Ditched Kutch clasps Clinton hand
PM proof challenge to Mulayam
Delhi bets, Sharjah pays penalty
Daring downsize agenda drawn up
Calcutta Weather

Anjar (Bhuj), April 4: 
Holding hands of two wide-eyed children, Bill Clinton came ambling down a narrow lane, slicing through mountains of rubble in the quake-ravaged town of Anjar, smiling and talking like a father out on an evening stroll.

Shadowed by Secret Service agents, their bulging jackets concealing MP5 sub-machine guns, the former US President entered a barricaded enclosure and stopped.

His expression turned sombre as he placed a handful of roses on a waist-high memorial built to mark the spot where more than 200 school children had died during a Republic Day march when the 6.9 magnitude earthquake reduced much of Gujarat’s Kutch district to rubble, killing more than 20,000 people.

The boy and girl, who were among the few marching school children to survive the January 26 tragedy, followed the man who was holding their hands a little while ago. They, too, placed roses on the plaque in memory of their dead classmates.

However, Clinton’s name on the memorial was hastily removed before he arrived as residents pointed out that it was written as “President Bill Clinton”. The organisers tried to pass it off as a reference to Clinton’s status as the head of an aid foundation. But following advice that it might embarrass the former President, police scratched out the name.

Up to now, barring the “erased name”, things went as planned by the state government, which ensured that only BJP functionaries had access to Clinton during his five-hour trip to Ratnal, Anjar and Bhuj today.

At Ratnal, where Clinton stopped for about 15 minutes on the way to Anjar, local BJP MLA Basant Bhai Aher and Taluka panchayat member Trikan Bhai Aher, also from the BJP, had the task of showing Clinton around, keeping him away from the villagers and their complaints. Though the local panchayat is held by the Congress, its president V.K. Homal was not invited.

At Anjar, a local municipal chairman and vice-chairman, both from BJP, were given the task of welcoming and accompanying Clinton during his 30-minute visit to this quake-ravaged town.

Hundreds of local people waiting for Clinton in the scorching sun were kept away from him with barricades and cordons.

Khatribazar, the venue, was declared off-limits to anyone other than the local BJP functionaries, officials and the media. As Clinton walked into the secure arena, people started calling out to him. As he responded with waves, they went hysterical and broke the flimsy cordons of packing wood and rushed towards him to air their grievances.

A security nightmare followed as about seven US agents, vastly outnumbered, fought in vain to keep the people from getting close to the former President. Clinton lent the villagers a patient ear. “You are the only person who can do something for us. The government hasn’t done anything for us nearly three months after the quake,” shouted former Janata Dal MLA Champak Lal Shah (70) who barged in with others.

Standing in front of Clinton, he shouted: “Please do something. Don’t go away. We have lost our parents, sons and daughters in the quake.” Clinton smiled and said: “I will certainly do what I can.”

“Our homes are all gone. We need money to rebuild our lives,” Rajnikant Sukharia shouted as police held him by his collar and led him away. A few policemen chased away villagers who mocked him. Clinton’s securitymen arrived in a blue four-wheeled drive jeep almost out of nowhere, shoved in the former President and zoomed away.

Later in the day, Clinton said at Bhuj Jubilee Hospital that he and other members of the American-India Foundation had raised $ 7 million for Gujarat quake victims. “I have come to look, listen and learn.... We intend to raise more and are trying to find ways to get money to people. We’re going to help in restoring schools and in healthcare.”

Clinton was amused at two banners outside the barricade at the Jubilee Hospital. Mike Patel, vice-chairman of the foundation, was standing next to him. Clinton pointed out the banners and they both had a hearty laugh. One read, “Rehabilitation should be through international aid and not through local NGOs”. Another one, held aloft by a middle-aged woman, read: “Mr Clinton, can you tell us how long we will live on the road?”

Clinton said he had a phone conversation with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee this afternoon and assured him of all help. “I will never forget the trip I had made to India as President. I always knew I would come back here but not in a sad situation such as this. I want to come to India for the rest of my life,” he said before taking off for Ahmedabad.


New Delhi, April 4: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee today dared Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav to furnish facts on his phone-tap allegation and his accusation that the Prime Minister had appointed an aide against whom the CBI had started an inquiry.

Mulayam had charged the Prime Minister’s Office with tapping telephones belonging to him and other politicians in the aftermath of the Tehelka disclosures and said that this was being done at the behest of Ashok Saikia, the senior-most joint secretary in the PMO.

The Samajwadi Party leader had yesterday sought Saikia’s removal, claiming that he was facing a CBI inquiry when he assumed office.

Sources close to the Prime Minister said Vajpayee has been offended by the regular assaults on his office and has challenged Mulayam to make specific complaints. “If there is any complaint, then the PMO would definitely look into it and the guilty, if any, would be punished straightaway,” the sources said.

They pointed out that it was “strange and unprecedented” that Mulayam had named a junior official in the PMO and not accused his “political master — the Prime Minister — himself”.

