Naidu powers into nuclear race
Derecognition scare in Bengal medical colleges
Fodder raids unreel Bollywood funding
ICC eyes cash & repute
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, June 6 
Delhi is having second thoughts about awarding a nuclear power plant to the eastern region, not to speak of West Bengal, with N. Chandrababu Naidu staking claim.

After their meeting with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on April 19, veteran CPM parliamentarians, Radhika Ranjan Pramanick and Basudeb Acharya, were confident Bengal was the next destination of the cash-starved Nuclear Power Corporation.

It doesn’t seem that simple any more with the entry of Naidu, even though the corporation is going ahead with its paperwork on sites in Bengal. Already, 11 sites have been shortlisted. One of them is in Darjeeling, one in Purulia and the rest in South and North 24-Parganas. South 24-Parganas is important because the most enthusiastic of all MPs about the project is Pramanick, elected several times from his constituency near the Sunderbans.

A corporation spokesperson in Mumbai said they have asked Bengal to prune the shortlist. They have sent a questionnaire to the Bengal government which includes queries like whether the site falls within the seismic zone, whether water is available or whether the site faces any security threats.

Viewed from this angle, the Purulia site is considered suitable. The spokesperson said there is a particular spot about 15 to 20 km away from the site mentioned by the Bengal experts which is “quite good”. “It has access to Damodar water,” he explained. Darjeeling has been ruled out because it falls within a seismic zone.

The government has yet to receive feedback from other eastern states like Orissa and Bihar which were also asked to prepare a list of sites.

The corporation may be enthusiastic but the department of atomic energy sounds quite remote about the idea of setting up a nuclear power plant in Bengal. Indications that Naidu is exerting pressure on the Union government are coming out of the department. One of his initial suggestions for a particular site has been overruled because of its proximity to a tiger reserve. But Naidu is choosing other sites.

Given the fact that nuclear power plants are expensive, the government would have to prioritise once it chooses a few sites across the country. In the current balance of power, Naidu’s state will weigh more than a Left-run or even a Mamata Banerjee-ruled Bengal. Naidu brings to Vajpayee’s alliance 29 MPs, compared with Mamata’s seven, and has already leveraged this clout to extract various concessions from Delhi.

Atomic energy department sources said the Centre holds the view that nuclear power plants should come up only at sites far away from coal pitheads, which runs contrary to the opinion of the corporation. It believes every state should have an optimal mix of nuclear, thermal and hydel power. The department’s view that states with coal pitheads within 1,000 km should opt for thermal power does not fit in with the Kyoto protocol, to which India is a signatory. For environmental reasons, the protocol discourages thermal power.

Pramanick insists that the Kyoto protocol has come almost simultaneously with the Left’s revision of stand on nuclear power. “The Left no longer has any objections,” he said.

In the circumstances, the department says that though the government is committed to creating an additional 20,000 mw of nuclear power by 2020, resources are hard to come by.


Calcutta, June 6 
A notification issued by the Medical Council of India spread panic in Bengal as it gave the impression that the state’s all seven medical colleges were about to be derecognised.

At the bottom of the notification, the seven Bengal colleges appeared under a caption in brackets: “Recommended to Central Govt for derecognition.”

The rest is a list of institutions around the country whose MBBS degrees are recognised by the council, the sole authority regulating medical studies. The council later clarified that no such recommendation had been sent.

With the tussle last year over the reduction of seats at the Calcutta Medical College still fresh in memory, the apprehension of students and a section of teachers was not without basis. “It’s very likely that the council had noticed some new shortcomings in all the colleges, leading to the recommendation for their derecognition,” felt a fourth-year student of R.G. Kar Medical College.

“Something like this would not be totally unexpected,” said a retired professor of medicine. “The state health department spent lakhs and had to transfer and recruit several teachers last year to prevent the council from decreasing the number of seats at Medical College from 155 to 100.”

Subsequent inspections by the council’s teams at R.G. Kar Medical College and National Medical College, both of which are listed in the notification, did reveal some deficiencies, for which the council had given time to the health department to rectify. They include vacant teaching posts, insufficient equipment and infrastructure, and lack of spacious wards and laboratories.

All the medical colleges on the list are run by the government.

Since the notification was published at the weekend, the offices of the West Bengal Medical Council have been abuzz with enquiries from various quarters, asking if the courses at these colleges would be derecognised.

If this was true, “persons holding qualifications granted by any of these institutions are not eligible to practice medicine any where in India,” according to the notification.

Enquiries also flooded the offices of the state’s director of medical education. Teachers and students held informal meetings to find out what was happening and whether the state health department knew anything about the notification.

