Buddha admits pension slip-up
Friends at Centre, foes in states
Phones on tap by March
After-Jaya bombshell in apex court
Portfolio pain unites BJP�s warring allies
Paswan sticks to beaten track
Cong information war in UP
Centre scaring away investors: Tehelka
Mamata pep pill for party
Black Cats boost to RPF

Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
Differences between chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and primary and secondary education minister Kanti Biswas surfaced yet again at a government-organised Teachers� Day function today when they addressed the problem of blocked retirement benefits for teachers.

Bhattacharjee admitted that the state government had failed to meet expectations, especially when it came to paying retired teachers their pensionary benefits, but Biswas opted to take the tried but unsuccessful line of blaming teachers and their schools for the problem.

A few minutes after Cabinet colleague Biswas said pension for �a few thousand teachers� remained blocked because they and the schools where they taught sent �incorrect records�, Bhattacharjee said the government must take care of its own mistakes. �It�s a big shame,� he said. �The school authorities may be at fault but we should concentrate on our own mistakes,� he added.

Biswas, speaking before the chief minister, had blamed the state finance department for the areas in which the government was at fault.

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta was absent and Biswas blamed that department for not being able to cope with the workload. He, of course, tried to defend his colleague � there was �huge pressure� on the finance department, he explained � but the point was not lost on the teachers present.

Bhattacharjee also readily admitted to problems in infrastructure after felicitating 14 teachers � some of them, according to their brief career-details, also doubled up as Left politicians and people�s representatives elected on Left tickets � on the occasion. Effortlessly switching between the roles of a repentant student and a hard taskmaster, the chief minister regretted his government�s shortcomings but said teachers too had their share of responsibility to fulfil in reversing the present situation in which the student-teacher relationship had become similar to that between a buyer and a seller.

A huge percentage of the government�s education budget went to paying teachers their salary, he reminded the Teachers� Day gathering, but admitted that was no excuse for one-teacher schools and roofless school buildings. �A separate fund for development of infrastructure is very essential,� he added.

The chief minister gave teachers and their students a piece of his mind. There was one ideology, that of �market economy�, that was vitiating �everything, including education�, he said.

There was a time when students � �even I,� the chief minister said � used to respect teachers. He didn�t exactly say that students had grown used to not respecting their teachers but the message couldn�t have been clearer: �The increasing commodification of education, where it has become just another item that can be bought, has changed everything.�

�Our teachers used to invite us to their home and offered to explain problems,� Bhattacharjee recalled. Did they ever think of asking for money or taking private tuition?� he asked.

Teachers would have to turn things around from what things had come to, the chief minister said.

�A student-teacher relationship is not a buyer-seller relationship and teachers will have the support of the state government in turning things around,� he added.


Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
Echoing the state Congress leadership, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi today said the party would not mind joining forces with the Left on some �specific issues� against the BJP-led coalition at the Centre even while opposing them in both Kerala and Bengal.

�We will fight the communists tooth and nail in Kerala and Bengal but at the same time share a platform with them against the BJP�s move to saffronise education,� he said, adding that the practice has been in vogue since the time of Indira Gandhi.

Only yesterday, state Congress chief Pranab Mukherhee had made it clear that there was nothing wrong if the party collaborated with the CPM on some national issues to corner the ruling BJP.

Das Munshi, however, expressed his unhappiness over the state Congress� prolonged failure to launch an agitation against the ruling communists in Bengal.

Today, he came forward with a string of proposals to step up a �tenacious� movement highlighting the Left Front�s non-performance in various fields.

In a veiled criticism of Mukherjee�s style of functioning, Das Munshi called for immediate steps to reactivate the party in order to boost the morale of �frustrated� Congress workers.

Urging Mukherjee to convene an emergency meeting of the PCC executive to discuss the situation, Das Munshi said: �Time is ripe to create a public opinion on the Left Front�s attempt to politicise education, its failure on the law and order front, financial mess in the state and its indifferent attitude towards the well-being of the working class.�

In a two-page letter to the PCC chief, Das Munshi regretted the party�s failure to interact with the people on these �burning issues�. �I also held a marathon discussion with Pranabda last night to work out a strategy on a sustained anti-CPM campaign in the coming months,� he said.

