Atal breathes fire at Sangh
Coal mines thrown open in Indira socialism shutdow
Far from madding Delhi to Manali
CWC set for Bengal battle
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 6 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today celebrated the BJP’s 20th birthday with a virtual snub to the RSS, saying economic collaboration was a necessity as his first priority was to “safeguard national interest”.

Addressing Delhi BJP workers at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, Vajpayee said: “A charge has been levelled recently that India’s interests are being bartered and the country is being sold down the drain. Will a true-blooded patriot present in this gathering get up and tell me which country in the world is making grand plans to purchase India? In which mandi (marketplace) is the value of India being assessed?”

He clarified that while foreign corporates were increasingly collaborating with Indian business, it was being done on the latter’s terms.

“If they want to improve and enhance their economic prospects by doing business on our soil, let me make it clear we make sure even before they do what India will gain from all this. I can assure you that no partnership will be one-sided or detrimental to our interests,” the Prime Minister said.

Vajpayee’s assertion follows outbursts by the swadeshi lobby in the RSS against Sankhya Vahini, the Rs 1,300-crore high speed date network project with US collaboration.

“I have spent 40 years in the Opposition with a one-point agenda: the country’s interest. Will anyone here challenge me and say that India is now more secure and self-confident than ever before?” he asked to answer the RSS’ criticism.

The Prime Minister ruled out a rollback of the hike in prices of cooking gas, kerosene and foodgrain. “When the budget was presented, there was a criticism that it was a strong one. But when we presented our version of things and gave a clear picture of the economy, the attitude of many parties opposing the budget changed,” he said.

Although Vajpayee was seemingly pointing at the BJP’s allies, the message was also directed at the party’s rank-and-file because a section of its MPs has sought an explanation for the “unpopular” decisions.

The refrain, again, was “nationalism”. “If I was bothered only about the party and keeping myself in power, I would not have taken such hard measures. But we took the steps because the state of the economy dictated we should,” he said.    

New Delhi, April 6 
The shibboleth of socialism was finally buried today when the government decided to re-open coal mining to the private sector, almost 27 years after the sector had been nationalised by Mrs Gandhi’s Congress Party.

The decision to break the last real bastion of public sector enterprise was taken at a meeting of the Union cabinet late last night where ministers agreed to amend the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act 1973 to enable full-scale mining and exploration of coal and lignite by Indian companies.

Banking and insurance — the two other sectors that had also been nationalised — were earlier re-opened to private players. But unlike these two sectors where foreign participation has been permitted, mining licences will be issued only to Indian companies registered under the Companies Act.

The mining law will also incorporate a provision prescribing conditions relating to the location and maximum size of the coal and lignite mines.

The ministry of mines and minerals has been authorised to move a Bill in parliament to amend the Act.

The coal ministry is also planning to introduce a separate bill that will allow state-owned coal companies to rope in private partners to form joint ventures to exploit mines and coal-bearing blocks that they own.

“We aren’t surprised by the decision. We knew it was coming,” said Coal India chairman P.K. Sengupta. “We have drawn up elaborate plans to prepare for the opening up of this sector. I don’t foresee any problem for the next 10-15 years since we have signed long-term linkages with our buyers which will protect our markets.”

Coal India Ltd, one of the largest single employers in the world with a workforce of 5.9 lakh, has estimated the country’s coal reserves at 208,751 million tonnes.

India has a long tradition of commercial coal mining that dates back to 1774 when Sumner and Heatly of the East India Company started mining the Raniganj coalfield along the western bank of the river Damodar. But in 1971, concerned over the poor working conditions of labour in the private coal mines and the unscientific mining practices adopted by them, the government decided to nationalise the industry. The nationalisation was done in two phases: first with the coking coal mines in 1971-72 and then the non-coking coal mines in 1973.

In 1976, the Act was relaxed to permit captive mining of coal by privately-owned iron and steel companies. This benefit was later extended to power companies in 1993 and cement units in 1996.

In 1995, the Planning Commission had recommended an amendment to the Act due to the widening gap between demand and supply of coal and lignite. The bill was however not introduced in the Rajya Sabha because of the strong opposition by various labour unions.

The virtual de-nationalisation of the sector through these two decisions will now give a fillip to the economy of the states in eastern India which are rich in coal deposits. New and re-vitalised old mines could generate more jobs and provide a thrust to ancillary and downstream industries.

Another decision by the government to base new thermal power plants at coal pitheads will mean that many of these new mines will find ready buyers. But others will have to work out marketing strategies. This is where the better managed nationalised coal companies could step in to offer marketing joint ventures or even act as composite marketing agents for the private mines.

