Sonia in politics-of-unity sermon
Terror law on meet roster
Rap for Sinha with rate cut snub
Two-day breather from Desam
Jaya slams door on Tiger voice
Black facts behind green fuel drive
Tarakeshwar holy water fails pollution test
Youth killed in Bakreswar sneak-in bid
Flyover firm meets Subhas
SC sticks to syllabi stand

 
 
SONIA IN POLITICS-OF-UNITY SERMON 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
Guwahati, April 12: 
Dubbing the Congress a “natural party of governance”, Sonia Gandhi today directed chief ministers of all Congress-ruled states to clamp down on the “politics of hate”. She also accused the Vajpayee government of condoning the Narendra Modi regime in Gujarat.

Sonia did not hold her punches in her opening remarks at the party conclave, where she showcased the Congress-ruled states as “models” of good governance.

Sonia claimed the people of India were looking at the Congress as a ray of hope because the governments run by the party were “ever expanding (the) silver lining in the dark clouds” created by the BJP.

Giving “guru mantras” of good governance, the AICC chief said: “Practise politics that unites, not divides. Practise politics where economic growth and social development have primacy, where welfare of weaker sections, women and minorities has overriding priority.”

Sonia said “secularism” was India’s “destiny”. The real battle, she underlined, was between the merchants of fundamentalism, purveyors of hate and poison and the overwhelming number of Indians who want peace and progress.

In an uncharacteristically aggressive voice, Sonia said: “Normally, I do not give any directive to (the) chief ministers of Congress-ruled states. But today, I am giving you one. Any individual or any organisation preaching or practising politics of hate must be dealt with without fear and favour, according to law. My directive to you from this Guwahati conference is that there must not be any compromise, under any circumstances, on this in a Congress state.”

Hinting that the Gujarat violence was part of a design, Sonia said she did not agree with the view that the Godhra incident and the atrocities that followed were perpetrated by people of one religion or the other. “The perpetrators of these atrocities have violated all tenets of all religions,” she said.

Sonia harped on the theme of a plural society, saying the time has come to take an unambiguous, unequivocal stand that Indian society is a celebration of diversities.

“We must emphasise that all those who live in this country are equal and I underscore, equally entitled to the protection of law, irrespective of the community they belong to,”she said.

Taking potshots at the BJP and the Sangh parivar, she said: “Who else but those deriving inspiration from the killers of Mahatma (Gandhi) could have defied the sanctity of Sabarmati ashram?”

The Congress chief gave good-conduct certificates to A.K. Antony and Digvijay Singh and nudged the other states to do more. Good governance and responsive administration can overcome the anti-incumbency factor, she said.

Though she acknowledged that the chief ministers of the Congress-ruled states needed to maintain cordial relations with the Centre, she cautioned them against toeing the Central line.

“You must bear in mind that first and foremost, we are a political party. The policies of a state must be in harmony with the basic principles of the party’s policies,” she said.

In Congress circles, her remarks were read in the context of downsizing of governments and implementation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The party’s central leadership is opposed to large-scale retrenchment without putting in place a social security net. About the anti-terror Act, the leadership feels the chief ministers should use their discretion in implementing it.

Sonia said state governments should not announce policies that are not sustainable or participatory. “We must focus on fewer schemes that are targeted at (the) most vulnerable sections of the society.”

   

 
 
TERROR LAW ON MEET ROSTER 
 
 
FROM SUSHANTA TALUKDAR
 
Guwahati, April 12: 
The Congress chief ministers’ conference may tomorrow discuss the issue of implementing the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act in states ruled by the party.

Though the subject was not on the official agenda, spokesman Jaipal Reddy today said “the Pota issue is most likely to be discussed to sort out the confusion over its implementation in Congress-ruled states”. He, however, added that any policy decision has to be taken by the Congress Working Committee.

“When it was Poto (as the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance was called), we had opposed it vehemently. Now it has become a law of the land. So a discussion might crop up,” the Congress leader said. However, he avoided a direct reply on the party’s stand on not implementing the legislation in Congress-ruled states.

