South storm catches govt sleeping
CBI-stung Anil blasts Mamata
NGO boss held for parading housewife in the nude
European bank opens pursestrings for city
Numbed official quits after Gujarat carnage
Naidu silence spurs BJP Speaker move
BA plans more flights from India
Defiant Azad blocks Sonia revamp plan
Jains are not Hindus, apex court told
SC blow to migrant citizenship demand

Calcutta, April 4: 
North 24-Parganas and Nadia made headlines, but little, it seems, the government knew about the storm that lashed South 24-Parganas in the early hours on Wednesday, killing at least three persons.

Taking stock of the situation, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee expressed his displeasure to relief minister H.A. Sairani, who confessed that Writers� Buildings had no information about the large-scale devastation in South 24-Parganas after a nor�wester swept the district around the same time that the storm broke in North 24-Parganas and Nadia.

At least 2,000 houses have collapsed, leaving around 10,000 people homeless.

After reports of the devastation came in from South 24-Parganas and Midnapore, the storm toll was revised upward to 12 from nine yesterday.

Relief minister Sairani said he had received reports of the death of Krishna Patra in Kakdwip and Dipali Bhoj in Midnapore.

Bhattacharjee, who left for Bongaon and its adjoining areas in North 24-Parganas in the afternoon to make an on-the-spot assessment of damages and the need for relief in the storm-hit villages, reportedly told Sairani that he would not tolerate such callousness of the part of government officials responsible for running the administration in South 24-Parganas.

He said he would �personally deal with these officials� after returning from Bongaon.

The relief minister said he had briefed the chief minister about the lackadaisical attitude of some officials in South 24-Parganas.

�I contacted the district officials to find out whether the nor�wester affected the riverine blocks in the Sunderbans before leaving for Bongaon yesterday. I was told that there was no report about the storm lashing the district. Only today I have received reports about devastation in the district,� Sairani said.

The state government today released Rs 2 crore from its relief fund for the affected villages in Nadia and North 24-Parganas, but not a rupee was sanctioned for the affected areas in South 24-Parganas.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta said the money would be spent in eight affected blocks in the two districts.

According to Dasgupta, 2,553 houses collapsed and 6,469 were partly damaged in Nadia and North 24-Parganas in yesterday�s storm.


Calcutta, April 4: 
Worried that the CBI�s findings on Chhoto Angaria could tarnish the image of the Left Front government, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas today claimed his party was in no way involved in the incident. He also made it clear that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would not resign as demanded by Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

�Buddhadeb is a responsible leader and chief minister. He can�t resign on the basis of an allegation levelled against him by an irresponsible leader like Mamata Banerjee,� Biswas told reporters at the party headquarters on Alimuddin Street this afternoon.

In January 2001, an explosion took place at the residence of Abdur Rahaman Mondal alias Bakhtar, stated to be a Trinamul Congress activist.

Eleven people have reportedly been missing since last January and Trinamul had claimed that all the missing persons were their supporters and had been murdered by the CPM cadre.

Though the state government had engaged the CID to investigate the case, Calcutta High Court had asked the CBI to carry out an investigation and submit its findings to the high court.

Inspector-general of police in charge of law and order Chayan Mukherjee said the CID had decided to carry out DNA tests. �The central forensic laboratory did not have the kit to run the tests and by the time one was procured, the high court had asked the CBI to step in,� Mukherjee said.

The police had collected 46 pieces of evidence from the spot and had handed over the case records to the CBI investigators, Mukherjee said. Bakhtar, the main witness to the alleged massacre, had been incoherent during interrogation and was confused about the number of victims.

Biswas today claimed the CBI had not yet submitted any comprehensive report on the incident to Calcutta High Court.

He alleged that Mamata was basing her observations on newspaper reports and had not bothered to check if they were correct.


Bolpur, April 4: 
Police arrested the director of an NGO along with one of his associates from Goria village near here on charges of parading a housewife in the nude.

Police said Kunal Deb and his associate Bhuju Ram forced a middle-aged housewife to parade in the nude and took her photograph.

Though some villagers protested, the duo went on unheeded, secure in the knowledge that they were feared by the villagers, police said today.

Later, the woman, with the help of some villagers, lodged a complaint at the local police station on the basis of which Kunal and Bhuju were arrested.

Police said Kunal, a resident of Barrackpore in North 24-Parganas, came here a few years ago after forming an NGO to work on primary education in the Santhal-populated village.

There were several complaints that many boys and girls would visit his office-cum-school at night and engage in �antisocial� activities.

Police said Kunal had a grudge against the particular woman as she had refused his �unfair proposal�.

