Ministers let off with rap on knuckles
Gaza & glamour at Mulayam iftar
Crorepati in Zero Hour fix
Coconut in cola war
Love talk finds rivals on same wavelength
South flashes green signal to sex education
SC pollution rap for govt
Short shrift for young Turks
Coffee-table snub to Congman
Cong Pak tour pitch

New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
The Prime Minister wants to put a lid on the controversy about ministers of state going without work.

Atal Behari Vajpayee has made it clear that he would not like to interfere, but did expect Cabinet ministers to allocate work properly among their juniors.

Government sources told The Telegraph that the Prime Minister also underlined that the ministers of state should not complain in public. They could sort out the matter with their seniors.

Vajpayee wondered why there was a problem when it is the responsibility of the ministerial and departmental secretaries to advise Cabinet ministers on job allocation and ensure that the ministers of state did not remain idle.

There was speculation among some Cabinet ministers that the Prime Minister would discreetly find out, through the Cabinet secretary, the nature of job allocation in different ministries. But the sources scotched these rumours.

“How can a Cabinet secretary assume such powers and make inquiries into areas pertaining to the functioning of Cabinet ministers?” one of them asked.

Vajpayee is aware that some ministers, including George Fernandes and Jagmohan, never have a problem with their juniors. Jagmohan goes to the extent of ensuring that his deputy, Bangaru Dattatreya, sees every file that reaches him.

The urban development minister has issued instructions that all files should be sent to him after they have been seen by Dattatreya. It is no wonder then that the minister of state is not unhappy.

The late power minister, Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, also had an excellent rapport with his deputy, the politically-senior Jaywantiben Mehta.

Government sources said for political reasons, several senior leaders had to be accommodated as junior ministers and are unhappy.

For example, Hukum Dev Narayan Yadav, minister of state for agriculture, had approached Vajpayee when Nitish Kumar was being given the Cabinet berth in his ministry.

Yadav pointed out that he was senior politically. Before joining the BJP, Yadav had been part of the socialist ranks when Nitish was probably still a student leader.

Similarly, Sumitra Mahajan remains a minister of state in the human resources development ministry. But her junior party colleague from Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharti, has become a Cabinet minister in charge of sports and youth affairs.

The dinner meeting of disgruntled junior ministers last week was held at Mahajan’s house.

But these discrepancies are difficult to solve. Vajpayee knows he cannot promote Chamanlal Gupta, a BJP veteran, to a Cabinet rank at this stage. Gupta was active in the party when Cabinet minister Ananth Kumar was probably still in school.    

New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
The iftar season was kicked off in the capital today with a fight over the distant Gaza strip.

The Samajwadi Party and the Congress, locked in a battle for Muslim votes in Uttar Pradesh, extended their competitive politics to the already strife-torn West Asia. But Mulayam Singh Yadav appeared to have stolen a march over Sonia Gandhi, at least for the moment.

The iftar, hosted this evening at Mulayam’s residence by his close aide and Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh, had the right mix of glamour and serious politics.

Though the spotlight was on Amitabh Bachchan, Jayaprada, Shabana Azmi and industrialist Anil Ambani, the political flavour came from the presence of envoys of the West Asian countries, including Palestine.

While Sonia had written to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on November 10 criticising the pro-Israel tilt in the NDA government’s policy and demanding an all-party meeting to discuss West Asia, Mulayam and Singh used today’s gathering to voice their anti-Zionist stand.

“It is important to recognise that the Palestinian question, which received world-wide support as freedom movement in secular, socialist Afro-Asian mould, is today poised (sic) as religious question,” a statement issued by the party said.

The leaders appealed to the international community not to remain a “silent spectator”. “Intervention from the international community under the UN initiative along with the USA, Arab League and the European community is needed to create confidence among the Palestinians for the Americans have lost the credibility of an honest broker,” they said.

Khalid Sheikh, the Palestine ambassador, expressed his gratitude to the Samajwadi leaders for “organising this distinguished gathering”.

