Centre meets Bofors fire with legal shield
WTO Bills on top of the heap
Congress weighs insurance risk and return
Jackpot joyride ends in confession
Flood of tears for Tagore home
Calcutta weather

 
 
CENTRE MEETS BOFORS FIRE WITH LEGAL SHIELD 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
The winter session of Parliament today boomed into action with the Bofors guns relentlessly pounding the Atal Behari Vajpayee government both in and outside the House.

The Congress took the battle for ?redeeming the honour? of Rajiv Gandhi to the streets and raised a massive outcry in both Houses. But the government told the Congress that the law, as explained to them by attorney-general Soli Sorabjee, did not permit them to seek deletion of the former Prime Minister?s name from the CBI chargesheet.

?We have consulted the attorney-general and have been told it is not open to the government to direct or seek a deletion of the name of any accused named in the chargesheet,? home minister L.K. Advani told the Lok Sabha.

Less than a month ago, responding to Sonia Gandhi?s impassioned plea to drop Rajiv?s name, Advani had said in the House that the government would take ?appropriate action? on the matter.

?Following my assurance to the House, I had reported to the Prime Minister and the government had sought the opinion of the attorney-general,? Advani said after the issue was raised by Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

Congress MPs in the Rajya Sabha walked out after foreign minister Jaswant Singh said the Centre?s hands were tied.

Party leaders hit the streets since morning, blocking traffic across Delhi. Senior leaders Madhavrao Scindia and Digvijay Singh addressed a rally and warned of more militant protests unless the Centre backtracked.

The Congress realises that the BJP government is not going to give in. The party?s strategy, therefore, would be to keep the issue simmering but not to bring it to a boil. Sonia is against stalling business in the House and has issued a fiat to MPs not to rush to the Well of the House.

The Congress wants to make a political, not a personal, statement on Bofors. Sonia, therefore, stayed out of the delegation that met the President this evening with the plea to drop Rajiv?s name.

?The Congress will continue to protest but there is no link between deleting Rajiv?s name and Congress? support to economic Bills,? said party spokesman Ajit Jogi.

Trying to pacify angry Congressmen in the Lok Sabha, Advani made out a detailed case for the government?s inability to meet the Congress?, particularly Sonia?s, request. He said the attorney-general had probed two questions: whether it was ?permissible? for the government to accede to the Congress? demand and whether they could initiate criminal proceedings against Rajiv under Section 321.

Advani said Sorabjee told the Centre that it could initiate proceedings to withdraw the criminal case since no charge has been framed against Rajiv. But, at the same time, he added that in the light of ?well settled legal opinion?, it would not be ?permissible?to drop Rajiv?s name.

But Advani?s use of the word ?accused? spurred Congressmen into another round of battle and they pointed to the Janata government?s move to drop George Fernandes? name from a chargesheet.

?Everyone had accused Rajiv of making money and transferring it to the Lotus fund. Now the government is saying there are no charges against him. They should give an explanation to the public,? said Congress leader Rajesh Pilot.    


 
 
WTO BILLS ON TOP OF THE HEAP 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Nov. 29 
The insurance Bill appears to have plunged into uncertainty once again, but the government is confident of pushing through other legislation connected with the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Of the seven TRIPS-related Bills, five are almost certain to be passed in the winter session, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said. These Bills have to be passed before January 2000 in keeping with the government?s commitment to the WTO.

The Trademark Bill, which is ready to be introduced in the Rajya Sabha, the Plant Varieties and Farmers? Rights Protection Bill and the Geographical Indication Bill have already been approved by the Cabinet. The Geographical Indication Bill seeks to legislate India?s copyright over the generic names of products like Basmati rice, tulsi and haldi.

The Designs Bill and Copyright Bill is awaiting the Cabinet?s nod which, Mahajan said, would be given any time. The patents Bill and the Infotech Semi-Conductor Integrated Circuit Layout Bill are being drawn up. But these are not bound by a deadline.

Mahajan said if the time-bound Bills were not passed, the government would have to issue an Ordinance.

The minister indicated that the States? Reorganisation Bill ? for the creation of Vananchal, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh ? would not come up in this session. He was not sure of the fate of the women?s reservation Bill either.

Mahajan claimed the statehood Bill was being held up because the government had to go though a long-winded process before tabling it in Parliament.The home ministry is giving ?finishing touches? to it, after which it will be placed before the Cabinet. On being cleared, the Bill will be sent to the President. He will refer it to the states concerned to seek the opinion of the Assembly. Once the Bill is returned, the Centre will go through it to make necessary amendments and then bring it in Parliament.

