Powell puts Valley under spotlight
‘US can be friends with both India and Pak’
Sangh fires ‘cerebral’ salvo on J&K split
Axe looms over Punjab officials
Gutkha linked to cancer spread in youth
Mother watches Kant pyre in silence
Mayavati defers Cabinet expansion
Blast puts focus on ammo dump site
Quartet to spruce up Speaker image
Hope may lie in diet for epilepsy patients

New Delhi, July 28: 
India will have to take a long, hard look at its Kashmir policy and think beyond its current pre-occupation with holding credible elections in the state.

With US secretary of state Colin Powell placing Kashmir on the international agenda, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has to evolve a long-term internal strategy to meet Kashmiri aspirations without raising the hackles of hardliners in the BJP and the RSS.

In a way, the government had anticipated this. Former law minister Arun Jaitley was roped in as the Centre’s interlocutor for Kashmir, precisely for this reason. However, it will not be enough just to appease the National Conference but carry a majority of Kashmiris along, including the Hindus and Buddhists of Jammu and Ladakh.

The National Conference’s urge to put leaders behind bars without solid proof will have to be checked. The RSS talk of trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir has been dismissed by the deputy Prime Minister, though it appears unlikely that the RSS is in a mood to give it up.

Powell today said in public what he has been telling Indian leaders in private for some time. During his first visit to New Delhi in November, he gave broad hints about international concerns on Kashmir. While condemning terrorism as a means of political struggle, Powell had made it clear that Kashmir was under watch.

This morning, after his meeting with L.K. Advani in his North Block office, Powell had no qualms about admitting that the Valley was very much on his mind during his discussions with the deputy Prime Minister.

“Yes, we discussed Kashmir, the Line of Control, holding of free and fair elections in the state and for international visitors to go and be able to see this happening,” the US secretary of state told The Telegraph.

Asked about Advani’s response, Powell said it was pretty much what foreign minister Yashwant Sinha said yesterday — that diplomats working out of Delhi would be allowed to go and watch the proceedings, though they will not be called “observers”.

Advani refused to talk to reporters, saying the external affairs ministry would. However, officials said the deputy Prime Minister aired his concerns about Pakistan, infiltrations and Pervez Musharraf’s refusal to smash the terrorist camps on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.

He also gave Powell a rundown on the situation in Kashmir and the initiation of devolution talks by Arun Jaitley.

Senior officials in the government said Powell told nothing that Delhi had not anticipated. “We have been talking of a devolution package for Kashmir for a long time. During his visit to Kashmir, the Prime Minister talked about autonomy. The Centre is already talking to as many moderate groups as possible to get them to step into the election fray.

“Jaitley has begun discussions with the National Conference and we are willing to talk about autonomy/devolution with all groups and outfits in the state,” a senior official said.

“No less a person than the Prime Minister has promised free and fair elections. It is up to the Kashmiris to grab the opportunity,” the official added.

The government has been working at various levels to get across to moderate sections, including the Hurriyat leaders. In an attempt to give people a wider choice, the PMO’s Kashmir expert, A.S. Dulat, has been in touch with several Valley leaders and has been trying to rope them in to form a third regional group in the state.

Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah has been in touch with the government and may be the man to lead the front.

The Centre’s insistence on Governor’s rule ahead of the polls is very much in line with Delhi’s hopes of conducting credible elections in the state.


New Delhi, July 28: 
US secretary of state Colin Powell has made it clear to the Indian leadership that Pakistan’s closeness with Washington should not be allowed to cast its shadows on the growing Indo-American ties.

There is a feeling here that the high in India-US relations achieved during the last days of the Clinton Presidency has suffered somewhat since Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf chose to join the American war against global terror.

“India-US relations is not a zero-sum game,” Powell said, while arguing that Washington’s relations with New Delhi should not be seen through the Pakistani prism. “It is an independent relation. The US can be friends to both India and Pakistan.”

Powell, who took the opportunity to get acquainted with the new Indian foreign minister, had reportedly “hit it off well” with Yashwant Sinha. The personal chemistry between the two leaders was said to have been very good and they managed to discuss most of the issues with candour and as two friends.

“We have established a good relationship and, therefore, it is important for the leadership of our two countries to remain in close and frequent contact,” the US secretary of state said this morning. He said the two sides had opened a new “strategic dialogue” that ranged from close cooperation in Afghanistan to areas of trade, commerce, economy and science and technology.

As part of the intensive dialogue between the two sides, a number of senior American officials are due to visit India over the next few months.


New Delhi, July 28: 
Keen not to allow its demand for the re-mapping of Jammu and Kashmir to be seen as the “unreasonable expression” of a “lunatic fringe”, the RSS has enlisted the support of its “cerebral” sympathisers to argue the case.

