Mamata one foot out, another in
Centre scurries to SC as pump legal slick spreads
Terror proof rule eased
This time, everything’s official
Kalam hope, Narayanan anguish spill out
Digital detour to print destination
Legal and internal backlash puts BJP on toes
Sonia in, loyalists out
Jaya bans pro-LTTE outfit
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MAMATA ONE FOOT OUT, ANOTHER IN 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 13: 
After a long tussle with the BJP, Mamata Banerjee today decided to quit the National Democratic Alliance but not before keeping the door half-an-inch open.

“Before leaving Delhi, I will meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on either August 16 or 17 to tell him of our decision,” the Trinamul Congress leader said at the end of a two-hour meeting of her party’s working committee here this afternoon.

In a resolution, Trinamul said it “will not be part and parcel of (the) NDA unless and until the issue of railway bifurcation is sorted out to our satisfaction”.

Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had called Mamata up this morning. The veteran BJP leader said he “was willing to talk out the issue with her”. Mamata said she would meet the Vice-President before she leaves for Calcutta.

It is unusual for a Vice-President to intervene in a dispute of this nature but Shekhawat is counted among the closest supporters of Vajpayee.

Yesterday, Mamata had refused to vote in the vice-presidential election to protest against Eastern Railway’s bifurcation and sat in dharna along with her MPs at Jantar Mantar. Though Vajpayee sent Vijay Goel to persuade her, Mamata refused to budge.

Mamata, however, did not shut the door completely on the NDA. She stonewalled a question on the issue, saying while her party did not want to leave the coalition, “it has to be understood that coalition politics is one of give and take”.

The comment is being interpreted as an indication that the Trinamul leader has still not reconciled herself to the BJP’s rejection of her demand that Dhanbad and Katihar should remain with Eastern Railway.

That she has sought a meeting with Vajpayee, observers point out, indicates that she is still banking on the Prime Minister to bring her back to the NDA.

“Even now I appeal to the Prime Minister to intervene. He belongs to the country and not to any particular state. I respect Vajpayeeji and have faith in him,” Mamata said.

Of the nine Trinamul MPs, at least three — Sudip Bandopadhyay, Bikram Sarkar and Dinesh Trivedi — are opposed to quitting the alliance. Those in favour of snapping ties include Ranjit Panja, Nitish Sengupta and Krishna Bose.

But the mood of BJP leaders is far from conciliatory towards their Bengal ally who had earlier quit the Cabinet in a huff, demanding George Fernandes’ resignation as defence minister following the Tehelka exposé. Recently, she had spurned the BJP’s offer to head the surface transport ministry in the wake of the bifurcation storm.

It is unlikely the Prime Minister will lend Mamata a sympathetic ear as he has done in the past. The majority opinion within the BJP has turned against the Trinamul leader who once had the reputation of getting her way with the high command. Even without Trinamul, the NDA has 320-odd MPs — well clear of the majority mark of 273 in the 544-strong Lok Sabha.

The BJP appealed to Trinamul to reconsider its decision, but the party made it clear there would be no going back on railway minister Nitish Kumar’s decision to split Eastern Railway.

“We would appeal to Trinamul Congress to reconsider its decision and remind its leaders that the Cabinet had re-discussed and re-affirmed the railway ministry’s decision on bifurcation,” BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley said.

In Calcutta, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee called an all-party meeting on August 19 to discuss the bifurcation. Trinamul’s Subrata Mukherjee said late tonight the party would attend the meeting.

The Bengal Congress welcomed Mamata’s decision on the NDA but said a joint movement with Trinamul would be feasible “only if it permanently closes its door on the ruling coalition”.

   

 
 
CENTRE SCURRIES TO SC AS PUMP LEGAL SLICK SPREADS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Aug. 13: 
The floodgates of petrol-pump litigation have opened with full fury on the Centre, forcing it to firm up plans to approach the Supreme Court tomorrow with a plea to club all cases challenging the Prime Minister’s order to cancel all fuel depot allotments made since 2000.

Several petitions, including 24 in Calcutta High Court, have been filed in courts across the country to quash the cancellation order.

The petitioners have managed to obtain stays from the high courts in Delhi and Jaipur, while the one in Chennai has asked the Centre to file a reply.

The government had cancelled the allotments following revelations that many of the allotments had gone to BJP party members or their kith and kin.

Faced with the large number of high court decisions despite over 2,500 caveats taken out by oil companies earlier in the week, officials were pondering on how to handle the situation.

They said today’s court stay orders had made them realise that fighting court battles in various cities could prove time-consuming, besides leaving the government exposed to attack on various fronts.

