Knee knock to a leg of US trip
Vajpayee sets house in order
A targets 9000 for golden handshake
SC blow to deal with Veerappan
Cong looks for luck in baby boy
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 29: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee�s managers are considering knocking San Francisco off his hectic US tour schedule to rest his knees as much as possible before the meeting with President Bill Clinton.

The Prime Minister has already begun cutting down on his engagements here � he returned midway through the BJP�s Nagpur conclave on Sunday and cancelled a Cabinet meeting this evening � and his aides are thinking of doing the same in the US as well.

Vajpayee is scheduled to leave for the US on September 5. His first stop is New York where he will address the United Nations Millennium Summit on September 8.

According to the itinerary, the Prime Minister will hold 14 meetings with heads of governments of key nations on the sidelines of the UN meet and also attend other public functions in the Big Apple.

Attempts are now being made to prune the list to ensure that Vajpayee does not have more than one, or at the most, two programmes a day. If the knee continues to pose a problem, then Vajpayee may have to deliver his address to the summit sitting in a chair.

On September 10, he is slated to leave for San Francisco where a meeting has been lined up with Indian software czars. The Prime Minister is also due to visit Berkeley and Stanford universities.

After a four-day stay, Vajpayee will leave for Washington where his official visit begins from September 15.

Besides meeting Clinton and other senior members of his administration, the Prime Minister is scheduled to address the joint sitting of the current US Congress, making him the first foreign dignitary to do so.

Foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh will leave for Washington on Thursday to lay the ground ahead of Vajpayee�s visit. He will hold talks with under-secretary of state Thomas Pickering.

Since Vajpayee has to visit both New York and Washington, the only compromise he can make is omit San Francisco from his itinerary.

On his way back home, he is scheduled to spend a day in Holland as he has been invited for an official visit by the Dutch government. Indian officials pointed out that the one-day halt will also give Vajpayee time to overcome jet-lag which usually affects a person coming from the West coast of the US.

Officials in the Prime Minister�s Office are worried about the condition of his knee, which tends to get locked or jammed. They, however, insisted that apart from his knee ailment, which makes it difficult for him to stand for a long time, Vajpayee is otherwise all right.

The Prime Minister today underwent extended physiotherapy sessions under the supervision of orthopaedic experts from AIIMS. Yesterday, he was given a herbal oil massage by his personal ayurved.

This morning, Vajpayee sat through a two-hour meeting of the Cabinet Committee On Economic Affairs. Though he cancelled the full Cabinet meeting, Vajpayee managed to chair a meeting on disinvestment in the evening.

The knee problem, however, may help Vajpayee get out of a tricky situation as well. The Prime Minister, who is not too keen to attend the VHP meet on September 9 at Staaten Island, may cite the ailment as an excuse for not going there.    

New Delhi, Aug. 29: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asked BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu to call off his US visit two days before he was to leave on August 28, strengthening speculation that he could carry out a Cabinet reshuffle before he himself leaves for the country next week.

Naidu was to have accompanied a delegation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

BJP sources said that Vajpayee, when he was in Nagpur last week, told the spokesman to cancel his trip as he wanted him around when he filled the empty ministerial berths and formed a new team of party office-bearers.

The sources said consultations are on to decide who would be on new BJP chief Bangaru Laxman�s team. Senior functionaries like Naidu and K.N. Govindacharya are giving their �inputs and advice� to the president. Govindacharya, too, has been asked by Laxman to cancel all his engagements and stay put in the headquarters.

Sources said the new team will also be ratified by Vajpayee before he leaves for the US or else he would do so after returning. �Although he will not be involved in the process until the last stage of approval, it is possible he may have a couple of suggestions,� said a BJP office-bearer.

The Cabinet has two vacancies � created by the resignation of Ram Jethmalani as law minister and the death of power minister P.R. Kumaramangalam. Laxman quit as minister of state for railways. Cabinet minister Sunderlal Patwa may also be replaced as he is unwell.

Arun Jaitley, minister of state with independent charge, is looking after two high-profile departments � law and I&B � while a BJP veteran like O. Rajagopal is holding just parliamentary affairs and as a junior minister.

�There is a strong sentiment in the BJP that Rajagopal has no work to do when Parliament is not in session and, therefore, he should be given a more important ministry,� said BJP sources, hinting that he may get back the law portfolio which he lost after Jethmalani quit.

The sources pointed out that it would be �unfair� to expect a senior person like Rajagopal to work under a much younger Jaitley.

Although Naidu himself is still believed to be reluctant to accept a Cabinet post, Vajpayee is reportedly keen on inducting a high-profile southern leader to recompense the loss of Kumaramangalam, who was being projected as a potential BJP satrap from Tamil Nadu.

Sources confirmed that the possibility of Sushma Swaraj�s recall is virtually nil after her outburst at the Nagpur conclave.    

New Delhi, Aug. 29: 
Indian Airlines, the country�s largest airline with 22,000 employees and a fleet of 56 aircraft, today offered a voluntary retirement scheme to its non-technical staff. It expects about 9,000 to take up the offer.

At its meeting here today, the IA board cleared the plan for a separation package that will be offered to employees who are at least 40 years old and have completed 15 years of service.

Contrary to speculation, the board did not discuss a proposal to raise fares and follow the lead of Jet Airways which had decided yesterday to raise its ticket prices by 18-22 per cent.

The VRS offer is being made at a time when the government is preparing to privatise Indian Airlines and its sister airline, Air India. The mandate for IA�s privatisation has already been offered to ANZ Grindlays and the government hopes to complete the process by the end of this year.

The airline wants to trim the fat by downsizing its workforce to about 13,000.

