Border vigil blueprint singles out mosques
More states slap Esma
Basu hints at flood dent in budget
EC tabs on Bengal flare-up
Gangrape lesson for lettered tribal�s wife
Hurriyat sees risk, wants truce extension
Poaching net cast
Heat on Track-II appointments

New Delhi, Dec. 16: 
The task force on border management has asked the Centre to mount greater surveillance not only on mosques and madarsas on the country�s border, but also on the activities of teachers, visitors and inmates of the Islamic institutions.

The move could spark a controversy as the task force, headed by former home secretary Madhav Godbole, has focused only on Muslim establishments, leaving out temples, gurdwaras and churches.

It is not known what view the Group of Ministers, which is overseeing security matters and is headed by home minister L.K. Advani, has taken of the task force�s recommendation.

Government officials said the mosques and madarsas that have mushroomed within Indian territory along the Indo-Pakistan, Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bangaldesh borders are being used by the ISI.

In their briefings to the task force, security agencies, paramilitary and police forces had stressed that the mosques and madarsas that had come up along the border over the last few years were a threat to the country�s security.

The border-management task force felt that there was a need to keep an eye on the �antecedents and activities of local teachers, frequent visitors, inmates and tabliq Jamaats coming for preaching�.

The force suggested issuing of entry permits as this would regulate and prevent the visits of outsiders and Jamaats.

In the context of the mosques and madarsas in the border areas, the task force has recommended that the Centre should initiate a special legislation for �regulating construction of religious buildings in sensitive security areas up to 20 km from the international border and selected maritime border�.

The problem, according to home ministry officials, is acute along the western, eastern and northern boundaries.

Thousands of mosques and madarsas have been constructed with the help of unaccounted-for foreign donation in several border districts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam.

Studies conducted by both the home ministry and the state governments have suggested that there have been demographic shifts in a number of districts of the border states. Part of this has been caused by illegal immigration from Bangladesh.

The task force has suggested tightening the Foreign Currency (Regulation) Act (FCRA) so that money pouring in from Gulf countries and other Islamic nations is not misused for the clandestine construction of mosques and madarsas.

The recommendation says: �The present FCRA regime needs to be tightened, inter alia, in terms of cent-per-cent auditing of funds received by organisations working within a 10-km security zone in border areas.�

Besides, it should be mandatory for organisations receiving funds from abroad to report the receipt of money to district magistrates.

As a general recommendation, the border-management task force has advised the government to maintain constant dialogue with the minority community on madarsa education.

The task force has also suggested that state-level advisory boards for madarsa education should be set up and �since madarsa education is part of a Muslim child�s tradition, it should not be deprecated and efforts should be to expose the inmates of the madarsas to modern education�.


New Delhi, Dec. 16: 
Getting tough with the striking postal employees, many states today invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma) against them even as the unions reaffirmed their resolve to continue the 12-day stir till all their demands were met.

An official spokesperson said Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat have invoked the provisions of the Act. Official sources said other states were expected to follow suit.

Delhi was the first state to issue the order last night after the Centre on Thursday had declared the strike illegal.

According to a UNI report, staff at the New Delhi Head Post Office were back to work fearing arrests. And though the post office wore a deserted look, there were staff behind the counters attending to customers.

Enacted under Chapter III of the Constitution, Esma is a stringent piece of legislation aimed at preventing the collapse of essential services under government control. The law stipulates a jail term of six months to one year for those who fail to comply with the order.

The Act allows the Central government to ban strikes and requires conciliation or arbitration in specified essential industries, though legal mechanisms exist for challenging the assertion that a given dispute falls within its scope.

As disruption of essential services is a non-bailable, cognisable offence, the jail term under this Act can even be extended up to three years.

However, Pawan Duggal, a Supreme Court advocate, said the Act had lost its �relevance�. �The government only invokes it but fails to implement it. This is a major reason why striking employees do not take this Act seriously,� he said.

Meanwhile, the employees� federations, which gave the strike call, are holding an emergency meeting of the Joint Council of Action to decide their course of action.

According to V.S. Yadav, secretary-general of the Bharatiya Postal Employees Federation which is affiliated to the BJP�s Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, �the employees will continue their struggle�.

�We are open to talks and ready to work on a negotiated settlement if the government invites them to the negotiating table,� Yadav said.

The government has asked all retired postal department employees, school and college students, home guards, National Cadet Corps and Non-Governmental Organisations to participate in the maintenance of postal services.

Official sources said computer institutes will also be roped in to maintain VSATs or long-distance hot lines used by computer networks.

�The process will be completed by Monday. The post offices will have more than 75 to 80-percent strength and adequate measures have been taken to maintain security of postal services,� said a senior postal department official.


