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Archive for July 2013

Manipur plans to have its own law to check drug trafficking. But it is nothing but a political gimmick as the state can’t have its law bypassing the already existing NDPS Act.

● June 2, 2013: Two persons arrested from Manipur’s Thoubal district for allegedly carrying six cartons of drugs without proper licence. The seized items include 41,314 Spasmo-Proxyvon capsules, 4,500 Nitrosun 10 tablets, 380 bottles of Lupicof Codeine syrup and 100 bottles of Rcof Codeine syrup.

● May 9, 2013: The officer in charge of Moreh Commando Post arrested for his alleged role in the trafficking of banned narcotic substances.

● February 24, 2013: Seven people, including a former defence PRO, arrested for allegedly trafficking a consignment of drugs to Myanmar through Moreh, a border town 110-km from Manipur’s capital Imphal. The son of former minister and Congress MLA T.N. Haokip also arrested in connection with the case.

Drug trafficking is not new in Manipur. But the recent cases have raised such an alarm that the state government is now proposing a new law to check the drug menace.

“We want stricter punishment for offenders who hold government office to instil a sense of fear in them. Government officers must know that they will not be spared if caught in the trafficking of drugs,” says a state home ministry official.

Currently, the offence of drug trafficking in India is governed by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, and the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985. The Manipur government plans to bring a new law that will be stricter than both these existing laws.

Manipur is one of the main transit points for drug trafficking in India. Drugs come to Manipur from the notorious Golden Triangle — the region covering Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand. From Manipur these trafficked drugs find their way to other parts of the country as well as the Middle East. With the start of formal trade with Myanmar through Moreh in 1994, the illegal flow of drugs has increased.

Around 56.21kg of opium, 14.566kg of heroin and 6,808.40kg of ganja were recovered from Manipur in 2012. Besides this, large consignments of pharmaceutical preparations such as Corex, Phensedyl, Buprenorphine, Spasmo-Proxyvon too have been seized during raids in the state.

Drug abuse is one of the serious problems that the state has been grappling with. It is also one of the reasons for the rising number of HIV cases in the state.

The new law also plans to encourage informers who could help the police nab those involved in drug trafficking. “In the proposed law there will be rewards for informers who help the police capture any consignment of drugs being trafficked,” says Ishaq Shah, superintendent of police, narcotics and affairs of border, Manipur.

The state also proposes to increase the degree of punishment for offenders. The NDPS Act lays down that the punishment for the production, manufacture, possession, sale, purchase, transport, import, inter-state, export or use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances in small quantities is rigorous imprisonment up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 10,000 or both. “But the new law plans to increase the punishment to five years and double the amount of fine too,” the state home ministry official adds.

The big question, however, is whether the state can increase the quantum of punishment for an offence that is already being dealt with in a central act.

Most legal experts don’t think so. Going by the Supreme Court judgment in the T. Barai vs Henry Ah Hoe case in 1982, lawyers say that the state cannot alter the degree of punishment when there is already a central law on it.

“The Supreme Court had observed that where both laws prescribe punishment for the same offence but the punishment differs in degree or kind or in the procedure prescribed, the law made by Parliament shall prevail over the state law under Article 254(1),” says Tripti Tandon of Lawyers’ Collective.

Experts also point out that the state has the power to introduce rules but not make any law relating to the NDPS. “Sections 10 and 78 of the NDPS Act allow the states to make rules, but not enact a separate law,” says R.K. Sahoo, deputy director-general, Narcotics Control Bureau, eastern region. Adds Rajesh Nandan Srivastava, director, narcotics control, revenue department, Union ministry of finance, “Even if they formulate a new law, it would stand void. Their law cannot override the existing NDPS Act.”

However, law ministry officials in Manipur are hellbent on bringing in a new law. “We are studying the legal implications of a separate state law and it will be framed according to the parameters of the Constitution,” says state law secretary G. Rameshchandran.

Manipur’s law ministry officials also point out that the state can take the President’s assent for its law as per the provisions of Article 254(2).

