Aggressive allies put Atal on oil slick
PM just another patient for five-star hospital
Mamata in �man-made� flood offensive
Sonia visit
Art. 356 goes under water
Capital misses cable, finds books
Raj Kumar sends tape to stall bandh

New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
The Centre is in a fix on when to announce the oil price hike in the face of stiff resistance from states to the petroleum ministry�s proposal that they reduce sales tax by five per cent to cushion the impact.

Joining the chorus of protest today was key ally Chandrababu Naidu, who made it clear he will not agree to petroleum minister Ram Naik�s suggestion.

Naidu, who was here to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant, told reporters he will write to the Centre explaining why he is opposed to the move as soon as he gets Naik�s letter.

He added that the minister should first inform the states on the quantum of price increase he has in mind.

The chief minister said Andhra Pradesh was reeling under a financial burden and the report of the Eleventh Finance Commission, recommending a slash in the state�s share of Central revenue, had further depleted its resources.

Naidu, however, failed to keep his appointment with Vajpayee. He was to meet the Prime Minister at 5.30 pm, but his meeting with Pant went beyond schedule. By the time it was over, Vajpayee was closeted with the three service chiefs.

Naidu spoke to Vajpayee briefly over phone, but had time only to talk about the floods in his state.

Among the other allies, the Indian National Lok Dal and the Akalis are also opposed to the price hike. An aide of Lok Dal boss Om Prakash Chautala said the Haryana chief minister would oppose the move to pass the burden to the states in the guise of sales tax reduction.

Both Chautala�s party and the Akali Dal had stayed away from Saturday�s NDA meeting on the issue.

Barring DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, no other chief minister agrees with Naik�s suggestion. Even chief ministers of prosperous states such as Maharashtra and Karnataka have turned down the suggestion, saying the five per cent cut was �not a viable proposition�.

Naik denies rift

Naik denied any differences with finance minister Yashwant Sinha over the duty cuts for crude and petroleum products being planned to tackle an estimated Rs 23,600-crore oil pool deficit, adds PTI.

�There is no difference with anybody,� he said. �The finance minister has already agreed to a three-pronged strategy of cut in duties, issue of oil bonds and hike in prices of petroleum products to tackle the oil pool deficit.�

Naik, who had earlier warned dealers against hoarding, today lifted the ban on inter-state sale of petro products by oil companies. The ban was imposed in June following the sales tax scam in Gujarat where decontrolled petroleum products, including furnace oil, were reportedly diverted by fictitious customers.

National oil companies lost over Rs 500 crore in the furnace oil market because of the ban.    

Mumbai, Sept. 27: 
Breach Candy hospital, used to treating the rich and powerful, is suffering from one malady: �VIP fatigue�.

The hospital is readying to greet with a red carpet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, checking into the hospital in fashionable south Mumbai on October 9 for a knee joint replacement operation, but doctors and staff are hardly impressed.

�We have treated so many VIPs that it is nothing new for us,� medical director K.G. Nair said. �The only difference this time is that a sitting Prime Minister will stay at our hospital.�

Sanjeeva Neelam Reddy and V.P. Singh had been treated at the hospital, but only after they had left office � as President and Prime Minister.

Captains of industry � the Tatas, Birlas and Singhanias � have all been treated at the hospital. So have been movie stars, including Amitabh Bachchan, who attributed his miraculous recovery from injuries he had sustained during the shoot of Coolie as much to the �caring doctors and nurses� of the hospital as to the �love and affection� of his fans nationwide.

Treatment of VIPs might have brought Breach Candy under the spotlight time and again, but put a great strain on the staff and patients of the 150-bed hospital. During Bachchan�s long stay at the hospital, hundreds of fans thronged the hospital daily.

�We had a trying time keeping the people from entering the hospital,� a staff member said. �The same thing may happen now.�

The hospital administration said it was aware of the problem and would ensure that other patients and their families were not inconvenienced during the Vajpayee�s five-day stay.

�We are not going to shut down the hospital and release the other patients because the Prime Minister is going to come here for treatment,� Nair said. �Every patient is important to us.�

Except 10 patients lodged in as many rooms on the seventh floor being moved to other floors to make room for the Prime Minister and his family, no one else will be disturbed. No lift will be kept solely for prime ministerial use.

�But access to the seventh floor will be restricted, obviously for security reasons. There will also be a separate entrance to the seventh floor, to be used by the PM and his entourage,� Nair said.

Other than a special team of assigned on prime ministerial duty, it will be business as usual for most of the 100 doctors and 290 nurses at the hospital.

The administration said it will maintain the ratio of one resident doctor for every five patients even during the Prime Minister�s stay.

At the same time, the hospital is leaving no stones unturned to �make Vajpayee feel at home�. All 10 rooms on the seventh floor are being repainted and curtains and furniture changed.

