GNLF suffers bail setback
Bill to battle malnutrition
Mamata eyes Putatunda
Nortel casts net for Net telephone opportunities
SC sets terms for challengers
Serial poll washouts on Goa roster
Thane town bleeds and burns
Pak ahead with nuke command
Samata buckles, Paswan persists
Governor rubs salt into Modi wound

 
 
GNLF SUFFERS BAIL SETBACK 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, April 10: 
In a court packed with commandos and securitymen, the district and sessions judge of Darjeeling today granted bail to five of the prime accused in the attempt to assassinate GNLF leader Subash Ghising in February 2001.

All five have been arch-rivals of Ghising and it is widely believed that their arrests had been orchestrated by the GNLF itself, which had for long been wanting to settle a political score.

Those released, in compliance with a Supreme Court directive, are Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League central committee general secretary Amar Lama, the party’s Kalimpong unit chief Norden Lama, its executive member Mohan Sharma and Hemant Chhetri and Kamal Giri, both of whom had made known their displeasure to Ghising’s leadership in the hills.

Overtly, the GNLF has been refusing to comment on the court’s decision. “We do not want to comment on the bail order,” was all the GNLF Darjeeling branch committee chief Deepak Gurung offered. But the simmering tension is clearly evident in the massive police deployment all over Darjeeling town.

In the courtroom itself the buzz was over when the GNLF would call a bandh on this issue and plunge the hills into uncertainty at the beginning of the tourist season. For, the release, especially of the ABGL leaders, is being construed as a political setback to the GNLF.

With its main leaders behind bars, ABGL, the chief challenger to the GNLF, had been moving around rudderless, with its ranks in chaos.

But now, GNLF leaders fear they would find the opportunity to regroup and build up its alliance with the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM).

In the years after the signing of the Gorkhaland accord in 1988, when GNLF leaders were merely paying lip service to the demand for a Gorkhaland, it was ABGL along with CPRM which had virtually hijacked the plank which had catapulted Ghising to the forefront of politics in the Darjeeling hills. With the release of the ABGL men today, this challenge from the Opposition has once again become real for the GNLF.

While granting bail, the judge observed that “failure by any of the accused to attend court hearings of the cases at any of the designated courts would amount to revoking of the bail orders”.

The special investigation team chief and Darjeeling SP Sanjay Chander said: “The sessions judge had granted bail to the five, rejecting the state’s plea that the accused be instructed to the Siliguri police station and be confined to the police station area.”

He added that as ordered by the apex court, the prosecution was “free to move the high court for further bail condition”.

   

 
 
BILL TO BATTLE MALNUTRITION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 10: 
Alarmed at the increasing number of anaemic women and children in Bengal, the state government is considering a legislation to ensure that no one suffers from malnutrition.

Health minister Suryakanta Mishra, after a meeting with experts on Tuesday, said the state would leave no stone unturned to eradicate malnutrition. He requested the experts to submit an action plan.

The meeting was held at the instance of the vice-chancellor of National University of Juridical Science, N.R. Madhava Menon, and the director of All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Indira Chakraborty.

Joint secretary in the Union health ministry, B. Tyagrajan, represented the Centre. Representatives of some NGOs as well as Unicef and WHO took part in the meeting.

Quoting a survey, Prof. N. Kochupillai of AIIMS said the number of anaemic children was the highest in Bengal. “Nearly 60 per cent pregnant women and 75 per cent children (up to 6 years) are anaemic. The situation will go out of control if immediate and effective measures are not taken,” he said.

Menon said there must be some loopholes in government policies. “West Bengal produces the highest quantity of foodgrain and also vegetables…. Even after that, the state has the highest number of anaemic children. Apart from identifying the loopholes and taking action accordingly, an Act in this regard can solve the problem,” he said.

A 20-point strategy was drafted at the meeting. The strategy includes extensive survey to identify mothers and children suffering from anaemia, launching special food programmes, distribution of iron tablets (Folifer), improvement of rural sanitation and drinking water, raising awareness, involvement of mass organisations and NGOs, education through audio-visual media, organising regular health check-ups, fortifying low-cost, commonly-used food with iron content, changing dietary habits and a legislation to fight malnutrition.

   

 
 
MAMATA EYES PUTATUNDA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 10: 
Mamata Banerjee today appeared set to revive her “Save Bengal Front” by joining forces with the CPM dissidents’ forum — Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) — at a public rally here to protest against the CPM’s “ reign of terror” in rural Bengal.

