Rebels held for CPM leader’s murder
11 of party killed in road mishap
Remote-control temple leash on VHP
Court stays sacking of daily wagers
Bonhomie before banquet
Mulayam berates Cong
Panel for changes in rape law
ADMK to fight minus friends
Shellburst smokes villagers out
Tall plans for Bodh Gaya

 
 
REBELS HELD FOR CPM LEADER’S MURDER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Jan. 4: 
Two activists of the People’s War Group were arrested today from Masidpur village in Kalna for their alleged involvement in the murder of CPM leader Sujit Singh Sardar at Belpahari in Paschim Midnapore district in November.

Burdwan superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh said the arrested PWG activists — Krishna Mura and Bijoy Ratna Mura — would be handed over to a special investigating police team from Midnapore, which is expected to reach Kalna tomorrow.

The two PWG activists had taken shelter in Masidpur village with some tribals engaged by local farmers for harvesting paddy. Initially, villagers did not suspect the presence of PWG activists in the group daily labourers and became suspicious about the Muras only when they learnt that they were from Belpahari and were visiting the village for the first time.

   

 
 
11 OF PARTY KILLED IN ROAD MISHAP 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Morgram (Murshidabad), Jan. 4: 
Eleven members of a picnic party were killed and two seriously injured when their Tata Sumo collided head-on with a lorry at Telangal village on the Murshidabad-Birbhum border this morning.

The white vehicle speeding towards Rampurhat along the Morgram-Panagar express highway burst a tyre and overturned after colliding with a lorry travelling in the opposite direction, said eyewitnesses.

The lorry has been seized and its driver and helper detained.

The deceased were traders from Omarpur and Raghunathganj. Both markets were closed today to condole the deaths.

At the mishap site under Sagardighi police station a huge crowd had gathered and traffic on the highway remained suspended for about half an hour. A police party that was rushed to the site, however, persuaded the crowd to disperse.

District superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar said the traders had left Omarpur at about seven in the morning. The accident took place around 7.30 a.m. after the vehicle had crossed Morgram.

The 11 who died on the spot were identified as Joydeb Biswas (25), Angur Sheikh (22), Jeker Sheikh (30), Injil Sheikh (20), Mahabur Sheikh (18), Pintu Sarkar (25), Anarul Sheikh (26), Hasibul Sheikh (25), Enamul Sheikh (20), Rakesh Ghosh (24) and Ghutu Sheikh (22).

   

 
 
REMOTE-CONTROL TEMPLE LEASH ON VHP 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 4: 
With the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) ambivalent in its response to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s appeal to put the Ram temple on the backburner and focus on the fight against terrorism, the government may try and enlist support from other quarters to pressure its leaders.

Official sources said the Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peeth, Swami Jayendra Saraswati, may issue an appeal urging the VHP to put off its agitation for the construction of a Ram temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya, for the moment at least.

Sources said the appeal, like Vajpayee’s, is expected to stress that the nation must be united in fighting terrorism exported from across the border and not allow its attention to be distracted by other issues.

The VHP had declared that if the issue was not sorted out before March 12, the deadline set by its dharam sansad last February, it would go ahead and start building the temple.

The Kanchi Shankaracharya is considered to be the most powerful of the four Shankaracharyas presiding over the important Hindu religious orders. He has been politically inclined, too, and has performed a havan in Delhi over the past six days for the well-being of people and protection against terrorist attacks.

Jayendra Saraswati and his second-in-command Vijayendra Saraswati had presided over the “Prathyanya Devi” havan, which concluded today at the Kamakoti Kamakshi Meditation and Cultural Centre.

Though the Shankaracharya has not associated himself openly with the VHP — he did not turn up at the last dharam sansad during the Kumbh Mela despite the VHP’s announcement — he has issued statements supporting the Ram mandir.

He has also backed the BJP agenda of reviewing the Constitution and opposed cow slaughter, urging for a ban on it. But unlike Swami Swaroopanand, the Shankaracharya of Dwarikapeeth and Jyotishmath, who has publicly supported the Congress and is seen with its leaders, the Kanchi Shankaracharya has kept a relatively low profile.

