Govt returns fire on Tada duplicate
Mud-slinging minorities in funds squabble
Hawala ghost haunts Advani
Singhal drowns Tehri in save-Ganga drive
Boy wizard lands on broomstick
US aims terrorist-tag gun on Lashkar

New Delhi, July 13 
The Centre today braced for a showdown with the National Human Rights Commission over the proposed legislation to replace Tada, saying it had several safeguards to check misuse.

The rights panel had yesterday rejected the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2000, saying it was as draconian as its predecessor. The commission said there was no need for a new legislation as existing laws were good enough to handle terrorism-related crimes.

A miffed home ministry today hit back, saying �in view of the past experience of the Terrorist and Disruptive (Prevention) Act, 1987, a sincere effort has been made by the Law Commission to draft an anti-terrorism Bill with adequate safeguards for preventing its misuse�.

A ministry statement said the government is of the view that normal criminal laws �were not designed to deal with the activities of terrorist organisations which have bases across the border and receive ideological indoctrination, training, funding and arms and ammunition for carrying out terrorist activities in various parts of the country�.

Drawing attention to �comprehensive� anti-terrorism laws in the US and Britain, the statement says these laws have �stronger provisions� relating to confession by an accused in custody being presented as admissible evidence, shifting the onus of proof, curtailment of the right of bail and detention based on suspicion or intelligence reports.

North Block has sought to justify enacting the new Bill, arguing that the states felt there was an �urgent need� to have in place a law to combat terror.

According to the statement, the safeguards in the draft Bill include confirmation of any FIR registered under the Act by the police director-general of the state concerned and the state review committee within 10 and 30 days, respectively.

Moreover, family members will have to be informed of the arrest of the accused who will have access to a legal practitioner; punishment up to two years or fine or both against any police officer who knowingly or maliciously proceeds against any person for an offence under the Act and adequate compensation for being falsely implicated.

The home ministry is wary of disclosing the provisions of the new legislation. Some of its features are:

The Act, which defines any terrorist act as being done with bombs, dynamite, explosives, lethal weapons, noxious gas and even biological weapons, will extend to the entire country and will be in operation for five years.

Membership of any organisation banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 will be considered a terrorist act.

Even aiding, abetting, conspiring with suspected terrorists, those found harbouring and concealing militants will be considered acts of terrorism.

Those holding property derived from terrorists acts and those who threaten witnesses can be booked under the Act.

Statement made before a police officer will be considered evidence admissible in a court of law.

It will be binding on all to report terrorist activities.    

New Delhi, July 13 
The All India Muslim Mushawart Majlis, an advisory body, has splintered with both Syed Shahabuddin and Maulana Salem Qasmi claiming to be its head and accusing each other of misappropriation of funds.

Shahabuddin, in political wilderness since the Babri masjid demolition and the following defeats in successive general elections, got himself elected as Mushawart chief a month ago. But the outgoing chief, Maulana Qasmi, convened a parallel meet which elected him instead. With each faction claiming to be the �true Mushwart� (advisory board), the two groups have decided to go public with their dispute.

Everyday, Shahabuddin and his supporters have been writing open letters against rivals, accusing them of misappropriating funds and bungling land deals. The Qasmi faction retorted by questioning Shahabuddin�s integrity during the Babri agitation.

The idea of Mushawart was floated when a number of Muslim outfits had mushroomed during the Babri agitation. It was decided to have a representative body of all factions from radical Jamiat-e-Islami to moderate Jamiat-e-Ulema, to pool in resources to fight the protracted battle both outside and inside courts. But the Babri demolition forced these organisations to lie low for some time.

However, sensing that some outfits within the Sangh parivar were keen to start construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, Muslim organisations have began regrouping again. The Muslim organisations are also protesting against the Ram Prakash Gupta government�s move to check construction of mosques and madrassahs across the porous Indo-Nepal border.

The organisations have unanimously rejected the charge that these religious buildings were being funded from abroad or were serving as breeding grounds for the ISI.