The VRS scheme is open to all employees of the airline other than those who hold licences and approvals as part of their job requirements like pilots, engineers, flight engineers and technicians.The scheme will offer an ex-gratia payment of three months� provident Fund (PF) for every completed year of service, or PF for the remaining months of service left, or 60 months of PF emoluments, whichever is lower.

In the case of officers, the payment will amount to two months� PF for each completed year of service with other conditions remaining the same. Under the VRS, employees will be eligible for gratuity, medical, pension, air passage, leave encashment and other similar facilities applicable to retired employees.

Under the scheme, Class IV employees are expected to get Rs. 3.5 lakh while the clerks and supervisors will get about Rs 5.25 lakh. The junior officers in Indian Airlines will get about Rs 8 lakh under the VRS.

Indian Airlines officials are confident that more employees will take up the offer this time than in 1994 when only 232 responded to the scheme. Officials claimed that one reason for the poor response then was that a pension scheme was not included.

The IA board also discussed plans to dry lease planes and reviewed the progress on its long-term plans to buy new planes. It vetted a proposal made by the aircraft evaluation committee to induct about 35 to 40 aircraft over the next four to five years.

After talks with manufacturers in May, IA had invited bids for Boeing 717 and the new generation Boeing 737 aircraft from Boeing of the US and for A-320 family from Airbus Industrie of France.

The aircraft manufacturing companies and the engine manufactuers have already submitted their bids. While the technical bids are being evaluated and are expected to be finalised soon, the financial bids will be opened later after the technical evaluation has been carried out, sources said

According to company spokesperson, the board also took up the issue of leasing aircraft.The bids were received for Boeing 737-200 and A-320 aircraft. However, the company has sought certain clarifications from the bidders who are expected to submit them by September.    

Aug. 29: 
In a judgment that could upset the calculations of the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments, the Supreme Court today said that none of the detainees, whose release has been demanded by Veerappan as the price for freeing Raj Kumar, should be let off.

�None of the accused shall be released on bail or otherwise till further orders,� a three-judge bench said in an order after hearing a petition from the father of a police officer who was shot dead in an encounter with the bandit�s gang.

The order comes a day after Karnataka withdrew all cases against 121 associates of Veerappan, 70 of whom are already out on bail. A Mysore sessions court had also granted bail to the remaining 51.

The apex court bench of Justice S.P. Bharucha, Justice S.S.M. Quadri and Justice N. Santosh Hegde directed Karnataka not to release any of the accused till its orders after the next hearing on Friday.

The ruling is a blow to the two governments as Nakkeeran editor R. Gopal has already ventured into the jungles armed with documents relating to the detainees� release. Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna expressed hope that the order will not hamper the star�s release. He said the state�s advocate-general will file a counter-affidavit on Friday.    

New Delhi, Aug. 29: 
Congressmen had almost forgotten the last time they celebrated. Today, at the powerful junction of 10 Janpath and 24 Akbar Road, they were shoving motichoor ladoosdown each other�s throat.

A baby boy had been born to Priyanka at 4.04 pm at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. Coming into the world a few days before time, the boy weighed in at a modest 7 pounds.

There was little modesty, though, in the volumes of sweets mithaiwalas at nearby Bengali Market and Gol Market sold to gregarious Congressmen. Weight when born into the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty takes on an altogether new meaning, they possibly told themselves, eager to know what lies in the future.

Bad news and good news. Astrologers quickly drew horoscopes of the Virgo baby. The boy, they said, has a bright future but, sorry, the chance of a career in politics is remote.

Born under the Venus-Jupiter axis, the child has what is called the �Budhaditya yog�, thought to be auspicious for the mother. What this means for Congressmen desperately looking for a break, according to one astrologer, is Priyanka will enter politics this year itself. The astrologer is bold enough to declare a date even: December 16.

Another astrologer said the boy will be �lucky and straight-forward� and predicted that Priyanka will be blessed with another male child in three years. Congressmen will hope they don�t have to wait that long for the next celebration.

But to have a better view of the future, they will have to tarry till the pandit from Varanasi, summoned by the family, prepares the �official� horoscope.

There is the hint of a bit of tussle over the name of the baby between the Vadras and the Nehru-Gandhis. The Vadras, though of mixed Punjabi Hindu-Christian lineage, have a tradition of having Christian names like Robert, Richard and Michelle.

Obviously, they want the convention to continue and, obviously, 10 Janpath is insisting on a Hindu name. The sensitive issue of namkaran could be settled, ironically, with the help of Maneka Gandhi�s collection titled, � book of Hindu Names.

The new mother received a congratulatory call from Maneka�s son and her cousin Firoze Varun who is extremely fond of sister Priyanka. Brother Rahul, who is away in London, is on his way to greet the nephew, family sources said.

Given a choice, Congressmen would like Priyanka and Robert to name the boy Jawahar Vadra Gandhi. But senior party leaders said it was up to the parents and grandmother Sonia to decide an appropriate name, keeping � as some Congresssmen put it � the right political perspective in mind. What they meant was: One Christian name in the family is enough.

After waiting for so long � Priyanka was admitted to the hospital six days ago � Congressmen nearly went wild with delight today.

Chief ministers of Congress-ruled states, senior party leaders and Congress Working Committee members choked 10 Janpath�s telephone lines.

Ganga Ram hospital was converted into a fortress with the Special Protection Group throwing a ring around room no. 220. The family has taken three more rooms there.

Priyanka and husband Robert were keen on a natural delivery, but doctors attending on her recommended Caesarean section.

The child was due on September 8 but the doctors, it appeared, were not willing to take any chances. From early afternoon, Sonia had parked herself at the hospital.

Minutes after the delivery, a team of doctors headed by Dr (Mrs) S.K. Bhandari, who had supervised the births of Priyanka and Rahul, said both mother and child were doing well.    



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