Hijackers didn�t drive away, they came back
Basu advises against crackdown on rebels
Flop sterilisation shock

New Delhi, Jan. 9 
The negotiators who bought the release of 160 passengers aboard Flight IC 814 allowed the five sky pirates to hijack the Indian Airlines plane a second time after external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and the freed hostages left Kandahar for Delhi.

The second hijacking of the Airbus 300, whose flight originated in Kathmandu, took place within minutes of Singh leaving and TV crews and journalists pulling out of Kandahar airport.

Helpless officials of Indian Airlines and Alliance Air witnessed the second hijack as the sky pirates told them to stay away from the plane as they took possession of the Airbus once again.

The hijackers were accompanied on their return to the plane by the Taliban official who they had ostensibly taken hostage at the end of the negotiations to ensure their safe passage out of Afghanistan.

Gone was the gun which the hijackers had put to the head of the Taliban official � the brother of military commander Akhtar Usmani � for the benefit of the world media at the end of the hijack.

Instead, alarmed Indian airline officials found that the hijackers and their so-called hostage from the Taliban were joking and laughing among themselves.

This made the Indians realise that the hijackers had not gone anywhere after releasing the hostages, but had stayed back at the airport.

More chilling was their realisation that the Taliban and the hijackers were in the terrorist plot together and that taking Usmani�s brother as an Afghan hostage was a drama staged to fool the world. The Indians on the Kandahar airport tarmac were then scared to death.

The Indian negotiators had left the airline staff at Kandahar airport to bring back the hijacked plane after checks and servicing.

But what shocked and frightened these officials who stayed back to answer the call of duty was that the negotiators, led by Vivek Katju, joint secretary in the ministry of external affairs, had left them at the mercy of the Taliban without any arrangements for their safety. Nor did Katju and his colleagues obtain any guarantee from the Taliban for safe return of the hijacked aircraft.

According to eyewitness accounts of these Indian aviation executives, the hijackers dismounted from the same blue Land Rover in which they had ostensibly driven into the Afghan sunset after releasing the passengers and told the Indians that they wanted to retrieve a suitcase from the cargo hold of the Airbus.

The Indians, who had by then started work on the plane, offered to get the cargo themselves. But the hijackers brusquely said they needed no help. The airline staff were then asked to keep safe distance from the plane.

What happened then in front of their eyes the Indians could not believe. Two of the hijackers got into the aircraft and operated the sophisticated equipment to activate the plane�s cargo doors.

While Ibrahim Athar, alias Chief, brother of released militant Masood Azhar, kept an eye on the goings-on, the two hijackers entered the cargo hold.

There, they again operated the plane�s switches to move the baggage containers. The Indians realised that the hijackers knew how to operate an aircraft.

In the light of home minister L.K. Advani�s revelation of the identity of the suspected hijackers � two of them are from the Defence Area in Karachi � there is speculation that the sky pirates included Pakistan Air Force personnel.

The Indian Airlines and Alliance Air officials also realised as the baggage unloading was in progress that the network which the hijackers had in Kathmandu was extensive.

Athar knew precisely which container in the cargo hold had his checked-in baggage. Three containers were brought out, but Athar knew without opening any of them that the suitcase he was looking for was in the third.

No one � except the hijackers � knows what the suitcase contained. But once it was retrieved, all the containers were put back, the baggage hold was closed and the hijackers left after saying their goodbyes to the Indians.

This time, with the TV cameras absent, the so-called Taliban hostage did not go with the hijackers. He probably went to the warmth of his Kandahar home, although Taliban officials continued to fool the world a day later by announcing that their hostage had been ultimately released by the hijackers.

Also the next day, a weary and frightened Indian crew returned to Delhi with the Airbus which had dominated TV screens across the world for a full week.    

Calcutta, Jan. 9 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu today asked the state CPM leadership not to precipitate the brewing crisis in the party by taking a hard line against dissidents.

Basu advised caution during a long session at his house with state party secretary Anil Biswas. The meeting came a day after the CPM showcaused Saifuddin Chowdhury, one of the dissidents and former central committee member.

Sources close to Biswas said that Basu was told about the leadership�s unhappiness at the public criticism of the party�s functioning by the dissidents.

Basu reportedly asked Biswas not to take any hasty decision against the dissident triad of Chowdhury, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and South 24-Parganas district secretary Samir Putatunda.

Basu had last week publicly called for modernising the party�s outdated programme, spurring the dissidents to claim that he was echoing their view.