Calcutta, Dec. 16: 
Jyoti Basu today said there might be a strain on next year�s state budget allocations as the government has spent about Rs 600 crore on flood relief as against the official sanction of Rs 100 crore.

Basu was addressing a gathering of Left Front supporters on Rani Rashmoni Avenue who had gathered from nine flood-ravaged districts to protest the Centre�s refusal to sanction relief funds.

Left Front leaders also submitted a memorandum to Governor Viren J. Shah and urged him to forward it to President K.R. Narayanan.

The Citu, the CPM�s labour arm, has lined up another rally at the Brigade Parade grounds tomorrow. The Front supporters, who participated in Basu�s rally, are staying back for the Brigade meeting.

Basu, the chief draw, said nine districts were the worst hit and the state incurred a loss of Rs 6,000 crore.

�We have asked for adequate Central assistance to help resettle the people as it is not possible for the state government alone to combat such a devastating calamity. But till today, we have not received a single paise. We have spent about Rs 600 crore as against the Rs 100 crore sanctioned in the budget,� he said.

He, however, announced that the government received a letter from Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha on Friday, promising to set up the Natural Calamity Contingency Fund as demanded by the state.

�Though I have not seen the letter, I have been told that the Centre will introduce a Bill to constitute the fund. I think everything will be cleared by the end of this month as Parliament is in session and the Bill will be moved soon.

�But we want the Central funds to come immediately as we cannot allow the people to die due to paucity of funds. We have, therefore, decided to work for the affected districts under various schemes. At the same time, we will continue to put pressure on the Centre to release the funds at the earliest,� Basu said.

�When I was chief minister, there was only Rs 9 crore in the chief minister�s relief fund. I instructed my officers not to keep the money in banks and instead disburse the same to flood-hit districts. I know many people had committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh after the massive natural calamity. We are fortunate that such incidents did not occur in our state,� Basu added.


Siliguri, Dec. 16: 
The Election Commission is keeping a close watch on the violence spiral in Bengal and Assam, two of the five states scheduled to go to polls early next year.

Talking to reporters at the end of a three-day tour of north Bengal, chief election commissioner M.S. Gill said: �I am personally keeping a very close watch on everything that emanates from Bengal or Assam concerned with violent incidents.�

Referring to reports of arms import and stockpiling in Bengal, Gill said: �You know what I mean. These things that are stuffed into bicycle tubes and are sent to West Bengal from Bihar. I want to say this to all political parties in Bengal, don�t take this route. It will not benefit anybody.�

�Don�t try to push up the temperature before the elections. We will have the bandobast and we will see how to deal with it when the time comes. That is our business,� he added.

On whether elections will be held in the face of escalating violence in Assam, the poll panel chief said: �Though we are greatly concerned about law and order there, whatever is happening in Assam is being closely watched. When we decide on the election dates for all the five states going for Assembly polls early next year, we will decide how best to conduct polls in Assam too.�

He refuted reports that the dates for the Bengal polls have been set for April 11 and 12. �The news item on Assembly polls being fixed for April 11 and 12 as reported is utterly wrong, false and incorrect. In fact, we have not yet had a discussion on the dates. When such a discussion is held, a formal announcement will be made.�

He hinted that electronic voting machines would be extensively used in the polls next year. �It is our intention to use EVMs to the absolute maximum in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pondicherry and, to some extent, in Assam.�

He said photo identity cards will be made compulsory once distribution is completed. He congratulated Bengal for issuing 81 per cent of the cards as against the national average of 70 per cent.


Bhopal, Dec. 16: 
A woman was gangraped repeatedly for three hours allegedly because her husband was an �educated� tribal � even as Ajit Jogi was being sworn in chief minister of Chhattisgarh by virtue of being a tribal.

According to the 35-year-old Gond woman, a gang of 48 descended on her hutment in Botejhari, a Gond village in Balaghat district, soon after midnight on November 1. Some of the men owed allegiance to three major national parties, she said.

Four of the victim�s children � aged 11 and three � were sleeping outside in the verandah. The victim was sleeping inside with her husband, Kedar Singh Wadiva � a jobless engineer � and their one-year-old daughter.

�They came in a gang. I suddenly woke up when I heard many men hurling abuses at my husband and me. They surrounded my house and first caught hold of my children who were sleeping outside and beat them up with batons.�

Before the parents could react about 15 men barged in. �They kicked open the door and ransacked the house and some started beating me with lathis, kicking, boxing, punching and hurling abuses on me, my wife and my children,� Wadiva said.

�They held a knife at my throat and started to strip my wife before my very eyes and my children. Then one after the other they started raping my wife. The influential ones did not rape but goaded the others to have a good time. I was helpless.

