Reformer Naidu in power bounty
Police fire on Kashmir protesters
Dhindsa blinks at video bomb
Pak precedent hope for Fiji
Vaiko bows to CM diktat
Immolation bid near Parliament
Bill’s millennium date with bronze lady

Hyderabad, June 3 
Stunned by the intensity of the protests and agitations from all sections of consumers and political parties, chief minister Chandrababu Naidu today announced a subsidy of Rs 286 crore to Andhra Pradesh Transmission Corporation (APTransco).

The announcement of the partial rollback in power charges came hours before the implementation of the revised tariff recommended by the Andhra Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission (APERC) which is to take effect from the midnight of June 3.

The state government will submit to the ERC its fresh proposal to absorb the burden on domestic consumers and reimburse the difference to APTransco.

The new subsidy will cover the revenue loss sustained by APTransco as a result of the change in the slabs and reduction in per-unit tariff for domestic consumers who were summarily subjected to an 54-106 per cent hike effective from tomorrow.

The beneficiaries of the government’s largesse will mostly be the people below the poverty line assessed at 62 per cent of domestic consumers who use less than 50 units a month. They will now pay Rs 1.35 per unit as against the rate of Rs 1.45 recommended by the ERC.

The intervention by the state government is a setback to the process of power reforms as it defeats the very purpose of setting up an independent regulator for an industry. The recommendation of a regulator is binding on the government, which means the chief minister cannot overrule it.

But the decision to cushion part of the tariff blow is not surprising for Naidu who recently opposed the food and fertiliser subsidy cut announced by the Centre. Naidu expects his economy to thrive on infotech, but often embraces subsidies to peddle his politics.

The total burden of the power subsidy on the state as a result of the tariff revision will be around Rs 2,386 crore, including Rs 1,345 crore granted to the farm sector. “We want to introduce reforms with a human face. Hence, we are subsidising the burden on domestic consumers,” he said.

An APTransco press note said consumers who use less than 200 units (accounting for 32.7 per cent of the consumer base) will have to pay a new tariff of Rs 2.95 as against the ERC-recommended Rs 3.90. Similarly, those who consume between 200 and 400 units (around 4.3 per cent) will have to pay Rs 4.50 per unit. The tariff for consumption above 400 units has been fixed at Rs 5.25 per unit.

The chief minister said the government had given a schedule of revenue programme for APTransco to increase its efficiency, reduce administrative costs and contain pilferage with a heavy hand. “The government wants the power utility to emerge out of the financial crisis on its own,” he added. APTransco is losing Rs 3,700 crore every year.

The ERC had suggested a telescopic six-slab power tariff structure. But the government has introduced four-slab structure at Rs 1.35, Rs 2.95, Rs 4.50 and Rs 5.25 per unit. The ERC had, however, recommended a tariff hike of 15 per cent in the next two years in order to place the power utility on a sound footing.

The Opposition parties are not happy with the partial rollback of power tariff and intend to intensify the agitation.

Naidu’s decision to reduce the burden has also been guided by dissensions within the Telugu Desam. Senior legislator A. Chandrasekhar Rao had written an open letter to the chief minister criticising the stiff tariff hike.    

Srinagar, June 3 
Police opened fire to disperse a violent mob at Mirgund on the Srinagar-Barramulla national highway today, injuring three persons. Hundreds of Shia youth had taken to the streets in Pattan and Srinagar to protest against yesterday’s blast, which killed 11 persons and injured 35, including Shia leader and former minister Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari.

The police had to fire teargas shells and wield the baton at several places in Pattan as youth, shouting anti-militancy slogans, tried to block the highway. At Mirgund, police sources said, the mob stoned a passing Special Operations Group vehicle. The SOG members, witnesses said, opened fire, injuring three. Police, however, denied the report and said no one was wounded.

In Srinagar, police resisted attempts by Shia youths to force a strike. Traffic plied normally, but shops in certain Shia pockets and Budgam remained closed. Ansari, who received minor chest injuries in the blast, was discharged from hospital today.    

New Delhi, June 3 
Union sports minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa does not appear too impressed with the revelations on Manoj Prabhakar’s candid camera.

The minister, who was abroad when Prabhakar dropped the videotape bombshell, had not reacted on his return earlier this week. Talking to The Telegraph today, he said he considered the entire investigation “unethical”.

Dhindsa seemed to suggest that by invading the privacy of the cricketers and officials Prabhakar will only help to further vitiate the atmosphere of distrust that has enveloped the world of cricket. It explains why Dhindsa, despite the interest of his recently-appointed minister of state S. Shahnawaz Hussein, has not considered it necessary to convene a meeting of ministers and officials under the aegis of the sports ministry.

Returning to the country on Wednesday afternoon, Dhindsa has concentrated more on the additional portfolio of mines that he has been allocated after the recent reshuffle. On the other hand, Hussein, egged on by his friends in the BJP, has been speaking out in favour of a thorough cleansing of the game.

