Contempt sword on HS
March retort to bandh
Govt readies for strike & traffic trouble
Chance for deal on labour law
Blows in a row for Bollywood
Rivals dig for Mamata dirt
Missing Shotgun gets a firing
Nitish trashes cover-up charge
Curtains on court along with judge
Big B is also Big V

Calcutta, July 31: 
The West Bengal Higher Secondary Council has been threatened with contempt proceedings for its lack of transparency in the method used to tabulate marksheets.

Supradip Roy, a high court advocate, today wrote to council chief Jyotirmoy Mukherjee, saying he would initiate contempt proceedings against the education body if the papers of aggrieved petitioners were not properly re-assessed and their marksheets corrected accordingly.

A number of candidates have expressed shock at the results. Among them is Soumya Shankar Moulik of Siliguri High School for Boys who had secured a letter in mathematics in Madhyamik but got 0 and 25 in the two papers in the higher secondary exams.

Justice Maharaja Sinha today directed the council to submit an affidavit in the case. The council has been asked to explain within 10 days why the student had secured no marks in the mathematics paper. In his letter to Mukherjee, Roy said the contempt petition would be filed if the council failed to respond within 10 days.

He said a number of candidates of this year’s higher secondary examinations had approached him with an appeal to take the council to court to ensure that their answerscripts were produced.

“They are dissatisfied with the marks they have obtained and they refuse to accept them as their actual performance,” Roy said.

The advocate pointed out that the high court, in 2000, had observed that the council should adopt measures to ensure greater transparency in the publication of results.


Calcutta, July 31: 
Seeking to contain Mamata Banerjee on the railway bifurcation issue, the CPM has announced a padayatra from Brigade Parade grounds to Hedua on August 11 under the aegis of the ruling Left Front.

The CPM’s decision came in the wake of the Trinamul Congress leader’s call for a Bangla bandh on Monday against the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway. The party had convened an emergency state secretariat meeting at its Alimuddin Street headquarters this afternoon to discuss the next course of action on the bifurcation move.

“The bandh will not help resolve the bifurcation issue. Rather, it will create animosity between the neighbouring states. And that is why we have decided to take the matter to the people by way of a padayatra,” said politburo member Jyoti Basu.

Speaking to mediapersons, Basu said the padayatra would mark the fortnight-long agitation of the Left Front against the BJP-led coalition at the Centre.

Slamming the Centre, Basu said six former railway board chairmen had already protested against the bifurcation. “We have even heard that different parliamentary committees have opposed the move.”

“Now the time is ripe enough to dislodge the coalition from power so that the country is saved,” the former chief minister added.

Coming down on the Trinamul leader, Basu said she did not protest against the bifurcation move during her tenure as railway minister. “Why was Mamata silent on such a controversial issue?”

Mamata’s “decision to call a bandh is aimed at covering her own lapses”, he added.


Calcutta, July 31: 
The government is gearing up to tackle traffic problems in the city and districts as private bus operators stuck to their decision to call an indefinite strike from tomorrow, the day the revised fare will be enforced.

Minibus operators, however, will not join the strike “immediately”. They will boycott the revised fare for a week to press for a fresh rate revision.

Acting chief minister Mohammad Amin today said at Writers’ Buildings that the government would take all steps to maintain normality. Additional state buses would be pressed into service. “We do not want to enter into a confrontation with the bus-owners. I still believe that good sense will prevail and the private bus operators will refrain from joining the indefinite strike,” he said.

According to Amin, the fare was revised “very recently”. “Let it be enforced without any hindrance. There is scope for further revision. The transport minister has also assured the aggrieved operators that he will reconsider their demands after three months,” the acting chief minister said.


New Delhi, July 31: 
If the Centre agrees to the National Labour Commission’s recommendations to tone down the proposed amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act, it might manage to push through the controversial law with the support of the Congress.

The Act, at present, stipulates that factories employing less than 100 workers can be closed down without seeking government permission.

The Centre had proposed raising the ceiling to 1,000 workers to facilitate easy retrenchments and closures. The commission and the Congress have said such a quantum jump on the ceiling is going to hurt the workers and the upper limit should be set at 300.

