Govt in statute review snub to President
Narayanan casino tag on courts
Clinton peacemaker path to Pak
Ransom replay in Tollywood

New Delhi, Jan. 28 
A day after the President questioned the proposed Constitution review, the government today stuck to its decision but tried to paper over the apparent differences between K.R. Narayanan and Atal Behari Vajpayee.

��Carefully read, the President approves of a look at the Constitution after 50 years� experience of its working. My reading of the President�s speech is that he has approved of the process of keeping the Constitution under review and making changes where necessary,�� law minister Ram Jethmalani said.

At Parliament�s special session yesterday, Narayanan had said that ��we have to consider whether it is the Constitution that has failed us or whether it is we who have failed the Constitution��. His biting response to one of the BJP�s pet issues prompted the Prime Minister to shoot back that a second look was imperative for the sake of the country�s stability.

Jethmalani, the prime force behind the proposed move, announced that a review committee will be set up within 10 days. ��We are waiting for the consent of those contacted to constitute the committee... once we get the confirmation, we will go ahead with the review,�� the minister said. He refused to divulge their names, but added that a maximum of 12 people would be on the panel.

Jethmalani spelt out the committee�s twin terms of reference. Whether the aims set out in the Constitution have been achieved. If not, is it a constitutional failure or does the fault lie with those manning the statute. ��Under these two broad terms of reference, the committee would review the entire Constitution,�� he said, adding that the basic features would not be tampered with.

Echoing Jethmalani, home minister L.K. Advani said the government�s intention was ��not to create a new Constitution but to review certain aspects��.

Jethmalani tried to gloss over the President�s differences with the government, arguing that ��Narayanan has in fact called for a review of the Constitution��.

Unwilling to enter into a confrontation with the President, the Centre had chalked out a damage-control mission yesterday.

Blaming the media for ��blowing out of proportion�� the President�s speech, Jethmalani said: ��Why are you allergic to the word review? If you do not want to call it a review, call it by any other term then: say a fresh look or an introspection.��

Justifying the move, the minister said: ��There are obvious areas which require constitutional amendments. The empowerment of women is one such area. The power to supersede a state government under Article 356 requires to be narrowly confined to genuine cases of failure of constitutional machinery. Centre-state financial relations is another area which requires a close look. Removal of just grievances of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is also a matter of priority, so also electoral reforms.��

Jethmalani brushed aside fears that the BJP might use the review to push through its agenda. ��Two-third majority in both Houses is required to bring into effect the changes. In that case, the government needs the cooperation of all parties, especially the main Opposition. So where is the fear that any hidden agenda would be imposed,�� he said.    

New Delhi, Jan. 28 
President K.R. Narayanan today turned the heat on the judiciary, the third in his line of fire after the legislature and the executive.

�Courts are no more cathedrals. They are casinos where the throw of the dice matters,� he stated, quoting a famous line.

The President�s salvo was fired at the golden jubilee celebrations of the Supreme Court. Fifty years ago on this day, judges of the apex court sat on the first bench of the independent judiciary under the first Chief Justice of India, Harilal Kania.

Presiding over the function, Narayanan said �it is an aberration� that a judge found a person guilty but could not award any punishment for lack of evidence�.

It was a veiled reference to the Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case. The judiciary, he said, should overcome �such aberrations�.

Mattoo, a Delhi university student, was allegedly murdered by her stalker, the son of a police officer. The trial judge said he was convinced of the man�s guilt but could not find enough evidence to punish him.

�Law has become the saviour of the rich and joy of the gambler,� Narayanan said, quoting Mahatma Gandhi.

To stress the point of �aberrations�, Narayanan recalled the experience of S. Radhakrishnan, the first President of independent India, during his days as practising lawyer.

Radhakrishnan once started saying in a court that �justice in this case requires....�, but he was cut short by the judge, who said: �We are not here to do justice. Establish your case beyond doubt as per law�.

This, too, had to be overcome, Narayanan said.

The President said the judiciary was the last hope of the common man and it should not fail him. Citing several cases of delay in lower courts, he insisted that the �future of the country will depend upon fulfilment of the high expectations reposed by the people in it (the judiciary)�.

Earlier, welcoming the gathering, Chief Justice A.S. Anand said although the apex court was not infallible, its contribution in upholding rule of law and personal liberty was significant.

