Gujarat onus back on Atal
Orissa churches face conversion permit raj
Golden handshake in all PSUs
Curbs on remote control of unions
CPI quits govt after seat snub

New Delhi, March 7 
A day after the Sangh parivar chief stepped back to avoid a showdown between the government partners, the BJP’s allies today asked the Prime Minister to persuade Gujarat at the “political level” to withdraw its order allowing employees to join the RSS.

The NDA partners, at a meeting convened by Atal Behari Vajpayee, made it clear the BJP ministry in Gujarat should be “coaxed on a party-to-party basis” to cancel the circular.

As the deadlock in Parliament extended, an all-party meeting convened by Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi remained inconclusive with both sides sticking to their stands.

The allies felt it would be “improper” for the Centre to issue a directive to the state, as it could upset the balance of power in a federal structure.

Though RSS chief Rajju Bhaiyya yesterday said withdrawal of the order would not affect the outfit, the Keshubhai Patel government has so far refused to give in. Agencies quoted state home minister Haren Pandya as saying in Gandhinagar: “The circular exists and we have no plans for a rethink on the issue.”

BJP sources refused to commit whether the high command would “cajole” Patel to retract. “It could be an option, but it will be the last option,” said an office-bearer. “Our strategy would be to allow the RSS to try and persuade the government a little more. If the matter is still unresolved, then Kushabhau Thakre (the BJP chief) could step in,” he added.

BJP sources said Rajju Bhaiyya’s statement was expected to “pave the way” for Gujarat to rescind the order in an “honourable” manner. Officially, however, the party reacted cautiously. Spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said: “It is up to the Gujarat government to do what they want.”

The Trinamul Congress led the allies’ charge with a strong statement against the Gujarat order, virtually blaming the Patel government for creating “unnecessary problems” for Vajpayee.

The statement, issued by Trinamul Congress spokesman Sudip Bandopadhyay, said: “The Gujarat government should come out and withdraw the circular. Unnecessarily, the Central government is facing problems in Parliament which has remained non-functional for the past few days.”

Telugu Desam sources said their party, along with the MDMK, PMK and Indian National Lok Dal, indicated to Vajpayee that they must not be “pushed” into a situation where they would have to vote on the issue — the flashpoint of the standoff with the Opposition.

The sources clarified the Desam’s reservations on voting was not just related to next week’s civic polls, which is what the BJP believes, but to the larger issue of “communalising” the bureaucracy through orders of the kind enforced in Gujarat.

The BJP had claimed the Desam was against Rule 184, which allows voting, as its MPs may not be present in full strength in the Lok Sabha because of the municipal polls in Andhra Pradesh.

NDA sources, while saying they were confident that the impasse would end soon, maintained Vajpayee did not make any commitments on behalf of the Gujarat government.

However, Gujarat BJP sources stressed the turnaround would not be easy. “We have to answer to our pro-Hindutva voters. If the Opposition gloats over our defeat, it will not send the correct message to our cadre,” said a member.

The allies, which have warned the Centre of moving a cut motion over the hike in foodgrain and fertiliser prices, are expected to meet finance minister Yashwant Sinha tomorrow to demand a rollback.

Desam sources interpreted Chandrababu Naidu’s statement that the “single-largest party” should have been invited to form the government in Bihar as a “pressure tactic” on the Centre to act fast on the price increase.

Plea to President

As part of the follow-up of the anti-RSS rally yesterday, five Congress chief ministers today urged President K.R. Narayanan to ask the Centre to order Gujarat to rescind its decision.

Signed by Digvijay Singh, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Ashok Gehlot, S.M. Krishna and Sheila Dixit, the memorandum said the “unilateral decision” of the Keshubhai Patel regime was associated with the “fundamental issue” of governance which falls within the remit of the union.

Krishna and Dixit drove to Rashtrapati Bhavan to submit the memorandum. They alleged that the order would politicise and communalise the bureaucracy.    

Bhubaneswar, March 7 
The Orissa government has issued an order warning all churches against carrying out conversions without informing the district authorities in writing.

The directive, drawn up by the Giridhar Gamang Cabinet and issued by the Hemanand Biswal ministry, also lays down that churches must furnish names and addresses of persons converted in the last five years.

Church authorities will henceforth have to fill up an elaborate form before the district magistrate and face a police inquiry before any conversion.

The order follows an amendment to the 1989 Orissa Freedom of Religion Rules, an offshoot of the 1967 Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, that was cleared by the Gamang government in November 1999. The government has asked the churches to “scrupulously” follow the Freedom of Religion Act.

Naveen Patnaik, who took over as chief minister on Sunday, was unavailable for comment on whether his government would continue with the directive.

“The order is patently unconstitutional. It impinges on the rights of minorities to propagate their religion unhindered,” said Father Joseph Kalathil, speaker-general of the Roman Catholic Church’s Bhubaneswar diocese. He added that the churches were considering appealing in the Supreme Court.

Father Isaac Puthenangady, secretary of the Catholic church in Balasore, said he was shocked when he received the order from the additional district magistrate around two weeks ago.

“This is a tacit move to discourage anyone from converting to Christianity. The malafide intention of the government is evident because it served the order only to churches and not to any other religious head or group indulging in so-called reconversion,” Father Puthenangady said.

“Under the Constitution, every Indian has the right to accept, practice and propagate the religion of their choice. The Orissa government has denied the constitutional right to its citizens,” he added.

Christian leaders said the order implied that churches were indulging in conversion. “It only gives credence to the propaganda against Christians by some fundamentalist organisations. Worse, the order was issued by the Congress regime and not by the present government in which the BJP is a partner,” a Protestant leader said.