“It is not unusual for the people of India to express their solidarity with the struggle being waged by the people of Palestine,” he said.    

New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
Amitabh Bachchan had better watch out for this one. Ramdas Athawale, member of the Republican Party of India, today pulled up the Kaun Banega Crorepati show for giving wrong answers.

The MP is keen to correct one error he has spotted. “The KBC is an extremely educative programme. We and our children learn a lot from it. But they should not give out wrong answers,” said Athawale during Zero Hour.

What offended the MP was the answer given to the question on the duration of Zero Hour. “There was a question on how long the Zero Hour can go on. The reply was one hour. This was a wrong answer but was certified as correct,” he explained.

“There is no fixed time for Zero Hour. It could get over in 10 minutes or last for two hours,” said the MP. He petitioned the Lok Sabha Speaker to take up the issue with KBC.    

New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
“If you dip your tooth in a glass of Pepsi or Coke for 48 hours, it will disintegrate. So boycott the poison and instead drink tender coconut water and be healthy” — this was the theme song of a “coconut march” organised by the Coconut Growers’ Association today.

Over a dozen MPs and two Union ministers endorsed the call to boycott Pepsi and Coke and propagate “coconut cola” even in foreign countries. “It (tender coconut water) is a natural gift given to us by God. Beer produces heat in the body, but tender coconut water cools the body,” said C.P. Radhakrishnan, BJP MP from Coimbatore.

The march from Kerala House in Jantar Mantar to Parliament Street to propagate the medicinal and nutritional qualities of tender coconut water, the “mother of all beverages”, was inaugurated by Union agriculture minister Nitish Kumar.

Junior railway minister O. Rajagopal was present with MPs from all parties of southern states and Bengal. Rajagopal said it was time “we countered the Pepsi-Coke culture” and had our own natural drink.

Going by the enthusiasm, Pepsi and Coke will soon have a swadeshi competitor. P.C. Thomas, leader of Kerala Congress (Mani) and president of the association, said they would counter the ill-effects of Pepsi and Coke by making tender coconut water easily available in restaurants, hotels and other public places.

Sonia Gandhi, who was invited, sent three Congress MPs to the march to express solidarity with the coconut farmers.

Nitish was presented a huge coconut named Cochin-China that was part of the exhibition at the trade fair. The marchers carried a full coconut and a palm in their hands.

The minister said he was sure that “ultimately tender coconut water will become a substitute for Pepsi and Coca Cola”.    

New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
No phone sex, please. We’re Indians.

If there’s one issue where the BJP and the CPM see eye to eye, it’s putting an end to love chatter on the telephone as it’s not part of our “cultural heritage”.

“The telephone system should not be used for immoral advertisements,” parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said in the Lok Sabha, amid much applause from even hardcore adversaries like the Congress and the CPM.

V.V.S Murthi of the Telugu Desam raised the issue that the entire House, for a change, found relevant.

“All leading newspapers are now publishing tantalising advertisements for engaging in cosy chatter on the telephone. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited, which is giving these numbers, is the real culprit,” Murthi said during Zero Hour.

The Desam MP said he was worried at the “degeneration” that was fast setting in among the children because of these “tantalising” advertisements. “When we are not at home, our children are calling up these numbers. You can have a sexual conversation in the name of a cosy chat,” Murthi added.

“This is home prostitution,” chipped in one of his colleagues from the Congress. “It must immediately be stopped,” added CPM members.

Murthi insisted that it was the Centre’s liberalisation policy that was unleashing all the demons of “cultural depravity”.

“This is not our cultural heritage,” thundered the MPs. Congress’ Santosh Mohan Dev put in a snippet. “I have heard some MPs also use the telephone numbers,” he remarked.

Denouncing the “cultural slide”, MPs, cutting across party lines, demanded a response from Mahajan, who needed no prodding.

“Sushma Swaraj, as the information and broadcasting minister (in her earlier stint), had banned all such advertisements,” he pointed out.