“We recommend that the provision to close down units without government permission should cover establishments employing not more than 300 workers,” the labour panel has suggested in its report recently submitted to the government.

The Prime Minister has stated that he will implement the labour law reforms — which have been in the eye of a storm — only after there is a consensus among parties. While Left parties are not likely to agree to any provision that would aid closure of factories — be it a ceiling of 300 or 1,000 — the Congress and the BJP can push through the controversial amendment in the House.

In the past, the two main parties have combined to pass prickly Bills on economic reforms in the face of opposition from Left and other parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party.

Citu and the Sangh parivar’s own trade union, BMS, however, have flatly refused to accept the figure of 300. “We have already given a dissent note. We do not accept this provision at all, even the present ceiling of 100 is not acceptable to us,” said R.K. Bhakt of the BMS.

The Congress-backed Intuc is taking a more lenient view of the issue — in tune with the stand of its parent party. “We are suggesting a special tripartite committee meeting only to discuss the proposed amendment by the National Labour Commission,” said Intuc’s Chandidas Sinha.

The Centre has assured that the report will be tabled in Parliament and all parties will get an opportunity to discuss the recommendations.

Though the government is not bound to honour the report, it will use the panel’s recommendation on the Act to facilitate passage of the amendments. There has been a strong demand from industry-owners to pass the amendments as soon as possible.

Two former labour ministers — the BJP’s Satyanarain Jatiya and Janata Dal (U)’s Sharad Yadav — had refused to lend support to the Centre’s proposal to raise the ceiling to 1,000. In fact, Yadav, before being shunted out of the labour ministry, had suggested the figure of 300.


Mumbai, July 31: 
Already staggering under the impact of the Sunjay Dutt tapes, Bollywood was dealt another body blow today when a sessions court sentenced to life imprisonment two star sons, Ketan and Vivek Anand, for hatching a conspiracy to kill actress Priya Rajvansh.

In a court order that brought the curtains down on the sordid saga of greed in Bollywood, judge S.P. Nigam ordered police to immediately arrest Ketan and Vivek, sons of noted filmmaker Chetan Anand, to undergo the sentence along with their accomplices, Mala Choudhary and Ashok Chinaswamy.

Rajvansh, the stunning heroine of Heer Ranjha, was found murdered in a Juhu bungalow on March 27, 2000. While the Anands have been sentenced for plotting the murder, their accomplices have been arraigned for executing it.

The accused quartet has also been dealt additional sentences for tampering with the evidence and submitting false information in the court.

Rajvansh’s lawyer, Kiran Makasare, had been appealing for the death penalty to be read out to all the four accused as “the former actress had been killed in a most brutal manner and that it was the rarest of the rare case”.

The court, however, stopped short of delivering the death sentence, giving a trembling Bollywood fraternity some respite to introspect on its own sins. The Anands, not giving up their fight, have vowed to appeal against the sentence in a higher court of law.

Though Bollywood kept mum during much of the trial, those in the know had little doubt why Rajvansh was killed. A lifelong companion of Chetan Anand, the actress had been willed a third of the late director’s property after his death.

It was a fight to deprive Rajvansh of her share in the Rs 10 crore bungalow and from the other few things left to her, including a car and a diamond ring, that culminated in her murder, the police have been alleging right from the day the murder took place.

Along the course of the trial, witness after witness — there were 22 in all — narrated how in the last days of her life, Rajvansh was “going through hell” at the hands of Ketan and Vivek.

Rajvansh’s friends came out with sordid tales of mental torture and abuse she had suffered at the hands of the Anands, who repeatedly told her that “she was their father’s keep and that now she would be theirs”.

Mala, who had been working with the Anands for a decade, had also been told to harass and trouble Rajvansh, her friends and well wishers said in court.

One of the star witnesses in the case, TV personality and Surabhi anchor Siddharth Kak, told the court at length what Rajvansh had told him about her strained relationship with the Anand brothers. “She used to tell me that Mala used to harass her and that Ketan used to take the servant’s side.”

Kak had also deposed that most of the fights revolved around Ketan’s refusal to sell the bungalow and give Rajvansh her share of the sale proceeds.

