Archive for August 2013

  • LOOKING BACK: Abdul Karim Tunda; and (below) his brother Abdul Malik

One man’s terrorist is another man’s unruly pupil. Abdul Karim alias Tunda is believed to have spread terror and death across India. In his village, though, he was terrified of one person — his schoolteacher.

“Karim used to be very mischievous. Once our teacher, Chhuttan Issai, scolded him so hard for not paying attention in class that he wet his pants,” says Khursheed Ali, Karim’s old classmate. Karim — now 70, and a supposed member of the dreaded Lashkar-e-Toiba — was then eight.

Karim, known as Tunda because of a severed arm, spent his childhood in Pilkhuwa village in Hapur district, 50km from Delhi. After being arrested from the Indo-Nepal border last week, he is now being interrogated by the police for his alleged role in 40 blasts, including those that shook Delhi in 1996-1998, and the Mumbai bombings of 1993. The Delhi police allege that he was recruited by Pakistani spy agency ISI and also laid the foundations for jihadi groups in India.

His ancestral one-room house in the Bazar-e-Khurd area of Pilkhuwa doesn’t exist anymore. A two-storey building stands there, occupied by another family. Concrete buildings have come up on both sides of the narrow lane which led to his home. The courtyard where he played marbles with his brothers is now divided by a drain.

Karim was the eldest son of a brass cleaner and metal moulder who wanted all his four sons to be educated. “But Karim would always do what he wanted to do,” says his brother Abdul Malik, 67. He would, for instance, not have a bath for days. “One day, his teacher and friends forcefully pushed him under a running tap,” Malik recalls.

Malik, in a white kurta and a checked lungi, with a white skull cap, looks similar to Karim. “But we only look alike — we are very different by nature,” he says. Their youngest brother lives in Delhi, while the middle one is not in touch with the family.

As a child, Karim was a loner and difficult to get along with. The Delhi police say that a psychology test conducted on him found him “manipulative and often misleading”. Schoolmate and cloth dealer Ali endorses that.

Karim, he says, would steal money from his blind grandfather’s pocket. “He used to replace the notes with pieces of paper of the same size so that when his grandfather felt his pocket, he thought the money was all there,” Ali adds.

Karim studied till Class V but dropped out after his father’s death. He went to Meerut to learn carpentry “but was sent back home soon after he had burnt the asbestos roof of someone’s house there,” his brother, who is also a carpenter, recalls.

A man of few words, he became an avid reader. Even after dropping out of school, he read Islamic scriptures and teachings and apparently even the Bhagavad Gita.

Karim moved to Delhi later and worked as a carpenter, but Malik maintains he did little to help his family. “Initially, he used to send around Rs 15 out of his monthly income of Rs 40 or so, but stopped doing that after some years,” he says. Their mother remarried so that she could support the family.

For many years there was no trace of him. Malik eventually found him in Delhi, and brought him back home. A skillful carpenter, he soon made a name for himself. “Even now, he is known for his carpentry here,” Malik says.

In 1964, the two brothers got married — to two sisters. Karim was lean and dark those days. His sister-in-law, Tahira, who was five when he married her cousin Zarina, thought he was handsome. “He did not have that long flowing red beard then.”

Tahira, whose husband Mehmood Alam spent six years in jail on charges of being Karim’s accomplice, recalls him as an affectionate brother-in-law. “He used to buy biscuits and chocolates for me whenever I visited them,” she says.

Karim soon started disappearing again — but would return to his village every now and then. He told his family he worked with diamonds. For some time, he was also a practising homeopath. “He was a vagabond by nature” Malik says.

When he returned to his village in 1971, he had money. He built his family (he had had five children) a three bedroom-house with a courtyard in Pilkhuwa’s Ashok Nagar. When he left home in the late 1970s — only to return in the mid-1980s — he was accompanied by his second wife, Mumtaz, and a three-year-old son, Gufran, says Malik.

The family believes that Karim met Mumtaz in Ahmedabad. Always fond of food, he was apparently wooed by his wife’s culinary skills. “Mumtaz used to cook delicious biryani and kheer. Karim loved them,” Tahira says.

The two wives stayed together but often fought, Malik says. “Zarina used to curse Karim a lot,” he recalls. When Karim lost an arm in 1985, he called up Malik and said, “Zarina will be happy that her curses have worked.”

