Indian line on border, via US
George delinks Kashmir poll and troop pullback
Sherwani, bandhgala or Kalam blue
Wraps off a historic break-up
Oops! It’s Bollywood Dreams
Nepal extends hand of friendship with freedom
Berth lobbying at full blast
Power and water riots mar Mayavati raj
AIDS test rule to go
Calcutta Weather

 
 
INDIAN LINE ON BORDER, VIA US 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, June 19: 
After extracting a commitment from General Pervez Musharraf to end infiltration into Kashmir and defusing South Asia’s military crisis, the US is now setting its sights on a more durable solution to the disputes between India and Pakistan.

The first step in this effort was taken unobtrusively, but unambiguously, yesterday when Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for converting the Line of Control in Kashmir into an international border.

This is the first time in recent memory, perhaps the very first time that any American public figure has called for the conversion of the LoC into a border.

That Senator Biden was the one to take this initiative was significant. Although he is a Democrat, Biden is one politician outside the US administration whom President George W. Bush has been consulting most on international issues in recent months because of his chairmanship of the Senate committee.

Biden’s choice of venue for making the call was equally significant. He chose a platform where Indian politicians were present: a meeting here with members of the recently-formed Indo-US Parliamentary Forum, led by its co-chairman Kapil Sibal.

Indulging in some plain-speaking, Biden said: “Let us face it, Pakistan’s record against India over the past five decades has not been one of military success…. In the long term, Pakistan has to become more realistic about the future of Kashmir. If India is willing to make substantive changes in its policy towards Kashmir, Pakistan must be willing to accept the LoC as a border and end its support for insurgency.”

Because the idea has come from Biden, an Opposition politician, the burden of the call to convert the LoC into a border will not have to be carried by the administration. On the other hand, if the proposal had come from an official of the Bush team, there would have been a chorus of protests from Pakistan, possibly from India as well.

All the same, the reaction to Biden’s call will be closely watched not only in White House and the state department, but also within the strategic community with an interest in South Asia.

The reaction will also be watched by Foreign Offices across the world. Although no one in New Delhi will admit it in public, top aides of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee have recently told several foreign leaders that the only long-term solution to Kashmir was to make the LoC a permanent border.

These aides have added the proviso, however, that if India suggested this, the idea would be a non-starter. Moreover, they said it would require time even in India to build a consensus around any such proposal.

Biden said if Pakistan accepted the proposal and ended support to Kashmir’s insurgency, “India will have to find a way to regain the true allegiance of the people of Kashmir. Eventually, India must seek a creative approach — perhaps a return to some form of autonomy of the 1950s”.

That Biden’s call yesterday was part of a clearly coordinated effort to bring about a more durable solution to the India-Pakistan dispute became clear when a chorus of statements on related issues were aired here this week.

Addressing the same audience as Biden, the Director of Policy Planning in the state department, Richard Haass, said there was no military solution to the problems between New Delhi and Islamabad and that the two sides needed to start a dialogue.

“We need to begin to ultimately take steps towards a dramatic improvement in the relationship between India and Pakistan... or need to make progress gradually towards not only improving the situation on the ground in Kashmir but beginning to deal with the basic difficulty between them over Kashmir,” Haass said.

“It is too dangerous in this day and age for this situation to be allowed to fester for another half century. It is not in the interest of India, not in the interest of Pakistan, not in the interest of the US.”

Speaking at a different forum, the annual meeting of the US-India Business Council, its chairman and former US ambassador to India, Frank Wisner, said “establishing the basis for a more durable and stable regional peace is a work that is far from completed.

“A sustained American role is vital. While that role should be discreet and in no way pretend to mediation, it must be planned to last for a long time and be bold enough to address the issues — Kashmir and nuclear threat management included.”

Speaking in the House of Representatives yesterday, Congressman Frank Pallone, co-founder of the India Caucus, said he was writing to the authorities concerned asking them to link US aid to Musharraf’s record of fulfilling his promise on ending terrorism in Kashmir.

   

 
 
GEORGE DELINKS KASHMIR POLL AND TROOP PULLBACK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 19: 
Defence minister George Fernandes today delinked a decision on the withdrawal of the army from the exigencies of conducting an election in Jammu and Kashmir.

It is also clear now that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s idea of “joint patrolling” of the Line of Control by Indian and Pakistani troops has been all but jettisoned by the army. The view taken within the security establishment is that such a step will involve prolonged confidence-building measures between the two armies. “At the moment, I have no confidence in my neighbour,” army chief General S. Padmanabhan said.

