Ghani fires ultimatum to Mamata
End-of-the-road signal from Enron
Coalition to meet dirt with dirt
Rao rises from rubble to call of history
Delhi open to pipeline through Pak
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi and Calcutta, April 9: 
Stirrings of discontent in the Congress over the alliance with Trinamul in Bengal threatened to grow into a storm of rebellion with Malda mogul A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and senior leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi protesting against the seat-share deal.

Already struggling to quell a rebellion led by K. Karunakaran in Kerala — also over ticket distribution — Sonia Gandhi was tonight hit by a bombshell from Chowdhury, giving a 24-hour ultimatum to Mamata Banerjee to spell out her stand on English Bazar and Old Malda constituencies. The Congress has agreed to concede to Mamata these two seats in Malda district, but Chowdhury is standing in the way.

In a hard-hitting letter to Sonia, Chowdhury said he would not allow Trinamul nominee Krishnendu Chowdhury to contest English Bazar. Nor would he hand him Harishchandrapur, in the same district, as an alternative.

In a parallel move that got under way today, dissident Congress members launched a Congress Bachao (save) Committee to field candidates in at least 28 seats. The group included three sitting MLAs who are not getting tickets along with about a dozen of their like. “We call upon all those Congress MLAs who are being denied tickets to join the committee and fight the elections as Independents,” Abul Basar Laskar, convener of the committee, said.

Two such MLAs from Murshidabad district, Sorab Hossain and Habibur Rahman, have quit the party, deciding to contest as Independents.

Expressing regret over the seat-share deal, Chowdhury said he had never envisaged a scenario that would force him to concede seats in his pocketborough. Chowdhury said he would insist on English Bazar MLA Gautam Chakraborty being retained. He demanded that Sonia send all election symbols to him so that nothing “untoward” happens in the Assembly segments of his parliamentary constituency.

Das Munshi, too, is opposing the seat-share deal on the grounds that the Congress has been shortchanged. He, however, denied writing to Sonia.

Chowdhury said he would wait for Mamata’s response for the 24 hours. Trinamul dismissed the so-called ultimatum as an internal matter of the Congress.

“We are not at all concerned with Chowdhury’s letter. Our leader Mamata Banerjee struck a seat-share deal with Sonia Gandhi in course of which she spelt out her mind. There is no question of her doing it again in response to a letter which does not concern her,” said Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay.

Chowdhury’s missive comes hours before the AICC’s screening committee meets in Delhi tomorrow to finalise the list of candidates.


Mumbai, April 9: 
A signpost on India’s road to economic liberalisation stood on the brink of collapse with multinational Enron today indicating its desire to sell or pull out of Dabhol Power Company.

Enron, the first foreign company to invest in the power sector after it was thrown open, invoked the “political force majeure” — a key clause in its power purchase agreement (PPA) with the Maharashtra State Electricity Board.

“The notice indicates that the concerted, deliberate and politically motivated actions of the Maharashtra government, the Government of India and MSEB have or potentially will have a material and adverse effect on DPC’s ability to perform obligations under the PPA,” DPC spokesperson Jimmy Mogal said.

He added that by invoking the clause, the company was taking a “necessary step in protecting DPC and its stakeholders’ rights”.

MSEB chairman Vinay Bansal said the board had received the notice and would decide on the course of action after studying the implications.

This is the second time in recent times that the $3-billion DPC has had a showdown with the state electricity board. The problem centres on the high tariff charged by DPC — Rs 7.1 per unit compared with Rs 1.5 levied by other power producers — and a 1996 counter-guarantee agreement. This pact bounds the state government into paying DPC in case the board defaults.

Last month, Dabhol had written to the Centre to invoke the counter-guarantee and recover Rs 102 crore it was owed by the state electricity board.

The board, however, claimed the bill was offset by a Rs 400-crore fine it had levied on DPC for “non-supply” of power for intermittent periods between October 2000 and the end of January.

This dispute will be taken to the court of arbitration in London. In a late-evening communique, DPC said the two parties will immediately proceed with the conciliation process. “Should the conciliation process fail to resolve this issue, the two parties will enter into arbitration as mandated by the Government of India counter-guarantee,” DPC said.

A government official said DPC probably invoked the force majeure clause to avoid such disputes in future. Sources said companies normally invoke the force majeure clause as a last resort and that too only in cases of natural calamities like floods and earthquakes or something that happens beyond one’s control. Force majeure term refers to an unforseeable course of events excusing a person from fulfilling a contract.

Legal circles said DPC is construing the changes in the political equation in the state as a political force majeure. The move comes at a time when the government has set up the Godbole Committee to review the power purchase agreement. “The committee has been authorised to hold negotiations with DPC on behalf of the state and the MSEB which is finding it extremely difficult to pay the exorbitant electricity bills,” state power minister said today.


New Delhi, April 9: 
After giving the impression that it would beat a retreat on Tehelka, the National Democratic Alliance today decided to maintain its offensive and, if necessary, raise the pitch of its campaign against Sonia Gandhi and her party.

The NDA coordination committee, which met for over an hour in Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s residence this morning, expressed concern at the protests and demonstrations staged against him by the Congress. The panel felt the Congress should be “publicly told to stop forthwith these demonstrations and the kind of slogans thrown at the Prime Minister”.

The immediate provocation for the diatribe seemed to be the black-flag demonstrations by Youth Congress workers in Mumbai yesterday during Vajpayee’s visit.

