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India: Gujarat riots records ‘destroyed’

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Official records relating to the 2002 riots in India’s Gujarat state were destroyed in line with regulations, the government tells a panel probing the riots.

The riots left more than 1,000 dead

Documents with records of telephone calls and the movements of officials during the riots were destroyed in 2007, five years after their origin

Officials say this is standard practice and in line with civil service rules.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the riots.

The violence erupted after 60 Hindus died in a train fire. The cause of the blaze was never clearly established.

Hindu groups allege the fire was started by Muslim protesters, but an earlier inquiry said the blaze was an accident.

The Supreme Court set up a panel to investigate the riots in 2008, after allegations that the Gujarat government was doing little to bring those responsible to justice.

Government lawyer SB Vakil told the Nanavati panel probing the riots that some records relating to the riots had been destroyed according to the rules.

“As per general government rules, the telephone call records, vehicle logbook and the officers’ movement diary are destroyed after a certain period,” Mr Vakil was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.

In April a senior police officer alleged in a sworn statement to India’s Supreme Court that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi deliberately allowed anti-Muslim riots in the state.

Mr Modi has always denied any wrongdoing.

The Gujarat government has responded to the allegations by saying they have already testified before a special panel investigating the riots and will wait for the court’s verdict.

Where did it all go wrong? India wonders…

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By Amit Baruah

Not very long ago, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could do no wrong – or so it seemed.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, hoping it would restore confidence in his beleaguered government

Long considered a man of unimpeachable integrity, Mr Singh coasted to a second term as the prime minister of the world’s second most populous nation in May last year.

From 145 seats in the lower house of parliament, Lok Sabha, in 2004, his Congress party increased its share of seats to 206 in the May 2009 polls.

By current Indian electoral standards, it was an impressive performance.

With the opposition in disarray, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government appeared to be on a roll.

An unshakeable understanding between Mr Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi ensured political stability in the country. Frequent meetings between the two suggested a neat division of responsibility between party and government.


In the past few months, the personal equation may have continued, but things have begun going horribly wrong for the Congress-led coalition.

Regular protests by Telangana activists are just one of the government’s worries at the moment

Inflation, corruption scandals, a massive and ongoing agitation for a separate state of Telangana in southern India, apparent favours in the allocation of land, the abuse of discretionary powers by state leaders: everything seemed to go wrong at the same time for Mr Singh and his government.

A spate of court cases has given the government a headache.

The Supreme Court made some sharp observations of official decisions in what has come to be known as the 2G scandal – where the government is said to have incurred losses of billions of dollars in the sale of mobile phone spectrum.

And on Wednesday, hearing a case of unaccounted money being held by Indians in foreign banks, the court criticised the coalition for its reluctance to provide more information.

“It is a pure and simple theft of national money,” said Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar. “We are talking about mind-boggling crime. We are not on the niceties of treaties.”

Such comments have become a near-daily affair for the government in one case or the other.

And so far it has not been able to come up with convincing answers.

Government ‘rudderless’

In what the Indian media has dismissed as a lame effort to energise his government, Mr Singh changed the portfolios of as many as 36 ministers on Wednesday, terming it a “minor reshuffle” and promising a more “expansive exercise” in the next few months.

But analysts believe that this may not help the image of the government as a performing entity.

Neena Vyas, associate editor of The Hindu newspaper, told the BBC: “More important is whether the government is able to break the logjam with the opposition, which prevented parliament from conducting any business in the recent session of parliament.”

Ms Vyas was referring to the impasse in parliament, in which all sections of an often-divided opposition came together to demand a parliamentary inquiry into the 2G scandal.

Several officials who chose to remain anonymous told this writer that a sense of paralysis had gripped the government.

“No-one wants to take decisions in such an environment where everything is suddenly under question. The government appears rudderless,” one of them said.

“It’s sad, but this is true,” confirmed a junior minister in Mr Singh’s government, who told me he believed the prime minister had been extremely hurt by the personal allegations levelled against him by some opposition leaders.

Challenges ahead

It is an open question whether the reshuffle carried out by Mr Singh will mean anything in real terms.

There also appear to be divergences on key issues like a new Food Security Bill between the government and the National Advisory Council, a powerful lobby group within the establishment headed by Mrs Gandhi.

Mrs Gandhi has said publicly there should be “no tolerance” for corruption or misconduct.

At a Congress party conference in December, she suggested fast-tracking corruption cases against public servants, providing full transparency in public procurements and contracts, and reviewing the discretionary powers of state chief ministers.

She also called for an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources.

Analysts are comparing Mr Singh’s second tenure to the political crisis, linked to a corruption scandal, that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi faced back in the mid-1980s, despite having a huge majority in parliament.

Eventually, Mr Gandhi lost the 1989 elections and a motley coalition of parties took power.

While there are similarities between then and now, Mr Singh and Mrs Gandhi still have the opportunity to retrieve lost ground.

A lot will depend on whether or not the government can check spiralling food inflation. Also, whether the Congress and its allies are able to blunt the opposition attack during next month’s budget session of parliament will be critical.