Assam is among those states which have decided not to implement the Act. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has already gone on record saying “the existing laws were sufficient”.

In her speech, party president Sonia Gandhi today directed the chief ministers to maintain law and order at any cost. All the four states ruled by the party in the region — Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and to an extent Arunachal Pradesh — are militancy-infested.

Reddy said as the meeting was being held in the Northeast, the issue of insurgency may be taken up by the chief ministers tomorrow. “Today’s three sessions were absolutely structured and the conference scrupulously stuck to the agenda,” he added.

The Congress spokesman said the party strongly feels that the anti-defection law should be amended to ensure political stability in small states. He was referring to the political upheaval in Manipur and the subsequent formation of a jumbo government by Congress chief minister Ibobi Singh.

At today’s in-camera meeting, the chief ministers made presentations on rural development, decentralisation, education, health and poverty alleviation. After the presentations, there were interactions among the chief ministers with a three-member panel of senior AICC leaders moderating in each of the three sessions of the day.

Tomorrow’s discussion will focus on transparency, accountability and integrity, strengthening of resource base, employment, projection of programmes and political mobilisation. The discussions will begin with opening remarks by the Congress president, Reddy said.

   

 
 
RAP FOR SINHA WITH RATE CUT SNUB 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
April 12: 
Finance minister Yashwant Sinha was not as lucky as Narendra Modi in earning the party’s support.

In his speech at the inaugural session of the three-day BJP national executive here, party president K. Jana Krishnamurthi ticked him off several times.

Back in Delhi, Sinha ran into opposition from the Board of Central Provident Fund Trustees to his announcement to cut the interest rate on employees’ provident fund from 9.5 to 9 per cent. With interest rates going down all around, a cut in the EPF rate had been expected. But with the trustees rejecting his suggestion, the finance minister may face opposition from within the BJP to his plan.

Dropping interest rates on savings are viewed by a section of the party as one of the reasons for the BJP’s debacle in the last round of Assembly elections.

Krishnamurthi gave vent to that unhappiness today by coming down strongly on Sinha’s decision to cut interest rates on small savings.

“In a country like India where we don’t have an adequate social safety net, often retired persons have to depend on their hard-earned savings during their old age,” she said.

He added: “Whatever may be the economic justification behind the cut in interest rates, many retired persons have suddenly been made to look around for support due to the fall in income through interests on savings. It is purely a humanitarian issue. Where should they go for livelihood?”

Krishnamurthi said an impression had gained ground that the budget had contributed to the BJP’s electoral reverses. “Even our Prime Minister has made mention of it. This is a matter that needs to be gone into carefully and if this impression proves to be correct, then the matter needs to be examined as to how to neutralise the adverse impact or to go in for immunisation.”

To mitigate the effect of the lower interest rates, Krishnamurthi suggested that the government should introduce adequate social safety net measures and practise austerity.

In an unrelated development, which will, however, strengthen the hands of those in the BJP that want Sinha to review some his decisions, at a special board meeting of the Central Provident Fund Trustees, labour minister Sharad Yadav, too, opposed the cut in interest to 9 per cent.

The board unanimously rejected the finance ministry’s view that the present interest rate is unsustainable. “The fund will have a surplus of Rs 115 crore even after paying a 9.5 per cent interest. A 0.5 per cent cut will increase the surplus to Rs 411.49 crore,” Yadav said.

   

 
 
TWO-DAY BREATHER FROM DESAM 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, April: 12: 
The Telugu Desam Party tonight gave itself two days to decide on the next line of action after the BJP rejected its demand for sacking Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

Two other partners of the National Democratic Alliance, the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Janashakti Party, asked the BJP to reconsider its rejection of Modi’s offer to resign.

Desam general secretary Laljan Basha said the politburo would discuss the issue while the parliamentary party is likely to take up the matter on Sunday.

Asked if the party would consider withdrawing support to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Basha said the politburo would discuss the situation but added a cryptic punch line: “We have full faith in the Prime Minister.”

Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu said from Dubai the party stands by its last night’s resolution demanding Modi’s resignation.

