Heavy firing near LoC crossover zone
Potshots fly beneath the pledge
Halls create corners for couples
Nitish readies Godhra list
Mulayam taps Cong to split rival
Sonia clears Soz comeback
UGC, teachers on warpath over workload
Mafia plot to kill me: Mayavati
Fresh shot at cable Bill in Rajya Sabha

 
 
HEAVY FIRING NEAR LOC CROSSOVER ZONE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU AND AGENCIES
 
New Delhi, Aug. 3: 
Intense firing in a northwestern sector of the Line of Control in Kashmir is going on opposite an area where Indian army sources said “foreign militants” had been collecting to cross over into India.

Islamabad claimed that the Pakistani army had beaten back an attempt to establish a new post along the Line of Control in Neelum Valley sector. A Pakistani military statement issued in Islamabad last night said the Indian attempt was in violation of the “established ground rules”. The area corresponds to the Machhal sub-sector on the Indian side.

Army sources said no attempt was made to capture a Pakistani post or establish a new one across the LoC. But the Indian side “retaliated heavily”.

The sources said “retaliation” included heavy artillery. This is not an admission that the army makes often though firing across the militarised LoC is an everyday occurrence.

Heavy Indian firing would normally be directed at Pakistani posts that the army says give covering fire to infiltrators. In the Macchal sub-sector, a Pakistani key supply road also runs close to the LoC in Neelum Valley (inside PoK) .

Since Pervez Musharraf’s May 27 speech, military sources have maintained that infiltration was down for about a month but was never stamped out. Infiltration is now creeping back to usual levels. The sources said that they have noted with concern that militants, including suspected al Qaida activists, had been gathering in pockets across the northern stretch of the LoC.

The last time Indian forces claimed to have destroyed a key Pakistani post was in May this year when the Raja Rani Post was hit. The post was actually captured in the 1965 war but was returned following the Tashkent agreement.

PTI adds from Srinagar: Three army personnel, including a junior commissioned officer, were killed and two civilians injured in Pakistani shelling along the Line of Control in north Kashmir, official sources said today.

About two dozen buildings, including a mosque and a school, were also damaged in the shelling in Machil, Kernah and Keran sectors of Kupwara district and Gurez in Baramullah district during the past 24 hours, the sources said.

The sources said JCO Sacha Singh, lance naik Ranjeet Singh and sepoy Santosh Kumar were killed in the shelling by Pakistani troops at Ashwani post in Machil sector yesterday.The post, which is manned by the 11 Sikh Light Infantry regiment, also suffered extensive damage in the shelling, added the sources.

Machil and Karnah sectors witnessed intense shelling during the day yesterday and with the death of three jawans, the death toll in the unprovoked and indiscriminate Pakistani shelling in Machil has risen to five during the past four days.

Pak assurance

France today said Pakistan has assured without any “caveats” that cross-border infiltration in Kashmir will be stopped and described the coming elections in the state as a milestone.

Visiting French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin said in Islamabad that Musharraf had expressed his full determination to fight terrorism and has given an assurance that infiltration of militants will be stopped.

   

 
 
POTSHOTS FLY BENEATH THE PLEDGE 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 3: 
The BJP national council today adopted a Delhi Pledge that waxed earnest on how the party would have to remove “weaknesses through honest introspection and prompt self-correction” and the “weakness” prominently mentioned was “factionalism”.

However, for the first time in an open gathering of this kind, the subterranean tension between the second-rung leaders surfaced in the form of jibes, rebuttals and good-humoured potshots in the speeches they made.

Disinvestment minister Arun Shourie took a dig at new finance minister Jaswant Singh and petroleum minister Ram Naik, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj used the forum to answer critics’ charge that Doordarshan was not used to its advantage, while old buddies Pramod Mahajan and Venkaiah Naidu staged a verbal jugalbandi of sorts.

Singh, who has become the BJP’s darling after he announced some sops for the middle class, painted a rosy picture of the economy in his speech, stating the GDP was 5.5 per cent, the forex reserves were $59 billion and inflation was down to 2 to 3 per cent.

“We will endeavour to make the tax system people-oriented while ensuring at the same time that the rate of growth is not reduced,” he said to loud cheers. Referring to the tax exemption limit, Singh apparently said as and when it was possible, it would be increased.

Shourie played spoilsport, saying the economic situation was “strong but delicate”. He cited the example of Argentina and said that with a debt rate of just 1 per cent of the GDP ratio, its economy was in dire straits, currency was scarce and consumers were reverting to the barter system. India, he pointed out, had a debt rate of 7 per cent, so it was time the government took “hard decisions”.