Mr Singh and his government still have a little over three years to go before the May 2014 elections.

But the prime minister, Mrs Gandhi and the government have a tough job ahead if they fancy a return to power in Delhi.

No death for Dara Singh in Staines case; SC upholds life term

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New Delhi, (PTI) In a setback to CBI, the SupremeCourt today dismissed its plea for death penalty to DaraSingh, convicted for burning alive Australian missionaryGraham Staines and his two minor sons in January 1999 whileupholding life sentence given to him by the Orissa High Court.

A bench comprising justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan,while dismissing the agency”s plea for death penalty, said thepunishment can be imposed only in the “rarest of rare” casesdepending upon the facts and situation of each case.

In the present case, the apex court said, the offencecommitted by the convicts, though highly condemnable, does notfall in the category of rarest of rare to warrant deathsentence. (More) PTI RB RKS SDG SC

Dara Singh and Mahendra Hembrom were found guilty of burning to death Staines and his sons, who were sleepinginside a van outside a church, at Manoharpur village inKoenjhar district of Orissa on January 22, 1999.

The bench had on December 15 last year reserved itsjudgement after hearing at length the arguments of CBI”scounsel and Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha andcounsel for the convicts.

Senior counsel K T S Tulsi and Ratnakar Dash, besidescounsel

Sibo Shankara Mishra, appeared for the 12 convicts.

Appearing for CBI, Tankha had told the bench that DaraSingh deserves death sentence as the murders were committed ina most “diabolic and dastardly manner” which warrantedexemplary punishment.

Dara had filed an appeal challenging his convictionand the life sentence awarded to him. The appeals wereadmitted by the apex court in October 2005.

On May 19, 2005, the Orissa High Court had commuted tolife imprisonment the death penalty imposed by the sessionscourt on Dara Singh for the murder of Staines and his twominor sons — Philip, 10, and Timothy, 6. Along with Dara,another person Mahendra Hembram was convicted in the case.

However, the High Court had acquitted 11 others whowere awarded life terms by the trial court in the case.

The trial court in Khurda had in September 2003convicted all the 13 accused. While Dara Singh was awardeddeath sentence, others were given life imprisonment.

India police raid minister’s homes in telecoms probe

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NEW DELHI – Indian police on Wednesday raided two homes of a former telecoms minister who is alleged to have sold off mobile phone licences at knock-down prices in a scam that cost the government billions of dollars.

A spokesman for the Central Bureau of Investigation said A. Raja’s residences in the capital New Delhi and in his constituency in the southern state of Tamil Nadu were searched by police.

Raja, who resigned last month, is accused of changing bidding rules to favour selected companies who were often ineligible to compete for the lucrative second-generation (2G) mobile phone licences.

The licences were sold in 2008 at cut-price rates that denied the treasury up to 40 billion dollars in lost revenue, according to the national auditor.

The scandal, which could prove to be the biggest corruption case in India’s history, has engulfed the Congress-led ruling coalition and is seen as one of the government’s most serious setbacks since it came to power six years ago.

In a campaign for a cross-party investigation, the main opposition parties have stalled parliament for weeks.

The government has refused to agree, saying that the police and state anti-corruption bodies are both investigating the sales.

Raja belongs to a regional party that is key to the Congress alliance holding onto power, prompting accusations that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was slow to act against him after the 2G sell-off.

Raja’s lawyer, T.R. Andhyarujina, told the Supreme Court last week that his client had only been following procedures established by previous ministers.

Black day for us, says survivor

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NEW DELHI: Activists and survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy have slammed Monday’s verdict in the case against eight former Union Carbide India executives as “meaningless” at best, and a deadly “insult” at worst. Many warned that it signals an indifference to justice when corporate bigwigs are involved.

ENDURING THE PAINSurvivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy staging a demonstration outside the court in Bhopal on Monday.

“This is a black day for us,” said Abdul Jabbar, a survivor who now heads the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan. He vowed that the verdict would be appealed in the High Court. But with the system taking quarter of a century to deliver its first verdict in the criminal case, both the survivors and the guilty could be dead by the time justice is served, he said.

“They have reduced the world’s worst industrial disaster into a traffic accident,” said Satinath Sarangi, an activist with the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, commenting on the lightness of the sentence. Since the Supreme Court had diluted the charges from “culpable homicide” to “death by negligence” in 1996, this was the maximum sentence possible.

Activist Nityanand Jayaraman said the CBI’s “mishandling of the case” would be “tantamount to dereliction of duty,” and that even if the CBI did not appeal the verdict, the people would do so.

“There is a strong sense of betrayal, but also of foreboding. The government is sending a signal to investors that they can come here, run their companies however they please with a minimum of regulation, and if something goes wrong, at worst, they will get a rap on their knuckles.”

Noting that the government kept Bhopal citizens out of the courtroom as a preventive measure, activist Rachna Dhingra said: “It was the people who were treated like criminals. The real criminals were escorted in by police, they were treated like VIPs and now they have walked free. The government considers the lives of some people more expendable than others.”

