Gas & kerosene face the brunt
Poll sits heavy on petrol
Mamata springs double surprise on Atal, Priya
Left high & dry by flood
Maneka cracks whip on race courses
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Sept. 22: 
Oil is on the boil and the fat is in the fire. Barring a last-minute hitch, the Vajpayee government is expected to finally bite the bullet and raise petroleum prices across the board, threatening to stoke passions in hearth and home and a road rage by angry commuters.

Anticipating resistance from certain partners of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) principally Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, the government is trying to douse passions by seeking to minimise the burden on the common man through a reduction in a range of levies on petroleum products.

However, the TDP can turn the hugely unpopular move into a burning issue as it is not in the government. It had protested against the price rise last September.

The hike this time will be across-the-board and not steep as is being recommended by the officials.There is a deliberate move to minimise the increase in diesel prices to rein in inflationary pressures.

With petroleum and natural gas minister Ram Naik opposing a steep increase in prices and the finance ministry agreeing to reduce duties, there is a strong possibility that the hike will be kept withing the range of 15-20 per cent. The maximum increase will be in the prices of LPG and kerosene.

The government has been claiming that the subsidy on LPG is over Rs 160 per 14 kg. cylinder. As it is considered a fuel of the rich and the salaried class, there is a strong lobby within the government opposing a subsidy on it. Politicians remain unconvinced. They do not want to incur the wrath of this influential class.

Officials in the ministry of petroleum and natural gas have recommended a minimum hike of Rs 50 per cylinder. Knowledgeable circles, however, reckon that the increase may be limited to Rs 25-30 per cylinder.

The precise nature of duty reduction is still not known. It is unlikely that the finance ministry will agree to customs duty reduction on crude. Indications are that it will reduce excise duties, particularly on diesel which accounts for nearly 50 per cent of the total consumption of petroleum products.

The government had slipped in implementing the cabinet-approved subsidy reduction both for LPG and kerosene.This makes it that much harder to achieve the objective of deregulating petroleum products by April 2002. It is likely that the government will raise the price of kerosene by Rs 2 per litre as it is used mainly for adulterating other petroleum products.

A significant portion of the kerosene sold through public distribution system also finds its way into retail outlets for adulteration.

Even at prevailing international prices, there is no justification for increasing the price of petrol. But the public peception is that it is a rich man’s fuel.The fact, however, remains that it is the lower middle class in the cities and metros depending on two wheelers which will be hit by the increase in petrol prices. It is not politically feasible to leave the petrol price untouched.

On Friday, the prospect of a petroleum price rise convulsed the markets as brokers dumped stocks in a selling frenzy that sent the Sensex tumbling 224.83 points to 4032.37.

Meanwhile, oil prices eased on world markets with the London Brent crude down 16 cents at $ 32.57 a barrel as dealers waited for US president Bill Clinton to decide whether or not to order a rare release of emergency stockpiles.

However, the slight fall in oil prices held out little comfort for the Vajpayee government which has been struggling to clamber out of a hole created by the mounting oil pool deficit which has risen to about Rs 9000 crore. The deficit results from subsidies on products like cooking gas and kerosene and a pricing structure that doesn’t fully neutralise the costs arising from imports of expensive crude oil.    

New Delhi, Sept. 22: 
Electoral considerations are weighing heavy on the Centre’s decision to go ahead with a hike on petro prices. Well placed government sources told The Telegraph tonight that although an increase in petroleum prices was becoming an economic necessity, the government was unsure of the electoral viability of any such move.

“Key elections are due in many states and the government cannot take any decision on the issue without consulting all allies and the political implications of another price hike into account,” government sources said tonight.

The issue will be at the core of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) meeting tomorrow. The government apprehends that several crucial alliance partners including the Trinamul Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) itself will oppose any quantum hike in petroleum prices at this stage because of impending elections in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

Consequently, the Centre is unlikely to take any decision on a fresh petro price hike before consulting NDA partners.

The first Cabinet meeting upon Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s return from the US trip will be held tomorrow but the question of a petroleum hike is unlikely to come up.

Sources said the government could not put the issue on the Cabinet’s agenda before consulting coalition partners.

The NDA meeting is slated to take place tomorrow evening, well after the Cabinet meets.

It is also significant that finance minister Yashwant Sinha and petroleum minister Ram Naik are both unlikely to be in the capital for tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting. Sinha is still recovering from a kidney operation in the US and Naik is tending his constituency in Maharashtra.

Two crucial Assembly elections are scheduled next year for the NDA: in Uttar Pradesh and in West Bengal. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is fighting with its back to the wall.

