Terror scare hits hill cellphones
‘Foreign’ militants arrested
Clash over copying
Parties squirm after Mamata backs bandh
Red Cross ‘fraud’
Evidence list answers Pakistan cry
Delhi pressure for handover of Jaish chief
Atal vows to draft Saarc into terror war
Temple snub and salve
Court cuts Laloo list to size

 
 
TERROR SCARE HITS HILL CELLPHONES 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Jan. 3: 
Alarmed at the emergence of the cellphone as an integral part of a terrorist’s kit and intelligence reports of a possible spurt in subversive activities in North Bengal, the government has issued an unofficial ban on new mobile connections in the region.

Intelligence sources said Reliance Telecom Limited — the only mobile service provider in North Bengal — has been asked not to issue fresh connections at least till Republic Day. Reliance refused to confirm the government diktat, but confessed that applications for new connections are being “thoroughly” scrutinised.

The three distributors appointed by Reliance here have been turning down applications for connection for the past week, saying the service provider is not issuing SIM cards needed for a connection. “We have not received fresh SIM cards from Reliance Telecom for the past 10 days. The only explanation given is that new connections will be provided only to people who furnish proof of identity as well as proof of residence,” a distributor said.

Rajneesh Verma, a senior Reliance Telecom official, confirmed that SIM cards were being issued in small numbers after thorough scrutiny of the applications in the interest of the country’s security. He, however, denied that there was a freeze on new connections.

“We are not giving connections to persons who do not provide a proof of identity in the form of a valid passport, driving licence, voter’s ID card, ration card or a recently-paid telephone bill. The applicant also has to furnish two passport-size photographs. Following indiscriminate issue of cellphones by terrorists and criminals, we are strictly adhering to the norms for providing new connection. We do not want our mobile phones to fall into the hands of anti-nationals,” Verma added.

“The government is not taking any chances with militants and criminals using cellphones to carry out subversive activities. There are reports of several activists of the Nepal-based Harkat-ul-Ansar and the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad entering the region to target army and public installations on Republic Day to divert attention from the western front,” said a senior intelligence official.

He added that the Reliance network was being used extensively by smugglers and terrorists across the Nepal border in the absence of a jamming device in the area. “With no proper scrutiny of subscribers, people in eastern Nepal, as far inland as Birtamore, located 23 km from the border, use the Reliance network. The thriving smuggling cartel based in Dulabari town, 6 km inside the border, depends on the Reliance network. Apart from losing crores of rupees due to smuggling, the country is also losing a heavy amount in the form of telephone revenue,” he added.

While calls to and from Nepal on land-lines are ISD calls, users of the Reliance network only have to pay for local calls,” the official said.

The dearth of new connections has spawned a black market for the few SIM cards still available in the market. Dealers in Siliguri are picking up the few remaining cards from dealers in small towns like Kurseong, Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Gangtok and selling them at a premium.

   

 
 
‘FOREIGN’ MILITANTS ARRESTED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, Jan. 3: 
Police arrested four suspected terrorists from a hotel here yesterday and seized arms and documents that suggest that they are not Indian citizens. The hotel manager was also held.

District superintendent of police Pankaj Dutta said: “The documents we have seized from them indicate that they had foreign links and were part of an international gang.”

The police have identified them as Mohammad Rejadil Karim, Mithu Sheikh, Shaidul Sheikh and Dulu Pramanick. But, he said, they gave their names as Rajesh Saha, Mithu Saha, Hriday Saha and Dulal Pramanick when they checked into the hotel at Mangalbari in Malda town on December 27.

They placed calls to several places in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and other West Asian countries. “We have recovered pay phone receipts. We also seized a telephone diary, where we found land and mobile phone numbers of Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and some West Asian countries. There are some numbers with ‘India’ written in brackets beside them. This led us to believe that the arrested persons are not Indian citizens,” said Dutta.

Police sources said they could be ISI agents. “They are being intensely interrogated and we expect many more things to come out of them,” a policeman said.

   

 
 
CLASH OVER COPYING 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bolpur, Jan. 3: 
Twenty-one persons were injured when students of the Birbhum Institute of Engineering and Technology at Suri fought a pitched battle with the police today after an examinee was caught cheating during a first semester test.

