Sangh push for temple solution
Radar deal debut with US
Sab kuchh ulta pulta in Uttar Pradesh
Maiden voyager sets sail
Statute panel readies report
SC fines Centre on land scheme
Mystery disease toll climbs
Rebels sounded out
Exit poll cheer for Mulayam
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SANGH PUSH FOR TEMPLE SOLUTION 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
The RSS may try to broker peace between the Centre and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad if things get too hot for the government on the Ram temple front.

“By no means would we like the Vajpayee government to be destabilised,” sources in the Sangh said, when asked if the VHP’s decision to start work on the temple from March 15 would rock the National Democratic Alliance’s boat.

They said the Sangh wants to avoid a repeat of the Janata Party chapter of 1978 when the BJP — Jan Sangh then — was forced to pull out of the coalition government on the dual membership issue.

Jan Sangh ministers had settled for the RSS after non-Jan Sangh constituents insisted that they choose between the government and the Sangh parivar. But after this decision, sources admitted, it took over 10 years for the BJP to come within striking distance of power in Delhi.

Sources said the RSS would work out its role of peacemaker during its March 15-17 general council meeting in Bangalore. Before that, the Sangh’s national executive will sit on March 14. Though the four-day session would formally unveil the RSS stand on the temple, the sources hinted at some tightrope walking.

Sangh insiders said the VHP’s demand that the Centre hand over the undisputed land to the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas cannot be dismissed as “unreasonable”.

“It can stand the test of legal scrutiny apart from being the most politically tenable solution to the dispute. A temple on the site is a fait accompli. Everyone will have to accept it,” they said. “On its part, the government has done its best by asking the law ministry to give an opinion on the VHP’s demand.”

The sources said they were in touch with VHP working president Ashok Singhal, who they described as a “more reasonable” element in the outfit. Government sources, too, said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee preferred to talk to Singhal than the sadhus and sants, who, they added, were “taking the idea of being independent entities too far”.

In an apparent move to placate both sides, the RSS today floated the idea of constructing a mosque “some distance” away from the temple on the banks of the Saryu in Ayodhya.

RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya mentioned this as a possible solution at a news conference in Nagpur. “No power on earth can build a mosque where at present the idol of Ram is placed,” he told this correspondent over phone. “But at a comfortable distance, a new mosque can be built.”

Asked to define “comfortable distance”, Vaidya said: “Beyond the parikrama (the rough circumference devotees have to traverse before entering a temple).”

The Sangh has divided Ayodhya into three zones. The area encircling the disputed site, which includes the makeshift Ram temple, is called the pancha kosi parikrama. Beyond this is the sapta kosi parikrama, while the outer limit of the town is the parikrama. The RSS “solution” envisages a mosque outside Ayodhya’s municipal limits.

Sangh sources said former chief Rajendra Singh had also mooted this idea — not just for Ayodhya but the other two mosques in Mathura and Varanasi to which the VHP has staked claim. But Vaidya, they added, conferred with the top brass before coming up with the proposal again.

Sources in the All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee rejected the idea, saying it was a “strong-arm tactic to pressure the Muslims from giving up their demand for reconstructing the mosque on its original site”.

“The real issue is who owns the land and this has to be settled by the court alone. Our talks with the opposite side broke down on this question because when we asked them to prove this was Ram’s birthplace, they were silent. On the title suit matter, we are strong,” committee sources said.

As the war of words continued, VHP general secretary Acharya Giriraj Kishore today called Vajpayee “helpless” at a news conference here. Kishore said the Prime Minister was “helpless” because of the NDA. “Only NDA leaders can help him out of his helplessness.”

   

 
 
RADAR DEAL DEBUT WITH US 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
India will buy weapon-locating radars for its army from the US, in the first government-to-government purchase of military equipment.

The army has been asking for these radars desperately since the Kargil war.

Much of the casualties in the 1999 conflict were caused by Pakistani counter-bombardment on Indian artillery positions. The army has been telling the government that the gun-finding radars are urgently needed for counter-bombardment.