It has made a mess of the administration and faction wars within the party have spilt out in unsavoury fashion for the party.

The least of the party’s woes in Uttar Pradesh is that it is led by chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta, a man who has neither mass appeal nor any organisational prowess.

In West Bengal, the BJP’s main ally, the Trinamul Congress, is smelling victory over the Left Front which has ruled the state for over two decades.

Any unpopular price hikes — a petroleum price increase will have a cascade effect on prices of other consumer goods — will land the BJP and its allies with a handicap and its opponents with a handle in the forthcoming assembly elections.

There are indications already that NDA constituents, including the BJP, will politically oppose a quantum hike in petro prices on political grounds.

The government, therefore, may be forced to contain the price hike and bear an economic burden rather than take political risks.    

New Delhi, Sept. 22: 
When railway minister Mamata Banerjee went to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee this evening, she took a grumpy Priya Ranjan Das Munshi with her.

Vajpayee had wanted a one-to-one that would have allowed him to explain to Mamata why it was difficult to promulgate the harsher Central laws — either Article 356, imposing President’s rule, or Article 355 which allows limited intervention — against someone as senior as Jyoti Basu.

But a day before the National Democratic Alliance meeting, Mamata did not want to compromise. Congress leader Das Munshi had come to meet her in the afternoon. While they were still talking, minister of state for planning Arun Shourie arrived. As Shourie held discussions with the railway minister, Das Munshi waited.

After he had left, Mamata dragged a reluctant Das Munshi to the Prime Minister’s 7 Race Course Road residence. At the meeting, the Trinamul Congress leader kept the discussions limited to the floods in Bengal.

Das Munshi, whose constituency, Raiganj, is in North Bengal, narrated the plight of the affected people. Mamata was happy to let him talk. She did not want Vajpayee to get a chance to speak about the law and order problem. Knowing he could not interfere, the Prime Minister remained silent.

The Trinamul leader wants the Bengal issue to be raised at the National Democratic Alliance meeting that will follow the Cabinet meeting tomorrow.. So she could not allow Vajpayee the opportunity to persuade her against doing so.

Mamata also wanted to send a signal to the BJP leadership that she was not averse to joining hands with the Congress. Das Munshi has been opposed to the idea of the Congress aligning with the Trinamul with Bengal. By taking him along for a meeting with the Prime Minister, she was making it clear that she had friends elsewhere and not just in Delhi.

Throughout the meeting, the railways minister did not once refer to the violence she and her party have been protesting about for the past several weeks.

As a result, floods took precedence. Mamata complained to Vajpayee that the barrage authorities, whether they belonged to the Damodar Valley Corporation or the state government, had released so much water that railway lines were flooded even before precautionary measures could be taken.

Following inundation of the tracks, the state government had to halt train movement at 48 places in Bengal.

n See Page 6

At another place, train services were disrupted after a train ran over two elephants.    

Calcutta, Sept. 22: 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY Calcutta, Sept. 22: For Kamalesh Bose and his two daughters, Nandini and Ragini, the last three days in their seventh floor flat on Southern Avenue were plain nightmare.

His wife, Mitali, an official with a local NGO, and her two colleagues, Aloka Mitra and Sangeeta Banerjee, had boarded a bus in Siliguri minutes before the sky cracked and rains began to lash Bengal.

For the past three days there was no trace of the bus. Only this afternoon, a harried Kamalesh came to know that they were stranded in Jalpaiguri.

The three women could not contact Calcutta as phone lines were down. One of Mitali’s colleagues and the NGO chairperson, Aloka, could only contact her son over phone in Chandigarh and tell him their whereabouts and plight.

He, in turn, called his sister Nilina in Calcutta. Kamalesh came to know where Mitali is by ringing up Nilina.

Kamalesh’s woes have not ended. The three women have little money and Kamalesh is now trying to figure out how to reach them three air tickets.

Hundreds of Calcuttans are stranded in vehicles along submerged highways, abandoned railway coaches or other improvised shelters in different parts of north Bengal.

Their agony as well as their relatives’ worry have been aggravated by the communication collapse.

In Calcutta, anxious citizens called newspaper offices, police headquarters, Writers’ Buildings, bus and railway stations and airline offices for a situation report.

Late Friday evening chaos reigned at the bus and railway stations. Floods of inquiries about buses and trains to Siliguri, Raigunj, Balurghat, Malda and Jalpaiguri evoked unsatisfactory replies from officials manning the counters.

