SEB staff hand in power theft: Mrinal
Nanoor stage for Mamata refrain
Varsities face tuition ban
Govt bid for jute mill truce
Beginner’s recipe for ‘golden’ age
Day of breaking many protocols
Campaign cloud on Keshubhai
Red-tape rein on serum horses
Stars lose sheen in Venkaiah dream team
Farooq caps hopes over autonomy talks

 
 
SEB STAFF HAND IN POWER THEFT: MRINAL 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
July 25: 
Power minister Mrinal Banerjee today warned of severe action under the new anti-power theft law in a desperate effort to check pilferage and ease the financial crisis faced by the state electricity board.

Banerjee said in Burdwan today that the Indian Electricity (West Bengal Amendment) Act, 2001 — put into effect from July 15 — will be strictly enforced.

“A section of SEB employees is also involved in the power theft. Not only will they be jailed but they will also lose their jobs. They will have to be isolated through social pressure and legal action,” said the minister.

Banerjee also ruled out subsidies and writing off pending electricity bills. “It is impossible for us to provide any more subsidies and we will not be able write off arrears of sick industrial units either. The emphasis is now on revenue collection.”

The minister clarified that reviving sick units and providing incentives to new industries were not the SEB’s responsibility. “We will also not be able to write off dues of hospitals, civic bodies and government establishments,” asserted Banerjee.

Interestingly, the Burdwan Sanskriti Lok Mancha from where Banerjee launched his anti-power theft campaign owes Rs 19.35 lakh to the SEB. Government departments in Burdwan district owe nearly Rs 4 crore.

The SEB has launched massive raids to detect power thefts. SEB chairman G.D. Gautama said 312 FIRs were lodged and 73 persons arrested over the past 10 days. Over the past few days, sections of domestic consumers have come under scrutiny.

A massive drive against power theft has also been launched by the private power utility, CESC, in Calcutta and Howrah town. CESC executive director (corporate development) S. Chatterjee said the drive was intensified in May last year to increase revenue. He said the CESC suffers a loss of nearly Rs 160 crore per year due to power theft.

Officials of the two utilities said theft from electricity sources of civic bodies are rampant and go unchecked.

The incidence of such thefts is high in factory and slum areas and under-developed neighbourhoods. The civic bodies also do not have either the political will or the requisite monitoring system to check power thefts in the slum areas, they added.

The thrust of the drive is now against commercial and industrial establishments.

Maximum number of power theft were detected in Tiljala, Topsia, Kasba, Behala, Metiabruz, south port area, Bally, Bantra and Malipanchghara. In June this year, the CESC’s anti-power theft squads removed 4,600 illegal power connections hooked from overhead power lines and arrested 62 persons.

However, power department sources said that after the new law was put into effect there have been a discernible flow of applications from industries and commercial establishments seeking connections.

On GT Road in Howrah town, members of Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity, a social welfare body, along with school children armed with placards today demonstrated in front of the local CESC office in protest against frequent power cuts.

   

 
 
NANOOR STAGE FOR MAMATA REFRAIN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 25: 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee will highlight “the CPM’s politics of murder and violence” at a rally at Nanoor in Birbhum district on Saturday to mark “the genocide of poor peasants” there two years ago.

Eleven farm labourers owing allegiance to Trinamul were murdered at Baspara in Nanoor police station area on July 27, 2000, allegedly by CPM supporters. Mamata, who was the railway minister then, had rushed to the site the following day, demanding a CBI probe into the killings.

The Trinamul chief had refrained from making a pointed attack on the Marxists at her Martyrs’ Day rally in the city on July 21 in the wake of her on-going tiff with railway minister Nitish Kumar over the division of railway zones. She intends to use Saturday’s rally to re-launch her anti-CPM crusade.

Mamata had sought the CPM’s co-operation to start a joint stir to stall the division of railway zones. However, the Marxists’ refusal to join hands with her on the issue and their attempt to hold her partly responsible for the current impasse have prompted the Trinamul leader to “expose the CPM’s doublespeak” at the Nanoor rally.

