharuddin came into the game with this weakness and went out with it. Sourav Ganguly appears to know better. He flew in Mohinder Amarnath from Mumbai to attend to him at the nets during the team’s practice at Sardar Patel stadium in nearby Motera.

The Indian captain had run into Mohinder at Mohali during the opening Test against England. But as the match finished before schedule and the players left home early, a tête-à-tête between the two was arranged here on the eve of the second Test at Sourav’s insistence.

“I specifically came here to help him,” said Mohinder, who leaves tomorrow and might be there in Bangalore, too. Mohinder is one of India’s finest players of fast bowling and was known for hooking and pulling short balls. But the skill did not come naturally to him. In his early career, like Sourav, he was vulnerable to the short ball. He changed his stance and, in the most memorable of his many comebacks, Jimmy Amarnath emerged as an accomplished player of fast bowling.

“He has helped me before many a time. I spoke to him in Mohali and requested him to come and help me again. You’ve got ample things to learn from him,” Sourav said at the end of the marathon session.

Mohinder spent almost two hours with Sourav during the team’s net practice and later after the other players had left for the hotel. He watched from the adjoining net as the Indian skipper faced up to local bowlers and the newcomer to the India team, Iqbal Siddiqui.

Mohinder worked with Sourav on his grip, stance, the positioning of his shoulder, head and body when facing short-pitched balls. He also advised Sourav to bend a little more while driving off the front foot. The former Test star stressed the importance of displaying positive body language when facing the quicks.

“We’re just friends and it’s more of a personal relationship. We’re just discussing some of the finer points of the game,” Mohinder said. “I’m not here to coach him, maybe just suggest something from my experience. We’re just discussing and explaining as to what should be done in the middle when facing certain circumstances,” he added, declining to go into technical details.

“At times you don’t realise what you’re going through on the technical front when you play day in and day out. It’s easy for someone watching from outside to make note of a few points. I was just trying to work out some of the technical faults that seem to creep in with time.”

   

 
 
CONTROVERSY CLOUDS SOFTWARE JOB POLICY 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY & PRANAY SHARMA
 
Bangalore and New Delhi, Dec. 10: 
“What, Taliban?” asked an annoyed Chinese software professional outside the state-of-the-art facility of Huawei Technologies in Bangalore.

The $2.5-billion Chinese company has reportedly supplied telecom software to the Taliban regime.

If the company and its employees – the majority of whom are Indian – have been unnerved by such reports, information technology officials of the Karnataka government fear that the controversy may further delay the proposal of Infosys, the country’s top IT company, to hire Chinese software engineers.

The proposal is before the ministry of external affairs, which is dismissing talks of Chinese engineers at Huawei being deported because of the allegations. Chinese software engineers cost about 15 per cent less than equally qualified Indians. Indian companies expanding business in the growing software market in China and the Asia-Pacific region are looking to Chinese professionals as a cost-effective option.

“There is no question of deporting any Chinese working in the software company,” a foreign ministry official said. The ministry is aware of the damage the controversy could inflict on Sino-Indian relations. Top Chinese leader Li Peng had visited Huawei when he was in India early this year.

If anything, the foreign ministry wants business relations with China to expand. At a brainstorming session with retired bureaucrats recently, foreign minister Jaswant Singh said India should open up more to encourage border trade with China.

There are indications that different arms of the government are working at cross-purposes. As the foreign ministry ruled out the possibility of deporting the Chinese engineers, the minister of state for home affairs, I.D. Swamy, said in a TV interview that “it was a very serious issue and we will have to look into it”.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office have called for files on the company’s recent dealings. Huawei has a marketing office in Pakistan, a fact that is enough to raise a cacophony about threats to national security.

Intelligence officials in Bangalore said records of the Chinese professionals were being checked at the instance of the Union home ministry. “We have got all details from the passport office here,” said an official.

Phones at the Huawei office, located behind the Leela Kempinski hotel, have not stopped buzzing since early morning. “At six, I was woken up by my relative who sounded worried after seeing reports (of the company having done work for the Taliban),” said an Indian employee.

Of its 500 employees, 178 are Chinese and the rest Indian.

Huawei’s chief operating officer JackLu Ke, who is in China on an official visit, sent a mail to all the staff, asking them to remain calm. “Employees are requested not to be perturbed by reports and keep focusing on their activities,” said the young COO who set up shop in Bangalore last year.

But the Chinese look worried all the same. They would not be photographed. “No pictures please,” said a security guard.

A spokesperson said: “The report that we have supplied software to Taliban is baseless. We don’t know who is behind this mischief.”

Huawei officials suspect business rivalry behind the charge. The company is Asia’s largest telecom equipment manufacturer and network solution provider. Its competitors are global telecom giants based in the US and Europe.

This is not the first time, though, that the company is caught up in a controversy. Six months ago, it had faced allegations of laying optic fibre cables for Iraq. Beijing had denied the charge.

