Water packs up, pat on back for UP
Delhi date diversion turns Annan away from Pak
Letter ‘bomb’ blows up on Vaiko
Centre limits payout to states
Joust of the Js over crown jewels
Calcutta weather

 
 
WATER PACKS UP, PAT ON BACK FOR UP 
 
 
FROM ANAND SUNDAS IN VARANASI AND RADHIKA RAMASESHAN IN NEW DELHI
 
Feb. 8 
Deepa Mehta today cleared out of Varanasi, ending a 10-day standoff with the Uttar Pradesh government which earned itself a pat on the back from the BJP.

“We are happy that the state government has respected people’s sentiments. It has acted in the most responsible and restrained manner,” BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya said in Delhi, likening the “people’s” agitation to the French Revolution.

The film’s fate was virtually sealed yesterday after chief minister R.P. Gupta made it clear he would like Mehta and her team to “pack up their bags”. The district administration clamped a 14-day ban on the film’s shoot, citing “the law and order situation”.

Bruised by the financial and psychological blows, the unit of Water left for Delhi this afternoon amid victory cries of the Kashi Sanskriti Raksha Sangharsh Samiti which had called a bandh today. The producers have reportedly incurred a Rs 3-crore loss because of the delays.

“We lost but it is the city of Varanasi that has been defeated. This chapter will leave a permanent scar on Varanasi’s culture and tradition of tolerance,” actress Shabana Azmi said.

She insisted that the film will be made. “We will continue our agitation against the unfairness but the fact remains we have to go,’’ Shabana said. The district magistrate’s assertion that the ban order would be reviewed after a fortnight found few takers among the unit members.

Govindacharya contended that Mehta had been taught a lesson not to “underestimate people’s sentiments and take them for granted”.

“What we have protested is the marketisation of social evils,” Govindacharya said, referring to Water’s theme depicting the plight of Varanasi’s widows in the thirties.

While alleging that Mehta had a penchant for courting controversies since her earlier film Fire dealt with another “unmentionable” subject —lesbianism — Govindacharya conceded he had not seen any of her movies. “For us it is enough that people’s sentiments were hurt. The government’s job is to intervene when there is a clear conflict of interests,” he said.

Scriptwriter Anurag Kashyap scoffed at the claim that the authorities were safeguarding people’s interests. “The government didn’t want us to do the film here due to their own political compulsions,” he said.

As another Shiv Sainik attempted suicide by consuming poison, the police stepped up their crackdown on the protesters and arrested over 50 Sangh supporters for defying ban orders.

District magistrate Alok Kumar ordered all schools to be closed “keeping the law and order situation in mind”. The demonstrators continued to burn Mehta’s effigies but they meted out similar treatment to Vir Bhadra Mishra, mahant of the Sankat Mochan temple, who had “cleared” her altered script.

In Delhi, Govindacharya skirted queries on why the state government was against the film when it had been cleared by Union information minister Arun Jaitley. “Jaitley is good for seeing scripts,” Govindacharya said, adding that Mehta had wrongly assumed that the battle was won just because she had “won” over the Centre.    


 
 
DELHI DATE DIVERSION TURNS ANNAN AWAY FROM PAK 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 8 
India has forced UN chief Kofi Annan to defer a tour of the sub-continent by citing “problems over finding convenient dates”, denying him a chance to visit Pakistan and play a possible peacemaker’s role on Kashmir.

Besides India, Annan was scheduled to visit Pakistan and Bangladesh in the South Asia leg of his 16-day tour.

After the nuclear tests and the Kargil war, Annan had voiced his desire to send a special envoy to mediate between India and Pakistan. But India rejected the suggestion.

The exact purpose of the UN chief’s visit to South Asia was not known, but he was to discuss issues that have a bearing on the world body. Kashmir is definitely one issue which has regularly come up at the UN.

Delhi’s decision indicates that it is no hurry to allow smooth passage for world leaders trying to legitimise the Islamabad junta.

The step could also be a signal to Washington to keep Islamabad out of President Clinton’s itinerary, though secretary of state Madeleine Albright made it clear yesterday that irrespective of a Pakistan trip, both Kashmir and non-proliferation were issues of “serious concern” and would be discussed during Clinton’s visit.

Albright was quoted as having said: “The trip is one that would be important, but it is not just a sign that everything has been dealt with and all problems have been resolved.”

