Fighter in sky, killer on ground
Centre-foisted Gill galls slighted Modi
Hotelier by chance, dreamer by design
George mounts defence
Net keeps exiles in the loop
BJP shuffle to scuttle shuffle
Court blow to Bengal volunteers
Dos & don’ts for doctors
Faceless survivors come alive on film
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi/Chandigarh, May 3: 
Eight persons died and more than 20 were injured when a MiG-21bis type-75 aircraft of the Indian Air Force crashed and burst into flames in a crowded Jalandhar locality around 10 this morning.

“I saw flames coming out of the aircraft. They were growing bigger and bigger. Then the left wing fell off and the aircraft plunged down,” said Sandeep Singh, who was on the terrace of his house located on nearby Circular Road. “The aircraft was quite high when the wing fell,” he added.

The fighter had taken off from the high-security Adampur air force base about 50 km from Jalandhar and was being flown by Flight Lieutenant S.K. Nayak to the IAF’s Halwara air base. It was still climbing at full throttle when its Indian-made “R-25” engine “flamed-out”. The pilot ejected but the single-engine aircraft crashed into a building housing, among other offices, a branch of the State Bank of Bikaner, IAF sources said.

IAF chief S. Krishnaswamy ordered the MiG-21bis type-75 aircraft in training squadrons to be grounded. An estimated six squadrons — 90 to 120 aircraft — will not be flown for about 10 days during which intensive checks on the engine will be carried out. A further decision on them will be taken after the period.

Only last month, a Lok Sabha public accounts committee and the parliamentary standing committee on defence had asked for the MiG-21s to be scrapped. The MiG-21s are of 1960s vintage, the bis version is of the mid-1970s and critics have called them “Flying Coffins”, a phrase air headquarters strongly resents. All MiG aircraft are Russian designed.

Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy said the decision to ground the training squadrons was taken because of two crashes of the MiG-21bis type-75 aircraft in the past month. On April 4, Squadron Leader Prashant Bundela — the IAF ace who had shot down a Pakistani Air Force Atlantique over Sir Creek, Gujarat — ejected after an engine “flame-out” over Rajasthan.

This morning, Flt Lt Nayak was flying “from one training area to another” and had radioed engine trouble before bailing out. Nayak had minor injuries and was reported safe. The preliminary report points to a technical fault in the engine. The R-25 engine is manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Jalandhar senior superintendent of police Paramjit Singh Gill said the aircraft crashed into a branch of the Bank of Rajasthan near Patel Chowk “during peak hours”.

The area where the crash occurred mostly houses shops selling timber and plywood products. The fire, which had spread to the adjacent buildings, was still smouldering six hours after the crash.

Eyewitness Kamaljit Singh, who said he had seen a wing fall apart from the aircraft, said another portion dropped on a house in nearby Mahendru Mohalla, ripping the roof and landing in a room near a woman. “The lady, who fell unconscious immediately, has just recovered and is in a state of shock,” he said over phone.

Six persons, mostly bank employees, died immediately following the crash. One person, who had just opened his nearby ice-cream shop and was cleaning it, was charred.

Local residents began the initial rescue operations. “The heat was so intense that we could not go inside the bank which had only one door. Had there been two routes to the bank, some lives would have been saved, said Kamaljit.

Residents, evacuated from nearby buildings, especially in Shakti Nagar, have still not been allowed to return. The authorities fear more people could have been in the bank when the tragedy occurred. “We can only be sure about more deaths once we are able to extinguish the fire,” deputy commissioner K.S. Prasad, who has been supervising rescue efforts, said.

Some eyewitness accounts reported seeing two parachutes but air headquarters said Nayak was the only pilot.

The IAF chief’s order to ground the aircraft does not apply to the MiG-21bis in a state of readiness under Operation Parakram.


Ahmedabad, May 3: 
The Centre’s decision to send K.P.S. Gill as security adviser to Gujarat appears to have upset chief minister Narendra Modi.

There are clear indications that Modi resents the move as it amounts to an admission of “mishandling of the law and order situation by the state government”.

