Court cracks UP power reforms shield
Kashmir police off village drill
Paswan stirs troubled telecom waters
Ally pulls out of poll pact
Saifuddin defends outburst
Bangalore blueprint for best city badge

Lucknow, Jan. 24 
The high court today told the Uttar Pradesh government not to ‘‘misinterpret court rulings’’ to justify the power reforms, shattering the legal cordon built by the state in its battle against the electricity employees.

A two-judge bench dismissed a petition filed by Sravan Bhargava — an associate of power minister Naresh Aggarwal — demanding that the court declare the strike illegal and issue a contempt notice. The application against the petition was filed by the wife of a senior engineer of the state electricity board.

The government had issued advertisements in newspapers that the decision to trifurcate the power board — the flashpoint of the standoff — was based on a Supreme Court observation and the Allahabad High Court had ruled that the employees on strike could be hauled up for contempt.

Dismissing the writ petition, the judges said that ‘‘while issuing advertisements in newspapers, the authorities should take care that the orders passed by the honourable Supreme Court and high court are not misrepresented’’.

It is surprising why the state government had to justify the move by citing court observations when it could have argued that the recast of the power board was part of a policy decision and some other states had already done so.

But by referring to court observations, the government has opened itself to criticism and swivelled the focus on a report placed before the Supreme Court on the ills of privatisation.

The apex court, acting on a PIL, had directed a ‘‘high-powered’’ committee to study ‘‘the political and high-level interference in the independent functioning’’ of the state electricity board. The six-member panel, headed by P.K. Kaul, submitted its report in May.

The committee pointed out that ‘‘privatisation cannot be a panacea given the ground realities’’ in the country. Second, it said, the voluntary retirement scheme, which the state power minister had said he would begin immediately, ‘‘would not suffice’’.

‘‘Even a generous VRS programme will not suffice: just doling out money does not serve the purpose. Its impact is shortlived. The psychological trauma that follows could be terrible. Treading the path to privatisation has to evolve, over a period of time,’’ the report said. It further warned that restructuring of state power boards and carving out independent organisations could ‘‘increase overheads’’.

The committee suggested that instead of overhauling the electricity board, the government should take steps to free it from political interference and appoint chairmen who are ‘‘techno managers’’ rather than ‘‘stooges of political bosses’’.

Today’s order has strengthened the hands of the anti-reforms lobby. Ashok Rao, convener of the All-India Power Engineers’ Federation, said from Delhi that ‘‘the order will prevent the state from acting in such a brazen, arrogant manner”.

The power minister tried to play down the ruling. ‘‘We will abide by the verdict. But our crackdown will continue,’’ he said.    

New Delhi, Jan. 24 
In a telling comment on the performance of the Jammu and Kashmir police, the Centre has handed over the training of village defence committees and special police officers in the state to the army.

The latest decision of the home ministry is part of the move to review the action plan prepared in May 1998.

It stems from the fact that the state police, which has little to show in the fight against Pakistan-backed terrorism, has of late been targeted by suicide squads of Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul Mujahideen and Hizbul Mujahideen.

Although the home ministry recently brought back the police into anti-insurgency operations, officials here believe that the over-stretched and ill-equipped force is not in a position to train the 5,300 village committees and 18,000 special officers. Both came into being a few years ago as a “bulwark” against foreign mercenaries.

The village defence committees, so far armed with outdated .303 rifles, will get automatic and semi-automatic guns. They will also be given sophisticated communication sets.

Only last year, the home ministry had directed the Farooq Abdullah government to double the number of village defence committees and special police officers in the districts worst affected, such as Doda, Rajouri, Poonch, Udhampur and Kathua.

Each village defence committee has nine to 10 members and is led by two special officers, usually former state police personnel familiar with weapons.

But most of these committee members and officers were not being given their “stipend” of Rs 1,500 by the state police because of alleged paucity of funds.

“It is now felt the army should give training in using weapons, communication sets and hand-to-hand combat to the village defence committees and special officers because it has been involved in counter-insurgency operations for years. It has more to offer at a basic level than the state police,” an official said.

The decision was ratified in the meeting chaired by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on January 17. The army top brass will shortly draw up a plan to conduct training camps for the village defence committees.

The aim is to “integrate” the committees — which have proved “quite effective” in checking terrorism — with the security forces who will now operate in the 49 sectors that the state has been divided into.

The decision to choose the special police officers from retired paramilitary personnel is meant to give the village committees better leadership. With their background, these officers are better placed to grasp the requirements of anti-terrorism operations.

