Putin in post-Pokhran date with Barc
Govt cries foul on phones
Fresh STD schedule in October
Singh points fingers at West for CTBT failure
Toll mounts to 29 as rains refuse to let up
South shock after rebel walkout
Stung Mamata lashes out
BJP feelers to Mayavati for alliance rerun

 
 
PUTIN IN POST-POKHRAN DATE WITH BARC 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 20: 
Signalling Russia’s keenness to work closely with India on civilian use of nuclear energy, President Vladimir Putin is likely to pay a visit to the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (Barc) during his state visit to the country next month.

The Russian President will be the first member of the Permanent Five (P-5) to visit Barc, the fountainhead of India’s nuclear programme after the Pokhran-II nuclear tests. In his address at the UN Millennium Summit in New York earlier this month, Putin had asked the international community to explore the use of nuclear energy that minimises environmental and proliferation concerns.

Russian deputy Prime Minister, Ilya Klebanov, is in the capital to discuss Putin’s visit. During the day, he met finance minister Yashwant Sinha and information technology minister Pramod Mahajan, and over the next two days he will meet other leaders, including the Prime Minister.

Putin arrives here on October 2 evening, but his official visit starts the next day. However, soon after his arrival, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will host a private dinner which will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to have a tęte-ŕ-tęte before the official discussions begin.

India, under the BJP government, is perceived in many quarters to be moving closer to the US. Vajpayee, during his private session with Putin, will apprise him of his US visit and stress the traditional strong ties Delhi enjoys with Moscow. The private dinner is a signal that India is not willing to dump its time-tested ally for Washington and that the two relations are independent of each other.

The high point of the Russian President’s visit will be the signing of the document on Strategic Partnership between the two sides. Delhi and Moscow have excellent relations in political and defence areas, with more then 60 per cent of India’s military hardware still dependent on Russia. The two sides are lagging behind in economic cooperation, which the document will stress.

Putin will be given a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan on October 3. His official talks with Vajpayee and the Indian delegation will begin in the afternoon. Vajpayee will host a lunch for him at Hyderabad House. President K.R. Narayanan will host a banquet for him in the evening.

The Russian President is scheduled to address a joint sitting of Parliament on October 4 and later meet other Indian leaders. He will visit Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Later in the day, he will be leaving for Mumbai. Putin’s decision to visit the country’s financial capital shows Moscow’s keenness to improve economic ties with Delhi. The two-way trade between India and Russia is about $ 1.5 billion, but despite the projection of about $ 10 to 11 billion, the two countries have so far been unable to reach it. A serious attempt will be made by Putin to identify areas which could help the countries to boost their trade and economic cooperation significantly.

He also plans to visit Barc while in Mumbai. The significance of the visit stems not only from Putin’s recent remarks, but also from the cooperation that Delhi has been getting from Moscow in this area. Despite strong opposition from the West, particularly the US, Russia honoured the commitment to deliver the two 1000 MW nuclear reactors for India’s Kudamkulam power project.

The two sides had signed the detailed report on the Kudamkulam power project in Moscow in July 1998 — barely two months after the Pokhran II nuclear tests. It became effective in April last year.    


 
 
GOVT CRIES FOUL ON PHONES 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Sept. 20: 
Long distance telecom services to Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai were partially restored today but the eastern region remained cut off from the rest of the country.

Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan today warned that stern action would be taken against the agitating telecom employees. “The nation cannot be held to ransom and the common man cannot be inconvenienced,” Paswan said.

In Calcutta, minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar accused Left-affiliated unions of sabotaging repair and maintainance work. The minister has directed the chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones, K. Ramanujam, and chief general manager of the Eastern Telecom Region, S.K. Jain, to identify the “saboteurs” and hand them over to police.

“I am giving a three-day ultimatum to the department to inquire into the matter, track the mischief-makers and take action,’’ he said. But unions have denied the charge.

Even as the minister was speaking to reporters, the accounts officers’ association went on a wildcat strike from Wednesday, plunging the department into a deeper crisis. Telecom department officials said work in the billing section, which compiles, sends and collects telephone bills, would be severely affected.