The director of medical education, however, was not in the city till Tuesday afternoon and a clarification till then was not available. On return, Shyamal Banerjee said he was aware of the notification. “There is something wrong in it. We have contacted the council authorities in Delhi to clarify the issue.”

The confusion was unravelled after the West Bengal Medical Council contacted Delhi, which said that an error had occurred in the design and layout of the notification.

The Medical Council of India told The Telegraph that “A corrigendum will be issued soon”.    

June 6 
Income-tax raids today in four cities have established that part of the fodder scam money was used to finance Bollywood blockbusters.

The CBI, after interrogating actress Mamta Kulkarni in 1997, had hinted that the money siphoned off from the animal husbandry treasuries may have been invested in the film industry.

Income-tax officers, in simultaneous raids in Mumbai, Bangalore, Ranchi and Patna, unearthed incriminating documents which confirm that the accused persons invested heavily in films.

Jagdish Jha, principal investigator, income-tax, Patna, said raids were conducted on the Ranchi residence of K.M. Prasad, a fodder supplier. A sum of Rs 9 lakh was seized from Prasad’s house along with gold bonds worth several crores, Jha said.

Prasad, one of the prime accused in the Rs 950-crore scam, is currently lodged in Beur jail.

The sleuths also swooped down on Prasad’s son Rajesh Kumar’s houses and offices in Mumbai and Bangalore. Raids on Kumar’s film finance company — Kumar Films Private Ltd — revealed documents which prove the Bollywood link.

The CBI had information that Prasad and at least four other accused persons had used the siphoned money to finance at least six Bollywood films. The tax investigators said they had got hold of the names of the films, but these would have to be scrutinised.

Sources in Ranchi said two flats belonging to Prasad at Juhu and Lokhandvala near Mumbai, valued at over Rs 3 crore, were sealed. Documents showing investments made by Prasad in Kumar Films and in a hotel apart from numerous payments made to singers, music directors and others were also seized.

Tax authorities were taken aback when they found papers showing payment of Rs 15,000 to a well-known singer. The sources said the payment was apparently undervalued to evade tax.    

Dhaka, June 6 
The International Cricket Council (ICC) may not be guided “entirely by commercial considerations” in awarding the television rights for the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.

The initial bids have already created a storm, even though Zee, one of the three shortlisted bidders, has denied threatening to do a Kerry Packer if the ICC looked elsewhere.

Before returning to London last night, the ICC’s finance and marketing committee chairman Ehsan Mani told The Telegraph: “As we’ll be entering into a seven-year marriage, we may not strictly be sold on the highest bid. Other factors are bound to come into play — top of this list being feeling comfortable with the set-up which eventually gets the rights.

“Really, then, we’ll be looking at the best partner. The reputation and ability to deliver will count, too.”

Besides the next two World Cups, the successful bidder will have the rights for the four mini-World Cups between now and 2006 (every alternate year, that is).

The U-19 World Cup could also be part of the deal.

Mani revealed the ICC would meet the bidders — Zee, TWI and World Sports Group — next Monday to “discuss” the contract, after which the bidders will have the option of revising their offer (till now, “indicative” only) one last time.

“There will be no discussions after Monday. Thereafter, the bidders will simply have to give sealed offers not to us, but PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which is overseeing the process. The bids will, then, be opened before the executive board which meets ahead of the ICC’s AGM (June 26),” Mani added.

The ICC will be represented by Mani, chief executive David Richards, and a nominee each from South Africa and the West Indies, hosts of the two World Cups in question.

“Please remember Monday’s meeting won’t discuss the indicative offers already with us. Rather, it’s the contract which will be gone through with a fine toothcomb and, obviously, the terms of payment and the security offered will be on the agenda,” Mani said.

He declined to talk about the bids, but did say: “If Zee claims their offer is the highest, there could be substance in that. I wouldn’t expect somebody to make an empty claim...”

It is learnt, though, the bids are in the region of $ 500 million.

Mani confirmed that a couple of the bidders had alleged “leaks”. He said: “Yes, one of the bidders claimed their offer was conveyed to a rival, while another feared correspondence being leaked. In fact, it’s largely to dispel such misgivings that we’ve decided the final (sealed) bids will go to PriceWaterhouseCoopers and not us.”

Mani, in Dhaka as an Asian Cricket Council invitee, added with emphasis: “There will be absolute transparency”. The preliminary screening of bidders saw the exit, among others, of WorldTel.    

Temperature: Maximum: 29.3°C (-6) Minimum: 25.6°C (-1) RAINFALL: 13.8 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 98%, Minimum: 86% Today: A few spells of rain, with one or two showers or thundershowers. Sunset: 6.16 pm Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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