This, government sources maintained, added to his credibility. They had reasons to believe that if the Kanchi Shankaracharya worked on the VHP it could defer its temple-building programme and spare the Centre a major embarrassment.

Though VHP general secretary Acharya Giriraj Kishore had yesterday said there was no way they would reconsider their plans, unless the country went to war, working president Ashok Singhal indicated in Hyderabad today that he could soften the stand.

Asked if the VHP would rethink its March 12 deadline, Singhal sounded circumspect. “It is a matter that will be reviewed by the dharam sansad and only the sants can decide. We (the VHP) do not have a separate view on this,” he said.

While agreeing that the country’s safety, security and unity were the biggest issues now, the VHP chief said “upholding dharma was equally important”.

Gita Jayanti

Hindu organisations in collaboration with the Singapore government are organising the two-day Gita Jayanti celebrations in the island state tomorrow and on Sunday. Senior BJP leader and minister of state for railways O. Rajagopal will attend the ceremony.

   

 
 
COURT STAYS SACKING OF DAILY WAGERS 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Jan. 4: 
In a major setback to the Digvijay Singh government’s policy of trimming excess workforce, Madhya Pradesh High Court has declared the retrenchment of 30,000 daily-wage earners invalid.

The court admitted a Citu petition on behalf of the retrenched workers and said the government could not sack the wagers. Further hearing of the case will continue at the Labour Court.

Digvijay Singh was the first chief minister to have actually executed Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s suggestion of downsizing governments. In fact, Digvijay thought of it much before Sinha did.

On August 1, 1994, exactly eight months after being sworn in, Digvijay had ordered the sacking of 28,000 temporary daily-wage earners drawing a salary between Rs 1,200 and Rs 2,400. The numbers increased to 30,000 by 2000. Digvijay’s cut-off date was January 1, 1999. Any temporary daily wager appointed by government departments on or after the cut-off date was to be retrenched.

The issue snowballed in February 2000 after a sacked worker committed suicide allegedly leaving behind a note holding the chief minister responsible for his death. Immediately after this, three more retrenched workers killed themselves, including one with his wife and three children. But the chief minister remained firm and the retrenchments continued.

From May 1, 2000, BJP leader and Bhopal MP Uma Bharti launched her “fast unto death” on behalf of the retrenched daily wagers. Bharti was joined by one of Digvijay’s own party MLAs, Kalpana Parulekar.

The chief minister remained unfazed as Uma’s fast entered its sixth day. That evening, Bharti ended her fast and gulped down a glass of juice. Once Bharti retreated, Parulekar emerged.

The Mahidpur Congress MLA demonstrated against her chief minister, demanding reinstatement of the retrenched labourers and even threatened self-immolation. Six days later, police picked her up from the demonstration site. She had to spend two months in jail.

Once released, she met the Congress high command in Delhi. After a meeting with Sonia Gandhi on July 2, 2000, it was decided that Parulekar would withdraw her agitation against the chief minister and the state Cabinet chose Digvijay as the sole arbiter to solve the retrenchment dispute.

On July 10, Digvijay, the prime accused in the issue, became his own judge to decide whether the policy of retrenchment was justified. On August 20, Digvijay upheld that neither could temporary daily wagers be adjudicated under the Industrial Disputes Act nor could state government departments be equated with industry.

Digvijay relied heavily on the judgment of a full bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court, which had held that daily wagers did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Industrial Disputes Act. However, the judgment Digvijay was quoting was overruled by the Supreme Court.

   

 
 
BONHOMIE BEFORE BANQUET 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
Kathmandu, Jan. 4: 
The first meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Bangladeshi counterpart, Begum Khaleda Zia, stretched so long that the two almost missed King Gyanendra’s banquet tonight.

The scheduled 20-minute meeting at Vajpayee’s suite at Soaltee Hotel carried on for 50 minutes, helping the leaders to get to know each other better and try to iron out differences between the two countries.

Khaleda told Vajpayee she might come to India for knee surgery. The Prime Minister, who has had both his knees operated upon, said he looked forward to her visit.

Both sides were at their gracious best. Vajpayee said Delhi would have no objection if Dhaka sought a review of the Ganga water-sharing treaty signed by the two sides in December 1996. He was also positively inclined to give the country duty-free access to 25 tariff lines.