Critical of some state Congress leaders� �armchair politics�, he called upon party functionaries to visit the far-flung villages and interact with the people there to understand their problems.

�The Left Front�s victory in the Assembly elections for the sixth consecutive time does not mean that people have no problems,� he said, adding: �We should not forget that the CPM has done the maximum damage to the state during its 24-year rule.�

Asked if he was ready to take over the reins as PCC chief in the event of Mukherjee�s removal, Das Munshi evaded a straight answer.

�It�s a very sensitive issue and I would not like to comment since the decision has to be taken by the high command,� he added.

On whether the party will keep any truck with Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul Congress after her return to the NDA, Das Munshi said the question did not arise as �we cannot forge any sort of alliance with any party which has links with the communal BJP�.

�However, we do not mind if Mamata fights the CPM in her own way. We, too, may follow the anti-CPM agenda independently,� Das Munshi said.


Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
To get a telephone by the end of this fiscal, the waiting time will be zero, promised the chief general manager of the West Bengal circle.

Said R.V. Datar: �At present, we have a list of 226,491 people who have applied for a connection. We plan to make a phone available on demand by reducing the waiting time to zero by the end of this financial year (March 31).

�For this, we plan to instal an additional switching capacity of 4 lakh and add 3 lakh new connections. We will also set up 160 new telephone exchanges.�

The Bengal telecom circle has set for itself a budget of Rs 643 crore for this fiscal to upgrade its infrastructure, mainly to enhance its service in rural areas.


New Delhi, Sept. 5: 
After Jayalalitha, who?

The startling question cropped up in the Supreme Court today as the Centre�s counsel, attorney-general Soli Sorabjee and solicitor-general Harish Salve, repeatedly told the court that Jayalalitha�s appointment was wrong, null and void.

Justice S.P. Bharucha, heading the Constitution bench hearing the petitions challenging Jayalalitha�s elevation as chief minister, asked: �Supposing we were to hold that Jayalalitha could not have been sworn in and cannot continue as the chief minister, what would happen then?�

The judge highlighted the unprecedented situation and asked Sorabjee that �as chief minister, she would have appointed other ministers. Would they also be removed along with her�?

Justice Bharucha further expanded the �consequences� while seeking a reply from Sorabjee. �What happens to the government of Tamil Nadu in the interim period? What are the consequences? We must know what are the consequences. It has to be redressed.�

The attorney-general sought �a day or two� to answer, but said �my instant reply is that she must go�. At this, the bench observed that �there cannot be a vacuum. We want an appreciation of the consequences and how they can be redressed�.

�There are many other consequences. Please tell us how these consequences would be redressed,� the bench of Justice G.B. Pattanaik, Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, Justice Ruma Pal and Justice Brijesh Kumar, apart from Justice Bharucha, asked Sorabjee.

Sorabjee had contended that �a disqualified person cannot be a representative of the electorate. Such a person cannot occupy any seat or vote in either House of Parliament or either House of the state legislature. The Constitution provides strict penalties in this behalf under Articles 104 and 193�.

He added that �representative democracy is a salient feature of our Constitution� and �great importance is attached by the Constitution to who are to be the representatives of the people�.

Jayalalitha�s case is unprecedented as this is the first time a convicted person, especially one who was not allowed to contest the elections, has been appointed chief minister.

�The concept of an unelected minister is foreign to our democracy,� Sorabjee argued, holding that the only exception was provided under Article 164(4). This exception did not contemplate that a convicted person who could not even contest the elections should be sworn in chief minister, Sorabjee contended.

�If a person is appointed in breach of the constitutional prohibition, the appointment is bad and void ab initio. It is non est... Subsequent events cannot obliterate or overcome the initial incompetence or incapacity of the person,� he said.

Echoing Sorabjee, Salve said the person appointed as chief minister should not be, at the time of appointment, disqualified from contesting polls. Since Jayalalitha was disqualified at the time of her appointment, she could not continue.

Jayalalitha� counsel K.K. Venugopal countered the arguments, saying Article 164(4) prescribed neither a qualification nor a disqualification for a person to be sworn in chief minister.

A Governor came within the jurisdiction of the state high court, he pointed out, and added that Madras High Court had said that once Jayalalitha�s sentence was stayed, the conviction was also stayed. On this ground, the Governor could appoint her and be said to have followed the high court�s order, Venugopal said.

