Atal sends sulking Delhi MPs back to work
CPM turns starvation heat on Centre
Cong beats BJP in student polls
Jaya to knock on PM door with water plea
Bollywood leads tourists to New Zealand
Sonia slams ‘selfish’ govt
Killer brew claims 13 at wedding
Infosys, Wipro swim against pay-cut drift
Minister alert on sex tests
Mrinal admits dues recovery failure

New Delhi, Sept. 8: 
The latest crisis confronting the NDA over the reported move of four Delhi BJP MPs to quit their organisation posts blew over today after they met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The four MPs — former chief ministers Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma, the party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha V.K. Malhotra and Lal Bihari Tiwari — were given a patient hearing by Vajpayee, at the end of which they were told “not to put in their papers. Vajpayee also told them to go and work in their constituencies and get involved in the Delhi civic and Punjab Assembly elections”.

The MPs were reportedly angry after being left out of the recent Cabinet expansion. They also objected to reports which alleged they were behind Jagmohan’s removal from the urban affairs ministry.

BJP sources said the Prime Minister assured them that he would discuss the issues they raised with the “persons concerned” (read home minister L.K. Advani and party president Jana Krishnamurthi). Speculation was rife that the MPs had sent in their resignation letters to Krishnamurthi yesterday. However, the BJP chief, who met mediapersons today, denied this.

Sources confirmed that the MPs had despatched a letter to the Prime Minister on September 5, detailing what ails the NDA government and the BJP. This missive, sources said, had fuelled rumours about their resignation.

Apart from being held responsible for Jagmohan’s transfer, the MPs objected to the induction of the much younger Delhi MP Vijay Goel as minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office.

BJP sources said the leak of their resignation had upset their apple-cart. Sources said the MPs wanted to hand over their resignation letters to the Prime Minister in the hope that he would persuade them to stay back because at least two of them, Khurana and Malhotra, are credited with building the BJP organisation in Delhi, while Verma represents the Jat constituency.

It is learnt that in the meeting with the Prime Minister, the MPs expressed their anguish at the perception that they were responsible for Jagmohan’s transfer in collusion with the builders’ lobby.

They also stressed that the Delhi civic polls were as important for the BJP as the Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Punjab elections because, of its 70 Assembly segments, as many as 67 were under the municipal corporation.

“Delhi is not just another city. It is the seat of national power and a state in its own right. That is why it is crucial for the BJP to win the civic elections,” Khurana said.

BJP sources said Vajpayee’s rather “cool” reception to Delhi’s old guard was the result of many factors. For one, the Punjabi constituency, which Khurana and Malhotra represent, has been outnumbered by Bihari and Uttar Pradesh migrants over the years. Second, Verma has not lived up to his promise of being a Jat leader. Third, neither Advani nor the RSS back this group.

The RSS was reportedly keen on retaining Jagmohan because of the belief that his “clean” image was needed to boost the sagging fortunes of the government.


New Delhi, Sept. 8: 
It may not be a replica of the food movement that convulsed West Bengal in the sixties. But the Orissa starvation deaths have goaded the CPM to turn the glare again on the issue of food security — the paradox of overflowing granaries and people dying of hunger.

“We are going to gherao Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns with the slogan Taala todo khana banto (break the locks and distribute food),” said CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury at a news conference this afternoon.

The “militant” protest action will be part of the CPM’s nationwide campaign against the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s economic and “communal” policies, Yechury added.

Yechury said the “movement”, which began yesterday, would continue till September 27. The last three days, he added, would constitute a phase of “militant” action.

Yechury made it clear that FCI godowns will be specifically targeted. “This is the first time in years that foodgrain production has fallen below population growth,” the CPM leader said.

The party has brought out four booklets which allege that the Centre is giving up its sovereignty, pursuing “disastrous” economic policies, communalising the atmosphere and fuelling the worst kind of scams and corruption.

For the past one month, the CPM has been questioning the government on these issues inside Parliament. Now it wants to move the fight to a bigger arena to kickstart a more effective campaign.

So far, the Left has not managed to reverse any significant policy of the government. Its trade unions, however, have managed to stall the controversial labour laws, though with help from former labour minister Satya Narain Jatiya.

The Left has also unexpectedly found a sympathiser in a “reformed” Congress, which is echoing its protests.

The CPM’s booklet on the Vajpayee government’s efforts to “communalise” the atmosphere highlights “attacks” on minorities and the Centre’s education policies.

It has added one more subject to the controversial education list — Archaeology.

“This has become a favourite subject of RSS intellectuals. The Archaeological Survey of India has been revamped so that it can now ‘research’ to prove that the Indus Valley civilisation was actually Aryan,” says the booklet.