Mamata for the first time shared a platform with PDS general secretary Samir Putatunda, a former CPM secretary of South 24-Parganas, and a host of other CPM dissidents at a day-long dharna on Rani Rashmoni Road this afternoon.

She invited PDS leaders to join her proposed maha michhil on April 20.

   

 
 
NORTEL CASTS NET FOR NET TELEPHONE OPPORTUNITIES 
 
 
FROM M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, April 10: 
Nortel Networks, the troubled telecom networking giant, is looking at big business opportunities in Calcutta and will target companies in the city which might be interested in its voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) infrastructure — a new pasture in the telecom sector that was thrown open to everyone from April 1.

On April 17, Nortel executives will descend on Calcutta to scout for business opportunities. The largest interest group is the call centres that are sprouting in the Salt Lake Electronics complex.

The networking company is taking on Cisco, its main competitor, in areas like VoIP, call centre solutions, security and optical ethernet.

At present, the company has a presence in Calcutta only through its channel partners — Compaq and Wipro.

“We have received many queries from Calcutta and other places in the eastern region like Guwahati and Jamshedpur for our products. The majority of the queries relate to setting up of call centres. There is a huge potential for call centres,” said Sanjay Jotshi, country manager, Intelligent Internet, Nortel Networks.

“We will also target major oil companies in the city along with the government sector in addition to telecom carriers. The east has been slow to join the IT revolution in the country but we are witnessing a steady growth and also an interest by state governments,” he added.

The company plans to give special emphasis on VoIP and has launched a product that aims to reduce operating costs by up to 60 per cent. These will enable the carriers to deploy and manage new revenue-generating metro services.

Nortel does business in more than 150 countries.

   

 
 
SC SETS TERMS FOR CHALLENGERS 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 10: 
A five-member Constitution bench of the Supreme Court today passed a majority verdict against a petitioner’s right to challenge the apex court’s decision under Article 32 even if the person feels that his fundamental right has been violated.

While delivering the historic ruling, the court, however, left scope for relief. The bench, headed by Chief Justice S.P. Bharucha, said: “We think a petitioner is entitled to relief ex debito justitiae (in the interest of justice) if he establishes (1) violation of principles of natural justice in that he was not a party to the lis (petition) but the judgment adversely affected his interest or, if he was a party, he was not served with notice of the proceedings and the matter proceeded as if he had notice, and (2) where in the proceedings a learned judge failed to disclose his connection with the subject matter or the parties giving scope for an apprehension of bias and the judgment adversely affects the petitioner.”

But the ruling re-affirmed that the court’s final judgment could not be “assailed” under Article 32 of the Constitution, which provides a citizen remedy to approach the apex court directly if he feels his fundamental rights were violated or affected.

Only Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee disagreed with the majority on the bench and held that “it is now time that procedural justice system should give way to the conceptual justice system and efforts of the law court ought to be so directed”.

Apart from Justice Bharucha, Justice S.N. Variava, Justice Shivraj V. Patil and Justice Syed Shah Mohammad Quadri were the other judges on the bench.

Justice Banerjee said: “Gone are the days when implementation of Draconian system of law or interpretation thereof were insisted upon — flexibility of the law courts presently is their greatest virtue and as such justice-oriented approach is the need of the day to strive and forge ahead in the 21st century.”

But Justice Quadri, writing the judgment for the majority, held: “It is common ground that except when very strong reasons exist, the court should not entertain an application seeking reconsideration of an order of this court which has become final on dismissal of a review petition.”

In order to file for reconsideration, the judges laid down a procedure now known as the curative writ. It can be used only when a judge fails to disclose his connection with the subject matter or the parties, giving scope for an apprehension of bias, and the judgment adversely affects the petitioner.

The majority also said that specific requirements to entertain a curative petition should be mentioned “so that floodgates are not opened for filing a second review petition as a matter of course”.

With this verdict, it will become much more difficult for a petitioner to approach the apex court after a final verdict to challenge it.

Laying down the procedure for the curative petition, the apex court said:

First of all, it should contain a certification from a senior counsel.

It has to be circulated to a bench of three senior-most judges and the judges who passed the judgment (which allegedly violated a fundamental right).

It is only when a majority of the judges on the bench conclude that the matter needs hearing should it be listed before the same bench (as far as possible).

