US mediation snub to Pervez
CBI chief in Dubai thrust
Drug industry fetters removed
Ram kept waiting for Rajnath
Ready for Kashmir, not contraception
Tiger dusts topple plan
Luck smiles on lakhpatis
MP shutdown threat
Fake freedom fighters drain Bihar coffers
Calcutta Weather

 
 
US MEDIATION SNUB TO PERVEZ 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Feb. 15: 
In a clear indication that the US would play hard-ball with Pakistan, the White House yesterday distanced itself from General Pervez Musharraf’s claim of American support in Islamabad’s current standoff with New Delhi.

Musharraf had not even said his farewells in Washington when national security adviser Condoleezza Rice stepped up to the White House daily briefing podium and spoke about the military situation between India and Pakistan. “The US is always prepared to help in any way but we don’t believe this is something that mediation or facilitation is going to help.”

In an endorsement of New Delhi’s stand on the current state of India-Pakistan relations, Rice said “what will help is to have the two parties (India and Pakistan) decide it is time for dialogue, and we are encouraging that”.

Only an hour earlier, Musharraf had told reporters at the National Press Club that the Bush administration had been responsive to his request to the US to facilitate a dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Throughout Musharraf’s three-day stay here, the Pakistani official spin has also been that the US would do much more than in recent weeks to ensure that India and Pakistan started talking to each other.

This had prompted a sharp reaction from South Block’s spokesperson yesterday: “As far as the questions that were raised in terms of the US being involved in mediation or in facilitation… are concerned, our views are very clear that this is a matter to be addressed directly between India and Pakistan. There is really no room for any other country to be involved.”

Before leaving for Islamabad, however, Musharraf sought to paint a picture of US intervention by saying that secretary of state Colin Powell was “very much involved” behind the scenes in trying to defuse tensions with troops massed on the border.

Mediation or facilitation was not far from his mind either. “I am reasonably sure that when their (India’s) election gets done and facilitation continues, they (troops) ought to be going back.”

Rice said Bush administration officials who met Musharraf had given him credit for steps which had reduced tension between South Asia’s belligerent neighbours. But Musharraf needed to travel further down the same road.

“We do believe some progress has been made, largely as a factor of what President Musharraf has been doing since his speech about a month ago, and we have encouraged him to continue to make progress,” Rice said.

President Bush, she said, would discuss the South Asian standoff with President Jiang Zemin during his visit to Beijing next week.

“We do see a number of countries that are concerned about stability in South Asia that want to try to help to encourage dialogue, that want to avoid the kinds of tensions we had in South Asia in recent months, and we believe that is an interest that the Chinese share.”

Musharraf told Pakistani reporters at the end of his visit that he was not going to hand over the 20 offenders sought by India. “I am not going to do their bidding,” he was quoted as saying by the official APP agency.

“As for the withdrawal of troops from the borders... They have to go back. They will have to create their own face-saving.”

There was no joint statement at the end of the General’s visit which would have required Bush and Musharraf to explicitly spell out their respective positions on all issues, including those which Pakistan’s President called “contentious”.

The White House, however, issued a “fact sheet” which set out in detail the administration’s decisions reached during Musharraf’s stay here.

The highlight of these was a promise by Bush to work with the US Congress to provide Pakistan with about $1 billion in debt relief in the next financial year.

Bush promised support for legislative elections which Musharraf plans to hold in October with an aid package of $2 million in technical support, including the training of election commissioners, domestic observers and political party monitors as well as the provision of election commodities.

   

 
 
CBI CHIEF IN DUBAI THRUST 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 15: 
Encouraged by the deportation of Aftab Ansari from Dubai, the CBI has decided to discuss with UAE police the possibilities of sharing information on terrorists and their handover for trial in India.

CBI chief P.C. Sharma plans to hold an informal meeting with his UAE counterpart at the coming Interpol conference in Colombo.

Sharpshooters, hitmen and crimelords operating in Mumbai, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Calcutta have taken shelter in Dubai and are monitoring criminal activities in Indian cities from there, intelligence sources said.

Ansari, the alleged mastermind of the American Center attack, was also based in Dubai. UAE police arrested him on January 23, a day after the killings in Calcutta, as he was about to board a plane to Pakistan.

Heads of security agencies of the UAE, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal, along with several other nations, will participate in the Colombo conference from February 18 to 22. The meet is expected to focus on ways to combat terrorism.

