Prime Minister in drought emergency cry
Advani sees eye to eye with Red Army
Death stares after three bleeding years of inactio
Sourav to miss Dhindsa date
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 23 
With storm clouds gathering over tomorrow�s Parliament session, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today took the drought fightback to the nation�s drawing rooms and sought help for those �who can only stare at the parched earth�.

Vajpayee appealed to the nation to come to the aid of the drought-stricken people of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh and contribute generously to the National Relief Fund (NRF).

The televised address � also aired by All India Radio � came on the eve of a special, day-long discussion on the crisis which will take place in the Lok Sabha tomorrow, when the debate is expected to conclude with Vajpayee�s reply. BJP sources said the government would call on the Opposition not to �politicise� the situation, but help evolve a consensus on how to fight the drought.

However, the Congress has sought to link the fallout of the calamity to the government�s economic decisions and accused the Centre of being �very tardy in providing relief�.

Vajpayee said the funds released so far by the Centre for Rajasthan and Gujarat were inadequate. Much more needed to be done to help the people in the two western states and parts of Andhra and Madhya Pradesh, he said.

�Large areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan, and some other parts of the country, are in the grip of a severe drought. Crops have withered away, water resources have dried up, there is no fodder for cattle. In village after village, hunger stalks men, women and children,� he said in his appeal. �Given the severity of the drought ... these funds are inadequate,� he said. The Centre has released Rs 270 crore to Rajasthan and Gujarat.

�You can help meet the shortage by contributing money, no matter how small the amount, to the NRF,� the Prime Minister exhorted, pointing out that the rains were still months away from ending the dry spell which had already affected five crore people. �We cannot leave our own brothers and sisters at the mercy of their fate or the cruelty of the vagaries of nature... They need our help to tide over the calamity... to survive hunger and diseases, to rebuild their lives and to save their cattle that often are their only wealth.�

Aware that his government would have to bear the brunt of his allies� wrath if other states, especially the northern ones, came in the grip of the famine, Vajpayee�s emotion-laced speech recalled how people�s assistance had helped the Centre to meet the challenge of last year�s supercyclone which ravaged Orissa.

Despite the government�s hopes to achieve a consensus across the political spectrum, the Opposition seems to be gearing up for an all-out offensive. In a press statement, deputy leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party Madhavrao Scindia said the Centre had worsened matters by slashing several provisions for the rural areas and various rural employment schemes by as much as 30 to 40 per cent.

He added that because of the slow relief, �the farming and the rural community � already bearing the brunt of mounting indebtedness, high rise in costs of inputs like fertilisers, and other related problems like the fall in the ground-water level � have been dealt a body blow by the drought�.

The CPI alleged that the government was unconcerned about the �volatile� situation and demanded that an all-party meeting be convened to tackle the crisis.    

Siliguri, April 23 
As he hopped from snow-covered Nathu La to Tin Bigha, the corridor splitting the lush green fields of the two Bengals, L.K. Advani had close encounters of a friendly kind.

At Nathu La, where Indian and Chinese troops face each other �eyeball-to-eyeball� � the Union home minister�s own words � he met members of the Red Army. At Tin Bigha � where BJP followers had shed blood protesting against Bangladesh�s right of passage through the corridor eight years ago, goodwill ambassador Advani presented sweets and fruits to Bangladesh Rifles jawans. In return, the BDR men greeted him with a smart salute.

But pleasantries over, within minutes Advani switched to his original role of the man who looks after the nation�s security.

�Broadly speaking, our relationship with Bangladesh is friendly and cordial. Yet, we still have some problems like illegal migration and the tendency of North-east militants to set up their base there,� Advani told newsmen. �Though I believe Bangladesh is earnestly trying to stop North-east militants from operating from there, we�ll raise this issue with the Bangladesh home secretary next month,� he said.

The home minister reached Tin Bigha a little before 3 pm, almost five hours behind schedule. He had spent a long time at Nathu La, which he could not visit yesterday due to bad weather, and Tsangu lake, the latest tourist sensation in east Sikkim

Yesterday, Advani had announced the Centre�s willingness to reopen the traditional border trade with Tibet through Sikkim which has been closed since the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict.

At Tin Bigha, Advani said he will take up for discussion the inability of Indian citizens living in Bangladesh enclaves to vote.

According to border officials, residents of the enclaves have not been able to vote because the territories are not properly demarcated from Bangladesh.

The home minister did not seem ready to accept Bangladesh�s demand for more time to use the Tin Bigha corridor which joins two Bangladeshi enclaves, Angarpota and Dahagram, through India. �We feel the present duration is quite satisfactory,� he said. Bangladeshis are allowed to use the corridor at every odd hour from 7 am to 6 pm.

When reminded of his party�s opposition to the Centre�s decision to construct the corridor earlier, he said: �It�s a government decision which has to be honoured by whoever comes to power.�

The home minister said West Bengal deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya has told him about growing ISI activity in north Bengal. �We want to tackle this menace firmly here as well as elsewhere in the country,� he added.    

Barmer, April 23 
This drought is more a man-made disaster, less the handiwork of harsh elements. This is the third consecutive dry season � not unusual for these parts � and the third consecutive year the government and administration have refused to foresee it. So, while Coke and Pepsi and Bisleri have been able to truck in hundreds of gallons of their beverages into these parts, the government hasn�t been able to ensure enough drinking water stocks.

