Golden date for statute review
Sonia shows coterie the door
Demolition day charge puts Advani in dock
Judges one up in ethics
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 6 
Grabbing a golden opportunity to reopen the debate on ?upgrading? the Constitution to suit the times, the BJP-led government plans to call a special four-day session of Parliament to mark the 50th anniversary of the Indian Republic.

The session, which will introspect on the ?failures and successes? of the Constitution, will be addressed by President K.R. Narayanan, Vice-President Krishan Kant and other political leaders.

The proposal will be placed before the Cabinet after Parliament?s winter session ends later this month. The United Front government had held a similar session to commemorate 50 years of Independence.

If the proposal comes through, the government will have an official forum to argue its case for changing the Constitution. The common agenda of the National Democratic Alliance is committed to modifying the Constitution, and BJP leaders have time and again stressed on the need to redraft it in the current context.

The BJP ?- particularly home minister L.K. Advani ?- has even suggested replacing the parliamentary system of government with a presidential one. It has also thrown open for debate the proposal for a fixed five-year term for a ruling party.

The BJP has mooted these changes on grounds that there is need for greater stability in a scenario where several regional parties have sprouted and no single party is in a position to get majority. It is backed by its coalition partners on both scores.

However, to pre-empt charges of any vested interest in changing the Constitution, the government had pledged to convene a committee of ?eminent personalities from all walks of life? to review the statute in the light of the experience of the past 50 years.

If such a commission is formed, it will have to address the knotty issue of whether persons of foreign origin should be banned from holding high office in the country. Such a legislation figured high on the BJP?s wishlist after Sonia Gandhi entered the political spectrum. 

Other issues with potential for dissent include the uniform civil code and Article 370, where the BJP stands alone. For years, it has been arguing for scrapping Muslim personal law and replacing it with a uniform civil code, much to the chagrin of the Muslim Personal Law Board.

But the Opposition has vehemently resisted these proposals, saying that they strike at the essence of the Constitution. A two-thirds majority is required to pass any Bill in Parliament, and there is no way the government can manage this without Opposition support. The most that it can do is use the special House session to stoke the controversial issues on constitutional review.

Recently, Narayanan had cautioned against any review of the Constitution that would erode its basic concepts. At a function to mark the 115th birth anniversary of Rajendra Prasad, the President had said the Constitution should ensure freedom of action, thought, belief and worship. 

New Delhi, Dec. 6 
The coterie is out and democratic decision-making is in. At least that?s the message Sonia Gandhi is trying to get across to the party.

Responding to criticism of the coterie and the A.K. Antony committee?s observations, Sonia has dropped close aides Arjun Singh, Natwar Singh, M.L. Fotedar, Shiv Shanker, P.J. Kurien and Prithviraj Chavan from the parliamentary affairs committee and packed it with 33 MPs. 

The 33-member parliamentary affairs committee includes Jitendra Prasada, Ahmad Patel, Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Narain Dutt Tiwari, Rajesh Pilot, Janardhan Reddy, Kamal Nath, Madhavrao Scindia, M.O.H. Farooq, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Jaffer Sharief, Shivraj Patil and P.R. Dasmunshi.

During the last Lok Sabha, the Congress parliamentary affairs committee had consisted of many ?non-members? like Arjun Singh and Fotedar. This had not gone down well with party MPs, who forced her to drop them this time.

Sonia has, however, drafted ?non-members? like Shiv Shanker, Kurien, Chavan, Natwar Singh, Anand Sharma, Gurudas Kamat and Motilal Vora in a ?research and resource? group, which will provide ?talking points? to the Leader of Opposition and party MPs to raise in Parliament.

Sonia has convened a meeting of the Congress Working Committee on Saturday to discuss the Antony panel report. However, the entire report, running into 200-odd pages, will not be circulated since it has been extremely critical of some members of the CWC. 

Once the apex body accepts the Antony panel recommendations and authorises Sonia to take ?follow-up? action, she plans to revamp the CWC, the AICC secretariat and party units in Bihar, Haryana, Orissa, Delhi, Manipur and Madhya Pradesh. 

New Delhi, Dec. 6 
The Opposition today gunned for home minister L.K. Advani and two of his Cabinet colleagues named in the Babri Masjid demolition chargesheet, asking them to stay out of the government until the case was disposed of. 

The bedlam forced Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi to adjourn the Lok Sabha thrice without transacting any business. 

A united Opposition questioned Advani?s right to make a statement on the issue, saying the home minister was among those charged for bringing down the mosque seven years ago. The Opposition wanted to know why Advani, M.M. Joshi and Uma Bharti have been allowed to continue in the government though they figure in the Ayodhya chargesheet. 