She added: “I believe that the US has made it quite clear that having a relationship with the world’s largest democracy is important. But obviously, we continue to have very serious concerns about the issue of non-proliferation and about the dealings on Kashmir, and hope very much that the Indian government understands and continues and will continue to deal with these issues.”

The US evidently wants Indo-Pak disputes sorted out. But Delhi is not ready to jump at Pervez Musharraf’s offer of talks. Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: “There is nothing new in what Musharraf said. All the points raised by him are well known and has been raised by Pakistan a number of times. Our response to them are also well-known.”

In New York, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard confirmed Annan’s decision to skip the subcontinent. He is to visit Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, East Timor, Australia and New Zealand. His first port of call would be Bangkok, where an Asean-UN Summit is scheduled for Friday.

India’s official statement on the issue was brief: “A proposal for a visit by the UN secretary-general was mooted but convenient dates could not be matched.” Jassal added that Delhi was working with the UN to decide on the dates.

In private, officials said India had to send out a strong signal to Annan for his attempt to equate India and Pakistan. “This even-handed approach has created most of the problems in the region. World leaders, once they come to New Delhi, find it compulsory to visit Islamabad. This is a practice we want to put a stop to,” said an official.    


 
 
LETTER ‘BOMB’ BLOWS UP ON VAIKO 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 8 
MDMK chief Vaiko has been caught slipping in a list of his own candidates to fill up government posts for which examinations had been held.

The Tamil Nadu MP has written a letter to Union labour minister Satyanarain Jatiya, asking him to jump the results of the examination for the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation and appoint 11 of his nominees.

“I kindly request you to appoint the following persons to the posts of peons in the Employees Provident Fund Organisation, Chennai 14, for which the examination was held on January 23,” says Vaiko in the letter. He then puts down 11 names along with their roll numbers.

Unfortunately for the MDMK leader, his letter was intercepted by the Citu. M.K. Pandhe, general secretary of the Citu, immediately sent a letter to Jatiya, warning against “manipulation and political bias” in the recruitment. Along with his own letter Pandhe sent a copy of Vaiko’s letter to the labour minister.

“You will appreciate any move to entertain such recommendations will make the whole process of examination a complete farce and a great fraud will be committed on the applicants,” Pandhe wrote.

He reminded Jatiya that an examination had already been held and “in such a backdrop, recommendations by a Member of Parliament is most shocking”.

Jatiya got in touch with Pandhe and tried to make light of the matter. “Jatiya said my letter has now made it impossible for him to appoint Vaiko’s nominees,” said Pandhe.

The Citu leader had been wanting to get back at the labour minister for ignoring the Left trade unions. Vaiko’s letter honed his argument against the government’s “political bias”.

“We are particularly concerned since we have found such political bias and impropriety becoming a routine feature of late,” said Pandhe.

“This has been manifest in the trade unions’ representation on various tripartite committees set up by the labour ministry,” he added.

Since Jatiya’s appointment as labour minister, the Citu had been waiting on the sidelines to strike back at him who showed “no interest in trade unions”.

Pandhe had been cut up with the ministry for “packing” the second National Labour Commission with “BJP sympathisers and persons who have nothing to do with labour”.

The Citu leader has been in touch with other trade unions to set up a parallel National Labour Commission.

“It is true that the Intuc and the BMS are part of the present labour commission. But there are 10 government-recognised trade unions. I am sure they will join us,” he said.    


 
 
CENTRE LIMITS PAYOUT TO STATES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 8 
The Union Cabinet today chose the cheaper option by approving the Tenth Finance Commission’s alternative formula for revenue sharing with the states which will get 29 per cent of the corpus created out of the proceeds from central direct taxes.

As a result, the Centre will now have to fork out an additional Rs 5,000-5200 crore a year to the states for the period between April 1, 1996, and March 31, 2000.

The decision means that the government has virtually spiked the interim recommendation of the Eleventh Finance Commission — under which it would have had to hand out Rs 15,000 crore to the states. Obviously, the Centre felt it wiser to accept the Tenth Finance Commission’s report which it had kept in cold storage for the last three years rather than settle for the ‘costlier’ new report.

The Cabinet also decided to re-introduce a constitutional amendment Bill in the forthcoming budget session to implement the new revenue sharing formula.

