Joint session lifeline for beaten Bill
VHP rethink on ash yatra
Partners trade punches
Buddha law saved with riders
Atal between masala-stone & shilas
VC gets breather in abuse case
3-D superkid eyes TV
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 21: 
After an expected, but still humiliating, defeat in the Rajya Sabha, the Vajpayee government tonight resolved to take the Prevention of Terrorism Bill to a joint session of the two Houses of Parliament.

The Bill, moved by home minister L.K. Advani with a last-ditch appeal to the Opposition, was thrown out by the upper House by 113 votes against and 98 in favour at the end of a long debate that continued late into the night.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said after the defeat that the government was pushing ahead with its plan for a joint sitting on March 26. In the combined House, the government has a comfortable margin: 407 against 375. Even if Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress abstains — as it did in the Lok Sabha where the Bill was passed earlier in the week — victory should be assured.

Mahajan said that “first thing tomorrow morning” a note would be sent to the President requesting a joint sitting to be summoned. This would be the third such session in history.

He said he had already got Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s permission to proceed.

Advani indicated much the same. “The outcome (in the Rajya Sabha) was broadly on expected lines. But we are determined to pursue,” he said.

Rajya Sabha members voted on two resolutions — one moved by Congress’ Kapil Sibal “disapproving” the Bill and another by Advani seeking passage. On both counts, the government was defeated by 113 to 98.

The voting took place along predictable lines. The Telugu Desam voiced criticism but openly said it had no option since its leader N. Chandrababu Naidu had issued a fiat to vote in favour of the Bill. “My instruction from my party chief Chandrababu Naidu has been to support the Bill. So I will support it,” said K. Saifullah.

Two other NDA partners, highly critical of the Bill — Trinamul, represented by Jayanta Bhattacharjee, an Independent it supports, and the Janata Dal (United) — chose to be absent from the Rajya Sabha. In a curious twist, both the DMK, Vajpayee’s ally, and its arch opponent Jayalalithaa’s ADMK voted in favour.

The Congress ensured full strength. So did the Left. Ailing Congress members Manmohan Singh, actor Dilip Kumar, industrialist R.P. Goenka, veteran N.K.P. Salve and Ghulam Nabi Azad were present and some members from the Northeast were flown in.

It was, however, deserted by its coalition partner in Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar, which voted with the government.

With the NDA also bringing in members like Lata Mangeshkar and Shatrughan Sinha, 211 MPs in a 239-strong House were around to vote.

Mahajan said the only surprise was that three members of the National Conference and one of the Akhil Bharatiya Loktantrik Congress — both NDA partners — stayed away.

“We could narrow down differences between the ruling NDA and the Opposition to a dozen in number,” he said.

“The difference was so wide, the strength of the non-NDA members was considerable and there was a gap of about 50.... But we tried to mobilise as much as we could and we lost by only 13 or 14 votes,” Advani said.

Earlier in the House, while moving the Bill, he had expressed surprise at the Congress’ opposition to the Bill. “I know about Left parties but not Congress,” Advani said.

“Poto is not any harsher than any of the existing laws, especially (the now-repealed) Tada. It will definitely help to secure convictions instead of sending the accused into preventive detention from where they become hijackers.”


New Delhi, March 21: 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad may drop its plan to start an asthi kalash yatra from April 24 to carry the ashes of the Godhra victims in urns across the country before immersing them in the major rivers.

The rethink apparently came about after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee sent a stiff message to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to tell the Gujarat VHP to abandon its yatra plan. Vajpayee also conveyed the same message to the VHP leadership, which was in Ayodhya for a high-level meeting, official sources said.

The Prime Minister’s hands were forced by NDA allies who demanded this morning in the Lok Sabha that he must immediately stop the VHP from going ahead with the yatra. “If the Prime Minister does not ban the yatra, we may have to pull out of the NDA,” warned Samata MP Raghunath Jha.

VHP joint general secretary Onkar Bhave said from Ayodhya that the VHP meeting did not discuss the proposed yatra because “none of us was even aware of it”. The yatra plan was announced in Ahmedabad yesterday by Gujarat VHP vice-president Haresh Bhatt.

