Atal activates drought alarm
Cronje country tapped for cash trail clues
Coal-starved city begins blackout long march
A million for hard lesson

New Delhi, April 22 
The onion sting still touching a raw nerve, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has taken the lead in tackling the severe drought stalking four states on a war-footing.

Vajpayee has met the chief ministers of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh — the worst-hit states — and has decided to appeal to the nation through Doordarshan and All India Radio for generous contribution to his relief fund. The speech is expected to be aired within the next 48 hours.

Vajpayee had made a similar appeal after last year’s killer cyclone devastated Orissa.

After the onion price bite of 1998 — that led to the snoozing BJP’s decimation in the elections to the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi Assemblies — the Prime Minister and his aides are making doubly sure that the government is not caught napping this time.

Over the past fortnight, Vajpayee has met Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, Keshubhai Patel of Gujarat, Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh and Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh to collaborate in their efforts to confront the drought.

Sunderlal Patwa, rural development minister who was entrusted with agriculture after Nitish Kumar was made Bihar chief minister, is touring the states as the Prime Minister’s emissary.

Vajpayee has spoken to Cabinet colleagues like Shanta Kumar, who looks after consumer affairs and public distribution system, to find out what the Centre can do to help these states.

Joint secretaries in the PMO are in touch with the ministries dealing with agriculture, food, rural development and PDS to ensure there is no shortage.

In 1998, there was little coordination between then agriculture minister Som Pal and food minister Surjit Singh Barnala. The briefings to the PMO were sketchy and by the time the government woke up to the enormity of the situation, onion prices had skyrocketed.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs today swung into action and decided to release 20 kg of additional foodgrain per month at below-poverty-line prices to all families in the affected areas, irrespective of their financial condition.

Spokesman for the Cabinet Pramod Mahajan said the Centre had also decided to release two kg of additional foodgrain per man-day of work done under the food-for-work programme. He added that there was enough food stock to meet the challenge.

To meet the water scarcity, the railway ministry was eager to despatch rakes but the request should come from the states, Mahajan said.

But for all its alertness, the Centre will find it difficult to stave off criticism on the scourge. Vajpayee and his finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, stand to be pilloried for their tough economic measures during Monday’s Parliament debate on the drought.

The Opposition as well as the BJP’s allies pestering for a rollback of the subsidy cut on foodgrain and increase in prices of cooking gas and kerosene are expected to raise their pitch and argue that the drought should prompt the government to be more benevolent to the poor.

Vajpayee is also keen to dispel rumours about his poor health. He went through a full working day today, chairing meetings of the Cabinet committees on disinvestment and economic affairs.    

New Delhi, April 22 
The Enforcement Directorate is taking the help of its “sources” in South Africa to retrace the financial transaction in the match-fixing case involving Hansie Cronje and four of his teammates. The bureau feels part of the hawala money may have been routed through Nepal.

The directorate wants to find out whether the South African trader of Indian origin, Hameed ‘Banjo’ Cassim, or any other hawala operator had deposited the Rand payment in Cronje’s bank account in his country. The directorate has obtained details of phone numbers to which calls were made by actor Kishen Kumar, London-based businessman Sanjeev Chawla, his brother Rajiv, a few suspected bookies and Rajesh Kalra, now in judicial custody.

Armed with CD-ROMs that can help trace any call in India within minutes, the investigators have made minor breakthroughs while securing names and addresses from the dialled numbers.

The directorate is singling out numbers to which several calls were made and checking if these telephones or cellphones are owned by or leased to known bookmakers and hawala operators.

The officers have been able to re-construct a network of bookies worldwide and also of hawala operators close to Chawla and Kumar. Kalra, the arrested bookie who was given a three-day remand with the directorate, did not throw much light on the hawala route. He was only able to provide some leads which the investigators hope to pursue with Kumar.

There are other sources who are providing information on the global transactions. For example, a call was made from South Africa to a person in Kathmandu, indicating that the money may have travelled via Nepal which is home to several hawala kingpins dealing in Indian rupees.

The directorate admitted that if the entire transaction was done in cash, it will be difficult to pin down the culprits for want of evidence. Kumar’s questioning is, therefore, an essential part of the case the directorate is building.

The enforcement branch received the documents from Delhi police on Thursday. But because of the long weekend, the sleuths will sift through them on Monday.

The investigators are now in a position to find out if any Indian cricketer, past or present, is involved. They are aware of some key phone numbers of match-fixers, their circle of friendly bookies and the South African contacts.

