Minister loses job after kidnappers and victim pop out of home
Atal atones for terror law dash
Air force bridge to Afghanistan
Shutdown scheme to bury coffin row
Sacrifice at UP poll altar
Another first in Prithvi test-fire
Locked-up Laloo rues blunder
CM in child marriage ruckus
Law lengthens arm, moves into villages
Calcutta Weather

Lucknow, Dec. 12: 
Five criminals, one with two murders under his belt, are on the run. They have kidnapped the 16-year-old son of a rich businessman and are in dire need of a safe haven. So where do they go?

In the badlands of Uttar Pradesh, they head straight for a senior Cabinet minister�s house. But for once, luck ran out on both the minister and those under his patronage.

In a swift pre-dawn operation, Special Task Force sleuths arrested the kidnappers from the Cantonment area house where they had taken shelter along with their victim.

During interrogation, the kidnappers revealed they were being harboured by Amarmani Tripathi, a Cabinet minister in charge of institutional finance in the BJP-led government.

Soon after news of Tripathi�s �links�� with the abductors filtered out, an embarrassed Rajnath Singh sacked him from his Cabinet. Tripathi, a member of the Loktantrik Congress Party, was also expelled from the party.

Though Rajnath acted fast, the Opposition, which has been maintaining that the �BJP Cabinet is full of criminals,� had already received their truckload of ammunition from Sandeep Dubey, the key man behind the abduction plan.

Dubey went to the extent of saying that after the kidnap, the gang had contacted the minister who allegedly said: �Stay at my bungalow, you will be safe. Darne ki koi baat nahi.��

Later, Rahul Madhesia, who had been kidnapped a fortnight ago, revealed that he often heard them taking a �minister�s name�. Still groggy from the effect of drugs that were being administered to him by Dubey, Madhesia said he was brought to the house on December 6.

The plan had been to take Madhesia to Nepal from where the ransom call would be made.

STF sources say they have �permission� to arrest Tripathi. They have already charged him under Section 316 of the CrPC (harbouring criminals). Tripathi, the sources added, was very much a part of the kidnap plan. �We will arrest him from wherever he is hiding as we have enough evidence of Tripathi�s complicity in the crime,�� a senior STF official said.

Tripathi, however, managed to address a news conference to explain his side of the story.

Left with neither friends nor sympathisers, Tripathi only said he was innocent and that the chief minister had not even given him the chance to explain his position. �The chief minister could have at least spoken to me before taking such a serious decision,� he said.

�There are so many people who come from my constituency who ask me to provide them with accommodation,� he said in his defence. �How can I keep tabs on each of them. I didn�t know they were criminals and I have nothing to do with them.�

But with 37 cases in various police stations against him, Tripathi is finding it difficult to find even a single person willing to come out openly in his support.


Mumbai, Dec. 12: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said tonight his government had �made a mistake� by not consulting the Opposition on the anti-terrorism Ordinance and sought its support.

�We have admitted that it was a mistake not to have consulted the Opposition beforehand. But what to do now. We need support from all parties when we are trying to curb terrorism,� Vajpayee told a gathering on the 61st birthday of Sharad Pawar in Mumbai.

The Opposition is certain to seize on the comment to underscore perceived divisions within the government on the anti-terror law, which was being pushed relentlessly by home minister L.K. Advani. The home minister had tried to table a Bill to replace the Ordinance yesterday, but the coffin controversy in the House derailed the effort.

In Mumbai, Vajpayee set the ball rolling for a possible political realignment by patting Pawar on the back for his qualified �support� for the Ordinance and lambasting other Opposition parties for their �mindless� criticism of the Ordinance.

�They are opposing Poto (the acronym of the Ordinance) in toto. But at the same time, they all agree that we need to fight terrorism and that out country is now the main target,� the Prime Minister said.

Vajpayee�s ire was directed at Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Without naming her or her party, he said: �They are asking us why we did not discusss the Ordinance with them beforehand, especially when we do not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha. But why should they oppose it when they do not differ with us on our fight against terrorism?�

Pawar said the Opposition needed to support the government on national issues. The tenor of Pawar and Vajpayee�s speech sounded similar and signalled the emergence of a new equation.

