That same stinking feeling
Brake on hope for tax breaks
Mamata versus Rabri
Transplant short cut to death
Expectant Hajipur on track for Destination HQ
Asean meet challenge on Sinha global debut
Powershift bogey lurks behind every bush
Delhi toughtalk on dialogue
Security keeps Sonia away from party
Calcutta Weather

San Francisco, July 10: 
After power cuts and load shedding, one of America’s most affluent cities is coping with yet another menace familiar in the Third World: urination and defecation in public.

Ending months of debate about the stench and sight of San Francisco’s streets being used as toilets, this city’s authorities have unanimously voted to ban urination and defecation in public.

Offenders will be fined up to $500 once San Francisco’s mayor Willie Brown signs into law a unanimous motion passed this week by the city’s Board of Supervisors.

Although the board unanimously initiated the civic legislation, it is facing stiff opposition outside the city hall, reminiscent of the problems faced by Calcutta in evicting its roadside hawkers.

Human rights activists and campaigners for the city’s poor and homeless have said the move is targeting San Francisco’s less privileged population.

Some of those who have been using the streets as toilets are, meanwhile, non-chalant about the new restriction on them.

San Francisco Chronicle, this city’s main newspaper, quoted Bill Mullins, a homeless man who has been sleeping on a street in the city centre for two years, as saying: “When you gotta go, you gotta go, man. I pee in trash cans.”

San Francisco is somewhat unique in that its homeless population is so large and organised that they have their own newspaper, suitably called Street Sheet. Its latest issue quoted a homeless man as saying: “We can’t walk into a hotel or a restaurant like you can and ask to use the bathroom. We do it on the street.”

For years, shopkeepers, business owners and tourists to this city have complained about the sight of public urination here and its stench, especially in the city centre.

But the supreme irony of law here is that it prohibits dogs from answering the call of nature in public, but not humans.

Any dog-owner who allows his pet to do it on the street and does not pick up the waste after the animal is subject to heavy fines.

To overcome this legal lacuna, San Francisco’s police, harassed by angry complaints from city-dwellers, began arresting those urinating and defecating in the open some time ago: but only on charges of indecent exposure, or of all things, dumping toxic waste!

But this city — indeed, most of California — has a majority of liberal judges who are sympathetic to the poor. They have thrown out cases brought by the police on such charges.

When the debate to ban urination and defecation in public was raging, some civic leaders sought to raise the number of public toilets. This city has just 25 public toilets which are open round-the-clock and can be used by paying 25 cents.

There are 120 public toilets in parks and other places of tourist interest, which are open during restricted hours.

But the move to have more public toilets has been more controversial than the original problem of answering nature’s call in public.

Residents complain than these coin-operated toilets which offer privacy are being abused by drug users and prostitutes.

In several areas of this city, efforts to install more public urinals have met with stiff resistance and had to be abandoned.

San Francisco’s most talked about ban may soon become law, but the problem will not end there.

Chris Daly, a civic supervisor who reluctantly voted for the ban summed up the problem when he told the Chronicle: “To have on the books a police code specifically prohibiting an act we know everyone has to do doesn’t make a lot of sense.”


New Delhi, July 10: 
Finance minister Jaswant Singh today announced that there will be “no interim budget this year”, scotching fevered speculation over the past few days that he planned to unfurl a package of tax breaks for the middle class.

Singh had set the markets and the media abuzz last Thursday — the day he took over as finance minister — when he said his job would be to increase the spending power of the people. “There should be more money in his (the citizen’s) pocket and more money in the housewife’s purse,” he had added.

Singh’s comment was interpreted as a signal that he intended to soften the tax blow his predecessor Yashwant Sinha had delivered in his last budget in February. This and some other unpopular measures had been seen as contributing to the BJP’s debacle in the Assembly and Delhi municipal elections that followed, leading to Sinha’s ultimate ouster.

The sharp uptick in direct tax collections, which rose by 35.43 per cent between April and June at Rs 10,427 crore, had created the impression that the finance minister had sufficient headroom to offer tax reliefs.

