Subhas revives petrol cess spectre
Red alert flashed after Teesta flood fury
Shutdown seal on 2 sick units
CAG eyes panchayat, minister reluctant
Nod for Trinamul motion
Bollywood comes to Delhi durbar
Salve for doctor, pills for nation
Govt springs twin traps on Tehelka
Forensic hole in Godhra theory
Jana continues EC tug-of-war

 
 
SUBHAS REVIVES PETROL CESS SPECTRE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
The Left Front today announced that it would soon initiate talks on a proposal to impose a time-bound cess on petrol and diesel to raise funds for constructing new roads and maintaining the existing ones.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose said the combine would discuss the proposal — forwarded by transport minister Subhas Chakraborty — with experts and various lobbies before coming to a decision.

“If it is found acceptable, a Bill will be placed in the next session of the Assembly to clear the way for such a cess,” Bose said. “But at this point the proposal will have to be discussed at various levels.”

The proposal was placed at the Front meeting by Chakraborty while seeking to obtain ratification for the impending across-the-board fare hike for buses, minibuses, trams, taxis and water transport.

The transport minister Chakraborty argued that the cess of 50 paisa to Re 1 on petrol and diesel for two to three years would allow the government to raise Rs 1,500 crore which could be used to maintain and construct roads. Besides, the funds could cushion the government’s huge pay-outs on account of subsidising the transport sector.

“We (the government) need substantial funds running into crores for creating infrastructure in the transport sector. Since we do not have funds at our disposal, we have to look at the option of cess. If we can do it, we will not have to tear our hairs for accessing funds. Now it is up to the Left Front and the government to decide on what they want to do,” the minister said.

Though Chakraborty sounded optimistic about the idea, it was unclear at this point how the Front partners and the Opposition would react to the cess proposal. Going by past experiences, a sizeable section of the ruling CPM could join the Front partners and the Opposition to resist the move.

According to sources, Chakraborty would most probably raise the issue for discussion in the Assembly within a few days.

The proposal for a cess is not new as Chakraborty had suggested it sometime ago. But the earlier proposal did not reach fruition thanks to opposition from a section of his Cabinet colleagues, notably finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

According to Front leaders, Chakraborty, while advocating the cess, proposed that the agriculture sector be kept out of its purview.

Among those present at the Front meeting were chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, senior politburo member Jyoti Basu, state unit secretary Anil Biswas, Biman Bose, information technology minister Manab Mukherjee and other leaders from Front constituents.

The Front also approved the revised fare structure presented by the transport minister. In his report, Chakraborty proposed to modify the existing minimum fare of Rs 2.50. The fare will be Rs 2 for the first 6km and this would increase by a rupee for the next 6 to 10 km.

Speaking to reporters, Front chairman Bose said the transport minister had been asked to discuss the fare structure with the chief minister. He has also been directed to hold a meeting with representatives of private minibus and taxi associations.

Reacting to the minister’s revised fare structure, the general secretary of Joint Council of Bus Syndicate, Sadhan Das, said the association would not accept it. “It is difficult for us to ply buses in the city unless the minimum fare is made Rs 4,” he added.

   

 
 
RED ALERT FLASHED AFTER TEESTA FLOOD FURY 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
July 3: 
With some 4,000 people marooned in the district, Jalpaiguri authorities today sounded a red alert in “unprotected areas” along the Teesta.

People living in low-lying areas were asked to evacuate, with almost all tributaries of Teesta threatening to burst their banks following incessant rains. Lish, Chel, Mal and Neora tributaries are posing the greatest danger in the district.

Officials were especially worried about Mal sub-division which received 274 mm of rainfall in the past two days and also has the largest number of marooned residents. However, there was no official word on casualties till late this evening.

Additional district magistrate Omkar Singh Meena said the situation was under control in Cooch Behar, flooded by two days of torrential rains. “This is a usual phenomenon in north Bengal,” he added.

At least four villages were submerged on Monday when Teesta broke its bank at Kuchlibari area of Cooch Behar, marooning some 750 families. Even the BSF’s outposts were flooded, forcing 82 battalions to evacuate.