At the political level too, the regrouping of Muslim organisations has gained momentum with the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls inching closer. Election time provides them with an opportunity to enter into an alliance with �secular� parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress and the smaller outfits of Kalyan Singh and Ajit Singh.

The war of words between Shahabuddin and Qasmi has evoked sharp reaction from the Muslim community, which is wondering why senior leaders were using the Mushawart platform to settle personal scores.

�The purpose of the Mushawart is to provide guidance and direction to the community struggling to join the national mainstream. But Shahabuddin and Qasmi intend to establish their supremacy,� a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said, ruling out any intervention from the board. �We are an apolitical organisation and if we start taking sides in Muslim politics, we will lose our credibility,� he said.    

New Delhi, July 13 
Union home minister L.K. Advani continues to be haunted by the hawala scam ghost more than two years after he was acquitted in the case.

Delhi High Court today sought an action taken report from the Centre on a petition that �despite two reports of the income-tax department that all the 22 perons named in the Jain diaries, including Advani, Yashwant Sinha, Ajit Panja and Sharad Yadav, have amassed wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income, no action has been taken�. The petition was filed by a journalist, Om Prakash.

A division bench of Chief Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice D.K. Jain asked the income-tax authorities to file replies by August 17, the next date of hearing. The court also sought a statement on whether the CBI, which investigated the scam, had supplied them with the case records.

Om Prakash alleged that the income-tax authorities had found �black money� with at least 17 politicians who were chargesheeted.

The Centre�s counsel, Harish Salve, admitted that the income-tax department had readied two reports � prepared by commissioners, tax, D.C. Aggarwal and Y.K. Batra � and notices were issued to some of the accused. But nothing moved beyond that.

Salve said reports on the inquiry against some hawala-accused politicians were prepared along with separate appraisal reports by the income-tax department. The department also served notices on some politicians.

Besides Advani, Sinha, Panja and Yadav, former Union ministers Devi Lal, Arif Mohammad Khan, Arjun Singh, Buta Singh, K. Natwar Singh, R.K. Dhawan, S. Krishna Kumar and N.D. Tiwari figure on the list submitted by the petitioner of politicians on whom I-T had prepared a report.

Salve offered to place the reports in camera in the court. But the petitioner�s counsel, A.K. Singh, said they should be placed in open court so that the public would know about them. Singh also contended that the reports were not placed before the Central Vigilance Commission and would press for it.

Baalu graft notice

Delhi High Court today issued notices to the CBI on a petition alleging corruption and violation of rules by Union environment minister T.R. Baalu in sanctioning Rs 4.55 crore for a green belt project in Tamil Nadu. A division bench issued show cause notices to CBI on the petition by the Rashtriya Mukti Morcha.

The bench asked the investigating agency to file a reply by August 30 to show cause why the petition should not be admitted.

Morcha counsel P.N. Lekhi contended that the �CBI intentionally and malafidely covered up the involvement of the minister.�

Lekhi said despite repeated complaints, the CBI neither investigated the matter nor registered a case against the alleged irregularities.

The environment minister has been accused of sanctioning Rs 4.55 crore as grant to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board for a green belt project in five cities in the state last year. The cost of per unit of sapling was fixed at Rs 155, which was 1500 per cent more than the actual cost fixed by the National Afforestation and Economic Development Board.

The petitioner said the question before the court was whether giving approval for saplings at such a high cost amounted to �misuse of power� and �causing loss to public exchequer� by the minister.


New Delhi, July 13 
VHP leader Ashok Singhal has sent a strongly-worded note to the Centre, urging the government to immediately stop work on the Tehri dam.

The note, sent to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and water resources minister Arjun Sethi, says construction of the dam on the foothills of the Garhwal Himalayas should be stopped so that it did not pollute the water of the Ganga.

In a way, the letter suits the purpose of environment activists like Sunderlal Bahuguna of Chipko fame, who are fighting against the dam that would inundate large areas of the Tehri valley and render hundreds homeless.

