Probe Pande’s plot: Laloo
Opposition at Governor’s door for Rabri ouster
Women welfare schemes stay on paper
Public punishment for people’s nominee
BJP slams freebies
Row over UP nod to private medical practice

New Delhi, June 10 
An angry Laloo Prasad Yadav today lashed out at NDA leaders for hatching a conspiracy to tie him in legal knots as they could not fight him politically and demanded an inquiry by a sitting Supreme Court judge into the “conduct” of Bihar Governor V.C. Pande.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal chief also vowed that he and his wife, chief minister Rabri Devi, would “retire” from politics the day they were proved guilty.

“Let a sitting Supreme Court judge go into the conspiracy to dislodge our government and study the dubious role of the Governor in the institution of false cases against me and my wife. If charges against us are proved we will take sanyas from politics that very day,” he said at a joint press conference here. Senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari and Janata Party chief Subramaniam Swamy were also present at the conference.

Laloo, who met Congress president Sonia Gandhi earlier in the day to convince her that the charges were politically motivated, also requested her to press for a probe by a sitting apex court judge. Yesterday, he had called on President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to present his case and demanded that Pande be recalled for being “partisan”.

Congress sources said the party was unlikely to review its alliance with the RJD. Though Sonia gave no firm commitment either way, most Congress ministers in the Rabri Cabinet are against any action that might upset the alliance. However, a section of leaders, including Rajesh Pilot, were against the alliance on moral grounds.

Laloo alleged that the disproportionate assets case against his wife was an after thought from the Governor. Asked if she would step down because charges had been framed against her, he shot back, saying: “Let the Prime Minister first ask home minister L.K. Advani and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi to step down following chargesheets against them in the Babri mosque demolition case.”

She is “an innocent and pious lady”, he said, and all charges against her were framed with the objective of destabilising a democratically-elected government.    

Patna, June 10 
Smelling an opportunity to enthuse workers demoralised after the exit of Nitish Kumar, the National Democratic Alliance has launched an agitation for the ouster of “tainted” chief minister Rabri Devi.

NDA leaders, led by Sushil Modi, state BJP president Nandkishore Yadav, Mangilal Mandal of Janata Dal (U) and P.K. Sinha of Samata Party met Governor Pande at 1pm today. The delegation apprised the Governor about the political situation in the wake of the chief minister’s receiving a chargesheet.

“We have told him that it was not possible for the chief minister to cooperate with the court and defend herself. If her party could browbeat the Governor, how does one expect witnesses to be safe?”, asked Sushil Modi.

Demanding the resignation of Rabri, the NDA leaders urged the governor to “sack the chief minister if she did not step down on her own”. “We will start agitation from tomorrow in all the district towns of the state if the chief minister failed to honour the principles of democracy”, said Nandkishore Yadav.

But the RJD appears to be in an unassailable position since there was no sign of any rumbling in the Congress camp over the chargesheet.

The Congress had earlier stated that it would review support to Laloo Yadav if the court framed charges against the chief minister. But the RJD leader has kept the party happy, accepting all its demands.

Immediately after Congress president Sonia Gandhi directed Laloo to improve law and order in the state on the eve of her visit to Dhanbad, the government made sweeping changes in the police set-up by transferring 54 IPS officers and 59 IAS officers.

Not only that, Laloo set up a panel, including senior politicians from Congress led by Mohsina Kidwai and Madhavsinh Solanki, to monitor the functioning of the government. Laloo met Sonia today to seek her unflinching support to the Bihar government.

It was not a surprise, therefore, that state president Chandan Bagchi, today said: “There is no question of withdrawing support from the ruling RJD. On the other hand we would try to campaign on the decisions of the governor taken at various stages to harass the ruling party.”

Facing a barrage of political criticisms, the governor’s house today released the CBI request letter to ask for sanctions against Laloo. It clarified that the CBI had at no stage sought sanctions against Rabri.

RJD minister Shivanand Tiwari had released a letter showing that the Governor had granted sanction for prosecuting against the chief minister. The NDA has urged the Governor to take action against Tiwari for releasing a forged letter in the name of the Governor.