Shyambrata Mukherjee, a resident of Tollygunge, said: “My son is a medical representative. He went to Malda on Saturday and was supposed to return on Tuesdy but till today we have got no information about him.”

R.K.Saha, a resident of Behala, said: “My wife started for Jalpaiguri on Tuesday to visit my son who resides there. But till today I have got no information about her.”

Reports trickling in suggest that nearly 200 buses are stranded at different places.

B.P. Haldar, an official of Calcutta State Transport Corporation, said: “ The buses which had left for North Bengal on Monday and Tuesday are now stranded at Berhampore and the drivers and conductors have been asked to come after flood waters recede.”

n Another report on Page 8

The deputy commissioner of police (headquarters), Nazrul Islam, said: “We are trying to contact the superintendent of police of Malda and Murshidabad but, as the telephones are not functioning, we cannot collect latest information”.    

Calcutta, Sept. 22: 
To whip or not to whip is the question raging on race courses around the country. Firebrand animal activist and Union minister Maneka Gandhi has issued an ultimatum on banishing the whip from horse racing.

At a meeting with representatives of Turf Authorities of India and jockey associations in Bangalore on September 12, Maneka set October 3 as the “firm” deadline for discontinuing use of the whip.

Citing Section 11 (1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, she told representatives of the Rs 800-crore racing business that use of the whip amounts to “hurting” the animal. The animal welfare division is under Maneka’s ministry.

The ministerial diktat has left the sport with two options: ban the whip immediately, or phase it out over two years and use Aircush (a bulbous rubberised alternative which was rejected by jockeys when introduced on an experimental basis) whips in the interim.

Even as the turf clubs sought more time — “at least till end-October” — Maneka insisted on a response by October 3. The clubs will meet in Hyderabad on October 1 to decide what to do.

“We respect the minister’s concern for animals, especially race horses which are our bread and butter. However, we have already written to her that stringent rules have already been formulated to prevent misuse of the whip,” said Vineet Verma, CEO, Royal Calcutta Turf Club.

Turf Authorities of India issued a code of conduct in November 1999 for the use of the whip so that horses are not “abused”. Some of the rules are showing the horse the whip and giving it time to respond before hitting it; using the whip in the backhand position for a reminder; and using the whip in rhythm with the horse’s stride and close to its side.

The whip has two functions — to goad the horse into greater effort and to help it maintain a straight course during a race. Some horses have a tendency to “hang in” or “hang out” — veer towards or away from the rails. In such a case, a swish of the whip on the side towards which the head is turned encourages it to turn its head away, thereby correcting its course.

Veering off course can lead to a serious mishap. A decade ago, the RCTC saw a ghastly accident when a thorougbred deviated and toppled over the rails, injuring the jockey and chopping off the forearm of a bystander.

Says P.P. Ginwala, ex-steward, RCTC and legal practitioner: “Under the PCA Act, merely beating an animal is not an offence. It is only an offence if it is beaten in such a way as to cause it any significant pain or suffering. A little flick of the whip properly used by a jockey does not cause it any significant pain or suffering. It is merely a signal that a greater effort is required of the animal.”

If the minister’s intentions are carried to the extreme conclusion, it would mean bare-back riding without any reins or stirrups or any other means of assistance, Ginwala said.

But the animal welfare division seems in no mood to relent. S.K. Verma, deputy secretary in the ministry, said: “Section 38 of the PCA Act allows us to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering to animals. You can’t just beat an animal for the purpose of entertainment.”

Horse-racing fetches Central and state exchequers Rs 50 crore in taxes every year.

The whip of a professional jockey is classified as a “tool of his trade”, and a blanket withdrawal, if enforced by the Turf Authorities of India, is likely to be challenged in a court of law, said a Bangalore race course official.

“The whip is used as a magic wand to scare the horse and not to punish it. A tap on the two leather tongs attached to the low end of the whip has the sound effect of a mini-cracker to goad a sluggish horse to run to his merits,” said jockey-turned trainer John Stephens.

Retired jockey James Reuben would like to add a qualification, though. “If the whip is used to punish the horse to perform better, the ban on it is welcome. Horses need not be belted, gentle taps are as effective as hard hitting,” he said.

Checks on jockeys are already in place. Anyone flouting the guidelines is fined and even suspended, depending on the nature of the offence.

“Our doctors look out for the tell-tale welts on the horse’s body after the races,” said RCTC’s Verma.    



Maximum: 30.8°C (-l)
Minimum: 24.4°C (-2)


11.5 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 97%,


Light to moderate rain in some parts of Calcutta and its suburbs    

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