Increasing discord between the Desam and the BJP leadership in Andhra Pradesh is said to have triggered the resolution which had jolted the BJP on the eve of its Goa national executive, though party bosses pretended not to have been affected.

Desam leaders said their conscience was now clear. “Wait and see, they cannot ignore our views,” added state home minister and politburo member T. Devender Gowd.

The turnaround in the Desam’s stand on Gujarat came within 48 hours of state BJP president C. Ramachandra Reddy’s criticism of the power-tariff hike and his threat to launch an agitation with Opposition parties.

Only three days ago, Desam chief N. Chandrababu Naidu had said law and order was a state subject and instead of the demand for Modi’s scalp, priority should be given to restoring peace in the riot-ravaged state. Naidu had categorically said he was not seeking Modi’s dismissal.

According to Desam sources, the Andhra chief minister’s attitude towards the BJP had stiffened over the issue of release of rice for the food-for-work programme in the state and the charge of “alleged misappropriation”.

A peeved Naidu had written to Vajpayee, without mincing words about what he thought of the NDA.

Naidu’s letter had the desired impact as the state was granted the total allotment of rice -- 21.5 lakh tonnes valued at over Rs 2,000 crore.

Desam leaders, however, could not resist taking a dig at Vajpayee. “What can a weak Prime Minister, whom we have to keep supporting every now and then, do f or Andhra Pradesh?” the leaders asked.

   

 
 
JAYA SLAMS DOOR ON TIGER VOICE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, April 12: 
Stepping up her offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Jayalalithaa today said the banned outfit’s spokesperson, Anton Balasingham, “will not be allowed to enter Tamil Nadu” even if the Centre permits him to visit India for medical treatment.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister, however, welcomed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statement in Bangkok that India did not want to get involved in the Norway-brokered peace talks between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government.

Jayalalithaa said she was “reasonably confident” the Centre would not trigger a stand-off with Tamil Nadu over the issue as the ADMK government’s stand “in not allowing either Balasingham or anyone connected with the LTTE into India” was in national interest.

The ADMK chief reiterated that the outfit was a threat to the country’s “sovereignty, security and integrity” and allowing it to get even a foothold here would have dangerous consequences. She said her government would bring in a resolution in the Assembly on Tuesday urging the Centre to take steps to extradite LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran to make him stand trial in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. If necessary, she added, the government should send the army to “secure” Prabhakaran if the Lankan authorities fail to “catch” him.

Asked whether it would be wise for India to again soil its hands in Sri Lanka after the earlier misadventure, Jayalalithaa said: “We have to achieve the aim of getting Prabhakaran extradited and, with the co-operation of the Sri Lankan government, it can be done.”

The ADMK chief said she has written to the Prime Minister to extend the ban on the outfit for another two years after it expires on May 13. She demanded that the Centre take action under the anti-terror law against any political leader who openly supports the LTTE as that would amount to “anti-national activity”.

The chief minister also warned parties like the MDMK and the PMK that the state would take action against them under the anti-terror law if they tried to canvass support for the LTTE in Tamil Nadu.

In contrast to Jayalalithaa’s high-voltage outburst, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi’s response to Prabhakaran’s Killinochchi news conference was muted. The former chief minister welcomed the Norway-led peace efforts to end the ethnic strife and Balasingham’s description of India as their “fatherland”. But he was silent on the controversial issues that cropped up at the LTTE chief’s interaction with the international media.

   

 
 
BLACK FACTS BEHIND GREEN FUEL DRIVE 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, April 12: 
The Supreme Court argument favouring “green fuel” for the whole country is based on some studies that paint a grim picture of the health of children exposed to pollution.

The findings are:

The sputum of almost 96 per cent of the children in Calcutta is similar to that of habitual smokers

In Bangalore, asthma in children rose from 9 per cent in 1979 to 29.5 per cent in 1999

The annual average level of PM 2.5 particles in the air should not exceed 15 g/cum, but most cities, including Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi, register PM 10 levels of above 150-200 g/cum on an annual basis

The bench of Justices B.N. Kirpal, V.N. Khare and Ashok Bhan said: “Children do not agitate or hold rallies and, therefore, their sound is not heard and the only concern of the government now appears to be to protect the financial health of the polluters.”