It shall be open to the bench at any stage of consideration of the curative petition to ask a senior counsel to assist it as amicus curiae.

The bench will also impose exemplary costs on the petitioner if at any stage it finds that the petition is without any merit and vexatious.

The ruling came on a batch of eight petitions, questioning “whether a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution can be maintained to question the validity of a judgment of this (Supreme) court after the petition for review of the said judgment has been dismissed”. Article 32 provides for “remedies for enforcement of rights conferred”. Under this provision, if a citizen feels aggrieved by the violation of his fundamental rights, he or she could directly approach the Supreme Court for remedy against such violation.

   

 
 
SERIAL POLL WASHOUTS ON GOA ROSTER 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, April 10: 
Gujarat, Narendra Modi and the budget may be swept under the carpet and the just-concluded Assembly and civic elections brought into focus when the BJP national executive meets in Panaji from April 12.

“The main thrust of the deliberations would be on why we have been defeated in election after election. It calls for serious introspection,” said a party general secretary.

BJP sources said the passage of the political and economic resolutions would be a perfunctory affair so that most of the three-day session could be devoted to soul-searching. “We are determined to prove that a report in a newsmagazine which read like an obit for the BJP is untrue,” they said.

According to the sources, state leaders and not those from the Centre would be made to “answer and account” for the BJP’s rout. “When we do self-criticism, the focus would be on the state leaders and not the Central ones. It is Kalraj Mishra, Rajnath Singh, B.S. Koshiyari and Mange Ram Garg who will have to say why the BJP lost in the Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal Assembly elections and in the Delhi civic polls,” said a general secretary.

“After all, we not only owe an explanation to ourselves but also to our ally, the Akali Dal, which could have formed a government (in Punjab) had it not been for our dismal showing.”

The BJP feels concentrating on the poll results is “sound strategy”. “It would convey the signal to the rank-and-file that everyone, from the Prime Minister downwards, is concerned about the party’s health and not obsessed with just the government,” sources said. The analysis, party strategists hope, would also push the more uncomfortable subjects to the background.

For instance, the sources pointed out, if Gujarat dominates the session, the demand for chief minister Narendra Modi’s removal would come up. Food and civil supplies minister Shanta Kumar has already publicly criticised Modi, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, while Modi’s predecessor Keshubhai Patel has been equally unsparing. Similarly, a discussion on Ayodhya could reopen the “ideology-versus-governance” debate.

The sources also made it clear that the Opposition’s tirade against Modi had given him a reprieve. “The Opposition’s campaign has given him a new lease of life because if we remove him now, it would seem as though we have buckled under pressure,” they said.

The political resolution, expected to “cover” a range of issues from the anti-terror law and cross-border terrorism to Gujarat and Ayodhya, would, however, handle the last two “diplomatically and minimally”, the sources said. “It would condemn Godhra and the ensuing violence equally without going into how it was handled. While, on Ayodhya, it may say the government tackled the episode well,” they added.

The economic resolution would be as conciliatory, though everybody is prepared to see a full-throated attack on finance minister Yashwant Sinha. Sources associated with preparing the economic resolution said the effort would be to repackage the budget in the “right perspective”. In other words, whitewashing those aspects shown up as “negative” by the BJP itself.

   

 
 
THANE TOWN BLEEDS AND BURNS 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, April 10: 
Authorities imposed curfew and sent in reinforcements after a Shiv Sena activist and two women died in night-long clashes, arson and looting in Kalyan, the first sectarian violence reported anywhere near the commercial capital in almost a decade.

Police opened fire to disperse warring mobs through the night in Rohidaswada and Dudhnaka neighbourhoods in the city, less than 50 km from Mumbai. No one was injured in the firing.

It is still not clear what sparked the violence, but the police suspect an old enmity between the killed Sena activist, Ashok Vitthal Walunj, and local Muslim leader Iqbal Sheikh who was injured in the violence.

Director-general of police Subhas Malhotra said the situation was tense, but well under control. One company of the Rapid Action Force and two companies of the State Armed Police deployed, he said.

Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, concerned about the sectarian clashes on the doorstep of Mumbai, despatched minister of state for home Kripashankar Singh to Kalyan to monitor the situation.

Thane police commissioner S.M. Shangari, who rushed to Kalyan last night, is camping there.

As the news spread, senior Sena leaders, including party MP from Thane Prakash Paranjape and Thane district Sena chief Raghunath More, left the party’s ongoing conclave in Shirdi and arrived in Kalyan, which comes under the district.

