Rao convicted in bribery case
Petrol & diesel prices up Rs 3, gas Rs 40
Death in sweep of tide, tidings of depression
Sushma, Naidu on list
CBI scores a duck
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Sept. 29: 
History was made in the Vigyan Bhavan special courts this afternoon when former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and his erstwhile Cabinet colleague Buta Singh became the first public servants to be convicted in a corruption case.

Both senior Congressmen were found guilty of bribing MPs to scrape through a confidence motion the Rao government faced in July 1993. Special Judge Ajit Bharihoke, hearing the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) bribery case since 1997, said Rao and Buta Singh were guilty of criminal conspiracy, corruption and misuse of public office and would have to go to jail. The sentence — a maximum of seven years — will be argued from October 11.

A shaken Rao, who left the court hurriedly (picture left), has decided to approach the high court against the conviction. Rao and Buta Singh also have the option of eventually appealing to the Supreme Court if the high court confirms Bharihoke’s sentence.

The two have been convicted under Section 120-B of Indian Penal Code (IPC) (criminal conspiracy) and Sections 7, 12, 13, 13(1), 13(2) and 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (corruption and misuse of public offices).

Rao had survived a no-confidence vote in 1993 by allegedly bribing four JMM MPs — Shibu Soren, Simon Marandi, Suraj Mandal and Sailendra Mahato — with cash. Each of the four received over Rs 40 lakh for bailing out the Rao government. Sailendra Mahato turned approver.

Several others chargesheeted in the case — Ajit Singh, Bhajan Lal, Satish Sharma and Veerappa Moily, among them — were acquitted.

The ruling under Section 13(1) (d) of the corruption law (PCA) is more important as it deals with misuse of public office. The issue of keeping the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues within the ambit of the PCA has been the subject of a heated debate. One opinion is that the Prime Minister and all members of the council of ministers should be kept out of it and put under the Lok Pal.

The Lok Pal Bill, however, is not a reality yet and Bharihoke’s order emphasises that until that happens, the PCA will remain applicable.

Bharihoke rejected all arguments. “Now they only have to argue about how long their sentence would be.”

Were Rao to be imprisoned, it will be a matter of debate whether he can be sent to a normal jail because he has to have round-the-clock SPG protection under law.    

