|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Tuesday, November 3, 1998
sector in focus
IT sector in focus
THERE have been so many false starts and so many hurdles put on the way that it is still hard to believe that India is all set to drive freely on the information superhighway. At least the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, has waved the green flag. Inaugurating the Bangalore IT.Com '98 on Sunday, he made it bold to say that private internet service providers would be issued licences before November 7. That should bring to an end the never-ending delays of the past many years. But the fierce manner in which the State-owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) have been protecting their monopoly, there is reason to apprehend that they will not let the private ISPs find a toehold easily. For one thing, no details about the tariff structure worked out for private ISPs are available. Then there is the insistence of VSNL to be the sole provider of international gateways. We have the experience of other ministries before us. The decision to have an open skies policy was announced with equal fanfare. But look at the way the wings of private airlines have been clipped. However, the saving grace is that despite being made to shed its monopoly howling and kicking, Indian Airlines is now more user-friendly and the private airlines are giving it tough competition, despite many difficulties. If the Prime Minister and the IT Task Force continue to monitor the progress personally, may be the same thing can be done in the case of the information technology sector. The silver lining is that while a fixed date has been announced for providing licences, the private service providers will not have to pay any licence fee for the first five years. After that, there will be only a token fee of Re 1 per annum. Each player is allowed to bring in up to 49 per cent foreign equity. Since there is no limit on the number of ISPs, there should be considerable rush to begin with. The competition should ensure that the consumers get competitive rates and good service. Those who cannot cope with the stiff competition will fall by the wayside leaving the field for the best service providers.
Another noteworthy feature
is the facility for networked education covering all
universities, institutions of higher learning and
professional studies and R and D centres. A Vidya Vahini
network is to be set up to synergise intranets of various
agencies like the UGC, the CSIR, the Ministry of Human
Resource Development and state-level networks. The first
phase of this Indo-American joint venture is to become
operational by August 15 nest year. Just as educational
programmes of Doordarshan had blossomed into scores of
channels over the years, the VVNet should be at the core
of the developments in this sector. The task ahead is
gigantic. The government machinery has been trundling
along at bullockcart speed in this space age. Of the
65,000 bank branches, only 5,000 are fully computerised.
Exceptional thrust has to be provided by the government
to change the mindset. Only then can the miracles taking
place in the IT sector can overarch the present
conditions of power shortage, poor public transport, air
pollution, bad roads and congestion.
Salt, scare and sparring
SALT to taste is how culinary experts end their exotic recipes. Panic-propelled residents of several urban centres in the Hindi belt may well mutter, salt to bitter taste. The ongoing salt scare is the social equivalent of a CAT scan. It vividly brings out the deepest malaise of urban living. If peoples memory is short, their trust in the administration is notoriously fickle. At the vaguest sign of trouble, they abandon orderly living and succumb to herd instinct. Coming after a rapid succession of government failure on the food front, the mere rumour of a shortage of salt has driven thousands to hoard it. The rumour-mongers have scored a big hit, bigger than the Ganesh drinks milk and S.D.Sharma is dead rumours. The BJP with a tough electoral battle on hand in Delhi, has accused the Congress of triggering the panic. Not many will buy this theory since the former ruling party is known to be extremely deficient in the department of manipulating mass mind. If anything, it fails to sell even a favourable fact, people dismissing it as a rumour! Anyway the epicentre of the salt earthquake has been located at Patna, a Congress no-land but a Laloo Prasad Yadav preserve. Is it possible then that the wily RJD chief cooked up the salt-less garnish to add a pungent taste to the no-onion-potato-pulses recipe? Also, if the rumours floating during and immediately after the Ganesh and dead rumours are anything to go by, it would be in order to cast a glance of suspicion at the Sangh parivar. It is supposed to be skilled at this kind of propaganda.
No doubt, salt will add much salt to election rallies. Parodying the chara kha gaya winning punchline of last general election, some party will come out with a namak kha gaya slogan. But there is a risk; the term also means that someone has pledged loyalty and even in todays debased politics, loyalty has not become a dirty word. If the Congress accuses the BJP of namak khana in Delhi, it will face a similar charge in Madhya Pradesh where it is in power. Already the Congress may have a tough time countering the BJP poser: Saraswati vandana or Sonia vandana? There is an escape route though. It can recall the Kalyan Singh-led UP BJPs pledge to establish a bhay mukt samuday (society free of fear) to accuse the BJP of succeeding only in ushering in a pyaz mukt, alu mukt, and now namak mukt society. As the cliche goes, the voter will take all this with a pinch of salt, even as politicians worth their salt will wallow in below-the-belt electoral sparring.
