Sena bristles at Mahajan berth barb
Eye on Delhi, Ajit climbs down on state and seats
Hi-tech sniffer to ease out dogs
Bangalore survives tech slowdown
Holiday meet on do-it-now strategy
Drivers fail safety test
CBI raids on offices

 
 
SENA BRISTLES AT MAHAJAN BERTH BARB 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, June 9: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been relieved of his knee ache, but his political pains persist.

After the roaring Bengal tigress fell silent, the Maharashtra tiger has begun to growl. Vajpayee’s spin doctors are scouting for ways to calm a fuming Bal Thackeray after the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-led CPM silenced Mamata Banerjee, one of Vajpayee’s past headaches.

Thackeray, the fire-breathing Shiv Sena chief with 15 balance-tilting MPs in Vajpayee’s government, is enraged after reports suggested that his hope for a fourth ministerial berth has been dashed.

Immediately after US-based surgeon Chittaranjan Ranawat operated on the Prime Minister’s right knee at Breach Candy hospital on Thursday, Union parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, a key Vajpayee aide, let slip that no one from the Sena would join the Cabinet in the upcoming expansion.

Thackeray has long demanded that Vajpayee appoint his nominee in place of Ram Jethmalani, the former law minister and a Sena Rajya Sabha MP whom Vajpayee had asked to resign after his public spat with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Mahajan had said the Sena demand was not acceptable because Jethmalani had become the law minister much before he became a Sena MP. Vajpayee was planning to make Jat leader Ajit Singh a minister instead in view of the approaching Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

While a Sena leader said they were not going to take Mahajan’s remarks lying down, former Sena culture minister Pramod Navalkar said the Sena had already made its demands clear to the Prime Minister. “We have 15 MPs, so we should have at least four ministers,” he added.

As Thackeray raved and ranted, the BJP managers started putting distance between Mahajan and Vajpayee, their closeness notwithstanding. “Expansion of his Cabinet is a prerogative of the Prime Minister and no one else is in the know,” the party said, as Mahajan spent the better part of his last few days at Breach Candy hospital literally by the Prime Minister’s side.

Mahajan’s aides admonished newspersons for reporting what they said were not only “off the cuff” remarks, but strictly off the record. “He was shocked when he saw his comments were reported in the newspapers. He would have never spoken so unguardedly if he had known the reporters would quote him,” a close aide said.

But neither the Prime Minister’s office, nor the BJP has denied the veracity of Mahajan’s remarks. Nor did they say anything to the contrary. A Vajpayee aide camping here said the Prime Minister was following the controversy in the newspapers from his hospital bed, but preferred not to comment.

Vajpayee’s handlers said Mamata was a constant pain in his neck as long as she remained in his Cabinet, keeping him on his toes. But the pressure of coalition politics forced Vajpayee to give in, at times at a great economic cost. The price of diesel was brought down and rail fare was not increased at her insistence.

But after she quit in the run-up to the Bengal polls, Thackeray turned out to be Vajpayee’s main tormentor, refusing to share a dais with him to counter the Tehelka charges and publicly questioning his Kashmir ceasefire.

But for all that, Vajpayee cannot let the Sena chief go after Mamata is gone from his government.

   

 
 
EYE ON DELHI, AJIT CLIMBS DOWN ON STATE AND SEATS 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 9: 
Ajit Singh, the BJP’s prospective Uttar Pradesh ally, today told Kushabhau Thakre that he was ready to lower his seat demand and tone down his call for a separate state if these issues were “stumbling blocks” to his Cabinet aspirations, BJP sources said.

An aide of the Rashtriya Lok Dal leader said it was a “courtesy call” as the former BJP chief was recently appointed Uttar Pradesh prabari (in-charge). But BJP sources claimed there was more to the half-hour session at the party headquarters.

The meeting, they said, had become necessary because of “active” opposition from a large section of the state BJP to the alliance with Ajit. The RLD leader’s insistence on truncating western Uttar Pradesh — making it a full-fledged Harit Pradesh — was rejected by both state and Central leaders, who made it clear that the party would not support the creation of any more new states.

According to sources, Ajit told Thakre he would not make Harit Pradesh a major issue in the coming Uttar Pradesh polls.

The other sticking point was his reported demand for as many as 100 of the 403 Assembly seats. It is learnt that Ajit is willing to settle for about 45 seats.

But Uttar Pradesh BJP leaders are still trying to convince the top brass that the perceived gains from the tie-up with Ajit are “vastly exaggerated” and it is “certainly not worthwhile sacrificing so many seats for the sake of a few Jat votes”.

According to an informed assessment, Jats account for just 3.75 per cent of the total votes and matter in just 13 districts. In the present House, there are 13 Jat MLAs. Seven are from the BJP, four are from the RLD, and one each from the BJP’s allies — the Loktantrik Congress Party and the Jantantrik BSP.

