SC seeks Veerappan facts in sealed cover
Sudarshan under fire for China church model
Congress turns back on Rao
Basu banks on Delhi flood funds
Private purse in Jantar Mantar tone-up
Ghatak to stand in for CM
Jail riot probe ordered
Jaya vows fight against verdict

New Delhi, Oct. 11: 
The Supreme Court today asked Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and the Centre to provide confidential details in the Veerappan case.

A three-judge bench of Justice S.P. Bharucha, Justice D.P. Mohapatra and Justice Y.K. Sabharwal postponed hearings to Tuesday and ordered the details to be submitted by that time before a decision was taken on the release of the 119 Tada and NSA detainees.

The brigand, who abducted Kannada screen icon Raj Kumar and three others in a midnight swoop on July 30, has demanded their release in exchange for freeing his hostages.

But just when the two state governments were about to free the prisoners, the apex court stayed their release on a special leave petition filed by Abdul Kareem, a retired Karnataka police officer. Kareem�s only son Shakeel Ahmad, also a police officer, was among 29 policemen killed by Veerappan in a 1993 forest ambush.

At today�s proceedings, the judges asked solicitor-general Harish Salve, who appeared for Karnataka, if the two state governments had an alternative plan of securing the release of the hostages. They asked him to submit the reply in a sealed cover.

�It is now clear that everybody (all the three governments) acted in fear of Veerappan,� the bench observed. It added that the Tada court in Mysore was not informed about the reason for withdrawal of charges against the detainees.

The judges said the state governments agreed to Veerappan�s demand instead of classifying the detainees into different categories � that is, those who could be granted bail, those against whom charges could be dropped and those who could be freed.

The apex court in an earlier decision had ruled that Tada prisoners should be categorised as there were a number of petitions on the misuse of the Act and thousands were in jail for years without trial.

The court said the hurry with which the state governments were about to concede the demands proved that they wanted to take the easy way out of the impasse.

In the Shakeel Ahmad case, the detainees are in jail for over seven years. There are some women who are charged with �provision of food (rice and dal) to Veerappan�s men�.

On the �fear of clashes between the two linguistic communities (Tamils and Kannadigas)� if Raj Kumar was not released, the court wanted to know �the real base�. It said �mere affidavits will not be enough� and ordered the governments to �show the primary and other status reports� gathered through intelligence and other agencies.

Kareem�s counsel, Chava Badrinath Babu, also submitted a report of a former officer of the special task force (STF) which had warned of a possible attempt to kidnap Raj Kumar. The STF � a joint Tamil Nadu-Karnataka police team � was formed in 1993 to capture the bandit.

Following the submission, the court observed: �This is shocking and absolutely unbelievable.� Badrinath also showed the court the version of the public prosecutor that no relaxation in the bail conditions to the accused should be granted.

The Tamil Nadu government, too, in its affidavit stated that it had information that Veerappan might try to kidnap Raj Kumar and said it had passed on the information to Karnataka.    

New Delhi, Oct. 11: 
Major church groups in the country today rejected outright the concept of �swadeshi churches� propounded by RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, saying government-sanctioned churches would be a flagrant violation of the Constitution.

�We totally and unequivocally reject any concept of a government-sanctioned church or churches in India. This would be a flagrant violation of the Constitution. This will also destroy the very concept of a secular nation envisaged by those who took part in the freedom struggle,� said Catholic Bishops� Conference of India secretary-general Oswald Gracias.

The archbishop said history is witness to the failure of totalitarian regimes in suppressing or controlling people�s faith.

�To give the example of China in creating a Chinese-type church and kicking out others� is a slur on our country�s democratic polity and cultural pluralism, he said.

According to Gracias, faith was universal and not restricted by geographic or political boundaries. Nor was it bound by race, ethnicity or language. It was because of this all major religions like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism had spread all over the globe.

�In calling upon the government to involve itself in an �Indian Church� and �send home� all those he does not consider to be Indians, Sudarshan has challenged not only the constitutional guarantee of freedom of faith, but sought to interfere directly in the internal structures of several religions, including Christianity,� the archbishop said in a statement.