The court also took note of the painful letters Rajvansh had written to director Vijay Anand, uncle of Ketan and Vivek, asking him to intervene and save her from killing herself.

In one of the letters, Rajvansh wrote: “Goldie Saab, as executor of Chetan Saab’s will, I am asking you for help. There is nobody else I can turn to. Time is going by. I am getting older, it is a starkly lonely life. With no money, no work, no family you cannot conceive how I pass my time. Is this what I get after 35 years (of being with Chetan)? He could never see even a tear in my eye. I am only asking for what Chetan Saab wanted me to have. Please help me...”


New Delhi, July 31: 
The fish-plates on Mamata Banerjee’s track to the Union Cabinet are rattling loose with railway minister Nitish Kumar’s loyalists threatening to malign Mamata and the BJP taking strong exception to her fulminations against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, saying it was not in “good taste”.

Samata Party MPs Prabhunath Singh and Rajiv Ranjan alias Lallan Singh today claimed they had documents pertaining to some deals Mamata had struck during her tenure in Rail Bhavan and promised to expose her “very soon”.

The pattern emerging from the manoeuvres in Delhi seems to indicate an effort to keep Mamata out of the Cabinet, and maybe even force her out of the NDA.

A senior Cabinet minister admitted that Vajpayee’s announcement that the Eastern Railway bifurcation would be reconsidered on July 22, a day after Mamata threatened a 72-hour Bengal bandh, was to “defuse” the situation.

“Even the West Bengal government was worried,” he said.

Political compulsion forced the Cabinet to endorse the bifurcation. “Our major stake is in Bihar, from where 40-odd MPs are in the NDA kitty compared to Mamata’s eight,” the minister said. “It (NDA) is like a revolving door. Anybody can come and go.”

Stressing that Trinamul’s exit from the NDA would not affect the government “numerically”, he said emissaries used to be rushed to Chennai, Hyderabad, Calcutta earlier, but now there is no need for it. The issued-based support by the BSP and the ADMK had bolstered the NDA.

Sources said the NDA leadership was so sure Vajpayee’s review sop had no meaning that the Cabinet did not receive any “implementation schedule” at last Monday’s meet. An implementation schedule is a mandatory part of a Cabinet note that is circulated with a rider that “if the Cabinet approves” of a particular project, how and when it will be implemented.

Prabhunath Singh also told the Lok Sabha that Mamata was raking up the Godhra issue to cover up a scandal involving rail supplies during her tenure as minister. The matter will be probed soon and brought before the House.

When Opposition members reminded him that she was part of the NDA, he said that “she has come and gone. She will again go”.

Congress MP Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said since the allegation is coming from a member of the NDA ally, the government should probe the scam and place the facts before the House.

The BJP’s ire became clearer when the party denounced Mamata’s remarks against Vajpayee. But it stopped short of seeking her removal from the NDA. “We don’t appreciate her statements and they are not in good taste. We didn’t expect this from our ally,” BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra told reporters.

It was up to the NDA to decide on the action to be taken against the Trinamul Congress. “It is for the Prime Minister and the NDA to look into it,” he said.


New Delhi, July 31: 
Union health minister Shatrughan Sinha has started bunking Parliament barely a few months into his new job, forcing his mentors in the BJP to sit up and take notice.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan today ticked off the filmstar-turned-Cabinet minister for not showing up in the Lok Sabha during question hour even though there were three to four starred questions — that ministers have to answer in the House — scheduled for Sinha.

When ‘Shotgun’ Sinha did not turn up at Parliament despite repeated calls by his aides, Mahajan picked up the phone and sought an explanation, sources said. It is believed that Mahajan categorically told Sinha that he could stay away from Parliament only if he was ill or out of station, and that he must explain his absence in a letter. Such erratic behaviour on the part of a Cabinet minister, the parliamentary affairs minister told his colleague, was detrimental to the prestige of the House.