Trouble started when the invigilator snatched the answer-script of the student caught copying from a book. A group of angry students went to institute director Amitava Das Gupta and demanded an explanation as to why his paper was taken away. When the director said he was caught cheating, the students went on a rampage.

The director called the police, making matters worse. Students started hurling stones at the police and a pitched battle ensued. In all, 17 students and four policemen were injured.

A first-year student, however, said the examinee was expelled and the other students had gone to the director to protest against the decision. Das Gupta denied expelling the student.

Examinations of different semesters have been postponed indefinitely, a spokesman of the institution said.

Fifth-semester student Sagar Sudha Roy was seriously injured in the lathicharge. He was admitted to Suri hospital, where his condition is stated to be critical.

Smritikona Pramanick, a student, alleged that the police entered the girls’ hostel and beat up the inmates. But Manoj Verma, additional superintendent of police, denied the allegation.

   

 
 
PARTIES SQUIRM AFTER MAMATA BACKS BANDH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 3: 
The political battlelines over the January 10 Bengal bandh were etched clearly today with the CPM calling upon the government and people to thwart it, the SUCI rejecting Mamata Banerjee’s “moral support” and the BJP opposing it.

The CPM’s anxiety over the bandh called by the SUCI — and backed by Mamata Banerjee — became apparent when it became the focal point in a party function organised to mark the 36th anniversary of Ganashakti. Former chief minister Jyoti Basu, whose government sponsored many a bandh during its 24-year regime, Left Front chairman Biman Bose and state party secretary Anil Biswas questioned the utility of the strike and urged the government and the people to foil the bandh called in protest against the rise in hospital and power tariff and educational fees.

Bose said the health department would revise the hospital charges and found no reason for a bandh when there was scope for settlement of an issue through negotiations. Ridiculing the Trinamul Congress’ proposed jail bharo movement against the hospital fee hike, he asked Bhattacharjee, who was present on the dais, not to send anyone to jail, but to arrange for those arrested to be released in faraway places like Kakdwip or Gosaba.

The SUCI, too, spoke out against Trinamul, rejecting Mamata’s “uncalled for gesture” of extending “moral support” to the strike. “We called our bandh against some policies of the state government as well as the Union government. We asked for nobody’s support. Trinamul is well aware that it is going to be a resounding success. That is perhaps the reason why she is jumping into it,” SUCI state secretary Prabhas Ghosh said.

Three years ago, the party had organised a successful Bengal bandh, demanding that English be taught again from the primary school level. It learnt a bitter lesson when Mamata hijacked the issue and reaped the dividends by supporting the SUCI.

The BJP has also opposed the bandh and criticised Mamata for supporting it. “A bandh will serve no purpose but will bring doom to the state economy. There are other ways to fight a cause,” BJP leader Muzaffar Khan said.

   

 
 
RED CROSS ‘FRAUD’ 
 
 
FROM RANJAN LAHIRY
 
Burdwan, Jan. 3: 
The administration today pulled up the district chapter of the Indian Red Cross Society over alleged financial irregularities. District magistrate Manoj Agarwal, who is also chairman of the society’s district wing, has asked secretary Susanta Das to explain why action should not be taken against him on charges of fraud.

Das has not submitted a statement of accounts three months after a fund-raiser was held at Sanskriti Lok Mancha here.

Sources said the Burdwan Red Cross had organised a musical soiree on September 30 last year to raise money for a development fund. In the middle of December, Das went to submit the statement of accounts at a managing committee meeting on a plain sheet of paper. It was not backed by vouchers of payments made to the artistes. The committee members, led by the magistrate, refused to accept it.

The sources added that Das mentioned in his statement that a prominent actress was given Rs 85,000. But her programme manager in the district said she was not paid more than Rs 45,000.

“A meeting will be held on January 14, where Das has been asked to submit the relevant receipts. He was in charge of the function, so he has to submit a proper statement of accounts. If necessary, I will set up a three-member panel to probe the matter,” said Agarwal.

Das said he could not draw up the statement due to lack of time.

   

 
 
EVIDENCE LIST ANSWERS PAKISTAN CRY 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA AND ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Kathmandu, Jan. 3: 
Delhi today came out with details of the information it has provided to Islamabad for the past decade on terrorists carrying out their activities in India and almost always finding safe haven in Pakistan.

The latest offensive against Islamabad raised doubts about Pakistan’s sincerity in fighting terrorism, asking the Pervez Musharraf regime to prove that its crackdown on the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba was a serious move.