He had also threatened to teach the woman a lesson for disobeying him. Police said Kunal forced the woman to strip and parade in broad daylight.

Additional superintendent of police Manoj Verma said Deb was arrested yesterday on the basis of specific complaints. He was produced before the court where he was remanded in police custody.

Verma said police have started an inquiry to find out about Kunal�s activities in the area.


Calcutta, April 4: 
Calcutta is all set to embark on a new partnership in infrastructure development and educational exchanges with Europe.

Alfred Steinherr, chief economist of the European Investment Bank, called on chief minister Buddahdeb Bhattacharjee today and spoke at length on the proposed venture.

�There is a general change in attitude and readiness to be more dynamic and provide encouragement for private initiative,� Steinherr said after the meeting, when asked why he chose to visit Bengal.

�There is a lot of potential in the city and its vicinity, but there are problems of finance,� the economist added.

At the meeting today, the chief minister was also informed of areas where the European Investment Bank could go in for joint financing of infrastructure projects.

What the bank was looking at was developing transport, sewerage and water treatment in the city, Steinherr said. He added that a team would visit the city soon to identify the areas of work.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta, known for his opposition to World Bank stipulations on loans extended to the state, looked pleased after the meeting. �The bank is willing to lend us money without any pre-conditions,� Dasgupta said.

Steinherr will sit with the finance minister for another round of talks tomorrow.

On the other front, Steinherr, as rector of the Free University of Bolzen-Bolzano in north Italy, spoke of exchange programmes between Italy and Bengal.

Steinherr said he had discussions with Jadavpur University vice-chancellor A.N. Basu on the possibility of an exchange programmes of students and teachers. Asked why he chose Jadavpur instead of Calcutta University, Steinherr said the latter was �too large�. The rector said areas where exchanges could take place are computer sciences, economics, philosophy and political science.

The Free University of Bolzen-Bolzano was founded in 1997 and is yet to have partners other than in a few European countries like Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Austria. The tie-up with Jadavpur University will be its first partnership outside Europe and in India.


New Delhi, April 4: 
It is rare for a bureaucrat to quit the much-coveted civil services � usually they try to wangle as many extensions as possible. One bureaucrat, however, stands out for choosing to quit before time.

Harsh Mander, who spent a decade as collector and divisional commissioner in Madhya Pradesh, has severed his ties with the civil services. Mander, who is working as country director of Action Aid, a non-government organisation, refuses to reveal the reasons for his resignation. But the chilling account he wrote after returning from Gujarat makes it clear he was responding to the call of his conscience.

�The blood of hundreds of innocents are on the hands of the police and civil authorities of Gujarat and by sharing in a conspiracy of silence, on the entire higher bureaucracy of the country,� wrote Mander after returning from Gujarat. His article echoes his agony over his inability to come to terms with what he saw.

The piece, Cry, The Beloved Country, opens with a stunning statement: �Numbed with disgust and horror, I return from Gujarat ten days after the terror and massacre that convulsed the state. My heart is sickened. My soul wearied, my shoulders aching with the burdens of guilt and shame.�

�I force myself to write a small fraction of all that I heard and saw because it is important that we all know. Or maybe also because I need to share my own burdens,� Mander continues. �As one who has served in the IAS for over two decades, I feel great shame at the abdication of duty of my peers in the civil and police administration.�

In the past, Mander has said between the call of conscience and obedience he would put greater premium on obeying his conscience if it came into conflict with his duty. The 45-year-old former civil servant has always been on the side of the underprivileged and the weak. His book Unheard Voices: Stories of Forgotten Lives is a catalogue of stories of �invisible, voiceless� people.

While posted in Raigadh, Mander distributed 1,000 acres of surplus land held by the leader of a ruling party. The move triggered a huge outcry but Mander stuck to his guns.

His article on Gujarat touches one case after another of men, women and children being killed without mercy. �What can you say about a family of 19 being killed by flooding their house with water and then electrocuting them with high-tension electricity. A six-year-old boy described how his mother, six brothers and sisters were battered to death before his eyes,� writes Mander.


New Delhi, April 4: 
The Vajpayee government, which is running out of patience with Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu for his silence on the choice of a Speaker for the Lok Sabha, has decided to go ahead with the election of a new incumbent by April 20.

The process of electing a new Speaker will be set in motion between April 18 and 20, sources said. The concerned file is currently with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is likely to forward it to President K.R. Narayanan within a couple of days when Parliament reassembles on April 15 after the recess.

