Call for ballot with crack of blast
Brutality stench in lock-up, flash of anger in CM
Govt slips on oil pump scam
Users reap cell war harvest
Party looks for answers from Vajpayee, Advani
New backdrop to BJP drama
Nitish applies balm to Bengal�s split wound
Two verdicts on hold
Work on pact for UK jet trainers
Calcutta Weather

Aug. 2: 

Kashmir poll in four phases

The Election Commission�s announcement of polls in Jammu and Kashmir today was greeted with a grenade attack on the heavily-guarded Congress headquarters in the heart of Srinagar.

The militancy-riven state goes to polls over a four-phase schedule, beginning September 16, to elect an 87-member new Assembly. The term of the present House expires on October 17. Polling will be held on September 16, 24, October 1 and 8. Counting begins on October 10.

Witnesses said the grenade exploded inside the Congress office complex without causing damage. As if to underline the perils of going to polls, militants also sprayed automatic fire near the high-security MLAs� hostel in Jammu.

But the violence spiral, that has claimed nearly 20 lives since last night, failed to dampen chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh�s confidence. He said the elections will be �good and credible� after the �pains� the commission has taken to ensure proper polls. �We have taken this election more seriously than any other election in India in the past,� he said at a news conference in New Delhi and urged voters to show a �little bit of personal courage�.

The All-Parties Hurriyat Conference rejected the election as an act of �desperation�. �We have nothing to do with the election announced today,� Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said, adding that polls are no �solution� to the Kashmir dispute.

In another development, significant because of today�s announcement, a two-member team from the Jammu advisory committee on the Prevention of Terrorism Act met jailed Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani at Ranchi.

No details of the secret meeting at the Birsa Munda Central Jail were available. But it was widely being presumed that the team questioned Geelani on his alleged ISI links, ostensibly to review the possibility of taking a lenient view. US secretary of state Colin Powell, who held talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani over the weekend, had called for the release of all political prisoners, including those of the Hurriyat, to make the elections credible.

Asked if it would be easier to conduct polls if Kashmir was brought under Governor�s rule, Lyngdoh said: �It can be much easier. But only if the Governor is properly chosen. Otherwise, he can be much worse than an elected government.�

But chief minister Farooq Abdullah made it clear he was in no mood to step down. �The present government will be in place till the new Assembly is constituted,� Abdullah said. He is being backed by Advani, who believes the chief minister can be persuaded but not coerced.

There are many in the Prime Minister�s Office, though, who believe the stakes are too high to pander to Abdullah�s wishes. �The government can always find a way out. If persuasion fails, the state administration can still be dismissed for the greater good of Kashmir,� an official said.

Lyngdoh said the first dates for filing of nominations for the four phases are August 22, 31, September 6 and 13. The last dates are August 29, September 7, 13 and 20. For the first time, it will be the Election Commission, not political parties, which will distribute election slips to voters. Special security identity cards will be issued. �This will be a pre-formatted, pre-numbered photo-identity card on special security paper which will carry the voter�s photograph,� he said. Electronic voting machines will be used in all constituencies.

The commission, Lyngdoh added, has made special provisions for migrant Hindu Kashmiris living outside the state. �We need to promote confidence among the voters and we have taken precautions to see that the voter does not have to walk more than two kilometres,� he said. Nearly 56 lakh voters are expected to exercise their franchise.

Special polling stations have been set up in Delhi, Udhampur and Jammu for the migrants. �If any of these migrants is not in a position to come to the... polling stations, he can vote through postal ballot,� Lyngdoh added.

In the first phase, 26 constituencies from Kupwara, Baramullah, Leh, Kargil, Rajouri and Poonch districts will go to polls. In the second, voters in 28 constituencies of Srinagar, Badgam and Jammu will cast their ballot. In the third, elections will be held in 27 constituencies at Pulwama, Anantnag, Kathua and Udhampur, while Doda district will go to polls in the last leg.


Malda, Aug. 2: 
As waves of protests swept through this north Bengal town against the death of two accused, the stench of urine and human excreta hung heavy today in the stale air of the court lock-up hours after its floor was wiped clean � an overpowering testament to police brutality.

