Blind & abused, teens flee welfare home
US terror report deals veiled blow to Delhi
PM slaps Sangh with Sankhya Vahini nod
Khurana at PM door with Pramod grouse
West Bengal butt of Joshi�s joke
Opp. advises caution on ammo theories

Lucknow, May 2 
Tucked away 6 km beyond the nearest place of habitation, the cries of 35 blind children, who were being sodomised and subjected to inhuman treatment over the last few years by their school principal, never reached the outside world. When it did, it was received by gasps of shock and disbelief.

On Sunday, eight children, all sightless and aged between 12 and 17 years, somehow managed to escape from their cruel confinement at the Uttar Pradesh Social Welfare Department-run school for the blind at Mahosar village in Banda. Their principal Shravan Kumar Katiyar was away �on a holiday� with his family in Lucknow.

When they fumbled their way to the house of Vivek Singh, local MLA and minister of state for power, and narrated their tale of terror the shocked minister broke down.

Swift action followed and Katiyar, who is himself blind, was arrested in Lucknow yesterday. Singh met chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta today to apprise him of the �extreme forms of sexual assault� the minors were being subjected to. He has also appealed to change the school�s location so that help is at hand when the situation arises.

Armed guards have been posted at the school, silent from assault and negligence, so that the others who remain inside its abusive environs feel safe.

But as Singh himself says this is just the tip of the iceberg and �things are much worse than they actually seem�.

Says 12-year-old Vijay Karan: �We used to think our disability was the biggest punishment given to us by god, but we were wrong. There can be nothing more cruel than what we had to go through at the hands of that devil.�

Katiyar used to target minors, calling them to his office late in the evenings.

Once in his chamber he used to abuse them sexually. Those who raised even a feeble voice of protest were beaten mercilessly and kept without food and water for days. Terrorising them with threats of expulsion � which was the most potent threat as most of them, dumped by their families, have nowhere to go � Katiyar easily bought their silence. Others falling in line were given extra food and a few rupees as reward.

Tiny and malnourished Mangal Singh, a student of Class IV wails: �Where do we go? There is no home for us except the school. We were afraid to say anything against Katiyar as there was always the possibility of being expelled. Some time back four of my friends who threatened to tell the police were expelled. They have been charged with theft. No one knows where they are now.�

The students who mostly come from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar say that sexual assault was not all. For the last two years Katiyar has not given them their stipend of Rs 550 per month. Two peons double up as teachers as the posts of four teachers who died in an accident four years ago have not been filled.

Requests of extra helpings of food were met with either beatings or cruel barbs.

Asked how long the abuse had been going on, Dayaram, another student says: �Kitne baar hua, ginti nahi hain� (It has happened countless times.) The 14-year-old�s only wish now is that the rest of his friends are freed from their misery and taken to a safer place.

�It is not just the eight of us who have been abused, there are others who are too scared to come out in the open. Please help them,� he says staring blankly and addressing no one in particular.    

Washington, May 2 
Celebrations in New Delhi over the Clinton administration�s latest anti-terrorism report may be premature.

A close examination of the report, released by the US state department on Monday � as opposed to its interpretation by The New York Times during the weekend � shows that joint efforts by India and the US to fight terrorism, which have been highly publicised in India over nearly a year, have barely been acknowledged in this report.

What must be galling for the Atal Behari Vajpayee government is that the report describes the much-publicised creation of an Indo-US joint working group as an Indian initiative, with which the US merely went along.

Giving the impression that Washington had no role or responsibility in creating the working group, the report says: �New Delhi announced in November 1999 the establishment of a US-India counter-terrorism working group, which aimed to enhance efforts to counter international terrorism worldwide.�

This apart, there is only a passing reference in the entire 107-page report to joint efforts by the two countries to fight terror, an issue which has emerged as the sheet anchor of the Vajpayee government�s foreign policy.

In contrast, there are glowing accounts of �our cooperation with close allies and friends, such as the UK, Canada, Israel and Japan� in achieving �our primary policy objectives� in fighting terror.

There is similar praise for what the US had jointly done with the Group of Eight (G8) rich countries, Russia, the Central Asian states and Argentina.

What must profoundly disturb New Delhi is that although the report is critical in parts about Afghanistan and Pakistan, it has actually given a certificate of good intentions to the Taliban.

�While not directly hostile to the US,� the report says of the Taliban, it continues to harbour Osama bin Laden and his men �who directly threaten the US�. The report also notes the significant fact that the Taliban �controls the majority of Afghan territory�.

New Delhi appears to have missed the point that the report acknowledges a dialogue between the US and the Taliban which has been described as both �serious and ongoing�, a description vastly different from official projections in New Delhi of the uncompromising US opposition to the mullahs in Kandahar.

A close examination of the verbatim report also reveals that it has not been as harsh on Pakistan as made out during the weekend media reports. Falling well short of a condemnation of Pakistan, it merely says Islamabad is sending �mixed messages� on terrorism.

