Vajpayee carries trade gift for Musharraf
Speaker iron-hand keeps speech custom alive
Zhu visit heralds thaw in ties
Citu, CM cross reforms swords
Starvation-stung Cong offers help
Mamata sweets for sour Advani
Police bristle at rank reversal
Axe hovers on House Romeos
Mumbai blast accused to fight polls
Music lessons in tech school

New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is a bearer of gifts — at least as far as Pakistan is concerned.

For the second time within a month, Vajpayee has asked the commerce ministry to cobble a package of trade sops before a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf.

Vajpayee, who is due to meet Musharraf in the third week of September in New York, has instructed the commerce ministry to identify 50 tariff lines on which customs duty can be eliminated or reduced on imports from Pakistan.

The list covers items ranging from shampoos to chemical contraceptives, and from dried fruits to all types of furniture.

Also on the list are mushrooms and truffles, dental cements and fillings, lip and eye make-up preparations, yarn to remove dental floss, raw skin of sheep or lamb, printed books, newspapers and journals appearing at least four times a month, and building bricks.

The list of 50 tariff lines, identified by the commerce ministry in consultation with other ministries, was tabled in the Lok Sabha today.

The department of revenue will issue formal notifications after completing procedural requirements.

The products which have been listed for either elimination or reduction of import duties from Pakistan include almonds, fresh, dried or in shell, pistachios, fresh or dried, figs, mandarins, tangerines and satusmas, clementines, wilkings and similar citrus hybrids.

Other items on the list include preserved frozen fruit and nuts, unground natural calcium phosphates, natural aluminium, calcium phosphates and phosphatic chalk, calcium carbonate, glands and other organs.

Other products that the commerce ministry will examine include, extracts from glands or other organs or of their secretions, manicure or pedicure kits, powders, skin care preparations, hair lacquers, pre-shave, shaving or after-shave preparations, gelatin, foil of copper alloys and instruments and appliances used in dental and medical science.

The move is likely to result in Indian markets being flooded with Pakistani manufactured products.

At the same time, multinational companies like Hindustan Lever could face competition not only from a range of Pakistani companies, but also from their own group companies in that country.

After the exim policy was relaxed, Hindustan Lever found to its dismay that products from Unilever companies in Malaysia and Thailand were coming into India, forcing it to file a rash of lawsuits in Calcutta High Court against a slew of trading companies.

An official spokesman for Hindustan Lever acknowledged the problem that it had faced in the eastern parts of the country but said it would not face an onslaught from Lever Brothers in Pakistan.


New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi today browbeat the government to ensure that parliamentary traditions were honoured.

The Speaker allowed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi to deliver their customary speeches to mark the end of a parliamentary session.

Yesterday, sources close to parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan had told reporters that Balayogi had decided to do away with the tradition of the Prime Minister and the leader of Opposition delivering the valedictory address as the budget session had ended on a bitter note between the treasury benches and the Opposition with Vajpayee and Sonia trying to run down each other.

Upset with the media reports, Balayogi had summoned Mahajan and Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Madhavrao Scindia this morning and made it clear that he had no objection to the speeches.

Sources, however, maintained that the government was not keen on a repeat of what happened last time after Vajpayee’s valedictory address, as Sonia had grabbed the headlines the next day.

Mahajan mooted the idea to Scindia, who, too, agreed. But when the Speaker told them that he did not want to discard the tradition that has been followed since 1987, they agreed.

Congress sources blamed the government for the bungle. A senior party functionary said Sonia’s speech was ready 10 days ago and the party was ready if the Prime Minister was ready. The monsoon session of Parliament ended rather amicably with Vajpayee seeking a “lakshman rekha” to allegations against the government.

Sonia, this time, did not repeat last session’s performance when she had virtually caught hold of home minister L.K. Advani, seeking an explanation on why her family was being targeted by the government.

Today, “parliamentarian Sonia” was cool and collected when she pointed fingers at the government for the UTI muddle, the Agra summit, disinvestment, the Tehelka exposé, saffronisation of education and starvation deaths.

She regretted that the Women’s Reservation Bill continued to “languish”. “We are still awaiting the outcome of the Prime Minister’s assurance to forge a consensus on it,” the Congress chief said.

Advani apology

Union home minister L.K. Advani offered an apology in the Lok Sabha to tide over an embarrassing situation over the absence of social justice minister Maneka Gandhi.

Maneka was called by the Chair to introduce a constitution amendment Bill related to scheduled castes, but she was not present in the House. Advani apologised for her absence and sought permission from deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed to allow another minister to introduce the Bill. The rules of the House permit such arrangements.


Beijing, Aug. 31: 
Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji will pay an official visit to India in November. His visit will be the first visit by a Chinese Premier since Li Peng came to New Delhi in 1991.

