TN faces court fire for winking at bandit threat
Centre lines up scanner for private hospitals
Dam tribute to Iron Man
BJP washes hands of Sangh minority call
Sigh after storm false alarm
Fresh facesin Laxman team
Work by night to fence off Pakistan
Sonia sticks by Rabri
Mission to Baghdad for oil
Andhra reaps rice trouble

New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
The Supreme Court today flayed the Tamil Nadu government saying it was �unpardonable� that it had not posted police personnel at the kidnapped Kannada film star Raj Kumar�s Gajanur farm house despite having information a year back that he faced threat of being abducted by timber smuggler Veerappan. The apex court also indicated that it was not in favour of releasing the bandit�s 51 associates as part of a ransom deal.

�It is unpardonable that despite getting specific information that Raj Kumar might be kidnapped from the Gajanur farm house, the government did not take any step to prevent this,� a three-judge bench said. The bench had earlier stayed the release of Veerappan�s associates indefinitely.

Referring to the manner in which the government hastily decided to drop Tada charges against Veerappan�s associates, Justice Bharucha said: �It is an attempt by the state, by the public prosecutor and by a court to hoodwink the law.�

Clarifying his observation, the judge said he was not attributing a motive to this but the manner in which it was done gave the impression that �it is a knee-jerk reaction�.

The bench clearly set itself against the release of the detenus saying: �At the moment, we are certainly not inclined to allow release of the associates of Veerappan.�

Reiterating the court�s apprehension about links between Veerappan and terrorists from Tamil Nadu Liberation Army and the LTTE, the bench said: �What we are worried about is that from now on the government is not going to face Veerappan alone but a lethal combination of a bandit associated with secessionist elements.�

Referring to the �lethal combination�, the court said: �They have taken refuge with Veerappan in an area which the two state governments termed as inaccessible and the fact is that they have not been able to arrest him for last 10 years. If there is an association of these people (secessionist elements) with Veerappan in that terrain, who knows what plan will be hatched, what arms would be procured and what training would be imparted.�

Justice Bharucha said Veerappan�s activities coupled with that of secessionist elements in the heart of the country �is really dangerous and should wake everybody up�.

Earlier, appearing for Karnataka government, solicitor general Harish Salve said the decision to revoke the Tada charges was taken keeping in mind that if something happened to Raj Kumar there was a possibility of serious linguistic unrest.

When Salve contended that there was little to apprehend that these people when released would join the gang, Justice Bharucha said: �It is a pipe dream that the accused will not disappear.�    

New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
Alarmed by the controversy over the kind of medical treatment received by late power minister P.R. Kumaramangalam at Apollo hospital, the Centre is planning to introduce an accountability Ordinance for all private hospitals and nursing homes.

Aides of health minister C.P. Thakur today said the mushrooming nursing homes in all parts of the country, especially in the metros, was becoming a cause for concern and immediate action was needed to rein them in. They also admitted that a number of them violated accepted norms of hygiene and were a threat to the patients.

This is not the first time that the Centre is considering a set of regulations to maintain a tight leash on private hospitals and nursing homes. Saleem Sherwani, minister of state for health in the United Front governments, had planned similar laws and visited Singapore to find out how these regulations worked. The Centre had also decided to enact a pilot set of laws. But the proposal was shelved because of the political uncertainty then.

Thakur, who had earlier spoken to journalists from a news agency, had said the accountability Ordinance was of utmost significance following the row over the treatment received by Kumaramangalam at Apollo hospital. Thakur believes there should be some minimum standard that has to be followed by private hospitals and nursing homes.

Thakur said he will convene a meeting of state health ministers next month to discuss the issue threadbare. The Maharashtra government has already conceived of a plan to keep these institutions under check. Thakur�s aides said that the states can make their own legislation after studying the issue.

It is clear that the minister is under pressure. Many MPs led by Madan Lal Khurana have demanded a probe into the functioning of Apollo hospital.

