BJP tunes in to Mamata chorus
A tall order at Clinton banquet
Blair to tap infotech manpower
South spanner in joint entrance
Law enters age of video evidence
Calcutta weather

Sept. 4: 
As though on cue to Mamata Banerjee�s quit caution, the BJP today demanded that Bengal be declared a disturbed area and law and order brought under Central security forces, but stopped short of calling for President�s rule.

Frustrated at what she thought to be Central inaction, Mamata had yesterday threatened to resign as railway minister but was persuaded to stay on after several phone calls from BJP leaders, according to a Trinamul Congress leader.

BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said: �There is no other option but to declare West Bengal a disturbed area. There is nothing like law and order there. The protector has become the devourer, and the functioning of democracy has come to a grinding halt.�

But the BJP was shy of demanding Central rule. Naidu just went to the extent of saying: �We urge the Centre to take the situation seriously and see if anything is possible to protect democracy.�

Asked if the BJP was worried about the possibility of Mamata withdrawing from the Cabinet and even reviewing her support to the Vajpayee government unless it �acted� before September 7, Naidu said: �She knows the Centre has its limitations�.

BJP sources said they were against the use of Article 356 for fear that it may boomerang on the Centre as had happened in the case of Bihar when the government shied away from putting to vote the motion, seeking to ratify President�s rule, in the Rajya Sabha where it is in a minority.

�We want to give the Left Front government enough time to discredit itself before the Assembly polls,� the sources said.

Naidu urged the Centre to look into the recommendations of the five-member NDA team which had visited Bengal after the Midnapore violence. The team, which suggested declaring the state a �disturbed area�, has submitted its report to the government.

Naidu�s words should sound like sweet music to Mamata�s ears but the Trinamul leader may not be satisfied with just hearing the BJP joining her chorus. Naidu, in fact, went a step further than what a Trinamul delegation today urged the Bengal Governor to ensure. In a memorandum, it sought declaration of five troubled districts as �disturbed areas�.

Short of President�s rule, which Mamata knows the Centre cannot possibly impose, she wants at least this much to be done. She has been saying in public meetings that the next election in Bengal would be held under President�s rule. Whether she meant or not, expectations, and the pressure on her to show results, have been building up.

�Vajpayeeji has given some vague assurances to do something but nothing has come out of them,� a Trinamul spokesman said.

There might be a debate on whether she has given the Vajpayee government an ultimatum to act, but the next meeting of Trinamul�s policy-making body scheduled for Thursday has kept alive various possibilities.

If the Centre keeps silent, Mamata has three options. One, she may resign herself but stay in the NDA. Two, Trinamul may pull out of the government but support it from outside. Three, she may pull out of the alliance and snap her ties with the BJP before the polls and join hands with the Congress.

Yesterday�s resignation threat is only the first act of the drama that will unfold over the next six-seven months and Mamata Banerjee is unlikely to close out any of the above three possible denouements at this point of time.    

New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
It was meant to be a grand gesture, but is turning out to be a nightmare. President Bill Clinton�s decision to host a gala banquet for his Indian guest has brought deep furrows on the foreheads of Prime Minister�s A.B. Vajpayee�s tour managers.

The September 17 banquet in honour of the Prime Minister has a 600-odd guest list. According to custom, Clinton and Vajpayee will have to stand side by side and interact with the guests as they are introduced to the two leaders. The exercise will take not less than three-quarters of an hour. But the million-dollar question plaguing South Block is: Will the Prime Minister be able to stand for such a long time?

Vajpayee�s left knee has been giving him trouble, even forcing him to shorten his US visit by two days. Several engagements, including a much-awaited trip to Silicon Valley, have been lopped off from the Prime Minister�s schedule to give him rest.

White House dinners are usually held in either of two rooms, one which accommodates 50 guests and another, which is suitable for 150.

But Clinton, happy with Vajpayee�s decision to go ahead with the US trip though it comes at the end of his Presidency, wants to reciprocate the gesture and host a grand dinner.

Arrangements are being made to host the banquet on the White House lawns to accommodate the 600-odd guests that Clinton plans to invite. It is a politically savvy move. The guests, a substantial number of them Indian-Americans, will provide Clinton with an opportunity to interact with people who may be useful in an election year.

Apart from the presidential polls, elections to the American Senate and the US Congress are also coming up. For the Democrats, it is important that the occasion is used for interacting with the Indian-American community. Members of the community are reputed to be big donors.

Indian officials say the gala dinner is being lined up largely at the insistence of Hillary Clinton, who is in the race for the US Senate from New York.

Vajpayee is scheduled to leave for New York on September 7 evening, where he will address the United Nations Millenium Summit. Between September 10 and 11, the Prime Minister will have his knee examined and get a surgery done if necessary.

On September 13, Vajpayee is scheduled to leave for Washington, where he will address a joint session of the American Congress.

It is not yet known whether Vajpayee will deliver his lecture sitting down. But the big worry for Indian officials at the moment is how the Prime Minister will handle the official banquet on September 17.    

New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
British home secretary Jack Straw today informed Delhi that the Tony Blair government is drawing up new rules to issue more visas to information technology and e-commerce professionals from India.