But the finance minister, who has a new team of bureaucrats in place, has obviously been advised not to be too hasty in offering reliefs. A review of the government’s revenues indicated that despite the surge, collections were almost 28 per cent short of the Rs 14,378-crore target set for the first three months of 2002-03.

Singh’s apparent volte-face on tax breaks came after Confederation of Indian Industry president Ashok Soota urged the government at a meeting of the Prime Minister’s trade and industry advisory council today that it should “address issues facing the common man, middle class and Indian industry, and not wait till budget 2003”.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told the business leaders, who are members of the council, that his government was committed to reforms, citing contentious changes to labour laws and a more forceful impetus to privatisation as priorities.

After the meeting, Singh said the fundamentals of the economy were robust and there was optimism about a revival. One way of reviving the economy, he said, was to persuade consumers to go out and start spending. “Unless the consumer consumes, how can the economy expand?” he asked.

Summing up the outcome of the deliberations, Singh said: “The central point of the meeting was the optimism shared by trade and industry about the economic recovery.”

Soota and Ficci president R.S. Lodha said the economy was turning around and the feel-good factor was returning.

Vajpayee told the council: “The Cabinet has decided to vigorously pursue labour reforms.”

He said he had set up a Cabinet committee to develop the “priority agenda” for policy changes across different sectors each year and to monitor its implementation.


July 10: 
The carve-up of railway zones turned into a full-blown inter-state tussle with Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee sending an ultimatum and Bihar’s Rabri Devi an all-party team to Delhi.

Mamata today gave the Centre 24 hours to resolve the dispute over the move to bifurcate Eastern Railway and trifurcate South-Eastern Railway. The Trinamul Congress leader warned of “a more vigorous and sustained agitation to protect Bengal’s interests” if the Centre went ahead with the division.

At an all-party meeting in Patna, Bihar MLAs decided to send a delegation tomorrow to meet railway minister Nitish Kumar. The team will also call on L.K. Advani.

“We would like to tell the deputy Prime Minister that Bihar, too, has a point to make and he should give us (an) audience,” said leader of the Opposition Sushil Kumar Modi.

In Calcutta, Mamata made it clear she would accept nothing short of a formal withdrawal of the railway notification transferring vital divisions of Eastern Railway to the proposed East-Central Railway. “Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is expected to take up the matter with senior Cabinet ministers tomorrow. If the meeting leads to an amicable solution, we will definitely welcome it. We will announce our next course of action on Friday if the issue is left unresolved,” she said.

PTI, however, quoted sources in the Prime Minister’s Office as saying that the meeting is unlikely to take place. Vajpayee is also not expected to meet the Bihar delegation.

Mamata recalled that Jawaharlal Nehru had stalled a similar move in 1953 after B.C. Roy, who was Bengal chief minister at the time, protested. “Pandit Nehru could foresee the danger inherent in the proposed bifurcation and did not hesitate to replace his railway minister with Lal Bahadur Shastri,” she said, but stopped short of demanding Kumar’s resignation.

Mamata said a committee of experts and representatives of railway employees’ unions should be set up to consider the fallout of the railway minister’s move.

She described Kumar as “a Mohammad bin Tughlaq who does not understand the dangerous implications” of his actions. “He is playing with fire by carving out railway divisions from one state to satisfy another. His plan may please only six states but will alienate 20 others, thereby affecting national unity and integration.”

The Trinamul leader said she refused to rejoin the NDA Cabinet in protest. “If the railway minister succeeds in his game plan, you will soon find other Central government offices like Coal India and DVC headquarters being shifted out of the state. We can never allow such things to happen.”

Mamata accused Kumar of carving out divisions of Eastern Railway “according to his whims”. “The original proposal was to include Samastipur and Sonpur into the proposed zone,” she said, “but he wants to include Dhanbad and Mughalsarai.”

The Trinamul leader rejected Kumar’s contention that the creation of new zones had been discussed earlier. Displaying the copy of a purported railway document, she said it clearly indicated that the first meeting on the issue was held only on June 14 at Kumar’s behest.