So far the US has been reticent about selling the equipment. However, the decision was taken this afternoon after the visiting US chief of staff, General Richard Myers, held meetings with defence secretary Yogendra Narain and the top brass of the defence establishment.

Myers said the head of the US army security assistance command, Major General Bruce Scott, would be here to sign an agreement. The deal could be the first of half-a-dozen to be signed on the sidelines of the defence equipment exhibition — Defexpo 2002 — beginning tomorrow.

A US embassy statement said the delegation will “seek consensus on an agreement for the government to purchase an/tpq-37 weapon locating radars”.

Pakistan today expressed alarm at the increase in India’s arms purchases but reserved comment on the radar deal, saying it would wait for the outcome of Myers’ visit.

No detail was available on the number of radars India wants to buy and their cost. The radar agreement is likely to be followed by larger procurements of US-made military hardware.

The defence ministry has been trying hard to procure GE 404 engines for the light combat aircraft being made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The LCA has been put through trials but the lack of jet engines has held up its development.

Earlier, Myers, who also called on foreign minister Jaswant Singh, said American presence in the region would not “interfere” with the military standoff between Islamabad and New Delhi. “In terms of Indo-Pak issues, that will be worked out by India and Pakistan,” he said.

Arms merchants are laying out a veritable bazaar of weapons and military equipment for India’s defence establishment for a week from tomorrow as the Centre sent out unmistakable signals that it is paving the way for large procurements.

Over 300 participants from India as well as around the globe will be participating in the second Defexpo, the land and naval systems exhibition, organised by the CII in association with the defence ministry.

The ministry will be looking to reduce its foreign exchange outgo on purchases. “Over the last three years, we have spent an average Rs 10,000 crore in foreign exchange every year. We are looking to reduce this and it is up to industry to respond now,” Subir Dutta, secretary (defence production and supplies), said.

This is the first time global arms majors have come together in India after it was announced last year that the Centre would allow private sector participation in defence production with 26 per cent foreign direct investment (subject to licensing). The ban on agents has been lifted.

   

 
 
SAB KUCHH ULTA PULTA IN UTTAR PRADESH 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
A polling booth in Uttar Pradesh, Feb. 18: 
Babloo Sanapcheda wasn’t able to vote today.

The polling officer in Dehwa, Zubaid Akhtar, could not find Babloo’s name on the voters’ list. Babloo was confused, as he was armed with all the credentials. So was the polling officer, and neither was at fault.

Every time Akhtar asked Babloo’s name, he would reply: “Babloo Sanapcheda, Sir.’’

What Babloo wanted to say was that he was Babloo, son of Cheda, as he had been taught by his village pradhan. The voters’ list that the polling officer was looking at, on the other hand, mentioned ‘Babloo Yadav’. And, in the immense confusion created by electronic voting machines and voter identity cards, neither Babloo, nor Akhtar had time to sort out the confusion.

In Dhawapur, Sarojininagar constituency, polling officer R.K. Sharma was furious with Babulal from Bibipur village. Babulal had just plucked out the voting machine from the table and turned it upside down to ascertain where “all the votes were going”.

In Kudha, Mohanlalganj constituency, 76-year-old Mansa Ram was angry with everything — EVMs, polling officers, his fellow voters. “I have been here since exactly 10 am and the line has not moved an inch.’’

It was 2.30 pm when Mansa vented his anger at Nathu by poking him with a sturdy walking stick. As tempers rose, the polling officer came out and explained his situation. “The first lot of 20 women who came in the morning hasn’t come out as yet, it is taking each of them more than 15 minutes to learn about the voting machines. And this is after spending another 15 minutes verifying their identities,’’ said polling officer R.K. Gupta.

In the absence of awareness about voting machines and identity cards, polling in most rural areas of Uttar Pradesh was confusing at best and messy at worst.

While village pradhans had failed to do their duties, neither had government officials at panchayat and block levels, who had been delegated the responsibility of teaching villagers how to vote through EVMs, done theirs.