For its observations on Calcutta, the bench quoted a study conducted by the Chittaranjan Cancer Institute and Calcutta University’s zoology department between November 1997 and May 1999.

The study had also found that “about 43 per cent of the children in Calcutta are suffering from respiratory disorders compared with 14 per cent among rural children”.

Relying on an Indian Journal of Medical Research report, the court said “the culprit… was pollution in the ambient air…. The increase in respiratory diseases specially amongst the children should normally be a cause of concern for any responsible government.”

The bench added: “The statistics show that the continuing air pollution is having a more devastating effect on the people than what was caused by the Bhopal gas tragedy…. Far greater tragedies in the form of degradation of public health are taking place every day,” the court said.

“Under these circumstances, it becomes the duty of this court to direct such steps being taken as are necessary for cleaning the air so that the future generations do not suffer from ill-health,” the judges said. The court gave a list of diseases that are on the rise.

Acute respiratory disease (12 per cent deaths in India, the largest fraction in the world)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (1.5 per cent deaths)

Lung cancer (0.4 per cent deaths)

Asthma (0.2 per cent deaths)

Tuberculosis (8 per cent deaths, the largest in the world)

Perinatal (6 per cent deaths, the largest in the world)

Cardiovascular disease (17 per cent deaths)

Blindness (largest in the world)

The court held that public health was of paramount interest, not the “financial health” of a few industries and “an ad hoc suffering” for some time due to transport problems.

It also identified nine more cities, other than the metros and Hyderabad, where the air quality was bad: Agra, Lucknow, Jharia, Kanpur, Varanasi, Faridabad, Patna, Jodhpur and Pune.

“But there appears to be no effective action plan to address the problem of these cities …. and the Mashelkar report ensures their suffering for quite some time”, the court observed.

   

 
 
TARAKESHWAR HOLY WATER FAILS POLLUTION TEST 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
In a virtual rerun of Satyajit Ray’s Ganashatru, the West Bengal Pollution Control Board today said in a report that the charanamrita of the Shiv temple at Tarakeshwar in Hooghly is contaminated and unfit for human consumption.

In most of the samples of charanamrita collected by the PCB for analysis, a “high concentration of faecal coliform” was found, which “may cause water-borne diseases”, said the report submitted before the Calcutta High Court.

“The mixture of milk and water trickling from the Shivlinga is known as charanamrita and is taken by devotees as holy water,” said the report drawn up by environment engineers Subrata Ghosh and P.K. Bhattacharya.

The green bench of the high court asked the Hooghly district magistrate, directorate of public health engineering and the Tarakeshwar municipality chairman to file separate affidavits informing the court about steps taken by them in this regard.

Earlier, the bench had directed the board to collect samples of water from Doodh Pukur, a pond beside the temple, which is also regarded as sacred, following a complaint lodged by environment activist Subhas Dutta. The water of the pond, in which devotees take holy dips and from which the charanamrita is prepared, is polluted, Dutta had alleged.

The activist had argued in his petition that sewer water from neighbouring houses drained into the pond. Besides, many devotees came to the temple with infectious diseases and bathed in the pond with the hope that it will cure them of all ailments, he said.

Subsequently, the green bench had asked the Tarakeshwar municipality last year to seal all sewer outlets leading to the pond.

The bench also asked the civic body to ensure that the pond becomes pollution-free. The municipality submitted a report to the court saying all necessary steps in this regard had been taken.

Last month, Dutta again moved court, alleging that municipality authorities had misled the court as they had not taken any steps to make Doodh Pukur pollution-free.

The green bench of the high court then asked the PCB to analyse the water of the pond and the charanamrita.

PCB officials then visited Tarakeshwar temple and Doodh Pukur and collected samples of the pond water and charanamrita. “Profuse algal growth has been observed in the pond. High algal growth has adverse effect on the aquatic life and, thereby, has the potential of causing ecological imbalance,” the report said.

