Contract labour ban to go
Advani signals Bengal trip
Atal revenge for mukhauta slur
One union calls off telecom strike
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
The Union government has decided to remove the ban on contract labour through an ordinance, risking a trade union rebellion.

The ordinance on the Contract Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act will drop the �prohibition� portion of the legislation. This will enable both the public and private sectors to employ contract labour in all areas.

Contract labour is now allowed only in selected areas, such as managerial posts, where the government is certain that employees will not be exploited by the employers.

But the law does not permit contract employees in jobs like cleaning, security services and maintenance of office premises.

However, industry, especially profit-making public sector companies, have been lobbying the government to win the right to hire labourers on contract.

Most public sector units have many �non-permanent� labourers, usually hired when plants and other infrastructure were being built. Once such work was over, most of them stayed on with the companies as cleaners, security personnel or maintenance staff.

But pressure has been mounting on the government to regularise the employees � a status which entails more benefits and rights � ever since the Supreme Court ruled recently that contract labour should not be allowed when the nature of the job itself is permanent. The court had also recommended that such labourers should be regularised.

Seizing the opportunity, the unions have been insisting on amending the Act to include a clause to ensure that all employees are regularised.

Official sources acknowledged that the unions had not been taken into confidence about the ordinance. The unions were called to a meeting, but the specific decision was not mentioned. �We decided to do it quietly,� a senior official said.

The issue was discussed at the highest level a few weeks ago, but the government was waiting for the Parliament session to be over.

In its representations, industry argued that the Act should be scrapped altogether as it goes against the global trend.

The employers contended that a regularised workforce would make companies less competitive and sought freedom to hire and fire.

The government eventually settled for a compromise. The Act will not be scrapped, but the prohibition clause will go.

However, the regulation norm will be retained. The government will argue that stringent regulations will ensure that the labourers hired on contract are not exploited by the employers.

But the defence is unlikely to pacify unions.

, which have been consistently warning employees that reforms would one day rob them of their jobs.

They had also smelt a hire-and-fire policy when a commission was appointed last year to look into �outdated labour� policies.

The ordinance decision also comes at a sensitive time when the government is busy implementing the closure of sick public sector units.    

New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
Home minister L.K. Advani has assured Bengal BJP leaders that he could consider visiting the violence-scarred districts after going through the report to be submitted by George Fernandes.

Fernandes, the NDA convenor, will tour the areas tomorrow. The decision to send Fernandes was taken by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee hours before he left for the US in an effort to buy peace with ally Mamata Banerjee.

The Trinamul Congress leader, who wants President�s rule in the state, has threatened to pull out of the government if it does not take �drastic action� against the Left Front regime.

The BJP, while stopping short of calling for Central rule, has demanded that the state should be declared a �disturbed� area.

The bloodspill continued with a CPM worker killed in a fresh burst of violence in Keshpur in Midnapore. Fernandes is scheduled to address a rally in the district tomorrow along with Mamata. The defence minister will also visit Bankura.

Advani said the Centre was looking into all aspects of the problem in Bengal. �We are studying all legal and constitutional aspects,� the minister told the three-member delegation of BJP leaders from the state.

He added that the government was �serious� about tackling the issue and �appropriate action would be taken at an appropriate time�.

Though Advani told the leaders that he could visit the state, the home ministry said it was not aware of any such plan.

Bengal BJP chief Bengal Asim Ghosh, who, along with state vice-presidents P.D. Chikalangiya and Muzaffar Khan, was in Delhi to lobby senior leaders and officials on the �bad situation�, said party president Bangaru Laxman, too, has lined up a trip to the state from September 23.

Laxman will address a seminar on Terrorism let loose in West Bengal in collusion with the state machinery and then go around some of the troubled districts.

The delegation also met chief election commissioner M.S. Gill and demanded a �free and fair� election either in January and February. Ghosh and his colleagues made a pitch for the deployment of Central forces and asked Gill to bring over polling personnel from other states to prevent the state coordination committee personnel from conducting the elections.

The state team claimed that Advani was also in touch with some senior Congress leaders, but the AICC high command scoffed at the statement.

Ghosh, however, said he hoped the �Congress would rise to the occasion and realise how irreversible the situation in Bengal had become�.

�We are trying to persuade the Congress to come out of its narrow political groove,� he added.

Ghosh tried to make light of the defection of former BJP general secretary Paras Dutta to the Trinamul and insisted that the exit of one individual would not affect ties.

The state unit chief said the party agreed with its ally that Bengal was a fit case for imposition of President�s rule.    

