Longest day of darkness
Atal confesses concern over intolerance
March for great defence bazaar
Bill to punish wife-tormentors
Hurriyat chief to pick team for Pak
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Jan. 2: 
In the biggest power breakdown ever in northern India, the entire region was plunged into darkness for 12 to 14 hours after a grid collapse early this morning.

The disaster occurred when people were still comfortably tucked in their beds, the trigger that led to the collapse taking place at Panki substation under the Uttar Pradesh power board just after 3 am. The fault at the substation unleashed a cascading effect under the impact of which the entire northern grid collapsed.

Power supply snapped in seven states of the region — Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, parts of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. More than 80 trains were stranded for more than 14-15 hours across the region.

Even as the government claimed that supply was returning to normal in the evening, more than 40 per cent of the areas in Delhi were without electricity till late night after waking to a powerless and chilly morning.

In Delhi, supply was restored in the afternoon but was cut off again in the evening, forcing Union power minister Suresh Prabhu to rush to the northern region load dispatch centre. It returned for the second time later and power ministry officials were claiming to have restored off-peak hour supply up to “90 per cent”.

The blackout lasted 12-14 hours because the grid failed to tap the back-up power from Bhakra Beas Management Board, where too there were repeated breakdowns. Sources said: “The circuit breaker broke down 14 times while the northern grid tried to get the power from the Board.”

Loss by way of power generation was 15,500 mw, which is the daily output by plants in the region. According to an estimate, the loss to industry could be up to Rs 500 crore. Never before has a grid collapse left the northern region without power for so long.

The power minister set up the customary inquiry committee, headed by the chairman of the Central Electricity Authority, with a member from Power Grid Corporation of India Limited.

The report is to be submitted within a week with reasons for the failure, suggest preventive measures and ways to restore connection in the shortest possible time. The committee will also fix responsibility for today’s failure.

Citing overdrawal of power by states, Prabhu said a mismatch of frequency between demand and evacuation of power from the grid could have caused the collapse. This usually happens when a state draws more power at a given time from what it has been allotted by the grid. But sources in the power ministry ruled out such a possibility since the trip occurred at 3 am which is not peak hour.

Sheila Dixit, the Delhi chief minister, however, insisted: “Today’s crisis was due to the indiscriminate drawal of power by states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.”

Prabhu admitted that “there are a few states which are greedy. This leads to so many problems”. He did not mention the states.

He suggested strict punitive measures against those found responsible for the failure and corrective steps to avoid recurrence. The minister did not rule out sabotage, but said: “Everything will be clear after the committee’s report within a week.”

“It is most likely a technical fault, but we will investigate why it happened,” he said after a Cabinet meeting.

Even though VIP areas and hospitals in the capital were spared power cuts, senior minister and BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi was not so lucky. He missed the Cabinet meeting as he was stranded on the Prayag Raj Express for almost 10 hours on his way back from Allahabad.

All electric trains were running behind schedule, forcing the railways to reschedule the departure of as many as 22 important trains. These included the Mumbai Rajdhani, Tamil Nadu Express, August Kranti and Karnataka Express.

The railway ministry instructed the authorities to engage diesel engines to pull the stranded electric trains to the nearest stations to enable passengers to reach their destinations through other modes.

Ministry sources, however, said trains in the Delhi-Haryana-Punjab-Jammu region were still stranded since they were short of diesel engines.

Railway minister Mamata Banerjee asked officials to offer water, food and protection to stranded passengers.

The Confederation of Indian Industry estimated the loss from the power failure at Rs 250-500 crore. Ficci said the fertiliser industry alone suffered a loss of Rs 140 crore.


New Delhi, Jan. 2: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today sounded almost like President K.R. Narayanan when he expressed concern over the increasing “trend of intolerance” in Indian society.

The second part of Vajpayee’s article, My Musings from Kumarakom, devoted several paragraphs to this subject. Like the first part, today’s article was distributed only among a few newspapers arbitrarily chosen by the government.

Continuing in his “secular avatar”, the Prime Minister said “diversity does not permit divisiveness or exclusiveness. Similarly, unity cannot be achieved through uniformity”.

“In this context, I must confess that the growing trend of intolerance which I see in our society today worries me deeply. This trend must be checked,” he said.

