Straying medics taste dose of Buddha medicine
Stick your I-D, enter Writers’
Stricture for MLAs
Atal holds out a breather to Pervez
J&K alert to tackle migration
BJP seeks war on terror, not Pakistan
Forces mull Assam tactics shift
Royals roll out Ratu red carpet
VSNL, hotels picked for new year divestment drive
Army chief set to head defence panel

 
 
STRAYING MEDICS TASTE DOSE OF BUDDHA MEDICINE 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Dec. 26: 
Warning straying government doctors to mend their ways or face the music, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said his government would not tolerate any kind of indiscipline any longer.

Speaking at the opening of a new building of the Siliguri sub-divisional hospital, the chief minister said doctors were practising privately at the expense of their duties and regularly striking work in government hospitals. All persons spotted indulging in such “negligence” and “indiscipline” in future would have to pay the price, he said.

“A few doctors involved in such practices are giving a bad name to the entire medical fraternity. If these negligent doctors resort to strikes and other disturbances in state-run hospitals, they will be held by the scruff of the neck and shown the door,” Bhattacharjee said.

The chief minister made no bones about saying that “negligent” government doctors with flourishing private practices would be disciplined and made accountable to the people. “We will not tolerate any indiscipline from doctors,” he said.

Bhattacharjee also barred doctors attached to government institutions from running private nursing homes. “The practice of doctors enrolling themselves in government institutions and then running parallel private practices at the expense of their duties will no longer be tolerated,” he said.

Later, at a news conference, he came down heavily on government teachers giving private tuitions. “We will completely stop the practice of teachers taking private tuitions. But the long-running practice cannot be stopped overnight. It may take some time to contain the menace,” he said.

Bhattacharjee’s remarks drew sharp criticism from the opposition Trinamul Congress in Calcutta. Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee said nothing better could be expected from the “arrogant chief minister” and it was not possible to impose work culture on government employees overnight.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas retorted that the chief minister was not prepared to take lessons in “arrogance” from Mamata. Biswas said doctors and teachers had a social responsibility which they had to carry out properly.

“If teachers and doctors don’t behave the way they should, steps will have to be taken against them,” he said.

In Siliguri, Bhattacharjee claimed law and order in north Bengal was “ good”, but said the government had put the region on high alert because of the Maoist movement in Nepal.

“In the wake of the Nepal Maoists’ insurgency, we have stepped up vigil along the border. We are serious about preventing any spillover of the problem into north Bengal,” he said.

He said Bhutan had assured him it would take measures to prevent northeast militants based on its soil from sneaking into Bengal.

“We were assured by the Bhutan home minister that he would take all preventive measures to stop any spillover of Ulfa and other militants into Bengal. The Bhutanese authorities have already destroyed a few of the rebel camps in the country,” he said. Steps were also being taken to weed out KLO militants, he added.

Bhattacharjee said the Centre had taken up the issue of illegal infiltration from Bangladesh with that country’s authorities.

   

 
 
STICK YOUR I-D, ENTER WRITERS’ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 26: 
The government today put in place tighter security norms for entrance into the Writers’ Buildings, making it mandatory for all cars entering the main portico to have coloured stickers.

While ministers have been given yellow stickers, principal secretaries, special secretaries and secretaries have been issued orange ones to access the two front porticos.

State home department sources said all ministers had been issued one sticker each, which would be valid till June 30, 2002. After this, new ones will be distributed.

The director-general of police and the city police commissioner will have to alight from their cars outside the gate and walk in. All other cars, even those of MLAs, will henceforth be restricted from entering the portico.

All legislators and other employees have been requested to carry their identity cards which have to be produced on request. Large contingents of uniformed policemen were seen frisking people in front of all gates of Writers’ Buildings today. There was a police presence in other state government buildings too, including the new secretariat and those in Salt Lake.

Some senior government officials appeared dissatisfied with the new security arrangements. Senior officers like joint secretaries grumbled about having to walk into Writers’ Buildings.

Arrangements in the restricted area of the secretariat — the first and second floor of the main block — will by and large remain the same. The restricted area houses the offices of the chief minister and other Cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats.