Former Prime Minister Chandra Sekhar, chairman of Pawar�s birthday celebration committee, said Vajpayee and Pawar had �often helped each other behind the scenes� in the past. �Now it is time for them to support each other openly.�

Sonia, whose party is sharing power with Pawar�s in Maharashtra, stayed away from the birthday bash, declining the invitation on the ground of �prior engagements�. Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who suspects that Vajpayee is wooing Pawar to dump the Sena, too, stayed away.

The immediate reason for Vajpayee�s decision to attend the birthday party of a political adversary was to drum up support for the terrorism law.

But the Prime Minister hinted that he saw a long-term ally in Pawar. �It is necessary in politics to turn your opponents into your allies. There is absolutely no place for enmity in democracy,� Vajpayee said.


New Delhi, Dec. 12: 
The Indian aircraft that left the Palam technical area this morning for Kabul five hours behind schedule carried among others the newly-appointed Afghan interior minister, Yunis Qanuni.

In the evening, when it returned, again an hour late, the plane had another Afghan guest � foreign minister in the interim regime Abdullah Abdullah.

Indications suggest the air force�s IL-76, which has become one of the most popular air-links between India and Afghanistan, will remain so for a few more months.

Abdullah is here on what is being described as his first official visit outside Afghanistan since the Bonn meeting earlier this month which put in place the interim government.

Sources said he would hold detailed discussions with the Indian leadership on the future of India-Afghan relations and steps needed to speed up the normalisation process in the war-ravaged country.

Despite good relations between New Delhi and Kabul, flights between the two countries will not resume in a hurry. The official Afghan carrier, Ariana, which used to operate between Kabul and Amritsar till two years ago, is still under sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. Officials pointed out that the flights could not resume unless the sanctions were formally withdrawn.

The sanctions, imposed under Security Council Resolutions 1267 and 1333, were directed against the Taliban. Soon after the resolutions were passed, India also decided to suspend its air-link with Afghanistan. With the Taliban now gone and a new regime in place, it will take some time before the Ariana can resume its flights.

Another reason which might delay the resumption of the flights is that most Ariana aircraft are old and will have to get the requisite flight-fitness certification before they can be pressed into service.

The morning flight of the IL-76 was the first by an Indian aircraft to fly over Pakistani airspace on its way to Kabul since September 11. The military campaign in Afghanistan had forced Delhi to issue instructions to all Indian flights � military and civilian � to avoid flying through Pakistani airspace.

Abdullah , a medical practitioner by profession, was accompanied by Sathi Lambah, India�s special envoy on Afghanistan, who had left this morning with Qanuni for Kabul.

There are indications that Afghan defence minister and one of the key figures of the Northern Alliance, General Fahim, may also visit India early next week.


New Delhi, Dec. 12: 
The Vajpayee government is considering a proposal to adjourn Parliament sine die to escape the Opposition�s onslaught on the Kargil coffin controversy.

With the Opposition determined to settle for nothing less than defence minister George Fernandes� head and the ruling coalition standing by him so far, government sources acknowledged that there was no half-way solution.

The controversy, which paralysed Parliament today, erupted after the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found irregularities in the purchase of caskets for Kargil martyrs.

Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi has called a meeting of the Opposition tomorrow. But the government feels the unexpected unity of the Opposition has left it with little room for manoeuvre.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who returned last night from Japan, was briefed this morning by law minister Arun Jaitley. Home minister L.K. Advani, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan and minister of state in the PMO Vijay Goel were present.

Mahajan later called an NDA meeting �one among the several closed-door deliberations held during the day � to evolve a damage-control package.

The unanimous opinion was that the Speaker should not be rigid about enforcing the newly evolved code of conduct to disqualify members who jumped into the well and disrupted question hour since almost the entire Opposition was up in arms against Fernandes.

The Telugu Desam, which supports the NDA from outside and usually keeps away from in-house sessions, attended the meeting � an indication of the fact that the BJP�s allies are backing Fernandes till now.

The ADMK, which has inched closer to the BJP, too, said it would not support the demand for Fernandes� resignation.

The proposal to adjourn the House is being considered as the government feels that most key Bills, barring the controversial legislation to fight terrorism, have been passed. Sources said a fresh anti-terrorism Ordinance could be promulgated if a Bill cannot be passed this session.

The most significant damage-containment move made by the NDA today was to field Jaitley to face the press after it was felt that Fernandes had bungled yesterday. Sources said if a discussion took place, Jaitley would reply.