NDA convener George Fernandes said the Congress’ campaign was “shameful, low-level and hitting below the belt”. “If this is done, then wherever the Congress president goes, similar demonstrations will be held against her but minus the obscenity,” Fernandes told newsmen after the meeting. He said it was now up to the Congress to decide whether to persist with such demonstrations.

Fernandes said Vajpayee has decided to convene an all-party meeting, probably on Saturday, to effect smooth functioning of Parliament when it resumes on April 16 amid allegations of telephone tapping and stock market scams. Last month, when the House was crippled for seven days following the website’s revelations, the Opposition had complained that the Prime Minister did not bother to convene an all-party meet.

Fernandes tried to dispel the impression that the NDA would go back on its “Tehelka” rallies. He claimed that the Lucknow rally, to be addressed by Vajpayee, will be held bang on schedule on April 15. Three more would be organised in Ranchi, Bhopal and Raipur, though the dates are yet to be finalised. However, sources said the Prime Minister will not attend them.

All these rallies have been planned only in BJP strongholds. Barring Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand and where the Samata Party has a stake, in the other two — the capitals of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — the BJP is dominant only as the main Opposition party. NDA sources said the choice of venue indicated that the rallies were being organised by the BJP and Fernandes.

The former defence minister said future rallies would focus on the “continuing corruption by the Congress wherever they were in power” and the “extraordinary assets” acquired by Vincent George, Sonia’s private secretary. He wondered how a person earning a paltry salary could possess assets worth crores of rupees.

NDA sources said that many constituents felt the rallies should also highlight the “positive” achievements of the government on the economic and development front instead of solely concentrating on corruption and Tehelka.

Today’s meeting was not attended by Lok Janshakti and Janata Dal (United) leaders Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav. Both had prior engagements in Balia and Katni, respectively.


New Delhi, April 9: 
Rejected by the people in the 1996 elections, P.V. Narasimha Rao today said he “owes an explanation to history” for the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Deposing before the Liberhan Commission investigating the December 6, 1992 attack, Rao said: “I am explaining this (his submissions) to history.”

The former Prime Minister was interrupted by the counsel for the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, Y.H. Mucchala, when he tried to read out a portion from the Supreme Court order.

Muchhala asked him not to read from the order as it was available to the commission.

“I am explaining it to history... not to you my friend,” Rao told Muchhala and went on to read the November 25, 1992 ruling.

Seeing Rao’s insistence, Justice Liberhan quipped: “The old man is not tired but the younger ones are.”

Rao, who was appearing before the panel for the third time, retorted: “I am an accused... I have been accused... I can’t afford to be tired.... I have to explain it to history.”

He held the then Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh responsible for the demolition, saying the mosque was a “hostage” in the hands of the BJP regime.

“On December 6, 1992, the Centre had not even a toehold anywhere near the structure physically,” he said.

Asked whether he was not responsible for that, Rao replied: “My home minister S.B. Chavan was in charge overall.”

When pointed out that he had a special Ayodhya cell in the Prime Minister’s Office, Rao said the group was formed to negotiate between Hindus and Muslims.

After accusing Kalyan of holding the mosque to ransom, the former Prime Minister said the “hostage crisis” aggravated when the kar sevaks assembled there in large numbers on December 5, 1992.

Rao told the commission that “even the Supreme Court” had “in effect” told the Centre to keep out after Kalyan and others had filed a sworn affidavit that they would not do anything to damage the mosque.

After the issue went to the court, the Centre had no role to play except help the state government maintain law and order and send forces whenever requested.

Rao pointed out to the commission that the apex court had taken several steps, including appointing an observer and securing an affidavit from the state government, to safeguard the structure.

The former Prime Minister said he had kept on standby about 10,000 Central forces at “just 10 minutes driving distance” from the site of conflict, but since law and order was a state subject, the troops could act only if asked to by the Kalyan government.

Rao blamed the sants for the failure of negotiations, saying the Dharam Sansad had unilaterally announced the kar seva

“What was the use of negotiations with them?” he asked.

In its meeting on October 30-31, 1992, the Dharam Sansad had fixed December 6, 1992 as the date of the kar seva.


New Delhi, April 9: 
On the eve of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Iran visit, India today said all options for the proposed Indo-Iranian gas pipeline, including an overland route through Pakistan, are being explored by Delhi and Tehran.

“Cost-effectiveness and security for long-term supply of gas from Iran to India are the two main aspects which are being looked into by Delhi and Tehran jointly,” a senior foreign ministry official said. But he added that the pipeline was “purely a bilateral agreement... and Pakistan is not in it”.

Pakistan chief executive Pervez Musharraf had recently said his government was willing to allow its territory to be used for the proposed pipeline and also promised to ensure the project’s security. The stress on bilateral agreement is a hint that Islamabad’s statement has impressed neither Delhi nor Tehran.

The two sides are planning to involve foreign oil companies and probably form a consortium, thus making the Pakistani commitment more binding.

“Both India and Iran were in touch with international private firms to explore the various options and trying to educate themselves about them,” a foreign ministry official said.

The two sides will also have detailed talks on other economic spheres. As a large delegation of Indian businessmen will be present at the time of Vajpayee’s visit, a framework arrangement for closer cooperation between the chambers of commerce of the two countries is being talked about.




Maximum: 35.3°C (-1)
Minimum: 27.2°C (+3)



Relative Humidity

Max: 87%
Min: 54%


Partly cloudy sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 36°C.
Sunrise: 5.24 am
Sunset: 5.51 pm

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