Wanted, a Jyoti Naidu for Bihar sibling
BJP to dodge test ban thorn
Final farewell for Ranga
Baby throws cold water on Sonia security frenzy
Keshpur back on the boil
Naidu lines up another CMs’ meet
Judge plays pupil to teach schools lesson

 
 
WANTED, A JYOTI NAIDU FOR BIHAR SIBLING 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 23 
Old joke among Central bureaucrats:

Secretary A to Secretary B: Given the high cost of keeping Kashmir, we would do better if we handed it over to Pakistan...

Secretary B (aghast): Sir, what are you saying? Did you, er, your wife...

Secretary A: (interrupting)... Keep the wife out of it and let me finish... Kashmir should be gifted away only if Pakistan accepts Bihar as a freebie

Old joke with new variant:

Secretary A: Remember, I told you how we could solve the Kashmir tangle?

Secretary B: That was in jest, wasn’t it?

Secretary A : Sadly so

Secretary B: What now?

Secretary A: An amendment — we should give Kashmir away along with a Bihar or two

Secretary B (flummoxed): Come again

Secretary A: You see, we will soon have another Bihar. Only it will be called Jharkhand.

The spectre of two Bihars is haunting policy makers as the deadline for Jharkhand (November 1) inspires a frantic race for the chief ministership.

Between Babulal Marandi (or Karia Munda) and Shibu Soren, neither bureaucrats nor businessmen find much to choose from. In secretarial core group meetings, in the planning commission and in business get-togethers, Jharkhand, of all the three new states that are in the making, is top on the mind.

What is transpiring after initial studies is that Jharkhand, far from being the milk-and-honey state that its natural resources can make it, will be another burden that will take and not give.

Given the tough tasks that a new government will be faced with, industry, in particular, doubts if there is anybody among the current aspirants who can rule effectively.

If industry could anoint a chief minister, Yashwant Sinha, Union finance minister and BJP MP from Hazaribagh, would win hands down. But that is not to be, at least for now.

Businessmen with interests in the region are therefore lobbying hard to convince the leader of the new team — which must be a coalition — that he must induct professionals. “Like what Narasimha Rao did — he brought in Manmohan Singh and look how the country is changing,” said one.

Here is what Jharkhand Chief Minister No. 1 will have to be like to win the confidence of industry and new economy bureaucrats and what a glimpse of his list of immediate things-to-do will reveal:

An architect of state: He must find a seat of government. Though Ranchi is seen as the natural choice for state capital, it does not have the infrastructure for it. Immediately, a secretariat, an Assembly and a state police headquarters have to be built. Even furniture will have to be moved. All Ranchi has is a bench of Patna High Court. A site has been identified 50 km from Ranchi on the Ranchi-Dhanbad road. Till the capital is built, the government will have to operate out of temporary premises — guest houses of public sector companies, minor Bihar government offices and such like.

A bargainer-par-excellence: He has to ensure that Laloo Prasad does not walk away with the cake and the crumbs. The Bihar government has put a price tag of Rs 1,79,900 crore on Jharkhand. This absurdly high figure — nearly 10 times the country’s GDP — is more a bargaining tool than anything else. The 11th finance commission has allocated over Rs 6,000 crore to Bihar for 2000-2001. This will now have to be split between two states.

There is also no Constitutional proviso to compensate a state if another is carved out of it. So it has to be a political settlement. But the Centre must find a way to force Laloo to accept much less. “Rs 10,000 crore or thereabouts but where to find it,” wonders a bureaucrat. The actual amount for immediate compensation could, however, be much less, probably as “low” as Rs 2000 crore (about Rs 1100 crore as royalty of coal, about Rs 800 crore on account of mineral tax and Rs 100 crore on minor heads). Policy makers are also likely to stagger payment of compensation over a period of 10 years. The Jharkhand chief minister should be wary of the possibility that the larger the amount of compensation for Bihar, the smaller will be his largesse from the Centre.

A zealous reformist: Jharkhand has the country’s largest mineral deposits and most of the major industries of Bihar. The region contributes around 13 per cent of the value of all minerals produced in the country. But these minerals have largely serviced old economy industries. “What can infotech companies do with coal?” an economist consulted by the core group asks.

Against this background there is a subtle push to sell resources to foreign companies that are capable of exploiting them. There is a suggestion to raise revenues by attracting foreign direct investment and export minerals.

The one Indian company, — Tata Steel — that is the industrial nerve centre of the region, has recently implemented an expansion and modernisation programme. In the context of the up-today-down-tomorrow steel industry globally, it cannot reasonably be expected to create further capacities immediately.