�They kept torturing my wife till 3 am when their eyes fell on my seven-year-old daughter. They intended to rape her too, but, perhaps, God saved us. My daughter fainted as they started manhandling her. Thinking her dead they fled.�

�Our village consists of 500 families. As we ran out calling for help no one stepped out. We went to the police station, the police refused to lodge a complaint. Next morning we went to meet police superintendent Akhet Osema and collector Suleman Khan. Neither met us,� the victim said.

For over a month now, the family, including the one-year-old child, have been sitting on dharna on a main thoroughfare in Bhopal. The victim and her husband have pledged to fast unto death until justice is done.

Nobody seems to be listening to the victim and her family. No medical check-up has been conducted and no case registered against the miscreants because of their political connections, the victim alleged.

Director-general of police Subhash Tripathi, however, said a medical check-up has been done on the victim, but he did not have the details.

Wadiva said his family was being tortured because he was an educated tribal. �I have an engineer�s degree but never got a job. These men are doing this to me because no one appreciates an educated tribal who talks about protecting the rights of his own clan,� he said.

�I have been harassed since 1983 when I got the police to arrest poachers who were working for big men but blaming it on tribals. I got several truckloads of felled trees seized. Those trees were felled with the full knowledge of the forest department,� he added. �They have tortured me all along, even indicted me in false cases, naming me a Naxalite. But this time they took it out on my family, � he said.

Since reaching here on the evening of November 5 � the family confesses to having travelled ticketless � they have been running from pillar to post.

The Gondwana Democratic Party arranged for a meeting with state home minister Mahendra Boudh. �We met him on November 7. The home minister instructed the IG in charge of Balaghat to look into the matter,� Wadiva recalled. �But the IG did not get back to us.�

�Through the Gondwana Party we informed Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh that we would launch a fast-unto-death if he didn�t intervene. But no reply came.�

Tired of seeking justice, the family started on a fast-unto-death on November 13. As the younger children fell ill, especially the babies, the police rushed to the scene. But the family refused to eat. On November 16, Wadiva met Governor Bhai Mahavir. The Governor instructed the police DG to look into the incident. A CID officer, Rajesh Tiwari, was given charge of the case.

The police then took the family to a hospital and administered glucose and medicine to save the children. They tried to force feed the parents but failed.

As the victim and her husband began to loose weight alarmingly, the doctors forced them to have lemon juice. But on November 24, the family escaped from the hospital and launched on their hunger-strike again on the pavement of a main thoroughfare in the city.

�We did not ask for lemon juice, we asked for justice,� the victim said. However, the children, though a part of the dharna, are not fasting now, the parents said.


Srinagar, Dec. 16: 
The chairman of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, Abdul Gani Bhat, feels that picking up the thread of peace in Kashmir is a �hazardous move� and can �cost the Hurriyat leaders their lives�.

�But the risk is worth it,� he told The Telegraph during an interview. �All parties have to enter into purposeful negotiations to achieve a breakthrough,� he added.

Bhat pointed out that the �ceasefire is not an end in itself but the means to an end. If you call a ceasefire and don�t move forward, the ceasefire will mean nothing, particularly when it is unilateral�.

The ceasefire, Bhat said, has to be extended. �They will have to extend it. Otherwise, a one-month ceasefire call will mean nothing.�

Reacting to reports about a possible split in the separatist umbrella group, Bhat said: �There are no differences. We are one and the recent statements by various leaders relate to irrelevant issues.�

He said the Hurriyat executive would meet on Sunday. Observers feel that the meeting at the Hurriyat headquarters in Rajbagh could be stormy.

Abdul Gani Lone, who favours a dialogue, is expected to come face to face with the unrelenting Syed Ali Shah Geelani for the first time since Lone�s return from Pakistan where he solemnised his son�s marriage to JKLF leader Amanullah Khan�s daughter. The meeting will be attended by all the executive members.

Asked if the Hurriyat had approached the government for permission to visit Pakistan, Bhat said: �We are undertaking a hazardous exercise which can even cost us our lives. Therefore, the question of requesting any party to allow us to move seems to me irrelevant.�

�We are on a mission. And people on missions will have to enjoy the confidence of all parties,� he said. �We will talk to our boys who have rejected the unilateral ceasefire announced by the Prime Minister. Boys with guns are the hardest people to be faced.�

�That is our primary objective. The boys are sacrificing their lives. They are offering huge sacrifices and that is why I said they are the hardest,� he added.

Bhat said a visit to Pakistan would create a conducive climate and narrow �distances between the two countries�. He said the confederation so far has not received any offer of talks from the government.

�Miracles don�t happen in a day. A 52-year-long dispute cannot be expected to be sorted out in a day. But there has to be a move forward. The path is strewn with thorns and the pricks can cause cancer. We have to tread cautiously,� he added.