“Proven terrorists, criminals and narcotics peddlers — why should they find shelter in Pakistan? I am unable to understand what is in the soil of that country that allows these people to find safe haven there?” said foreign minister Jaswant Singh, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

The two-page document read out by the minister referred to the number of times India has informed Pakistan about terrorists who had either fled to Pakistan after committing offence or orchestrated crimes from Pakistan. The communications also contained details of their involvement in terrorist acts, but these were not released.

The details of the evidence were later shared with many of the South Asian leaders. Singh had meetings with five of them. The one he could not meet was his Bangladesh counterpart -- Morshed Khan who left for Dhaka to receive British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Pakistan foreign minister Abdus Sattar, who arrived here two days ago, has been making a case for India providing evidence for Pakistan to take further action, having – as he claimed -- already proved its sincerity in fighting terrorism with its recent crackdown.

“It is an untenable and unacceptable position,” Singh said. “We have provided evidence about the terrorists over the past decade to Pakistan. Even thereafter, we hear this same refrain. It is saddening and misleading. It is going away from the central point.”

Singh said the Pakistani leadership had not officially communicated anything to the Indian side about the measures it has taken against terrorists. He said no request for a meeting has been made by Islamabad either.

The Saarc summit here has for all practical purposes been hijacked by the India-Pakistan crisis. “Saarc is not a bilateral forum. I am not here to conduct India-Pakistan relations,” Singh said, but proceeded to do exactly that by taking Islamabad on its repeated demands for evidence.

“This current subterfuge of seeking evidence is not acceptable, like this thesis of providing moral and diplomatic support to terrorists,” he said. Singh added, “I’m unable to understand how moral support can be given to terrorism, which is immoral.” He spent the next 15 minutes saying India has been providing evidence to Pakistan for a decade.

The list of communications starts from March 1993 when Delhi provided Islamabad details about Dawood Ibrahim and the Memon brothers — held responsible for the bomb blasts in Mumbai – goes through the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight in 1999 and ends with a reference to the demarche handed over by Indian foreign secretary Chokila Iyer to the Pakistani high commissioner in Delhi.

“It’s our hope that Pakistan will do what it says it will do,” Singh said. But he was quick to add: “It must be in deeds and not simply in words.”

The summit begins tomorrow and A.B. Vajpayee, before taking off for Kathmandu, said: “Whatever weapon is available, we will use it to defend ourselves” amid reports of more border clashes.

The Indian case

Evidence/material provided to Pakistan by India

In connection with the Bombay blast case (12.3.93)

23.3.93: Secretary (W) handed over a list of six persons, including their passport details, who were suspected of involvement in the bomb blasts and had subsequently flown from Dubai to Karachi on 17.3.93.

27.3.93: Photographs of Memon family received from Cabinet Secretary made available to the Pakistan HC by JS (IPA). On 29.3.93 Pakistan High Commission confirmed that the photographs of the Memon family have been forwarded to Pakistani authorities.

28.3.93: HCI Islamabad gave a list of 10 persons whose passports had been revoked by GOI.

30.3.93: NV No. J/103/20/93 — 18 sheets containing information pertaining to physical appearance/distinguishing marks of six wanted Indian persons and information about their involvement in the Bombay blast conspiracy were handed over.

15.9.93: NV No. J/103/20/93 in which we handed over additional information about the involvement of the accused in the Bombay bomb blast case. This included:

(i) Copy of the manifesto of PIA flight No. PK-214 from Dubai to Karachi on 20.3.93 in which three members of the Memon family also travelled.

(ii) Details of the flights by which 20 persons recruited by Ibrahim Abdul Razak Memon for training in camps in Pakistan travelled to Pakistan.

(iii) Photograph relating to grenades as well as the empty cartons of explosives

16.6.94: HCI Islamabad handed over an Aide Memoire to the Pakistan Foreign Office seeking extradition/deportation of 24 Indian nationals accused of being involved in the Bombay bomb blast case.

11.08.94: HCI Islamabad handed over a second Aide Memoire to the Pakistan Foreign Office giving details of 20 absconders wanted in the case, along with their Interpol control numbers.

Hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 (24-30 Dec, 1999)

January 15, 2000: Note Verbal to the High Commission of Pakistan forwarding a brief report on hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 and requesting them to apprehend the hijackers and their accomplices who were in Pakistan. (Pakistan responded to this demarche in their reply dated 24.1.2000 denying the presence of these hijackers in Pakistan and dismissing our demarche as baseless and provocative. We refuted this by reiterating our demarche through a note dated 4.2.2000)

April 24, 2001: Note Verbal, J/103/43/99-IV, to the High Commission of Pakistan we formally requested Pakistan to apprehend and extradite the hijackers of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814, whose addresses in Pakistan were also mentioned in the Note Verbal. Pakistan was also reminded of its obligations under the Montreal, Hague and Saarc conventions as also the Simla and Lahore agreements. List of documents enclosed with the note verbale:

(i) Red corner notices issued by the Interpol requesting the hijackers and their accomplices be arrested;

(ii) Copies of affidavits by the captain of the aircraft and two passengers identifying the hijackers; and

(iii) Attested photographs of the hijackers.

June 8, 2001: Pakistan was reminded to take expeditious action on our earlier demarche.

Extradition of Ranjit Singh alias Neeta — terrorists activities in Jammu

31.12.2001: NV No. J/103/51/2001, handed over to Counsellor (Political), Pakistan High Commission on 1.1.2002 enclosing red corner notice issued by Interpol Secretariat, Geneva vide control No. A-723/7-2000. He is wanted in a number of terrorist related offences in India and is presently reported to be in Lahore, Pakistan.

Demarches made in connection with other cases.

11.8.90: A list of 12 fugitives from law handed over by Foreign Secretary to Pakistan FS.

12.11.98: During the Composite Dialogue talks between Home Secretaries on Terrorism and Narcotics, a document containing names of 32 terrorists, fugitives from law and underworld elements sheltered in Pakistan was handed over to Pakistan. The document also contained evidence and material establishing Pakistan’s use of terrorism against India.

31.12.2001: A list containing 20 fugitives from law currently in Pakistan was handed over to Pakistan DHC. Pakistan was requested to apprehend and hand over these individuals to India.

   

 
 
DELHI PRESSURE FOR HANDOVER OF JAISH CHIEF 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
Kathmandu, Jan. 3: 
India is pressuring Pakistan into handing over some of the terrorists named on the list of most-wanted criminals given recently to Islamabad, particularly the three it had to release on New Year’s eve two years ago to resolve the Kandahar hijack crisis. Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar is one of the terrorists India wants returned.

Though there is no official word on the move yet and it is not India’s only condition for progress towards reduction of tension and normalisation of bilateral ties, it certainly is high on India’s wishlist.

To keep up the pressure, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, hours before leaving for Kathmandu, categorically ruled out the possibility of holding a meeting on the Saarc sidelines with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Vajpayee arrived here this afternoon, while Musharraf is due tomorrow. “Pakistan will have to specify who they have arrested and under what charges they have been arrested,” Vajpayee told journalists in Lucknow this morning.

For the ruling BJP, swapping the three hardcore terrorists, including Azhar, was perhaps one of the most humiliating experiences. It continues to haunt the BJP, which has always prided itself as a tough party. The fast-paced developments in the region after the December 13 attack on Parliament has given the Indian leadership an opportunity of “reversing” that process by using its diplomatic skill and getting back the terrorists it was forced to let go.

Officially, India has not sought the extradition of any terrorists from Pakistan. Perhaps India is trying not to force its hand since an outright rejection by Islamabad will leave Delhi with no option, but to adopt a tougher stance that may lead to yet another armed conflict between the hostile South Asian neighbours.

The better option before Delhi is to achieve its objective diplomatically. Keeping up the pressure and ruling out engaging with Pakistan in a dialogue till it “addresses India’s concerns” is part of that effort. Vajpayee’s schedule for the next two days includes bilateral meetings with heads of government of other Saarc nations, but not Pakistan.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, too, has followed the same pattern. The opinion in the Indian camp is so far divided on whether to have any contact — bilateral or otherwise — with Pakistan.

