Allies dump Atal on Ayodhya
Values first, letters later
Child sucked into killer escalator
Hum do hamare do, not for our MPs
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 13 
Piqued by Uttar Pradesh chief minister R.P. Gupta?s statement that the Ram Mandir is still a part of the BJP?s agenda, the government?s partners today put Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in the dock, asking him to clarify the party?s stand. 

Much to the delight of the Opposition, the Telugu Desam and the Trinamul Congress led the charge and demanded an explanation from Vajpayee. The Prime Minister obliged after a 45-minute slanging match. 

??We have no hidden agenda and the three controversial issues are out of the NDA agenda on which we came to power. Nobody should have any doubt or confusion about it,?? Vajpayee said. 

Making light of the issue, he asked the Opposition ? and his allies ? not to believe newspapers. ?It is amazing that you don?t trust what we are saying,? he said. ?You are perturbed because nothing happened on December 6 at Ayodhya. Some people talk here and there which is not correct. They should not talk like this.?? 

Infuriated, Opposition members were on their feet when Vajpayee said they should not take the reports seriously. Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi asked Vajpayee whether the Ayodhya temple was part of the ?BJP?s agenda?. With the Prime Minister refusing to bite the bait, the Opposition walked out en masse. 

The issue was raised by the Congress? Rajesh Pilot who said BJP minister Uma Bharti, in a TV interview, had raised doubts about the temple agenda as she hinted that the three controversial issues ? Ayodhya Ram mandir, uniform civil code and scrapping of special status to Jammu and Kashmir ? were alive.

Taking the cue, Desam leader Yerran Naidu said Gupta?s statement had caused confusion among the people as the three issues were kept out of the presidential address also. The Prime Minister should clarify whether the BJP endorsed Gupta?s remark, he said.

Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee left the House after nudging Sudip Bandopadhaya to oppose the BJP?s agenda.

?We categorically oppose such confusing statements. We are part of the NDA on the basis of an assurance by the BJP that these issues would be kept out and the Prime Minister must clarify,? Bandopadhaya said. ?He should ensure that such statements are not made.?

The Janata Dal(United), too, joined in with D.P. Yadav saying ??our support will continue till such issues are not raised??.

The Loktantrik Congress, an ally of the Gupta government in Uttar Pradesh, also hit out at the BJP with party chief Naresh Aggarwal saying the chief minister should keep in mind he is running a coalition. 

New Delhi, Dec. 13 
On a day Young India began the march to the millennium to the tune of Vande mataram, a home truth struck a jarring note: as many as 120 million children in the country will wake up in the new dawn not knowing how to read or write.

The disclosure of the shocking statistics in a Unicef report coincided with the launch of a children?s chorus of nationalist songs at the house of human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi. The ?Let-us-sing-together? campaign is part of a project to impart value education.

But the Unicef report was a stark reminder that basic education, let alone that of values, was bypassing a huge number of children in the country. 

The report states that of the 360 million children going illiterate into the new millennium, one third are in India. ?India has made significant achievements but there are problems at the implementation level,? said Alan Court, the Unicef?s country representative.

Painting a grim picture of the status of children in 2000, the report says 40 per cent of the world?s child workers are from India. 

It points out that India?s child mortality rate record is still poor, despite recent improvements. Female foeticide has been reported from most of the states in India, while malnourishment causes 50 per cent of child deaths. 

The report highlights three main causes behind the plight of children: social and political conflicts, poverty and AIDS.

?Conflict also includes natural catastrophes. Over three million children have been victims of the recent cyclone in Orissa,? the report says. 

?The sheer number of those affected by AIDS in India is staggering and more than in any other country,? said Court. Though he praised India?s policies, the report underscored the lack of commitment of leaders throughout the world to children.

Joshi?s department has set aside more funds for the literacy mission. But the focus today was on value education, which was informally kicked off from the minister?s house before it is introduced in the new curriculum. 

The project has two components: a community singing programme and inter-state camps for children and teachers. ?A moment of bliss is created when 5,000 children sing together,? NCERT director J.S. Rajput said.

The NCERT has produced multi-lingual cassettes of nationalist songs, ranging from Vande mataram to Saraswati vandana to Saare jahan se achcha. These will be sung in schools and in the inter-state camps.

The camps are supposed to be a ?continuing? activity and each would last a fortnight. Sixty children and 12 teachers from three states and Union Territories will participate in a camp. 

New Delhi, Dec. 13 
An eight-year-old girl was crushed to death at the Indira Gandhi International Airport this morning after an escalator snapped and its metal chains and plates twisted themselves around her head. 