Hitting out at the petroleum minister after the press exposé of how petrol pumps and LPG agencies were allegedly cornered by friends and relatives of BJP leaders, Shourie referred to the slogan of a “party with a difference” and said many examples were out in newspapers belying the claim. He added there was no point justifying these cases by saying that they happened under the Congress too.

Swaraj sought to counter former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh’s criticism that Doordarshan telecast the findings of a poll survey putting the BJP in third place in the run-up to the Assembly elections. While Singh was specific, a section of the BJP was unhappy with Swaraj for allegedly not projecting the government’s “achievements” properly.

Swaraj’s case was that the government’s publicity mechanisms have their limitations and there was no substitute to direct propaganda by the party cadre. “It is necessary to establish a deep-rooted contact between the leaders sitting on the dais and the workers sitting on the other side,” she said.

If workers feel the government is theirs and they have a stake in it, it will naturally strengthen the organisation and make things easier for the government as well,” she stressed.

Naidu’s mention of 2,30,000 villages still unconnected by phone was enough to raise the hackles of communications minister Pramod Mahajan. In a strong rebuttal he said: “There were less than two crore phones before my government was installed. Now there are over four crore phones. I won’t talk of cellphones because I was the first to use one in the BJP for which I was criticised. Ironically, many of those who commented on my cellphone culture have become dedicated users of the technology. But if Vajpayee gets another chance to be the Prime Minister, I will claim that every person in this country will have a phone.”

Mahajan was reportedly so stung by Naidu’s criticism that he twisted a personal anecdote the BJP president narrated. Naidu had said that as a youth, he was nearly swept away by the current while swimming across the Cauvery on a full stomach. When death seemed inevitable, his “last thought” was he would not live to see Vajpayee as the Prime Minister.

Mahajan said that during a BJP national executive in Thiruvananthapuram, he, too, attempted to swim, on a “nearly empty stomach”, in the choppy waters off Kanyakumari and was caught in a current. “But my last thought was not who would become the Prime Minister but that I should somehow live,” he said with a smile.

But the revelation in Mahajan’s speech was the praise he showered on Advani, with whom his relations were reportedly “strained” after he was seen as being “too close” to Vajpayee.

“He is naturally reluctant to speak of his own contributions to the BJP, but if there is any one individual who brought the BJP to its position of pre-eminence today, it is L.K. Advani and his Ram rath yatra,” said Mahajan amidst applause and cheers. After he returned to his seat, an Advani loyalist hugged him.

   

 
 
HALLS CREATE CORNERS FOR COUPLES 
 
 
CHANDRIMA S. BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, Aug. 3: 
Lovebirds don’t have to look for dark corners any more. In cool Mumbai, movie halls now come ready-made with lovers’ nooks.

Three theatres in the city — Globus, Star City and Regal — have put up special corners for couples. Sponsored by a toothpaste brand, several corner seats in each hall have been marked off as lovers’ corners. Though they cost the same as the others, the seats have been redesigned — the handle between each pair has been taken off to create that extra space and help couples cosy up to each other.

The idea seems to be catching on. Not only with the young and desperate — who can anyway behave more freely here compared to any other Indian metro — but also with the older couples living in their small, cramped flats in the city where floor space is said to as precious as an M.F. Husain painting.

“We have had 100 per cent occupancy of these seats since they started two months ago,” says Kamal Sharma, manager, Globus. “And not only the young. Older couples, too, are booking the seats. Even old couples need to be only with each other sometimes, away from their crowded homes.”

At Globus, the seats come with a discount at the hall’s food counter.

The response is positive at Star City, too. “The seats have been mostly full. But it’s mostly youngsters who want these seats,” says Andrew Thomas, manager, Star City.

Isn’t it embarrassing to be spotted in such seats? “It’s time we dropped such ideas,” says Thomas.

   

 
 
NITISH READIES GODHRA LIST 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 3: 
Nitish Kumar isn’t going to back off on Mamata’s dare.

The railway minister says he is ready to release within the next fortnight the list of the passengers who travelled in the fateful S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express in February that was torched at Godhra, unleashing a horrific two-month-long orgy of communal violence in Gujarat.

Kumar has already sent a team of traffic inspectors to trace the addresses of the passengers mentioned in the ticket reservation slips. They will verify whether these persons actually travelled on that fateful day. The investigators are scheduled to submit their report in the next 10-15 days.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and Kumar have been locked in a war of words over the proposal to bifurcate Calcutta-headquartered Eastern Railway. Mamata is incensed over the fact that the plan will transfer the most lucrative assets of Eastern Railway to a new zone — Hajipur-headquartered East-Central Railway — and leave Bengal with a frail rump.

Mamata’s plea to scrap the plans to create six new railway zones in the country was rejected by the Union government, prompting her to insinuate that the Vajpayee government was rewarding Kumar for his support over the Godhra incident.