Lucknow, Dec. 12: 
Another powerful minister has bitten the dust.

First it was Naresh Agarwal, former chief of the undivided Loktantrik Congress Party, who was sacked. Today, Amarmani Tripathi, Cabinet minister in charge of institutional finance, lost his job.

The news of a gang of kidnappers being caught from a house allegedly belonging to Tripathi came at a bad time for the BJP, which is going to the polls with the promise of ridding the state of corruption.

Hours after the news broke out early in the morning, chief minister Rajnath Singh, who was in Delhi, faxed a letter about the �problem� to the Governor, who was in Mumbai. As soon as the Governor gave his nod, Tripathi, who belonged to the BJP�s coalition partner, the Loktantrik Congress, was sacked.

No one spoke to him, or thought it necessary to seek an explanation. With Assembly elections round the corner, the BJP did not want to look as if it was shielding Tripathi.

Trying to salvage as much mileage from the situation, Rajnath made a special stopover at Lucknow airport, when he was supposed to fly straight to Mirzapur. Mediapersons, especially from the electronic media, were called to the airport where he held an impromptu news conference. �I have not only thrown Amarmani out, but I promise I will sack others too if they are even remotely linked to criminals,� Rajnath said.

It was swift action by the chief minister, followed by the Loktantrik Congress, which sacked him almost immediately.

Rajnath did not say why no action had till now been initiated against Tripathi, against whom there are 37 criminal cases.

According to a report by the Special Task Force, Tripathi was close to Sriprakash Shukla, the mafia don who was killed in an encounter. There are more than a dozen others, ministers in the BJP-led government, who are supposed to have had links with the gangster. Rajnath, in a recent news conference, had said he had not yet seen the report.

Nothing has been proved against Tripathi in the kidnap case as yet, though task force sources say they have �solid proof� against him. As of now, it is his word against the kidnappers�.

�I wasn�t even given a chance to explain. The decision to sack me is unfair and done in a hurry,�� a teary-eyed Tripathi said.


Bhubaneswar, Dec. 12: 
India test fired for the first time today a longer-range version of its Prithvi surface-to-surface missile from a launch site off the eastern coast.

The 250-km extended-range version blasted off from the interim test range at Chandipur-on-sea in Balasore. The missile, called Prithvi-II, took off at 10.41 am.

The 8.56-metre-indigenously-developed missile had a perfect lift-off from a mobile Tatra Transporter Erector Launcher. The missile was powered by a liquid propellant with its flight path controlled by an on-board computer as well as an advance inertia and navigation system. The missile, weighing 4.6 tonnes, includes a one-tonne payload.

�The flight was flawless and the missile impacted at the target point accurately,� defence sources said. The objectives of the test are being analysed after monitoring the data received from telemetry centres and tracking equipment.

Today�s flight was prepared and launched by air force officials. About 50 of the missiles will be produced for the air force.

The short-range version of the missile, christened Prithvi SS-150, has already been deployed in the army since 1997. Prithvi SS-150, with a range of 150 km, can carry a payload of up to 1000 kg. There is also a proposal to develop a naval version of the missile, which can carry a payload of up to 500 kg.

Though it is suspected that Prithvi-II would execute nuclear missions, India has always denied that Prithvi would be conventionally armed.

Prithvi, one of the five missiles under the Integrated Guided Missiles Development Programme, was India�s first indigenously-developed ballistic missile.


Ranchi, Dec. 12: 
For the first time in over two years, jailed RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav today admitted that he had made a gross blunder in getting the then Bihar Assembly to pass a resolution approving the creation of Jharkhand.

Laloo said his present sufferings were a result of the mistake that he had then committed. Talking to The Telegraph at Ranchi airport before being shifted to Patna�s Beur jail, the RJD chief said he had all along opposed the division of Bihar as he had known that such a move was fraught with problems.

Laloo, however, said he had been under intense pressure from �very important quarters� and was left with no �political option� but to agree to the creation of a separate state.

Laloo was earlier remanded in judicial custody for another spell of 14 days by the CBI special court on December 10 with instructions that he be shifted to Patna on December 12 to enable him to appear before a trial court there on December 13.

