Jaya swaps ministers for light lash
Mamata puts Congress on pullout notice
Brake on Subhas transport free run
Cheap calls on Net reach govt
Calcutta Weather

 
 
JAYA SWAPS MINISTERS FOR LIGHT LASH 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT AND SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi & Chennai, July 3: 
Jayalalitha Jayaram, gritting her teeth, blinked around noon. Hours later, so did the Centre.

After flexing its muscles on imposing President’s rule in “errant” Tamil Nadu, the Vajpayee government tonight fought shy of even issuing constitutional directives to the state. Instead, it served a mere “warning” to the government to rectify the “legal violations” that have taken place since the Friday night arrest of former chief minister M. Karunanidhi and the two Union ministers and punish the police officials “guilty” of committing excesses.

The home ministry will draft the administrative directive and set a deadline for its compliance.

Delhi was keen to avert a showdown with Jayalalitha on the eve of Pervez Musharraf’s visit. A Centre-state face-off was the last thing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would have wanted in the run-up to the summit.

The DMK is clearly not happy with the Centre’s mild warning. General secretary K. Anbazhagan and executive member Aladi Aruna refused to comment on the decision.

Maran is still in hospital and is not likely to get out before tomorrow. Baalu, who was in Vellore jail, has been released. Karunanidhi did not apply for bail today.

The climbdown, which follows the NDA recommendation for Article 356, was apparently the result of a trade-off between the Centre and the state: charges were dropped against Cabinet members Murasoli Maran and T.R. Baalu and, in return, Jayalalitha was spared the stick.

Shortly after C. Rangarajan took over as acting Governor this morning, the chief minister told him that the charges against the Central ministers were being withdrawn.

An ADMK press statement issued in Chennai said it was at the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office that the charges were being dropped. But, it added, the decision was made not for lack of evidence against the ministers, but to maintain a “cordial relationship” between the state and the Centre.

But Delhi, realising the implications of the statement, which suggested that the Prime Minister had himself intervened to get his ministers off the hook, claimed late tonight that no such request was made to the state.

The dropping of the charges after the Jayalalitha regime rubbished the idea yesterday and even early this morning means that the Central threat on Article 356 was perceived as real. Even as the chief minister and the new Governor were meeting privately in Raj Bhavan after the swearing-in, chief secretary B. Shankar was telling reporters: “How can we just drop the charges? It will make us look frivolous.”

For Jayalalitha, the Cabinet’s warning and the informal instruction is an easier way out. But she will have to look for options to wriggle out of the “order” to take action against police officials.

In a statement today, the government made it clear that it had no intention of making a scapegoat of the police. “The government of Tamil Nadu assured the police that due care will be taken to protect their interests and, therefore, the police should continue to discharge their duty conscientiously as always without fear or favour,” it said.

The option that the government can now explore is to institute some kind of a probe. This would allow it to tell the Centre that it was in the process of taking action without actually victimising the police.

Asked what the Centre’s response would be if Jayalalitha ignored its directive, law minister Arun Jaitley said: “We will consider the next step at that stage.”

The home ministry’s warning was based primarily on a report submitted by a four-member official team that visited Chennai over the weekend. It severely indicted the government and the police administration for “violation of law, human rights, press freedom, right to legitimate political activity and federalism”.

Jaitley said the Cabinet felt that immediate action was required to ensure the restoration of all constitutional guarantees such as democracy, freedom of press, principles of federalism, human rights and right to legitimate political activity. He, however, made it clear that it was “not a directive under Articles 355 or 256”, which are binding on the state.

Even as the standoff ended on the release of the ministers, it appears that Karunanidhi will have to remain in jail till July 10. The DMK, clearly, is making political capital over the emotive issue of his incarceration. His daughters, Kanimozhi and Selvi, said their father was eating out of an aluminium plate and drinking out of an aluminium tumbler in a hot cell.

   

 
 
MAMATA PUTS CONGRESS ON PULLOUT NOTICE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
After jumping the gun to offer support to the Vajpayee government in case it clamped Central rule on Tamil Nadu, Mamata Banerjee today went a step further and threatened to snap ties with the Congress if it did not up the ante against the Left Front.

“We will rather go it alone in the state and follow our agenda against the CPM,” Mamata said.

The Trinamul leader took exception to the Congress’ decision to re-induct the rebel party candidates who had queered the pitch for Trinamul nominees in Murshidabad, Diamond Harbour and other places in the Assembly elections.

She alleged that her party’s poor performance in the Pujali municipal polls was due to “sabotage on the part of the Congress”.

While the Congress has formed the board at Pujali in Budge Budge, winning 10 of the 15 seats, Trinamul could win only one of the five it contested. Mamata has sought a report on the party’s performance from her Budge Budge MLA, Ashok Deb.

“We cannot continue our alliance with the state Congress if the latter does not reciprocate our gesture of cooperation. The party does not seem to be mentally prepared to fight the CPM,” she told reporters this afternoon.

Mamata said her party had gone out of its way to accommodate the Congress’ claim for seats in the Assembly elections.

“They put up a candidate at Englishbazar despite an agreement with the AICC, which had left the seat to us. Our party did not put up any nominee against Congress candidates in the recently-held Raigunj municipal polls in the interest of the alliance. But the state Congress is taking back into its fold the rebel candidates who had opposed us in the Assembly elections,” she said.

The Trinamul leader conceded that the Congress’ “non-cooperation” had hurt her party workers and they were gradually losing faith in the alliance.