“No one told us about these machines,” says Ramkishori from Kubhara. “Obviously it will take time to learn what has to be done with all those confusing buttons,’’ she adds, justifying her prolonged innings fussing over the EVM.

As Motilal Sharma, a constable, says: “I have been noticing that many are learning today how to use EVMs. What is the use of advertising in newspapers when most of them can’t read?”

The confusion did not end there. Rakesh Kumar Yadav, a polling agent at Dehwa, says more than 30 per cent of the voters were sent back because they did not have the relevant documents to prove their identities. The Election Commission, which has made ID cards mandatory for these elections, has given the people 16 documents to choose from. These include passports, driving licences, PAN cards, ration cards, land revenue papers, bank papers and caste certificates.

While there were many, mostly from poor, backward rural areas, who did not possess any of these documents, there were others who still managed to get it wrong. Barkhu, for instance, got his “class two pass” marksheet from a primary school in his village, Kamlapur.

Vehemently protesting that the poll officer had turned him away “unfairly”, Barkhu said: “What can I do? I was told by the pradhan that if I show my marksheet, I will be able to vote. Now, officerji says my marksheet is not a valid document.”

Rajjan Mistri says he went back to his village from the polling station four times to get the correct document. Every time he got the wrong one.

That could explain why voting in Uttar Pradesh has not gone above 50 per cent. In the second phase of polling today, where the contest is in 145 seats among 1,958 candidates, the voting percentage has been even lower. While Lucknow recorded a low of just 37 per cent, Unnao registered 39 per cent. Kanpur didn’t fare too well either with 40 per cent.

When confronted with reports of the chaos in many rural polling stations, a senior home department official said the matter would be looked into and the officers responsible punished.

But it may be another five years before Barkhu can vote, hopefully getting the “right documents” that time.

   

 
 
MAIDEN VOYAGER SETS SAIL 
 
 
FROM SUTAPA GANGULY
 
Ranchi, Feb. 18: 
Pushpa Pandey is set to scale peaks of glory. She will be the first woman from Jharkhand to become a commissioned officer in the Indian Navy.

“I simply could not believe when my name was announced as one of the selected candidates. Joy brought tears to my eyes and it took a long time to sink in.”

It will take her some time to reconcile to the fact that she is now a naval officer. But, Pushpa is already famous. Nirmala Pandey, Pushpa’s mother said: “The phone has not stopped ringing since her selection. We are extremely proud of her. It was her hard work that paid off.”

Pushpa, a mathematics major, topped her batch in Ranchi University. “The entire credit for my academic excellence goes to my mother,” she said. However, her father, an ex-army man, was her real inspiration. “Right from my childhood, I wanted to join defence services. But before filling up the Services Selection Board form, I did not make any special effort.’’

Her father, B.N. Pandey, was in the 7 Guards and fought at Kargil during the 1971 war. While he was keeping vigil at 18,000 feet, his toes were damaged by frost-bite and had to be amputated.

He joined the Bihar animal husbandry department and was posted there for two years. Later, he joined Mecon and moved to the company’s ambulance department after a short stint in the security wing.

Pushpa had applied for the Services Selection Board and received an interview call in December. To prepare herself for nine days of intensive grilling, she joined Lt Col (retd) R.A. Prasad’s coaching centre. “My brother’s friend told me about the coaching centre. He helped me a lot.”

Col Prasad said: “It is not academic performance which matters in the combined services examination. A candidate needs right guidance and Pushpa received just that from me. Everything else was of her own doing. I think she is a brilliant girl.” Pushpa is now anxiously waiting for the merit list. But she does not have much to worry about as she is the second candidate for the air traffic control (ATC) officer’s job in naval aviation. She will leave for Goa where she will receive nine months of gruelling training and get posted somewhere along the coast. At present, she is doing her MSc. from Ranchi University and preparing for her 1st year examination starting from February 25.