Speaking over phone from Delhi, Sharma said he would convey his appreciation to the UAE police chief for arresting Ansari and preparing the ground for his handover to India. “We will discuss ways to facilitate sharing of information on activities of terrorists and militants on foreign soil,’’ he said.

“India is battling terrorism for quite some time now and we have collected substantial data on terrorists, their financiers and the manner in which they are operating against India from foreign countries,’’ the CBI chief added.

Asked if he would speak to his Pakistani counterpart for exchange of information on underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his associates, Sharma said: “There is very little scope.’’

Security officials said militants are using new routes for hawala operations and arms transactions, and are relying on a sophisticated communications network to run their operations long distance.

“It is high time that security agencies of countries affected by terrorism get our act together. If we fail to take a united stand against the terrorists in the international forum, it would be difficult to nip the menace,’’ said an IB officer.

According to a senior deputy inspector-general of police here, the CBI has sought details from the CID in West Bengal and the detective department of city police on criminals who they suspect are hiding in Dubai.

Indian security agencies believe that 22 top criminals are hiding in Dubai.

   

 
 
DRUG INDUSTRY FETTERS REMOVED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 15: 
Continuing its pre-budget reform burst, the government today dismantled the licence raj for the drug industry, simultaneously allowing 100 per cent foreign investment without permission.

Controls were swept away in the liberalisation wave as prices of drugs with a turnover of less than Rs 10 crore each were left to be determined by the market.

“The new policy will enthuse multinational drug companies that wish to set up wholly-owned subsidiaries in the country,” said a Ranbaxy spokesman.

Earlier, foreign companies were allowed to invest only up to 74 per cent in local subsidiaries without approval.

Government permission will no longer be necessary to bring in foreign technology either.

A section of the industry was not too sure of a sudden surge of investment by large multinationals. “MNCs cannot match Indian companies on costs and it is highly unlikely they will set up bases in India. Companies that are known to vend products for US drug majors may consider setting up bases here,” an official of a local drug maker said in Mumbai.

In its pharmaceutical policy 2002 released today, the government set a two-tier criterion to determine which drugs would come under price control.

The first yardstick is that total sales of the drug should be above Rs 25 crore and it must have a market share of above 50 per cent. The other is that total sales should be Rs 10-25 crore with a market share of 90 per cent and above.

Price control was lifted on low-cost drugs that were defined as drugs that would cost the patient less than Rs 2 per day.

Prices of formulations will be determined according to existing practice. The time taken to grant price approvals will be two months from the date of receipt of the complete prescribed information.

There were several sops for Indian companies: new drugs patented and registered under the Indian Patent Act will be free from price control for 15 years from the start of commercial production.

To encourage R&D, the government cleared a special fund under the control of the department of science and technology. No decision was taken on the corpus and how it would be funded. The government promised incentives to encourage local companies to carry out research.

The next review of the drug policy will take place before the product patent regime is introduced in 2005. India recognises only process patents — how to make a product rather than the product itself — and this has helped the pharmaceutical industry to introduce clones of best-selling drugs that have been patented worldwide without running foul of the law.

   

 
 
RAM KEPT WAITING FOR RAJNATH 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 15: 
The Centre would “apply its mind” to the Ram temple issue only after the fate of the Rajnath Singh-led government in Uttar Pradesh is decided, said official sources.

Reported speculation of the law ministry rejecting the demand made by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to hand over the so-called undisputed land to the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas had done enough “damage” politically, these sources added.

The government’s assessment is that the unconfirmed report, quoting an anonymous ministry official, hurt the BJP in two ways in Uttar Pradesh: antagonised its hardcore Hindutva voters, who were already upset with the party for not moving an inch on the temple front despite having a government in Delhi as well as Lucknow, and did nothing to bring in secular or minority votes.

“At the moment, none of us is thinking of the temple. Even the Prime Minister and other top leaders are not mentioning it in their election meetings. We are too preoccupied with the polls. Let us first win this round of the battle before embarking on the other,” sources said.

Although the law ministry has been mandated to examine if it was legally possible to hand over the Ayodhya land, which does not include the site where the Babri mosque stood, to the Nyas, official sources admitted that the legal decision was bound to have political overtones.

“Therefore, in the present surcharged atmosphere, the Centre thought it best not to have anything to do with Ayodhya, at least not until the Uttar Pradesh polls are over,” sources said.

