Sinha withers in BJP heat
Riot ripple reaches industry
All for the party, says Bangaru
Gujaratis mourn across the border
Punjabi illegal immigrants feared drowned in Greece boat capsize
Now, lack of MPs adjourns House
NDA in unity show before Tuesday test
Bribe-ruling escape hatch for Bangaru
Digvijay lands, broom in hand
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 26: 
Yashwant ‘Rollback’ Sinha lived up to his name once again.

Under pressure from his own party MPs and the Opposition, the finance minister today partially restored tax breaks on savings and dividend income to middle-income earners and scrapped the service tax he had imposed on insurance premium.

The five per cent income-tax surcharge, however, stays.

Capitulating to demands from party MPs, Sinha removed fixed-line telephones from the one-by-six criteria set for taxpayers to mandatorily file their returns. However, he retained the ownership of mobile phones as one of the criteria.

The finance minister, who had earned the sobriquet “Rollback Sinha” after he climbed down on several key proposals in his first budget five years ago, also accepted demands from industry lobbies. Excise hikes on a range of goods were cut and the tax holiday for units set up in backward states was extended. In a protectionist move, Sinha raised the customs duty on dairy imports.

Sinha’s revisions will cost the exchequer Rs 2,150 crore and, coupled with a Rs 700-crore rollback in cooking gas prices announced earlier, the government will be giving away Rs 2,850 crore.

The finance minister, who came under attack within the party after the reverses in Uttar Pradesh and the Delhi civic polls, defended himself: “It is not a very significant sum of money. Seen within the context of the overall government expenditure of over Rs 400,000 crore, it’s a very small amount. We will tighten our spending to make up the loss.”

The partial rollback is being seen as a bid by the ruling BJP to woo back its mostly middle-class voters and traders. “This is in line with people’s expectations. We have to respect people’s wishes, the middle classes felt burdened by some of the measures,” BJP spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra said after the changes were announced.

Malhotra was among the MPs who had accused Sinha’s budget of damaging the ruling party’s prospects in elections.

Today he was less hawkish. “He (Sinha) has accepted some of the demands, not all the demands. Reforms will stay on track, disinvestment is going on,” the BJP spokesperson said.

Industry saw in the measures a half-hearted attempt to address issues raised by it. “(We) had hoped the original position of taxing dividend in the hands of the companies would be restored... it would have helped corporate restructuring,” Ficci chief R.S. Lodha said.

Sinha’s budget tinkering came after hectic confabulations with party MPs and the Prime Minister. His key concession, revoking the budget decision to slash by half the 20 per cent rebate on investments parked in National Savings Certificates and other tax-saving instruments for those earning between Rs 1.5 and 5 lakh, came after direct intervention by the Prime Minister. The rebate will now be 15 per cent of the savings made by an individual. The ceiling on investment eligible for tax rebate goes up to Rs 1 lakh, including Rs 30,000 for investment in infrastructure bonds.

Sinha also announced that dividend income from mutual funds and equity would be exempt from tax up to a limit of Rs 9,000 allowed under Section 80-L. Taxes will not be deducted at source on dividend receipts up to Rs 1,000.

He partially exempted life insurance policies from the 5 per cent service tax. The tax will now be imposed on the risk element in a life insurance policy.


New Delhi, April 26: 
Gujarat has finally exploded on the centrestage of Indian industry.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi opened the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)’s annual session this morning by expressing fears that the Gujarat riots had scarred the country’s image before foreign investors.

Finance minister Yashwant Sinha followed with a rebuttal, claiming that the world is “gung-ho about India”.

Industry, which prefers to stay away from the business of politics, however, seems determined to do a post-mortem of the consequences of the two-month-long rioting with the CII organising a special plenary session tomorrow called, “Gujarat — act of faith or breach of faith”.

Initially, the CII had earmarked the session for its alternative programme, which runs parallel to its plenary, but has now brought it within the plenary because industry is exercised over Gujarat. Anu Aga, chairperson of the company Thermax Ltd, toured the state and will submit her report, which may be released tomorrow. She has been scathing in her criticism of the Narendra Modi government.