Villagers in Jalpaiguri today accused government officials for not visiting gram panchayats like Rajadanga, Otlabari, Chenmari, Kranti and Kumlai, worst hit by floods for the past three days. The residents added that they had not received any relief.

“We do not know who to turn to. Not one government official visited our village to find out how we were surviving,” said a resident of flooded Ghish Bustee. “Only the boys of local clubs have been supplying food, medicine and other essentials.’’

Other villagers echoed him. “We do not know what we are going to feed the children. There is not a morsel in our homes and there is no relief from the government,” said another villager.

Mal sub-divisional officer Jiban Krishna Sadhukhan said the administration was trying to get relief material to the marooned villages. “We won’t allow vested interests to take advantage of the situation.’’

Officials met at Jalpaiguri’s Circuit House to discuss ways to open National Highway 31, breached at several points. About 200m of the highway has been washed away by the floods and the toy train tracks to Darjeeling have also been damaged.

“We are looking for ways to restore the main road link between Siliguri and Malbazar as early as possible,” said Sachindra Nath Saha, chairman of the North Bengal Flood Control Commission.

   

 
 
SHUTDOWN SEAL ON 2 SICK UNITS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
Commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen today announced in the Assembly that the government would soon begin the process of closing down two of its “perennially” sick undertakings.

The move to close down Indian Paper Pulp and Sundarban Sugarbit — which have 826 permanent staff members and 54 casual employees — will be initiated after an endorsement from the Cabinet subcommittee on industries, the minister said.

Sen, also minister for overseeing industrial reconstruction and public undertakings, said the government would go in for joint ventures in six of its sick undertakings and would revive on its own four units. However, he added that no employees would be retrenched.

“We are closing down the units as there is no other option whereas the Centre has been closing down or selling out even profit-making companies. The liberalised economy followed by the Union government has forced us to take such decisions. We do not have the requisite funds to run these companies” Sen said.

Asked by Congress member Abdul Mannan if it was following the Centre’s disinvestment policies, Sen said the Union government did not pay its dues to the state in the last financial year. The Centre has declared that this year, too, it would not release funds to the state. “This is one of the main reasons why we had to invite private parties to these companies,” he added.

The government will retain 26 percent stake in the six undertakings — West Bengal Plywood and Allied Products Limited, Lili Biscuit Company, Shalimar Works, Cater Puller Engineering Company, Neo Pipes and Tubes and West Bengal Chemicals Limited — where it will go in for joint partnerships.

Sen said the government would revive Gluconate Pharmaceuticals, Britannia Engineering Company, Durgapur Chemicals Limited and Westinghouse Saxby Farmer through financial restructuring.

   

 
 
CAG EYES PANCHAYAT, MINISTER RELUCTANT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
The Comptroller and Auditor General has expressed its intent to carry out gram panchayat audits in the state.

Replying to a debate on budgetary grants for the panchayat and rural development department in the Assembly today, minister Surya Kanta Mishra said the state administration had been carrying out panchayat audits for years.

“We have been able to audit 99 per cent of the panchayats for the last three financial years. But now the CAG wants to carry out the job as well. We have no objections, but will they be able to cover all the panchayats in time?” the minister asked.

The state has more than 6,000 panchayats in 18 districts.

The Opposition had earlier questioned the proper utilisation of Central and state funds for rural development through schemes like the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana and the Indira Awas Yojana.

Suggesting that there was no need for the CAG to get involved, the minister said: “We have been preparing these audits for several years. We are in the process of discussing the proposed move with CAG.”

Mishra said his department was taking action against panchayat members found corrupt or inefficient. “We have lodged 97 FIRs against panchayat members and have suspended 12 of them. Sixteen members have been arrested while 21 more cases are pending with district magistrates.”

“We have the will and the courage to fight corruption and we need your (the Opposition’s) help and co-operation to continue this effort,” he added.

Mishra highlighted the government’s achievements in rural development by citing the Planning Commission’s reports.

   

 
 
NOD FOR TRINAMUL MOTION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim today admitted a Trinamul Congress’ no-confidence motion against the ruling Left Front.

Leader of the Opposition Pankaj Banerjee said the motion — its discussion will be taken up on July 11 — would seek to highlight the government’s “dismal failure on all fronts” that pushed the state to bankruptcy.