The petroleum ministry’s top brass, which consulted solicitor-general Harish Salve, decided to request the Supreme Court to bunch all cases as was done in Balco’s case.

Petroleum minister Ram Naik also sought the advice of former law minister and BJP party functionary Arun Jaitley.

“The strategy now is that we will be asking the apex court to consider the case in its entirety, not individual problems faced by various people. What will then be considered will be whether the oil selection board system of dealer appointments was correct or whether a system of auction is better,” an official said.

Sources said the BJP had already issued strict instructions to its cadre that none of them or their relatives who were affected by the Prime Minister’s orders cancelling dealerships should move court. “Those who have filed cases against the decision are non-BJP people,” asserted a source.

In Delhi, the high court issued stay orders after writs were filed by Radhika Backliwal, who had been given a petrol pump in west Delhi by Indian Oil, and by ex-serviceman Rathi Bhan Singh Rathour, who had been allotted a cooking gas agency in Bareilly by Hindustan Petroleum.

Legal experts said the sweeping range of the government’s cancellation orders could be challenged as dealers could claim that they had not violated any of the contractual terms offered to them.

They added that though the Constitution no longer enshrines the right to property, it would be “tough” for the government to take over privately owned petrol pumps and hand them over to contractors who would run them till they are auctioned.

   

 
 
TERROR PROOF RULE EASED 
 
 
OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 13: 
The Supreme Court has ruled that absence of corroborative evidence in terrorism-related offences would not weaken the prosecution’s case, giving a shot in the arm of law-enforcement agencies in militancy-affected areas and raising civil liberty concerns.

The ruling came as a three-judge bench of Justices M.B. Shah, Bisheshwar Prasad Singh and H.K. Sema confirmed the five years’ rigorous imprisonment handed to Tarun Bora, alias Alok Hazarika, of the Ulfa by a Tada designated court in Guwahati.

Bora, a member of the outlawed militant outfit, was found guilty of abducting and torturing an alleged police informer.

The apex court ruling sets a precedent which will impact the entire gamut of terrorism-related cases, either under Tada — hundreds of cases are going on still under the lapsed law — or its new incarnation, the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Usually, the prosecution presents a witness to the crime in question and has to provide corroborative evidence of the witness’ account — “further corroboration” by another independent witness. The apex court said it was impossible to find several witnesses in a given situation of terror and in areas where armed groups have struck terror.

Justice Sema, the first Naga judge in the apex court, wrote the judgment, saying: “It is quite but natural that in a prevailing situation obtaining in the area surcharged with the insurgency activities striking a terror and fear psychosis in the minds of the people, the investigating officer would definitely find difficulties to collect sufficient corroborative evidence.”

“Witnesses will be reluctant to come to the court to depose or appear before the investigating office to give statement for fear of reprisals. Rarely one comes across any corroborative evidence in such type of offence. This would be no ground to throw away otherwise trustworthy evidence of prosecution witnesses,” the judge added.

He turned down the plea of “human consideration” in terror offences. Bora’s counsel had pleaded that his conviction would prejudice his family.

“We are not at all persuaded by this submission…. Human consideration is no ground for showing leniency to the perpetrator of the crime against organised civil society (defined as terrorism), which is abhorrent to the concept of rule of law,” Justice Sema said.

   

 
 
THIS TIME, EVERYTHING’S OFFICIAL 
 
 
RAJA GHOSHAL
 
New Delhi, Aug. 13: 
Corporate sponsors of the Champions Trophy, cricket’s mini world cup, are putting the squeeze on the International Cricket Council.

Insiders say the four sponsors — Pepsi, LG Electronics, Hero Honda and South African Airways — will renegotiate their contractual amounts for the sponsorship of the event if ICC is unable to deliver on its side of the bargain.

The burning issue is over a clause in the players’ contract that prevents them from endorsing any product on television or in the print media that is in direct conflict with the products of the four sponsors for a period of one month before and after the tournament.

The sponsors, who are stumping up a huge amount of cash to sponsor the event, have insisted on this to pre-empt ambush marketing by rivals. Ambush marketing is a tactic that Pepsi famously used during the World Cup in 1996; Coke was the Cup sponsor but got bushwhacked by Pepsi’s now famous “Nothing official about it” campaign.

However, Nimbus, which is marketing the event on terrestrial television (read Doordarshan), says the clause was present in the contract signed by ICC in 2000 for a seven-year deal with its sponsors — two global and six event (specific matches) contracts.

