Flight to death on rickety old cow
City crawls into airport danger zone
�Lightning� bolt through the roof
�He could not die like this�
SC sends St Kitts notice to Rao
Blast-suspect sect leaders arrested
Admiral wages Narmada war
Autonomy puts Badal in a fix

New Delhi, July 17 
The �rickety� Boeing 737-200 which crashed into the government estate in Patna�s Gardanibagh area was the oldest of a dozen doing service for Alliance Air. The entire fleet was long overdue for fade-out.

The 118-seater plane with the call sign VT-EGD was due for a major overhaul in July 2001, though it underwent a four-month tone-up in January. Old planes require quicker overhauls as engines and parts corrode faster.

Pilots who have flown this particular plane said the aircraft was not just another �rickety old cow�. It was a cow which had been virtually milked dry. The plane had flown more than 44,000 hours and made over 51,000 landings, making it a grand daddy among passenger aircraft flying in India.

The youngest of Alliance Air�s Boeing fleet is 17 years and eight months old. The two oldest, including the one which crashed, were 20 years old. By passenger airline standards, all these planes are considered old. Normally, an airline starts thinking of retiring a passenger aircraft to hauling freight the moment it turns 10.

Indian Airlines, which originally owned these aircraft, had turned them over to Alliance Air, its wholly-owned subsidiary, around four years ago in a bid to rid its fleet of �veterans�.

Under Alliance Air�s wings, the veteran planes were allowed to turn into something that pilots call �old flying bins� as successive governments dilly-dallied over replacement purchases.

Even last year, the airline sought permission to buy new aircraft to replace its 12 ancients.

But dog fights between Ananth Kumar, then civil aviation minister in the Vajpayee Cabinet who wanted to push the purchase of a potentially loss-making 50- seater aircraft, and an airline management which wanted urgent replacements for its ageing fleet, held up any decision.

Not that Indian Airlines or Vayudoot, which before the merger flew Alliance Air�s routes connecting metros with smaller towns, has an enviable safety record even when the plane is not a suspect.

In the past 12 years, Indian Airlines and Vayudoot planes have crashed four times, with Boeing 737s involved in two of the accidents. On October 19, 1988, an Indian Airlines Boeing 737 crashed near Ahmedabad killing 131 people. On the same day, around 35 people died when a Fokker plane flying for Vayudoot crash-landed near Guwahati.

A year and two months later, another Vayudoot plane crashed near Pune, killing 11 persons. On April 26, 1993, 46 people died when another Indian Airlines Boeing 737 crashed at Aurangabad.    

Patna, July 17 
They had heard this many times before: a sound like a thunderbolt hurtling through the air and drowning human voices. But today�s early morning crash has made them wake up to a reality: is Patna Airport, being so close to the city, fit to take the air traffic load?

Even the chief minister�s house has learnt to habitually fall silent when the sound of landing planes becomes too much. Laloo Prasad Yadav stops his usual deliveries to the press during his daily briefings. He was heard muttering: �Kabhi gir sakta hai mere sine pe� (It can someday explode on my head too) amidst rolls of laughter.

The light-hearted prediction has come true. Of course, the Boeing has not crashed on 1, Anne Marg, but it fell on a site less than half-a-kilometre away.

The scenario is grim for Patna Airport. The state headquarters is less than two km away and the city centre less than two and-a-half km from the runway.

For the last 20 years, the city of Patna has advanced menacingly towards the airport. The eastern side of the airport is fast being encroached by buildings that are rearing their head closeting the open space of the airport. On its western side near the Veterinary college, a VIP town is coming up. �Name any minister and he has either a house or a plot purchased in his name in the area,� said Mohan Sinha, a Congress leader in Patna.

The result: human activities have taken away the relief that airports need to operate smoothly.

In the maze of the concrete jungle, high rises around the airport posed hazards have grounded to a halt its expansion plans of and the need to make foolproof security arrangements. �This is important because the airport attracts a lot of foreigners who travel to Nepal from Patna,� said Sharad Yadav, Union aviation minister.