Having seen its no-confidence motion fall through on June 18 because Trinamul abstained, the Congress invited Pankaj Banerjee to table the motion instead. Congress Legislative Party leader Atish Sinha had written to the leader of the Opposition on June 27, urging him to move the motion.

The Trinamul leadership had then argued that the party was not informed about the Congress’ move in advance.

As the Trinamul leader today raised the motion, the Congress members stood up and extended their “whole-hearted” support.

“It is the Congress which had earlier raised the motion. But that failed because we did not have the requisite numbers. We then wrote to Banerjee to take the lead because we couldn’t allow the government to benefit from any division in the Opposition,” a senior Congress MLA said.

   

 
 
BOLLYWOOD COMES TO DELHI DURBAR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 3: 

Acting minister in double role

Finally, India has an acting minister.

Several of his predecessors and contemporaries may be accused of inaction, but junior tourism minister Vinod Khanna says he may have to move back under the arc lights occasionally to honour acting commitments he has already made.

But acting apart, Khanna already has his plate full, though he’s not sure what his new responsibilities would be. He says whatever work Union minister of tourism and culture Jagmohan, allocates, he will perform to the best of his ability.

That may sound like a bit of a cliché, but Khanna has already made an impact in Shastri Bhavan with his personality and looks. Despite his advancing years, Khanna still brings a gleam in the eyes of most women, cutting across age and class barriers.

The security staff at the C gate of Shastri Bhavan comments about the journalists trooping in for the familiarisation meet called by Khanna.

The cleaning lady, standing stock still with broom in hand, watches agog. Union secretary of tourism Rathi Vinay Jha preens as she takes a chair next to him. Even senior male officers in the department sound quite pleased about the new incumbent in Room 501.

Dressed in a white khadi kurta with a prominent red tika on his forehead, Khanna is completely at ease in his new role. He is articulate and like all good performers, perfectly poised.

He speaks disarmingly about his newness to the job. It is clear he has absorbed his briefing by the senior department officials very well.

Khanna fields questions from reporters with elan. The only question he refuses to answer is whether being a star stood him in good stead while landing the new position. He tells reporters he is very happy with his new responsibility.

It looks like he has his work cut out. Khanna says there’s been a 17 per cent drop in tourist arrivals because of the tension on the subcontinent.

India has to be marketed aggressively to boost tourist arrivals, he says. One way of marketing India would be promoting it as a shooting location.

According to Khanna, Indian filmmakers began going abroad when Srinagar became out of bounds. But if good alternative locations are promoted, the film industry is sure to patronise these locations.

Khanna is also quick to understand that as a junior minister, he needs to keep his bureaucrats on his side. Paying a compliment to tourism officials, he said with such brilliant people in the department, he was sure the targets would be met.

Though no official letter has been issued on his responsibilities even 24 hours after Khanna took over, indications are that he will look after ITDC, the Institute of travel and tourism management, development of hotel management and catering training, the Akademis and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

   

 
 
SALVE FOR DOCTOR, PILLS FOR NATION 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 3: 
Never before was a health minister under such glaring arc lights and so much in demand.

A gale from Bollywood swept through the expansive Nirman Bhavan housing the health and family welfare ministry as Shatrughan Sinha recast himself in his new role as Cabinet minister — made the right noises about the “health of the nation” and offered profuse thanks to the Prime Minister for appointing him.

“The Prime Minister is like my father. And I have a lot of regard for my predecessor C.P. Thakur. He is one of the best medical practitioners in Patna. I will take forward his reforms in the health sector,” said Sinha.

The usually dull Nirman Bhavan bubbled with excitement as it awaited the arrival of the former Bollywood baddie — the packed lobby looked like the entrance of a cinema hall with people waiting for the doors to open.

Sinha and Thakur were as much like each other as chalk and cheese, the only common strand being their fondness for media attention.

Thakur was never much of a communicator but he summoned news conferences by the dozen. Shatrughan, on the other hand, shot off replies as fast as the questions came — every bit the “responsible” health minister he was expected to be.