Lawyers say that according to the Constitution, there are two aspects to whether Manipur can enact a separate state law to stop drug trafficking. “The first concerns the subject of the legislation, that is, drugs, which falls under Entry 19 of the Concurrent List in the 7th Schedule of the Constitution.

This means that both the Centre and the states can enact laws on this subject. However, in the event of an inconsistency between the central and the state laws, Article 254 of the Constitution comes into play. According to this, the central law will prevail over the state law,” Tandon says.

Some say the Manipur government is showing undue haste in introducing a new law to check drug trafficking only to pacify those who have taken to the streets protesting against the involvement of senior Army and Manipur police officials in drug trafficking.

“It is an attempt to show people that they are serious about eradicating the drug menace in the state. The NDPS Act is good enough to deal with the problem,” argues a senior Narcotics Control Bureau officer in Guwahati.

Clearly, the powers that be in Manipur beg to differ.

The Supreme Court has stayed the pronouncement of a Ranchi court judgment on the Rs 950-crore fodder scam, but Lalu Prasad clearly is playing his last innings in politics. Is it time to write a requiem for a man who was once one of Bihar’s tallest leaders and a power at the Centre?

The old traits are all there — the cherubic face, the fringed hair and the white dhoti and vest. What’s missing is the toothy grin. Lalu Prasad Yadav, the eternal court jester in the realm of politics, is looking unusually grim.

The mood, in fact, is sombre at Patna’s 10, Circular Road. Politicians who have gathered there to meet the former Bihar chief minister and central minister too look worried. News has just come in that the Ranchi High Court has rejected his plea to shift one of the many cases related to Rs 950-crore fodder scam — in which he is accused of embezzling funds — to another court. But Lalu Prasad is not ready to give up. He is on his way to the Supreme Court.

“It’s a legal battle, I have to fight it,” the MP from Saran says.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court stayed the pronouncement of the Ranchi trial court judgment and granted two weeks to the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Jharkhand government to respond to Lalu Prasad’s petition. Lalu had asked for a transfer because the judge in Ranchi was related to one of his political foes. The next hearing is on July 23. A day later, the Supreme Court ruled that convicted politicians cannot fight an election for six years after the end of their jail term.

The 66-year-old politician, who was jailed in 1997 on a case that related to the fodder scam, shrugs off speculation about another stint in prison.

“Jail jaane se kya farak padega — hum tou pehle bhi jail gaye the (How does it matter if I am imprisoned — I’ve been there before),” says Lalu Prasad, who is an accused in many of the 63-odd cases relating to the embezzlement of money from a Bihar government fund meant for animal fodder.

The last time he was in jail, he had installed his wife Rabri Devi — then a simple homemaker — as the state chief minister. This time, he has been propping up his two sons, Tejashwi, 24, and Tej Pratap, 26. But the Lalu of the 1990s is vastly different from today’s Lalu Prasad. Then he was one of the tallest leaders of the state and a power at the Centre. Today, he has almost no role to play either in the state or at the Centre.

Lalu Prasad, out of power for eight years in Bihar, is fast losing his ground. The last straw was the break between the ruling Janata Dal (United) and its partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, in the state. The split took place in June, catapulting Nitish Kumar to centre stage, and pushing Lalu Prasad further into a corner.

Politicians in the state and in Delhi believe the Congress is looking favourably at Lalu’s bête noire, Nitish Kumar, and seems ready to leave Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) for the JD(U). It may mean the end of the road for Lalu Prasad. Nitish Kumar’s break with the BJP over Narendra Modi is likely to cut into Lalu’s vote bank of Muslims and Yadavs.

“In Bihar, the key players are the BJP and the JD(U) — Lalu Prasad is just not relevant anymore,” says political researcher Manisha Priyam whose thesis is on Bihar. “Most anti-NDA votes will go to Nitish (Kumar) and anti Nitish votes to the NDA,” she says.

Indeed, Lalu Prasad’s constituency of Muslims and Yadavs has been shrinking. The two together comprise around 25 per cent of the vote base. But sections of Muslims have been gravitating towards the JD(U).