The BJP, which was keen to at least introduce the Bill before the Bihar polls in February, could ?lose face? because of the delay, party sources said. In their recent visits to south Bihar, BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre and Union minister Babulal Marandi had promised that Vananchal would be carved out by February. ?Our stakes are high in south Bihar, and we are not sure what the fallout of the delay may be,? a Bihar MP said.

Sources said an attempt could be made to introduce the women?s Bill, being opposed by the Samajwadi Party, the RJD and a section of the Janata Dal (United), towards the end of the session after the government is through with important financial business and can ?afford to lose a day or two in adjournments?.    


 
 
CONGRESS WEIGHS INSURANCE RISK AND RETURN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
The Congress is refusing to show its cards on the insurance Bill.

Most senior leaders say that though they support the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority because it was the Congress which had ushered in the reforms, there is a need to assess the political impact of supporting the legislation before declaring their stand.

The Congress does not want the BJP to hog the credit for pushing ahead with the Bill. If the health of the insurance sector improves after the authority is set up, the BJP will try to gain maximum mileage. The Congress is aware that the go-ahead to the Bill in its present form was given by Murli Deora, then party MP who headed the standing committee on finance.

The Congress also wants to act tough with the BJP-led government as long as it insists on including Rajiv Gandhi?s name in the Bofors chargesheet. Though spokesman Ajit Jogi today denied that the Congress had linked the IRA Bill to Bofors, a section of hawks in the party maintain that not an inch should be conceded to the BJP unless it withdraws the name.

Besides, Congress leaders with socialist leanings like Arjun Singh, Vyalar Ravi and Rajesh Pilot have urged the party to tread with caution while dealing with second-generation reforms like opening up of the insurance sector.

The Congress has begun assessing the mood of its MPs. The party?s parliamentary committee has met and the issue has been discussed by leaders like P.J. Kurien, P. Shivshankar and Prithviraj Chavan. The opinion of grassroots MPs will also be sought. Though most MPs would prefer to accept the legislation, the majority view may not be implemented by the leadership immediately. The party will give its verdict after gauging the overall political scenario.

The BJP advised the Congress not to link Bofors to the insurance Bill. Party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu alleged that the Congress had linked its demand to delete Rajiv?s name from the CBI chargesheet to its support on important economic legislation.

Stressing that the Vajpayee government had no intention of defaming anybody, Naidu hoped the Congress would cooperate with the Centre on the passage of the Bills which affected the second phase of economic reforms.

Naidu said the Bills ??affected the nation as a whole and international commitments made by the government??. ??We have to rise above partisan politics while dealing with people?s interests,?? he added.

Although the government did not move the insurance Bill today, Left MPs were on their toes in the Lok Sabha and walked out later. The CPM?s Basudeb Acharya said a petition against the move signed by over 1.5 crore people was submitted to the Speaker.

Employees of different insurance companies sat on a dharna in Delhi to oppose the Bill.    


 
 
JACKPOT JOYRIDE ENDS IN CONFESSION 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Nov. 29: 
After walking away with millions from gullible banks and financiers, Kola Venkata Krishnamohan Rao today confessed that he never won the Euro jackpot.

The lottery fraud, who managed to evade the police for over two weeks, was arrested from his Vijayawada home. He was taken to the court of a sessions magistrate who ordered him to police remand. Krishnamohan, however, complained of chest pain following which he was sent to a nursing home with police escort.

His creditors, including nationalised banks, financial institutions and private lenders, will file their claims before the magistrate tomorrow. Krishnamohan borrowed Rs 23 crore from them after selling the story of his winning the $19.8-million Euro Lotto jackpot.

As proof, Krishnamohan is believed to have designed a website, www.eurolot.com, which answered in the affirmative when a browser asked whether he had won the lottery and if he had deposited the prize money abroad. He also used to flash a fax, purportedly from Euro Lotto authorities in Amsterdam. The message said that Krishnamohan had been paid the prize through three cheques (0210000, 210001, 148301) and the money was deposited in a London account. As further evidence of his fortune, Krishnamohan had furnished a security bond drawn on the Sheffield-based Midland Bank Trust Company Ltd. for $12.5 million.

Krishnamohan?s troubles began when three cheques, of Rs 25 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 15 lakh, issued to Andhra Bank, Vysya Bank and Vijaya Bank in Vijayawada, bounced.