World Cup 99
SOUTH AFRICA was the best team in the nine-nation one-day mini World Cup cricket tournament which concluded in Dhaka on Sunday. What made the victory in the final game against the West Indies doubly memorable for South African captain Hansie Cronje was the fact that he did not have the services at his disposal of the injured Garry Kirsten, Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusner to make the task easy for him. That the South Africans won the Wills International Cup with relative ease is a tribute to the reserve strength of the team which returned to international cricket not too long ago. The victory in Dhaka must have lifted the level of self-belief of the team which had earned the reputation of choking at the finishing line. There should be no doubt whatsoever that Cronje is among the best captains in the game of cricket at the international level and all he needs is sustained good performances for his team to improve its chances for winning the World Cup in the summer of 99 in England. Had the unfair rain rule not intervened in the 1992 World Cup in Australia the South Africans had done just about everything right to improve their chances of lifting the title which was ultimately claimed by Imran Khan for Pakistan. As far as Indias performance in the Dhaka tournament is concerned the less said the better. It beat a below par Australia in the quarter final because of the brilliance of Sachin Tendulkar. In the semi-final match against the West Indies it lost the will to win after the little genius got out early to a marvellous catch by Carl Hooper. A team which depends on Tendulkar to deliver with the bat and the ball in almost all the games cannot by any stretch of imagination be said to have the potential to get anywhere near to repeating the miracle of 1983 in the same country where the tournament is to be held next summer.
The present West Indian
team which beat India in Dhaka is not even a pale shadow
of the one which was virtually ambushed by Kapils
Devils 15 years ago. The problem with India is that it
does not have a settled playing XI unlike South Africa
which has enough reserve strength to replace four
frontline injured players. Of course it would be a folly
to even think of changing the captain at this juncture.
But it must be recognised that Mohammad Azharuddin is a
lucky and not a wise leader. If only he could learn to
lose the toss, he would be doing the team a good turn.
After his leaden footed performance in Dhaka Rahul Dravid
may find himself being replaced by VVS Laxman in the
three-nation tournament in Sharjah. However, on paper
Navjot Singh Sidhu still remains the best bet for the
crucial number three slot in the batting order. His
international track record in the one-day game should be
enough to earn him a place in the England-bound team next
summer. The selectors and the think-tank should also pay
attention to the fact that the current team does not have
a settled bowling line-up. Except for Javagal Srinath and
Anil Kumble there is not a single bowler who can be
considered as an automatic choice for the tournament in
England. Ajit Agarkar is an enigma. He needs to be told
that in a one-day game not allowing the opposition to
score runs is, perhaps, more important than taking
wickets. Then there is the problem of fielding and
running between the wickets. On this count only
Tendulkar, Ajay Jadeja and the indefatigable Robin Singh
would qualify for selection. It is doubtful whether Bobby
Simpson has it in him to transform the Indian teams
attitude towards these two essential elements of the
one-day game. Saurav Ganguly is not the only player with
an attitude of a nawab.
APPOINTMENT OF JUDGES
THE advisory opinion given by the nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court to the President of India on the appointment and transfer of higher court judges upholds the government thinking on the subject and rejects, unanimously, the Punchhi line.
Not that either is spelt out, even hinted at in the unanimous opinion, but this is the sum and substance of the Bench throwing light on the gray areas in the majority judgement in the second judges cases.
As is well known, there was a sharp difference of opinion between the Law Minister and Chief Justice Punchhi on the extent and manner in which the norms laid down in the second judges case on appointments and transfers were to be followed. There was a sharp exchange of letters between the Law Minister and the CJI, and the government very wisely decided to seek clarifications from the court itself, and the President sought the advisory opinion of the court on nine questions posed by him.
As the nine-judge Bench had noted, and in fact recorded, the Union of India had not sought a review of the judgement in the second judges case. This was clearly stated by the Attorney-General, Mr Soli Sorabjee, who further assured the court on behalf of the government that it would treat answers to the presidential queries as binding on it. (It will be recalled that the government had failed to give any such assurance, which is why the court declined to give any advisory opinion on the Ayodhya issue).
Further, the nine-judge Bench noted that the nine questions put by the President broadly related to three aspects; consultation between the CJI and his brother judges in higher court appointments and transfers; judicial review of transfers of judges; and the relevance of seniority in making appointments to the Supreme Court.