“The BJP’s communal image had kept many Muslims away from the JD(U). Now that we are not together, a large chunk of Muslims will vote for Nitish Kumar, which will affect Lalu Prasad,” says JD(U) MP Ali Anwar Ansari, who recently organised a rally for the state’s backward Muslims in Patna.

Lalu Prasad, predictably, shrugs off all these claims. “It is not easy to win over Muslims,” he says. “We have been always consistent against fascist forces such as the BJP, unlike Kumar who changed sides,” says Lalu Prasad, who stepped into the secular pantheon when he stopped L.K. Advani’s rath yatra in Bihar and had him arrested in 1990.

But it’s not just the fractured Muslim vote that should trouble Lalu Prasad. Even his vote base of Yadavs is under threat. The BJP, state politicians stress, is now aggressively playing the Yadav card with the help of its two top Yadav leaders — Hukumdev Narayan Yadav and Nand Kishore Yadav.

“Lalu Yadav is playing his last innings in politics,” says Bihar Assembly’s leader of the Opposition Nand Kishore Yadav.

For someone who once occupied the heart of politics, it’s a steep fall. Lalu Prasad, after all, has been a central figure in politics for over 20 years. He broke the backbone of the upper-caste-led Congress party and gave voice to backward classes in Bihar. Later, as minister for railways, he earned accolades for transforming it into a profit-earning one. Suddenly, Lalu Prasad was being feted worldwide.

Always outspoken, his brand of humour — rustic one-liners for every occasion — also ensured that he was the darling of the media. Over the years, however, the voice seems to have lost its timbre — he is being seen less and less on TV or in the print media. Observers hold that his last memorable speech in Parliament was during the debate on the Lokpal Bill in 2011.

His political fortunes actually started sliding in 2005 after he’d ruled Bihar for 15 years. His rule was often seen as chaotic, with a high crime rate and little development. Not surprisingly, in 2005, he could win only 54 seats, as the JD(U)-BJP alliance gathered 143 seats in the 243-member Bihar Assembly. In what was seen as a signal of the people’s displeasure, Rabri Devi was defeated in the two constituencies she fought from — Raghopur and Sonepur.

Five years later, his fortunes dwindled further. In the 2010 Assembly polls, the RJD could win only 22 seats. The parliamentary polls were no better. In the last election, his party won four seats in Parliament as opposed to the JD(U)-BJP’s 32.

Now, with the JD(U) parting ways with the BJP, sections of the Congress are hoping to dump him. “We plan to say a formal goodbye to him,” stresses Sanjay Nirupam, All India Congress Committee secretary formerly in charge of Bihar. “We are more than willing to join hands with the JD(U).”

But Lalu Prasad is not convinced. “I have not heard anything officially from the Congress,” he says.

For Lalu, it’s been a long journey to the centre of politics. A cowherd’s son, he made his political mark as the president of the Patna University students’ union in 1970 and gradually emerged as a popular leader who fought the Emergency. In 1977, at the age of 29, he was one of the youngest members of the Lok Sabha.

In Bihar, he soon became a formidable political force and was looked upon as the messiah of the masses. Many hold that he was the most important OBC leader in Bihar after former chief minister Karpoori Thakur. In 1990, he came to power in the state and was anointed as a grassroots leader.

Some believe the popular leader is no longer in touch with the masses. “He needs to reassure the people that he still represents them,” says Shaibal Gupta, member secretary of the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute. He adds that if Lalu Prasad wants to regain the trust of his supporters, he has to “make his case stronger at the Centre. He needs to choose his candidates carefully and organise his party.”

The party, clearly, is coming apart at the seams. Many of his colleagues are worried how the party — and its leader — will fare after the verdict in the fodder scam. And the senior leaders are not happy at the way he is propping up his sons.

“Anyone is welcome to join the party but nobody should be forced upon us,” says an RJD leader. “We will not tolerate that.”

