CPM code to keep ministers on leash
Power pangs as mercury soars
Mayor proposal turned down
Child trafficking kingpin lands in police net
Sen sermon to Citu bosses
Karnataka scores with student insurance
Trinamul hails Atal, rules out return to NDA
Sangh salvo at Sinha
Cyclone changes track to Kutch
High price puts NRIs off alternative citizenship

 
 
CPM CODE TO KEEP MINISTERS ON LEASH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 25: 
In a bid to tighten its grip over the government, the CPM state leadership today issued guidelines for its ministers and made it mandatory for them to follow the directives.

All the 33 CPM ministers will have to draft annual plans and clarify what they will do for the next one year.

Each minister will have to submit his annual plan to industry minister Nirupam Sen, who is also looking after the planning and development portfolios.

“The ministers will have to submit their annual plan to Sen in a day or two,” Anil Biswas, CPM state secretary, said today.

After a gap of six months, the state party leadership and senior ministers, including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Sen, will review the “achievements”.

Each minister has been asked to take special care about creating employment opportunities while preparing their plan. They will also have to lay emphasis on developing the cottage and small scale industry.

The CPM state leadership and all the ministers met today at party headquarters on Alimuddin Street where the ministers were briefed about the guidelines by senior leaders Jyoti Basu, Biswas and Bhattacharjee.

“Don’t sit on your files, clear those as quickly as possible and be sensitive while handling the files because those are not just papers but represent the hopes and aspirations of our people,” Basu reportedly told the ministers.

Bhattacharjee will be the key person between the government and the party and will coordinate between the two.

He is, however, answerable to the state secretariat or the central committee of the party for his acts.

For those who have become ministers for the first time, the party has some special instructions. They have been asked not to take any major decision without consulting senior party leaders or ministerial colleagues.

“If you have any problem in delivering your job, you may come to me directly or consult the leader of the Cabinet sub-committee. But you have to perform your job within the specified time limit,” Bhattacharjee told the ministers.

Apart from the half-yearly review of ministers’ performance, the state CPM leadership itself will carry out an annual review of its ministers, Biswas said.

However, the state CPM leadership has not made any changes in the Cabinet sub-committee which the party had formed during the chief ministership of Basu.

Bhattacharjee was the convener of the sub-committee and he will function as convener again. Other members of the Cabinet sub-committee are Sailen Dasgupta, Suryakanta Mishra, Asim Dasgupta, Anil Biswas, Nirupam Sen, Mohammad Amin and Subhas Chakraborty.

   

 
 
POWER PANGS AS MERCURY SOARS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 25: 
Power cuts added to the heat woes of Calcuttans on a day when the Met office said the monsoon was proceeding rapidly towards the city.

CESC blamed the power cuts on low coal supplies that curtailed generation, and the Met office blamed the oppressive weather on the humidity that touched a high of 94 per cent.

But R.N. Goldar of the Met office said the monsoon had covered the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and now lay in the east-central Bay of Bengal and was advancing steadily towards Calcutta. “Till the monsoon arrives, there will be a few more Nor’westers,” he added.

Barring cooling Nor’westers, Calcuttans might have to bear with more power cuts till next week as CESC believes its coal supplies will normalise only around then.

Sources at CESC said the coal position was “hand-to-mouth” at the southern generating station at Garden Reach and at the plant in Titagarh.

Today morning, power shortfall in Calcutta and its adjoining areas ranged between 20 MW and 30 MW.

The shortfall would have been higher had the West Bengal State Electricity Board (SEB) not supplied unrestricted power to the CESC grid.

On Friday evening, the SEB supplied 400 MW to the CESC grid; in the morning, it supplied 359 MW.

It is learnt that CESC has talked to Eastern Coalfields Ltd. “We have arrived at an understanding and the situation is expected to become normal by early next week. The plants had run out of coal and it will take some before a comfortable buffer stock is created,” a senior CESC official said.

Sources said on Thursday morning the shortfall in the CESC-served areas had shot up to nearly 100 MW after a transformer at the power utility’s substation at Liluah tripped leading to widespread power cuts.

   

 
 
MAYOR PROPOSAL TURNED DOWN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 25: 
Municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya today shot down Mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s proposal for a complete waiver of interest on house tax arrears till 2000.

