No takers for Sena’s token sorry
Criminal link makes CPM squirm
Chained and charred in sleep
Plan hot potato for Cabinet
Pandavas with evil designs on Atal
Minister returns CAG housing fire
Sword hangs over Uttaranchal head
Kerala leak ends truce
High fashion for all pockets
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Aug. 6: 
Sanjay Nirupam offered only half an apology, but could not voice it. A group of four Shiv Sena MPs turned up at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s door, but were turned away, according to BJP sources.

The BJP’s relations with its oldest ally are not getting better as time passes after Nirupam alleged that the Prime Minister’s Office had influenced UTI’s investment decisions.

This morning, Nirupam offered to express regret in a “personal clarification statement” in the Rajya Sabha where he had made the allegation, but refused to apologise for pointing a finger at the PMO which, he maintained, was still to clear its name in the UTI scandal.

A senior BJP Cabinet minister, however, suggested that the Sena had travelled the distance for a patch-up, but the BJP was not interested in a repair job. He said four Sena MPs, including two ministers, had landed at the PMO this morning to meet Vajpayee. But he had advised the Prime Minister against meeting the team because the Sena was the most critical of all its partners in the NDA.

In the Rajya Sabha, chairman Krishan Kant turned down Nirupam’s request to speak since there was no rule under which he could make a clarification when no one had objected at the time he made the statement in the House. Even members of the ruling alliance had held their silence that day, following which Vajpayee offered to quit.

Nirupam was not offering the BJP much, though, in the clarification. He only wanted to express dilgeer — the Marathi equivalent of ‘sorry’ — if he had hurt the sentiments of the Prime Minister. But the MP refused to “erase” the whole PMO episode — the telephone numbers of officials who had got in touch with the UTI management — “from his memory”.

Both sides are refusing to budge. Sena MPs did not get a hearing with Vajpayee because the BJP believed that its ally’s offer of apology lacked sincerity — that there was no real contrition for humiliating the Prime Minister in the House. The two seem reconciled to their failed relationship in Maharashtra, the state they had once jointly ruled.

Within the Sena, Nirupam, a trusted lieutenant of Bal Thackeray, represents the section which has nothing but contempt for those of their own in government — ministers who, according to them, want to hang on to power at any cost. Nirupam and his friends are ready to face the full consequences of joining issue with the BJP leadership. In fact, they are openly charging some BJP leaders with piling pressure on the Sena chief with the aim of wangling an apology from the Rajya Sabha MP.

Sources in the party say Thackeray, regardless of pressure, has stood by Nirupam who was willing to apologise if the Sena chief wanted him to. But the Sena chief did not want him to.


Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
The CPM today found itself in a spot as the arrest of wanted criminal Pinaki Mitra from a private lodge in Digha brought into focus the patronage he received over the past few years from key leaders of the party’s North 24-Parganas unit.

Sate CPM secretary Anil Biswas, Left Front chairman Biman Bose — both politburo members — and other senior leaders met at the Alimuddin Street headquarters this evening to discuss the impact on the party’s image of the startling disclosures about the relationship between certain prominent functionaries and criminals.

According to officials, the focus of the meeting was on revelations about the influence Tiljala’s controversial businessman Mohammad Taslim, alias Chunnu, now in police custody over the abduction of Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman, wielded on the local party unit.

But the leaders also expressed concern at the Mitra episode which underlined once again the extent of the rot in one of the largest — and most fractious — party units, officials said. Neither Biswas nor Bose was readily available for comment.

If the Salt Lake stadium incident of June exposed sports and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty to charges of association with criminals, Mitra’s arrest appears to have dealt a blow to the rival and ruling faction in the district unit led by Amitava Nandi and Amitava Bose. The duo is perceived as having acted as protectors of Mitra at one point in time.

Reports also suggest Mitra was close to Subhas Chakraborty before switching loyalties to Paltu Dasgupta, a district secretariat member belonging to the ruling clique. Mitra and his mates were believed to have been used by the group during the Assembly polls.

Mitra and 10 others, arrested from six rooms maintained by a cooperative of policemen affiliated to the Calcutta Police Association at Madhuban lodge following a raid on Sunday, were produced in the court of the sub-divisional judicial magistrate in Contai, Midnapore. They were remanded in judicial custody till August 18 under Sections 399, 402, 120 of the IPC and Sections 25 and 27 of the Arms Act.