Gujarat reared its head in the CII session when Sonia said the violence there had “lowered us in our own eyes” and “impacted Indian industry itself”. “Foreign direct investment would suffer because of such incidents,” she added.

Sinha, who came to dinner with the business leaders, made a brave attempt to sweep the cloud of depression away. “I do not believe Gujarat (riots) will destroy the country... it was unfortunate but let us be positive.”

Trying to work up enthusiasm in the slightly uneasy audience, he said: “This is celebration time. Let us celebrate the greatness of India, the opportunities India has to offer.”

A Gujarat-based industrialist with interests in the chemicals business muttered in a muted comment on the minister’s bid to lighten the mood: “It’s hard to celebrate when the lights you see outside your window are those lit by rioters.”

When Gujarat is debated at the CII plenary tomorrow, Sinha will not be there. Nor will be anyone else from government. There were rumours that the CII had tried to get Modi but he declined. The Gujarat government denied Modi had been invited.

The brief for the session is: Why Gujarat? Is Gujarat a Sangh parivar nursery? Will Gujarat bring down India’s global rating? Would someone else have done a better job than Modi? Recreating an investment climate: what the administration should do. Has tolerance become unfashionable? We the people... What do we want? We the people... what do we do?


New Delhi, April 26: 
Bangaru Laxman, who stepped down as BJP president after he was caught accepting Rs 1 lakh on the Tehelka spy camera, today said he had taken the money for the party.

Laxman made his “first judicial” admission before the Justice Venkataswami Commission, which is probing the scam.

In an indirect attack on Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Laxman accepted that he had told the undercover Tehelka reporters that the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, liaised between the PMO and the party. “It is a statement of fact,” he said.

After he was forced to quit at the instance of Vajpayee, a fuming Laxman had accused Mishra and the Prime Minister’s foster son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya, of acting as power centres. “Whenever partymen have a problem, they tell them (Mishra and Bhattacharya) to convey it to the Prime Minister,” he said. “But I have never turned to them for help.” The former BJP chief was denied a renomination to the Rajya Sabha after his term ended last month.

Laxman told the commission that the Tehelka reporters, posing as arms dealers, were “name-dropping” and claimed to know people like Bhattacharya.

There was no particular conversation on the arms deal for which the money allegedly changed hands, Laxman said. “We talked about so many things. They (the Tehelka reporters) even praised my Nagpur speech (the first speech he delivered as BJP president). We talked even about politics,” he added.

However, when the tapes were edited, “they used a sentence from here and another from there” to write a script in such a manner that it seemed the money was given for an “arms deal”, Laxman alleged. The “events were not in sequence in the tapes,” he said.

During cross-examination by Tehelka counsel Siddharth Luthra, Laxman said that “being a nationalist, I was interested in the Rs 5,000-crore investment” the reporters had “promised to make in India”. “Of course, they were posing as arms dealers. But they wanted to invest the huge amount in India”, he said. “I would bless anyone who comes with Rs 5,000 crore to my country.”

“As president of the ruling party, how could one have refused the investment of Rs 5,000 crore coming to the country and so (I) asked them to see the finance minister,” Laxman said.

Laxman denied that the BJP “makes money” from those “who want favours from the government”. But he accepted that Tehelka reporters had paid him Rs 1 lakh, after which “the (party) accountant had come and collected the money from my office”. But “party acknowledgement” was not asked for, as it was “not necessary”.

When told that party treasurer Ved Prakash Goyal had not shown the receipt of the Rs 1-lakh donation, Laxman only said: “I have not seen the affidavit” (of Goyal).


Karachi, April 26: 
Right opposite the Karachi Municipal Corporation building is an archway that leads to the local Swami Narayan temple in the centre of the city’s Gujaratipara. There are about 300-odd Hindus who live in Gujaratipara. They speak Gujarati and teach their children to read and write Gujarati as the local schools have stopped teaching the language.