Sena leaders, under police escort, took the body of the slain activist in a procession to the local burning ghat for cremation this evening. But no incident was reported immediately.

Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who castigated ally BJP today for “abandoning” the Ayodhya issue at the party’s conclave in Shirdi, refrained from making any remarks about the violence. He was blamed by the Srikrishna Commission for inciting riots in Mumbai in the wake of the 1992 Babri masjid demolition.

Malhotra said clashes broke out between two groups on Ambedkar Road around 10.30 pm after the Sena activist was stabbed to death. The police immediately rushed there, but were attacked by the mobs.

The DGP said the police opened fire after teargas and baton charges failed to disperse the clashing groups. Five policemen were injured in stone pelting. Four vehicles, including two police jeeps, were damaged.

   

 
 
PAK AHEAD WITH NUKE COMMAND 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 10: 
Pakistan has knocked its nuclear command into shape, appointing a chief for its Army Strategic Force Command even as India is working out the modalities of the hierarchy of its own strategic weapons command.

In the latest shuffle in the Pakistan army carried out over the weekend, General Pervez Musharraf appointed Lt Gen. Ghulam Mustafa commander of the Army Strategic Force Command. The appointment comes in the wake of an interview last week in which Musharraf had stated that Islamabad is keeping the nuclear option open in the event of a war with India.

Mustafa is not the first commander of the Pakistan Army Strategic Command, formed after the Chagai test blasts in the wake of Pokhran II. But the post was vacant till now despite the threat of war and the amassing of troops on the border.

Changes have been effected in the crucial Pakistani army Corps I, usually headquartered in Mangla, and in Corps II (usually headquartered in Multan).

Pakistan’s I and II corps are its army’s strike forces and form part of its Army Reserve North and its Army Reserve South. Mustafa was corps commander at Mangla. Maj. Gen. Shahid Siddiq Tirmizey has been appointed the new corps commander at Mangla on promotion to lieutenant general. Multan corps has a new commander, too, in Maj. Gen. Javed Alam Khan, also on promotion. He replaces Lt Gen. Syed Muhammad Amjad who has been shunted out as managing director of the Fauji Foundation.

The shuffle of corps commanders — particularly of its strike forces — now, even as the Pakistan army remains mobilised, clearly means that Musharraf has entrusted Army Reserve North and Army Reserve South to two of his most loyal officers. (In the Pakistani military doctrine, the two strike forces will make incursions into India in the event of a conventional conflict). Unlike the Indian army, the Pakistan army’s corps commanders report directly to the army chief (Musharraf). In India, corps commanders report to general officers commanding the regional commands.

Musharraf also carried out changes in the second-rung of his army but mostly in the technical branch and in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The changes were at the level of major generals and brigadiers.

One analyst in the Indian military establishment said: “As usual, Musharraf has used the reshuffle to assign his trusted officers to crucial posts. The changes are extraordinary, not because he has sacked or removed serving army commanders but because he has carried out so many changes. There is no reason to believe that changes in senior posts cannot be made just because the two armies remain mobilised. Even we have been carrying out changes but not like them and not so many at one time. Some of the changes were due because Pakistan usually carries out a reshuffle in its army every 14 months to 24 months.”

In India, after some debate within the security establishment on who will head the strategic command, it has been all but decided that the air force will primarily be in charge. However, the ministry of defence is still working on the hierarchy of the nuclear command.

   

 
 
SAMATA BUCKLES, PASWAN PERSISTS 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, April 10: 
The BJP may not be able to rein in its own flock but is successfully muzzling dissent among its National Democratic Alliance partners on Narendra Modi’s continuation as Gujarat chief minister.

The only ally to have extracted its pound of flesh is the Telugu Desam Party. Chief Chandrababu Naidu has been a wizard in swinging deals on appointments and financial projects.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has also succeeded to an extent, getting the Union home ministry to heed its complaints of violence against the party in West Bengal. Some defiant partners like Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party and Sharad Yadav’s Janata Dal (United) are still sticking to their demand for President’s rule in Gujarat. But the question is how long can they hold out in the face of the BJP’s wrath.

Most of the NDA partners have been easily bullied into submission. The latest example is that of the Samata Party, which had to eat its words after senior leader and defence minister George Fernandes kow-towed to the BJP bosses.