Official sources maintained that the VHP’s agenda of embarking on construction activity in the “undisputed” portions would also be influenced by the Uttar Pradesh outcome. “Which is to say if there is a non-BJP government, they might go full steam ahead with the temple plans. If the BJP comes back to power, our assessment is they could defer the agitation because they may not want to rock the boat in Lucknow just yet,” sources said.

Ayodhya religious leaders have indicated as much — that a non-BJP chief minister would have huge trouble on his hands after March 15.

Although official sources said the Centre could not afford to be a “mute spectator” in such a scenario, they admitted that no contingency plans had yet been thought up.

As of now, sources said the most “tenable” option before the Centre was to try and undo the Ayodhya Land Acquisition Act of 1993 and bring in another legislation through Parliament which could give it the choice of transferring the ownership to another party.

The 1993 Act was enacted by the then Narasimha Rao government to take over the Ayodhya land soon after the demolition of the mosque and the construction of a makeshift temple at the same site.

   

 
 
READY FOR KASHMIR, NOT CONTRACEPTION 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 15: 
In 89 minutes last night, US secretary of state Colin Powell emerged global troubleshooter, asked Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to contest polls, told the world that Washington was deeply engaged to stave off an India-Pakistan and an Israel-Palestine conflict and assured Islamic nations that a crusade was not on the US agenda.

In the 90th minute, Powell grimaced before a global audience. A Roman Catholic girl from Italy wanted his views on the use of condoms.

But first, the hard news: Powell told an international television audience that Washington wants India and Pakistan to engage in a dialogue “putting all issues on the table, including Kashmir”.

Powell was replying to questions from youths in seven countries, including India, on the MTV. The programme was telecast live in some of the participating countries. The Indian segment was recorded in a Delhi studio. MTV will telecast the programme in India next week.

A New Delhi student, Aarti, asked: “Secretary Powell, as one of the self-touted true democracies of the world and upholder of free values, how is it that the US is still hand-in-glove with a military dictator like General Pervez Musharraf, especially considering the abduction of Daniel Pearl, in which Pakistan is significantly involved? Isn’t it that the United States is placing strategic self-interest before these exalted values?”

“No, I don’t think so,” replied Powell. He restated that Washington was happy with Musharraf’s January 12 speech.

“I think he is taking his country in a new direction. And we have spoken quite candidly to him that in due course, he will have to stand for election as well. And he is putting in place a road map to move forward. And the US will be watching closely. We want to work with him. We want to have good relations with both India and Pakistan. And I think the fact that we have come so far in Pakistan in just five months is indicative of how much more we can do in the months ahead, working with President Musharraf to make sure that Pakistan become what he says he wants it to become, a secular nation that believes in the same universal human values that all of us believe in, and that will be moving to a democratic footing.

“We are not unmindful of how he came to power, and now we want to help him with the transition back to a representative form of government — as representative as the US or as representative as India, one of the greatest democracies on the face of the earth,” Powell said.

Taking another question from a Kashmiri student, Vikas Sharma, Powell said the US was actively engaged in staving off a conflict over Kashmir. Washington has been talking to President Musharraf and Powell himself had spoken to external affairs minister Jaswant Singh (in Madrid) over phone on Thursday.

While phrasing his question Sharma spoke of his loss. “I have lost many dear friends in terrorist violence in Kashmir. Over 35,000 people have died. This number is a lot more than the casualties of September 11. Yet, the US is advising restraint when it has not restrained itself. Why these double standards? Are American lives more precious than Indian and Kashmiri lives?”

A grim-faced Powell replied: “American life is not more precious than Indian or Kashmiri or Pakistani. Kashmir has been a difficult problem for 50 years... And the loss of life that could come about from such a conflict not only dwarfs what happened in New York City and Washington, it dwarfs what’s happened in Kashmir over the last 50 years... And so we are doing everything we can to defuse the situation, and to find a way forward so that we can bring peace to Kashmir in a way that both countries can accept, in a way that brings hope to the Kashmiri people ....”

And now, the tailpiece: A Roman Catholic girl in Italy asked the US secretary of state for his opinion on the use of condoms as a preventive against sexually-transmitted diseases. For a lengthy moment — by TV standards — secretary Powell grimaced. Before that, he had shot through every major geopolitical problem on the planet. Finally, he took the plunge.