Mamata insisted her campaign was not aimed against Bihar. “The people of Bihar living in Bengal have extended their support to our agitation. Eastern Railway employees, hailing from Bihar, have also stood by me in our fight,” she said.

In Patna, Rabri was initially requested to lead the delegation to Kumar. But the chief minister later deputed minister Ramchandra Purve to lead the 12-member team.


Calcutta, July 10: 
It would have been a gift of life the second time around. After giving birth to her eldest child 19 years ago, Lakshmi Das had donated one of her kidneys to daughter Rupa to save her life.

But the girl died last Sunday after doctors at SSKM hospital, the state’s most prestigious medical institution, skipped a basic procedure, casting a shadow over kidney transplants there.

Doctors at the hospital’s nephrology department had performed a kidney transplant on Rupa in April without conducting tests that are mandatory under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994. They skipped the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing test, which is essential to establish the “histo-compatibility” between the patient and the kidney donor, who has to be a close relative. “This is a gross violation of the provisions of the Act,” a senior doctor said.

“It is extremely important to know the degree of tissue matching before any transplant is done, as post-operation treatment and recovery largely depends on this,” said Dr D.K. Pahari, head of the nephrology department.

Rupa’s case was not taken up at the authorisation committee meeting of the department, held before any operation. Pahari claims he did not know the operation date had been finalised.

Immediately after the surgery, however, Pahari brought the matter to the notice of the hospital’s higher authorities, who referred the case to the state health department. The government has started an inquiry and sought an explanation from the doctors who had attended on Rupa.

Rupa, a first-year college student, was admitted to SSKM hospital in January 2001 under the supervision of Dr Rajen Pandey, assistant professor in the nephrology department, and underwent treatment there till Sunday.

Pandey said he had avoided the HLA test because Rupa came from a very poor family and her parents could not afford the charges. “I had informed the patient’s relatives about the necessity of the HLA test. But they insisted that if the test could be avoided, it would save them about Rs 8,000. When we failed to convince them, I and my colleagues verified from various sources that Lakshmi was Rupa’s mother and agreed to perform the operation when we were sure about her identity,” he said.

In his complaint, Pahari demanded action against Pandey for allowing doctors to perform the operation without approval of the hospital’s authorisation committee.

To ensure that all necessary tests are done before a kidney transplant at SSKM, the state government had set up a seven-member committee in August 2000.

The government made it mandatory for the authorisation committee to meet once a week to finalise conducting a renal transplant.

Since the operation in April, Rupa developed one complication after another before she died on July 7. Sources at the hospital alleged that doctors had failed to treat her properly after the operation, compounding her problems.

“The doctors told us that the operation was successful and that they had been trying their utmost to cure my daughter,” said Rupa’s father Dilip Das, who works as a mason on daily wages.

Das, a father of three, is still unaware that the negligence of the doctors was possibly the cause of her death.


Hajipur, July 10: 
Mahavir was born here. It’s home to Asia’s biggest cattle fair. It’s also famous for its bananas. Now Hajipur is on track for what it has been waiting since 1996 — a key place on India’s railmap.

Residents of Hajipur are upbeat about the move to headquarter the proposed East-Central Railway here, though the small town, 20 km from Patna, is not yet fully ready.

“The basic infrastructure is in existence since 1996. It will take some time to fully gear up to make the East-Central Railway operational,” said general manager Suresh Chandra Gupta.

The new zone, set to be carved out of Eastern Railway, is scheduled to start functioning from October 1. As of now, 20 officials and 300 staff operate out of a single-storey building with 64 rooms.

“The communication channel will be in place by September 1. After October 1, all the five divisions will start reporting to the East-Central Railway headquarters at Hajipur. The preparation for this is in full swing,” Gupta added.

Employees, too, welcomed railway minister Nitish Kumar’s move to bifurcate Eastern Railway, obviously delighted they would not have to go to Calcutta for official work once the new zone becomes operational.