The police claim he lost his left arm while trying to make a bomb. The police believe he began manufacturing bombs after the 1984 anti-Muslim Bhiwandi riots in Maharashtra. “But Karim said the arm was cut while he was working on a sugarcane thresher,” Malik says.

Police sources said that at some point of time, Karim moved to Pakistan. Top LeT militant Abdul Masood had said he changed his name to Abdul Qudus and became a cloth and perfume merchant there.

Sometime in 1993, his two wives and six children disappeared from the village, says Tahira, who now stays in the house that he built for his family. According to police, he has a third wife called Asma.

The two brothers met for the last time in 1991. In the late Nineties, Malik read in the newspapers about his brother’s alleged acts of terrorism. The police often visited the village to gather information about him, but there was little that Pilkhuwa could tell them.

Now, Malik’s grandchildren watch television and ask him about the bearded man in the news. “They want to know why I never told them about him,” Malik says. “How do I tell them that my brother is a terrorist?”

Sri Lanka’s move to review — and perhaps repeal — the 13th amendment to its constitution has sent India in a tizzy.

It seems India’s troubles with its neighbours will never cease. Even as Pakistan keeps up the pressure on the line of control, another neighbour, Sri Lanka, seems to be gearing up to make India uncomfortable. In Sri Lanka’s case, the issue is a legal one — albeit something that is the internal matter of that country.

Sri Lanka has formed a Parliament select committee to review the 13th amendment to its Constitution. A product of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, signed between former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayawardene in 1987, the 13th amendment created provincial councils in Sri Lanka. There was devolution of powers related to land, police, health, education,finances, tax collection, housing and construction to the provincial councils, which were to work on the model of India’s state governments. The amendment came into being mainly to safeguard the interests and rights of Tamils who were agitating for self-determination and separate statehood in the northern province of Jaffna. The accord also made Tamil, along with Sinhala, one of the official languages of the country.

Needless to say, India is concerned about the possibility of Sri Lanka doing away with the amendment as that may impact the interests of ethnic Tamils in the country. Especially as provincial polls are going to be held in September after 25 years.

But Sri Lanka feels that the 13th amendment has lost its relevance today. “When Sri Lanka was a conflict state, the 13th amendment was thought to be a solution. But we have peace now. This is the time for reconciliation, reconstruction and development,” says Prasad Kariyawasam, Sri Lankan high commissioner to India.

Sources in the Sri Lankan government too assert that the provincial council system was “forced on Sri Lanka” by an external power like India. Hence, doing away with it would be the best option.

But that argument doesn’t go down well with India. “Sri Lanka’s 13th amendment is a constitutional provision. So we want the Lankan government to wait till the provincial councils come into being. We want to ensure that it follows a political process for deciding the fate of 13th amendment,” says a ministry of external affairs (MEA) official, adding that the decision to dilute or repeal the provision should take place only after the September elections.

But strategic affairs experts say that Sri Lanka is ignoring this plea, leading to huge embarrassment for India. “It would be a slap on India’s face if Sri Lanka dilutes or repeals the 13th amendment,” says V. Suryanarayan, former director of the Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras. “India should pursue this harder as it has to live up to the commitment that it has made to the Tamils in Sri Lanka that it cares for them,” he says.

Experts say that there is a conflict of interest between India and Sri Lanka over the 13th amendment. India thinks this is the best mechanism to safeguard the interests of Tamils in Sri Lanka while the latter is clearly not convinced.

“It is not sacrosanct since we have run into problems in implementing the provisions relating to land and police powers,” says Kariyawasam.

Many say that the 13th amendment was drafted in a way that control in most affairs related to land and police remained in the hands of the central government. As it stands now, land is a provincial subject as all rights related to land tenure, transfer and alienation of land use and settlement are enjoyed by the provinces. But there is a national land commission set up by the central government that formulates policy with regard to land use. And the 13th amendment states that the powers shall be exercised by the provincial councils with due regard to the national policy.

The situation is the same in the case of police powers. Public order and the exercise of police powers related to law and order is supposed to be under the provinces, but not national security.

In fact, the Sri Lankan government now seems to want to do away with the powers related to land and police that were given to the provinces. “A dominant section of the United People’s Freedom Alliance government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa feels that since the limited police and land powers vested with the provinces were not practically implemented, there should be a move to devolve only the implementable portions,” says N. Manoharan, a Delhi-based independent researcher.