The petition, which has stirred a major debate, will be further argued tomorrow.


New Delhi, Sept. 5: 
The Cabinet shuffle last week has had a sobering effect on two bitter foes � Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav.

Battered by the BJP, which bagged the plum portfolios, the two will share a common platform at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh on September 13 to mark the death anniversary of Janata Dal (United) leader Mahendra Singh Bhati. Rebel BJP leader and Uttar Pradesh minister Ashok Yadav will also join them.

The meeting will be the first joint appearance of Paswan and Yadav after the former split the Dal (U) to form his Lok Janashakti Party last year.

While Paswan has lost the much sought-after communications ministry, Yadav lost his civil aviation portfolio. Though publicly both claim they are happy with any portfolio, they sulked for two days before taking charge of their new ministries.

Paswan has been allotted coal and mines, which is also a lucrative ministry, but is upset with the BJP for appointing its own man - Ravi Shankar Prasad - as minister of state to keep an eye on him. Unlike railways or communications, the coal and mines portfolio does not involve public contact, which is hardly what a populist minister like Paswan would want.

Confirming their participation at the Dadri meeting, Dal (U) general secretary Mohan Prakash today criticised Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for shunting out the veteran leaders to relatively insignificant ministries. Prakash said that Vajpayee�s move has harmed the interests of the National Democratic Alliance, both in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Sources said the move may bring Paswan and Yadav together in fighting the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh. Both have been bargaining for more seats with the BJP. The Lok Janashakti and the Dal (United) have been organising rallies separately to galvanise their cadre in the run-up to the polls. Now, there is a chance that both parties will come together to fight the elections, said a Lok Janashakti leader.

�The reshuffle message is not good for our cadre in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It will have a de-motivating effect,� Prakash said. But he added that his party would work to strengthen the NDA.

The Dal (United) leader said Vajpayee was Prime Minister of the NDA and not the BJP only. So, he did not have the �prerogative� of changing portfolios of alliance leaders without consultation. He said the Janata Party government led by the late Morarji Desai had fallen as some parties did not honour the coalition dharma.

Sources said that despite the enthusiasm of certain alliance leaders, a united show was unlikely. Sources said Biju Janata Dal chief and Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik is not inclined to sail with the Janata parivar or Samata Party leader and NDA convener George Fernandes.

Patnaik, sources said, is planning to form a group within the NDA with like-minded parties like the Telugu Desam. Patnaik is likely to meet Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu .


Patna, Sept. 5: 
Union coal and mines minister Ram Vilas Paswan today ruled out downsizing the ministry despite being shifted from the key economic portfolio of communications for his perceived anti-reforms stand.

�I will try to reduce the losses of the ministry but without any retrenchment. In fact, whichever ministry I get, there will be no retrenchment there,� he told reporters.

�In the communications ministry, I represented a work force of over five lakh while in coal and mines, the employee strength is more than seven lakh, most of them belonging to weaker classes... Here (in coal and mines), I have to work with utmost care to further their interests,� he said.

Hiding his hurt on being �demoted�, Paswan today played to the galleries in his home state, claiming that he had revitalised the earlier ministries entrusted with him and the new job called for the same.

Revealing that the Lok Janashakti�s Jai Narain Nishad had suggested that he should not accept the new post, Paswan said his reluctance would have raised questions about his role in corruption and given his rivals an opportunity to point fingers at him.

The Lok Janashakti chief, who was here to release a stamp in memory of Shahid Jagdev Prasad, hinted at a realignment of political forces in the state. The message between the lines was not lost on the host of anti-Laloo Prasad Yadav leaders, including the expelled RJD leaders, who were present at the function.

Bhante Dhamma Virio spewed venom on the Rabri Devi government and delineated Paswan�s message by asking the anti-Laloo forces to join hands to end the �RJD misrule�.

RJD rebel leader Ranjan Prasad Yadav emphasised that the need of the hour for all anti-Laloo forces was to join hands to end the anarchy in the state. Highlighting the sorry state of Bihar, he pointed out that thousands of acres were being wasted in the name of the Charwaha Vidyalayas, where not a single student could be found. Explaining his concern, he said he was a teacher first, a political leader later.

