House to elect PM or CM: Statute panel
Modi on Delhi double mission
Shenzhen miracle model for Maran
Chidambaram adds voice to chorus for Congress family reunion
Strike cloud on pilgrims� trail
Left, Right trade fire on anti-terror law
Pre-Sept. 11 habits die hard
One-man school on wheels rolls into Bihar backwaters
Chautala mails Atal canal woes
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 31: 
The Constitution review commission submitted its report today, recommending sweeping electoral reforms and throwing out the suggestion to bar persons of foreign origin from holding high office.

In the two-volume report handed to law minister Arun Jaitley � the Prime Minister could not be present because of a bereavement � the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution said that after a parliamentary or an Assembly poll, the leader of the House should be elected by its members.

Such a suggestion was made by A.B. Vajpayee after his 13-day government collapsed in 1996.

But some other proposals close to the heart of sections of the BJP were rejected by the commission, dispelling fears that the party�s so-called hidden agenda would find a place in its recommendations.

The commission, headed by former chief justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, has suggested a radical reform in a much-debated law that enables the Centre to dismiss an elected state legislature. Article 356 can be applied only when serious �subversion� of the Constitution takes place to the extent of leading to �secession�, the commission said in its recommendations that number 230.

It held that the three basics of the Constitution, �parliamentary democracy, rule of law and secularism�, cannot be altered or tampered with.

Justice Venkatachaliah said the most important part of the report related to electoral reforms and laws relating to the conduct of political parties.

The commission suggests abolition of the existing method of a Governor or the President inviting the leader of the single largest party or group to be sworn in as chief minister or Prime Minister.

Explaining the recommendation, an official said that after an election, the House is to be convened by a pro tem Speaker and the leader of the House elected by majority. The �leader of the House is not to be chosen at Raj Bhavan (or Rashtrapati Bhavan) or after a headcount�, the official said. �This would avoid horsetrading and purchase of MLAs and MPs,� he added.

The commission rejected a paper calling for banning persons of foreign origin (read Sonia Gandhi) from occupying high constitutional positions. On three other issues sections of the ruling party have been pursuing, it is silent. It has recommended that the right to religion be made a non-suspendable right.

Education has been made a fundamental right.

Asked to comment on the foreign origin controversy, Venkatachaliah said: �It is already in your knowledge. (P.A.) Sangma took up the issue and had gone to the press. The outcome is what Sangma had said. We have not contradicted him.�

Sangma, who had quit the Congress on this issue, resigned from the commission after his paper proposing the ban was rejected.

The commission has suggested that political parties submit a dossier of sorts on an election candidate to the Election Commission, which can reject it and ask the party to nominate another person.

It suggests an amendment to the anti-defection law to incorporate the concept of �block method�. The current law allows recognition as a separate entity if one-third members (MPs or MLAs) of a party break away.

Under the recommended system, every political party will be treated as �one block� and irrespective of the voting pattern of its individual legislators on a motion, only the majority block will count. For instance, if the Congress has 100 members and 60 vote against a motion and 40 for it, all 100 votes will be deemed to have gone against the motion.

If the commission�s recommendation is accepted, truth will be made a defence in any contempt of court proceeding. Under existing law, a contempner cannot defend himself even if he has proof of a judge�s misconduct.

The commission is also set to recommend a national judicial commission to appoint judges to the high courts and the Supreme Court and hear complaints against judges.


New Delhi, March 31: 
Triggering another round of speculation, chief minister Narendra Modi landed in Delhi tonight � his second visit to the capital in less than a week � as Gujarat continued to be convulsed by violence.

Officially, the chief minister is coming on state business, to attend the chief ministers� conference on water resources. Unofficially, he is scheduled to meet BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi who was not in Delhi the last time Modi was here to show his �report card� to the Prime Minister.

The chief ministers� conference at Vigyan Bhavan tomorrow will be inaugurated by the Prime Minister and a meeting between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Modi could take place, though one is not scheduled.