In turn, Khaleda promised that Bangladesh would soon set up a human rights commission to look into the attacks on minorities and violation of their rights.

The Prime Minister had written to Khaleda soon after her Bangladesh Nationalist Party swept to power last year to make it clear that India did not have any favourites in Dhaka. He also refrained from going to town on reports of attack on Hindus soon after Khaleda’s victory.

The two sides had discussed the issue over the past few months and Dhaka had said it would take the steps necessary to check such attacks.

There was a subtle reference to the subject this evening. Khaleda and her team members promised that the proposed human rights commission would not only look into the past attacks and violations of minorities’ rights, but also check recurrence of such incidents.

“The bonhomie between the elected leaders of the two largest democracies in South Asia was palpable,” an Indian diplomat present at the meeting said.

The two sides have agreed that the commerce secretaries of India and Bangladesh should meet in the next few weeks in Dhaka to sort out differences and allow Bangladesh duty-free access to 25 Indian tariff lines.

Vajpayee’s luck with ladies had started earlier in the day when he met Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga. After a 10-minute interaction, the two leaders chased officials and aides out of the room and had an hour-long one-on-one during which they discussed bilateral and regional developments.

Chandrika did take the opportunity to tell Vajpayee how the strained India-Pakistan relations were affecting the progress of the Saarc and wondered whether the Indian Prime Minister could return to the talks-table with President Pervez Musharraf.

But after Vajpayee clarified India’s stand and the explained why it had to take certain steps to deal with Islamabad, the Sri Lankan President seemed more understanding.

   

 
 
MULAYAM BERATES CONG 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Jan. 4: 
The Samajwadi Party today released its first list of candidates for the Uttar Pradesh polls even as Mulayam Singh Yadav was unanimously elected party president.

The party announced a list of 295 candidates and said it would soon declare the remaining 108 candidates. The Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha is now left with 403 seats after 22 Assembly seats were transferred to Uttaranchal.

The Samajwadi chief was, however, quick to point out that the delay in the release of the second list was not due to infighting. Out of the remaining 108 seats, some will have to be given to the People’s Front, Mulayam pointed out.

Indicating the failure of talks on some kind of an alliance between the Samajwadi and the Congress, Mulayam said there was “no chance” of his party allying with a “party with no presence in Uttar Pradesh”.

Criticising the Congress for the first time in months after there were signs of a thaw in relationship between the two parties, Mulayam said: “People ask me why I left the Congress out and criticised the other parties. Yes, I had not targeted the Congress till now because I felt there was no use. They have no presence here, no identity. There was also never a question of any tie-up with the party.”

Alleging that the Congress would anyway come to some sort of an understanding with “communal parties” even if it was lucky to win 15-odd seats, Mulayam maintained that the Samajwadi had never talked of either a post-poll or a pre-poll alliance with the Congress.

Lashing out at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led national Democratic Alliance, the Samajwadi Party president savaged the Centre for “forcing war on the country”.

Mulayam said the BJP had been left with no relevant issues and was resorting to draconian laws like the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and magnifying the threats of terrorism. “And now they are pushing the country towards war and a state-sponsored terrorism for narrow political gains,” he added.

The BJP, Mulayam alleged, had garnered enough political mileage from the Kargil war. “Operation Vijay became the BJP’s political ace,” he said, adding that the Kargil war was an outcome of the party’s wrong foreign policy and short-sightedness. “They even gained from coffins meant for our soldiers,” he said, alluding to the coffin scam. The Samajwadi president however, clarified that his party would support the government if it involved issues of national security and a war with Pakistan became imminent.

The Samajwadi Party has promised free medical care to “really serious patients” if voted to power. It has also promised to revive the staggering leather industry of Kanpur and other cities of the state.

   

 
 
PANEL FOR CHANGES IN RAPE LAW 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 4: 
The Law Commission has recommended sweeping changes in laws dealing with rape to include “sexual assaults” even without “penetration”.

In its 172nd report to the Union government, the commission said the expression “rape” should be replaced by “sexual assault” so that any kind of sexual violence, even without actual “penetration”, could be punished under the Indian Penal Code.

The commission recommended changes in Section 375 of the IPC, which deals with rape. Under this section, “penetration” has to be proved though in the majority of cases, the accused escape as penetration is difficult to prove.

