Kutch blow to Kargil goodwill
Army shy of insurgency battle
BJP pays for alliances with seats
Court curb on school fee hike
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 12: 
The downing of the Pakistani aircraft over the Rann of Kutch has dealt a diplomatic blow to India with the major powers blaming both countries for the escalating tension.

The US, in fact, went a step further, saying India?s responsibility for the incident was greater than Pakistan?s and described the border area where the incident took place as ?highly disputed??.

?With respect to the location of the plane when it was shot down, we cannot independently confirm where the aircraft was fired at. The border is highly disputed in the area,?? a PTI report quoted US state department spokesman James Rubin as saying.

The war of words between the neighbours continued with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif describing the attack as a ??cowardly act?? by India and made it clear it will worsen the already bitter relations.

Delhi retorted that while it wanted dialogue, Islamabad must end ??provocative actions such as intruding into airspace?? if it was interested in normalising ties.

But India appeared to have fallen behind in the propaganda war. Eager to seize the initiative it lost in Kargil, Islamabad put out stories and pictures of the funeral of the 16 crewmen aboard the downed Atlantique. It also took a team of ambassadors to the crash site to show that the plane was shot down inside its airspace.

In contrast, Delhi was at a loss to explain how the bodies reached Pakistan as it had maintained that the aircraft had not only been shot within Indian airspace, but also crashed on its territory. ??We are not aware of any funeral in Pakistan,?? foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said.

Pakistan went into a diplomatic overdrive, with its high commission here sending statements to newspaper offices, detailing airspace and agreement violations by India. According to it, India had intruded into Pakistani airspace 94 times since January and violated the 1991 agreement 227 times by flying combat aircraft within 10 km of the border.

Delhi scrambled to explain to the world that it had pursued the same policy of ??reasonableness?? it had adopted during the Kargil flare-up. In both cases, Jassal claimed, India took military action when Pakistan decided to ignore its warnings. Despite the brave face, India looks to have lost some of its moral high ground of restraint and maturity, gained during the Kargil conflict.

Signalling that the US is not willing to buy Delhi?s argument that the Atlantique had intruded ??deep inside?? Indian airspace, Rubin said: ??We are deeply concerned that India and Pakistan are firing at each other?s aircraft along the boundary.?? Asked whether both sides had violated the 1991 agreement, he replied: ??I think that is as obvious as two plus two equal four.??

Worried about being bracketed with Pakistan for heightening tension, India scurried to mount damage-control steps. Foreign secretary K. Raghunath swung into action today, briefing European Union ambassadors on the air clash over the Rann of Kutch.

The US appears to be sceptical of India?s claim that its MiGs flashed enough warning signals to the Atlantique. Rubin said according to the 1991 pact, ??if violation occurs, it has to be promptly investigated by the headquarters of the other air force?.    

New Delhi, Aug. 12: 
The army top brass is unwilling to redeploy its units in force for counter-insurgency operations in the aftermath of the Kargil conflict.

A worried home ministry is now urging defence authorities to coax the generals to be more cooperative, with elections due in three weeks and militancy on an upswing in Jammu and Kashmir and Assam.

But the army continues to be reluctant to return to what is essentially a policing responsibility. Flush with success in Operation Vijay, the army is using its exalted status to strengthen an argument that it has cited in the past: that its foremost duty is to guard the frontiers.

The generals argue that they will be left with fewer units because the nature of the conflict in Kargil has forced them to increase their deployment in the difficult heights that will have to manned through the year. The shooting down of the Pakistani aircraft over the Rann of Kutch has strengthened their argument.

But home ministry officials insist there is no way the army can wriggle out of counter-insurgency operations. One officer said the army is ?playing hard to get?. He argued that at least some of the recent attacks on Rashtriya Rifles personnel in Jammu and Kashmir might have been prevented if forces were not withdrawn from Doda, Rajouri, Poonch, Kupwara and Udhampur.

?The militants had a free run and could cross over from Pakistan only after the army vacated some of the posts along the LoC to send reinforcements to Kargil,? home ministry sources said.

The ministry is trying to convince defence authorities that the presence of army units would instil a sense of security among the people, especially those who reside close to the LoC in Jammu.

Soon after the third successive attack on Rashtriya Rifles personnel in Kupwara last week, army chief Gen. V.P. Malik met home minister L.K. Advani. Advani is believed to have asked Gen. Malik whether the army could spare some units for counter-insurgency since the shortfall in the number of security personnel ? around 70 battalions ? could not be made up by the Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force and Special Security Bureau.

Defence and home ministry officials expect that the army will soften its stand. They are hopeful that negotiations between army headquarters and North Block will prove fruitful and some army units will be mobilised for counter-terrorism duties before the polls kick off on September 5. ?As a last resort, there is South Block,? an official said, implying that even the PMO may be asked to pressure the army.    

