America leads western exodus
PF boss wields the broom
US keen to play border monitor
Buckingham blurs border for Bisma & Sarina
Indian woman walks out on Big Brother
Revealed: Corporate dossier of terror
Contest pressure on Narayanan
Gender-test law gets teeth
Gujarat slur on police
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi/Washington, May 31: 
Western governments today asked their nationals to leave India and prepared to scale down their diplomatic presence amid fears of a war with Pakistan.

Even as it led feverish international efforts to defuse the crisis, the US started the tide of a precautionary pullout from India, urging over 60,000 American nationals to leave and announcing permission for voluntary departure of all non-essential staff and their families at its embassy and consulates.

Britain, Germany, Canada, Australia, Denmark and New Zealand were the other countries that took similar decisions.

“Tensions have risen to serious levels and the risk of intensified military hostilities between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out,” the US state department said, explaining its decision to allow some diplomatic staff and their dependants to move out.

Saying that fears had grown since May 24, when a travel warning advised US citizens not to visit India or to consider leaving, it said: “The department of state urges American citizens currently in India to depart the country.”

Washington’s move was accompanied by some hard prodding by secretary of state Colin Powell to President Pervez Musharraf to stop militants from crossing into Kashmir. Powell said he needed proof of cessation of incursions, indicating that evidence was still lacking.

“Instructions have been given to cease this kind of activity, but it is too early to say that it has stopped. If it does stop, it must also stop permanently,” he said. “I think that what we are expecting Musharraf to do is to use all the authority he has to stop it and keep it stopped so that we can get this crisis behind us.”

The G8 tonight asked Pakistan to take “concrete actions immediately” to stop infiltration.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee will raise the issue of cross-border terrorism at a summit next week at Kazakh capital Almaty where Musharraf will also be present. Asked if Vajpayee would meet Musharraf there, a government spokesman said: “No”.

Although western governments betrayed their concern over a likely war by taking today’s steps, they took pains to stress that a diplomatic solution was very much within reach.

Powell said: “What I am impressed with is that both sides seem to be looking for a political solution. Both sides realise that little can be gained from a war.”

In London, British foreign secretary Jack Straw said the situation was “dangerous, (but) war was not inevitable…That remains my view, and we are all working as we can to secure a peaceful resolution”.

Like the US, Britain offered non-essential high commission staff and their families a chance to return home, advised its nationals not to travel to India and asked those already there to leave. There are some 30,000 Britons in India. Straw conveyed the message to external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, explaining that these were precautionary measures.


Calcutta, May 31: 
On complaints of irregularities, the provident fund commissioner for the West Bengal region and another official were suspended today simultaneously with a large-scale reshuffle in the PF bureaucracy.

Central PF commissioner Ajai Singh issued the suspension notice with effect from June 1. A recovery officer in the Salt Lake-based regional Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation office is the second person to be suspended.

Transfer orders were issued to around 20 provident fund commissioners serving in 21 regional offices across the country in the backdrop of an unfolding scam in trading in government securities.

“There were specific complaints against the two officers and we have commissioned an inquiry into the matter. The suspensions are ordered to smoothen the inquiry,” said Singh. He declined to divulge the nature of the complaints.

Singh, however, described the mass transfers as routine. “The transfers are part of the annual reshuffling of our officers. It’s a routine affair and part of our tenure policy.”

The sudden suspensions and transfers of senior officials have caused jitters in the department. The action is seen by many as Singh’s effort to clean up the department, which has come under the scanner following the scam.

He announced audit of all the 2,500 exempted provident fund trusts on May 13 following the suspected involvement of rogue brokers like Home Trade and Gilt Edge Management in duping these trusts and urban co-operative banks in the western region of the country. Singh has also recommended that the government pass legislation to make paperless trading mandatory for such exempted trusts.

PF sources said the twin suspensions could be linked to the auctioning of shares recovered from a Calcutta-based jute company towards the end of 2001.

“Shares worth over Rs 300 crore were recovered from a defaulting jute company. The department then sold the shares through auction, which fetched a paltry sum of Rs 3.5 crore. Along with the suspension orders, the central commissioner has also ordered a departmental inquiry,” said a senior officer.

The regional commissioner of the Mumbai region will take charge in West Bengal.

A preliminary examination of the 400-odd exempted PF trusts in Bengal shows that they may not have been affected by the government securities scam. These trusts have invested over Rs 1,000 crore in Central and state government securities and public sector unit bonds.

