Statute review heads for mid-March finish
Hijack twist to Hrithik rage
Laloo�s Patna uplinks with
CPM back as national party
Mechanic death sparks tension
Murder case on jawan for border firing
Hind Cables
Farmers kidnapped from field

New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
Breaking his silence nearly a year after the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution was formed, the panel�s head, M.N. Venkatachalaiah, today said they would finish their work before the deadline.

But the former chief justice of India ruled out any �review� of the statute as the commission had been set up only for �reviewing the working� of the Constitution.

At a press conference today, Venkatachalaiah said the commission has finalised working papers on eight subjects. He said 12 more were still to come from various sub-committees but hoped he would be able to complete the job by March 22.

The commission�s term technically ends on February 22. But Venkatachalaiah had said in the very first meeting a month after the panel was formed that the �sun sets on the commission on March 22�.

So far, only five meetings had taken place. In the latest one held today, former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma and the editor-in-chief of The Statesman, C.R. Irani, did not participate.

The commission had initially decided not to brief the press. But Venkatachalaiah changed his mind at the last minute and decided to be present at the news conference convened after the fifth meeting.

Asked how the commission could complete its job within the allotted time when 12 more papers were yet to be submitted and a public debate would have to be started, Venkatachalaiah said: �By February first week, all papers are expected and one more month would be enough to hold the public debate through the press.�

�The commission had prepared 20 consultation papers in its exercise to review the working of the Constitution during the past 50 years and eight of them are ready and some are before advisory panels set up by it,� he said.

Among the papers which are ready is the one on immunity of legislators � both in Parliament and state legislatures � under Article 105(2) of the Constitution against prosecution for any criminal offence in respect of vote given in the House/Houses.

Also ready are those that deal with treaty-making power of the government, liability of the state in tort and sovereign immunity, all-India judicial service, efficacy of the public audit system and reforming of the institution of the comptroller and auditor-general.

He said these papers would be released for the public to hold a debate on January 8. Other papers on the working of political parties � with special reference to electoral reforms, state funding of elections, prevention of criminals from contesting polls and not allowing a candidate to contest even if charges were framed � would be released later.

Venkatachalaiah said that some of the major problem areas have been identified. These were absence of transparency and accounting of funds spent by parties and candidates in an election, growing regional, caste and communal forces, fractionalisation of the polity and coalition arrangements.

The commission, he said, deliberated on the prospects of aggravation of various ills in the country�s political system.

Topics relating to registration and derecognition of political parties would come for public debate once the commission releases its papers on January 8. Also to be debated are maintenance of accounts by parties, independent audit of the accounts and regulating contribution by making both donors and receivers accountable under law.

One of the most important topics for debate would be on barring a person from contesting elections even if only charges were framed against him.

Venkatachalaiah argued that it should be seen from the view point that �prima facie� a trial court or special court had taken cognisance of the charges and that �till the person� is discharged he or she should not be allowed to contest elections.

He said there were recommendations for establishing special courts for the purpose.


New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
The BJP gave its own twist to the anti-Hrithik Roshan campaign in Nepal alleging that persons involved in the hijack of the Indian Airlines aircraft from Kathmandu, last December, possibly instigated the violence there.

BJP spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy said: �I am tempted to link it (the Hrithik controversy) with what happened a year ago when an Indian plane was hijacked from Kathmandu. The present incidents have taken place exactly a day or two after the anniversary (of the Kandahar hijack). A demonstration on a non-issue has been channelised into an anti-India outburst. I feel the persons behind the hijack are also responsible for these incidents.�

Krishnamurthy alleged that �certain elements� wanting to vitiate Indo-Nepal relations had a hand in the violent protests, but simultaneously gave a veiled warning to Nepal to not allow things go out of hand.

�We expect a probe will be able to bring out the persons behind it. The Prime Minister has taken it up with the Nepal government. And even as it is in India�s interest to have the best of relations with Nepal, it is also in Nepal�s interest to have the same with India.�

BJP sources voiced concern at the ethnic overtones the controversy acquired and the attacks on businessmen of Indian origin.

�I can understand some emotional outburst provoked by something or the other. But how has it taken an anti-India turn? It is a cause for concern because relations between India and Nepal are quite good and India has taken positive steps to further good relations with Nepal,� Krishnamurthy said.

On imposition of Central rule in Manipur, the BJP has suddenly done an about turn, now that it seems the newly cobbled Manipur Democratic Front � of which the BJP is a constituent � is within striking distance of power.

�At this juncture the question of President�s rule may not arise because it can come up only where there is political instability,� Krishnamurthy said, when asked if the BJP still advocated Article 356 for Manipur.

The BJP spokesman said the party was �still observing� the developments there and was expected to have a full report by the time the national executive met on January 4.

�Let us wait for further developments,� he said, and blamed the Congress for not initially backing the BJP decision to bring the state under Central rule.

Krishnamurthy also announced that the two-day national executive on January 4 and 5 would adopt an economic and a political resolution.