Moving on to the astrology controversy, Yechury said he would have no objection if universities taught astrology as a general subject and not as a branch of science. “So far, the human resources development ministry has not said it is taking the subject off the science list,” Yechury said.

The government, he added, was also “luring” universities with grant to introduce courses in astrology. “On the one hand, they have no money to give universities. On the other, they are offering money for courses in astrology,” Yechury said.


New Delhi, Sept. 8: 
The BJP’s students’ wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), has suffered its second consecutive drubbing in the Delhi University Students’ Union elections.

The Congress-affiliated National Students’ Union of India has bagged three of the four premier posts in the union, including that of the president.

Coming months before the Delhi civic polls, the students’ union poll results are seen as an “ominous” sign by the BJP.

“These are not good times for us. Earlier we lost the Delhi University Teachers’ Association polls and now we have lost Delhi University Students’ Union,” said a Delhi BJP MP. Though the ABVP managed to pick up one post—that of the vice-president—in contrast to last year’s rout, it was dubbed a “very minor consolation”.

NSUI candidates Neetu Verma bagged the post of the president, defeating ABVP candidate Pragati Bhadhwar by 7,609 votes. Vikas Shokeen was elected secretary and Rohit Choudhury the joint secretary from NSUI. Nakul Bharadwaj from the ABVP was elected vice-president.

The newly-elected president was excited after her landslide victory. “The election results show that the NSUI is still powerful on the campus,” Neetu said.

Neetu denied that political parties had interfered in the polls.

“The union will not be a puppet in the hands of political parties at the national level. We have been elected by the students and we will work for the welfare of the students only,” she said.

However, not all students agree with Neetu. They claim that the students’ union elections are getting increasingly politicised.

“The NSUI and the ABVP are financed by national political parties. When we vote for the ABVP, we are actually voting for the BJP,” said Rajiv from Ramjas College.


Chennai, Sept. 8: 
Jayalalitha today got the go-ahead from all political parties in Tamil Nadu to directly engage with the Centre on the Cauvery waters issue.

A jumbo team of MPs and leaders from all parties and representatives of agriculture associations will meet the Prime Minister in Delhi, possibly on Monday. The delegation would urge him to prevail upon Karnataka to release the amount of Cauvery water that Tamil Nadu needs.

The chief minister told reporters that the decision to meet Vajpayee was taken at an all-party meeting here late this evening. Considering the “urgency”, to save the standing paddy crop in the Cauvery delta, “we will try to arrange for this delegation (to meet Vajpayee) on Monday itself,” Jayalalitha said.

Education minister M. Thambidurai and public works minister N. Dalavai Sundram will lead the team to the Prime Minister, she said.

The need for today’s meeting, she added, arose as nothing substantial had emerged from the meeting of the monitoring committee in Delhi, a few days back.

Jayalalitha said a meeting of the Cauvery River Authority, which was set up to help implement the Cauvery tribunal’s interim award when either of the riparian states faced a distress situation, will not help Tamil Nadu get the water it needs immediately.

“I don’t think it will serve any purpose,” she said, her assertion in line with the ADMK’s stand on the Cauvery River Authority. This is a crucial point of difference the ADMK has with the DMK, which backs the authority.

Earlier in the Assembly today, senior DMK MLA and former public works minister Durai Murugan had asked whether the state government had written to Vajpayee to convene a meeting of the river authority.

However, despite their conflicting stands, Jayalalitha said the DMK had agreed to be part of the all-party delegation.

The chief minister said the four reservoirs in Karnataka had a combined storage capacity of 97 tmcft of water. While Karnataka’s requirement now was 58 tmcft, she said the remaining 39 tmcft could be shared with Tamil Nadu at this critical juncture.

“Even if they (Karnataka) release one tmcft water everyday, it will help save our standing crops,” Jayalalitha said.

Leaders of 44 parties attended today’s meeting. The DMK team was led by the leader of the Opposition, K. Ambazhagan.

The Tamil Maanila Congress, the second-largest group in the Assembly, assured full support to any action taken by the state government to get the Cauvery waters. The party also insisted that farmers whose crops have already suffered should be compensated.


Calcutta, Sept. 8: 
Mumbai isn’t the only destination for those packing bags under the influence of Hrithik Roshan’s bulging biceps and soft brown eyes. After Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai went through the roof, the white sands, blue Pacific and icy cliffs of New Zealand have seduced over 70 Indian film crews.

