Buddha call to stop drought exodus
Advani sniffs rival plot
Farooq bends to humour Hurriyat
Vigilance raids on DMK hubs
Assam to Kashmir, hear your cell beep
Mamata calls on Shekhawat

Purulia, Aug. 17: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today instructed the administration here and the panchayats to ensure that no one migrated from the drought-hit district.

“The government has enough schemes to see to it that there is adequate employment for the farm labours and to ensure that farmers do not leave the district in search of jobs,” Bhattacharjee said after a meeting to review the drought sweeping large parts of Purulia and Bankura.

Health minister Suryakanta Mishra, MLAs and MPs from the districts, the district magistrates and sabhadhipatis of the zilla parishads were present at the meeting in the youth office here.

Officials from key departments like health, public health and engineering, irrigation, agriculture and animal resources attended the meet.

“The situation in 20 blocks in Purulia and seven in Bankura is grim. We have to solve this problem by generating employment immediately,” the chief minister said. He added that the agriculture department should ensure the farmers planted alternative crops like pulses and oilseeds to tide over the crisis.

Purulia, this year, has had the worst rainfall recorded in a decade. In July, the district received 160 mm of rain while the annual average for the period is 319 mm.

In a booklet prepared for the meeting by the district administration, it was said that 287,000 hectares could not be cultivated for lack of rain. Till August 10, paddy could be sown in only 12 per cent of the land and groundwater levels have dropped by over 3.5 metres in the period.

At the meeting, Bhattacharjee had to face a barrage of complaints against irrigation department officials in the district. Even CPM Lok Sabha member Basudeb Acharya told the chief minister that the officials hardly reported for duty and that over Rs 7 crore was lying unutilised.

A visibly upset Bhattacharjee urged the officials to be serious with their work and threatened “harsh action” if the complaints continued to pour in.

Bhattacharjee has instructed the public health engineering department to urgently repair the over 1,500 hand pumps lying defective across the drought-hit areas.

The government plans to spend about Rs 5,051 crore in state and Central employment-generation schemes to tide over the lack of agriculture in Purulia alone. About Rs 1,546 crore of the amount is likely to come from the Central schemes. Besides, the public works department has over Rs 137 crore to spend on developing and repairing roads in the region.

Earlier, Bhattacharjee inaugurated the 440-m Netaji Setu, spanning the Damodar river near Dishergarh.


New Delhi, Aug. 17: 
If the recent BJP national council saw the second-rung leaders virtually at each other’s throats, the brass seems to be bonding in the aftermath of the unfolding litany of scams with the realisation that we either swim or sink together.

In a political conference of the party’s Delhi unit today, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu held the Opposition responsible for indulging in “character assassination” and “unleashing a slander campaign out of frustration”.

Without distinguishing between loyalists and those on the other side, Advani defended himself, Naidu, Cabinet colleagues Pramod Mahajan, Ananth Kumar and Ram Naik and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

Advani was charged by Madhu Sharma, wife of R.K. Sharma — the main accused in the murder of journalist Shivani Bhatnagar — of wanting to get at Mahajan by “implicating” her husband. Madhu has named Mahajan as being involved in the killing.

Kumar and Naidu were allegedly connected with a land scam and Naik with the petrol pump allotment scandal that rocked the government recently. Modi was singled out as the man responsible for the wave of communal violence after the Godhra massacre.

Attempting to defend the scam-a-day NDA government in his opening remarks, Advani said: “The Opposition is saying whatever they feel like. They are attacking me, Modi, Naik, Ananth and Mahajan. This does not reflect confidence but frustration.”

He described the allegations of foul play in the allotment of petrol pumps and land as “baseless”. “It is just a slander campaign as they have realised that the BJP cannot be ousted and the party is stabilising,” said the deputy Prime Minister.

Advani said: “We were aware of many irregularities by previous governments but they were exposed through courts and writ petitions. No political party can gain by making such charges and indulging in a character assassination campaign. It is indeed regrettable that the Opposition can stoop so low.”

However, at the height of the Harshad Mehta scam, the BJP had seized upon a passing allegation made by the late stockbroker — that he had paid Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao Rs 1 crore at his official residence out of a suitcase — to build a campaign against Rao.

The “suitcase scam”, as the party labelled it, caught the fancy of the middle-class when sold with the BJP’s slogan of a “party with a difference”.

Advani — who went on a nationwide yatra on the theme of “suchita” (probity) on the 50th year of Independence — sought to defend the press exposé of how land in the capital’s prime areas was grossly under-priced to favour RSS-affiliated outfits.

