Nitish rushes to clear zone split air
Health reform broom reaches districts
Milestone clinic for milk workers
Hospital in sick bed
Jana relents, succession woes linger
Atal keeps Mamata line busy
Mayavati truce with critics
Why not Central rule in Gujarat: Farooq
Shuffle delay makes ministers edgy
Cong pushes for suit against Time

 
 
NITISH RUSHES TO CLEAR ZONE SPLIT AIR 
 
 
FROM AMIT UKIL
 
Malda, June 28: 
Railway minister Nitish Kumar today dispelled fears over the bifurcation of Eastern Railway and promised that the new zone would not harm Bengal’s interests.

Nitish, who was here for the inauguration of the Malda-Howrah Jana Satabdi Express, called on former railway minister and Malda Congress MP A.B.A. Gani Khan Chowdhury, accompanied by BJP leader and Union minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar.

The railway minister assured both leaders that the creation of the East Central Railway — one of the seven new zones — by relocating three of the seven divisions of Eastern Railway, would not result in “any kind of economic loss” to the state.

Nitish reminded the leaders at the closed-door 35-minute meeting — where mangoes were used to good effect to break the ice — that Malda once formed a part of another railway zone and was subsequently included in Eastern Railway. The minister sought to allay fears about the bifurcation of the railway zone, which have united all political parties in the state.

Nitish patiently heard Gani Khan’s request that the Guwahati-Delhi Rajdhani Express be made to stop at Malda at least twice a week.

“Division of districts does not automatically mean blocked opportunities,” the minister said. As “the railway minister of India”, he had to keep in mind the sentiments of every region in the country, added Nitish.

“Let me assure you that the creation of the new zone like the birth of six others in the country won’t result in any kind of economic loss to any state and the projects already undertaken here won’t be delayed,” the minister told a huge gathering outside Malda railway station.

The divisions were being made for administrative reasons, just like new districts had been carved up in Bengal over the last few years, explained the minister. “No one will be forced to go to Hajipur (the headquarters of proposed new zone),” he said.

The minister said fresh recruitment in the new zone would not involve additional expenses. “The smaller the zone is, the better its efficiency.”

He stressed he was only implementing the decision taken by the Cabinet in 1996 — that of setting up six new railway zones.

Some of the other zonal headquarters will be located in Jaipur, Bhubaneswar, Allahabad, Jabalpur and Bangalore, and a new zone — with headquarters in Bilaspur — is being added at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s request.

The new zones are essential for the all-round improvement of Indian Railways, Nitish claimed.

They are not being set up according to state boundaries as many people have claimed, he said, citing the example of East Central Raliway that covers parts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattishgarh.

“Whatever the zone, it is the country’s property,” the minister said, adding: “The benefits will accrue equally to each part and I, therefore, request all leaders of the state not to make this an emotional issue.”

Asked later about the Trinamul Congress opposing the division of Eastern Railway despite being part of the NDA, the minister said he would be “surprised if Mamata Banerjee still opposed the move after hearing about the advantages (of the decision)”.

Nitish, however, chose not to comment on what would happen after July 1 when the Trinamul chief might be inducted into the Union Cabinet. He said he would like to stay away from “anything controversial”.

The Malda-Howrah Jana Satabdi Express is the fourth of 16 such trains that will be launched within a year. Leaving Malda at 6.15 am, the train will reach Howrah at 12.40 pm — a journey of six hours and 25 minutes.

The train will stop at only three stations. It will have one AC chair car with a fare of Rs 460 and six non-AC chair cars with tickets priced at Rs 162. All fares include a meal.

   

 
 
HEALTH REFORM BROOM REACHES DISTRICTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
Continuing its efforts to bring about reforms in the health sector, the state government has decided to dissolve all committees functioning in districts, sub-divisions and blocks and lay down guidelines to form new committees.

For the first time, representatives from the Indian Medical Association (IMA), reputed NGOs and MLAs will be inducted into the committees.

Political observers said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had set the reforms ball rolling with full support from health minister Suryakanta Mishra.

Dissatisfied over the functioning of the earlier committees and the charges levelled against it, Mishra held a meeting with his deputy Pratyush Mukherjee, health secretary Asim Burman and all district medical officers, where he announced the decision to dissolve the year-old committees.

The government had earlier done away with all managing committees of the medical colleges.

According to the new rules, each district will have one committee instead of the three or four that now exist.