The state department is, indeed, critical of Islamabad for allowing terrorists � including those perpetrating violence in Kashmir � freedom of movement within Pakistan. But it also praises Islamabad for �significant and material cooperation� with the US in fighting terror, especially in the arrest and extradition of terrorists who have harmed US citizens and American interests. The report accuses Pakistan merely of �indirect support for terrorists in Afghanistan�.

The key to the absence of any broad acknowledgement of joint Indo-US initiatives on counter-terrorism may lie in the crucial policy elements of the Clinton administration in fighting terror.

These are: no concessions to terrorists and no deals, bring terrorists to justice, isolate an apply pressure on states sponsoring terrorism, and finally, bolster counter-terrorist capabilities of countries that work with the US on this issue.

Unlike other countries like the UK, Israel and Japan which have been praised in the report, India, sadly, has failed on all four policy elements.

New Delhi has repeatedly compromised with terrorists, the latest being the Kandahar hijacking; it has a poor record of convicting terrorists; its ability to pressure sponsors of state terrorism is extremely limited; and it has virtually no track record of working with the US on terrorism, unlike Pakistan.    

New Delhi, May 2 
The Rs 1,300-crore Sankhya Vahini project is on. Shoving aside objections raised within the BJP and the Sangh parivar, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has flashed the green signal to the controversial electronic data carrier project.

A 29-page booklet, purportedly prepared by the BJP and released to its MPs today, ends with the assertion that �the government has no plans to review the project�.

In an unabashed plug for Sankhya Vahini, the booklet says: �The project will deploy cutting edge technology and networking in the field of high speed data communication. Considering the pace of development of the IT (infotech) sector all over the world, the decision to set up the joint venture company Sankhya Vahini India Ltd. is in national interest.�

RSS constituents such as the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch had attacked the project as a threat to national security and had questioned the lack of transparency in the deal.

The labour wing�s ideologue, Dattopant Thengadi, had released a report listing his objections.

A BJP Cabinet minister, however, brushed aside the RSS� critique, saying: �The purpose of releasing the report is to show its critics their place. How can any government function if it starts heeding each and every note of criticism?�

BJP sources admitted that the immediate impetus for releasing the report was less to countenance the Sangh�s allegations and more to dispel doubts raised by Madan Lal Khurana, who was sacked as party vice-president for going public with his objections.

Khurana had threatened to give a notice under Rule 193 for discussing Sankhya Vahini in the House but was �coaxed� by Vajpayee to retract. But sources close to him claimed that enough �ammunition� had been supplied to the Opposition for some �interesting� revelations.

The �BJP�s� report is strikingly similar to communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan�s statement in the Lok Sabha on the demand for grants, which, sources conceded, was �based heavily� on inputs from the department of telecommunications (DoT).

The report tries to reply to charges ranging from the �selling of national interests� to the circumstances in which the deal was firmed up. But, while doing so, it partially confirms some of the allegations levelled against the project.

For instance, it admits that the Telecom Commission was not taken into confidence when the memorandum of understanding was signed between IUNet, a subsidiary of Carnegie Mellon University, USA, and DoT. The details were disclosed in a meeting later.

The report argues:

The project was based on recommendations of the National Task Force on Information Technology and there was nothing �secret� about it.

No clash of interest between Sankhya Vahini, which will carry data domestically, and VSNL, which carries only international voice and data traffic.

The board will not be controlled by IUNet.

Internet service providers will be subject to security regulations.

Government agencies will be associated as stake holders in the project.    

New Delhi, May 2 
The embers of rebellion are still alive in Madan Lal Khurana. Although the former BJP vice-president and former Delhi chief minister has �made up� with Atal Behari Vajpayee � after threatening to raise the Sankhya Vahini issue in the Lok Sabha � Khurana protested against infotech and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan�s reported remarks against him with the Prime Minister.

His protest was occasioned by a remark reportedly made yesterday in Pune by Mahajan who said Khurana was stripped of the vice-president�s post to �teach him a lesson�. �Who is that Pramod Mahajan to teach me a lesson? Is he is the BJP president or vice-president or chairman of something?� Khurana told reporters, before setting off to meet Vajpayee and formally lodge his protest.

Khurana later said Vajpayee heard him and said, �Don�t worry, we are all with you. I will take up this matter.� Whether Vajpayee actually gets down to talking to Mahajan or not is still in the realm of speculation, but in BJP circles the buzz is that he is no longer Vajpayee�s favourite and does not enjoy the same degree of clout as he did in the latter�s first prime ministerial stint when Mahajan was made his political adviser despite losing his Lok Sabha seat.

Khurana did not attend this morning�s BJP parliamentary party meeting reportedly to express his �disgust� at Mahajan�s comment. For the record, however, he maintained he did not show up because there was �no point� in raising the issues he wanted to in such a large gathering.

Khurana showered praise on Vajpayee and called him his �hero�. �I have been hero-worshipping him ever since I was a student at Allahabad University in 1958-59. I would insist on speaking in students� functions on the condition that Atalji would be invited to give the keynote address,� he said as �proof� of his �devotion� to the Prime Minister.