Bollywood biggies who have followed producer Rakesh Roshan’s footsteps to Kiwi locales include Abhishek Bachchan for Bas Itna Sa Khwab Hai and Shararat, Arjun Rampal and the Pyar Ishq aur Mohabbat crew, Sunny Deol for Dillagi and David Dhawan and Boney Kapoor for their next flicks.

But the bulk — 50 of the 70 crews — is from down South, Kamalahasan and Chiranjeevi leading the pack. But it is not just the tinsel squads which are making the beeline.

The number of Indian tourists to New Zealand used to be 2,000-a-year before Hrithikmania struck. It is 15,000 now. Last year, 900 students had opted for Kiwi degrees. In 2001, the figure has already shot up to 1,500.

After the “boost the Indian film industry has given to tourism”, the New Zealand Trade Development Board has a full-time employee to network with directors and producers.

New Zealand trade commissioner for India Peter Healy says: “The film crews alone have brought in an additional NZ$ 4 million, and the added tourism another NZ$ 50 to 60 million.” The stars, apparently, are “big spenders on New Zealand labels”.

The country with a one per cent (45,000) population of people of Indian origin, has become used to action-packed streets. “Dancing in the streets is common nowadays,” says Healy, who was witness to a song sequence complete with a bevy of Indian beauties dancing on top of a train.

Blocking roads to accommodate shoots is also common, Queenstown (“quite like Kashmir without the bullets”) and Christchurch being the most popular locales.

Plans are also on to host an Indian film festival with the films shot there. The archipelago costs “one-fourth the amount of Europe” and has “mountains, clear skies, long hours of daylight and unmatched beaches”.

The New Zealand government is targeting other sectors as well. Lacking enough professionals in IT, engineering, food technology, teaching, nursing and law, the country has thrown its doors open to Indian students, with easy immigration offers after university.

New Zealand is the fourth most popular destination for Indian students, behind the US, the UK and Australia and ahead of Canada.

The New Zealand Education Fair, featuring 15 universities, is travelling the country and will come to Calcutta for a couple of days on September 20.

“Our doors are open to businessmen, particularly in IT. But so far, the boost in tourism prompted by the popularity of these films has been the most lucrative,” Healy says.


Shahdol, Sept. 8: 
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi today attacked the Centre calling it a “selfish, irresponsible government struggling with an overflowing granary”, while the poor are “starving to death”.

Sixteen years after she visited this part of north-east Madhya Pradesh with Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia this afternoon wooed tribals and Dalits with an emotional speech. “I have come to you after a long time,” the Congress president told a 50,000-strong crowd at an Adivasi sammelan in Kotma. “I came here to Shahdol with my husband in 1985. The gifts, tribal handicrafts and mementoes which you gave are still there with me.”

Attacking the Vajpayee regime, Sonia said the Centre had an inefficient government with policies that had increased unemployment, hiked inflation and were “anti-farmer”. “The government has more than six crore tonnes of grain in warehouses and the poor still do not get to eat,” she said.

“Tribal history is an integral part of the country’s history, tradition and culture. Indian history would remain incomplete without tribal history,” the Congress chief said. “We in the Congress have not forgotten your sacrifice during the country’s freedom struggle.” Tribals and other backward castes comprise more than 60 per cent of the district’s adult franchise.

Sonia said her party had always aimed at improving the status of tribals. “Aapka pyar hamari shakti hai, aapki seva hamara kartavya hai,” she said.

The Congress chief promised to make the tribals a part of the IT age. “The world has entered the 21st century and our lives are changing fast. What we were yesterday, we won’t be tomorrow. Every sphere in the country has entered the new-age technology. But advancement in technology is not worthwhile unless it benefits our tribals, Dalits and deprived classes.”


Chennai Sept. 8: 
A night of song and dance turned out to be the end of the road for a group of people in Menambadu village on the outskirts of the city as illicit arrack at a marriage party claimed at least 13 lives.

The dead included a 62-year-old woman and two of the bootleggers themselves.

There are conflicting versions of what caused the tragedy near the Ambattur Industrial estate. The toll could well increase as at least five of those who consumed the toxic drink at the marriage party are reported to be in a critical condition.

Menambedu presents a picture of gloom with women and children who are related to the deceased mourning the death of their breadwinners, most of whom were aged between 30-50 years.

The victims are believed to have consumed this deadly liquor while attending a marriage on Friday, though a section of the local villagers have disputed this version.

Those who had the liquor developed giddiness and nausea before collapsing.

The country liquor was apparently so potent that some of the victims died on the way to hospital, while the others succumbed after being admitted to the Government General Hospital and the Kilpauk Medical Hospital in the city.

