Cong wears April Fool hat in House
Khaleda’s Feni in border bottleneck
Sops for salaried and savers
Allies in spirit and letter
After the act, jitters for Jaya II
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 25: 
The government is learnt to have persuaded a restive Congress and a reluctant Speaker to accept a proposal to adjourn Parliament sine die on April 27, almost a fortnight ahead of schedule.

If the consensus holds, the Speaker will make an official announcement of the adjournment.

By agreeing to the adjournment, the Congress has walked into a trap as it will hardly get any time to discuss a joint parliamentary committee on the Tehelka scandal — an issue on which the House was crippled for several days in a row.

The Congress had insisted during the day that it would agree to only a short recess from Friday. The party wanted the House to meet again for five days from May 14 after the Assembly elections.

However, the government late tonight persuaded the Opposition party to switch from “recess” to “adjournment”, pointing out that the Prime Minister would be abroad in mid-May.

All that the Opposition managed to get was an assurance that the government would announce tomorrow the setting up of a JPC to probe the stock scam.

Both the Houses have no specific business on Friday, when the Congress can raise the issue of the Tehelka JPC. However, weekend attendance is usually thin as most members leave for their constituencies. This time, fewer MPs are expected because of the elections in five states, which makes the possibility of a trenchant discussion look remote.

Ever since the Tehelka expose rocked the NDA establishment, the government and the BJP wanted the House to be adjourned. The coalition managers felt that the loss of days could be made good through an extended monsoon session. But Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi sent a clear message that unless there was a consensus, he would not adjourn the House sine die.

The Speaker today called on President K.R. Narayanan and briefed him on the impasse and the proposal to adjourn Parliament. Balayogi later convened an all-party meeting on the demand to cut short the budget session.

Barring the BJP, a few allies and the IUML, most parties, including the Congress, favoured a fortnight’s break. The Congress was keen on a five-day session after the recess as it wanted to keep the Tehelka issue alive beyond the Assembly polls.

However, at an “informal” meeting tonight, the Congress “reluctantly” agreed to the adjournment plan. Unless some restive members raise objections, the Congress is expected to inform the Speaker of its rethink.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan told Congress leaders that the Prime Minister would be in Malaysia between May 13 and 18 and it would not be proper to discuss crucial issues in Parliament in his absence.


New Delhi, April 25: 
Little more than 6.5 km stands in the way of a wrinkle-free border between India and Bangladesh, but the tiny stretch is long enough to strike at the heart of Dhaka politics.

If Bangladesh accepts India’s contention, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will have to hand over a slice of land from the constituency of her arch rival and Opposition leader, Khaleda Zia.

The disputed land is located in Tripura’s Muhurirchar sector along the Indo-Bangladesh border. The two sides have completed demarcating the entire 4,000-km boundary, barring this small stretch. On the other side of Muhurirchar falls Feni, Zia’s constituency.

The Bangladeshi Prime Minister will be committing political harakiri if she agrees to give India a piece of the constituency of Zia, who has branded Hasina’s party “pro-India”. Hasina is more vulnerable now with the Opposition taking to the streets ahead of general elections expected in a few months.

The issue should have been resolved after Indira Gandhi and Mujibur Rahman signed a pact in 1974, agreeing to complete the boundary demarcation process and exchange the enclaves and areas under each other’s “adverse possession”.

However, the Muhurirchar stretch was caught in the eddies of a river and the text of the treaty. According to the agreement, the “boundary in the area should be demarcated along the mid-stream of Muhuri river at the time of demarcation”. By the time the demarcation process crawled its way to the Tripura sector, the river had changed course.

This altered the course of the treaty, too, with India insisting that the current mid-stream should be the reference point for redrawing the boundary as the agreement had used the words “at the time of demarcation”.

Bangladesh has two counter-arguments. First, since the Indira-Mujib agreement was signed in 1974, the mid-stream then should be the deciding factor.

Second, the forces of nature alone did not change the course of the river, India, too, played a part. Bangladesh feels that bunds put up by India are also responsible for the course shift.

If Delhi’s interpretation is accepted, Bangladesh will lose over 50 acres — a sub-atomic spot on a nation’s map but big enough to trigger a fullscale political turf war.

A proposal was made to divide the 6.5 km equally between the two countries. But this, too, is not acceptable to Hasina. She feels any compromise on the Bangladeshi side will be seen as a “sellout” and ignite a domestic backlash.

Dhaka had dropped hints that a big country like India should concede the land to Bangladesh as a goodwill gesture. Proponents of this suggestion point to a magnanimous gesture by Mujibur Rahman in 1974 when he allowed India to keep over 29 km of southern Berubari in West Bengal.


New Delhi, April 25: 
In a pre-election please-all gambit, the BJP government today announced a flurry of sops for tax-payers and industry. The concessions include a populist hike in standard deduction by Rs 5,000 on incomes up to Rs 3 lakh, doubling of the interest income limit for tax cuts at source, and tax breaks for investments in government securities.

The government raised the duty on imported cars in an attempt to protect domestic automakers and slashed levies on imported telecom components and machines to provide a fillip to the information technology industry.

Announcing the package that formed part of the finance Bill, finance minister Yashwant Sinha said: “Income tax sops will cost the exchequer Rs 1,000 crore. Indirect tax changes will be virtually revenue neutral.” The general budget was passed in the Lok Sabha today

Critics described the sops as election gimmicks. RJD and Samajwadi Party members staged a walkout protesting against the “inadequate measures in the budget for the farming community.”