BJP sources in the state said former chief minister Kalyan Singh, a backward caste Lodh Rajput, could make “much more of a difference”, though adversely, to the party’s prospects than Ajit. Both have a base in the western region. “Lodh Rajputs account for five per cent of the voters and hold the key to power in as many as 45 constituencies,” they said.

According to the sources, the high command’s pro-Ajit tilt was because of the “need to fill the leadership vacuum” in western Uttar Pradesh after Kalyan’s exit. “The BJP does not have a weighty Jat or a leader from any other community to project in the western districts. So, they are banking on Ajit to do the needful,” they said.

Ajit’s impending entry into the BJP-led front has also reportedly made its backward caste MLAs — who account for one-third of its strength — “restive”. Some have already begun tapping Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.

Another source of worry for the state unit is caste and regional imbalances in the party structure. Sources pointed out that state unit chief Kalraj Mishra had “packed” his team with fellow Brahmins who occupy all important posts like that of general secretary, spokesman, media in-charge and morcha prabaris.

Sources also said the top hierarchy was made up of those who came from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Varanasi. Mishra is from Ghazipur, chief minister Rajnath Singh is from Mirzapur and so is Om Prakash Singh, who has been projected as the BJP’s “backward caste face”.

“The BJP,” rued sources, “starts in Varanasi and ends in Lucknow.”

   

 
 
HI-TECH SNIFFER TO EASE OUT DOGS 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, June 9: 
Dogs on the prowl for explosives in high-security zones, trains and airports may become a thing of the past with the Central Scientific Instruments Organisation developing a portable explosives detector.

“It took my boys two years to develop it. It is true that such hi-tech explosive sniffers do exist, but the one we have developed is completely different from those existing abroad. It is the product of Indian research and development,” R.P. Bajpai, director of the organisation, said.

The organisation deals with classified projects and is also involved in space research.

Bajpai said the instrument measures the vapour pressure of explosives. “Each explosive has its own vapour pressure. The instrument we have developed can sniff explosive mixtures also, making its use of great value,” he added.

Scientists at the organisation, who worked tirelessly for two years to develop the “hi-tech sniffer”, had to face failure a number of times before perfecting the technology.

“The last failure was as recent as June 6, making us wonder whether we were on the right track or not. But we stuck to our task and our hard work paid off yesterday at 3.45 pm when the leader of the team working on the device, A.K. Dumri, called me up and said: ‘Sir, the dog is barking, congratulations,’” Bajpai said.

The device weighing less than 1 kg, has a rod protruding from its front which can sniff vapour pressure of explosives. The indicator panel flashes only when brought near explosives.

The organisation plans to provide the device to the army, paramilitary forces and police. “Initially, it will be used in tandem with sniffer dogs in high-security zones to ensure bombs are not planted there,” a scientist working on the project said.

The device is also capable of locating buried explosives and has proved to be equally useful as dogs in locating them.

Barring the US, no other country has till now been able to produce an electronic sniffer as light as the one produced by this organisation.

Bajpai said the device was developed by the organisation’s Applied Physics department. “It was only about 10 days ago that it dawned on us that a major breakthrough could be possible. It had begun sniffing properly but was not sending out the right signals. We managed to rectify the fault. The device has not failed since yesterday and our work has been certified as successful. The moment the device comes near an explosive, it starts emitting a signal and a warning beeper follows,” he added.

A scientist said the device works on the same principle as dogs. “When we began working on the project two years ago we found that explosive material did let off some vapour or gas continuously. A close analysis brought us to the conclusion that the vapour from explosives was different from that of non-explosive material. That helped us in designing the device,” he added.

   

 
 
BANGALORE SURVIVES TECH SLOWDOWN 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, June 9: 
You know the gory story of San Jose. You know how they came crying out of Silicon Valley. You know how the dotcomers came to be known as dotgoners. You know it all, the whole story of how the great IT dream machine came hurtling down and crashed with a sickening thud.

You have seen the corpses by the wayside.

So, would you still bet on IT? Would you still give up engineering — the good old brick and smoking chimneys — and stake it all on a slab of virtual pie?

In Bangalore, they are doing just that — still. “It is still IT,” says K.R. Murthy, an academic and chairman of the task force on revision of technical syllabus for engineering students. “The slowdown has not dimmed their enthusiasm. The demand for IT and computer science has not gone down.”

What is important is that this is happening in Bangalore, the city which boasts of the maximum number of professional colleges in the country.

“The tech slowdown has not affected us,” says C.M. Abraham, registrar of the Indian Institute for Information Technology, Bangalore. “The number of applications this institute has received for post-graduate courses tells all: 4,700 applications for 120 seats.”

The story is the same at other educational institutions. “The first choice is IT or computer science,” says a lecturer at St Joseph’s College, where the cut-off for this year’s admission was 92 per cent for B.Sc. “We heard about the slowdown but it is not stopping me from pursuing a career in IT. My parents, too, want me to become a software engineer,” says Vineet, a tech-aspirant.