The sports minister said he would, nevertheless, talk to the CBI officials, who were probing the case. He said the CBI was given a time-frame of three months to submit any report, but given the furore raised by the interviews Prabhakar and his dotcom friends carried out surreptitiously with a number of people involved with cricket, he may get back to the CBI to find out if they had received any fresh, substantive evidence from these revelations.

Dhindsa confirmed that he was under no pressure from the top, including the Prime Minister, to speed up the probe or to extend its ambit by bringing in other agencies like the income-tax. He said he had last met Atal Behari Vajpayee on the day of the swearing-in ceremony and they had not discussed cricket. Neither had he received any call from the Prime Minister, now in Himachal Pradesh, since his return. He felt that he might have a discussion with Vajpayee on the issue once he returns to the capital next weekend.

Other government sources confirmed that the BJP administration was caught in a bind after Prabhakar’s bombshell because the political community was sharply divided on the issue. There were some who wanted the probe to be strengthened and other agencies brought in without delay. The CBI has already sought limited help from the income-tax authorities by way of previous records. Officially, the BJP has demanded a thorough, “time-bound” probe.    

New Delhi, June 3 
The Commonwealth’s inability to impose sanctions on Pakistan may also force it to go soft on Fiji where the democratically elected government of Indian-origin Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry was overthrown last month.

All eyes are on the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group meeting on Tuesday in London. The CMAG, which is meeting for the first time since the coup, will discuss the Pacific island’s situation and measures to restore democracy.

But going by its recent past history, Commonwealth may not be able to take much stringent action against the coup leaders other than setting a timeframe for the return of democracy.

After Nawaz Sharif’s government was overthrown by Pervez Musharraf last October, the CMAG decided to give Islamabad a two-year timeframe to restore democracy. Though Pakistan was subsequently suspended from the Commonwealth councils, no economic sanctions were imposed on it. It was argued that since the country was already under severe economic sanctions following the May 1998 nuclear tests, any further measure would destroy Pakistan’s crumbling economy.

Having set this precedent, it is unlikely that for Fiji, the Commonwealth will adopt a different set of rules. In fact, India which has been acting behind the scene in garnering support among Commonwealth members against the Fijian coup leaders, have time and again stressed that the past principle of the Commonwealth should be followed in dealing with the coup in the island.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal, however, said that despite this it will not prevent individual countries from imposing sanctions on Fiji. Australia has already announced some measures and threatened to take a few more stringent steps if democracy does not return to Fiji.

The secretary (economic relations) in the foreign ministry, Sudhir Devare, who was sent as envoy to Fiji, held discussions with the Indian High Commission officials and leaders of the Indian community. According to his assessment, the people were concerned, not panic-stricken. He described the situation as “uncertain” as there was no clear picture as to who was running the country.

Though Devare did not meet the military leaders or any member from Speight’s camp, he achieved the main part of his mission: assuring the Indian community about Delhi’s concern over their welfare and security. South Block said the diplomat was told that the Indian community was “totally satisfied” with Delhi’s role in the crisis.

But the main stress of the Indians and the Fijians who Devare met was on “what the Commonwealth plans to do to break the political impasse in Fiji?”

The 800,000 odd Fijian population has about 370,000 people of Indian origin. Its army, which appears to be divided in different factions, has only 3,600 personnel.

The island’s economy is based mainly on its sugar industry and tourism. Fiji receives about 250,000 tourists in a year.

Devare, who spent a day in the Fijian capital Suva, will visit New Zealand where he is supposed to hold another round of discussions on the crisis. He will return to Delhi on Tuesday and brief foreign minister Jaswant Singh about the situation in Fiji.    

Chennai, June 3 
The fire-spitting MDMK leader Vaiko has chosen to swallow his pride again and call off the rally he had proposed to take out in the city on Monday, in support of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

In a statement issued here he said he was postponing the rally in deference to the wishes of chief minister Karunanidhi, who had only yesterday, suggested such a course of action. But he did not announce any fresh date. At the same time Vaiko asserted that there was no change whatsoever in his party’s stance on the issue. He has been reiterating tirelessly that an independent Tamil Eelam is the only way out of the ethnic tangle in the neighbouring island.

Both the MDMK and the PMK have been trying to show off their commitment to the Tigers in various ways, but always taking care not to embarass the Vajpayee government or even the DMK.

Both of them are unhappy over the way the Centre is “pussyfooting” on the issue without coming out categorically in support of the fighting Tigers, as well as Karunanidhi’s own equivocations.

Karunanidhi had first thundered against any military intervention on behalf of the Lankan government, but subsequently said he would not like to tie the Centre’s hands on this issue and that it was free to do whatever it thought was fit in the national interests.

He had also gone on to condemn the Tigers as ruthless murderers and wondered how such people could portray themselves as saviours of the Tamils.