The Left was equally displeased. “There is nothing of substance to help the majority; it’s all been done with an eye on the elections,” said Amar Roy Pradhan, Forward Bloc leader.

But the Congress, the main Opposition party which had paralysed proceedings in Parliament over the past few days, decided to keep quiet.

The most popular sop was the hike in the standard deduction to Rs 30,000 for incomes up to Rs 1.5 lakh from Rs 25,000 earlier. Similarly, the deduction for incomes up to Rs 3 lakh has been increased by Rs 5,000 to Rs 25,000.

Standard deduction will, however, remain unchanged at Rs 20,000 for incomes between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh a year.

In his budget presented in February, Sinha had raised the standard deduction from Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 for incomes up to Rs 1 lakh but had left it unchanged for incomes up to Rs 5 lakh.

The changes in standard deduction “will result in a revenue loss of Rs 1,000 crore. It will concommitantly lead to the retention of income in the hands of assessees to the same extent”.

The floor limit for interest income to be taxed at source was raised from Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000. The finance minister also raised the limit for deduction of interest income from government securities to Rs 12,000. In the budget, he had brought it down to Rs 9,000 from an earlier limit of Rs 15,000.

Responding to suggestions of the commerce ministry, Sinha said basic customs duty on imported new cars and two-wheelers would be raised from 35 per cent to 60 per cent to protect the domestic auto industry with the dismantling of quantitative restrictions on imports from April 1.


New Delhi and Calcutta, April 25: 
With Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee by her side, Sonia Gandhi will launch her Bengal campaign from Cooch Behar, Malda, Raigunj and Siliguri on May 3.

The Congress high command today asked Mamata to write to Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi formally informing him that she was snapping ties with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Later, in the evening, Trinamul chief whip Sudip Bandopadhyay said his party has decided to send the letter tomorrow.

The decision, he said, was taken at his house following the return of party MPs from Delhi and after Mamata and Ajit Panja, the two Trinamul ministers in the NDA government, resigned. “We took the decision... at a meeting of our policy making body,” he said.

Mamata’s gesture of accompanying Sonia on her two-day whirlwind tour of the state is aimed at silencing A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, who has urged Sonia not to share the dais with the Trinamul leader.

The Congress leadership is working overtime to offer another sop to the Malda strongman by persuading Mamata to give up Englishbazar, one of the seats she has refused to hand over to the Congress as part of its alliance with Trinamul. Senior leaders handling Bengal are confident that Mamata will “oblige” Barkatda.

However, Congress leaders rubbished Ghani Khan’s other demands, like convening a working committee meeting and calling off the alliance. They said the veteran leader should “see reason” instead of insisting on “unreasonable and unpractical” demands. Sonia, they said, had high regard for him, “but it should not be tested constantly”.

Sonia’s managers today prepared her tour programme for Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry. According to sources, Sonia said she was willing to share the dais with Mamata in north and south Bengal. However, in Tamil Nadu, there would be no joint rallies with Jayalalitha.

They said it had nothing to do with the ADMK chief’s “image” but the lack of “chemistry” between the two. “It is an open fact that Sonia Gandhi is extremely fond of Mamata Banerjee and considers her a part of the Congress parivar,” an AICC general secretary said.


Chennai, April 25: 
It fell upon a Jaya Appadurai to tackle Amma Jaya. But the giant-killer of Andipatti, who unseated Jayalalitha yesterday with a stroke of a pen, hardly looks the part.

Frail at 52, returning officer Jaya is a study in contrast with self-professed chief-minister-in-waiting Jayalalitha, rotund at 51.

If the irrepressible Jayalalitha was educated in a convent and strayed into stardom, her less formidable namesake gave up studies after pre-university and joined government service as a revenue assistant way back in 1966. She is now the backward classes officer of the rank of revenue divisional officer.

A mother of three, the returning officer comes from a Christian Nadar family of Ramnad district in south Tamil Nadu.

She was just another nondescript official till she shot into the limelight as designated returning officer of an Assembly seat from where a former chief minister would file her nomination and whose candidacy was a matter of national debate.

Madhivanan, her Krishnagiri counterpart who, too, rejected Jayalalitha’s nomination from there, had a record of taking on vested interests. On the contrary, officer Jaya was known to be self-effacing.

After taking charge as returning officer, she had declared, with a trace of a smile, that she would abide by the norms laid down by the Election Commission.But when the hour of judgment approached, the dissimilarity between the two Jayas was more conspicuous than ever. Candidate Jaya went about her business as usual, while ‘judge’ Jaya was reduced to a bundle of nerves.

After listening to the heated arguments of rival counsels yesterday, the officer walled herself up in the Theni district collectorate for hours, along with a couple of aides. She refused to let reporters know when she would be making the “historic” declaration.

As the clock ticked by, some journalists turned restive and threatened to barge into her office. Red-faced police officers pleaded: “Please understand. We can’t get anywhere near her. She has bolted the doors and no one, not even the peon, is being allowed inside….”

It was 5 pm when she finally appeared before the media, all tensed up, and read out from a prepared text the grounds on which Jayalalitha had been disqualified. She gave some clarifications but would not field any major questions.

Having done her job, she quickly disappeared, escorted by a posse of policemen and women. Her moment of glory came and went, but she had no time to savour it.

She has six years to go before retirement. Who knows the person she disqualified might end up chief minister as early as next month. A terrifying prospect for the civil servant.




Maximum: 36.8°C (+1)
Minimum: 26.8°C (+2)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 39%


Partly cloudy sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 37°C.
Sunrise: 5.10 am
Sunset: 5.58 pm

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