The sons, they complain, have neither their father’s charisma nor his experience. Able cricketers, they have had no role to play in politics so far. At an RJD rally in March where the two were formally launched, observers recall that they were quietly sitting at the back when their father summoned them to the front row. All they did at the rally was fold their hands and wave to the people.

Lalu Prasad doesn’t believe his sons can pose a problem. “Kids of all party workers are welcome. What’s wrong with my sons,” he asks, tossing his head.

But party leaders say that despite his protestations, Lalu Prasad is worried. He carries on as usual — after a quick stroll in the lawns every morning, he scans the newspapers and then meets party workers — but is looking at ways to overhaul the party. He is now seeking to hold training camps to discipline party workers — a measure he’d never taken before. He is also trying to build up a core working committee of the party for its smooth functioning.

The recent win of RJD’s Prabhunath Singh over JD(U)’s P.K. Shahi by 1.37 lakh votes in the Maharajganj by-election has given him hope. “Despite being the ruling party, the JD(U) lost. This indicates that our voters are coming back to us,” he says. The seat, however, was with the RJD, which defeated the JD(U) to win it in 2009.

“These results tell us nothing. He seems to be a sinking ship,” Priyam says.

Will he swim or sink? The jury’s out on that — literally.

 

Sreesanth speaks 
‘I have not committed any mistake’

A “Do not disturb” sign hangs on the handle of the door to room no. 1504 at the Renai Medicity hospital in Cochin. Two burly men are at the door, trying to keep visitors out. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth is inside, lying on his hospital bed and watching television. The bearded 30-year-old cricketer smiles, but refuses to talk, though an interview has been fixed for the day. After some cajoling, he gives in — with a resigned air but in good humour.

Dressed in a blue T-shirt and a pair of grey trousers, the pacer looks frail. He has lost 10 kilos in the past two months. He was hospitalised last week after he was diagnosed with high blood pressure, a viral infection and tonsillitis. Doctors have advised him to talk less and relax, and Sreesanth says he is mindlessly surfing channels to keep “bad thoughts” away. (After five days in hospital, he is now back in his sister’s house in Cochin’s Tripunithura area.)

Sreesanth, who was arrested along with Ankeet Chavan and Ashok Chandila — two of his teammates from the Rajasthan Royals — on charges of spot-fixing under the provisions of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act in May this year, relates the “torture” that he went through in jail. He tells SONIA SARKAR that he doesn’t want even his enemies to experience all that he did during the 27 days of police and judicial custody. All that he wants to do now, he says, is get back to the field. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. How are you spending your time since you have come out of jail?

A: It’s been really tough. After 27 days of torture, I also wanted to get back to my original self. My family members are really trying hard to get me to smile again. They are keeping me engaged in different activities. I have been mostly composing music along with my brother-in-law Madhu Balakrishnan, who is a well-known singer. Plus, my nephews — Madhav and Mahadev — are making me watch a lot of 3D movies such as Shrek and The Adventures of Tintin. I have been gymming and swimming too.

Q. Do you feel frustrated at times?

A: No. I know it is a bad phase. I am just trying to move on.

Q. How did the hearing of the anti-corruption unit of Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) go last week in Delhi?

A: It went off really well. I told them my side of the story. They asked me to be patient with the case and wait for the disciplinary committee meeting, which is to take place next week. They said if there was nothing against me, I would be absolved. I completely respect the BCCI.

Q. When is the next hearing of the court case in Delhi?

A. I don’t know yet. I have left it to my lawyers.

Q. Since the BCCI has suspended you now, you cannot play cricket. But are you practising?

A. I want to practise. Some local clubs have even offered me their facilities informally. Legally, they cannot do so if they are affiliated to the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA). With the BCCI ban on me, the KCA won’t allow me to play for the clubs.

Q. Do you want to play?

A. Yes, of course. There have been cases where legal battles have gone on for long. And then one day, the accused is suddenly acquitted. If I also get acquitted and am suddenly asked to play for, say, the Ranji Trophy, I won’t be able to do that. I really need to practise.