The commission said the heading of Section 375 should be changed from “Rape” to “sexual assault”. This would do away with the clause dealing with “penetration” so that “sexual assault” on any part of the body could be considered rape.

The commission also suggested that rape laws should be made “gender neutral”. This means sexual assault on boys in police or judicial custody will be taken up as rape cases. So far, “custodial rape of young boys” has been neglected in law.

The commission said the recommendations were in view of the Supreme Court judgment in the Sakshi case. Sakshi, a social organisation, wanted any type of “sexual assault” to be construed as rape.

The commission recommended a new section -- 376-E – on “unlawful sexual contact” to include “unnatural intercourse” like “carnal intercourse” and other forms “against the order of nature” with any man, woman or even an animal.

In this context, it recommended deleting Section 377 of the IPC. Under this proviso, “unnatural offences” include only “carnal intercourse with any man or woman or animal”.

The commission has also suggested procedural changes in trial under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to avoid delays as well as amendments in the Indian Evidence Act, which has often been used by a defence lawyer to defeat the prosecution in a rape case.

Union home minister L.K. Advani had earlier said that those convicted in a rape case should be given capital punishment. As the home ministry is also responsible for changes in the CrPC and the IPC, it remains to be seen how it deals with the subject, especially in view of the Law Commission’s report.

The commission recommended stiffer penalties for those guilty of child rape. It said child rape was a serious and heinous crime and punishment should be enhanced manifold as “sexual assault on a child causes lasting psychic damage”.

The commission said the recommendations were based on a report submitted by the National Commission for Women.

   

 
 
ADMK TO FIGHT MINUS FRIENDS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Jan. 4: 
The ADMK today signalled it would most probably go it alone in the three Assembly bypolls in February, after hundreds of supporters wanted their leader Jayalalithaa to contest from all the three seats.

Over 1,000 applications had piled up at the ADMK headquarters here till the deadline ended this evening. But party sources said most had applied on behalf of Amma in a unanimous expression of solidarity that she should contest all the three seats, including Andipatti, the choicest of the lot. The other two are Vaniyambadi and Saidapet.

Tamil Nadu chief minister O. Panneerselvam, who filed the first application for Jayalalithaa from Andipatti, said nothing could deter his men from ensuring her success, despite the change in alliance.

The upbeat mood at the party office was apparently to dispel any sense of uncertainty among the cadre following the DMK legal wing’s appeal against the Tansi cases, coming up before the Supreme Court on January 7. The high court had acquitted Jayalalithaa. The overwhelming response also indicated that the cadre wanted Jayalalithaa to be back at the helm to stop the “drift” in the administration.

Party sources said Jayalalithaa, who is in Hyderabad now, is likely to finalise the candidates by January 14, coinciding with the Pongal harvest festival. “There is still time as nominations begin only on January 17,” the sources said.

While the DMK-led National Democratic Alliance would most probably finalise its candidates for the three seats on Sunday, the Congress and the Left have begun exploring the possibility of forging a third front. This was confirmed by the CPM’s party organ in Tamil, Theekadir.

   

 
 
SHELLBURST SMOKES VILLAGERS OUT 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Abdullian (on the International Border in RS Pura, Jammu), Jan. 4: 
It was a village that had never heard the sound of shells even during the wars in 1965 and 1971. All that the villagers had heard was the rat-a-tat of machine guns, which mostly took the lives of cattle.

But things changed dramatically early last week when Pakistani troops opened fire without any provocation. The boom of 120-mm mortar shells and rockets turned the lives of the people into a nightmare and the village into rubble.

The firing, shelling and the rockets continued to hold the villagers to ransom for over 10 hours till Indian troops retaliated in kind. Many fled to save themselves and their children from the murderous Pakistani onslaught. Some stayed back to salvage whatever had escaped the shells and also to help Indian troops dig trenches and build bunkers.

But the shells and the bullets from heavy machine guns kept targeting them till Indian troops ordered their evacuation to “safer” places.