“The government is saying there will be no punishment for big foreign companies,” said Mr. Jabbar, who warned that the Nuclear Liability Bill was an indication of the same attitude.

Rethink Nuclear Liability Bill: BJP

Opposition political parties took up his refrain. “There is a lesson in this,” said BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad, who said the government should appeal the verdict.

“After this bitter experience, the government should rethink its plans for the Nuclear Liability Bill.”

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat agreed. “If the justice system is so weak, as proven by this verdict, then it is horrifying to think what will happen if there is a nuclear accident,” she said.

Probe infirmities in CBI, says Brinda

The government should look into the infirmities in the CBI which led to such a diluted verdict, and appeal in the higher court, she added.

Kasab to challenge death sentence

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The only surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Ajmal Kasab, has requested a new lawyer in order to appeal his death sentence, an official said on Friday. Early last month, a special court gave Mohammed Ajmal Kasab multiple death sentences after he was convicted on charges including murder, waging war against India, conspiracy and terrorism. Kasab was purportedly provided with free legal aid – initially advocate Abbas Kazmi was his lawyer and then advocate KP Pawar – during his trial. He has the option of choosing senior lawyers from the HC panel to defend him in the high court, said an HC advocate. But Kasab is expected to receive the same kind of judicial treatment and “due process” that he has experienced at the hands of Judge M L Tahiliyani. Within a month of the verdict, Kasab has approached the Bombay High Court to challenge the death sentence awarded to him by a special court on May 6. But it is obvious that Kasab expects no justice, since it is the same judicial system.

Arthur Road jail authorities confirmed an appeal letter by Kasab along with a copy of the judgment running into over 1,500 pages was forwarded to the high court. The jail petition sent by Kasab has also requested that a lawyer from the legal aid panel be appointed to represent him in the high court. The government prosecutor in the trial Ujjwal Nikam said that Kasab had sent a letter to the Bombay High Court’s Legal Aid Cell on Wednesday asking to be given a new lawyer in order to help him prepare an appeal against his death sentence. It was not immediately clear when the court would reach a decision on the matter.

A photograph of Kasab, 22, striding through Mumbai’s main train station, an assault rifle in hand, became the iconic image of the three-day siege in November 2008 that claimed the lives of 166 people. Kasab was one of 10 young Pakistanis who attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish center and a busy train station in Mumbai. Kasab’s sentence must be reviewed by the High Court. He can also appeal the decision and apply for clemency to the state and central governments. Death sentences — reserved in India for only the “rarest of rare” cases — by law have to be confirmed by the local high court after reviewing the evidence. Defendants have a right of appeal and can challenge the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court. A final plea for clemency can be made to the country’s president.

Senior state government officials in Maharashtra have said they want the verdict and sentence ratified swiftly, amid public calls for Kasab to be executed as soon as possible. But questions have been raised about how long Kasab will be kept on death row, as India has not carried out an execution since 2004 and only two since 1998, while dozens of final clemency appeals are still pending.

Chidambaram admits policing India ‘formidable’ task

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Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday said policing a country of over 1.1 billion people in a troubled neighbourhood is difficult, especially if the nation has an ill-equipped police force. “Policing a country of over 1.1 billion people is not an easy task. Policing a country in a troubled neighbourhood makes the task more difficult. And policing a country with insufficient police stations and inadequate and ill-equipped police force makes the task almost formidable,” Chidambaram said in his inaugural speech at the 40th All India Police Science Congress in Raipur.

Throwing light over the inadequate number of police personnel in the country, the home minister said there were 335,000 posts vacant in all ranks of the police. “According to figures given to the central government, the total number of sanctioned posts as on March 31, 2010, in all ranks, is about 21 lakh. Of these, about 335,000 posts are vacant. Chidambaram also said that 12 states had not responded to the central government’s suggestion for a transparent recruitment process (TRP) related to police reforms.

Addressing the inaugural session of the 40th All India Police Science Congress here, the minister said: “In the case of police reforms, the central government had recommended that state governments adopt the TRP. Of the 30 states, only Uttar Pradesh has actually implemented TRP.” He said: “Four states have reported that they have their own TRP. Thirteen states have acknowledged the recommendations and no response has been received from 12 states. “The central government urged the states to adopt the salient recommendations of the National Police Commission. Some recommendations … are mandatory by an order of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the progress is halting,” he said in the presence of over 80 Indian Police Service officers from various states.

He said: “Let me take three recommendations — enactment of a new police act based on the Model Police Act; constitution of a state police establishment board and setting up a police complaints board. Only 12 states have enacted a new police act, only 14 have constituted a police establishment board and only 10 states have set up a police complaints board.” “Thus, the police population ratio for the whole country is about 160 per 100,000 people. This ratio is much lower than the international norm… conceals more than it reveals,” he said. In Bihar, he said, the number is as low as 75, in Uttar Pradesh it is about 115, in Andhra Pradesh it is about 125, in Orissa about 135 and in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — the two states most affected by leftwing extremism — the figure is 205.