The directorate does not rule out the investigation trail taking them to Dubai and Sharjah. They will have to get in touch with their sources in London to cross-check Kalra’s hint that the money first went to the British capital before moving on to South Africa.

CBI probe not ruled out

In Gangtok, home minister L.K. Advani today did not rule out a “comprehensive” inquiry by CBI into match-fixing. “Whatever is necessary will be done... Including a probe by the CBI or another agency. But it all depends on Delhi police submitting their report.”    

Calcutta, April 22 
A huge 220-mw shortfall in power supply resulted in widespread blackouts in several areas of north and south Calcutta during the evening peak hours today.

The position is likely to worsen in the next few days as coal stocks to feed the power plants of the CESC and the eastern grid are drying up.

Though it was a holiday and many offices and establishments were closed, power cuts were reported from Kasba, Jodhpur Park, Jadavpur, Garfa and parts of Golf Green and Tollygunge.

To compound problems, a CESC transformer burnout in Kalindi forced large areas in Lake Town, Dum Dum, Patipukur and Baghbazar to go without power. A senior utility official said the burnout caused a 10-mw shortfall. Repairs were likely to be completed by midnight.

For CESC, matters took a turn for the worse today as the state electricity board, too, decided to restrict its supply to the CESC system, in view of poor supply from the NTPC plant in Farakka, also dogged by a coal shortage for the past few days.

The SEB supplied 100 mw less to the CESC today during peak hours.

The threat of a strike by coal sector employees from May 8 has further darkened matters.

The CESC in the evening peak hour on a full working day draws about 300 to 350 mw from the SEB grid. But on Friday and Saturday, the power board could supply only between 210 and 230 mw.

Power department sources said the state government has appealed to Coal India authorities to step up supply of coal to the CESC’s power stations before the strike in the coal sector so that the plants are in a position to build up a stock.

As per norms, power plants are to stock enough coal to last them for two weeks. But the four CESC plants in the city and its fringes have only three days’ stock left.    

Bangalore, April 22 
Since B.V. Jagadeesh finished studying at the government primary school at Bagalur just outside Bangalore three decades back, the school has seen no improvement.

In fact, it has deteriorated: the roof leaks and students huddle together on the floor. But thanks to Jagadeesh, things may change.

A software engineer by training, Jagadeesh migrated to the US in 1982. He now heads a $16-billion company, Exodus, which provides Internet services worldwide.

But he has not forgotten his humble beginnings. Eighteen years after he left for the Big Apple and earned tons of greenbacks, he has returned to serve his alma mater.

After chief minister S.M. Krishna set up a task force headed by Infosys managing director Nandan Nilekani to draw up an action plan to improve infrastructure in the city, on one of his recent visits to Bangalore, Jagadeesh decided to make his own contribution.

He donated $1 million (Rs 4.5 crore) for the uplift of all the 121 government schools in the city corporation limit.

“Having studied in one of these schools, I know how hard it is to come up in life. With the government taking a back seat, the quality of education in government schools has deteriorated over the years. I wanted to do something for them, considering that they are patronised mostly by children from lower strata of society and they are at a lot of disadvantage compared to other children,” says Jagadeesh.

In the initial phase, 33 high schools have been identified for upgradation and improvement. “We have studied the problems being faced by each of these schools and they will be addressed individually. We want to improve the general environment and also motivate the teachers as only they can bring about change,” Jagadeesh adds.

The plan will get underway on April 24 when the headmasters and vice-principals of these schools will undergo a three-day rigorous orientation course in communication and computer education. An expert team has been commissioned to train them with the help of a software called School-net.

Enthused by the NRIs’ initiative, corporation commissioner K. Jairaj has also decided to do his bit by taking up a massive plan to improve the infrastructure facilities like buildings, toilets, lighting and proper desks for students.

A public trust floated by Jagadeesh — Seva Sangam Pratishtan — which has two of his former professors on the board, will decide on equipping the schools with computers and laboratories.

Jagadeesh says he donated eight computers with Internet connection to a Navodaya school at his native Bagalur on an experimental basis last month and he could already see the difference it made to students.

For students of engineering colleges, he plans to institute “entrepreneurial contests” both in Bangalore and Mumbai, where he studied. “We would like to give handsome financial rewards to students who come up with product ideas which are suitable for Indian markets. It will help them to gear up for their future career,” he said.    


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