Fernandes said the massing of troops on the border and a decision on when they will be asked to return to peace stations do not depend on elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

So far, the signals from within the security establishment have pointed to a phased withdrawal of the army, first from the international boundary in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab if the Centre is convinced that infiltration has been stopped.

The defence establishment had let it be known that the troop level in Jammu and Kashmir would not be brought down till the Assembly election, due in September, is over.

But Fernandes today said there was no connection between the two. He said there was indeed a “decline” in infiltration but refused to give a time-frame after he was asked how long the nearly 7.5 lakh troops massed on the borders would remain at their stations. “For as long as necessary,” was his reply.

Padmanabhan, too, said infiltration was down. But he did not foresee immediate de-escalation.

Fernandes and Padmanabhan’s observations are somewhat at odds with the feedback from the army in Jammu and Kashmir. Last week, officers of the 16 Corps, briefing the press at their headquarters in Nagrota, had categorically said it was too early to reach a conclusion on the level of infiltration. They said a close look for at least six weeks was necessary before giving a verdict.

Fernandes said talks with the US on procuring and installing ground sensors on the LoC had not yet been opened but a decision that India would use the equipment had been taken “in principle”.

Asked to comment on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s claim that India was deterred from going to war because of his country’s nuclear capability, Fernandes said: “It is the other way round. It is our nuclear deterrent that made Pakistan draw back.”

Fernandes said he agreed with the Prime Minister that India was indeed preparing for a possible nuclear war. In an interview to the Hindi daily, Dainik Jagaran, published on Monday, Vajpayee claimed that India was prepared for a nuclear war but he hoped that Islamabad would not resort to such madness.

Padmanabhan said the Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan were talking every Tuesday under an institutionalised confidence-building measure. As during the war in Kargil, it is presumed that a pullback of troops will have to be agreed upon by the DGMOs who will monitor the progress.

Information from the ground suggests that the confidence-building measures between the two armies do not go beyond the routine weekly telephone chat.

   

 
 
SHERWANI, BANDHGALA OR KALAM BLUE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, June 19: 
As the President of the Republic, what will A.P.J. Abdul Kalam be wearing? A bandhgala suit or a sherwani? Maybe neither.

Maybe, he will be the first Indian President to rig himself out in a suit, with long hair to boot.

His first brush with the capital’s media having gone off without any attacks of the foot-in-mouth disease, the sartorial taste of the would-be President is bothering some traditionalists. They insist that the “Rashtrapati” should make all public appearances in what they call the national dress, but mean the bandhgala or the sherwani.

First President Rajendra Prasad used to wear both. S. Radhakrishnan, V.V. Giri and R. Venkataraman favoured the bandhgala while Zakir Hussain, Zail Singh, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, and S.D. Sharma preferred sherwanis and achkans. K.R. Narayanan favours the bandhgala.

Kalam insists on wearing blue shirts (one estimate said he has over a dozen such), usually with grey trousers and sandals. At the news conference today, he appeared in regulation blue. For his colleagues at Isro and DRDO, Kalam has already made at least one change to his wardrobe — gone are the orange trousers and rubber chappals that once used to be de rigeur.

Over the past few days, Kalam’s associates have been advising him to have a new bandhgala stitched for the swearing-in, but one of the brains behind the bomb with the Gita on his lips has not given any thought to it. He has also laughed off suggestions to get a “designer suit” for the “momentous occasion”.

Kalam has a few suits in black and grey and believes one of these would suffice. He has no time to spend on thinking about clothes anyway, busy as he is meeting people and cherrypicking those who would assist him in Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Before today’s news conference, Kalam is believed to have been tutored by some BJP leaders. Whether the BJP is sending across some dandies to drill some dress-sense into Kalam is not known, but he does get sound advice on hairstyle.

And not from those Congress leaders either who think to be a good President he needs a clear — short-cropped — head. Delhi’s upmarket hairstylist, Habibs’, tends to Kalam’s hair. Each visit there costs anywhere between Rs 500 and 800.

   

 
 
WRAPS OFF A HISTORIC BREAK-UP 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Calcutta, June 19: 
For 16 long years it remained one of the little riddles of Left rule. On the eve of the celebrations to mark the Left Front’s 25 years in office, former finance minister Ashok Mitra has finally broken his silence on why he quit the Jyoti Basu Cabinet and his membership of the Assembly and the CPM all at one go one dramatic January evening in 1986.

