Attack sparks Parliament unity
PM shuts Pak out of probe
Drive to cleanse elections
Leash on educational institutions
Cellphone STD rates halved
At No. 3, K3G busts record
Biggest cathedral catches fire
Israel tips for India on anti-terror war
Mamata to Atal defence, atom bomb in hand
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATTACK SPARKS PARLIAMENT UNITY 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 

Burial for terror Bill and coffin

December 13 has created an unexpected sense of solidarity in Parliament, chasing away the ghosts of Ayodhya and Kargil.

Both the ruling coalition and the Opposition have decided to stop making the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and the coffin scam prestige issues and devote the remaining four days of the winter session to discuss the attack and complete legislative work.

The government today agreed not to introduce the anti-terrorism Bill. Government sources said it was more or less decided that the Ordinance, due to expire in the last week of December, would be repromulgated on January 1, 2002.

In exchange, the Opposition consented not to rake up the coffin scam or make a hue and cry over the alleged security lapses which led to the strike on Parliament.

The Ordinance-obsessed government had been toying with options of a joint session to pass the controversial Bill, if it fell through in the Rajya Sabha, or ending the session midway to extract political mileage by “exposing” the Opposition’s “anti-terror” stance.

After an informal sitting with the Congress and Left leaders, the Centre decided not to adjourn the House sine die but let it run its course till December 21. While today and tomorrow have been set aside for discussing the assault on Parliament, pending Bills will be passed on December 20. Friday, the last day of the session, has been reserved for private members’ business.

At tomorrow’s debate, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is expected to intervene in the Lok Sabha. Home minister L.K. Advani, who made a statement on the attack today, will reply in both Houses.

BJP sources said the principal reason for calling truce with the Opposition was to signal to the nation and the world at large that the House was united in the “hour of crisis”. “What better way of doing this than having a full-fledged discussion on an event that shook each and every MP?” asked a BJP leader.

Party MPs, however, made it clear to Vajpayee and Advani in a parliamentary party meeting this morning that they still wanted the anti-terror Bill to be passed at any cost. “We made it clear that there would be no compromise on the legislation because the nation must know who exactly is against it,” said a party MP.

But it appears that Vajpayee was in favour of allowing the session to end on a “note of solidarity”. “His stand was that since the Ordinance would anyway be repromulgated, neither the government nor the BJP stand to lose politically,” said a source.

The Opposition was in a bind since December 13: if it stalled the House and prevented the Parliament strike from being discussed, it would be dubbed as “anti-national” — a charge the BJP was rubbing in since the other side spoke out against the Ordinance. On the other hand, the Congress and the others feared that if they agreed to a discussion, the government might use the occasion as a pretext to introduce and possibly push the anti-terror Bill through in the Lok Sabha.

The government feared that if it refused to budge on the Bill, the attendant chaos would have forced its hand on a sine die adjournment and projected the picture of a political establishment badly divided. That was a message it could ill-afford to send after an event with international ramifications.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan took the initiative to bring about a rapprochement with a formula that essentially meant both sides would have to give up their intransigence.

Yesterday itself, the Congress signalled that it would not go against the “national mood” by assuring the government of its support for a well-considered action on terrorism. Today, the CPM followed suit.

   

 
 
PM SHUTS PAK OUT OF PROBE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today ruled out intelligence-sharing with Pakistan on the Parliament attack and a joint probe as proposed by Colin Powell.

The US secretary of state had suggested that the South-Asian neighbours join hands in the terror fight to ensure the situation does not spin out of control.

In a meeting with BJP legislators, Vajpayee said he was against a joint probe because the incident was an internal matter and the terrorists had links with the Inter-Services Intelligence.

“We will probe the affair thoroughly and bring the culprits to book,” BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra quoted him as saying. All documents on the attack had been sent to Pakistan and Delhi had demanded immediate action, Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister — pandering to the legislators’ anti-US feelings — also rejected Washington’s appeal that India show restraint. “We have been restrained for too long. It is time they (the US) tell us what the consequences of such an episode are,” he said.

The White House urged India to avoid worsening the regional friction. Islamabad accused Delhi of fuelling a frenzy at home and dares the neighbour to take the issue to the UN. Iran today offered to mediate.

Malhotra was more upfront in criticising Powell. He said it did not behove the official to make such statements as the US itself had to forge a coalition to fight the al Qaida.

An emergency meeting of the BJP’s office-bearers and national executive members present in the capital urged the Centre to “act independently” and not entertain suggestions from anyone, including the US.