Even during the Dangs Christian-bashing controversy, the Prime Minister had not made such an admission. Though he had decried the violence on the minority community, he had also called for a national debate on conversion.

The furore created by Vajpayee’s statement in Parliament in defence of the Ayodhya movement appears to have prompted the massive image-repair exercise.

The hardliners in the Sangh parivar have been silent on Vajpayee’s Kumarakom musings. The BJP is denying he has made any departure from the party’s stand on these subjects.

The Prime Minister argued that the nation belonged equally to all citizens and communities, not more to some and less to others. In a balancing act, he also pointed out that all citizens and communities had an equal duty to strengthen national unity and integrity and to contribute to its progress. “In recent times, there has been a tendency to focus more on one’s rights and less on one’s duties. This must change,” Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister fell back on the great Indian heritage to assert that the country’s unity had been nurtured by a secular ethos which inclined one towards tolerance of each other’s customs, traditions and beliefs.

“Secularism is not an alien concept that we have imported out of compulsion after independence. Rather, it is an integral and natural feature of our national culture and ethos,” he said.

Perhaps in an effort to erase his party’s communal image, the Prime Minister said it was strange and disconcerting that many had begun to think of the Indian polity as either “secular” or “communal”. “Indian people do not give their mandate to any party or a coalition that does not follow a secular, inclusive and integrative agenda. To think otherwise is to disparage our people’s democratic intelligence,” Vajpayee said.

In the first part of the article yesterday, the Prime Minister had tried to dispel the notion that he had shed his secular credentials with his stolid defence of three Cabinet colleagues — L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti — implicated in the Babri demolition case.

Suggesting that the days of dynasty were over, Vajpayee said in his youth he had seen Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru unfurl the national flag at Red Fort on “that immortal midnight hour on August 15”. “Little did I know that just after a decade, I would be sitting with him in Parliament discussing and debating affairs of the nation,” he said, adding that this was a tribute to the vibrancy of Indian democracy.


New Delhi, Jan. 2: 
If 1999 was the year of infotech and 2000 the year of telecom for India’s reforms salesmen, 2001 looks set to be the year defence production will be privatised.

Signals emanating from India’s security establishment point to large-scale private sector role in defence production, even lethal weapon systems.

So large is the potential and so serious the move that military-industrial complexes, modelled on US institutions but much smaller in scope and size, are a distinct possibility in five years from 2001.

Among Indian companies aggressively lobbying are the Godrej group, Walchandnagar Industries, Larsen & Toubro, Mahindra & Mahindra, Kirloskar Industries and infotech leaders. Some of these are traditional suppliers of defence components. M&M is probably the first off the block. It has formed a new division — Mahindra Defence Systems — with a retired brigadier at its head.

Foreign companies, too, have started preliminary talks with Indian private partners for joint ventures and/or technology transfers.

Among the companies watching developments closely are Denel of South Africa, the European arms manufacturer, Celsius (which has acquired Bofors), French, Israeli and Russian firms.

The lobbying coincides with a big “procurement cycle” that began in the middle of this 2000. Industry expects the “procurement cycle” — period during which governments stockpile and upgrade arms, munitions and material — to shift into top gear by the first quarter of 2001. In five years, defence purchases are estimated to be Rs 50,000 to 60,000 crore.

In meetings with industry representatives since 1998, the defence services, led by the Indian Air Force, expressed keenness to source even weapon systems and parts from the private sector.

In September, the secretary, department of defence production and supplies, sought a draft of a possible defence-industry policy from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). This was followed up in October when, in a meeting among representatives of the armed forces, the commerce and defence ministries, the Planning Commission and chambers of commerce, it was decided that a roadmap for liberalising the sector will be drawn up.

Now the CII has been asked to submit a mechanism to award licences to the private sector. Milestones to opening up the sector have been marked. The government will have to take selected products or product groups off the restricted list for licensed production.

Second, the 44-year-old Industrial Policy Resolution that forbids outside participation in defence production will have to be amended. Third, a set of rules for awarding licences will have to be announced. Industry expects much of this work to be done by March 2001.

A hitch that remains to be sorted out is the demand from industry for an export option. Industry argues that domestic demand will not be enough to justify the economies of scale required for defence production.

But the government fears that allowing defence exports could land it in embarrassing situations. What if an Indian company starts supplying equipment to Pakistan?