Although investigations have revealed that the trusts have managed to steer clear of the rogue brokers, various irregularities have been identified.

“Disparities between book balance and physical holding were seen in a number of cases and in almost all the cases, a Mumbai-based broker was involved,” the official said. Investigating officers are also not ruling out the possibility of window-dressing by some trusts.

The officers are also scrutinising 55 exempted funds of jute mills. “Their investment is no less than Rs 1,000 crore. We want to probe them as the jute mill trusts have traditionally been found guilty of huge defaults,” said the officer.

Investigation has revealed failure to comply with norms by even state government corporations, such as the West Bengal Infrastructure Development Corporation, which have issued bonds. Some of these have failed to deliver bonds even after sending letters of allotment to PF trusts. “In some cases, the securities are not delivered even after three four years,” said an investigating officer.


Washington, May 31: 
US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld is travelling to New Delhi and Islamabad with a road map for defusing the crisis in the region, which involves not only “pressing President (Pervez) Musharraf very hard to cease all infiltration activities on the part of terrorist organisations across the line of control”, but also asking India “to show restraint until we (the Americans) can determine whether or not that infiltration activity has ceased”.

Rumsfeld’s counterpart in the department of state, Colin Powell, last night gave an indication of this plan in a lengthy appearance on the highly regarded TV programme, News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

And if infiltration has ceased, “there will be a basis for the Indians to reciprocate by starting to de-escalate, moving down the mobilisation ladder, and then hopefully other actions and other steps can be taken after that,” Powell said in a candid explanation of the rationale behind President George W. Bush’s decision to send Rumsfeld to South Asia.

“Everybody is involved” in making peace, “the entire international community, and we are using all of the tools available to us with visits, phone calls,” Powell said.

“The President follows this situation on a daily basis, and we are getting deputy secretary (of state Richard) Armitage ready to go in now. And my conversations with the leaders are on an almost every-other-day basis”.

As Powell was explaining America’s role in the latest crisis in South Asia, Rumsfeld said he would share with India and Pakistan intelligence information in US hands about the chances of a nuclear war between the two countries and its consequences.

“We have done a lot of thinking about that here in this building (the Pentagon) and in the US government, having had nuclear weapons for — what? —55, 57, 58 years now,” the secretary of defence said at a briefing.

“So we have given a lot of thought to their use and what the effects are — what the immediate effects are, what the lingering effects are, and what the secondary effects can be with respect to other problems”.

Rumsfeld, however, cautioned reporters in advance that very little of his discussions in Delhi and Islamabad was likely to be made public.

“Almost anything anyone says in response to a question, someone will characterise as something other than it is. My instinct on this subject is to simply recognise that the two countries are clearly in a situation where they are not talking directly to each other, and they have substantial disagreements”.

He also downplayed expectations about his trip by saying that “there have been near-continuous interactions between the US and Pakistan and India.

They have been at the military level. They have been at the civilian level...They have been telephone calls by the President, by the secretary of state and others. I think that to select out one particular trip or one particular phone call is probably a mistake”.

He said his natural inclination was to be circumspect also because Bush and Powell have been active on the issue. Powell revealed that he had started talking to Musharraf last week about the nuclear implications of a war.


London, May 31: 
Even as Indian and Pakistani soldiers stand eyeball to eyeball on the border, thousands of miles away in Britain, Pakistani and Indian schoolchildren are flying their flags together as the Queen’s golden jubilee celebrations kicks off tomorrow.

Several schools all over Britain are holding playground parties today to celebrate the golden jubilee weekend. With one of the major themes of the jubilee being the Commonwealth and the celebration of diversity, schoolchildren are being encouraged to bring flags from their countries of origin and fly them on the playground.

At Mount Stewart School in Harrow, an area with a large population of ethnic minorities, the flags of India and Pakistan held the pride of place.

Seven-year-old Sarina Shah was proudly waving the Tricolour as she entered her school. Clutching her hand was Bisma, waving a Pakistani flag. Both were in their national dress.

“We are all worried about the situation back home,” said Bisma’s mother, Rubaina, whose family comes from Karachi. “But here, we are all friends. Our children play together and we pray for peace back home. I hope there is no war.”

Outside Buckingham Palace, too, efforts were on to organise more India-Pakistan ventures to mark the jubilee.