Village head Sama Ram was among the few who had decided not to leave their shelled homes. But a few days ago, he was politely asked by the army to leave as things had turned too dangerous and the village needed to be mined. While the shelling had subsided during the last two days, the bullets continued to rain, once even forcing this correspondent to dive into a trench and away from the line of fire from the trigger-happy but well-camouflaged Pakistani soldiers on the other side of the fence.

As many as 80 per cent of the total population of border villages in the RS Pura sector, which had a total population of 40,000, had migrated within 12 hours of the unprovoked heavy firing by Pakistani troops. It was now time for the rest to do so.

Sama Ram, who had packed whatever he could salvage on his bullock cart from what was once his home, had tears in his eyes. He kept looking back at his native village where he was born and grew up, perhaps realising that he would never be able to return. The mud tracks that he frequently used to go to his fields and back home had now turned lethal with landmines. “I had decided to stay in the village. I wanted to fight the enemy till my last breath and also to serve the jawans who had rushed to protect us from the mad Pakistani firing,” he said with tears streaming down his cheeks.

Sama Ram said he had managed to fight starvation for four days only to ensure that Indian troops were provided with the correct assessment of where the shells rained from across the border. “Goliyon ke bauchar se guzar karke bataya jawanon ko (I crossed the line of fire to apprise Indian troops),” he said, adding “Ram jaanta hai main wapas yahan rahne ko aaonga ya nahi (Only god knows whether I will be able to come back again to stay here or not).”

Sama Ram is not the only one harbouring such thoughts. One of the biggest tragedies of the heavy shelling resorted to by Pakistani troops on the International Border as well as the Line of Control from Jammu to Poonch has been the forced laying of landmines by Indian troops.

“Laying of mines in villages is something we don’t like. It is too dangerous for us, too. But it will at least give the Pakistanis something to think if they dare cross the border or try to sneak in terrorists under cover of darkness or the fog,” a senior army officer said. While animals have died after stepping on the mines, some villagers too have been injured.

Babu Singh of Chanduchack said he had taken his family to “safer” Miransahib after mines had been planted in his village. “I have no idea where they have been planted. Some could be in the field I own. Even my children had no place to play,” he said, but added that whatever was being done was for the good of the nation and he had no complaints. “With hard work, I can stand up on my feet again. But this business of sending terrorists by Pakistan must come to an end. Now is the time for India to strike hard and deep. This should be the last and decisive war,” he said.

Diwan Chand, in his early 70s, said he had sent his family to Jammu city immediately after the firing began from across the border but had chosen to remain in his village to help the jawans. “The army has made no formal announcement for people to vacate the villages. Everyone knew what is happening and left without grumbling. I have chosen to stay back with some others to help the BSF and the army. I will have to go too,” he said, staring blankly ahead where India ended and Pakistan began.

   

 
 
TALL PLANS FOR BODH GAYA 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, Jan. 4: 
India is planning to open up the highest Buddhist pilgrim spot, Bodh Gaya, to flights from any corner of the world.

Civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain said he had plans to convert Bodh Gaya into a free airport where flights from all over the world could land without being restricted by bilateral agreements.

“Just as Jeddah has become a round-the-year global hub because of Mecca, we want to make Bodh Gaya something similar for the global Buddhist community,” Hussain said.

Officials in the civil aviation ministry said there were plans to take the proposal to the Cabinet soon.

Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is believed to have attained “enlightenment” in Bodh Gaya, considered to be Buddhism’s holiest site. The Centre is keen to develop the city along with other sites nearby associated with the Buddha, like Rajgir, to attract tourists from the predominantly Buddhist east Asia.

Hoteliers and travel agencies feel the move could usher in a bonanza for them. “If this happens, Bodh Gaya could become a kind of catchment centre from where tours to other nearby Buddhist centres and even to the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal could be worked out,” said Debasish Chatterjee of Citi Travels.

Nikko Hotels, a Japanese group, has already bought up the ITDC hotel at Bodh Gaya, realising its potential. Under pressure from its own religious groups, the Japanese government has long been keen to help develop the region. Interest in the Buddhist sites is also high in other Buddhist countries like South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore.

The opening up of the Bodh Gaya airport, however, could lead to demands to open up more airports, said civil aviation officials.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has long been lobbying to turn Hyderabad into a global hub by declaring it a free airport, something which Delhi has opposed due to a variety of reasons, including security.

   
 

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