The timing seems to be pure coincidence, though.

But Mitra hasn’t exactly sent down tremors in Salt Lake’s Indira Bhavan where a superannuated Basu has been following the acerbic Marxist’s memoirs with more than a passing interest.

Unruffled, the patriarch pats Mitra on the back: “He writes so well in Bengali”, adding almost patronisingly: “In earlier pieces, though, he got a few facts about me wrong. I told him about them.”

No trace of the rancour that enveloped the rift between the two. Basu has little reason to complain — the resignation story notwithstanding, Mitra’s memoir is soaked in his old love of the leader. After all, he later made it up with both Basu and the party, which gave him a Rajya Sabha seat in 1993.

Yet, when it happened, it was a rare dramatic moment in the otherwise dull and predictable tenor of the Left regime. Mitra, the former economic adviser to Indira Gandhi’s government at the Centre, was the Left’s prize catch in the 1977 elections that launched its still-uninterrupted stint in office. His break with Basu, whom Mitra idolised as the most charismatic political leader of his generation, was as dramatic as his threat in one of his annual finance budget speeches to “rob the capitalists of their sleep”.

Mitra’s story, which comes in the latest piece of his serialised autobiography in the Bengali magazine, Desh, confirms what was reported in some newspapers at the time — that he couldn’t accept Basu’s award of a higher pay for the principals of non-government colleges. Mitra thought better-qualified senior teachers of government colleges should have taken precedence over these principals, many of whom didn’t qualify for their jobs.

“I didn’t have a role in the appointment of these ill-qualified people as principals,” he writes. “But I thought they should wait longer to get a higher pay.”

“The problems with the Centre were getting new dimensions. Our dues on plan accounts were being withheld. The demands on the finance department were mounting. My conscience wouldn’t let me accept the demand for a higher pay for the non-government college principals in the midst of all this chaos.”

He couldn’t take it, he says, when the chief minister used his powers to overrule his objections and increased the principals’ pay. “A copy of the circular (from the chief minister’s office) was sent to me for courtesy.” Mitra could have still stalled the decision and sent a note back to Basu pleading with him to withhold it till a special meeting of the Cabinet. He did none of that. He shot off letters of resignation from the government and the party.

“I was later accused of irresponsibility but I never consulted anyone on matters which concerned my conscience. I have no regrets.”

Those who followed the Mitra story then may, however, regret that it’s not quite the tell-all kind. What about the role of the present finance minister, Asim Dasgupta, who was said to have prompted Basu to reject Mitra’s view? Dasgupta, then a member of the state planning board, was inching closer to Basu and the party bosses and eventually stepped into Mitra’s shoes. When Mitra objected to the higher pay, Dasgupta, the story then went, rebuffed him saying that cynicism was no substitute for cold facts.

Basu who was present, apparently did nothing to restrain the younger man. Mitra read the writing on the wall and did the only honourable course left open to him: he submitted his papers.

This account, yet to be publicly confirmed, does not find a mention in the autobiography. That is hardly surprising. In Mitra’s book Dasgupta is a non-person.

The closest Mitra gets to a potshot at Dasgupta, for whom he never had any love lost, is the reference to Arun Ghosh who too resigned as vice-chairman of the state planning board after “one or two party favourites (at the board) started misbehaving with him”.

Much water has since flown down the Ganga. In private, Bengal’s new Chief Minister now admits that the decision to increase wages may not have been right, although then he was one of the cheer-leaders. Mitra thus appears to have been vindicated. Dasgupta trudges along, though it is clear his glory days are over.

   

 
 
OOPS! IT’S BOLLYWOOD DREAMS 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, June 19: 
Some of the biggest names in the Indian film industry have flown into London to see what Andrew Lloyd Webber has done to their beloved Bollywood in his new musical Bombay Dreams which held its premier before a celebrity-packed audience of 2,200.

Such was the confusion that many of the desi crowd kept referring to the movie as Bollywood Dreams.

Accompanying the directors and the actors and actresses were dozens of the best-known columnists from India. So great was the demand for tickets at the premier that frantic efforts were made to accommodate Prannoy Roy of NDTV.