Experts also say that the Lankan government wants to do away with the 13th amendment before the provincial elections in September because it fears that if the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) comes into power, the latter will demand that the 13th amendment be implemented in full.

Kariyawasam won’t admit that the TNA is a cause of worry. But, he says, “Our provincial councils have not matured enough to handle the full range of police powers. We fear that these powers could be misused.”

However, the Government of India too has its compulsions in seeing to it that Sri Lanka does not follow through on its move to ditch the 13th amendment. Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh twice to urge Sri Lanka not to repeal or dilute the amendment. And last month Singh assured her that India was serious about the devolution of political powers to ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka and would ensure that they were “masters of their own destiny within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.”

Naturally, the powers that be in Sri Lanka resent India’s position on this. “India is trying to pacify its local Tamil political parties by creating a noise about this. There is an impression in Sri Lanka that India is meddling too much into our internal matters,” says a senior Sri Lankan government official.

But the Indian government refutes these allegations. “There is no internal pressure,” insists an MEA official.

But experts say that if Sri Lanka does dilute or repeal the 13th amendment, Lankan Tamils might be greatly aggrieved. “The disgruntlement may lead to conflict in the north again. And it is India’s responsibility to see that there is no new trouble in the neighbourhood,” says P. Sahadevan of South Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

So India is clearly caught between a rock and a hard place here — putting pressure on Sri Lanka will be construed as meddling in its internal affairs and not doing so will be treated as a reluctance to safeguard the interests of Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamils. It remains to be seen how the Indian government tackles the problem.

Lanka’s Legal Salvo

Keshav Rao Jadhav, 81, and A. Gopala Kishan, 77, were among those who gave shape to the movement for Telangana in the 1960s. They go down memory lane and say that they continue to be sceptical about the government’s promise to usher in the state of Telangana

Across the road, fire crackers and rallies mark the announcement of a new state. On the fifth floor of a flat opposite Osmania University, a quiet calm prevails. Keshav Rao Jadhav, 81, has seen it all — celebrations and despair, hope and death.

Jadhav still does not believe that the Centre is serious about carving the country’s 29th state — Telangana — out of Andhra Pradesh. He, however, has a bowl of seviyan, a popular dessert, to mark the occasion. “But I am sceptical,” he says.

The retired professor of English at Osmania University — which has been the nerve centre of the Telangana movement — is one of the few surviving leaders who gave shape to the struggle in the Sixties.

Like him, Dr A. Gopala Kishan, a well-known city nephrologist who was one of the founding members of the Telangana Praja Samithi (TPS), the first forum to voice the demand for statehood, is not convinced that the wait is over. “Such announcements have been made even in the past,” Kishan, 77, stresses.

The cynicism is understandable, for the two have seen a series of highs and lows from the Sixties when the people of Telangana demanded statehood, fearing that they would be left without their identity and development in Andhra Pradesh, while rulers focused their attention on the Andhra region. “We were humiliated by the people of coastal Andhra for our language, food and clothes,” Jadhav says.

As the state erupts into joyous festivity — and angry agitation — the two are ready to go down memory lane. They flip through the pages of a history that they scripted themselves.

  • Movers and shapers: Keshav Rao Jadhav

Jadhav joined the protests at 14 when he participated in the first Telangana rebellion in the late 1940s as peasants fought against feudal lords and later the State. As a student of Nizam College, he also participated in the Mulki agitation in 1952, when he led protests against government jobs being given to non-Mulkis (non- locals).

In 1953, as Andhra state was carved out of Madras Presidency, the people of Telangana, who did not want to be a part of it, protested. In 1955, the State Reorganisation Commission, formed by the Centre in 1953, said in its report that Telangana should be a separate state and merge with Andhra after the 1961 general elections, if that was the mandate. That didn’t happen.

In 1956, a gentlemen’s agreement was reached between Andhra and Telangana leaders. Provisions were chalked out for power sharing and promises made to safeguard the interests of Telangana. That didn’t happen either.

“None of our interests — relating to health, education, self-governance and sale of agricultural lands — was safeguarded,” says Kishan.

Not surprisingly, there was pent up anger among the youth. A student from Khammam went on a hunger strike after the state government sacked junior engineers of a thermal power project. The protest spread to Osmania, from where students spilled on to the streets.

