SC reprieve for top cop
Bengal base for Sonia hate-mail
Wealth watch ruffles Rumtek feathers
Digha to Tamluk line on fast track
Stung CPM in riot relief act
Start with namaz of ‘49 witness
Statute report spooks allies
Mr PM, nobody asked you: VHP
Panchayat jamboree to boost ministry image
Anti-terror law ban on Pak outfits

Calcutta, April 1: 
The state government heaved a sigh of relief today after the Supreme Court passed an order of status quo on the appointment of Dinesh Vajpai as director-general and inspector-general of police till May 3, when the case will come up for hearing again.

The state government had challenged in the Supreme Court a Calcutta High Court order, quashing Vajpai’s appointment. The high court had said Vajpai’s appointment went against an earlier apex court order.

The high court had directed the state government to maintain a “credible mechanism” in filling up the post of the DGP and the IGP. Citing an earlier ruling of the Supreme Court, the high court had instructed the government to appoint the DGP and the IGP from a panel of four existing officers in the rank of director-general.

“Appoint the senior-most director-general as the DGP and IGP on an ad hoc basis till the fresh appointment is made as per the guidelines framed by the Supreme Court,” the high court order said. The state government, however, was given a fortnight to appeal before the Supreme Court.

The high court had passed the order on the basis of an appeal filed by Manas Chakraborty, director-general (home guard). He is the senior-most IPS officer and a claimant to the post of the DGP.

Chakraborty had alleged that Vajpai had been given special privilege by the state government. Earlier, Chakraborty had moved the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), challenging Vajpai’s appointment. CAT had dismissed Chakraborty’s petition.

Home secretary A.K. Deb said Vajpai would remain in his post till May 3 and the government would wait for the apex court’s verdict in the case. He said seniority should not be the main criteria for recruiting a senior officer in an important post like that of the DGP.

The high court ruling put the state government in an embarrassing position. Though earlier also the Left Front government had elevated to top posts — like that of the chief secretary or the DGP — officers who were not senior-most in the hierarchy, it had never been dragged to court over the issue.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, after hearing today’s order, held a meeting with chief secretary S.N. Roy and home secretary A.K. Deb to chalk out the next course of action. Bhattacharjee and his senior officers are happy because they had expected a stay, but got a status quo order.


Calcutta, April 1: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi received two threat mails in the middle of March which, according to the agencies probing the issue, originated from the Burdwan-Bankura-Purulia belt of Bengal.

The sender of the mails — both emanated from the mail-bag of a single Netizen — used the free e-mail facility of

Despite the site’s strong links with erstwhile Khalistani separatists — it went online in a more primitive form in 1983 when the pro-Khalistani movement was at its peak — Central intelligence officials feel it could be a “red herring” to swerve investigators off the right track.

The first mail was sent late on March 14, a senior Union home ministry official posted here told The Telegraph. The second followed around the same time the night after. “The wording of the mail explicitly threatened the Congress president with bodily harm,” he added.

Intelligence agencies swung into action after being tipped off about the e-mails by officials posted in Sonia’s innermost security cordon.

“The Union communication ministry was intimated and asked to help in the probe,” a senior intelligence official disclosed.

The Central monitoring unit of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, helped by information received from intelligence agencies, tracked down the threat mail to the Durgapur node of BSNL.

“There are around 20 nodes operating in Bengal and the Durgapur node is one of them,” a senior Union communication ministry official said over the phone from Delhi. “This node serves areas near Durgapur in Burdwan and the districts of Purulia and Bankura,” he added.

Worryingly for the intelligence agencies, the sender used the BSNL’s Internet highway to route the e-mails. “Constant monitoring of the route helped us to identify the IP (internet protocol) address from where the mail originated,” the official said.

“We are just into round one of our probe,” a home ministry official said. However, the exact connection from where the mails were sent has yet to be identified, he added.