“People living in glass houses should not throw stones at others. About 4,000 applicants have been allotted land as per procedures. Is it a crime if a handful of them are related to the RSS?”

Naidu — in the thick of a controversy for allegedly usurping land given to the landless in his home state Andhra — said the Opposition is indulging in “spit-and-run” tactics to tar the image of the NDA coalition.

“Not a single scam has taken place in the four-year government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. They do not have any evidence but they are demanding the resignation of ministers day in and day out,” he said.

CPM jibe

The CPM today sought deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s resignation for misleading the nation on the situation in Gujarat. Armed with the 40-page document released by chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh yesterday, the Marxists gunned for the Vajpayee government shaken by a string of scams in recent weeks.

CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee appealed to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to step in and advise the ruling coalition to implement the Election Commission’s recommendations on Gujarat. While pointing out why it could not follow chief minister Narendra Modi’s advice of early elections, the poll panel had asked the Gujarat government to clean up its act and wait till the situation was “normal”.

The CPM has called for a special session of Parliament to discuss the scandals dogging the Vajpayee government, including the sensational Shivani Bhatnagar murder, where parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan has been named.


Srinagar Aug. 17: 
Chief minister Farooq Abdullah today agreed to hold talks with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference without any condition in response to the Centre-backed peace initiative launched by Ram Jethmalani in Kashmir.

Later in the day, after meeting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi, the chief minister pushed up the stakes, offering to step down if that could ensure the Hurriyat’s participation in the polls and carry forward Jethmalani’s efforts.

Farooq told reporters he was ready for talks with the umbrella organisation of separatist outfits in a no-holds-barred approach and that he was also willing to step down “in case it was a pre-requisite for Hurriyat to participate in the polls”.

In Srinagar, the Kashmir Committee conveyed a verbal invitation from the Centre for talks with the Hurriyat during their hour-long meeting.

Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said they would “soon discuss the verbal invitation from (the) Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister for talks in New Delhi”.

This is first time that the amalgam was meeting a committee that had the Centre’s backing to open a dialogue.

But Jethmalani failed to make further headway as the Hurriyat remained adamant on not participating in the Assembly polls and reiterated the need for a trilateral mechanism involving India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris to ascertain the wishes of the people.

Bhat made it clear that “our stand on Assembly polls remains unchanged”.

“We have made that clear several times and we don’t need to repeat it,” he said. The Hurriyat chief also refused to issue an appeal to the militants “for a ceasefire”.

But the amalgam also emphasised the need to “move ahead”.

“We took a position which is commensurate with history, politics and international law. But we decided to move ahead beyond yesterday and if we have to achieve a breakthrough we have to put our heads together and move ahead,” Bhat said.

He qualified the movement forward, raising the conditions that have assailed earlier discussions.

“But the movement forward should be looked at from a different angle as well. To make the exercise purposeful, we have to involve Pakistan, India and Kashmiris. And if we do not do this, I am afraid we cannot achieve a breakthrough. But in a first meeting, no miracles could happen,” Bhat said.

On his part, Jethmalani admitted “there was a dispute”. “It is only by accepting that there is a dispute that we can work to resolve it. It would be foolish for anyone to say there is no dispute,” said Jethmalani.

Poll panel visit

Chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh and the two election commissioners — T.S. Krishnamurthy and B.B. Tandon — along with deputy election commissioner Sayan Chatterjee will tour Srinagar and Jammu for two days from tomorrow to review security and other poll preparations in the state.

The poll panel will interact with the state’s chief secretary, senior civil and police officials and representatives of political parties during its visit, the sources added.    

Chennai, Aug. 17: 
Vigilance officials swooped down on 29 premises across the state in raids on DMK leaders, including two former ministers, and their relatives to see if they had acquired wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income.

Former agriculture minister and Salem strongman Veerapandi S. Arumugham, former fisheries minister Jennifer Chandran and Raghupathy, who defected from the ADMK a few years ago and is now secretary of the DMK’s election work committee, were targets of the raids.

Official sources said substantial cash, jewellery, bank passbooks and property documents were seized in the searches, which will be the basis of a fresh investigation into the DMK leaders’ assets.

Anti-corruption department teams searched Arumugham’s homes in his native village near Salem and in Chennai and two petrol pumps in Salem. Residences of close relatives in Chennai and Dharmapuri were also raided. Jennifer Chandran’s houses in Chennai and her hometown Tiruchendur were searched. The officials also raided the Raghupathy’s homes in Chenand at Pudukottai.

Congress Jananayaga Peravai MLA B. Ranghanathan, who was close to the DMK, also came under the scanner with vigilance officials searching his house in Chennai.