The Prime Minister’s musings on New Year’s-eve, expressing a willingness to walk more than half way if Pakistan gives up its compulsive hostility towards India, and Singh’s dubbing of Islamabad’s steps against terrorists, including Jaish and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, as a “a step in the right direction”, appear to have been misread by Pakistan. The Indian leadership believes that instead of keeping up the good work, Islamabad seems to have read the signals coming out of Delhi as a willingness to resume the dialogue.India is not amused with the interpretation and wants to drive home the point harder this time.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is set to arrive in South Asia soon and will visit both India and Pakistan, can convey Delhi’s message to Islamabad. Blair, who recently met President George W. Bush, has said he will try to convince the two countries to lower the temperature in the volatile region. But India will keep up the pressure, including amassing troops along the border, to ensure that the key world players and Pakistan take it seriously.

A dialogue in the present context, therefore, runs contrary to the tough message India wants to convey. But having said this, Indian officials are finding it difficult to explain what Vajpayee and Musharraf will do when they meet informally during the break in the Saarc Summit. Spin doctors in the Indian camp are trying to convince everyone that the interaction between the two may go beyond exchange of mere pleasantries, but it should not be seen as a bilateral meeting.

   

 
 
ATAL VOWS TO DRAFT SAARC INTO TERROR WAR 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Jan. 3: 
Before heading for Kathmandu, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee promised to push terrorism as the main issue at the Saarc summit. “Atankvaad ko zordaar dhang se uthaenge,” he said, in a written statement to journalists in Lucknow.

The Prime Minister is hoping to get the support of some, if not all, Saarc members in the fight against terrorism. Vajpayee ruled out meeting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the summit, saying Islamabad was “just not doing enough on the terrorism front to merit a dialogue”.

Turning to another neighbour, Vajpayee said, in Kathmandu, he would take the opportunity to meet the king and the Prime Minister of Nepal and offer his full support to the Himalayan kingdom.

“Nepal is going through troubled times and India is with it,” he said, adding that he would welcome the opportunity to meet the heads of Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Pakistan’s name was missing from Vajpayee’s “welcome list”.

In an indication of what India would push for at the summit, Vajpayee said all Saarc nations, barring Pakistan, shared a “South Asian determination” to fight in concert against terrorism.

The Prime Minister added that if all the nations “put aside (our) political confrontation and mutual rivalry” and get together, the “political, social and economic” face of the region would change for the better.

Continuing his diatribe against Pakistan, Vajpayee said talks with Musharraf are not possible as long as Islamabad supports terrorism.

Demanding evidence from Pakistan on what it had done to curb terrorism, Vajpayee said: “First I would like to know what action Pakistan has taken against terrorists and their organisations, how many people have been arrested and what Pakistan thinks is the nature of their crime. Where did they come from? Who exactly were involved in the attack on Parliament and other terrorist acts in Kashmir and other parts of India?”

Vajpayee clarified that he had not said India would use the atom bomb, if needed, to defend itself against a Pakistan attack.

Vajpayee had yesterday said in Lucknow that India would fight one last decisive battle against terrorism and had enough weapons in its arsenal to thwart any attack.

Some local newspapers reported this statement with the headline that Vajpayee was not ruling out an atomic attack on Pakistan.

“We want peace, not war,” Vajpayee said.

“Our position and philosophy on the use of the atom bomb is clear. We will not initiate war and we will stand by our commitment to no first use. We will also not use the atom bomb on those who do not have it. We feel there is no need for it now and there shouldn’t be even in future. These things are for self defence.”

Dismissing reports that the BJP will make the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue an election agenda, Vajpayee said the country was faced with a much graver issue now and all political parties had to get together to focus on it. “All issues barring terrorism are secondary and peripheral,” the Prime Minister said.    


 
 
TEMPLE SNUB AND SALVE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 3: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee virtually closed the possibilities of a solution to the Ayodhya “dispute” before the March 12 deadline set by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Instead, he urged the VHP to join the fight against terrorism.

As the VHP stuck to its guns and reasserted its intent to build the Ram temple any time after March 12, urban development minister Ananth Kumar, a known hardliner, partially retrieved the situation for the Centre by promising land in Delhi for a Ram museum “on the lines of the (proposed) grand temple” at Ayodhya.

In Lucknow, the Prime Minister appealed to political leaders and organisations, including the VHP, to keep contentious issues like Ayodhya on the backburner and instead focus on the fight against terrorism.

Addressing newsmen in his parliamentary constituency, Vajpayee said: “Terrorism is the biggest issue today. Every political outfit and organisation should keep contentious issues on the backburner and join the struggle against terrorism.”

