Panel cries foul at Naidu power flip
Arrest warrant for elusive Chawla
Dwindling forests & population boom
Be plastic-free, get 10% off in green hotels
Cong in stingless price protest
Centre draws flak on Lanka crosstalk
Verdict wait for Laloo, Rabri
Fishermen lead anti-port march

 
 
PANEL CRIES FOUL AT NAIDU POWER FLIP 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, June 5 
The Andhra Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission (APERC) today questioned the state government’s decision to gloss over its recommendations and partially rollback power charges.

Justifying the move, the Chandrababu Naidu administration had argued that while the Andhra Pradesh Transmission Corporation (APTransco) had proposed a 15 per cent hike in tariff, but the ERC had recommended 20 per cent.

“The state government is unable to digest one or two recommendations which the ERC took independently,” officials said.

Describing the government charge as “baseless”, the ERC said: “We heard over 78 consumer groups before arriving at the final figures.”

The government offered a subsidy of Rs 286 crore to APTransco on Saturday, hours before the implementation of the revised tariff recommended by the regulatory commission.

The subsidy will cover the revenue loss sustained by APTransco as a result of the change in the slabs and reduction in per-unit tariff for domestic consumers.

The beneficiaries of the government’s largesse will mostly be the people below the poverty line assessed at 62 per cent of domestic consumers who use less than 50 units a month. They will now pay Rs 1.35 per unit as against the rate of Rs 1.45 recommended by the ERC.

But the intervention by the state government is a setback to the process of power reforms as it defeats the very purpose of setting up an independent regulator for an industry. The recommendation of a regulator is binding on the government, which means the chief minister cannot overrule it.

The rollback is not surprising as Naidu, who peddles himself as a reforms guru, thrives on subsidy with an eye on politics and had opposed the food and fertiliser cuts announced by the Centre.

The ERC said that it was the government which had proposed hard measures. Though the regulatory commission had suggested a telescopic six-slab power tariff structure, the government has introduced four-slab structure at Rs 1.35, Rs 2.95, Rs 4.50 and Rs 5.25 per unit.

According to the ERC officials, the Cabinet sub-committee on power reforms had recommended a non-telescopic structure and a hefty increase in rates for consumers who used up to 300 units as they had “escaped from all levies”.

The government had even suggested a 10 paisa power surcharge on the all slabs, excluding the one up to 50 units. The state also wanted the ERC to recommend a flat 22 per cent surcharge on domestic consumers. But the ERC had instead urged APTranso to generate resources on its own instead of coercing consumers in the first year of its operation. APTransco is losing around Rs 3,700 crore every year.

The government, which had urged APTransco to contain pilferage with a heavy hand, today issued an Ordinance against power theft. “The draft of the Ordinance will be placed for public debate before it is issued,” said state power minister T. Devender Gowd.

APTransco and the ERC also differ over transmission and distribution losses. For 1999-2000, APTranso had pegged the losses at 33 per cent of which 24 per cent was attributed to transmission. But the ERC argued that technical losses could not be beyond 15-18 per cent and urged the corporation to improve efficiency.

The Opposition parties, which are not happy with the rollback, have decided to intensify their agitation and have called a statewide bandh on June 9.

The government has beefed up security at all power sub-stations across the state. It has also agreed to tighten security at all public meetings which are to be addressed by Naidu. The Left parties had held black-flag demonstrations against the chief minister during his visit to Vishakhapatnam on Friday.    


 
 
ARREST WARRANT FOR ELUSIVE CHAWLA 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, June 5 
A Delhi metropolitan court today issued non-bailable arrest warrants against London-based NRI Sanjeev Chawla, an accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal who has eluded arrest so far.

The warrants, issued by additional chief metropolitan magistrate T.R. Nawal, are executable by June 30.

The warrants come in the wake of the Enforcement Directorate’s allegation that Chawla — who is in London and evading its summons and refusing to cooperate with the investigations — is wanted in a US$ 20 lakh violation case.

ED officials said the latest revelation would go a long way in exposing the murky dealings in the scandal that has dominated headlines ever since it broke. It would “expose much more than what meets the eye now”, sources in the directorate said. “Even this 20 lakh dollars is a huge amount...Much more than expected from one single individual.”