However, an earlier plan to “settle” ex-servicemen along the Line of Control as a first line of defence as well as gatherers of intelligence has been given up because of Article 370. The statute does not allow outsiders to own land and settle in the Valley. Instead, the “settlers” will be former paramilitary personnel from the state.    

New Delhi, Jan. 24 
Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan today added to the confusion over the proposed role of the reconstituted Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), saying that its tariff-setting powers would not be open to scrutiny by Parliament.

Paswan said: “There is no confusion about the need for government to mandatorily seek Trai’s recommendations about introduction of new tariff for telecom services. These would be binding on all the service providers.”

Welcoming this, Trai chairman S.S. Sodhi said: “Even when the government does not accept our recommendations, it will still have to provide us the reasons for not accepting them.”

However on issuing of licences to new operators and other policy matters, Paswan said: “It would be mandatory for the government to seek Trai’s views but would not be binding to accept them. The government would have the final say on licensing issues.”

Paswan appeared to be echoing what Sodhi said last week: “Our tariff recommendations will be binding on all — the government and the operators. While it will be mandatory for the government to seek our recommendations on licensing conditions and other policy matters, it will not be binding on the government to accept them.”

Paswan also suggested the government’s announcement last Tuesday was based on the recommendations of the sub-committee on Information Technology and Telecom Convergence.

While announcing the Cabinet decision, minister for information and broadcasting Pramod Mahajan had said the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) could no longer ask Trai to furnish a record of the deliberations on tariff-setting.

The CAG has already objected to the proposal and informed Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Public Accounts Committee that this would amount to a curb on its audit powers.

Department of telecommunications (DoT) secretary Anil Kumar, however, said: “Trai is a quasi-judicial authority and has statutory functions to perform and its tariff-setting powers cannot be audited.”

Paswan said Trai’s role would be clear only after the Ordinance amending the Trai Act, 1997 is promulgated by President K.R. Narayanan. The Ordinance has already been sent to the President.

“As a sub-committee we had proposed that Trai should be bifurcated into an administrative and regulatory body. One will deal with telecom-related administrative issues and would be headed by an eminent person with an administrative and telecom background while the other would be known as the telecom dispute settlement and appellate tribunal, which will perform judicial functions and regulate the disputes, including those between licenser and licensee,” Paswan said.

N.K. Singh, currently special secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, is in the running to become head of the administrative wing of Trai.

Sodhi, currently chairman of the unified Trai, is a contender for the judicial wing.    

New Delhi, Jan. 24 
In a blow to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Bihar People’s Party (BPP) pulled out of the Assembly polls protesting its meagre seat-share.

Much to Laloo Prasad Yadav’s glee, the BPP, representing upper caste Rajputs in north Bihar, also decided not to campaign for the alliance, which had hammered out the Bihar seat-sharing deal yesterday. Chandra Sekhar, leader of the one-MP Samjawadi Janata Party, has already cast his lot with the Rashtriya Janata Party.

Another NDA partner, the Samata Party, is sore with the BJP and JD(U) for overlooking its claim for more seats.

Ties between the JD(U) and the Samata deteriorated further today when Union minister of state Sreenivas Prasad, who had won on a Lok Shakti ticket, crossed over to the JD(U). Samata chief George Fernandes had told Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi last we-ek that Prasad was with his party.

JD(U) spokesperson M. Raghupathy today confirmed Prasad’s crossing over, adding that he has agreed to campaign for the party in Bihar from February 2.

BPP chief Anand Mohan said he has written to Union home minister L.K. Advani, who brokered the Bihar deal, informing his decision not to contest the polls as “justice was not done to his party”. Union finance minister Yaswant Sinha was instrumental in slashing down the party’s share, though Advani was sympathetic, BPP sources said.

Anand Mohan said in the 1995 Assembly elections his party was ahead in 41, the BJP in 183, the Samata in 90 while the JD(U) was non-existent. Yet, this time the BJP got 150 seats and the Samata 90, while his party was given just 20 seats, he complained. The JD(U) has got 64 seats.

The JD(U) and the Samata Party are struggling to identify seats which do not clash. Both parties claim the same social base in north and central Bihar.

Since all the three major parties had to scale down from their earlier demands, a large number of rebels are likely to be in the fray, hitting NDA poll prospects. However, leaders of all the three parties discounted such a scenario and said they would not allot symbols to those who refuse to withdraw from the contest.

