Allow PM to speak, say allies
Cong swings gun back on trio
Jaitley on sticky wicket after Jadeja defence
Electricity strike
Mamata locks horns with Maneka
After power vacuum, the cuts
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
Hours after criticising Atal Behari Vajpayee for deviating from the National Democratic Alliance agenda, the BJP�s major allies � the Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam Party � mellowed down saying a statement by the Prime Minister in Parliament would be enough to defuse tension.

After another all-party meeting failed to clear the parliamentary logjam, Trinamul and the TDP suggested that the Prime Minister be allowed to make a statement to remove doubts and reaffirm his secular commitments, a proposal to which the government has readily agreed.

�The Prime Minister should at least be allowed to speak. A discussion, in whatever form, can follow later. Instead of wasting the time of the House, they (the Opposition) should allow the Prime Minister to make a statement,� Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee said.

Backing Mamata, TDP leader Yerran Naidu said: �The Prime Minister should be allowed to make a statement to defuse tension in the House. We can think of resignation of ministers thereafter,� he said.

Mamata, who till yesterday had criticised Vajpayee, saying that his statements had spawned communal tension, has piped down. Sources close to her said she feared that attacking the Prime Minister beyond a point might produce a �Hindu backlash�.

Mamata, the sources said, feels that after the NDA adopted a unanimous resolution yesterday reaffirming its secular commitments and asserting that the Supreme Court was the final authority in deciding the temple-mosque dispute, the Opposition should not have persisted with its demand for discussion under rule 184 (allowing voting).

The Trinamul leader said she was not opposed to the Congress demand for a discussion under rule 184 per se. �It is their democratic right. But they should have relented. When Parliament is in session, the Prime Minister should be allowed to make a statement.�

�All these issues (whether the three chargesheeted ministers should resign) can be discussed later,� she said.

�Let the law take its own course. We respect court verdict,� she added.

Mamata has been in touch with leaders of other supporting parties of the BJP to adopt a common stand on the Opposition�s demand. Sources said leaders of these parties will meet informally tomorrow.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said the Prime Minister is ready to make a statement in both Houses.

The BJP challenged the Opposition to move a no-confidence motion against the government. �After all, they are demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, they can as well bring a no-trust motion,� he said.


New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
Sensing chinks in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Congress has renewed the demand for the exit of the Ayodhya trio instead of targeting Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for his Ayodhya statements.

For the sixth day, both the Houses were paralysed without transacting any business. In the melee, Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi rejected the Congress notice and motions by the Left parties and the Bahujan Samaj Party for a discussion under rule 184 on the charges framed by a trial court against L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti in the Babri masjid demolition case.

The Congress and other Opposition parties flooded the Speaker�s office with fresh notices with a revised text but the focus of all was on the three ministers. The main Opposition party has given another notice demanding suspension of rules to override the Speaker�s reasons for the rejection.

The fresh notice will insist on suspension of all rules to take up the resignation issue � a proposition that seems unacceptable to the Vajpayee government.

Balayogi today observed that a notice under rule 184 (providing for voting) to be admissible �shall be restricted to a matter of recent occurrence� and �shall not relate to any matter which is under adjudication by a court of law having jurisdiction in any part of India�.

Though the Congress is tightlipped about its revised notice, sources said it has made a reference to Harin Pathak�s resignation from the Council of ministers citing that as a �recent occurrence�. Party leaders said Parliament is also competent to discuss matters that are sub judice.

By the Congress� own admission, the new notice is �old wine in a new bottle�. As a party MP said: �We have not deviated an inch from our earlier posture. The government cannot get away just like this.�

The Congress� assessment is that an all-out attack on the Prime Minister may result in allies closing ranks behind him, as seems to be already happening.

Its shift in strategy is based on the Trinamul and National Conference�s note of dissident at yesterday�s NDA meeting. �Why did the Vajpayee regime avoid a discussion under rule 184 if they were confident of the support from the allies?� a Congress MP asked.

The Congress strategy is also aimed at cornering reluctant NDA allies and force a vote on Ayodhya. �Since the Assembly polls are round the corner in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, Trinamul and DMK cannot afford to back the government to the hilt. It is our strength,� a Congress floor manager said.

Spelling out the party�s strategy, chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said that for the Congress, the issue was not whether there should be a temple or a mosque but the resignation of the three Union ministers.


New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
The spirited defence of cricketer Ajay Jadeja has landed Jaya Jaitley in trouble.

Samata Party sources said Jaitley is likely to be replaced as president by next month for her �embarrassing� campaign against the income-tax department and the CBI.

Sources close to Samata leader Nitish Kumar said the rank and file will probably push for Jaitley�s replacement at the party�s national executive in Mysore next month.

They added that pro-Nitish leaders have started campaigning against Jaitley following reports that a senior Union minister had requested sports minister Uma Bharti to bail out Jadeja before the cricket board banned him for five years.

�We were the first to take on Laloo Yadav on the corruption issue. Now we have a party president collaborating with a corrupt cricketer. Surely, Laloo will try to take advantage if she was re-elected president,� a leader in the Nitish camp said.

Nitish, too, has expressed his displeasure over Jaitley�s efforts. Her defence of the cricketer, he said, has damaged the party�s image and led to �uncomfortable� questions.

After an income-tax call on her residence, Jaitley had called a news conference at George Fernandes� residence to defend Jadeja and blast the tax officials. She also alleged that the taxmen were corrupt and that one of them had even demanded money.