   

 
 
VICTORY YAGNAS ON WAR FOOTING 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Dec. 10: 
ADMK chief Jayalalithaa left for Hyderabad this evening for a week-long stay on her first holiday after her acquittal last week by Madras High Court in the Tansi land and Pleasant Stay hotel cases. She was accompanied by her friend, Sasikala.

Jayalalithaa embarked on her Hyderabad vacation amidst an elaborate show of gratitude to the gods. She is expected to offer special prayers to Lord Venkateshwara at Tirupathi during her brief visit to Hyderabad.

A long-standing well wisher of the ADMK chief performed a vijaya yagna (a thanksgiving sacrifice to the Vedic gods) yesterday on the lines kings in the past used to do after a victory in war.

The yagna, attended by several leading Vedic scholars from the temple town of Srirangam, was presided over by Mahomahopadyaya Agnihotram Ramanuja Thathachariyar, one of the greatest living scholars of the Vishishtadwaita Sampradaya, into which Jayalalithaa was born.

Simultaneously, veteran journalist T.E. Raghavasimhan, who has so far organised four major yagnas for Jayalalithaa’s health and peace, organised a Sudarshana Homa at the famous Ram temple in Maduranthakam, about 75 km south of Chennai.

Kings of the past would propitiate the yagna purush after winning a war to help restore stability and prosperity to their state, besides praying for more strength, tejas (spiritual glow) and longevity.

“In today’s democratic world, where politicians and political parties fight their battles in public through the instrument of elections, this yagna that we did is the modern counterpart to the vijaya yagna by the monarchies of yore,” said Raghavasimhan.

The twin acquittals by the Madras High Court, which has paved the way for Jayalalithaa’s return as chief minister, provided the opportunity to express gratitude to the gods, he said.

Raghavasimhan, who grew a flowing white beard over the last five years, vowing not to shave it until Jayalalithaa was acquitted in the cases, has now tonsured his head and shaved his beard.

“God has listened to our prayers and Jayalalithaa has been acquitted,” said Raghavasimhan, with whom the Nobel laureate, V.S. Naipaul, had spent some time a few years back while researching on a book.

Jayalalithaa plans to offer prayers to Lord Krishna at the Guruvayur temple in Kerala, to which she had gifted an elephant after winning the Assembly polls.

   

 
 
KHONGLAM PROBE PLEDGE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, Dec. 10: 
Meghalaya chief minister Flinder Anderson Khonglam today announced that the judicial inquiry into the Meghalaya House deal would be completed within two months.

“My top priority is to take the investigation into the controversial Meghalaya House deal to its logical conclusion,” he said after chairing the first meeting of his Cabinet.

Khonglam, who won the vote of confidence in the Assembly earlier in the day without much trouble, said the Cabinet decided to stick with S. Haque, a retired judge of Gauhati High Court, as the head of the inquiry commission. “We have to respect the notification that has already been issued and the decision of the Chief Justice, who said he could not spare a sitting judge. However, we will examine it if it is possible to review the decision of the previous government.”

Before it came to power, the Nationalist Congress Party-led People’s Forum of Meghalaya had insisted that a sitting judge of Gauhati High Court be asked to investigate the Meghalaya House deal. Khonglam claimed Haque had asked for six months’ time to complete the inquiry, but his Cabinet rejected the plea. “Two months can be allowed at the most,” he said.

On his decision to remove chief secretary J.P. Singh, the new chief minister said the idea was to eliminate the possibility of the inquiry panel being influenced by anyone. Sources said a senior IAS officer from Assam would be named as Singh’s replacement tomorrow.

Deputy chief minister D.D. Lapang said the inquiry commission’s brief was to ascertain the legality of the memorandum of understanding between the erstwhile E.K. Mawlong-led government and the Calcutta-based Asian Housing Construction Ltd. He said the panel would try to find out whether the agreement was in the state’s interests.

Lapang said the chief minister or the minister in charge of the general administrative department would visit Calcutta to plead for vacation of the stay order obtained by Asian Housing Construction Ltd.

“The government may have to compensate the company. But a decision on this can be taken only after a proper assessment of the situation. All I can say at the moment is that we might go in for an out-of-court settlement.”

The Congress leader said the new government’s primary concern was “getting back our land”. An official source said the state government would consult the accountant-general (audit) tomorrow on the financial implications of the Meghalaya House deal.

   

 
 
SC EXTENDS LALOO RANCHI STINT 
 
 
FROM RUDRA BISWAS & SHASHANK SHEKHAR
 
Ranchi, Dec. 10: 
Laloo Yadav will remain in the Jharkhand capital for at least another 14 days unless the Supreme Court agrees to release him on bail.

The CBI special court of H.C. Mishra remanded the jailed RJD chief in judicial custody for another fortnight in connection with fodder scam case RC-47A/96. The court also issued non-bailable warrants against 26 other accused who had failed to surrender so far.