The gateway to the cluster of Gujarati Hindu households is guarded by a single plainclothes policeman during the day. At night, the residents say, there are two policemen on duty. The population of Gujaratipara is aware of the communal rioting in Gujarat and is, understandably, opposed to it.

The priest of the Swami Narayan temple, Bhauji Maharaj, says: “Whatever is happening in Gujarat is not right. But what can we do from here? I can only say to the people of Gujarat that they should put a stop to the killings. What they are doing is not sanctioned by any religion.”

Harish Kumar, the supervisor of the Hindu Dharamshala next to the temple, says that he no longer calls himself a Gujarati: “We used to declare with pride that we are Gujaratis. But how can we say that now? We feel ashamed of what is happening in Gujarat. This is not insaaniyat.”

Sunil Kashiram, the manager of the Dharamshala, is also upset. He says of his co-religionists in Gujarat: “They are taking religion in the wrong direction. There are some people who want to make political capital out of it. If the violence in Gujarat increases, it will also affect us here. Our government supports us at present. We have a huge temple here. Hindus come here from all over Pakistan. Thankfully, there is nothing to fear as of now. But if the government decides not to protect us by posting policemen here day and night, things can definitely go wrong.”

The total number of Gujarati-speaking Hindus in Karachi, its surrounding suburban villages extending up to Hyderabad in Sindh, is estimated to be anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000. However, no exact figures are available.

There are 11 communities of Gujaratis living in Pakistan. Not all of them are Hindu. They also include Parsis, Memons, Ismailies, Bohras and Ganchis (from Godhra). There are people from Kutch, Bhuj and Marwar.

They used to run more than a hundred Gujarati-medium schools in Karachi. However, in 1971, after the bloody formation of Bangladesh based on a separate linguistic and cultural identity, the Pakistan government asked the Gujarati schools to adopt either Urdu or English as the medium of education. Now Gujarati is taught to children only at home.

However, even today, there are half-a-dozen Gujarati newspapers in Karachi — Millat, Watan, Daily Gujarati, Memon Bulletin, Memon Samachar and Al Zulfikar. The Gujaratis here still lament the closing down of Dawn Gujarati and Pak Samachar.

Farooq Memon, who was born in Pakistan but calls himself a Gujarati because his family came from the Kathiawar region, says: “A murderer is a murderer. He neither belongs to Ram nor to Rahim. It does not matter whether you are a Hindu Gujarati or a Muslim Gujarati. Today all of us feel ashamed of the events in Gujarat. Only one word used to unite us — ‘Gujarati’. But today, I cannot understand what is going on in Gujarat. Even the partition riots did not last this long.”

There was a time, Memon recalls, “when we went to Ahmedabad and the train crossed the Sabarmati, we knew that we were among our people. I don’t know whether I would feel the same if I went now. I have fond memories of offering namaaz twice at the Ameena Masjid in Ahmedabad. But now, I have written to my relatives to somehow come here. We Gujaratis are shopkeepers and businessmen. A shopkeeper can open a shop anywhere. But if his wife and children are killed, how can he get them back?”

Memon, a secretary in a newspaper office and very active in the Gujarati community here, says India should realise that the Gujarati Muslims have made a definite choice — to be Indians. “It has been 52-years since the partition. If the Gujarati Muslims did not see themselves as Indians, they would have come to Pakistan by now. Why have they stayed on? Because they are Indians, just as the Gujarati Hindus you meet here are Pakistanis.”

Sonbai, who lives in the Gujaratipara and has been listening to us discussing Gujarat says: “Baba, galat hua hai (Whatever has happened is not right). We have a song — Bhagwan, mein tujhe khat likhta hoon par tera pataa nahin maloom (God, I want to write to you but I don’t know your address). To my Gujarati brothers in India, I say, I know the address of God. He lives within you. He cannot sanction the killing of another human being.”


Chandigarh, April 26: 
Over three dozen people from Punjab are feared to have drowned in a boat capsize on April 16 while travelling to Greece from Turkey.

All of them were illegal immigrants. Seven persons survived to inform the relatives of those who had died.

Acting on complaints received from a victim’s relatives, Nawanshahr deputy commissioner Anil Kumar Gupta has written to the state government to take up the matter with the Centre.