BJP sources said Modi might request the Prime Minister to postpone his visit to Gujarat, slated for later this week, as the state is far from normal yet. Seven people have been killed since last night and Modi may have to do some explaining.

Three people were killed in the Gomtipur area of Ahmedabad when mobs set ablaze houses, used fire arms and threw crude bombs and stones. Army was called out in Ahmedabad following a fresh outburst of violence tonight.

The Prime Minister�s visit to Gujarat is intended to apply a �healing� touch to the victims but it may backfire if the state is still in the grip of violence.

There is, however, no change of mood in the top BJP leadership on the question of Modi�s survival in power. Senior BJP sources made it clear that the party high command, regardless of the continued killings, will not seek the chief minister�s resignation as it will be perceived as yielding to one of the most persistent demands of the Opposition.

The last time Vajpayee had summoned the chief minister to the capital immediately after an acrimonious joint sitting of Parliament passed the Bill on checking terrorism.

Modi�s was the most frequently mentioned name in that debate. The Opposition accused him of not only �presiding� over the killings and the riots but also of using the anti-terror Ordinance selectively against Muslims.

Home minister L.K. Advani had then clarified that the Ordinance was not going to be applied, but neither he nor Vajpayee responded to the main allegation of inaction against Modi�s administration, signalling that the chief minister would stay.

Within the BJP, Modi has his lot of supporters who are solidly behind the chief minister. Besides, the RSS has painted him a �hero�.

Though Modi is safe in his home preserve, the Prime Minister may want to appear to be putting the chief minister �on a leash� if only to cool tempers in the Opposition.

Politically and electorally, the BJP has nothing to gain from sacking a chief minister who is being projected by the Sangh parivar as a �messiah� of the majority community.


New Delhi, March 31: 
If everything goes to plan, Salt Lake City in Calcutta will potentially become a rich amalgam of Shenzhen and Canary Islands.

Stripped of the alphabet soup of incentives ladled out to exporters, the five-year export-import policy unveiled today promises to create large enclaves of enterprise modelled on the special economic zone in China�s Shenzhen and financial nerve centres like Canary Islands and Nassau.

In the eastern region, Salt Lake City and Kulpi in Bengal and Gopalpur and Paradip in Orissa are among the 13 areas where the government has approved the creation of special economic zones, a deemed foreign territory that will live by its own code of rules, regulations and tariffs. Even time?

Shenzhen, for instance, follows Hong Kong � and not mainland Chinese � time, unofficially, of course.

Commerce minister Murasoli Maran, a strong votary of grafting the Shenzhen experiment on to India�s industrial landscape since his visit to China two years ago, today announced a slew of new incentives for the special economic zones (SEZs). These zones, he said, would be �symbols of Indian endeavour to remain internationally competitive and relevant. They are our best dream projects and are firmly based on success everywhere.�

The incentives include income-tax concessions to be announced later by the finance minister, exemption from central sales tax on supplies from the rest of the country to these enclaves, freedom to borrow funds from abroad without restrictions, make overseas investments, and hedge against commodity price fluctuations.

For the first time, overseas banking units will be permitted to set up base in India but without being tied down by the many restrictions banks otherwise have to follow.

These units will be �virtually foreign branches of Indian banks� and will offer cheap finance at international rates to enterprises in the special enclaves. �This is a very significant decision that makes the SEZs internationally competitive,� Maran said.

�This should help some of our cities emerge as financial nerve centres of Asia,� said the exim policy document.

Maran also gave a strong export-orientation by tacking on a host of export incentive schemes, some of which have been criticised as being WTO incompatible. The objective: to raise India�s share of global trade to 1 per cent (from 0.67 per cent).

In value terms, it means ratcheting up exports from around $46 billion at present to $80 billion by 2007.

As a first step, the government lifted all quantitative restrictions on exports. Last year, the industry minister had removed all restrictions on imports as part of India�s commitments to the World Trade Organisation.

By lifting the restrictions on exports this year, the exim policy makes a paradigm shift in its focus from import liberalisation to export orientation.