Industry insiders close to the sponsors say that if ICC is forced to withdraw the clause — a possibility raised by the refusal of the Indian team to sign the contracts — it could have to renegotiate its sponsorship agreements.

Sunil Manocha, senior vice-president of Nimbus Communications Ltd, Mumbai, told The Telegraph: “The clause is meant to pre-empt the possibility of ambush marketing which happened when Pepsi unleashed its ‘Nothing official about it’ campaign during the World Cup in ‘96 and left Coke out in the cold.”

This time, Pepsi is the main sponsor and is taking out an insurance to ensure that it doesn’t get a dose of its own medicine.

Since 1997, Coca-Cola has stayed away from cricket sponsorship. Pepsi has been sponsoring cricket tournaments in India. Last year, it sponsored the India-England series but roped in LG Electronics as the co-sponsor just before the one-day matches.

Pepsi has eight cricketers in the Indian side who endorse its products: Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Harbhajan Singh, V.V.S. Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Mohammad Kaif. The Board of Control for Cricket in India is yet to announce the squad for the mini World Cup to be played in Sri Lanka. It is waiting for the issue to be resolved.

Coke has only one cricketer in the present side — Virender Sehwag — who endorses its cola in an ad that also features Sunil Gavaskar. Sourav Ganguly used to endorse Coke before he defected to Pepsi two years ago.

If the clause is enforced and Sehwag is picked to play, Coke will not be able to air the Sehwag ad. Equally, TVS will have to desist from airing its bike ad featuring Sachin Tendulkar as Hero Honda is one of the event sponsors.

The ICC is keen to protect the interests of its four sponsors. Apart from Pepsi and LG who are the global sponsors, the event sponsors are Hero Honda and South African Airways.

Sahara, which is the official sponsor of the Indian side, says it will not be affected. “The endorsement clause does not impact us; the Indian team will continue to sport our logo on their T-shirts,” Air Sahara CEO U.K. Bose said.

There have been reports suggesting that the players would not be allowed to display the Sahara logo because there could be a “conflict of interest” with South African Airways.

Manocha said: “The matches for which ICC has the rights, the big event of Champions Trophy, is happening now. That is why people are waking up to it.”

Adman and cricket event marketer Navroze Dhondy, chief of Percept Integrated Marketing, agrees with Manocha that a number of sports provide for the inclusion of such a clause in the players’ contracts to pre-empt ambush marketing.

Dhondy said: “ICC has signed a contract with BCCI, who in turn has signed with the players. The players have their contracts with their respective sponsors.” The chain is disturbed only when everybody is not aware of all the contractual obligations.

   

 
 
KALAM HOPE, NARAYANAN ANGUISH SPILL OUT 
 
 
RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 13: 
On a day his predecessor K.R. Narayanan admitted to a sense of “helplessness” over the Gujarat carnage, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam sought to urge the country to channel its energies into making India a developed nation free of communal and other forms of strife.

Kalam’s first address to the nation on the eve of Independence Day is set to underline the need for a “healing touch” to the riot victims of Gujarat, from where he returned this evening.

He is also likely to focus on a new agenda for the country where technology would go hand in hand with agriculture, rural development, education and healthcare.

The President recorded his address to the nation this evening. It will be telecast tomorrow. The draft was sent from the government but Kalam added a few sentences, particularly those relating to Gujarat.

While Kalam stressed on the theme of development, Narayanan could barely hide his anguish over the Gujarat riots that broke out when he was holding office.

In his first public comment on the riots after demitting office, Narayanan told a television channel that he had often felt “helpless” when he was unable to do anything in the aftermath of communal violence in the state.

Narayanan, who did not visit Gujarat after the riots, said the orgy of violence made him feel “sad, agonised and ashamed”. He said he felt helpless when so many delegations came to him narrating their woes. “I could not do anything about it. Gujarat was a major example of helplessness,” he said.

Narayanan said the country was in need of an “Inditva” ideology. Asked if he was speaking against Hindutva, he said anybody who has a “guilty conscience” will feel it was aimed at them. “I was directing it against communalism,” he said.

   

 
 
DIGITAL DETOUR TO PRINT DESTINATION 
 
 
SUBHRO SAHA
 
Aug. 13: 
Roopa Swaminathan, a budding writer-filmmaker from Bangalore with a Masters in mass communications from Kansas State University, read about the oxfordbookstore.com e-author contest last year while surfing a website in a story that mentioned the contest had already received over 1,500 entries.

So she went ahead and sent the 1,501st entry — the 1st chapter of her book At the Stroke of Midnight — and it proved worth the trouble.

