Atal to lead debut team to EU summit
Three Ds dominate PM dinner date
Jairam set to lose Cong post
Narmada protesters get court boost
Convergence cloud on broadcast Bill
Rapist killed after public trial
Travel pay for single MPs’ companions

 
 
ATAL TO LEAD DEBUT TEAM TO EU SUMMIT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 12 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will lead a strong Indian delegation to Lisbon for the first Indo-European Summit in June. Portugal now holds the six-month presidency of the European Union, a bloc of 14 nations.

Preparations for the summit have already begun. According to sources, officials on both sides will begin preparatory talks in Delhi on Monday for the forthcoming session.

The trip is significant. It gives India the platform to correct its differences — both on the diplomatic and trade fronts — with some leading European countries like the UK, France and Germany and the EU as a whole.

Although the EU has held talks with powerful nations like the US, Japan, China, Canada and Russia, it has never gone beyond this core ambit to include lesser countries. Now that India has earned the privilege, it should be a harbinger of a number of advantages, sources said. The decision to hold the summit was taken last December, when foreign minister Jaswant Singh dropped in at the Portuguese capital and grabbed the offer.

Earlier, Singh — as foreign minister — had been holding talks with the EU troika (its decision-making trio) every six months. But now that the Prime Minister has taken on his shoulders the responsibility of leading a delegation, India can thrash out a number of pending issues with its largest trading partner. India’s total volume of trade with this bloc is about US$ 22 billion.

Several EU heads of state are expected to attend the June 28 summit. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his French counterpart Lionel Jospin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are expected to be there. Even if not all of them turn up, they could be represented by some important government functionaries.

On May 15, foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh and the director-general for external policy of the Portuguese foreign ministry, Joao Salgueiro, will meet for the official preparatory session for the summit. Emiliano Fossati, director of the Asia Directorate of the EU Commission, will also attend the talks.

For India, the EU collectively is the biggest source of foreign direct investment and a major contributor of developmental assistance. It is also a major partner in technical collaborations, though India has not always been happy with its anti-dumping laws or protectionist policies which stand in the way of exports and create trade deficits. The summit also gives India the chance to voice its stance on the World Trade Organisation.

According to sources, one area where Indians can benefit from the summit is information technology.

Lagging behind the US in this sector, EU nations might be interested in forging a partnership with India, which is fast emerging as a global player in infotech territory. This could open up access for Indian IT companies intent on doing business in Europe.    


 
 
THREE DS DOMINATE PM DINNER DATE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 12 
It was meant to be a “dinner” date for the Prime Minister to “interact” with his MPs. But it turned out to be an open forum at which endless praises were sung to A.B. Vajpayee and his lengthening list of achievements.

There was a lurking fear that some alliance leaders would rake up the rollback demand and other embarrassing political issues. But the barking dogs not only did not bite, they did not even bark.

Sources said this happened not by accident but by design. By their sleight of hand, the Prime Minister’s spin doctors managed to turn the get-together into a sell-Vajpayee session.

They had his leadership qualities praised. They got defence minister George Fernandes to issue a statement on behalf of all allies “congratulating” Vajpayee for the “successes” in the “three Ds”: defence, diplomacy and development.

Last year, home minister L.K. Advani had coined the “three Bs” —- bomb, budget and bus. Then Bihar was added to the list, but they collapsed under their own weight.

Before the meeting, two alliance leaders had said: “We want the Prime Minister to understand our feelings and the people’s sentiments (on price hike).” But when they met Vajpayee, they kept mum.

Cabinet minister Pramod Mahajan and BJP spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu had told newsmen yesterday that there was no meeting, “but dinner”, and “no politics, the Prime Minister does not have time to interact with MPs because of the Parliament session”.

So the dinner had been organised as was customary before the end of the Parliament session, they said. But a statement issued today by the BJP said the dinner was held to mark the second anniversary of the Pokhran-II blasts.

Almost all the leading lights of the alliance attended the dinner and vied to outdo everyone else in eulogising Vajpayee. Some gave him bouquets, others draped him with shawls.

Beaming, Vajpayee said his “government is stable” and “working hard to draft policies and programmes to make India more strong and prosperous. We have the support of the people. I am confident that, as we have done in the past two years, we shall continue to take our beloved country forward on the path of all-round development.”