He added that Christianity in India was 20 centuries old and no one had the right to question the patriotism of Indian Christians. Gracias also warned that remarks like this, repeated over a period of time, could threaten peace and national solidarity.

The National Council of Churches in India also criticised Sudarshan, saying that its 13 million members were �staunch Indian citizens and true nationals� and there were no foreign churches or missionaries affiliated to it.

In a joint statement issued from Nagpur, the council�s president, Bishop Vinod Peter, and general secretary Ipe Joseph said: �NCCI is an apex organisation of 29 member churches of non-Catholics with 11 regional councils, 14 all-India organisations and 7 related agencies, none of which is headed by a foreigner.�

�Indian churches have contributed to nation-building through their services in the field of education, health, tribal and Dalit empowerment, gender justice, child rights, ecological justice, human rights, poverty eradication and empowerment of the marginalised in society,� the council said.

But even as church leaders reacted with indignation, BJP president Bangaru Laxman assured US Ambassador to India Richard Celeste that the government was committed to upholding religious freedom as enshrined in the Constitution.

He, however, added that the Centre was watchful of militant activities of certain Christian groups which had links with insurgent outfits in the Northeast.

Laxman told Celeste, who called on him today, that the NDA government had no problems with conversion, provided it didn�t involve force or inducement. Kashmir, Pakistan and CTBT also figured in the talks.    

New Delhi, Oct. 11: 
The Congress has washed its hands of the JMM bribery case and refused to support P.V. Narasimha Rao who is expected to be sentenced tomorrow.

�There is no question of extending any legal assistance to him. The bribery episode was part of Rao�s own survival game,� AICC spokesman Anil Shastri said.

Making a distinction between the JMM case and the defamation suit filed against deposed party chief Sitaram Kesri, Shastri said: �The AICC is extending legal aid to Kesriji as it involves the party�s ideology.� The RSS had filed a defamation suit against Kesri after he alleged that the organisation was involved in the Coimbatore bomb blasts.

Shastri�s criticism of Rao is likely to trigger off a controversy in the Congress. A small section of partymen still loyal to the former Prime Minister may find Shastri�s remarks �outrageous�. They have pointed out that the Cabinet and the then Congress Working Committee had lauded Rao for surviving the crucial vote of confidence in July 1993. �The fact of the matter is that the entire party benefited from it and morally we cannot disown him,� a former Union minister said.

The high command�s stand on the JMM case will have a crucial bearing on the ongoing organisational polls. The dissidents claiming proximity to the former Prime Minister are planning to close ranks against the leadership if it disowns Rao�s legacy.

Party chief Sonia Gandhi�s detractors accuse her of having a �soft corner� for the breakaway group that had left the party during Rao�s tenure. Though Sonia has repeatedly denied this, the dissidents are not convinced.

While Shastri has sought to speak on behalf of the party, many feel Sonia will adopt a more cautious approach. �She visited him hours after he was convicted. Her gesture had a signal. She was sympathetic yet she was unwilling to stand by him,� an AICC functionary said.

He added that Sonia wanted to take a clear stand on corruption in high places. A majority of partymen expect her to focus on probity in public life and ethics as stated in the Panchmarhi declaration.

But an influential section of Congress leaders want her to take a more �pragmatic view�, keeping in mind the party�s alliance with Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar and Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu. �In the era of coalition politics, there is need for a flexible approach,� a CWC member said.    

Calcutta, Oct. 11: 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu on Wednesday hoped that the Centre will meet the state�s demand for grants to cope with the devastation caused by floods.

�We are facing an acute crisis of funds. I hope the Centre will meet our demand for grants,� Basu told newspersons at the Writers� Buildings.

He said that the state government was forced to take loans at high interests for relief and rehabilitation of flood victims.

�We have no other option. We are taking loans from Hudco and other agencies to repair flood-damaged roads and distribute mini kits to farmers,� he added.