“I saw on TV that there was a big furore in Parliament over this yatra, but where did the news originate? At least none of the senior leaders here is even aware of it. If somebody wants to pay his respects to the Godhra martyrs, he is welcome. But there is no yatra on the cards,” Bhave said.

Faizabad MP Vinay Katiyar, who mediates between Vajpayee and the VHP, said it made no sense to have such a yatra because “the Godhra incident has nothing to do with Ayodhya”.

Referring to a similar asthi yatra the VHP had taken out in 1991 of the ashes of the kar sevaks killed in police firing in October-November 1990 at Ayodhya, Katiyar stated: “That yatra made sense as it was directly related to what happened in the town and the Ram mandir agitation. Godhra is separate from all this.”

The yatra did not even figure in the VHP’s deliberations, emphasised Katiyar and another BJP MP with VHP links, Swami Chinmayanand.

At the Ayodhya meeting, the VHP decided to continue the ongoing Purna Ahuti Yagna “peacefully” till June 2.


New Delhi, March 21: 
The ideological rift between the BJP hardliners and its allies spilled out for the first time in the Lok Sabha, forcing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee into a tight corner.

The House witnessed heated exchanges between BJP hardliners with a Sangh parivar background and leaders of the secular NDA allies over the Hindutva agenda and was about to take a violent turn but for the quick intervention of parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, his deputy Santosh Gangwar, minister of state for railways Digvijay Singh and some other NDA members.

The situation turned so alarming that the Prime Minister was forced to convene an NDA meeting tomorrow evening after he failed to get a conclave of allies cancelled. The NDA meeting will discuss the partners’ fears of a Hindutva offensive by the Sangh and the VHP’s plan to carry the remains of the Godhra victims across the country.

After the clash in the Lok Sabha, a worried Prime Minister despatched Vijay Goel, minister of state in the PMO, to pacify Janata Dal (United) leader Devendra Prasad Yadav, who along with Mamata Banerjee, was instrumental in organising tomorrow’s meeting of a ginger group of allies.

Goel spent 40 minutes in vain trying to persuade Yadav to call off the meeting. However, the conclave may be turned into an “informal gathering” to let the allies preserve the firepower for the larger NDA meeting in the evening.

Vajpayee’s meeting could clash with another convened by Telugu Desam Party leader Yerran Naidu of Union ministers Sharad Yadav, the Dal(U) president, Ram Vilas Paswan, the Lok Janshakti Party chief, Nitish Kumar of the Samata Party and Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal at his residence tomorrow evening to take stock of the situation arising of the Sangh overdrive.

George Fernandes has been left out on the apprehension that he is pushing his personal agenda. However, in view of the NDA meeting, Naidu’s gathering may be cancelled.

The divide in Vajpayee’s coalition was etched clearer today after ugly scenes in the Lok Sabha. The verbal clash, which erupted during zero hour, continued even after the Chair adjourned the House an hour ahead of the lunch break. At one point, BJP leader and Bajrang Dal founder Vinay Katiyar and Yadav almost came to blows. But they were separated by Mahajan.

As the exchanges reached a crescendo, Katiyar, backed by BJP members Adityanath, Shanker Prasad Jaiswal and Prahlad Patel, said Yadav should quit the NDA if he has problems.

Yadav shot back, questioning Katiyar’s locus standi. “Who are you? Are you the NDA chairman?” asked Yadav, who found support from Indian National Lok Dal member Sushil Indora, the Trinamul Congress’ Sudip Bandopadhyay and others.

Later, the Dal(U) leader said: “Now they are getting physical. They are trying their best to deviate from the NDA agenda. We will not allow this to happen, and if the government falls on this issue, we will feel relieved”.

Soon after the House was adjourned, Bandopadhyay, Yadav, Raghunath Jha of the Samata Party and Desam’s Venugopalachari met reporters and condemned the Sangh bid to spread communal hatred in the country.