The privatisation of the sector will also mean an end to the days when the state electricity boards, railways and other government-owned coal buyers could buy up huge stocks and withhold payment for years on end.

At present, about 60 per cent of the country’s total energy requirement in the country is met by coal. Coal-based power generation accounts for around 70 per cent of the power generation in India. The coal demand in the country is expected to increase several fold within the next few years on account of burgeoning demand from power, steel and cement sectors.

The demand-supply gap of coal has been estimated at 235 million tonnes by the end of the Tenth Plan. Nationalised coal companies and captive coal mining companies would not be able to bridge this huge gap. The government was keenly aware that it would not be possible to cover the shortage through coal imports.    

New Delhi, April 6 
If Bill Clinton has his Camp David and the occasional Martha’s Vineyard, Atal Behari Vajpayee has found his Manali.

The Prime Minister has been lamenting for some time that he never gets a decent holiday. His Sundays are crowded with engagements. Crucial decisions often have to be taken during weekends. Unlike the American or Russian Presidents, he does not have a Camp David or a dacha to relax, play golf and share his drinks with a few close friends.

For Vajpayee, the past year has been politically sapping — Kargil, elections, the hijack and party hawks and allies constantly snapping at his heels.

The Prime Minister feels he finally deserves some time to himself and is taking off for the hill resort in Himachal Pradesh tomorrow morning.

This will be his first official vacation since the few days he took off after the Pokhran blasts in May 1998. Then, too, he had visited Manali.

Since then, Vajpayee has made a few trips to the Andamans and far-flung provinces of the Northeast, but those moments of privacy were snatched by some troubled chief minister or a harassed Governor.

The Prime Minister had recently felt cheated in Mauritius. He was to spend only 54 hours at the idyllic island and his schedule was so heavily packed with functions, speeches and meetings that he found little time to enjoy the beaches. It was the first time officials heard the Prime Minister actually complaining about a loaded schedule.

Even his Manali trip will give him less than 72 hours with his family. He has to be back in the capital by Monday noon.

But Vajpayee, who will be accompanied by his daughter, son-in-law and his apple-of-the-eye granddaughter, will not be entirely free of work.

Joining the Prime Minister are his principal secretary Brajesh Mishra, joint secretary in the PMO Ashok Saikia, officer-on-special duty in the PMO Ashok Tandon and his private secretary Anand Rajan.

Barring Rajan, the other officials had travelled with him to Manali in 1998 as well. His then private secretary Shakti Sinha has since taken up a posting in Washington.

In between taking in the fresh air, Vajpayee may have a few brainstorming sessions with these four. Far from Delhi, and not subject to pressure from partymen, Sangh parivar hawks or complaining allies, he will discuss policies like warding off pressure to roll back tough decisions announced since the budget.

He will have to weigh the new developments in Bengal where Mamata Banerjee is planning a mahajot (grand alliance) with both the Congress and the BJP. And above all, he will have to start giving final shape to the pending Cabinet shuffle: there are a lot of claimants and it will require a lot of tightrope walking.

The only leader expected to be in touch with Vajpayee is home minister L.K. Advani.

Of late, the two families — those of Advani and Vajpayee — have been meeting frequently, watching films together at 7 Race Course Road or going over to the home minister’s modest Pandara Road house for dinner.

Vajpayee enjoys his rare holidays. Away from the public glare, he exudes a charm which surprises even officials who meet the Prime Minister almost daily.

Not having to “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet”, Vajpayee is able to expound his theories on development — dreams which he cannot implement because he has to abide by the “coalition dharma”.    

New Delhi, April 6 
The pro-Mamata Banerjee lobby in the West Bengal Congress wants dissident Congress Working Committee members to take up their cause at the CWC meet and queer the pitch for Sonia Gandhi.

Dissident leader Rajesh Pilot, among those approached by the Somen Mitra camp, fired a salvo at the leadership for siding with Rabri Devi, who was chargesheeted by the CBI. “If I was in the position of Rabri Devi, I would have resigned and remained out of office till I was cleared of the charges,” he said.

Sonia, camping in Amethi, retorted that there would be no change in the party’s stand towards the Rabri Devi government. She sought to turn the heat on Union ministers L.K. Advani Murli Manohar Joshi, asking for their resignations for being chargesheeted in the Babri masjid demolition case.    

Temperature: Maximum: 35.3°C (-1) Minimum: 26.1°C (+2) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum: 60% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in maximum temperature, which will be around 36°C. Sunset: 5.50 pm Sunrise: 5.27 am    

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