�The imports of items which had been opened for trading last year are within check. We feel that removing the export restrictions will not pose a threat,� the minister said.

Maran admitted that this year�s exports may fall to a level even below the 3 per cent earlier envisaged. �Every country is trying to help its exporters. We too will... if there are objections to the way we are doing this, we will change our policies,� he said.

Among other measures, Maran said the government would grant transport �assistance� to exporters trying to whittle down India�s wheat mountain of 30 million tonnes by selling it abroad. The government is spending nearly Rs 9,000 crore on storage.

The transport assistance will also be made available for export of fresh and processed fruits, vegetables, floriculture, poultry, dairy products and wheat products.


Chennai, March 31: 
On the eve of AICC secretary Ramesh Chennithala�s arrival for unity talks with Tamil Maanila Congress chief G.K. Vasan, former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram donned a new mantle in Tamil Nadu politics and articulated the core issues to be tackled.

The former TMC leader expressed the necessity of the coming together of Congressmen in the state to provide people an alternative to the two main Dravidian parties � the DMK and the ADMK.

Chidambaram broke his silence on the role of the Congress Jananayaga Peravai � the outfit he launched after breaking away from the party � and echoed TMC founder late G.K. Moopanar�s stand before the Assembly polls last May in asserting that the people had seen �enough of both (the) DMK and (the) ADMK�.

Moopanar saw a role of the TMC in ushering in the �new political culture in the state�, Chidambaram saw a greater part to be played by his CJP. But the Congress remained at the centre of their plans.

The �Congress, as the ship of an Idea�, should form the core of anew �third front�, with all the Congressmen coming together in projecting the alternative, Chidambaram had said several times in the past. Significantly, he has not talked of any particular leader who will carry Sonia Gandhi�s flag in the state. In an informal chat, he said four or five �new, credible faces� had to be projected by the Congress in Tamil Nadu to capture the popular fancy and win their �trust�.

Chidambaram�s proposal for a Congress-centric �third front� coincides with the CPI and CPM leadership�s ideas. After their state conferences in Dharmapuri and Coimbatore, both the parties harped on the idea.

According to sources, Sonia had given the go-ahead to Moopanar before the Assembly polls to form a �third front� with support from the Left. But Moopanar�s ill-health in the run-up to the polls had apparently clinched his eleventh-hour decision to support the ADMK led by Jayalalithaa.

�Otherwise, a third front, would have got us at least 45 Assembly seats, making the position dicey for the ADMK,� the sources said.

However, Chidambaram was keen to �look forward�. Moopanar�s death in August had not just ended a crucial chapter of Congress politics in Tamil Nadu but had inadvertently set the stage for a TMC-TNCC merger, a task he left unfinished.

However, Moopanar�s son Vasan cannot ignore the merger plans after having got elected to the Rajya Sabha with support from Congress MLAs.

Chidambaram is aware of the limitations as the DMK and the ADMK have their vote-banks in tact. But he is banking on the 20 per cent vote the Congress has traditionally polled in the state, besides a �robust swing factor� like film star Rajnikanth, whose charisma could help bring a bulk of the �45 per cent non-voting electorate back to the polling booths�.

After a gap of three years, Rajnikanth last week launched a new cinema venture, Baba. If the crowds waiting to catch a glimpse of the superstar at the at AVM Studios here was any indication, he could still be an asset in the third front, felt Chidambaram.

But the actor-turned-script writer will have to make up his mind.

Chidambaram, who had been rooting for the �power-sharing idea� before the Assembly elections with either of the Dravidian parties, now seems to have crossed a rubicon saying the Congressmen should �get more ambitious to become ministers and steer a government�.

�Without ambition, there is no politics, for the former is the seed that impels political action,� he said while admitting that state Congress president E.V.K.S. Elangovan has been doing a �good job�.

One stumbling block to Chidambaram�s proposal could be the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, when the Congress high command could do an action replay of the past � tie up with one of the Dravidian parties to take home a chunk of Parliamentary seats and leave the state unit in a limbo.