New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
Strengthening his position as the BJP�s presiding deity, Atal Behari Vajpayee has dropped from the new list of general secretaries K.N. Govindacharya, the hardline ideologue who had called the Prime Minister the party�s mukhauta (mask).

BJP sources said party president Bangaru Laxman consulted Vajpayee seven times in the past week on the list of office-bearers. Just when it seemed that the names were ready for release, Vajpayee and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi �pressured� Laxman to drop Govindacharya�s name from the list of five general secretaries, the sources said.

They added that the leaders, prompted by the Shiv Sena�s objections to Laxman�s �pro-minority� signals, also had a last-minute rethink on making Mukhtaar Abbas Naqvi a general secretary.

�Vajpayeeji has to first think of keeping his coalition intact and he cannot antagonise the Sena beyond a point,� the sources argued.

The RSS is believed to be persuading Govindacharya, who was one of its main links with the BJP, to accept the vice-president�s post, although many in the party have debunked it as an �ornamental� one.

The swadeshi hawk put up a brave face and told reporters that for the past seven months, he has been toying with the idea of going on a two-year sabbatical to �study the economic situation and alternative development models in the direction of antodaya�.

Govindacharya said he had written to Laxman�s predecessor Kushabhau Thakre in March and again in May for a two-year leave. He was told to put his plans on hold since there would be a change of guard.

But until two days ago, the BJP leadership, including Govindacharya, had indicated he would be retained as general secretary. Today, however, Govindacharya maintained he met Laxman last week and reiterated his wish to �proceed on study leave�.

Asked what Laxman�s response was, Govindacharya said: �I think my request may be conceded.� But he kept options open on the vice-president�s post, saying: �I will continue as a member of the BJP national executive and accept whatever responsibility is given to me.�

Govindacharya�s exclusion from the post of general secretary � the most important job after the president�s � is being seen as a sign of the �growing divide between the moderates and the hardliners�.

Last month, his confidante Uma Bharti resigned from the Lok Sabha and the BJP executive.

BJP sources said though the RSS had �reconciled� itself to Govindacharya�s exclusion, it has suggested two names as his replacement: Balasaheb Apte or Mahesh Chand Sharma, both Rajya Sabha members with strong Sangh moorings.

BJP sources conceded that Laxman�s list is yet to be finalised. The names of only three of the five general secretaries have been shortlisted � Venkaiah Naidu, Narendra Modi and Maya Singh.    

New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
One of the three unions spearheading the telecom strike broke away after an agreement with the government late last night, but there was little reflection of the thinning ranks of agitators in services.

On the second day of the indefinite strike, long-distance services continued to be the worst affected. Some local maintenance and repair jobs had, however, started.

Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan assured employees, striking work against corporatisation, that the government would protect their jobs, pension and ensure the financial viability of the new company which would emerge out of the department of telecom services and the department of telecom operations.

The home ministry advised all states to assist the department of telecom services and offer protection to installations.

The Bharatiya Telecom Employees Federation broke ranks with the strikers after an agreement, the key feature of which is payment of an ad hoc amount of Rs 1,000 a month to employees who opt for the new corporation coming into existence from October 1. Later, this will be adjusted against the new pay scales of the corporation.

The National Federation of Telecom Employees and the Federation of National Telecom Organisations have not fallen in line yet. There were no talks between the two sides today.

Paswan said: �We had involved these federations at various levels to discuss their problems. Their apprehensions and doubts with regard to pension, financial viability and job security were sorted out mutually across the table to secure them the best possible benefits. No demand or suggestion of theirs was ignored or set aside.�

Paswan said whatever other problems remain unaddressed could be tackled through negotiations. But he appeared to suggest that talks cannot take place while the strike continues.

�Whatever differences exist can be easily sorted out through dialogue but, to achieve these ends, customer interest should not be jeopardised,� he said.

One sticking point is the employees� demand that pension should be paid from the Consolidated Fund of India � which applies to government employees � even after corporatisation.

The government�s suggestion was to create a pension fund in the form of a trust and it had undertaken to assume full responsibility for making sure all liabilities are met, Paswan said.

He left scope for acceding to the demand open by saying that it had to be taken up at the group of ministers set up to oversee corporatisation.

Paswan said the government has already decided that retrenchment cannot take place without approval of the administrative ministry.

The minister said contingency arrangements had been made to take care of possible disruptions of services. He warned that stringent action would be taken against anyone indulging in unlawful activity or violence causing loss to the assets of the department.




Maximum: 30�C (-2)
Minimum: 26.1�C (normal)


1.2 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 87%


Light to moderate rain in some parts of Calcutta and its districts
Sunset: 5.46 pm
Sunrise: 5.23 am

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