Atal brawl dwarfs Bill battle
Sex call slur on BJP minister
Purnendu loses control to IOC
Green light to genetic cotton
Genetic cotton sale allowed with fences
Monthly fuel for Godhra fire
Minority hole in Gujarat police force
Vajpayee summons Modi to Delhi
Shelter shift for shilas
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL BRAWL DWARFS BILL BATTLE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, March 26: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee virtually turned the joint session of Parliament on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill into a vote of confidence in his leadership.

When the Bill was finally passed after a division — 425 in favour and 296 against — it seemed as though it was not so much a mandate for a legislation as for Vajpayee.

The passage of the Bill was a foregone conclusion, but the Opposition had the upper hand in the eight-hour debate. It put the government on the mat on every aspect of the Bill. But Vajpayee’s intervention overshadowed the Opposition’s arguments and infused life into the otherwise defensive treasury benches.

The Prime Minister’s intervention stunned the House not for its oratory and wit but the anger with which he lashed out at Sonia Gandhi.

The provocation evidently was Sonia’s poser: whether he would remain “submissive and weak” in his leadership and succumb to the pressures of the BJP and the Sangh parivar or uphold the prestige of the high office he held.

A livid Vajpayee said: “She has reminded me of my primary duty as a Prime Minister as if other duties are of no consequence. But Sonia Gandhi need not interfere in the affairs of our parivar. I am the Prime Minister not because of the Congress but despite it and will remain one as long as the people want me.”

He termed Sonia’s speech a “personal attack” and not a criticism of the Bill. “I will not tolerate this.”

Speaking in a consistently high-pitched voice, he denied working under anyone’s pressure. “My political career is proof of this. When a joint session on dowry was held, I opposed dowry even in those days. I was asked: ‘How could you when you are supposed to be a traditionalist?’”

He used the occasion to counter the Left’s charge of working under US pressure. “If I worked under US pressure, why are the allies supporting me? We did go ahead with the nuclear explosions despite external pressure,” he said. A government in the past — P.V. Narasimha Rao’s — had deferred a similar programme “because of US objections”.

To loud cheering from the treasury benches, he spoke of how during the Kargil war, Bill Clinton (called Lincoln) had asked him to come over to the US to talk to his Pakistan counterpart. “But I made it clear to him that as long as Pakistan does not vacate Indian territory I will not talk to him.”

When the Opposition interrupted, he retorted: “Why are you doing this? Do you find the truth too bitter to swallow?”

At this point, his intervention turned into a one-on-one with Sonia. Alluding to her statement that his “moment of reckoning” had come, Vajpayee asked: “Is this the kind of language she should use to address the Prime Minister? What is the meaning of saying my hour of trial has come? I am being tried and tested everyday. I have been standing in this House when Sonia Gandhi was miles away from politics and today she has dared to put me in the dock.”

The entire Opposition was on its feet, shouting slogans against Vajpayee. The deputy speaker, P.M. Sayeed, who was in the Chair, offered to expunge anything that was found “objectionable” in Vajpayee’s speech.

Congress leader Arjun Singh said: “In parliamentary tradition, the prestige of the position of the leader of the Opposition cannot be belittled. The manner in which the Prime Minister has responded to her speech does not behove his stature or office.”

Once Vajpayee resumed his intervention he asked the deputy speaker to remove any references deemed unparliamentary. But the moderation was shortlived because he went on to demand an apology from Sonia for questioning his government’s “moral integrity and lack of sincerity” in passing the Bill.

   

 
 
SEX CALL SLUR ON BJP MINISTER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 26: 
As members of the ruling alliance and the Opposition clashed over the anti-terror Bill in Parliament, a CPM MP held a press conference outside to attack the BJP.

The subject was unusual: sex calls allegedly made by Satyabrata Mukherjee, the BJP minister of state for chemicals and fertilisers and Krishnagar MP, from his official telephone.