Sushma, Mahajan explained, had made an “arrangement” to stop people from accessing these numbers. “I’m highly offended by it. I also know that very often it is used by people outside this country,” he said.

The MPs demanded action and Mahajan complied with an assurance. “The government will explore all possibilities of taking action to ban these advertisements,” he said.

Mahajan reeled off a series of measures the government can take to put an end to phone sex. “First we will talk to the communications minister to see if it can be technologically stopped,” he said.

Why not take legal action, asked the MPs. Yes, the government is ready to explore even that possibility. “I will talk to the law ministry,” Mahajan promised.

Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, the “statesman” in the House, had to put in a word. “I have heard that some of these numbers are circulated through parliamentary papers,” he interjected.    

New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
It’s an achievement the ministry of human resources development would have been proud of.

The ministry and its allied wing, the National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT), had tried to incorporate sex education in school curricula. But where they failed, the health ministry and its associate agency, the National Aids Control Organisation (Naco), succeeded.

The health ministry and Naco were able to convince at least six states about the need to introduce education on HIV and sex. In fact, the training module is far more explicit than that envisaged by HRD and NCERT experts.

Both health minister C.P. Thakur and Naco director J.V.R. Prasada Rao said several states had accepted the manual, Learning for Life: A Guide to Family Health and Life Skills Education for Teachers and Students.

“All four southern states, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra governments have nothing against it,” said Prasada Rao. “They want to introduce it in the school curricula for students between Class IX and XII as early as possible, preferably in the next academic year itself.”

Learning for Life is like a manual for both teachers and students. Apart from instructing students about sex, it also dispels a number of false notions which Indian teenagers tend to acquire from peers and classmates.

The foreword, in the form of a message from the health minister, begins with the now familiar warning: “Young people are among the most vulnerable to HIV infection. They are highly impressionable and require appropriate information about reproductive issues, including safe sexual behaviour. The school AIDS education module has been developed keeping in mind the central role teachers have in influencing the minds of students.”

The module assumes that a section of students between Class IX and XII might be sexually active. So it advises teachers to “be comfortable when talking about sexuality and related issues” and not to be “judgmental”, as some could even be victims of sex abuse.

To begin with, teachers have been advised to ask the class to state the differences between a four-year-old and a 14-year-old and then note them down on the blackboard. This would help the students identify physical and intellectual differences between a child and an adolescent and also make for discreet introduction of the subject.

The students will be taught about “sexual maturation during adolescence”, with lessons on male and female sex organs and their functions.

For those who have long resisted the introduction of even basic anatomy lessons in schools, these lessons are specific and candid. A whole chapter deals with ‘Sexuality — Misconceptions and Beliefs’.

For example, students will be taught that “menstruation is not unclean” and that masturbation does not make a boy impotent or weak.

Learning for Life is not meant to be a text book, says Prasada Rao. The states, he added, will have to ask their own experts to write text books keeping in mind the guidelines laid down in the manual, which had been designed with support from the NCERT and Unicef.

The text books will deal with teenage pregnancy and how sexual diseases are transmitted. They will try to remove misconceptions about the HIV virus and discuss in detail the dangers of unprotected sex. Also mentioned will be all possible ways the virus can be passed on and not just through intercourse.

Prasada Rao said some states like Andhra Pradesh, where the HIV infection rate has climbed alarmingly in recent years, were impressed by the manual and are willing to draft a text book to be taught in schools as early as possible.

This is in contrast with the NCERT’s experience a few years ago, when a senior politician from Jammu and Kashmir had strongly protested against the way the council was planning to introduce sex education in schools.    

New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
The Supreme Court today took the Delhi and Union governments to task for not providing proper infrastructure to industry and ensuring that it is properly equipped to tackle pollution.

Holding that “Delhi is the third most polluted city in the world”, the court said the whole concept of the National Capital Region has come to “naught” as polluting industries have refused to shift from residential areas.