There are several problems that the airport now faces. Its runway is one way and it is relatively short in length, as Yadav even admitted. The airport leaves little scope for manouevring during circumventing the runway before landing. The pilot, Sohan Pal, may have faced these obstacles while searching for a space to crashland. Despite waving his hand he could not clear the crowd. The plane crashed with 55 lives

D.V. Gupta, the chairman of Airport Authority of India, said that there was no defect in planning of the airports in the past. All the airports had been located originally from 4 km to 10 km from the main city. The congestions increased with the growth of the town, he said. According to the AAI sources two other airports, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad, are also close to the city. �We have no control on the town planning. We need cooperation with the state governments in coping with the illegal structures,� said one senior officer of the AAI.

Sharad Yadav was asked if he would start the process of eventually shifting the airports to areas further from the city. �We could consider that. We know the problems of the airports operating from near the main town,� he said.

However, the officers of civil aviation or the chairman of Indian Airlines, Sunil Arora, would have different opinions. Said H.S. Khosla, DG, civil aviation: �There is no end to this concession. The more we retreat the more will the city advance. Where will we end?�

But for the Patnaites, a demand is growing, with this accident, to shift the airport to as far as at least Danapur.    

Patna, July 17 
Why is this bolt of lightning slicing through the roof of my house, wondered A.K. Mishra, lying on his bed in quarter no 8 of Chitkora housing complex, barely a kilometer from Patna airport.

But before another thought could cross his mind, Mishra�s house had been reduced to a rubble and he found himself under a heap of concrete and bricks, with flames all around him.

Tottering between life and death, Mishra, a clerk in the state government�s industry department, crawled patiently through the debris till he found a gap through which he could barely wave his broken arm.

And then he passed out.

Later, lying on his hospital bed at the Patna Medical College and Hospital, Mishra realised that the �bolt of lightening� was in fact the shining wing of the ill-fated Alliance Air flight CD 7412 which had pummelled through at least three quarters of the Chitkora housing complex.

�I was just lucky that a few youth noticed my waving arm and pulled me out of the heap,� said Mishra. �I could easily have perished like most of the passengers of the aircraft.�

Luckily for Mishra, his wife and two sons were out of the house when the disaster had struck. But a visiting relative is still missing. Rescue workers said he had almost certainly died under the weight of the debris which was yet to be cleared.

Till late at night, bulldozers were ploughing through the heap of rubble that quarters number 6, 8 and 10 had been reduced to by the impact of the crash.

�Fortunately, the aircraft did not hit the nearby Gardanibagh Girls� High School,� said a rescue worker. �Some of the students had already started arriving and the casualty may have been much higher.�

Officials estimate that about six people died when the aircraft slammed into the three single storied houses at the government colony built over 50 years ago.

Among them were the two sons of Vaidyanath Dutta, a head clerk in the finance department who is yet to recover consciousness and is fighting for his life at the PMCH.

�We don�t know if we will be able to recover their bodies in one piece,� said rescue worker Brijesh Singh as a bulldozer dug into mounds of rubble and brought up dismembered limbs and tufts of hair torn from the heads of passengers and crew..

�It was a bizarre sight,� recounted Nissar Ahmed, a resident of the colony whose house was spared by the aircraft. �I was standing outside my house around 7.30 am and watching the aircraft circling our colony,� he said.

�Suddenly,� he said, �I found the aircraft dip and then it started shuddering and jerking in the air. Then, after tilting to one side, it nosedived into our quarters. I started screaming in fright.�

On impact, the aircraft went up in flames. The fire brigade, Nisar said, took over half an hour in arriving and even when it did it took quite a while before it could start its fire fighting operations as there was no ready source of water at hand.

�Had the firemen started their work on time,� Nisar said, �a few more lives could have been saved.    