Maybe, there is still a market for him. A joint survey by the Information Technology Association of America and Morgan Stanley Research shows the IT workforce will expand by four lakh over the next 12 months. The Indian IT industry has also projected a requirement of 205,000 professionals in the next two years.

In last year’s Common Entrance Test,which the Karnataka government holds yearly for admissions to professional colleges, seven of the top 10 students opted for IT.

Only three chose medicine. Officials administering the Common Entrance Test expect the same trend this year when the results are declared and admissions begin in July.

This year, a record number of 1,27,400 students appeared for the CET in May. Nearly 60,000 of them came from outside Karnataka.

“The fun image of Bangalore attracts students from outside. Parents, too, like to send their wards to Karnataka because it is a peaceful place,” says Harsha. K, a young entrepreneur who has set up an online site — admissions4u.com — for college students.

“Everything is so commercialised that education has become an industry,” says former MLC, A.K. Subbaiah, a view shared by former vice-chancellor H. Narsimaiah.

   

 
 
HOLIDAY MEET ON DO-IT-NOW STRATEGY 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
What can be done tomorrow should be done today: that’s the signal Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his finance minister Asim Dasgupta sought to send as they met this evening at Writers’ Buildings, chalking out the new Left Front strategy on work culture and accountability.

The chief minister, who has said he is determined to fulfil his do-it-now promise, preferred to attend office on a holiday, instead of putting off the strategy session till Monday.

The meeting coincided with unrest at the Durgapur Steel Plant over the assault of two senior officers by an Intuc activist.

The meeting was a follow-up of the discussions Dasgupta and industry minister Nirupam Sen had with different ministers and departmental secretaries earlier this week.

Soon after the sixth Left Front government was sworn in on May 18, the Marxists had set in motion a strategy to ensure better governance. Bhattacharjee had promised industrialists and investors that the government would speed up work: files would be cleared without delay so that time was not wasted in getting a project through. “We spoke about work culture and other issues,” Bhattacharjee said.

   

 
 
DRIVERS FAIL SAFETY TEST 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, June 9: 
Are roads in Delhi safe for schoolchildren? The answer is a definite “No”.

The Institute of Driving, Training and Research tested 260 licensed school-bus drivers from February to May this year. Forty-seven failed the test and 64 school-bus conductors out of 188 could not clear the basic test.

“It was after the spate of bus accidents that occurred in the capital in the beginning of the year that the transport department and the Delhi government started a training programme for school-bus drivers and conductors,” institute director R.K. Parimoo said.

Earlier this year, 10 fatal accidents were reported in which eight children lost their lives and 25 were injured. In one incident in February, seven children on their way to school were seriously injured after a lorry hit the school-bus.

The institute issued a letter to schools in Delhi that have a large fleet of buses to transport children. “We wrote to all schools listed with the education department. We wanted to ensure that all drivers had undergone proper training before driving the buses. Out of a total of 89 schools, only 30 per cent sent their drivers,” Parimoo said.

“Delhi Public School, RK Puram, and GD Goenka School in Vasant Vihar were the only two schools which showed a great deal of enthusiasm and ensured that all drivers and conductors attended the training,” he added.

Some schools claim that drivers were not sent for the training programme as they were not sure whether their buses would be functional in the post-CNG months. The programme taught drivers safety precautions and also encouraged them to develop a role of better “guardianship”.

Parents of schoolchildren in Delhi are angry at the abysmal state of schoolbuses. “My son was using the schoolbus. But the bus was not in a good condition and the bus drivers would never come on time and the children were not well handled by some conductors. In addition, we were paying a lot of money for the school transport. We had no choice but to stop him from using the schoolbus and use the DTC,” said Anita, whose son is studying at the Delhi Tamil Senior Secondary School.

In January 1998, an overcrowded speeding schoolbus plunged into the Yamuna, leading to the death of 28 children. After the accident, the Supreme Court issued detailed guidelines on safety norms required for schoolbuses, including installation of speed governors for these buses.

“We are not sure about the safety of our children in the bus. The driver could be over-speeding. There is no one to keep a check on him,” one parent said.

Vinay Kumar, principal, Delhi Public School, Vasant Kunj, said: “All the drivers employed by our institute were formerly in the army. They have been employed primarily because of their discipline and training.”

   

 
 
CBI RAIDS ON OFFICES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
The CBI on Saturday raided the residence and offices all over the country of Ramesh Gandhi, businessman and owner of a television software company, Rainbow Productions.

“Search and seizure operations are going on since morning on the business premises of Rainbow Productions. Raids will continue till Sunday,” said a CBI officer. Upen Biswas, additional director-general of CBI, confirmed the news. Gandhi was admitted to a nursing home on health grounds.

Rs 1 lakh looted: A man, posing as a bank employee, made off with Rs 1 lakh from a customer. Nitin Adarsh, a jewellery shop employee, was counting cash on Saturday at HDFC Bank on Lansdowne Road, when a man told him to collect a deposit form. When he returned with the form, his bag was missing.

   
 

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