A day after Shambhu Srivastava resigned as Samata spokesperson, many of the outfit’s leaders blamed Fernandes for conniving with the BJP at the expense of his party colleagues.

According to them, BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi and home minister L.K. Advani were cut up with Srivastava’s statement demanding Modi’s resignation. “They called up Fernandes and asked him to issue another statement overruling Srivastava’s indictment of Modi,” said a Samata leader.

But instead of standing by his party colleague, Fernandes immediately called up Samata president Krishna Rao and asked him to issue a statement “clarifying” the party’s stand on Modi. When Rao demurred, preferring to wait for a response from Srivastava, Fernandes himself wrote out the statement and sent it to the party president for his signature. “The poor fellow just signed the statement and went off to Hyderabad,” said a Samata leader.

Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik, leader of the Biju Janata Dal, chose to hold his silence, while the DMK, another ally, initially made noises against the Modi government but became quiet after sensing the BJP’s mood.

Srivastava had issued a terse statement after Gujarat police roughed up journalists at Sabarmati Ashram, where a peace meeting was being held. The Samata leader said Modi had outlived his time in office and should quit as violence still raged in the riot-scarred state.

Even as his statement was making the rounds in political circles, Fernandes issued another, saying his party felt Modi’s removal would not solve Gujarat’s problems.

The defence minister’s rejoinder to his party spokesperson’s statement has rankled Samata MPs as well as the cadre. Sources said the standoff between the two senior leaders could spell more trouble within the fractious ranks of the party which has been hurtling from one disaster to another since the Tehelka revelations.

“We do not know what his (Fernandes’) ultimate consideration is. But he is letting all of us down — those of us who had stood by him when he was facing a hard time,” Samata MPs said. The party has 12 MPs in Parliament.

Srivastava claimed he had received nothing but accolades from his party MPs and state unit chiefs for his stand on Modi.

   

 
 
GOVERNOR RUBS SALT INTO MODI WOUND 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, April 10: 
A day before chief minister Narendra Modi leaves for Goa to attend the BJP’s national executive where he might face uncomfortable questions about the riots, he appears to have run into trouble with the Governor over relief and rehabilitation.

After Prime Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee announced a relief package for Gujarat during his April 4 visit, Modi called a meeting to discuss its implementation. But his number two in the Cabinet, Suresh Mehta, left the meeting in a huff because of serious differences with the chief minister on rehabilitation.

Close on the heels of Mehta walking out of the meeting, Governor S.S. Bhandari has also become more assertive. Bhandari is head of an all-party committee set up to oversee relief and rehabilitation at the Prime Minister’s initiative.

Taking a cue from Vajpayee, the Governor argued that mere relief work would make no difference in the lives of riot victims unless it is accompanied by rehabilitation. “The healing process, too, would not begin,” he said. Bhandari demanded “real powers of rehabilitation” for the committee he heads.

After Congress leader and former chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhary pointed out to the Prime Minister that Modi had defied him by excluding rehabilitation from the purview of the committee, Vajpayee had asked the Governor to send him a comprehensive report.

In his report to Vajpayee three days ago, the Governor has called for increasing the scope of the committee to properly rehabilitate riot victims, sources said.

Bhandari has suggested that unless rehabilitation was brought under the committee’s purview, problems facing the uprooted people would not get the “healing touch’’ that the Prime Minister had talked about during Gujarat visit.

Amarsinh said he was happy the Governor had written such a letter. “The Prime Minister has already accepted most of our suggestions on rehabilitation. The only problem we had was with the chief minister who had adopted a rigid, negative attitude,” he said. “We wanted the government to build houses for those victims whose houses have been razed. But the government said it would not.’’

The Governor’s letter is a good beginning, Chaudhary said. “The Congress is happy if Bhandari is become more assertive and showing sings of disagreement with the chief minister.”

Amarsinh blamed Modi for “hoodwinking’’ the Prime Minister, who has said relief and rehabilitation of riot victims should be given top priority. Vajpayee had directed the state government to set up the committee to oversee relief and rehabilitation of over one lakh refugees living in 104 relief camps across the state.

Since it was formed, the committee has met twice. The last meeting, on April 4, was chaired by the Prime Minister.

The Governor has gathered from independent sources that 25 per cent of the 1.13 lakh people in relief camps can start working immediately. This could be the start of normality being restored, he feels. Congress leaders, who are part of the committee, are not as optimistic.

   
 

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