Although the supercop’s appointment has to be approved by Modi, the Centre’s decision is being seen as a slap in the face of the chief minister, who has been putting up a brave front in the face of persistent attacks from political rivals.

Gill, credited with breaking the back of militancy in Punjab as director-general of police, arrived here today and was camping at the IPS Officers’ Mess, but it was not clear what his brief was.

Before leaving Delhi, Gill had a meeting with home minister L.K. Advani. If that was the seal at the highest level of government on his mission, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra suggested otherwise. He said Gill had not yet been appointed security adviser and had gone to Ahmedabad only to speak to Modi and assess the situation. He is expected to meet the chief minister tomorrow.

Although Gill is already in Ahmedabad, senior ministers and state government officials say they had not officially heard about the appointment. State home minister Gordhan Zadhaphia and government spokesman Purshottam Rupala said they had no idea about Gill being appointed by the Centre. “Abhitak aisa kuch nahi hai (As of now there is no such move),” they said.

“We do not know whether he is coming as security adviser or is on a personal visit,” a senior official said.

No one was ready to go on record, but it was clear that the state government had not asked the Centre to send Gill or any other security expert. The appointment is being seen as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s way of demonstrating a lack of confidence in Modi.

A source in capital Gandhinagar said Gill will report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. He is believed to be coming with full authority to take independent decisions, which is bound to upset the state government, said a BJP insider.

Senior officials in Delhi, however, say Gill will get “the full support of the Gujarat chief minister”, as the state government is keen on getting the violence under control.

Despatching Gill as security adviser assumes significance also in light of the fact that the Centre has decided to support the Opposition-sponsored motion on Gujarat in the Rajya Sabha and claims that it has already taken steps to intervene under Article 355 of the Constitution.

The Congress welcomed the Centre’s decision. Former chief minister and state unit chief Amarsinh Chaudhary said it was “a welcome development”. “We Congressmen are happy about it because it shows that Atal Bihari Vajpayee wants to clip the wings of Modi.” But at the same time, he said, Gill’s appointment could demoralise the police force as he is a retired officer who will be issuing orders to the director-general of police.


New Delhi, May 3: 
Mohan Singh Oberoi, the man who changed the idiom of hospitality in India, might never have ventured into hoteliering if either of his two stabs at other professions had succeeded.

Oberoi, who died in Delhi today at age 103 at the helm of an empire of more than 35 hotels, began his career as a front-desk clerk at Hotel Cecil in Shimla.

But the man, who became the first Indian to run a hotel chain in the country and opened the first five-star hotel in India at Delhi in 1965, might never have scaled such heights if his uncle’s shoe factory in Lahore, which he had joined after chucking up his studies, hadn’t closed down after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. Or the examiner who checked his paper in the test for the post of a lower-division clerk in the public works department in Shimla hadn’t failed him.

Shattered by the result, Oberoi went for a stroll on the Mall and, transfixed by Hotel Cecil, entered to land a job as a clerk for Rs 50 a month.

He had got his toehold in the hotel industry. The empire building began in 1934, when a day before his 35th birthday, he mortgaged his wife’s jewellery and assets to buy the grand Clarkes Hotel in Shimla.

As his daughter Rajrani gave him a kiss, Oberoi whispered in her ear: “I have just begun. By the time you grow up, wherever you go there will be an Oberoi hotel!”

By the time Oberoi turned 100, the group owned a range of heritage properties across the world, including Melbourne’s historic Windsor Hotel, its empire straddling all major cities of India and Sri Lanka, Nepal, Egypt and Hungary.

Orphaned at the age of three months when his father died of cholera, Oberoi had two sons and three daughters. One son died more than 10 years ago and the other, P.R.S. Oberoi, is vice-chairman of the group. “His passing away is an irreplaceable loss,” his son said.“He was my mentor, father and friend.”

Oberoi’s career took off in 1938 when he acquired the Grand Hotel, then in a rundown condition, on lease for Rs 8,000 a month in Calcutta, caught in an outbreak of cholera. Allied troops were put up in the hotel in World War II, a deed that earned him the title of Rai Bahadur. “The idea wasn’t merely to make money,” he once said. “The compulsion was to think big, always offer the best, and let it happen.”