Chawla, who is in London now, used to operate through Rajesh Kalra in Delhi. Kalra was arrested on April 17 after transcripts of conversations of sacked South African captain Hansie Cronje was released. The conversations were taped by Delhi Police.

“Even at that time we expected the involvement of a few thousand dollars. But now through one bookie or operator alone, that too in one case, over 20 lakh dollars have changed hands. This is mind-boggling,” an ED official said.

According to Delhi Police, Cronje used a mobile phone (No. 9810008411), which was registered in Delhi in the name of Bollywood actor Kishen Kumar, also an accused in the scandal, to talk to Chawla, Kalra and others. “Few calls were traced to South Africa also from this number,” police sources said.

Kumar was arrested in April. A metropolitan court today extended his judicial remand by another 14 days. Metropolitan magistrate M.C. Gupta, who extended the remand period, has also refused to grant bail to Kalra.

The bookie, whose 60-day custody period was to end today, was produced before Gupta after his bail plea was dismissed by additional sessions judge Indermeet Kaur Kochhar. Under law, if chargesheets are not filed against an accused in an FIR, “statutory bail”, which is mandatory, should be granted.

Delhi Police, who have claimed that Cronje also used Kalra’s mobile to fix matches, have registered cases against Cronje and four of his former teammates — Nicky Boje, Pietr Strydom, Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams.

They had earlier told Delhi High Court that they would file chargesheets by June 7.    


 
 
DWINDLING FORESTS & POPULATION BOOM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 5 
On World Environment Day today, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released a report showing how depletion of India’s forest cover has been directly proportional to its population growth over the past five decades.

Released by the Fund’s representative for India, Michael Vlassoff, the report — titled Population and Forests: A Report on India 2000 — stresses the “need to sustain a balance between human numbers and the reserve of forests” since “growing population, changing lifestyle patterns, as well as poverty, threaten forests”.

According to the experts on the committee which carried out the study, “the inhuman face of deforestation is characterised by increasing stress on the poorer sections of the society and on already over-burdened women who must gather fuelwood, fodder, minor forest produce and water in traditional village economies”.

The experts conclude by saying: “Obviously, land and forest resources are not commensurate with the proportionate size of population and livestock in India. This report highlights linkages between increasing population and shrinking forest’s resources in the Indian context.”

The committee pointed out the main reasons behind the dwindling forest wealth — over-exploitation, over-grazing by cattle, illegal encroachments, forest fires and too many development projects set in forest areas. Also to blame was indiscriminate felling of trees for fuelwood and timber which were far beyond the carrying capacity of India’s products.

Available statistics peg the current annual withdrawal of firefood from forests at 235 million cubic metres against a sustainable capacity of 48 million cubic metres.

Then, the yearly demand for industrial wood is about 28 million cubic metres against a production capacity of 12 million cubic metres. While areas affected by forest fires range from 33 per cent in West Bengal to 99 per cent in Manipur.

The study says India’s forest cover at the beginning of the 20th century was 40 per cent of its total land area. It shrank to 22 per cent in 1951, and declined further to 19 per cent in 1997. The country’s population, however, multiplied by 2.8 times in 49 years, between 1951 and 2000.

In terms of total forest land, the decline has been from 72 million hectares in 1951 to around 63 million hectares in 1997.

The report says that though the decline has been arrested over the last 10 years, the quality of forest cover has gone down. For example, between 1989 and 1997, “dense forests” shrank by three per cent, while “open forests” expanded by one per cent.

The report draws attention to the fact that this “expansion” was at the cost of dense forests, which were converted into open forests through deforestation.

It also looks at the statewise contribution to the development of forest cover and lauds Maharashtra for its effort in the last 10 years.    


 
 
BE PLASTIC-FREE, GET 10% OFF IN GREEN HOTELS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, June 5 
Tourists bound for Uttar Pradesh, you have nothing to lose but plastic bags. The state government — suddenly thinking green — will shower a 10 per cent discount on anyone who checks into a Uttar Pradesh tourism hotel “without a polythene product in their luggage”.