“I respect the views of the Holy Father (meaning the Roman Catholic Church that disapproves of contraceptive use)”, he said, “but I think sexually-active youth must use condoms to reduce the risk of disease”.

   

 
 
TIGER DUSTS TOPPLE PLAN 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Feb. 15: 
Flush with the municipal poll victory, the Shiv Sena has revived its plans to topple the Congress-led coalition government in the state, but the BJP, its wary ally, wants to tread carefully.

Sena chief Bal Thackeray called Union parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, the go-between, to his Bandra home on Tuesday evening and discussed the possibility of forming a government in the state.

Sources said Mahajan told the Sena boss that the BJP would definitely back a Sena bid if the coalition collapsed because of the ongoing public bickering between the Congress and the National Congress Party (NCP), led by Sharad Pawar.

But toppling the government was another matter. Mahajan reportedly said the BJP was not sure whether the allies would between themselves be able to drum up enough support for an alternative government.

BJP sources said the party would not mind backing the Sena in its bid for power because like the Sena, it did not want a mid-term election either. The BJP would try and instal a government with its national vice-president Gopinath Munde as deputy chief minister only if the government collapsed “on its own”.

Both parties have realised in the wake of the municipal results that they need each other more than ever before — not just at the Centre but in the state as well. However, distrust persists.

It was only recently that Thackeray publicly accused the BJP of not backing its bid for power in the state by refusing to pull down the government. The BJP had its reasons, though.

The BJP leadership was loath to play second fiddle to the Sena it was fed up with. Even Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had grown “sick and tired of” Thackeray’s pressure tactics, sources said.

An astute politician with his feet firmly on the ground, Thackeray has never failed to get his pound of flesh that he felt the BJP owed the Sena for keeping it in power with its 13 MPs.

The uneasy relationship was strained one-and-a-half years ago when Vajpayee refused to come to the aid of the Sena boss being pursued by deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, a disciple-turned-foe.

Vajpayee caved in somewhat after the Sena threatened to pull out if he did not prevent Thackeray’s arrest in connection with the Srikrishna Commission report on the 1992 Mumbai riots.

Using his backroom skills, Mahajan got chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to agree to let the Sena chief turn himself over to the police and then walk out almost instantly on bail.

That has not improved the relations, though. Given a chance, the BJP would prefer to chart its own course in the state, its leaders said. As of now, the party feels it cannot go it alone.

This time, the BJP has another reason not to go along with the Sena in its bid to snatch power from the Congress and the NCP.

NCP chief Pawar, seeking to keep his political options open, has endeared himself to Vajpayee, supporting him in the BJP-sponsored controversial anti-terrorism Ordinance.

Vajpayee responded by flying in to attend Pawar’s birthday bash and hailing him publicly.

The BJP, insiders said, sees Pawar as “a force” to counter Thackeray and his pressure tactics. The party would not do anything to alienate him because “you never know when you need him in coalition politics”.

   

 
 
LUCK SMILES ON LAKHPATIS 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Feb. 15: 
After months of wait, with the “ticket” safely tucked, Goddess Lakshmi seems to have finally smiled on the nearly 200 lakhpatis and crorepatis who had won lotteries run by the Tamil Nadu government. All the while, as the cash strapped government was busy reworking its spend-priorities, the lucky lakhpatis had to grin and bear.

At a time when the Tamil Nadu economy is going through one of its more embarrassing periods with a bulk of its revenue going towards payment of salaries, the government yesterday issued pay-orders worth Rs 20 crore in a bid to retain the credibility of the lotteries it runs.

Jayalalithaa’s declaration in an Andipatti election rally that rice prices will not be raised for people below the poverty line may have made economic reformers at Fort St. George uneasy but the Tamil Nadu government’s liquidity appears to have improved, though marginally.

In the past few months, it was much more than a “gun versus butter question” as the state tried to reorganise its spending priorities and the only consolation was that the position was not as bad as that of neighbouring Kerala.

LIC had to sanction a Rs 200-crore loan for Kerala after Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha intervened as the state had overshot its overdraft limit with the Reserve Bank of India. On the list of people who had to be second-time lucky to get their prize cheques were about a dozen crorepatis.

Coimbatore district topped with 17 winners, followed by Chennai with 15, Madurai four and Salem and Vellore with three each. The government also issued cheques to 147 raffle winners from other states.

The ADMK government could not hold on to the prize payments any longer as it had decided on a reforms package in December to “put in place an online lottery system at the earliest”. An announcement on this is likely to figure in the budget to be presented in March.