Malda superintendent of police Pankaj Dutta said several of the nearly 400 accused � herded like cattle in the small, windowless lock-up � had relieved themselves, unable to find a way out of the suffocating �gas chamber�. He said this was discovered during a spot inquiry he carried out today.

�Some of them also smoked bidis inside and this added to the stench and suffocation,� the officer said.

BJP and Trinamul Congress workers set up road blocks and staged protests across the sprawling town while lawyers observed a strike to protest the �inhuman treatment� of the accused, mostly arrested on charges of petty crimes.

Lawyers exploded in anger when police put some 47 accused in the same lock-up today. They turned off a humming generator in protest when there was a power cut and scuffled with the court staff, forcing the police to shift the accused elsewhere.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who discussed the incident with chief secretary Sourin Roy and home secretary Amit Kiran Deb in Calcutta, called the police �callous�. He looked angry as he came out of the meeting at Writers� Buildings.

�It�s unthinkable how so many people were stuffed inside such a small lock-up,� Bhattacharjee said, promising the guilty would be brought to justice.

Judicial affairs minister Nisith Adhikari, however, had no idea what had happened until noon. Later, he denied that all the accused had been put in the small lock-up, a denial even Malda police had not issued.

After post-mortem, the bodies of the dead accused were handed over to their families. The men, identified as Nimai Ghosh and Anish Das, were in their forties.

Police said they had been arrested on charges of drinking and gambling from Ratua and Harichandrapur during a district-wide round-up that lasted till yesterday morning.

Though police said the men, a labourer and a rickshawpuller, had been arrested on similar charges earlier too, Ghosh�s family disputed it.

�My brother has never been arrested before. He was watching some of his friends play a card game when police picked them up,�� Dilip, Nimai�s brother, said. He said the family was not going to take it lying down.

�We don�t have money. But we will go around our village collecting chanda and fight the police in court,� the brother said, tears welling up in his eyes.

Nimai had a five-year-old son waiting for him to return with a cola bottle he had promised to share with his father, Dilip said.

People thronged the court throughout the day to see the lock-up for themselves.


New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
Charges of a huge petrol pump allotment scam caught the BJP on the wrong foot in Parliament today, with the Opposition demanding petroleum minister Ram Naik�s resignation, a CBI inquiry and a freeze on the contentious allotments.

While the Rajya Sabha was adjourned amidst sloganeering from both the Opposition and the treasury benches, the Lok Sabha saw most Opposition parties, led by the Congress and the Left, walking out in protest against an �unsatisfactory� reply by the government.

Minister of state for petroleum Santosh Gangwar tried to argue, amid interruptions, that the process of selection of retailers was divorced from the government. But Opposition members were angry with his half-promise of an inquiry only if specific charges of corruption could be brought.

Gangwar also claimed that the A.B. Vajpayee government had stopped �blackmarketing� of cooking gas connections and streamlined the system, inviting flak from Opposition benches.

In the Rajya Sabha, minister of state for home I.D. Swamy tried to intervene on the issue but was shouted down by the Opposition. �Istifa do... Loot liya,� shouted Congress and Left MPs.

Later, BJP spokesperson Vijay Kumar Malhotra said party legislators, in fact, had been complaining at several internal meetings that oil companies were giving away dealerships to people affiliated with the Congress while their own �candidates� were not getting any.

Malhotra said he would soon compile a list of Congress politicians and their relatives who had been given petrol dealerships.

In Parliament, Opposition members had waved copies of a newspaper article giving details of BJP functionaries and their relatives who have been allotted petrol and cooking gas dealerships by state-run oil companies.

Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi led the charge in the Lok Sabha, demanding a thorough CBI probe and Ram Naik�s resignation. Pointedly, he said that the story had appeared in a newspaper where disinvestment minister Arun Shourie used to work earlier, even as he read out names from it.

Shourie and Naik have been sparring with each for quite some time with the disinvestment minister trying to bring oil sector PSUs to the auctioneer�s table and Naik trying to stall such moves. After similar sparring with the tourism ministry over sale of ITDC properties, Shourie had written about the �misdeeds� of ITDC on the front page of the newspaper in question.