Sources close to Mamata said she was gathering information for mounting an attack on her opponents, who have accused her of not doing enough to stall the bifurcation plan during her tenure as railway minister. She intends to wait for the CPM’s booklet on the issue before bringing out a similar publication to “clear misconceptions”.

The Trinamul leader is expected to reveal her party’s strategy to frustrate “Kumar’s game-plan to cripple Bengal’s economy” at the rally if the Cabinet fails to evolve a formula to resolve the row by tomorrow. She hopes the Centre will take a quick decision on the issue, which has assumed national dimensions with several other states demanding separate zones.

Mamata feels that the Left statement opposing the division and demanding the formation of an experts’ committee on the issue has vindicated her stand.

She will leave for Nanoor on Friday night and address the rally at 1 pm on Saturday.

   

 
 
VARSITIES FACE TUITION BAN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Barasat, July 25: 
After banning private tuition by government school teachers, the state government has decided to initiate similar restrictions in higher education.

At a recent meeting with vice-chancellors of various universities, state higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty asked them to initiate measures to ban private tuitions at the university level.

Chakraborty held the meeting with the vice-chancellors while attending the fourth district conference of the West Bengal College and University Teachers Association at Madhyamgram.

“I told them to take effective measures to restrict private tuition. And, if necessary, the government will give them all possible help in this regard,” Chakraborty said.

“The state government cannot make the ban mandatory for college teachers as the universities have autonomy,” explained minister said.

“We held the meeting a few days ago. I hope some positive responses will come soon,” Chakraborty said.

However, none of the vice-chancellors have contacted the state higher education department in this regard so far.

The minister welcomed private investment in higher education. But he strongly criticised the Centre for making education a “tradable commodity” by inviting foreign investment in the field of education.

“We should welcome domestic investments to keep the state free from harmful foreign investment,” he said.

   

 
 
GOVT BID FOR JUTE MILL TRUCE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ranigunj, July 25: 
Small industries minister Bansagopal Chowdhury will hold a meeting with trade union representatives and officials of the district administration tomorrow to find a way out of the impasse over the closed Hooghly Jute Mill here.

The mill owner, Arun Bajoria, had declared a lock-out on Tuesday after workers protesting low wages gheraoed him for more than two hours and allegedly assaulted two mill officials. More than 400 people work at the mill, which was inaugurated a few months ago with much fanfare as the only jute mill in the coal belt.

“We are aware of the situation. Today, Bajoria, the mill owner had come to me in Calcutta,” Chowdhury said. “A meeting will be held at Asansol tomorrow in the presence of the district magistrate, the superintendent of police, factory authorities, Citu leaders. We hope that the matter will be resolved soon.”

The minister said he would ask the workers to start discussions with the factory authorities regarding wages and other facilities. Ranigunj municipality chairman Runu Datta, the local CPM leader, said the matter could not be referred to the labour commissioner as there is no recognised trade union in the mill.

“We had suggested to the factory owners that they take workers from the employment exchange instead of the local panchayat, to avoid political patronisation. But we did not expect that they would be so poorly paid,” Datta said.

“The workers are being paid Rs 20 per day, which violates the Industries Employment (Standing Order) Act, 1946,” alleged Ashoke Bauri, a labour leader.

“Bajoria had come to me with some problem regarding the factory. I suggested that he submit a list of workers and their status. I am surprised that he declared a closure without telling me,” Datta said.

   

 
 
BEGINNER’S RECIPE FOR ‘GOLDEN’ AGE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 25: 
Missile man A.P.J. Abdul Kalam today covered the long distance from Rameshwaram to Rashtrapati Bhavan at 9.54 am when he was sworn in President of the republic at a dignified ceremony where he unveiled his vision and called for a national movement to place India into the league of developed nations.