In the results announced on September 27, 2001 at the India Internet World 2001 exhibition in New Delhi, Roopa’s work was adjudged second by a panel comprising Amitav Ghosh, Shobhaa De, Vikram Chandra, Samik Bandopadhyay and Krishna Sen.

More important, it has now fetched her a book contract from Penguin. The one lakh plus-word non-fiction book on the Indian film industry, titled The Outsiders, should be published early next year by Penguin.

The mega search for the “first Indian full length single-author English e-book” initiated by oxfordbookstore.com in March last year launched another author. Rohit Gupta, a chemical engineer from IIT Kharagpur, was selected winner for his book, The Oyster Club. Oxford later released his first printed book, Play On Edward in-store and the book has notched up record sales. Debapriya Pal, who has degrees in telecom engineering as well as arts, and a Masters in business administration, was selected third for his thriller The Falcon Strikes Back.

The portal had invited budding writers to send in the first chapters of books they were planning to write. The three best first chapters were awarded cash prizes of Rs 5,000, 3,000 and 2,000.

The winning chapters were published on the portal and the authors were given three-and-a-half months to finish their books. Once the completed books were sent in, there was a second round of judging. The winner received a cash award of Rs 25,000 and the top three books were edited in-house and published on the site on September 1, 2001.

“The whole idea of a book on the Internet is quite unusual. I guess any writer would want to tangibly hold their writing in the form of a book. Having said that, a novel on the Internet is definitely a fantastic idea. With the world changing ever so rapidly, it was a matter of time before we started to read books online,” smiles Roopa, who lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years trying to study the way Hollywood works.

She came back to India last year and stayed back in Chennai to work with Mani Ratnam. The National Films Development Corporation (NFDC) has already approved her script for an English film, which is now waiting for budgets to be sanctioned. She has already written a few screenplays that have been read in LA by semi-professional actors and dreams of winning the Oscars someday for best picture and script.

Rohit, who bagged a neat purse of Rs 25,000 for his best entry, currently lives in Delhi and has been doing some freelance writing in between his jobs. He is a frequent contributor to Gentleman, Man’s World, Mid-Day and flakmag.com and has recently done a series of articles and interviews with Stephen Hawking and other physicists for various newspapers and websites. Rohit is currently working towards setting up a new magazine and is researching on the Mumbai underground. He is passionately fond of books, music, good alcohol and stimulating company.

“Winning the Oxford e-author version 1 award was pivotal in being considered as a serious writer and it opened up many doors for me in the publishing industry. E-books were under-rated in India because the Internet was over-rated. But now, the mist seems to be clearing and I can see a lot of advantages,” he says.

Sanjeev Mehra, chief operating officer, oxfordbookstore.com, who has launched version two of the web contest this year, says: “The objective of this event is two-fold. One, to give first-time writers an opportunity to manifest their talent and second, to build a platform for earning the unique distinction of becoming an online author in the country. The two winners of last year, Rohit and Roopa, have bagged book deals and Rohit has even got his first book published.”

   

 
 
LEGAL AND INTERNAL BACKLASH PUTS BJP ON TOES 
 
 
RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 13: 
The BJP and the Centre appear unfazed at the prospect of getting entangled in litigations arising out of the decision to scrap all petrol pump, cooking gas and kerosene dealerships awarded since January 2000.

“When large-scale cancellations are made, some persons are bound to go to court. But the petroleum ministry and oil companies would be defending the decision,” BJP chief spokesman Arun Jaitley told reporters.

Official sources said a top constitutional lawyer — who has been engaged to appear on behalf of the respondent (the government) — and solicitor-general Harish Salve have been given a “stiff” briefing by the Centre to defend the decision in the Supreme Court.

The sources said the government, in essence, would argue that the present system of allocation is “mired in corruption and designed to encourage nepotism”. Therefore, it would be best to do away with it. In public interest, a “more open system of auctioning” would make the whole exercise appear “transparent and fair”, they added.

“Please wait for a few more days to know what is happening in the court,” Jaitley said, maintaining that “anticipation of the legal cases did not deter the government from taking such a decision”.

But for all his apparent nonchalance, the government’s decision has set the cat among the BJP’s pigeons. Those who directly benefited from the allotments or helped others get them were apparently heard complaining about how they would recover the money spent on the purchase of land (for pumps) and for creating the necessary infrastructure. “Their only hope is the government would recompense them in case some kind of a settlement is reached in the courts,” sources said.