Vajpayee has made it clear that no person in the PMO has the authority to order the bugging of phones without his permission. Allegations, therefore, must be levelled, not against any bureaucrat, but against Vajpayee himself.

The sources said the Prime Minister wondered why Mulayam “lacked the courage” to point his fingers against him and was instead pillorying “defenceless” bureaucrats who cannot respond because service conduct rules forbid them from doing so.

The PMO has been under attack from the RSS, some allies and the Opposition since the Tehelka expose. Opposition politicians and even the RSS had so far directed their firepower at Vajpayee’s principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, and his officer on special duty, N.K. Singh.

Sources said an angry Vajpayee has questioned Mulayam’s motive behind contesting the Prime Minister’s prerogative in choosing his team, given that the Samajwadi Party leader has been defence minister and knows how the government functions.

Vajpayee insisted that not a single official in the PMO is tainted. “They are the cream of the service, chosen with extreme care and caution,” the sources quoted the Prime Minister as saying.

The offensive does not imply that Vajpayee will retain the present set-up in the PMO and chances are that at least one powerful officer might be eased out. But what Vajpayee dislikes is the fact that a campaign is on to portray him as a non-entity in the PMO.


New Delhi, April 4: 
When the government was preparing for the Sharjah pullout, a betting syndicate was thriving right under its nose during the India-Australia series.

With one match to go in the one-day series, Delhi Police today busted a racket run by bookie Satish Bansal and six associates.

The government decided to pull out of the tri-series in Sharjah as the home ministry believed that the underworld would lose its vice-like grip over cricket if India kept away from venues like Sharjah for a few years.

But the home ministry had no comments to make after today’s arrests. Delhi Police, however, stressed that this was only a case of betting and had nothing to do with match-fixing.

The volume of bets placed with Bansal over the past two years could run up to Rs 50 crore. His operations were spread across six states in northern India — Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

Bansal’s associates, now in the police net, included two telephone attendants, a person who kept an account of the score and commentary, two computer operators, and a person who noted down the bets of clients.

After receiving a tip-off, a police team led by inspector N.K. Sharma laid a trap. It used a “decoy customer” to place a bet. Once a deal was struck, the team raided Bansal’s hub at Pitampura in north-west Delhi.

Police searched the premises and recovered eight telephones, six mobile phones, two computers with voice-recording facilities, two television sets, four calculators and Rs 16.5 lakh in cash.

They also found some papers which provided evidence that cricket betting had been taking place round the year. The computer data seized is being studied to throw more light on the racket.

Satish Bansal, popularly known as Satish Lala, used to contact his clients through a well-equipped network of land-line telephones and mobile phones. It is also believed that he used the Internet to keep in touch with them.

In Delhi, his regular clients kept in touch with him over the telephone. Some even called on him at home. Bansal also had a network of sub-bookies who played a key role in increasing his client base.


New Delhi, April 4: 
The ministry of personnel has drawn up a raft of radical recommendations — ranging from phase-out of officers beyond a cut-off age to abolition of the pay commission — to downsize government.

The blueprint proposes to reduce the number of officers between the age of 52 and 55 by 25 to 50 per cent and send employees who have served for 10 years on compulsory leave without pay for five years. A five-year freeze on dearness allowance also figures among the suggestions.

If the “written recommendations” are accepted, the pay commission — forever a bone of contention between the Centre and trade unions — could be scrapped. The recommendations, put together as a note by the ministry and the department of administrative reforms, have been sent to the government.

The government had pledged to reduce its staff strength by 10 per cent in four years. The latest proposals have infuriated the trade unions. “They are outright crazy,” a leader of the CPM’s labour wing, Citu, said.

The rattled employee federations have lined up a meeting in Delhi next month to chalk out a counter-strategy. “The recommendations actually amount to declaring an open war against the employees of Central, state, defence and railway sectors,” said CPM member of Parliament, Sukomal Sen.

The ministry’s note suggests mid-career officers could be encouraged to join reputed voluntary organisations of research and education. “Those government servants who have only four years to go before retirement should be given a choice of taking retirement on full salary or retaining the government house for the remaining service period, provided their post or those equivalent to their cadre is abolished,” it added.

The note lists several “Nos”, too. No officer above 60 years should be entitled to government accommodation. No post-retirement jobs should be doled out to civil servants and the judiciary. “If any particular individual’s talent needs to be used after retirement, it should be on a short-term consultancy basis to meet a specific requirement.”

The note has not left untapped any avenue of downsizing. The minimum recruitment age for group C and D employees, it has been suggested, should be increased from 18 to 45. This will leave them with just seven years of service.

Other suggestions include raising the rent of government houses to a minimum of 20 per cent of salary. At present, it is as low as 2 per cent for some categories.




Maximum: 36.1°C (0)
Minimum: 25.8°C (+2)



Relative Humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 52%


Partly cloudy sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 37°C.
Sunrise: 5.29 am
Sunset: 5.49 pm

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