Thakur also feels that doctors should undergo retraining. A few years ago, the Indian Medical Association had resisted the move when the government had first mooted the idea. There was even a proposal that doctors found ignorant of modern methods would lose their license to practise.

The health minister, however, today did not make it clear whether such harsh measures would be taken for doctors who did not go through these refresher courses.

There are other plans, too. Aware that most medical colleges were suffering from dearth of funds, the minister wants to set up a medical grants council along the lines of the University Grants Commission. This, sources said, is not a feasible idea, coming at a time when the government wants medical colleges to generate their own resources.    

Ahmedabad, Oct. 19: 
The Gujarat government has decided to resume work on raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam on October 31, the 125th birth anniversary of Sardar Patel, the iron man of Gujarat who conceived the project in 1946.

The government has planned a grand function that day at Kevadia colony, the dam site.

The apex court�s judgment has rekindled the hopes of people in the drought-prone areas of Saurashtra and Kutch, though it will take another two years for water to flow into the canal.

The people are celebrating the day as �Narmada Vijay Diwas�. �The people in drought-hit areas know that it is going to be the last drought,� said Narmada development minister Jay Narayan Vyas.

The Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) will benefit Gujarat only after the dam�s height is raised to 110 metres. Thus, the court green signal to raise the height to 90 metres may not immediately help.

Till the height is raised to 110 metres and the Narmada canal network is completed, the state government will have to make ad hoc arrangements to provide water in drought-prone areas.

Even after raising the dam height to 90 metres from the present 85 metres, �we will have to use pumps to draw water from the reservoir to supply (water) to Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Bhavanagar and Amreli�, Vyas said.

For the remaining parts of Saurashtra, north Gujarat and Kutch, the coming summer will be a nightmare. All the check dams and reservoirs that feed north Gujarat have only 10 per cent water, while Saurashtra and Kutch, which were the worst affected, have just 6 per cent water left. This is expected to last only three to four months.

Once it is completed, the SSP is expected to supply drinking water to 8,215 villages and 135 urban centres of Gujarat. It will irrigate an estimated 18 lakh hectares, besides generating 1,450 MW, of which Madhya Pradesh will get 57 per cent and Gujarat 16 per cent.

However, that is possible only after the dam height is raised to 138 metres. And for every five metres by which the height is to be raised beyond 90 metres, the state government will have to seek permission from the Narmada Control Authority.

While BJP leaders feel that the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has lost the moral right to oppose the project, NBA activists say they will continue their struggle.

NBA activists are meeting at Badwani village in Madhya Pradesh where project affected people from three states, as well as village leaders, are expected to decide the �future course of action�.    

New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
After refusing to take a stand on K.S. Sudarshan�s controversial Agra speech for the past two days, the BJP today distanced itself from his call asking Muslims and Christians to �integrate� themselves into the �Indian cutural and social mainstream�.

At a press conference in Gurdaspur, BJP chief Bangaru Laxman issued a statement, saying: �I wish to state categorically that what Shri Sudarshanji had said about Christians and Muslims in India are the views of the RSS. They do not represent the views of the BJP.�

Laxman said the RSS chief was �entitled� to express his own views and it was up to the �different sections of our diverse society to react to these views, as they deem right�. But he objected to his suggestion that minorities shouldn�t have extra-territorial affiliations even if their faith demanded it.

�Freedom of thought and intellectual discourse are an integral part of our national ethos. They are also guaranteed by our Constitution. Such debate and dialogue are useful so long as they are conducted without any disrespect or intolerance towards any faith,� he asserted.

Laxman�s statement, however, came as a surprise to BJP sources who wondered why he was prolonging the RSS-vs-BJP debate, which started after home minister L.K. Advani attended the Sangh mahashivir last Sunday.

�This kind of offensive against the RSS day after day from Laxman is not going down well at all with our supporters,� said a senior leader who felt that a major section of the party disagreed with the chief on this issue.

He admitted that it was �not possible� for the party to constantly heed RSS assertions on policy matters. But stressed that if �differences� had to be aired, the language and emphasis should be �tactful� and not as �direct� as Laxman�s.