Ranchi, Dec. 16: 
A defection drama is about to unfold in the Jharkhand capital.

At least four Congress tribal MLAs are preparing to switch loyalties to the Trinamul Congress even as an equal number of RJD MLAs are plotting behind closed doors in far away Koderma to lay the groundwork for joining the BJP.

The Congress MLAs, sources said, are apparently angry with the high command for rejecting their demand to nominate Pradeep Balmuchu as CLP leader in the Assembly.

The four MLAs � Balmuchu, Sawna Lakra, Niel Tirkey and Deo Kumar Dhan � and a non-tribal legislator, Manoj Yadav, had been trying hard to convince party bosses in Delhi that the posts of PCC chief and CLP leader should go to tribals only.

Their argument was that the Congress � like the NDA which had chosen a tribal to be the state�s first chief minister � should reserve all crucial posts for tribals to shore up the party�s fledgling bases. In a letter to the AICC chief, the MLAs had demanded the appointment of an observer and an internal poll to settle the issue.

Though they later agreed to concede the PCC chief�s post to a non-tribal, they stuck to their demand that Balmuchu, a young tribal MLA from Ghatsila, be made CLP leader. But the high command rejected their demand and nominated Furkan Ansari as CLP leader. Indranath Bhagat, a former tribal MP, was made state unit chief.

Ansari�s nomination created a storm as the four MLAs declared they would not accept him as CLP leader, whatever the consequences. Alleging that Ansari during his tenure as CLP leader in the united Bihar Assembly had virtually sold the party to RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav, the MLAs said they would meet Sonia Gandhi on December 17 to press for Balmuchu�s nomination.

Sources, however, said the high command was unlikely to reverse its stand because, after appointing a tribal to head the state unit, it could scarcely ignore the minorities.

Sources said the disgruntled four have held several rounds of talks with Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee in Delhi. If they do switch allegiance to the Trinamul, which has no existence in Jharkhand yet, it would only help to swell the NDA ranks. As the Congress has 11 MLAs in the Jharkhand Assembly, the defection of four cannot attract provisions of the anti-defection law.

Meanwhile, the RJD leaders, led by former Bihar minister Saba Ahmad, who are planning to defect, today held closed-door meetings in Koderma. Though all nine party MLAs were invited, only three, apart from Ahmad, turned up.


Calcutta, Dec. 16: 
Emboldened by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s tough measures for restoring work ethics in the administration, the state public service commission has drawn his attention to the rampant irregularities in government appointments.

These cases of irregular appointments had been placed at the first Cabinet meeting presided by Bhattacharjee earlier this month.

The chief minister had later said: �There is no question of suppressing the matter. We shall place the commission�s report during the budget session of the Assembly and if there is any discussion, we are ready to reply. Corruption must be rooted out.�

Sources said that the commission�s report, placed before the chief minister last week, has identified a number of departments that have made irregular appointments. They are: higher education, prisons, health, police, commerce and industries and information and cultural affairs.

Bhattacharjee was in charge of the police and information and cultural affairs departments when such irregularities were committed.

In most cases, senior officers are accused of offering �special favours� to their �chosen ones�, flouting all norms and procedures laid down by the public service commission. The appointment of the director of the state finger print bureau is a glaring example. The home department had sent a proposal to the public service commission for promoting one officer in the bureau to the top post.

But the commission, after scrutinising service records of eligible officers, found another person suitable for the job. However, the commission�s recommendations could not be accepted by the home department as it had already appointed its nominee without consulting it. As the decision went against the commission�s regulations of 1955, it treated this appointment as irregular.

The home department tried to cover up the irregularity by arguing that appointment was just a �local arrangement� and the nominee had not been formally appointed. He had been given powers and authority but not the salary, for the top post, said the department in its defence.

While examining proposals for the appointment of personal assistants to the inspector-general (prisons), the commission discovered that the post of a manager in the jail department�s outlet for consumer goods had been filled up without its knowledge.

When the commission asked for an explanation, the jail department expressed its regret saying that such mistakes will not recur.

In June 1995, the higher education department had informed the commission that it had appointed a personal assistant to the director for technical education in 1992 without prior sanction of the commission. As no ad hoc appointment is effective for more than six months, the commission treated it as irregular and asked the incumbent to step down.

The order put the higher education department in a spot as the person concerned had retired in 1996 after drawing salary and perks for the post.

The commerce and industries department had promoted a junior officer to the post of assistant superintendent in the government press at Narkeldanga Main Road in Calcutta. When the commission objected to such an irregular appointment, the department said: �Objections made by the commission have been noted for future guidance.�

Almost similar reply was given by the health department when it was found that 10 posts of principal and lecturers were filled up in the Institute of Pharmacy on ad hoc basis over a period of four years from 1986. The department simply said: �Sorry.�



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