�All the rooms are being done up and we will ask the Prime Minister to take his pick,� a hospital official said. The seventh floor will house a new kitchen to cater to Vajpayee and his entourage. The hospital chef, trained by a five-star hotel, will make dishes on order. The food and mineral water will be tested by police before being served to the Prime Minister.

Vajpayee agreed to come to Breach Candy after his surgeon, Chittaranjan Ranawat, told him he would �feel most comfortable operating on him� at the hospital.

Ranawat visits the hospital every December to carry out knee joint replacement operations.    

Sept. 27: 
Mamata Banerjee today described the floods ravaging the districts as �man made� even as chief minister Jyoti Basu convened an all-party meeting on October 3 to discuss the situation.

Stopping short of accusing the state government of engineering the floods, the Trinamul Congress chief tried to create the impression that the deluge was actually designed to divert attention from her high-octane campaign for imposition of President�s rule in West Bengal.

�Curiously, the floods occurred at a time when we were highlighting the deteriorating law and order situation in Bengal,� Mamata said, though she did not immediately clarify whether she or any Trinamul representative would attend the all-party meeting.

The crisis has also ensured the visit of Congress president Sonia Gandhi who will arrive here tomorrow. Sonia, who is scheduled to touch down at 8.55 am, will make an aerial survey of the districts accompanied by state party chief Pranab Mukherjee.

According to Mamata, huge discharges from the Damodar Valley Corporation�s Mayurakshi, Tilpara and other barrages, rather than the rain, caused the floods. �The Centre does not run the DVC which has always consulted Bengal and other state governments of the region first in the event of an emergency,� she said.

Hooghly�s tidal waves which swirled into the Tolly�s Nullah also flooded the railway minister�s residence on Harish Chatterjee Street. By 1.30 pm, there was knee-deep water in her bedroom.

�Irrigation is surely a state subject, isn�t it? Even though our house is situated on high land, never since my childhood have I seen it flooded the way it was today. The floods are totally artificial,� she said.

Blasting the government for its delay in sending a report on the situation to the Centre, Mamatasaid: �They took nine days to send in a report. Does it really take that long?�

Announcing the decision to hold the all-party meeting at Writers� Buildings, deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said all parties with representatives in the state legislature will be called.

Earlier, the chief minister said he wanted a team from Delhi to conduct an aerial survey while the districts were still flooded. �I know they will send a team when the water recedes completely,� he remarked.

Mamata, however, said a team from Delhi is expected to arrive for a survey either on Thursday or the day after.

But even as the administration grappled with the burgeoning crisis, fresh areas in North 24-Parganas were inundated by the swelling Ichhamati flowing in from Bangladesh.

Though the water level in the rivers flowing through south Bengal started to recede, several areas in Naidu remained under water.    

New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi will conduct an aerial survey of flood-affected areas in West Bengal tomorrow, reports our special correspondent. The party today demanded Central aid for the state in view of the natural calamity.

AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi said Bengal should not be left at the �mercy� of the Central plan advance to tackle the situation.

Jogi declined to term Sonia�s visit as �political�, but added: �How can the visit of the chief of the world�s largest political party be totally non-political?�

Leaders handling Bengal affairs later said Sonia will meet some partymen and review the political situation in view of the Trinamul Congress� demand for President�s rule in the state.    

Sept. 27: 
Finally it took Nature to bury the deafening debate on imposing President�s rule under vast grey sheets of water.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee said she was going to shelve her campaign for President�s rule in view of the floods.

�We now have no political programme. We only have programmes of reaching relief to flood-affected people in the districts. I don�t want politics to override humanism,� she said.

The reason for her putting the campaign on the backburner is not far to seek. The districts central to the campaign, Hooghly, Midnapore and Birbhum, are the worst affected in the disaster. The leadership realises that if it continus with the campaign for Central intervention to put a stop to violence when the people need succour of a different kind, the move will backfire on the party.

However, to keep up the pressure on the Left Front government, Mamata said a decision on President�s rule will be taken at an appropriate time.

Setting aside political differences, parties have busied themselves in rescue and rehabilitation. The Congress endorsed the government�s call to forsake narrow political goals in view of the flood situation.

Playing the conscientious politician, Mamata said she would not go for any Durga Puja inaugurations.

The CPM, too, has postponed its political programmes in view of the floods.

In a circular, it has asked all ministers and MLAs to remain in the state until the situation returned to normal. The decision was taken at a meeting on Tuesday at the party headquarters on Alimuddin Street.

State secretary Anil Biswas said his party had cancelled their political programmes and �all our district units are engaged in the rescue operation organised by the state government�.

CPM politburo member Biman Bose said he was supposed to hold a meeting at Khanakul on Saturday, but �I have decided to cancel it due to the floods�.