The committees will be called district health and family welfare committee and will be headed by the sabhadhipati with the district magistrate as the executive vice-chairman. The chief medical officer will function as member-secretary.

A core committee headed by the district magistrate will also be formed in which officials from health and public works will be members.

According to health department officials, the main committee will plan, supervise and monitor different health projects. It will also keep vigil on the functioning of medical institutions.

In one of the most important policy decisions, the health department will include IMA members, NGOs and local MLAs in the committee. Five representatives from the IMA, five from NGOs and one MLA from each political party will find a place in the committee.

“We have decided to rope in some reputed NGOs and retired doctors in running primary health centres. Besides, there are many NGOs working in different districts that are really doing good jobs in the health sector, especially in increasing people’s awareness. So, there must be a representation of NGOs in the health committee,” said a senior health department officer.

“Our move is aimed at decentralisation of the health care system and improvement in services in rural Bengal. We want those people in the committee who will help run health centres, hospitals and improve services. We agree people have grievances regarding poor health services and we are trying our best to satisfy them despite a funds crunch,’’ Mishra said.

The minister said the government has taken several bold decisions and some harsh ones too to streamline the health administration. “We want poor people in the villages to get treatment and not be turned down by health centres,” he said.

   

 
 
MILESTONE CLINIC FOR MILK WORKERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, June 28: 
For the first time in the state, a milk-producing co-operative will set up a hospital exclusively for its employees and those of units attached to it.

The Bhagirathi Co-operative Milk Producers Union Limited has decided to build a 25-bed hospital that will treat 40,000 patients — both indoor and outdoor.

The chairman of the co-operative and district magistrate, Manoj Panth, said the decision was taken at a meeting of the executive committee of the co-operative today. The hospital will come up on a plot belonging to the co-operative at Panchanantala, the chairman added.

Panth said employees of the co-operative will be given priority in the proposed hospital. “We are also planning to extend the facilities to employees of all the milk-producing units attached to the co-operative,” he said.

“Initially, we will recruit one specialist physician and two medical officers for the hospital. We are also planning to reserve a bed in Apollo Hospital and another one in a nursing home for the employees of the co-operative,” the chairman said.

The co-operative, which also produces butter, ghee and other milk products, had made a profit of Rs 40 lakh in the last fiscal.

Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury lauded the co-operative and promised financial assistance from his MP fund.

   

 
 
HOSPITAL IN SICK BED 
 
 
FROM REZA PRADHAN
 
Siliguri, June 28: 
The inauguration of a new building several months ago has not alleviated the problems dogging the sub-division hospital here.

Infrastructural lapses and space crunch continue to plague the hospital as the new building is not being fully utilised despite being complete.

As many as 300 patients visit the indoor section everyday, while the hospital has only 250 beds. The number of patients in the outdoor section is even higher with about 1,500 people being treated everyday.

“There is a lot of overcrowding at times and people have to share beds and sometimes, they even have sleep on the floor. Cleanliness, therefore, is compromised,” explained Tapan Saha, the superintendent of the hospital.

“Some parts of the new building are not being used but are expected to function soon. There are some technical problems that are causing the delay,” added Saha.

The new building houses an operation theatre complex and a labour complex, as well as emergency rooms, which will remain open round the clock. It also includes a telehealth complex.

However, hardly any specialised unit of the hospital functions properly. The telehealth and cardiology complexes are supposed to treat patients as well as offer advice from specialised doctors across Asia. “But the patients who come here have to wait for four to six hours as the specialists from Bangalore and Calcutta are always busy,” Saha said.

An essential part of any hospital, a storeroom, is missing here. “A hospital needs to store equipment, medicines, which have to be kept under tight security,” the hospital superintendent said.

“Presently, a kitchen used by the nurses doubles up as a storeroom,” pointed out Saha, adding that the nurses, therefore, have to arrange for food from outside.

The hospital does not have a unit to treat cases of neural disorder. “Medicine specialists treat these patients but they are not qualified enough,” Saha said.

The number of employees is also low, he said, adding that “the number of nurses is not adequate as compared to the flow of patients”.

A proposal to upgrade the hospital was passed by a high-power committee in a meeting held at the North Bengal Medical College on February, but nothing much has been done till now. The proposal also stressed on the need for a storeroom, early completion of the hospital boundary wall and increasing the number of beds to 500.