A number of newspapers and magazines have sent several correspondents so that all aspects of Bombay Dreams — from reviews to post-premier gossip and fashion — can be covered. Bhaichand Patel, a columnist for the weekly magazine Outlook, said: “The press in India has been playing it up for the last few months rather more than here. Of course, Indians want Bombay Dreams to succeed — is a lot of pride in Bollywood. There is also a lot of affection for the man.”

The “man” in question is not Lloyd Webber but A.R. Rahman, who has composed the music for the film. “There is a lot of goodwill for Rahman,” added Patel

Judging from three weeks of previews, the musical has been a great hit with the Asian community in Britain and with Indians who have managed to fly to London to see the show. But Patel asked the critical question: “Will the whites come? You can’t succeed merely on the basis of Wembley or Southall or Bombay.”

Word of mouth is especially important for Indians. And last night’s premier crowd included an impressive gathering from the Indian film industry. Those present included Ashutosh Gowariker, director of the Oscar-nominated Lagaan. Incidentally, the two British leads from the film, Rachel Shelley and Paul Blackthorne, came too.

The Bollywood “A” list also included directors Subhash Ghai and Shankar. The latter directed Nayak, from which one of the songs — “Shakalaka Baby” — has been incorporated in Bombay Dreams.

Most Indians could have turned up simply to see Shah Rukh Khan, star of Devdas, which will be released on July 12.

There is growing recognition that while Lloyd Webber may have originally thought the audience might be 70 per cent white and 30 per cent Asian, the figures could be reversed in the future.

Lloyd Webber would not like his musical to be dismissed as one aimed mainly at Indians but he has to take account of the gathering evidence. If Indians in Britain plus the Indians in Bombay, Delhi, Dubai, New York, Los Angeles decide to back the show, its future is probably assured.

This was probably why Lloyd Webber, accompanied by Rahman, his most powerful weapon, went on Sunrise, an Asian radio station, to conduct a 90-minute phone-in during the weekend.

   

 
 
NEPAL EXTENDS HAND OF FRIENDSHIP WITH FREEDOM 
 
 
FROM BHARAT BHUSHAN
 
Kathmandu, June 19: 
While the people of Nepal want to strengthen the bonds of friendship with India, they would also like that as a sovereign country, Nepal has the freedom to behave like one, King Gyanendra said, detailing the expectations of the people surrounding his visit to India.

The Nepal king has chosen India for his first-ever state visit after coming out of the traditional one-year mourning period following the death of his brother King Birendra in a tragic royal massacre.

King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev will begin his state visit, on the invitation of the President, from June 23. Besides Delhi, the king would also visit Calcutta and Guwahati.

The king’s visit comes at a time when the civilisational framework, that marks the relationship between the two countries, is being seen as an inadequate platform with security concerns becoming a predominant feature.

When asked about this changing perspective, King Gyanendra said: “Security concerns may have come to the forefront because both our countries are afflicted by terrorism. This is definitely one aspect of the relationship but it alone cannot define it. Our relationship is more broad-based and deep. Its cultural aspects and the closeness of our people must also be taken into account.”

Elaborating on the expectations from his visit, the king stated: “The people of Nepal want the bonds of friendship between our two countries to be strengthened further.

They want that the concerns of both our countries be discussed for mutual benefit; that the closeness that exists between our people continues; that as a sovereign country Nepal is given the freedom to behave in that manner.”

The king, who embodies a rich personal experience in economic matters, hoped that a “free-flowing pattern” would emerge in the economic and trade links between India and Nepal.

“I would like to see joint ventures flourish between our two countries. We must devise strategies so that our interests in this field are mutually compatible,” he said.

Offering his “greatest good wishes” to the people of India, the king pointed out: “I have watched India’s achievements and wish her further success. We hope that India plays her role in the region as well as in the world. I personally think that India has a lot of responsibility to carry out. And I am confident that she will be able to do so with finesse and clarity of thought,” the king said.

Asked what role India could play to help establish stability in Nepal and whether India was doing enough to help it tackle the Maoist insurgency, the king replied: “I think the Nepalese people are thankful already for whatever India has done. The world has come together against terrorism as this issue cannot be tackled by any one nation alone. We, as close neighbours, must put our heads together looking at the short, medium and long term ramifications of an unstable South Asia.”

But did not the socio-economic agenda of the Maoists represent the demands of some sections of the Nepalese people? “I would have said ‘Yes’ to this question five years ago when they initiated their so-called movement,” replied the king.

However, King Gyanendra felt that at present the Maoists “seem to have lost their bearing” as they are targeting innocent people, children and the infrastructure.