Das Munshi also demanded that the property and assets of the chairman and members of the oil selection board be evaluated and made public. �If anyone is found guilty, the law of the land should apply equally to them,� he said.

The Congress parliamentary party�s political committee met later and decided to go ahead with its protest even if some Congressmen or relatives were found on the list of allottees.

The communists, who are sure none of their party functionaries has got any dealerships, demanded that all allotments be frozen till a �high-level CBI inquiry is completed�.

CPM leader Nilotpal Basu pointed out that the rules for grant of oil dealerships had been flouted and demanded action against the oil selection board.


Calcutta/New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
Cellphone users can beep with delight as AirTel and Hutch � two of the biggest cellular service providers in the country � get into a vicious cut-and-thrust battle to grab market share with a string of freebies and concessions.

AirTel is offering free incoming calls to both its pre-paid and post-paid customers across its 16 circles in the country even as Hutch today extended its cut-price roaming plan � Rs 1.49 per minute � to Calcutta.

The AirTel freebie package was launched in Calcutta first and will be extended to the rest of the country. The primary reason being the telecom regulator has to approve the package for each circle even if it is the same across the country. The clearance for the Calcutta package came through first with approvals for the other circles expected early next week.

The bruising battle between the two telecom giants began late last month when AirTel entered Mumbai as the fourth cellular operator and felt compelled to cobble an attractive package of concessions to grab customers.

Hutch immediately retaliated with a string of baits for customers in Delhi � AirTel�s bastion � ratcheting up the game of one-upmanship.

AirTel has loaded up its package with a confetti of benefits: all mobile-to-mobile incoming calls for subscribers in Calcutta will be free of charge when made from any subscriber within the six-circle Hutchison network, its main rival.

Command � the Hutch affiliate in Calcutta � is offering its post-paid subscribers the benefit of free incoming calls from any Hutchison network in the country. AirTel, which has a smaller customer base in Calcutta, has gone one better and has announced that its post-paid customers can receive free incoming calls made from any mobile in the country under the GSM network.

The offer of free incoming calls from any other AirTel circle will not attract any monthly rental. A monthly charge will, however, be applicable for free incoming calls from other GSM networks after the expiry of the introductory offer.

AirTel�s pre-paid Magic subscribers will receive incoming calls free only when they originate from any of the 15 AirTel networks in the country.

Bharti Mobitel�s chief executive officer Deepak Gulati said: �There are other initiatives on the cards for the pre-paid subscriber. While revenue per subscriber is higher in the post-paid segment, growth comes from the pre-paid subscriber.�

AirTel has also offered free airtime for outgoing calls on three international, three national and three local numbers at a monthly charge of Rs 150. It also offers free airtime on one international, one national and one local number at a cost of Rs 50 per month. This facility is being given free of cost to new subscribers for a month.

The third and most important benefit being offered by AirTel is the facility to carry the Calcutta tariff plans and roam free of charge within any AirTel network in the country. The standard STD charges would, however, continue to be applicable. The rate for SMS will be Re 1 for every message within the AirTel network and Rs 3 for other networks.

On the other hand, Command has slashed its roaming rates by 50 per cent. A flat rate of Rs 1.49 per minute on roaming will be applicable within the circles of its cellular affiliates � Hutchison, BPL, Aircell Digilink and Idea Cellular. Roaming on other networks other than those mentioned will continue to be charged at Rs 3 per minute for airtime and Rs 3 for every SMS sent.


New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
On the eve of the BJP national council, most members expect the addresses by the Big Two � Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani � would elucidate the power equations after Advani was redesignated as deputy Prime Minister.

At the moment, the BJP is at sixes and sevens trying to figure out the implications of the government-party shuffle and whether or not the exercise means Vajpayee is �fading out� as a section of the party allegedly close to Advani would have members believe.

Vajpayee�s conspicuous absence from parliamentary party meetings, his silence if he did attend one, and his infrequent appearances in the House were construed by some in the party as �willingness� to hand over the baton of office to Advani within the present Lok Sabha itself.