Bhattacharya agreed to a full waiver of interest till 1996 and a 75 per cent rebate till 1999. But there will be no waiver of interest after that, the minister said when the Mayor met him to discuss civic issues.

The meeting deliberated on Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s plan to raise Rs 50 crore by issuing non-convertible bonds. “We will clear this provided the Mayor sends me the resolution of the mayor-in-council and the total valuation of the CMC land and buildings,” the minister said.

Mukherjee appeared upbeat after the meeting. He said he was “glad” to get Bhattacharya as his minister. “After all, he has held the portfolio for years and there will be a continuity of work,” the Mayor said.

“There is no scope of political differences cropping up in our relationship. Show us where we have quarrelled over an issue since I became Mayor,” Mukherjee said.

But the Mayor, who wants “control”, not “eviction”, of hawkers might not get his way after all. “I told the minister that hawkers had made a comeback in the 21 roads the government had earmarked as hawker-free,” Mukherjee said.

The Mayor said high-profile drives like Operation Sunshine “did not work”. “We need to control the extent to which hawkers encroach on pavements, not drive them away.”

But Bhattacharya stuck to the state government’s policy of making these roads totally hawker-free. “I have asked the Mayor to submit his viewpoint in writing and then we will see how we set about getting things done,” the minister said.

   

 
 
CHILD TRAFFICKING KINGPIN LANDS IN POLICE NET 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, May 25: 
Jalpaiguri police last night arrested the “kingpin” of an international child trafficking syndicate and rescued four Bangladeshi boys from Jalpaiguri town.

The arrest comes close after Cooch Behar police bust the racket on Tuesday.

Alerted by their Cooch Behar counterpart, Jalpaiguri police arrested 40-year-old Uttam Roy Sarkar from his hideout at Taralpara in Jalpaiguri.

“On Thursday morning, we received information that Sarkar had taken shelter at a hideout in Taralpara,” police sources said. “A police team arrested him last evening. Sarkar revealed that he had hidden four minor Bangladeshi boys with some of his close acquaintances in two houses at Neyopara, a border village. Police then rescued four minor Bangladeshi boys aged between four and six years. These boys had been smuggled into India from Mymenshing district of Bangladesh a month back.”

“Narul Islam (4) and Mohammed Shikender (6) were rescued from one Kailash Mahanta’s house. The other children rescued are Mohammed Farooq (6) and Mohammed Rin (4),” an official said.

After the arrest of Sarkar, alleged to be the kingpin of the Indian side of operations, police are now on the lookout for two Bangladeshi ringleaders and their Nepalese counterparts.

On Tuesday, Cooch Behar police bust the racket when they arrested three ringleaders: Majidul Haque (32), Upendra Nath Sarkar (60) and his son Nayan Roy Sarkar (17).

Superintendent of police, Cooch Behar, Kailash Chandra Meena, said: “We had been on Uttam’s trail for some time now. Though he had managed to give us the slip it was only a matter of time before he got trapped in the police net.”

Elaborating on the gang’s modus operandi, Meena said: “Interrogation of the arrested ringleader has revealed that one Bachhu Mian, the alleged Bangladeshi kingpin, and his accomplice, Muktar Mian, either kidnapped minors or lured unsuspecting poor Bangladeshi families with the promise of employing their wards in the Middle East.”

Meena said Uttam and the gang revealed that Bachhu Mian used to kidnap boys if their parents were unwilling to part with their children. He usually accompanied these children, posing as their father and along with Uttam, Muktar Mian and Manik Das, took the children over to Nepal via the Kakarvitta Indo-Nepal border and handed them over to their Nepal counterpart. All the six boys rescued had been taken to Kathmandu earlier last month.

   

 
 
SEN SERMON TO CITU BOSSES 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 25: 
After business barons, it was the turn of Citu to come calling on Nirupam Sen. But the industry minister lost no time in telling Citu that violent trade unionism was a strict no-no in the New Left regime that is going all out to project an industry-friendly image.

It was for the first time today that Citu met Sen after the new government was sworn in on May 18. But the union’s top bosses — general secretary Chittabrata Majumdar and president Niren Ghosh — were not part of the delegation.