Kalam said if the principles of parliamentary democracy, communal amity, self-reliance, power of knowledge and decentralisation are followed in true spirit, India’s “golden” era would be revived.

Sporting a Jodhpuri bandhgala, Kalam took oath in the name of God, which was administered by Chief Justice of India B.N. Kirpal in the presence of 100 schoolchildren. The students, including some blind children, lined up in the Central Hall in their school uniforms.

A formal procession led by outgoing President K.R. Naraynanan brought Kalam from Rashtrapati Bhavan to the Central Hall of Parliament. After the oath, Kalam and Narayanan exchanged seats in the backdrop of a loud applause and a 21-gun salute.

Among those watching the ceremony at the Central Hall included Kalam’s scientist colleagues K. Kasturirangan and R. Chidambaram, and eminent industrialists like the Ambani brothers and Infosys chief N.R. Narayana Murthy. The gathering also included 38 proud relatives and friends of Kalam, including elder brother A.P.J. Muttu Marrakayar.

In a 10-minute address, his first as President, Kalam said he had a dream — to make India strong, self-reliant and united. The new President, while committing his unflinching support to secularism, pleaded for making national security a priority.

Kalam identified cross-border terrorism, internal conflicts and unemployment as major challenges facing the country.

“Along with speedy development aimed at elimination of poverty and unemployment, national security has to be recognised by every Indian as a national priority,” he said, adding that making India strong and self-reliant — economically, socially and militarily — should be every citizen’s foremost duty to the motherland.

“To face these challenges, there must be a vision to ensure focused action of one billion citizens of this great country with varied capabilities. What can be that vision?” he asked.

Kalam went on to answer that question himself, saying it could be achieved by transforming India into a developed nation for which a “movement” was needed.

“This is the time to ignite the minds of the people for the movement. We will work for it. We cannot emerge as a developed nation if we do not learn to transact with speed,” he said, recalling a couplet by Kabir which says: “What you want to do tomorrow, do it today, and what you want to do today, do it now.”

The basic structure of the Constitution had stood the test of time, he said, adding: “I am confident that it will continue to be responsive to the demands of changing situations.”

Kalam said the first and foremost task was to uphold the constitutional processes, in the best interests of the people and the nation, without fear or favour and with fairness and firmness.

He said competitiveness helped in ensuring economic and managerial efficiency and in meeting new challenges. “These are essential to survive and prosper in the fast-changing world of today. In addition, in order to strengthen democratic processes and institutions, we should all truly strive for substantive de-centralisation,” Kalam said.

Endorsing his predecessor Narayanan’s focus on the principle of secularism, the new President said this was the cornerstone of our nationhood and a key feature of “our civilisational strength”.

Kalam said there was an urgent need to empower people at various levels — child, teacher, individuals or a team. “When the leader of any institution empowers his or her people, leaders are born who can change the nation in multiple areas. When the women are empowered, society with stability gets assured. When the political leaders of the nation empower the people through visionary policies, the prosperity of the nation is certain,” he said.

“The medium of transformation to developed India is empowerment at various levels with the power of knowledge. A roadmap for realising this vision of developed India is in front of us,” he said, recalling that during his tour to various parts of the country, he had heard the voice of the youth saying —“When can I sing the song of India?”

Kalam said that in the past year, he had interacted with 50,000 schoolchildren. “I would like to share with you my answer to the urge of these children. If youth have to sing the song of India, India should be a developed country which is free from poverty, illiteracy and unemployment and is buoyant with economic prosperity, national security and internal harmony.

“If we work and sweat for the great vision with ignited minds, the transformation leading to the birth of vibrant developed India will happen. This song when sung in our beautiful languages will unite our minds for action. I pray to the Almighty: may the divine peace with beauty enter into our people; happiness and good health blossom in our bodies, minds and souls,” Kalam said.

   

 
 
DAY OF BREAKING MANY PROTOCOLS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 25: 
On day one, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam began on an unconventional note.

