Modi poll call for ‘safe’ Gujarat
Be a union man to get paid
India dials US for only Rs 24
India takes leaf out of Israel book
Modi flies flag of Gujarat pride in open letter
Parliament goes without work
Cong sees fear of Vaghela in poll call
CPM slams ‘bully’ Atal
Hunt on for drought scapegoat
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MODI POLL CALL FOR ‘SAFE’ GUJARAT 
 
 
FRM OUR BUREAU
 
July 19: 
Narendra Modi today took the first step towards leading the BJP into its most important state election in a decade since the Uttar Pradesh poll after the Babri Masjid demolition by recommending dissolution of the Gujarat Assembly this evening.

Governor S.S. Bhandari accepted the recommendation and the resignation of the chief minister and his government, but asked Modi to continue till alternative arrangements are made.

The move capped a series of developments signalling the ruling BJP’s intention to opt for early polls in the hope of riding a perceived wind in its favour following the Godhra carnage four-and-a-half months ago and the subsequent riots.

First, the relief camps that had sprouted during the riots to shelter Muslims were wound up and then K.P.S. Gill, sent by the Centre as security adviser to the chief minister, left after the peaceful rath yatra last week.

Stray violence erupted again today when one person was killed near Ahmedabad after police opened fire on two clashing communities.

The state Cabinet met for the third consecutive day this evening, adopting a “unanimous” resolution recommending dissolution of the Assembly.

Modi told reporters his party would request the Election Commission to hold early polls and claimed there were precedents. He will lead the party into the election, promising a “modern, safe and prosperous Gujarat”.

Party sources said Modi would like the elections to be timed with Jammu and Kashmir’s, scheduled for September.

Justifying his decision, Modi said since he took over as chief minister last October and especially after the Godhra carnage, some people had launched a malicious campaign against him, seeking his removal and causing instability.

In a letter to the people, Modi said: “We cannot allow free play to those who trade with death in a border state like Gujarat. We must think about the safety of Gujarat and Gujaratis.”

Asked if he was apprehensive of the impact newly-appointed Gujarat Congress president Shankersinh Vaghela might have, Modi said: “Good sense seems to have prevailed on Congress president Sonia Gandhi who has made BJP’s past (Vaghela was in the BJP earlier) Congress party’s present. But the people are going to reject BJP’s past and accept only its present.”

A party insider, however, said Modi was “quite nervous” yesterday after Vaghela was given a rousing reception on his arrival in Ahmedabad to take charge. He was so wary that he consulted the high command before going ahead with his much-awaited plan to recommend dissolution of the House, though he already had its authority to do so at a time of his choosing.

Delhi reportedly gave Modi the green signal this morning, after which he convened the Cabinet meeting at 4.30 pm.

The decision to announce the dissolution on a Friday was possibly influenced by the fact that Parliament would be closed for the next two days, not giving the Opposition an immediate chance to create trouble.

The BJP and the Centre are trying to force the Election Commission’s hand to call an early election by using a constitutional loophole, but the panel indicated that it was not in favour of the move irrespective of whether the Assembly had been prematurely dissolved or not.

BJP sources contested the poll panel’s right to assess Gujarat’s law and order. They said: “According to practice, it is only up to the state government to interpret such factors and the Election Commission goes by the state machinery’s interpretation. How else can the Election Commission form an assessment, on the basis of news reports?”

Virtually throwing down the gauntlet at the panel, these sources said: “If its members feel the condition is not proper, let them come up with a definition of what is proper and what is not.”

Shortly before the Gujarat Cabinet met, BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley, a close friend of Modi, called on chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh to discuss the possibility of holding polls by October. Lyngdoh is believed to have told Jaitley the poll panel would make its own assessment before taking a view.

A full bench of the poll panel is expected to meet tomorrow.

Quoting a constitutional provision, BJP and government sources said if a legislature, which has not held a single sitting for six consecutive months, is dissolved, elections would have to be held at the earliest so that a new Assembly comes into being before the six-month period is over.

The Gujarat Assembly has not met since April 2. A dissolution in July would, therefore, mean elections would have to be held within six months from April 2 and not from the date on which it was dissolved. a new legislature will then have to be in place by October 2.

The BJP is looking at three scenarios:

The Election Commission will accept the state government’s recommendation and hold polls in October;

Hold them on schedule in February, in which case Gujarat will be brought under Central rule;

Find a “mid-way” and have elections in November or December.

