Rabri rage after Governor?s age axe
Atal alerts world about Bhutto noose on Sharif
Deal for millennium sales tax truce
After countless deaths, a birth
Raped woman in DNA trial crusade
Calcutta weather

Patna, Nov. 16 
Bihar Governor Suraj Bhan today waded into a constitutional face-off with chief minister Rabri Devi by unilaterally sacking an ??under-age?? minister without consulting the government.

Bhan directed the chief minister to register ??a case of fraud, forgery and misrepresentation?? against minister for weights and measures Rakesh Chowdhary, son of Shakuni Chowdhary, the dissident Samata Party leader who crossed over to the RJD on election-eve. Bhan also told the government to recover the salaries and allowances paid to the minister since he was appointed in May.

Stung by the Governor?s action, which Bhan says he took by ??exercising his discretionary powers??, Rabri Devi has refused to remove Chowdhary, saying she will decide only after going through the papers.

Chowdhary, however, has to give up his post on November 19 as he would have completed six months as minister without being a member of either House.

The decision came on a day when Chowdhary was readying to celebrate his ??31st?? birthday. ??I don?t care what they are making about my age. I will light 31 candles to celebrate my birthday,?? the minister told The Telegraph.

Bhan scoffed at the claim. ??If his elder brother, who is studying at the Birla Institute of Technology, is 22, Rakesh Chowdhary should be younger than that,?? he said.

The Governor, however, said ??it is sad Chowdhary ceases to be a minister the day he is to celebrate his birthday...I have received an invitation from his father??.

Rabri Devi said she had received the Governor?s letter and other documents, but charged Bhan with keeping her in the dark on the issue. The chief minister consulted advocate-general S.A. Narayan who is believed to have told her that the Governor did not have any discretionary power to sack a minister.

Other legal luminaries agreed. S.P. Mukherjee, president of the High Court?s Advocate Association, said: ??It is his office that administered the oath to the minister. How can he remove a minister on his own? He should have advised the complainant to go to court.??

But legal experts consulted by Bhan told him to act against Chowdhary as ??the Governor is the sole authority who can appoint or remove a minister??.

The complaint against Chowdhary was filed by the Samata Party, following which Bhan?s predecessor B.M. Lal had ordered a probe and asked chief electoral officer A.K. Basu to submit a report. But the report was delayed.

After Bhan, who is Uttar Pradesh Governor, assumed additional charge of the state on Lal?s retirement, he took up the case and told Basu to table the report by November 5. In his report, Basu said the minister was not cooperating, but circumstantial evidence suggested that Chowdhary was less than 25.

The minister?s claim that he is 31 is contradicted by the voters? list which says he is 24. Though Chowdhary?s age according to his school leaving certificate is what he says he is, his horoscope reduces that by five years. But what prompted Bhan to act was a statement made by Chowdhary in a Munger court in 1995. Chowdhary, who had applied for bail in a murder case, had then said he was 16. By that account, he ought to be 21, said an officer at Basu?s office.

RJD chief Laloo Yadav defended Chowdhary, saying the Governor?s House does not have the powers of the Supreme Court or the high court. ??Suraj Bhan is my old friend. But he was under tremendous pressure from the Samata-BJP-RSS combine to take revenge against Shakuni Chowdhary and his son,?? Laloo said.

As the government enters into another battle with Governor?s House, officials were left wondering about Chowdhary?s status. ??It is a difficult question to answer,?? conceded RJD spokesman Shivanand Tiwari. With Rabri Devi refusing to remove him, official cars and escort vehicles continued to stand guard outside his house.    

New Delhi, Nov. 16 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee fears that deposed Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif, under trial for treason and kidnapping, may be hanged by the military regime if the global powers do not intervene immediately.

Vajpayee also ridiculed the US for taking a soft line on Pakistan?s military ruler Parvez Musharraf, saying that for Washington, ??other considerations?? were perhaps more important than a return of democracy.

His comments indicate that though India is keen on stepping up pressure on Pakistan and isolate it internationally, it realises that no move will be effective unless backed by the US. The Clinton administration has so far maintained that while ??it will not be business as usual?? with Pakistan, the US will not pursue a policy which will isolate Islamabad.

Vajpayee, who was speaking on board the special aircraft on his way back from the Commonwealth summit in Durban, said: ??I told the other leaders that if there is no timely international intervention, then Nawaz Sharif might end up the way Zulfikar Ali Bhutto went.??