It also suits the likes of Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy who are opposed to any dam anywhere in India, be it on the Narmada or on the Ganga.

Singhal recently met Sethi, the new Union water resources minister, at a symposium on �The Ganga Eco-System: Problems and Management� held at Roorkee, Uttar Pradesh.

There he had broached the subject with Sethi. Not entirely satisfied with the minister�s response, Singhal has sent this missive, saying the project would make the sacred Ganga waters unholy and that it was an affront to the Hindu religion.

The VHP leader said he had learnt from �very reliable sources� that on July 2, the hill over the main tunnel at the dam site, which was full of cracks, caved in causing an abyss 50 metres deep and 100 sq metres in area. The �agitator� car standing there was buried under the earth.

�It was by the grace of God that this entire episode took place on a Sunday, otherwise there would have been great loss of life��� his note said.

He insisted that the mishap �has to be thoroughly investigated and work should remain suspended till a non-biased report is received by the ministry�.

Singhal has suggested that a team of experts should be appointed for the inquiry and those who had designed the project should not be included in the team.

The Sangh leader reminded all BJP ministers, especially Sethi, that the mahatmas of Hardwar were already agitating against the project on grounds that after completion of the dam, 80 per cent of the water content would be rainwater and only the rest would be pure Bhagirathi water.

He argued that the holy �Ganga jal� which the devotees take from Har ki Pauri at Hardwar would no longer be the same.    

New Delhi, July 13 
There will be no cold pumpkin juice, all-flavour beans or stoat sandwiches. But Harry Potter, the world�s most famous boy wizard, has climbed atop his top-of-the-range Nimbus Two Thousand broomstick all right to land in India.

The launch of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in the country by Penguin India on Saturday, exactly a week after its international release, will be followed by more for Potter-watchers. The firm hopes its author J.K. Rowling � firmly placed on top of�s best-seller list since the book was launched at a sleep-in party for kids in London exactly a week ago � will follow suit on a promo tour.

In his fourth fantasy till date, Potter, who divided humanity into Wizards and Muggles (not a drop of magic in their souls), has turned 13 and is still small and skinny and green-eyed with jet black hair which always stays untidy. In this book, he comes up against � but why spoil the magic?

Penguin India expects to sell around 10,000 copies of the hard cover Goblet priced at Rs 550, but others feel readers here will keep asking for more for the fourth Potter fantasy. Says Anuj Malhotra of Bahri & Sons, Khan Market, New Delhi. �We asked for 500 copies and we are getting only 200.� The sales are set to go much beyond the 10,000 figure in India, Malhotra feels, and expects the paperback sales to go up to 50,000.

Calcutta also seems to be heavily under Potter�s spell, though the city is only getting 25 per cent of the consignment. Landmark Calcutta had ordered 200 copies, of which 70 have already been booked, mostly by children, though age is no bar for Potter�s followers. Landmark also offers a discount if a number of Potter�s books are bought together.

Bookline, another Calcutta book dealer, is marketing Goblet directly by calling up potential buyers at home with a discount offer.

Subhadra Sengupta, well-known writer of children�s stories in English, tries to explain Potter�s special brand of magic. �Rowling does not shy away from inadequacies, sadness, evil. She answers a need in children. She creates a situation out of ordinary everyday material where fantasy can take over. There is hardly any fantasy writing. The only other writer who had similar gifts was Roald Dahl,� she says. The books are well-plotted and Rowling looks at the world through a child�s eyes, she adds.

The book has made publishing history abroad. It sold 372,775 hardback copies in the UK on its launch last Saturday, a record first-day sale. The sales are hoped to get a boost after the launch of the paperback a few months later. The US distributors Scholastics has announced the paperback edition in August.

There is, however, the usual line-up of critics and cynics. Malhotra of Bahri and Sons himself points out that the hype on the book has been enormous. And no one in India has signed up for translation rights, he adds.