On orders from chief minister Buddahdeb Bhattacharjee, all official vehicles will shortly be asked to do away with tinted glasses on car windows.

“The opacity of the glass is such in many cars that it is virtually impossible for policemen to see who the passengers are,” a senior home department official said.

A decision has been taken that the opacity of the windowpanes will have to be reduced by at least 75 per cent. The step applies to politicians as well as bureaucrats.

   

 
 
STRICTURE FOR MLAS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 26: 
Speaker of the Assembly Hasim Abdul Halim has instructed member-MLAs of different House panels not to accept hospitalities from government departments during official tours to review the progress of government projects. Legislators have also been asked not to take their wives and children with them on official visits.

The Speaker had earlier banned MLAs from accepting gifts while on project-review tours.

State parliamentary affairs minister Probodh Sinha today said the decision was taken to lessen the burden on hospitality accounts of government departments for members of different House panels.

“We have to stop the practice of taking companions by member-MLAs while visiting districts mainly to cut down the size of the team. It is difficult to find government accommodation if MLAs include their families in the official team,” Sinha said.

“Alternative arrangement to provide lodging in private hotels put strains on the concerned department’s budget. In fact, some departments have already raised objections to such expenditure before the Speaker.”

It has been a long-standing practice to accept hospitalities of government departments on visits to districts to review departmental work.

All expenses incurred on the tour are borne by the concerned department. However, after they return from official tours, MLAs have also drawn their tour allowances. This has led to double expenditure on a single assignment.

   

 
 
ATAL HOLDS OUT A BREATHER TO PERVEZ 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
India has given Pakistan another day to act before announcing its second phase of diplomatic action, which may include withdrawal of the most-favoured nation status and blocking the use of airspace.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who chaired a 75-minute meeting of the Cabinet committee on security, decided to hold another session of the council tomorrow. Defence minister George Fernandes, who could attend the meeting today as he was in Siachen, is expected to be in the capital tomorrow.

Another participant at Thursday’s meeting will be India’s high commissioner in Islamabad, Vijay Nambiar, who was recalled by the government.

Senior officials in South Block referred to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s promise to take action against terrorist groups.

Delhi is waiting to see whether the statement has been made for the benefit of the Americans and the rest of the West or whether he intends to clean up the system and act against the terrorists.

But India has decided to keep up the pressure in public. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh said after this evening’s meeting that India was not at all satisfied with the steps taken by the Musharraf regime against the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the leadership of the Jaish-e- Mohammed. Delhi holds the two outfits responsible for the attack on Parliament.

““It is a kind of trickery. Simply changing names, shifting headquarters from one part of Pakistan to another or to indulge in cosmetic seizure of assets make a mockery of the gravity and enormity of issues,” Singh said.

Singh also announced that Vajpayee would attend the Saarc summit beginning in Kathmandu from January 4.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Nambiar, who briefed Singh today, will give his assessment to the Prime Minister and other senior ministers.

His inputs are expected to play a crucial role in the government’s decision-making process. Nambiar told a television channel diplomatic options are “still open” to deal with the situation.

Asked about the possibility of war, he told a television channel: “All avenues are not exhausted. “However, when there is continuous escalation of pressures building up on both sides, there are flashpoints which can emerge and even by accident, things can happen. One thing leads to another and you can face a situation which you find difficult to control.”

The fact that India would like to keep up the pressure on Musharraf became clear from the remarks by the foreign ministry spokesperson. Nirupama Rao described the steps as “not adequate”.

Referring to Lashkar’s announcement to shift its base to Kashmir, she said: “It clearly shows that they have not abondoned their ways and not decided to abstain from further acts of terrorism against India.”

“Pakistan’s assertion doesn’t seem to go far enough to address our concerns,” she added.

The spokesperson said the government was exercising various diplomatic options and pointed out that Delhi’s concerns were conveyed to other countries to make them fully aware of where “ we stand”.

   

 
 
J&K ALERT TO TACKLE MIGRATION 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Dec. 26: 
The state government today put the administration on alert as hundreds of villagers fled Kargil following heavy shelling over the past 24 hours.