Patna, July 17 
Thirteen bodies lay wrapped in white cloth in a dimly-lit extension of Patna Medical College�s emergency ward. Only their faces were uncovered. Huge chunks of ice were kept next to the bodies so that rot would not set in before they were identified. But that, it seems, is yet another chapter of agony.

Many of the people who had come to the hospital to identify the victims of the Alliance crash, left the place stunned by the sight of the charred faces, unable to recognise their friends and relatives.

�I don�t believe it could be Mr Mukherjee,� screamed Manish Ratan, an Eveready India employee who had come to identify the general manager of his company, Ranjan Mukherjee. �How can I vouch that it was he? No, no, he could not die like this,� cried Manish.

He was not the only one. Despite the efforts of the authorities, the bodies remained unclaimed as one after the other, people came out of the ward saying they could not be sure if their friend or relative was among the dead.

A few yards from the emergency ward is the hospital morgue. In the dark and dank room, 39 bodies lay in stony silence.

Civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav, who was paying a visit, shuddered to see the corpses. �Oh God! God have mercy. Let their souls rest in peace. It was such a violent death,� he muttered, shrinking back.

Only 12 of the bodies in the morgue could be handed over to relatives today.

In the emergency ward, where 12 survivors have been housed, the scene was chaotic. Among the survivors were Promode Rajgarhi and two other members of his family, Rajiv Singh Rana, Bharat Rungta. The Dattas and the Mishras, who got trapped inside their house have also survived.

Though suffering from extreme burn injuries, the patients were left to risk infection as people streamed in and out of the room. Medicine was also in short supply till chief minister Rabri Devi intervened.

Railway minister Mamata Banerjee, who visited the patients, met with pleas to take them out of the hospital. �Please take us out of this hell, we will die here. You can help us survive,� said Ketan Rajghari. Mamata offered to take them to Delhi for treatment. Sharad Yadav, who visited them earlier in the day, has also offered to airlift them to AIIMS.

Admitting the arrangements were not adequate, an attending doctor said: �The condition of all the patients in the hospital is critical. We are doing our best. But they should be ensured total safety from infection.�

Most of the patients had head injuries, burn injuries and some of them showed symptoms of a haemorrhage.

One doctor said four of the survivors had slipped into coma. �They were conscious when they were brought here,� he added.

Later in the evening, the Central health department brought in a team of doctors to examine the patients. They advised the Union health minister to airlift at least eight patients to Delhi.    

New Delhi, July 17 
The Supreme Court today issued notices to former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and his Cabinet colleague K.K. Tewary in the St Kitts forgery case.

The notices were issued by a division bench of Justice M.B. Shaha and Justice S.N. Phukan on a CBI petition challenging their acquittal in the case.

The trial court had acquitted the two and the Delhi High Court had upheld the decision of the trial court. The CBI�s special leave petition challenged the decision of the high court upholding their acquittal.

Appearing for CBI, Solicitor-General Harish Salve said the trial court as well as the Delhi High Court erred in discharging Rao and Tewary even when the courts upheld framing of charges against Chandraswami and his associate Kailash Nath Aggarwal alias Mamaji.

The apex court asked the respondents, Rao and Tewari, to reply to the notices within four weeks.

The CBI, in its chargesheet filed on September 26, 1996, had alleged that Rao, Tewary, Chandraswami and the other accused were part of a conspiracy to defame former Prime Minister V.P. Singh.

The CBI charged that the accused had forged documents to show that Singh was a beneficiary of his son Ajeya Singh�s account in the First Trust Corporation Ltd at St Kitts in the Caribbean islands.

An amount of US $21 million was deposited in the name of Ajeya Singh to show that he had held an illegal account to benefit his father.

The case was registered on May 25, 1990, against Chandraswami, Aggarwal, former director of enforcement K.L. Verma and his deputy A.P. Nanday, US national Larry J. Kolb and Canadian George D. Mclean.    