There is also a feeling that if the BJP is to seriously acquire the “mindset” of a ruling party, it has to be seen as a distributor of patronage. Petrol pumps and LPG agencies are seen as a major source of showering largesse. “Half the people in my constituency will not take me seriously from now on,” complained an MP from western Uttar Pradesh who was one of those to be allotted a petrol pump dealership.

Although the leadership felt the decision to scrap licences would help the BJP recover its high moral ground — epitomised in its slogan “party with a difference” — there were not too many takers. “I tend to agree with the Opposition that this is all a dhong (farce). First, you give the impression that you have used the broom to clean your backyard. Then your very followers challenge the move in the court and get a stay. Who will be fooled? Certainly not our voters,” sources said.

Though some have begun to blame the government’s legal advisers for their “flawed” advice, sources close to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee are optimistic that the issue could be sorted out to the government’s “advantage”.

“There are two aspects to it,” they argued. “There is a private law in which the court looks at it as a contractual matter between two parties. In this case, the allottees’ case could be strong because it can be fairly argued out that the allotments were made after following a well-laid out procedure and the allottees invested a large amount getting the business going.”

But the government, the sources said, is looking at it from a public domain. “Its argument would be the present system is corrupt and bound to encourage nepotism. Therefore, an open system of auctioning would bring in the much-needed sunlight and make it appear transparent and fair.”

   

 
 
SONIA IN, LOYALISTS OUT 
 
 
RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 13: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s visit to the party headquarters after a gap of 83 days created chaos at 24 Akbar Road.

The stringent security drill prevented even some of the AICC office-bearers from entering the Congress headquarters. Besides, the news conference scheduled for 4 pm — where a party spokesman was expected to give “documentary evidence” of an alleged land scam involving the Sangh parivar and the Union urban development ministry — was called off.

Sonia, who had visited the party headquarters on May 22 to vet the Congress papers for the AICC session, was at 24 Akbar Road to chair a meeting of party observers for Jammu and Kashmir. As a result of the visit, office-bearers and journalists faced major problems in entering the Congress office today.

Most observers from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana were not allowed to enter till AICC treasurer Motilal Vora walked up to the gate to usher them in. AICC secretary Chandan Bagchi was heard shouting on top of his voice when the elite Special Protection Group refused to let him enter, despite his car carrying a sticker specially issued by Vora, who is in charge of administration.

“I am an office bearer of the Congress. It is my office. Who are you to prevent me from going inside?” Bagchi asked the security personnel. As the commotion continued, Vora had to again rush from his office to “rescue” Bagchi.

Several media persons were also stranded. Though the septuagenarian leader apologised profusely, the AICC’s media department — consisting of five spokespersons — was most indifferent with the telephones not responding and mobile phones switched off.

Several party workers braved the heat and the occasional shower outside the party office in the hope of catching a glimpse of “Madam”.

However, when her motorcade of Tata Safaris moved from the neighbouring 10 Janpath towards 24 Akbar Road, the faceless party workers were shooed away to the adjacent Mahila Congress office and made to promise that they would not make an appearance till she returned to her residence.

One worker from Begusarai could not hide his disgust. “Is this the party in waiting for governance?” he asked loudly.

Sonia had recently introduced the elaborate system of restricting entry to the party headquarters after some general secretaries complained that they were not able to concentrate on work because of the heavy rush of visitors. Now, during Sonia’s presence at the party office, 24 Akbar Road is going to be out of bounds for all party workers.

   

 
 
JAYA BANS PRO-LTTE OUTFIT 
 
 
M.R. VENKATESH
 
Madurai, Aug. 13: 
The pro-LTTE Tamils Nationalist Movement led by Pazha Nedumaran has been proscribed by the Jayalalithaa-led ADMK regime.

The organisation has been declared an “unlawful association”. Its leader was arrested recently under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and lodged in Cuddalore central jail. Q-Branch police personnel had also searched Nedumaran’s residence and office a few days ago.

The Tamil Nadu government has banned the party under Section 15(2)(B) and 16(1) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1908, and the notification was officially gazetted today, Jayalalithaa announced in Chennai, according to reports reaching here tonight.

The decision to ban the organisation, which had recently hosted the launch of the World Federation of Tamils in Chennai, was taken at a recent state Cabinet meeting.

Home secretary shifted

The chief minister also shifted home secretary Naresh Gupta to the state planning commission. Syed Munir Hoda, the present health secretary, will take over from Gupta, according to an official release.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:29.4°C (-3)
Minimum:25.5°C (-1)

Rainfall

14.7 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 88%

Today

Sunrise: 5.15 am
Sunset: 6.08 pm
A few spells of rain
   
 

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