He pointed out that he had given the new Jharkhand government a full year to prove its worth. However, he added, with no development work taking off, his fears have now been proved true. �The poor, for whom I had agreed to create Jharkhand, though with a heavy heart, continue to be at the receiving end,� he said. To make matters worse, the BJP-RSS combine was now trying to drive a wedge between the tribals and non-tribals, he added.

One recent example, Laloo pointed out, was the Babulal Marandi government�s decision to accord domicile status only to those landholders covered under the last 1932 land survey rights held during the British regime. Laloo added that while the state government had chosen to take a myopic view in keeping out the majority of the population from the national mainstream, even poor and impoverished landless tribals had been denied domicile status as per the new law.

Laloo said with extremism spreading fast into most of the 22 districts, the day was not far when Jharkhand would completely go the Northeast way.

Referring to his call for a grand alliance in Jharkhand to overthrow the Marandi regime, he said leadership qualities among tribals were poor. He said while he took the support of the Congress �for granted� as it was in alliance in Bihar, he was relying on the dynamism of JMM chief Shibu Soren to gather all secular forces in the new state.


Bangalore, Dec. 12: 
Karnataka�s progressive and cyber-savvy chief minister S.M. Krishna has been unwittingly caught in a row involving child marriage.

Attending a mass wedding, organised by the All India Religion Coordination Committee under the supervision of urban development minister B.B. Chimanakatti in Badami, Krishna praised Chimanakatti�s plans to promote simple marriages, little realising that his efforts would whip up a storm.

On his return to the capital, Krishna was informed that a few children were among the 1001 couples who had tied the knot under his benediction.

Chimanakatti initially dismissed the charge as concocted, saying the pictures of child couples were taken by vested interests at a different location, but portrayed as if they had taken part in the wedding. An inquiry by the district administration, however, revealed that some of the couples were indeed still studying in primary and middle schools.

The Opposition has demanded an apology from Krishna for participating in such ceremony.


Neemach, Dec. 12: 
The law of the land today moved closer to the sons of the soil.

Around 10,000 people gathered at an open field in Jhatla this morning to watch 49 jury members take oath of office as Madhya Pradesh gave the country its first �village courts�.

The rustic swearing-in at the village took place in the presence of chief minister Digvijay Singh and law minister Ghyanshyam Patidar.

The Gram Nyayalay Adhiniyam project is Digvijay�s brainchild. On March 6, the government had passed a notification to set up 1,565 village courts, covering 41 districts and 51,000 villages.

The chief minister justified his move to decentralise the legal system, saying people needed justice closer to their homes.

Chhote, chhote jhagre ke liye court kachari ki chakkar katna parta hai (For a small theft, you need to first go to the police, then keep paying lawyers and babus at courts).� By the end of it, the expenditure on the legal battle proves much more than the theft itself,� Digvijay told the crowd and the newly-appointed jury. �My government has tried to fulfil the dreams of Gandhiji so that village disputes can be resolved at the village chowpal itself.�

He said the village courts, which can hear cases only in the capacity of a civil court, were a serious effort at empowerment. �Sitting in Bhopal, my government cannot solve the problems of every village. There are more than 51,000 villages and 80,000 habitations in this state. We will give you the money but you have to learn to be self-reliant, even for the small justices of life.�

The village courts are lower than a magistrate�s court. Based on their decision, revision petitions may be filed in the court of the first class civil judge for civil cases, in the court of the sub-divisional officer for revenue cases and the first class judicial magistrate for criminal cases.

Officially, Jhatla became the first village court to try a dispute as hearings on two cases commenced right after the swearing-in. Judges of six other village courts � Mourvan, Tal, Jat, Suvakheda, Othana and Sarvaniya, all in Neemach district � were also sworn in today.

One rural court will serve an average of 12 to 13 panchayats and cover 45 to 58 villages. Each court will have seven jury members, who should be at least 45 and passed Class X.

Four seats are reserved. Every court must have at least one Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and OBC jury member for whom the minimum qualification has been relaxed to Class VIII. One seat has been reserved for women. No jury member can be an active member of a political party. They can hear cases of simple monetary dispute and diwani cases not exceeding Rs 1,000, but can�t send anyone to jail.




Maximum:27.6�C (+1)
Minimum:16.8�C (+3)



Relative Humidity

Maximum: 96%,
Minimum: 50%


Sunrise: 6.14 am
Sunset: 4.49 pm
Mainly clear sky. Possibility of morning mist. Minimum temperature likely to be around 16�C

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