The leader cited the example of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who had managed to please both the RSS and NDA constituents with his Staaten Island remark calling himself a �swayamsevak in the service of the nation�.

He also argued that while Advani�s �clarification� on his presence at the <>mahashivir was interpreted as a reaffirmation of the BJP-RSS bond, it had actually demarcated the authority lines between the two.

�What else was the comparison with the Nehru-Gandhi relationship and the JP-Morarji one supposed to indicate?� he asked. �Precisely this that the BJP is not obliged to play second-fiddle to the RSS.�

�Advani<>ji used the cow slaughter example to prove his point when he said that while Gandhiji opposed cow slaughter, Nehru ignored his objections and did not ban it,� the leader added.

BJP sources said �in essence� there was �no difference� between what Laxman and Advani had said on the BJP-RSS equation. They dismissed suggestions that the statements and counter-statements reflected the Vajpayee-Advani �differences� on the subject and amounted to �shadow-boxing�.

�There is no shadow-boxing. Nor did Laxman issue the statement on the Prime Minister�s behalf,� the sources said.

According to them, Vajpayee was �too seasoned� a politician to take on the Sangh head-on in this manner. But they felt that Laxman has got �too carried away by the supposed impact of his Nagpur address and is trying to cash in on it for his own popularity�.

The sources added another spin to Laxman�s anti-RSS postures. They said he was working to occupy the �moderate� space in the party if Vajpayee were to step down as Prime Minister.

Though it has been repeatedly emphasised that Advani was Vajpayee�s �natural� successor, questions have already been raised on whether the allies would readily accept the home minister as he was chargesheeted in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Another potentate, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, is in a similar plight.

The sources also claimed that Laxman had other factors in his favour � the most important being his Dalit background.    

Hyderabad, Oct. 19: 
The cyclone storm threatening the southern coast has fizzled out and is no longer expected to hit land.

The storm, about 150 km southeast of the port of Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, has weakened to a low pressure area, causing heavy rain in the coastal districts.

�Since the system has weakened considerably at the same spot where it lay in the Bay of Bengal, there is no question of it crossing the south Andhra coast,� Hyderabad Met office chief C.V.V. Bhadram said.

Weather officials had said earlier they expected the storm, which had lurked in the Bay of Bengal since the weekend, to hit Andhra Pradesh by this afternoon, packing winds of up to 100 km per hour.

Bhadram said the rains could continue in some coastal areas and Rayalaseema, but there would not be any gales along the shore.

With the storm weakening, the government has decided to withdraw the general warning and send back the 25,000 evacuated people back to their villages. �There is no more threat of cyclone since the storm has weakened considerably. We are sending back all those in relief camps,� chief secretary P.V. Rao said.

Rao, however, urged government officials not to let their guard down.

The administration will continue to monitor the situation from the control rooms set up in the districts as October is prone to cyclones.

The administration had to rely on the Met office for information as the communications network at the Cyclone Warning Centre in Vishakhapatnam was severely damaged after being struck by lightning yesterday. The aides of the chief minister, who is out of the country, were up all night monitoring the cyclone on the Internet.

But the administration is worried about the fallout of the untimely rain. Due to heavy monsoon showers, most irrigation tanks in the coastal districts are almost overflowing and fresh rain will only lead to either breaches or floods.

�Roads and communications are usually the first casualties of such flash floods,� relief commissioner D.C. Rosaiah said.    

New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
Ending speculation, BJP president Bangaru Laxman today appointed chiefs of the party�s front organisations and cells.

K. Jana Krishnamurthy and Narendra Modi are the new spokesmen in place of M. Venkaiah Naidu who was inducted in the Vajpayee Cabinet.

Laxman has introduced new faces in the BJP�s morchas. The sole person to be retained is Ram Nath Kovind as the president of the scheduled caste morcha. Kovind is a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh.