Writer Githa Hariharan, too, is not very effusive. �It is true that our children are more vulnerable to the hype from the West. But it is equally true that the books have managed to hold the interest of the young readers.� The Internet has also helped, she said.

Sengupta also points out that promotion has contributed a great deal towards fanning interest. The titles are well-displayed in every major bookshop and posters are put up all over. �Has there been any comparable effort to create an Indian market for children�s literature in English?� she asks somewhat ruefully.    

Washington, July 13 
Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Pakistan-sponsored terrorist outfit which publicly issued death threats against Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at its convention in Lahore last year, is to be declared a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) by the US state department.

Michael A. Sheehan, the state department�s top-most official in charge of counter-terrorism, told a full hearing of the US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations on Wednesday that such a declaration could come within weeks as soon as the legal requirements for the designation of FTOs is completed.

Responding to persistent queries from Congressmen impatient over the lack of action against Lashkar-e-Toiba, popularly known by its acronym � LT � Sheehan said the state department had recently revised its rules and could now designate FTOs anytime. Earlier this was possible only at the time of preparing an anti-terrorism report to the US Congress.

Yet, he said the process of naming FTOs was �very complicated� and such designations had twice been challenged in US courts. Sheehan told the committee that on both occasions the courts had fortunately upheld the state department�s decision and in the case of LT, he wanted its designation to be fool-proof in the event that it was challenged.

Although LT � the Army of the Pure � is, doubtless, under the microscope of counter-terrorism officials here, it was also clear that the state department is working feverishly behind the scenes with Pakistan to jointly push forward a common strategy on counter-terrorism.

Sheehan was grilled at the hearing by committee chairman Benjamin Gilman and other Congressmen on camps in Pakistan which were training terrorists for operations in Kashmir, sources of arms supplies to the Talibaan and the movement of Afghanistan-trained subversives through Pakistan to third countries.

Making it abundantly clear that the administration was not keen to alienate Islamabad and was anxious to protect US-Pakistan joint initiatives on counter-terrorism, Sheehan pleaded that he could not answer such questions in public. He urged Congressmen to schedule a secret hearing if they wanted such information.

Alan W. Eastham, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, who also testified before the committee, said a delegation from Pakistan�s interior ministry is now in Afghanistan to persuade the Talibaan to respond to concerns in the US and elsewhere about terrorism emanating from Afghanistan.

Reflecting the Clinton administration�s hope that Islamabad would deliver on US demands to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice and other similar issues related to terrorism, Sheehan told the committee that Pakistan was engaging the Talibaan on all issues that the Americans had raised with General Pervez Musharraf�s government.

He also said Pakistan increasingly realised that the Talibaan�s policies were threatening Pakistan�s own interests. he said the Clinton administration was �closely engaged at high level� with the Pakistanis in this regard.

In his testimony, Eastham outlined several steps which the Pakistanis had taken to address American concerns about terrorism in their territory. Islamabad was �taking a close look at foreigners living in Pakistan to ensure that they are there for lawful and peaceful purposes�.

He revealed that opium production in Pakistan had been �reduced almost to zero level� and hoped the goal of zero level would be achieved next year. Cultivation of opium as a way of financing terror has been a matter of concern in Washington and other Western capitals.

In the light of such progress with Pakistan on narcotics and anticipated progress on combating terrorism, Islamabad is understood to be pleading that LT, which launched its most spectacular attack yet on the Indian army�s 15th corps battalion headquarters in Srinagar last November, should not be declared an FTO.

It is arguing that Musharraf needs the �political space� to draw religious extremists and hardliners on Kashmir into a consensus if he is to deliver on US demands. Such an effort would be negated by any action against LT whose members are folk heroes in Pakistan.

India, on the other hand, would like LT to be named an FTO before Vajpayee arrives here in September. This is expected to set the stage for the next major tug of war between India and Pakistan here, similar to the one the two countries fought over including Pakistan in President Bill Clinton�s South Asian tour earlier this year.    


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