Hrithik sees mafia mischief
Fake encounter stink over Delhi shootout
People behind Buddha line of fire
Big-bang VRS from State Bank
Sangh plays new year party pooper
Calcutta Weather

Dec. 27: 
As unparalleled efforts were activated on both sides of the border to contain the flare-up in Kathmandu, Hrithik Roshan challenged anyone to produce evidence of his alleged comments against Nepal and hinted that the mafia may be behind the mischief.

Hrithik also made an impassioned appeal to end the violence and offered to help the families of the four people who died in the violence that erupted after a mysterious claim that the actor had denigrated Nepal and its people in a television interview.

Nepal deputy Prime Minister Ram Chandra Poudel called for calm in a national address and said he was ready to talk with students to halt the rampage, which continued today. The protesters have called a general strike tomorrow.

Cinemas in Nepal suspended screening of Hindi films for 10 days following boycott calls by students. “We can’t go against the feelings of the people,” head of the Nepal Motion Picture Association, Uddhab Poudel said.

India joined efforts to pacify the hysterical mobs, saying elements inimical to the warm bilateral relations were behind the disturbances.

In an unusual gesture, the Indian embassy in Kathmandu issued a two-page press release, clarifying the actor had not made any remarks against Nepal. “The embassy is concerned at the rumours being spread by elements inimical to the warm and cordial India-Nepal relations and the age-old ties between the peoples of Nepal and India,” it said.

The Himalayan kingdom’s attempts to control the situation gained momentum this evening with Nepal TV airing a phone-in interview with Hrithik, who denied the allegations.

“I want to tell the people of Nepal to stop all this. Unless they see proof of the interview, they should not go by hearsay. This is being done to tarnish my image. It is motivated,” the star said.

Hrithik told Reuters he believed members of the criminal underworld may have been responsible for stirring the trouble. “Maybe it is the mafia. I don’t know who is responsible.”

Mumbai police recently clai-med they had unearthed a plot to kill several Bollywood personalities, including Hrithik’s father Rakesh Roshan who was shot at in January. The underworld conspiracy was intended at crushing Hrithik’s flourishing career, the police had said.

Several prominent Nepalis suspect foul play behind the rampage. “Some vested interests could have hatched a conspiracy to malign the actor,” a resident told The Telegraph from Kathmandu.

Hrithik iterated in Mumbai he had not given an interview to any channel against the Nepalese people and said there was no question of any apology.

Confusion reigned in Kathmandu over the channel that is alleged to have telecast the controversial interview on December 14. A senior journalist said: “Though the protesters have gone wild over the alleged remarks made by the Indian star, nobody in Kathmandu can say for sure which was the television channel that telecast the offending interview.”

The Left-wing students leading the violent demonstrations believe Hrithik made the anti-Nepal statements on the STAR network.

But a STAR spokesperson said in New Delhi the Hrithik interview on Rendezvous with Simi Garewal was aired on December 6. There were no comments related to Nepal. “I have audited the tapes three times and I can vouch that there was no such thing,” the spokesperson added.

While two students were killed in yesterday’s police firing, two others succumbed to injuries this morning.

Hrithik said: “I am deeply distressed to learn that four innocent lives have been lost after police opened fire yesterday to disperse protesters. I offer my heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of the innocent people, who have become victims of a dangerous game being perpetrated against me by vested interests.

“I want to do something for the families of the people who died. I will go out of my way to help them financially or in any other way. I love the Nepalese people just as I love Indians. The most trusted people in my house are all from Nepal.”

He told a television channel that a Nepali, 50-year-old Prem Singh Negi, “brought me up like his son. He is still around. My chef is Nepalese. He travels with me wherever I go”.

Nepal communications minister Jaya Prakash Gupta’s appeal to students not to resort to violence fell on deaf ears as protesters burned tyres and set up road blocks. Two hospitals in Kathmandu said at least seven students were treated for bullet wounds.

Police had to resort to baton charges as mobs stoned and looted shops belonging to Indians on upmarket New Road, Bhadrakali and Putali Sarak. Students also attacked the State Bank of India branch, but they were repelled.

Reports of selective attacks on Indian tourists have come in, but there is no official confirmation.

The protest in and around the Kathmandu valley threw life out of gear and inconvenienced tourists and travellers. An Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Varanasi was cancelled — leaving 162 passengers stranded — because the night-halt crew could not reach the airport.


New Delhi, Dec. 27: 
Residents of Jamia Nagar, where Delhi Police yesterday made a “major breakthrough” by gunning down a suspected militant said to be involved in the assault on Red Fort, protested against the operation today, alleging a fake encounter.

Some residents said the parents of Abu Shamal, described by the police as a Lashkar-e-Toiba activist, had come today from Uttar Pradesh looking for their slain son. This caught the police on the wrong foot because they had been insisting since last morning that Shamal was a Pakistani. Local people even accused the police of whisking away the parents and detaining them.

Deputy commissioner of Delhi Police (south) P. Kamraj said this story was fabricated. “We have not detained anybody,” he added.

Other police sources claimed that they had identified six persons involved in the Red Fort incident as hardcore militants. While Ashfaq Ahmed, who was arrested from Ghazipur in Delhi, belongs to Abbotabad in Pakistan, Shamal was a resident of Lahore. The police said they were looking for the other four.

The police are unable to answer many questions on the attack on Red Fort last Friday, the subsequent escape of “two terrorists” and about yesterday’s incident. They are tightlipped about what they were doing at 1.30 am in Batla House, where yesterday’s shootout occurred, even though special commissioner R.K. Sharma claimed the operation started at 5 am.

