Nitish knife for Mamata again
Kalam creates twin records with letter
Police claim People’s War catch
Politics on both sides of railway division
Bifurcation knocks Haldia off CPM roster
After Powell, it’s Straw
Jaya courts industry captains in reform rush
Age of e-cheques and digital cash arrives
Sukh Ram woe for NDA
Calcutta Weather

 
 
NITISH KNIFE FOR MAMATA AGAIN 
 
 
FROM M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, July 5: 
Having dealt one blow to Mamata Banerjee, railway minister Nitish Kumar is preparing to deliver the second shock.

As the Trinamul Congress leader nursed her anger at her home in Calcutta, Kumar pushed ahead with the plan to split South-Eastern Railway, also headquartered in Calcutta, three ways.

In Calcutta, the operational details of the bifurcation of Eastern Railway, against which Mamata is protesting, were being thrashed out with the new zone’s (to be based at Hajipur in Bihar) general manager arriving for talks on transfers, among other things.

Kumar reaffirmed that the decision to create six new zones was approved by the Cabinet and no emotional outburst could stop it.

The whole exercise was undertaken after a detailed study and analysis by the Railway Board and was in accordance with the provisions of the Railway Act, he said.

“The notification for the creation of the other zones will be announced soon. A few may be announced over the next week,” he said.

Ruling out a review of the notification for reorganisation of Eastern Railway, Kumar said he had shown the documents to deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and the convener of the National Democratic Alliance, George Fernandes, who had agreed that there was no merit in the demand made by the Left and Trinamul for a rethink.

“I have three options in front of me — take it to the Cabinet, put it in cold storage, or implement it. I cannot do the first since there could be a backlash from the people; the second option is also ruled out since I will be answerable in Parliament. That leaves me with only one choice: implement it,” Kumar said.

In an indication of the kind of “backlash” Kumar is talking about, Orissa chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, another NDA member, today warned that the people of his state were concerned about the delay in notifying the carving out of South-Eastern Railway into three zones. One of these, East Coast Railway, is to be based in Bhubaneswar.

He conveyed the worries to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Kumar dismissed fears that Left and Trinamul members would create problems for the government when Parliament reconvenes next week for the monsoon session.

“I will answer all their questions and clear the doubts if the issue is brought up in Parliament,” Kumar said.

“It is parochial on the part of those who are trying to make it a regional issue since the railways have a national identity and such moves could tarnish the railways’ image as a national service provider where people from all over the country work,” he added.

He wondered why Mamata did not request the Cabinet to review the decision to form the six new zones during her tenure as railway minister.

   

 
 
KALAM CREATES TWIN RECORDS WITH LETTER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 5: 
After an unprecedented news conference, would-be President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam today wrote a letter to the electorate, which, too, has no parallel in recent memory.

In the missive to MPs and MLAs who make up the electoral college, Kalam spelt out his vision for the republic by focusing on secularism, which, he said, was the essence of Indianness. He also justified India’s nuclear programme and dismissed the charge that he was a hawk on security issues.

“Our national security is guided by defensive considerations. It poses no threat to any country in the world,” Kalam said.

“I am proud of my role in our country’s space, nuclear and missile programmes because I believe that these have greatly strengthened India’s national security, enabled us to follow an independent foreign policy and helped us to overcome challenges created by technological denial and economic sanctions by powerful countries.”

Aware of the Left parties’ campaign that he was ideologically closer to the Sangh parivar, Kalam spoke of his “unflinching” commitment to secularism and the Constitution and asserted that the basic structure of the statute was unalterable.

He rebutted charges that the National Democratic Alliance had fielded him because of his religion to cover up for the Gujarat outrage.

“I also wish to reiterate unflinching commitment to the principle of secularism, which is the cornerstone of our nationhood,” he said.