The impressions in the BJP are:

The Gujarat elections will be a test of who is more �powerful�. �If the BJP wins, it will be as much Advani�s victory as Narendra Modi�s because the state is his karmabhoomi (work place), like Uttar Pradesh is Vajpayee�s,� said sources. They added that a Gujarat victory would be contrasted with the Uttar Pradesh defeat to underline that while Vajpayee was unable to deliver Lucknow for the BJP, Advani won the battle in Gandhinagar.

�This doesn�t, of course, mean Vajpayee would have to recede but the suggestions will start,� the sources said.

Politically, it makes �sense� for Advani to �take over� at least a couple of years before the next Lok Sabha polls. A party functionary explained the �logic�: �We are almost sure Advani will lead the BJP in the next elections. The slogan �Ab ki baari, Atal Bihari� (this time round, it is Atal�s turn) has worn thin, it is not saleable. But to position Advani as the prospective Prime Minister, a stint in government would definitely help. It will help us test how acceptable he is among people.�

Though Advani was accepted by the BJP�s NDA partners when his name was proposed for deputy Prime Minister, the party is still unsure of how people perceive him � as a hardliner associated with the Ayodhya plank or a �moderate� capable of governing a pluralistic nation.

The opposite view is that a spell in power may help Advani shift the focus of governance from �consensus� to pushing through the BJP�s agenda to regain its traditional vote base, which many believe shifted after the party gave up Ayodhya, repeal of Article 370 and a common civil code. �He has the image of a tough, iron man and as the leader of the nation, he can build on it,� claimed sources.

The BJP feels that Advani has proved how �tough� he can be when he put down Mamata Banerjee�s demands on the rail carve-up issue. �It is a warning to the so-called secular allies that from now, the BJP will run the government on its terms and not theirs,� said sources.

They believe that for the first three years, Vajpayee�s �consensual� politics allowed smaller parties like the Indian National Lok Dal to call the shots, not to forget the larger ones like the Telugu Desam and the Samata Party.

�Gujarat was the watershed. All of them, including the Desam, eventually fell in line and all because Advani�s line prevailed. He was the one to consistently back Modi even as the Prime Minister wavered and in the end, the toughness succeeded,� sources said.

However, old-timers who have worked closely with Vajpayee and Advani had a different understanding of the power equation.

�Advani will never do anything without Vajpayee�s consent. The only time he did was when he announced Vajpayee�s name as the prime ministerial candidate in 1995, taking the entire party by surprise. If Vajpayee wants to continue as the Prime Minister, if he wants to contest the next election, Advani will not come in the way. And even if he does not fight an election and the BJP comes to power, Advani will not say a word if Vajpayee shows the slightest inclination to become the Prime Minister again,� said a veteran leader.


New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
The BJP national council will meet tomorrow for a day principally to ratify M. Venkaiah Naidu�s appointment as the party president. But while the last council, which took place on October 25 last year, was held against the backdrop of a party subservient to the NDA government headed by a �strong� Prime Minister, the circumstances are very much different now.

According to BJP sources, the most important change is the ascendance of L.K. Advani as deputy Prime Minister and his re-established grip over the party organisation via Naidu. It has sent the message that the two apparatuses � the government and the party � will be equally important in the political scheme.

Although confusion persists on whether Advani�s new designation means Vajpayee�s writ is not that absolute any longer, sources said the addresses the big two deliver tomorrow at Talkatora Stadium will help clarify matters.

The last council, which legitimised K. Jana Krishnamurthi�s appointment as the president, saw Vajpayee openly snubbing him for suggesting a day earlier that �unreliable� allies like Mamata Banerjee should not be allowed to leave and re-enter whenever they wished to. The rebuke was a signal that Krishnamurthi would have to weigh his words before speaking out.

This time, the BJP is embroiled in another round of tension with Mamata but Vajpayee has been forced to allow Advani to put her down against his instincts. Mamata�s rejection, said BJP sources, was meant as a �warning� to the other so-called secular allies to either accept the BJP on its terms or leave the NDA, and they believe they have partially succeeded.

�Mamata�s reluctance to immediately quit the NDA is a sign the allies can no longer call the shots,� the sources added.