Revolvers, cartridges, daggers and improvised arms were recovered from Mitra and the others, Tamal Basu, subdivisional police officer of Contai, said. Cases have also been registered against Kantilal Ray and Tanmoy Sil, owners of the lodge who are residents of Salt Lake and Narkeldanga, on the charge of harbouring criminals.

A total 28 persons were arrested during the raid and handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department. But 17 of them were released in the morning as no cases were pending against them.


Chennai, Aug. 6: 
Fire swept through a privately-run home for the mentally ill near Ramanathapuram, killing at least 25 inmates, many chained to their beds.

The victims at the home in Erawadi in southern Tamil Nadu, who were chained to their beds for the night as is the practice, were trapped in the iron shackles and their cries for help were dismissed by the staff and neighbours as lunatic wails. “They could not escape as they were tied to their beds,” an official at the Ramanathapuram district collectorate said over telephone.

While the cause of the fire is under investigation, an unconfirmed report said a tilted oil lamp may have sparked the blaze that broke out just before dawn. Forty-three inmates were sleeping in a row of dormitories when the fire started. The dead included 14 men between the ages of 18 and 50 and 11 women, including two 16-year-olds. Thirteen inmates managed to flee the burning home. Five women have been admitted to hospital with burn injuries.

Five persons who were in charge of the mental asylum have been arrested. Mohaideen, his brother Razzak, one Mumtaz and two others were arrested for their negligence in maintaining the asylum, police said. The owners did not provide adequate facilities for the patients despite charging them between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 annually.

The owners had violated human rights rules by chaining the inmates. They had violated all rules for running an asylum, including the one that women patients cannot be admitted, police added.

Sources said these privately-managed mental asylums at Erawadi “are not governed by any proper set of regulation or guidelines”.

None of the inmates at the home were being treated medically and had been lodged there by their families to undergo spiritual healing. A famous dargah at Erawadi draws thousands of pilgrims to the village. The place is said to have its own curative properties and local people believe that periodic worship at the dargah could heal people of mental disabilities and even madness.

Erawadi has nearly 15 such private homes, the sources added.

Officials said details were still being collected at the scene of the fire. “The fact that these mentally ill people, who are in a state of shock, are unable to speak coherently and tell us what happened makes our task all the more difficult,” said the police officer.

Thara Srinivasan, director of the Schizophrenia Care and Research Foundation, said most of the patients were likely chronic schizophrenics who had been abandoned by their families. “They are just left in chains for months or years on end,” Srinivasan said.


New Delhi, Aug. 6: 
The Cabinet is scheduled to take up for clear- ance tomorrow the draft 10th plan approach document which, among other things, seeks to wind up ministries that deal with state subjects.

If this clause is accepted, ministries like water resources, irrigation, agriculture and social welfare would have to be disbanded. The draft says downsizing is not working because only token cuts are made — and that, too, at junior-level posts, leaving the government top heavy. It suggests, overambitiously, that the government should curb appointments of IAS officers.

The Cabinet note seeks an in-principle decision on shutting down ministries handling subjects which are the exclusive domain of states. The Planning Commission argues that all that these ministries do is administer Centrally-sponsored schemes which could well be run by states and collate statistics which the Central Statistical Organisation could also do.

Certain functions like handling interstate water disputes or tiffs over water-sharing with neighbouring countries could be performed by regulatory bodies and the ministries of home affairs and external affairs, planners associated with drafting of the note said.

This proposal to trim government is likely to run into some heavy political weather, a risk the Cabinet is not expected to take at a time when the government is under attack from within and out over various issues.

Ajit Singh, the latest entrant into the Vajpayee Cabinet inducted with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh elections, holds agriculture. Water resources is handled by Arjun Sethi of the Biju Janata Dal, also a key BJP ally.

Besides the wind-up proposal, the draft is pushing a strong agenda for reforms for the plan period that begins in the next fiscal year. This includes an accelerated disinvestment target of Rs 16,000 crore a year, a 25 per cent increase in tax collections and downsizing government staff by three per cent.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, finance minister Yashwant Sinha and Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant have been pushing these ambitious targets despite reservations expressed by other Cabinet colleagues envisioning more political problems.