The latest edition of Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece, contains two full-page articles on the subject — one written by T.H. Chowdary and the other by Joginder Singh.

Singh, the former CBI director, was the chief guest at the annual Dusshera rally in Nagpur a couple of years ago. Chowdary, a retired director of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, is a senior advisor to Infosys and IT advisor to the Andhra Pradesh government.

The issue of the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir was formally articulated first by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in its marg darshak mandal earlier this month in Haridwar and later by the RSS in its executive meeting in Kurukshetra. Both the Centre and the BJP have rejected the idea.

Chowdary said the “Kashmir problem” was at par with the control of Hyderabad by the razakars but argued that though the then home minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, extracted the surrender of the Nizam of Hyderabad and the unconditional accession of his principality to India, he was not given a free hand by Jawaharlal Nehru on Jammu and Kashmir.

“Sardar Patel solved every problem, including Hyderabad, but Nehru left behind the J&K imbroglio,” Chowdary said.

Singh attributed the problem to a compromise on India’s part while signing the Simla Agreement on July 2, 1972. The Simla accord stopped short of converting the Line of Control into an international border at the insistence of then Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Both stressed that carving out three separate states from Jammu and Kashmir was the only workable and permanent solution.

Their arguments were:

Only the Kashmir Valley had a Muslim majority population. Jammu was predominantly Hindu and Ladakh, Buddhist. A bulk of the state’s revenue, 70 per cent to be precise, came from Jammu but less than 20 per cent was spent on the region.

This was not all. The writers in different ways stated that while Hindus and Buddhists together made up 40 per cent of the population, they secured less than 15 per cent of government jobs. Jammu was also given fewer seats in the Assembly.

There was a “deliberate” attempt to change the demographic composition of Jammu and Ladakh by encouraging Muslims from the Valley and even across the LoC to settle in these regions. “This type of demographic aggression is a standard weapon in the armoury of Muslims. When Lebanon gained independence from France in 1945, the Christians were in a slight majority. But within the next 30 years, Muslim population increased so fast that they outnumbered the Christians,” Chowdary said.

State reorganisation had several precedents including the recent examples of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh. Such restructuring do not pose a threat to India’s integrity.

Each region in the state had its separate religious and cultural identity. Singh countered the charge that trifurcation would justify the two-nation theory on which Pakistan was founded and said there were a number of north-eastern states where Christians were in a majority. Punjab was a Sikh majority state.


Chandigarh, July 28: 
The Punjab government has decided to issue an Ordinance within a fortnight to “axe” candidates who had paid to get jobs in the Punjab Public Service Commission and other services over the past six years.

The state Cabinet, which was expected to announce the Ordinance yesterday, deferred it till the next meet following the demise of the Vice-President.

“There will be an Ordinance to sack those who had paid bribes to secure jobs. We don’t want to be seen in a hurry to axe candidates. We want to be absolutely sure that those sacked are indeed guilty of having paid for jobs. Innocent people will not be touched,” a senior government official said.

Earlier, the government had deferred the Ordinance twice, raising fears that the ruling Congress was trying to “protect” certain candidates close to it and senior leaders in Delhi.

Over 600 candidates face the sack in the jobs-for-cash scam unearthed by the vigilance bureau after the arrest of public service commission chairman Ravinder Pal Singh Sidhu on March 25.

Sidhu was arrested while accepting a bribe from a candidate who had applied for an executive post.

Sidhu’s touts, most of whom have turned approvers, have said the chairman even accepted bribes in his mother’s house here. Sidhu’s mother is absconding and has been declared a proclaimed offender.

Government sources claim the vigilance bureau has identified the “tainted batches” constituting 41 categories of jobs, including engineers, lecturers and employment officers recruited in the past six years, after screening over 4,000 appointments made during Sidhu’s six-year tenure since 1996.

Chief minister Amarinder Singh has said the tainted batches would be dismissed. These batches hold jobs under several categories like the PCS (executive), PCS (allied), PCS (judicial), deputy superintendents of police, lecturers, principals and sub-divisional engineers. The rate for DSPs and PCS (executive) was upward of Rs 1 crore.

Punjab seemed headed for more embarrassment as the vigilance bureau has now zeroed in on the recruitments by the Punjab Subordinate Services Selection Board and the Punjab School Education Board during the past five years.


Mumbai, July 28: 
Generation Next could be sitting on an oral cancer epidemic, thanks to gutkha.

Even as gutkha manufacturers are protesting against a ban on their product in many states, an ongoing study conducted by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, reveals that gutkha is responsible for an alarming increase in oral cancer cases among the country’s young.

