Dry run for Bills of disquiet
Atal tilts to CTBT in Sonia test
Luxembourg footnote to Bofors
Schoolgirl commits suicide
Boost for PF subscribers
Vaccine for graft gangrene
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 17 
The BJP today slipped through the backdoor the contentious issues of enforcing a uniform civil code and a ban on cow slaughter, leading to sharp protests from the Opposition and its own allies who accused the party of pursuing its ?hidden agenda?.

Though BJP leaders have been asserting that the uniform civil code, Ayodhya temple and Article 370 have been put on the backburner, a party MP today introduced a private member?s Bill in the Lok Sabha to usher in a uniform civil code. 

The same member, a saffron-clad MP from Gorakhpur, Adityanath, also introduced a Bill seeking a ban on cow slaughter.

A senior BJP minister stressed that private Bills rarely get passed because they do not have government support, but the move is being seen as a ?trial balloon? floated by the party to assess the impact of the subjects.

While the Congress today accused the BJP of quietly pushing issues it had been forced to keep out of the agenda of the National Democratic Alliance, the allies made it clear the saffron party did not have their support. 

The Trinamul Congress stayed away when the motion on the civil code Bill was put to vote, the Biju Janata Dal, Janata Dal (U), MDMK and DMK abstained and another key ally, the Telugu Desam, was not present. The Opposition forced a division, and the BJP MP carried his motion with 48 voting for it and 46 against.

However, the Bill will not even be discussed in Parliament. Private Bills last one session and are taken up only on Fridays. The current session ends on Thursday.

A fortnight ago, in a move directed at Congress president Sonia Gandhi, another BJP MP had introduced a private member?s Bill to bar people of foreign origin from holding key posts.

A senior leader of an allied party alleged that the BJP was testing the waters on its ?sectarian? agenda through private Bills. ?But by pushing through such Bills, they are harming the Prime Minister and the NDA.?

Dal (U) deputy leader in the House, Devendra Prasad Yadav, said: ?I am not in the BJP. We are not its slaves. I opposed the Bill because it is not part of our (NDA?s) agenda.? BJD leader Bhartuhari Mehtab also said his party would not back any Bill that was outside the NDA?s programme.

The Opposition attack in the Lok Sabha was led by G.M. Banatwala of the IUML, supported by the Congress. Banatwala labelled the Bill unconstitutional and warned it could lead to disharmony.

Opposing the cow slaughter Bill, he said it was not only unconstitutional but also ?outside the legislative competence? of the Lok Sabha. But the Bill was introduced by voice vote after the Speaker overruled the objections. 

New Delhi, Dec. 17 
In its attempt to build a consensus on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the government today said the move is in line with the country?s policy on disarmament and India will neither barter its interest nor close its options if it initials the pact. 

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his senior aides ? foreign minister Jaswant Singh and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra ? put forward these arguments during discussions with the Congress on signing the treaty. 

The Congress delegation, led by Sonia Gandhi, included Pranab Mukherjee, Madhavrao Scindia and Natwar Singh, who heads the party?s foreign affairs cell.

The meeting with the main Opposition party indicates that Delhi is serious about assessing the mood on whether it should ink the pact. Though the BJP-led government has not spelt out its stand, the move signals that it favours initialling the treaty. 

Observers, however, wondered if the effort to build a consensus would convince the West or whether the global powers, especially the US, would force Delhi to take a final decision by setting a deadline. Singh is scheduled to meet US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott next month and the issue is expected to figure in their talks. 

Many in the government believe the time is ripe for India to sign the treaty as it is under no international pressure to do so, especially since the US Senate has refused to ratify it. 

Some officials also argue that by inking the CTBT, India will send out the twin signals that it is willing to join the international effort on disarmament and that it is a responsible nuclear power which is against an arms race in south Asia. 

The immediate benefit of putting its signature on the treaty will be the lifting of sanctions. It will send the right messages to foreign investors and pave the way for Delhi?s access to dual-use technology. 

During the discussions, the government said the ground reality had changed since Pokhran-II and the treaty could no longer be described as ??discriminatory??. 