Proposals from industry, particularly the CII, have a swadeshi tinge. The CII has suggested that:

Applicants should be Indian companies or joint ventures with management and controlling interest resting wholly with Indian partners. Foreign equity cannot exceed 26 per cent.

In joint ventures, foreign partners must obtain clearance from their respective governments to support the equipment being manufactured/sold in India with a stipulation that imported spares shall be made available for not less than 20 years.

Defence departments may position representatives to monitor and approve movement of goods out of factories.

Applicants must be companies with a capital base of not less than Rs 100 crore, preferably with experience in supplying to the armed forces.

Companies should have a research and development base.

Exports will be subject to clearance by the defence ministry.


New Delhi, Jan. 2: 
The Centre is planning to bring a Bill that will make domestic violence in any form a punishable offence. The move will for the first time empower “battered” women and challenge patriarchy on its own turf.

The Bill, under review of the Centre and the law commission, takes into account not just physical violence but also psychological and mental harassment. It also holds out the possibility — for the first time — of treating marital rape as a punishable offence.

A women’s activist said such a Bill was long overdue as domestic violence was brushed under the carpet more often than rape and sexual harassment, which, too, went unreported in most cases. “For a long time we have felt the need for a comprehensive Bill to curb the most intimate form of violence at home,” she said.

The Bill will be presented as part of a package to observe 2001 as the year for empowerment of women. A string of amendments have been suggested to the Indecent Representation of Women Act, Sati Prevention Act and the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act.

National Commission for Women chairperson Vibha Parthasarathy said the Bill looked into all forms of violence committed within the four walls of the house. “Even though physical violence is most widespread, the Bill also makes punishable verbal and psychological violence,” she said, adding: “We all know how women can be humiliated in the presence of outsiders.”

Women’s groups believe it is the “spirit” of the Bill that makes it significant.

“We are in favour of a substantial conviction rate rather than enhancing the form of punishment,” the NCW chairperson said.

She added that the pathetic rate of conviction in rape cases — a mere 4 per cent — “makes a mockery of law”. This is why the true “spirit” of the Bill lay in the act of punishing itself, she said.

Women’s groups have long voiced concern over the domestic violence spiral that has shown no signs of waning despite persistent campaigns by NGOs. The NCW outlined a draft Bill on domestic violence and submitted it to the government after several women’s groups pieced together several clauses.

But the hurdle in the way of empowerment is the “culture of silence” in patriarchal households, which women’s groups know will be difficult to break. How effective the Bill will turn out to be hinges on how fast women can be made to speak up.

“The difficulty is that girls are taught not to speak back and women are exhorted to be virtuous,” said Parthasarathy.

But women’s organisations are working on strategies that could give the silent a voice. “NGOs could play a crucial role in making women come out of their shells,” said Parthasarathy. The presence of a counsellor and friends would also give battered women the courage to talk about the violence at home, she added.


Srinagar, Jan. 2: 
Turning a deaf ear to multiple demands on who should make the trip to Pakistan, the Hurriyat Conference today authorised chairman Abdul Gani Bhat to pick the team for the January 15 visit.

In a statement released after a six-hour meeting of the executive council at its Rajbagh headquarters, the Hurriyat said: “Since the Government of India has not yet issued travel documents in favour of all the seven members, the executive has authorised chairman Abdul Gani Bhat to select the team which will travel to Pakistan on January 15.”

While fiery Jamaat-e-Islamia leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani had hinted yesterday the composition of the team would be decided through consensus, People’s Conference chairman Abdul Gani Lone had said he would skip the visit. But he indicated today that he may change his stand.

There were also rumblings over the demand of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen’s Islamabad-based chief Syed Salahuddin that all seven Hurriyat executive members be included in the team.

The Urdu statement, read out to reporters this evening by the Hurriyat spokesman, said Bhat “has been unanimously authorised to select the delegation so that he can nominate the members of the delegation in the event of an emergency”.

A tight security ring was thrown around the Hurriyat headquarters to prevent a replay of the violent clashes at the December 17 meeting between pro-Pakistan and pro-independence supporters of the Hurriyat leaders.




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Minimum: 17°C (+4)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 84%,
Minimum: 48%


Mainly cloudy sky. Light rain likely in some parts. Minimum temperature likely to be around 16°C
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SUNSET: 5.00 pm

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