Stalled state-Bill slap in Vajpayee face
Cong at loss on reforms flip-flop
German quick visa bait for IT manpower
Delhi breaks hijack ice
Mamata and mother bring hope to Sahyog
Bihar shadow on orphans’ dreams
Narmada water for drought-hit
Gujarat NGO to pilot water study

 
 
STALLED STATE-BILL SLAP IN VAJPAYEE FACE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, May 17 
The Vajpayee government suffered a loss of face when a determined Opposition today foiled its attempts to introduce in the Lok Sabha Bills to create the states of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan later said the government would introduce the Bills on the first day of the monsoon session, beginning in mid-July as the House was adjourned sine die today.

Unprecedented pandemonium by Opposition members from the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the CPM, the Bahujan Samajwadi Party and a few Congress MPs from Punjab, forced the government to retreat. What was galling for the government was that even ruling party MPs, like Prabhunath Singh of the Samata Party, supported the Opposition in stalling the Bill. In the process, the House was adjourned thrice during the day.

Though the Bills were not listed in the day’s business agenda, the government informed the House in the morning that it would issue a supplementary agenda in the afternoon, listing the Bills. This sparked vociferous protests from the members, who stormed the well of the House. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar said it was not fair to push the Bills on the last day of the session in this manner.

But the government was determined. It made a last ditch abortive attempt at 4.30 pm when the House reassembled after the second adjournment. Ignoring Opposition protests, Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi allowed L.K. Advani to introduce the Bill. As Advani sought the leave of the House to introduce the Bill, agitated members rushed to the well, shouting and gesticulating menacingly. Some of them tore the Bill.

Ignoring the bedlam, the home minister announced he was introducing the Bill. Soon, BJP members started thumping desks, while the Opposition created an uproar. The Speaker adjourned the House till 5.30 pm. Agitated Opposition members stormed into the Speaker’s chamber to get a clarification that the Bill had not been introduced. Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Santosh Gangwar even told reporters that the first Bill pertaining to Uttarakhand had been introduced. But the Opposition challenged the contention.

Later, when the House reassembled, Balayogi clarified that the Bill had not been introduced amid thumping of desks by the Opposition benches. Sensing the mood of the House, the Speaker said it would not be possible to introduce the Bills. The Lok Sabha secretariat said they were not introduced as the Speaker could not take the consent of the House in the din.

The BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was keen to table the three Bills today itself, the last day of the budget session. A team of 11 MPs from Jharkhand, who have been camping in Delhi for a few days, last week elicited a commitment from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani that the Bill pertaining to Jharkhand would be introduced in this session.

Last Saturday, the Cabinet approved the three Bills and Mahajan announced the Bills would be introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 17. This afternoon, Advani confided in BJP spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu that the government is determined to introduce the Bills today itself.

Asked why the government tried to hustle through the Bills on the last day, Mahajan said the Bills were received late from the state governments and the Union Cabinet had approved it only on Saturday. With just three days left for the session to end, the government had no other option.    


 
 
CONG AT LOSS ON REFORMS FLIP-FLOP 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 17 
The Congress’ flip-flop on reforms continued with the party endorsing Manmohan Singh’s views on slashing “non-merit” subsidies, but walking out of the Lok Sabha during a debate on a Bill which was cleared in the Upper House with the blessings of the former finance minister.

Enjoying the Congress’ discomfort on “Manmohanomics”, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee took a potshot at Sonia and said, “please read his (Manmohan’s) speech (made in the Rajya Sabha yesterday) carefully”.

Ruling out a rollback, Vajpayee said his government was following the reforms initiated by the Congress. “It is not our fault that we are in government,” he said.

A rattled Congress leadership fielded Pranab Mukherjee on a fire-fighting mission. Pranab sought to justify Manmohan’s remarks in the Rajya Sabha yesterday and claimed that there was no contradiction between Sonia’s focus on restoration of subsidies and liberalisation guru’s thrust on their removal.

“One has to understand the distinction between non-merit and merit subsidies. For us, subsidies on food, fertiliser and kerosene are sacrosanct,” he said.

Pranab said Manmohan was merely reiterating the Congress line for a holistic view on subsidies. “It cannot be cut in an ad hoc, casual and cavalier manner,” he said.

Daring the BJP to a structured and informed debate on subsidies, he said: “Let us identify the level and areas of subsidy. We should also find out who are the beneficiaries and their delivery mechanism.”

However, Pranab’s spirited defence of Manmohan satisfied few in the Congress. Manmohan had to do a lot of explaining during a party meet to discuss floor strategy. The majority of MPs firmed up their mind to oppose all pro-liberalisation legislation.