New Delhi, May 3: 
George Fernandes today tried to wriggle out of the trouble he had landed in while defending Narendra Modi, saying he had no intention of showing disrespect to women during his Tuesday’s speech in the Lok Sabha.

The clarification coincided with reports that some women MPs were planning to approach the President, seeking action against the defence minister.

“I wish to categorically state that nowhere in my speech was there even a remotest attempt to disrespect women of our country for whose dignity and welfare I have fought all through my life,” Fernandes said.

During the heated debate on the Gujarat motion, Fernandes had said this was “not the first time that riots started in Gujarat” or women were “ill-treated and subjected to crimes like rape and burnt alive”.

Later, three women MPs —two from the Congress and one from the CPM — said they would collect signatures from all women members and write to deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed demanding a discussion on the comments. They also sought an apology from Fernandes. Today, some women’s organisations led by CPM leader Brinda Karat demonstrated outside his residence.

Fernandes blamed the media for trying to “distort” what he had said. The comments “were made in the context of pointing out the hypocrisy of the Congress which was the presiding government when numerous instances of such abominable violence occurred”, he said. “I also made the statement to show the futility of repeatedly narrating such incidents in the House.”

This is not the first time that top BJP and government leaders have blamed potentially volatile statements on distortion.

After his widely criticised speech at the Goa conclave, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had issued a clarification, saying it contained nothing against either Islam or Muslims. Vajpayee was reported to have labelled the entire community “separatist” and blamed them for creating trouble “wherever they live”. Modi, too, had said he was misquoted after reports alleged that he had used Isaac Newton’s theory of motion to justify the riots.


Lahore, May 3: 
Political exile from Pakistan no longer means banishing someone from the domestic political landscape.

When Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy chose to go into exile in the 1960s, instead of rotting in Ayub Khan’s jails, he in effect wrote his political obituary. In a few years, he was all but forgotten in his own country. Suhrawardy unfortunately, did not have the advantage of living in the age of the Internet and mobile phones.

Three major political leaders of Pakistan are in exile today. Benazir Bhutto spends her time in London and Dubai. Mian Nawaz Sharif lives in a gilded cage in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. And Altaf Hussain lives in London. However, this no longer means that they are not able to direct politics in Pakistan.

For the last 10 years, Altaf Hussain of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) has been addressing political rallies in Pakistan while in exile in London. Earlier, he used to send taped speeches to be played before a devotional audience at the MQM rallies. Now, he addresses them live over the telephone.

Last week, he addressed an MQM rally in Sindh live over the phone from London. In fact, his voice was shown on Pakistan TV directing the crowd. “Let the women and children go first,” it urged the audience at the rally. Was he keeping a watch on the crowd through a web camera? One does not know.

Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party has already earned the dubious reputation of being Pakistan’s first Internet party. Bhutto keeps the world-wide web bristling with heavy political traffic. Her PPP lieutenants in Pakistan do little without seeking email instructions from her.

“The PPP has a tradition of running the politics of this country by remote control. Earlier, people had to go to all the way to London and Dubai to meet Benazir Bhutto. But the Internet and email have eased their access problem,” said Prof Khalid Mahmud of the Institute of Regional Studies.

“When she had left the country earlier in the late 1970s, she had little or no contact with the people back home. But things are different this time around because of new technology. The exiled politicians today are making innovative use of it. Benazir has been giving a lot of email interviews to the press,” remarked Aasha’ar Rehman, the editor of The News, on Sunday.

He thought that email interviews were quite convenient for politicians like Benazir as “they get time to think over the answers instead of providing an off-the-cuff response to queries”.

Benazir Bhutto, Rehman points out, has also been sending articles on email for the Dawn, The Nation and The News. The transcript of her taped speeches to PPP workers is sent to journalists in no time at all on the Net.

Benazir is not alone in doing this. The Sharif brothers have also been using the Net effectively.

