More firepower for army in J&K
Congress cry for Advani scalp
George, in sickness and in health
SC wields rod to end ragging
Nirupam�s silence not forever
Calcutta weather

Aug. 8: 
Rammed against the wall by the blast of violence against civilians in Jammu, the Centre tonight declared four districts �disturbed areas� under a special law that will give the army greater powers to combat militancy.

A day after the massacre of 10 people at Jammu station, the fourth such strike in the state in the last fortnight, a meeting chaired by Union home minister L.K. Advani decided to bring the districts of Kathua, Doda, Jammu and Udhampur under the Armed Forces (J and K) Special Powers Act, 1990.

With this, the Act has been extended to the entire state, barring the Ladakh region, to give armed forces a free hand to tackle terrorism. In 1990, the state government had slapped the �disturbed� tag on areas falling within 20 km of the Line of Control in Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu and Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam, Kupwara, Pulwama and Srinagar districts in Kashmir.

Advani, who could not brief the press because Parliament is in session, will make a statement in the House tomorrow. But Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah pre-empted Advani by announcing the decision after the two-and-a-half-hour meeting.

Abdullah had jumped the gun earlier in the day to announce that he would recommend extension of the Act to the four districts in Jammu. Talking to reporters after visiting Jammu station, the chief minister had said the Special Powers Act would be enforced again to tackle militancy with an iron hand. �This will be one of the steps of the proposed pro-active policy to defeat the designs of Pakistan that have intensified after the Agra summit,� he said.

But Abdullah, who reached Delhi in the evening, was to meet a furious Advani, who wanted to make the announcement in Parliament.

The chief minister said his Cabinet would meet tomorrow to take steps on implementing the decision to arm the army with �greater powers� to tackle militancy on a war-footing.

The army will now have full powers to arrest suspects without warrant and carry out cordon-and-search operations like in the Kashmir Valley and certain areas of the Northeast. It can operate independent of the police.

Besides Abdullah, Governor G.C. Saxena, defence minister Jaswant Singh, railway minister Nitish Kumar, the three service chiefs, home secretary Kamal Pande, the IB, CBI and RAW bosses, Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary Ashok Jaitley and heads of paramilitary forces attended the meeting.

Abdullah said all issues pertaining to security in the state were discussed threadbare. �I am satisfied with the outcome of the deliberations,� he said.

A statement issued after the meeting said the attacks on civilians showed that militants struck at soft targets out of �desperation� to ward off pressure from the security forces. The meeting �reviewed in detail� the ground situation in the state, including the assessment of intelligence agencies. �Steps for refining the methods being employed by security forces were also decided upon,� the statement added.

Yesterday�s attack in Jammu is the latest in the quickening pace of violence since last month�s fruitless Agra summit. Two militants in fatigues had stormed the railway station late in the night and sprayed a passenger coach with bullets, killing 10 and injuring 32.

Abdullah said 1,000 special police officers will be appointed in Doda district immediately to provide security to the shepherds in the upper reaches where 15 people were recently kidnapped and gunned down by militants.


New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
A belligerent Congress today called for home minister L.K. Advani�s resignation over the sudden spurt in militant violence in Jammu and Kashmir and walked out of the Lok Sabha along with its allies and the Left parties. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party did not join the walkout.

Dubbing Advani an �administrative disaster�, Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the home minister was cast more in the mould of an �agitator than an administrator�.

Asked if he was lauding Advani�s role in the temple movement, Reddy said: �We are merely highlighting his failure as an administrator. The home minister cannot escape his constitutional and administrative responsibility for what is happening in Jammu and Kashmir. We, therefore, feel that Advani should resign as home minister on moral grounds.�

There was, however, a debate within the Congress before it formally sought Advani�s resignation. A section of the party, mainly from the Rajya Sabha, was against the idea as it felt the National Democratic Alliance would close ranks before the onslaught. But the hawks from the Lok Sabha prevailed, saying the party should be seen as aggressive.

�The nation must know about the failures of the modern-day Sardar Patel who was talking about following �hot pursuit� across the border,� a Congress floor manager said.

Reddy admitted that the Congress hesitated before making the resignation demand, but said the party was left with no option. �The home minister has shown chronic incapacity for administration,� he said. Reeling out statistics, Reddy said in the first seven months of the current year, as many as 850 civilians and security personnel had been killed in Jammu and Kashmir. �Jammu and Kashmir,� he said, �has become a killing field.�

Earlier, agitated Opposition members in the Lok Sabha lashed out at the government for its �abject failure� to curb the militant strikes in the troubled state and for failing to prevent the massacre of passengers at Jammu station last night. Congress, CPI, CPM, Rashtriya Janata Dal and ADMK members trooped out of the House, saying Advani�s response to the issue was �unsatisfactory�.

In his brief intervention, Advani said everyone was shaken by the Jammu incidents. He informed the House during zero hour that he had convened a meeting this evening to evolve a comprehensive strategy to respond to the situation in the embattled state.

In the Rajya Sabha, members slammed the government for not showing �urgency� in coming out with an adequate response to the violence spiral. Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee said that despite Advani�s assurance after the Doda killings that the government would respond adequately, �exactly (the) opposite� was happening.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
Earlier this year, Mamata Banerjee had quit the Vajpayee government over corruption allegations against George Fernandes. The stage is now being set for her return to the National Democratic Alliance with the same Fernandes acting as escort.

Trinamul�s comeback became almost a fait accompli today with Mamata and NDA convener Fernandes deciding to jointly address a �Martyrs� Day� rally at Contai in Midnapore tomorrow.