Baliram Kashyap (MP, Madhya Pradesh) as the scheduled tribes morcha chief, Surama Padhi (Orissa) as the mahila morcha chief, Mahadev Shivankar (Maharashtra) as the kisan morcha president and Shivraj Singh Chauhan (MP, Madhya Pradesh) as the yuva morcha president are some of the new faces.

BJP sources said as expected Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had vetted the list. He reportedly pushed through Chauhan�s nomination though former BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre opposed it.

However, the heads of the party cells remain the same. Jagdish Shettigar and Rama Krishna will continue as the convenor and co-convenor of the economic cell, N.N. Jha will lead the external affairs cell, B.D. Mishra the defence cell and Bhagwan Shankar Rawat has been retained as the convenor of the grievances redressal cell. Group Captain Vijay Vir and Brig. R.B. Sharma will be the convenor and co-convenor of the ex-servicemen�s cell.

A copy of the appointments has been sent to foreign minister Jaswant Singh though the BJP has cut him off from party decisions. Sources explained that Singh had to be �formally� informed of Jha�s appointment as the external affairs cell convenor. When asked why then a copy was not sent to Yashwant Sinha to notify him of Shettigar and Rama Krishna�s nominations, there was no reply.    

New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
As winter approaches, the Indian security establishment is preparing to play hide-and-seek with Pakistani forces in a determined effort to put up electric fencing along several border stretches and certain areas along the Line of Control. Top government sources said the project has been sanctioned and provisions are being readied as part of the Centre�s �pro-active� policy to fight off foreign mercenaries. Work on the fencing is scheduled to start in November-December. In 1996, after preliminary work on erecting fences along parts of the international border began, Pakistani rangers and armymen put a stop to it by shelling Indian positions. They also used small firearms to deter Indian forces. But this time, the government has decided to pull a fast one on the Pakistanis. Several strategies have been planned and, unlike last time, work will go on throughout the night. Defence sources said in the first phase, certain stretches of the 178-km-long border between Madhopur and Akhnoor in the Jammu sector will be fenced. This stretch cannot be easily covered by direct fire from across the border. However, the plan is to gradually put up fences along the entire stretch. Sources said security forces will also be given electronic surveillance equipment and other advanced sensors. �Fencing will make the task easier for security forces who are also using helicopter gunships to attack militant hideouts in the upper reaches of Jammu and Kashmir. The flanks of the fencing will be covered by direct fire, making the task of the forces easier and effective,� a government source said. A senior official said that a survey has revealed �that these stretches are practically inaccessible to the Pakistanis and they are not in a position to detect us�. The task of putting up the electric fencing, he added, has been given to the Border Security Force. �Hopefully, the strategies which have been adopted will pay off,� the official said. Planners have devised the �ditch-cum-bund� strategy for places where Indian forces are in direct firing range of Pakistani snipers. This involves digging up trenches within Indian territory and then using the dug-out earth to put up 15-20-foot-high mounds as protection from small-arms fire. This would help the jawans carry on their work without being made easy targets. Officials believe that Pak shelling will be rarely accurate, giving the BSF and the army the breathing space to �slowly but surely� carry on with their job. Israeli security experts, who visited some key areas of Punjab, are believed to have given interesting tips to their Indian counterparts on border fencing. Defence officials, however, said security forces are not likely to have it easy when concertina wires will be laid close to the LoC in the Jammu sector and in the Valley. The proposal is to cover the �nullahs� between the mountain ridges with concertina wires. The nullahs are considered vulnerable. Most of the infiltration by Pakistani troops last year in Kargil took place through them.    

New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
The Congress is unlikely to withdraw support to the Rabri Devi government in Bihar in the wake of the latest round of violence.

Party president Sonia Gandhi has despatched an AICC team comprising Ram Niwas Yadav and Jagdish Tytler to Siwan and other parts of Bihar. She has also directed general secretary Mohsina Kidwai to get in touch with the RJD leadership and underline the need to improve law and order.