A close colleague of the two in the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) said that he has been chatting on the Net with them. Shahbaz Sharif, he said, sits on the Net himself and Internet chats with him are clearer than with his elder brother.

Nawaz Sharif does not type and dictates his messages to a typist. This makes chatting with him difficult, he revealed.

However, Nawaz Sharif apparently prefers email messages being read out to him rather than discussing politics over the phone.

“He is very cautious on the phone and prefers that people write down whatever they have to say and send it to him on email,” a colleague of his said.

But isn’t email also monitored?

“We believe that it is monitored. But the intelligence outfits here are happier dealing with written messages than with telephone conversations, which need to be interpreted. This way they get a written statement in hand — half their work is already done for them by those sending and receiving messages,” he said.

Mobile telephones are allowing the exiled Pakistani leaders to call up their colleagues even at political rallies for last minute consultations.

“Both Benazir and Nawaz Sharif called the chairman of the Alliance for the restoration of democracy Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan on his mobile phone even when the April 27 Lahore rally was in progress,” said Hamid Mir, the editor of Ausaf.

Yet another journalist from the Jang group of newspapers said Nawaz Sharif called a colleague of his on his mobile phone at the rally to get his “objective” assessment of the rally.

A major drawback of politics relying on new technology, according to Aasha’ar Rehman, is that there is a sense of resentment among those who do not have access to the technology and, therefore, their leader.

“If earlier, Benazir was surrounded by the so-called ‘Pajero group’ who like her drove around in Pajeros, today her coterie could be referred to as the ‘Internet group’. For every little thing they flash statements from Benazir received on the Net. Who knows whether what they are ascribing to Benazir is correct or not.

“But the point is that this has created a privileged group of politicians within PPP — those who have access to Benazir on the Net as opposed to those who don’t,” Rehman said.


New Delhi, May 3: 
BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi has pre-empted the re-induction of senior Union ministers in the party organisation by carrying out a large-scale reshuffle of the existing office-bearers over the past two days.

At the party’s Goa national executive, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani had spoken of bringing back “talent” from the government into the party. Vajpayee in his valedictory address and Advani at the concluding session had suggested that there was need to strengthen the party organisation after the recent electoral reverses.

Their statements led to speculation that one of the “bright sparks” from the team that Advani led as the BJP chief would return to 11 Ashoka Road.

The names of Pramod Mahajan, M. Venkaiah Naidu and Sushma Swaraj — all Central ministers — began doing the rounds.

But it is believed that the three made it clear that they would not settle for anything less than the president’s post though Krishnamurthi had over a year to go in his three-year term. BJP sources said Vajpayee and Advani decided that Krishnamurthi must not be unsettled at this stage as changing party heads frequently would destabilise the organisation rather than strengthen it.

Krishnamurthi’s predecessor Bangaru Laxman quit office in less than a year after being implicated in the Tehelka scam.

After the reprieve, Krishnamurthi went full steam and shuffled his pack of office-bearers.

The most significant change was divesting Kushabhau Thakre, of the responsibility of looking after Uttar Pradesh and making him the prabari (in-charge of political affairs) of the Northeast, Bengal and Orissa.

Thakre was a Vajpayee confidant and the Prime Minister made it a point to ask him to come over to the NDA meetings as a former BJP president. At one point, it appeared Krishnamurthi had to rest content in his predecessor’s shadow.

However, the delegation of the eastern states — none of which is a key BJP area — to Thakre was attributed as much to the BJP’s rout in the Uttar Pradesh polls as to Krishnamurthi’s attempts to emerge from his shadow.

With the BSP-BJP coalition in place in Lucknow, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh was made the prabari of the heartland and Uttaranchal. BJP sources said Singh may resign as the leader of the BJP legislature party and relinquish his Assembly seat in case his presence was looked on askance by Mayavati.

He opposed the alliance with the BSP and his new responsibility, sources maintained, was a signal that he should not meddle in the working of the government though he would continue to have a say in the party’s internal policy matters on Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal.