The judge ordered the Ranchi jail authorities to find out why former Bihar chief minister and co-accused Jagannath Mishra did not appear before him today after the expiry of the 14-day judicial remand. Mishra, who had been lodged at the Bacon Factory guest house along with Laloo, was shifted to Rajendra Medical College Hospital after he complained of illness.

The CBI court’s decision came even as the Supreme Court fixed December 13 as the next date for hearing the bail applications of Laloo and Mishra. The CBI filed its reply in the apex court, opposing Laloo’s bail on the ground that the former Bihar chief minister should have first approached a high court before moving the Supreme Court.

“(There) was (a) well-knit conspiracy among the bureaucracy and politicians at (a) higher level which facilitated and perpetuated the commission of crime,” the CBI said in its reply filed in the form of a counter-affidavit.

Referring to chief minister Rabri Devi’s alleged threat to an officer, the CBI said: “When the petitioner (Laloo) was put in judicial custody the chief minister of Bihar, who happens to be wife of the petitioner, had threatened and intimidated the DGP, Jharkhand, about which the DGP had reported to the authorities concerned… This matter had been widely publicised in the press…In brief the petitioner is a very influential person and is capable of intimidating the witnesses.”

The CBI also expressed fear that Laloo could try to influence the witnesses and tamper with the evidence if he were released on bail. Hence, the investigating agency maintained, it was necessary that he remain in jail.

Laloo, who arrived in Ranchi yesterday by the regular Indian Airlines flight, was brought to the CBI court around 11 am amid tight security. Laloo’s lawyer Janardan Rai argued that since the RJD chief was required to be produced before a trial court in Patna on December 13 in connection with disproportionate assets case SPL-5A/98, his client should be allowed to be transferred to Patna at the earliest.

Sources said Laloo’s brother-in-law and Bihar MLC Sadhu Yadav continued to pressure the Ranchi district officials to make arrangements for Laloo’s immediate transfer to Patna from the Ranchi camp jail.

Senior officials told The Telegraph that they were in no hurry to send Laloo to Patna since he was required to appear before the court there only on December 13. Officials said the Jharkhand chief secretary and home secretary will shortly meet to take a final decision on when and how to shift Laloo.

Sources said the Dumka district authorities have launched full-scale preparations to beef up arrangements there in case Laloo decides to appear before the Dumka court in another fodder scam case on December 12.

Dumka deputy commissioner Nidhi Khare said apart from “preparing” the jail, arrangements were also being made at the Massanjore DVC guest house. BJP leader L.K. Advani, after his arrest during the 1992 rath yatra, was lodged in the same guest house which had been turned into a makeshift prison.

   

 
 
MONKEY TASTES MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS 
 
 
BY SEKHAR DATTA
 
Dec. 10: 
Forty-year-old Namita Ghosh of Chandrapur village in South Tripura’s Udaipur subdivision is the quintessential Indian mother, ready to do anything to make her children happy. The dedicated anganwadi worker’s maternal instincts, however, transcend the normal umbilical bond between a mother and a child.

Married to Manik Ghosh, a daily wage-earner, Namita became a household name in the area when she adopted a baby monkey as her third child. Named Oldie, the monkey suckles on the anganwadi worker’s breast just as her two children — a daughter who is married and a school-going son — used to when they were small.

Recounting her “brush with destiny” a couple of months ago, Namita told The Telegraph, “It was early October. A herd of monkeys were being driven away by people of our village. Suddenly, a week-old infant fell off its mother’s lap on my courtyard and I lifted it from the ground. A monkey becomes a pariah for the herd if it comes in contact with people even by chance. The baby monkey was in danger of being deprived of its mother’s care and affection because I picked it up. It would have died. Touched by its plight, I suckled the monkey.”

With her meagre income, Namita purchased dresses, cosmetics and other materials for her adopted “child” after bringing it home. Oldie, now two months old, is a full-time member of the Ghosh family. He responds spontaneously to his foster mother’s baby talk. He even lends a hand in household chores, including picking up clothes for his “mother.”

The strong bond with her “third child” has made the anganwadi worker reluctant to venture out of the village. When she cannot avoid it, Namita makes it a point to return home as quickly as she can.

“I have to go out on official work. That is something I cannot avoid. But I miss Oldie whenever I am away from home. As soon as my work is over, I rush home to take my child in my arms,” Namita said.

An enthusiastic participant in the mass literacy movement and other government programmes being implemented in Chandrapur village, Namita commands respect from the people of the area for her honesty and hard work. However, the state government’s recommendation that she be conferred the Union social welfare ministry’s “best anganwadi worker” award has been rejected for three consecutive years.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 30.1°C (+3)
Minimum:17.3°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 96%,
Minimum: 42%

Today

Sunrise: 6.12 am
Sunset: 4.48 pm
Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 16°C
   
 

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