Throughout the swearing-in ceremony, the white button from his Jodhpuri bandhgala was shining through. A back-bencher in the Central Hall, known for his sartorial taste, could not help commenting: “It is just a beginning. You will see many conventions fall through.”

Soon after swearing in, Kalam wanted to break cordons to meet elder brother A.P.J. Muttu Marrakayar sitting a few rows away, but was prevented from doing so on grounds of protocol.

The newly-appointed President, however, could not help breaking protocol while escorting outgoing President K.R. Narayanan at Rashtrapati Bhavan when he suddenly turned back and went to his friends and relatives.

Even as securitymen went into a tizzy, Kalam received blessings from two Christian priests from his home-town of Rameshwaram as others warmly shook his hands.

At lunch, President Kalam was more unconventional. He left the high table to sit with nearly 100 schoolchildren, who were especially invited to witness the swearing-in. Several dignitaries who were present at Kalam’s first lunch at Rashtrapati Bhavan were amused at the way the 71-year-old Missile Man sought to mix with children. But nobody was complaining over the breach of protocol.

By evening, the “unconventional President” appeared tired off military fanfare and formalities of assuming high office. Among other things, Kalam was reportedly keen to discard the bandhgala and settle for his more comfortable blue shirt and grey trousers, but official engagements such as formal meetings with the Prime Minister, the Vice-President and a visit to Rajghat prevented him from doing that.

   

 
 
CAMPAIGN CLOUD ON KESHUBHAI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 25: 
Pleading “indifferent health”, Keshubhai Patel has told L.K. Advani that he will not campaign as actively in the Assembly elections as he did in 1995 and 1998.

Gujarat BJP sources said Patel expressed his inability when he met the deputy Prime Minister a couple of days ago. “He told Advani he was not in the same condition as in the 1990s when he worked from morning to evening during an election. Health permitting, Keshubhai told Advani he would campaign for the BJP,” said the sources.

Patel’s message was received with a sense of unease in the BJP. He had left the party guessing about his plans when he first rejected a Cabinet berth and later the post of the Gujarat BJP chief. It was felt he was “putting up his price” given the importance of the Patel vote in the state. “Keshubhai is equal in strength, if not more, to all the Patel leaders and workers put together in the Congress,” an MP from Saurashtra said.

Advani today issued a statement, denying he had described Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as the “best chief minister in 50 years”, mainly to mollify Patel, claimed the BJP sources. A section of the press had quoted Advani as saying this in the Rajya Sabha yesterday.

However, the deputy Prime Minister sought to put the record straight and quoted the actual statement: “Sir, in the last 50 years, there have been numerous riots at numerous places, but I am not aware of any other chief minister having dealt with them so sternly.”

Patel, the sources maintained, wanted the leaders to project him as the chief ministerial candidate instead of Modi. But given the “profile” Modi was supposed to have acquired post-Godhra, they were reluctant to replace him.

“The issue in Gujarat is beyond castes and sub-castes. People have said Modi is the first chief minister who has not hurt Hindu sentiments and this perception must be kept in mind in planning a strategy,” said the central BJP sources.

But the view in Gujarat was a little different. “The communal violence took place in parts of north and central Gujarat, which are Congress strongholds. Saurashtra, which accounts for 58 of the 182 Assembly seats, was unaffected. Here the issues are water and power and the rise in the price of agricultural inputs. The majority of our voters are Patels. Thanks to Keshubhai, last time we won 52 seats from Saurashtra. If he stays away, this figure may be half,” the sources explained.

The BJP does not harbour any hopes of netting the votes of the Kshatriya-Darbar community, the other dominant caste, with the Congress projecting Shankersinh Vaghela in a big way.

Modi belongs to the backward Telli caste of oil extractors, but given the fact that Gujarat was untouched by the Mandal phenomenon, BJP sources are convinced his caste is not a plus factor.