Sen told the seven visiting trade unionists that in all cases, Citu should strive to settle issues peacefully.

The new government has been making noises about ending militant trade unionism. Even chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has pointed out publicly during his election campaign that there should be an end to trade unionism in the health services sector.

After the 30-minute meeting, Sen told reporters that he had suggested “mutual settlement with government help if necessary”.

At the same time, he left room for “protection of workers’ interest”. “We cannot take anti-labour decisions,” the minister said.

Sen told the delegation that it should carefully monitor sectors like jute, tea, power and sectors where there is possibility of trade unionism taking an ugly turn.

He also praised trade unions, saying: “Many managements have told me that labour in Bengal was playing a crucial role. Look at the 110 per cent production rate in Haldia Petrochemicals.”

Kali Ghosh, Citu’s public sector leader, said the trade union will “fully cooperate with the government”. “We feel that with industrial growth, the labour class will also improve its quality of life,” he added.

   

 
 
KARNATAKA SCORES WITH STUDENT INSURANCE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, May 25: 
In what is being touted as the first of its kind in the country, the Karnataka government has insured all school students in the state.

The insurance agreement was signed yesterday between the state primary and secondary education department and the Oriental Insurance Company (OIC) to provide a year-long accident insurance cover to all students from Class I to Class X.

The scheme covers both government and private school students. “All will be covered, whether government, private, aided or unaided institutions. We will continue the scheme next year depending on its success,” primary and secondary education minister H. Vishwanath said.

The insurance also covers three lakh teachers.

OIC general manager R.M. Sundaram said the insurance will cover 1.10 crore children.

“Sixty-seven per cent of the insurance premium will be borne from the Students’ and Teachers’ Benevolent Fund, 32 per cent will be borne by Rotary International and the OIC will reimburse 1 per cent of the insurance premium,” Sundaram said.

Each student will have to pay a premium of only Re 1.

In case of death of a student, the parents will get Rs 25,000. If a student loses both his limbs, he, too, will get Rs 25,000.

Partial physical impairment will entitle a student to get Rs 12,500. In case of a fracture, a student will get a compensation of Rs 1,000.

The minister said the government decided to cover all schoolchildren following the success of a trial scheme in eight districts. He said the insurance company had paid compensation for the death of 40 persons and had disposed of 700 accident claims in the districts.

The scheme will cost the government over Rs 1 crore.

   

 
 
TRINAMUL HAILS ATAL, RULES OUT RETURN TO NDA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 25: 
The Trinamul Congress today showered praise on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s latest initiative on Pakistan but ruled out rejoining the government at the Centre.

At a news conference held amid growing speculation on Trinamul’s softening attitude towards the BJP, party MP Sudip Bandopadhyay said Vajpayee’s invitation to Pakistan chief executive Pervez Musharraf for talks to settle outstanding issues between the neighbours was laudable.

“The conflict between the two countries are affecting their economies. Talks must be initiated to improve the environment and end the strife,” Bandopadhyay said. Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee had severely criticised the Vajpayee government after the results of the Bengal Assembly elections were announced.

Bandopadhyay, who said there was no possibility of his party rejoining the NDA, confirmed that Trinamul had sought an appointment with the President to “highlight the biased role of the Election Commission and the terror unleashed by the ruling party under which the May 10 election was held in the state”. “We have prepared a booth-wise document which we will submit to the President,” he added.

“We want to make it clear that we have come out of the NDA conclusively and have no knowledge of discussions either with Sudheendra Kulkarni (Vajpayee’s pointman) or with any other person regarding going back to the NDA,” he said.

Yesterday, it was reported that Mamata, assisted by a few trusted aides, had conducted preliminary negotiations with Kulkarni.

Bandopadhyay stressed it was not necessary at the moment for his party to write to the Lok Sabha Speaker informing him that the Trinamul parliamentary party had withdrawn from the coalition.

“We have said time and again that we have informed the leader of the House and Prime Minister Vajpayee about our decision to quit the NDA. He should have informed the Lok Sabha. If we find that the Speaker has not been informed when we go to attend the House in July, we will do it (submit the letter). Anyway, we will sit together and decide on it later,” he said.