However, for the first time, the BJP has invited the NDA constituents to the council and most of them have reportedly agreed to come � which is cited as evidence of the BJP�s theory that they have �fallen in line�. The allies may have been brought around, but BJP sources said there was unhappiness in the party at the manner in which Krishnamurthi was suddenly elbowed out and Naidu brought in.

�Bangaru Laxman�s ouster was inevitable and understandable after the Tehelka tapes. But what was Krishnamurthi�s fault? The perception was he was inefficient, but if efficiency or the lack of it is a criterion, it will be difficult for anyone to run a party given the electoral ups and downs,� said a party functionary.

Eyebrows were raised at the swiftness with which Naidu shuffled his team of office-bearers, eased out those believed to be Krishnamurthi�s �nominees�, allocated assignments and announced a new list of national executive members even before the council ratified his own appointment � a procedure laid down in the BJP constitution.

Apparently to pre-empt criticism, even the normal procedure before convening a council was reversed this time. A national council session is preceded by a meeting of the office-bearers and then the national executive. This time the national council will be held first, then the national executive will meet briefly and on Sunday the office-bearers will get together for a strategy session.

On the eve of the council, Naidu announced the appointment of conveners and joint conveners of the BJP�s various cells and morchas. But the names of those of the two most crucial cells � economic and foreign affairs � were not decided.

However, sources said the BJP general secretary and its chief spokesman Arun Jaitley may be put in charge of the foreign affairs cell since he is also involved with Kashmir.    

New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
In an attempt to smooth ruffled feathers in West Bengal because of the bifurcation of Eastern Railway, railway minister Nitish Kumar today announced that three circular railway projects have been put on fast-track: Prinsep Ghat to Majherhat, Dum Dum to the airport, and Ultadanga (Bidhannagar) to Rajarhat.

Nitish Kumar, who said he will soon visit the state to explain the reason for the bifurcation, also announced that he would speed up work on the extension of the Metro railway from Tollygunge to Garia. The rains and the fact that no work is done at night have bogged down progress on the Metro project.

This year�s allocation for the three projects will be Rs 100 crore, out of which Rs 21 crore has already been spent. The state, too, has given a part of its share of Rs 31 crore for the Rs 907 crore Metro project.

�I am determined to push through the pending projects in Bengal,� said Nitish Kumar. �The decisions taken at the review meeting on the extension of the Metro route and the circular railway route is just the beginning.�

Earlier in the day, Kumar flagged off a �Parcel express train� from New Delhi to Howrah, the fourth in the series of such trains introduced by the railways.

This weekly parcel train will halt at Kanpur Central, Allahabad, Mughalsarai, Gaya, Dhanbad and Asansol in both the directions to enable loading and unloading of parcels along the route.

The train will run with 12 special high-capacity parcel vans, each with 23-tonne capacity. While 10 parcel vans will be loaded from Delhi/New Delhi, two will be loaded from stations en route. The train will leave Delhi every Thursday and return to Delhi on Tuesday.

To provide better service and total security of consignments, a team of railway marketing, staff and railway protection force will escort the train throughout the journey. This team will ensure loading and unloading of consignments as per schedule to ensure safe, secure and speedy transit.

In Bengal, the railway minister is planning to rush things. For starters, the railways are buying up land for the new rail lines. Jessop has already been paid Rs 11 crore for acquisition of land for the Dum Dum to airport rail line while Calcutta Port Trust has been given Rs 30 crore out of the Rs 233 crore earmarked for acquisition of land.

Negotiations with the defence ministry, public works department and Airports Authority of India to acquire the rest of the land are in the final stages. Kumar said he hoped to complete the process of land acquisition within a month.

�The first location survey has been assigned for the Ultadanga (Bidhannagar) to Rajarhat stretch which forms part of the circular railway route. A sum of Rs 49.50 crore has been allocated. About Rs 30 crore has already been spent on development of the Prinsep Ghat-Majherhat route. Funds will not be a constraint for these projects,� said Kumar

He also ruled out any hike in Metro rail fares. �The fare structure for the Metro is very delicate. We are aware that if changes are made, the number of passengers will fall and we would not like that to happen. Currently, the Metro earns only Rs 40 crore and registers a loss of Rs 90 crore.�

Rate cuts ruled out

Kumar today categorically ruled out a round of fare cuts, capping fevered speculation that the railways would respond in like fashion to the airline discounts that came into effect from Thursday and now make it possible for passengers to fly at the cost of a upper class train fare till the end of October.