The Bill was earlier introduced in July 1998 but could not be passed because of the dissolution of the 12th Lok Sabha. It has since lapsed and hence the need for re-introduction, said parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan.

The divisible pool of taxes has been widened under the new formula and will consist of proceeds from all central taxes excluding stamp duty, excise duty on medicinal/ toilet items, central sales tax, consignment tax and surcharge. Earlier the pool was much smaller comprising proceeds from income tax, basic/special excise duties and additional excise duties.

But even while accepting the Tenth Finance Commission’s recommendation, the Centre has decided to load the dice in its favour by deciding to calculate the amount to be given to states on the basis of net tax receipts and not on gross tax receipts, which was the original recommendation of the finance commission.

By tweaking the formula, the Centre has made sure it will have to pay out about Rs 2000 crore less than it would have to if it had accepted the basis of gross tax receipts.

However, there is one small concession to the states: the percentage share of devolution is to be reviewed by successive Finance Commissions instead of freezing it for 15 years as suggested by the Tenth Finance Commission.

The Cabinet also decided that the final recommendations of the Eleventh Finance Commission, which has been mandated to submit its report by June 30, 2000, will cover the period beginning April 1, this year.

The benefits of the new scheme is that states will be able to share the aggregate buoyancy of the central taxes. The government will be able to pursue its tax reforms without having to consider whether the tax is shareable or not.

The Centre and state governments will also be able to gauge the impact of the fluctuations in central tax revenues. There will be a greater likelihood of the taxes mentioned in Articles 268 and 269 of the Constitution being tapped.    


 
 
JOUST OF THE JS OVER CROWN JEWELS 
 
 
FROM NANDITA ROY
 
New Delhi, Feb. 8 
Manohar Joshi and Arun Jaitley are jousting over the crown jewels. The battle is a fallout of the government’s hobby of creating competing areas of administrative control with Joshi, minister for state-owned companies, resenting what he calls “uncalled-for” incursions by Jaitley, who has been put in charge of the newly-conjured-up department of divestment.

Kicking off the war of the written word, Joshi, a Cabinet minister, recently sent a letter to Jaitley, junior in the ministerial hierarchy, asking him to lay off his turf. Jaitley has merely replied that the senior minister’s concerns have been taken note of.

The dispute between the two Js centres on the junior minister’s role in the disinvestment of government shares, a responsibility specially created by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to speed up the process of selling the family silver.

At the time of setting up the department, the government had made it responsible for implementing decisions on disinvestment, including the price at which shares were to be sold, and for restructuring of public sector units.

Officials reporting to Joshi in the ministry of public enterprises say they are not clear about the role of the disinvestment department. The confusion has led Joshi to believe Jaitley is overstepping his brief by deciding on how much to sell in which state-owned company.

From the government’s definition of the department’s authority, Joshi appears to have come to the conclusion that selecting the company in which shares are to be sold and the extent of disinvestment are his prerogative.

The provocation for Joshi to take the unusual step of asking a colleague to mind his business came after the disinvestment department initiated steps to sell 74 per cent of the government’s holding in Modern Foods to Hindustan Lever and announcement of the intention to divest 51 per cent in national carrier Indian Airlines.

From holding the commanding heights of the economy, the public sector’s importance since the reforms started has almost been reduced to which temple of modern India can fetch how much for the exchequer.

If disinvestment decisions are taken by Jaitley, Joshi is apprehensive that he will become minister with a portfolio on paper alone. Sources said Joshi might have missed the writing on the wall when Jaitley, blue-eyed boy of the BJP Big Two, Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, was put in charge of this department.

During last fortnight’s Cabinet meeting on Modern Foods and Indian Airlines disinvestment, certain ministers questioned the role of the department since it appeared to be calling the shots in both cases, the sources said. But Vajpayee overruled the objections.

Unable to stomach the erosion of his authority, Joshi wrote the letter, saying that decisions on disinvestment from companies in his jurisdiction would be taken by his ministry and the department of disinvestment should only implement them. Jaitley has already prepared a roadmap for disinvestment. The entire process, he says, would now be conducted in a more systematic manner.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 26.1°C (-3) Minimum: 17.0°C (+1) RAINFALL: Nil. Relative humidity: Maximum: 98%, Minimum: 56% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in minimum temperature Sunset: 5.23 pm Sunrise: 6.17 am    
 

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