Asked whether there was a chance of Trinamul rejoining the NDA now that the storm over the Tehelka controversy had died down, Bandopadhyay said it was a “hypothetical” question.

“It has not been proved beyond doubt that the Tehelka accusations were wrong,” he said. “Moreover, no official report has been published in Parliament absolving the NDA government. Our decision to quit the NDA on March 15 was positive and not at all hasty. We are not going back to the NDA whatever the outcome of the inquiry.”

He said Mamata’s emphasis now would be on strengthening the organisation down to the booth-level for the panchayat elections in 2003. Mamata, he said, would soon make a tour of the districts.

About his party’s tie-up with the Congress, the Trinamul leader said there was very little time between the forging of the alliance and the polls. “The alliance should have percolated more to the grassroots,” he said. “But our alliance with the Congress continues.”

Bandopadhyay dismissed claims by “some opinion makers” that Mamata’s political career had been ruined by Trinamul’s performance at the polls. “Trinamul’s existence has not been threatened. The anti-Left mood still dominates voters’ minds,” he said.

   

 
 
SANGH SALVO AT SINHA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 25: 
Two weeks after it promised not to launch personal attacks on BJP members, the RSS has struck at finance minister Yashwant Sinha.

The editor of Panchajanya, the RSS’ Hindi mouthpiece, has accused Sinha of displaying the “arrogance of power”. Tarun Vijay also criticised the Centre for not consulting the Sangh’s labour arm, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), on labour reforms. Vijay made these remarks during a panel discussion on television.

Barely two weeks ago, RSS veterans H.V. Seshadri and Madan Das Devi had assured Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee that there would be no personal attacks on other members of the Sangh parivar, especially of the BJP.

In a transcript released to the media, the Panchajanya editor has been quoted as saying: “I think the whole issue deals with the arrogance of power. Some of the BJP ministers who are in power think that they know everything and they have every right to do whatever they think is right, and they just don’t have to ask anyone else. I mean, BMS is the largest labour union of the country....and if some minister thinks that he can take whatever decision is right and without consulting millions of people represented...he is wrong.”

Vijay clarified he was talking about Sinha. “If he takes such type of decisions, it simply shows his arrogance of power,” he said.

But after the transcript was released to the media, Vijay tried to undo the damage by describing the finance minister as a “personal friend” whom he held in “high esteem”.

The Panchajanya editor was quoted as saying that his remarks should not be projected as a “confrontation with or lack of confidence in the Vajpayee government”. Despite repeated efforts to contact him, Vijay was not available to explain why he first attacked Sinha and then toned down his remarks.

Vijay’s comments, together with BMS ideologue Dattopant Thengadi’s description of Sinha as a “criminal” in a public rally, indicate that the Sangh is gunning for the finance minister, more than the Prime Minister.

The reason was that the Sangh felt Sinha had “betrayed” the swadeshi “cause” after becoming finance minister, BJP sources said. He had got the finance portfolio after lobbying by the RSS.

BJP sources also hinted at a “personal agenda” motivating Vijay’s comments. The Panchajanya editor has reportedly been trying hard to enter the Prime Minister’s Office. But Vajpayee is “more inclined” to take in Seshadri Chari, who edits the RSS’ English mouthpiece, Organiser.

   

 
 
CYCLONE CHANGES TRACK TO KUTCH 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, May 25: 
The severe cyclone which has been menacing the Gujarat coast for days weakened slightly in the Arabian Sea today, but major ports were closed and emergency plans drawn up in case the storm struck.

The Indian Meteorological Department said the cyclone, dwalding around 450 km south of Veraval, was now likely to hit the coastline on Saturday night or Sunday morning after a slight change in its direction. Earlier predictions were the storm could hit areas between Surat and Veraval.

Officials of the meteorological department said the cyclone, with its very slow movement, had veered slightly westward and was likely to skirt south Gujarat.

According to the latest reports, the cyclone could now hit somewhere between Veraval and Naliya, the western part of the quake-ravaged Kutch district. These areas, which bore the brunt of the January 26 killer quake, are also reeling under a spell of drought. Hundreds of thousands of people living here in tents are likely to be swept away by the force of the gale if the cyclone hits these areas, sources said.

Though the cyclone had weakened and its movement was slow, weather officials said the danger was not over yet. “It can get further intensified and change its direction,” said an official.