He said: “I look at it this way: if there is any war that we have to fight, it is against poverty, hunger, disease; and certainly not against each other.”

He questioned the Maoist methods saying: “If power comes out of the barrel of a gun and their motive is to attain it through these methods, then I don’t think that they have chosen the correct way of solving this problem.”

The people of Nepal deify their king and consider him to be the living avatar of Lord Vishnu.

When asked how he reconciled his religious and temporal roles, the king smiled and said: “The best way of doing something at times is not doing anything about it.”

Then, he added: “The Constitution says that I am meant to be the centre of unity and the protector of the Constitution. If there is any truth in what you have just mentioned, then I consider myself as the protector of the Constitution.”

   

 
 
BERTH LOBBYING AT FULL BLAST 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, June 19: 
Jittery allies have begun jockeying for important portfolios as the buzz spread that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could drop as many as 18 ministers in a major shuffle expected to take place on July 5. Some are seeking slots, others a shift.

Vajpayee could have his hands full if he drops senior BJP ministers for party work. But when it comes to the party’s allies, Vajpayee is not expected to have any worries in accommodating or shuffling ministers, barring those of the Trinamul Congress.

Among those lobbying hard for key portfolios are Trinamul, the Shiv Sena, the Janata Dal (United), the Biju Janata Dal, the National Conference and the MDMK.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and BJD leader and Orissa chief minister Navin Patnaik, who arrived here to be present when presidential candidate A.P.J. Abdul Kalam filed his nomination papers, used the opportunity to gauge the Prime Minister’s mood.

However, the Trinamul chief denied that she was here to lobby for a Cabinet berth. Mamata said she had come on Monday to attend Kalam filing the nomination and did not meet the Prime Minister.

“I came here for some personal work and the nomination-filing, where I met Advani. Advaniji has gone out of the country and I am leaving for Calcutta on Friday,” Mamata told The Telegraph.

Patnaik met Vajpayee yesterday to seek a change in Arjun Sethi’s portfolio from the “insignificant” water resources to coal or mines. Sources said the Prime Minister has assured the BJD chief that he would look into the portfolio demand.

Mamata has been trying hard for her erstwhile railway ministry, currently held by the Samata Party’s Nitish Kumar. Sources said that not only the Kumar camp, but the BJP top brass, too, was opposed to the idea.

The Prime Minister, the sources said, was toying with the idea of offering her the rural development ministry if M. Venkaiah Naidu agreed to take up a senior organisational post.

With reports of Naidu’s unwillingness to work under BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi swirling about, Mamata might be offered coal or mines — portfolios the BJD is eyeing.

Dal (U) president and labour minister Sharad Yadav wants out of his less flamboyant ministry. His chances were boosted by the fact that a section in the government is uncomfortable with his anti-reforms stand while a section in the BJP wants to reward him for not making Gujarat an issue like Ram Vilas Paswan.

A Yadav aide said he has been lobbying for a return to his earlier civil aviation ministry or a shift to communications.

While there is a talk of Shahnawaz Hussein being shunted out of civil aviation, communications minister Pramod Mahajan is unlikely to be drafted for party work.

Sharad Yadav’s camp has been entertaining the hope that Mahajan might replace finance minister Yashwant Sinha.

However, another name — that of former CAG T.N. Chaturvedi — has cropped up for the finance minister’s job.

MDMK chief Vaiko, who has been lobbying for a slot at the expense of party colleague and minister of state for finance G.N. Ramachandran, stood a good chance as the sources said Vajpayee was keen to oblige him.

The Sena could make several demands on Vajpayee. Bal Thackeray wants Anant Gete given an important Cabinet berth in place of Manohar Joshi, who was elected Lok Sabha Speaker last month.

But the party is not keen on heavy industries, the ministry held by Joshi, as it lost its sheen after rampant disinvestment. It also wants a promotion for its junior minister Balasaheb Vikhe Patil. The grapevine has it that Thackeray is unhappy with power minister Suresh Prabhu and might get him dropped.

National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, who lost out in the race for Vice-President after Kalam was nominated for President, wants to shift to Delhi and is eyeing external affairs — a possibility if Jaswant Singh is shifted to finance as has been speculated in a section of press.

   

 
 
POWER AND WATER RIOTS MAR MAYAVATI RAJ 
 
 
FROM YOGESH VAJPEYI
 
Lucknow, June 19: 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati may have provided round-the-clock power to her native village, Badalpur, but unscheduled power cuts and acute water shortage in the rest of the state have triggered riots at several places.

