Govt cashes in on power staff split
Tariff shock lurks in heartland
Suicide raid on military camp
Hostile allies chip away at Atal edifice
Bengal lines up terror team
Cong plans Haryana role for Priyanka
RSS in back-to-basics cry

Lucknow, Jan. 25 
Chances of a breakthrough in the power strike stand-off in Uttar Pradesh brightened tonight with the government and the employers inching closer to a deal.

A meeting between the government and the unions stretched into the night. Barring last-minute hitches that cannot be ruled out, a settlement could be reached.

Significantly, the demand for rolling back the trifurcation of the state power board — the flashpoint for the strike — did not figure among the workers’ final charter of demands.

The issues being sought to be thrashed out included financial benefits to employees and their role in the new corporations.

Giving unions room for manoeuvre, the government today revoked action under the National Security Act against two top leaders, Shailendra Dubey and Akhilesh Kumar Singh. Charges under the Essential Services Maintenance Act against 200 employees will also be withdrawn.

The talks received a fillip after state power minister Naresh Aggarwal managed to win over two infantile unions. Ten workers’ unions and two engineers’ associations are on strike in the state.

Aggarwal today invited Dubey and Singh for talks. The leaders were released from the Banda and Hamirpur jails at 4 am and driven 300 km to Lucknow.

The two were taken to a guest house, the nerve centre of negotiations today. When Dubey and Singh reached the guest house, they were greeted by Aggarwal, power secretary Atul Chaturvedi and a surprise duo — Girish Pandey of the Vidyut Mazdoor Panchayat and R.S. Rai of the Vidyut Mazdoor Sangathan.

Pandey, a close associate of defence minister George Fernandes, has a played a key role in managing to almost break the strike.

Soon, a marathon internal meeting of all the 12 unions supporting the strike began behind closed doors.

Sharp differences surfaced between Pandey and Dubey. Pandey wanted an immediate settlement, while Dubey accused him of “selling out to the government”.

Pandey said that with the government adamant on restructuring, “thousands of workers would be on the road” if no agreement was reached.

For starters, the unions gave four proposals to the government. Revoking the board recast was not one of them. Instead, the unions wanted all employees to be treated as state staff and sent on deputation to the different power corporations.

Other demands were for creation of a trust of Rs 10,000 crore to settle provident fund and gratuity arrears, release of those arrested under the National Security Act and an assurance against tariff hike.

Barring the release of leaders arrested under the NSA, no other proposal was accepted in toto.

Instead the government put forward its own proposals. They included starting a voluntary retirement scheme and corpus fund of Rs 100 crore to clear part of the provident fund arrears.

These proposals were debated at length by the unions in their internal meeting before they finally met at 8 pm for a round of discussions with the government, represented by Aggarwal, urban development minister Lalji Tandon and parliamentary affairs minister Hukum Singh.

Later, principal secretary, finance, S.C. Tripathi and secretary to the chief minister, Alok Ranjan, were called.    

Lucknow, Jan. 25 
Uttar Pradesh is in for a shock treatment. The state power corporation, whose trifurcation ignited the strike, is losing over Rs 150 crore a month and a steep tariff increase is inevitable.

Sources in the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation said there would be a tariff hike of about Rs 2.20 per unit before the expected privatisation in the middle of 2001.

The corporation will deal with transmission and consumer affairs, while the remaining two bodies will focus on thermal and hydro-power generation.

The proposal for the mark-up, which will take the tariff to Rs 4 per unit from the current Re 1.80, is now lying with the state electricity regulatory commission, but subscribers have not been told about it.

The Rs 150-crore shortfall each month does not take into account Rs 900 crore outstanding to the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), Rs 450 crore to the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation and Rs 750 crore to the Nuclear Power Corporation.

The financial blackhole is still deeper as the erstwhile power board had also “used” Rs 1,440 crore from the employees’ provident fund. The pay-up order will catch up with the utility within four years when around 50 per cent of the employees are due to retire.

Within the corridors of Shakti Bhavan, the power headquarters, officers are grappling with the question of tiding over the transition phase between a restructuring and privatisation. “The burden is too great and the state cannot bear it,” a senior official said.

The total monthly expense of the utility comes to Rs 610 crore, while revenue is only Rs 450 crore, leaving a shortfall of Rs 160 crore.

Of the monthly expenditure, establishment costs account for Rs 130 crore, power purchase Rs 250 crore, coal Rs 100 crore, freight Rs 30 crore, oil Rs 20 crore, overhaul and maintenance Rs 30 crore and loan instalments Rs 50 crore.

The sources in the corporation said the consumer would have to bear the brunt much before power goes private.