Unable to muster the courage to take him on directly, the PMK and the MDMK went on to establish their Eelam credentials by organising some protest demonstration or the other.

The PMK had organised a one-day statewide fast demanding no country in the world go to the support of the Lankan government and Ramadas had criticised those who demanded a ban on pro-Eelam rallies, as anti-Tamil.

Vaiko, who never makes any secret of his admiration for the LTTE chief Prabhakaran, had planned to take out a big rally. Though the rally was touted as only for pro-Eelam Tamils, everyone knew that the MDMK would sing hosannas for the Tigers.

Predictably, parties like the TMC demanded that the DMK government stop rallies being taken out in support of banned outfits like the LTTE. A local correspondent known to be close to the chief minister, brought out a story highlighting the apprehensions of the government over the increasing pro-LTTE activities, even vaguely hinting that it might not hesitate to ban such demonstrations altogether, notwithstanding who was organising them. And then in a chat Karunanidhi counselled his one-time protege Vaiko not to get into problems by generating such controversies.

Vaiko has promptly fallen in line as he would not like to rock the NDA boat at any cost. Certainly, he would not like to burn the bridges to the DMK when he has fallen out with Jayalalitha. His actions only point out the limitations of Tamil nationalist politics.    

New Delhi, June 3 
A young unemployed man, claiming to be a Congress supporter from Uttar Pradesh, tried to immolate himself close to Parliament this afternoon. The man was admitted to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital with severe burns on his back and legs.

This is the second instance of a Congress worker committing self-immolation. About a week back, Mukesh Sharma, a party activist, set himself afire within the Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit’s residential complex in protest against infighting and dissidence within the Delhi Pradesh Congress.

Shiv Kumar Gupta, a resident of Vishwa Bank Colony in Kanpur, reached gate number two of Parliament around 12:30 pm, doused himself in kerosene and and set himself on fire. Securitymen and other police personnel on duty at the gate were caught unawares. Today being a weekend, there were few bystanders.

Police sources said constable Ishwar Singh, part of the security ring around Parliament, was the first to react. The constable tried to tear off the worker’s burning clothes. Within minutes, a few other policemen rushed to the spot. Fortunately, a hose-pipe lying nearby and connected to a ferrule came handy. Water was sprayed at Gupta who, writhing in pain, had collapsed on the road.

Joint commissioner of police Suresh Roy said since passing higher secondary, Gupta had been unemployed.    

Ahmedabad, June 3 
When Manhar Shilpi died of cancer in 1989, he left his wife with two words: aim high. Jashuben has been trying.

The peak she has scaled so far is still 18 feet, all in bronze. And she’s about to drop in at the White House for chat with President Bill Clinton. Jashuben has been chosen by the US Congress as a Millennium Woman. She is the only one from India and the only sculptor to be thus honoured.

Fifty-two-year-old Jashuben will be in Washington, on her first visit abroad, from July 2 to 9 as a guest of the White House. She will be presented a gold medal and a certificate for outstanding work. She will also get a 30-minute audience with President Clinton.

In her cavernous workshop adjacent to her two-storeyed home, Jashuben, in jeans and T-shirt, is sweating away on a bust of Clinton she intends to present him along with those of Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Each will be about two-feet high. “I feel great and thrilled. I had never expected an invitation and an award from the US.”

This is by no means the first recognition of her talent, though. The mother of two — both 20-something amateur sculptors — received her first major award 10 years ago. The New York Times ran a story on her, which is perhaps how the US Congress got to hear of her.

Recently, Jashuben was nominated to the Limca Book of Records for the heaviest and highest statue — of the Rani of Jhansi atop a horse, wielding her sword. The 18-foot statue, to be installed here soon, is the tallest sculpture yet of Rani Laxmibai.

Jashuben’s bronze statues have been installed in cities across the country, from Thiruvananthapuram to Dehra Dun, and even in Nairobi.

An accident in 1994, in which she broke her left hand and had to have it operated on six times, has not slowed her pace of work, which she learnt at the C.N. College of Fine Arts. She also met her future husband, an arts teacher, there. Jashuben married Manhar against her family’s wishes and then made him quit his job to become a full-time sculptor.

The couple rented a dingy room and a portion of a bungalow where Manhar could sculpt. In 1978, they moved to a bigger place and set up a tinshed workshop and sculpted murals and busts on order from municipalities, government departments and wealthy families.

It was a statue of Shivaji astride a horse, commissioned by the Rajkot Municipal Corporation, that first got her noticed. She has now cast more metal than possibly any other woman sculptor, but Jashuben hasn’t forgotten the day a famous city-based sculptor would not even let her into his compound when she went for guidance. Undeterred, Jashuben met Hamid-ul-Zamal, a Bangladeshi studying at Baroda fine arts School, who agreed to help her.

For someone who began to sculpt her career against adversity, the wish to scale 150 feet may not be just be a wish. The bronze lady could yet leave behind a creation that high.    


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