“The government has placed on alert the entire administration to tackle the problems of those migrating from border belts of Samba and other sectors,” an official spokesman said.

Police sources said Pakistani artillery rained shells again this afternoon on Batalik, Kaksar, and Handerman sectors in Kargil.

“Scores of shells landed in the three sectors and the shelling continued till late this afternoon,” a police official said.

Pakistani troops had used small arms to attack positions in the Batalik and Kargil areas yesterday, he said, adding that no one was injured in the shelling.

“Due to mounting tension in the various sectors today, 250 villagers, including men, women and children, fled their homes for security. They are now in Kargil town,” sources said. “Tension is high in the various sectors in Kargil, which are snow-clad.”

Thousands of residents had fled Drass, Batalik, Kargil and other areas during the war in 1999. This is first time in nearly three years since the conflict that civilians had to relocate.

Reports from Jammu this evening said hundreds of residents had fled Samba, Poonch and other areas following shelling. Acting chief minister Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Shah rushed to Poonch today to take stock of the situation following large-scale migration from border areas.

At a high-level meeting here this morning, chief secretary Ashok Jaitly reviewed the security scenario and the situation prevailing on the border. Senior civil, army, police and paramilitary force officials, including director general of police A.K. Suri, attended the meeting.

Jaitly handed over a first instalment of Rs 50 lakh as first instalment to the divisional commissioner, Jammu, towards meeting the immediate requirements of the migrating border dwellers.

This is the priority area that has to be addressed with single-mindedness, the chief secretary said, instructing specifically to leave nothing undone for want of funds.

He also ordered field officers not to leave their station and remain available at the headquarters round-the-clock to provide necessary assistance to the affected people. All heads of departments were asked to maintain close rapport for solving the various issues related to the migration expeditiously.

The thrust of the administration would be to meet immediate needs such as shelter, drinking water and other essentials, he said. The chief secretary also asked the divisional administration to identify schools and other government buildings for providing shelter in safer areas. Possibilities should be explored to arrange tents for the displaced people, he added.

   

 
 
BJP SEEKS WAR ON TERROR, NOT PAKISTAN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
After the “Attack Pakistan” slogans which marked its responses since December 13, the BJP today toned down its demand for “hot pursuit” and stated that “our fight is against terrorism and not against Pakistan and, least of all, against the people of Pakistan”.

A press statement from BJP general secretary Sunil Shastri today spelt out the BJP’s new approach which seemed to be in tune with the Centre’s efforts “to bring Pakistan down on its knees” through a diplomatic offensive.

“We would like to urge the government of India to launch a diplomatic campaign against Pakistan’s involvement and its support to terrorist activities against India,” the BJP said. While Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf continued making belligerent statements, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani had made it clear that India did not want war, the statement added.

“The Prime Minister said yesterday, ‘We do not want war, but it is being thrust on us. We will have to face it.’ Also yesterday, the home minister said, ‘neither the government nor the people want a war...’.”

The BJP’s new line stems from the perception that the Centre may not be able to go in for a full-scale confrontation with Pakistan immediately, at least not until it has exhausted the diplomatic options.

More importantly, sources acknowledged that the Line of Control could not be transgressed as long as US forces had a air and naval presence in Pakistan. Therefore, BJP sources said it was “counterproductive” to indulge in too much sabre-rattling and build up public opinion to such a pitch that it was “war or nothing”.

“We cannot afford to arouse public expectations too much, especially in the states going to polls,” sources conceded.

They said the chief ministers of two states going to polls — Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, who reportedly clamoured for instant strikes across the border — were told to restrain themselves and “appreciate ground realities”.

A resolution that will be adopted by the BJP in its national executive, to be held in the capital on December 29, would spell out its stand in clear terms. But sources said that it would be in keeping with the government’s stand and no deviations, major or small, would be made.

The message the resolution is expected to give is two-fold: the BJP is fully behind the government and the government is determined to root out terrorism.

The presence of three former Prime Ministers — V.P. Singh, I.K. Gujral and P.V. Narasimha Rao — in a gathering of poets on Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday yesterday will be played up by the party of “proof” of the “solid” national backing the government had at this juncture.