“The burden was there even before restructuring. This is only the beginning. That is why we should privatise as soon as possible,” power minister Naresh Aggarwal said.    

Srinagar, Jan. 25 
On the eve of Republic Day, militants late last night attacked an army camp here killing two jawans and wounding six.

Army sources here said that the two militants who stormed the camp at Tattoo ground in Batamaloo were killed following heavy exchange of fire. They said the terrorists fired four rifle-launched grenades and two rockets at the base. They followed it up by opening fire from their AK-47 rifles and storming the camp.

The militants then took refuge in a building inside the camp. Initially there was pandemonium, but soon the troops regrouped and surrounded the building. They blasted the building, where the militants were holed up, using mortars. After the operation was successfully carried out, jawans cordoned off the nearby Bemina colony.

Army sources said the attack was carried out by fidayen (suicide squad), but the organisation could be named only after the dead militants were identified. The daring attack follows recent threats by militant outfits in Srinagar to storm security camps and Republic Day celebration venues.

However, the army described yesterday’s attack as predictable and that the “frustrated” terrorist organisations were taking recourse to “publicity” stunts.

The state administration has sounded a general alert in the Valley. Troops and special commandos are monitoring the entire state. The Bakshi stadium here, where the main Republic Day function will be held tomorrow, has been sealed by troops and commandos. All roads leading to the stadium have been also been sealed.

Troops have fanned out in the localities around the stadium. Soldiers with automatic weapons have taken positions on rooftops and high-rise buildings near the stadium where public works minister Ali Mohammed Sagar will unfurl the Tricolour.

The city remained tense due to the stepped-up security. The streets were deserted and paramilitary soldiers were the only ones outdoors.

R-Day plot foiled

Police have arrested two Babbar Khalsa International terrorists, who were planning to strike during Republic Day celebrations in Punjab, near Batala. Punjab police chief Sarabjit Singh said Balbir Singh and Kabul Singh were planning to target political leaders and government officials.    

New Delhi, Jan. 25 
The National Democratic Alliance edifice, cemented by the persona of Atal Behari Vajpayee, has become shaky after the bitter wrangling over Assembly seats.

BJP sources admitted that while the NDA partners fought the Lok Sabha polls unitedly to make Vajpayee the Prime Minister, the focus had “shifted and become hazy” in the state elections to be held next month in Bihar, Orissa, Haryana and Manipur.

“Our allies seem to be fighting to guard their respective turfs. They are clearly not interested in handing over power on a platter to the BJP,” said a party vice-president.

While the seat-sharing arrangements were near perfect in the Lok Sabha polls and the BJP and its partners honoured their word to the last, breach of trust seems to be the catch phrase for the coming elections.

Last Sunday, the BJP, Samata Party, Janata Dal (U) and the Bihar People’s Party claimed to have settled disputes over seat distribution in Bihar. But the fact is, till now they have not been able to finalise the numbers for the first phase of polling, even though the last date of nomination withdrawal is January 27.

A meeting to be held last evening at the residence of finance minister Yashwant Sinha to identify the seats was abruptly called off when Samata MP Prabhunath Singh came to blows with the BPP representative.

Although BJP sources claimed to have finalised 70 of the 108 seats going to the polls on February 12, talks resumed today, indicating that all is not quiet on the Bihar front.

BJP general secretary Venkaiah Naidu declared that there was no threat of rebellion and “unofficial” candidates would be persuaded to withdraw. But sources conceded that all four parties would have a tough time doing this and expressed fear of large-scale “friendly” fights.

The BJP’s view was that al though Samata and Dal (U) may not ultimately field candidates in the BJP’s quota of seats, they were bound to undermine each other’s chances.

“We may not be too badly hit, but Samata and Dal (U) are out to destroy one another,” said a BJP leader. He attributed this hostility to the tussle for the chief minister’s post between Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar.

“Neither wants to see the other as Laloo Prasad Yadav’s successor, so they will ensure that each other’s nominees are defeated,” said a source.

The Prime Minister has distanced himself from Bihar and left L.K. Advani to grapple with it. This follows his experience in Karnataka, where his direct intervention could not prevent a skirmish between the state BJP and the Dal (U).

Asked if the slugfest would affect the Union government’s stability, Naidu replied in the negative. “What choice do the allies have apart from allowing the Centre to continue? There is no alternative formation in sight. And given the Congress’ experience, nobody will dare to do anything to this government, because they know people will punish them severely,” he said.    

New Delhi, Jan. 25 
Lacking the ability and experience to combat Pakistani espionage in West Bengal, the state government has proposed to the Centre the formation of a specialised anti-sabotage force.

The proposal was prepared a little over a month after deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya met Union home minister L.K. Advani here.