Hyderabad, March 21: 
The CPM politburo today cleared chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s proposed Prevention of Organised Crimes Act after advising him to exercise patience and caution in framing the draft.

Politburo member Prakash Karat said the party leadership was convinced that the Bhattacharjee government required a tougher Act to combat growing organised crime such as kidnappings.

“As our party has decided not to implement the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance promulgated by the BJP-led coalition government at the Centre in the states ruled by us, we naturally require our own Act to combat organised crime,” Karat said.

On the eve of the 17th party conference here, Bhattacharjee’s proposal of the anti-terror law evoked strong resistance from the only other CPM-ruled state, Tripura. Tripura said it did not feel the need for such legislation, though it has to deal with insurgents and other types of criminals.

In an acknowledgement of Tripura’s stand, the politburo sought to temper the proposal for the law by asking Bhattacharjee not to bring about the legislation in a hurry.

“We have to be very careful while promulgating the Act in Bengal,” Karat said. “The people must not mix up the Central Ordinance and the Bengal legislation and must not conclude that there is no qualitative difference between the BJP-led government in Delhi and our Left Front in Bengal,” added Karat, who was one of the early opponents of the Bengal proposal. The critics of the Bill have been citing the Tripura case.

Bhattacharjee’s hands were strengthened in the past 24 hours by a tenacious Bengal lobby made up of state party secretary Anil Biswas, Left Front chairman Biman Bose and some others who rallied behind the chief minister to convince the politburo of the state government’s case for the legislation.

The party apex body asked Bhattacharjee to take time to finalise the draft of the proposed Act after going through the merits and demerits of the comparable Acts in vogue in states like Maharashtra.

“Many states like Maharashtra have already promulgated similar Acts. If necessary, you can go through those Acts before finalising the draft,” the politburo told Bhattacharjee during the day.

According to Karat, the Bengal legislation will be different from the Central law.

With the politburo clearing his proposal, Bhattacharjee’s government is expected to finalise the draft soon and begin to consult Front constituents regarding the contents of the proposed Act.

Bhattacharjee, sources close to him said, was undecided about the timing of the tabling of the Bill.


Ayodhya, March 21: 
The two stones that forced the Prime Minister to rush his emissary to Ayodhya run the risk of ending up in the “gutter”, if the PMO does not act again.

A burgeoning group of sadhus has rallied against the VHP, threatening to “throw the stones in the gutter” and taunting Atal Bihari Vajpayee with an offer to hand over a “masala-grinding” stone for safekeeping.

“The shilas themselves are impure,’’ fumed Mahant Devendraprasad Acharya, head priest of the famous Dashrath Mahal temple, where the two shilas are locked inside a dingy, lightless enclosure. The two shilas were donated to the Union of India by the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas chief, Ramchandra Das Paramhans.

“The shilas have been donated by the VHP which is not interested in building any temple. It is just interested in running the business of religion,’’ the mahant said. “The shilas are stained with blood, we don’t want them to corrupt the atmosphere here. We also don’t want any controversy or trouble which the shilas might generate.’’

The group owing allegiance to the mahant will hold a meeting in Ayodhya tomorrow to chalk out a strategy to remove the shilas.

Mahant Jugal Kishore Shastri, chief trustee of the Ramalaya Trust, gave a hint of the mood. “We will head towards the room where the shilas are kept and break open the lock,’’ he said. “Then, we will throw them in the gutter.’’

The mahants also heaped scorn on the Centre for kowtowing to a “group of opportunists”. “I have a stone which I use to grind masala. I don’t need it anymore. So, I have decided to donate it to the government. I have written a letter to the Prime Minister in this regard, requesting that he either come himself or send an emissary to accept the shila,” Shastri said.

Vajpayee erred by accepting the shilas, said a mahant. “It was a very wrong thing to do. It has sent all kinds of wrong signals to a lot of people and the minority community.”

The mahants’ belligerence has put the administration in a spot as it is unable to find a place where the shilas could be shifted without igniting another controversy.