Sources said Kalam decided to write to clear doubts about his political views. Old-timers, however, did not recall any recent presidential nominee writing letters to his electoral college. They said during the bitter fight between N. Sanjeeva Reddy and V.V. Giri, both sides had written letters to mobilise support within the Congress.

Observers said that presidential nominees before Kalam were generally from the political class and their views were well known.

But Kalam, being an apolitical person, decided to write to clear the air on his opinions as he had tried to do at the news conference after filing his nomination on June 18.

Many felt Kalam was within his rights to write to the electoral college. “It is a perfectly fine forum available to him, so there is no harm in him making use of it,” said Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy.

The presidential candidate expressed concern over Pakistan-backed cross-border terrorism and said it was aimed at destabilising India. About Jammu and Kashmir, he said “it was, is, and shall always remain an inseparable part of India”.

Kalam said the broad support he had received from all communities was a resounding reminder that India’s secular ethos was alive and vibrant.

“I am truly overwhelmed at the whole-hearted endorsement I have received from a wide spectrum of the country’s political establishment, cutting across the divide between the ruling and most of the Opposition parties,” he wrote. “I take this to be a symbol of the essential unity of our political establishment.”

   

 
 
POLICE CLAIM PEOPLE’S WAR CATCH 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, July 5: 
In a pre-dawn swoop in a Dum Dum locality that continued through the day and at Uttarpara in Hooghly, police arrested four suspected People’s War activists, one of them allegedly a member of the outfit’s think-tank.

The first to be arrested was Kaushik Ganguly, a lecturer of chemical engineering at Rajabazar Science College, from his residence near Motijheel in Dum Dum a few minutes after midnight. Another person, Rabindralal Mahato, was arrested with him.

North 24-Parganas police — Dum Dum comes under their jurisdiction — were totally in the dark nearly 24 hours after the arrests occurred.

“The district police were not informed of these arrests,” North 24-Parganas superintendent of police M. Harisena Verma said.

They, however, knew of the other arrest in the district. Tinku Ghosh was picked up from her Mall Road residence around 11 am.

“The team comprised about six policemen from Midnapore and the arrest was made without any resistance,” a North 24-Parganas police officer said.

The fourth arrest was made from Uttarpara in Hooghly and all four were taken to Midnapore during the course of the day, inspector-general (western zone) Jitram Bhagat said.

“Some of those arrested were wanted for arson and rioting but Ganguly, the college lecturer, used to be the mastermind for many operations in Midnapore and the adjoining areas of Hooghly and Bankura,” he added.

The swoop, he added, followed success in acquiring information from those now being interrogated in custody. Officials said the administration’s task had become easier with the arrests last month from Khardaha in North 24-Parganas.

The arrests in urban pockets just outside city limits had the administration worried about the group’s shift towards the city from a predominantly rural base in the forests of Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly.

But the sudden operation in the residences of apparently peace-loving people has raised the hackles of the Left.

The CPI’s Jyotiprakash Chatterjee said: “Ganguly was an extremely nice boy. It seems that holding alternative political opinion has become a crime in the eyes of this Left regime.”

“The late-night arrest revived memories of the past,” he said, referring to the crackdown on the Naxalite movement.

   

 
 
POLITICS ON BOTH SIDES OF RAILWAY DIVISION 
 
 
FROM M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, July 5: 
If Mamata Banerjee is being accused of politicising the decision to split Eastern Railway, Nitish Kumar and the entire NDA government with him stand guilty of going against the Rakesh Mohan committee’s policy recommendations on railway reforms.

Mamata has been charged, by successor and current railway minister Kumar and by predecessor Ram Vilas Paswan, of keeping quiet when she was sitting in the chair about the bifurcation decision taken in 1996 by the Cabinet.

Kumar has said that if Mamata wanted to scuttle the plan, she should have initiated the move when she ran the ministry from 1999-2001. On the contrary, she continued to make some allocations for the new railway zones.