A PTI report from Islamabad said Sharif has been named main accused in the ??criminal conspiracy?? to kill Musharraf by diverting a PIA plane carrying the army chief and 200 passengers to a foreign country with less than 10 minutes of fuel left.

The Commonwealth has taken a strong stand on the army takeover in Islamabad, saying that it still accepts Sharif as Prime Minister. Pakistan has been suspended from its councils and the organisation has demanded Sharif?s immediate release.

Vajpayee said the Commonwealth heads of government had also decided that if Musharraf did not make efforts to restore civilian rule within the next few months, Pakistan will be suspended from the organisation. Further deterioration of the situation could lead to Islamabad?s expulsion.

Asked to comment on the US? soft-line approach towards the army regime, Vajpayee said: ??It is difficult for me to say. May be they have some other considerations and restoration of democracy is not important for them.??

The remark is important as it is the first direct statement made by Delhi against Washington?s ??constructive engagement policy?? with Pakistan to rein in the army rulers. Vajpayee may have been referring to the attempt by a section in the US establishment to seek Musharraf?s help in convincing the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, wanted by Washington for allegedly plotting last year?s bombings in its embassies in Africa.

In an effort to win over the global powers, Musharraf has proposed a referendum to prove that he enjoys popular support. But Vajpayee said a referendum held under military rule had little credibility.    

New Delhi, Nov. 16 
States have reached a consensus to end rate wars and adopt four slabs of sales tax across the country from the beginning of next year.

A meeting of chief ministers here also decided that all states will introduce a value-added tax regime by April 2001. This means that states will not impose taxes on the prices of goods, but on the value added to raw materials.

The meeting decided to phase out sales tax-based incentives given to various industries as well as end changes in definition of backward districts which were being made by various states to lure industrial units.

?Our decision is the meeting?s gift for the new millennium. We agreed that there should be uniform floor rates for sales tax. No one will cut sales tax to levels lower than those set by all of us to attract traders or industrial houses to set up shop in their states,? minister of state for finance V. Dhananjay Kumar told reporters after the meeting.

Welcoming the move, West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta said: ?This is a major decision. Our recommendations that any losses borne by the state on this account has also been accepted by the Centre.?

Kumar, however, clarified that states would raise taxes wherever they are below the floor rates. ?So the question of losses is really notional,? he pointed out.

The four minimum tax slabs will be zero per cent for essential commodities, such as fresh and processed foods; 4 per cent for semi-essential commodities, like edible oils, kerosene and fertilisers; 8 per cent for normal goods such as tyres, suitcases, computers and confectioneries; and 12 per cent for items such as diesel, lifts, televisions, washing machines and soft drinks.

Two special slabs of one and 20 per cent were also set. A minimum of 20 per cent tax has been set for items, like liquor, petro-goods and narcotics, whose excessive consumption the states would like to curb. Bullion, jewellery, silver and precious stones will attract a minimum tax of one per cent.

A standing committee of state finance ministers will be constituted to monitor the implementation of these decisions. Another meeting of chief ministers will be held to discuss these and other state finance issues in January next year.

Central sales tax, too, will be rationalised and the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy has been asked to study how this should be done.

Rationalisation of Central and state sales tax will include service tax and consignment tax. A final decision on these issues will be taken after the recommendations of the standing committee are made available, Kumar said.

Inaugurating the conference, finance minister Yashwant Sinha assured that legislation to allow 29 per cent devolution to states from the Central pool of revenue as recommended by the 10th Finance Commission will be introduced in the winter session of Parliament.    

Paradip, Nov. 16 
She lay swaddled in a torn sari on the cold, hard floor, possibly the first baby to be born in the port town since it was ravaged by the cyclone in which hundreds died.

The frail newborn shivered as gusts of wind from the sea blew in through the window of a half-finished staff quarters of the port trust, sheltering displaced families of a nearby leper colony.

??I have no blanket to wrap her in and keep her warm,?? said Kanak Rana, the baby?s 30-year-old mother. ??There is also no plastic sheet to cover the window.??

A swarm of flies buzzed over the newborn and a few descended on her face. She wiggled and let out a faint cry. The mother, crouching by her daughter in petticoat and blouse, swatted away the flies and hugged the child. The wailing stopped. ??This place is full of flies and mosquitoes,?? said Kanak. ??I am tired of swatting them off her.??

Mother of two more children, Kanak lost her husband to the cyclone on October 29. As the storm struck their Rogi Para colony close to the sea, 38-year-old Prafulla Rana, a leper, carted his pregnant wife and two sons, aged six and two, to the port trust building in his rickshaw with a few pots and pans. He then went back for other belongings, never to return.