P.K. Mishra, the chief executive officer of the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority, said: “The cyclone has weakened and now it is expected to hit on Saturday night after 9.30.”

The Gujarat government today started evacuating people from the coastal districts. “We are concentrating on shifting the agarias (salt producers) to safer places,” B.R. Patel, director, relief, told PTI in Gandhinagar. So far, 600 of them have been shifted from Surat, 5,424 from Jamnagar, 5,585 from Surendranagar, 1,000 from Bharuch and 100 from Junagadh, he added.

The army has been pressed into service in eight cities of Saurashtra and Kutch. The BSF has been alerted in Naliya and Koteshwar. The government also moved seven companies of the State Reserve Police into Kutch district. All ports in the state have suspended operations and have hoisted the “danger signal”.

Revenue minister Vajubhai Vala told reporters that government offices would remain open on Sunday in Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat to tackle any eventuality.

   

 
 
HIGH PRICE PUTS NRIS OFF ALTERNATIVE CITIZENSHIP 
 
 
FROM SHRABANI BASU
 
London, May 25 : 
The Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) card, launched with much fanfare in March 1999, has found few takers. Of the 20-25 million estimated Indian diaspora, only 1,100 have so far applied for it.

“It is surprising that there are so few takers,” L.M. Singhvi, former Indian High Commissioner to the UK and chairman of the Committee on Indian Diaspora told The Telegraph.

“It was launched because there was so much demand for it. But where are the applicants?” he asked.

The PIO card, launched in March 1999, provides Indians with foreign passports the chance to visit India without visas, purchase non-agricultural land, educate their children in Indian institutions like the IITs and stay for up to 180 days without registering themselves at the police station. The fee for the service is $1,000. The card is valid for 20 years.

What was seen as a lucrative way of earning foreign exchange has not worked as NRIs have been put off with the high price and the fact that it does not offer the real citizenship that they seek.

“We understand that the demand is for dual citizenship, but this is nearly the same as citizenship. The only difference is it does not allow you to vote,” said Singhvi.

“We are looking at dual citizenship but it will take some time before that is given. There are constitutional problems which have to be overcome. I personally feel that the security problem is not an effective argument against it. And I am personally in favour of dual citizenship and committed to it,” Singhvi added.

“The other criticism is the high fees. Though we don’t think it is actually that high, and is quite affordable to Indians abroad, we are prepared to lower the fees. Even dual citizenship, if granted, will come at a fee, a higher fee. And we must find out if people are prepared to pay,” the former high commissioner said.

Singhvi is on his way to the US and the Caribbean in his new avatar as head of the committee on diaspora. “We want to look at what is keeping them back from taking the cards. We also want to work on the philanthropy line with the NRIs,” he said.

“The Gujarat earthquake demonstrated how much the overseas Gujaratis were prepared to do for their area. We want to start village links with the NRIs, so they can sponsor schools in their villages, or tube-wells or a health scheme. There is more of a link to the village of origin than to broadly India as a whole and we want to appeal to this sentiment,” Singhvi added.

On the ground, however, there were few takers for the PIO card. Five Indian British passport holders said there was no sense in buying the card because it had nothing to offer.

“A five-year visa fee costs Ł65. That gives me unlimited access to India. Why should I pay $1,000 for 20 years ?” said a 39-year-old marketing executive. Her sentiments were echoed by the rest.

Home minister L.K. Advani has repeatedly been asked on his trips to Britain about when the government will implement its policy of dual citizenship. The answer has always been “soon”.

“We are even prepared to call it the Passport of Indian Origin, if it makes the people feel happier,’’ said Singhvi. “It will give the message that the Indian government considers it almost equal to citizenship.”

The committee on diaspora was formed last September and has been working on the giant problem of bringing the Indian diaspora from Fiji and Britain to the Silicon Valley closer to the motherland. Yesterday, the former high commissioner was scheduled to meet Lord Swraj Paul, who he said was very much in favour of PIO cards.

Lord Swraj himself, does not have a PIO card. “I will ask him about it,” promised Singhvi as he drove off for the meeting. The former high commissioner will find the going hard when it comes to getting NRIs to fork out for the homeland.

   
 

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