Gupta was not available for comment. But district officials confirmed that Gupta had sought the state government’s help before going on leave. The number of dead could not be ascertained, the officials said.

Gupta is also learnt to have told the government that photographs of the victims were published in Greek newspapers.

Chief secretary Y.S. Ratra said he had informed the home ministry after reading about the tragedy in a local daily. “Till this afternoon, I have not received any confirmation on the tragedy from New Delhi,” he said.

Ratra, however, described the incident, if it has really occurred, as a “great misfortune”.

The tragedy is reminiscent of the Malta boat accident in December, 1996, when nearly 300 Punjabis, all travelling illegally from Punjab, had perished.

Though a probe was ordered into the tragedy, not much was heard of it since.

Nawanshahr, which falls under the fertile Doaba region, is among the many Punjabi cities that have witnessed a steady stream of youths leaving for West Asia and Europe lured by the promise of jobs. Some have even forced their parents to sell a part or their entire land holdings to pay for the journey.

Those feared drowned on April 16 had migrated to Lebanon illegally and were on their way to Greece. They had reportedly paid $2,500 for the trip. Some of them were hesitant to proceed because of the stormy conditions.

But their agents threatened that they would lose all the money they had paid if they backed out.

District officials said the victims, on the advice of their agents, had sent their passports back home to avoid any problems on the journey.

The tragedy came to light when the wife and brother of one of the victims, Surinder Singh of Kaulgarh village, told the deputy commissioner’s office that their relatives in Greece had informed them of Surinder’s death.


New Delhi, April 26: 
The Lok Sabha had to be adjourned today over an hour before schedule because of lack of quorum during a discussion on the crucial Finance Bill.

In a Lower House of 544 members, only 12 MPs were present around 4.40 pm today. After an agonising wait, the number rose to 17 and finally to 37 as a visibly irked chair directed officials to ring the quorum bell continuously for 15 minutes.

But no more members came in and at 4.50 pm, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, who was in the chair, adjourned the House.

For quorum, 55 members (10 per cent of the total seats) had to be present. Singh had no option but to adjourn the House.

The House is scheduled to vote on the Finance Bill on Monday and the government has to go if it is defeated.

The blame game began soon after the adjournment.

While BJP leaders blamed the Opposition for not being present in the House, the Congress and the CPM criticised the government for its casual approach and making a “mockery of a debate”.

Finance minister Yashwant Sinha was present throughout, but senior BJP ministers were conspicuous by their absence. The two ministers of state in Sinha’s ministry were missing, too.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, who is usually around to arrange the numbers during important discussions, was absent, as was BJP chief whip V.K. Malhotra.

Apart from 15 Congress MPs, there were two from the Shiv Sena, one from the National Conference, one from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), one from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and 17 members from the BJP.

Most of them had rushed in after hearing the quorum bell ring continuously.

Apart from Sinha, only two other ministers were present — water resources minister Arjun Sethi of the BJD and minister of state for parliamentary affairs Santosh Gangwar.

The Bill was taken up for discussion after zero hour but a general lack of interest in both the treasury and Opposition benches was apparent from the afternoon.

Congress member Laxman Singh, brother of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, first pointed to the lack of quorum around 4.35 pm. He was joined by Congress members Pawan Kumar Bansal and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

Regretting the lack of seriousness on the part of MPs, Das Munshi said it was a reflection of the “sad state of affairs”. It is the duty of the treasury benches to ensure quorum, he added.

Gangwar downplayed the issue. “On Friday most members leave for their constituencies,” he said.

Malhotra put the blame on the Opposition. “They are normally supposed to speak and attack the budget. But today we found there was no speaker from the Opposition. May be Friday is a bad day for holding such a discussion because Thursday was a holiday and many pushed off to their constituencies,” the BJP chief whip said.

What Malhotra seemed blissfully unaware of was the attack Congress members Mani Shankar Aiyar, Santosh Mohan Dev and Pawan Kumar Bansal launched on the Bill this afternoon.