This means the demand for the minerals will not be enough to be economically viable unless the Australian, Chinese and Japanese inquiries are seriously pursued. “We should just go ahead and hawk these resources and utilise the revenues for development,” suggests an industry man.

The chief minister who will do this must be committed to reform, he says. He must start by relaxing norms under the Indian Forest Act to make mining a profitable business. There will also be pressure on the chief minister to declare Jharkhand a sales tax free state — “a state of the new millennium” — as one lobbyist put it.

An innovator: There’s Marandi and Munda and Soren; there’s Sinha and Yadav and Modi. But where is Mr Jyoti Naidu?

He is the man who will delight industry, combining in his persona the best of Jyoti Basu and Chandrababu Naidu. Industry’s dream Jharkhand chief minister will implement the Bengal-Kerala model of panchayati raj, bring “CEO” Naidu’s corporate style of government and flair for marketing to the administration and top cop K.P.S. Gill’s acumen to deal with the Maoist Communist Centre, the Naxalite force that has its stronghold in seven of the 14 districts.    


 
 
BJP TO DODGE TEST BAN THORN 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 23 
The BJP is likely to avoid a discussion on the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in its Nagpur national council, which meets on Saturday.

Its political resolution is unlikely to mention the CTBT issue, even though the council meets on the eve of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s US visit during which he may be expected to give some assurance on signing the treaty.

The resolution has been described as a “hold-all” document which will enunciate the BJP’s stand on all contemporary issues, barring the signing of the CTBT.

BJP sources said the reason why the leadership was avoiding even a mention of CTBT was that there was no consensus within the party. Ironically, every time the US brings up the question of ratifying the treaty, Vajpayee takes the plea of “evolving a consensus” across the political spectrum before committing himself to it.

The differences within the BJP surfaced last week, when a group of MPs led by T.N. Chaturvedi met foreign minister Jaswant Singh and demanded an assurance on whether Vajpayee would sign the CTBT or not during his US trip. Earlier, in a parliamentary party meeting, Delhi MP V.K. Malhotra, made a similar demand.

The MPs who met Singh urged him not to give any commitment to the US until the Senate approved the treaty. They also stressed that the CTBT “discriminated” against the nuclear have-nots while allowing the nuclear powers to retain their arsenal.

BJP sources claimed the foreign minister did not give a “categorical” assurance either way. He argued that in view of the “changed” situation, after Pokhran-II, the Centre had kept its options open, and if signing the CTBT led to Japan and other countries lifting the sanctions imposed against India, there was “no harm”.

“If India was the net beneficiary, there was no harm in signing CTBT, and that international relations worked on the give-and-take principle and was not a one-way traffic,” said an MP.

Sources said the MPs were “unconvinced” by Singh’s arguments and sought another meeting, which will not materialise before the Nagpur session.

The BJP had not taken a position on CTBT when it was in the Opposition even as it had all along clamoured for the bomb and fulfilled its agenda through Pokhran-II. But with the PM beaming pro-CTBT signals, BJP sources were apprehensive that they may have to lump the treaty ratification in the same way as economic reforms.    


 
 
FINAL FAREWELL FOR RANGA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 23 
Power minister P.R. Kumaramangalam, who died this morning, was cremated with full state honours at an electric crematorium by the banks of the Yamuna.

Politicians of all hues, many of whom the affable 48-year-old addressed as “uncle”, were present when Kumaramangalam’s son Mohan lit the pyre. The last post was sounded and Rajputana Rifles personnel fired in the air as a mark of respect.

Home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes, former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and Congress leaders Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee were among those present.

Earlier in the day, the Union Cabinet met briefly to condole the minister’s death. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who is in town, conveyed his regrets to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Doctors at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, where Kumaramangalam had been poised between life and death for over a week, gave up hope before daybreak today. The doctors said they had tried every possible measure to keep the minister alive but he was no longer responding to treatment.

News spread like wildfire and politicians began queuing up from 6 am outside the private ward at AIIMS, where the minister was admitted with undiagnosed fever.

Kumaramangalam, or Ranga as he was popularly known, was suffering from acute myeloid leukaemia (blood cancer). He leaves behind his lawyer wife, Kitty, a son and a daughter.

Though no state mourning was declared, the national flag flew at half mast on all government buildings across the country.

Within the BJP and outside, Kumaramangalam was seen as one of the more dynamic ministers, who generated fresh ideas and was accessible to MPs. The long line of people who turned up at his Aurangzeb Road house is a measure of his popularity.