However, Basu had tempered the dissidents� euphoria by discounting their claim that the party lacked transparency and democracy.

Basu, who is recuperating from a severe cold, said he would resume work tomorrow. �I am feeling comparatively well now,� he added.

He said he would address the annual general meeting of the Merchants� Chamber of Commerce on Monday. He will also attend office at Writers� Buildings.

Chowdhury, who was served the notice at the party office yesterday, left for Katwa this morning. The party has already censured Chakraborty and Putatunda.

CPM hardliners feel that Chakraborty�s recent comments and public appearances are more harmful than that of Chowdhury.

Hardliners like Benoy Konar have criticised Chakraborty for addressing Mamata Banerjee as �sister�. However, an undaunted Chakraborty, told a party meeting: �If a woman can accept me as dada, what is wrong with my addressing her as my younger sister?�

Chakraborty has also tried to prevail upon the hardliners not to press ahead with a rail roko in north Bengal to protest the Centre�s apathy to the districts there.

Chakraborty reportedly urged party leaders not to launch any programme against Mamata, who heads the railway ministry, saying that it may boomerang on the CPM.

Mamata is scheduled to visit north Bengal to track the progress of railway projects. Chakraborty has accepted Mamata�s invitation to accompany her, sparking another round of protests by his detractors.

On Sunday, Chakraborty participated along with Mamata in a procession to mark Guru Govind Singh�s birth anniversary.    

Lucknow, Jan. 9 
A poor woman, who conceived despite a state-promoted vasectomy on her husband, has won her battle against the Uttar Pradesh government after braving relatives� torture, social stigma and formidable odds.

The high court has ordered the government to pay Shakuntala Sharma �exemplary damages� of Rs 1.5 lakh for the failed sterilisation which resulted in the birth of an �unwanted� baby.

Shakuntala, who is barely literate but bold enough to barge into the chamber of the Chief Justice of India and narrate her story, is happy with the verdict, her lawyer said. However, she may move the Supreme Court for compensation of at least Rs 25 lakh after being informed by her counsel that in a similar case in the UK five years ago, � 2.5 million was awarded as damages.

The two-member high court bench of Justice S.H.A. Raza and Justice R.D. Mathur delivered the judgment on January 5, but since it was very lengthy, detailed copies are still not available. The government refused to comment until it received the full order � a severe indictment of the family planning programme in the state.

Shakuntala, a mother of three who lives in Lakhimpur Kheri, conceived again in April 1990, after her husband Ghanshyam underwent the vasectomy on November 4, 1989.

The operation was conducted at the Sitapur district government hospital by Dr Zaheer Hassan. The writ petition said that once she conceived, Shakuntala was tortured by her in-laws and husband, who accused her of having illicit relations.

In June 1990, she forced her husband to undergo a semen test at a private clinic in Lakhimpur Kheri. The test showed that the vasectomy was unsuccessful, leaving Shakuntala unprotected against pregnancy. Another test at the Lakhimpur district hospital in July 1990 confirmed the earlier result.

After finding out from local lawyers that the Chief Justice of India is the highest legal official in the country, Shakuntala collected her meagre savings and reached Delhi in August 1990. She forced her way into the chamber of the then Chief Justice, M. Venkatachaliah, and sought his help.

Venkatachaliah wrote to the Uttar Pradesh Legal Aid and Advisory Board on September 5, 1990, asking it to take up the case, engage a lawyer and keep him informed of the proceedings.

On January 5, 1991, a boy was born to Shakuntala. He was named Vicky. A writ petition was filed by the counsel engaged by the legal aid board, S.K. Kalia, arguing that the petitioner�s right to live with dignity and honour as per Article 21 of the Constitution had been taken away.

A plea was also made on behalf of the child, saying that his �parents never wanted that he should come into this world�, but since he had the right to live, the �circumstances of the case obligates the state to maintain him out of state funds through his parents�.

A long wait of six years followed. In November 1996, the high court ordered an interim compensation of Rs 25,000. Hassan, the surgeon who had performed the operation, contested the order.

Hassan said the advertisements issued by the government encouraging people to go in for vasectomy did not guarantee 100 per cent success. Moreover, Shakuntala�s husband had signed a form saying he was aware that not all vasectomy operations are successful, he said. Ghanshyam also did not turn up for mandatory post-operation check-ups, the surgeon said.

The judges ruled that though not all operations are successful, exemplary damages were called for to highlight the negligence of the state to family planning programmes. The court said the programme had become target-oriented, where numbers, rather than actual results, were highlighted.    


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