For about half-an-hour, in the absence of airport staff, no one could trace the switch that operated the moving stairway.

Jyotsna Jethani, along with her family, had arrived by an Air-India flight from Dubai at 2.30 am to attend a family wedding. Some passengers chose to take the escalator to the immigration counter. As the first few passengers rode their way down, a bag got stuck to an edge of the metal plate. A couple of passengers bent down and struggled to yank it out. As the luggage moved with the escalator, a part of metal strip on one of the steps came off. 

What followed was a nightmare. The gap created in that step began swallowing up the escalator chain, throwing off those already on the stairs. A few tumbled and fell forward. Jyotsna was among them. She fell headlong and her relatives saw her face disappearing in the fatal gap. 

Another elderly woman, Usharani Nagpaul, on a visit from the US, had one of her feet entwined in that twisted knot of metal. She is now in Apollo hospital with a six-inch long and two-inch deep wound. 

Rajesh Jethani, Jyotsna?s uncle who tried to pull her out from the mess, was also wounded as the metal slashed part of his palm. He could step out of hospital only after 14 stitches. 

As the child, her face being crushed ever so slowly by the chains, shrieked for help, passengers scurried to find the switch that would stop the escalator. But they could not. No employee of the Airports Authority of India was around to save the girl. Jyotsna?s family, including her ageing grandfather and mother, watched helplessly as she died without help. 

The Jethanis were on way to Jodhpur for the wedding of their son Rajesh with a Russian girl. The couple had already married but the family wanted a traditional wedding at their ancestral home in Jodhpur. Jyotsna?s father was away in Surat on business.

The child?s body was handed over to her relatives after a post-mortem. She will be cremated in Jodhpur.

Describing the accident as ??unfortunate??, airport director H.S. Bains said: ??We are investigating how the escalator snapped.?? 

Jyotsna?s grandfather, Parmanand Jethani, complained of gross negligence and wondered how it could take so much time to get help. ??The insensitivity of the airport authorities has hurt me more than anything else. For two hours, no one came even to offer consolation,?? he said. 

New Delhi, Dec. 13 
Howls of protest from MPs scuttled the government?s efforts today to bring in a legislation barring people with more than two children from contesting elections.

There was no dearth of arguments against the Bill. Some MPs said it would encourage female foeticide. Women?s organisations objected to it, saying women would have no say on reproduction and that if they conceived against the husbands? wishes they would be forced to go in for abortions. 

Some members said an ambitious politician would not hesitate to force abortion on his wife for the sake of an election ticket, while others pointed out it was ?infringement on sexual freedom?. One MP said that by curbing the sexual urges of a few hundred politicians the government could not control the burgeoning population. ?Moreover, by the time one becomes an MP, his reproductive capacity is on the decline, while the active age group is between 18 and 35,? he said. 

Some parties felt that in case of remarriage, the law would deprive the new couple of children if either of them had two or more offspring from the earlier relationship.

An all-party meeting convened today by Union health minister N.T. Shanmugham failed to evolve a consensus on the issue. The proposed 79th constitutional amendment Bill to offer incentives to MPs to control the population was put on the backburner. 

If the Bill is passed, leaders like Laloo Prasad Yadav ? who has already fathered nine children ? would have to say goodbye to politics.

The Congress? Madhavrao Scindia wanted to defer the Bill till there was a consensus. The CPI?s Gaya Singh, however, said it was long overdue. His party colleague Chaturanan Mishra had earlier opposed the Bill. 

DMK leaders said the Bill was against human rights and that only an individual had the right to decide the size of his family. Others said it was mere ?tokenism?.

Indian Union Muslim League leader G.M. Banatwala expressed fear that the Bill would lead to socio-religious problems, particularly in the case of Islam which permits more than one marriage.

Citing the example of China, Forward Bloc leader Amar Roy Pradhan said it had initiated a major educational drive to contain population and succeeded. Even Kerala, with a 100 per cent literacy rate, has an impressive record on family planning.

The Bill, conceived in 1991, was first introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 1992. It was later referred to a standing committee, which presented its report in 1997 recommending consensus among all parties. An all-party meet on the proposal that year, however, evoked a mixed response.

Since the legislation requires a constitutional amendment, it requires two-thirds support in Parliament. Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Orissa have already implemented the two-child norm in elections to local bodies. 

Temperature: Maximum: 28.4°C (+1) Minimum: 17.3°C (+3) 
Relative humidity: Maximum: 84%, Minimum: 45%
Today: Mainly clear sky. Slight fall in night temperature. Sunset: 4.49 pm; Sunrise: 6.13 am 

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