But he did not take credit for the diplomatic success of Pokhran II. “There is a new wave of pride and self-confidence among our people. The credit for this goes to the entire nation, not to the government alone, and certainly not to any individual,” he said, adding that India would retain its minimum nuclear deterrent.

He also took the opportunity to praise Fernandes for “the excellent work done” on the defence front, foreign minister Jaswant Singh for his “commendable work” on the diplomatic front, Advani for “ably” handling internal security affairs, and Murasoli Maran and Mamata Banerjee for their good work.    


 
 
JAIRAM SET TO LOSE CONG POST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 12 
Jairam Ramesh might be allowed to stay in the party but Sonia Gandhi is under pressure to sack him as secretary of the Congress’ economic department.

Two important Congressmen, Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, are backing Jairam while the rest of the Congress Working Committee members are gunning for him in spite of his clarification to Sonia, claiming that he was quoted out of context.

Jairam was quoted by the media as saying that under Sonia, the Congress would not return to power in 50 years.

Sources said efforts were on to prevail upon him to “voluntarily step down” from the economic department in the wake of the controversy. However, he might be allowed to stay on as adviser and deputy chairperson of the Karnataka State Planning Board.

Sonia was reluctant to crack the whip and summarily remove Jairam from the party. In the past few months, she has ignored similar outbursts from Kapil Sibal, Balram Jakhar, C.K. Jaffer Sharief and Chhabildas Mehta.

However, Jairam-baiters sought to make a distinction between Jairam and other “political persons”. “He is an economist holding a key position in the party. Such utterances from him are absolutely unpardonable and the leadership must take some action to enforce discipline in the party,” one of them said.

Yesterday, Jairam wrote a letter to Sonia expressing regret over the “furore” but refrained from disowning the remarks completely. He clarified that he was quoted “out of context altogether” and was misquoted in one magazine.

Congress spokesperson Margaret Alva quoted parts of the letter, claiming that nowhere had he said that under Sonia’s leadership, the party would never come to power in the next 50 years. “Nowhere did I say this and I have checked this with the reporter concerned, who has confirmed my position,” Jairam claimed.

The technocrat-turned-politician wrote to Sonia that all he had said in the interview was that the Congress’ prospects of coming to power at the Centre on its own was remote in the next 50 years if it failed to gain strength in crucial states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

Alva, however, refused to give a clean chit to Jairam and said the matter rested with the Congress president. “It is for her to be satisfied or not,” she said.

Sonia price rise march

Sonia Gandhi will lead a march of party MPs on Monday and submit a memorandum to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee urging him to roll back prices of urea, petroleum and food products.

Congress spokesperson Margaret Alva said party MPs will gather at the party headquarters and march upto the Prime Minister’s residence. The idea of a march against price-hike is also aimed at neutralising the criticism that the Congress failed to press for cut motions in the Lok Sabha during the passage of the union budget last week.    


 
 
NARMADA PROTESTERS GET COURT BOOST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, May 12 
In a major boost to the Narmada Bachao Andolan, a Supreme Court interim order has asked the three states affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat to review the resettlement of those who have been evicted and also give details of land availability for rehabilitation.

The interim order, given by Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice S.P. Barucha and Justice Kripal, came after the final hearing on the case got over on May 9. The Andolan has been agitating for scrapping the project and had filed a case in 1994.

The order is significant because the main reason put forward by the Andolan in all its arguments was that the pace of the project was not proportional to the pace of resettlement.

As per court orders, the three affected states, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, had set up Grievance Redressal Authorities (GRAs) — independent bodies of experts to which the Andolan, the state government and the public could register complaints.

The redress cells were to examine the claims of the three states regarding availability of land for resettling the oustees till the project attained its full height of 139 metres and also make field surveys and report on land availability and suitability by July 1.

Talking to The Telegraph this morning, Andolan leader Medha Patkar said: “Even all families who have been and will be displaced when the dam is at its present height of 85 metres, have not been resettled in the three states. There are still 35,000 families waiting to be rehabilitated and resettled. The resettlement process for the remaining oustees has not even begun.”

According to Patkar, all the GRAs have received complaints about tardy resettlement. “In Gujarat, it received as many as 700 complaints on the first day itself,” she said. Even in the areas which have been developed, the land is not suitable for cultivation and people have to go out to work as labourers, she added.

In their submissions, none of the three states could convince the court how they would rehabilitate the remaining oustees.

When pulled up by the court, Madhya Pradesh said it had some grazing land which was available. But this was contested by the Andolan, which said the land was not arable.