According to statistics, over 1.25 lakh industries function from residential areas and non-conforming zones. The government said it has allocated land and offered to foot 50 per cent of the expenses for fitting pollution-control mechanism, but the industries have refused to shift.

“Do you provide water, electricity, proper roads and other infrastructure for industrial growth?” Justice B.N. Kripal, who headed the three-judge bench, asked the authorities, holding that “over and above you want to change the masterplan itself”.

“Why can’t you repeal the Prevention of Corruption Act also?” Justice Kripal asked the government counsel in a lighter vein.

The judges also came down heavily on the “attitude” of the bosses of the industries. Refusing to shift, the factory-owners have held the capital to ransom, organising bandhs. The judges had earlier said that the “bench would not submit to hooliganism on streets”.

The Delhi government and industries have sought to project the “plight” of the 20,00,000 workers due to the threat of closure. But the bench said “workers in these industries are migrants and would have no problem to go to any place in search of employment”.

Justice Kripal said: “It is the politicians who do not want them to go considering their vote potential and the factory-owners who themselves do not want to shift out of Delhi.”

“This court has as much sympathy for the workers as any one else. That’s why we ordered continuation of employment, compensation for those who leave the jobs. But then the industry-owners don’t seem to make any move to shift,” the judges observed.

On the other hand, the Union government sought to project the Delhi government’s decision to declare several residential areas industrial as “illegal”. The Delhi government said according to the new blue-print, the local government would be in a position to relocate and shift industrial units from residential areas by 2002.    

New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
The young Turks who campaigned for Sonia Gandhi before the presidential polls are in for a rude shock. In the “sunrise” Congress, there will probably be no place for them thanks to the drastic amendments in the party constitution.

In the 24-member Congress Working Committee that is being dubbed Sonia’s “shadow cabinet”, half the seats are reserved for women, SC/STs and minorities. Since the rest of the vacancies is likely to be divided among party stalwarts and “loyalists”, the younger lot will virtually have no place in the apex decision-making panel.

According to the new rules under Article xix (a), out of the 12 members to be elected by the AICC, not less than four members will be elected from among women candidates and not less than two from among scheduled tribes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and minorities.

What appears worse to the CWC aspirants is the clause that if any of the reserved category candidate gets more votes than those in the general category, such persons will be treated as elected from the general category. In other words, the space will be further squeezed if reserved category leaders get elected from the general pool.

Leaders like Salman Khurshid, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Kamal Nath, Santosh Mohan Deb, Prithviraj Chavan, Murli Deora, R. Prabhu, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Y.S. Rajsekhar Reddy and Govindrao Adik have a daunting task before them. Out of the 12 seats in the elected category, six have been earmarked for the reserved quota. In the remaining six places, they will be pitted against Madhavrao Scindia, A.K. Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni and Ahmad Patel who are almost certain to make it. That would leave just one seat for them.

However, there is a convention in the party that is dissuading them from contesting — if you contest and lose, you will not be considered for the nominated category.

The “indirect route” to the CWC is equally formidable. Once again, Sonia will have to draft four women to ensure 33 per cent quota on gender lines. The other two berths will go to SC\ST categories. The younger lot will then be pitted against the party stalwarts. Not many young Turks hope that they will be picked ahead of Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Narain Dutt Tiwari, Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes. That leaves just two seats for them in the “general category” in the nomination slot.

While the young Turks are sulking, women are delighted. Feeling “empowered”, the women are holding meetings on who should opt for the “elected” and “nominated” categories. Their male counterparts are also holding conclaves to take up the matter with “Madame” to seek justice.    

New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
By the time Ashwani Kumar, sometimes Supreme Court lawyer, sometimes Congress economic policy thinker, was through with the World Economic Forum, the assembly of corporate who’s who was through with the Congress.

Kumar, a member of the Congress economic policy group, was a regular at the India Economic Summit. He was cutting a lonely figure till he mustered all his networking skills backed up by his tremendous appetite for caffeine — he invited everyone he encountered for coffee — to drive home the point that the Congress was the original party of reform.

