Centre clears fuel price hike
Allies lend voice to Mamata but silent on action
Bengal flood toll mounts
Calcutta wedding bells for Jhumpa
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Sept. 23: 
The Union Cabinet today decided to increase the prices of all petroleum products but left the timeframe open-ended. Agency reports quoted parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan as saying the price revision may be announced in �48 hours�. Petroleum minister Ram Naik said the government has not option but to raise the prices of diesel, petrol, cooking gas, kerosene and aviation turbine fuel.

Naik said he had apprised his Cabinet colleagues of the need to increase prices of petro-goods. The final decision on the quantum of price hike and the timing would be taken by his ministry.

�I have briefed the Cabinet about the prevailing scenario in the wake of shooting international prices... We have no option but to increase prices of all the five products under the administered price mechanism,� he added.

�We will go for a mix of increase in prices, cut in duties and oil bonds to reduce the deficit,� he said. Naik said he would also brief the National Democratic Alliance partners, which met in the evening.

The alliance partners, despite a few murmurs of protest, granted permission to the government to raise the prices.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has been authorised to decide on what to subsidise and where to introduce the hike. Vajpayee, it is learnt, will hand over much of the decision-making power to Naik.

Protest came from Trinamul leader and railway minister Mamata Banerjee, who wanted to spare kerosene. But others pointed out that the highly-subsidised fuel was being diverted to the black market and smuggled to neighbouring countries.

Another small section of the NDA leadership was reluctant to allow the withdrawal of subsidies on cooking gas. But Naik argued that the same class of consumers used petrol and cooking gas.

Briefing the media after the meeting, NDA convenor and defence minister George Fernandes said that the discussion took in the backdrop of worldwide oil price hike. Naik briefed the NDA representatives on the overall situation.

�He gave us a comprehensive picture of the situation we are facing. The NDA advised the petroleum minister to take appropriate measures.�

Asked if there was unanimity at the meeting, Fernandes parried and said: �This is not a question of unanimity. Prices of oil have doubled over the past few months. The oil pool deficit has soared to Rs 24,000 crore.�

The NDA convenor admitted that there was a lot of tight-rope walking to be done on the tricky price issue. �It is a question of how to bridge the deficit by balancing subsidy,� he added.

Fernandes evaded questions on whether the formula to issue bonds and cut duties were raised. �People gave their views and urged the government to go ahead with appropriate steps,� he added.

Sources said later that the three-point formula did come up for discussion at the meeting. NDA leaders felt that all options should be studied before the hike was effected.

Fernandes made it clear that the NDA leaders were resigned to the hike. There was understanding at the meeting that �even the international community has accepted the hike as inevitable�.

Fernandes said the specifics of the proposal being worked out by Naik in consultation with the Prime Minister could not be discussed at this stage at the NDA meeting.

After the Cabinet meeting, Naik said the oil pool deficit had become unmanageable as global crude prices had shot up from $11 a barrel last year to over $36.

The government wants to cushion the impact of oil price hike on consumers by reducing both import duty on crude as well as excise duty on diesel. Officials said Naik has been demanding halving the excise duty on diesel as well as petroleum, though the finance ministry is unwilling to concede such large cuts.

The petroleum minister also called on state governments to lower sales tax on petro products by 5 per cent. �We last revised the prices of kerosene and cooking gas in March and refrained from passing the burden of rising international prices onto consumers... (but) we have reached the limit,� he said.    

New Delhi, Sept. 23: 
The National Democratic Alliance today rallied behind Mamata Banerjee in her war against the West Bengal government but stopped short of supporting her demand for President�s rule.

The NDA meeting this evening, chaired by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, adopted a resolution accusing the Left Front government of �perpetrating� violence �designed to terrorise the people and break their will in view of the impending elections�.

It also asked the Centre to take the steps �necessary� to �prevent the destruction of democratic institutions� in the state.