Unfortunately, cattle have no taste for aerated drinks and their hapless masters have no money to buy them. Mineral water flows but for the people and cattle here, there isn�t even enough drain water to drink.

A freak low-pressure storm rolled across western Rajasthan last evening but the rain�s relief was quite as temporary as the passing cloud. The parched earth drank up all the water. The people and their cattle � those that survive � remain hungry for a gulp. �Barkho aayo, barkho gayo, pato bhi naa chaalyo, taap paani khaa gayo.� (The rain came and the rain went, we did not even realise, the heat consumed the rain.)

The woman was among a dozen huddled around a sandpit with their pitchers. They had come hoping to salvage some rainwater from it but the sand had soaked it all. Moist sand was all that was left and even that was fast turning dry in the afternoon sun.

They had walked from their village several kilometres in the interiors and now they were gathering their guts for the trek back in the ochre blaze of heat and dust. There had been no luck with the water; oftentimes, passing water tankers on the Jodhpur-Barmer highway stopped to dole out some but today even they hadn�t come by. �More cattle will die today,� one of them resignedly said, �There is no water and nothing to eat for them. Our village is already filling up with dying cows and vultures overhead.�

Along the long and scorched road from Jodhpur to Barmer, taps have run dry, well waters have vanished and all form of life is struggling. Vegetation has been burnt to ashen clumps, cattle carcasses litter the roadside and those alive are slowly dying in the dreary heat, their masters are on the run, scattering hither-thither for water and means of livelihood.

�Cattle are life for us,� says Baintu of Bhandiawas, �Nothing has grown on our land for three years, we live by what our cattle give us. This year we haven�t been able to give them fodder and they haven�t given us milk. We are destroying each other.� Seven of Baintu�s 10 cows have died in the past month and the surviving three are too emaciated even to leave their places in the insufficient keeku-shade. �I had saved up fodder for them but that is all over now, what do I buy with the little money I have left, fodder for the cows or food for my family?� Both, by the way, are equally dear; a kilo of fodder, in some parts, is coming as expensive as a kilo of wheat or bajra, the staple.

Baintu represents the general lot of farmers in the belt, hurled helplessly down the abyss of impoverishment. Over the past couple of years, they haven�t had crops to sell, their food and fodder stocks have run out, their purchasing power has vanished. All they had at the start of this summer was their cattle. And they, now, are tottering to ground.

As seasons go, this isn�t an exceptionally bad time in western Rajasthan. The region isn�t used to monsoon lashings at the onset of summer; quite the contrary. Neither are 40 degree centigrade plus temperatures unusual. But the drought is taking a toll harsher than the weather commands.

As Mag Jain, head of the Society for the Uplift of Rural Economy, a Barmer-based NGO says: �We are used to such conditions, after all this is April and we are in western Rajasthan. The problem is not this year�s weather but the weather of the last several years. This is the third successive drought but the government did not do anything to provide succour to the people. No fodder stocks were built, no water resourcing was done, nobody took lessons from the previous years. The farmer has been bled the last few years, this season he will die.�    

Calcutta, April 23: 
Sourav Ganguly, the India captain, will not attend the April 27 meeting in New Delhi, called by Union sports minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa.

�The meeting falls on what will be the second day of Lancashire�s opening Championship game (versus Kent) and, so, I�ve been excused,� Sourav told The Telegraph this evening.

Coach Kapil Dev and former captains Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar are among the other invitees to the meeting, called after the Hansie Cronje scandal turned into cricket�s blackest chapter. Such a meeting, where the focus obviously will be on India, is without precedent. But it�s debatable just how purposeful a government-hosted interactive session will be. In any case, the agenda isn�t quite clear.

Speaking from Manchester, Sourav added: �The invitation came from the board and I then reverted back explaining my position. Yesterday, the board informed I will be excused. I didn�t directly interact with the sports ministry.�

Sourav, of course, will be �only too happy� to convey his views should either the minister, or the board, seek his thoughts.

Lancashire, by the way, have had a mixed start to season 2000 � winning two and losing two Benson and Hedges Cup matches. Sourav himself excelled in just one � against Durham in Durham, where he was adjudged Man of the Match.

�Our game tomorrow, versus Leicestershire, is very important. The winner will qualify for the B&H quarters,� Sourav remarked.

Tomorrow�s match, incidentally will pit Sourav against Anil Kumble, the overseas pro at Leicestershire this summer. The opening Championship game, against Kent, will see Sourav and close buddy Rahul Dravid (also the India vice-captain) on opposite sides.

�It�s been very cold and the wickets have invariably been damp. But it�s all part of the learning process and I�ve actually been enjoying myself,� Sourav pointed out.

Sourav laughed when his attention was drawn to Steve Waugh�s comment the other evening � that captaining India was the �toughest job in the world�. �Well, no assignment is easy. However, as long as the enjoyment is there, the expectations won�t ever become a burden,� Sourav signed off.

Sourav will return home in the second week of May.    

Maximum: 34.5�C (-1)
Minimum: 24�C (-1)
Relative humidity:
Maximum:85%, Minimum: 51%
Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds in the afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be around 36�C.
Sunset: 5.57 pm
Sunrise: 5.11 am

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