Although Maharashtra said it had 330 hectares in five resettlement sites in Taloda and Aakalkuwa talukas in Nandurbar district, an independent survey by the Andolan revealed that many families had lived in these “resettlement” sites without land for the past six years.

Gujarat is the only state which has said it has “all available” land, but will now be under pressure to state their exact location.

Contacted over phone, Jai Narayan Vyas, Gujarat minister for Narmada development, said from Gandhinagar: “We will prove that we have land available. We have time till July 1. The claims of the NBA will be proved hollow.”

But with the flood of complaints received by the three GRAs, it is unlikely that the three states will get a clean chit on the issue.    


 
 
CONVERGENCE CLOUD ON BROADCAST BILL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 12 
Comprehensive broadcasting bill is no longer the catchphrase in the corridors of Shastri Bhavan. ‘Convergence’ has taken over. The broadcasting Bill, which had been sent to the law department for fine-tuning of the draft, has come back to the Union ministry of information and broadcasting with the advice that the Bill should be clubbed with the telecom Bill.

The IT ministry is understood to be be pushing hard for a convergence Bill.

Tomorrow, the group of ministers on convergence chaired by the Union minister for finance Yashwant Sinha- will finalise its report. A convergence Bill will look at an independent regulatory authority so that tricky issues like bandwidth distribution can be taken care of.

The information and broadcasting ministry held a closed-door meeting today clarifying its stand on the convergence bill. The Indian Broadcasting Foundation and the industry lobby have been demanding a neutral body to look after the disbursement of bandwidth. It has also made a case for last mile connectivity through the cable route when convergence comes through.ut the country than telephones.

The three-member Narayanamurthy committee report on Prasar Bharati restructuring is expected to be submitted to the Union information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley on May 20. Tomorrow, the committee members, comprising Narayanamurthy of Infosys, Kiran Karnik of Discovery channel and marketing expert Shunu Sen of Quadra Advisory will meet to proof-read the report finally.    


 
 
RAPIST KILLED AFTER PUBLIC TRIAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, May 12 
Instead of waiting for law to take its own course, residents of an Andhra Pradesh village delivered and executed a death sentence on a rapist.

Tirupathi, a youth of Chakicherla Pedapttapu Palem village raped and killed a 19-year-old Bhavani on Tuesday.

Villagers gathered at the local temple on Wednesday night and decided that Tirupathi should be killed. He was forced to swallow a dozen pesticide tablets but did not die immediately. The villagers then decided to electrocute him. The accused was stripped, tied and thrown into a water pond into which they had put high tension electricity wires .    


 
 
TRAVEL PAY FOR SINGLE MPS’ COMPANIONS 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, May 12 
Members of Parliament who have no spouses are in for a treat: from now on, they can take a partner of their choice to fill in the gap when they travel by air or on a train.

There are over 30 MPs who are either single by choice or widowed by destiny, and deprived of facilities available to colleagues with spouses. To remove the “anomaly”, a Bill was today introduced in the Lok Sabha to provide them equal facilities.

Topping the list of “single” parliamentarians is the Prime Minister himself. Close behind are Sangh parivar veteran Nanaji Deshmukh and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Kanshi Ram.

Among the women are railway minister Mamata Banerjee, BSP leader Mayavati (both spinsters), BJP’s Uma Bharti, Congress’ Girija Vyas, Rita Verma (widow), and junior foreign minister Vasundhara Raje (divorcee).

Many “single” MPs had complained to parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan about the discrimination. They had requested that they be allowed to take a companion while travelling, sources close to Mahajan said.

The Bill introduced by Mahajan “provides that where a member has no spouse, such member may be accompanied by any person in place of the spouse, and notwithstanding anything contained in clause (i), the person so accompanying shall be entitled to every facility available to the spouse.”

The Bill, which will be passed unanimously in the next session, enables the spouse of an MP to travel by rail in AC first class or by air from the usual place of residence of the member to Delhi eight times a year.

Other facilities are: in case of premature dissolution of the Lok Sabha, members can avail of the unutilised quota of one lakh free telephone calls, 25,000 units of electricity and 2,000 kilolitres of water available to them in a year from the date of dissolution till the constitution of the new Lok Sabha.

The Bill also provides that a member “who is blind or incapacitated physically as to require the facility of an attendant with respect to each such journey” will be entitled “an equal amount to one fare by air for such journey” or free rail facility.    

 

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