The Gujarat government has always maintained that the bogie was full of ram sevaks returning from Ayodhya and had been torched by the extremist elements in the minority community.

This has never been conclusively proven — in fact some forensic experts said it would have been difficult to douse the bogie with kerosene lugged about in jerry cans and set it alight as the train had already left the station. The interim report of the inquiry committee that investigated the incident has not been released either.

Mamata and the others claim that contrary to popular belief, the bogie had a number of people from the minority community, which is why the railways never released the list.

   

 
 
MULAYAM TAPS CONG TO SPLIT RIVAL 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 3: 
The Samajwadi Party is seeking Congress support to overthrow the Mayavati-led coalition government in Uttar Pradesh with party strategists claiming that once the Congress gives a letter of support, they could split the Bahujan Samaj Party.

As part of his gameplan, Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav today ticked off the Congress and the Left for not giving a serious thought to uniting non-BJP parties ahead of Assembly elections in 10 states.

Mulayam said L.K. Advani’s elevation as deputy Prime Minister was being perceived as a victory of fundamentalist forces.

“It is a matter of concern for the entire nation that the influence of fundamentalist forces is increasing,” the Samajwadi chief said at his party’s two-day national executive meeting in Bhopal.

The meeting, called to discuss strategic alliances in states going to polls in the coming months, also warned of mid-term elections.

   

 
 
SONIA CLEARS SOZ COMEBACK 
 
 
RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 3: 
The Congress is set to open the doors to former Union minister Saifuddin Soz, who had left the National Conference three years ago on the issue of supporting a BJP-led government at the Centre.

With an eye on the Kashmir elections, Soz recently called on Sonia, who cleared his name for rejoining the party along with that of another former Union minister, Aslam Sher Khan.

A former hockey Olympian, Khan had left the Congress to join hands with Sharad Pawar. Khan, who hails from Madhya Pradesh, today termed the row over Sonia’s foreign origins was a “non-issue”, saying she was most suited to lead the country.

AICC treasurer Motilal Vora, general secretary Vayalar Ravi and political secretary Ahmad Patel have been entrusted with the task of vetting the names of those willing to join the party.

Sources said Sonia and her team are yet to decide on the fate of former Union ministers Arif Mohammad Khan, Ram Vilas Paswan and P. Chidambaram.

   

 
 
UGC, TEACHERS ON WARPATH OVER WORKLOAD 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 3: 
Delhi University teachers and the University Grants Commission are headed on a collision course following the UGC’s fiat to the colleges to cut down on recruitment and increase teachers’ workload.

The Delhi University Teachers’ Association is launching an agitation in protest against the UGC diktat beginning with a one-day strike in colleges on Monday.

If the agitation gathers momentum, it will disrupt classes at a time when fresh admissions have taken place. The association has sent a detailed rejoinder to the UGC and is awaiting a response. If the UGC does not withdraw its directive, the association has decided to go on a weeklong strike from August 21.

Monday’s strike will be followed by an all-India education bandh on August 13, in which the participants will not only include university and college teachers but also schoolteachers.

“The UGC’s moves are clearly part of the Centre’s policy of disinvestment in higher education and withdrawal from public funding of higher education,” said association president Shaswati Majumdar.

The UGC shot off two letters to colleges in Delhi earlier this month asking them to fill up only 80 per cent of the vacant posts on a temporary basis, stop creation of posts at all levels, reduce staff by 10 per cent and abolish all vacant posts that are older than a year.

The issue of increasing the teachers’ workload has already been on the association’s agenda for quite some time. The UGC is demanding an upper limit of 22 working hours for teachers, in tune with its 1989 guidelines, while the Delhi University Ordinance has stipulated the upper limit at 15 hours. According to the association, all Delhi University colleges are bound to function within the framework of the University Ordinance and not according to UGC guidelines.

“The attempts to quantitatively increase workload on the basis of a purely mechanical application of norms taken from other spheres of work to teaching can only lower the quality of education and intellectual standards of teachers and students,” said association representatives.

Moreover Majumdar maintained that the much of the work done by the teachers are invisible. “They (teachers) are on various committees where they have their responsibilities to carry out. They take the students out on excursions, museums, art galleries – all of this is part of their work,” she said.

Majumdar stressed that the workload table advocated by the UGC will result in reversing the present ratio of lecture classes and practicals/tutorials and lead to an increase in the number of lectures at the cost of tutorials and practicals.

“While tutorials should be strengthened – since they are a means of interaction between teachers and students – the Centre is trying to reduce their number,” said association treasurer Sanjaya Kumar Bohidar.

Delhi University vice-chancellor Deepak Nayyar, however, has not been as vocal as the teacher’s association in protesting against the UGC moves.