Endorsing the constitutional provision, constitutional lawyer K.K. Venugopal said the poll panel could take an independent view of factors like whether the ground reality suits a premature poll and whether electoral rolls will have to be revised.

“The Election Commission need not go strictly by what the Constitution provides and hold elections immediately. In that case, the state would have to be brought under Article 356 and elections would have to called after six months,” he added.

A delegation of prominent citizens led by former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral was informed by the commission that the “determination of the date of the elections and the conduct of the polls are the prerogative of the Election Commission which appears inclined to wait until it was satisfied that the right conditions prevail”.

The delegation was also told the rolls would be revised before the elections were notified.

   

 
 
BE A UNION MAN TO GET PAID 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, July 19: 
Forty-eight hours after the story of Pranab Kumar Sengupta — teaching at a north Calcutta primary school for the past 29 years for Rs 21.75 a month — came to light, the usefulness of a unionised workforce came to the fore today.

The CPM-affiliated All-Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association today admitted that it had the power to change things for Sengupta. The association, however, implied that it was hurt at his refusal to seek its help till now. “Why did he not come to us all these years?” asked association secretary Ajay Banerjee.

Implying that Sengupta’s refusal to join the pack had taken a toll on his prospects, association leaders said the teacher could expect no help from the body, the largest for teachers in the state.

Banerjee, however, said the association was now looking into the matter, with a focus on how the incident could have occurred in a “fool-proof system like ours”.

Like the CPM-affiliated body, other unions also did not want to intercede on Sengupta’s behalf as he did not become a member of any group.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, whom Sengupta had approached thrice, and state school education minister Kanti Biswas, whose doors the Basak Bagan Primary School teacher had knocked as well, could offer no immediate solace either.

Bhattacharjee said at Writers’ Building he was inquiring into the case and that the matter should be taken up with Biswas. A nonchalant school education minister, on his part, said he was looking into the matter and that — prima facie — there could be similar cases in many more schools.

“It’s true that we don’t encourage the practice of regularising teachers appointed by school managing committees,” Biswas said.

“There are nearly 60,000 primary schools all over the state and if we start regularising the service of every teacher appointed by school managing committees, the government will be left with no money to pay salaries to teachers recruited for government-sanctioned posts,” explained the minister.

However, he was more defensive about the repeated flouting of Calcutta High court orders, the first one directing his department to regularise Sengupta’s services and pay him his arrears from his date of joining and subsequent ones stating his department had committed contempt. “I am not aware of this and am looking into it,” Biswas said.

State school education department officials, however, iterated that the government had done enough by allowing teachers appointed by managing committees to continue in school.

“The employment scenario is very bleak and teachers recruited by managing committees, by virtue of being attached to a school, can at least get ample opportunity for coaching students in private,” they said.

   

 
 
INDIA DIALS US FOR ONLY RS 24 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 19: 
Overseas call rates plunged by over 40 per cent today as another cacophonic battle erupted on the airwaves with the launch of Bharti Telesonic’s international long distance services.

The Sunil Mittal-owned Bharti Telesonic threatened to challenge the hegemony of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd by reducing call rates to the US to Rs 24 per minute from Rs 40.80 per minute. The rates come into immediate effect.

VSNL is the erstwhile state-owned monopoly for international call traffic now run by the Tatas.

Late tonight, VSNL hit back by slashing its call rates to the US by over 40 per cent and those to countries in Europe, Africa and the Gulf by around 25 per cent, matching Bharti’s tariff structure. It also cut rates for Saarc countries by 5 per cent.

These tariffs would be available through all the major access providers, both basic and cellular, including the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, VSNL said in a statement.

However, the reduced rates may not be immediately available to fixed-line subscribers. In a late night release, BSNL said the new overseas call rates would be made available to its customers “after necessary technical arrangements. The date of the applicability of the rates will be announced shortly”.

The rate cuts mean that the charge will now be Rs 24 per minute during the peak period (against Rs 40.80) for calls to the US and Rs 21.18 (Rs 36) during the off-peak period for both telecom operators.

“With these price cuts, VSNL expects to be able to compete effectively in the newly-opened market,” the VSNL release said.

Bharti’s IndiaOne service will be available to almost all mobile as well as BSNL subscribers apart from other private fixed-line operators.

“The company hopes to sign its interconnect agreement with MTNL soon and offer its services to MTNL customers in Delhi and Mumbai,” Bharti Telesonic said in a press release.