The first whiff of a honeymoon gone sour had emerged when the Congress decided to ally with the Left in Punjab. However, as the rift widened, Sonia Gandhi had sent word from abroad, asking Mamata to wait till she returned.

Mamata reiterated her support to any action the Vajpayee Cabinet took against the Jayalalitha government. Though the BJP and the NDA are divided on whether to use Article 356 in the state, Mamata had yesterday declared she would back her former ally in case it chose to dismiss the state government. The Trinamul leader said the Congress was against Article 356 in the state because it had a poll alliance with the ADMK. “But the Tamil Nadu developments have become a public issue. We cannot support the Congress’ stand,” she said.

A day after expelling several party leaders for joining Ajit Panja’s camp, Mamata said she would continue to act against those sympathetic to the rebel MP. The dissident leader described the decision to expel the leaders as “whimsical, erratic and irrational”.

   

 
 
BRAKE ON SUBHAS TRANSPORT FREE RUN 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
The “downsizing” of transport minister Subhas Chakraborty kicked off today with the government refusing to extend the tenure of West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation managing director Santanu Goswami.

Goswami, known to be close to Chakraborty, was asked to hand over charge to a joint secretary of the transport department.

The denial of fresh extension came a day after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee ordered an inquiry into the stadium scandal and sought a report from the beleaguered minister.

WBSTC chairman Ashok Bose said Goswami, who took over as managing director in 1996, had retired in 2000 but was given a 10-month extension that ended in June. “He is the longest-serving managing director in the department,” he added.

But sources said the government had initially planned to give another extension to Goswami for at least three months. However, the finance ministry did not clear the extension. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta could not be contacted as he was away in Delhi.

Chakraborty’s loyalists count Dasgupta among those at the forefront of the campaign against the transport minister in the CPM’s North 24-Parganas unit.

The extension damper is being seen as an attempt to rein in Chakraborty, who has been accused of harbouring criminals in Salt Lake stadium after 16 persons were rounded up during a raid inside stadium hostel — the sports minister’s fief. In close circles, Chakraborty has expressed unhappiness at the way the party and the government are trying to tighten the noose around him and said he will resist any attempt to strip him of any of his ministries. The CPM is thinking of shifting Chakraborty from sports.

The CID, which was asked by the chief minister yesterday to launch a probe, has sought documents from Howrah police on the arrests. The director, crime, K.K. Mondal, said officers will interrogate Tapash Ghosh Dastidar, a CPM functionary and close associate of Chakraborty, arrested on Sunday. “We have received the government notification regarding the transfer of case to the CID. I will meet senior officers on Wednesday to formulate our plan of action,” he said.

A CID team is expected to visit the stadium tomorrow. Sources said the agency has sought details about Tiljala crimelord Meghnath Halder, alias Megha, wanted for two attempt-to-murder cases. He had also allegedly taken shelter in the stadium but slipped out moments before the raid. Megha is absconding. CID is also looking for another Chakraborty associate, Govinda Dey. A police team had raided his Beliaghata house.

   

 
 
CHEAP CALLS ON NET REACH GOVT 
 
 
FROM M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, July 3: 
If calls to friends and family abroad are burning a big hole in your pocket, pray the government will pick up this one from the Telecom Commission.

The panel has submitted a recommendation that will legalise Internet telephony, one of the last frontiers of information technology India has yet to cross. If the Cabinet clears the proposal, it will make long-distance calls cheaper at least by half.

Internet telephony uses the Net to make voice and fax telephone calls across the globe, accessing both personal computers and phones . Some Internet kiosks now offer the service, but surreptitiously, as it is illegal.

Services through the Net are cheaper than long-distance calls via satellite or land lines. An ISD call to the US through the regular line now costs almost a dollar a minute. If the same call is made through the Internet, it should cost only around Rs 18 per minute.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India will set the Internet telephony rate after the Cabinet gives its nod.

A meeting of the Telecom Commission last week unanimously decided in favour of allowing the Net to be used for making phone calls and sending fax messages. The commission is headed by Shyamal Ghosh, secretary in the department of telecommunications.

A source in the commission said: “We have sent it to communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who has to take it up at the Cabinet meeting. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India will also be sent a copy to get its recommendations on tariff and timing. We have suggested a cost-based tariff for those who wish to provide Internet telephony.”

According to experts, a service provider would need to invest about Rs 2.7 lakh to offer Internet telephony service. Players who are likely to offer the service include all basic fixed-line service providers, national long-distance operators (STD operators) and international long-distance operators (ISD operators). The Telecom Commission has decided not to allow internet service providers to offer this service.

Internet telephony is also expected to force basic phone services, like VSNL, to cut costs. VSNL is in any case expected to opt for competitive pricing from 2002 when its monopoly is scheduled to end.

But Internet telephony will put the VSNL under more pressure to reduce rates. The current high cost of international calls is mainly because of the rate charged by the VSNL, not the foreign carrier.

Realising the potential of the sector, VSNL is ready to offer this service through a wing set up about a year ago. The wing is set to start the service in a week.

S.K. Gupta, chairman and managing director VSNL, has said the company is prepared to harness the potential of Internet telephony whenever the government decides to open up the sector.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 30.6°C (-2)
Minimum: 26.4°C (0)

Rainfall:

6.3 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 817%

Today

Intermittent light rain, with one or two heavy showers or thundershowers.
Sunrise: 4.59 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm
   
 

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