Leaders said the party could not be expected to review support each time violence broke out. �If we withdraw support, the caste and communal violence will not stop. It will consolidate our enemy number one, the BJP,� a state party leader said, admitting they had �no option� but to stay on with Laloo.

In the Congress� assessment, the killing of 20 persons was more a result of inter-gang rivalry than caste or communal violence.

Throughout the day, Kidwai interacted with the state partymen in connection with party polls.

Leaders also discussed the political situation in the state. Sources said most were not in favour of withdrawing support.    

New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
India�s flip-flop over formulating a policy on Iraq continues. A few weeks ago, it had postponed the proposed visit of Iraqi vice-president Taha Yaseen Ramadhan. Now it has decided to send a high-level delegation to Baghdad to assuage feelings as well as negotiate a deal to help it tide over the oil crisis.

Secretary (east) in the Indian foreign ministry K.V. Rajen, joint secretary (Gulf) Swashpawan Singh and petroleum ministry joint secretary Shivraj Singh are leaving for Baghdad tomorrow to hold high-level meetings with Iraqi leaders. Last month, minister of state for external affairs Ajit Panja had led a business delegation to Baghdad.

Iraq has reportedly put forward a proposal that will help Delhi acquire oil at a low price and help it tide over the crisis following the worldwide hike in petroleum prices. If India accepts the offer, it will also help Iraq mitigate the effect of UN sanctions.

Though details of the offer is not known, indications are that if Delhi strikes a deal with Baghdad it will help ease the pressure on India�s economy to a great extent.

One major task for the Indian delegation will be to explain to the Iraqi leadership that Ramadhan�s visit to had to be postponed because of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee�s knee surgery.

One way of re-assuring Iraq is to get into an arrangement to signal its willingness to ignore the sanctions imposed on Baghdad. �Why shouldn�t you hunt with the hound and run with the hare if it suits your national interests?� a senior foreign ministry official asked.

Delhi can take solace from the fact that many key countries like France and Russia have already started ignoring the sanctions and placing themselves to get a bigger share of the Iraqi pie.

India has tried to play down its relationship with Iraq since the Gulf War.

Aware that it was isolated because of I.K. Gujral�s infamous hug to President Saddam Hussein, Delhi has so far limited interactions to the level of parliamentarians and businessmen.

This was stepped up slightly when it decided to send Panja for political consultations with Baghdad last month.

However, though it believes in the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, India has done nothing to go against the UN resolutions on Baghdad.

Moreover, over the past few years, India has moved a lot closer to Washington though Iraq continues to be the US� bete noire. The question before Delhi is how to ensure that neither country is angered.    

Hyderabad, Oct. 19: 
Andhra Pradesh is facing a problem of plenty. The government, already burdened with a bumper tobacco crop, finds itself saddled with a huge stock of rice.

With a kharif harvest of 82 lakh tonnes of rice, most of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns were loaded with procured rice. �The FCI is yet to lift 30 lakh tonnes of common rice and 25 lakh tonnes of boiled rice due to shortage of space,� said agriculture minister V. Shobanadeeswar Rao.

The problem could aggravate as the government is expecting a rabi rice harvest of 46 lakh tonnes. Although paddy is sown in 17 lakh hectares for the rabi season as against 28 lakh hectares for kharif and water supply is also reduced for the second crop, the unseasonal rains were expected to increase the yield.

Civil supplies commissioner H.S. Brahma said the stocks have swelled in state godowns despite relaxation of export norms. �It is the cheaper variety of rice that has caused the glut. Rice exports from Punjab have cut into our exports to Karnataka and Kerala.�

Congress leader K. Rosaiah accused the FCI of giving the local farmers a raw deal.

�The FCI was allowing Punjab an eight per cent damaged quality while in Andhra it is only three per cent,� he said.

The state has not been able to take advantage of the bumper harvest to further its subsidised rice programme.

But the civil supplies commissioner raised hopes, saying: �We have abundant stocks and can supply to the poor apart from the 38 per cent identified as below poverty line.�    


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