The main jubilee parade to take place on Tuesday has a major section dedicated to the Commonwealth. It has been designed by Motiroti, a company led by Keith Khan and Ali Zaidi.

Keith is of Indian origin and Zaidi from Pakistan. Both work together in Motiroti, a design and choreography company, which designed the New Year show at the Millennium Dome and other celebrations on the South Bank.

Working with them are Navtej Johar whose work ranges from Bharatnatyam to fashion shows, Kathak teacher Gauri Sharma Tripathi and Mira Kaushik, who is the segment director of the parade.

The spectacular show will have 4,000 participants from 54 Commonwealth countries. The highlight of the parade will be four 30-feet arches forming a rainbow of wishes — the biggest collaborative art work ever — with all the 4,000 people and hand-drawn messages for the Queen from thousands of schoolchildren belonging to the Commonwealth countries.

The parade will also feature 20-feet floats, painted by Bangalore Billboard artists, who have portrayed London schoolchildren in Bollywood style. Indian designer Rina Dhaka is designing 50 costumes for the parade which will include music, dance (including Bharatnatyam and Kathak) and martial arts.

The Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations begin tomorrow with a classical Proms concert at the palace followed by a thanksgiving on Sunday. On Monday is the Party at the Palace — the biggest draw of the weekend — when Britian’s rock stars Elton John, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and others join the celebrations with a live concert on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. The parade takes place on Tuesday.

The rock concert is being telecast live in several countries around the world.

In India, Doordarshan will be showing the concert live on DD Metro from midnight.


London, May 31: 
The only Indian woman to be included in a group of six men and six women, held incommunicado in a sealed house and watched 24 hours a day on a reality television programme called Big Brother, has quit the show last night after less than a week.

Sunita Sharma, 25, a trainee barrister who was picked from a pool of 1,50,000 people who applied to get on the programme, the third in the Big Brother series, said that nothing had prepared her for the uncomfortable experience of having her privacy invaded and being watched all the time by cameras.

The first two series achieved high audience ratings by showing couples engaging in acts of physical intimacy. Every week the public votes to evict one resident until finally a winner remains.

Although Big Brother verges on the crude and the house mates are drawn from the rougher, more uneducated end of society, the programme has a huge following and reflects the new Britain. Sunita’s departure was considered a big enough event to be shown live last night on Channel 4 Television, which broadcasts the show.

Yvonne Taylor, the head of press at Channel 4, said the programme routinely drew audiences of between 3.5 million and 6.8 million a night. But last night, when Sunita left, nine million switched on. “She will be replaced over the weekend,” she added.

Taylor said that Big Brother had originated in Holland and had proved a “phenomenon” in many European countries, including Germany, Russia and Spain, but had been a flop in the US. “Big Brother is popular with a young audience, aged 16-35,” she said.

A commentator remarked: “Sunita Sharma was born in Royal New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, she has nine GCSEs, three A Levels, one S level; she is a trained barrister; she has been in the house 141 hours, 26 minutes, 15 seconds.” On emerging into the outside world through the back door of the house specially constructed for television, Sunita had to face several photographers and reporters.

She explained her decision to leave: “It was hard and I did have some issues. I lost a lot of enthusiasm going into the house and I didn’t feel I was coming out, being myself. Once you are in the house, you don’t realise what’s going on the outside. There are cameras there. I am quite a private person.”

There has been only one other Indian on Big Brother, on the second series last year — a extrovert and engaging Punjabi woman, Narindar Kaur.

Sunita said she had not anticipated what it would be like. “I did not think what it was going to be like when I went into the house, about the after consequences. It’s madness.”

She had applied unsuccessfully to get on to the second series of Big Brother before striking it lucky the next time. In her audition papers, she had claimed she was “uninhibited, very sexy, and have the x factor. You might love me, you might hate me but you will love watching me”.

But last night she admitted: “I had issues from the start going into the house. Every single night I was in the house I was thinking in my head, ‘Do I really want to do this? Careerwise, was it the right thing to do?’ ”

She went on: “I was very aware of the cameras the whole time. It can get a bit claustrophobic…. I didn’t want to be something I wasn’t.”


Ranchi, May 31: 
Arrested MCC master strategist Nathuni Mistri has provided Naxalite hunters the first blueprint of the “management” of the organisation and the names of the top brass who run the business of spreading terror.

Mistri, who was arrested on Wednesday, gave a detailed list of the MCC and its central committee — the apex decision-making body — of which he is a member.