The stand was evident from the Congress’ unsuccessful bid to block the Major Ports Trust Bill, leading to the walkout.

The party’s members wanted it to be sent to a joint select committee though the Bill was cleared in the Rajya Sabha and had the blessings of both Manmohan and Pranab.

Even as the two Congress leaders challenged the government to a debate on subsidies, Sonia targeted the Centre for not heeding to her demands, including rolling back the increase in prices of foodgrain and restoring subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene.

Senior party leaders said Sonia will soon set up a panel, likely to be headed by Pranab, to review reforms. A powerful lobby within the party consisting of Arjun Singh, Rajesh Pilot, Vayalar Ravi and Jitendra Prasada wants Sonia to take a U-turn on reforms, but Manmohan is resisting it.

Pilot holds the reforms responsible for the Congress’ defeat in the general elections. But Manmohan counters the argument on grounds that if reforms were so anti-poor, then Chandrababu Naidu would have met with the same fate in Andhra Pradesh.

Congress MP Santosh Mohan Dev urged Sonia to “discipline” Jairam Ramesh, Vasant Sathe and others for flouting the party line. “It is sending confusing signals to the party rank and file and it’s not good for the party,” Dev said, even as Sonia chose not to respond to his query.    


 
 
GERMAN QUICK VISA BAIT FOR IT MANPOWER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, May 17 
German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, who today paid a barnstorming visit to India’s Silicon Valley, rolled out the red carpet to infotech professionals, promising to clear their visas in “double quick time”.

Fischer, who had a hectic schedule including a visit to the International Technology Park and hour-long talks with Wipro chief Azim Premji, told reporters that Germany was opening up in a big way to skilled immigrants to keep pace with the global economy.

Brushing aside the controversy kicked up by German politician Juergen Ruettgers about the entry of aliens, particularly Indians, Fischer said there was no resentment against IT engineers from India.

“We are liberalising immigration rules not only for Indians, but others also. There was one politician who tried to make it an election issue, but he was defeated,” he said.

Fischer said Germany had decided to issue 20,000 green cards initially. “We are interested in India and Bangalore in particular, as it is the hub of IT activities. India is a superpower in information technology,” he said.

Addressing a joint forum of the Indo-German and Greater Mysore chambers of commerce, the German foreign minister said his country would be ready to receive IT professionals as early as August after the necessary amendment to his country’s constitution is carried out this summer.

He acknowledged that India was playing an important role in Asia and also the United Nations. He said he would raise the question of India’s nuclear tests with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and foreign minister Jaswant Singh during his meetings at Delhi tomorrow and “we would very much like India to become a non-nuclear state”.

Fischer, who has a fascination for Indian culture, paid a visit to the Nandishwara temple at Chikkaballapur, about 60 km from the city.    


 
 
DELHI BREAKS HIJACK ICE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, May 17 
After cold shouldering Nepal for months, India has decided to warm up to its Himalayan neighbour by scheduling a series of high-level visits to Kathmandu. The move signals Delhi’s willingness to clear the air of mistrust and put bilateral ties back on tracks.

In the ice-breaker, foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh will leave for the Nepalese capital for a two-day official visit on May 19, the first high-level trip after last year’s Christmas Eve hijacking of the Indian Airlines airbus from Kathmandu Airport.

The hijack, which India felt could have been avoided if Nepal had been a little more cautious of ISI activities on its soil, had strained relations between the two sides.

Now all that seems to be a thing of the past. Mansingh’s visit will be followed by that of national security adviser Brajesh Mishra in late May. New Indian high commissioner Deb Mukherjee is scheduled to take charge in Kathmandu in the first week of June, while foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s trip is scheduled for the second half of the month.

Mansingh will hold talks with his Nepalese counterpart Narayan Thapa, who is an Indophile and a senior diplomat with a firm grasp on Indo-Nepal ties. According to sources, one of the main thrust-areas in their wide-ranging talks will be on Nepal’s security arrangements in the post-hijack period.

The review of the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty will be another major topic. India, sources said, is keen to review the pact and accommodate or discuss issues or portions in the document which Nepal wants to alter and upgrade in the changed circumstances.

However, the Nepalese leadership has not yet been able to reach a national consensus on the issue. One of the fears that Kathmandu may have in altering the treaty is about the fate of the six million Nepalese citizens who reside in India and are employed here. Besides, it might also jeopardise the status of the over 35,000 Gorkha soldiers and officers.

For Nepal, the flow of duty-free Nepalese-manufactured goods into India is another area of worry if the entire treaty comes up for review.

Foreign ministry sources, however, said that contentious areas could be avoided by both sides, since the main thrust of talks is on improving bilateral relations.    