The state government which initially demanded Rs 962 crore from the Centre, later revised the figure to Rs 1,487 crore.

Basu has urged Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to treat the floods as a national calamity and provide additional assistance.

The chief minister has also sent a copy of a resolution adopted at an all-party meet.

Asked to comment on railway minister Mamata Banerjee�s allegation that the floods were man-made, Basu said: �What can I do about it? Do you want me to say something on this? I have said earlier that she always utters untruths even about herself. She also indulges in violence but she gets votes.�

Flood situation

Life gradually limped back to normal in the flood-hit districts, except for some areas of Nadia and North 24-Parganas districts.

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta said that so far, 1,167 persons had died and 118 were reported missing.

Dasgupta said that he, along with minister of state for irrigation, Ganesh Mondal, experts from the irrigation department and the Calcutta Port Trust had made an aerial survey of some North 24-Parganas areas where flood water remained stagnant.

He said that the state government had asked the port trust to keep dredgers ready to remove blockades which were preventing flushing out of flood water.

Dasgupta said that the Birbhum district authorities had already started disbursing house building loans. He said Hudco today sanctioned a Rs 430-crore loan for reconstruction of houses and infrastructure development.

Hudco, he said, had sanctioned Rs 250 crore for building houses and Rs 180 crore for reconstruction of infrastructure. The Rs 200 crore loan from NABARD will be used to construct shelters, he added.    

New Delhi, Oct. 11: 
Jantar Mantar, the 276-year-old landmark in the capital, is set for a facelift.

The National Cultural Fund (NCF), the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels signed a memorandum of understanding for the conservation, restoration and beautification of the heritage site.

Park Hotels will contribute Rs 10 lakh to the National Cultural Fund towards maintenance of Jantar Mantar for which it will get 100 per cent tax rebate under Section 80 G (2) of the Income Tax Act.

This is the second private sector involvement in the conservation and maintenance of heritage sites. The first came three years ago when the Aga Khan Foundation and the Oberoi group of hotels collaborated on the beautification of the Humayun�s Tomb in Delhi. Oberoi Hotels took care of the illumination of the grounds.

The National Cultural Fund has been limping along since its inception, with only two projects to show in three years. But now i seems to be picking up momentum. Work has started on Saniwarwada in Pune where the Pune Municipality has become a partner.

Negotiations with the Indian Oil Corporation for the maintenance of 14 monuments, including Qutb Minar, Hampi and Konark, are at an advanced stage.

Since the NCF partners will be responsible for the environmental beautification and maintenance, sites with gardens and grounds have been selected . The ASI will take care of all structural maintenance.

ASI director general Komal Anand welcomed assistance from the private sector. This will help increase facilities at these sites which will add to them as tourist attractions.

Priya Paul, director of Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, said her company had been negotiating with the NCF for the past one- and-a-half years. Park Hotels will work on the signage, improvement of the garden and the facilities, provide background information, among other things.

An executive committee will be set up, including representatives of Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, ASI and NCF. Some astronomers will also be co-opted to advise the executive committee on the significance of the structures.

Heritage consultants welcomed this move. Amita Baig and Shobita Punja said the sites can become more relevant this way. A great deal of activity can be planned around them. With the kind of upgradation planned, the heritage sites could become vibrant spaces.

ASI plans to charge an entrance fee from December this year. The amount to be charged is under consideration and will soon be announced.    

Calcutta, Oct. 11: 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu is likely to hand the reins of government to labour minister Shanti Ghatak when he and his deputy Buddhadev Bhattacharya leave for Thiruvananthapuram with a host of senior ministers to attend the CPM plenum from October 20 to 23.

Though Ghatak is part of the 90-member delegation from West Bengal, he is unlikely to attend due to his ill health. Therefore, he id expected to look after day-to-day administration during this period.

Ghatak had been in charge of administration in Basu�s absence twice before Bhattacharya�s elevation in the Cabinet.