Siliguri, April 1: 
Most Buddhist organisations in Sikkim are crying “sacrilege” after a court ordered the Reserve Bank’s regional director to list the 16th Karmapa’s wealth housed in Rumtek monastery, headquarters-in-exile of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

On February 27, East Sikkim judge S.W. Lepcha asked Vinod K. Sharma, RBI regional director in Calcutta, to prepare an inventory of moveable and immovable properties of the Karmapa and submit the list by April 29.

Bitter personal rivalry and power struggle to head the Karma Kagyu sect have transformed the country’s richest monastery into a hotbed of political activity over the past two decades. It is this rivalry that led to the litigation. The wealth of the 257-year-old monastery, 24 km from Gangtok, is stated to be worth over a billion US dollars.

Since the death of the 16th Karmapa in 1981, the sect has been without a head. In 1992, four regent monks split into two groups while searching for the “chosen one”. One group identified Tibet-born Ugyen Trinley Dorjee as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa. But the other faction said India-born Thinley Thaye Dorjee was the rightful heir. The Centre had to intervene after the rivalry took a violent turn.

Trouble erupted again in January 2000 following the flight of Ugyen Trinley Dorjee from Tibet’s Tshurpu monastery, the sect’s original seat. Some members of the monastery’s Karmapa Charitable Trust raised doubts about the safe-keeping of the Karmapa treasures and filed a case in East Sikkim Court demanding an inventory of all his belongings.

Unhappy with the court’s order, most Buddhist organisations across the state have pointed out that no one but the “real” Karmapa is authorised to “touch” his properties, which include the sapphire-studded sacred “Vajra Mukut” or the sect’s symbolic black hat “crown”.

The court order assumes significance in the wake of the Pawan Chamling-led Sikkim Democratic Front government’s stand that the Tibet-born monk was the “genuine” claimant to Rumtek’s Dharma Throne.

The Joint Action Committee of the All-Sikkim Buddhist Association is up in arms over “outsiders” handling the sacred religious relics and has launched a consorted movement against such external interference.

“Any one other than Ugyen Trinley Dorjee breaking the seal of these precious religious relics would violate the protocol of the … Karma Kagyu lineage,” committee spokesman Karma Galey Chungyalpa said. “Documentation of such highly spiritual, valued artefacts by external agencies will amount to sacrilege.”


Jhargram (Paschim Midnapore), April 1: 
Railway minister Nitish Kumar today assured that work on the Digha-Tamluk line will be completed in a year.

He, however, refused to set a deadline for the completion of the Metro rail extension from Tollygunj to Garia.

Kumar, who was here today to inaugurate a passenger reservation system, assured that none of the projects cleared for Bengal will be dropped.

He said of the 16 Jan Shatabdis cleared in the railway budget, Bengal will get one.

“We have targeted to complete work on the Digha-Tamluk railway link and hope it will be finished on time,” the minister said.

He granted the local people their wish and said the Nilachal Express would halt at Jhargram.

Kumar said states that would bear large parts of project costs would get priority in funding.

On the railway fare increase that came into effect from today, the minister said: “Expenses have increased on all accounts and prices of all commodities have increased, so there was no alternative but to hike fares. I think the people will realise it and bear with us.”


Calcutta, April 1: 
Stung by criticism from a section of Left intellectuals about its “indifferent” attitude towards riot-victims in Gujarat, the state CPM today decided at last to raise funds for their relief and rehabilitation.

On Friday, Left intellectuals, including Mrinali Dasgupta, state finance minister Asim Dasgupta’s mother, and Rudraprasad Sengupta, noted theatre personality, lashed out at state Front leaders for their “lukewarm” response to the increasing violence in Gujarat.

Dasgupta even went to the extent of criticising CPM functionaries for undertaking a five-day trip to Hyderabad to attend their party congress, ignoring the plight of riot victims.

Sengupta said tonight that he had criticised the Left leaders for their apparent apathy towards the grave situation in Gujarat.

“I wondered why the Leftists, who had been quite vocal against the communal violence on earlier occasions, were keeping mum now,” he said.