 
 
MAMATA AND MOTHER BRING HOPE TO SAHYOG 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, May 17 
A week after the National Security Act was invoked against an NGO in Almora for publishing a controversial booklet on the AIDS menace, Central leaders are beginning to come out in support of Sahyog.

The district administration arrested four Sahyog activists last month and has charged the organisation with “destroying local peace and threatening to destabilise the administrative machinery”.

Abhijit Dasgupta, his wife Yashodhara, Suneeta Shahi and Surendra have already spent almost a month in jail and now have another 30 days of unbailable detention staring them in the face.

Three days ago, the Advocacy of Action and Legal Initiatives (Aali) — an organisation fighting for Sahyog — received a letter from Roshan Banerjee, personal assistant to Mamata Banerjee. The minister wanted certain “papers”, newspaper clippings, a copy of the district magistrate’s note on Sahyog and the call for NSA.

In his note to the home department, Almora district magistrate D.K. Verma has charged Sahyog with denigrating “Bharatia and Uttarkhandi sanskriti” and indulging in “obsence and unresearched mudsliging against the local community” through the booklet, AIDS Aur Hum. The publication probes the spread of the disease in the Kumaon Hills.

Yashodhara’s mother had met Mamata in Calcutta and apprised her of the blatant human rights violation. She also pointed out the plight of Yashodhara’s four-year-old daughter, living with a family friend in Lucknow and has not seen her mother since the arrest.

On Sunday, Ram Jethmalani spoke to Tulika Srivastava of Aali and assured her that “NSA will at no cost be clamped on the four Sahyog activists”. He told her he had “personally spoken to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister and advised him to withdraw the NSA appeal immediately”. Jethamalani is also believed to have met Vajpayee to discuss the issue.

On Monday, Madhavi Kukreja of Women’s Association for Mobilisation and Action (Wama), a Lucknow-based umbrella organisation of NGOs, met L.K. Advani and George Fernandes in New Delhi. Kukreja quoted Advani as saying the security Act had “clearly been misused in this case”. Promising to pursue the matter, Advani added that it was because of such “indiscretions” that Tada was allowed to lapse.

But despite the assurances of support from the ministers, activists fighting for Sahyog are afraid that when it comes to the crunch, the Centre might back off saying law and order is a state subject.

“Look at what happened during the Water controversy,” argues an activist from Chetna, another NGO. “All the while, the Centre had Deepa Mehta believe it was behind her and she could go ahead with her project as the Centre had scrutinised the script and found nothing wrong. But in the end, she had to pack her bags and leave.”    


 
 
BIHAR SHADOW ON ORPHANS’ DREAMS 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Seraikela (Bihar), May 17 
Seraikela’s road to remerger has been strewn with broken promises and dashed hopes in the past 50 years.

Today, though many Oriyas are drawn to their “motherland”, they are apprehensive about the future: either in Vananchal or Orissa.

“The Orissa government’s move will create a lot of bad blood here. Jharkhandis are also not going to take it lying down,” said Rajkumar Brajabhanu Singh Deo of the Seraikela royal family, once a strong votary of the remerger of the princely states — Seraikela and Kharswan — with Orissa.

“At the same time, we do not know what the Orissa government has to offer us economically. Everyone knows the condition of the people in border districts like Kalahandi and Malkangiri. Seraikela and Kharswan will be just another border district if they are remerged,” he said.

Many residents accuse Orissa politicians of “exploiting” the issue like a political football. “They rake it up from time to time, mainly to score political points,” said lawyer Gourishankar Satpathy.

“Had they been serious, they could have settled the issue 50 years ago. Orissa politicians have broken all promises and let us down.”

There was also the fear that reunification would mean the same neglect with politicians from the coastal belt “dominating” them, said Satpathy.

“At least, we can now protest against discrimination against us. But how would you protest against your own government once you face the same discrimination?”

Biswanath Rath, secretary of the Seraikela Court Bar Association, said a popular movement for remerger fizzled out in the fifties for lack of support from across the border.

“Right from Harekrushna Mahtab and Biju Patnaik to J.B. Patnaik, no chief minister lifted a finger to save us from the discrimination we have faced in Bihar. Nor have they backed any movement for remerger,” he said.

Reunification, according to him, was an “impossible dream which will never turn into reality. Jharkhandis will never let this happen. How can they have Vananchal divided after fighting for the state for so many years?”

To carve out a new state, a popular movement was necessary, Rath said, but added that “there is no such movement in Seraikela and Kharswan. Oriyas here have lost their fighting spirit over the years. You cannot expect to have a state of your own unless you fight for it. The Union government cannot split Vananchal just because the Orissa government has claimed the two areas.”