Fernandes had to quit the Vajpayee Cabinet in the wake of the Tehelka revelations, but before that Mamata had left the government over allegations that the former defence minister had accepted money for favours.

Fernandes �readily agreed� to attend the rally after receiving an invitation from Trinamul, thereby clearing the decks for the party�s eventual return to the Central coalition. Sources said a formal announcement may be made at the rally itself.

Although Mamata has been keeping in touch with Fernandes for some time, this is the first occasion they will share a political platform since her departure from the NDA shortly before the Assembly polls. Fernandes, who reached Calcutta in the evening, said he would take part in the rally in his �individual capacity�.

Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, who arrived by the same flight, said his party would make a last-ditch attempt to save its ties with Mamata.

Trinamul legislator Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay said Mamata had been authorised by the party to take a decision on the NDA return. Asked why the party had invited Fernandes after it had quit the NDA demanding his resignation over Tehelka, Chattopadhyay said: �The government has formed a commission to probe the matter. Besides, we have invited him as the NDA convener and not as a former minister. Fernandes had addressed Martyrs� Day rallies organised by our party on earlier occasions.�

Asked to clarify the party�s stand vis-a-vis the coalition, he said: �We are not in the NDA, but are offering it issue-based support. We will, of course, oppose any move to bring down the government.�

He dismissed some BJP leaders� contention that Trinamul will have to wait at least six months before being allowed to join the Cabinet. �We do not ascribe much importance to such statements. BJP leaders have the liberty to express their views. But Mamata will talk only to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee or the NDA convener,� he said.

Trinamul sources said Mamata had yet to decide on her rejoining the Cabinet even after formally returning to the NDA because of a sharp division in the party.


New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
Coming down hard on the �menace of ragging�, the Supreme Court today said a university could consider disaffiliating a college or institution failing to curb the menace.

In a set of stringent directions, a division bench of Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice Brijesh Kumar said the college concerned should severely punish any student involved in ragging. �The punishment may be withholding scholarships or other benefits, debarring from representation in events, withholding results and suspension or expulsion from hostel or mess and the like,� the judges said. The directions came on a PIL filed by the Vishwa Jagriti Mission.

The apex court said �failure to prevent ragging (by a college or institution) shall be construed as an act of negligence in maintaining discipline in the institution on the part of the management, the principal and the persons in authority of the institution�.

�If an institution fails to curb ragging, the UGC or the funding agency may consider stoppage of financial assistance to such an institution till such time as it achieves the same,� the bench added.

The judges said hostels where freshers are put up should be �carefully guarded� and, if needed, the entry of seniors and outsiders should be prohibited after a specified hour at night. �Entry at other times may also be regulated,� the court added.

The bench ordered that the UGC should �bring these guidelines to the notice of all educational institutions�.


Mumbai, Aug. 8: 
To Sanjay Nirupam, the brash Shiv Sena MP behind Delhi�s political convulsions, the UTI scam is far from �a closed chapter�.

�It�s a very big scam involving crores of rupees. We�ll have to see that those involved are brought to justice,� Nirupam, who made a vague apology to Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his remarks against the Prime Minister�s Office in connection with the UTI debacle, said.

But, for now, Nirupam is going to keep his mouth shut in the Rajya Sabha. �We will wait for the investigation being carried out by the CBI and the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to be completed. I have full faith in government machinery,� he said.

But it is not going to be an �endless� wait. �You cannot wait endlessly. But I hope the JPC will submit its report by the end of this year. We expect the CBI to conduct the probe quickly and bring the culprits to book,� he said. Just because the Sena supports the Vajpayee government does not mean it would �not fight for the people�. �UTI investors are basically the people who voted for us. We have every right to fight for our voters,� the Sena MP said.

Nirupam said he had never targeted the Prime Minister, but his office. �I never said Atalji is a corrupt person or he is not honest. As a matter of fact, he is one of the most honest politicians in the country and there is no alternative to him. He should remain in power and lead the nation.�

But the paean came dipped in sarcasm. �I don�t think I have done anything great by raising the issue in Parliament. But Atalji did. He offered to resign. If he had not offered to resign, I don�t think anyone would have noticed what I said in Parliament,� Nirupam said.

All he had wanted was an investigation into the role of a former PMO official. �If somebody (from the PMO) talked to that tainted UTI chief (P.S.) Subramanyam, it should be investigated. It should be found out whether that telephone conversation has anything to do with the scam (over purchase of Cyberspace shares).�

The MP may have �apologised�, but he has no regrets for raising the matter in Parliament. �I think being a citizen of a democratic country, I have every right to raise the issue and ask questions.�

Nirupam was heartened that Sena chief Bal Thackeray stood by him. �My leader has not let me down. It�s he who taught us to fight for people. I have taken my political lessons from him.�

He said he had his leader�s �permission� to raise the UTI scam in the Rajya Sabha. �I always contact him and tell him before I raise any issue in Parliament. I had taken Balasaheb�s permission to speak on the UTI scam and my party had recommended my name as the speaker.�

The Sena chief, however, had warned him that the allegations against the PMO should be substantiated. �I run the Sena newspaper and am a journalist, too. I did my homework before I spoke on any issue,� Nirupam said.

Most of the 15 Sena Lok Sabha MPs are furious with Nirupam for plunging the government in a crisis of sorts when the Sena is a member of the ruling coalition. Nirupam said he did not care.

�I pity my colleagues in Parliament. Instead of speaking against me, they should try and fight for the people in Parliament. But they hardly raise any issue of substance,� Nirupam said.

�I don�t care anyway as long as Balasaheb supports me and understands my points.�




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