In a show of solidarity with the Trinamul Congress leader, the NDA praised Mamata and the BJP for the �courage� shown in facing the �Marxist violence and providing protection and succour to the tens of thousands of poor people who have fled from their villages and taken shelter in refugee camps�.

But while condemning the Jyoti Basu government, the NDA was circumspect about advocating imposition of President�s rule or the Disturbed Areas Act that Mamata had called for.

Asked if the NDA favoured the use of Article 356 or 355, coalition convener George Fernandes said: �She (Mamata) has all along been asking for the Disturbed Areas Act and so she was bound to bring it up in this meeting as well.�

But he would not reveal if other allies had supported the demand. �The conclusion of the meeting is contained in the resolution which was adopted unanimously. Whatever steps have to be taken has been left to the Centre, but she (Mamata) is also aware of the various problems involved,� he said.

Fernandes� response indicated that for all the tough talk in the resolution, the NDA was not ready to burn its fingers by opting for Central rule, as it had done twice in the past in Bihar. It did not appear willing to invoke the Disturbed Areas Act either because for the for the law to become operative, the state government�s consent and cooperation is necessary.

A key NDA constituent, the DMK, has spoken out against using Article 356 in Bengal. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is also on record against the move. Despite being invited to today�s session, the Desam stayed away.

However, Mamata managed to score a tactical point by lining up even the so-called votaries of federalism, including the DMK, MDMK and Shiv Sena, in her battle for the ballot. This is the first time that a Central coalition has adopted a resolution indicting a state government in severe language. Even at the height of the battle against Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi, the NDA had not recorded its criticism in a resolution.

During Vajpayee�s last term, when Jayalalitha had sought the ouster of the DMK government, the demand was not taken up by the ruling coalition mainly because, unlike Mamata, the ADMK chief could not carry all the constituents along.

Home minister L.K. Advani detailed the missives he had exchanged with the chief minister and referred to the �intemperate� language he had allegedly used. Fernandes quoted Advani as saying that �no purpose would be served in such type of communication. In the earlier communication I had, the West Bengal chief minister chose not to reply to the specifics (on which clarifications were sought). Instead he chose to call all names, including calling the NDA a bundle of cattle.�

The NDA resolution alleged that the victims of the CPM�s alleged �depredation� were mostly minorities, Dalits, tribals and women and that the state administration was a �silent spectator�, if not an �active colluder�, confirming that what was happening had the �support of the state machinery�.    

Sept. 23: 
Flood water discharged from Damodar Valley Corporation barrages surged into parts of Hooghly, Howrah and Midnapore districts today even as the official toll climbed to 148. Unofficial estimates pegged the figure at 250.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said the list of dead was bound to rise.

The killing fields of Keshpur in Midnapore went under water in what is believed to be the worst floods since 1978. Along with six blocks in Keshpur, 10 in Ghatal joined the list of inundated areas early today.

North Bengal remained cut off for the fourth day with all means of transport stalled. Indian Airlines has decided to operate extra flights from Calcutta to Bagdogra to rescue thousands of people stranded in that part of the state. Flights from Bagdogra are now the only means of travel from the north to Calcutta.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu, who reviewed the situation with Cabinet colleagues and officials this morning, said the administration�s priority was to rescue the cut-off people and supply them with food and safe drinking water. A preliminary report on the damage caused by the floods has been sent to Delhi, he added.

Battling heavy odds, the army tried to reach areas in Murshidabad and Nadia districts. Four army helicopters dropped food packets for the marooned people. According to estimates, about 15 million people continue to be in the grip of the floods which hit the state on Tuesday.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta said the army succeeded in dropping food packets on the rooftop of Kandi Raj College in Murshidabad. �We are concerned about the situation in the Kandi police station area as we have not been able to get any information from there so far,� he said.

Bhattacharya said the police in the districts have been asked to show restraint at the time of relief-material distribution as the nerves of the stranded people were bound to be frayed.

�The police have been asked to tackle the situation keeping a cool head as we want to avoid ugly incidents,� Bhattacharya said.