The NDA had launched a similar agitation in March against Laloo and Rabri over the same allegations of acquiring disproportionate income, but it proved to be a non-starter.    

New Delhi, June 10 
Government welfare schemes for minorities and women have failed to make any significant dent in the problems faced by Muslim women. National Commission for Women (NCW) surveys revealed that their condition in India is worse than that of scheduled castes.

The NCW report on the status of Muslim women in India has candidly admitted that the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for minorities, Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, ICDS, Indira Mahila Yojna, National Nutrition Policy, Balika Samriddhi Yojna, Integrated Rural Development Programme, vocational training programmes for women, Mahila Samakhya programmes, having funds and grants worth thousands of crores — have not reached the Muslim women.

According to the secretary of Maulana Azad Education Foundation, a government-funded agency based in Calcutta, several schemes of the Centre remain only on paper, but due to inaction of governments like West Bengal, Assam and Uttar Pradesh.

He also alleges that funds given to the states for education of girls were diverted elsewhere.

At the national level, almost two-thirds of Muslim women are illiterate. In Haryana, 98 per cent of Muslim women are illiterate, followed by Assam and Uttar Pradesh. This is in spite of the several ambitious projects launched by Delhi to eradicate educational backwardness among Muslims in general and women in particular.

The Centre has launched schemes for pre-examination coaching, boarding and hostel facilities for girl students, community polytechnics, and area incentive schemes for educationally backward minorities.

The ministry of social justice and empowerment officials have admitted to the NCW that minority women were not able to take advantage of the Centre’s pre- examination coaching scheme, a training programme to enable them to compete for banking, IAS and other government jobs.

In West Bengal alone, there are nine districts having educationally backward minority concentration. They are: Murshidabad, Malda, West Dinajpur, Birbhum, Nadia, 24-Parganas (north), 24-Parganas (south), Cooch Behar and Howrah.

As corrective steps, the NCW wants the Centre, state governments and NGOs to first disseminate information on the schemes to the Muslim women and motivate them to take maximum advantage available. This should be done at panchayat and taluka levels. Moreover, the procedures prescribed under the schemes should be simplified so that maximum access is ensured.

As education is key to development and progress, steps should be taken for universal primary education. “There is a need to make an assessment of what had been promised and what has been done,” says the NCW report.

It recommends for Muslim concentrated areas “the best teacher, best facilities, best infrastructure,” to help them being packed with losers.    

Bhopal, June 10 
This January, 23-year-old Sonata Bai was elected panch from the tribal villages of Chicholi and Burgaon in Betul district of south Madhya Pradesh, bordering Maharashtra.

Five months later, the woman was garlanded with a string of shoes and slippers by her brother and husband and paraded through two villages to the door of her rapist’s house.

With her hands tied behind her back and a row of bells, usually hung around the necks of bullocks and cattle, fastened to her waist, Sonata was dragged by her relatives from one corner of the gram panchayat to the other for allegedly having an illicit relationship.

Residents of both the villages watched in silence. Some even joined in to help the husband “purify” his “sinful wife”, while the woman begged and implored she was not guilty but was raped.

Turning a deaf ear to her pleas, Sonata’s husband Dasu and brother Saibu insisted that according to tribal custom, she have sex with her paramour in public for the “purification” to be complete.

However, the wife of the sarpanch of a neighbouring village panchayat rushed to the spot just in time to rescue Sonata.

Betul superintendent of police Promod Phalnikar said Sonata disappeared from her village on the morning of May 24. She was taken by one Vasudevan Kunbi of Borgaon village from the same gram panchayat to Bharatwara in Maharashtra, where she was allegedly raped.

“In her statement, she told us that Vasudevan had threatened to kill her if she did not accompany him to Bharatwara,” Phalnikar said.

“When she returned home two days later to narrate her harrowing tale of sexual assault, her husband and relatives refused to believe her story. They thought Sonata had willingly gone away with Vasudevan,” he added.

According to the police, the relatives grew suspicious because Sonata had known her rapist since childhood. “Both were from the gram panchayat and neighbouring villages. She definitely knew him for a very long time,” Phalnikar said.

What followed was the tribal custom of purification of a fallen woman.