The leaders assured the Congress that Delhi has the capability to maintain a nuclear deterrent and continue with its research and development programme like other nuclear powers.

Briefing the media after the hour-and-half-long meeting this evening, the foreign minister said the talks were held on the ??technical, political and international impact of the CTBT??.

He said Sonia told Vajpayee that she will consider the government?s argument and then consult her colleagues. If required, she will seek further clarifications from the Prime Minister.

The government will begin consultations with the Left parties shortly.

New Delhi, Dec. 17 
A day after Switzerland handed over crucial Bofors papers, foreign minister Jaswant Singh said India has received more documents related to the case from Luxembourg.

?It (the set handed by the Swiss) is not just the final set of papers. Additional information has been obtained by the government from Luxembourg. They, too, will be used by the government,? Singh told the Rajya Sabha when the Bofors case came up for special mention.

Singh did not elaborate on the Luxembourg papers. However, since the European nation is a banking hub, speculation is rife that the papers might contain information on the bank accounts involved in the gun deal.

Raising the issue, CPM member Mohammad Saleem demanded that the House and the people of the country must be taken into confidence by the government on the progress of the case before the winter session ended on December 23. Saleem stressed the demand was legitimate because ?persons with tremendous? influence were named in connection with Bofors.

?The government must come up with a picture of what is happening and who is involved. We heard the name of the Hindujas who have tremendous influence. The House and the nation have a right to know how the government is going to expedite the case,? Saleem said.

Singh replied that under the treaty obligation signed with the Swiss, the government could not reveal what the documents contained. ?On earlier occasions, whenever such a demand was raised, the Federal Court of Switzerland has said if the documents were used for any other purpose (than the intended one) it would amount to political vendetta,? he added. However, he said he would put forth the demand for a status report to the appropriate ministry.

Singh dismissed Saleem?s insinuation that the Bofors case was being delayed. ?The last set of documents has been received by the government because of government?s initiative. The ministry of external affairs, with the Swiss government, has managed to expedite matters.?

The House also saw protests over a special mention on the removal of two prominent Prasar Bharati members ? Romila Thapar and Rajendra Yadav ? from the board. 

Calcutta, Dec. 17 
A 14-year-old school student committed suicide by hanging herself in her Chetla home yesterday. 

Dilosa Sau, a Class X student of St. Teresa convent, Kidderpore, took her own life apparently because she was not allowed to watch television. 

The girl?s father Bibhuti, who works in Dehra Dun, is now in Calcutta and had collected his daughter from school yesterday. The Sau family ? Dilosa, her elder sister and mother ? came to the city early this year and took up residence at Mahesh Datta Lane, under New Alipore police station. 

Bibhuti recalled that Dilosa was in a bad mood on her way back from school and kept on throwing tantrums. After lunch, she wanted to watch TV but her father objected. An angry Dilosa stomped off to the bedroom and locked herself.

When she did not come out even after an hour, the family broke down the door and found her hanging from the ceiling. She was rushed to hospital but was declared dead. 

Another case of suicide ? by two sisters ? was reported in Bhowanipore. Shukla and Shipra Majumdar committed suicide at their Jagadananda Mukherjee Lane residence today.

Police said Shukla?s husband Tapan Das was a professor at Asansol College and lived there with their eight-year-old daughter. Shipra was unmarried. The sisters lived in Calcutta with their brother?s family. 

The two women were found lying on the bed in their room, with a half-filled bottle of nitric acid next to Shipra. A suicide note said no one was responsible for their death.

According to Bhowanipore police, both women suffered from mental disturbance. A younger brother, too, had committed suicide in 1990. 

New Delhi, Dec. 17 
Employees subscribing to the Provident Fund (PF) scheme are ?consumers? and any delay in the payment of the fund will amount to ?deficiency in service?, the Supreme Court ruled today.

With this ruling, the scheme comes under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act. 

Handing down the ruling, a division bench of Justices S. Saghir Ahmad and R.P. Sethi said: ?A perusal of the PF scheme clearly and unambiguously indicates that it is a ?service? and the member a ?consumer? within the provisions of the Act.? 