�I do admit that the court has not been infallible. It may have made mistakes. But the final judgment of the people of this country will unquestionably be that their constitutional rights have been safe in the hands of this court,� said Justice Anand.

He also thanked the President for sending �warrants of appointments� to three judges so that they could be sworn in on �this historic day�.

Justice Ruma Pal from the Calcutta High Court, Justice Duraiswamy Raju, Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, and Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, took oath.

With this the strength of the Supreme Court becomes 25.    

New Delhi, Jan. 28 
President Bill Clinton has said that one of the �fundamental challenges� before the United States is to defuse the crisis between India and Pakistan.

The remark gave rise to speculation in official circles here that this may be an attempt by Clinton to build domestic opinion for including Islamabad on the itinerary for his proposed South Asia visit in March.

Agency reports from Washington quoted him as saying during his final State of the Union address yesterday, �America cannot prevent every conflict or stop every outrage. But where our interests are at stake and we can make a difference, we must be peacemakers.�

Placing the India-Pakistan dispute in the same category with other conflict-prone areas like West Asia, Northern Ireland, East Timor, Africa, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, Clinton said: �We should be proud of America�s role in bringing these areas to a comprehensive peace than ever before.� Defending human rights and religious freedom are the �fundamental challenges� ahead of the US globally, he added.

Though the President may have been stressing Washington�s well-known desire to bring peace between the nuclear twins in South Asia, the timing of his remarks has special significance. Clinton is scheduled to visit the region in the third week of March.

Though there has been a lot of speculation on whether he would also visit Pakistan during his tour of India and Bangladesh, some opinion-makers feel the President should leave Islamabad out of his tour programme to send a strong message to the military regime in that country.

Indicating that it has not yet let Pakistan off the hook for its alleged complicity in the recent hijack of the Indian Airlines Airbus, the US today hinted that if Pakistan repeatedly provides support to terrorist organisations it may be declared a terrorist state.

�If the secretary of state determines that a government has repeatedly provided support to international terrorism directly, then she would be prepared to designate that country as a state sponsor of terrorism,� US state department spokesman James Rubin said. According to Rubin, Clinton has said he intends to visit India and Bangladesh and no decision has been taken as to whether he will visit Pakistan as well.

�Let me make it clear we are not conducting business as usual with Pakistan in the light of the October 12 coup. Our policy recognises, however, that we do have national interests of concern to us, including non-proliferation, terrorism, regional stability (and) the potential conflict with India,� he said.

�These are national interests of the US that we thought it was appropriate to raise directly with Pakistani officials. The question of whether the President will or won�t go is up to him to make,� Rubin said.    

Calcutta, Jan. 28 
Close on the heels of the attack on Bollywood film-maker Rakesh Roshan, Tollywood�s hit director Prabhat Roy has become the target of Calcutta�s underworld.

The director has been receiving threats from anonymous callers for the past seven days at his south Calcutta residence.

�The callers are demanding Rs 5 lakh. They have threatened to kidnap me and my wife if the money is not paid,� Roy said, on Friday. He has lodged a complaint with the Jadavpur police station.

Roy has lately been grabbing headlines for Sudhu ekbar balo, the first Bengali film to have crossed the Rs 1 crore-mark in production cost. Backed by producer Rama Naidu from the south, this Prosenjit-Rituparna starrer is a multi-lingual production.

Roy has hits like Lathi, Shwet patharer thala, Shedin chaitra mas to his credit. He had bagged a national award for Lathi.

The city police, under pressure from various quarters due to the deteriorating law-and-order condition in Calcutta, have swung into action following the director�s complaint.

A caller line identification machine has been installed at Roy�s residence to trace the calls.

�We have traced four calls to pay-phone booths in Howrah, Burrabazar and other parts of the suburbs,� revealed a senior police official. According to the director, the caller has identified himself as Rafiq Lala, but the investigators say that the �name is fake�.

�I am terrified after receiving the calls, although the police officials are trying their best to give me adequate protection,� the director said.

The Jadavpur police station has deployed cops at his residence and intensified patrolling near his residence.

Roy, who started work on a new film, Shesh thikhana, today under tight security, feels that underworld operators could now be seeking softer targets after failing to extort money from some promoters in the city.

�The trend of extorting money from any promoter starting new buildings may have changed with the operators shifting their attention from property developers to filmmakers or producers involved in mega-budget projects,� said Roy.

CID officers are trying to ascertain whether a �business rivalry� could have led to the threats.    


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