A former Railway Board official, who served as a member during Mamata’s term as railway minister, said: “The issue was brought before her and I personally had a discussion at two important meetings. She put aside the point and discussed the next issue.” He, however, refused to comment on whether she was unaware of the importance of the issue or had deliberately passed it over.

Earlier this week, Paswan held both Kumar and Mamata responsible for politicising the proposal for bifurcation, which would see Eastern Railway being carved to create a new zone to be based at Hajipur in Paswan and Kumar’s home state Bihar.

“While Mamata was silent on the railway bifurcation issue during her tenure as railway minister, the present incumbent Nitish had downgraded all the six new railway zones, including the proposed east-central railway headquarters of Hajipur,” Paswan said.

Six new railway zones were created in 1996 during Paswan’s tenure, as part of decentralising the organisation to facilitate administration of a massive network.

Railway Board officials said: “The whole controversy could have been avoided had the notification been issued when the six zones were created. The proposals were finalised and submitted by the board each year to get a notification passed, but it was put on the backburner for political reasons.”

The foundation of the east-central railway zone headquarters at Hajipur was laid by then Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

That creates an interesting question which the Left Front government in Bengal could be asked: why did the CPM, at the time backing the United Front government, then agree to the proposal?

It is also a point Mamata can raise to embarrass her enemy in Bengal as she fights against the bifurcation. So far, she hasn’t.

She has also not brought to public attention the fact that the Rakesh Mohan committee had not supported the bifurcation.

In its report the committee had prophetically said: “For an organisation like Indian Railways, which is already over-exposed to political pressures, it should be a priority not to open up new areas of political interface. The scheme for creation of new zones was a patently political one and, as expected, created new controversies with political overtones.”

It was only yesterday that her party colleague Sudip Bandopadhyay said, but only in passing, that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee should look at the Rakesh Mohan committee report and comments made by the comptroller and auditor general and the parliamentary standing committee on finance against the creation of new railway zones.

Calling for a review, which Kumar ruled out yesterday, he said: “Otherwise, the people will blame the entire government for the decision.”

Mamata has the option of opposing the proposal on the grounds mentioned by the Rakesh Mohan committee: that it will increase political interference and could have disastrous financial consequences.

The committee points out that “in the three years that have passed after this announcement (creation of new zones) and possibly due to the diversion of attention of management and such extraneous issues, railway finances have registered a sharp decline.”

A Railway Board official said: “We do not wish to comment on the decision of division of zones. It is a political decision and was a political decision. They (politicians) know the finances of the railways and the rationale for divisions.”

In this year’s railway budget, Kumar set out to correct the subsidisation of passenger fares by freight to bring finances on track. Now, by going ahead with the establishment of new zones, he will move in the opposite direction of inflicting additional financial costs on the railways.

Mamata is not hitting Vajpayee or the streets with this argument, possibly because she was not exactly a reformer as railway minister.

   

 
 
BIFURCATION KNOCKS HALDIA OFF CPM ROSTER 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, July 5: 
The spiralling row over the bifurcation of Eastern Railway is expected to come up during discussions of the CPM politburo beginning tomorrow.

However, two other crucial issues relating exclusively to West Bengal — the stalemate at Haldia Petrochemicals and agricultural and the labour reforms suggested by McKinsey — have been left out of the agenda.

“We do not have any specific West Bengal issues scheduled for discussion. Bifurcation of Eastern Railway also involves Bihar. It is likely to be discussed at the meeting,” said CPM politburo member Prakash Karat.

In an unusual division of Left loyalties, the CPM and CPI units in Bihar are supporting the bifurcation, while their counterparts in Bengal are staunchly opposed to it.

CPM MP from Bihar Subodh Rai said the state unit has no intention of damaging Bengal’s interests, but the bifurcation will definitely benefit Bihar. There is, therefore, no question of the party’s state unit opposing the move, he said.

Caught in an uncomfortable position over the bifurcation wrangle, the central leadership of the Left parties now wants to underplay the stand taken by leaders in Bihar. “One should not read too much into it,” said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan.