With trucks carrying food and medicines unable to proceed to the affected areas � parts of NH 34 beyond Krishnagar remained inaccessible � the government has begun chartering launches to deliver the relief material. Six vessels sailed from Calcutta today and 20 more will be requisitioned from the districts.

�We have 26 army speedboats and 40 state-owned craft working in the flood-hit areas. In addition, about 850 country-boats are helping in rescue and relief work,� Dasgupta said. He said around 1,82,000 people had been rescued by boats so far.

DVC, which has released about 2,40,000 cusecs of water from its Durgapur barrage, reduced the discharge to 1,60,000 cusecs today. Minister of state for irrigation Ganesh Mondal said he had requested DVC to bring down the discharge to 1,00,000 cusecs.

�Discharge from Messanjore and Tilpara was restricted to 65,000 cusecs during the day and we are working towards zero discharge as soon as possible,� Mondal said. Met office sources said the worse was over as far as further heavy rainfall was concerned. The Alipore weather office expected a dry spell from Monday but said intermittent drizzles would continue for the next 48 hours.    

Calcutta, Sept. 23: 
After winning the Pulitzer and dining at the White House, Jhumpa Lahiri is heading straight for the altar � in Calcutta.

The date: January 15, 2001. The place: Singhi Palace in Gariahat. The bridegroom: Alberto Vourvoulias, Time sub-editor and Jhumpa�s boyfriend for two years.

But except for the bridegroom and the bride�s accent, everything about the wedding will be Bengali with a vengeance.

The Boston-based writer of Interpreter of Maladies is all set to brave the elaborate Bengali marriage ceremony in benarasi and mukut, followed by basibiye and baubhaat, said Anasuya Sanyal, wife of Jhumpa�s maternal uncle Tushar Sanyal

But the 33-year-old author, with a novel to finish off by December, has publishers breathing down her neck and is too busy to wrack her brain about what kind of benarasi she will wear, Anasuya said. But Jhumpa has made one special request: she wants her uncle Tushar, an artist, to paint the chandan on her forehead.

�She will look good anyway. She is striking, much more beautiful than her pictures,� said Anasuya, who is making all the arrangements of the marriage with husband Tushar.

Tushar has also designed the first set of wedding cards which was despatched to Jhumpa�s parents in the US for guests abroad. The card too has a traditional Bengali motif: a golden fish against a red background.

But if the marriage throws some light on Jhumpa�s roots � she describes herself as an American author, an Indian author, an Anglo-Indian author, an NRI author and an American-Born Confused Desi author, all together, and writes stories about Bengal, Boston and beyond � the marriage will also present Alberto as the perfect Bangali jamai.

Alberto, who will be here with his father and some friends, is taking a keen interest in the Bengali rituals, said Anasuya. He will definitely need practice to survive the complicated turns of a dhuti.

After the wedding at Singhi Palace, the borjatris will hold a reception from their side.

Tapati Lahiri, Jhumpa�s mother, will be coming here from the US in December for the marriage. Speaking to The Telegraph over the phone, she confirmed that Jhumpa was getting married. However, she added nothing else had been finalised. �Everything is being discussed,� she said.

Jhumpa�s friends and other relatives here, however, confirmed the marriage. Jhumpa will come here after Tapati, but the press will not be told when she arrives. The marriage was also being kept a secret because Jhumpa is notoriously publicity-shy.

�Jhumpa is a very simple person, really. Seeing her with her family, you wouldn�t believe she has won the Pulitzer,� said Anasuya. �That is why, when she comes to Calcutta, she wants to be with us only, away from the glare of media,� said Anasuya.

But Calcutta, which has already claimed Jhumpa as its own, has never allowed its heroes peace. So here�s wishing Jhumpa all the best � for her marriage, and for the madding crowd that awaits her in Calcutta.




Maximum: 30.1�C (-2)
Minimum: 25.5�C (-1)


5.0 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,


Light rain accompanied by thunder in some parts of the city and its neighbourhood
Sunset: 5.30 pm
Sunrise: 5.28 am

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