A roar went up from downstairs the moment Shatrughan, accompanied by wife Poonam, entered the building. The man who had left a mark on tinsel world with his roles as “villain” today laid down a new credo following his reincarnation as health minister. Minutes after he took charge, he trotted out a string of ambitious programmes from making available cheap drugs, starting air-conditioned out-patient departments (OPDs) at Safdarjung Hospital, bringing all under the cover of health insurance to waging a war against the tobacco and gutka lobby.

“The world’s best doctors come from AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences). But look at the status of the institution. It is far from what it should be,” said Shatrughan. The OPDs, he said, should also function in the evenings so that working men can avail them.

He was, of course, most generous in singing paeans to the Prime Minister. “With the Prime Minister’s blessings, I should be able to get the private sector to participate in starting hospitals in each district.”

If he was defensive about switching roles from a mostly roguish actor to a Union minister, he did not display the signs. “I did not angle for the post. It was the Prime Minister’s prerogative,” he said. He saw no dichotomy in an actor metamorphosing into a health minister. “If it is not necessary for a finance minister to be an economist — why is it necessary for a health minister to be a doctor?” he quipped.

What about his life style? “Hamne khana bandh kar diya. Sirf chhanch pi kar aya — walk bhi barah diya (I have stopped eating. I came here drinking just butter milk — have started going for longer walks, too),” he said.

   

 
 
GOVT SPRINGS TWIN TRAPS ON TEHELKA 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, July 3: 
Tehelka came under attack from two flanks today with the CBI arresting reporter Kumar Badal in a poaching case and the government counsel grilling the web site’s editor, Tarun Tejpal, over income-tax returns and alleged funds transfer from West Asia.

CBI spokesman S.M. Khan said Badal was arrested as he “did not cooperate” while being questioned by the investigating agency on the shooting of three leopards in the Shivalik forests of Uttar Pradesh. Khan said he would be produced before the designated court at Saharanpur, where the agency would seek his custody for a detailed inquiry into the case.

“There is nothing to add,” Khan said, asked to specify the non-cooperation. “He has been stonewalling all information about the case after which the investigating officer decided to place him under arrest.”

That the Union government has tightened its noose around Tehelka over income tax and “money” from West Asia became clear today during Tejpal’s deposition before the Venkataswami commission, which is probing the arms scandal.

Additional solicitor general Kirit Rawal virtually cornered Tejpal. Rawal threw a file before the commission, contending that Tejpal’s chartered accountants had written to the tax department not to initiate proceedings for delay in filing of returns.

Rawal accused Tejpal of negotiating in London with the Hindujas, maligned in the Bofors deal, and said the portal’s money was coming from West Asia (hinting at the Enforcement Directorate’s version that Dawood Ibrahim & Co. financed Tehelka).

The government counsel also charged Tejpal with ulterior motive in conducting Operation West End and said the exercise, purported to expose corruption in arms deals, did not intend to pursue investigative journalism. He added that Tejpal was involved in the “modus operandi” of Operation West End, which included supply of prostitutes and money.

Tejpal denied the charges. But on negotiations with the Hindujas said talks were held as the business barons wanted Tehelka to be a content provider. At the time of the Tehelka-Hinduja negotiations, the brothers were about to start their own news portal.

Tejpal denied that financial assistance for his portal came from West Asia. Enforcement Directorate sources were quoted in a section of the media as saying that Tehelka was receiving money from Dawood, wanted in India for many cases including the Mumbai serial blasts.

The proceedings witnessed heated exchange of words between the commission’s counsel, Siddharth Aggarwal, and counsel for Jaya Jaitley, Niloy Datta. Datta accused Krishnan of “not suggesting anything to Tejpal”. He added that “does it mean the commission has already conceded that Tejpal is genuine”.

At this Aggarwal rose to contend that a counsel acted independently and at various commissions the position taken by the counsel was rejected by the commission of inquiry in its report. “I myself have been counsel for many commissions. When the final report is submitted it need not be that the counsel’s position during hearings was taken by the commission also. The commission goes by the records, evidence adduced and then come to a conclusion”, Aggarwal contended.

