PM sows seed to weed out graft
Farm fury fractures friends, foes
Buddha matches Mamata medicine
Takeover bid on secret service
American ailment faces Congress cure
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has decided to set an example by getting to the bottom of the alleged corruption in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, funded by the government.

He has advised every ministry and department to ensure that there is not a whiff of graft around them. In order to back up this advice with action so that they do not miss the message that he will tackle corruption with a heavy hand, the Prime Minister is making sure the guilty are punished in the premier agricultural research institution.

PMO sources clarified that Vajpayee is not trying to interfere with the functioning of the agricultural ministry under the charge of Nitish Kumar, the Samata Party leader. ICAR is administered by the agriculture ministry. But after being made aware of the nature of the corruption, he could not feign ignorance.

It was at his behest that ICAR director-general R.S. Paroda was removed. Vajpayee has also given the go-ahead to an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The internal audit report of the ICAR has made scathing observations about Paroda and three officers. The alleged misdemeanours have upset the PMO.

The audit said these officers acquired special funds for building their residential quarters. �As these officers were already entitled to houses under the directorate of estates, the reason for adding this extra work could not be defended. Administrative approval and financial sanction to the extra work has not yet been accorded. Objection of the secretary of the ICAR was overruled and sanction accorded by the director-general on October 17, 1987,� the audit said.

This is not the only instance of irregularity cited in the report. Paroda had allegedly ordered the irregular purchase of computers and accessories worth almost Rs 5.37 crore. In another case of computer purchase, Paroda and his associates allegedly allowed defalcation of Rs 18.87 crore.

Knowing full well that these details are also available with the Opposition, the Prime Minister made enquiries before ordering removal of the ICAR officials named in the report. The other officials are P.L. Gautam, Anwar Alam and S.L. Mehta.

The report pointed out irregularities in the appointment of consultants also. It said Chaturanan Mishra, agriculture minister in the United Front government, had written to the ICAR director-general drawing his attention to the fact that of the 30 consultants hired by the organisation, almost 21 were retired employees.

The implication was that contracts were being handed to people on the basis of familiarity rather than merit.    

New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
A Sonia Gandhi-led motion against the Centre fell through in the Lok Sabha tonight, capping a dramatic day which reaffirmed the farm sector�s stranglehold on votebank politics and muddled alliance configurations.

In a brief but sharp speech, Sonia attacked the Vajpayee government�s handling of the agriculture sector, saying the crisis had reached a point where �life itself was going out of the farmers�. But the Congress, in turn, was derided by the Samajwadi Party, which dubbed it an organisation of those patronising �pizza and pasta�.

The motion was defeated 248-139, but not before the government had to suffer the mortification of being criticised by its major allies. The Telugu Desam, the Biju Janata Dal, the Shiv Sena and the DMK accused the Centre of being indifferent to the plight of farmers.

Desam�s Umareddy Venkateswarlu slammed the government for ignoring problems of farmers, especially in Andhra Pradesh, while Trinamul Congress� Sudip Bandyopadhyay welcomed the motion, saying: �It is good to bring an adjournment to discuss farmers� problems.�

In his point-by-point rebuttal to the Opposition charge, Union agriculture minister Nitish Kumar said it was during Congress rule that the country was committed to �unfair terms� under the World Trade Organisation agreement for agriculture.

Nitish assured the House that the Centre wouldn�t hesitate to hike import duties and bring anti-dumping measures to protect Indian farmers. �If anything is wrong, then go and ask Manmohan Singh,� he said.

�We have two instruments to deal with the situation now. These are tariff restrictions and anti-dumping measures,� Nitish said, pointing out that the government was alive to the problem and had even revised import duties on commodities like edible oil.

Sonia�s speech was laced with Hindi words like khet (field), chakki (grinder) and khet mazdoor (farm labourer). �The Indian kisan is being crushed in a chakki,� she said. �The rotating stone below is the rising cost of production. The rotating stone above is the falling prices of his output.�

The Congress chief accused the government of having no policy or plan to deal with the issue, but was jibed at by Samajwadi�s Amar Singh who said the Congress had no locus standi to take up the cause of farmers. �What do they know about khet and khalians,� he said. �They are pizza and pasta eating people.�

But Congress spokesperson Margaret Alva made light of the comment, saying that Singh represented farm houses and not the farming community.