The two sides are busy working out the dates of Zhu’s visit, but there are indications that he will be in India in November soon after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee returns from his Moscow summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh is scheduled to visit China in October. Other high-level visits have also been planned between the two sides; among them is power minister Suresh Prabhu’s visit to Beijing.

“Everything is not hunky-dory, but we have finally realised how to deal with each other,” a senior Indian official in Beijing said. India is now adopting the same rules that Beijing did in its dealings with New Delhi. The main thrust of the new policy is on pragmatism and changing ground realities.

“It will not be correct to say that past policies were wrong. Perhaps, both India and China missed out on opportunities to improve relations. But now a serious attempt is being made to rebuild ties,” the diplomat said. Relations between the two countries had hit rock-bottom after the Pokhran nuclear tests. After the tests, when Delhi mentioned Beijing as one of its main security threats, it rubbed the Chinese leadership the wrong way.

Beijing not only opposed the tests but also tried to garner support at various international fora to isolate India and force it to give up its nuclear and missiles programmes.

But the Chinese leadership soon realised that it was Beijing which was getting isolated and left out of negotiations as all the major world powers, particularly the US, had started engaging with India in a big way.

Though China was looking for ways to start negotiations with India, it was Jaswant Singh’s visit to Beijing in May 1999 that thawed relations. Many high-level delegations followed, including the state visit by President K.R. Narayanan last year.

Indian officials pointed out that though the two sides cannot be termed the best of friends, a situation has now been created where India has to be taken into reckoning.

“A lot of what comes out in the Chinese media may not be very complimentary to India. But it indicates that developments in India can no longer be ignored,” a senior official said.


New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
The albatross around Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s neck is Citu; and he knows that.

“We are telling the workers the world is changing.... They are trying to understand the realities,” the Bengal chief minister said in an interview with BBC’s Hard Talk. But Citu general secretary M.K. Pandhe is far from convinced. “I have to see what Buddhadeb has said. If this is what he has said, I will take up the matter with him when he comes here tomorrow,” the trade union leader said.

“There is no question of moving with the times. We are totally opposed to globalisation. So is the CPM. It has rejected globalisation,” Pandhe said. His organisation, Pandhe added, will defend the “working class wherever it is attacked, even in Bengal”.

Bhattacharjee, however, is not giving up. The chief minister said in the interview that workers cannot “sit in isolation” and “questions of productivity, quality of production and competition” are not just the headache of employers. Otherwise industry will collapse.”

But, stressed Pandhe, “we are not in isolation”. He pointed to the worldwide protests against globalisation. “Things are changing — they are moving with the times. Trade unions of all political colours are coming together. Even the Shiv Sena and George Fernandes’ HMKP are joining our protests,” he said.

On the issues of productivity, quality of production and competition, the union leader had a standard reply: “Productivity cannot be decided unilaterally by managements. They have to be negotiated between the management and workers.”

But the chief minister, who has projected an industry-friendly image since coming to power, said he was keen to change “old” policies, reject past “mistakes” and meet fresh challenges thrown up by globalisation.    

New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
The Congress today offered its “expertise” in handling food-for-work and employment generation programmes to combat the menace of starvation even as the government denied that anyone had died of hunger in Orissa.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi led a delegation of party leaders to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee urging him to kick off an intensive food-for-work programme in 125 most backward districts of the country.

Manmohan Singh said the Centre should not hesitate to emulate Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, which have been running successful employment guarantee and food-for-work schemes, but the former finance minister clarified that his party was not trying to “politicise” the crisis.

Sonia wondered why the poor were starving to death when over 60 million tonnes of foodgrain was available through the public distribution system.

Sonia said the PDS appeared to be in a mess despite the “bewildering array of schemes” that were being announced from time to time. “Letters keep getting exchanged between chief ministers and the Prime Minister, while the poor continue to starve, even die,” she said. She has directed Manmohan to interact with Congress chief ministers and work out a plan to provide succour to those facing starvation.

The government, however, blamed the states for not lifting foodgrain though granaries were full. At a joint news conference here, Union minister for food and consumer affairs Shanta Kumar and rural development minister Venkaiah Naidu said that though the Centre had offered foodgrain generously, sometimes even free of cost, grain offtake by the states was poor.

The ministers maintained that reports of the Central team and the district collector had revealed that the Orissa deaths had been due to food-poisoning. Reports of starvation deaths from Himachal Pradesh had also turned out to be false, Kumar said.

Regarding Manmohan’s suggestion to follow the examples of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, Naidu said the Prime Minister’s 10,000-crore “Sampoor Rozgar Yojna” would provide employment and combat starvation. He said the nationwide food-for-work scheme would be kicked off on September 30.