“People will be told that in this hour of crisis the country will have to support Atalji because he alone has the vision and strength to fight such a crucial battle,” sources claimed.

The slogan in Uttar Pradesh and the other states would be something like this: a vote for the BJP would be a vote for Vajpayee and a vote for Vajpayee would be one against terrorism.

   

 
 
FORCES MULL ASSAM TACTICS SHIFT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Dec. 26: 
The constituents of the unified command, conceived to combat insurgency in Assam, will hold several “crucial” sittings in the next fortnight to deliberate whether their strategy needs “futuristic modifications” to remain in tune with the times.

The sittings assume significance because the three-tier counter-insurgency structure — comprising the army, police and paramilitary forces — is due for a 12-month extension on January 20.

According to norms, the tenure of the structure, a brainchild of former home minister Indrajit Gupta, has to be extended by New Delhi every year. The unified command came into being in 1997.

“Yes, the review meetings will be different. We will be approaching these with an open mind, deliberating on all aspects under the changed circumstances and the views expressed by certain quarters that the strategy has outlived its utility,” a very senior police official told The Telegraph.

The official dropped broad hints that future strategies will depend on the line the newly-installed Tarun Gogoi government adopts.

“At the end of the day, it is the government which calls the shots. Everything will depend on whether it wants to continue with the existing structure or would like some restructuring. A lot depends on the government’s vision and will,” he said.

Gogoi’s public statement that the law and order scene is improving and talks between the banned Ulfa and the Centre will take place before long has confounded security personnel. “It is very confusing. The government appears to be in two minds — whether to go all out or conduct selective operations,” a police official said. “Encounters are as common today as it was during the AGP-led regime.”

The chief minister, however, is guided by political compulsions. “You can attribute the confusing statements to political compulsions. He does not want to be seen as too hard or too soft on the militancy front. But he will soon have to make his stand clear. Such ambivalence will cost him dear in the long run,” a senior politician said.

However, the emerging view is that there will be a symbolic withdrawal of the army from day-to-day counter-insurgency operations and the police will play a more effective role.

Lending credence to this view is Gogoi’s resolve to make the police force more effective. The unified command, many agree, has reduced the police into a force that plays second fiddle to the army . The Gogoi government recently constituted a police reforms committee.

“The continuation of the command has adversely affected modernisation of the police force. It has become too dependent on the army and paramilitary forces,” another official said.

As far as the army is concerned, it will — given the choice — prefer to hand over the reins of counter-insurgency operations to the police. “It is a thankless job that we are doing. We will be happy defending the borders instead of fighting a faceless enemy,” an official said.

   

 
 
ROYALS ROLL OUT RATU RED CARPET 
 
 
FROM NAVTAN
 
Ranchi, Dec. 26: 
Ratu may soon relive its glorious past if the royal family has its way.

The royal family of Chhotanagpur has drawn up an ambitious plan to develop Ratu- Kathitand lake, located in front of the sprawling palace on the outskirts of the capital, as a tourist spot.

Former prince of Ratu Gopal Sharan Nath Shahdeo said the family plans to develop the lake and its surrounding area into a major holiday destination.

“I have spoken to the state tourism department and I hope that they help us in our efforts to bring Ratu lake on the country’s tourist map,’’ he said.

The lake is nearly 15 km from the capital on the Ranchi-Daltonganj highway. It is spread over a large area and the ambience is panoramic.

Once developed, it is likely to turn into a popular getaway far from the din of the city.

Royal family members feel that the lake has great tourism potential as the neighbouring tourist spots do not have good infrastructure.

The historical significance of the palace and the area is expected to supplement tourism value.

“According to our plan, we will first clean up the lake and then build an amusement park close by. There will be seats around the lake and a restaurant on the small island in the middle. People can also avail of boat rides and other water sports,’’ said Shahdeo.

He said the state tourism department’s response to the project was positive.

Sources said an architect from Delhi has already visited the site to prepare a blueprint.

If everything works according to plan, work on the project may begin early next year.

“The royal family still enjoys tremendous respect in the area. The new project will come as a boon for those who want to get a feel of the bygone era and also generate revenue,’’ sources said.