“Kisanda is the supremo of the organisation which frames policies for Bihar and West Bengal. There was severe infighting in the MCC after dedicated activists revolted against the leadership of Bharatji (Bharatji was the chief of the organisation before Kisanda).

But Bharatji deserted the Bihar-Bengal-Jharkhand Special Area Committee after being accused of swindling crores of rupees collected as levy from contractors and landlords by the organisation. The party cadre also revolted against him because Bharatji sexually exploited the women cadre,” Mistri said.

But the top rebel’s revelations would give jitters to West Bengal police since he said Bharatji, along with a top leader of the organisation’s central command here, has floated another extremist outfit — Maoist Communist Centre (Maoist) — and has shifted base to Bengal.

Life for Mistri, who is in his mid-fifties, has been part of a struggle against “class enemies”. Courteous, cool and unfazed, he has no regrets for walking into the trap laid by the Ranchi police.

He is cold-blooded and feels no remorse for being accused in more than a dozen massacres executed by the Maoists over two decades, killing hundreds in unified Bihar.

It has been a long hunt for the police in Bihar and Jharkhand, who have been gunning for the head of Mistri, ranked second in the seven-member central command of the Bengal-Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee and considered to be the most dreaded among the Maoist outlaws.

“We have our own justification for what the MCC has done or has been doing. The organisation never victimised innocents. Those killed were corrupt officials and politicians, cruel landlords and contractors and police informers — all our class enemies,” the bald and well-built Maoist rebel told The Telegraph while in custody. But he instantly denied being “directly” involved in the massacres and killings of policemen.

“There is a totally different system of functioning of the organisation. The ‘lal dastaa’ (red squad) and the ‘marak dasta’ (hit squad) carry out the major operations. But whenever we attach the properties of class enemies, the common masses accompany the cadre,” he added.

But police say they have concrete evidence to prove Mistri’s direct involvement in all the major incidents executed by the MCC.

According to Mistri, it is a “right of the Maoists to loot weapons from the police and use it against the class enemies for wiping them out”. He said he was only on the policy-making team which chalked out the strategy of massacres and attacks on police personnel.

Ranchi senior superintendent of police Neeraj Sinha said even Mistri was accused by the party cadre of swindling funds and sexually exploiting women cadre.

“There were accusations against me that I had sexually exploited one cadre whose husband too was a party cadre. Besides, there were accusations against me for swindling organisation funds. But an enquiry was conducted and the charges were proved to be baseless,” the hardcore Maoist said.

The government has decided to constitute a joint team comprising officials from the state police, intelligence wings and other Central intelligence agencies for interrogating Mistri who has been taken on a seven-day remand. Hazaribagh SP Deepak Verma arrived here this evening to interrogate the Maoist leader.

Ranchi SSP Neeraj Sinha said that police chiefs of Chatra and Aurangabad, too, are arriving in Ranchi. The district and sessions judge has directed that Mistri should be examined by a medical board every evening to ensure that he is not tortured.


New Delhi, May 31: 
Will the fighter in K.R. Narayanan accept the NDA challenge and step down from office to contest for a second term, or will he retire quietly?

In the absence of any clear indication from Rashtrapati Bhavan, a defensive Opposition has pinned all its hopes on President Narayanan breaking tradition and convention to seek a second term in office. Opposition leaders, from Sonia Gandhi to Harkishen Singh Surjeet to Mulayam Singh Yadav to A.B. Bardhan, want him to take on the NDA nominee and “lead a decisive battle for secularism”.

Rashtrapati Bhavan seems to be greatly upset by the manner in which Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee chose to reject a second term for the incumbent President.

Sources close to the President said instead of opting for a “tasteless” and “unprecedented manner” of directly telling the President that the ruling coalition did not want him, Vajpayee could have taken recourse to some other method. He could have, for instance, announced the NDA nominee for the presidential post, they say.

However, BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi stoutly denied the charge that any impoliteness was involved in Vajpayee informing Narayanan last evening that the NDA did not favour a second term for him.

Opposition leaders feel Narayanan would be a formidable candidate and may bridge the numerical disadvantage in the electoral college that elects the President. The game plan is to force a contest on political lines and corner allies like the ADMK and the Telegu Desam Party, who hold crucial chunks of votes. Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu has been talking about the need for consensus.