The Bench reproduced the relevant paragraphs in the second judges case judgement and the summary of the conclusions given by the majority and noted that, in terms of the judgement, the opinion of the CJI had primacy in the matter of all appointments but this final opinion of the CJI had to be formed in the manner indicated in the judgement. From this the nine-judge Bench concluded that an opinion formed by the CJI in any manner other than that indicated has no primacy in the matter of appointments to the Supreme Court and the high courts, and the government is not obliged to act on them.
That there had to be a collegium to decide appointments and transfers was clear enough to the Bench, but it noted that the norms indicated in the main judgement had been further amplified by precedents set by the then CJI. It laid down its own rule in this regard: the collegium should consist of the CJI and the four seniormost judges of the Supreme Court. If in the unlikely event of the CJI not being among the four seniormost judges, he must find a place in the collegium.
The nine-judge Bench further clarified that, necessarily, the opinion of all members of the collegium had to be in writing. The ascertainment of the views of the seniormost judges who hail from the high court from which the persons to be recommended come too must be in writing. And these must be conveyed by the Chief Justice of India to the Union Government along with the recommendation.
The nine-judge Bench expected that the recommendations would be based on a consensus, but should that not happen, and if the majority of the collegium is against the appointment of a particular person, then that person shall not be appointed.
As for promotions to the Supreme Court, the nine-judge Bench held that the question of seniority could arise only in the cases of equally meritorious, and that nothing prevented the collegium from selecting an outstanding person from down below after recording the fact. About those passed over, no written comments were necessary.
Thus an appointment to the Supreme Court, or the transfer of a High Court Chief Justice or a judge must be made in consultation with the four seniormost judges of the Supreme Court. An appointment to the High Courts may be made in consultation with two seniormost judges of the Supreme Court, after these have been initiated by the High Court Chief Justice in the manner prescribed in the main judgement.
There had been a good deal of grumbling about the manner in which high court judges were transferred. The nine-judge Bench has sought to apply the brake by laying down that the views of the Chief Justice of the court from which the judge is sought to be transferred and of the CJ of the High Court to which he is to be transferred must be obtained. The views of the judges in the Supreme Court hailing from these high courts should be obtained and considered by the collegium, and these should be conveyed to the Government of India along with the proposal for transfer. If this routine is not followed, the transfer will not be binding on the government.
The nine-judge Bench has further observed that wide-based decision-making eliminates the possibility of bias and hence the remedy of judicial review can legitimately be confined to a case where the transfer has been made or recommended without obtaining the views of the collegium and the decision taken in the manner described.
The happy features of the advisory opinion may now be noted. It marks a new and happy relationship between the executive and the judiciary. Second, it proves the executives faith in the judiciary.
Third, it has been preceded by a commitment to the court by the Attorney-General on behalf of the government that the executive would consider the opinion binding on it. Recall that such an assurance was not forthcoming in the Ayodhya case, which is why the court refused to give any opinion on it.
Fourth, the court has given the opinion in the quickest possible time. The matter was referred to the court in the last week of July and the opinion has been rendered in October, which is remarkable if one takes into account the intervening holidays. Lastly, the opinion is mercifully brief, extending to not more than 43 pages, cogent, legally satisfying and unanimous. Since the nine seniormost judges comprised the Bench, there is no possibility of divergence of views in the next decade or more.
In sum, the advisory opinion marks the triumph of the Law Ministers point of view over the Punchhi line.
Finally, by meeting the
government point of view more than half way, the court
has blunted the past move to amend the Constitution in
order to establish the supremacy of the executive in
Economy: revival packages
THE country has had so many economic revival packages and plans from ruling parties for the past many years that one has lost track of them, as they have turned out to be mainly for political consumption rather than to be taken seriously. Now we have a few more packages of this kind.
Addressing the 71st annual session of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee unfolded a plan to revive both the economy and the capital market. He was followed by his Finance Minister who on the same forum outlined a seven-point plan to push up industrial growth.
The Prime Ministers economic revival plan includes: (a) to begin work by the year-end on a 7,000 km six-lane, Rs 28,000 crore road project linking Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and Silchar to Savrashtra; (b) construction of world class international airports in five cities with up to 100 per cent foreign equity; (c) punitive action in three months against unscrupulous promoters in the stock market; (d) measures relating to communication which include new Internet policy in 15 days, a new telecom policy in three months, out-of-court settlement to resolve DoT-TRAI disputes in 15 days; (e) transparent mechanism for PSU disinvestment in 30 days (f) bids for oil exploration in two months.