Ministers are especially worried about the target for disinvestment as this is politically still a sticky wicket.

The draft also seeks to enlarge the scope of taxation and extend value-added tax to all service sectors.

Another contentious issue will be the proposal to revise the loan-grant ratio in Central assistance to states in favour of the loan component. Ministers belonging to regional parties ruling in states are certain to mount stiff opposition.


New Delhi, Aug. 6: 
They are the ‘Panch Pandavas’ of modern times. But unlike the heroic five of The Mahabharata, who fought an evil empire, they are themselves “evil” for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime. Because, as a senior Cabinet minister close to the Prime Minister said, they belong to the NDA — at least four of them do and the fifth is looking for the way back — and yet derive sadistic pleasure in tormenting the beleaguered Vajpayee almost daily.

Angered by their pranks and oneupmanship in and out of Parliament, the minister today likened them to the “Panch Pandavas”, but with a negative ring to the sobriquet.

The Pandavas, as identified by the minister, are (in order of their capacity to sting): Sanjay Nirupam (Shiv Sena), Prabhunath Singh (Samata Party), Devendra Prasad Yadav (Janata Dal-United), Sudip Bandopadhyay (Trinamul) and K. Yerran Naidu (Telugu Desam).

Government sources said that managing the Pandavas — even with one, Bandopadhyay, sitting on the sidelines — was proving to be difficult for the Prime Minister’s camp because of their open defiance of the proposed code of conduct being drafted by NDA convener George Fernandes and others.

In every session of Parliament, they criticise government policies, causing a great deal more embarrassment to the ruling combine than the Opposition can, simply because an ally’s bite carries more sting.

The Cabinet minister said Nirupam, who made headlines last week following his attack on the Prime Minister’s Office on the UTI scam, was a hundred-per-cent aspirant for a ministerial berth. Nirupam had even indirectly alluded to Vajpayee as Dhritarashtra, implying that the Prime Minister was blind to the corruption around him. So, for every Pandava, there’s a Kaurava with the BJP carrying the unflattering tag of being on the side of evil in the epic.

Prabhunath, who anxiously awaits every ministry shuffle, “is a 75-per-cent aspirant”, the minister said, adding that Yadav, too, falls in this category, though his desire is not as intense.

Much to the Centre’s discomfiture, both had last week rubbished the Prime Minister’s bid to evolve a code of conduct for NDA allies. Prabhunath had told television channels that “it (the code) was a big joke”. He had also demanded action against some PMO officials after the Tehelka exposé.

Yadav had said he would not be bound by the censorship laws of the government. Some alliance leaders, however, were of the view that a code was more of a necessity for the Sangh parivar.

The minister was less harsh on the other two Pandava brothers — Bandopadhyay and Naidu. These two MPs are considered HMVs (His Master’s — or Mistress’ — Voice). Naidu, he said, takes up issues close to the heart of Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu, whether it deviated from the coalition “dharma” or not. Bandopadhayay, too, used to pursue issues “concerning the people of West Bengal” so that didi (Mamata Banerjee) is impressed. With Trinamul lying in the shadowy area of being out of government but sitting with the NDA in Parliament, Vajpayee’s managers are happy not to have to be assailed by the noise caused by one HMV.

But there are aspiring Pandavas, too. During the budget session, C. Ramachandraiah, Telugu Desam’s Rajya Sabha member, had left a lot of red faces on the treasury benches when he stridently attacked the government on the Tehelka exposé and the disinvestment policy.

Sources said that stung by the attack, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan took up the matter with the Desam boss and the MP was subsequently silenced. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister, however, told the Vajpayee establishment that it was difficult to control such a large contingent of MPs daily.


Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
State housing minister Gautam Deb today described the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s charges against his department — of bending rules to serve the interests of two joint- venture concerns it formed with industrialists — as “wild, incongruous, incorrect and purposeful” and implicitly charged a section of CAG officials with getting favours from his department.

The minister’s chin-up response followed the CAG findings that the housing department bent rules for the benefit of two private concerns with which it formed joint-venture companies.