It was handed over to Union home secretary Kamal Pande by Bengal director-general of police Deepak Sanyal during the annual conference of the police chiefs of states and Union Territories last month.

Pande asked the police officers to develop individual, people-friendly, millennium policing systems and modern forces capable of tackling criminal activity assuming international dimensions.

At the meet, Advani stressed that the intelligence-gathering machinery of the West Bengal police was far from satisfactory. He said it needed modernisation if the Left Front was to check the growth of Pakistan’s ISI in some districts on the Indo-Bangladesh border.

As it turned out later, four of the five Airbus hijackers had entered Malda and Siliguri from Bangladesh before going to Mumbai and, finally, to Kathmandu.

The need for an anti-sabotage force stems from the fact that over the past few months, several consignments of RDX have been seized in the state.

Last year, in a joint operation with the Assam police, the West Bengal police had crossed over into Bangladesh’s Rajshahi district (a move denied officially) and recovered about 25 kg of RDX, allegedly from a mosque.

“Law and order is a state subject and there is nothing wrong if a particular state realises that it is time to do some introspection and admit that its police system is not in the best of health,” a home ministry official said.

“The proposal is being studied and all options are being weighed before a final decision is taken,” he said, adding that approval will take some time.

The anti-sabotage force would be an elite unit trained on the lines of Central commando forces. The first batches would be stationed in the urban areas. Separate smaller units would be stationed in some districts which, the state police feel, are used by saboteurs.

This appears to be the first step by the Marxist government to modernise its force which has become mired in politics, losing much of its expertise in preventing anti-national activities, especially in Calcutta and border districts.

According to home ministry reports, hundreds of mosques and madrasas have mushroomed in these places and intelligence suggests that they are used to propagate hate teachings and fundamentalism.    

New Delhi, Jan. 25 
Priyanka Gandhi is unlikely to campaign for the Congress despite the demand for her to boost the party’s prospects in Haryana, Bihar, Orissa and Manipur.

Devoid of emotive issues, the Congress is struggling to get its act together in the four states. Party leaders, pinning hopes on Priyanka’s charisma and oratory skills, are in for a jolt as the high command is opposed to the idea of her campaigning. Initially, Priyanka was willing to accompany Sonia Gandhi to a few places but the idea of “scattered campaign” did not appeal to the 10 Janpath think-tank who do not want to “waste” Priyanka’s potential as a vote-catcher.

However, senior party leaders have not given up hope and are now trying to convince Sonia to ask Priyanka to campaign in Haryana. “We stand the best chance in Haryana,” an AICC general secretary said, adding that the issue would be taken up once the selection of candidates is over.

In Orissa, the selection of candidates is based on the performance cyclone relief and rehabilitation work. Under this yardstick, about seven state ministers and an equal number of sitting MLAs are likely to be denied Congress tickets.

The party, aware of the anti-incumbency factor and its mishandling of relief operations, is now according priority to the quality of relief work undertaken by state Congressmen. “If an aspirant or an MLA or a minister had not done much work, his\her application will not be considered,” said a CWC member. The high command was going to be stringent with “non-performers”, he added.    

New Delhi, Jan. 25 
The RSS today issued a veiled warning to the government not to blindly imitate western economic ideas but pursue India-specific policies to boost production and employment as well as provide adequate water to the farm sector.

K.C. Sudershan, joint general secretary of the RSS, asserted that the country needed a new socio-economic-political order to save it from disaster. He was speaking at a function at the Parliament annexe, where the Research and Development Foundation for Integral Humanism was inaugurated by home minister L.K. Advani.

Sudershan said barring the “humanism” propagated by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay, all “isms” were a “closed system”.

Finance minister Yashwant Sinha, an ardent pursuer of globalisation and liberalisation, was present when Sudershan warned against the western economic model.

Stressing on the need to generate employment — “job for all hands and pani for all khet” — he said: “The western system cannot provide employment to all.”

The new foundation, added the RSS leader, would soon formulate a framework for a new socio-economic-political order.

Dwelling on Indian philosophy, especially that of Upadhyay, he underlined the need to change the Constitution as “our present Constitution is just an amended version of the 1935 Constitution”.

“Integral humanism”, he said, would equip the “body, mind and intellect to face the biggest challenges facing the mankind today”. Policies pursued by the West, especially the US, had only broken the family system there, Sudershan added.

Sinha, who spoke before the RSS veteran, tried to explain that his government was moving very cautiously on the economic front as it was keen to follow a middle path suited for India’s overall development.

He, too, said the countries which followed the West blindly were ruined. “History is witness that the country which was slow could stand on its own, while the countries which embraced the western model collapsed.”    


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