He said London was introducing a right of appeal to 10 per cent of Indian visa-seekers whose applications had been rejected. Britain is also in the process of implementing �improvements� in visa services offered by its missions in Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai.

Straw, who held talks with home minister L.K. Advani, also entered into an agreement with India to set up a joint working group to combat terrorism and drug trafficking.

A team of officials is scheduled to visit Britain in October this year to work out the modalities of the group.

The issue of Peter Bleach, the Briton imprisoned in Calcutta in the Purulia armsdrop case, also figured in the talks. Straw limited the discussion to seeking Advani�s help in ensuring that Bleach�s appeal pending in court is expedited.

�I raised the concern about Bleach with the minister in the context which showed respect to the independence of Indian judiciary,� Straw said.

Straw is also scheduled to visit Calcutta.    

New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
Southern states� refusal to give up a money-spinner has clouded the fate of the joint admission test to engineering colleges in the country.

Several states in the south � a fertile belt for professional course institutions � have cold-shouldered the Central proposal for fear of losing the revenue they earn from conducting the admission tests.

However, states in north India have warmed to the single-window scheme, dubbed the National Education System of Testing (Nest), which aims to replace multiple examinations. The implementation of Nest would have brought relief to overburdened students now forced to prepare for several gruelling tests and harried parents.

�There is a north-south divide. The southern states feel that the Nest will be disadvantageous to them,� says Satindra Singh, a former official in the human resources development ministry who was handling the scheme.

Since the scheme is voluntary, it is left to the states to take a decision. So far, states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra have rejected the proposal, but the seven northeastern and most northern states have welcomed it.

The southern states believe joining Nest would mean huge losses for their regional engineering colleges, which earn a fat income from these tests.

�For each entrance exam, the student has to shell out Rs 500 to 600. A joint test would deprive the states of this revenue,� said Singh.

The Centre has suggested sharing the Nest revenue with the states to compensate the loss. But the states think that the amount will be nowhere near what their colleges are raking in now.

The southern spanner comes at a time when the Nest file � gathering dust for more than a decade ever since it was mooted in the National Education Policy of 1986 � has found a champion in human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

The southern states have raised another objection, saying a well-developed administrative machinery is already in place in most colleges to conduct the tests.

The states fear that Nest will render the manpower and infrastructure redundant, though the Centre has informed them that the same set-up can be retained and used for Nest.

The Centre is now pinning hopes on the fence-sitter states. Joshi has asked Education Consultants India Ltd to go ahead with the preparations for Nest, scheduled to debut in 2001.

But the participation of the six IITs is crucial to the success of Nest. Initially, Delhi IIT had agreed to join, but now it is insisting on being given charge of the examination.    

Calcutta, Sept. 4: 
For the first time in India�s legal history, the high court has agreed to allow as evidence deposition through a video-conference.

A division bench of the Calcutta High Court, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Barin Ghosh, today upheld a petition filed by Kunal Saha, a US-based doctor who has hauled three city physicians to court over his wife�s death, requesting that he be allowed to depose before the West Bengal Medical Council through a video-conference.

Saha had moved the high court after the council had denied him permission. The council had also turned down his request that foreign experts be allowed to depose similarly.

The court, however, rejected Saha�s plea on the medical experts.

The conference will link New York and the city premises of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited and will be organised by V-Span Limited. It will be attended by members of the council�s penal and ethical cases committee. The panel is hearing Saha�s petition demanding penal action against the three doctors whom he blamed for wife Anuradha�s death two years ago.

The court directed the council to fix a date for the deposition within 10 days and said the hearing should be held within a fortnight.

The ruling has triggered screeches of protest from legal eagles, with most criminal lawyers describing it as �harmful for the judiciary�. Former high court judge Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee said: �Although this mode of deposition is followed selectively in the UK and US, it is unique in India and might create problems for lawyers as well as the courts.�

Echoing Justice Banerjee, criminal lawyer Supradip Roy added: �It makes sense for a rape victim to stand witness through a video-conference to protect her from the glare of the open court. But it doesn�t make sense to allow a wealthy person to depose long-distance through a video-conference.�

Subroto Mookherjee, another criminal lawyer, pointed out that both US President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky had testified via a live video-conference after the storm erupted over their affair.

�But that was an exceptional case where video-conferencing was essential,� he argued.

Saha and his wife, both US residents, had come to India in May 1998 on holiday. Anuradha had to be admitted to a city hospital with severe skin eruptions and was being treated by Abani Roy Chowdhury, Baidyanath Halder and Sukumar Mukherjee. But her condition deteriorated and she had to be shifted to Mumbai�s Breach Candy Hospital where she died.

Saha filed two separate petitions demanding action against the doctors � one in the Alipore court and another before the state medical council.

The three physicians have already been found �guilty of neglect� and are facing trial at Alipore court where Saha appeared in person. The medical council, too, decided to hear Saha�s complaint against the doctors and asked Saha to come to Calcutta.

Speaking to The Telegraph from New York on Monday, Saha said: �I must congratulate the high court for its verdict, though a part of my petition has not been allowed by the judges. Medical experts of international repute, who believe that the administering of Depo Medrol, a banned injection, was the cause of my wife�s death, were not allowed to submit their views in the case. I will move a petition before the Supreme Court seeking permission to allow the experts to express their views through video-conference.�    



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