Patna, Dec. 29: 
Patna wants to go yuppie.

The city, deemed one of the biggest small towns in the country, is sprouting status symbols to get over its �backward� image: smoky pool parlours, overcrowded cybercentres, dotcoms, and, the most unequivocal sign of all: bars with women drinkers who look comfortable holding their cocktails.

On Dakbungalow Road, Patna�s main thoroughfare, is Maurya Market, a bustling shopping centre. An underground parlour near Maurya Market sports a sprawling snooker joint. Separated by a thin curtain is a Baskin Robins outlet, that is drawing crowds in hordes despite its steep price.

There are teething problems though on Patna�s way to maturity. Bars witness drunken brawls. Last month there was an uproar over an IPS officer losing his cool. �But even these outbursts are Patna�s tryst with the new culture,� says Sradhya Mishra, an executive in a private company.

The past sits heavy, though. Since 1993, no international agency has sanctioned a new project and World Bank-financed major projects are drying up too.

The city also has to struggle to keep its underbelly under wraps. �We have to learn to coexist with the mafia,� says Dristi Srivastava, a computer engineer.

�Despite my good academic record, my employers looked at me with a sense of pity when I said I hailed from Patna. The name may have evoked the bogey of rape, murder and violence. But I told myself I should do something to change this,� said the 32-year old.

After completing his course from Bangalore, Srivastava began to say no to job offers and came back to Patna to launch a network of cybercafes that are doing very well now.

At least 25 cybercafes dot Boring Road of downtown Patna. But potholes and cycle rickshaws clog the roads, while politicians clog its lifestyle, with Laloo Prasad Yadav and his ilk still carrying on their war against computers and MNCs.

�Multinationals are Ravanas, the NDA government is Bibhishan and computers are clever tools to dupe the poor,� Laloo claimed recently.

Patna�s revivalists are learning to take politicians in their stride. �Campaigns against American multinationals had no impact on my shop at least,� says Ashutosh, one of the owners of the Baskin Robins outlet. He happily caters to the big business crowd that hops from city to city and now stops over at Patna as well.

�We have to learn to live with political slogans against multinationals. Politicians will do their job and we ours,� says Srivastava. Adds S.K. Keshri, a leading industrialist: �We don�t believe that the bywords of politics are economic orthodoxy and subsidy.�

Ajay Kumar, who runs a website called, says: �Investors and Patna-linked businessmen have been regularly interacting with us on the city�s investment potentials.� There are 12 websites that keep Patna-based investors outside informed. �The interest of the young has not been affected by the RJD�s antipathy towards the computer,� says Kumar.

Lacking the atmosphere of openness, Patna remained self-centred for long. But with the Net and some money, the city is feeling connected. Patna�s new citizens know that. �We have to break the cycle of isolation,� says a senior IAS. �We have to create a new culture to change Bihar�s image.�


New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
The CPM has regained its national status following the Election Commission�s decision to liberalise guidelines for deciding the national or regional status of a political party.

�The CPM has got back its national status,� chief election commissioner M.S. Gill told reporters.

The party had applied for national status following amendments in the Election Symbols Order on December 8. A three-member poll panel approved the application earlier this week.

The commission had stripped the CPM of its status after it failed to meet the required guidelines. But the party leadership questioned the decision and urged the commission to rethink its guidelines taking into account that the party had 32 members in the Lok Sabha and was entitled to national status.

According to the new guidelines on symbols, the commission has said that a political party can get national status if it bags six per cent of the votes polled in any four or more states in a Lok Sabha or Assembly poll.

In addition, it has to win either four seats in the Lok Sabha from any one or more states or win two per cent seats in the Lok Sabha, that is 11 seats in the existing House of 543 members.

Gill had earlier said the main objective of the new Symbols Order was to �simplify, straighten out and liberalise the system�.

�Brahmastra� for EC

After years of legal wrangling with the Centre, the commission has secured full disciplinary jurisdiction over officials deputed for conducting polls, adds PTI.

Gill said the Centre has issued a detailed directive to state governments and Union Territories explaining the disciplinary functions of the commission over officers, staff and police deputed to perform election duties.

�It is not that we in the commission feel happy in suspending some people. The commission should also have �brahmastra�,� Gill said, adding that the commission needed some effective authority for a �very emporary period� over staff on poll duty.

�I am happy that this is something good for the Indian Constitution,� he said.

The Centre�s recent directive to state governments said the disciplinary functions of the commission over poll officials extended to �suspending any officer, official or police personnel for insubordination or dereliction of duty, and substituting them by another such person and returning the substituted individual to the cadre to which he belongs with an appropriate report on his conduct�.

On the model code of conduct, another issue pending before the Supreme Court, Gill hoped that the Centre would withdraw its appeal before the apex court.


Asansol, Dec.29: 
The death of 25-year-old Muhammad Zahid in Budha near here has triggered tension among local residents.

Zahid was found lying in a pool of blood by his scooter last evening with injury marks on his head.