She has always been a good athlete and was a district-level yoga champion. Pushpa loves watching movies and making new friends. “She was a chirpy in school and the teachers loved her,’’ said one of her schoolmates. She will be a sub lieutenant after completing her training. But five years down the line, she would like to see herself settled as an ATC officer.

   

 
 
STATUTE PANEL READIES REPORT 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
The Constitution review commission will start daily sessions from tomorrow to finalise the draft recommendations to be submitted to the Centre by March 14.

“Under the extended term, the sun sets on the commission on February 28,” an official said.

An “anti-cow slaughter clause and a uniform civil code will be two of the several important recommendations the commission will be making to the Centre”, he added.

“For the press, freedom of press as an express will be incorporated in the Fundamental Rights chapter for the first time,” the official said.

So far, the Constitution guarantees “freedom of speech and expression” to every citizen of the country. “Freedom of the press” has been interpreted within this expression.

The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, headed by former Chief Justice M.N. Venkatachalaiah, has taken up the question of a uniform civil code.

Under the chapter, “Directive Principles of State Policy”, Article 44 mandates that the “state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”.

“The commission is going to recommend almost the entire chapter on the Directive Principles of State Policy,” the sources said.

“Living and Wage”, meaning guarantee for employment and right of life, would also be recommended.

Article 43, which is part of the same chapter, says that the state “shall” endeavour to secure “a living wage” for all. So a US model or a European system of “dole” could be recommended for the unemployed, the official said.

However, the recommendation of the only political member of the commission, P.A. Sangma, that no person of foreign origin should occupy the office of Prime Minister or President might not be taken up at all.

Sources said the agenda papers for the finalisation meetings, scheduled from tomorrow onwards, did not contain any such paper.

“The recommendations will be in two volumes and will include all suggestions made by the general public and leading citizens, approved by various sub-committees of the commission,” the sources said.

The commission is also set to recommend a National Judicial Commission to appoint judges to the higher judiciary, especially to the high courts and Supreme Court. Such a judicial commission will also hear complaints against judges.

On the anti-cow slaughter clause, sources pointed out that during Morarji Desai’s tenure as Prime Minister, a similar move had fallen through, as there was resistance from the Northeast and Kerala, where veal chopping is an important economic activity.

   

 
 
SC FINES CENTRE ON LAND SCHEME 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
The Supreme Court today slapped a fine of Rs 5,000 on the Union government for not framing a comprehensive scheme regarding forest land approved for deforestation.

Justices B.N. Kirpal, Doraiswamy Raju and Arijit Pasayat ordered that the minister for environment and forests also file a report detailing the scheme within four weeks.

The scheme relates to utilisation of money deposited for change of land user, approval given for deforestation in certain areas and under what circumstances.

The bench stayed all the cases before Gauhati High Court, saying challenges to the recommendations and orders of the committee appointed by the apex court to probe misuse of forest land should lie only with the Supreme Court.

The orders came on a public interest litigation filed by T.N. Godavarman Thirumalpad, who wanted a direction from the apex court to various state governments as well as the Central government to safeguard the environment and prevent deforestation.

All saw-mill activities, wood-based industrial works and other forest-related business have been stopped in the entire Northeast. The petitioner also wanted a direction to prevent deforestation in Karnataka.

The Supreme Court, on November 23 last year, had passed an order asking the environment and forest ministry to frame a scheme and place it before the court within eight weeks.

But nearly 11 weeks have passed and the scheme has not seen the light of day, the apex court said while imposing the fine on the ministry. The court also said the fine could be collected from officials of the ministry for non-compliance of its orders.

Additional solicitor general Mukul Rohtagi, who appeared for the Union government, sought two weeks time to place the scheme before the court.

Earlier, on February 4, the apex court had fined the environment ministry Rs 10,000 for not complying with its orders on the disappearance of hazardous waste oil, imported in the guise of lubricants, from major ports.

   

 
 
MYSTERY DISEASE TOLL CLIMBS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
One more person died of the “mysterious” disease in Chandigarh today even as the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) maintained that the situation was under control.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases will tomorrow submit a report to the health ministry stating whether or not the bacterial infection contains a strain of plague. It was earlier expected to give the report today.