Kumar said that according to the Tata Consultancy and CAG reports and the mid-term appraisal of the Planning Commission, it was clear that the Centre was carrying out its responsibility of procuring, storing and transporting grain. He said it was the job of the states to ensure proper distribution and blamed them for failing to detect bogus ration cards that number around 1.83 crore.

Kumar said of the 24 lakh tonnes of foodgrain provided free under the food-for-work programme to 10 states, 14 lakh tonnes had been lifted and around 7 lakh tonnes actually distributed. “There is no scarcity of grain but that of proper arrangement,” he said.

Kumar said the Antodaya Anna Yojna has been implemented in 15 states and three Union Territories. Under the scheme, each eligible family receives rice at Rs 2 a kg and wheat at Rs 3 a kg.


New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
Advani was bitter, they said. So Mamata sweetened her entry into the NDA by visiting the home minister’s residence yesterday and offering a pack of sweets to his wife, Kamla Advani.

At the meeting of the Central coalition on Monday, Advani had reportedly expressed reservations about Mamata’s re-induction. He was upset with her for ditching the government on the eve of the Assembly elections and coming back without any remorse. Advani had also said that the Trinamul leader had met him twice last week but he did not notice any trace of regret in her.

The home minister is learnt to have avoided Mamata at the dinner hosted by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for coalition MPs on Tuesday, but he was seen talking with her bete noire Ajit Panja.

Though Mamata had said she did not rejoin the NDA expecting a ministerial berth, she was planning to stay back in Delhi for a week after the conclusion of monsoon session of Parliament. Sources said that with the Prime Minister deciding to limit tomorrow’s expansion and reshuffle to the BJP, the Trinamul leaders are leaving for Calcutta tomorrow. Mamata was invited to the swearing-in, but she will be away in Calcutta.

Sources said the Trinamul chief, who was railway minister when she quit the government and the NDA in March over the Tehelka exposé, is expecting a Cabinet berth in the next expansion, expected to be carried out before the winter session of Parliament begins on November 19.

Sources said Mamata is no longer insisting on the railway portfolio, currently held by Samata Party’s Nitish Kumar. The Trinamul chief, sources said, may not be averse to the health and family welfare or even the petroleum ministry. BJP ministers C.P. Thakur and Ram Naik currently hold both these portfolios. But she has not given a final nod to the proposal.

Vajpayee was also keen to reinduct George Fernandes, who had quit as defence minister in the wake of Tehelka. Fernandes’ resignation was one of the issues over which Mamata had quit.


Chandigarh, Aug. 31: 
The Punjab government’s decision to revert 13 superintendents of police to deputy superintendents and 29 deputy superintendents to inspectors, sub-inspectors and assistant sub-inspectors following a Punjab and Haryana High Court directive on the own rank and pay promotions (ORP) scheme has sent shockwaves in the force.

The judgment comes close on the heels of the reported move to grant amnesty to Punjab policemen involved in cases of excesses during the terrorism era.

Among those reverted include three hockey players — Pargat Singh, Ramandeep Singh and Kuldeep Singh. They were promoted for their performance in the sport. While those who have been reverted to their last ranks have reasons to cry foul, there are many who have been promoted under the ORP scheme in peacetime.

“The high court ruling the ORP promotions as illegal may be justified to some extent, but to think that everyone promoted under the scheme managed to do so because they were close to the powers-that-be is stretching things too far,” a senior police officer said on condition of anonymity.

On August 20, the high court had directed the state to withdraw ORP ranks from policemen of the level of superintendents to inspector and to make regular promotions to these ranks in six months. The directive followed a civil writ petition opposing the ORP scheme filed by Bachan Singh Randhawa, chairman of the Punjab Police Service Officers’ Association. Randhawa, who is SP of Pathankot, had alleged that many of the promotions were made in violation of Punjab police rules.

“The rule of seniority tempered with merit was ignored,” he said. The ORP scheme was floated as an incentive to police officers to combat terrorism. However, many of those promoted were alleged to be close to either senior police officers or politicians.

Two reverted officers, Mohali SP Gurmit Singh Chauhan and SP (Intelligence) Surinderjit Singh Mand, have, filed a writ petition challenging the court verdict. The bench has issued a notice of motion for September 25.


Bhopal, Aug. 31: 
Madhya Pradesh Assembly Speaker Shriniwas Tiwari today accepted a letter from Congress women MLAs demanding the expulsion of two BJP legislators who passed sexist remarks in the House on Wednesday.

Before the Assembly was adjourned for the third day this morning, the Speaker admitted the demand and informed the House that “the decision on Gopal Bhargav and Deshraj Singh Yadav will be announced on Monday morning’’.

The BJP, on their part, said that by airing the eve-teasing episode, the Congress and chief minister Digvijay Singh was trying to sweep the 12-crore bribery issue, involving the state’s liquor lobby, under the carpet.