Sporadic clashes between police and power supply engineers on the one hand and irate citizens on the other have been reported from Rae Bareli, Kanpur, Mahoba and Bahraich districts over the past few days.

In most cases, the police had to resort to lathicharge to control mobs protesting against non-supply of water and electricity for several days. In Rae Bareli, the police had to fire in the air to pacify a crowd that had burnt down government vehicles and held power department employees captive.

“In such a situation, giving uninterrupted power supply to a area simply because the chief minister hails from it sounds absurd,” said a BJP MLA.

But BSP leaders are quick to point out that similar facilities were offered to residents of Haidergarh during Rajnath Singh’s tenure as chief minister as he had been elected to the Assembly from that place.

Hardoi, the home district of former power minister Naresh Aggarwal, also enjoyed a similar exemption from power cuts.

However, the situation is far from satisfactory in Lucknow, the Prime Minister’s Lok Sabha constituency. In addition to the scheduled two-hour power cut every day, residents of the state capital have to frequently suffer unscheduled power cuts and voltage fluctuations several times during the day.

Hundreds of angry residents came out on the streets in Tilhar in Shajanpur district on Tuesday, destroying government vehicles and staging a blockade on the national highway, which forced the police to open fire.

The district administration later took out a march to warn protestors that they would be dealt with an iron hand.

Similar violent scenes were witnessed in Jais and Beharaich in last few days, compelling a panicked power minister, Ramveer Upadhyaya, to convene a meeting of senior power corporation officials.

“Directives have been issued to open control rooms for power failure in every district within three days and there will be intense review of the existing situation if there is no power in (the) districts for four to six hours,” Upadhyaya said.

Ensuring steady power supply in Uttar Pradesh has become difficult given the state’s low power-generation capacity and the National Thermal Power Corporation’s refusal to supply electricity to states that had not cleared their outstanding dues.

   

 
 
AIDS TEST RULE TO GO 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, June 19: 
The Union health ministry plans to revoke a policy that required all foreign nationals to undergo a mandatory HIV/AIDS test if they wanted to live in India for more than a year.

The ministry had introduced the stringent rules to “check” the rising incidence of HIV/AIDS. The guidelines, however, sparked a chain of protests from non-government organisations that described them as “arbitrary and senseless”.

The guidelines only exempt nuns who are employed in foreign missions and foreign posts.

Nine years down the line, the health ministry has been forced to reverse its own order in the context of what it says is a “changed scenario”.

“We may reverse the guidelines of HIV testing since it has now lost its relevance in the present HIV/AIDS scenario inside the country as well as globally,” a health ministry directive says.

Shaleen Rakesh of the Naaz Foundation India Trust, an NGO working with HIV/AIDS patients, believes that the reversal in the government’s policy is in response to pressure from the voluntary sector as well as human rights and legal groups.

“Advocacy to treat HIV/AIDS as a human rights issue has gained momentum. We do not believe in mandatory testing for anyone — Indian or foreigner,” says Shaleen. It goes against the very grain of confidentiality which is a right of the HIV/AIDS patient, he adds.

The rethinking on the part of the government began in 1999 when a meeting of experts from the ministries of the external and home affairs, the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National law Institute in Bangalore stated that the guidelines were in contradiction to the recommendations of the World Health Organisation.

“Any requirement for HIV\AIDS antibody test certificate is contrary to our regulations,” stated the WHO.

The issue was then taken up by the National Aids Control Organisation at its 15th meeting chaired by the health secretary. Experts attending the meeting gave the go-ahead to reverse the mandatory testing policy. It was then submitted to the minister of state for health for approval.

For human rights activists opposing any form of mandatory testing for HIV/ AIDS, the government’s rethink is more than welcome. “The policy smacked of a discriminatory attitude against HIV/AIDS patients. If the Indian government had to deal with the same policy vis-à-vis its own nationals, then it would realise its implications,” said Shaleen.

There are about 4 million HIV/AIDS infected people in India. It is the second country after South Africa to have the largest HIV/AIDS population.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 35.1°C (+1)
Minimum: 28.2°C (+1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 91%,
Minimum: 62%

Sunrise: 4.54 am

Sunset: 6.21 pm

Today

Generally cloudy sky, with one or two showers or thundershowers
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company