Q. How did you feel when you were in the police’s special cell?

A. That’s something I really want to forget. I have no complaints against anyone but I really hope no cricketer ever goes through this. It was not easy to face this after being hailed as a world renowned cricketer. It’s very difficult to accept it when you are being treated as the biggest culprit ever.

Q. How do you look back at your days in jail?

A. This was a phase that not even my worst enemy should go through. Life was doomed. I could get just one phone call a day from my family members. Even now, when I watch a film where there is a scene in a jail, it haunts me. The first 3-4 days were really tough for me. But then I believed in the saying, “maut se kya darna jab qatilon ke beech hum ghar basa chuke” — why fear death when you are living in the midst of killers? I took some time to adjust but I have the habit of adapting to any situation. Initially, I was very scared but by the time I got bail the fear was disappearing. But this experience has surely made me stronger. Probably, whatever happened was my karma.

Q. How did you spend time in jail?

A. I was mostly in jail number one. I used to read the Bible and Bhagavad Gita. I also penned down my feelings during those days.

Q. Did you make friends there? Were you treated like a celebrity?

A. A lot of people in jail tried to cheer me up by reminding me of the prosperous career that I had left behind. Many policemen from Tamil Nadu spoke with me in Tamil to make me feel comfortable. They said, “You will be fine, we are your fans.” I had hope. Loads of people came to me for autographs. Some of the cricketers in the jail also came to visit me. But I didn’t talk much.

Q. Reports said you had a fight with (co- accused) Chandila in the special cell.

A. That’s not true. I don’t know who spread these rumours.

Q. The police claim that you had confessed to spot-fixing. Is this true?

A. I don’t want to say anything on this. All I can say is that if a thief is caught and brought to a police station, he has to sign a letter confessing the crime.

Q. So was there any pressure on you to confess?

A. I don’t want to talk about it. I can only say, let’s wait and see.

Q. How did the people of Kerala react to your arrest and alleged involvement in the spot-fixing scandal? You are a hero in the state.

A. I was really scared earlier because I didn’t know how people would take it. But the people of Kerala have been very supportive. I did not receive such a grand welcome from the people even when I came back after we won the World Cup. But yes, there are people who also mock us. Once, my nephew was asked by a friend, “Hey, what happened to your superstar uncle?” On another occasion, a classmate teased him, saying, “High Five for Sreesanth, he went to jail.” My nephew replied, “Yes, high five for Sreesanth, he went to a special jail called Tihar, which ordinary men don’t go to.” He just laughed it off.

It (the scandal) must have disturbed a lot of people. But I still thought I would face them. If I was scared, I would have been hiding. But I wanted to be there with the people, so I came to Cochin instead of going to any other city after being released from jail. I have to go through this phase.

Q. How did it affect your family?

A. My first concern was my parents. They never deserved to go through what they experienced. But they are very strong. My parents know me well. Their concern was how I would handle it as I am very emotional.

My parents have always respected me for whatever decision I have taken. They have always been there with me. They have been seeing me making silly mistakes since school.

Q. Is this also a silly mistake?

A. No, I have not committed any mistake. I am just in a phase that nobody should go through.

Q. According to the police, on May 9, during a match between Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals played at Mohali near Chandigarh, you ran up to bowl an over with a towel tucked into the band of your trousers. They allege that this was a signal to bookies on fixing an over. You had bowled the previous over without the towel. You were paid Rs 10 lakh for the match. Is this true? Did you wear a towel as a signal?

A. South African pace bowler Allan Donald wears a wrist band. Similarly, I use a towel sometimes. There have been instances when I have kept a towel and done well. I use it particularly on days when I am not doing well. I also use head bands. It depends on the day. I do it if I feel like doing it.