Bharti has entered into bilateral agreements with leading international carriers accounting for over 90 per cent of traffic coming into India; they will carry calls to and from all parts of the world.

When VSNL’s monopoly on overseas call traffic ended on April 1, no private players were ready to offer their services to challenge the leader. Both Bharti and Reliance held the licences to offer the services but still had to put their operations in place. Reliance is expected to start its overseas call operations shortly.

The Mittals have been aggressively trying to establish themselves as strong players in the long distance telephony market.

In January, it launched the IndiaOne service for domestic long distance calls and slashed tariff by 62.5 per cent to Rs 9 per minute from Rs 24 per minute, forcing BSNL and MTNL to reduce their rates as well.

The IndiaOne network wasn’t able to establish itself immediately because of disputes over interconnection with the existing fixed-line telephone monopolies and the telecom watchdog’s failure to give it access codes — like 033 for Calcutta on the BSNL network — to offer an effective communications network.

Bharti Telesonic, which had secured its licence to handle international call traffic more than six months ago, received the mandatory security clearances from the government only last week. It has now signed the interconnect agreement with BSNL.

IndiaOne will carry voice traffic through Network i2i, the world’s largest submarine cable network. This joint venture between Bharti and SingTel is the world’s largest in terms of capacity and will provide Indian consumers high-quality service.

Bharti group chairman and managing director Sunil Bharti Mittal said: “The commercial launch of IndiaOne’s International Long Distance Service underlines Bharti’s commitment to provide consumers with world-class quality, choice and the finest value for money. I am happy today to deliver IndiaOne’s ILD service to the Indian consumer that will change the way India communicates with the world.”

The company already has an interconnect with almost all cellular operators in the country and is negotiating interconnect agreements with BSNL and MTNL. Bharti is likely to offer its network to all carriers on a non-discriminatory basis.

As of June 30, Bharti Tele-Ventures has a total customer base of about 19,32,000 from its mobile, fixed-line and Internet service. Of these 16,07,000 were mobile customers.

The company offers mobile services in 12 of the 22 circles in India and intends to provide mobile services in five additional circles, for which the company has received licences from DoT.

   

 
 
INDIA TAKES LEAF OUT OF ISRAEL BOOK 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, July 19: 
With only a week to go for US secretary of state Colin Powell’s peace mission to India and Pakistan, New Delhi has chosen the Congressional route to put pressure on Washington to tighten the screws on General Pervez Musharraf.

At a hearing of the House of Representatives International Relations Subcommittee on South Asia yesterday, Congressman after Congressman, known supporters of India on Capitol Hill, cornered a state department official with questions meant to convey legislative displeasure over Powell’s policy of handling Musharraf with kid gloves.

Although there was no visible Indian role at yesterday’s hearing, it was clear from the proceedings that in the run up to Powell’s trip, Delhi was taking a leaf out of Israel’s strategy of conveying what it wants to the administration through friendly Congressmen or senators.

Christina Rocca, state department’s assistant secretary for South Asia who testified before the subcommittee yesterday, was bombarded with questions about Musharraf’s sincerity as a fighter against terrorism, his dubious means to achieve dubious ends and on America’s policy of once having encouraged the Taliban.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Benjamin Gilman, a Republican from New York, fired the opening shot after Rocca’s written testimony by expressing grave doubts over whether Musharraf was actually purging the ISI of extremist elements.

Gilman referred to a widely publicised article here in The Christian Science Monitor, which quoted Mohammad Muslim, the ISI chief in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, as saying in a rare interview: “The US government destroyed the World Trade Center so that it would have an excuse to destroy Afghanistan... After that, the US military killed tens of thousands of women and children in Afghanistan.”

The article went on: “Asked if he agreed that al Qaida was a terrorist group, Muslim chuckled and said that Osama bin Laden has been wrongly vilified through CIA-produced fake videos of him talking about the World Trade Center attack.”

But the most shocking quote of all from Muslim was with reference to Musharraf’s war on terror groups. “We don’t have to agree with Musharraf here. He is the leader of our country, but he is not an elected leader,” the regional ISI chief told the paper.

Gilman asked Rocca how America could trust Musharraf when he was allowing an ISI officer to continue in service even after giving such a provocative interview to a newspaper.

The assistant secretary chose not to confront America’s biggest dilemma in dealing with Musharraf by responding that she had not seen the article that Gilman was quoting from.