Apart from the Prime Minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Ministers I.K. Gujral and P.V. Narasimha Rao, outgoing BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre and his successor Bangaru Lakshman arrived to pay their respects. Cabinet ministers Jaswant Singh, Ram Naik, Murli Manohar Joshi, Arun Jaitley and Nitish Kumar were also present.

The President, Vice-President and Prime Minister have condoled the minister’s death.

In his condolence message, President K.R. Narayanan said: “Death has snatched away from our midst a dynamic personality, an able parliamentarian and an administrator who had made his mark in public life at a young age.”

Vice-President Krishan Kant said: “A cruel providence has terminated a life full of potential and promise, in full bloom.”

Echoing him, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said: “The cruel hand of death has snatched away from our midst a young, dynamic national leader. For me it is a personal loss - that of a dear friend and colleague.”

Vajpayee has known the minister since he was a teenager and had inducted him into his Cabinet in 1998, months after he had joined the BJP. Though as parliamentary affairs minister he could not ensure the government’s victory during the 1999 vote of confidence, the Prime Minister retained him in the new government as power minister.    


 
 
BABY THROWS COLD WATER ON SONIA SECURITY FRENZY 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
New York, Aug. 23 
After turning the Big Apple upside down, Sonia Gandhi’s aborted visit to New York has turned out to be the proverbial case of mountain labouring and producing a molehill.

The Special Protection Group (SPG) had descended on New York preparatory to her visit, pre-constructing all her movements in the city, sampling an assortment of hotel rooms, checking security in entire hotel floors, visiting the UN and generally making a nuisance of themselves in this city which is used to hosting with little fuss up to 140 heads of state and government in a single day, each of them vulnerable to threats to their security.

The issue of Sonia’s security, which, at times seemed to overtake preparations for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meet she was to attend, had bewildered both the IPU and the UN, which is a co-organiser of the Millennium meeting of presiding officers of parliament.

The IPU was particularly hassled what with its chairperson, Najma Heptullah, underscoring the importance of her party leader’s presence in New York and making sure that no stone was left unturned in an unsuccessful effort to make Sonia the star of the conference.

Heptullah’s efforts were of no avail because IPU’s protocol stood their ground and insisted that Sonia will not even speak a word in New York since it was a gathering of presiding officers of legislatures: anyone else who was attending as a delegate was largely using the opportunity offered by the meeting to enjoy a few days in the Big Apple.

What the IPU and the UN could not understand was that if Sonia was that important, as judged by the fuss being made by the SPG and the pressure being put on the organisers by Heptullah, why was India’s leader of the opposition a mere delegate?

The other delegates were an assortment of Amar Singhs, Yerran Naidus and General Khanduris and they were making no such fuss, there were no demands on their behalf.

The abrupt cancellation of Sonia’s visit, though, has created more problems than it has solved. In all probability, the Indian delegation will still have to pay for hotel rooms for her and her staff plus SPG personnel.

Accommodation is at a premium here at this time with the summer rush and a combination of Millennium related meetings at the UN Hotels do not take kindly to cancellations of room bookings.

But a worse aspect of the cancellation is that the organisers of the conference are wondering what inputs went into the decision of India’s potential Prime Minister to be in New York in the first place, if her plans to attend the conference were being cancelled for reasons which were previously known.

Impending grandmotherhood is being cited as Sonia’s reason to opt out of the IPU meet. But sources said the real reason was that she would clearly have been ill at ease spending a week in the company of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Pawar, Pramod Mahajan and the like. Mahajan had even likened her to White House intern Monica Lewinsky during the election campaign last year.

Besides, Pranab Mukherjee, Sonia’s only adviser on foreign affairs in the Indian delegation, opted out of the IPU meet after he was appointed West Bengal Congress chief on Tuesday. Mukherjee could have helped Sonia out during private meetings with Speakers or MPs from other countries attending the conference.    


 
 
KESHPUR BACK ON THE BOIL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, Aug. 23 
Shattering a fortnight-long lull, a Trinamul Congress supporter was gunned down in strife-torn Keshpur today.

Trinamul leaders alleged that Mintu Bagli, 35, was killed by the CPM cadre at Kankta village in Keshpur.

Another Trinamul supporter, Swapna Ghosh, who was shot at yesterday at Chandrakona in Midnapore, also succumbed to her injuries today.

With the killings of two Trinamul supporters, Keshpur turned violent again. Trinamul has threatened an indefinite bandh in Keshpur, if the police failed to arrest the CPM supporters allegedly invoved in the killings within 48 hours.

Trinamul leaders in Midnapore alleged that the local administration had arranged for huge police protection for the district magistrate and superintendent of police.