The revival package of the Finance Minister includes removal of inter-state restrictions on the movement of goods, especially the agricultural products, broad-basing the automatic approval route for industrial projects, allowing prices and tariff to be determined by market forces, containment of fiscal deficit to 30 per cent in the next three years, phasing out of reservations for the small-scale sector and rationalisation of labour laws.
If all these measures could be really implemented, it would do wonders to the economy. However, if the experience of the past 30 years is any guide, these measures dont inspire confidence. The proposals are so grandiose that it appears no proper home-work has been done before announcing them.
Take, for instance, the Prime Ministers proposal relating to transparent mechanism for public sector disinvestment in 30 days. It will be recalled that the proposal to disinvest the governments stake in public sector undertakings was initiated by Dr Manmohan Singh when he was Finance Minister in the Congress government. It is seven and a half years now and still there is no disinvestment policy as such; even the advice of the Disinvestment Commission has been consistently ignored. The controversy regarding the disinvestment of public sector units has not yet been resolved.
The proposal relating to the construction of the 7,000-km-long North-South and East-West highway would itself be enough to revive the economy and change the fortunes of the core industries like cement, steel, heavy commercial vehicles and so on if really implemented. It has also been calculated that this will lead to the generation of employment equivalent to three crore mandays, not counting the generation of indirect employment in the service sector related to this. But the million-dollar question is how the country is going to find Rs 25,000 crore for this purpose when the government deficit is ballooning and there is no transparent policy to allow foreign investors to invest in the road construction sector.
How are they going to persuade the states to release land for the construction of highways, given compensation to those who are going to be affected when their land is acquired, as also to decide on the question of new road construction technology, etc., these are not yet clear. All this requires a careful planning which it seems has not been done at all. It is very difficult to imagine how work on this project will begin by the end of the current year. It appears the foundation stone will be laid by the end of this year which will turn into another tomb-stone by the beginning of next year.
The construction of new airports in various cities would not make much of a sense if these cities do not have the supporting infrastructure. It would have been more sensible that apart from world class international airports the PM had talked about the construction of world class airports to handle the export and import of cargo. In fact, the geographical position of India as a mid-point between Europe and South-East Asia makes it the best transit point to handle cargo between these two economic zones. Apparently, no serious thought has been given to international cargo business.
WHENEVER we come back after spending a vacation with our grandparents, its impact lasts for days together. My sister and I keep on reminiscing the days spent there. We give a detailed account to our parents. It may seem strange enough to learn that whenever we are there we just vow not to go there again. But that is never true.
Being used to living in a nuclear family of four, we normally get bewildered to see more than a dozen people residing under one roof. Amidst the cacophony of half a dozen children, with the majority being of boys aged between six and 12 years, we feel like tearing our hair.
During the vacation period the whole day is at their disposal which they would love to spend like a blank cheque. Quite unmindful of the loads of homework, having got respite from getting ready to rush for the school, these youngsters would enjoy their sleep for hours after sunrise till the time their mothers would wake them up to watch their favourite TV programmes. Once they are ready to face the day, the whole two-storeyed house assumes a sight which is nothing short of the scenes from famous Hollywood blockbusters like The Titanic or Home Alone. Yes, I am not exaggerating the facts. The youngest of these brats is always upto some form of antics, and there is bound to be at least one loss per day.
We love to catch the 40 winks in the afternoon for it refreshes and recoups our energy. But how could we ever think of it when it was their prime time for sports. They will indulge in all sorts of outdoor games, using the spacious verandah right in the centre of the house, shouting at the top of their voices. Cricket is a favourite fad with them. They would somehow manage to create a pitch through the passage between the kitchen door and the bathroom, a sufficient boundary to score even sixers and fours. While one would hit a smash on a skilfully thrown ball, the others would scream, Ek, do, teen, jaldi phenk, out-out, next meri bari. Seeing their zeal, we could not help joining the match. I asked my sister, Better not apply the policy of Live and let live on these pranksters, as they have made us learn a new one, play and let play. Then we savoured the real thrill after climbing on the bandwagon.
Even a hot sultry day, with long power cuts, cannot dampen their spirits to rejoice. When everybody in the house is seen blowing pankhis (hand fans) and cursing the electricity department, these little devils will spring up a new surprise out of their workshop pulling buckets tied with a watering pipe from the ground floor on to the terrace, exactly like drawing water from a well. Bathing gleefully with a watering pipe is another escapade, out of which originates new water games. They would slide on the floor like a perfect swimmer, after immersing their bodies in water and rubbing them with soap. If anybody dares stop them, he will be completely drenched in no time. Just remind them of the homework and they would lock themselves in a room. Their mothers would go bananas in just making them sit to study.