Q. Who are the cricketers who called you or messaged you to show their support?

A. I am not using my cellphone since being released. I am not sure who contacted me and who didn’t.

Q. What difference has cricket made to your life?

A. Cricket has made me learn everything. It has made me a stronger person. Cricket is my passion. It gave me everything.

Q. How much money did cricket give you?

A. Can’t say.

Q. Did you ever think of an alternative career for yourself? Do you see a future in cricket anymore?

A. No, I never thought of any other career. Why should I? When I was in jail, I wanted to come out of it. Cricket is what I want to play. But I do want to know when — when again.

Q. Do you fear that you will go to jail?

A. I don’t even think about it. I will be patient for the verdict.

Q. You have given statements that this arrest could be a conspiracy by some people. Who would have conspired against you? Your father had earlier said that (Captain M.S.) Dhoni could be behind the conspiracy. Do you agree?

A. That was just an emotional statement. I believe in the Indian judiciary.

Q. Delhi cops claim that the bookies had promised you a sum of Rs 40 lakh, out of which they paid Rs 10 lakh. It was said you used the money to buy a smartphone and a few luxury items for your girlfriend Jhala.

A. First and foremost, she is not my girlfriend. She is just a good friend. I know her family well too. And second, that’s how I treat people and friends. If you look at the last 12 years of my life, you will know that I am a shopaholic. I work hard and earn. I also save for family and charity. But there is nothing wrong in spending money. And whatever I spend is my money and nobody else’s.

Q. When you were arrested, some insiders said you’d claimed that you had good connections with the Kerala and Maharashtra chief ministers. Did you try to influence the case by using your connections?

A. These are all rumours. All that I asked was if they had an arrest warrant for me. They told me to shut up. Then I sat quietly and came to Delhi.

Q. Chandresh, who is believed to be the leader of the arrested bookies, apparently admitted that he had “arranged” women for you and Chandila at least five or six times in the last one year. What do you have to say to that?

A. I should then find out about it. There is no girl in my life.

Q. There are rumours that you are planning to marry soon. Is there someone?

A. I am not seeing anyone. My marriage will depend upon my Mom and Dad. There are lots of proposals coming in. I don’t know if they have zeroed in on anyone.

Q. How widespread is spot-fixing or match-fixing in India and elsewhere?

A. It could be widespread. How do I know?

Q. You had another traumatic experience two years ago when an accident put you in a wheelchair after two surgeries on your toes.

A. After that incident, I had really pushed myself into the game again. There are three platinum screws implanted in my foot. Even doctors had said that I would never be able to play again. If anyone sees the X-ray report of the injury, they will not believe that I still played after the injury.

Q. Your mother had told the media that you believed in your friends. Did any of your friends betray you?

A. I am too friendly and emotional. That’s my good side — and my bad side. Most of my friends have used me. Sometimes I also feel that a particular person is going to backstab me; still I go ahead and help him out. This happened to me during my schooldays and even in cricket. But I forgive such people.

Q. How well did you know Jiju Janardhan?

A. I know him well. He is an all rounder. We met at the MRF Pace Foundation (a private school for cricketing training). I have known him for more than a decade.

Q. You are back on the social networking site Twitter after a long gap. Your fans must be very supportive of you but have you received any abusive messages online? How do you deal with such messages?

A. I have learnt that all these comments that we get on Twitter are never to be taken seriously. They don’t change your real life situation.

Q. You are a music lover. What music do you listen to?

A. I have been listening to a lot of Yesudas and Kishore Kumar. Of course, I have been also listening to my brother-in-law’s songs.

Q. Any song that you have been hearing again and again these days? Or one you can relate to?

A. I have been listening to Eminem’s I am not afraid to take a stand. And also, Linkin Park’s In the end, it doesn’t even matter.

Q. If you have a chance to live your life again, what would you not do?

A. I would probably keep away from a lot of people. My biggest mistake has been that I made too many friends. And not only that, I treated some friends as my brothers and cousins. I have learnt a bitter lesson. I also learnt that it is better to be alone than in the company of bad people.

Q. Finally, are you innocent or guilty?

A. I know what I am. There is no point explaining whether I am good or bad. I just want to say I will wait patiently and keep myself busy. I will forget my experience of those 27 days and emerge much stronger.