Party sources said a full-fledged national executive would be held in Delhi in the next 10 days to adopt a resolution that the Centre was “capable” of acting without the US’ dictates. But the BJP’s hawks were apparently disappointed that Vajpayee did not specifically indicate what shape India’s strikeback would take.

Vajpayee said he would consult the NDA’s allies and the Opposition before firming up a line of action. As a first step, he met the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh, yesterday. He would convene an all-party meet tomorrow to share “sensitive” information, Malhotra said. But official sources could not confirm this.

Vajpayee endorsed a pledge by the legislators that they would rather give up their lives than compromise if ever there was another strike and they were held hostage. BJP sources said the vow was taken in context of the Kandahar hijack during which three militants were freed for the passengers’ release.

   

 
 
DRIVE TO CLEANSE ELECTIONS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
Fresh from the anti-terror law tussle, the government tonight cleared a less controversial proposal to make election an “all white” affair.

The Union Cabinet has approved the Election and Related Laws Amendment Bill, 2001, which will allow state funding of elections.

Both the Congress and the Left have been vocal advocates of state funding which, they feel, would help weed black money out of the poll process. The Congress said tonight it would have a “positive” look at the Bill.

However, sceptics wondered how the resource-strapped government would raise the huge amount needed for elections. An economist put the cost of a general election at Rs 10,000 crore.

Political commentators also expressed grave doubts, but said there was no harm in experimenting with poll reforms.

The Bill is based on a report submitted by the Indrajit Gupta committee. The Gupta panel had recommended that only recognised national or state parties should get funding, which should be in kind.

Acknowledging the government’s resource crunch, the committee had suggested that the state pick up the tab in phases.

The report had also recommended allocation of rent-free accommodation in Delhi with one rent-free telephone to recognised national parties.

It had also mooted an election fund with the Centre contributing Rs 600 crore a year, at the rate of Rs 10 per voter for the total electorate of about 60 crore. The states together may contribute proportionately a matching amount of Rs 600 crore a year.

   

 
 
LEASH ON EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
Minority educational institutions can no more cite “constitutional rights” to determine their fee structure, including capitation fee, the Supreme Court has ruled. Nor can they resort to the “unethical practice” of taking money from candidates aspiring to join as teachers or in other posts.

The judgment made it clear that minority institutions “cannot legitimately claim immunity” under Article 30(1) of the Constitution, which grants minorities the “right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice”. Instead, these institutions will be governed by the laws of the state in which they are situated.

A division bench said state legislatures have the authority to curb the “nefarious practice of misusing school administration” for making profits by charging parents exorbitant amounts and calling such sums either “fees or donations”.

“Similarly, if the management … collects money from persons as quid pro quo for giving them appointments on the teaching or non-teaching staff…, the legislature would be acting within the ambit of its authority by bringing measures to arrest such unethical practices,” the judges said.

The ruling came on an appeal by an official of Little Flower School, where a girl had been admitted. The girl’s father had filed a complaint against the principal and six officials for violating provisions of the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Prohibition of Capitation Fee) Act.

   

 
 
CELLPHONE STD RATES HALVED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
Cellular operators today slashed mobile-to-mobile STD rates by 50 per cent. The new rates come into effect from January 26.

Airtel and Hutchison — two of the largest cellular operators — joined hands with Escotel, Spice Telecom, BPL Mobile, Koshika and AT&T to offer the new tariff scheme which wraps the country into three distance zones and two time bands.

For the first time, cellular operators will have the option to stop routing their calls through state-owned MTNL and BSNL and channel them instead through a private network — Bharti’s IndiaOne.

Over and above the STD rate, subscribers will have to pay the regular call rate. This means if the subscriber has opted for a plan that prices outgoing calls at Rs 2 per minute, this will be loaded on to the STD rate.

Before private STD operators launch their service, they will have to get the carrier access codes — under MTNL/BSNL these are now 033 for Calcutta, 011 for Delhi and so on. The request for codes is pending with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) along with the proposal to slash the mobile-to-mobile STD rates. “We do not see any problem with new rates, there could be some delay in allotment of codes,” said an executive of IndiaOne.

Cellular operators have to share revenue with MTNL/BSNL for STD calls made from their networks. As IndiaOne starts functioning, the state-owned telecom twins could lose revenue.

Executives of IndiaOne and cellular operators declined comment on the revenue-sharing formula. “It is a commercial arrangement and it would not be wise to disclose the arrangement with the cellular companies,” said, N. Arjun, chief executive officer of Bharti Telesonic IndiaOne.

The new STD carrier has also promised to cut rates for calls from mobile-to-fixed line phones. But only those areas will benefit where a private basic service operator is already working. Calcutta does not have one yet.