What a contrast this since the days of Manmohan Singh when every businessman was cosying up to the Rao regime! Even before the Congress economic policy group headed by Pranab Mukherjee meets here tomorrow to consider a draft on nine years of liberalisation, the investor community has written off the party as an “anti-reform force”.

“It is tragic,” says Kumar on the about-turn in the fortunes of the party in the eyes of the business community. “How can they say such things when we are still in the process of formulating our stand?” he asked.

A preliminary draft of the Congress economic policy statement was discussed by party leaders with Sonia Gandhi yesterday. Madam’s views have not yet percolated down and the party still does not have the foggiest idea whether it will support or oppose a process that it started. With Vajpayee already indicating that a new burst of reforms is on the anvil, the party is now compelled to decide.

The party’s stand on further economic changes will be formulated on the basis of the draft that will be discussed in the policy group’s meeting slated for tomorrow. Among the crucial issues on which the party will have to decide — and it is pulled in different directions on this by industrialists considered friendly to it and its own trade union, the Intuc — are the party’s stand on the disinvestment of the government’s stake in Maruti, Indian Airlines and Air-India.

Businessmen at the India Economic Summit made it clear that these were test cases as the decision involved privatisation of, in the words of Percy Barnevik, chairman of Investor AB, Sweden, and co-chairman of the summit, “national icons”.

While the Intuc and Left trade unions with which it is friendly are clear on the Maruti sale — they oppose it — the stand on Air- India is fuzzy. This is because the employees’ union in Air-India favours disinvestment which they believe is the only way to mobilise the funds that the carrier desperately needs to expand its fleet of aircraft.

The position on Indian Airlines is also similar but an influential section is inclined to support disinvestment in favour of a “national” buyer.

The architect of the reforms, Manmohan Singh, appears to be distancing himself from the lobby within the Congress that sees the opening up of the economy as detrimental to the party’s political interests. At a closed-door dinner on the first day of the summit (that was not open to the media), Singh told the participants that he has seen a “slackening of the reforms process”. He was also concerned that the party has also not evolved a rhetoric of reform that was politically palatable.

At several of the open sessions, investors were dismayed with the Congress.

At his traditional briefing, Claude Smadja, managing director of the World Economic Forum, was critical of both the Congress and the “extreme wing of the BJP, the RSS”.

“There is a bureaucratic inertia,” he said. “We are aware that some ministries are clinging to their public sector units and are sometimes even ganging up with unions, even the extreme wing of the BJP, the RSS.”

Smadja tried to analyse why the reforms process had slackened after taking off at jetspeed in 1991.

“It is an issue of speed and flexibility. It is an issue of political will. India does not have an economic problem. It has just a huge political problem. Look at what is happening to the Congress. The Congress is now becoming anti-reform. Nine years after the reforms process was launched, there is still no constituency for reforms in this country. Even if reform is accepted, it is not advocated. Economy is still subservient to the politics in this country. It is a fact that contrary to India, China has made economic growth and prosperity a national obsession,” Smadja said.    

New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
The Congress today demanded review of the Vajpayee government’s decision to call off the cricket team’s tour to Pakistan terming it “unwise” and “counter-productive”.

Favouring resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan, Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said that the “people-to-people” level contact should be encouraged.

“Writers, intellectuals should be allowed easy access. The cultural and sports links should be strengthened,” Sharma said.

Sharma said day one of the Ramzan ceasefire has underlined the need for greater vigil as the militants seem to be trying to scuttle the peace initiative.

At the same time, the ceasefire period should be used to engage Pakistan in a dialogue, he said.

Sharma regretted the Vajpayee regime’s failure to take the main Opposition party into confidence on key issues like Kashmir, and foreign policy matters like the CTBT.

“What is the need to be so secretive?” Sharma asked, claiming that some of the NDA constituents were not consulted on policy matters. “Is it because of some opposition from within the NDA as evident on the Kashmir ceasefire offer,” the Congress spokesman said.    


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