Clearly, of all the people dealing with South Asia in this city, Rocca must have been the only one not to have read the piece. But she promised the subcommittee chairman that she would read it and get back to him.

Next, Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from New York, pointedly asked Rocca whether Musharraf had condemned last weekend’s terrorist attack in Jammu.

She replied that Pakistan had done so. Ackerman wanted to know whether Musharraf had personally condemned it. Rocca chose to say that Pakistan’s foreign office had issued a statement to that effect. As for the General’s personal condemnation, she would have to check and get back to the subcommittee.

   

 
 
MODI FLIES FLAG OF GUJARAT PRIDE IN OPEN LETTER 
 
 
 
July 19: 
The following are excerpts from the letter written by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to the people:

With your blessings we got an opportunity to serve you all. All the members of the Cabinet have the satisfaction of discharging the duties entrusted by you with devotion.

In the pretext of (the) Godhra incident and its aftermath, efforts were made to pressurise Gujarat. Power-hungry forces stooped to the lowest possible level and made a united effort to devour the prestige of Gujarat. Those who spoke the truth about Gujarat were portrayed as liars. The forces which made desperate attempts to isolate Gujarat from the rest of the country have not stopped their attacks even now.

Those elements which failed in opposing (the) Narmada project, now try to portray Gujaratis as rapists to the rest of the world. Those who nurture such elements, insulted five crore Gujaratis by describing Gujarat as Godse’s Gujarat. Not a single hour passes in the Lok Sabha without an attempt being made to malign Gujarat... Look at the poverty of their thought and the peak of their hatred towards Gujarat!

Deliberate campaigns to weaken the morale of the democratic institutions were carried out by the forces who wanted to defame Gujarat. The position of a retired judge is a respectable institution, but baseless allegations were made against the inquiry commission and the retired judge appointed for inquiry. Rumours were spread to demoralise the police forces, divide the administration, and create an atmosphere of mistrust. The Gujarati press has an honourable history. The hatred towards Gujarat is revealed by the attempts made to portray even the Gujarati dailies as guilty. Attempts are going on even today to save the Godhra killers, to help them, by spreading all types of imaginary stories to misdirect the inquiry and to break the mental strength of the officers conducting the inquiry, instead of trusting the judiciary.

The power-hungry elements touched the heights of imagination when they said that the kar sevaks set fire to themselves, as if the innocent women, children and men worked out a criminal plan to set Gujarat on fire by immolating themselves. The power-hungry leaders have even forgotten the respect one should pay to death in their efforts to save those guilty in the Godhra incident. Godhra carnage has become a disaster for Gujarat. The five crore brothers and sisters of Gujarat longed for support and compassion in those tragic days. They kept waiting for a hand to wipe their tears, to heal their wounds. In those dreadful days, several delegations of all shapes and sizes landed in Gujarat in hundreds — innumerable — uncountable. They had decided not to let the wounds heal. All those who came rubbed salt on the wound to make it fresh, and big. Our pains gave them sadistic pleasure. On the other hand, those who are totally ignorant of the history and geography of Gujarat went on statement-making spree. Under the protection of the power-hungry leaders, the statement makers go about defaming Gujaratis and Gujarat.

The forces which you people drove away before 15 years are now hungry for power. In last October, when our ministry was formed, those elements went about spreading rumours of early election to create instability. While the ordinary citizen and Gujarat was saddened by the Godhra incident, these forces were busy for one-and-a-half months demanding the government’s resignation by launching protests, calling hundreds from different parts of the country.

The people of Gujarat have understood the criminal strategy of those who want to keep the communal fire alive wearing the masks of democracy. During the budget session of the Assembly, most of the time they were out, and were present only to create a hue and cry. They kept away even from the discussions on the budget, which is very important for the development of Gujarat. To wipe out the impression of an irresponsible Opposition party they were reciting election and the government’s resignation. They converted Lok Sabha into a battleground for dismissing the elected government in Gujarat and did not allow Lok Sabha to function for days...

...These elements, who to keep Gujarat burning to bake their political bread, joined hands with extremists and took control of the students, and announced the boycott of examinations. Under the pretext of boycotting examinations, even at the cost of the future of one crore students, they wanted bloodshed on the festival of Ramnavami to destabilise the government. Even though Gujarat High Court snubbed the elements who want to stop the conduct of examinations, they have not stopped yet.