Of the 11 lakh connections in the Calcutta Telephones network, 26,000 are currently out of order. The entire network of the ETR in the city has collapsed. Sources said the department is losing Rs 3 crore daily because of non-availability of outstation calls.

The Calcutta was also cut off from airports in India and abroad. Computerised reservation offices over South-Eastern, Eastern and North Frontier Railways are not functioning because of the telecom link failures, railway officials said.

Paswan held a meeting with senior officials which included three secretaries — Shyamal Ghosh (DoT), Vinod Vaish (DTS) and R.N. Goyal (DTO) — to review steps taken to restore telecom services.

Paswan said major demands of the unions on corporatisation and related issues had been settled and the minor pending issues could be discussed across the table and sorted out.

“The common man cannot be inconvenienced by only a few thousand dissatisfied officials, particularly when their grievances are receiving the highest and full consideration,” the minister said.

The communications ministry has also decided to hold a meeting of chief general managers of all the nine telecom circles where the exchanges were non-functional. Paswan has directed the chief general managers to ascertain the exact cause of problems in their zones and send reports to Delhi by tomorrow as also fix responsibility on errant officers.

“The telephone lines in western and southern regions were restored to an extent, but the east remains a problem. There was a major cut in fibre optic line at Behrampore in Murshidabad district which also resulted in disruption of traffic in the east,” Shyamal Ghosh said.

“There could have been a sabotage. We are trying to ascertain the reason for the breakdown,” a source in the DoT said.

The two unions, Telecom Engineering Services Association and Telecom Officers Association, today made a presentation to the three secretaries. Sources said the issues, including pension, would be taken up at a meeting of secretaries.    


 
 
FRESH STD SCHEDULE IN OCTOBER 
 
 
FROM M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 20: 
The Telecom Commission is likely to change the schedule of peak and off-peak rates for STD calls from October 1, coinciding with the new rates announced recently.

The commission will also eliminate the one-third rate it charges during selected hours in the evenings and mornings.

Under the new plan, full rate will be charged for calls made between 9 am and 8 pm as against the existing peak time of 8 am to 7 pm.

Similarly, the commission has also proposed to reschedule the half-rate period from 6 am to 8 am and 9.30 pm to 12 midnight as against the existing hours of 7 am to 8 am and 7 pm to 8.30 pm.

From 8 am to 9 am and 8 pm to 9.30 pm the customer will have to pay a two-third rate for STD calls.

Calls can be made at one-fourth rate between 12 midnight and 6 am. Earlier, customers could call at that rate from 11 pm to 6 am.

The Telecom Commission is also likely to fix the peak timing for calls to the US from 6 am to 11 am and 6 pm to 12 midnight (Indian Standard Time). The off-peak time for calls will be from 12 midnight to 6 am and 11 am to 6 pm.

The peak timing for calls to European countries would be from 11 am to 10 pm and off-peak timing from 12 midnight to 11 am and 10 pm to 12 noon.

For all other countries, the peak timing would be from 8 am to 7 pm and off-peak timing from 12 midnight to 8 am and 7 pm to 12 midnight. Last week, the commission took up the issue of implementation of the second phase of telecom tariff which would result in slashing of STD rates as proposed by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

Department of Telecom Services may lose Rs 754 crore during 2000-2001 due to implementation of the second phase of tariff reforms.

Sources in DTS said “the rebalancing exercise would result in lower revenues. So we are changing the peak, off-peak hours.”

The department is likely to lose about Rs 1,508 crore annually if the new STD and ISD rates are implemented.

DTS is supposed to implement the new STD/ISD rates as announced by the TRAI in their recent order. DTS will also implement the concessional rates with two-third, half and one-fourth rates as against the existing concessional rate of half, one-third and one-fourth respectively.

The commission also proposed that for ISD calls, the department would implement the tariff as per TRAI order.    


 
 
SINGH POINTS FINGERS AT WEST FOR CTBT FAILURE 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
NEW YORK 
India is swiftly moving to regain its leadership role in the world disarmament movement, lost with the decision four years ago to block the CTBT in Geneva and the nuclear tests in 1998. Speaking at the 55th session of the UN General Assembly here, external affairs minister Jaswant Singh yesterday turned the tables on the international community for the stalemate over CTBT and the disarray at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva on future programmes.