Saha said strict discipline should be maintained in the hospital. “We can still run the hospital if there is discipline,” he said, but did not specify what he meant by “discipline”.

   

 
 
JANA RELENTS, SUCCESSION WOES LINGER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 28: 

Shekhawat joins party-post race

With barely two days to go for the “major reshuffle” of his council, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is still grappling with the selection of a new president for the BJP, though he has managed, according to sources, to persuade BJP chief Jana Krishnamurthi to join the Cabinet.

The Prime Minister will, however, have to first identify the next party president before going in for a Cabinet shuffle, said a senior party functionary. “Nobody knows for sure who will be the candidate. It’s a matter of lottery.”

A new name that cropped up in the presidential sweepstakes today is that of former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Till yesterday, four names were doing the rounds for the post of BJP chief — information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj, rural development minister Venkaiah Naidu, communications minister Pramod Mahajan and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh. But there was no consensus on any of them.

Party insiders say Shekhawat, an astute leader and a peer of Vajpayee, was acceptable to all and hardly any young minister has a problem working under him. With 10 Hindi-belt states going to polls in the next two years, the former chief minister would be a good bet.

The younger ministers such as Mahajan, Naidu and former chief minister Rajnath Singh have no mass following. The only exception is Sushma. While the Union ministers are members of the Rajya Sabha, Rajnath had quit the Upper House last year.

A senior party leader said Sushma appears to be the front runner now, with Venkaiah Naidu coming a close second. But Mahajan emerging a dark horse cannot be ruled out, they said.

Sushma’s plus points are that she is a woman, a good orator and a crowd-puller. Besides, she is also a good foil to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Sources point out that she gave a tough fight to the Congress in Bellary. But Naidu’s reluctance to work under her in the party is a hurdle.

Naidu, though a good organisation man, has rubbed the outgoing president in the wrong way. As such, Krishnamurthi and Sushma are opposed to giving him the top post.

Mahajan, on his part, is not said to be very keen to occupy the top slot, though he does not have many foes within the party. Mahajan, who was lobbying for the finance minister’s job, fears that with 10 states going to polls in two years, if the party does not fare well there may be demands for his head.

However, the factors going in his favour are that he is a good organisation man both in the party and in the government. He is also a good fund raiser and trouble-shooter who led the party to victory in Goa against heavy odds. Besides, Mahajan can speak both Hindi and English with ease.

The plus points of Rajnath Singh are that he was twice the party president of crucial heartland state of Uttar Pradesh and is a Rajput. The party is working hard to regain lost ground in Uttar Pradesh with the appointment of Vinay Katiyar, a backward Kurmi, as state president.

Despite these problems, Vajpayee has reason to cheer having, according to sources, persuaded a sulking Krishnamurthi, who quit as party chief yesterday, and left for Chennai this afternoon, to join the Cabinet. Party insiders, however, said Krishnamurthi would be back in Delhi on Sunday and would be inducted into the Cabinet.

However, no one in the party was willing to say whether he had submitted his resignation in writing. Usually incumbent presidents’ resignation letters are accepted by the working committee, which was not the case this time. Krishnamurthi had earlier resisted the demand for his resignation as he was peeved with a couple of senior ministers who he suspected were instrumental in painting him the villian of the piece.

Amid rumours that Krishnamurthi may not accept a Cabinet post, Vajpayee spoke to him before he left for Chennai. NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes also spoke to former party chief Kushabhau Thakre, considered close to Krishnamurthi, to soothe the outgoing party chief.

   

 
 
ATAL KEEPS MAMATA LINE BUSY 
 
 
BY INDRANIL GHOSH
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
Chances of Mamata Banerjee’s re-installation as railway minister have brightened following backroom manoeuvres in the past 24 hours that are part of the Prime Minister’s multi-layered Cabinet shake-up exercise.

Intermediaries between Mamata and the BJP leadership in Delhi and Calcutta said possibilities opened up after Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Prime Minister’s Office spoke to the Trinamul leader twice yesterday. Mamata was sounded on her views on the upcoming shuffle, indicating that she is one of the options for the railway portfolio.

Vajpayee’s unreported phone call to 30B Harish Chatterjee Street came last evening, which Mamata took in her room with no aides around. The second call came a few hours later, after which “she looked further upbeat. In fact, she started talking about making arrangements for going to Delhi”, an intermediary said.