A beginning on the way to the new front has to be made, Chidambaram feels. In fact, he is even shedding his strong pro-right image with the CJP organising a rally at Neyveli to oppose the privatisation of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation.


Srinagar, March 31: 
The heart of Jammu�s economic zone stopped beating today following yesterday�s suicide raid that robbed the city�s business community of its spirit.

The fidayeen attack in the historic Raghunath Chowk on Saturday, which resulted in 10 deaths, was the first major strike in the area by Kashmiri militants in the last 12 years.

The 150-year-old Raghunath temple complex has been a traditional stopover for lakhs of pilgrims returning from the Vaishno Devi shrine.

The centrality of the temple complex not only gave Jammu its reputation as a city of temples but also formed its economic backbone as nearly 70 per cent of Jammu�s commercial activity is carried out in the markets surrounding the temple. �One had not been to Jammu if one had not visited the temple and the adjoining markets,� says Maharaj Krishan, a resident of the area.

�But the militants attack has shattered our confidence. I saw the area completely deserted and I did not dare to go near the market. I saw smoke still emanating from a burnt shop this morning,� Krishan told this correspondent over telephone.

�On every Sunday, thousands of people would be seen busy making purchases but today for the first time I saw the area tense and not a soul visible. The people are frightened.�

The VHP and the Bajrang Dal have called for a 48-hour bandh in Jammu against the attack on the temple and the authorities have beefed up security in the entire city, particularly in minority-dominated areas. It is feared that the attack may snowball into communal tension.

Security at the railway station and bus stand in Jammu has been similarly beefed up for the pilgrims returning from Vaishno Devi.

Spring has always been the rush hour for Vaishno Devi pilgrims with school exams already over in rest of the country. �Most pilgrims come during April and early May before the temperatures sour. I fear the pilgrim rush may come down drastically after what happened here on Saturday,� said a tourist officer.

�The continued communal tension in Gujarat has also badly affected the flow of pilgrims,� he added.

Madan Kumar Sharma, a resident of Gwalior, was returning from a visit to the Vaishno Devi shrine along with his wife and nine-year-old son. The Sharmas reached Jammu on Saturday morning and decided to visit Raghunath temple.

Ratna Sharma, Madan�s wife, went inside the temple while her husband and son waited outside. As the militants sprayed bullets from their weapons, Ratna was hit by a volley of automatic fire. She succumbed to injuries inside the temple. �I had decided to visit the temple after my return from Katra,� Sharma said. His son saved himself by hiding inside the temple.

A senior police officer said security arrangements had been beefed up across the city to ensure the safety of pilgrims and residents alike.


New Delhi, March 31: 
Political parties and fundamentalist outfits are bent on keeping the �Pota pot� boiling.

While the CPM politburo has issued a statement asking states ruled by Opposition parties not to implement the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the VHP has announced that the anti-terrorism legislation, far from being �draconian�, falls drastically short of being a �strong� law.

Dubbing it a �lame� law, VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia today said at a news conference in Bhopal that such a law would not help combat terror. But he conceded that the new law was �stronger� than those preceding it.

At the other end of the political spectrum, the CPM said: �In a short time we have seen how the Narendra Modi government has selectively used Poto --- so Opposition parties who are in power in the states should ensure that the draconian law is not used.�

Togadia claimed Hindus could never be �fundamentalist� as Hinduism was a �way of life and not a religion�. Yet again, the VHP joined issue with the Prime Minister, who in the recent past, has dubbed some Hindus fundamentalists. But Togadia feigned ignorance about Vajpayee�s remarks, saying he �did not know� what the Prime Minister had said.

The VHP general secretary�s statement is a warning to the Vajpayee government that the VHP has made only a temporary retreat in the Ayodhya case.

The battle over the anti-terror law has moved in to the states, most of which are ruled by the Congress. The BJP�s defeat in the Assembly elections in four states has honed the Opposition�s attack with practically every leader claiming the new law will be ineffective in states.

Senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee told the joint session of Parliament that the BJP was in a �pathetic� minority as far as states were concerned. �None of the state governments ruled by Opposition parties will implement this law that you are ramming through in this special session,� he said.

Home minister L.K. Advani, however, claimed that most chief ministers, barring those from Bengal and Kerala, backed the law. He harped on the positive experiences of the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra that had introduced a law to check organised crime. NCP leader Sharad Pawar has recommended measures to improve the new law.

Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has long stressed the need for a law against organised crime. After many dilemmas, his party recently gave him the go-ahead. The CPM insists the Bengal law will not have any of the alleged draconian features of the central law.


Washington, March 31: 
American officials, worried by the shocking findings of a nation-wide undercover operation at US airports, have been rattled by the discovery that a Pakistani has been plotting to blow up power plants and other key installations in Florida.

Adding to their worries in the ultra-sensitive post-September 11 environment, four Pakistani sailors jumped ship last week after their vessel berthed in Norfolk, Virginia. US media reports speculated that one of the men may have been on a terrorist watchlist.

While the Florida-based Pakistani, 19-year-old Imran Mandhai, is to be deported, the findings of the airport undercover operation will have long-term consequences.

It showed that undercover investigators, posing as passengers, were able to get knives, guns and fake bombs past security checks at 32 airports across America. These investigators were also able to get into restricted areas at airports and even board planes without being detected by security personnel.

The massive operation began in November � two months after terrorist attacks in New York and Washington � and ended last month.

Results of the undercover operation showed that it was possible to get knives past security checks and into planes in about 70 per cent of the cases and guns in nearly a third of the cases. Fake bombs went undetected 60 per cent of the time.

The operation, which was revealed by USA Today this week has caused a national uproar. Federal transportation department officials declined comment on the operation on the ground that its findings were too sensitive.

But they defended their record saying all the security breaches occurred before the government started overhauling airport security nationwide last month.

At the root of the problem are hundreds of security lapses attributed to inefficiency and incompetence by Argenbright Security, which does passenger and baggage screening at the majority of US airports. There have been furious demands across the board for replacing Argenbright, but the government has dragged its feet on the issue.

The company, which is part of British-owned Securicor Plc, was one of the major contributors to the presidential campaign of George W Bush in 2000.

The government ultimately hopes to replace private sector staff with a trained aviation security force of about 40,000 people.

On the issue of the Pakistanis who jumped ship, attorney-general John Ashcroft has ordered a full inquiry.

The incident has meant more mud being thrown at the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) which sent out visa approval notifications this month on behalf of two of the September 11 hijackers. �I tell you, what has happened in the INS is enough to drive a man to drink,� Aschroft, a Christian conservative teetotaller, said on television. �I believe we will find these individuals, and I believe we will be able to correct this situation.�


Gaya, March 31: 
Over the cacophony of a crowded passenger train, a 45-year-old man holds out a colourful primary school textbook and points at a letter saying �This is E�.

Three vendors sitting on the wooden chairs of the vendor coach, holding their wares close to them, echo �he�.

�E, not he,� insists the lean, bespectacled man. The vendors correct their pronunciation and say �e-e-e�.

Every day, a coach in an EMU train running between Gaya and Nawada in Bihar turns into a classroom on wheels. The man behind this mission is Viswanath Prasad Viswakarma, widely known as Guruji. The pupils comprise the vendors and hawkers selling their wares on this train.

By 10.30 every morning, the unassuming, sunburnt Viswakarma gathers his pupils under a tree just outside the Nawada railway station, flips through the pages of a textbook and settles down to teach the letters of the alphabet.

When the station bell signals the train�s arrival, Viswakarma and his pupils board the last compartment, usually meant for vegetable vendors. Within minutes, about 12 hawkers and vendors gather round him. Viswakarma begins teaching his class as soon as the train starts rolling.

By the time the train reaches Gaya one-and-a-half hours later, he has completed teaching three subjects � alphabet familiarisation, handwriting practice and simple arithmetic. The class resumes once again at 5pm when Viswakarma takes the train from Gaya back to Nawada.