Sonia, who was supported by the Left parties when she criticised the Centre for neglecting the recent West Bengal floods, demanded concrete steps to give a fair deal to farmers.

She said the government needed to be taken to task as it had forgotten its primary duty towards the tiller.    

Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
Stealing her acts, snatching her lines, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is matching Mamata Banerjee frame by frame.

The second example of this in the past 24 hours was available when Bhattacharjee quietly sent one of Calcutta�s better-known eye specialists to examine Shyamal Kanti Ghosh who suffered extensive damage to his right eye after a gang raided his house at Kasba, killing his son. The dacoits had dealt a heavy blow with the butt of a revolver to Ghosh�s right eye where a lens had been implanted after a cataract operation.

Dr Sunil Bagchi cancelled his morning appointments and visited Ghosh on Bhattacharjee�s request. Kaustuv was his patient, too. �I was shocked to see in a framed photograph that the young man had his eyes examined by me just before his death,� Bagchi said.

�Please go and examine the poor man. He is in indescribable physical and mental agony,� Bhattacharjee said. He also asked a police officer to escort Bagchi.

The next part of Bhattacharjee�s healing touch was to make arrangements for quick restoration of the telephone connections snapped by the gang.

Yesterday, Bhattacharjee had visited the tragedy-struck family at Kasba, which falls in his Assembly constituency, setting a precedent for a chief minister and causing observers to draw parallels with Mamata Banerjee. The Trinamul leader rose through the ranks to become the challenger for the Bengal throne by dint of her spontaneous reaction to events.

After the Kasba incident, Trinamul launched a customary attack on the government over what it described as growing lawlessness. Bhattacharjee surprised them by turning up at the Ghosh door first to establish that he cares. He told the sobbing mother: �I will bring the killers to book.� Two people had been arrested till late evening.

Bhattacharjee dismissed suggestions that his style of response had a striking similarity with that of Mamata. He said that, like his predecessor, he is used to visiting disaster zones or empathising with suffering people.

�Please remember I joined politics much before her birth. I have been to every thana area in the state since my days as a worker of the CPM�s youth wing. My habits, good and bad, are still the same.�

This was the second time Bhattacharjee has rushed to a spot to get on the right side of people since assuming office. On his visit to flood-affected areas of North 24-Parganas, he broke through the security ring and walked into the middle of crowds. In another exercise in networking directly with the people, he will visit clash-hit Keshpur on December 7.

Mamata Banerjee has lost a long-running monopoly.    

New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
The foreign ministry has suggested that the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which looks after external intelligence, should be accountable to it, a proposal that could set the cat among the pigeons in the corridors of power.

Since its birth almost 30 years ago, the Prime Minister�s Office (PMO) has been overseeing RAW�s functioning.

Top government sources disclosed that a document prepared by the foreign office�s vigilance division suggests bringing RAW under the ministry along the lines of Britain. MI-6, the British external intelligence agency, operates under the foreign office. Australia, Singapore and a few other countries have a similar system.

According to the plan, RAW will function under the administrative and operational control of the external affairs ministry.

The RAW chief, who holds the designation of secretary (R) in the Cabinet secretariat, will report to the foreign minister instead of the Prime Minister.

The sources revealed that according to the proposal, RAW operatives on assignment abroad will send their reports directly to the foreign office desks concerned and to RAW�s headquarters. This, the document reasons, will not only ensure better �cover� assignments for RAW agents stationed in Indian embassies and missions abroad, but also smoothen the relationship between agency officials and career diplomats.

The document has been prepared as an input for the Group of Ministers, headed by home minister L.K. Advani, which is preparing its own report after going through data submitted by the task forces on intelligence, defence, internal security and border management.

The foreign office�s proposal appears controversial as it encroaches upon the PMO�s domain.