Surprising grouchy environmentalists, who for long have been crying hoarse over the “utter disregard for environment in India’s most populous state,” state tourism minister Ashok Yadav announced the decision today, fittingly on the occasion of World Environment Day. This is just the beginning, he added, promising more measures which would leave a “benevolent environment for our coming generation”.

Yadav underwent a change of heart after he heard that nearly 50 “unfortunate” stray cows had died in the last two months after consuming polythene bags.

“The message against polythene has to go out loud and clear,” says the minister. “It is only a beginning but we are very serious about curbing the polythene menace. We cannot afford to leave an abusive legacy for the next generation.”

The discount comes into effect from today at any of the 53 state tourism hotels in the country. Yadav adds that they have totally banned the use of polythene in these hotels.

The state government’s green turn has stunned the environment brigade, which maintains no one has taken the issue of pollution seriously in the state. “The government has spent a mind-boggling Rs 200 crore on the Ganga Action Plan but the river remains as polluted as ever. Another proposal to save the Taj hasn’t yielded much either,” says environmentalist Yogendra Bajpai.

Not the BJP government alone: the RSS has also stepped up its campaign to save the environment. Waking up to the need to save the Gomti river, the organisation has identified 23 points from where it will start a drive to cleanse the river from tomorrow.

It is not clear though if the “ban” on plastic applies to the administration: the state government remains the biggest user of polythene.

There are 2,000 industries in the organised sector with about 60,000 workers dealing in polythene manufacture and recycling. The UP Plastic Manufacturers’ Association says the government is the biggest consumer of polythene, using it for canal lining and also for forest plantation where saplings are kept in small polythene bags. Uttar Pradesh alone produces 20,000 tonnes of recycled polythene, with a large unaccounted quantity being added by the nearly 5000 illegal polythene manufacturing and recycling units.

The state government also enjoys the blessings of the Centre. Last year Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee inaugurated a Rs 2,500 crore Gas Authority of India Ltd plant in Oraiya which produces nearly 50 per cent of its output in the form of LLDP and HDP — basic raw materials for the polythene and plastic industry. Nearly half of the production is used by the state’s polythene industry.

Will the environment survive the good wishes of such a government?    


 
 
CONG IN STINGLESS PRICE PROTEST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 5 
The Congress today launched a “nation-wide” agitation against price-rise. But with party chief Sonia Gandhi not participating, it lacked punch.

Among those who sat on dharnas in different parts of the city were working committee members Manmohan Singh, Jitendra Prasada, Pranab Mukherjee, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Ambika Soni.

Congress spokesman Ajit Jogi, however, described the agitation a grand success, claiming that demonstrations were held all over the country at all block and district headquarters.

But till late evening, the AICC control room did not have much feedback except that 89 dharnas were organised in Delhi.

The party’s decision to go public against the hike came after the Atal Behari Vajpayee government refused to roll back prices of urea, wheat, rice and petroleum products. Jogi said the agitation will continue till the government agrees on a rollback.

Explaining Sonia’s absence, Jogi said the party president was not supposed to participate in the demonstrations.

“It was supposed to be a stir by Congress workers and it will continue till the government concedes our demand,” he said.

But dissatisfied with the way the demonstrations were organised, many leaders criticised the lack of coordination between the All-India Congress Committee and the state units. They cited the example of the successful campaign against the Gujarat government’s order allowing employees to participate in RSS activities, and wondered why Sonia was kept out of the agitation.

“After all, it concerns everyone. If the Congress chief was seen as an active participant, a better message would have gone home,” said an AICC general secretary.    


 
 
CENTRE DRAWS FLAK ON LANKA CROSSTALK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 5 
The Congress and the Left today closed ranks to flay the Atal Behari Vajpayee regime for its silence on Tamil parties’ stand on the Sri Lanka standoff, wondering how an NDA constituent and a “responsible person” like M. Karunanidhi could favour Balkanisation of a friendly neighbour.

Demanding that the Centre set the records straight, AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad stressed that the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka was sacrosanct and criticised the Tamil Nadu chief minister for speaking “contrary to the stand of India as a nation”. His party, he said, favoured a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the problems of the ethic minorities.

The CPM, too, slammed the government for its “silence” on the stand of the DMK and other NDA allies. The solution to the ethnic tangle, it said, can be found within the framework of Sri Lankan unity.