Others felt Patel was “acting up” to have a major say in ticket distribution so that he would become a “major factor” post-poll.

   

 
 
RED-TAPE REIN ON SERUM HORSES 
 
 
FROM M.R.VENKATESH
 
Chennai, July 25: 
The King Institute, which caters to Tamil Nadu’s snake-bite antidote requirements, is facing a severe raw material crunch.

The institute, which makes this antidote from the blood of horses and mules, needs 150 horses more to help meet the demand for the vaccine. However, the institute has been facing difficulty in procuring mules weighing 400 kg or more, as stipulated. The facility had, thus, sought permission from the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals to use mules weighing 350 kg.

The head of the panel’s subcommittee for the serum-making institute, Chinni Krishna, who is also the vice-chairman of the Chennai-headquartered Animal Welfare Board of India, promptly gave verbal permission to use mules weighing 350 kg and above. “We have permitted it, over telephone, after the institute sought a one-time relaxation in weight norms. I have also sent an e-mail confirming it,” he said.

However, cautious authorities at King Institute insist on a formal written communication from the ministry. “I need written orders (relaxing the weight of mules to be purchased from the open market) as I am answerable to the government,” says institute director Lalitha Pillai.

“After nearly two years of shut-down because of a Supreme Court order, we have to start producing this serum vaccine from scratch. Unless we have the animals in time, our production will be delayed,” says Pillai. The institute has now sent a team to buy horses at an army auction in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh.

Krishna concedes that shifting animal care to the environment ministry could be responsible for the delay in getting a formal clearance, but says the environment ministry “looks a much more natural place for animal care to be in”. As the minister in charge of the animal welfare department, Maneka Gandhi had campaigned strongly against use of animals for laboratory tests.

He refutes the criticism that the committee is delaying crucial medical projects involving animal experiments on the ground of enforcing stringent regulations on animal health and sanitary conditions. “We, at the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals, do not delay matters and promptly respond to requests,” asserts Krishna.

“There is really no controversy,” says Krishna, who feels that the committee’s momentum has considerably improved the condition of animals in laboratories across the country. “Many of the people using animals have started to realise that good animal health makes for good research,” claims Krishna.

“It is in our interest to accept good laboratory standards. Otherwise, we will not be able to see any new molecule developed or find acceptability in any part of the world,” he says.

   

 
 
STARS LOSE SHEEN IN VENKAIAH DREAM TEAM 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, July 25: 
A little over a week after M. Venkaiah Naidu’s dream team was constituted, two of its star members, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley, have had their wings clipped.

The duo was given the bulk of the political management and social expansion work of key BJP states by the new party president.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani have asked Rajnath to stop criticising chief minister Mayavati and creating “problems” for the BJP-BSP coalition, sources said. Naidu had given Rajnath the charge of Uttar Pradesh.

Rajnath met Advani today and asked him to consider withdrawing support to the Mayavati government. But he was told the coalition must be allowed to complete its term or at least last till the next Lok Sabha elections.

Accordingly, Rajnath has decided to “mentally” distance himself from his home state, which is also the BJP’s most prized political turf.

“From now on, he will have virtually nothing to do with Uttar Pradesh. He might not attend meetings relating to strategies and policies for the state. He will confine himself to touring the state on his own and, if necessary, address public meetings,” sources said.

Vajpayee, who Mayavati said approved all her decisions, stayed away from a dinner meeting of the state’s BJP MPs at the Parliament annexe tonight because he did not wish to engage in even a casual chat on the coalition.

The former Uttar Pradesh chief minister was opposed to forming a coalition with the BSP, but was forced to fall in line once Vajpayee, Murli Manohar Joshi and Pramod Mahajan insisted on it.

The BJP is examining the prospects of a long-term electoral alliance with the BSP for the Lok Sabha polls and next year’s Assembly elections. Union minister Uma Bharti, who is from Madhya Pradesh, has already initiated discussions with BSP chief Kanshi Ram as his party has a critical four to five per cent vote base in the state.