   

 
 
FORENSIC HOLE IN GODHRA THEORY 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, July 3: 
An embarrassed Gujarat government today rushed to control the damage after a report of the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), an autonomous group of experts funded by the state home ministry, tore to shreds its much-propagated “conspiracy theory” about the February 27 Godhra massacre.

Government spokesman Pu-rshottam Rupala downplayed the report, saying it is immaterial whether inflammable material was poured from inside or outside the compartment of the Sabarmati Express.

The report has dismissed the possibility of a mob throwing the inflammable liquid from outside and then setting the S6 compartment on fire.

FSL assistant director M.S. Dahiya’s report states that almost 60 litres of inflammable material was poured within the compartment before it was set on fire. The inferno left 58 people dead and sparked unprecedented communal violence that claimed over 1,000 lives.

A retired police officer said that with this report, the “conspiracy case” against 62 Muslims in Godhra cannot stand in a court of law. At most, they can be charged for rioting and murder, but not for conspiracy.

The Opposition was quick to point an accusing finger at the Sangh parivar. Citing the three-page report, state Congress chief Amarsinh Chaudhary claimed the chemical used in burning the train was also used during the post-Godhra rioting.

Demanding a “thorough inquiry”, Chaudhary alleged that the elements that indulged in violence across the state had a hand in the train carnage.

The police submitted the report to the K.G. Shah Commission probing the Godhra massacre, along with the charge-sheet against 62 local Muslims, most of them from Signal Falia.

Reacting to the report, a VHP leader said: “The FSL report does not say anything new. This is what we have maintained and told the inquiry commission in more than 300 affidavits filed by us”. He claimed that the conspirators poured the inflammable material into the compartment using a hosepipe after bolting the doors and windows.

Another VHP leader asked: “Do you think innocent passengers, kar sevaks will set the compartment on fire endangering his own lives?”

“Yes, it is possible,” retorted the retired police officer. “An innocent passenger might not have done it, but a conspirator could have. As the report suggests, the conspirators, who doused the compartment from inside, set it on fire and escaped through a door, had a motive — to fuel communal riots so that society is polarised.”

   

 
 
JANA CONTINUES EC TUG-OF-WAR 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, July 3: 
Union law minister Jana Krishnamurthi today made it clear he would continue with the decision of predecessor Arun Jaitley to hold an all-party meeting on July 8 to arrive at a consensus on disclosure of criminal records, educational qualifications and assets and liabilities of all candidates contesting elections.

He added that the Election Commission’s decision on the matter would not be binding.

“After the all-party meeting, whatever is the decision... that would be final,” Krishnamurthi said. When pointedly asked what would happen to the commission’s decision, he said: “The decision of the all-party meeting would be final.”

The poll panel had on June 29 announced that it had incorporated in its rules that a candidate should declare his or her background while filing nomination papers for an election under Article 324 of the Constitution following the Supreme Court decision that it should be made compulsory for candidates to declare their background.

However, this resulted in a tug-of-war of sorts between the government and the poll panel because according to the law ministry, the changes required amendments to the Representation of People’s Act (RPA) which the Parliament alone could bring about.

On the other hand, the commission says it is empowered to bring about the changes under Article 324.

With Krishnamurthi assuming charge today, the debate is snowballing into a controversy. “Rajnitik dalon ka jo nirnay hoga, usikoy ham amal karenge (We will implement whatever is decided by the political parties),” the Union law minister said.

He said he was never reluctant to quit as BJP president. “I was never reluctant to quit the post of party president but never wanted to accept any new responsibility,” he said.

Krishnamurthi also introduced to the media his minister of state for law Ravi Shankar Prasad, a practising lawyer in Patna High Court and its designated senior advocate.

Prasad said his father and Janaji had worked together during the Jan Sangh period and hence, Krishnamurthi was also a father figure to him.

On his appointment as law minister, his very first ministerial assignment, Krishnamurthi said: “Destiny plays its role.” He has spent more than half his 72 years as a RSS pracharak, Jan Sangh president of Tamil Nadu and then BJP president.

On the introduction of information technology into the judiciary, Krishnamurthi said: “The whole world is moving towards IT. It should be applied in all fields, especially in judiciary, to help expedite the disposal of cases.”

   
 

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