Prafulla?s body was found with the wrecked rickshaw three days later in the swampy fields 5 km from the devastated leper colony.

The birth of the child amid the death and devastation heralds a new beginning for the ghost town. But Kanak is distraught. ??My husband and home are gone and I am now saddled with three children,?? she wept. ??I don?t know what I am going to do with them.??

Living on a diet of watery rice for over two weeks, the mother was too weak to breast-feed her newborn. ??I have no money to buy baby food,?? she said. Nor does she have ??a drop of clean water?? to give her.

With three fingers of her right hand missing, Rukmani Jena, a leprosy-stricken woman, played midwife as Kanak lay writhing in labour on the floor this morning. ??I virtually dragged the baby out with my hands,?? Rukmani said.

Kanak had little time for her two sons who were left to fend for themselves all day. Two-year-old Pabitra, sitting on his haunches without a stitch on, shovelled into his mouth a handful of dirty, boiled rice that had spilled from an upturned pan.

Kanak had no idea where her eldest son, six-year-old Bikram, was.

Daitari Swain, an elderly man with missing toes, said all 60 families staying in the port trust quarters were concerned about the newborn.

??The baby is too quiet and we do not know whether she will survive the ordeal,?? he said.

Banamali Nayak, another leper, said they were happy that ??god has sent a new life to earth after taking so many??.

??But we have no idea how to feed the mother and baby when we have hardly anything to eat,?? he added.

Like government officials, aid workers were nowhere in sight, though the banners of various non-governmental organisations fluttered across the town.

Gagan Behari Sahoo, a local journalist, said he was ashamed that the mother did not have clean water to give to the infant.

?Just a week ago, I got bottles of mineral water to bathe my grandchild because my daughter, a computer engineer, felt the water in Paradip was not safe,?? Sahoo said.

He said the leper families would have to leave soon because the property belonged to the port authorities. ??But they have no home to go back to,?? he said.    

Lucknow, Nov. 16 
Fighting a lone battle, a Dalit woman has decided to carry out a DNA test on her two-month-old boy to prove that the child?s father is a man from her village who had allegedly raped her.

Savitri Pasi, of Manjhanpur village in Kausambhi district near Allahabad, had not only refused to get the child aborted after she was reportedly raped on February 13, but decided to wait until the baby was born so that she could have a genetic test done.

Though the district police have agreed to her demand, the chief medical officer of Allahabad has said the child is not fit for the test yet and Savitri will have to wait two more months.

Savitri, an uneducated woman, knew nothing of such tests. A local school teacher ??advised?? her to go for it.

She had initially kept the incident under wraps but had to disclose it after her marriage on May 28. On her wedding night, she told her husband, one Bhaiyya Lal of Tikri Bharvari village, that she was pregnant.

The next morning, Savitri was greeted with a volley of questions from her enraged in-laws. Not satisfied by her replies, they drove her out and sent her back to her parents.

Savitri?s father, Amarnath Pasi, then filed an FIR at the Manjhanpur police station, accusing their neighbour Shivbalak of raping and torturing her. A case under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (prevention of) Atrocities Act was registered.

She also filed a complaint with the police that Shivbalak?s family had threatened her and said they would kill the child.

Undeterred by the threats and the intense pressure from her family to get the child aborted, Savitri gave birth to a premature baby on September 25.

During her pregnancy and even after the child was born, her husband refused to speak to her, describing her as a woman of ??loose character??.

But it is not just the families that Savitri is fighting. Even the administration is sceptical of her story. Though a formal inquiry is being conducted by the circle officer of the Civil Lines police station, Kausambhi police superintendent Alok Singh, while agreeing to her demand for a DNA test, says Savitri?s story is full of loopholes.

The police have refused to arrest Shivbalak or record his statement. ??We cannot arrest him till it is proved beyond doubt that Shivbalak is the rapist,?? Singh told The Telegraph.

He expressed ??surprise?? that ??the baby was born in seven-and-a-half months and there were no complications??. The officer also said the FIR was lodged by the girl?s parents a day before Shivbalak was scheduled to appear for his BA exams.

??We know that the two families aren?t exactly on good terms. The woman also does not have impeccable credentials,?? Singh added.    

Temperature: Maximum: 29.9?C (normal) Minimum: 18.6?C (normal) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum:52% Today: The met office says the sky will stay partly cloudy. A slight rise in night temperature expected. Sunset: 4.48 pm Sunrise: 5.55 am    

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