“Is it the job of the Congress to ensure quorum?” Das Munshi asked.

“Why hold discussion? Pass the budget without it. You are making a mockery of everything,” CPM member V. Radhakrishan told Sinha in the morning.


New Delhi, April 26: 
The co-ordination committee of the National Democratic Alliance will meet over the weekend before the Lok Sabha votes on the Gujarat censure motion on Tuesday.

Although the alliance is confident of voting out the Opposition-sponsored motion, well-placed BJP sources said efforts are on to persuade the Telugu Desam to vote against the motion instead of walking out or abstaining to “please its secular constituency”.

The sources said this would go a “long way” to show that the NDA is a “united house” and the allies think alike on Gujarat despite the initial acrimony and differences over Narendra Modi’s continuation as chief minister.

The sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would himself speak to Desam chief N. Chandrababu Naidu. They said BJP leaders have informally conveyed to Desam MPs that they could “say what they wished to” on Modi and the communal violence in their speeches but must vote with the rest of the NDA.

“The divide between the genuine secularists and the pseudo-secularists must be established once and for all,” BJP sources said. The NDA, they stressed, must come across as a “cohesive coalition of genuine secularists” and the Opposition shown up as “pseudo-secularists”. The idea, they asserted, was to “rectify” the impression that the ruling coalition had major ideological differences and came together merely to share power.

The BJP has stepped up its offensive against foreign missions in India for ticking off the government and Gujarat.

Parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra alleged they had formed their impressions from media reports, which, he claimed, “projected things in a bad light and used the word genocide”.

“The dictionary meaning of genocide is total extermination of a race and it should be used carefully,” he said, pointing out that the total number of Muslims in India was 12 crore of which 60-70 lakh were based in Gujarat.

“Two hundred Hindus were killed and 600 Muslims. This is not genocide,” he said, adding that the population of Muslims had increased from eight to 12 crore.

The BJP also noted with satisfaction that the ADMK — which had initially given the impression that it would support the motion — has decided to abstain from voting. “After Jayalalithaa’s strong stand on the Godhra tragedy and her overt pro-Hindu sentiments, it is not surprising that she has cast her lot with us,” BJP sources claimed.

The Bahujan Samaj Party is expected to vote against the motion. But BSP sources said the party’s stand would depend on whether Mayavati is sworn in Uttar Pradesh chief minister before the motion is put to vote under Rule 184. “If she is not, then we may rethink our stand,” said a BSP functionary.

The party’s two Muslim MPs are reportedly under pressure from the community not to oppose the motion.

Despite being confident about defeating the motion, NDA strategists say the co-ordination committee meeting is necessary. “With these two (Gujarat and Finance Bill) important issues to be taken up in the Lok Sabha on Monday and Tuesday, it was felt that the committee should meet to chalk out its strategy,” BJP sources said. The date will be finalised after NDA convener George Fernandes returns tomorrow from Tajikistan.

In what seemed like a tit-for-tat response, the BJP and the Samata Party gave notice for a censure motion under Rule 184 against the Bihar government.


New Delhi, April 26: 
In a ruling that could drastically alter a provision of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Supreme Court has said “mere acceptance of money” will not be sufficient to convict a public servant, politician or official.

The ruling comes as a ray of hope to former BJP president Bangaru Laxman and Samata Party chief Jaya Jaitly, both of whom came under fire after the Tehelka scandal erupted.

Laxman, who was caught on camera taking bribe from the sting operators disguised as arms dealers, today told the Venkataswami commission that he accepted the money for the party.

Jaitly, too, had initially said the money was for the party fund. But later she changed tack to say she did not receive any money at all as, unlike Laxman, the Tehelka tapes did not directly show her accepting the money.

“In our view, mere acceptance of money without there being any other evidence would not be sufficient for convicting the accused under Section 13(1)(d)” of the Prevention of Corruption Act, a three-judge bench said, acquitting a Gujarat official charged under the provision. Justice M.B. Shah, Justice Bisheshwar Prasad Singh and Justice H.K.Sema, however, confirmed the official’s punishment under the other provision, Section 7 of the Act.