Several residents said Orissa’s move could prompt Jharkhand leaders to again raise the demand for the inclusion of tribal-dominated Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts in Vananchal. “It’s a distinct possibility,” said former BJP town president Harmohan Das.

Said Rath: “It is a foregone conclusion. If Orissa demands Seraikela and Kharswan, they are bound to demand Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar in return. The Orissa government may actually end up ‘regalvanising’ the movement for greater Jharkhand and get us into deeper trouble.”

The Raja of Kharswan, Pradip Chandra Singh Deo, echoed the same uncertainty, saying he was not sure if returning to Orissa was at all possible. “Though we have cultural affinities with Orissa, a host of other factors have to be taken into account,” he said.

Asked about the possible outcome of a remerger, government officials said if Orissa’s demand was accepted, it would open a Pandora’s box in the country which “has already been divided on a linguistic basis. You would simply invite trouble if you were to accept any such division today,” said West Singhbhum district collector Brajesh Mehrotra.

If language and culture were used as the basis for the division of a state, similar demands would be raised elsewhere, Mehrotra said.

“People of Sahibganj and Dumka might one day demand that the areas be merged into West Bengal because they mostly speak Bengali. Similarly, people of Koraput and Ganjam could demand that the districts be handed over to Andhra Pradesh because they mostly speak Telugu and have cultural affinities with that state.”    


 
 
NARMADA WATER FOR DROUGHT-HIT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Gandhinagar, May 17 
The state government today decided to run water trains from May 23 to transport water from the Narmada to the parched areas of Saurashtra.

The decision was taken in a Cabinet meeting presided over by chief minister Keshubhai Patel. Nine water trains will be pressed into service to supply water to Saurashtra and north Gujarat.

Briefing reporters, Patel said: “We have decided to use Narmada water which is an alternative source.” Both the chief minister and water supplies minister Narottam Patel said: “Narmada water is an emotional issue for the Gujaratis, who consider it their birthright to use it.”

Patel said one of the trains will run from Bharuch to Rajkot, Surendra Nagar and Jamnagar, some of the worst-hit areas. It will be filled at the GNFC’s intake well in Bharuch district, while six others will collect water at Khodiyar.

Fifteen more persons, including a taluka development officer, two engineers and a sarpanch, were suspended for alleged irregularities in relief work.

It may be recalled that special squads set up by the state government to oversee relief work had suspended as many as 65 officials for “financial irregularities”.

Home minister Haren Pandya claimed that surprise checks, conducted by special squads, had a “deterrent effect” as they instilled fear in the mind of corrupt officials involved in relief work.    


 
 
GUJARAT NGO TO PILOT WATER STUDY 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, May 17 
Vishwa Gujarati Samaj, a voluntary organisation, has decided to set up a permanent trust to monitor and guide research in water management.

An expert committee will study problems relating to water scarcity to find a permanent solution to the problem in Saurashtra and north Gujarat, Samaj president Krishnakant Vakharia told The Telegraph.

The organisation will provide financial assistance and technical knowhow to local people to recharge wells and promote water harvesting and conservation.

Instead of giving temporary relief, “Vishwa Gujarati Samaj wants to provide assistance to people to find lasting solutions, which include digging of wells. And all financial assistance will be given by us,” Vakharia said. He added: “We want to dig wells in large numbers so that water is available for at least two years in Saurashtra and north Gujarat, currently reeling under severe drought.”

Vakharia has appealed to Gujarati associations in 128 countries to liberally donate money to the Samaj for drought relief. Earlier this week, the organisation held a meeting in Mumbai, which was attended by prominent Gujaratis who showed keen interest in providing assistance to the drought-hit through NGOs.

The president said the Federation of Gujarati Associations of North America has already set up Gujarat Drought Relief Fund. Gujarati associations in UK and Africa, too, have promised help.

Asked how the Samaj intended to help the drought affected, Vakharia said: “We will help voluntary organisations doing excellent work in rural areas.”

On Monday, the Samaj held a meeting to discuss ways and means to “find a permanent solution” to the water problem. It was attended by noted Gandhian, C. Vaidya, representatives from NGOs and two Gujarati industrialists from Mumbai. They also passed a resolution, condemning Medha Patkar, who is spearheading an agitation against the Narmada dam.

The Samaj appealed Patkar to appreciate the genuine demands of the people of Saurashtra and north Gujarat and to allow them to use Narmada water.

Mumbai-based industrialist Chandresh Virvadia, who is running a cattle camp in his hometown Radhanpur, said he has been getting an overwhelming response from philanthropists who have donated Rs 1 crore.

Virvadia who was here to attend the meeting says he requires Rs 2 crore to feed 5,500 cattle-heads till monsoon.    

 

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