Fiazabad district magistrate B.P. Mishra said he has apprised the Centre of the situation. But there has been no reply from the PMO, which is being held responsible for the safekeep of the shilas as it sent Ayodhya cell chief Shatrughan Singh to accept them.

The mahants said they had given the district magistrate a deadline, which expired today.

“The district magistrate doesn’t even speak to us,’’ Shastri said. “He refuses to meet us because he, too, has nothing to say. We have decided to do something on our own.’’

The mahants added that the Sankaracharya of Dwaraka Peeth, Swaroopanand Acharya, has asked them to take their protest ahead.

“He called us up on Wednesday and asked us to do what we think is right,” Devendraprasad said.

The mahants are also planning to demand the arrest of VHP leader Ashok Singhal and Paramhans under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.


Chandigarh, March 21: 
Punjab and Haryana High Court has stayed the arrest of Punjabi University vice-chancellor Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia in a case of alleged molestation.

Ahluwalia was apprehending arrest in a case registered against him on February 19 following a complaint by Saru Rana, a 22-year-old postgraduate student of the university. On March 15, the charge of attempt to rape was added to the first information report.

In her complaint, Saru had alleged that “wrong things” were happening in the department of fine arts. She had also charged Ahluwalia with making lewd gestures at her during a function.

However, counsel for the vice-chancellor told the court that the academic was being implicated in the case. He pointed out that attempt to rape charge had been added to the original complaint.

Ahluwalia had approached chief minister Amarinder Singh and offered to surrender before him and not the police, but his request was turned down.

“I rejected the offer. He should step down from his post. Such persons should not be allowed to hold important posts,” the chief minister said.

Since March 15, the state police had been conducting raids at different places, including Siolan, Shimla, Ambala, Delhi, Dharampur and Kasauli, to arrest the absconding vice-chancellor who has not been attending office for more than a month now.

But he kept in touch with the institute over phone or fax and passed on orders for the functioning of the university.

Ahluwalia’s continuance in office is becoming an embarrassment for the new Congress government. While the chief minister said the matter has been referred to the advocate-general for legal opinion, senior officers believe that the chief minister does not possess the powers to dismiss a vice-chancellor appointed by the chancellor — in this case, the Governor.

What is intriguing is the government’s inability to put in practice Section 9-a 4 of the Punjabi University Act that empowers the chancellor to appoint a person on the advice of the state government “in the event of the vice-chancellor not being in position on account of illness, absence of leave or in any other contingency...”. The chief minister’s office refused to comment on this.

In another turn to the case, Ranjit Singh, a Punjab police gunman attached to the vice-chancellor, has made allegations of womanising against Ahluwalia. He reportedly named some university officials who worked as conduits in his confessional statement to the police.


Mumbai, March 21: 
Things will soon start flying off your television screen.

Superkid, India’s first 3-D television programme, is almost ready to take off. The pilot episode is already in the can.

Produced by Creative Eye, with special effects from The FX Factory, Superkid is awaiting the nod from the television channel that will air the serial.

The serial’s story, targeted at children, is built around the adventures of a desi superboy.

The main actors seem to be helicopters and other flying objects (including kids) that lunge straight at the audience and make them wince. Or full-bodied robots that seem to separate themselves from their background and advance towards you.

Superkid will require special glasses to watch. “They will be cheap glasses that will be distributed through sponsors of the serial. For example, if a toothpaste company is our sponsor, the glasses will be given free with the toothpaste,” said Ramesh Meer of The FX Factory.

The serial was shot with two cameras, the basic element of 3D technology. “But The FX Factory adapted the technology to suit the television screen,” said Meer.

A major part of the serial has been produced digitally. “All the sets are digitally done,” he added.

3D films have not done too well in the country. Chhota Chetan, India’s first 3D film, created a stir, but the follow-up, Shiva ka Insaaf, didn’t do well.




Maximum: 35.7°C (+2)
Minimum: 24.1°C (+2)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 78%,
Minimum: 29%

Sunrise: 5.43 am

Sunset: 5.44 pm


Mainly clear sky. Maximum and minimum temperature likely to be around 36°C and 24°C, respectively

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