Full granary, empty pocket
Demoted four swallow fury, bow to Atal
Bhopali boost to Bollywood box-office
Army job rush crushes youth
Sinha package for Kashmir
Calcutta Weather

 
 
FULL GRANARY, EMPTY POCKET 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 3: 

Minister blows surplus myth

The government today admitted the sordid truth: the country’s grain silos are overflowing — creating a false sense of food security — because a large number of people simply don’t have the money to buy rice and wheat.

Agriculture minister Ajit Singh said the food surplus would not have been created if people had the money to buy the grain.

The country’s grain mountain has swelled to 616.71 lakh tonnes of rice and wheat against a minimum food buffer stock requirement of 243 lakh tonnes (100 lakh tonnes of rice and 143 lakh tonnes of wheat). This has created a surplus in the central pool of 373 lakh tonnes of rice and wheat.

It isn’t one of the biggest surpluses — a few years ago it had swelled to almost 500 lakh tonnes, and the grain had rotted in the open silos where the government stores most of it.

Statistics lend a different perspective to the chilling reports about the alleged starvation deaths in Orissa — where people have been chewing on mango kernels to try and keep body and soul together.

But there are no bleeding hearts in the government: in fact, the Centre has been aggressively in a denial mode claiming that reports from the state administration and Central teams that toured the worst-hit Kashipur area in Orissa did not support these claims.

With around 36 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, the government has handed out only 36 lakh BPL (below the poverty line) ration cards (each card covers a family of five). That still leaves a large number of people outside the ambit of the ration card system.

Several states are yet to identify all the people living below the poverty line. A shocked Supreme Court today asked many states, including Orissa and West Bengal, to start enumerating those living in acute poverty. The court also wanted government schemes to be implemented by officials with the right “spirit, inclination and drive”.

Even those who have the cards cannot buy the ration-shop grain because they are deterred by the Central issue price of Rs 4.15 per kg for wheat and Rs 5.65 per kg for rice.

J.N.L. Srivastava, agriculture secretary, said: “The public distribution system (PDS) has to be beefed up. The agriculture ministry cannot send the grain directly to the states. That’s the job of the food and PDS department.”

Sources in the food and civil supplies department said the Centre had been making grain allocation to the states but the problems had been created because of the poor offtake by the states.

The government had told Parliament last week that in the case of Orissa, foodgrain allocation in 2000-01 in the BPL category was 10.52 lakh tonnes but offtake had been just 6.60 lakh tonnes.

“There’s an inherent inefficiency in the system. The problem arises because of vested interests who either do not lift the grain from godowns or siphon it off into another channel. It’s not just a simple case of poor offtake by the states. We hire a lot of private godowns and vehicles to transport the grain there. They are at the root of the problem,” said a former agriculture secretary.

Apart from providing subsidised food to BPL families, the government also runs the Antodaya Anna Yojna, where each family gets 25 kg of foodgrain at highly subsidised rates — wheat at Rs 2 a kg and rice at Rs 3 a kg. The scheme involves a subsidy of Rs 2,315 crore.

“Indian agriculture is starved of capital. And, in recent times, the public, government and private investments have been going down,” Ajit Singh told a seminar to discuss the role of the private sector in agricultural marketing.

The rate of growth of foodgrain production is lower than the population growth but the granaries are still overflowing as people do not have the wherewithal to buy the grain, the minister said.

   

 
 
DEMOTED FOUR SWALLOW FURY, BOW TO ATAL 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 3: 
The sulking four — Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Jagmohan and Maneka Gandhi — have all apparently fallen in line once Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ruled out a rethink.

While Paswan, Yadav and Jagmohan took charge of their new ministries today, Maneka is expected to do so tomorrow.

BJP sources said Jagmohan’s reported threat to quit the party and his Lok Sabha seat had worried the government. With reports of the Delhi builders’ lobby instigating his removal from the urban affairs ministry gaining ground, the perception within the BJP and officialdom was that Jagmohan’s resignation would pour cold water on the government’s efforts to portray itself as no-nonsense.

The resignation of a minister, projected as upright — in a bureaucrat’s mould — would have sent a “wrong signal” at a time when the government’s spin-doctors were working overtime to suggest that the reshuffle and expansion was meant to clean up the government stable, littered with the UTI debacle and securities scam.