Hyderabad, July 17 
Four activists of Deendar Anjuman, the fringe sect said to be behind the serial blasts in the South, were arrested today by the Andhra Pradesh police.

Two of them were ringleaders of the organisation, which has been held responsible for the explosions at places of worship in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Goa.

Chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu said they would be tried by a special court and that he would leave the issue of banning the group to the Centre and the Intelligence Branch.

�Deendar had been instrumental in all the bombing incidents aimed at creating communal rift between communities in the state,� he said.

Najeemuddin and Syed Iqbal, two top Deendar leaders, were taken into custody early this morning at Nallajarla, near Eluru in West Godavari district, when they were riding a scooter.

The police discovered gelatine sticks, torch cells, detonators and a part of a clock in the vehicle�s carrier.

The police also raided Deendar hideouts in Asifnagar area of Hyderabad and seized incriminating material.

During one of these raids, they arrested two accomplices � Sheikh Khaja Moinuddin and Mohammed Humayun Khan, both electronic mechanics. The two were picked up from the house of Syed Abdul Khader Jilani, also a radio mechanic, at Nuzivid town.

A lot of explosives and detonators were found in the house. Some anti-Christian posters printed in Saudi Arabia were also seized.

The police have identified nine persons allegedly involved in the bombing spree after interrogating Najeemuddin and Syed Iqbal, who is secretary of Deendar Anjuman�s Vijayawada unit.

Noor Ahmed and Mohammed Nazamuddin had placed bombs at Mother Vanini Church of Tadepalligudem.

Sheikh Khaja and Humayun Khan had planted a bomb at Jewett Memorial Church in Ongole.

Maqbool had planted a bomb in the Kodandarama Temple of Vijayawada, while Jeelani Maqbool targeted the Evangelical meeting in Machilipatnam.

Khalique-ur-Zaman organised an explosion at the Markaz mosque in Guntur. Syed Ibrahim operated at both Wadi and Bangalore, while Zakir was responsible for bombings in Goa and Hubli, said the police.

Director-general of police H.J. Dora said it was being investigated whether Pakistan�s ISI was involved in these bombings.

�A number of Deendar members visited Pakistan in the past four years to meet their spiritual chief Ziaul Hasan,� Dora said. �Both Hasan and his son Zahid Pasha visited Hyderabad in November 1999 and met with Deendar activists at a house in Asifnagar.�

The outfit has been operating mostly in north Karnataka towns, earlier part of the Nizam�s kingdom, and also in coastal Andhra districts.

The founder of the sect was a Hyderabadi. Ziaul Hasan, who is the founder�s son, at present heads the sect from Mardan in Pakistan.

Syed Iqbal is said to have learnt making improvised explosive devices and distributing them to volunteers all over southern India.

Though the Urdu media and minority leaders have hinted at the presence of Hasan here and his arrest, the police said nothing.

The administration is keeping its fingers crossed that the popular festival Bonalu, scheduled for next Sunday, will pass off peacefully. Security has been stepped up and vehicles are being searched on highways to keep out troublemakers.    

Ahmedabad, July 17 
Last year it was celebrity writer Arundhati Roy who led the much-hyped Rally for the Valley with Medha Patkar. This year, former navy chief Admiral Ramdas and his wife Lalita joined the agitation against the Sardar Sarovar Project.

Giving a shot in the arm to the Narmada Bachao Andolan which is opposing the project, Ramdas inaugurated Satyagraha 2000 in Jalsindhi on Saturday.

He likened the struggle in the Narmada Valley, where affected people, like last year, have resolved to �face submergence but will not move�, to a war. �The struggle in the Valley, too, is a war but much different from the one fought in Kargil. This is a war against injustice and it is bound to win against all odds,� Ramdas said.

For the last few years, every year the Andolan has been holding satyagraha on July 15 at Jalsindhi in Madhya Pradesh and Dhomkedi in Maharashtra �with a resolve to confront the unjust submergence and displacement during the monsoon�.