The party has no programme at Keshpur and other disturbed areas of Midnapore.

Minister of state for transport, Susanta Ghosh, who till the other day, was busy fighting Trinamul Congress activists in Keshpur and Garbeta, has abandoned for now all such programmes and joined flood relief.    

New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
It�s become the biggest conversation piece since Karnam Malleswari won her Olympic bronze. In college campuses, office canteens, grounds of multi-storeyed complexes, Delhiites are only talking about the cable blackout.

College students are annoyed about missing their daily fix of Kaun Banega Crorepati or their favourite serials and films. Others are uncomfortable at the absence of a familiar fixture in their lives.

Two days into the cable operators� strike and some Delhi residents are changing tracks even though they are missing their daily dose of murder and mayhem, high drama and romance.

Says Veena Baswani, editor of Roli Books: �It�s not that one is a compulsive TV watcher. But I like to switch the set on after I get back from work. It helps me to unwind and I miss the familiar sounds.�

Devaki Nair, a 78-year old housewife, says she will miss her favourite serial The Practice on Star World and the news. But she finds that she is reading more.

Hindustani classical singer Shanno Khurana also longs for the programmes. �But it has given me more time to read and write,� Khurana says.

School students from Sardar Patel Vidyalaya also say they are reading quite a bit. Most youngsters are going through all that�s there on sports in newspapers.

Even though the Olympics are on DD Metro, most cable TV households are finding it difficult to access the channel as they have no separate antenna.

Along with reading, the erstwhile couch potatoes are into net surfing and playing computer games. Music has also made a big comeback.

Says Rizwan Wahab, an IT professional: �I do miss the channels. But I make up for it by listening to music and watching the Olympics on DD Metro.�

It�s too early for cinema hall owners to assess the impact of the strike. But the manager of Golcha cinema in Daryaganj says his takings have gone up since the blackout.

For the Bengalis in Delhi, the cable shutdown has meant an added wrench. Jyotsna De, a housewife in east Delhi, said: �It�s not that I watch a lot of TV but I do look forward to the Bengali channels. It helps me keep in touch with what is happening in Calcutta. So I am upset. I�m getting on in years and can�t go out much, so the TV is a great recreation.�

Some operators are breaking rank and showing T-Series and AXN films. But they are few.

Most are carrying messages saying how the amendments to the cable network regulations are anti-operator and anti-subscriber as well. And many of the TV buffs agree. Says Wahab: �I am in complete sympathy with the agitation even though I miss the channels.�    

Chennai, Sept. 27: 
From captivity, actor Raj Kumar has issued a passionate appeal to his sons and fans to call off a proposed statewide bandh in Karnataka tomorrow.

An audio-cassette carrying the message from Raj Kumar has reached the office of Tamil bi-weekly Nakkeeran, whose editor R. Gopal is negotiating with Rakumar�s captor Veerappan, and was forwarded to chief minister M. Karunanidhi. The cassette was played repeatedly by the Sun TV network.

Raj Kumar has asked his fans to refrain from creating problems for the people and the government and not to call for a bandh during the famous Dasara festival at the Chamundeswari temple in Mysore. �By the grace of goddess Chamundeswari, I think I will be back during the festival,� he said in the audio tape.

He has also appealed to his wife Parvathamma, who is back home from the hospital after a mild heart attack, to take care of her health.

In Karnataka, police have stepped up security on the eve of the bandh called by the Raj Kumar Fans� Association and the Karnataka Film Chambers of Commerce. Director general of police C. Dinakar said eight companies of Central forces and 10,000 policemen, including Rapid Action Force commandos, have been deployed in the state.

Veerappan continues to be adamant that all cases against the 127 villagers prosecuted by Karnataka and the five extremist prisoners in Tamil Nadu be set free.

But Nakkeeran sources said this time round, Gopal might be able to convince the brigand that the state governments are keen to meet his demand but could not do so because of a court bar.

An affidavit filed by the Centre before the Supreme Court endorsing the state governments� stand is likely to help Gopal push his case. Gopal is also expected to tell Veerappan of the rising tension in Karnataka.

However, the Tamil Nadu government has charged Veerappan with employing ruthless methods against the tribals in his area of operation to deter them from cooperating with the Special Task Force.

In an affidavit before the Supreme Court, the government has denied allegations that Veerappan has not been apprehended because of political reasons.

The government noted that Veerappan operates in the forest stretching over 8,000 sq km and spread over five districts of Tamil Nadu. �Contiguous to this is an equal extent of forest area in the state of Karnataka. Together, it is a vast area with dense forest growth and mountainous terrain, which provides excellent cover for Veerappan,� the affidavit said.

The government�s declaration is being seen more as an exercise, aimed both at the court as well as the public, to dispel perceptions of a political nexus with the brigand than a hardening of stand.    


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