The VHP, in its dharam sansad last January, had set a deadline of Shivratri (March 12) for the Vajpayee government to get its act together on Ayodhya, failing which it announced that work would begin on the disputed site any time after that.

However, apart from setting up a special Ayodhya cell as part of the Cabinet secretariat, the government has done nothing. The cell was recently taken over by an Uttaranchal cadre IAS officer, Shatrughan Singh. But official sources said apart from a reconnaissance of the disputed site, nothing was accomplished.

Vajpayee himself sounded non-committal on meeting the VHP’s expectations. Talks were on to “resolve” the matter, he said, but denied giving any categorical assurance to the VHP of the dispute being sorted out within the deadline.

“I had simply expressed my hope that the issue will be resolved amicably before March 12 and efforts are still on in this direction,” he said. VHP leaders had claimed just the opposite after a meeting with the Prime Minister a couple of months ago.

VHP general secretary Acharya Giriraj Kishore said they would only have a rethink on temple construction if India went in for a full-fledged war with Pakistan. “Actually speaking, terrorism is a continuing issue and not something which has suddenly cropped up today. If there is a full-fledged war then our sanyasis and sadhus will reconsider their decision. Otherwise, come what may the dharamacharyas are committed to temple construction. And we are also patriots,” he said.

BJP sources said with tension prevailing on the border, the Uttar Pradesh elections round the corner and the party’s none-too-bright prospects of winning there, Vajpayee did not wish to open another front in Ayodhya. Moreover, few in the party or the government are confident of finding a solution outside the legal ambit.

The BJP itself is not enthusiastic about pursuing the temple plank in the polls as it considers it unproductive. The VHP, however, appeared determined to keep itself in the news by chanting the Ram mantra.

   

 
 
COURT CUTS LALOO LIST TO SIZE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Jan. 3: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav is banking on depositions of journalists, often the butt of his stinging ridicule, to bail him out of the fodder scam case.

A former editor, a former chief reporter and a photographer figure on the list of over 200 defence witnesses furnished by Laloo in court today.

The length of the list became a bone of contention between the defence and the prosecution which alleged that it was a ploy to prolong the trial. The court has asked the defence to shorten the list.

But the journalists’ names hogged the limelight. Laloo’s lawyers said the three journalists would play a crucial role in putting forward a strong defence of Laloo.

Bihar’s power circuit had been abuzz with tales of how a “Group of Seven” had appointed itself as Laloo’s media council. But this is the first time Laloo has acknowledged on record his proximity to a section of journalists.

Laloo’s relationship with the “Group of Seven” had its shares of ups and downs. Laloo used to shower favours on some, only to cold-shoulder them after a few days. But some old friends in the media stayed with him through thick and thin.

The list submitted in the court names all journalists, barring the editor, whose paper had initially ignored the fodder scandal when it broke and shook Bihar politics to its foundations.

Transferred out of the state in the late nineties, the editor is believed to have maintained his contacts with the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief.

The editor has been chosen as a witness since he had interviewed Laloo and visited his house several times. He is expected to identify some of the photographs published in the paper during his stint as editor.

The defence expects the photographer witness, who had photographed Bihar’s first family, to establish how chief minister Rabri Devi’s dairy business helped amass the wealth for which Laloo is in the dock now. His pictures of Laloo and his family working in the dairy are expected to be produced in court.

The chief reporter, too, used to be a frequent visitor to Laloo’s house. Defence lawyers said his deposition is expected to focus on the lifestyle of Laloo and his family.

Other than the journalists, Laloo’s witness list includes social workers, government officials, politicians and friends.

Prosecution counsel L.R. Ansari contended that the list has too many witnesses and this was “clearly intended to delay the proceedings”.

Citing a Supreme Court verdict, the counsel said the burden of defence was much less than that of the prosecution. “If the prosecution produced a little over 100 witnesses, how can the defence get 200 witnesses? he asked.

He pointed out that the Prevention of Corruption Act was supposed to guard against attempts to hold up procedures. “The idea of the special court is to accelerate the pace of trial,” the prosecution lawyer said.

Laloo’s lawyer P.P. Singh argued that the defence was within its right to produce substantive and consistent accounts to refute CBI allegations. The court wanted the list to be reviewed, but sources said the names of the journalists are unlikely to be dropped. Laloo, however, was not present during the hearing as he was indisposed.

   
 

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