New Delhi, Sept 29: 
The government tonight raised the prices of diesel, petrol, cooking gas, kerosene and aviation turbine fuel (ATF) — a move that threatened to ignite a groundswell of protest against the Vajpayee government and an avalanche of price increases in all sectors of the economy. The prices of diesel, petrol and kerosene — the three major sources of energy that drive the economy — were increased by Rs 2.50-3 each per litre, petroleum minister Ram Naik announced at a late night press conference here. The price of cooking gas (LPG) was raised by Rs 40 per cylinder. The new prices came into effect from midnight. The price hikes came on top of a stream of gloomy economic data that showed first quarter (april-June) economic growth sputtering to 5.8 per cent against 6.9 per cent in the year-ago period. The CII’s Ascon monitor also reflected a sharp slowdown in the industrial sector in the first half of the year and tonight’s petroleum price hikes will only deepen the pessimism about the economy. In Calcutta, diesel will now cost Rs 16.90 a litre against Rs 14.20 earlier, petrol Rs 29.03 a litre against Rs 26.33, LPG Rs 256.45 a cylinder compared with Rs 217.20 earlier, and kerosene Rs 8.53 a litre against Rs 5.70 earlier. The prices of diesel, which fuels most of the country’s transportation sector and is a key determinant of the inflation rate, were increased by Rs 2.50-3.00 a litre, or about 18-20 per cent. But it was kerosene, the poor man’s cooking fuel, which took the worst beating with an almost 50 per cent hike. In contrast, petrol prices went up by less than 10 per cent and the prices of air turbine fuel used by aircraft were increased by just over 20 per cent. “We were forced to raise the prices as global prices have gone into a tizzy, bloating our oil pool deficit,” said Naik after a day of hectic consultations with Vajpayee and cabinet colleagues like defence minister and Convenor of the National Democratic Alliance George Fernandes, home minister L K Advani and finance minister Yashwant Sinha. The fuel price hikes — certain to uncork the genie of inflation which has been fairly well capped at a modest 5.72 per cent — appeared inevitable after world oil prices scaled 10-year highs in August. The middle class will be the hardest hit with hikes in prices of diesel and cooking gas. However, the government has tried to moderate the price hikes by slashing the excise duty on diesel by a quarter from 16 per cent to 12 per cent and bringing down customs duty on crude oil from 15 per cent to 10 per cent. Customs duty on all refined fuels like petrol have been slashed from 25 per cent to 20 per cent while excise on petrol has been halved from 32 per cent to 16 per cent. It was decided the government would bear two-thirds of the burden of the oil pool deficit, estimated at Rs 23,600 crore during the current fiscal, and only one third would be passed on to consumers. Nevertheless, the price hike, especially in diesel, is expected to ratchet up prices of almost all products and trigger demands for wage increases. The opposition parties are certain to seize the opportunity to gain some political mileage from NDA-bashing after the price hikes. The BJP-led coalition had faced its winter of discontent in 1998 when soaring vegetable prices threatened to topple its government. A second troublesome winter might widen the cracks that are already present in the coalition. Both the union cabinet and the coordinating commitee of the NDA had authorised Naik to hike petro-good prices last Saturday itself. The oil pool deficit, or the difference between global purchase prices and domestic retail prices, has been caused by the sudden hike in global price from $ 10 in early 1999 to $36 by the month of September, even as domestic prices, which are controlled by the government, remained static. While one-third of the estimated deficit of about Rs 23,600 crore at the end of the financial year, would be bridged by hiking prices, about Rs 4,000 crore would be adjusted by slashing both the customs and excise duties. The remainder amount of about Rs 12,000 crore would come from oil bonds and refund of oil pool deposit from the exchequer, Naik said. Many feel the government may have kept a cushion in the hikes announced, especially of kerosene and diesel for a possible roll-back if public outcry was vociferous enough.    

Calcutta, Sept. 29: 
The serial tidal invasion claimed its first victim on the fourth day on Friday when 30-year-old Mohammad Shamim was swept away by the rushing waters around 1.50 pm.

His body was found in the backwash nearly three hours later at Daighat, near the crossing of Munshigunj and Garden Reach.

As residents in Calcutta and Howrah on either side of the Hooghly and its canals braced themselves for the night, forecast as the worst in the five-day onslaught, bad tidings came from the Alipore weather office.

A low pressure area has developed off the west Myanmar coast and was gathering strength. It could develop into a depression and move towards the Bengal coast late on Sunday.

“A clearer picture will emerge on Saturday,” weather office director R.N. Goldar said. He added that the rains, if at all, would not combine with the tides, whose force would be on the ebb from tomorrow.

As they watched the river water enter the streets and their homes again on Friday afternoon, many of the affected residents found solace in the fact that just one more day of high tides remained. But discomfort simmered under the comforting thought, stirred by the threat of depression.

For the first time, planned evacuation, which has been happening in the flooded districts of Bengal for the past 10 days, had to be carried out in Metiabruz, where a breach in the bund caused misery to many yesterday.

Three hundred people were shifted, a number of them doing it on their own, heeding the continuous warnings over loudspeakers.

The last waves of river bores hitting the city since Tuesday were harsher than the earlier ones. The flooding was intense, with water entering some new areas in north and south, and rising a few inches more in previously-inundated regions. Low-lying regions in Kalighat, Metiabruz, Garden Reach, Kidderpore, Chetla, Babughat and Chitpur had between three and four feet of water.

“The weather office says that the tide on Friday night will be the highest and, unlike its predictions about sun and rain, the forecasts on the intensity of the tide have been true,” said Robin Bhattacharya, a resident of Kalighat Road, one of the many areas in south Calcutta pounded by tide water.

The flooding during the day led to further power cuts in some places after supply was snapped to prevent short circuits and cable bursts. Residents in the badly-hit areas of Tollygunge Road said they had to bale out scorpions with the water.

