Central retirement age on rollback table
Southern shock to Atal alliance
Body found inside pit of despair
Back in business from the rubble
Backlash in Jammu
Calcutta Weather

 
 
CENTRAL RETIREMENT AGE ON ROLLBACK TABLE 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Feb. 5: 
Three years after increasing the retirement age for Central government employees to 60, the Vajpayee administration is thinking of lowering it back to 58.

If the move comes through, thousands of employees, who benefited financially after May 1998 following the Fifth Pay Commission’s recommendations, will suddenly find themselves on the brink of retirement.

Also on the superannuation block will be at least 100 senior bureaucrats on deputation with various ministries and Central departments. Many additional secretaries are close to 58.

Raising the retirement age for Central employees was a key recommendation of the pay commission. However, employees of the Central Police Organisations — excluding officers belonging to the Indian Police Service — those in the armed forces and on extension did not benefit as their retirement age remained at 58.

The government has been planning to trim its workforce for quite some time, but fearing the political backlash has stopped short of going ahead. One obvious stumbling block is the heavily unionised workforce as well as repercussions within the coalition.

But the Gujarat earthquake and the massive financial burden it has inflicted on the Centre might finally act as the catalyst. If the retirement age is brought down, it would mean a huge volume of savings in the next fiscal’s non-plan expenditure.

Indications are the government will announce its decision just before the budget is read out in Parliament. Senior officials also stressed that the Centre should freeze all recruitment for at least a fixed period. “Otherwise, it will become extremely difficult for the government to not only go ahead with its plans to lower the retirement age, but also reduce runaway expenditure,” a source in the department of personnel said.

The huge fiscal deficit of about Rs 171,000 crore is another reason why the government is prepared to “roll back” a three-year-old decision which was piloted by N.K. Singh, finance secretary at that time.

Sources said that Singh, now re-employed with the Centre as officer on special duty in the Prime Minister’s Office, is the brain behind the government’s latest thinking.

According to the sources, the Centre believes that bringing down the retirement age would also benefit cash-strapped state governments, especially those that had implemented the May 1998 decision. Several states — like Rajasthan — had, however, refused to hike the retirement age arguing that it would be impossible for them to bear the extra fiscal burden.

For the government, financial considerations are now overbearing. It is veering round to the logic that it would be easier to pay pensions than the actual salary to thousands of Central employees.

   

 
 
SOUTHERN SHOCK TO ATAL ALLIANCE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 5: 
In a jolt to the Vajpayee government, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) today quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ahead of its plans to join the Jayalalitha-led ADMK front in Tamil Nadu.

PMK chief S. Ramadoss and the party’s two ministers of state — N.T. Shanmugham (coal) and E. Ponnuswamy (petroleum and natural gas) — met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee this morning and submitted their resignations. Their resignations are yet to be accepted.

Ramadoss told reporters at Chennai airport tonight that he will meet Jayalalitha at 11.30 am tomorrow.

Though the five-MP party’s decision to pull out will not have any impact on the government’s stability, it has dealt a psychological blow to the NDA and increased Vajpayee’s dependence on demanding allies such as the Telugu Desam and the Trinamul Congress.

The PMK is the first party to pull out of the coalition since it formed the government in October 1999.

Sources said the Prime Minister is not unduly worried as Ramadoss, in his letter, has mentioned that he will offer support to the NDA government in the event of any crisis.

“We formed the NDA with a high commitment to the cause of the people of India and the PMK is still committed to that philosophy. But circumstances in Tamil Nadu have made us part company with the NDA,” Ramadoss said in his letter.

The sources said Ramadoss had suggested a “mahajot”: an anti-DMK alliance which will include the ADMK, as in West Bengal, where the BJP is not averse to a pact with the Congress in an anti-Left formation.

But Vajpayee rejected the proposal outright as he is wary of Jayalalitha.

The Prime Minister held a meeting with ministerial colleagues L.K. Advani, George Fernandes, Jaswant Singh and BJP president Bangaru Laxman following the resignations of the two PMK members.

“In terms of pure arithmetic, it (the PMK pullout) will not affect the stability of the Central government. In psychological terms, yes, there is an impact on both sides,” agreed Laxman.

Efforts are on to humour the PMK and Fernandes is likely to keep the dialogue on with Ramadoss until he decides which way to go during the state polls due in April-May.

The relationship between Ramadoss and Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi had soured over the past six months. The PMK chief, sources said, feels the DMK government has become unpopular and is unlikely to be voted back to power in the Assembly elections.

The PMK move comes ahead of a meeting scheduled between Ramadoss and Karunanidhi later this month to discuss the Assembly elections, including seat adjustments.

The PMK fell out with the DMK after Karunanidhi rejected the smaller ally’s demand that it be allowed to form the government in Pondicherry should the NDA win the Assembly elections there.

The PMK, a party of Vanniars, claims it has a large following among the backward community in Pondicherry.

The PMK is crucial for any winning combination in Tamil Nadu as the Vanniars make up a large part of the electorate in the north and can influence the outcome in 60 Assembly constituencies. In 1998, when the PMK was with Jayalalitha, the combine won impressively and in 1999, when Ramadoss crossed over to the DMK front, the ADMK suffered.

Sources said that Vajpayee, though not overly worried about the PMK’s decision to leave the NDA, told Ramadoss that he was free to sew up state-level alliances but should keep supporting the coalition at the Centre, a PMK source said.

Vajpayee’s aversion to Jayalalitha notwithstanding, a section of BJP leaders agrees with Ramadoss that Karunanidhi is a liability and the ADMK chief will head the next government in Chennai after the Assembly elections.