Hundreds of representatives from the rehabilitation and resettlement sites and also from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh attended the functions. Among those present were Ramdas� wife Lalita, environmentalist from Kerala Mohan, political activist from Calcutta Sukhendu Bhattacharya, apart from representatives from Netherlands, Australia and England.

An Andolan spokesman said the movement will continue through the monsoon. The focus of the movement will be experiments on issues like alternative sources, health, tribal medicines, village planning, resource mapping and education.

The villagers iterated their resolve not to leave the land they have owned for generations and said they would sacrifice their lives instead. They said the unity of the affected people �is the foundation of the agitation�.

Patkar said the satyagraha would continue �come what may�. She alleged that the governments are out to displace the people by submitting false affidavits.

Demanding that the work on the dam be immediately stopped for a �comprehensive and participatory review�, Andolan activists castigated the Gujarat government for raising false hopes of people in the drought-hit areas about the Sarovar project waters.

The Supreme Court has concluded the final hearing of the petition filed by the Andolan and has asked Grievance Redressal authorities to appraise it of rehabilitation of those already displaced.

The Andolan spokesman claimed that people of the valley, with the resolve �doobenge par hatenge nahi�, are prepared to face the worst to save their land, village, forest and river. The satyagraha will continue till the end of monsoon and many activists, academics and environmentalists are expected to join.    

Chandigarh, July 17 
Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has been caught in a precarious situation with the demand for more autonomy being voiced again.

Badal has managed to keep his faction of the Shiromani Akali Dal out of the autonomy controversy, which could plunge Punjab into militancy again. But All-India Shiromani Akali Dal chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra has demanded that the Punjab Assembly take a leaf out of Farooq Abdullah�s book and adopt a similar resolution. The Anandpur Sahib resolution should be the guiding spirit. �Punjab has for long been demanding autonomy. We have been termed secessionists for no rhyme or reason,� he said.

Tohra dismissed the idea that such a resolution would have secessionist overtones. �It will go a long way in lending the country a truly federal structure and making it stronger. The Centre should debate on the Jammu and Kashmir resolution with an open mind,� he said.

The Punjab Assembly had adopted a resolution in 1977, demanding that the state be granted �fiscal, legislative and political� autonomy. But it had stopped short of identifying which departments should be the exclusive prerogative of the Centre. The Akalis have been demanding that only communication, defence, currency and foreign affairs departments should be with the Centre.

The 1977 resolution had also demanded that Article 356 of the Constitution, which empowers the Centre to dismiss the state government, be scrapped. The resolution, however, was never forwarded to the Centre for endorsement and hence did not cause much flutter in political circles.

The move to place a resolution in the Assembly was then spearheaded by Badal, who was the chief minister, and was supported by the BJP�s earlier avatar, the Jan Sangh, which was an alliance partner in the Punjab government.

The 1977 Punjab resolution had also sought legislative and fiscal autonomy by stating that it would help in strengthening the federal structure.

While Tohra has stopped short of demanding special status for Punjab as demanded by Jammu and Kashmir, party leaders insist that the next Assembly session is likely to raise a storm on the issue. �If you give more powers to Jammu and Kashmir, then there is no way you can ignore Punjab. The Centre has finally been caught in a Catch-22 situation. Largesse to Jammu and Kashmir would spell trouble in Punjab,� a senior leader warned.

Sikh intellectuals have joined the autonomy chorus. �Where is the Constitution for the Sikhs?� asked Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon, president of the Institute of Sikh Studies. �The system prevalent now has seeds of disintegration. For everything states have to run to the Centre,� he added.

While Badal is maintaining a stoic silence on legislative and political autonomy, he has demanded more fiscal powers to states. �But Badal cannot ask for more. After all, he has to depend on the Centre for his own survival and the BJP-led government has already said it cannot provide more powers to states other than fiscal which, too, will be deliberated first,� a Badal aide said.    


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