“Moreover, local people also dump their household wastes in the pond. Out of five selected points from where the samples were collected, the water is worst at Rajbari Ghat as far as total coliform count is concerned,” the PCB report added.

   

 
 
YOUTH KILLED IN BAKRESWAR SNEAK-IN BID 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Suri, April 12: 
One person was killed when security personnel fired at people trying to sneak into the thermal power plant at Bakreswar late last night.

Securitymen posted at the plant, about 10 km from here in Birbhum district, fired one round — killing a youth — when the miscreants threw bombs, according to additional superintendent of police Manoj Kumar Verma. Other members of the gang, however, fled in the darkness.

“Around 12 last night, the security personnel posted at the plant spotted miscreants sneaking into the steel stockyard of the plant. On being challenged, the miscreants hurled bombs. At this, security personnel to chase them and fired one round in self defence”, killing a youth, said additional superintendent of police Manoj Kumar Verma said.

The deceased was identified as Swapan Sheikh (28) of neighbouring Murshidabad district.

Verma said raids are being conducted at various hideouts to locate other members of the gang who had fled in the darkness. “We shall also despatch teams to other districts in search of the miscreants,” he added.

Alarmed district administration officials today held a meeting with plant authorities to discuss security measures.

Policemen attached to the Sadaypur police station — under whose jurisdiction the power plant falls — said raids on the protected area have been on the rise. “Those who sneak in to steal construction materials are mostly from Murshidabad and Burdwan,” they added.

Plant general manager Tarun Roychowdhury said there were only 180 private security staff overseeing security at the plant. “We have no Central Industrial Security Force to look after security arrangements here. Instead, we have private security staff in addition to some officials from the state police who are on duty only at night,” he added.

Roychowdhury said efforts are being made to strengthen security at the power plant site to avert intermittent theft of construction material. “We have already urged the district administration to intensify security at the power plant,” he said.

   

 
 
FLYOVER FIRM MEETS SUBHAS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
A delegation from the Yeachio Engineering company of Japan today met transport minister Subhas Chakraborty at Writers’ Buildings to discuss the progress of the flyovers being built with financial assistance from Japan.

Yeachio is the consultant for the construction of the flyovers. Transport secretary D.M. Kanwar, who was present at the meeting, said the Yeachio delegation was in the city to attend the inaugural function of the Gariahat flyover on Sunday.

“They have expressed satisfaction over the work, which has been completed within the stipulated time,” Kanwar added.

   

 
 
SC STICKS TO SYLLABI STAND 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 12: 
The Supreme Court today declined to vacate its stay on the new NCERT syllabi and dismissed an application by the Centre seeking to vacate an earlier stay granted by the court.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice S.P. Bharucha and Justices Shivraj V. Patil and H.K. Sema in an interim order said: “The application (by the Centre) is dismissed. The order passed on March 1 read with March 22 shall operate pending final disposal of the petition.”

Through the two earlier orders, the apex court had stayed the new syllabi relating to history, sociology and spiritual education.

The stay had come on a public interest litigation (PIL) by social activist and Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy, former editors of the Indian Express and the Hindustan Times B.G. Varghese and Meena Radha Krishna Tyabji.

Dubbing the change in syllabus “saffronisation” of education, the PIL alleged that certain quarters in the ruling coalition want a particular type of syllabus “imposed” on schools across the country.

Textbooks were ready to enter classrooms from this academic session when the apex court granted the stay.

Senior counsel M.N. Krishnamani, K.K. Venugopal and Harish Salve argued for the NCERT and the Centre, saying the committee on textbook changes was not constituted after 1993 and, in fact, a human resources development standing committee had only suggested that “value education” and “spiritual education” be included in the syllabi. Most education ministers had agreed on it too.

But the petitioners contended that the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE), an apex body on education comprising almost all state education ministers, was not consulted before deciding on the national policy on education and changing the syllabus.

“There shall be a direction to the human resources development ministry, the Central Board of Secondary Education and the NCERT not to implement the new curriculum without consulting the CABE,” the court said.

   
 

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