The process will be complete by April 24, sources said, adding that the Budget session will close on May 17 with a new Speaker. The BJP is toying with the idea of nominating Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the party�s chief whip in the Lok Sabha. The name of former Speaker and Nationalist Congress Party leader P.A. Sangma is also doing the rounds.

The Desam candidates in the reckoning are former Union minister and parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu and senior MPs M. Jagannathan and M. Rajaiah.

Both Jagannathan and Rajaiah belong to the Scheduled Castes like former Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi, who died in a helicopter crash in West Godavari district on March 3.

Sources said a final decision on the BJP fielding a candidate for the Speaker�s post would be taken only after the Prime Minister has had another word with the Desam chief.

The Prime Minister had phoned Naidu on March 15 wanting to know whether he had made up his mind, but Naidu did not commit either way. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan and NDA convener George Fernandes had also spoken with the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, but Naidu remained elusive keeping the NDA managers on the tenterhooks.

Despite several reminders from the Centre, Naidu�s reluctance to forward a name or even indicate whether the Desam would like to retain the post has fuelled speculation that he wants to distance himself from the NDA coalition following a string of unsavoury developments such as the shila puja at Ayodhya, the storming of the Orissa Assembly by VHP activists and the communal carnage in Gujarat.

The chief minister had discussed the matter at his party�s politburo meeting a few days ago. A section of partymen are of the opinion that the Desam should not have any official ties with the NDA government and should maintain a distance from the NDA�s �misgovernance�.

They, however, want the TDP to continue supporting from the outside. Sources said Naidu was likely to communicate his decision by April 15 when the House is reconvened.


Mumbai, April 4: 
British Airways is in talks with the civil aviation ministry to increase the frequency of its flights from two of the four gateways in the country to London.

At present, it operates daily flights from Delhi and Mumbai, and flies twice a week from Calcutta and Chennai. �We are keen to have double daily flights from Mumbai, specially on weekends,� said Alan F. Briggs, general manager, South Asia.

�We would also like to increase the frequency of flights from Chennai to London from the current twice a week,� Briggs added. The airline hopes to operate double daily flights on three days from Mumbai, making it 10 flights a week, and double its flights from Chennai to four a week.

�We are talking to the Indian government for signing more bilaterals, which will enable us to add more flights from this country,� Briggs said.

The September 11 terror strikes � a nightmare for the aviation industry � is now history for British Airways. The airline is clocking an average seat occupancy of 80 to 85 per cent in all its flights from Mumbai and Delhi. In Chennai, it is higher at 95 per cent, while in Calcutta, it is close to 75 per cent. �We are facing a large inflow of traffic from NRIs who come home in January and February,� Briggs said.


New Delhi, April 4: 
Sacked Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad continued to act defiant, forcing Sonia Gandhi to put on hold the revamp plan for the organisation scheduled early this week.

Azad, who was appointed as state unit chief of Jammu and Kashmir, attended a party meet to discuss the political situation in Andhra Pradesh, but refrained from taking charge of his new assignment on grounds of �ill health�.

Sources close to Azad said he was unwilling to head the party�s Jammu and Kashmir unit on the plea that many of his close relatives in the Valley were facing threats from militants.

The Azad camp has forwarded several formulae to Sonia in exchange for accepting the punishing assignment, but the high command has not accepted the plea.

One formula is that the leadership should announce that Azad would be in charge of the state till the elections, indicating that he would be rehabilitated at the central level once the �challenging assignment� of leading the party in the Assembly polls ended in October-November.

Azad also wants to appoint a �working president� in the state Congress to run the day-to-day affairs.

AICC general secretary in-charge of the Congress president�s office Ambika Soni, however, ruled out a review of Sonia�s decision to send Azad to Srinagar. She said Azad would continue as general secretary till alternative arrangements were made.

�I am not aware of any review. There is no tradition or convention of any review of a decision taken by the party president,� Soni said.

There is no time-frame for Azad to take charge of his new assignment, she said, adding that he was undergoing treatment for his back problems.

Congress sources admitted that Azad�s delay in accepting his new assignment was posing problems for Sonia. Her next target is AICC general secretary Mahabir Prasad, who hails from the weaker sections.

The AICC chief is conscious about avoiding criticism that minorities and weaker sections were being singled out in the reshuffle, in which about 10 Congress secretaries are about to lose their jobs. Sonia had made these appointments two years ago.


New Delhi, April 4: 
The largest Constitution bench hearing issues of �minority�, �religion� and �language� was today told that Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis could not be taken to be part of Hindu religion simply because Hindu laws applied to them for marriage, inheritance, and adoption.