Going on the offensive, Deb made the counter-allegation that the report was leaked to “malign” the government and his department. The minister said he did not need “Neotias” — Harsh Neotia is one of the two industrialists — to provide shelter to people.

Responding to charges that his department had “undervalued” land sold to the companies, Bengal Ambuja and Bengal Peerless, Deb countered that 16 CAG officials had got flats worth Rs 40 lakh at Rs 15 lakh at the two projects. “Do I need to say more?” he asked.

The department would continue to form more such joint-venture companies to solve the state’s housing problems, he added.

Though Bengal Ambuja managing director Harsh Neotia would not comment on the CAG report — “It will be inappropriate for me to say anything but, as far as my company is concerned, we have gone by the rules,” he said — Bengal Peerless managing director K.S. Bagchi was more forthcoming.

“If the government charged more for the land, we would have passed the extra cost on to the lower-income group and the middle-income group buyers, defeating the very purpose behind our company,” Bagchi said. “Flats on VIP Road at Rs 1.17 lakh and Rs 3 lakh wouldn’t have been possible if we paid more for the land.”

The West Bengal Housing Board formed the companies in 1993 and 1994, ostensibly to develop dwelling units in and around the city. But the agreements benefited onlythe private partners with corresponding losses for the government that ran into crores, the CAG’s inquiries revealed.

The housing board handed over 25.75 acre, along the EM Bypass in Jadavpur, to Bengal Ambuja in July 1995. The official agreement was, however, signed in May 1996. Queries to the government as to how the land was transferred before an agreement elicited no response, the report says.

Besides, the land was sold at almost half its actual value. Bengal Ambuja paid Rs 4.67 crore, at Rs 18.14 lakh for every acre, to the housing board whereas the value of every acre in the area was Rs 33.23 lakh. Consequently, the government lost over Rs 4 crore.

The CAG’s office found evidence of similar foul-play in the housing board’s dealings with Bengal Peerless, its joint venture with Peerless. The board gave the company 19 acres near Kaikhali along VIP Road for Rs 2.51 crore. CAG inquiries revealed that the land was worth more than Rs 45 crore, implying a loss of Rs 43 crore to the public exchequer.

As in the deal with Bengal Ambuja, most of the land was given out even before an agreement. The government got the money — Rs 1.46 crore for the 11 acres given out before the agreement — four years later, after Bengal Peerless got more than Rs 29 crore as advance for the flats.

The irregularities, according to the CAG, began right from the time the department chose its partners. No tender was called and no criterion fixed.


New Delhi, Aug. 6: 
The pressures of age and ill health have not caught up with Atal Bihari Vajpayee alone. Another victim in the BJP may be Uttaranchal chief minister Nityanand Swami.

But Swami may not be as lucky as Vajpayee, who got a lease of life last week in the NDA and the BJP after his resignation threat. The BJP’s central leadership is seriously thinking of replacing him with junior surface transport minister B.C. Khanduri.

According to sources, the main reason for the move is that Uttaranchal will have its first Assembly election along with Uttar Pradesh early next year and the feedback from the state unit is that a “younger and a more hands-on” leader is the “need of the hour”.

With the BJP shaky about retaining Uttar Pradesh, it is imperative that the party wins Uttaranchal, sources said.

Among the complaints against 73-year-old Swami are his “lack of physical fitness” and “inability to walk around briskly”. The BJP fears these shortcomings may get more pronounced while he campaigns in the hilly Uttaranchal terrain. “He only uses a helicopter and that has not gone down well with the people,” the sources said.

Other grouses against Swami are:

His alleged extravagance. Sources said the government of the cash-strapped state — a legacy from Uttar Pradesh —- is allegedly spending lavishly on building bungalows for ministers and on buying cars. Recently when two dozen cars were ordered, education minister Teerath Singh Rawat reportedly put his foot down, saying they should not be picked up.

His failure to do anything for the Tehri dam oustees. The issue has already been highlighted by green activist Sunderlal Bahuguna and the VHP. The BJP fears it could regain momentum closer to the elections.

The killing of elephants by poachers in Corbett National Park.

Developing Dehra Dun as the capital. The Uttaranchal BJP feels that since the issue was an “emotive” one, it was “politically advisable” to let the first elected government sort it out.