It is becoming apparent that Shamal may not have been in a position to fire 28 rounds from an AK-56 assault rifle, as claimed yesterday by the police. He did not get a chance to shoot. Assistant commissioner of police Rajbir Singh, described as a veteran of “encounters”, was chosen to “storm” the flat in Batla House where Shamal was allegedly hiding.

While making the disclosures yesterday, the police did not provide details of the identity of Shamal and Ashfaq, their parentage and permanent residence. It is not clear whether the arrested man, Ashfaq, has given the names and particulars of the five other “militants” involved in the Red Fort attack.

Nor has an explanation been given of how and when he got involved with them, where the six were staying in Delhi — whether together or separately — and since when.

The other question is how neither the Intelligence Bureau nor the intelligence wing of the police had any knowledge of Ashfaq, claimed to be a Pakistani, even though he had been living in Ghazipur for over seven months. How is it that the intelligence agencies did not know about the computer training centre, Knowledge Plus, which Ashfaq was running for quite some time? How did he procure a ration card?

The police have Ashfaq on a 14-day remand, but he was interrogated soon after his arrest. But the police have not provided basic information on when the Red Fort conspiracy was planned, whether it was a local initiative or hatched in Pakistan. Some of the other unanswered questions are:

When did each of the militants arrive in Delhi?

Did they sneak into the capital in one group or groups or as individuals?

If they came in as individuals or in more than one group, where and how did they establish contact?

Was there any local support?

What are the details of their movement on the day of the strike?


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stood by his statement that the police should answer fire with fire in dealing with criminals on a day he found unexpected support from the Opposition Congress.

An opinion poll showed overwhelming popular support (see chart) for the chief minister’s stand.

Allaying apprehensions about police excesses his comment might encourage, Bhattacharjee explained that he had never said to open fire without assessing the nature of criminal intent. “If the police or people are attacked by armed criminals, if it is seen that armed dacoits are raiding a house, if a criminal involved in several murders is seen, the police will definitely fire at him. I have asked the police force to be cruellest in tackling criminals,’’ the chief minister said.

Bhattacharjee said he had no intention of intervening in the affairs of the human rights commission. “Our concern is to effectively deal with those who are inhuman. Why should we show softness to them?’’ he asked.

Top police officers said Bhattacharjee had given moral strength to the force. “Now that he has given us orders to shoot notorious criminals, the force will work to its potential without fear,” an officer said.

While Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee has called Bhattacharjee’s statement a licence to kill her supporters, a Congress team today met him to express support.


Mumbai, Dec. 27: 
The State Bank of India today decided to prepare a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) which will open on January 15, but did not spell out how many employees it wanted to strike off its rolls.

Sources close to SBI, the country’s largest commercial bank with over 2.30 lakh employees, say they expect over 10 per cent of the workforce to opt for the scheme.

If the bank receives such an overwhelming response, it will become the largest-ever golden handshake scheme in the country.

However, this could be eclipsed by the Steel Authority of India Ltd, which has sought the government’s permission to introduce a Rs 1,500-crore VRS to shed 60,000 workers over three years.

By a conservative estimate, SBI will receive between 25,000 and 35,000 VRS applications.

Some analysts indicated that the bank might have to fork out over Rs 800 crore to meet its VRS obligations.

The exercise to trim the flab is designed to optimise its “human resources and achieve a balanced age and skills profile in keeping with the business strategies,” the bank said in a statement after a meeting of the board of directors.

The VRS will be open till January 31 and the bank will retain the option to either close or extend the scheme, which is being drawn up in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA), the apex forum of bank managements.

Under the norms, permanent employees with 15 years of service or those who have attained 40 years of age are eligible to opt for VRS. Sources said about 70 per cent of SBI’s employees would qualify for the scheme by this yardstick.

The IBA recommendations stipulate that if this criterion is met, employees could be given a compensation that would include an ex gratia payment amounting to 60 days’ salary (pay+ stagnation increment + special allowance + dearness allowance) for each completed year of service, or salary for the number of months of service left, whichever is less.

SBI will be joining a clutch of public sector banks like Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, Punjab National Bank, Syndicate Bank, Andhra Bank and Vijaya Bank that have introduced VRS.

Despite union opposition, the offers of most of these banks have received good response. Bank of India netted 7,000 applications and PNB and Syndicate Bank received over 6,000 each.

State Bank said it was making efforts to redeploy and retain staff and would launch a technological upgradation exercise involving reorganisation of functions, tasks and activities.

On the Bombay Stock Exchange today, the State Bank scrip opened at Rs 181.50 and closed at Rs 183.30 against Tuesday’s close of Rs 182.25. Earlier in the day, the stock had shot up to a high of Rs 184.95 after which it fell to a low of Rs 180.50.


New Delhi, Dec. 27: 
When Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wishes the nation a happy new year from Kottayam, his mentors in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are bound to frown on it.

After raising a series of demands like forbidding jeans for women, honeymoons and beauty contests, the RSS has called for a ban on new year celebrations.

A statement issued by the RSS media cell, the Vishwa Samvad Kendra, said: “There should be a ban on celebrations to welcome the Christian new year.”

The RSS’ rationale: such a step would “go a long way in boosting the country’s morale at a time when its security was under threat”.

However, the “security perception” seems to be a mere ruse. The fact that every community and linguistic group in India has traditionally rung in the new year in accordance with the Georgian calendar has irked the Sangh, which has been on a Christian-bashing spree for the past two years. Hence its emphasis on the words “the Christian New Year”.

The BJP refused to react to the demand. Spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy said: “No comment. They (the RSS) have their view, what am I to say?”

The RSS statement also welcomed Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh’s decision to ban beauty contests.




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