The CPM politburo meeting will try to work out a strategy that will not make them appear too Bengal-centric.

The party is likely to revive the Left’s earlier demand for a financial package for Bihar, which was drained of its best mineral resources after Jharkhand became a separate state.

The monsoon session of Parliament, slated to begin on July 15, will probably see the Left parties raise to a pitch the demand to counterbalance their anti-bifurcation stand.

For the time being at least, the CPM politburo wants to keep away from the Bengal muddle over Haldia and Mckinsey.

This decision of non-interference is a change from the party’s earlier stance — the CPM central leadership had persuaded Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to withdraw the Bill to prevent organised crime in the state. It, however, relented later.

The leadership had also directed the chief minister to withdraw his decision to crack down on madarsas, which Bhattacharjee had accused of abetting terrorism and fundamentalism.

   

 
 
AFTER POWELL, IT’S STRAW 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 5: 
British foreign secretary Jack Straw spoke over the phone with his new Indian counterpart, Yashwant Sinha, this afternoon, indicating the growing closeness between the two countries.

Though the call was made to congratulate Sinha, the signals were clear that London would like to co-ordinate with Delhi on key issues, particularly on the situation in South Asia. The threat of a war between India and Pakistan may have receded, but the West sees the crisis as far from over.

The British foreign secretary told Sinha that he looked forward to working with him and both the leaders promised to be in constant touch with each other. Straw’s phone call was much in the nature of yesterday’s telephone conversation between US secretary of state Colin Powell and the foreign minister.

Both the US and Britain have played a significant role in reducing tensions in South Asia and breaking the military stand-off between the nuclear neighbours. The two countries are also keen to engage India in their global fight against terrorism.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s special envoy and security adviser David Manning is scheduled to arrive on July 9 to hold discussions with the Indian leadership. Manning is likely to pick up from where British defence secretary Geoff Hoon, who was in the capital yesterday, left off.

Manning will also visit Islamabad to assess the situation there, particularly after President Pervez Musharraf’s pledge to the international community to bring an end to cross-border-terrorism.

During Blair’s visit to India early this year, the two sides had decided that their respective special envoys would keep in touch with each other on important regional and international issues. Manning will hold a detailed discussion with his Indian counterpart, Brajesh Mishra. He will also use the opportunity to interact with Sinha and other senior officials.

The British government, like the US, is supportive of India’s effort in the fight against terrorism. Both have strongly condemned Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism across the Line of Control and have been urging the Musharraf regime to stop it.

Over the past few months, American and British leaders have been trying their best to convince India and Pakistan to defuse the tension and avoid an armed conflict.

   

 
 
JAYA COURTS INDUSTRY CAPTAINS IN REFORM RUSH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, July 5: 
Industry captains were virtually bowled over here today when chief minister Jayalalithaa invited the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry to be a think-tank for her government to help “transform Tamil Nadu into a new growth model for the entire country”.

Ficci president Rajendra S. Lodha quickly grabbed the golden opportunity to be involved in pushing forward Jayalalithaa’s economic reforms.

Lodha said he had already kick-started the process of Ficci being a think-tank for the state government by presenting to the chief minister detailed studies on specific sectors such as information technology, bio-technology and the entertainment industry.

Ficci will soon host a big event on the entertainment industry here which will include films, music and animation, Lodha said.

The chamber president added that film star Kamal Hasan, who was present at Ficci’s national executive, “will lead the way” in this project.

Ficci senior vice-president A.C. Muthaiah was all praise for the ADMK chief for “inviting us to be part of her think-tank”.

“In the US, there are a number of think-tanks that ultimately are the real policymakers,” Muthaiah said. “We will be a great support to her,” he added.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister’s vision statement includes doubling the state’s per capita income by 2010 and providing basic facilities to all villages by that year. To achieve this, she unveiled a four-fold strategy for the “economic reconstruction and development” of Tamil Nadu.