“It has been established on the basis of comprehensive review that gutkha is carcinogenic. The predicted epidemic of oral cancer, almost completely attributable to gutkha, has already begun. It is especially affecting the young,” says P.C. Gupta of the epidemiology department of the institute.

The TIFR project on oral cancer, which began in the 60s, has been studying the effects of cigarettes, beedis, khaini and other tobacco products on smokers and non-smokers. The study claims that since gutkha started to be marketed in the 80s, the number of oral cancer cases rose considerably among the below-35 age group.

Gutkha has become a Rs 3,000-4,000 crore industry since the eighties. Oral Submucous Fibrosis, a pre-cancerous disease with a high risk of malignant transformation, has increased 20 to 30 fold across the country in the same period. OSF has been linked to the chewing of areca nut, one of the main components of gutkha along with tobacco.

“The incidence of OSF has increased manifold, especially among the younger generation,” says Gupta. “In this disease, the inside of the mouth loses its elasticity slowly and fibrous bands develop. Affected individuals show a high degree of sensitivity to chillies and other spices. The opening of the mouth slowly tightens and in advanced cases, it is difficult for even a straw to pass through,” Gupta explains.

Gupta says OSF can be linked directly to gutkha. The prevalence of the disease was almost negligible in the 60s, but had become rather widespread by the 90s.

In 1967, the project conducted a house-to-house survey in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district of 10,071individuals aged 15 years and older. Sixteen cases of OSF were diagnosed, a prevalence of 0.16 per cent. In 1993-94, 164 OSF cases were diagnosed among 5018 individuals in the same district, a prevalence of 3.2 per cent. There was not any major difference between the people surveyed except that there were many users of gutkha during the second survey.

Of the 164 affected, 134 people were below 35. In another survey done in Nagpur, of the 200 OSF cases, 140 were less than 35 years.

Gupta has also done a comparative study between the 80s and the 90s of the number of people actually affected with oral cancer. This study also shows how the young have been affected.

He compares data available from the Ahmedabad Cancer Registry for the years 1983-87 and 1995. The surveys were conducted in Ahmedabad, a high gutkha-consumption zone. The observed number in the survey of cases in the younger generation has risen by 25 per cent in the below-50 generation. In the 30-34 age group, where the expected incidence rate of cancer cases was 2.6 per 100,000, the actual cases reported were seven per 100,000.

“The fact that the incidence of mouth cancer was significantly higher in the younger generation after a gap of just a decade compels us to seriously consider possible external reasons for such an increase. Since one specific reason for such an increase, gutkha, has already been postulated on the basis of strong evidence, and no other specific reason is in sight, the conclusion seems inescapable,” says Gupta.

So don’t pop the masala from that scented sachet. Try P.G. Wodehouse instead — he has no side effects, except uncontrollable fits of laughter.


New Delhi, July 28: 
The mortal remains of Vice-President Krishan Kant were consigned to flames today amid the chanting of Vedic hymns at Delhi’s Nigambodh Ghat, on the banks of the Yamuna, in the presence of his 97-year-old mother Satyawati.

The pyre was lit by Kant’s elder son Rashmi Kant even as Rajputana Rifles jawans fired thrice in the air, reversed their arms and sounded the Last Post. His widow Suman, daughter Divya and younger son Sukant stood by.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah paid their last respects to the veteran freedom fighter. Kalam placed a wreath of Rajnigandha flowers.

Several diplomats also braved the scorching heat to attend the funeral of the Vice-President, who died yesterday after a heart attack.

His mother watched in stoic silence even as Suman broke down frequently. Draped in the Tricolour, Kant’s body was brought from his official residence on 6 Maulana Azad Road in a gun carriage, escorted by personnel of the three armed forces.

The national flag flew at half-mast as a mark of respect to the Gandhian who was to demit office on August 13. Tomorrow, both Houses of Parliament will adjourn after paying respect to Kant, who was chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. The nation is observing a three-day mourning, but government offices will remain open tomorrow.

Earlier, relatives, friends and ordinary citizens thronged Kant’s residence to pay their tributes. Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, Karnataka Governor V.S. Rama Devi, Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri, Union ministers Satya Narain Jatiya and N.T. Shanmugham, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, BJP chief Venkaiah Naidu and Samajwadi party leader Amar Singh were among them.

The All-India Freedom Fighters’ Organisation claimed that its members had not been allowed to attend the funeral. “About 100 freedom fighters in the age group of 80 to 90 had arrived at the Nigambodh Ghat to pay their last respects to the departed soul,” the organisation said in a statement.