According to the bifurcation plan, three of the seven divisions of Eastern Railway have been merged with East-Central Railway. So 43 per cent of the staff and officials of Eastern Railway will be employees of the new zone. “Similarly, 40 per cent of the staff and officials will be brought from North-Eastern Railway,” the general manager said.

Gupta said over 200 Eastern Railway employees were willing to join at Hajipur, while 7,000 railway employees from different zones across the country have sought postings here. The general manager said he would hold a meeting with the GM of North-Eastern Railway on the division of cadre on July 9 at Gorakhpur.

“With the help of around 800 staff, we are going to start operation fully from October 1. Around 250 employees, including some officials, are keen to join at Hajipur from the ER. Above 250 will be from the NER. Presently, 270 staff are working here.”

But there is one major problem — providing residential facility for the new employees. The staff here already occupies about 100 units of newly constructed quarters at Konhara Ghat, 3 km from the proposed zone’s headquarters at Dighi.

Though fresh tenders have been floated, it would take time to complete the constructions, said an employee.

A.K. Chandra, chief public relations officer of East-Central Railway, said there was a proposal of using the 50 acres of railway land for construction of buildings. In addition, there are plans to acquire 200 acres of land from local farmers for constructing official as well as residential buildings.

Local residents pointed to other problems like lack of good hotels and theatre halls. There are only four cinemas in Hajipur town. However, they welcomed Kumar’s move to headquarter the new zone at Hajipur, where there has hardly been any kidnappings in recent months unlike as in some areas of Bihar.

There is also the problem of compensating the farmers. Though the proposed acquisition has been shelved for the moment, about 50 farmers who would lose their lands are upset about the paltry compensation the railway is offering them.


New Delhi, July 10: 
A smooth debut as foreign minister over with a visit to India’s friendly neighbourhood, Yashwant Sinha is preparing to face his first challenge in international diplomacy at the Asean Regional Forum meeting in Brunei at the end of the month.

The three-day meet is one of the biggest security shows in the Asia-Pacific region. Almost all the major international players are expected to be there to interact on important regional and security issues.

The US, the European Union, Russia, China, Japan, Canada, Australia and India are among the 23 members of the forum, which includes 10 Southeast Asian countries, too.

Sinha is expected to kick-off the visit on July 30 by attending a dinner hosted by Mohammed Bokiah, the foreign minister of Brunei.

The forum’s inaugural session will be held the next day. On August 1, will be the Post-Ministerial Conference. As in the past, the Asean plus one dialogue will be held between India and the 10 Southeast Asian nations.

A major benefit for India is that the meet will afford its foreign minister the chance to interact individually with leaders of important countries on the sidelines.

Though new to the foreign ministry, Sinha is an experienced hand in dealing with key world players at important meets of the World Bank and IMF during his tenure as finance minister. But the Brunei meet will give him the opportunity to meet and build a rapport with his counterparts from most of the countries that matter.

Moreover, he can also put forward India’s stand on various security-related issues and clarify the current military standoff in South Asia.

This year’s meet assumes significance as it will be the first meeting between foreign ministers of all the major countries after September 11.

Predictably, the threat of global terrorism and how the international community should deal with the menace will be topping the agenda at the meet.

There are indications that the Brunei meet might come up with the suggestion of setting up a permanent Inter-Session Group on Terrorism. In earlier meetings of senior forum officials, India’s initiative to bring terrorism on the centrestage had been appreciated by the member-countries.

The focus on terrorism and suggestions to tackle it, including the financing of terrorist outfits, will work to India’s advantage.

But one issue that Sinha will have to grapple with is the tension along the border between India and Pakistan. Going by the fears expressed by many countries in the past few months over the likelihood of an armed conflict, some participants might raise the issue and there could be renewed suggestions to resume the stalled dialogue between Delhi and Islamabad.

The possibility has not escaped Indian officials. In that case, they said, Sinha will make it clear that India has always stood for a dialogue with Pakistan, but it cannot be expected to return to the table unless Islamabad creates a conducive atmosphere for the talks.

This, the foreign minister will argue, can only be done once the Pervez Musharraf regime stops infiltration across the Line of Control, dismantles the terrorist camps in PoK and cuts off aid and channels of communication.