Kishan recalls an incident that he now deeply regrets. As the rebellion gathered momentum, he instructed four engineering students to burn down the Jamia Osmania railway station in 1969. While attempting to do so, three students sustained burn injuries and later died in hospital.

“I feel guilty now for having sent them to do this. But such was their dedication that they refused to name me when the police interrogated them,” Kishan recalls.

That was the year “Jai Telangana” became the slogan of the movement. On May 1, 1969, lakhs of people started a march from Charminar to Raj Bhavan in Hyderabad to submit a memorandum to the Governor demanding statehood. Jadhav and Kishan were among them.

“When we were about to start the march, a 16-year-old girl called Aruna came to us and said she wanted to take part in it. She suddenly shouted ‘Jai Telangana’ — and that very moment, the police fired at her. She fell to the ground and died,” Jadhav recalls. “It was she who gave us our slogan. Till then, we had slogans such as ‘Long Live Telangana’ and ‘Telangana zindabad’.”

It was the first time police had fired at protesters. But not the last.

The marchers walked on, some throwing stones at the police. A student leader called Umender tried to pacify the agitating crowd. “But the police fired at him and he died on the spot,” Kishan remembers.

Those were turbulent times, when street protests accompanied public discussions. The TPS organised the first ever convention on Telangana in Hyderabad. It was here that the Telangana flag was hoisted for the first time.

  • Dr A. Gopala Kishan

As killings and curfew continued, the Centre got into the act. In the middle of the night of June 4, 1969, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi landed in Hyderabad and met Kishan and other Telangana leaders. “She told me, ‘Stop the killing, your issue is solved.’ Hearing this, we thought we’d got statehood,” Kishan recalls.

But nothing changed. Some 369 people were killed in police firing in 1969. Leaders including Kishan and Jadhav were arrested.

Jadhav believes that the biggest problem with the movement was that politicians took the credit for it. “They took advantage of the movement and fulfilled their political aspirations,” he says. He also criticises Telangana Rashtra Samithi chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s alliance with the Congress in 2004 and the proposed merger with the party.

Kishan agrees. “The biggest weakness of the movement is that we allowed these politicians to lead it. We never got a selfless leader.”

The 1969 struggle died down after the Jai Andhra movement gathered momentum in 1972 as a counter to the Telangana demand. There were sporadic protests in the 1980s, but the Telangana movement lost its zeal. Kishan and Jadhav took a backseat. Telangana got a new lease of life only when Rao formed the Telangana Rashtra Samithi in 2001.

Kishan, who kept away from the movement for more than four decades, doesn’t like some of the turns it has taken. “Earlier, protesters were killed in police firing. But now they immolate themselves. This clearly shows how leaderless the movement is,” he says. Kishan adds that 700 protesters in the past three years died of burn injuries after self-immolation.

Jadhav is critical of the money that has been coming in. “It’s shocking to see how crores of rupees have been collected from the Telangana diaspora by politicians to keep the movement alive. Money was never important in our protests back then.”

The two veterans look at the struggle from a distance, and wonder if their dream has finally been realised. Till the state takes shape, celebration will be just a bowl of seviyan.

The Telangana Trail

  • The founding members of TPS with Gopala Kishan on the extreme right


Armed peasants of Telangana region fight against revenue collectors


Telangana students agitate against ‘outsiders’

Potti Sriramulu dies after a fast unto death demanding an Andhra state


Andhra state is created


Khammam student goes on hunger strike, Osmania University students agitate demanding Telangana. Telangana Praja Samithi formed

Many killed in police firing as agitations continue


A political settlement is reached with the Centre, but nothing emerges


K. Chandrashekhar Rao revives the Telangana movement


P. Chidambaram announces in Parliament that Telangana state process has started


Telangana announced

Prashanth Kumar may not be able to shift to his dream home anytime soon. He was supposed to get possession of his flat in Noida last year but the construction of the building has been delayed by an indefinite period of time.

“We have found out that the funds the builder was supposed to use for this project have been diverted to a new project that he is about to start,” a distraught Kumar says.

Aggrieved home buyers such as Kumar will have cause for cheer if the Real Estate (Regulations and Development) Bill is passed in the monsoon session of Parliament. The bill proposes to make it mandatory for builders to pay a penalty to buyers if they fail to hand over the flats within the stipulated time. The legislation, which has been in the works since 2011, would be applicable to all residential projects over 4,000 square metre in plot size.