The Samata had initially planned its national executive in Bangalore on December 3. But the turmoil caused by the split in the Janata Dal (United) and differences within the party over merging with the Dal (U) forced the conclave to be postponed. A new date is yet to be announced.


Calcutta, Dec. 11: 
The National Co-ordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers has called a 24-hour countrywide strike tomorrow against power reforms, says a staff reporter.

About 50 lakh consumers in West Bengal may be affected in case of a power breakdown.

The committee has threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the Centre does not scrap the Electricity Bill 2000, which, the Prime Minister tonight said, will be tabled shortly.


New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
Two firebrand leaders are stamping their hooves in a battle of M & M over cows.

Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamul Congress leader and railway minister, is miffed at animal activist and social justice minister Maneka Gandhi stopping a Howrah-bound goods train carrying cows allegedly for slaughter.

With active encouragement from Maneka, her camp-followers stopped the train from Punjab carrying 634 cows to Bengal at the old railway station in Faridabad near Delhi yesterday.

Railway sources said following Maneka�s intervention, five persons were arrested for escorting the animals under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Around 175 bottles of oxytocine, a banned medicine used to increase milk yield, were seized.

The sources said Maneka was particularly angry at the way the cattle were packed into bogeys.

She wanted a separate case for each animal, something the cash-starved railways found difficult to concede.

Mamata and Maneka are meeting on the morrow. The Railway Board chairman will also be present at the talks being held to discuss the issue and find a solution.

But sparks may fly when the two ladies meet because if Mamata is bent on ferrying the cows to slaughterhouses in Bengal, Maneka is as dogged an animal rights campaigner. Neither is known to mince words or back off after taking a position.

Sources close to Mamata said the railway minister has not taken kindly to the �fads� of Maneka, who belongs to a �one-MP party�.

Maneka is opposed to cow slaughter, a subject sensitive in Bengal with a sizable minority population. Apart from Kerala, Bengal is the only state where cow slaughter is not banned.

�She (Maneka) has no understanding of the reality called Indian diversity. This vast, diverse country has different priorities, to which she has no clue,� said a Trinamul leader.

Sources close to Ajit Panja, minister of state for external affairs minister, said Trinamul leaders are also aghast at Maneka�s drive against shahtoosh shawls. �She is taking the campaign to ridiculous heights. Recently she even questioned an Iraqi diplomat for sporting such a shawl,� said a party leader.


Washington, Dec. 11: 
If vote-rigging and preventing America�s �Dalits� from going to polling booths are here, can power cuts be far behind?

California, one of America�s more affluent states and home to the super-rich Silicon Valley, is reeling under a power shortage and residents have been told not to switch on their Christmas illumination until peak demand has passed.

In Washington state, soaring power costs have forced a paper mill to close down indefinitely and 800 workers have been laid off. Oregon is considering load-shedding � rotating blackouts, as they are called here � for 60 to 90 minutes daily, something San Francisco resorted to in June this year.

About one-third of California�s power generation plants are out of order. �We have a large number of plants offline,� said Patrick Dorinson, spokesman for California Independent System Operator (ISO), the agency in charge of the state�s power grid.

�We haven�t had any rain, so we are not getting any power from hydro generators. And we are not getting as much power from the North-West as we used to.�

If it�s sounding more and more like Bihar, wait. Unlike in the Third World, where mismanagement, corruption and power thefts are the main causes for power shortage, it is bounding prosperity which has caused the energy crisis in California.

High-tech industries, propelled by Silicon Valley, have pushed up demand for power in the state by four to five per cent. ISO officials say this is two to three per cent more than the average growth in demand for all of the US.

The economic boom, in turn, has increased the state�s population, attracting an unprecedented number of people from other parts of the US and migrants from abroad.

But there was little planning to forecast such demand or prepare for meeting it.

Dorinson was quoted in the west coast media as saying: �You can�t keep adding half a million people to the state every year, with all the lights, heaters, air-conditioners and computer warehouses that go along with that, not building any power plants, and not expect a problem.�

As it was, California used to import about one-fifth of its energy needs from hydro-electric power plants in the North-West and from nuclear power plants in the South-West.

Low rainfall this year has lowered energy availability from hydro-power plants.

Adding to the problem is the obsession that Californians have with protecting the environment. For close to a decade, environmental activists in the state have successfully prevented the construction of new power plants.

Strict anti-pollution requirements have simultaneously stopped the operation of a number of mega power units which have already exhausted what are known as their �pollution credits� for the current year. These plants will have to cough up a big fine if they are to resume production before 2001.

Some California officials also believe that the power crisis is being created by generating companies as an excuse for putting up power tariff.

Already power costs in the spot market in the North-West of the US have jumped two and a half times in one week. This makes electricity 20 times more expensive there than in New York or the national capital.

Several investigations are under way into California�s high energy costs and in San Diego a lawsuit has been filed charging 14 power companies with manipulation of costs.

But, at least for the time being, people on the West coast are putting up a brave front. Last week, California governor Gray Davis lit the traditional Christmas tree on the lawns of the state�s Capitol, but switched it off after five minutes.

Michelle Montague-Bruno, spokeswoman for the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, a trade organisation of high-tech firms, said if the crisis continued, it �could cost Silicon Valley-based companies an estimated $100 million a day�.

She said blackouts in June had cost some companies as much as one million dollars a minute.




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