Biplab Das Gupta, a CPM Rajya Sabha MP, charged Mukherjee with draining the exchequer with his “dirty calls” and demanded his resignation. Thirty-four such calls were made on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.

“The minister seems to be spending nights doing nothing but making dirty phone calls,” he told the press conference.

Mukherjee denied making the calls.

Sex calls are charged at international rates. The CPM MP reeled off the phone numbers of these call stations. He has also sent a letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee claiming documentary evidence against Mukherjee.

“At a time when the government is talking about Lord Ram, Ayodhya, the greatness of Hindutva, the perfidy of Pakistan, how can a minister indulge in deriving sexual pleasure from his office?” he wrote.

The CPM MP listed the minister’s telephone number from which the calls were made. He said that 10 such calls, five each to two numbers, were made on October 1, 2000; 34 calls were made to several sexlines on October 2; 17 calls were made to three numbers between midnight and 8.43 am on October 3.

“…These calls are punctuated, before, after and in the middle of these calls, by calls to the residence, presumably whenever his conscience was shaken by those,” he wrote.

Mukherjee said he could not be held responsible “if any of my employees made any such calls without my consent”. The minister claimed that most of the calls were made at a time when he was not in Delhi, adds PTI.

The CPM MP had not ruled out the possibility that someone else in the Mukherjee household might be making these phone calls. But, he said, even if that were true, it did not acquit the minister of the charge of bleeding the government exchequer.

The CPM MP added that Mukherjee, who is little known outside his circle, “had made these calls as an MP from West Bengal and continues to do so as a minister”.

Das Gupta also claimed that he had evidence to prove that the minister used funds of sick public sector units to make trips to Ranikhet and Tirupati.

“At a time when ordinary people struggle to find food and shelter, here you have a minister who wastes public money in lakhs whetting his sexual appetite,” Das Gupta wrote.

   

 
 
PURNENDU LOSES CONTROL TO IOC 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 26: 
Twenty-four years after Haldia Petrochemicals was put on the drawing board, Bengal’s showcase project is getting another new promoter in public sector Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) with control of the management.

Eight years after Purnendu Chatterjee joined the company as the third promoter, the non-resident Indian businessman is losing management control, possibly because he is unable to infuse the cash he had undertaken to.

A board meeting of the Rs 5170-crore company decided today to overturn the resolution they made two months ago to hand control to Chatterjee — in exchange for him bringing in his full share of the equity — and to place it under Indian Oil.

About the board’s decision, Chatterjee said: “Of course, I am extremely happy.”

Control has been offered on the same terms over which talks had broken down earlier with Indian Oil insisting on running the company with a shareholding of only 26 per cent, which was unacceptable to Chatterjee.

Under the original proposal submitted to the Bengal government, Indian Oil was to bring in Rs 468 crore to acquire an equity of 26 per cent.

In a strange turnaround of that situation, Indian Oil now appears to be wishing for majority shareholding because it believes management control will not work without a 51 per cent equity ownership.

At a meeting in January, the board had offered management control to Chatterjee along with 51 per cent shareholding. Chatterjee and the government now hold 43 per cent each and the Tatas 14 per cent.

The chairman-designate of Indian Oil, M.S. Ramachandra, said in Delhi: “We held talks yesterday as well as today and have indicated to the Chatterjee group that we will not take over management control on the basis of a contractual deal.”

The Chatterjee group has offered management control and 26 per cent stake to Indian Oil, but is also insisting on keeping 51 per cent for itself. This means control will rest in Indian Oil by virtue of a contractual arrangement and not a foolproof majority shareholding. Such a set-up is unacceptable to India Oil.

“With someone else holding a majority equity stake, management control through a contractual deal can be messy in the future... the company law board recognises majority holdings, contracts are open to interpretations,” Ramachandran said.

The decision to hand management control to Indian Oil was taken after Chatterjee failed to chip in with additional funds. At the January meeting, the government had made it clear that if Chatterjee failed to bring in the money by March 31, the agreement on giving control would stand abolished, a Haldia Petro official said.