“The situation with regard to the entry into force of the CTBT and the lack of progress on a programme of work at the CD, in Geneva, shows the importance of building a consensus, both within and amongst nations, on issues that affect national and international security”, Singh told the General Assembly.

His statement comes during a week when all the 189 country delegations to the 55th General Assembly are closely examining Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s statement on disarmament here and in Washington.

Also under scrutiny are last week’s talks between Vajpayee and President Bill Clinton. Singh’s statement yesterday must be seen in the backdrop of Vajpayee’s assurances to Clinton that India will neither prevent the entry of CTBT into force nor test nuclear weapons until the treaty comes into effect — and naturally thereafter.

Although there is an Indian proviso that this is “subject to its supreme national interests” the Americans have already pointed out that this proviso is a clause in CTBT, and therefore, applies to everyone. The outcome of last week’s Vajpayee-Clinton summit in practical terms, therefore, is that India will not test nuclear weapons any more.

As the external affairs minister begins a historic bid for India’s return to the Nehruvian leadership of the world disarmament movement in the 1960s, Vajpayee’s assurances in the US last week will give this bid the necessary credibility.

Singh told the General Assembly yesterday: “We are conscious that 155 countries are, at present, signatories to the CTBT. we would like to reiterate to them our continuing commitment that India does not wish to stand in the way of entry into force of the CTBT.

“India volunteered and continues to observe a moratorium on further explosive nuclear testing. this meets the basic obligation of the CTBT”, he significantly added.

Dwelling on another issue of concern to advocates of disarmament, Singh assured the General Assembly that India remains ready to negotiate at the CD on a global treaty to ban fissile material production for weapons use.

The success of Vajpayee’s diplomacy in Washington last week was also reflected in the external affairs minister’s unequivocal demand that the Security Council be expanded and that India should find a permanent place in the reformed Council.

“The impact of actions of the Security Council is felt, with near total exclusivity, by the developing countries. Yet they have little influence in its decision-making.” He said an unrepresentative Security Council will lack the range and depth of sensitivity, perceptiveness and understanding of the realities that it will have to deal with or the moral authority to take such decisions.

An understanding reached between Vajpayee and Clinton last week that they will cooperate on Afghanistan also found its place in Singh’s address thus preparing the way for new Indian initiatives.

“The world has forgotten Afghanistan,” he regretted.

“The Talibaan’s mediaeval obscurantist ideologies...impacts adversely on the peace and security of the entire neighbourhood, from West to Central Asia to South Asia.”    


 
 
TOLL MOUNTS TO 29 AS RAINS REFUSE TO LET UP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
The toll in the five flood-hit West Bengal districts today climbed to 29 even as lashing rains swamped fresh areas in Burdwan district.

Though the army was on stand-by, heavy rainfall in Birbhum, Murshidabad and Burdwan came in the way of relief operations, deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said, but added that 400,000 people had managed to reach rescue shelters in the affected districts.

The sudden deluge has snapped link with most of the flood-hit districts. With the situation still grim, the deputy chief minister today appealed to the striking telecom staff to help restore telephone lines so that relief operations could be monitored from Calcutta.

“We are sympathetic to their demands but the moment calls for their participation in helping the flood-hit people,” Bhattacharya said.

In the Katwa sub-division of Burdwan, the district administration has been forced to requisition a separate army helicopter to aid rescue and relief work. More than 140,000 people have been affected in the district and 100,000 have already been shifted to safer places.

In Shaktigarh and Memari, desperate survivors were seen taking shelter in stranded trains, while traffic along Grand Trunk Road remained paralysed.

According to official sources, most of the people who died were either buried under walls which collapsed on them. Some also succumbed to snakebite. Eighteen deaths were reported from Birbhum district alone. Eight persons have died in Burdwan.

The army, however, managed to carry out rescue work in Nalhati in Birbhum.

According to Bhattacharya, pouring rain and high wind speeds prevented choppers from carrying out sorties. “Army choppers are standing by in Panagarh and Purnea and will attempt to get airborne on Thursday morning,” he said. Six columns of army personnel are assisting the district administration.