New Delhi, Aug. 12: 
Despite its oft-played refrain of being the ?only national alternative? to the Congress and its rhetoric of being the only ?stable? pole in politics, the BJP will probably contest fewer seats this year than it did in 1998. Sources fear the party risks a loss in total vote percentage.

While the BJP fought 377 seats in the last elections, this time it might have to restrict its fight to 340-350 seats. The reason: its allies have managed to extract a better deal from ?Big Brother?.

In striking the deal with the Telugu Desam, the BJP has had to rest content with only eight of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra. In 1998, the BJP fought 38 seats.

In Haryana, it is contesting five seats as against six in 1998. The position is unchanged in Maharashtra and Punjab.

A question mark hangs over Karnataka and Bihar where sharp divisions have surfaced within the BJP on whether to accommodate the Janata Dal (United) in the National Democratic Alliance.

The only state where the BJP has managed more seats is Tamil Nadu, courtesy the DMK. Even that is a meagre improvement from five in 1998 to six this time.

In Andhra, Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu finally had his way after weeks of wrangling with the state BJP. Sources said Naidu clinched the deal directly with A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani even as the Andhra unit was camping in Delhi to advise the ?high command? against any alliance with the Desam. BJP general secretary in charge of Andhra Venkaiah Naidu, who seemed to share the sentiments of the state unit, came into the picture later.

BJP sources conceded that Naidu may not give much leeway in the matter of choice of seats. He has set up a committee with revenue minister T. Devender Goud, former Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu, and general secretary C. Ramachandriah to choose the seats not only for his party but the BJP as well.

Likewise, the deal with the Indian National Lok Dal, sources said, was cemented directly between O.P. Chautala and Vajpayee. BJP officials in Delhi were chafing at the manner in which the deals were struck, often unilaterally by Vajpayee. State units, who felt ?left out?, are reported to have reacted vehemently when they got news of the tie-ups being clinched by central leaders.

?The central election committee?s importance has been diminished. What is the use of pretending to hold the long-drawn meetings day after day, when the deals are being finalised somewhere else?? asked a BJP functionary.

Other sources had a different explanation on why the regional satraps chose to confer directly with Vajpayee and Advani. ?Take the case of Chandrababu Naidu. He was the United Front convener and a seasoned practitioner of coalition politics. He probably thinks it is infra dig to talk to the Andhra leaders,? said sources.

The other reason is the acknowledgement in BJP circles that the Desam and the Samata Party stood Vajpayee in good stead through every crisis.    

Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
The Calcutta High Court today set a precedent with its judgment against a private school, ruling that the institution cannot raise fees arbitrarily as that amounts to fleecing students and treating education like any other trade.

Lawyers at the Calcutta High Court said the ruling will be cited as a precedent if parents file petitions against private schools for raising fees.

There are about 500 private schools in the state, some of which are government-aided. Guardians, who often complain that schools raise fees arbitrarily, have now been handed a weapon.

Julien Day School in Kalyani, Nadia, raised its monthly fees from Rs 135 to Rs 250, security money from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000, admission fees from Rs 200 to Rs 600 and development fees from Rs 200 to Rs 800 in March last year.

After parents? pleas went in vain, Arun Kumar Majumdar, on behalf of the Parents and Guardians Association, filed a writ petition before Justice Barin Kumar Ghosh in April 1998.

Mujib-ur-Rehman and Sandip Bhattacharjee appeared on behalf of the parents and told the court that there were 1,600 students in the school. ?The school demands a security fee of Rs 5,000 from each, but when they return the sum after 14 years, it will be without interest,?? they said.

?The student community is being fleeced and education, which should be treated with respect, has been made a business. This trend shows that society is eroding,?? the counsel said.

Justice Ghosh ruled that development fees will be scrapped, admission fees remain at Rs 200 and security money stand at Rs 500. He said the sum would have to be returned with interest after 14 years and a separate bank account will have to be opened for the purpose. The judge said the money the school had collected as security ? in excess of Rs 500 ? would have to be returned to guardians within 15 days.

The court told the government to pass a directive, asking Julien Day to slash monthly fees. ?If the school does not listen, the government should recommend de-affiliation to the council, which is bound to oblige,?? he said.

The judge also directed the state government to audit the accounts of Julien Day every year to ensure that the school is not making profits at the cost of students. He ruled that fees collected from students cannot be used to meet capital expenditure.

Moreover, the state administration must also see that fees collected by the school are not transferred to any other school or trust which has been established by the institution. Justice Ghosh stressed that government officials must ensure that the school provides the required facilities while charging fees.    

Today?s forecast: One or two showers or thundershowers

Temperature: Maximum 33.6?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 27.5?C (1?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 95%
Minimum 64%

Rainfall: 13.3 mm

Sunset: 6.09 pm
Sunrise: 5.15 am

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