But even here, Singh’s role was undermined by the appointment of veteran leader Kailashpati Mishra as the party chief in charge of the central zone comprising Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal. In effect, Rajnath will have to report to Mishra who has emerged as the new power centre in the party with Sanjay Joshi.

Though much younger than Mishra, Joshi was put in charge of the western zone, which includes Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.


New Delhi, May 3: 
Members of Bengal’s National Volunteer Force are neither entitled to permanent posts nor are they eligible to get payments and benefits at par with policemen, the Supreme Court has said.

Putting at rest a 33-year-old dispute, a bench of Justices S. Rajendra Babu, K.G. Balakrishnan and P. Venkatarama Reddy said the members of the force could not be treated equally with constables of the police force.

The “volunteers’ force” was created by the state government to meet emergent situations and their services were commanded as and when required, the judges pointed out. Though they were covered under the West Bengal National Voluntary Force Act and treated as “public servants”, there is no question of their’s being a permanent force, the bench said.

“Merely because the members of the force have to be treated as public servants and their duties are to be regulated by some prescribed code of conduct, it cannot be said that they will have to be treated as constables of the police force,” Justice Balakrishnan said, writing the judgment.

The apex court also set aside a Calcutta High Court decision giving the volunteers’ force personnel the status of state government employees. “The direction of the division bench (of the high court) to give status (to the force) and other benefits as employees of the state government was not legal,” the apex court said in its decision.

“It is also not correct to say that the members of the West Bengal National Volunteer Force are entitled to get permanency. As per the provisions of the Act, the members of the force can continue up to the age of 60 years, provided their services are required by the authorities,” the judges said.

“For the protection of the boundaries of the border districts and also to give training to some citizens in the use of fire arms so that their services could be used during an emergency, a National Volunteer Force was constituted in West Bengal. For that purpose, the West Bengal National Volunteer Act was enacted in 1949,” the judges pointed out.

Section 4 of the Act says that a volunteer, when called upon for duty, shall discharge functions in relation to the protection of persons, the security of property and preservation of peace in any area within West Bengal and other functions as may be assigned. Every volunteer has to undergo a preliminary and periodical training.

However, the volunteers sought parity with the police and demanded that they be treated as government employees when the state issued a notification in 1969. The notification said that no volunteer should be deployed for more than three months and if their services were required for a longer period, a fresh batch should be deployed.

The notification was challenged in the high court and was subsequently quashed.


New Delhi, May 3: 
The Union health ministry has trotted out a list of over 20 strictures for doctors, non-compliance with which will mean permanent or part-time de-recognition.

“We are going to arrange a meeting with state health ministers on the issue as soon as the Prime Minister can give us time,” health minister C.P. Thakur said at a news conference, outlining the national health policy recently adopted by the Cabinet.

The code of professional ethics published by the Medical Council of India has identified “various acts of commission and omission on the part of a physician, which shall be construed unethical acts and acts of misconduct.”

These come under three heads: duties and responsibilities of a physician, unethical acts and acts of misconduct. Authorities will take a decision against those guilty within six months.

During this period, the council may debar the doctor from practising. A doctor found missing from duty in rural areas more than twice will be debarred from practising either permanently or for a short time.

“If a physician posted in a rural area is found absent on more than two occasions during inspection by the head of the district health authority or the chairperson of the zilla parishad, his name will be referred to the Medical Council of India and the state medical council for action,” the code said.

However, a question mark hangs over the issue of implementation: whether state governments — which, barring the southern states, have by and large failed to ensure any kind of accountability among doctors — will crack down on errant physicians.

The Centre has already sounded out the states, which have agreed in principle to the code. “We cannot foist it on the states. They will have to enforce the code,” said Thakur.

The code is as comprehensive as it can be. It lays down that a physician must keep himself updated with developments in the field of medicine; maintain records of indoor patients for three years; and grant any request by a patient for medical records within 72 hours. Unnecessary consultations must be avoided.

Unethical acts constitute soliciting patients through advertisement; soliciting commission or bonus to refer patients for diagnostic, surgical and other treatment; and prescribing medicine whose composition is not known.