Uttaranchal is divided into two main regions: Garhwal and Kumaon. While the people of Garhwal want Dehra Dun as the capital, those from Kumaon are keen on Nainital. The Centre opted for Dehra Dun as a “temporary” capital. But Kumaon legislators complain that Swami is set on making its status permanent.

He is an “outsider”. Although a Dehra Dun resident, Swami belongs to Haryana. The BJP’s rationale in choosing him was that in the final analysis the votes of the “plains people” matter more than those of the hill settlers as they are far greater in number. But the perception now is that outfits like the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal will make an issue of the “outsider versus son of the soil” theory which may work against the BJP.


Thiruvananthapuram, Aug. 6: 
The fragile truce in the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has been shattered with former chief minister K. Karunakaran lashing out at the A.K. Antony government’s decision to order a vigilance inquiry into the leakage of Cabinet papers.

Karunakaran, widely considered Antony’s arch rival, said the investigation suggests that the chief minister does not trust his Cabinet colleagues. Such a chief minister’s right to preside over the Cabinet and the state is questionable, he added.

Karunakaran’s stinging comments were prompted by the leak of Cabinet notes relating to the sanctioning of private engineering colleges in the state.

The initiative, taken by the UDF government after it swept to power in May, triggered cries of protest from the CPM-led Opposition which alleged that sections of the government were supporting communal vested interests while sanctioning the colleges. Nalakath Soopy, a minister belonging to the Indian Union Muslim League, is in charge of the education department.

The Opposition’s efforts to buttress its allegation exposed the leak. Opposition MLA T.S. John presented a set of Cabinet papers on the sanction of private engineering colleges.

Cabinet notes are to be seen only by ministers and the chief secretary. Any leak of these papers is considered a violation of the oath of secrecy taken by the ministers.

Karunakaran questioned the premise on which the inquiry has been ordered. According to him, the chief minister should not allow interrogation of his ministerial colleagues by vigilance officers, who occupy lower positions according to protocol.

“If at all there was a need for an inquiry, the chief minister should have handled it personally,” Karunakaran said.


Mumbai, Aug. 6: 
Pret-a-porter is couture crashing down to earth.

The Lakme India Fashion Week, aimed at wooing retailers to the domestic fashion industry, took off in the city today. With price tags as its parameters, the event will strut “pret-a-porter” and “diffusion” collections by 44 Indian designers. Pret (ready-to-wear) is that which costs between Rs 800-Rs 10,000. Diffusion is anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 30,000. Couture is unaffordable.

But to the untrained eye, pret could be as extreme as high fashion, only it costs less, as was clear from the inaugural show by Aki Narula. The show opened with a female model in tight shorts with a protruding groin guard with what looked like a chain on it. As the pounding music rose to a crescendo of dubious female orgasms, the model turned and made a gesture with her finger which was not parliamentary.

The objective of the show is to educate buyers. Says Sumeet Nair, executive director of the Fashion Design Council of India and one of the moving forces: “Although India continues to be globally acknowledged as a country for its rich textile heritage, the fashion industry still faces infrastructural and industry challenges. The fashion week is an initiative which will serve as a national platform to promote the business of fashion that will help grow the domestic customer base.”

But will the pret and diffusion lines on display at the event — which has had its share of controversies like last year with a few well-known designers and models who either dropped out or were missing — bring business? The domestic buyers, if present, were not seen hankering to strike bargains on the first day of the event.

Asked about the response from the buyers — all the designers have been given stalls where their ware is on display and there are specific business zones where trade buyers can strike their deals with the designers — Nair said it was too early to say anything. “You cannot quantify such a thing. There is not much awareness about fashion in the country. It will take days, months or even weeks perhaps for people for a real dialogue between fashion and trade to start,” he said.

Ficci figures say the fashion industry is worth Rs 40,000 crore.

The buyers remain tongue-tied for the moment. At the morning seminar, too, where V.M. Kulkarni of Supra Apparel and Accessories spoke on “working with agents, distributors, wholesalers and retailers”, the businessmen in question were more seen than heard.




Maximum: 32.5°C (+1)
Minimum:26.3°C (0)


7.7 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 94%,


One or two spells of light to moderate rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.12 am
Sunset: 6.12 pm

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