The ceremony to pay tributes to Jagdev Prasad turned into a Laloo-bashing session with leader after leader echoing Ranjan�s sentiments. The meeting was attended by Union health minister C.P. Thakur, BJP Opposition leader Sushil Modi, Samata Party leader Digvijay Singh and Nishad among others.


New Delhi, Sept. 5: 
The Congress may not have much ground-level support in Uttar Pradesh but it plans to launch an information war in the state by naming 17 zonal-level spokespersons.

Come September 13, each district in Uttar Pradesh will get an Internet connection. The Congress media team will hold a press conference, picking talking points from Delhi and Lucknow.

It is a different matter that most of the eastern districts in the state have half-a-day power cuts. But the �state-of-the-art� Congress plans to get a generator set along with personal computers, fax-modem-telephone connections, printers and so on.

Congress media managers are working over-time to beat the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party at least in press and publicity.

As spin doctor Tom Vadakkan said: �We have done some research. On an average, the BJP issues 54 press releases each day at the district level. Even if 20 of them fail to make it to the local newspapers, they still get decent coverage. Our idea is to beat them in this game, too.�

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has also decided to get generous with appointment letters and funds. In addition to the about 150 state-level office bearers, the Congress will have �five general-secretaries� in its state-level media department. Another five have been designated as media secretaries and there are five spokespersons and an extensive list of �members media panel�. Thus, almost everyone who is someone at the district level in the party has been �adjusted�.

Money is not a consideration. At the Mall Avenue party headquarters in Lucknow, which the state Congress chief seldom visits these days, a huge media room has been constructed. It will be inaugurated on September 13. Fitted with air-conditioners, the briefing room has been set up along the lines of the �Delhi model�. Every evening, journalists visiting Mall Road will be treated with soft drinks, mithai and namkeen with the bill amounting up to Rs 17 each.

In its zeal to kick off the battle on many fronts, the Congress leadership is facing occasional rounds of embarrassments, too. The party had decided to purchase 20 vehicles for its yatras beginning from September 15. A Delhi minister was assigned the task of buying them.

The second-hand car fleet looked shiny and bought at a great bargain of about Rs 1 lakh.

However, happiness soon turned into embarrassment when the vehicles broke down at Ghaziabad en route to distant Ballia, Varanasi, Deoria, Saharanpur and Lalitpur,

The fleet had to be towed away. Last heard, they were under repair at various workshops in Delhi.


Mumbai, Sept. 5: 
Tehelka CEO Tarun Tejpal today accused the Centre of trying to scare away its investors, a day after Amitabh Bachchan pulled out of the website�s board.

�The message the government is sending is clear: don�t put any money in Tehelka, so people are scared,�� Tejpal said, referring to a government affidavit filed with the Venkataswami Commission probing the Tehelka expose.

Tejpal said the website was going through a �hard time�� because people were now afraid to pump money.

�In India, many have skeletons in their cupboards, so they don�t want to take on the government,�� he said, addressing a speakers� forum, organised by the Mumbai Press Club and Tata Consultancy Service this evening.

Tejpal said the affidavit was so �distressing�� he contemplated filing a defamation suit against the government. �We consulted several lawyers, but they said there is a technical flaw. Any affidavit filed before a commission of inquiry does not come under the defamation law.��

The Tehelka boss said the affidavit accused the website of plotting a conspiracy to force a stock market crash through its recent revelation.

�We would have taken the government to court for defamation but for this technical flaw. How can a government take an official position that exposing corruption is wrong?�� he said.

Tejpal said neither he nor promoters of the website had any shares in listed companies. None of the promoters, including Shankar Sharma of First Global, benifited from any post-Tehelka crash in the stock market, he said.

Before going public with the investigation on March 13, Tejpal said had called up all the website�s directors, but he had not told them the story beforehand.

Tejpal said when he called up Amitabh Bachchan to tell him Tehelka was going to come out with a �big story�, the actor wanted to know what it was. �He did not insist when I told him we could not disclose the story then,�� he said.

Along with writers Khushwant Singh and V.S. Naipaul, the Tehelka CEO said he had invited Bachchan to have a few big names on the board. �I thought it would feel good. I was amazed when Amitabh Bachchan accepted the invitation almost instantly.��

Tejpal said though Bachchan extended his support for the website, he decided to quit citing a conflict of interest with his AB Corp, planning an initial public offering to raise capital from the market.