Rajnath was openly critical of Mayavati’s decisions to stop free distribution of textbooks to non-Dalit children and distribute surplus gram panchayat land to Dalits. “Such moves help her consolidate her base but alienate the BJP’s upper caste voters,” sources said.

After being reined in by Vajpayee, Rajnath decided to concentrate on the other states in his “brief” —Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir.

Uttar Pradesh BJP leaders, including Rajnath, Kalraj Mishra, Lalaji Tandon and state president Vinay Katiyar, met informally this evening at Mishra’s residence to take stock of the situation.

But no dissent was expressed against Mayavati, “knowing fully well that none of these leaders had the political clout to take her on unlike Kalyan Singh”, sources said.

Jaitley had started his innings as the Jammu and Kashmir mediator “walking a tightrope between keeping the RSS and Jammu BJP happy and the National Conference in good humour until the elections”.

Although his initial brief was to discuss devolution of powers or autonomy with the Kashmir parties, the final notification whittled down his role to talks on just devolution of powers.

BJP sources said the RSS and a section of the party objected to the word “autonomy” and the implication that it would give more powers to the Valley while ignoring Jammu, Leh and Ladakh. The notification appointing Jaitley was issued after many hiccups.

“In such matters, the interests of the party should be given priority over those of the government and, as far as we are concerned, we have to keep our Hindu constituents happy,” BJP sources said.

   

 
 
FAROOQ CAPS HOPES OVER AUTONOMY TALKS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, July 25: 
Chief minister Farooq Abdullah today indicated that autonomy talks between the National Conference and the Centre’s interlocutor, Arun Jaitley, will not lead to any quick-fix solution and strengthen his party’s hand ahead of the October elections.

“The talks could take a long, long time. After all, the problem had existed for years and despite the best intentions of both parties, it will be a long drawn-out, slow and even a tedious process. We certainly have no timeframe in mind for wrapping up the talks. But I am happy a beginning has been made,” Farooq said.

The first meeting between Jaitley and his party leader J.M. Shah was held today “in a very cordial atmosphere”, Farooq said. The first round was basically a warm-up session and lasted around one-and-a-half hours. Shah explained his party’s position on autonomy and the context in which the demand for a devolution package was being made.

He explained that the majority of the people of Kashmir were for autonomy and for India. “This will definitely end the alienation of the people and strengthen the relations,” Shah said, adding that “the demand was within the framework of the Constitution”.

Earlier rounds of talk between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s pointman for Kashmir K.C. Pant and the ruling party had literally driven Farooq’s people up the wall. “Those talks were a waste of time, nothing moved,” said National Conference sources. So when the question of autonomy or devolution came up again, Farooq wanted a person of his choice as interlocutor.

The chief minister met deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani for 30 minutes in his North Block office, where they discussed the security situation in the state, the progress of the Amarnath yatra and how to ensure free and fair elections. Farooq sought more Central forces as there would be many more candidates in the fray this time.

Advani told reporters the demand for additional security forces would be met promptly. The deputy Prime Minister added that the question of imposing Central rule in Kashmir ahead of the elections did not crop up during the meeting.

The Kashmiri leader reiterated he would not toe the Centre’s line on Governor’s rule. “Why, what is the need for this? I am an elected representative and I have assured that the polls will be free and fair.” But few in Srinagar would be convinced.

Few in Srinagar would be convinced, but Farooq is holding all the cards at the moment and the government is in no position to alienate him. Already, Delhi’s inability to deliver on its promise to make Farooq the NDA vice-presidential candidate has irritated him. His son and junior foreign minister, Omar Abdullah, made no bones about it during his anointment as party chief.

Vajpayee’s comments about holding elections under Governor’s rule in Kashmir at a news conference in Lucknow had also angered the Abdullahs. Even if they were earlier willing to go ahead with Delhi’s suggestion, they was unlikely to do so after it was made public.

   
 

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