“However, all of them were refused entry into the venue in the absence of a pass” for security reasons, it added. “It is most unfortunate that freedom fighters were not allowed to attend the funeral of a freedom fighter.”

Many of his friends were heard saying that had Kant been chosen for the President’s post, he might have lived longer. For a few hours on June 8, when jockeying for the post was on in full swing, his name had found acceptance with both the ruling coalition and the Opposition. However, the NDA switched to P.C. Alexander and then Kalam emerged as the dark horse.


Lucknow, July 28: 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati today reversed her decision of expanding her Cabinet on August 1 barely 24 hours after promising to do so. She postponed it till after the budget session of the Assembly.

While Mayavati claimed the decision was taken after consultations with BJP leaders Vinay Katiyar, Lalji Tandon and Om Prakash Singh, political sources attributed it to her dogged refusal to accommodate BJP-backed Independent legislator Raghuraj Singh, alias Raja Bhaiyya, and Loktantrik Congress MLA Hari Shankar Tewari in view of their criminal record.

Another factor that prompted Mayavati to defer the Cabinet expansion was the fear of a revolt by frustrated aspirants, who might have even voted against the government during the budget session. The BJP leaders, too, seemed somewhat relieved by the postponement.

Despite Lalaji Tandon’s letter to Mayavati asking her to fix an early date for the Cabinet expansion, the BJP had been caught on the wrong foot when the chief minister informed Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri that she would expand her ministry on August 1.

When Katiyar and other BJP leaders met Mayavati today and found her unreconciled to the induction of such men as Singh and Tewari, they “convinced” her not to go ahead with the expansion.

As a sop to the BJP leaders, Mayavati reversed her decision not to provide free textbooks to non-Dalits up to the primary level. Her government had recently decided to provide free textbooks to Dalits only, causing resentment in the BJP.

The proposed Cabinet expansion will now take place after the budget session, which starts on August 8, according to an official release.

“We have decided not to go for expansion before the budget session. The exercise will be completed in one go after the session ends,” Katiyar said, endorsing Mayavati’s decision.

Ironically, it was the BJP that raised the demand for an early expansion. “Now our leaders will be in the firing line of the party MLAs because they (had) raised the issue when Mayavati was denying doing the same,” said a state BJP leader on condition of anonymity.

A section within the state BJP feels that senior leaders such as Tandon and Om Prakash Singh were not really interested in an early Cabinet expansion because it would decrease their clout. The two ministers held 32 important departments between them and an expansion was bound to result in the downsizing of their empires.

It was the followers of former chief minister Rajnath Singh and former state BJP president Kalraj Mishra who were clamouring for an early Cabinet expansion in the hope of getting a berth in the ministry.

Tandon had reportedly written to Mayavati to fix a date for the expansion under pressure from this lobby. The deferment came as a relief to the BJP leaders because they could not agree on a list of the new ministers from the BJP quota.

The BJP is now projecting Mayavati’s decision to provide free textbooks to all as a victory of sorts.


Chandigarh, July 28: 
The blast that injured four labourers pushing a trolley laden with explosives from the Dappar ammunition depot to the Ghaggar river yesterday has turned the spotlight on methods of storing and transporting ammunition and underlined the need to move such depots away from civilian areas.

Drums full of explosives had burst into flames yesterday as the labourers were ferrying them to the river for destruction.

While army authorities at the Western Command headquarters in Chandimandir described the explosion as “routine” and “minor”, witnesses said it was huge. The army had kept the blast secret till late in the evening.

“In most depots, it is normal practice to destroy ammunition which cannot be used. The problem is the civilian areas that have mushroomed around ammunition depots. Otherwise, destroying explosives is a safe practice,” an army officer said.

There are three types of ammunition. While hardball ammunition can be stored anywhere so long as a specified gap is maintained between containers, white phosphorus ammunition is highly combustible and requires different storage and transportation methods.

For white phosphorus ammunition, the storage area must be clear of high-tension wires and inflammable material. It is generally stored underground in specially-dug pits and away from the heat, with adequate firefighting equipment ready at hand. Transportation norms are also strict.

The protocol for storing and transporting confidential/secret ammunition is not disclosed.

The water table at an ammunition storage site too should be low to prevent dampness.

The biggest hazard involving ammunition depots is the close proximity of civilian settlements, often unauthorised. According to law, there can be no construction within 1,000 metres of the perimeter fence.


New Delhi, July 28: 
Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi has packed his office with four officers on special duty (OSDs) to spruce up his public image.

This is in addition to the full-fledged press and publicity department of the Lok Sabha secretariat that handles the Speaker’s media relations.