New Delhi, July 10: 
The job description of the deputy Prime Minister remains unclear, but those close to L.K. Advani are keen to ensure that he is not seen as holding only a ceremonial position. They are, therefore, nursing hopes of a separate secretariat on a par with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The Advani camp would also like him to have a greater say in national security issues. To this end, Advani, as home minister, had already created an inter-agency task force headed by a senior Intelligence Bureau official. The task force reports to Advani on security issues.

However, since the National Security Council (NSC) will remain with the PMO, the supporters of Advani would like the wings Brajesh Mishra, the national security adviser and A.B. Vajpayee’s principal secretary, to be clipped.

The Advani camp believes that there is no place for anyone between the number one — the Prime Minister — and his number two —the deputy Prime Minister.

Mishra has for long been targeted by sections of the BJP and the RSS, which felt that he has emerged as a “superpower”. The provocation was Mishra’s alleged refusal to acknowledge the Sangh’s clout.

With Advani’s “elevation” and the resultant perception that Vajpayee’s position had become “politically weaker”, the anti-Mishra lobby felt that this was the most opportune moment to strike.

An attempt is also afoot to integrate the crucial personnel department, which includes the CBI, with the home ministry. The department is now under the PMO.

In short, the attempt is to push the frontier of control within the government in favour of the newly-anointed successor to Vajpayee.

The first sign of a “tussle” between the two power centres — largely inspired by those close to Advani — was evident in reports claiming that the NSC, of which Mishra is an adviser, would be moved out of the PMO and be brought under Advani.

The reports were swiftly and strongly denied by the Cabinet secretariat after the deputy Prime Minister reportedly intervened.

The denial, according to BJP sources, proved that Advani wanted to “correct” the impression he was eager to eat into Vajpayee’s turf and that Mishra had won the first round of the battle. “Mishra will not go out of either post unless Vajpayee wants him,” stressed a BJP functionary.

But Advani backers refused to be put down. Within minutes of learning that Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander had put in his papers, a senior party office-bearer told the press that it would pave the way for the NSC’s merger with the office of the deputy Prime Minister.

It was also hinted that Alexander would replace Mishra, given the former Governor’s administrative and political experience. By evening, sources close to Vajpayee asked in jest when Alexander would take over as Advani’s “political secretary”.

Making a case for constituting a deputy PMO, Advani acolytes pointed out that his key official in the home ministry, his personal secretary, was not from the civil services as was the normal practice and this was deemed a “handicap”.

Advani’s supporters went to the extent of declaring that he was set to acquire two new ministers of state in the “deputy PMO”. One of the names mentioned was that of the minister of state for coal, mines and law, Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Another point cited to drive home the “real elevation” was the decision to let Advani keep coal and mines — a berth Mamata Banerjee had reportedly turned down. “Normally, unclaimed ministries remain with the Prime Minister but, in this case, it was given to Advani,” said a BJP leader.

However, sources close to Vajpayee said since Advani was mediating in the railway division row between Mamata and Nitish Kumar, the Prime Minister thought it fit to let the deputy keep it until a final decision.


New Delhi, July 10: 
India today ruled out an early return to talks with Pakistan, saying the climate conducive to such dialogue “does not exist”.

US secretary of state Colin Powell, who is due to visit South Asia at the end of the month to help defuse tension between the nuclear neighbours, yesterday said India and Pakistan should resume talks to lower the temperature in the region.

But foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said: “Dialogue can be resumed only when there is a climate conducive for it.” She made it clear to Washington not to expect Delhi to resume talks till Pakistan fulfils its commitment to stop infiltration across the Line of Control.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s security adviser David Manning, who met foreign minister Yashwant Sinha and his Indian counterpart Brajesh Mishra this afternoon, was also apprised of the Indian stand.

Delhi has said that while it has always favoured dialogue with Islamabad, it cannot resume talks till Pakistan puts an end to infiltration and cross-border-terrorism and takes “visible and credible” action to dismantle the militants’ infrastructure and cuts off their finance and channels of communication.