Mamata was not available for comment. But sources said she is tentatively scheduled to fly to Delhi tomorrow where Vajpayee and the rest of the BJP leadership will begin talks with NDA partners on the shuffle.

Railway minister Nitish Kumar, when contacted in Malda during an official visit, said: “Please do not drag me into any controversy. I have no comment to offer on the shuffle or the speculations about the railway ministry.” He is in the centre of a storm following his move to bifurcate railway zones.

Mamata is believed to have told Vajpayee over phone that the Indian Railways, long regarded an “extraordinary unifier”, had turned into an “unfortunate and alarming source of divisive politics in the country”, thanks to the bifurcation move.

However, Nitish, a prominent Samata Party leader considered an enemy by Mamata, is deeply entrenched. He has mounted a campaign against moves by Trinamul and Samata leaders — including defence minister George Fernandes and junior rail minister Digvijay Singh — to turf him out of the railways.

His strategy is to get home minister L.K. Advani — widely tipped to become deputy Prime Minister — and states expected to reap dividends from the rail zone bifurcation proposal to intercede with Vajpayee and the BJP leadership on his behalf. Nitish has said in close circles that he believes he has played his cards right, which is why Vajpayee is praising him in public for his work as the railway minister.

Mamata loyalists know that Nitish is no pushover, but they see hope in Vajpayee’s statement in Lucknow that she will be invited to join the government. They argue that the statement came even after Mamata told Vajpayee last evening that her demand for re-installation as railway minister was on principle and not negotiable.

“As we understand, it was made amply clear to Vajpayeeji and the PMO that she would not bear any grudge if she is not called to join the ministry because she cannot be given railways. And it was also made clear that if they really needed her to strengthen the NDA by joining the government, the railway ministry was her natural place,” one of them said.

However, the more cautious among Mamata’s aides said the invitation had been designed in such a way that she ran the risk of being branded the seeker of a particular office if she turned down the offer of any other ministry.

   

 
 
MAYAVATI TRUCE WITH CRITICS 
 
 
FROM YOGESH VAJPEYI
 
Lucknow, June 28: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s sermon on “coalition dharma” seems to have forced Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati and a section of the state BJP to declare ceasefire.

Vajpayee had several rounds of informal discussions with the state BJP leaders and Mayavati. While assuring the chief minister all possible help from the Centre, Vajpayee advised her not to take action likely to provoke the state BJP leaders who are already critical of her way of working. The Prime Minister also asked party leaders not to air their grievances in public.

The change in relations was obvious when Vajpayee directed a question about the expansion of the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet to Mayavati. “I can reshuffle only my Cabinet. This is her privilege,” he said in jest.

Mayavati, who was earlier blaming the BJP for the delay, was more tactful today. Instead of blaming her alliance partner for not submitting its list of ministers, she said the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP were busy reorganising their party apparatus.

When reporters drew the Prime Minister’s attention towards the chief minister’s earlier statements that the shuffle delay was a result of the BJP’s not submitting its list, Mayavati quickly intervened. “These misunderstandings were the creation of the media,” she said. She had been quoted out of context, the chief minister added.

At a rally here, Vajpayee said: “The era of coalitions is going to stay, whether we like it or not.” He also advised political parties to learn to live with them.

“If parties get a majority on their own, there is nothing like it. But in case they fail to do so, there is no alternative to coalition governments. Problems do arise in running coalition governments,” Vajpayee said but “solutions could be found to all problems”, he added.

Mayavati was present at Vajpayee’s news conference but BJP leaders Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh were conspicuous by their absence. Among others present at the press meet were senior minister Lalji Tandon, state BJP chief Vinay Katiyar and two Central ministers.

   

 
 
WHY NOT CENTRAL RULE IN GUJARAT: FAROOQ 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar June 28: 
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah today reacted sharply to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s remarks in Lucknow that there was a proposal to impose President’s rule in the state in the run-up to the Assembly elections scheduled for October.

“What mechanism or constitutional power does the Centre have to impose President’s rule?” An angry Farooq said: “Last time we won the polls, there was Governor’s rule in the state. What has happened now? Don’t they trust us and what about a similar action in Gujarat where the BJP rules?”

Mainstream political parties and separatist leaders have been expressing reservations about the possibility of free and fair polls in the state. The parties recently expressed their fear to the chief election commissioner that the ruling National Conference might rig the polls with the help of surrendered militants.

Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party has been spearheading a campaign for the ouster of the National Conference government.

