Atal govt issues itself mandate to act
Home secretary sinks in transfer tide
Late poll hint at meet
CBI arrests two in Staines case
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 3 
Eager to shed the lameduck tag of a caretaker regime, the Vajpayee government today issued itself the licence to act. A business-as-usual instruction has gone out to all ministers, giving them the go-ahead to even take decisions that may have policy implications.

After a nod from the Prime Minister?s Office, Cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar has issued a letter pointing out that the Constitution does not provide for the concept of a ?caretaker? and that ?the government can take decisions with some discretion?. The letter also says the government can even take policy decisions, if necessary.

The letter, dated May 1, reached the ministries today, putting the stamp of authority on the BJP leadership?s repeated public pronouncements that the defeated coalition intends to be a functioning government, not hobbled by its caretaker status.

The threat was initially used as a bargaining chip to get the Opposition to agree to early elections. Now that it looks unlikely polls will be held before September, the BJP-led coalition has put into action its plan to perform as a fully functioning government.

The step is also a challenge to the Opposition, particularly the Congress, which has been contesting the coalition?s right to function as a full-fledged government, and an invitation to a debate on the powers of a caretaker regime.

An Election Commission official refused to comment on the development, saying that the watchdog would first have to check the contents of the letter. Last week, the panel had asked the Centre and the states to ?exercise restraint? in view of the elections. Its advisory came after Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee?s televised address and the transfer of a large number of officials by the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh governments.

The Election Commission circular did not contain the word ?discretion?. ?Restraint? was what it stressed. For example, the commission made it clear that no ministry can go ahead and announce a new programme for the girl child or any other deprived section of society.

A Congress spokesman said the issue will be taken up when senior leaders meet. He said the party will keep close watch on the decisions taken by this government. ?Only when these decisions are taken shall we come to know whether democracy is being subverted,? said Pranab Mukherjee. He insisted a government defeated on the floor of the House will have to function as a caretaker.

The government argues there are compulsions for taking major decisions. For instance, it has to issue revenue notifications related to the export-import policy and make amendments to the budget, which was passed without discussion. Without these amendments, policy announcements in the budget will not only be incomplete but also useless.

With the Cabinet secretary?s clarification, the government can even decide on allowing direct-to-home television broadcast, where it has to fix the quantum of foreign equity participation.

Industry groups have been lobbying for an Ordinance giving effect to the Insurance Regulatory Authority Bill.

In the telecom sector, the decision to allow operators to enter into a revenue-sharing arrangement with the government is pending with the attorney-general. Instead of waiting for a new government, a decision taken by the attorney-general can be implemented by the current dispensation.

All the national chambers of commerce have called for delinking policy decisions from political uncertainties. Issues of immediate concern to them include power projects, oil exploration licensing, expenditure management commission and public sector divestment.    

New Delhi, May 3 
On a day when the Centre vowed to act as a ?normal government with almost full powers?, 11 secretary-level officials were transferred. The most significant of these was the easing-out of home secretary B.P. Singh. He has been replaced by Kamal Pandey, who was the agriculture secretary.

Singh?s transfer took IAS circles by surprise because he had been seen as being close to home minister L.K. Advani. Initially, there was speculation that the Prime Minister?s Office (PMO) may have had a hand in the transfer, given the perception that it would like to clip the home minister?s wings.

But well-placed sources in the bureaucracy maintained that Singh had fallen out with Advani over the past few months.

The recent loss in the trust vote ? with the intelligence agency clueless about Mayavati?s turnaround ? may have put Singh in the dock. Renewed escalation of violence in Kashmir has also added to his falling out of favour.

It seems that Advani was not always happy with Singh?s advice on Bihar issues. Singh had not been able to develop a functional relationship among the ministry?s various agencies involved in intelligence-gathering.

The decision to transfer these secretary-level officials is shrouded in controversy, with chief election commissioner M.S. Gill having already advised the government to be restrained.

The Congress has criticised the transfers. The party argued that they were unwarranted and set a bad precedent.

But, sources said, the BJP-led government has lined up more transfers. They said a file containing the proposed transfer of 16 additional secretaries is now pending with the PMO. The list will be reviewed and approved within the next few days.