“While the police have failed to protect Trinamul supporters, more then 2,000 policemen have assembled in Midnapore town for the protection of the district magistrate and superintendent of police,” alleged a Trinamul leader.

Trinamul supporters in Calcutta submitted a memorandum to Governor V.J. Shah, home secretary Sourin Roy and urged them to take action to stop killings of party supporters in Keshpur and other parts of Midnapore.

Party general secretary Mukul Roy said they had also handed over a video cassette to the Governor which will help him assess the situation in Midnapore. “We are sending another cassette to Mamata Banerjee.” He said the CPM has identified villages like Joypur, Udaypur, Rolpat, Kankta— dominated by Trinamul — for attack.    


 
 
NAIDU LINES UP ANOTHER CMS’ MEET 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Aug. 23 
Indicating that the battle was far from over, chief minister Chandrababu Naidu today said the states adversely affected by the recommendations of the 11th finance commission would meet again to put across their grievances to the Centre.

Naidu, who had convened a meeting of chief ministers of “progressive states” in the capital on Monday, said they would meet again after the commission submitted its “final report”.

Naidu’s stand was endorsed by Kerala’s E.K. Nayanar who told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram that the Prime Minister and the Union finance minister had assured him that the demand of the states would be considered, adds PTI.

Commenting on the joint memorandum submitted to Atal Behari Vajpayee, Naidu told the Assembly that he was not campaigning against backward states but only pleading for justice to states which were pursuing reforms.

He said the chief ministers’ meeting was a success and that his visit to Delhi was fruitful as the Central leaders were sympathetic to their demand.

Naidu told the House that he had suggested to Vajpayee to hold a meeting of the Inter-State Council after the final report of the commission was made public. “In case the Centre does not conduct the Inter-State Council meeting, we the chief ministers of progressive states have decided to meet again,” he said.

Naidu also said the commission’s chairman, A.M. Khusro, had assured the delegation that most of their complaints would be taken care of in the final report of the commission to be prepared in the next 10 days. “The chairman told us that he will try to do justice,” he said.    


 
 
JUDGE PLAYS PUPIL TO TEACH SCHOOLS LESSON 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 23 
Last week an unusual drama was unfolding in a crowded courtroom of Delhi High Court. Justice Arun Kumar was playing out the part of a street child seeking admission in a school of the Delhi government.

S.C. Poddar, the head of the Directorate of Delhi Education, was in the dock for slamming the door on thousands of poor children, keeping them out of government schools because of a technical hitch: their failure to furnish a document validating their age.

For a minute, let us assume we are two street children, said Justice Arun Kumar and Justice A.K. Sikra and want admission in your school. But we do not have birth certificates or affidavits certifying our age. So what’s the solution, the judges asked.

Poddar’s lawyer started listing the provisions in the Delhi School Act which make it mandatory for all children to furnish either birth certificates or affidavits confirming their age.

But the drama was picking up and the judges were giving the directorate no quarter. They butted in saying the rules are well known but where is the solution? Poddar’s lawyer suggested the sponsors of the street children should then get a medical examination done to certify the age.

Once again the judges were quick with their rebuttal — then what is the harm in admitting the child and the school authorities can conduct a medical examination later, they said.

In the courtroom was also a clutch of street children seeking justice for having been denied entry to school. They were there to remind the government of its commitment to universalise elementary education. These children listened wide-eyed to the judges, to their terse words flowing one after another, pulling up the education director for denying the homeless children a right to formal education.

Last month Ashok Aggarwal, a member of Social Jurists, a lawyers’ forum had filed a public interest litigation, challenging the continued denial of admission of poor and homeless children to the schools run by Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the directorate.

“The parents want to send their children to school. But none of them have birth certificates so they have to get affidavits,” says Aggarwal. He is hopeful of a positive verdict next week in the final hearing of the case.

There is a money-spinning network flourishing with touts churning out lakh of affidavits every year. The parents are shelling out anything between Rs 50 to Rs 100 to get their children admitted in schools. Almost three lakh affidavits are given out every year.

There are about 7 lakh children in the six to 14 age group in Delhi. Of them about 5 lakh are denied admission because of inflexible laws and bureaucratic hazards. Dismayed by the procedural wrangles and the cost of an affidavit many parents are pushing their children into the burgeoning non-formal education system.

“The street children, for instance, continue to pick rags in the morning and attend a non-formal school for two hours in the afternoon,” says Aggarwal. The NGOs, he maintains, have a “vested interest” since they are getting a lot of money for their centres.    

 

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