Local villagers are upbeat. “We are glad that the Maharaja is planning to develop the place. The area will become important once the project is finalised. This will provide employment opportunities to local youth,” said a villager.

The Shahdeos had ruled Chhotanagpur (presently Jharkhand) for centuries.

“We want to do something for the society. Now that the kingdom has gone, we are trying to take up projects that will help restore the glory of the region and benefit the society as a whole,” said Shahdeo.    


 
 
VSNL, HOTELS PICKED FOR NEW YEAR DIVESTMENT DRIVE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
The Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment (CCD) today decided to sell a part of the government’s stake in Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, IBP Ltd and 11 hotels of the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) to strategic partners. The financial bids for these big-ticket selloffs will be sought by the end of January.

The committee also approved the sale of a 51 per cent stake in Shipping Corporation of India and its entire stake in Hindustan Copper after carrying out a financial restructuring.

Among other decisions, the CCD decided to lease out the landmark Ashoka Hotel in Delhi for Rs 14 crore a year.

The government, which currently has a 52.97 per cent stake in VSNL, plans to offer a 25 per cent stake to a strategic partner.

“The price bids for VSNL will be invited by January-end after working out precise agreement clauses and sorting out associated tax issues,” disinvestment minister Arun Shourie told reporters after the meeting.

VSNL has the exclusive licence to provide international telecom services till the end of March next year.

The minister said the government would not dilute the remaining Rs 2,000 crore reserves of VSNL which will be used to finance its foray into the national long distance telephony (STD) business.

The government had dipped into VSNL reserves twice this year through a 500 per cent dividend at the end of March this year and again in October when the company announced a 750 per cent interim dividend.

The government said it plans to split the Rs 7,966 crore VSNL into two entities before the selloff, the first will own the telecom services and will be put on the block. The second will own approximately 1,400 acres of real estate, which will remain under government control.

However, if it does not receive satisfactory financial bids for the truncated VSNL, the government will permit the interested bidders to make separate bids for the real estate.

“Land value will not be built into the reserve price and strategic partners will have to take into account only the income streams and buildings and other assets,” disinvestment secretary Pradeep Baijal said.

The committee decided that VSNL will have to treat the state-run MTNL and BSNL as most favoured customers even after the selloff for a period of two years. After that, they will work on the basis of purchase parity.

While clearing the proposal to invite price bids for IBP where the government is offering a 33.58 per cent stake to a strategic partner, the committee decided that the accumulated dues of the company with the Oil Coordination Committee on account of subsidies under the administered pricing mechanism till the end of the current fiscal would be settled within six months of submitting the audited accounts.

   

 
 
ARMY CHIEF SET TO HEAD DEFENCE PANEL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
General S. Padmanabhan will take over as chairman, chiefs of staff committee, on December 31 after Admiral Sushil Kumar retires.

Padmanabhan is also in the line for appointment as the country’s first chief of defence staff (CDS).

The position of CDS was recommended by the group of ministers that has recommended changes in the defence structure. The group submitted its report in April this year. Many of its recommendations, such as the creation of an integrated defence staff, have been accepted. But the Union Cabinet is yet to take a decision on the CDS.

In other fresh appointments announced today, Vice-Admiral John Colin De Silva has been made vice-chief of naval staff and Air Marshal S.G. Inamdar vice-chief of air staff. Air Marshal Inamdar is currently air-officer-commander in chief, Eastern Air Command. He will take charge on January 7. Vice Admiral De Silva will also take charge in early January.

Rear Admiral S.C.S. Bangara has been appointed as the deputy chief of integrated defence staff (operations) on promotion to the acting rank of vice admiral and will take over on January 1. He is currently assistant chief of naval staff (IW and operations) at the navy headquarters.

Air Commodore J.S. Gujral, Air Commodore M. Dixit and Air Commodore S.L. Sud have also been posted to integrated defence staff on promotion to the rank of air vice-marshal.

Air Vice-Marshal Gujral has taken over as assistant chief of integrated defence staff (joint operations). AVM Dixit and AVM Sud will take over as ACIDS (perspective plans and force structure) and technical manager in the defence procurement board respectively.

   
 

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