Cong support

The Congress has decided to back the RJD in the event of a hung house in the Bihar Assembly. Party sources said though the Congress has snapped ties with the RJD, it would back a “secular formation” to prevent the NDA from coming to power.    

Calcutta, Jan. 24 
CPM rebel Saifuddin Chowdhury has justified his statements in the media which compelled the West Bengal leadership to showcause him.

Chowdhury, who left for Delhi today, submitted his reply to the leadership yesterday. He said he would not budge an inch from what he had told the press.

“I have not done anything against the party by saying all that. In fact, I was very vocal about inner-party democracy and transparency in running the organisation. I talked about these at the party forum repeatedly, but did not get a response,” Chowdhury said.

“Therefore, I raised the issues in the media. Some of my leaders may not like my statements. But my intention was not to hurt anyone. If they are hurt, I am sorry. But don’t think I am apologising,” he added.

His aides are now eager to see what stand the party leadership takes. Chowdhury told his followers that he was emotionally prepared for any drastic action.

“If they take any drastic step I will go by that wholeheartedly,” he reportedly said.

If he is expelled, Chowdhury will launch a new party with comrade-in-arms Samir Putatunda. However, his future dealings with prime rebel Subhas Chakraborty will depend on the latter’s stand on Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

It is also learnt that Chowdhury is not happy with Chakraborty for offering a helping hand to the RSS, which had held a three-day workshop at Salt Lake stadium from January 14.

CPM insiders feel, however, the party may not take any big step against Chowdhury as the civic polls are scheduled for May and any major split will hurt the party.    

Bangalore, Jan. 24 
In a unique brainstorming session presided over by chief minister S.M. Krishna, corporate bigwigs and bureaucrats heading public utilities churned out ideas in a seven-hour summit today to come up with a “Bangalore Agenda” — a blueprint to make it one of the world’s best cities in the next four years.

Officials in charge of Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, Bangalore Development Authority, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, power corporation, Bangalore Telephones and the city police put forward their plans for the next three to six months and beyond to improve infrastructure.

Corporate icons like N.R. Narayanamurthy and Nandan Nilekani put their money where their mouth is.

In an overwhelming response to the Bangalore Agenda Task Force, set up by Krishna two months ago, the corporate world made a financial commitment of Rs 30 crore for various civic projects.

B.V. Jagadeesh, a software tycoon from Bangalore settled in the United States, pledged $1 million for upgrading corporation schools for the poor (he himself studied in one), the Volvo consortium donated Rs 7 crore, Infosys and BPL gave Rs 2 crore each, ABB Rs 2.5 crore, the Prestige and Brigade groups Rs 1.5 crore each, Coca Cola and Biocon Rs 1 crore each, while Sudha and Narayana Murthy and Rohini and Nanda Nilekani made personal contributions of Rs 2 crore each.

Nilekani, who heads the task force consisting of eminent people from various fields, including Raja Ramanna and H. Narasimhaiah, said it would monitor utilisation of funds in a transparent and accountable manner, publishing a periodical progress report on the Net.

He expressed confidence that more funds would pour in.

To counter the criticism the task force would concentrate on “elitist” projects, Krishna announced a Rs 250-crore development plan for slums with the help of organisation like Hudco.

Task forces were pledged for other cities, such as Hubli, Mangalore, Gulbarga and Bellary.

City municipal commissioner K. Jairaj, convener of the task force and one of the movers behind the concept, outlined his plans for road development, solid waste management, slum improvement, rationalisation of property tax and introduction of transparent accounting practices.

Bangalore Development Authority chief Jaikar Jerome promised distribution of 5,000 sites in six months and completion of work on ring roads by June and shifting of the iron and steel market by December.

Only 4,500 sites have been given in the past 10 years.

Krishna vowed to keep political interference out of civic bodies.

He said unlike in the past, when bureaucrats were shuffled often, those chosen by him to head public utilities would have “a tenure co-terminus with that of the chief minister.”

The most telling presentation was made by joint commissioner of police Ajay Kumar Singh. He said while the city’s population had grown by 10 lakh and the number of vehicles by 2.7 lakh in the past decade, the strength of the police force had gone up by only eight constables.

The task force has already earmarked Rs 2 crore for augmenting police manpower and equipment.

Among plans to be implementing by June are development of 300 km of road surface of decent motorable standards; house-to-house garbage collection in at least 25 per cent of areas; providing telephone on demand in 12 more exchanges; rehabilitation of existing water supply lines and plugging major sewage leaks.    


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