A statement released by the CPM Politburo said: “With the Tamil Nadu chief minister joining in to echo the demand made by the LTTE, this campaign is sought to be raised to new heights.”

It added that it was intriguing on the part of the Prime Minister not to react to Karunanidhi’s assertion that he was satisfied with his recent meeting with Vajpayee.

In another development, AICC chief Sonia Gandhi today appointed Periyar’s grandson E.V.K.S. Elangovan the new president of the Tamil Nadu unit. Elangovan, who replaces Tindivanam K. Ramamurthy, was TNCC general secretary and a former MLA.

Asked why a new state chief was being appointed since organisational polls were just months away, Azad said it was because of the Assembly elections early next year.    


 
 
VERDICT WAIT FOR LALOO, RABRI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, June 5 
The hearing in the disproportionate assets case against chief minister Rabri Devi and Laloo Prasad Yadav concluded today in the CBI special court.

Laloo Yadav and Rabri Devi left the court room in a huff, as the arguments went on.

The judge, S.K. Lal, is likely to give his verdict on June 9.

CBI counsel L.R. Ansari today tore apart the contention of the defence counsel that the investigating agency did not follow proper procedure in getting sanctions to prosecute Bihar’s first couple.

Defence counsel P.N. Pandey, standing for both chief minister and her husband, had alleged that while seeking sanction, the CBI did not approach the Speaker of the Assembly.

Ansari said the chief minister and her husband have been taking refuge in the argument that “we did not approach the Speaker”. He argued that the CBI did not approach the Speaker as Rabri Devi was not a member of the House between 1991 and 1996, the time during which she had allegedly aided her husband in acquiring disproportionate income.    


 
 
FISHERMEN LEAD ANTI-PORT MARCH 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, June 5 
After issuing prohibitory orders, the Valsad district authorities in south Gujarat today granted permission to fishermen of Umbergaon to take out a protest rally against the proposed commercial port in the area.

War veterans, environmental activists, Sarvoday leaders and politicians cutting across party lines, from Gujarat as well as other states, got together on World Environment Day to express solidarity with the anti-port movement.

Lt General (retd) Hun, Brigadier Tyagraj, Brigadier D’Lima, World Fish Workers’ and Fish Harvesters’ Forum coordinator Thomas Kocherry, former Congress MP from Valsad Uttam Patel, former BJP MP from Daman Devji Tandel and Gandhian activist Chunibhai Vaidya were among those present.

The rally started from Dehri, the village of Colonel Pratap Save, who led the anti-port agitation till his death in police custody, and ended at Umbergaon. The “fishermen resolved to continue their fight against the proposed port”, according to Sunita Save, wife of the colonel, who is now leading the agitation.

Earlier, a memorial erected in memory of Col Save was unveiled. Inscribed on the memorial are the words: “The man who fought two wars and has sacrificed his life for his village.” Save was arrested on April 7 for obstructing survey work for the Rs 1,600-crore port. He was allegedly beaten up in police custody and died of brain haemorrhage on April 20.

District authorities today granted permission to the Kinara Bachao Sangharsh Samity to hold a protest rally as the agitating fishermen were determined to defy the prohibitory orders if denied permission.

Local fishermen are protesting against the proposed port since March 1999, fearing that they will be robbed of their livelihood once the port comes up.

Matelco, the company which bagged the contract to build the port, “is in final stage of site selection for the proposed commercial port”, Valsad district collector Pankaj Kumar said.

Despite resistance from the local fishing community of Umbergaon, the state government is firm to go ahead with its port project. Gujarat Maritime Board chairman P.N. Roy Chaudhary said: “The fishermen’s protest has no basis. They fear that they will be robbed of their livelihood due to port.” But “nobody has to lose anything if the port is set up. In fact, if the port is built, it will give boost to local economy and national economy”.

The fishermen, according to Roy Chaudhury, “are driven by commercial interest of some people outside the state who are exploiting and instigating the fishermen to oppose the project”.

Asked who are the people outside the state who do not want the port to come up at Umbergaon, Roy Chaudhury hinted at neighbouring state Maharashtra: “They are our competitors: those who fear that if the port is built in Umbergaon, their traffic will be diverted to Umbergaon.”    

 

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