   

 
 
GREEN LIGHT TO GENETIC COTTON 
 
 
FROM RAJA GHOSHAL AND G.S. MUDUR
 
New Delhi, March 26: 
The government has allowed for the first time the commercial sale of genetically modified hybrid cotton varieties to farmers in India, but tagged its consent with conditions that officials say will address environmental concerns.

Bt cotton fields, for instance, will have to be “fenced” on all sides by at least five rows of natural, non-transgenic cotton. Farmers will also have to earmark at least 20 per cent of their fields to non-Bt crops.

The approval was granted by an inter-ministerial committee to a proposal submitted by Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrids Seeds & Co).

   

 
 
GENETIC COTTON SALE ALLOWED WITH FENCES 
 
 
FROM RAJA GHOSHAL AND G.S. MUDUR
 
New Delhi, March 26: 
The government has allowed for the first time the commercial sale of genetically modified hybrid cotton varieties to farmers in India, but tagged its consent with a set of conditions that officials say will address environmental concerns.

Bt cotton fields, for instance, will have to be “fenced” on all sides by at least five rows of natural, non-transgenic cotton. Farmers will also have to earmark at least 20 per cent of their fields to non-Bt crops.

Bt stands for an insecticide naturally produced by the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. The Bt cotton has been engineered with genes from the bacteria to make it resist bollworms, a major pest that can cause up to 50 per cent of loss to cotton crops.

The approval was granted by an inter-ministerial committee — called the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee — to a proposal submitted by Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrids Seeds & Co) for permission to release in the environment, the Bt genetically modified hybrid cotton varieties developed by them.

Monsanto of the US has a 26 per cent stake in Mahyco. “We have cleared three of the four hybrid cotton varieties for which the company had sought approval; the approval for one variety has been deferred on account of insufficient data,” said A.M. Gokhale, chairman of the 21-member committee.

Gokhale said that after cotton, the next thing on the cards is the application for the genetically modified mustard made by Aventis which is now in the initial trial stages.

He said the restrictions on the use of Bt cotton were being placed to ensure that pollen is not carried away and that over a period of time, insects do not develop 100 per cent resistance. “This will minimise the risks of the bollworm becoming resistant,” said an official. “It will also minimise the chance of pollen being carried across from Bt to non-Bt zones by nectar-seeking insects.”

Representatives from the ministry of heath, Indian Council of Medical Research and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research were not present at today’s meeting.

The approval for the commercial exploitation of Bt cotton seeds has been granted for a period of three years from April 2002 to March 2005. This means the approval is for three planting seasons. The Bt cotton seeds are non-terminal in nature.

The company selling the seeds will have to monitor the quantity of seeds it is selling and to whom. It will also have to submit annual reports on the resistance that the insects develop over a period of time to this genetically modified seed where the plant itself produces proteins that ward off insects.

The company will have the responsibility of educating farmers on this variety of cotton. The effect of pollen carried away from this plant is under study. Labelling of seeds mentioning that they are genetically modified is also mandatory.

Biotechnology analysts estimate that Bt cotton will be planted on at least 150,000 acres of land in the country this year. This figure is expected to rise to 5 million acres next year. India currently has around 22 million acres under cotton cultivation. Bt cotton has been on field trial in India since 1996.

The first trials were on tiny patches of land, just 5 metres by 5 metres, and isolated from other plants by a 50-metre distance. Between 1998-2000, field trials were held at 40 locations, and last year’s large scale field trials involved planting Bt cotton over 200 acres of land.

In June 2000, the regulatory authority had put a block on the commercial use of Bt cotton on the grounds that complete test results were not available to ascertain the suitability of the product from environment and ecological considerations.

Last year, there were cases of illegal unapproved cultivation of Bt cotton crops in Gujarat. Various lobbies of farmers have been clamouring for the approval of Bt cotton seeds.

Environmentalists have long opposed the hurried introduction of transgenic crops, warning that the long-term consequences on the environment and human health are unknown.