One person has been detained in connection with the supply of the illicit brew, deputy inspector general of police K. Rajendran said.

Even as the prohibition enforcement wing police are probing the source-point for the country liquor, the issue rocked the Tamil Nadu Assembly early today with members cutting across party lines demanding action to stamp out illicit liquor.

Revenue minister Pannerselvan, noting that the victims had tasted the liquor when they had come to attend a wedding in the village, did not rule out the possibility of the rectified spirit being smuggled in from a neighbouring state.

Two of the deceased were the sellers of the brew and had a history of prohibition offences, the minister said.

Special police teams had been sent to Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring districts to find out the source of the killer brew, he said adding an investigation by the police was on.

The prohibition raids were intensified following the death of 12 people in a hooch tragedy in May last year at Putlur Adi Dravida colony in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu.


Bangalore, Sept. 8: 
The country’s top Information Technology players Wipro and Infosys have ruled out salary cuts despite the impact of a slowdown in the US economy .

Both these Bangalore-based companies felt there was no need for such drastic measures, as undertaken by Sasken Communications Technologies, a Bangalore-based telecom software service company.

Sasken, earlier known as Silicon Automation Systems, which has offices in the US, the UK, Japan and Canada, announced on Friday a salary cut of 20 per cent across the board.

Recently,, owned by STAR TV, has also drastically reduced its staff strength in the technical, marketing and content departments.

The portal has not only cut down jobs by 50 per cent but also has pruned its business-travel expenses and entertainment expenditures.

Infosys said it had cut down on fresh recruitments but was not contemplating salary cuts. “There is no such plan,” Infosys officials said.

The company, affected by the slowdown, had only recruited 116 software trainees this quarter as compared to 921 during the previous quarter. Infosys, however, has plans to recruit 1,500 to 2,000 employees this year.

Wipro echoed Infosys on salary cuts. “There is a recession in the market but we have not drawn any salary-cut plans,” officials at Wipro said.

The slowdown has led Wipro, led by India’s richest man, Azim Premji, to bench as many as 1,000 software engineers.

Both N.R.Narayana Murthy of Infosys and Premji of Wipro have assured their employees that there would be no layoffs. However, according to industry circles, such measures cannot be ruled out if the recession continues for a long time.

Sasken, in a transparent measure, said it had resorted to pay cuts due to the continued downturn in the telecommunication market. Sasken, which employs 1,100 employees, however, has ruled out layoffs.

Through this measure Sasken hopes to retain its leadership position.

The employees had taken the “measure in stride and were rallying around”, said chief marketing officer Swaminthan Krishnan.

The rationalisation measures were aimed at bottomline control, he said.

“It was in the air but we did not know if it will actually be implemented,” said an employee working. “It does affect us.”


Chandigarh, Sept. 8: 
Haryana minister of state for health and medical education M.L. Ranga today expressed concern over the manner in which private practitioners were getting involved in sex determination tests.

He asked people to co-operate with the government to track down the culprits. Ranga said Haryana was one of the first states in the country to step up its efforts to nab private doctors involved in illegal sex determination tests. The government had also enforced the Anti-Female Foeticide Act to check the growing menace of pre-natal tests.

The health department has directed district heads to get ultrasound centres registered so that action could be taken against clinics involved in such practices, he added.

Ranga appreciated the efforts of the Faridabad civil surgeon for helping to nab a local doctor for conducting sex determination tests.

“The doctor was not only involved in disclosing the sex of the foetus, but also advised abortion if the foetus was found to be a female.”

A case had also been registered against three defaulting private practitioners. The action, he said, would set an example for other doctors to refrain them from conducting pre-natal tests for detecting the sex of a foetus.


Burdwan, Sept. 8: 
Power minister Mrinal Banerjee today conceded that the state government’s plan to recover electricity dues in the districts through panchayats “has failed to a great extent” and sought the help of non-governmental organisations to speed up rural electrification.

The minister called for greater awareness among people about illegal hooking and tapping of power and the need for proper maintenance of transformers and electricity lines.

It is not possible for the government to tackle power-tapping without the people’s cooperation, Banerjee said after attending an International Literacy Day programme. He said the West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) would not replace transformers damaged by hooking and tapping.

“Consumers will have to keep a watch on the situation. Otherwise, they will have to bear the cost of new transformers,” he said.

Asked about the possibility of CESC hiking power tariff soon to pay its dues to the WBSEB, Banerjee said the state government did not have any say in the matter as it was being looked after by the power regulatory commission.

Banerjee urged non-government concerns to form electricity co-operative societies to expedite rural electrification, saying the WBSEB would sell power to these societies at concessional rates.


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