State finance minister C. Ponnaiyan had also said transparent rules and regulations would be framed to regulate the conduct of “other state lotteries” even as the government proposed to restructure the prize payout of the existing lotteries from 63 per cent to 65-68 per cent of their total value. Sales commissions for agents would come down after the system is restructured, the government had said.

   

 
 
MP SHUTDOWN THREAT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhopal, Feb. 15: 
Government employees have threatened to bring the Madhya Pradesh administration to a grinding halt from February 26 if the demand for higher dearness allowance to Class III and IV workers is not accepted.

Trade unions made their first move on January 31 when government employees did not report for duty, demanding a 7 per cent increase in dearness allowance to bring their salaries on par with those of Central government employees.

The unions argued that while the state hiked the salary and perks of MLAs and ministers by 200 per cent from October 1, the government was not willing to increase the dearness allowance of Class III and IV employees.

On February 13 and 14, government functioning came to a standstill with 17 of the 18 unions taking to the streets when talks with the chief minister failed. More than 95 per cent of government employees did not report for work, though the government claimed there was 25 per cent attendance.

The chief minister and more than a dozen of his Cabinet colleagues were not in town as they were busy campaigning in other states. Only three ministers attended office.

The chaos started on January 14. Three trade unions — the Madhya Pradesh Class III Government Employees Association, the Madhya Pradesh Clerical Employees Association and the Laghu Vetan Government Employees Association — threatened to call for mass casual leave on January 31 if their demand for bringing dearness allowance on par with Central government employees is not met.

The government stood firm. It claimed it had already taken measures to meet the demands of the employees. Despite poor fiscal conditions, the dearness allowance of the employees has been raised considerably, it said. Unlike other states, Madhya Pradesh had released the first instalment of the revised dearness allowance, it pointed out.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh said any further increase in dearness allowance of government employees would result in the curtailment of funds allocated for development of the state.

   

 
 
FAKE FREEDOM FIGHTERS DRAIN BIHAR COFFERS 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, Feb. 15: 
Bihar’s scam-scarred public life is set for yet another blow. Even before the miasma of fodder, bitumen, medicine and fertiliser scams settled, swindlers have turned to a new strategy: multiply the number of freedom fighters by tampering history and drain the exchequer.

After a protracted hearing, which judicial circles said involved “playing around with history”, a Patna High Court division bench of Chief Justice Ravi S. Dhawan and Justice Seshank K. Singh today issued showcause notices to 27 “fake freedom fighters”. The bench asked why the privileges enjoyed by them should not be withdrawn and the money paid to them by the state not be returned.

The number of fake freedom fighters is believed to be many more than those showcaused. State home secretary U.N. Panjiyar is examining 64 such cases. “We have made a recommendation to cancel the pension facilities for the first batch under probe. We will follow (the) Patna High Court order with regard to the rest against whom probe is pending,” Panjiyar said.

The Centre’s counsel in the case, R.K. Dutta, told the court last week that investigations into 281 more cases of fake freedom fighters have been started.

The details of a racket of “existing freedom fighters and a section of government officers (which) exploited laws” to declare unemployed, old men freedom fighters has triggered a swirl of rage and a sense of shame among the very small but genuine group of freedom fighters.

“The state’s moral fibre has taken a nosedive. The image of corruption that the state exports is unparalleled in the country,” said Santosh Srivastava, a 92-year-old freedom fighter in the state.

The facts that have emerged during the investigations are staggering. Many of the fake freedom fighters were kids when they were supposed to have fought for the country. Some of them were not even born in 1947.

The number of fake freedom fighters is believed to be around 500. Under modified laws, a “notified” freedom fighter is authorised to certify someone “known to him” as one. He is only required to file an affidavit in the presence of a magistrate declaring a person a freedom fighter.

A Supreme Court judgment had stated that applications received after the last date of Swatantrata Senani Samman Pension Scheme, 1980 could also be entertained.

For instance, Ram Krishna Singh, a 70-year-old freedom fighter who was entitled to issue “co-prisoners fighter certificates”, allegedly signed hundreds of affidavits in favour of persons claiming to be “co-fighters”.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 26.9°C (-3)
Minimum: 16.5°C

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 84%,
Minimum: 44%

Sunrise: 6.13 am

Sunset: 5.28 pm

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C
   
 

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