�There is no respite from his regular literacy class even if the train is crowded. He sits on the floor of the compartment and begins his teaching. The vendors take their turn without causing any loss to his business,� says Ratanmani Sharma, a travelling ticket examiner who is a frequent witness to Viswakarma�s informal classes.

Viswakarma�s literacy classes among railway vendors are gradually making a difference in one of the most challenging and backward regions of Bihar. In a state where literacy among backward castes is less than 10%, this personal initiative has drawn an enthusiastic response from educationists.

�Talk of literacy initiative in Bihar and cynicism is the first reaction. The lurking suspicion in any NGO effort is that people are being conned. But Viswakarma�s is an exceptional individual initiative,� says Amritlal Meena, former district magistrate of Gaya, who had recommended Viswakarma�s name for the Rajiv Gandhi Social Service Award.

A post-graduate and a teacher in the Gaya Zilla School, Viswakarma, a resident of Mirzapur in Nalanda and a daily commuter between Nawada and Gaya, struck upon this idea one day when he witnessed a hawker being hauled up by a cop for refusing to bribe him.

Viswakarma says the illiterate hawker eventually failed to secure his release because he didn�t know how to sign his name.

For the idealistic Viswakarma, the hawker incident was an eye-opener that set him on the road to his mission. While other school teachers mind their own business, Viswakarma decided to spread literacy. �I decided to paddle my canoe alone,� he says.


Chandigarh, March 31: 
Frustrated by the Punjab government�s decision not to complete the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal despite a Supreme Court order, Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala has sought Delhi�s intervention.

Chautala wrote to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that even three months after the apex court directed Punjab to complete construction of the canal within a year, the Punjab government has yet to begin work.

�Keeping in view the sentiments of the people of Haryana, I would be grateful if you could give necessary directions to the Union water resources ministry to take necessary action so that precious one year is not wasted waiting for (the) Punjab government to complete the work,� he urged Vajpayee, echoing the Supreme Court�s instruction to the Centre to step in and complete the canal if Punjab failed to do so.

Chautala also requested Vajpayee to issue directions for the bifurcation of Punjab and Haryana High Court. A resolution passed by the Haryana Assembly on March 14 sought a separate high court with jurisdiction over Chandigarh as well. Moreover, Chautala has been demanding over the past few days Haryana�s share in four power projects �usurped by Punjab from the river waters of the SYL canal�.

The Amarinder Singh government in Punjab is seeking fresh advice from lawyers on the canal case and is expected to file another petition. The Supreme Court has turned down the state�s petition to review its January 15 directive.

The Congress had turned the SYL case into a major issue for the Assembly polls and accused former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal of failing to protect the state�s interests in the Supreme Court.

The party had even released advertisements alleging that Badal had appointed an inexperienced person to plead for it and conspired to weaken Punjab�s case because of his friendship with Chautala.

Badal had retorted: �I would rather shed every drop of my blood than allow even a single drop of water to flow out of my state in defiance of the riparian principle.�

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had laid the foundation of the SYL canal in 1980 but construction could not begin because of opposition from the people of the state. Badal, who was the chief minister then, had filed a case in the Supreme Court against the construction, which was withdrawn by his successor Darbara Singh on instructions from Indira Gandhi.

The Punjab government is also planning to challenge the Punjab and Haryana Reorganisation Act of 1960 and the Eradi Tribunal set up by Centre under the Rajiv-Longowal Accord in 1985 to reallocate water between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

In 1982, the Shiromani Akali Dal had launched a Dharam Yudh Morcha against the canal construction, which later ended in militancy.

Terrorists ensured that work on the project came to a halt by killing one chief engineer, one superintending engineer, two junior engineers, two contractors and 30 labourers involved in the construction.




Maximum: 35.5�C (0)
Minimum: 24.9�C (+2)



Relative humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 44%

Sunrise: 5.33 am

Sunset: 5.48 pm


Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts

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