Police called it a case of scooter accident, but the residents calimed he was shot by criminals who melted among Id revellers after pumping bullets in his head.

Additional superintendent of police, Asansol, Niraj Kumar Singh said Zahid, a �good mechanic�, was drunk and fell down from his scooter.

Zahid�s family suspect foulplay. �The scooter is without a scratch and it was found locked at the time of the incident,� said Zahid�s brother Shahid. With local pressure mounting, the police have started an inquiry. The body has been sent for post mortem.

A pall of gloom descended in the area as panic gripped residents who hurried indoors leaving Id celebrations behind. Shopkeepers downed shutters.

The area wore a deserted look today. The residents put up a roadblock on Hutton More Road demanding the arrest of the culprits. The Asansol market was closed. The blockade was withdrawn after the police assured the culprits will be arrested by noon tomorrow.


Siliguri, Dec. 29: 
A murder case has been registered against a Border Security Force (BSF) jawan who opened fired on a group yesterday at Maidaner Danga zero-point in Cooch Behar killing three persons.

The group was returning after offering Id namaz at Maidaner Danga mosque, police said.

�The BSF firing yesterday which killed three persons and injured five was totally unprovoked and uncalled for,� Cooch Behar SP Kailash Chandra Meena told The Telegraph today.

He said: �Preliminary investigation revealed that the BSF jawans at the Sitalkuchi border outpost had detained two villagers on suspicion of being Bangladesh nationals, which resulted into the unprovoked firing. All those killed and injured were Indians who had come to offer namaz at the Maidaner Danga mosque, 100 yards from the Indo-Bangla border. We have registered a murder case for attempt to murder, causing grievous injury and murder under Sections 307, 326 and 302 of CrPC against BSF jawan Jai Karan who allegedly fired around six to eight rounds.�

However, the BSF had maintained that Jai Karan had fired only one round which killed two persons. One was killed on the spot while another died of a �heart attack� at the hospital.

�An Indian villager, Nurul Islam Mia, wounded in the firing had fled to Bangladesh. He was admitted at the Hati Bandha hospital,� the SP announced.

The BSF sources confirmed that during today�s flag meet with their counterparts in Bangladesh � the Bangladesh Rangers � the latter had requested them to take back injured Mia.

�The BSF high-handedness was apparent from the way the incident was dealt with. Probe revealed that the jawans had challenged two villagers on suspicion of being Bangladesh nationals. The BSF should have stopped the Bangladeshis from entering in the first place. Investigations also reveal that most of the people gathered at the Maidaner Danga mosque were Indians, not Bangladeshis, though some may have come to attend namaz earlier,� Meena added.

Yesterday, the BSF director general had claimed that the group consisted of Bangladesh nationals who tried to enter the Indian territory.

The CPM and the Trinamul Congress sponsored 12-hour bandh in Sitalkuchi passed of peacefully even as the area was tense.


Asansol, Dec. 29: 
Hindustan Cables has taken up a Rs 28-crore scheme to set up two cable-manufacturing units at its Rupnarayanpur factory with financial help from the Asian Development Bank. The units are expected to begin production by January.

Hindustan Cables have so far manufactured only jelly-filled cables at its Rupnarayanpur factory, located 30 km from here. The two units, nearing completion, will manufacture coil cord and copper conquest cables. �The project is immediately expected to produce 10 lakh pairs of telephone cables and 15 lakh pairs of computer wire,� said an official.


Malda, Dec. 29: 
The Baishnabnagar area here has been seething with tension ever since four farmers were abducted from the Gobindarampur char (island) by armed miscreants on Tuesday.

The missing persons have been identified as Mahab Ali Seikh, 35, Mafijuddin Seikh, 24, Khalil Seikh, 27, and Jalal Seikh, 50.

According to sources, about 90 farmers were working in the 40-bigha land on the island when 300 armed men from Palashi and Farakka in Murshidabad district attacked them. The farmers have been staying on the island for the past fortnight, claiming that the land belonged to them.

Most of the farmers fled, but five, who were slow to react, were caught. However, one of them, Majibur Rahaman, escaped, though injured, and managed to reach the Baishnabnagar police station.

The Baishnabnagar police initially refused to accept an official complaint as the area where the incident took place was not under their jurisdiction but fell under the Farakka police station in Murshidabad.

But when told that chances of the kidnapped farmers being alive were remote after being thrashed mercilessly, they agreed to register an FIR.

Malda superintendent of police Debashis Roy said today that the island was being combed and a search was on for the gang.

The abducted farmers are residents of Atartola and Jam- irtola, two villages which fall under the Baishnabnagar police station.

Jamirtola residents claimed that the Gobindarampur char was part of their village many years ago before it was washed away in a massive erosion along the banks of the Ganga. But the island resurfaced about three years ago after a slight change in the river�s course.

�Since then, villagers of Jamirtola have been cultiva- ting paddy there and claim the island as their own. They even say that they have all the relevant papers to justify their claim over the island,� a sen- ior Malda district police official said.


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