One concern has been the possible transfer of antibiotic resistance from Bt cotton to micro organisms in the environment which might, in turn, pass them on to other microbes that cause disease in humans.

The process of creating Bt cotton also involves inserting antibiotic-resistant genes into the cotton plants. However, proponents argue that the antibiotics are streptomycin and kanamycin, developed decades ago and classified as first-generation antibiotics. “Should antibiotic-resistance emerge, we have several new generation antibiotics that work better,” said a scientist.

   

 
 
MONTHLY FUEL FOR GODHRA FIRE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, March 26: 
Forced to abort its asthi yatra, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has come up with another plan to stoke the embers of the Godhra carnage: it will organise a programme every month in memory of the victims.

The VHP today asked all Hindus in the state to observe fast, hold prayers and chant Ram’s name tomorrow, exactly a month after the Sabarmati Express carrying kar sevaks was torched in Godhra.

Since February 27 was poonam (full moon), the VHP will organise some programme on every full moon, announced Acharya Shri Avichaldas, member of the VHP Prantiya Marg Darshak Mandal.

The mandal today adopted seven resolutions, appealing for restoration of peace and soliciting liberal donations for rehabilitation of the homeless Hindus. It blasted the Congress for “instigating” Muslims to “frame” Hindus — meaning VHP leaders — and ridiculed Parliament and the National Human Rights Commission for projecting Hindus as “villains”.

The acharya, who addressed the press conference with VHP state secretary Dilip Trivedi by his side, had nothing to say about the losses suffered by Muslims, though he admitted that “Muslims suffered more, but that was accidental”.

The VHP will compensate the Hindus without depending on the state government for help, Avichaldas said. His organisation would not leave any stone unturned to free those arrested for rioting and arson.

The VHP has hired a team of 20 advocates, who are working round the clock to secure bail for the arrested. The VHP will bear the bail expenses. Of the 9,000 people arrested, 5,500 have been freed so far.

“After teaching a lesson to Muslims, the Hindus will now target so called secular parties,” the VHP leader warned the Congress.

He lashed out at the National Human Rights Commission and the uproar in Parliament, where he said, a “drama” has been going on for the past month.

Two killed

Violence continued in the state with a woman being burnt alive and a 19-year-old youth being killed in police firing.

A 70-year-old woman was burnt alive in her house in Ahmedabad rural district, police said.

In Ahmedabad city, a 19-year-old boy was killed and two injured when police fired several rounds to disperse a mob.

   

 
 
MINORITY HOLE IN GUJARAT POLICE FORCE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, March 26: 
After taking power in 1998, Gujarat’s BJP government appears to have been following a deliberate policy of keeping police officers from the minority community off the field and bound to the desk.

As a result, not a single IPS officer from the minority community is now on a “field posting”. The government has been charged with doing nothing to stop the riots that followed the Godhra massacre, with police standing accused of being partisan.

All eight IPS officers in the state from the minority community — one additional DGP, three IGPs and four superintendents of police — are working in insignificant “support systems” and not engaged in “active policing”.

As many as 27 senior police officers who had taken action against the rioters have been transferred, say sources.

Vivek Srivastava, who did an outstanding job in controlling the riots in Kutch as the district’s superintendent of police, has been moved as deputy commissioner (prohibition), Ahmedabad. Srivastava had initiated proceedings against VHP and Shiv Sena leaders and suspended a home guard commander, close to the VHP, who had refused to take action against a mob during the riots.

Mehsana superintendent of police Anupam Singh Gehlot, who had cracked down on rioters during the Godhra backlash, has been shifted to Bhavnagar.

The marginalisation of minority community officers, however, did not start with chief minister Narendra Modi. Before the BJP’s reign, police officers used to get postings on merit. How that policy has changed is evident in this example: of the 65 minority community officers of the rank of inspector in Gujarat, only two are handling field jobs. Most minority community officers below the rank of superintendent have been relegated to the CID/crime branch department.