The sources said new home secretary Pandey, a distant relation of Murli Manohar Joshi, may be at sea because he has not had much experience in dealing with home-related issues. Pandey is of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, as is the present Cabinet secretary.

A few of the other transfers also indicate that ministers of the BJP coalition were not getting along with the bureaucracy.

For example, M.M. Joshi had begun to dislike education secretary P.R. Dasgupta after the Vande Mataram fiasco. The minister?s pleas for his transfer have been heard. Maneka Gandhi wanted the transfer of West Bengal cadre IAS D.K. Manavalan. Her wish, too, has been fulfilled by the PMO.

The government has gone out of its way to implement what even lightweight PMK health minister Dalit Ezhilmalai demanded: the removal of K.K. Bakshi as health secretary. Manavalan moves to youth affairs and sports, while Dasgupta and Bakshi will be advisers to the plan panel.

Former high commissioner to Pakistan Satish Chandra, who had been appointed chairman of Joint Intelligence Committee in the Cabinet secretariat, has been designated secretary to the National Security Council secretariat.    

New Delhi, May 3 
Today?s Election Commission meeting, which heard the views of political parties to decide the timing of mid-term polls, followed the pattern of the last Lok Sabha trust vote with almost the entire BJP-led coalition insisting on a June date and the Opposition emphasising the need to conduct elections in late September or early October.

At the end of the meet, chief election commissioner M.S. Gill reserved his decision and said the dates would be announced shortly. This implies that he will discuss issues that emerged at today?s meeting with his colleagues G.V.G. Krishnamurthi and J.M. Lyngdoh tomorrow before taking a decision.

Only former Congress Union minister Sukh Ram, whose Himachal Vikas Party is now a BJP ally, did a Mayavati by echoing the views of the Opposition. The Bahujan Samaj Party and Om Prakash Chautala?s Haryana Lok Dal took the middle path, saying they had no particular preference.

Once during the prolonged meeting, which generated much heat with both sides arguing furiously, Gill almost gave away his preference for a September vote.

Some ruling alliance representatives were arguing that it would look odd if the country?s new Prime Minister had not assumed office by August 15, the day of the traditional address to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort.

Gill replied that no one should make an issue of the Prime Minister delivering the Red Fort address. He might make political statements which the Opposition would interpret as a campaign speech. Those against the present government should not then raise a furore. After all, the prestige of the nation was involved, he said.

It was almost a giveaway that a caretaker government would be in the saddle around August ? a strong indication that Gill is in favour of polls at a later date, preferably in September.

The BJP stuck to its demand that the polls should be held as early as possible, preferably in June, saying floods and the late monsoon might wreak havoc with the schedule in September. Besides, there should be a proper government in place at the earliest to enable policy initiatives, the party said. BJP representatives echoed the Prime Minister?s line that revision of electoral rolls could always be deferred.

The Congress made a strong plea that no one should be deprived of his voting right. Those who have turned 18 by January 1, 1999, had every right to vote, the party held. The revision is expected to be over by July 20.    

New Delhi, May 3 
The CBI has achieved a breakthrough in the Graham Staines murder case with the arrest of two of the accused, who have admitted the involvement of Dara Singh, believed to be a Bajrang Dal activist, in the crime.

During the CBI?s interrogations, Ojen Hansda and Chinchu Hansda confessed to their role in the murder as well as that of Dara Singh, the prime accused who is still absconding.

Singh, who had migrated to Orissa from Uttar Pradesh, has been accused of planning and leading the gruesome attack on the Australian missionary and his two sons.

The arrest of the two accused is the first real breakthrough for the CBI, which, till now, had been able to interrogate only eyewitnesses and not the perpetrators.

A mob shouting ?Jai Bajrang Dal? had set on fire the jeep in which Staines and his sons were sleeping, burning them to death in Keonjhar?s Manoharpur village in January. The CBI believes that at least 15 persons were involved in the killing.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky with possibility of development of thunder shower towards afternoon or evening. Slight rise in day temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 34.9?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 25.8?C (Normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 83%
Minimum 48%

Rainfall:0.6 mm

Sunset: 6.01 pm
Sunrise: 5.06 am

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