Sunil Jogi, a self-proclaimed poet who has written poems in praise of Joshi, is one of the OSDs. Another is R.M. Hejib, who retired as a director, Maharashtra Information Centre. Hejib was head of the information centre when Joshi was chief minister of Maharashtra. Sunderyal and A.P. Pathak are the other two officers.

For the first time, the Speaker’s office has a media cell that sends out invitations and press releases. Its job is to ensure better publicity for “Principal Sahib”, as Joshi is popularly called.

However, the concept of “the more the merrier” does not seem to be working all the time. Often, the four officers end up working at cross-purposes and the publicity department is called upon to tone up its media relations.

But department officials ask why they should be held accountable when there are four “specialists” assisting the Speaker.

The practice of appointing OSDs was started by the late G.M.C. Balayogi, who had roped in A.A. Rao, a middle-rung officer from the Indian Information Service (IIS). Rao was recommended by Telugu Desam leader Chandrababu Naidu. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister felt that Balayogi needed professional help to boost his image.

Within days of Balayogi’s death, Rao packed his bags and returned to the publication division.

Since he took over, Joshi has been busy attending functions held by Marathi organisations in Delhi to felicitate him. On some of these occasions, one of his OSDs is called upon to recite a poem in his honour.

The former Shiv Sena chief minister is being equated with other Maharashtra leaders who have excelled in Delhi, such as Y.B. Chavan, Sharad Pawar, S.A. Dange, S.M.Joshi, Nath Pai, C.D. Deshmukh, H.R. Gokhale, Shankar Rao Chavan, N.G. Gore and D.R. Gadgil.


Mumbai, July 28: 
Are you one of those who have watched helpless every time a loved one collapsed writhing on the floor in an epileptic fit?

Don’t despair. There’s hope yet. And, mind you, no medicines or hospital expenses — just the right diet.

Take the case of Ajish Krishnan. The four-year-old doesn’t have to worry any more about sudden seizures as he gets ready for a picnic with his friends. Neither does Vivek, who used to bunk classes because his friends would tease him every time he had a seizure.

Anish and Vivek are just two of the 80 epileptic patients who have “recovered fully” after they were put on a “ketogenic diet” — an unorthodox type of treatment that involves maintaining a high level of epilepsy-fighting ketosis in patients afflicted by the malaise.

The diet consists of the stuff we have almost every other day -- ghee, oil, vegetables, fruits and chicken that are given in a calculated weight and amount. The diet helps to either completely stop the seizures or decrease their frequency, thereby allowing medications to be reduced substantially.

Dr J. Nathan, who is spearheading the campaign to popularise the treatment, says Johns Hopkins Hospital in the US has more than 500 epilepsy patients on the diet while 80 are being “ketogenically treated” in Mumbai.

“The study on ketogenic diet started when Dr Howland of Johns Hopkins Hospital noticed an epileptic boy getting relief for several days after a faith healer put him on a water diet,” says Nathan, who is medical director, Neurology, at the Shushrushah Hospital here. Nathan also pointed out that fasting as a means of controlling epilepsy is mentioned even in the Bible.

Later, Howland studied the “water treatment” and its effect and found that ketones were released in the body. It was then discovered that the ketone releasing process could be replicated in the body after a fast is broken with a calculated high-fat diet. Ketone acts as an anti-convulsion drug and controls seizures without side effects.

Nathan, however, says ketone therapy is for those whose epilepsy cannot be controlled. “We accept patients when everything else has failed.”

Pointing out the benefits of the therapy, doctors say the foods prescribed are not only universally available at low costs but have no side effects as well.

People like Sivaram Krishnan swear by the practically no-cost treatment. His son Ajish has recovered fully.

“There is no hospital admission, no fasting and the blood lipid levels remain normal in spite of the high fat consumption,” the executive with Hathaway says. Today he laughs as freely as any father of a healthy child would.

Krishnan and a fast growing group of people are now spreading the good word, conducting seminars and taking along sceptics to meet those on the treatment.

Another believer, Ambarish John, recalls how his son was cured. “My four-year-old boy had seizures from almost the day of his birth. He couldn’t recognise family members and could not sit still even for a moment. After going through the gamut of anti-epileptic drugs, we finally tried the ketogenic diet. His seizures stopped on the third day and his medications were discontinued on the tenth day. Now he can walk, recognise people and laugh.”

Then there is Surya, who after multiple heart operations in 1994, suddenly started getting continuous seizures, sometimes as many as 150 times a day. He lost his speech in the process.

Doctors claim when everything else failed, Surya was put on a ketogenic diet. After three years of treatment, he has “regained his speech”, they say.

“Today, his fits are a thing of the past.”


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