“An association delegation met the vice-chancellor and asked him to send an official intimation to the colleges about the UGC guidelines. So far the vice-chancellor has not sent any intimation,” she said. Nayyar has also set up a committee to look into the UGC’s directive. “But by the time the committee comes up with a view, the UGC would have had its way,” said Majumdar.

The last time teachers had gone on a prolonged strike demanding implementation of revised pay scales, they had faced criticism from several quarters, including the students.

Delhi University teachers are taking care this time to mobilise opinion among students on the issue. “We want them (students) to come out on the streets with us,” said Majumdar.

   

 
 
MAFIA PLOT TO KILL ME: MAYAVATI 
 
 
YOGESH VAJPEYI
 
Lucknow, Aug. 3: 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati today alleged that two mafia dons had conspired to assassinate her and demanded protection from the Centre.

“I have informed the President, the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister that two notorious mafia dons from Uttar Pradesh, Atiq Khan and Brijesh Singh, were planning to kill me and asked them to get the matter investigated by Central agencies,” Mayavati said.

The allegation, levelled by her at a press conference called to highlight the achievements of her three-month old government, stunned top state officials and politicians.

While BJP leaders preferred not to comment on Mayavati’s assertion, Congress and Samajwadi Party leaders ridiculed the chief minister. They said it belied her claims that the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh had improved during her tenure.

“If the chief minister herself says her life is in danger and wants Central protection, how can her government discharge its constitutional obligation to ensure safety and security of the citizens of the state?” asked state Samajwadi chief Ram Saran Das.

Congress spokesman Akhilesh Singh described it as a political gimmick. “This could set the stage for selective persecution of political opponents by the Bahujan Samaj Party regime,” he said.

Atiq Khan, one of the two alleged conspirators, had won the last Assembly election from Allahabad as an Apana Dal candidate and his party has now joined hands with the Samajwadi Party. Brijesh Singh, an underworld don based in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is also politically connected through his brother, Chulbul Singh, who is a BJP member of the Legislative Council and a follower of former chief minister Rajnath Singh.

Though Mayavati refused to speculate on Brijesh’s BJP connections, she minced no words about the involvement of her political opponents. “That is why I have asked the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister to have the matter investigated by a Central agency,” she said.

Mayavati said she had sought Central assistance because the tentacles of these mafia dons spread outside the country and her government was incapable of dealing with the threat. “I have also asked them to upgrade my security,” she added. Mayavati has been already provided Z-plus category security.

State police chief Radhey Mohan Shukla, who was present at the press meet, denied any knowledge about the conspiracy.

Political observers felt that the charge could be the prelude to a crackdown on Mayavati’s political opponents. “In a state where criminals have invaded every political party, any drive against criminals is bound to have a political dimension,” said Nationalist Congress Party secretary Ramesh Dixit.

He pointed out that Atiq Khan was arrested by the police during the inaugural session of the Assembly and had been recently released from the jail. “Mayawati seems to forget that her own party had fielded Brijesh Singh’s nephew, Sushil Singh, during the last Assembly elections for the Danapur seat in Chandauli district,” he said.

Mayavati made it clear that her government was determined to act “not only against Mafia dons but also against their political protectors”. Asked whether she would take action against Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s brother, Shivpal Yadav, who had reportedly met Atiq Khan in prison, she said: “Let the state intelligence people investigate the case. The next course of action will follow.”

Replying to another question, the chief minister said that Atiq Khan and Brijesh Singh could be arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, if necessary.

   

 
 
FRESH SHOT AT CABLE BILL IN RAJYA SABHA 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 3: 
The Bill to allow an addressable system for cable television — known as the conditional access system (CAS) — has been listed for discussion in the Rajya Sabha on Monday after it was withdrawn because of a lack of consensus in the House.

The Cable TV Amendment Bill 2002 was passed by the Lok Sabha in Parliament’s last session but was withdrawn from the business of the House. Ministry officials are less than confident that the Bill will have smooth passage, primarily for two reasons.

First, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj’s talks with Opposition leaders — mainly Nilotpal Basu (CPM), Kapil Sibal (Congress) and Amar Singh (Samajwadi) — is not known to have thrashed out a compromise yet.

Among other issues, the Opposition is asking if CAS can be effectively implemented without a regulatory body being constituted. The government’s position is that a regulatory body will automatically come into being with the Communications Convergence Bill being studied by a House panel.

Second, with the Opposition gunning for the ruling coalition over the allotment of petrol pumps to friends and family members of BJP leaders, there is some doubt on whether there will be enough time for the CAS issue to be discussed in detail.

The Congress has been demanding a point-by-point discussion on the Bill and this would take considerable time. The Business Advisory Committee has allowed for a three-hour discussion.

   
 

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