To drive home their point, the judges narrated the case involving the accused official. “The relevant part of the evidence suggests that the accused asked the complainant (the one who gave the bribe) as to why he had come there at that time?” the bench said. “To that, the complainant replied that he was waiting since one o’clock and that he has brought one witness to be examined.”

“(The) Accused informed him to come in the evening as his writer was not present. When the accused started to go towards the toilet, the complainant followed him and gave something from his pocket to the accused who took the same and put that in his pocket,” the apex court said. From this evidence, they ruled, “it cannot be inferred that the accused demanded any amount from the complainant or that he had obtained the same”.

“It is apparent that the trial court and the high court misread the evidence and held that there was demand by the accused and the amount was paid to him by the complainant. It was unreasonable to hold that (the) accused demanded money from the complainant,” the judges said.

The court said that “for convicting a person under Section 13(1)(d) there must be evidence on record that the accused ‘obtained’ for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage by either corrupt or illegal means or by abusing his position as a public servant or he obtained for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest”.

In Sections 7 and 13(1)(a) and (b) of the Act, the legislature has specifically used the words “accepts” or “obtains”. However, there is a departure in the language used in clause (1)(d) of Section 13, where the word “accepts” has been omitted and emphasis is on the word “obtains”.


Bhopal, April 26: 
What do you call a chief minister who goes on a week-long scavenging mission? Digvijay Singh.

The Madhya Pradesh chief minister is back this afternoon after having spring-cleaned his state for the last seven days.

All may not be spick and span yet, but Digvijay vows that his policies in the next one-and-half years will be specifically aimed at scrubbing the state clean.

For the last six months, Digvijay had been unhappy about the lack of health and sanitation awareness in the state. At public meetings and even seminars, the chief minister has been pleading with the people to take up the brooms themselves: “Don’t live dirty. Why don’t you clean-up? Who are you waiting for? Don’t expect Digvijay Singh to come to your village to sweep your floors.”

But, with no one listening, he finally took the task upon himself last week. Flying from hamlet to hamlet, the chief minister went around advising rural Madhya Pradesh where exactly to have the family lavatory.

On Saturday, the chief minister’s chopper was flying over Katni district in central Madhya Pradesh when he said: “Let’s land here.”

It was a village where no minister had ventured since the state was born in 1956. A crowd of children ran out to see the “flying car” as the helicopter landed.

Jaws dropped as the chief minister walked into the village. Elders rushed out to greet Digvijay.

“What’s the name of your village?” the chief minister asked, making himself comfortable on a stringed cot.

“Chaandan,” someone replied.

Next question: “Where’s your lavatory?”

The villagers pointed to a field. Thereafter, there was no escape. Chaandan village was given a long lesson on hygiene, sanitation and health. By the end of the lecture, 60 elderly men agreed they would dig a place behind their hutments and use it as the household toilet.

The Digvijay Singh government will pay each household Rs 500 for the construction. This was part of the chief minister’s Gram Sampark Abhiyan, the one week in the year when he goes on his village contact drive. He flies over the state, lands unannounced in villages and asks the people about their lives under his administration.

Digvijay’s sixth Gram Sampark Abhiyan since last Saturday focused on sanitation. Chaandan was one of the first villages Digvijay visited.

“If you use the fields now, it all comes back into your stomachs by monsoon,” the chief minister said.

“You use the fields and the muck keeps collecting. The monsoon drains it all out into your ponds and water tanks and you fall ill.

“Make use of whatever little space you have behind your home. Your women will not have to leave the house early every morning if you build a toilet at the back of your house,” he added.

Digvijay’s sanitation campaign will conclude on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti, next year. For the coming 17 months, the state government will “conduct a sanitation campaign as a public movement” by “using the do-it-yourself concept for implementation,” an official release said.

Campaign teams will conduct door-to-door surveys and prepare a list of “technical options favoured by each household”.

“Women gram sabhas will be convened for discussions because women are being seen as agents for behavioural change,” the release said.

“Save women the embarrassment,” the chief minister appealed to the people.




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