No efforts are needed to find out the dangerous intentions of the power hungry. They went to the extent of taking disciplinary action and removed from the party the MLA who spoke about peace and communal harmony in the presence of CM during a function organised by the minority community for communal harmony attended by lakhs of people in Wankaner. Those who tried to ruin Gujarat by boycotting the examinations still enjoy high positions in the power-hungry party.

The hunger for power does not allow them to rest, even now. What all did they not do to degrade the holy celebrations like rathyatra? How much pressure they applied in Delhi to stop rathyatra? Those who wanted to destabilise the peace by attacking the rathyatra were caught red-handed with deadly weapons. Another Godhra was prevented. The power-hungry elements became so disillusioned that they had no words to say about the great disaster from which Gujarat was saved.

There was no word of appreciation. There was no single statement praising Gujarat...

People of Gujarat are the protecting gods of Gujarat in human form. It is desirable for all that they decide the future of Gujarat. Healthy political atmosphere is the need of the hour. Rumours and lies are hindering the interests of Gujarat. We do not want to affect the interest of Gujarat by entering into the competition of allegations and counter allegations. In democracy the final decision rests with the people.

The best spirit of democracy is to go to the people. So we again seek your blessings in the form of people’s mandate. After the elections, we want to march forward with fresh air and new trust... The people of Gujarat are awaiting an opportunity to teach a lesson to those who played with the pride of Gujarat.

We must think about the safety of Gujarat and Gujaratis. The development of Gujarat, the progress of Gujarat and the wealth of Gujarat are dear to us. It is the determination of all of us to move in that direction.

And so, I submit my resignation of my Cabinet at the feet of the five crore people of Gujarat.

   

 
 
PARLIAMENT GOES WITHOUT WORK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 19: 
Parliament today witnessed, in both Houses, government indifference to legislative business in varying degrees.

In the Rajya Sabha, lack of business forced an adjournment for 25 minutes ahead of the lunch recess.

Soon after the listed special mentions were completed, deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah adjourned the House till 2.30 pm as there was no business to transact just four days into the monsoon session, which commenced on July 15.

Some lighter moments were witnessed when Nilotpal Basu of the CPM said the government always blamed the Opposition for not co-operating in carrying out business but now it has no business to transact.

In the Lower House, for most part of zero hour just one Cabinet minister — social justice and empowerment minister Satyanarain Jatiya — and a couple of ministers of state were present to intervene on behalf of the government when members raised important issues.

The failure of crops, drought, infiltration from China, and the crisis in the tea industry were some of the issues raised without eliciting any adequate response from the government.

Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi asked why the parliamentary affairs minister was not present when important issues were being raised. “The minister is not present. I do not know how to function,” he said. Speaker Murli Manohar Joshi said the minister of state, who was present, would respond.

Members demanded a statement from the government on its plans to combat the drought-like situation. But there was no response from the government.

   

 
 
CONG SEES FEAR OF VAGHELA IN POLL CALL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ahmedabad, July 19: 
Newly-appointed Gujarat Congress chief Shankersinh Vaghela today walked tall, his mere presence having allegedly psyched Narendra Modi into calling early elections.

Minority leaders were unanimous it was the fear of Vaghela that triggered Modi’s decision. With his strong support base and populist pull, Modi feared the aggressive Kshatriya leader would wash away the perceived post-Godhra wave in favour of the BJP, they said.

“The decision is nothing but a reflection of fear because the new Congress president can cause immense damage to the BJP,” said Mohsin Quadri, a minority leader.

Quadri said the chief minister had no option but to rush the elections because he did not want to give Vaghela time to revamp the Congress and consolidate his hold over the people.

The Congress chief welcomed the dissolution, saying his party was fully prepared to face elections any time. But he would push for imposition of Central rule in Gujarat, he said. “We want elections to be held under President’s rule,” he said.

Though Vaghela said the Congress was keen to take on the BJP, he questioned Modi’s intentions. “If the situation is conducive to hold Assembly elections, why were the elections to two district panchayats and 86 municipalities postponed?” he asked.

BJP state general secretary and party spokesman Nalin Bhatt praised Modi for having taken a decision in the “larger interests of the state’’. The party had authorised Modi to take a decision at the right time, he said.

Bhatt claimed the winds were so much in favour of the BJP in Gujarat it would invariably improve on its previous tally. The BJP had bagged 121 seats in 1995 and 127 in the 1998 elections.