Without calling it plague, government and medical authorities have said the symptoms point towards the disease.

“But this is not like the time the Surat plague broke out. The government has more trained health personnel now. The situation is well under control. The good news is that no fresh cases have been reported in the past 10 days,” said a WHO official.

Union health minister C.P. Thakur yesterday met the Prime Minister to apprise him of the details. Ministry officials denied reports that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had “summoned” him or demanded a report within 24 hours. Today it was the Himachal Pradesh government’s turn to report to the Prime Minister. State officials said the disease was under control and there was no question of it spilling across the borders.

Authorities in Chandigarh’s PGIMER had earlier said it would not be possible to identify the disease as plague till laboratory tests were complete. Even if the disease is certified as plague, the Centre said the government has succeeded in arresting its spread.

WHO authorities said in the case of Surat, plague broke out because of unhygienic conditions but in Himachal Pradesh, one person had gone to the forest and was bitten by a bacteria-infected rat flea.

Test results

Scientists at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases have confirmed the disease to be plague. Sources at the institute told PTI all three tests recommended by the World Health Organisation and carried out on the organism isolated from patients’ samples were positive for yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes plague.

   

 
 
REBELS SOUNDED OUT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chandigarh, Feb. 18: 
With the future of the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress lying sealed in electronic voting machines, both parties have started sending feelers to rebels and “like-minded” candidates.

Counting for the 117-member Punjab Assembly will be held on February 24. Both Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh and Shiromani Akali Dal general secretary Sukhbir Badal are keeping tabs on candidates likely to support either party in government formation in case none is able to muster a majority on its own.

“It is too early to predict a Congress sweep. That the people are angry with the Shiromani Akali Dal for failing to deliver is apparent. We will form the next government,” a senior Congress leader said.

The Shiromani Akali Dal, however, insists that the Congress is out of touch with reality. “With the election code still in force, I cannot make any comment other than state that my party will again form the government,” Badal said at his residence, questioning the aggressive advertisement campaign launched by the Congress.

The Congress campaign against Badal for allegedly amassing properties worth crores has robbed the Shiromani Akali Dal plank of “all-round development” under its rule of credibility.

“We will lose some seats because of the negative campaign. But to say that the Congress will sweep the polls is wishful thinking. At worst, it will be a hung Assembly.

In such a scenario, Punjab will witness for the first time horse-trading of the fiercest kind which will put even Haryana to shame,” a senior minister said.

   

 
 
EXIT POLL CHEER FOR MULAYAM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
As parties clamoured for a ban on exit polls, a survey by a private TV channel gave the Samajwadi Party 52 of the 145 seats in Uttar Pradesh where elections were held today. The BJP followed with 46 seats, the BSP got 34, the Congress seven and Independents six.

Election Commission sources said they were helpless and the parties should take the ban request to the Supreme Court.

According to the exit poll, the BJP is expected to be down by 11 seats while the Samajwadi is gaining six, the BSP five and Independents three.

The poll panel skirted questions on whether home minister L.K. Advani’s news conference in Lucknow amounted to violation of the model code of conduct.

“We will look into it if there is a specific complaint,” commission spokesman A.N. Jha said. In a televised press conference, Advani had said the BJP and its allies would get a majority.

Protesting against exit polls, Congress spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy said: “The science of psephology is yet to reflect the complex Indian social system. Psephology is as unreliable as the astrology of Murli Manohar Joshi.”

After the first phase of elections on February 13, exit polls had predicted a Congress sweep in Punjab. Akali Dal chief Parkash Singh Badal had then sought a ban on the surveys.

In 1999, the commission had sought to ban exit polls. But the media said the move curbed its right to freedom of expression and threatened to defy any such ban. The commission approached the Supreme Court, but was told it had no right to ban exit polls.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.5°C (+1)
Minimum: 16.9°C (0)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 92%,
Minimum: 37%

Sunrise: 6.10 am

Sunset: 5.30 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C
   
 

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