Bhattacharya said Bhagirathi waters were entering Berhampore town and the level of the river along several towns in Nadia was flowing above danger level.

Discharge of water from the Messanjore and Tilpara dams has been reduced to 136,000 cusecs over the past 24 hours.

Minister of state for irrigation Ganesh Mondal said prior warnings were issued before the release of 151,000 cusecs of water from the two barrages. “The level of the water in Messanjore had risen to 397 feet when the limit to keep the dam from breaching is 398 feet. We had to release water,” Mondal said.

With the districts cut off from the rest of the state, truckloads of dry food, medicine and clothes have been despatched from North 24-Parganas and Howrah.

Alipore Met office director R.N. Goldar today said the depression has moved away. The weather is likely to improve but sporadic, heavy rains were still expected in the next 24 hours in Birbhum, Murshidabad, Nadia, Malda and parts of north Bengal.

The forecast for South Bengal was light to moderate rainfall.    


 
 
SOUTH SHOCK AFTER REBEL WALKOUT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai Sept. 20: 
The Congress-led coalition government in Pondicherry was pushed to the brink today after the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) suffered a split with home minister P. Kannan walking out along with three MLAs.

Though the rebels did not say whether they will walk out of the Congress-TMC coalition, there are rumours that there could be more defections from other parties like the ADMK. A Kannan-led government supported by the DMK from the outside could then be installed.

The present trouble spells bad news for the ADMK-led front in adjoining Tamil Nadu since Assembly polls is six months away.

With Kannan exit, only two MLAs are left with the parent party and both are ministers. Kannan announced that his new outfit has been christened Puducherry Makkal Congress (Pondicherry People’s Congress).

Kannan was a Moopanar-loyalist, but he fell out with the TMC chief when Moopanar gave prominence to those who opposed him.

Kannan within the party. Along with P. Chidambaram, he had kept away from TMC executive meets for some time.

Three of Kannan’s supporters in the TMC legislature group shot off a letter to Speaker A.V. Subramaniam saying that they be treated as a separate party in the House. Since the Speaker is out of the country, the letter was handed over to the Assembly secretary.

Kannan himself is not part of the TMC’s legislature group — he was elected as an Independent to the Assembly.

Neither Kannan nor the other rebels have spelt out whether they will withdraw support to the Congress-led coalition government or what their next course of action will be.

In the 30-member Assembly, Congress has eight members and the TMC only two now. The ADMK with three members, the CPI and Janata Dal (U) with one each and two nominated members are with the ruling coalition.

Technically the coalition still enjoys an edge, and hence the reluctance of Kannan’s group to force the pace.

Pondicherry chief minister P. Shanmugham, who came to power only in March, has been quoted as saying that there is no threat to his government.    


 
 
STUNG MAMATA LASHES OUT 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 20: 
Mamata Banerjee today went hammer and tongs at Jyoti Basu for his “utter disregard” for development, unlike other chief ministers.

“The Karnataka chief minister can come to me, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister can come to me, but my chief minister (Basu) cannot talk to me. What did he say? That I am 420 and the Prime Minister, home minister and defence minister are all criminals and the NDA cattle,” she fumed.

Applauding other chief ministers for taking an interest in development — especially Karnataka’s S.M. Krishna, with whom the railways today signed its first MoU for a joint venture company to expedite railway infrastructure projects — she said: “When I sit down here (in the seat of railway minister) I do not play politics.”

“When I went to Mumbai, chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, his deputy Chhagan Bhujbal and Union minister Manohar Joshi all came and discussed the state’s interests. When I went to Bhopal, Digvijay Singh, Madhavrao Scindia and Sumitra Mahajan discussed state projects with me. When I go to Bengal, I invite the CPM leaders. But my chief minister cannot talk to me,” she said.

“And what is happening in West Bengal? From number one, its position on the development index has slipped.”

“When we won an election, Basu said the people committed a ‘blunder’. What does he mean? It is the people’s verdict,” the Trinamul Congress leader said.