There were no reports of major damage, but disruption was widespread. The courts in Alipore could not function after water entered the precincts. The electric furnaces in Nimtala and Keoratala were shut down for some time because of power cuts, while the wooden pyres have already been in disuse for the last few days.

It took four days to draw curious crowds from dry areas of the city to witness the bore come in. Hordes of people lined the river bank and descended close to the affected areas in taxis and auto-rickshaws to watch the “spectacle”.

“We came to know that the highest tide was expected on Friday,” said an excited Rupa Sarkar, who had brought her mother along. “I’ve been waiting here to observe the tide”, which was in full force at 1.50 pm.

Salil Bhattacharya, a bank employee from Shyambazar, hired a cab and rushed to the Strand at Shobhabazar with his family. “I took leave today just to watch the tide come in. My children have not seen such a phenomenon. It will be a good experience for them.”

The tide was not such a happy event for Mohammad Shamim’s family. The youth could not swim and lost his step near the ghats, police said.

Nitish visit

The Bengal government has welcomed the proposed visit by agriculture minister Nitish Kumar to the flood-affected areas. “Nitish Kumar is the right person. I shall hold a meeting with him,” Jyoti Basu said.    

New Delhi, Sept. 29: 
Sushma Swaraj and Venkaiah Naidu are likely to find berths in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s ministry after the Cabinet shuffle tomorrow.

The BJP leaders, waiting in the wings for a ministerial cap for some time, are likely to be allotted the information and broadcasting and the power portfolios.

The power ministry fell vacant after the death of P.R. Kumaramangalam and is under the Prime Minister. Arun Jaitley is doubling up as law and I&B minister. Vacancies have also been created by some resignations.

While Sushma has already had a stint as I&B minister, Naidu will make his debut in government. Sushma held the I&B portfolio before she was asked to replace Sahib Singh Verma as Delhi chief minister shortly before the 1998 Assembly polls.

The other new faces may be Sripath Naik from Goa and Pon Radhakrishnan, MP from Tamil Nadu. Government sources said both are likely to be made ministers of state.

Goa has so far been unrepresented in the Cabinet though the BJP has been making huge gains in the state. Radhakrishnan is being brought in to fill up the Tamil Nadu vacuum.

This evening, junior agriculture minister S.B. Satyanarayana Rao put in his papers on grounds that he is given “no work”. Rao, who is from Andhra, reportedly offered to “relinquish” his post to save the government money and help its austerity drive. It is not known whether his resignation has been accepted.

BJP sources gave a different spin to Rao’s stepdown, saying it was linked to the induction of Naidu, who is also from Andhra and from the same Kamma caste. “It was felt that there is no point taking two ministers from the same caste,” sources said. Andhra MP Krishnam Raju may be brought in.

The Shiv Sena is also piling pressure on Vajpayee to give it “weightier” portfolios like power. Sena ministers Manohar Joshi and Suresh Prabhu are in charge of heavy industries and chemicals and fertilisers respectively. Sena boss Bal Thackeray has also been targeting Vajpayee and BJP chief Bangaru Laxman for their “pro-Muslim” overtures. BJP sources said either Joshi or Prabhu would be given a more “important” ministry.

Given the pulls and pressures on Vajpayee, a section of the BJP said tomorrow’s exercise would be “more than a small reshuffle”. “It will be a reshuffle in the real sense of the word, and there may be surprises,” said sources close to home minister L.K. Advani.

BJP sources added that the Cabinet is being shuffled at Advani’s insistence and Vajpayee is “quite content” to let things be till his knee surgery is over.    

New Delhi, Sept. 29: 
The CBI has found no hard evidence to proceed against any well-known Indian cricketer on the basis of allegations made by former all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar.

However, the agency’s report on the match-fixing, to be soon submitted to the sports ministry, doesn’t give a clean chit to all cricketers. It will be tabled in Parliament’s winter session.    



Maximum: 34.3°C (+2)
Minimum: 26°C (0)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 47%


Partly cloudy sky. Cloud cover likely to increase towards afternoon    

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