Left Front chairman and CPM politburo member Biman Bose, apparently smarting under humiliation, announced a string of programmes in aid of Gujarat riot victims beginning Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon, an integration rally is being planned at Rani Rashmoni Avenue where chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will be the main speaker.

As part of the four-day Gujarat relief programme, Bose has also decided to organise a fund-raising session exclusively at the CPM headquarters on April 9 where party leaders will offer their donations.


Lucknow, April 1: 
The wheels of the Ayodhya dispute have finally been greased.

For the first time in the history of the mandir-masjid tangle, the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court today began hearing the case on a day-to-day basis.

The hearings began with Chaudhary Sibte Mohammad Naqvi — the 25th witness from the side of the Sunni Central Wakf Board — maintaining that namaz “was” being read in the Babri masjid when he had visited Ayodhya in 1949.

“I know of namaz being offered then,” Naqvi said. “I have heard of it and am aware of it. Even then, when I visited Ayodhya, two of my friends went inside the mosque and prayed.”

Naqvi’s deposition came before the Narendra Prasad-headed commission, that was set up by the high court on March 22. The Centre had on March 6 appealed to the high court to hasten the hearings by calling for depositions on a day-to-day basis.

The government had filed an application through additional solicitor general R.N. Trivedi. Though the two main plaintiffs in the case, the Sunni Central Wakf Board and the Nirmohi Akhada, had objected to the appeal “as the government is not a party to the dispute”, the court upheld the plea on March 20.

The court also decided to set up one or more commissions to aid in the hearing process as a large number of witnesses from either side is yet to be questioned.

Depositions of 150 witnesses from one side and 75 from the other are still to be recorded. Today, however, both the plaintiffs decided to reduce the number of witnesses to speed up the case.

The dispute has now entered a crucial phase as the focus would not remain limited to witnesses but extend to experts in the form of historians, archaeologists and religious leaders.

The court, along with a host of hotly-debated historical questions, will have to deal with academic contentions from both sides to ascertain if the disputed area was the birthplace of Ram or whether a temple was razed by Mir Baqi to build a mosque.

In the first week of this month, eminent historians and archaeologists like S.F. Ratnagar, a retired JNU academic, Prof. Surajbhan and Dr S.K. Gupta will be putting their views across to the court.

Counsel for the Wakf Board, Zafaryab Jilani, said witnesses have been divided into several categories. There will first be the “namazis”, followed by (anti-VHP) Hindu scholars, archaeologists and historians.

Records in the Oudh and Ayodhya Gazetteers will also be taken into account. “This is the all-important phase as now depositions by eminent scholars from various fields will be recorded,” Jilani said. “That will hold the key.”

But both sides are happy that day-to-day hearings have begun.

Lawyers from both camps are optimistic that “if the initial pace can be sustained for some time, the case can see the light of day in the next two years”.


New Delhi, April 1: 
Even before the Constitution review commission report is made public, its recommendation that the Prime Minister and chief ministers be elected directly by the Lok Sabha and Assemblies has come in for flak.

The government’s allies and small parties today said they would oppose the proposal as it benefited only big parties, which were in a better position to manipulate a direct election. The commission, which submitted its report yesterday, had suggested that direct election would combat “the growing menace of horse-trading”.

Sources said the Janata Dal (United), the Telugu Desam Party, the DMK, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Lok Janashakti Party are likely to oppose the recommendation. An NDA leader said the suggestion, if accepted and made mandatory, will only help big parties like the Congress and the BJP.

Dal(U) spokesman Mohan Prakash said: “We are opposed to the change in the basic structure of the Constitution which includes direct election for the post of Prime Minister and chief minister.”

“We are living in a parliamentary system of democracy and direct election is contrary to the spirit of this system.”

Desam leader K. Yerran Naidu reserved his comment. Most parties opposing the recommendation did not want to go on record that they would comment after the report is made public. An NDA leader said: “They (the big parties) will be in a position to manipulate the direct election unlike the small parties, which do not have matching resources.”