With the Group of Ministers still preparing its recommendations on national security requirements, and given the tenuous relationship between various wings and agencies of the government, sources wondered whether the proposal will find favour with the political executive.

On the other hand, some senior officials feel the plan will usher in a degree of accountability in RAW, which was not created by an Act of Parliament. �At least the agency will then be accountable to the external affairs minister as the MI-6 is to the British foreign secretary,� an official said, adding: �The relationship (in Britain) has always been harmonious.�

Indications are that RAW is not prepared to accept such a proposal. Obviously, the agency is used to being answerable to the Prime Minister and, therefore, to the highest decision-making body in the country. Being accountable to any other ministry will trigger suspicion that its powers are being diluted.

The task force on intelligence has given a lot of pre-eminence to the Intelligence Bureau in operational matters and has recommended that some specific areas of RAW�s operations should be handed over to the internal intelligence agency.

Security experts said in such a situation, even IB operatives on cover assignments in the neighbouring nations will, under the proposed scheme, have to come under the administrative and operational control of the foreign ministry. �Will that be acceptable to the home ministry?� an official asked.    

Washington, Nov. 22: 
As the festering American suspense sent a vice-presidential candidate to the hospital, the electoral impasse threatened to escalate into a constitutional crisis with the clear possibility that the choice of the next President and his deputy may have to be left to the new Congress which will meet here in the first week of January 2001.

Florida�s Supreme Court ruled late last night that results from manual recounting of votes until Sunday should be added to the final results from the state, boosting Democrat Al Gore�s chances.

But his rival George W. Bush immediately threatened to get Florida�s Republican-controlled legislature to overturn the court verdict and choose the state�s electoral college, thereby bringing the legislature and the judiciary into direct conflict. Bush said fair and accurate counting of votes in Florida was now impossible.

Adding to the complications was the sudden illness of Republican vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney. �Cheney experienced chest pains and he went to hospital as a precaution,� a Bush spokesman said. Cheney has had three heart attacks in the past.

Speaking on behalf of Bush, his observer at the Florida recounts and former secretary of state, James Baker, accused the court of usurping legislative functions and rewriting the election law.

�Two weeks after the election, that court has changed the rules and has invented a new system for counting the election results,� Baker said. �So one should not now be surprised if the Florida legislature seeks to affirm the original rules.�

Baker�s statement came even as Gore won a public relations coup by offering for the third time to meet Bush to tone down political rhetoric in this divided nation and �demonstrate the essential unity that keeps America strong and free�.

Perhaps anticipating a continuing impasse, Gore also suggested that both he and Bush take steps towards creating their respective transition teams and administrations so that the eventual winner would be ready to assume office on January 20.

In his statement, Bush did not refer to Gore�s offer of a meeting, but instead called upon his rival to withdraw objections to postal ballots by army personnel posted abroad which have invalidated many of their votes.

�I don�t know whether Governor Bush or I will prevail, but we do know that our democracy is the winner tonight,� Gore said about the Florida court verdict.

Gore, who is trailing Bush in Florida by 930 votes, believes that the verdict would pave the way for him to get the state�s 25 electoral votes, and thereby, the presidency. But, late tonight, Gore suffered a blow as a Florida county, Miami-Dade, called off the hand recount. The county, perceived a Gore stronghold, said it could not meet the court�s Sunday deadline if went in for the hand count.

Anticipating the ruling by the court, which has six Democratic appointees on the bench and one judge jointly chosen by the Democrats and the Republicans, lawyers for Bush had filed a last minute plea yesterday demanding that the judgment should not set standards for the vote count.

If the Florida legislature overturns the verdict and chooses nominees for the electoral college, the dispute is bound to spill over to the US Supreme Court. Such a step may immobilise the electoral college which is scheduled to choose a new President on December 18.

Under the US Constitution, it will then be left to the House of Representatives to elect the President on January 5. The Senate will elect a vice-President. The Republicans have a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, but its members are not bound to vote on party lines.

The Senate is evenly split with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats with only one result from Washington state to be officially declared.    



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