Vajpayee told reporters in Lucknow today that the Centre was considering the imposition of federal rule ahead of the elections to make sure they were free and fair. But Farooq said: “It is for the state government to decide whether or not there should be Governor’s rule.”

The Prime Minister spoke to Farooq tonight and clarified his statement. PMO sources said Vajpayee told Farooq that he had said President’s rule was one of the options to ensure free and fair elections after being asked if the Centre was planning to impose it.

Farooq, who handed over the reins of the National Conference to his son Omar last week, also accused the media of putting words in the Prime Minister’s mouth. “You people ask leading questions. He must have made a normal remark and that is being blown out of proportion,” the chief minister said.

National Conference general secretary Sheikh Nazir echoed Farooq. “How can they do that (impose federal rule)? If they do that in the name of free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir, what about doing the same in Gujarat? Fears have also been expressed about free elections being held when Narendra Modi is still in the (chief minister’s) chair,” he said. Farooq also ruled out running for another term.

   

 
 
SHUFFLE DELAY MAKES MINISTERS EDGY 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, June 28: 
The agonising delay in the much-hyped shuffle of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s council of ministers has led to paranoia in the ministerdom.

Some are holding news conferences and making rounds at the RSS headquarters in Jhandewalan and the BJP office at 11, Ashoka Road, to plead their case, others have lost interest. Barring the top guns — L.K. Advani, Jaswant Singh and George Fernandes — others are jittery.

While some ministers in the Prime Minister’s shuffle list — whether facing the axe or the possibility of another portfolio — have gone on an overdrive to show that they are working and very much in control, governance has taken a back seat in some departments.

Sources said officers on special duty and other aides of ministers who are in the chopping block have stopped pushing files and are awaiting the fate of their bosses.

Finance minister Yashwant Sinha did not attend office yesterday. Sources said that for the past few days, a sulking Sinha has stopped pushing files even as a section in the BJP is making last-minute attempts to save his chair.

Sinha had also cancelled the biennial meeting of the chiefs of public sector banks in Mumbai, scheduled for last Saturday, for a second time. The first meet was slated for June 19.

His minister of state, Gingee Ramachandran of MDMK, is also whiling away time since reports about his being dropped or shunted surfaced a fortnight ago.

Sources among the personal staff of urban development minister Ananth Kumar said no major work has been done since speculation about his imminent shift appeared in the media.

Minister of state for social justice and employment Satyanarain Jatiya, junior information and broadcasting minister Ramesh Bais, agriculture and rural industries minister Karia Munda, consumer affairs and food minister Ashok Pradhan and textiles minister Dhananjay Kumar are learnt to be in the hit list and keeping their fingers crossed.

BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi, who is under pressure to quit his post, has stopped meeting party workers. The party chief has also cancelled his scheduled tours.

Those who are positive and pushy like rural development minister Venkaiah Naidu, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, rail minister Nitish Kumar and labour minister Sharad Yadav are all too eager to show that they are unconcerned and working as usual.

The usually deserted 11 Ashoka Raod had a host of visitors this fortnight. Among the ministers were Ananth Kumar, Bais, Dhananjay Kumar, Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Bijoya Chakraborty, Munni Lal, Vallabhai Katiriya and Satyanarain Jatiya.

Naidu, who is frequently on tour, is staying back in the capital since last week. He is meeting mediamen almost daily. However, every briefing is followed by a debriefing.

Joshi, a hardcore swadeshi proponent, even supported FDI in print media at the Cabinet meeting. Joshi also met the press today.

   

 
 
CONG PUSHES FOR SUIT AGAINST TIME 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 28: 
The Congress today asked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to file a defamation suit against Time magazine so that “facts” could be established or refuted.

AICC spokesman Jaipal Reddy reacted sharply to the ongoing war of words between government spokespersons and representatives from Time over an article that allegedly cast aspersions on Vajpayee’s ability to lead the coalition government.

Reddy pointed out that “loud denials” from the Prime Minister’s Office were being refuted by the magazine. Thus, the only way left to arrive at the truth was to file a libel suit against the magazine, he asserted.

“The entire affair is getting murkier and murkier. Time magazine has emphatically stood by the contents in the story,” the Congress leader said.

Reddy also slammed the government for the treatment given to Time correspondent Alex Perry, who wrote the article. The nation must be taken into confidence if Perry has committed any breach of law, he said.

   
 

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