The leader added that irrespective of a direct or indirect election, moneybags would try to influence government making, and in the case of direct election, corporate houses would help the big parties.

He said he would take up the matter with leaders of small parties and formulate a joint strategy against it. In case of a direct election, a Deve Gowda or an I.K. Gujral could never hope to become Prime Minister, he added.

BJP sources said a small group of lawyers would make an in-depth study of the report at the Goa national executive slated for April 12-14. Senior BJP leader J.P. Mathur said: “The party will study the recommendations and air its views after the report is made public.”

The Congress declined comment, saying it had rejected the setting up of the panel aimed at bypassing Parliament, the highest constitutional body.

“We have taken note of media reports about certain references made by the review panel to the government. As far as its recommendations are concerned, we have no details right now. We would like to go through it first before commenting on it,” Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said.

The commission has suggested key changes in electoral laws and introduction of education as a fundamental right. But it left open the issue of barring people of foreign origin from occupying high posts.


New Delhi, April 1: 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has asked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to confine himself to politics and stop speaking about Hindutva.

Responding to the distinction Vajpayee made between the liberal school of Hinduism propounded by Swami Vivekananda and the “other” brand which he felt should be kept at a distance, VHP leaders Acharya Giriraj Kishore and Pravin Togadia said: “Have we asked him to define Hindutva and Hinduism? It is up to the sants and dharmacharyas to define these terms and not Vajpayee.”

The Prime Minister had made the comments at a book release function last Wednesday.

Kishore and Togadia today insisted that Hindutva was an “integrated” concept and there was no point in making a distinction between the “liberal” stream and the “fundamentalist” school.

“Hindutva is one. It is enshrined in what the shastras said and it was upheld by the Supreme Court. And both definitions exactly match ours,” Kishore asserted.

Asked if they regarded Vajpayee as a member of the Sangh parivar to which they belonged, Kishore retorted: “You better ask him if he considers himself a member or not.”

The VHP leaders also demanded the ouster of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah over the militant strike on Jammu’s Raghunath temple. “Whenever he has been in power, Hindus have been repressed. He should be removed from the NDA and his position,” Togadia said.

The VHP is upset about the arrest of three of its leaders, including state chief Ramakant, during the bandh it called yesterday. “Jihadi terrorists entered the temple and attacked devotees, but in spite of that, the VHP’s office-bearers are victimised. Abdullah has unleashed state terrorism on Hindus,” alleged Togadia.

The VHP will send a “fact-finding” team to Jammu soon. Depending on its assessment of the security arrangements for residents, the outfit will formulate a plan of action. “Jammu and Kashmir’s Hindus are sandwiched between Islamic terrorism and Farooq’s repression. Both are trying to oust them from Jammu as well,” Kishore alleged. What Hindus need is “not secularism, but security”, he added.

The VHP leader warned that if terrorism was not curbed, it would be difficult to control the “counter-reaction from Hindus”.

Kishore and Togadia said the Indian leadership did not have resolve of their counterparts in the US and the UK to deal with terrorism.

“Over 10,000 terrorists have been arrested in Jammu and Kashmir but not a single conviction has taken place because of lack of evidence. In the US they are dealt with by military tribunals, but our leadership lacks their kind of resolve,” they said.

The VHP leaders welcomed the decision of the Sikhs of Sri Hargovindpur to return a mosque in their custody to the Muslims.

They asked the Muslims to follow suit and hand over the disputed land in Ayodhya to the Hindus along with the Gyan Vapi and Shahi Idgah mosques in Varanasi and Mathura.


New Delhi, April 1: 
Usually considered a “down-market” portfolio, the rural development ministry today got a sudden face-lift, thanks to Venkaiah Naidu, the man in charge.

The former BJP spokesman announced his ministry’s decision to host a “grand” all-India convention of panchayats in Delhi at the end of this week and trotted out a list of the “high and mighty” who would attend the two-day conference.