New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
The Supreme Court today reserved judgments in two cases: minority educational institutions and proposed changes in textbooks.

The 11-member Constitution bench of the Supreme Court � the largest ever in 30 years � reserved judgment after the conclusion of a marathon argument on whether the �absolute right� of management of minority institutions lies with their respective bodies.

The bench, presided over by Chief Justice of India B.N. Kirpal, has heard arguments for about three months on over 200 different petitions from almost every part of the country.

While the minority institutions argued that they had �absolute right� over the management, the Centre and several state governments countered it, holding that laws of the respective states and of the Centre should also apply to these institutions.

The arguments structured mainly around three vital issues: procedure of admission of students, appointment and salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff.

Solicitor general Harish Salve, who appeared for the Centre, said: �No right is absolute.� Attorney general Soli Sorabjee, on the other hand, contended that the minority institutions have �absolute right�.

The case witnessed a curious turn with VHP advocate Rama Jois arguing that the question of majority institutions should also be taken up and that they, too, have equal rights as minority institutions.

The apex court has fixed a list of 10 questions on which the verdict will be delivered. The list includes Jose�s point.

In another case, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court reserved judgment on a writ challenging the proposed changes in text books.

Justices M.B. Shah, D.M. Dharmadhikari and H.K. Sema reserved verdict on the PIL, which accused the NDA of saffronising education, after Salve concluded his arguments on behalf of the Union government.

Salve contended that the Centre has neither a �hidden agenda� nor any �ulterior motive� in changing the National Curriculum Framework for Secondary Education.

He said it had been done after the parliamentary standing committee suggested the introduction of �moral education�.

When petitioners contended that the changes were effected without consulting the Central Advisory Board on Education, Salve argued that it was not necessary to go to a non-statutory body like the board after the apex court had given its approval.

Dubbing the board as the pivotal body to forge a consensus on the national curriculum, petitioners� senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan contended that no change has ever been made in the curriculum without seeking the board�s opinion.

Salve countered this argument, saying the S.B. Chavan-headed parliamentary standing committee had prepared the recommendations which Parliament had approved.


New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
The ministry of defence is �structuring an agreement� with Britain to purchase advanced jet trainer aircraft.

Defence minister George Fernandes today told the Parliamentary Consultative Committee attached to his ministry that the price negotiation committee established to work out details of the purchase has submitted its report. It now awaits the final nod from the Union Cabinet. Sources in the ministry said a proposal was being prepared for the Cabinet.

According to reports, the government had projected a demand for 66 Hawk AJTs. Of these, 24 were to be procured in a �ready-to-fly� condition with the remaining to be either assembled or made in India under a licensed production agreement.

Stipulations in the final commercial contract will be known only after it has been inked. The price, for instance, would go up if India decides to buy more �ready-to-fly� aircraft. Earlier this year, one estimate put the value of the deal at $1.5 billion (about Rs 7,000 crore). For the government, this was on the higher side.

The defence minister informed the committee that negotiations on the acquisition of Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier were at an advanced stage. The ship would take three to four years to be fitted out once the contract is signed, he said. According to estimates, modernisation and overhauling of the ship could cost between $450 and $500 million.

Among those who attended the meeting were Jayshree Banerjee, Captain Inder Singh, Kunwar Akhilesh Singh and C. Krishnan from the Lok Sabha and T.N. Chaturvedi, Kripal Parmar, Swaraj Kaushal and Vijay Mallya from the Rajya Sabha.

Minister of state for defence Chaman Lal Gupta, defence secretary Subir Dutta, secretary (defence production and supplies) Ajit M. Nimbalkar and secretary (defence finance) Biswajit Banerjee were also present.




Maximum: 31.4�C (-1)
Minimum: 26.2�C (0)


1.7 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 94%,
Minimum: 83%


Sunrise: 5.11 am
Sunset: 6.15 pm

One or two spells of rain or thundershowers


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