   

 
 
AT NO. 3, K3G BUSTS RECORD 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Dec. 18: 
A Bollywood film has made it to number three in the UK film charts, the highest position an Indian movie has attained in the mainstream British Top Ten.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham — or K3G as the film is called on teeshirts and other merchandise handed out by Yash Johar, the producer, at last week’s London premiere — has had a “stupendous weekend” with a taking of £473,355, its UK distributor, Avtar Panesar, of Yashraj Films, said today.

Entertainment Data International, an independent organisation that monitors box-office taking, backed up his claim.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham has created history in the world of Indian cinema,” gushed Panesar. “I am confidently expecting it to take £2 million in the UK.”

That would beat the present record of £1.75 million set by Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. “Mohabbatein took £ 1.1 million, Dil To Pagal Hai £990,000 and Lagaan £650,000,” said Panesar.

With Christmas and New Year holidays yet to come, he has high hopes for K3G.

“Indians can watch only so much of the Queen (making her Christmas broadcast). So what do they do? They go and watch a movie.”

No film has achieved the much-sought-after crossover, though there were high hopes for Lagaan. Asoka, despite an expensive marketing campaign and the release of over 80 prints, also failed to attract a non-Asian audience to any significant degree. This is why distributors like Panesar are now concentrating on what they see as their core Asian market.

With 55 prints, all sub-titled in English, K3G has pulled in traditional Asian audiences, especially since the cast includes all the big names of the industry from Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan.

What is different about Bollywood films is that some cinemas, which are more used to screening Hollywood movies, are now willing to show offerings from India. One such is a prime location, the Warner Village, a multiplex in Leicester Square in the heart of London’s West End. So great was the Indian rush to see K3G that the film proved more popular than the competition, including Harry Potter and The 51st State, according to Panesar.

At traditional Asian venues, the tills have been ringing with pounds flooding in.

At most of these venues, more than one screen is devoted to K3G, said Panesar. “K3G was always tipped to be big, and the Cine UK chain opened with five screens at their Feltham site, Warner’s Birmingham opened with four screens, UCI Manchester with three and Odeon Bradford with two. Bradford also had an additional three screens at their newly-opened Cineworld Bradford whose grand opening was advanced by four weeks to cash in on K3G.”

   

 
 
BIGGEST CATHEDRAL CATCHES FIRE 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Dec. 18: 

Tears for NY terror refuge

The ghosts of September 11 revisited New York this morning when a fire broke out at the world’s largest Gothic church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, exactly seven days before Christmas.

New Yorkers broke down and wept as flames leapt up from the church and the roof of its gift shop area caved in. The cathedral which draws half-a-million people every year was a refuge for many distraught New Yorkers when terrorists brought down the World Trade Centre’s twin towers.

Thousands of them had streamed into the incomplete Gothic structure three months ago and found solace in the cathedral’s peace. At the time of writing, there were no casualties or injuries from the fire, which was detected shortly before 7 am. The blaze started in the gift shop, but its cause was yet to be determined.

Two hundred fire fighters fought for nearly three hours with about 50 fire engines to control the blaze, smoke from which rose 40 feet high, reminding most onlookers of the collapse of the Trade Centre’s twin towers.

New York and other American cities have been on edge with the approach of Christmas and the New Year. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been repeatedly warning people of a terrorist attack in the days following the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramazan.

Even if today’s cathedral fire in Manhattan is an accident, it will rob New Yorkers of some of their Christmas joy.

Every year, two Masses are said at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Each of these draw about 5,000 worshippers. The fire broke out an hour before today’s Mass, which was cancelled.

The cathedral houses priceless artifacts, the most famous of which is a collection known as the Barberini tapestries. Dating back to the 17th century, the tapestries depict the life of Christ. They were woven on the Pope’s looms in the Vatican. The church organ, one of the largest in America, dates back to 1910.

Construction of the imposing cathedral began in 1892, but was never completed. Work on the building, which was stopped in 1941 was resumed in 1982, when labourers had to be trained afresh in Gothic stone-cutting, which had gone totally out of use.

It was expected that construction of the incomplete third of the structure would have been finished sometime towards the end of this century. The cathedral, one of New York’s tourist attractions, has a facade which resembles the Notre Dame in Paris. Its centre bronze door was cast by M. Barbedienne, who also cast the Statue of Liberty.

The cathedral, one of the few which charges money for tours, had planned a string of events for Christmas.