   

 
 
AGE OF E-CHEQUES AND DIGITAL CASH ARRIVES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 5: 
The government today threw open the doors to electronic cheques and digital cash, paving the way for e-commerce and financial transactions over a secure electronic environment.

The Cabinet put its seal of approval on a proposal to expand the ambit of the Information Technology Act, 2000, to cover the “electronic image of a truncated cheque and a cheque in electronic form” in an attempt to speed up cheque clearances by banks.

In another move to ensure greater financial discipline, the Cabinet raised the penalty for issuing dishonoured cheques to a prison sentence of two years from one year at present.

The tough penal provisions will be incorporated in a fresh Negotiable Instruments (Amen-dment) Bill, to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament that begins next week.

It has been made mandatory for courts to dispose of cases relating to bounced cheques within six months of registration. In case of failure to do so, a written reason has to be given.

The decision was taken as the “present provisions in the Act are inadequate in dealing with the menace resulting from dishonour of cheques”, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj said.

“In addition, there will be a summary trial and day-to-day hearing of the cases. The time limit for giving notices relating to dishonour of cheques has also been increased from 15 to 30 days. Similarly, the courts have been empowered to waive the cognisance period of one month for any complaint in order to accelerate the process,” she said.

“Another proposed provision seeks to ensure investment of general reserves of a producer company in any manner, as may be prescribed by the government, in addition to the approved securities, bonds and units to enable higher returns to members,” she said, adding that it would enhance the area of investment for cooperatives.

The Cabinet also approved budgetary support to the ailing Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals (IDPL) to meet the expenses on salary and wages of its employees till March 31, 2003 or till the privatisation takes place through the BIFR, whichever is earlier.

   

 
 
SUKH RAM WOE FOR NDA 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 5: 
Former communications minister Sukh Ram was today sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment in the telecom scam case.

Special judge V.K. Jain also sentenced the former deputy director-general in the telecom department, Runu Ghosh, and P. Rama Rao, the managing director of a private company, Arm Ltd.

The three were accused of selling and purchasing equipment of inferior quality at higher rates, thereby inflicting a loss of about Rs 1.68 crore on the exchequer.

The BJP was quick to react with spokesman Arun Jaitley saying the case was pending even before Sukh Ram had joined the NDA with his Himachal Vikas Congress.

Sukh Ram was a minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government.

Jaitley said the Centre has never interfered in the process of law and as the case preceded Sukh Ram joining the alliance, the NDA would have to decide on the steps to be taken now.

The judge gave a month’s time to the trio to prefer an appeal in the high court and they were granted bail on the condition that they would furnish a bond of Rs 1 lakh each and a like amount in surety.

Ghosh was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with a fine of Rs 50,000 for being a part of the criminal conspiracy under Section 12-B of the Indian Penal Code. Rama Rao was sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment with a penalty of Rs 2 lakh.

In its charges, the CBI said Sukh Ram and Ghosh had enter-ed into a criminal conspiracy with Rama Rao and abused their official position as public servants.

In the contract for purchase of multi-access radio relay by the telecom department, Sukh Ram as the then minister had conspired with others and approved the bid of the Hyderabad-based company, the CBI said.

The equipment was to be installed in remote and inaccessible areas where fibre optic cables could not be laid. Using this system, a telephone call from an exchange from one hill can be relayed through airwaves to another exchange on another hill.

The communications ministry has started to dismantle the equipment and had also cancelled a few tenders in 2000, since the system was found to be performing below the parameters. They are to be replaced by emerging technologies like satellite phones.

The former minister said he would first study the verdict and then go in for an appeal in the high court.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 35.1°C (+3)
Minimum: 27.4°C (+1)

Rainfall

3.3 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 94%
Min: 59%

Sunrise:5.00 am

Sunset: 6.22 pm

Today

One or two spells of rain or thundershowers
   
 

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