Digvijay, however, said: “I am ready for a discussion in the House regarding Som Distilleries’ alleged kickbacks. But if the discussion does take place, a lot of BJP skeletons will tumble out of cupboards.”

Out of the four BJP MLAs named by the Congress as “perpetual eve-teasers” in the Assembly, the Speaker has picked on two — Bhargav, the BJP MLA from Sagar, and Yadav from Guna.

The other two MLAs Kamal Patel and Narendra Veerdhare have been let off because they were not directly linked to Wednesday’s eve-teasing incident in the Assembly.

During question hour on Wednesday last, Bhargav and Deshraj passed derogatory remarks against Congress MLA Pushpa Bharti. While replying to Bharti’s question pertaining to the Janpadh panchayat in her constituency, panchayat minister Ajay Singh could not give a satisfactory answer to her because he did not have the required statistics. The minister said if Bharti needed further details, she could speak to him outside the House.

The suggestion provoked a string of sexist remarks from the two BJP MLAs. One even screamed: “Miya biwi razi to kya karega kazi?,” followed by, “Mantriji mahila ko bahar bulake set karenge (minister will fix her outside).

Their comments created a ruckus in the House when Bharti broke down. Congress women MLAs, including deputy chief minister Jamuna Devi, disrupted proceedings.


Mumbai, Aug. 31: 
It’s the Muslim League’s tit for the BJP’s tat.

In the forthcoming Mumbai municipal corporation elections, the Indian Union Muslim League will field 10 candidates who are accused in the 1993 blasts.

“Why can’t the Mumbai blasts accused fight elections, especially when BJP leaders like L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi contested the Lok Sabha elections and became Union ministers despite being accused in the Babri mosque demolition case,” Muslim League president Mohammad Faruque Azam said.

He said the party had already “chosen” the candidates, held under Tada, from a total of 136 accused in the case.

“They have all agreed to contest as Muslim League candidates for the February elections,” he said, adding that the party would announce the names on September 15.

Criminal lawyers said the accused were not legally barred from contesting elections, but warned that the League’s attempt could trigger tension in the city, where more than 200 people were killed in a series of bomb blasts on March 12, 1993.

Police said the bombs were planted by Karachi-based mobster Dawood Ibrahim with the help of his confidant, Tiger Memon, who fled the country in the wake of the explosions. Of the 136 accused, 103 are out on bail. A total of 33 accused, including eight members of the Memon family, are in jail awaiting trial.

The BJP slammed the League’s decision as “anti-national”. The party’s Mumbai president, Vinod Tawde, accused the League of trying to “make a hero of the cold-blooded killers”.

He accused the League of trying to “buy the sympathy of anti-Indian members” of the minority community.


Mumbai, Aug. 31: 
Deep and prolonged exposure to technology can be countered. At IIT Powai, it’s being done with the oldest existing form of Indian classical music.

A gurukul, where students will learn dhrupad music in the time-tested tradition of the guru shishya parampara, opened in the sylvan surroundings of the IIT campus last evening. Called the “Dhrupad Sansar”, it will have renowned vocalist Ustad Zia Fariuddin Dagar as the resident guru for two years.

This is the first time an IIT is taking to music. Dhrupad was especially chosen as its purpose is spiritual — aradhana (worship), and not entertainment. It doesn’t aim at pleasure, but at inducing deep feelings of peace and contemplation — deemed particularly useful, it seems, for churning out the best engineers in the country.

Music will have other welcome side-effects too, feels IIT. It will bring about in “engineers and scientists an understanding of cultural values and social responsibilities”. The Dhrupad Sansar will also create in students an aesthetic appreciation of the Indian cultural heritage, said a prime-mover behind the programme, who will not be named.

Not only for engineers — IIT knows that dhrupad can be good for anyone living in danger of overstimulation by science. Anyone who lives on the campus — student, teacher or a member of his or her family — can run now for the opportunity to sit at the feet of Ustad Dagar. The classes will be held in the morning at the gurukul — slated to be a house by the side of the picturesque Lake Pawai — from October or November when Ustad Dagar takes up residence for two years.

The course was initiated by a group of on-campus music lovers, including members of the faculty and administration, who would rather remain anonymous now, but who were vocal in their choice of Ustad Dagar after he performed on the campus last year. The ustad represents the musical tradition of a family that is believed to have nurtured dhrupad music for the last 20 generations.

The maestro will pick and choose his students. A shishya may have no knowledge in music, but has to convince the ustad that he will be able to withstand the rigour of classical training for two years. He will also insist on the purity of the ragas and the swaras — a significant aspect of dhrupad. “The ustad will linger on each swara with every student to make the rendition perfect,” says Anshuk Gandhi, the student media manager.

He said the campus was very enthusiastic. “The enrolling hasn’t begun, but going by the number of student volunteers for today’s programme, the response is pretty good.”


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