Once Jagmohan made it clear that he would not take over as tourism minister — not until another “weighty” portfolio was tagged to it — Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani spoke over phone.

External affairs and defence minister Jaswant Singh also got in touch with him yesterday. Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Jagmohan’s successor, Ananth Kumar, called on him today.

When the gestures failed to produce result, Vajpayee’s principal secretary Brajesh Mishra and the new minister of state in the PMO, Vijay Goel, were pressed into service. The last caller on Jagmohan was Delhi BJP president Mange Ram Garg.

Party sources said Jagmohan relented, ostensibly in the hope that the culture portfolio — which he suggested to Vajpayee should be appended to tourism as they were “intertwined” — would be offered to him. Government sources, however, insisted that none of the callers made any such promise or gave any assurance to Jagmohan.

The culture portfolio was given to Maneka, who had to relinquish the social empowerment ministry to BJP’s Satya Narayan Jatiya once he was shunted out of labour. BJP sources said when Maneka was sounded out on whether she could part with the culture ministry, she refused as that would have left her with just animal welfare.

The sources, however, indicated that if Jagmohan was adamant, the leadership will “give precedence” to his claim.

But, as a source close to Vajpayee put it, the message that came across after the expansion/reshuffle exercise was: “The Prime Minister is no longer willing to brook any tantrum from the NDA constituents.”

“He gave a patient hearing to whoever met him, before and after the reshuffle, but he also made it clear he would not oblige any unreasonable demand,” he said.

Vajpayee’s confidence was based on his reading that neither Paswan nor Yadav is in a position to rock the NDA boat. After the split in the Janata Dal (United), Paswan has only four MPs and Yadav seven.

The BJP did not seem unduly perturbed about the National Conference’s anti-Centre tirades either.

   

 
 
BHOPALI BOOST TO BOLLYWOOD BOX-OFFICE 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Sept. 3: 
If the masala is Bollywood’s, the mirch is distinctly Bhopali.

The action scenes on the city’s streets have done their bit to ensure that films with a shade of controversy set the box office on fire.

Gadar was the first, Lajja is next.

Two months after the streets of Bhopal erupted over Amisha Patel — portraying a Muslim girl in love with a Sikh — offering namaz wearing sindoor, the BJP-Bajrang Dal combine today took to the streets against Lajja.

The target of their ire is Madhuri Dixit’s character Janaki, a theatre actress who portrays Sita in a play, Ramayana, in the film. Janaki gets pregnant outside marriage through a man who plays Ram in Ramayana and is also seen drinking country liquor.

Rameshwar Sharma, the BJP’s leader of Opposition in the Bhopal municipality, has warned of a violent agitation if the scenes are not deleted.

The BJP-Bajrang Dal combine burnt the effigy of Lajja’s director Rajkumar Santoshi and posters of Madhuri outside the same cinema where Congress leader Arif Masood, helped by hundreds of hooligans, had led the violent armed protest against the screening of Gadar.

“There are objectionable dialogues and scenes in the film which hurt Hindu sentiments. To Hindus, Ram and Sita are gods, not humans. If you have to play Ram and Sita, go according to the Ramayana. Don’t make your own version of the gods. That’s not permissible,” Sharma said.

Sharma has particularly objected to one scene where Madhuri says: “Why should Sita undergo the fire test to prove her fidelity? Why shouldn’t Ram do it?”

A furious Sharma said: “Hindus have worshipped Ram and Sita for thousands of years and one fine day Rajkumar Santoshi decides to make a villain out of Ram, showing an actor and actress in objectionable titillating scenes which last for over two minutes.

“If you have to play Ram and Sita, stick to Ramayana. This is a democratic country and we value secularism but that does not give anyone a licence to make a pornographic epic out of Hindu gods. Ram ayaashi kar raha hai aur Sita daru pi rahi hai (Ram is freaking out and Sita is drinking country liquor). This is an intolerable insult to us. Sita is the epitome of sanctity.” However, Madhuri is shown drinking as Janaki, the name of her character in the film, and not as Sita in the play.

The BJP has submitted a memorandum to the district administration, demanding that the objectionable portions, lasting between eight and 10 minutes, be cut. The administration has yet to take a decision.