After she was rescued by the neighbourhood sarpanch’s wife, Sonata went to the local police station and lodged a complaint of rape against Vasudevan. The accused was immediately arrested, police said.

It took Sonata another 10 days after Vasudevan’s arrest to finally come out with a complaint against her brother and husband and six others who had paraded her.    

New Delhi, June 10 
The BJP is unhappy with the tendency of certain ministers in the Vajpayee Cabinet to arbitrarily announce populist measures without consulting the Prime Minister or caring for the burden on the exchequer.

The party is particularly peeved with communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan, for announcing free telephone connections for the 3.2 lakh telecom employees, which is likely to result in an expenditure of approximately Rs 1200 crore.

Though this is a finance ministry projection, Paswan puts the figure at about Rs 100 crore.

Senior BJP vice president J.P. Mathur today said Paswan should have consulted the Prime Minister before going ahead with the move to provide free phones to the telecom staff.

“The minister should have first consulted Vajpayee before taking the decision as it involved expenditure from public exchequer,” Mathur told reporters. “Prior consultation would not have led to unnecessary public debate on the issue,” he said.

Following the public spat between finance minister Yashwant Sinha and Paswan, the Prime Minister was forced to intervene. He called a meeting with the two ministers to sort out the issue.

Though a compromise deal has been worked out, it is likely to be opposed by trade unions as it has a string attached —- corporatisation of the telecom department.

There was a suggestion to refer the matter to the Cabinet. But Paswan was in a hurry to get things sorted out as he was unsure of the Cabinet’s support, said a BJP leader. Apart from the finance minister, Union ministers Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Murli Manohar Joshi, George Fernandes are opposed to Paswan’s populism and would have opposed it at the Cabinet meeting, he said.    

Lucknow, June 10 
Uttar Pradesh higher education minister Kalraj Mishra has stoked a fresh row by proposing to legalise private practice for government doctors.

The minister, who was recently in the eye of a storm following graft allegations by PWD engineers, said there was no point persisting with the ban as it was “redundant”.

“The ban on private practice for government doctors has become redundant. They do it anyway and actually make the government reward them for doing so in the form of non-practice allowance. This way we will be saving at least Rs 4.5 crore that gets wasted in the form of NPAs.”

Mishra plans to “levy” a practice fee of Rs 15,000-20,000 from the doctors, to be pumped into the hospitals they are attached to. The “first phase” of his proposal will “benefit” 700 doctors working in the state’s seven medical colleges.

Mishra will then hold talks with health minister Ramapati Shastri —- the 83 district hospitals are under his ministry —- to decide the future of nearly 15,000 doctors. Last year, Shastri had announced that any government doctor found to have a private practice would be punished severely, even put in jail.

Though the proposal promises to fatten doctor’s purses, they have reacted variously to the proposal.

Says R.B. Mishra, general secretary, Provincial Medical Services Association: “This is just a populist move which will hurt patients the most. The issue of saving NPA does not arise because what the government doles out is a measly Rs 900 per month. Moreover, the various National Family Welfare programmes will suffer.”

Another doctor, K.L. Nath, said the proposal would nullify the concept of “government doctors”. “It doesn’t make sense,” Nath said, “it can have enormous negative ramification for the public at large. Every government doctor will now refer patients to his own private clinic and fleece them.”

Others have opposed coughing up Rs 20,000 as practice fee every month. S.D. Pandey, Uttar Pradesh Medical Teachers’ Association president, said it would not be possible for all doctors to pay the “astronomical” amount. “If the government pays us Rs 900 as NPA, the practice fee should also be fixed accordingly.”

But other doctors, including Prof. R.K. Kapoor of King George Medical College, are “very happy” with the decision. “We will gladly pay the amount,” said K.L. Srivastava, also of the same college.

Though Mishra’s decision is bound to grab headlines for some time now, the private practice controversy is not a new one. In 1982, then health minister Lokpati Tripathi had opened up private practice for medical college doctors.

But a ban was clamped the following year after doctors moved the high court. The ban stayed in place till 1993.

The same year, doctors in West Bengal had appealed to the Supreme Court to uphold their right to private practice. The court had then ruled that it was the state’s right to decide whether government doctors should be allowed to carry on private practice.    


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