Arguing that �philosophy is broader and law is narrower�, senior counsel and former Union law minister Shanti Bhushan, appearing for Jains� educational institutions, told the 11-judge bench that �historically and culturally� Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains came from Hindus and hence the Hindu laws were applied.

But that �does not mean that they are not a separate religion and only (a) part of (the) Hindu mainstream�.

The argument was put forward by the counsel to buttress his contention that Jains should not be put in a disadvantageous position and denied the rights and privileges of minority institutions.

He told the court that the Hindu Marriage Act was applicable to all these religions but they are not �sects� of Hinduism like Lingayat, Virshaiva, Brahmos and Arya Samajis.

He cited Section 2 of the Act which states that the law is applicable to Hindus and to others like Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists �by religion�.

This expression � �by religion� � clearly makes the distinction that the three are separate religions, he argued.

The Act itself bracketed Arya Samajis, Brahmos, Virshaiva and Lingayats with the Hindu religion as its sects, Bhushan argued.

The arguments on behalf of Muslim minority educational institutions from Karnataka were concluded by Fali Nariman, after which Bhushan took over.

Another legal luminary, K.K. Venugopal, will speak for Tamil Nadu, Chhattsigarh and Madhya Pradesh after Bhushan finishes his arguments which are likely to continue for two more days.

After Venugopal finishes, arguments will be put forward for Kerala and Maharashtra.

This is the largest bench ever to go into three crucial expressions � �religion�, �minority� and �language� � as appearing in Article 30 of the Constitution and would also determine what constitutes a minority.

Bhushan contended that in 1919 the Jain gurus in a Mahasabha passed a resolution making it clear that they would set up their educational institutions to propagate, preach and educate students about their �religious philosophy�.

Then institutions were set up where the Jain religion was taught as a subject �although other secular subjects were also taught�, Bhushan said.

While Brahmos and Arya Samajis are considered to be part of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs are not.

In another judgment, the Supreme Court had earlier dismissed a petition contending that Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna were not Hindus and constituted a separate religion.

In this case, the apex court said they were an integral part of the Hindu religion and were major reformers of the Hindu society.

The arguments will continue on a day-to-day basis.


New Delhi, April 4: 
In a judgment affecting lakhs of Bangladeshi migrants and other foreign nationals staying in India, the Supreme Court has ruled that �long stay in the country and enrolment in the voters� list would not confer any right to an alien to continue to stay in the country�.

A division bench of Justices Doraiswamy Raju and Ashok Bhan upheld an order of Rajasthan High Court deporting a family back to Pakistan from where they had come to India in 1955 after migrating to Pakistan following Partition in 1947.

Bhanwaroo Khan and his family members had come to India in 1955 and continued to stay in Rajasthan. In 1984, they applied to the state government for registration as citizens of India. After police inquiry, the state home department refused to grant them citizenship and instead served deportation notices.

On appeal, the Rajasthan High Court dismissed their petition, saying a �case for interference with the order of deportation is not made out�.

Upholding the high court decision, the Supreme Court in its judgment said: �We do not find any infirmity with the reasoning of the high court or the conclusion arrived at.�

The case assumes significance in the light of another judgment by Delhi High Court relating to Bangladeshi migrants. The high court in 1999 had held that their (Bangladeshis) holding ration cards, electoral registration cards and the fact that they had voted in all the previous elections �does not mean that they are Indian citizens�.

The case came up following the Delhi government�s order of deportation and there is a case pending in the Supreme Court by the All India Lawyers Forum for Civil Rights demanding the deportation of Bangladeshi migrants. When the then Shiv Sena regime in Maharashtra started deporting the illegal aliens, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress, an NDA ally, cried wolf and said West Bengal would give them asylum.

The then chief minister Jyoti Basu filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying it was �humanly not possible� to deport Bangladeshis as they had �mingled with the local population� and had obtained ration cards, voter identification cards and other proof of citizenship.

However, under chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the state government has filed an amended affidavit in the apex court detailing steps taken to deport the illegal migrants.

Similarly, the Assam government under chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta wanted the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act repealed, as it was difficult to prove a migrant was an alien. But under chief minister Tarun Gogoi, the state government has filed an amended affidavit contending that it was against repealing the Act and that a Cabinet decision to that effect had been already taken.

The Supreme Court, in the instant case, said the deportation order passed by the Union of India was �correct and in accordance with (the) law�.

However, the apex court said if the appellants, Khan and his family members applied for fresh citizenship under Section 5 of the Citizenship Act, �it would be open to the authorities to proceed and decide the application in accordance with (the) law�.

Applying for citizenship, as several Indians go abroad and apply, is governed by laws such as the Citizenship Act.


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