Demanding action “within constitutional parameters” in West Bengal, Mamata said she would soon brief Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on the situation in the state. Owing to the telecom strike, she could not get any feedback from the state, she said.

The railways minister said she was not in a hurry to meet Vajpayee. “He might be suffering from jetlag. He came after 14 days. I do not want to disturb him now. Let him rest.” Reacting to the Prime Minister’s statement in Frankfurt that he was unlikely to accept the demand for President’s rule in West Bengal, Banerjee said she would talk to him about it.

But in reply to another question, she said her fight was “not necessarily to get rid of the government. We will fight politically. It is the only state where police have trade union rights”.

Asked if she would demand President’s rule a couple of months before the elections, she said: “The people want it. The people want peaceful polls.”

Mamata said she was not worried about the CPM getting sympathy if its government was dismissed. “No sympathy for them. No sympathy as there is no telepathy,” the railway minister said.

Earlier, Krishna appropriated Mamata Banerjee saying Karnataka had contributed six railway ministers to the country, Mamata Banerjee being the sixth since she was helping the state in a big way. “Mamata” means affection in Kannada, he added.

Presenting a sandalwood replica of Vishnu to Mamata Banerjee, Krishna said: “I do not want to remind you of Veerappan”.

After signing the MoU, which she described as a “unique event”, Mamata said the railways are hit by funds crunch but if any chief minister came forward, projects could be expedited. Without mentioning West Bengal, she said other chief ministers should also come forward. She said the chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had offered land to the railways to start projects.    


 
 
BJP FEELERS TO MAYAVATI FOR ALLIANCE RERUN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 20: 
The BJP today hinted that it could again team up with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh if there was a mid-term election.

“We cannot rule out the possibility of an alliance with the BSP. Anything is possible,” Kalraj Mishra, the new state unit chief, said at a press conference here.

Mishra admitted that BJP leaders, including himself, were “informally” in touch with former chief minister Mayavati and justified it saying “in politics you cannot cut yourself off from anyone”.

The spectre of a mid-term poll arose because once the new Uttarakhand state is created in November, the BJP-led Ram Prakash Gupta government will have only a wafer-thin majority of three MLAs. Gupta’s term ends in October 2001.

Samajwadi Party and BSP leaders claim that already two of the BJP’s major allies — the Loktantrik Congress and the Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party — are in touch with them to explore possibilities of an alternative alliance in case the Gupta government is toppled.

Reports of a BJP-BSP patch-up — after two failed experiments — surfaced after Mishra’s appointment. Known to have a good rapport with Mayavati, the new chief is said to be for a Brahmin-Dalit equation, a heartland success formula which has benefited the Congress for decades.

Mishra, however, ruled out “once and for all” a change of leadership in the state. He maintained that the polls would be fought under the chief minister’s stewardship and blamed the “uncertainty over Gupta’s leadership” for creating “instability” in the heartland.

But BJP sources said Mishra has already positioned himself for the top job. According to them, one of the main aims of his “Kisan Jagran Yatra” from Mathura to Varanasi was to consolidate his base and organisational grip as well as his claim to the chair.

The sources said this was part of the “deal” struck when he was nominated state unit chief after he agreed to give up his ministership.

Mishra admitted that the yatra — to be launched on September 25, the birth anniversary of Jan Sangh founder and ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhayay — was timed keeping in mind a mid-term poll.

“Every party has elections in mind firstly, and the BJP is no exception,” he said. “At the same time, I also want to monitor the impact of the various schemes the government has started for farmers and see for myself if they have accomplished their objectives.”

But he refused to concede that the BJP’s graph had fallen considerably in UP. “There are some shortcomings, but our cadre is not demoralised. My yatra is a way of galvanising them into activity,” he asserted.

Asked if the Ram temple would be a used as an election plank, he said: “We will discuss the matter threadbare. If a majority feel it should be used in the elections we definitely will.”

Mishra said a meeting held in Dehradun earlier this week had also discussed who could be the chief minister of Uttarakhand — where the BJP will have an over-whelming majority.

The choice of the state capital — indications were that it could be Dehradun — also came up at the meeting, which was chaired by former BJP national chief Kushabhau Thakre.    

 

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