During interrogation, Krishnamohan disclosed that he had misled another nationalised bank in Bidar by issuing them a $35,000 cheque drawn on Barclay?s Bank of London against which he was issued the equivalent amount in Indian Rupees. The Barclay?s cheque bounced.

He invested around Rs 1 crore in property, which include a bungalow and several cars, and in stocks. He also pumped in money in the business of his brother, a civil contractor in Mumbai.

The lottery fraud has placed the Telugu Desam in a spot as Krishnamohan had been taken into the party and the leadership had also considered giving him an Assembly ticket.

Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has blamed Desam leaders from Vijayawada, including state minister Shobanadeeswar Rao, for bringing him into the party. Naidu has directed party officials to deposit the Rs 10-lakh donation given by Krishnamohan in the court. The conman is also reported to have given Rs 2 lakh to the police welfare fund.

Krishnamohan, who is from Khammam, started off by running an STD booth in Vijayawada.    


 
 
FLOOD OF TEARS FOR TAGORE HOME 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Pandua (Jagatsinghpur), Nov. 29: 
Even a month after the cyclone pummelled this village, residents are grieving an irreparable loss: a country home of the Tagores was flattened by the killer storm.

Accompanied by his family members, Rabindranath Tagore used to visit sylvan Pandua, part of the family estate in undivided Bengal, and spend time there, writing. Sitting under a bakul tree at the centre of the village, Tagore is said to have composed the dance-drama Chitrangada.

The storm wrecked almost all mud houses in the village. But residents are more shocked at the ??loss?? of Tagore?s home than their own sufferings.

The zamindari was bought by Rabindranath?s father, Debendranath, who built the house. The mud-and-thatch, single-storied home was taken over by the government and it housed the revenue inspector?s office.

??The 1971 cyclone wrecked almost all houses in the village, yet left kabiguru?s home standing. But it was pulverised this time,?? said Sarada Prasad Mallick, who also lost his. ??We can rebuild our homes but we will never be able to replace the house where Rabindranath lived. It is a great loss.??

Residents said the government had turned the poet?s home into an office despite their protests. ??But at least the government maintained the house and kept the memory alive. Now it?s gone,?? said a villager. For the past 40 years, residents have been demanding that Pandua be recognised as ??Tagore?s village?? and a monument be built in his honour. Nothing was done.

In the sixties, then Orissa chief minister Harekrushna Mahtab visited Pandua on the eve of Rabindranath?s birth centenary celebrations and proposed to construct an auditorium in the poet?s memory. ??But some influential politicians opposed the move, saying there was no point building an auditorium in a remote village. The Rabindra Mandap was finally built in Bhubaneswar,?? said Narayan Sahoo, a village elder.

But this did not deter the villagers from doing their bit. At the entrance to the village, they installed a statue of Tagore and named the main road Rabindra Sarani. The residents also pooled in money to cement the bakul mandap, where Rabindranath wrote the draft for Chitrangada. The local youth formed a club called Biswakabi Rabindranath Yubak Sangsad. They tried to set up a ??Rabindra library??, but failed to raise funds.

??The government still does not recognise the main road as Rabindra Sarani, but we are not bothered,?? Mallick said. ??We are proud to be the residents of Rabindranath?s village.??

Elders have fond memories of the poet whom they claimed to have seen. ??When we would return from school, we would pass by the bakul mandap and see the poet sitting there cross-legged, scribbling something,?? Sahoo, 87, mused. ??He would sometimes call us into his house on summer days and hand us ripe mangoes grown in their orchards, saying ?baba aam khao.???

Goracharan Sahoo, the 56-year-old son of the late Durjodhan Sahoo, Tagore?s estate manager, said the poet had introduced a colourful holi festival. ??He used to come here to observe dolparba before moving to Santiniketan.??

Sahoo said villagers have since been observing the festival every year at Milan padia, or the grounds of unity, which the Tagore family owned. ??We are strapped for funds, but still trying to maintain the tradition,?? he said.

When the cyclone struck and tidal waves roared into the village ?- the sea is less than 10 km away ?- on the morning of October 29, Sahoo scrambled to save the documents relating to the property of the Tagore family which he had preserved for years.

??My father had handed me down all the papers before he died and asked me not to lose them. I kept my word and saved the papers, although I lost my belongings,?? Sahoo said.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature:
Maximum: 28.4?C (0)
Minimum: 16.6?C (+1)
RAINFALL: Nil
Relative humidity:
Maximum: 94%,
Minimum: 45%
Today:
Mainly clear sky likely. Not much change in night temperature.
Sunset: 4.46 pm
Sunrise: 6.04 am
   
 

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