The United Christian Forum for Human Rights has written to President K.R. Narayanan and the National Human Rights Commission, protesting against the directive, especially the decision to survey the number of people converted to Christianity in the last five years.

According to the order, a person wishing to change his religion will first have to appear before a first class magistrate and declare he is converting voluntarily.

After the conversion, the priest will have to fill a form, giving details of the person converted. The form has to be attested by two independent witnesses.

For a conversion to be declared legal under the amended law, the district magistrate, on receiving the statement from the priest, will inform the police superintendent, who will ask the officer-in-charge of the police station concerned to conduct an inquiry.

Violators face a year’s jail term and a fine of up to Rs 5,000.    

New Delhi, March 7 
The government has finalised a golden handshake scheme covering all public sector undertakings (PSUs).

The scheme will soon allow profit-making PSUs to sack surplus workforce by offering an attractive termination package under the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS). These PSUs will be allowed to offer VRS with a maximum of 75 days’ salary for each completed year of service.

But the PSUs will get no budgetary support from the government and would have to fund the VRS package through their own resources.

The proposal, now being considered by Manohar Joshi, minister for department of public enterprises and heavy industries, will be placed before the Cabinet soon.

The scheme will enable profit-making PSUs, like the Oil & Natural Gas Corporation, National Thermal Power Corporation, Indian Oil Corporation, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd and the Gas Authority of India Ltd, to offer golden handshakes.

Several sick PSUs will also be allowed to extend VRS. For employees of these companies, 45 days’ salary would be offered for each completed year of service.

So far this package was open to only those 10 undertakings identified for closure by the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) under the department of heavy industries.

The scheme will now be open to all loss-making PSUs which the government feels are not viable. A one-time closure package would be given to these.

Many of the sick PSUs are in Calcutta, where seven companies will be closed down. The Centre took the decision in October after a review by an expert panel set up at the behest of railway minister Mamata Banerjee.

The companies facing shut-down are the Mining and Allied Machinery Corporation, National Bicycle Corporation of India, Weighbird India Limited, Tannery and Footwear Corporation of India Limited, Rehabilitation Industries Corporation, the Tangra unit of the Tyre Corporation of India and Bharat Process & Mechanical Engineering Limited.

However, the panel felt two units — Bharat Ophthalmic Glass Limited and National Instruments Limited — could be nursed back to health.

The government’s VRS proposal is part of the overall effort to streamline PSU functioning and stress industrial revival.

The “viable” PSUs, making marginal profits or losses, can offer a VRS package based on the Gujarat Pattern.    

New Delhi, March 7 
The Centre today made significant changes to the Trade Union Act, 1926, introducing provisions barring easy entry of outsiders into executive bodies.

It also imposed restrictions on registration of unions, making it mandatory to have a 10 per cent support base before a union could be officially recognised.

The new Trade Union Amendment Bill will prevent multiplicity of unions, said a senior labour official who had been summoned to the Cabinet meeting. He said the objective was to make the unions “responsive, responsible and accountable”. The idea is also to promote leadership from the rank and file.

Sources said this is a revised Bill which will be tabled in Parliament all over again and now has much more teeth than before. This is among the six legislations approved by the Cabinet in its two-hour meeting this evening. All legislations will be placed in the current budget session, provided members do no resort to the politics of “adjournment”.

The Act now allows entry of up to 50 per cent outsiders into any union leadership. Discussions to reduce this high presence of those who have “no commitment to the company” began during Narasimha Rao’s tenure. Efforts were made also during the previous Vajpayee government to pass legislation restricting outsiders from deciding the fate of a company’s workers.

After the amendment, only a third of the executive body of a trade union, or a maximum of five members, can be outsiders. What the government sources did not specify was that this would prevent “over-politicisation” of the unions and let new leadership emerge from within the company.

In some ways, sources admitted this development would hurt the Left unions which have tended to transplant their politically-indoctrinated cadre on factory premises. This will also ease the control of centralised trade unions and pave the way for “better understanding between managements and unions”.

At present, seven persons getting together in an industrial unit can form a union. The amendment will disallow multiplicity, insisting on proof of a 10 per cent support base before a union can be registered.

Among the other decisions taken today was the biodiversity Bill which allows for conservation of flora and fauna. An important pending legislation, also cleared and which has to be placed all over again, is the amended Criminal Procedure Code. These amendments were first introduced in 1994 in the Rajya Sabha and referred to a House committee.

The Bill is being tabled again because it had lapsed and new clauses were incorporated.    

Calcutta, March 7 
The Left Front was today jolted by a CPI decision to quit the Jyoti Basu government in protest against the denial of a Rajya Sabha seat.

The decision came after the CPM said it would contest three of the five Rajya Sabha seats and concede the fourth to the RSP.

In Delhi, the CPI’s national executive authorised general secretary A.B. Bardhan to inform his CPM counterpart that the party would also leave the Left Front unless it was given nomination. One of the five seats that have fallen vacant belonged to the CPI.

Alarmed by the CPI stand, the CPM has convened an emergency Front meeting tomorrow to review the situation.

The CPI, however, reiterated that it will not budge from its decision unless the CPM changes its stand.

Left Front chairman and politburo member Sailen Dasgupta said it would be difficult to concede the CPI’s demand as “we have already taken a decision. We will try to persuade the CPI to change its stand tomorrow.”

But CPI member and water resources development minister Nanda Bhattacharya was adamant.

“We are not going to attend office at Writer’s Buildings from tomorrow till our demand for the fourth seat is conceded,” he said, after attending the Left Front committee meeting at the Alimuddin Street headquarters.

Besides Bhattacharya, the CPI has another nominee in the Cabinet, Srikumar Mukherjee, who holds the civil defence portfolio.    


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