The Tehelka CEO said he had expected Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to probe and punish the guilty. �But what we saw instead was a slander campaign against us.�� �Those exposed are going scot free, but those who exposed them are being targetted.��


Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
The Trinamul Congress tonight unanimously endorsed party chief Mamata Banerjee�s decision to rejoin the National Democratic Alliance.

Mamata, however, made it clear at the meeting in Maharashtra Niwas that her party would fight against saffronisation and �politicisation of education�.

�We will not tolerate any politicisation of education. We will launch movements against all such attempts. We will fight saffronisation of education as strongly as we will try to prevent the communists from influencing education in Bengal,� Mamata said in reply to a question from Abdul Karim Choudhury, Trinamul MLA from North Dinajpur.

She also urged party leaders to launch a membership drive, which was today extended till September 15. �Membership of our party will remain open to all. Forms will be available from Nizam Palace,� Mamata told her party MPs, MLAs and councillors.

MP Ranjit Panja, MLAs Ambika Banerjee, Arunava Ghosh and a few others said rules and procedures should be framed for the membership drive. Sources said they advocated a door-to-door campaign to rope in new members.

Mamata also talked to leaders from districts and urged them to keep an eye on voter lists to prevent any attempt at tampering with them by the ruling party.

The Trinamul chief also announced a steering committee for the September 22 panchayat convention at the Netaji Indoor Stadium. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee will be the chairman of the reception committee. Party MLA Paresh Pal has been asked to handle the convention�s publicity.

Altogether 14,000 elected members of panchayat bodies and 600 councillors of various municipalities and civic bodies will be invited to the convention. There were requests from some leaders to invite party members who had contested the last panchayat elections but lost.

At today�s meeting, the leaders also underlined the need to strengthen the organisation in the districts, particularly those in north Bengal. Party leader from Purulia, K.P. Singh Deo, said that Trinamul lacked strength in the district and had fared badly in the last Assembly polls.


Siliguri, Sept. 5: 
Railway minister Nitish Kumar today said his ministry proposed to provide more �teeth� to the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and clarified that the services of the Black Cat commandos for protecting VIPs and the railway minister had been �withdrawn�.

Speaking to reporters here, Kumar said: �I have directed that the specially-raised Black Cats be withdrawn from VIP security and deployed for the specific duties they were trained for. I do not know how this crack force began to be deployed for VIP security during the tenure of the former minister. The force was specially trained to escort premier trains like the Rajdhani Express and should continue to do so. I have instructed the RPF director-general to deploy them wherever he thinks suitable.�

Incidentally, the minister, who arrived this afternoon by the Delhi-Guwahati flight, was delayed by over two hours due to a bomb hoax on the Guwahati-Delhi Rajdhani Express, which he was to take to Katihar.

Without naming his predecessor, Kumar said: �I was surprised to see a bunch of these commandos surrounding me at a station in Bihar recently and asked them to go back to their vehicles. A company of the commandos stationed in Danapur has been withdrawn and sent to Calcutta.�

The railway minister maintained that the RPF is hamstrung in effective policing as the RPF Act lacks teeth. He proposed to amend it to give more powers to the force to combat railway crime. Presently, the RPF can act against individuals or groups if railway property is recovered from them.

Commenting on increasing attacks on the railway system by insurgents in the Northeast, Kumar said: �Maintenance of law and order is a state matter and the state government has to take care of it. But the Centre is going ahead with police modernisation in the northeastern states. Additional paramilitary forces are being raised for counter-insurgency.�

Commenting on the Rakesh Mohan Commission report on privatisation of Indian Railways, Kumar said: �A panel of railway officers is examining the Rakesh Mohan committee report submitted on August 7 and are expected to submit their report by end-October. We are organising a workshop on the issue at the staff training college in Baroda on September 16 and 17, which all members of the Rakesh Mohan committee and senior railway officials are expected to attend.�

Kumar clarified that orders to wagon manufactures had been put on �hold� as alleged malpractice in production are being probed. �The railways supplies free items, like �cotton steel�, to fabricators of wagons. Recently I received several complaints that some of the fabricators were using unspecified mild steel instead of cotton steel provided by the railways. Twelve such firms have been detected and penalised.�

The railway wagon industry is totally dependent on the railway and most of the units are located in West Bengal.


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