Sources said that Ramadoss had, over the past one year, complained against Karunanidhi to Vajpayee at least six times, but the Prime Minister had not taken any action.

Ramadoss had wanted his bete noire Vazhapadi Ramamurthy to be dropped from the NDA, but both Vajpayee and Karunanidhi had rejected his demand.

   

 
 
BODY FOUND INSIDE PIT OF DESPAIR 
 
 
FROM SALMAN RAVI
 
Jairampur (Dhanbad), Feb. 5: 
Hope of survival of 30 coal miners trapped in a flooded mine since Friday suffered a setback again as reports of the recovery of a body reached the surface.

The identity of the body could not be ascertained, but the number on the cap-lamp battery tied to his waist was said to be ‘230’.

Hundreds flocked to the pit-head of Bagdigi Colliery, but authorities of the Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL), which owns the coal mine, refused to admit that a body was found.

However, Ram Swarup Paswan, leader of the BCCL rescue team, confirmed the surfacing of a body.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Paswan said: “I went in the morning shift along with five team members. Our team went to inspect whether the water-level was receding. It was then that we saw a bloated substance. Seconds later, the air was filled with a foul smell. We were sure then that it was a body.

“I ventured into the water with life-support and waded quite far when something hit me. I caught hold of it and saw they were the legs of a drowned body.”

Paswan added: “With the help of other colleagues, we brought the body out of water. Then we covered with a British Cloth (used in mining) after sprinkling bleaching powder.”

Paswan’s assistant Dinesh and the other team members Habulal, Jagannath and Ashok said that the face was far beyond recognition.

Efforts to establish the identity from the register of the colliery failed as all documents have been seized by the Directorate General of Mine Safety. The directorate has begun an independent inquiry into the mine accident.

A additional four-member team of divers from the Indian navy arrived here from the Vishakhapatnam naval base. With the new team, the strength of the naval divers has gone up to nine. It is for the first time that the Indian navy has been pressed into mine rescue operations.

The naval divers launched a fresh operation with their sophisticated equipment around 4.30 pm, rekindling some hope.

The recovered body was not brought to the surface for obvious reasons. However, the public relations chief of BCCL, Ramanuj Prasad, said he did not know of the matter.

Paswan said he was advised by senior officials not to disclose the information that the body has surfaced. “They are trying to give naval officers the credit for the operation while we have done the job,” Paswan said.

While patience was wearing thin among the family members, a communication gap between them and the BCCL management virtually led to flare-up this morning. Angry family members heckled reporters from the electronic media and shouted slogans against the BCCL chairman.

There was also tension following reports that as the family members waited tensely, feasts were being held at a police outpost and a politician’s residence.

The miners’ families pleaded with the Dhanbad deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police to intervene. The officials summoned the colliery authorities and directed them to set up an information board updating developments from time to time.

   

 
 
BACK IN BUSINESS FROM THE RUBBLE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 5: 
You can’t keep a city that means business down on a Monday morning.

Ahmedabad was up and running today, clocking the first normal working day after the earthquake and nudging the trauma behind an eight-hour wall.

More than 70 per cent employees attended offices and almost all commercial and business establishments opened today.

Traffic on the road picked up, all the bigger parking lots in the city started filling up and screens came alive on cinema halls across the city. Movie-goers thronged Roopali theatre at Laldarwaja, which was running all shows.

The parking lot outside the Crossword bookstore at Mikhikhadi was packed to capacity and the shop was humming with customers.

Banks transacted normal business for the first time since the earthquake. Unwilling to take another chance, people rushed to deposit their valuables in lockers.

“Probably they think bank lockers are the safest place to keep their valuables,” said Bank of India chief manager D.S. Khokhar.

By 2 pm, the Navrangpura branch of the bank had attended to 245 customers, cleared more than 500 cheques and made 1,176 transactions, which is as good as any working day. “So I will call it a normal day for us,” the bank manager said.

Monday was a normal working day for tea-vendor Ramdhani, too. “To me, it seems a perfectly normal day. On Friday and Saturday, roads were deserted. But today I see Ahmedabad bustling again,” he said.

Shoeshine boy Suresh Nakum also worked today, opening his makeshift shop for the first time since the killer earthquake shook Gujarat on January 26.

Even Bhuj, the town worst hit by the quake, was picking up the pieces of life. Bhid Bazar Chowk, the busiest wholesale market in the town, resumed transactions today.

The best news of the day also came from Bhuj when a middle-aged man and his sister were rescued from under the rubble of their house where they had been trapped for10 days.

Border Security Force (BSF) Inspector General V.N. Roy said a “rescue party heard feeble voices and that attracted their attention”. “They had food and water with them,” he said.

Schools and colleges remained closed but the teaching and non-teaching staff were asked to report to the authorities concerned.

   

 
 
BACKLASH IN JAMMU 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Feb. 5: 
One person was killed today after police opened fire on Sikh protesters defying a curfew imposed in Jammu following Saturday’s murder of six members of the community.

Hundreds of Sikhs marched through the streets of Narwal on the outskirts of Jammu. Police alleged that the mob tried to damage a mosque, prompting the security forces to open fire.

Angry Sikhs told chief minister Farooq Abdullah that the community had decided to migrate from Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of Saturday’s killings.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 29.5°C (0)
Minimum: 16.5°C (+1)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 84%,
Minimum: 42%

Today

Partly cloudy sky with morning mist. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C
Sunrise: 6.19 am
Sunset: 5.22 pm
   
 

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