“The Prime Minister will be present at the inaugural session. Arun Jaitley, the law minister, will tell the convention about the legal aspects of the panchayat system. Finance minister Yashwant Sinha will deliver the concluding address,” Naidu declared at a news conference.

The list of “stars” includes George Fernandes, Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharti and Sumitra Mahajan. The ministry has also invited Sonia Gandhi to deliver the keynote address.

It will be a mix of “lofty” political names and hundreds of grassroots representatives, who will be assured of more funds and lectured on greater transparency and accountability in their functioning. Over 400 district participants are expected at the convention.

But some NGOs working in the field of local government are dismissive about the Centre-sponsored blitz.

“The convention is just a gimmick. I would much rather the government discuss Gujarat rather than have such a grand show,” says an activist who has been working with panchayats. “The government now finds it convenient to jump on to the bandwagon on the panchayat issue since it is becoming more and more fashionable. Also, there is a direct political stake since parties field their candidates in panchayat polls.”

Naidu, however, tried to project the convention as a turning point in the history of the panchayati raj. “These institutions of local governance are not empowered even 10 years after the 73rd Constitutional Amendment was passed,” he said, but pointed out that the situation was looking up. States like Bihar, Assam and Orissa have held local body elections, he added. “They have joined late but there has been good progress.”

Some of the main issues to be discussed at the convention are transparency, capacity building, accountability and local mobilisation of resources. Of special interest will be the participation by women representatives of panchayats. There are 10 lakh women representatives and the Union government has told the states to ensure that one-third of their delegation to the national convention are women.

Last year, the rural development ministry had convened a conference of panchayats but its scale was much smaller. The conference had set up a task force to suggest steps for greater devolution of power.

“This is what we are going to review at the forthcoming national convention,” Naidu said.


New Delhi, April 1: 
Armed with a brand new anti-terror law, the government today banned al Badr and Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, two Pakistan-based militant outfits operating in Jammu and Kashmir.

This is the first time the controversial law has been used since the Prevention of Terrorism Bill was passed after a heated debate in the joint session of Parliament last week.

Officials say the ban will come into effect immediately. The home ministry had outlawed 23 important terrorist outfits through an Ordinance last year. Neither al Badr nor Jamiat has been in the spotlight in the past few years.

Officials in the home ministry could not say why the two outfits were banned today, or whether they were involved in any recent terror strikes. Nor was there an explanation why the organisations were not outlawed earlier with the 23 other militant groups.

Intelligence agencies, however, claim that terror groups are all linked in their effort to destabilise the country and, whether large or small, have the potential to cause irreparable damage.

Indian agencies say al Badr and Jamiat have both been infiltrated by Pakistan’s ISI and are now funded, guided and used by it.

Senior government sources insisted that the home ministry, which had passionately argued for a tough anti-terror law, was not proving a point to the Opposition by invoking it.

The assessment to ban an outfit is made by the Intelligence Bureau after consultations with security forces and state police. In the case of terrorist outfits, the home ministry does not usually turn down the suggestion of the security agencies. Bureaucrats stressed that today’s ban had nothing to do with politics.

Al Badr was allegedly involved in the attempt to attack the army camp inside Red Fort last year. Several people were killed in the shootout.

Jamiat was formed in 1990 as a breakaway faction of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Most of its followers are Kashmiris belonging to the Deoband school. It played an important role in the early years of militancy but since 1996, the group had lost much of its potency with many members either killed or imprisoned.

Maulana Ghulam Rasool, a Kashmiri from Kupwara, is now running the operations from Pakistan. He had crossed over to the country after escaping from Srinagar jail in February 2000.

He had been arrested on a number of charges in 1997, including an attempt on chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s life. The group is also suspected to be behind the killing of a joint director in the state information department in 1991.

Jamiat is said to have been involved in the killing of H.N. Wanchoo, a human rights activist, in 1992. Jamiat cadre were involved in strikes on army posts in Kashmir.


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