Awarding Rs 1,000 as cost against a regional PF commissioner for a one-month delay in payment to an employee, the apex court upheld a National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission order, saying: ?The scope of the Act is wide enough to include not only the person concerned but also the beneficiary of the person.?

This means that an employee?s nominees and legal heirs will have the same claim as an employee on PF.
The court rejected the argument that the commissioner, belonging to the central government, could not be held to be rendering ?service?. 

?The commissioner is a separate and distinct entity. It cannot legally claim that the facilities provided by the scheme were not ?service? or that the benefits under the scheme being provided were free of charge.?

According to the facts of the case, respondent Shiv Kumar Joshi, a member of the PF scheme, had applied to the regional PF commissioner in Faridabad, Haryana, for payment of his fund on July 15, 1992. 

It was found that Joshi?s application was not complete. His claim was settled on August 24, 1992, after verification obtained from the factory where he was employed. 

Joshi filed a complaint before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum on August 26, accusing the PF commissioner of ?deficiency in service? and claimed Rs 65,000 as damages.

The district forum on November 4, 1992, directed the consumers? forum to pay interest at 18 per cent per annum on the PF, besides ordering Rs 1,000 as cost. The state and the national forums upheld the order.

On an appeal by the PF commissioner, the apex court said the fund scheme is a service ?within the meaning of section 2 (1)(o) and the member a consumer within the meaning of section 2 (1)(d) of the Act?.

?It is therefore without  any substance to urge that the               services under the scheme are rendered free of charge and     therefore the scheme is not a service under the Act,? the judges said.

New Delhi, Dec. 17 
Central vigilance commissioner N. Vittal has submitted a 13-point ?zero tolerance-to-corruption action plan? to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, recommending measures to weed out corruption.

Vittal wants Vajpayee to prepare a corruption perception index of all government departments, public sector units and banks. Each year, the list will be published so that efforts to bring down corruption can be tracked. 

If the proposal is accepted, the IIMs, psephologists or industry associations can be given the task of identifying and ranking corrupt organisations, Vittal said.

The vigilance chief wants checks not only on public servants receiving pay offs, but also on those offering them bribe. He said the chambers of commerce and the business community should emulate the 34 OECD countries which have signed an anti-bribery convention. He also referred to the Foreign Corruption Practices Act in the US, which makes American companies giving bribes to developing countries liable to be prosecuted.

Vittal wants the government to encourage ?whistle blowing? and pass the Whistle Blower Act on the lines of the UK and Australia, where people making public disclosures about corrupt seniors are protected and encouraged. ?Corruption is like AIDS. AIDS comes out of uncontrolled sexual behaviour and corruption comes about due to uncontrolled financial behaviour,? he said. 

Vittal is against the Voluntary Disclosure Scheme (VDS), which he feels, legitimises corruption. ?Legal and administrative measures with good intentions produce opposite results. The Sick Industries Companies Act and BIFR are excellent examples,? he said, adding that banking secrecy practices also help defaulters escape punishment.

The vigilance chief has also called for enactment of the Corrupt Public Servants (forfeiture of property) legislation, Implementation of Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Act, e-governance, use of information technology to check corruption, mandatory filing of annual property returns by all MPs and ministers, mobilisation of youth against corruption and speedy disciplinary action.

Vittal stressed that the CVC Bill must be taken up immediately in Parliament and passed. This, he felt, should be the first step to make zero tolerance of corruption meaningful. A statutory vigilance commission can be a key instrument to fight corruption, he added. 

Vittal feels that since the judicial process takes time, the corrupt can be punished only if speedy departmental action is taken. He pointed out that the vigilance panel had said a year ago that all departmental action should be completed within six months. He added that this must be implemented in letter and spirit.    

Vittal said India is ranked 66th out of 85 countries in a corruption perception index prepared by Berlin-based NGO, Transparency International. ?My goal is to see that before I hand over charge on September 2, 2002, India?s rank improves from the current level of 66 to at least 40 if not 30,? he said. 

Today?s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Slight fall in night temperature.
Max. temperature: 26.6°C (normal) 
Min. temperature: 15.3°C (1° above normal)
Maximum humidity: 85% 
Minimum humidity: 32%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 4.50 pm Sunrise: 6.16 am 

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