   

 
 
ISRAEL TIPS FOR INDIA ON ANTI-TERROR WAR 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
Close friend Israel today came to India’s aid, sharing its experience in taking the tough line against Palestinian hardliners even as the government debates whether to strike at terrorist bases inside Pakistan.

The December 13 attack on Parliament and options before New Delhi came up during the two-day foreign ministries’ consultations between the two countries that began here today.

Though details are not being divulged, the Ariel Sharon government — which had recently used fighter jets against Palestinian militant targets in West Bank and Gaza Strip — came up with useful tips if India were to undertake a similar exercise against Pakistan-based terrorist camps.

Deputy director-general, Asia and Pacific, Zvi Gabay headed the Israeli delegation, which included Yehoyada Haim, former ambassador to India and current head of the Centre for Research and Policy Analysis. The Indian team included the secretary (East) in the foreign ministry, R. Abhayankar, and ambassador to Israel R.S. Jassal.

An official release from the Israeli embassy issued this afternoon was significant in its under-statement. “The two sides will review various aspects of the bilateral relations, including economic, agriculture, science and culture and bilateral agreements,” the release said. “During the first day of consultations various international and regional issues will be discussed.”

Though it considers Tel Aviv a valued friend, Delhi keeping in mind the sensitivity of Palestinians, has so far managed to strike a balance in all its statements on West Asia. India had been critical of Palestinian militant strikes on civilians inside Israel, but it had also expressed its displeasure at the Israeli air-strikes.

So it is interesting that India, now faced with a similar situation, is seeking Israel’s help on how to deal with the situation.

Experts say if the government goes ahead and strikes at militant bases, it would send out a strong signal to both the Pakistani establishment and the militants. “It’s going to be symbolic gesture and it may pay rich dividends,” a senior Indian diplomat said.

It is being pointed out that Israeli air-strikes at Palestinian militant camps — the international outcry notwithstanding — was largely responsible for President Yasser Arafat’s assertion that he would take steps against the militants.

The argument, therefore, is for India to act tough and make Pakistan sit up.

   

 
 
MAMATA TO ATAL DEFENCE, ATOM BOMB IN HAND 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today came to the Vajpayee government’s rescue during a discussion on the terrorist attack on Parliament.

The Trinamul chief took potshots at the Marxists and former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar who had launched a scathing attack on the government and the Sangh parivar for war-mongering.

Mamata started her speech by demanding that statues of those killed in Parliament while trying to protect it be installed in the premises.

Rubbishing the Opposition, Mamata took a hawkish stand and stopped short of urging the government to go in for war. “If Pakistan has (the) atom bomb, so do we. We will not be scared,” she said.

Urging the House to pass a resolution reposing faith in the government and the Prime Minister, Mamata turned the heat on the CPM.

“You, the CPM, I don’t need patriotic lessons from you,” Mamata said.

“You people betrayed the independence movement, you betrayed when China attacked India, you took out rally in Calcutta supporting (the) Taliban, you criticised Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji. We are not afraid of death. If we are together, we can fight.”

Taking on Chandra Shekhar, who had criticised the government for not acting on intelligence reports, Mamata said: “He could not stop (the) assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. He had information, yet, on May 26, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.”

“On May 6, he addressed a rally in Calcutta, without security. Indira Gandhi was killed, no security could help her. Her own security guards killed her. Today’s situation is different, there is global terrorism, state terrorism and cross-border terrorism,” she added.

Mamata berated the entire Opposition, barring Shivraj Patil, for their speeches. “When something happens to the country, there should not be any politics. We have to prove we are united. It is easy to criticise and point out inconsistencies, but to act is difficult,” she said.

Earlier, Chandra Shekhar, in a blistering attack on the government, said, “Indecisive governments cannot tackle terrorism,” and advised the Prime Minister to refrain from talk of war with Pakistan because war was “a dangerous game” and would only lead to the destruction of both countries.

Stating that he would continue to oppose war even if he were the only one remaining, Shekhar said he was against making nuclear bombs as India had “never been an aggressor”. He also advised home minister L.K. Advani and defence minister George Fernandes to “talk less”.

Taking a dig at the Prime Minister, Shekhar said Vajpayee “took the resignation of Fernandes without any reason and reinstated him without any reason”. When some NDA members tried to interrupt his speech, Shekhar asked them to become “friends” of the government, not its flatterers.

Irked by the frequent interruptions from NDA members, Shekhar said those who want to join the armed forces were free to go.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 25.9°C (-1)
Minimum: 13.9°C (0)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 47%
Sunrise: 6.17 am
Sunset: 4.50 pm

Today

Mainly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C
   
 

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