But, party sources said, if the flood situation does not improve substantially or law and order deteriorates, Bhattacharya may be asked to stay back.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said a final decision will be taken on Friday after a meeting of senior party leaders.

In another development, politburo member Biman Bose today said the party had received more that 7,500 suggested modifications to the draft party programme distributed among members.

�This simply proves the democratic manner in which our party functions. Every member of our party has the right to give his opinion on any important national and political issue and all their suggestions will be placed before the plenum, which will decide how many of those will be accepted,� Bose said.    

Patna, Oct. 11: 
Beur Jail was tense today even as the Bihar Military Police staged a flag march inside the compound to restore order and the state government suspended four officials.

IG (Prisons) P.K. Jajoria has ordered a �comprehensive probe� into violent clashes in the jail on Monday night over the �immoral activities� of VIP prisoners.

Two women, who were trying to smuggle contraband into the jail, were arrested during the visit of the probe team headed by additional IG Gopinath Munda. The women, who were allowed in without valid entry passes to meet one of the inmates, were identified as Kalavati Devi and Janki Devi.

Munda�s preliminary report said security norms at the jail were flouted at will by VIP prisoners, though relatives of ordinary prisoners were unable to meet their kin. It added that contraband was being smuggled into the jail.

The state government has also suspended four jail officials, including a warden, on the basis of the preliminary report submitted this afternoon. The suspension is aimed at ensuring a proper probe, a senior official said.

Jail officials have said that unless the state government takes prompt action to remove some inmates from the Beur model jail, it could witness an incident similar to that of Jehanabad jail. On September 1 last year, riots in Jehanabad jail had led to two inmates being killed and many others being injured.

The probe team �will send a report to the state government� on the origin of the riot and the involvement of the former minister �if the allegations were found to be true�, said a member of the team. Associates of the former minister, however, said some inmates who were politically opposed to him were trying to defame him.

Police had earlier registered cases of trespassing against the two boys who were found in the former minister�s ward. The boys were interrogated by the police before being released on personal bonds.

Reports said MLA Rajen Tiwari, a former member of the Suraj Bhan gang who is lodged in the medical unit of Beur jail, freely moves in and out of the jail. A few days ago, he attended a rally of Brahmins at Ara in Bhojpur district, about 150 km from Patna.

Tiwari, however, refuted the allegation. �The picture carried in the local newspapers is that of my brother,� he said.    

Chennai, Oct. 11: 
ADMK chief Jayalalitha put up a brave front today, saying her conviction in the Tamil Nadu Small Scale Industries (Tansi) land deal case by the special court was not final.

She added that there were avenues for appeal and she would stand vindicated in the end.

Reacting to reports of a supporter attempting self-immolation in Tiruchirapalli in the wake of Monday�s verdict, Jayalalitha said: �Those who are trying to besmirch my name in the eyes of the people are bound to lose in the end.� She appealed to her followers not to resort to �extreme tactics�.

Jayalalitha, who stands to lose her right to contest polls for six years unless a higher court exonerates her, waxed eloquent on her �innocence�. She said Madras High Court had acquitted her in the Tansi case but the vengeful DMK government appealed to the apex court, which directed the special court to go ahead with the trial. She pointed out that her petition questioning the authority of then Governor Chenna Reddy to sanction her prosecution was still pending before the apex court. But, in a bout of vendetta, the Karunanidhi government hurriedly sought permission from the present Governor to prosecute her.

Though Jayalalitha assured the demoralised ADMK cadre that she would bounce back, her despondency showed through when she called off demonstrations to protest the petro price hike.

Loyalists appeared on Jaya TV last night, stressing there was still hope. ADMK leader in the Lok Sabha P.H. Pandian said: �Some mistakes might have been committed. You�re punishing the officials and even the minister concerned, but why bring in the chief minister, who acts on the advice of her colleagues?�

Jayalalitha�s allies, including Tamil Maanila Congress chief G.K. Moopanar, have skirted comments on the verdict, but expressed faith in the ADMK-led front.    


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