Misconduct includes, among others, conducting sex determination tests to abet female foeticide; performing an operation without the consent of the patient or the relative; or performing artificial insemination without the informed consent of the female patient, her spouse and the donor.

The code of ethics seems a fallout of the national health policy, which primarily aims at shoring up the public health system, particularly in rural areas. The policy places a lot of emphasis on financial resources, which the health ministry expects to increase from 5.2 per cent to 6 per cent of the GDP by 2010.


May 3: 
Uma tops her Patiala peg whiskey with beer, makes a thumbs up sign, holds up her glass, and when you expect her to say “Cheers”, she says “Don!”. She takes one long, deep swig, lights up two cigarettes and passes one to a friend. Loud music blares in the background.

The floor near her bed clears up quickly to become a party zone. Uma takes to the floor as the music changes to the bouncy Govinda number: “Usne bola prem chhe, prem chhe, prem chhe, maina bola kem chhe, kem chhe, kem chhe”.

She takes off her aanchal, wraps it round her waist, revealing a skintight blue sleeveless blouse that adorns a generous bust, and moves her shoulders sexily to the beat.

Uma, who looks good enough to teach Sonali Bendre a thing or two, is well into her fifties. She is one of three characters featured in In the Flesh, a documentary on women in prostitution directed by Bishakha Datta.

A book on the life of prostitutes, Unzipped, edited by Datta and Priya Jhaveri, was released on the same day as the screening of the film.

Uma, who has a steady boyfriend now, was married at four to a husband of 18. “He did not like me because I was so young, and at his age he wanted sex.”

When she was 14, her husband deserted her. A female relative took her to the only place abandoned girls were deemed fit for — a brothel.

While Uma lives in Bowbazar, Shabana is from Nippani on the Karnataka-Maharashtra border and Bhaskar, a male prostitute who dresses up like a woman, struts his stuff in Dharmatolla, Calcutta. Shabana was present at the screening of the film in the city on Friday.

The film, says Datta, is an attempt to portray women in prostitution as individuals, not as a faceless mass. In the Flesh also refuses to be one of those dark, brooding pictures of a marginalised people.

Datta’s characters are people who battled enormous odds because of their social circumstances, but are still high on life.

The camera moves from Uma partying in her Bowbazar flat — with age, she walks with a stick, but dances with abandon — to Bhaskar and Shabana.

Bhaskar entered the redlight area for money. He has a “husband”, who is not always there. He has several customers and two faithful lovers.

He sits in front of the mirror, doing up his eyelashes with mascara one by one, then readjusts the straps of his shocking red noodlestring dress.

He has beautiful hair cut in steps, which he brushes lovingly, while letting out some trade secrets.

The two lovers pay him well, he says. Does the husband know? Bhaskar says it isn’t necessary — why should everything be told to everyone?

Shabana, who happily bargains for her price with truckwallahs — she wrests out the Rs 50 which is her due from every customer — has a way with words.

But not with the police. She went to the police to complain against the goons of the area, but the men in uniform turned out to be worse. A police officer who wouldn’t write her complaint has promised to assault her if she ever comes to the police station again.

Shabana, with the help of NGOs, wants to see the end of the matter.

“All of them are survivors. They have a certain matter-of-factness about them,” says Datta, who is on the board of Point of View, a media forum that addresses women’s issues.

“They are people I liked,” says Datta. The director says she consciously uses the phrase “women in prostitution”.

“The word ‘prostitute’ doesn’t open up any other identity. ‘Sex worker’ recognises prostitution as a valid form of work, but the women don’t think of themselves primarily as workers,” says Datta.

“They think of themselves as women. They happen to be women in prostitution,” she adds.

Uma smiles as her grandson throws his arms around her. He says she is his wife.

Bhaskar feeds his cats, looking like a proud mother.

Shabana thinks her daughter looks like Aishwarya Rai. “She will never join my profession,” Shabana says of her daughter.




Maximum: 36°C (0)
Minimum: 25.5°C (-1)



Relative humidity

Max: 77%
Min: 41%

Sunrise: 5.06 am

Sunset: 6.00 pm


Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts

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