Sinha had been running late since last evening. The minister had invited MPs for an interactive session on HIV/AIDS at 5 pm, but did not show up. A briefing by his officials on the questions to be taken up the next day was scheduled at seven. But the meeting did not take place till 7.30 as the Uttar Pradesh chief secretary had called on the new minister. Finally, the briefing over, Sinha told his junior, minister of state A. Raja, to tackle the questions the next day.

At 10.30 pm, a health ministry official rushed to the Parliament secretariat with the replies and submitted them after much persuasion four-and-a-half hours behind the deadline.

The final briefing for Sinha was scheduled for 10.10 in the morning at Parliament House. But again, there was no sign of the minister. Panicky aides began calling him from an hour before the session began, but to no avail.

Even after Mahajan intervened, Sinha did not reach the House — an unprecedented situation. In the House, MPs protested against Sinha’s absence. The Shiv Sena’s Suresh Jadhav sought an explanation on the missing minister. Immediately, the Opposition members seized the issue. Congress MPs Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Santosh Mohan Deb accused the health minister of treating Parliament with disrespect.

Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party said: “Shatrughan Sinha is busy with shooting and in no hurry to attend Parliament.”

Speaker Manohar Joshi tried to shield the minister, saying: “I do not think he is bypassing the House. He could be attending the other House.” The Opposition, however, kept up its attack, forcing Joshi to promise that he would “convey the feelings of the House to Shatrughan Sinha”.

In his short career at Delhi, Sinha has picked up a reputation for missing important engagements. Perhaps a hangover from his Bollywood glory days when he could keep all and sundry waiting on end.

Last week, he went to Mumbai and threw his ministry in a tizzy by informing that he wouldn’t be able to attend Parliament for three days. A letter of absence, stating that he was away on official business, was generated to save the situation. He was also conspicuous by his absence by the side of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he came to pay his last respects to Vice-President Krishan Kant.


New Delhi, July 31: 
Nitish Kumar today denied Mamata Banerjee’s charge that he was rewarded for “suppressing the truth” behind the February 27 Godhra train carnage and asserted that his ministry was not trying to hide the identity of the passengers of the torched compartment.

“Nothing has been hidden or will be hidden in the ongoing probe. There is no question of a cover-up. Where is the question of any reward?” the railway minister said, replying to an impromptu debate in the Lok Sabha on the Trinamul Congress leader’s allegations. No Trinamul MP was present in the House during the discussion.

The issue was raised by senior Congress leader Kamal Nath, who demanded the list of passengers of the ill-fated S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express.

Kumar said only nine persons, whose names figured on the railway chart, were identified among the dead and injured. Six persons had made last-minute cancellations, he added.

The minister said he had ordered that inspectors be sent to residences of those who were to travel on that day and promised to extend his ministry’s full cooperation to ascertain the facts.

Kumar rejected the charge that the decision on the bifurcation of Eastern Railway was based on political considerations. He said his ministry had only operationalised the United Front government’s move in 1996 to create the Hajipur division in Bihar.

Earlier, Nath quoted Mamata as saying that Kumar had a role in the “cover-up” of the Godhra incident. The AICC general secretary in charge of Bengal demanded that the forensic report on the incident be placed in Parliament and the names of those killed in the carnage made public.

Nath also mentioned Mamata’s remarks that the Prime Minister’s Office has been hijacked. He said the Trinamul leader had wanted to know who was the “real PM”, claiming that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was “isolated” like the imprisoned Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.

Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM contended that the issue should not be treated as a confrontation between Bengal and Bihar. He pointed to the reports of the CAG, the standing committee on railways and the Rakesh Mohan committee and added that six former railway board chairmen had also opposed the move on the ground that it would be an “operational disaster”.

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda said the division was not feasible or economically viable. “Is this the way to run the railways?” he asked. Gowda alleged that there was no uniformity in the government’s decision-making and said the latest decision was clearly guided by “political considerations”.


Chennai, July 31: 
The curtains came down today on one of the three special courts that the DMK government had set up to try cases of alleged corruption against chief minister Jayalalithaa, her friend Sasikala, former ministers and bureaucrats during the previous ADMK regime.

This follows the Tamil Nadu government’s recent decision that Special Court-I will be wound up, coterminous with its presiding officer, Special Judge-I P. Anbazhagan’s retirement.