Pressing for the ministers? resignations, Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi reminded Advani that he had vowed not to enter Parliament until proved innocent in the hawala case. The home minister should make a similar pledge, Das Munshi added. 

Muslim League MP G.M. Banatwala launched the Opposition onslaught by asking the government if it was the custodian of the disputed site and whether it had approached the courts to ensure speedy trial of the cases.

The Congress? Santosh Mohan Dev, in his supplementary question, wanted to know if the home minister was among those charged and, if so, why had he taken oath as a Cabinet member. But the Speaker disallowed Dev?s supplementary, sparking vociferous protests from the Opposition.

Advani, who had to make a considerable effort to make himself heard amid the din, refused to answer the charges, but said the status quo ordered by the Supreme Court was being maintained. He added that the Centre had no locus standi in the cases relating to the original title of the disputed land but would examine whether it can approach the court for quick trial.

Advani?s reply added fuel to the fire. While the Congress and the IUML were on their feet shouting slogans, Samajwadi Party and RJD MPs stormed the Well twice, at noon and again after lunch. The Speaker was forced to adjourn the House when his repeated pleas fell on deaf ears.

When the House reassembled at 4 pm, the Samajwadi and RJD members refused to budge, forcing another adjournment. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was seen marshalling her forces but cautioned them against surrounding the Well. Though Sonia did not make any statement in Parliament, she told a television programme tonight that since Advani was an accused in the Babri case, ??what could be more unethical and unjust?? than such a person replying to questions on the issue in Parliament. 

New Delhi, Dec. 6 
The judiciary has leapfrogged over the government with a voluntary reforms initiative, stipulating that judges must declare all assets ? including property and investments ? owned by them, their spouses and dependants.

The move, aimed at making the judiciary more accountable, puts into practice what the government had promised to do after it establishes a judicial commission. The decision was taken at a conference of chief justices, who also adopted a resolution drawing up a ??code of conduct?? for judges. 

Chief Justice A.S. Anand, who chaired the meet, dubbed the ethics code ??restatement of values of judicial life??, saying: ??In a democracy where the sovereignty vests in the people, every holder of a public office must be accountable to the people.??

At the golden jubilee celebrations of the Supreme Court last month, the Prime Minister had described the state of affairs in criminal law as ??shocking?? and said that the government was considering a total revamp of the judiciary. Returning the fire, Anand blamed the Centre for the huge pile-up of cases, saying it had not appointed the required number of judges. 

The Chief Justice again raised the issue at the conference and blamed the Centre and the state governments for not doing enough to fill up about 1,000 vacancies in lower courts and 154 empty posts in the high courts. ??As we enter the 21st century, the first thing we in the judiciary shall have to start is to reduce the huge pendency of cases and check factors responsible for the backlog,?? he said. ??Justice delayed is justice denied.?? 

The chief justices will respond within eight weeks to the report of a committee set up by Anand to draft the ??in-house procedure?? for cracking down on erring judges. The move is part of the judiciary?s efforts to govern its own affairs without interference from the executive or the government of the day.

??The need for an in-house procedure for the higher judiciary cannot be doubted at the present juncture as judicial accountability is a facet of the independence of the judiciary,?? Anand said.

According to the code of conduct, lawyer-children of judges cannot work out of their father?s official residence. Sons or daughters of judges, even chief justices, have often used their parent?s official residence as their office.

The code forbids a judge from participating in public debates on politics. 

??A judge shall not enter into a public debate or express his views in public on political matters or on matters that are pending or likely to arise for judicial determination,?? the code of conduct says. It also bars a judge from speaking to the media.

Anand said court time was sacrosanct and no judge or members of the bar had the right to waste it. ??The judges must always respect the court time and remain punctual, no laxity is permissible,?? he said. 

He said the delay in delivering judgments causes anguish to the litigant and could become a cause for ??suspicion??. ??The inordinate delay in delivery of judgments is inexcusable,?? the chief justice added.

Anand made it clear that the judiciary did not intend to clash with the government on the issue. The chief justice said he would apprise the Centre of the decisions taken at the meeting and would send copies of the chief justices? comments on the in-house procedure. 

Temperature: Maximum: 28.9°C (+1) Minimum: 17.4°C (+2) 
Rainfall: Nil
Relative humidity: Maximum: 88%, Minimum: 45%
Today: Partly cloudy day. Mainly clear night. Slight fall in night temperature.
Sunset: 4.48 pm Sunrise: 6.08 am 

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