This is the second big strike by the Jayalalithaa regime against former DMK ministers in the past few months. Earlier, houses of former transport minister K. Ponmudi’s and former tourism minister Suresh Rajan were raided. Ponmudi is known to be close to M.K. Stalin, the son of DMK chief M. Karunanidhi and a rising star in the party.

The latest raids have come at a time when the DMK is in the middle of organisational polls and the squabbling between supporters of Stalin and M.K. Azhagiri, the Madurai-based elder son of Karunanidhi, has come out in the open. Two days ago, police intervention averted an ugly showdown in Madurai where plans for the August 19 rally against the ruling party’s “atrocities” were being discussed.

The Stalin and Azhagiri groups in the southern districts had closed ranks after Karunanidhi’s arrest last year and during the Andipatti Assembly byelection early this year, which Jayalalithaa swept to become chief minister again.

The factional feuds have come as a blow to Karunanidhi just when he was happy that his nephew and Union industries minister Murasoli Maran has recovered from a serious heart ailment after a valve replacement surgery at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences.


Guwahati, Aug. 17: 
The Centre today threw open the militancy-ravaged Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir to mobile phone services, discarding the defence establishment’s argument that it will lead to a spurt in insurgency.

Till now, mobile services were available only in Guwahati and Shillong in the Northeast while there was a blanket ban in Jammu and Kashmir.

Minister for communications Pramod Mahajan announced the Centre’s decision here today and said the services would be available in Jammu and Kashmir after the Assembly polls.

But there is a seven-step process before a cellular service can be launched.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has to sign a licence agreement with the department of telecommunications. (BSNL is the only operator in Jammu and Kashmir.)

Project Planning: At this stage, it is determined where the network can be established within the circle.

Site identification: This will pick the sites where the base stations can be established. A large cellular network like Airtel in Delhi has over 300 base stations.

Obtaining microwave access frequency from Wireless Planning Commission at 15 gigahertz. The commission allocates the frequency spectrum to all private players.

Frequency Planning: This will determine the frequency band that the cellular operator will use. The frequency band allocation is strictly monitored by the government and a large number of bands are allocated for defence purposes and civil aviation.

Application to the Standing Advisory Committee on Frequency Allocation that has to be cleared by the ministry of communications and the Wireless Planning Commission.

The home ministry and the internal security committee, which comprises representatives from the three armed forces, will have to give their approval.

A senior telecom ministry official said: “This takes a minimum of a year’s time, sometimes two years.”

“Even if the licences are given and the service is launched, it can be taken away the next day,” he added.

The licence conditions for cellular operators stipulate: “The licensee shall ensure that the cellsite or radio transmitters, wherever located, shall be at a distance of 10 km from international border of India. The transmitters and cellsite will work in a fashion that any signal or signals emanating therefrom, fade out when nearing or about to cross international borders and also become unusable with a reasonable distance across such border.”

“The authority (government) will have an absolute right to take over the entire services and networks of the licensee with or without revoking, terminating, suspending the licence in the interest of national security…”

But Mahajan brushed aside the security concerns over allowing cellular services in the regions. “If the need arises, we can always monitor cellphone calls. We have an effective monitoring system,” he said.

The minister had made a case for the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir in meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security. “I made it clear that security concerns cannot be the reason for depriving the people,” Mahajan said.

The Northeastern states had been crying foul over the defence establishment’s opposition to the introduction of mobile phone services.

The Mizoram government had questioned the logic behind the security concerns when the state was being looked upon as a role model for peace after a period of turmoil.


Calcutta, Aug. 17: 
Mamata Banerjee has explained to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee her party’s political compulsions for quitting the NDA.

Mamata met Vajpayee in Delhi last evening to “officially convey to him the party’s resolution not to remain part and parcel of the NDA until and unless the Eastern Railway bifurcation is revoked”. Trinamul sources said Vajpayee gave her a patient hearing, but did not promise to re-consider the Cabinet decision.

Trinamul leader Pankaj Banerjee said the party’s working committee had authorised Mamata to “personally” inform the Prime Minister of its decision to quit the NDA. “Accordingly, she met him and explained the working committee’s resolution,” he said.

Mamata is expected to return to the city tomorrow. She also met Vice-President-elect Bhairon Singh Shekhawat this afternoon to “congratulate him on his election to the prestigious office”. The meeting followed a call from Shekhawat to Mamata after Trinamul MPs abstained from voting in the Vice-Presidential election.

The Trinamul chief, who was one of those who proposed Shekhawat’s name, is believed to have narrated the circumstances that prompted her party to stay away from the voting.


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