Sensing the impending trouble, the BJP leadership has already started to impress the Desam and the ADMK into supporting the NDA candidate. Sources said Vajpayee will meet Naidu and Jayalaithaa once he returns from Kazakhstan.

However, if Narayanan opts for a retired life, the Opposition will have a problem in matching the NDA candidate for the post. In the former camp, other than Narayanan there is no unanimity on who could be fielded for the presidential polls to be held in July.

In such a scenario, a section of the Opposition is toying with the idea of considering a “trade off” with the government. The NDA will then have a say in who should move into Rashtrapati Bhavan while the Opposition gets a vice-president of its choice.


New Delhi, May 31: 
The noose is going to tighten around those using pre-natal diagnostic techniques to detect and eliminate female foetuses.

The Cabinet today approved amendments to the 1994 Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act to put an end to the spiralling cases of female foeticide. In all urban areas barring Manipur and Kerala, the female sex ratio has fallen with the use of more and more sophisticated technology for sex determination tests.

One of the main objectives of amending the Act is to upgrade it to the present levels of modern technology. The amendments place ultrasound machines along with all other emerging medical technologies used for sex determination under its purview.

The new amendments also empower authorities to “search and seize” machines and seal the premises of clinics and institutions found violating the Act.

The title of the Act will be changed from Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act to Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act. “The success of the amendments will lie in their implementation,” said activist Sabu George who has been working extensively to put an end to female foeticide.

Two years ago, concerned at the rising incidence of foeticide, the Supreme Court asked all states to furnish report cards on the registration of clinics having equipment that can be used for detecting the gender of the foetus. Two years down the line, states like Bengal, Assam and Orissa are still lagging in providing the necessary information.

“Merely registering clinics without regulating them will tantamount to providing a license for foeticide,” said Sabu. The 1994 PNDT Act empowers the appropriate authorities with enough power to crack down on clinics violating the law. “But these authorities in collusion with doctors are ineffective,” he said.

In states like Punjab where female foeticide is rampant, the authorities have woken up late to the call of the Supreme Court and even now, the law is being used in a perverse manner. “Instead of arresting doctors who are carrying out sex determination tests, the authorities are arresting women seeking these tests,” the activist said.

Over the last one year, the Centre has been trying to break the nexus feeding sex determination tests. It had a dialogue with the Indian Medical Association, which, along with the National Commission for Women, organised a meeting of religious leaders to preach against the killing of female foetuses.


Ahmedabad, May 31: 
Security adviser K.P.S. Gill today received the first complaint against police, who have been accused of damaging a mosque and 30 houses in Baroda late on Thursday night.

In the complaint, the first of its kind after a special cell was set up in Ahmedabad to address instances of police atrocities, residents of Baroda’s Memon colony alleged that police personnel forcibly entered Madani Masjid and destroyed property, creating tension in the area.

Baroda police commissioner D.D. Tuleja, who initially refused to acknowledge the incident, ordered an enquiry after the minority community offered Friday prayers on the road outside the mosque as a mark of protest.

According to Babu Shaikh, a resident of the colony, trouble started when a mob from Govindrao Society set fire to a local shop owned by a minority community member.

When the police arrived, they did nothing to control the situation, and instead entered the mosque on the pretext of launching a search operation and started pelting stones, said Shaikh. The mob, further incited, meanwhile proceeded to damage vehicles parked in the neighbourhood, all along shouting obscenities and provocative slogans.

Thursday night’s violence is apparently a culmination of tension building up over the past several days following eviction of residents from illegal shanties in the Bamanpura area under Panigate police station. Members of the majority community were reportedly incensed with the civic authorities for razing a temple along with their homes.

Tension flared on Wednesday night when the police tried to evict the minority community also from the area but faced stiff resistance and was forced to open fire.

The area was eventually put under curfew after a person was stabbed on the street. Yesterday, curfew was lifted but the situation is far from normal.

NHRC slams Modi

The National Human Rights Commission today charged the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat with “comprehensive failure” to check communal violence in the state and persistent violation of the rights to life and liberty of the people, reports PTI.

The commission, in its final report released in New Delhi, also expressed displeasure over the Gujarat government’s lack of response to the confidential report of the NHRC team that visited to the state.




Maximum: 34.8°C (0)
Minimum: 25.8°C (-1)



Relative Humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 61%

Sunrise: 4.55 am

Sunset: 6.14 pm


Cloudy sky, with possibility of rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts

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