A decision to this effect had been taken some time ago. Anbazhagan’s tenure came to an end today.

The tenure of the two other special courts have been extended by one more year up to June 30, 2003, official sources told The Telegraph.

The present ADMK regime was earlier inclined to wind up two of the three special courts on grounds of financial constraints. Another reason that was offered was all three courts might not be required as just seven cases were pending before them.

However, Madras High Court wanted all the three special courts to continue. The high court, nonetheless, did not object to the government’s subsequent view that once Anbazhagan retired, Special Court-I could be wound up.

The corruption cases against ministers in the previous ADMK regime (1991-96) still pending include the Rs 66.65-crore disproportionate assets case, which involves Jayalalithaa and three others, the SPIC disinvestment case, the London Hotel case and the Meena Advertisers case.

Now, the cases that were pending before Special Court-I will be transferred to the two other special courts, the sources said.

Special Court-I was initially presided over by Justice S. Sambandam till his retirement in June last year. Justice Arumugaperumal Adithan then took over and served in that post till the transfer of judges a few months ago.

Interestingly, Anbazhagan, while presiding over Special Court-III, had convicted Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and four others in the two Tansi land deal cases.

They were, however, all acquitted by Madras High Court in December last year. The acquittal paved the way for the ADMK chief to contest the Andipatti Assembly byelection in February and return as Tamil Nadu chief minister.

It is to be also noted that on January 9 this year, Anbazhagan had acquitted all the four accused in the third and last of the Tansi land deal cases, which came to be called the R.R. Industries case.


Mumbai, July 31: 
Food for thought. Amitabh Bachchan and Esha Deol are the hottest vegetarians according to netizens in India.

The Big B and Ms Deol topped a poll held by PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) at to which over 15,000 people responded.

Bachchan is not alone. Other macho-males also owned up to being pure vegetarians. Those whom Bachchan pipped to the post include model John Abraham, industrialist Anil Ambani, cricketer Anil Kumble, actor Madhavan, designer Hemant Trivedi and actor Jackie Shroff.

Further proof of the vital link between vegetarianism and sex appeal: young Esha emerged victorious despite strong contenders like her mother Hema Malini, actress Mahima Chaudhry, actress Juhi Chawla, models Aditi Gowitrikar and Yana Gupta, and actress Diya Mirza.

The poll was conducted separately for different countries, but the no-meat celebrities from India had to contend with vegetarians of international repute: Pamela Anderson and model Christy Turlington were also in the running. But Indian respondents had their own priorities and Esha brushed past Pamela.

In the US, actor Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man) and actress Natalie Portman were voted the hottest.

While all these celebs are card-carrying vegetarians, some go a step further. Amitabh Bachchan is not just a vegetarian, says Anuradha Sawhney, chief functionary, PETA India. He belongs to a purer species: he is a “vegan”. Meaning, not only does he not eat animals, he also does not touch animal products like milk. But Bachchan was not born a vegetarian — he is a convert, having changed his dietary preference a few years ago for health reasons, Sawhney said.

While PETA objects to animals making it to your dishes, it obviously has no qualms about putting the rich and famous on display. The huge response to the poll proves the power of hinging a campaign on celebrities, something PETA has done since its inception 22 years ago. Sawhney says it has proved a boon to PETA, which uses celebs in 70 to 75 per cent of its campaigns.

So in India, if it’s not Madhuri Dixit taking on the government in Assam for the cause of elephants for PETA, it’s Anupam Kher thanking Orissa officials for cracking down on animal transport bribes.

“Let’s face it. When celebs speak, people listen. We have been inundated with request for information on vegetarianism ever since the contest began on May 2,” says Sawhney. “Twenty two years ago, when PETA first set up its office in the US, Nancy Reagan wore fur, now Chelsea Clinton is a vegetarian. According to the Vegetarian Journal, 19,000 people go vegetarian every week. We also have a office in the UK and in the last 10 years the number of vegetarians has doubled.”

There was tremendous response to the campaign in which model Rahul Dev featured as a cheetah and response is still pouring in for the one showing Madhavan in a cage, she adds.


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