Some minority leaders said the riots and communal clashes since February-end had fallen into place with the poll call. Terming the decision “unfortunate”, the Shahi Imam of Ahmedabad’s Jama Masjid said: “Thousands of riot victims are still residing in relief camps but this BJP government, instead of rehabilitating them, is in a hurry to hold elections. This only shows that what happened in Gujarat was engineered for political gain.”

“But,” he added, “the BJP will not succeed --- the people have seen through their design, game plan.”

Human rights activist Cedric Prakash, who has been opposing early elections along with other rights bodies and NGOs, said thousands of riot-affected people, whose houses were set on fire by “Hindutva forces”, would not be able to vote as they did not have any proof of identity left.

“It is a real tragedy that Modi, who was a fit case for dismissal, is seeking a fresh mandate,” Prakash said.

   

 
 
CPM SLAMS ‘BULLY’ ATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 19: 
Charging the Centre with trying to bully the Election Commission into bringing forwards the Gujarat poll, the CPM today said it will confront the government on the issue in Parliament.

“It is a sinister move. The government is trying to foist a Constitutional obligation on the Election Commission. It may be the government’s prerogative to dissolve the Assembly, but it is the Election Commission’s prerogative to decide the timing of the polls,” CPM Rajya Sabha MP Nilotpal Basu said at a news conference this afternoon.

“We will try to forge the widest possible Opposition unity on this issue in Parliament,” he added.

The Left parties have maintained from the beginning that the BJP is trying to extract political mileage out of a ravaged Gujarat, where thousands of Muslims are still not able to return home or find jobs. “Instead of restoring order in the state, the Centre is now surreptitiously preponing the polls,” Basu said.

Though the CPM is claiming Opposition unity, there is a question mark on the stand the main Opposition party — the Congress — will take in Parliament.

The Congress leadership has declared that it is ready to face the poll because, observers said, it does not want to appear as running scared.

On the other hand, if the poll panel refuses to give in to the government’s pressure, the party will be left with the option of joining the Left in its opposition to the Gujarat election.

The Congress strategy will depend on the decision of the commission, which is meeting tomorrow.

The Left does not have a support base in Gujarat and, therefore, has little at stake. The Congress, the BJP’s main adversary, has started gearing up for the election by appointing Shankersinh Vaghela president of its Gujarat unit.

   

 
 
HUNT ON FOR DROUGHT SCAPEGOAT 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, July 19: 
The spectre of drought looms large over five of the country’s driest states, but the Centre is squabbling over who to blame for having stopped the water resources ministry from drought-proofing them.

A year ago, the fledgling ministry had come up with a proposal to activate about 1,000 deep wells it had bored in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa’s Koraput-Bolangir-Keonjhar area. This was part of a programme to map the country’s ground water potential, but the Cabinet unanimously snubbed it.

At the meeting where the proposal was raised, the normally reticent water resources minister, Arjun Charan Sethi, had argued that by spending just over Rs 20,000 a piece, these states would have about 200 deep bore wells each which could help in times of drought.

Behind his proposal may have been a desire to help out his home state Orissa, but his ministry had been testing and mapping the ground water potential all over the country to help mine water resources more efficiently.

But Sethi was roundly snubbed. While then rural development minister told him that doling out wells was not his job, then finance minister Yashwant Sinha said it would be difficult to raise money for this scheme as it was not covered by any plan funds. A representative of the Planning Commission even chipped in that there was little or no scope to put this in any plan scheme.

The red tape that stalled Sethi’s proposal is being rued in top government circles with the country reporting the lowest rainfall in six years. Just 16 of 36 meteorological divisions in the country have reported normal or above normal rains; the rest is believed to have a rain deficit.

Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are considered the worst hit. Both north-west and peninsular India have reported a negative 19 and 16 per cent rainfall. The sowing of oilseeds, pulses, bajra, jowar and maize — major crops in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — have been badly affected.

Even the paddy crop that is sown in some of these states is reported to have been hit as it needs standing water.

For the BJP government, it’s bad news even if the rains come late as the country’s largest crop — the kharif crop — would have been hit. With farming accounting for nearly 30 per cent of the GDP, this could undermine the chances of economic recovery.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.1°C (-1)
Minimum: 26.6°C (+1)

Rainfall

9.3 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 86%

Today

Sunrise: 5.05 am
Sunset: 6.21 pm
One or two spells of rain or thundershowers
   
 

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