In the BJP parliamentary party meeting, which he chaired, Vajpayee told the MPs to raise issues and express opinions in the party fora and not outside. �Otherwise it will spoil the atmosphere,� he added.

Stressing that a coalition government had its own problems and difficulties, Vajpayee directed his MPs to exercise �self-restraint� while promising to allow them to discuss any issue in the appropriate forum.

�We have to be careful while discussing issues. If new facts come to light on any issue the government and the party are willing to discuss that too,� the Prime Minister said.    

New Delhi, May 2 
Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi today hammered the CPM with all the brickbats he could gather.

In his reply to the discussion on demand for grants for his ministry, Joshi targeted the CPM as his main adversary and charged the Left with �politicising� every issue in education.

�The whole of West Bengal has become a joke,� said Joshi after CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee dismissed the minister�s scathing comments on West Bengal as a �joke�.

The Congress had initiated the discussion and had echoed the Left allegations of saffronisation, but Joshi made it clear that the Left, not the Congress, was the �real culprit�.

�I am warning you,� the minister told the Congress members, �the Left will mislead and finish you. Do not go with them.�

Joshi debunked every charge levelled by the opposition � he denied packing educational institutions with �his men�, nominating pro-BJP academics to the expert committee to evaluate the functioning of the Indian Council of Historical Research and winding up the Gandhian Institute of Studies in Uttar Pradesh.

Joshi defended his colleagues in the ICHR and the NCERT director, J.S. Rajput. Lashing out at the Left, he tried to puncture its arguments with quick repartees.

The BJP�s partner, the Trinamul Congress, was most gleeful as Joshi hissed against the Left and its misrule in West Bengal.

This was one issue on which the Trinamul and the BJP were glued together in complete harmony.

If the Trinamul shared any of the misgivings of the Opposition about the BJP�s �hidden agenda�, it was swatted at one stroke by Joshi�s relentless tirade against the Left.

�Everyone knows there is maximum unemployment in West Bengal,� said Joshi, prompting Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay to spring to his feet and weigh in behind the minister. �It is absolutely correct. We appreciate your statement,� Bandopadhyay said.

Joshi also defended the ICHR president B.R. Grover. The council was in the centre of a storm over the withdrawal of two history textbooks authored by modern historians Sumit Sarkar and K.M Panikkar.

Joshi repeated the arguments which had been put forth by Grover. �We have not withdrawn the text books, but have asked the publisher to send it back to the ICHR for a review.�.

The ICHR, Joshi clarified, has every right to scan the books since the previous volumes �were dotted with errors and spelling mistakes�. The minister also favoured an education cess for raising more funds for primary education. �I have always maintained that a surcharge should be levied to increase resources for primary education,� said Joshi.    

New Delhi, May 2 
Even as the Opposition parties expressed concern over the blaze that engulfed the Bharatpur ammunition depot of the Indian Army, defence minister George Fernandes provided his ministry�s first assessment of the extent of the damage. He said in monetary terms, the ammunition destroyed was worth Rs 376 crore. Moreover, infrastructure damage at the spot would cost the national exchequer another Rs 13 crore.

In the Rajya Sabha, the Congress urged the government to keep the House informed about the extent of damage and the degree to which the blaze had affected the country�s defence-preparedness. The party also wanted to know what steps the government proposed to take to acquire the lost stocks.

It was the leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, Manmohan Singh, who advised Fernandes not to jump to a conclusion in a hurry. He said there should be no �pre-judging of the cause of the incident�. Though he did not elaborate, it was more than implicit that he was referring to the army�s frequent reference to the elephant grass outside the perimeter of the depot catching fire and then gradually spreading inside the compound.

Though the Bharatpur fire will be at the top of the agenda at the Cabinet Committee on Security tomorrow, the Opposition insisted on its demand that the government share with it how early would it be possible for the authorities to have the entire quantum of ammunition replaced at the earliest. They suggested that there should not be any compromise with the country�s battle-preparedness.

Fernandes, in his statement, said the total weight of the ammunition destroyed was 12,111 metric tonnes. He informed the Lok Sabha and later the Upper House that the depot had ammunition meant for the Southern Command and the total weight of the stored ammunition, including its underground magazine, was about 30,000 tonnes. The minister said there were air defence missiles, anti-tank missiles and artillery shells of various kinds other than small arms ammunition, mines and explosives inside the depot.

The minister said a broad policy note had been sent to all depots in 1997 and it was re-promulgated earlier this year. The policy note detailed all security and safety guidelines that had to be taken. The defence minister did not elaborate on what these guidelines were. The minister said between the financial years 1996-97 and 1999-2000, the government had allocated Rs 241.73 crore for standard storage accommodation.

Manmohan Singh asked how national security advisor Brajesh Mishra had come to the conclusion that the fire was not a sabotage even before the inquiry had begun. Others who spoke in the Rajya Sabha also wanted to know if the storage methods were �primitive� as sections of the media had suggested.    


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