Also, the bill mandates that 70 per cent (or a percentage notified by the appropriate state government) of the money raised for a project should be deposited in a separate account to ensure that developers do not divert funds meant for a particular project to their other projects. This would be done to curb delays in project completion because of a shortage of funds.

“The bill should usher greater transparency, accountability and discipline into the real estate sector and, therefore, give a boost to consumer confidence,” says Anurag Jhanwar, director, CRISIL Real Estate Ratings, a global analytical company which provides ratings, research, and risk and policy advisory services.

Traditionally, buyer-builder agreements never favour the buyer in India. By 2020, the Indian real estate market size is expected to touch $180 billion. Yet the sector remains unregulated with builders having the upper hand in most cases. But the new bill brings some hope for buyers as it plans to look into issues such as false pre-launch advertisements, misrepresentation of the size of the property and the registration of projects.

“The bill will make it mandatory for developers to register all projects with a proposed regulatory authority, and put details such as project specifications, size, carpet area and sale details in the public domain,” says Jhanwar. This will ensure that the developer delivers on every commitment made in the brochure, he adds.

Also, developers would not be allowed to cancel an agreement for sale unless they have sufficient grounds to do so. And if they still do it, they would have to refund the amount collected along with interest. Further, if a major structural defect is brought to the developer’s notice within a year of possession by the buyer, the former will have to rectify the defects without levying further charges.

The bill also includes measures to protect buyers from misleading pre-launch schemes. For example, developers often soft launch their projects to a select group of buyers, typically priced at a 5-15 per cent discount to the launch prices. Experts say that these investments carry a substantial risk, as projects at that stage may not have received all the required approvals. To protect the interests of buyers, the bill includes a clause that says projects can be launched only after the developer secures all statutory clearances from relevant authorities.

The other important provision in the bill is that the sale of flats has to be on a carpet area basis and not on super-built area, as is the practice now. Take the case of Manoj Tiwari, a banker, who bought an 1,100 square feet (super-built area) flat in Noida three years ago. His builder increased the area by 40 square feet and is now charging him an extra sum of Rs 96,000 for it — something that was not mentioned in the builder-buyer agreement that he had signed at the time of purchase.

“We were not intimated about it beforehand. Now that they are about to finish the project, they have published the new super-built area in the new brochure. We have no scope of measuring the area, so how do we even know if the area has been actually increased,” asks an angry Tiwari.

The bill also calls for an appellate tribunal and a penalty for default, which will deter developers from duping buyers. “This will address the grievances of the consumer who now has recourse to either a prolonged litigation process in a court of law or consumer courts,” says Anuj Puri, chairman and country head, Jones Lang LaSalle, a professional services and investment management company.

However, despite the many good features of the bill, experts say it has some loopholes too. For example, the “mandatory penalty” that the developer has to pay the buyer in case he fails to stick to the delivery deadline is not clearly spelt out.

Right now, developers charge around 18-20 per cent penalty each time buyers fail to make the payment on schedule. But if the builder fails to hand over the property on time, the builder is supposed to pay a mere Rs 5 per square feet as penalty each month. In most cases, developers don’t even pay that.

“But the bill remains vague on this issue,” points out Niranjan Hiranandani, managing director of the Hiranandani group of real estate companies. “It only says that monetary penalties are to be imposed on the promoter and repeat offenders are also liable for a jail term. But it is not clear what sum is to be paid as penalty.”

Real estate developers are also dismayed by the fact that the bill does not include any provisions that make the process of getting various approvals faster and easier.

Experts say that developers in India have always complained that they experience inordinate delays because of the difficulty in getting approvals for construction from government agencies.

“Although the bill makes a provision for a 15-day window to either approve or reject projects, there is a big question mark on whether this deadline will be sufficient to obtain the plethora of regulatory approvals that are needed before construction can begin,” Jhanwar says.

Some feel that the bill also needs to be focused on promoting real estate in the country. “In a country like India, where the purchasing power of an average Indian is increasing, the bill should promote the real estate sector. At present, it is just regulating it,” says Hiranandani.

Clearly, the builder lobby will push for some changes to the bill before it is passed into law.