Dhaka at­tack ‘sus­pect’ dies in cus­tody, fam­ily says he was tor­tured Cen­tral govt staff paid `1.5L a month to just take phone calls and pay bills Cong hints at flex­i­bil­ity on GST rate cap

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - HT Navi Mumbai Live - - FRONT PAGE - Agence France-Presse ht­metro@hin­dus­tan­times.com Jee­van Prakash Sharma jee­van.sharma@hin­dus­tan­times.com Shishir Gupta and Gau­rav Choudhury let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

A Bangladeshi teenager, who po­lice say was a sus­pect in last week’s deadly at­tack on a Dhaka cafe, died in cus­tody, with his fam­ily in­sist­ing he was a hostage and al­leg­ing tor­ture by se­cu­rity forces. Zakir Hos­sain Sha­won, 18, a kitchen as­sis­tant at the Ho­ley Ar­ti­san Bak­ery, was ar­rested af­ter last week’s deadly siege by sus­pected Is­lamists in which 22 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 18 for­eign­ers, died.

Po­lice killed five at­tack­ers and ar­rested Sha­won to­gether with an­other man over “sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­i­ties”, treat­ing him as a sus­pect — a claim ve­he­mently re­jected by his fam­ily, who claim he was taken hostage like other vic­tims. He died in the in­ten­sive care unit of Dhaka Med­i­cal Col­lege Hospital late Fri­day af­ter five days in the clinic, po­lice and his fam­ily said.

Sha­won’s fa­ther Ab­dus Sat­tar de­manded an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his death, say­ing his “in­no­cent son and the main bread­win­ner of his fam­ily” died due to tor­ture.

Mean­while the coun­try’s po­lice chief said that ex­trem­ists from Ja­mayetul Mu­jahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a lo­cal Is­lamist group blamed by the gov­ern­ment for the cafe siege, were be­hind a sep­a­rate at­tack on an Eid gath­er­ing.

Even as cen­tral em­ploy­ees threaten to go on a na­tion­wide strike to protest the Sev­enth Pay Com­mis­sion hikes, about 3,000 to 4,000 Group A of­fi­cers con­tinue to do odd jobs at the grade and pay of mid-level bu­reau­crats.

These em­ploy­ees — be­long­ing to the Cen­tral Sec­re­tariat Stenographer Ser­vices (CSSS), Rail­way Board Ser­vices, Armed Forces Head­quar­ter Ser­vices and the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs — serve as prin­ci­pal pri­vate sec­re­taries (PPS), se­nior PPS and prin­ci­pal staff of­fi­cers (PSO). Their job pro­file re­quires them to at­tend phone calls, ar­range files, pay of­fice bills and even per­form per­sonal tasks for the of­fi­cials they are at­tached to.

The ser­vice has its roots in the ad­min­is­tra­tive re­forms brought in by the Bri­tish em­pire in 1919, and con­tin­ued till the 1990s. Though com­put­ers re­placed type­writ­ers around then, they were still re­cruited through a com­pet­i­tive ex­am­i­na­tion con­ducted by the Staff Se­lec­tion Com­mis­sion.

These stenos or per­sonal as­sis­tants are up­graded to the post of pri­vate sec­re­tary ei­ther through a lim­ited de­part­men­tal ex­am­i­na­tion or a de­part­men­tal pro­mo­tion.

The prospects of a na­tion­wide goods and ser­vices tax (GST) have bright­ened with the gov­ern­ment in­di­cat­ing its will­ing­ness to reach out to the Op­po­si­tion and ham­mer out a so­lu­tion on the key de­mand of spec­i­fy­ing a cap on rates.

Once adopted, GST will dra­mat­i­cally al­ter In­dia’s in­di­rect tax struc­ture by re­plac­ing a string of cen­tral and lo­cal levies such as ex­cise, value added tax and oc­troi with a sin­gle uni­fied tax and stitch to­gether a com­mon na­tional mar­ket.

In a ma­jor shift of stance, the Congress’ Jairam Ramesh said Satur­day that the party’s de­mand for a cap on GST rate in the Con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment bill is not cast in stone. “If the cap in the Con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment bill is un­ac­cept­able, then the gov­ern­ment can ex­plore the op­tion of keep­ing it in the GST bill… If the gov­ern­ment wants, a creative use of the English lan­guage can solve the im­passe.” If the cap were to be kept in the GST bill, which would be passed af­ter the 122nd Con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment bill, the gov­ern­ment would not have to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion each time it needed to im­pose a levy.

The Congress’ deputy leader in the Ra­jya Sabha, Anand Sharma, was also quoted as say­ing the party wanted the gov­ern­ment to “ring-fence” the tax rate. Sources told HT the gov­ern­ment saw this state­ment as an op­por­tu­nity to find a way out of the im­passe, which has been the main hur­dle to its re­forms ini­tia­tive.

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