According to norms, when an IPS officer is promoted, he is given a field posting. However, in Gujarat, when an IPS officer from the minority community is promoted, he is sent to the computer section or given charge of police housing.

A minority community officer of the rank of additional DGP is looking after training, two IGPs attached to the DG office are doing desk jobs and another IGP is in charge of police housing. One IPS officer from the minority community has been posted as DCP, traffic, one as SP, CID (crime) and two are commandants in the state reserve police.

Many of these minority community officers are so frustrated that they are looking for an opportunity to move out of the state. There are also allegations of the government recruiting a large number of Sangh parivar sympathisers as home guards and the Gram Rakshak Dal.

The state has more than 10,000 home-guards, most of who are VHP or Bajrang Dal members, said a senior officer on condition of anonymity.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE SUMMONS MODI TO DELHI 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ahmedabad, March 26: 
Unhappy with the continuing violence in Gujarat and the way the state administration has handled the post-Godhra situation, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has summoned chief minister Narendra Modi to Delhi on Wednesday.

The chief minister’s office confirmed that Modi will visit Delhi on Wednesday, but said it was “a routine meeting with the Prime Minister”.

The Prime Minister, who is expected to visit Gujarat shortly after Holi, is said to be upset with Modi’s inability to check violence in Gujarat.

The continuing violence in Gujarat has angered some of the NDA allies which have charged the Centre with turning a blind eye to the plight of minorities.

The Modi government’s earlier attempt to use the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance selectively has also raised the hackles of some NDA allies.

The National Human Rights Commission had indicted the Modi government for its “inaction” and “inefficiency” in preventing the post-Godhra developments.

Modi also defied the Prime Minister, who wanted a broad-based committee headed by Governor S.S. Bhandari to look after the speedy rehabilitation of riot-affected people. Instead, the committee confined its job to the “operational running of the relief camps”.

Moreover, even one month after violence erupted in Gujarat, the chief minister has not set up a peace committee.

   

 
 
SHELTER SHIFT FOR SHILAS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, March 26: 
The controversial shilas kept at the Dashrath Mahal temple in Ayodhya will soon have a change of address.

Forced on the back foot by sadhus who refused to have the “blood stained’’ shilas at the temple premises — a group of sadhus had threatened to “throw them in the gutter” and go on hunger strike — the administration is getting set to shift them.

Late last night, the Faizabad district administration sent officials to meet Devendraprasad Acharya, the mahant of the Dashrath Mahal temple, with an assurance that the stones would be shifted to a place where “no one would have any problems”.

The officials unlocked the small enclosure where the stones were kept and a carpenter took down their measurements. A wooden casket to keep the two five-feet-by-one-foot shilas was ready by this afternoon.

The shilas’ new address was not revealed but sources said they could be transferred anytime tonight or tomorrow.

Taking the sadhus’ threat seriously, B.K. Haldar, joint secretary (ministry of home affairs), wrote to the principal secretary (home) of the state, Naresh Dayal, asking him to “take appropriate action and keep them (the shilas) in the safe custody of the district administration”.

The home department faxed the letter to Faizabad. With the shila ball being lobbed back to the Faizabad administration’s court — district magistrate B.P. Mishra had till now averted action maintaining he was yet to receive a letter from the PMO — senior officials are hard put to find a “safe custody’’.

Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas chief Ram Chandra Paramhans, whose idea it was to donate the shilas to the Centre on March 15, says he has nothing to do with the shilas. “I don’t care where they are kept. My job was to donate them to the government and make them accept it. That has happened, now don’t drag me into this,’’ he said.

Earlier, VHP leader Pravin Togadia had also refused to comment on the controversy around the shilas.

“There is bound to be a difference of opinion even among sadhus. It now depends on the conscience and faith of the government to do what they want with them,’’ he said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.4°C (-2)
Minimum: 27.0°C (+5)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 86%,
Minimum: 64%

Sunrise: 5.38 am

Sunset: 5.46 pm

Today

Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain in some parts. Maximum temperature likely to be around 35°C
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company