Though the BJP protests were peaceful, Sharma said they might not be so if its demand was not met. “Those scenes will have to be deleted or else we will have to think of other ways to stop the film’s objectionable scenes.”

On June 18, Arif Masood had submitted a similar memorandum to the state administration requesting that the scene in Gadar where Amisha offers namaz wearing sindoor be cut. Two shows later, when the film continued to be screened without the cut, Masood turned this part of the city into a battlefield.

Masood’s men went on the rampage throwing bricks, bombs and petrol bottles. They set on fire more than a dozen two-wheelers and smashed 10 four-wheelers.

Armed with bombs, soda bottles, swords and choppers, they chased an outnumbered police contingent, severely injuring two of them.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh ordered Masood’s arrest though the top brass of the Muslim clergy said he was “innocent and was being framed”.

Masood surrendered two days later. He is in jail custody.

   

 
 
ARMY JOB RUSH CRUSHES YOUTH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
The scramble for jobs in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country turned into a deadly stampede in the heart of Calcutta this morning, when a youth seeking recruitment in the army was trampled to death outside Fort William.

Twenty-year-old Dilip Bhattacharya, who had come from Geonkhali in Midnapore last night, was among the 8,000 job aspirants camping outside the Eastern Command headquarters complex since 3 am. The youths — half asleep, half awake — had formed a queue that stretched to under the Vidyasagar Setu. They were told the gate would be opened at 6 am and could not control themselves when it was opened at 5.30 am instead, police said.

With all 8,000 trying to rush in at the same time, Bhattacharya — who suffered from a heart ailment — slipped on boulders strewn across the path leading up to the gate. He tried several times to get up, but his ankle was trapped under a particularly heavy boulder, said Samaresh Aguin, a co-aspirant from the same village.

After the rush was over, Aguin found Bhattacharya writhing in pain. He ran inside and informed an army official. “I told the official about the mishap but all I received was a kick in the stomach and a curt order to get lost,” Aguin told police in a written complaint. With the help of some friends, Aguin stopped a taxi and rushed Bhattacharya to the Hastings police station. A police team took the bleeding 20-year-old to SSKM hospital, where he was declared dead.

The death, which follows another in similar circumstances last year, has again focused attention on the dismal job situation in Bengal. Most of the applicants came from the districts. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the state government, before blaming those who ran over Bhattacharya, should look inwards to ascertain why the promise of a job could turn 8,000 youths into an unfeeling, frenzied band.

Witnesses said Bhattacharya could have been saved had the army officials reacted with a little more sympathy. “If they had helped us, we could have saved him,” said Monoranjan Bera, a school friend and co-aspirant. In the FIR, Bhattacharya’s family said the absence of sentries at the gate when it was opened had triggered the stampede.

Deputy director-general (Calcutta zonal recruitment) Commodore S.K. Dutt, however, put the blame on “agencies involved in maintaining law and order outside the army jurisdiction”. “Debris from the bridge, lying all around the perimeter, has become a hindrance and caused the stampede,” Dutt said. He denied that the gate was opened in advance without notice and said the applicants had “actually scaled the walls and even tried to break open the gates”.

Hastings officer-in-charge Jayanta Das has threatened “legal action” against the army for alleged negligence. “I am going to submit my report to the commissioner,” he added. Deputy commissioner (headquarters) Banibrata Basu said an inquiry has been ordered.

Bhattacharya had recently returned from Mumbai, where he worked as a welder, with Rs 20,000 he had saved for his sister’s wedding early next year.

   

 
 
SINHA PACKAGE FOR KASHMIR 
 
 
FROM DEVLIN ROY
 
Srinagar, Sept. 3: 
Finance minister Yashwant Sinha today announced a slew of sops for Jammu and Kashmir, including direct credit disbursement of nearly Rs 1,200 crore during the current fiscal year to revive an ailing economy.

Speaking after a meeting with heads of various banks and financial institutions in the presence of chief minister Farooq Abdullah, Sinha said the measures would address the long-pending demand of the state to kickstart its militancy-hit economy.

The measures announced are aimed at faster implementation of infrastructure and power projects and reviving sick industrial units through institutional support.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.4°C (+2)
Minimum: 27.5°C (+1))

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 91%,
Minimum: 59%

Today

Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain in some parts
Sunrise: 5.22 am
Sunset: 5.50 pm
   
 

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