The spokesperson said following the May 27 assurance by the Pakistani President to visiting US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage that infilitration would stop permanently, there was a “ 30 per cent fall in infiltration.” But infiltration levels picked up again. “In the last week of June, we saw at least three incidents of infiltration attempts,” she said.

“A 30 per cent fall in infiltration is not reason enough for resumption of dialogue. So where is the climate for resumption of dialogue? It doesn’t exist,” Rao said.

Apart from Powell, British foreign secretary Jack Straw and French foreign minister Dominique Villepin are also expected to visit India in the next few weeks. All the three leaders are likely to visit Islamabad as well to find ways to end the current standoff between India and Pakistan.

South Block officials are not unhappy with these visits as they feel frequent tours by Western leaders will keep up the pressure on Pakistan. Though India is not happy with the US and Britain’s attempts to ease the pressure on the Pakistani President, it is unwilling to describe this as a major shift from their earlier stands.

India feels that despite the renewed attempt by the West to bring Delhi and Islamabad to the talks table, the pressure is more on Pakistan to deliver. By refusing to take any further steps towards de-escalation, India feels it can keep up the international pressure on Pakistan.

As long as that remains, Delhi is confident that it can create an atmosphere in Jammu and Kashmir where free and fair elections will be possible by September-October. If this is achieved, South Block mandarins feel India will be in a much stronger position on Kashmir.


New Delhi, July 10: 
It is a distance of less than 50 metres but for 50 days, Sonia Gandhi has not visited the Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road, choosing to operate from her adjoining 10 Janpath residence.

Sonia was last seen at the party office on May 22 when she attended a Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting to finalise draft economic, political and foreign affairs resolutions.

Several informal CWC meetings were held after that to finalise presidential candidates, but these were at 10 Janpath.

Loyalists said daughter Priyanka’s pregnancy and the security paraphernalia involving the Special Protection Group (SPG) have kept Sonia from visiting the party headquarters. They said AICC general secretaries have given final touches to elaborate corporate-type arrangements that would limit access to the Congress office and make it easier for Sonia to visit.

For instance, general visitors would be allowed between 4 pm and 6 pm and in the mornings, entry to 24 Akbar Road would be restricted to “appointments only”. Once these measures come into force, Sonia might be seen more frequently at the party office, they said.

Taking a cue from the leadership, more than 60 per cent of departmental heads, including Manmohan Singh of the economic department, Balram Jakhar of the farmers’ cell, and Justice (retd) Ranganath Mishra have been avoiding the party headquarters. Sonia’s political secretary Ahmad Patel has not taken a room at 24 Akbar Road though he is seen in the party office almost every day.

Close aides said the SPG was making it difficult for Sonia to function from office. They said each time Sonia plans a visit, the SPG goes through an elaborate security drill, sanitising the premises and checking antecedents of all visitors. “In a political party office, such an exercise causes a lot of discomfort,” an AICC functionary said.

They said Sonia’s security drill was prepared in consultation with the threat perception based on inputs from the Intelligence Bureau, RAW, Delhi police and the home ministry. A few months ago, there was a threat of a car bomb forcing Delhi traffic police to stop car parking on Akbar Road.

Defending Sonia’s decision to avoid the party headquarters, a CWC member said: “Let us not forget that the family has lost two members to terrorist violence. There is no functional problem in holding meets at 10 Janpath.”

Not everyone agrees. Congress leaders privately said if Sonia was keen to revitalise the organisation, she should be more visible at party headquarters. “Security considerations will always be there. It is a professional hazard but she should not neglect the party,” said an MP. Others said she should use a “wicket gate” that separates 10 Janpath from 24, Akbar Road. “It would require minimum fuss. This is what Rajiv Gandhi used to do,” an old-timer recalled.




Maximum: 37.3°C (+5)
Minimum: 30.0°C (+4)



Relative Humidity

Max: 83%
Min: 56%

Sunrise: 5.02 am

Sunset: 6.22 pm


Generally cloudy sky

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