Despite having four TV sets in different rooms, the whole battalion would throng our room, confiscating the bandaged remote control like any of their toys. Then we are totally at their mercy to watch any serial of our choice, which will be sidelined if by chance they happen to catch a glimpse of the cartoon network. Ultimately we would surrender after an unsuccessful raising of brows and facing a lot of ballyhoo created by the young brigade.
Yogesh, a six-year-old boy, amazes me when he impishly settles scores with his granny to charge three bucks a day as pocket expense. If she is out of town for a few days, he will count the number of days on his fingers and announce the exact amount due from her. Hats off to such a sharp business acumen of this little master.
BJP goes whole hog in buildup
WE are living in the midst of curious contradictions. Crucial decisions involving several thousand crores of rupees are hurriedly announced at outside gatherings even without holding a meeting of the Union Cabinet for well over a month. No one even bothers about the basics of the pronouncements or their effects on other sectors. The Prime Minister of a precariously perched coalition is functioning more as a supremo of a one-party regime. And every one, including allies, accepts his position.
On the one hand, the PMO is trying to assert its superiority and on the other, the ministers are going ahead with their own decisions. George Fernandes, who has already emerged as the third most powerful minister, and Ram Jethmalani, who is well beyond the joint responsibility of cabinet, make their own pronouncements irrespective of the official position. The latter even questions the wisdom of the revised ordinance on the Central Vigilance Commission. Still every one goes scot-free. The PMO seems to be solely preoccupied with building up the Prime Ministers image.
In this conscientious build-up, the cue comes from what Indira Gandhi had done until the mid-1980s. Everything has to be announced in the name of the Prime Minister. During the Emergency, even house sites under the 20-point programme were handed to the weaker sections in the name of Indiraji. It was the PMs 20-point programme, not the Centres. Now the PMO seems to mimic the same old acts with little innovation. Thus it is the PMs taskforce on economy and the PMs package for economic revival.
The whole emphasis is on proving that it is Atal Behari Vajpayee, and not any one else, who decides things. Even Indira Gandhi used to make it a point to seek the private views of certain senior ministers before making serious financial commitments. The importance of being Vajpayee is that he can give on-the-spot assurances to an allied Chief Minister on flood aid or order purchase of substandard paddy by the Food Corporation of India.
The PMs economic package unfolded at the FICCI meeting reveals this kind of ad-hocism. The most important item in the package is construction of a 7,000-km super highway with six lanes connecting Kanyakumari with Kashmir and Silchar with Saurashtra. When the PMO got the grandiose idea, it directed the Transport Ministry to send such a scheme as the Prime Minister had to make the announcement the next day. In the normal course, such a gigantic project, criss-crossing mountain ranges and rivers, could be drawn up only after adequate field surveys and technical evaluation.
Twenty hours is too short a period to accomplish all this task. Thus the officials and technical hands in the ministry did it overnight by sheer guesswork and marking the route on a road map. Such is the kind of ad-hocism, casualness and lack of deliberations that mark the governments decision-making these days. The cost of this stupendous scheme (one can guess) is Rs 28,000 crore. The total budgetary allocation for roads is Rs 500 crore. Yashwant Sinha reassures us of ample funds knowing well that the technical survey itself would take years to complete.
Some of the items in the package like buying back of shares by firms have enthused the corporate sector. But the overall response has been less than euphoric. The real interest of the ordinary shareholders is in the improvement in the corporate performance. The other ingredients in this business-centric package like free movement of goods also suffers from lack of seriousness. This is something the BJP had promised long back but could not be implemented like octroi abolition. This is Vajpayees second package in six months. The first was unfolded at the CII, the results of which have not been very encouraging.
Personalisation of politics has always been antithesis to healthy traditions of democracy. Impromptu announcements of programmes and projects essentially short-circuits the normal parliamentary and administrative procedures. The normal course should have been to hold in-depth consultations of such proposals at various levels, including the ministries and cabinet committee concerned before placing them for Cabinet approval. Under personalised politics, the process is reversed. The whole emphasis is on getting some attractive ideas for the announcement by the Prime Minister and then, if possible, get them approved by the Cabinet and Parliament.
This talks reflect the changing equations within the BJP and the style of functioning of the coalition. Vajpayee is working under tremendous pressures both from his RSS parivar and allies. But both need him as their leader. So even while exerting pressure on him as part of the bargain, they yield whenever he takes a firm position. This is the rationale behind the personality build-up which could also be used as a powerful tool during the elections.
The BJP allies, on their part, are indifferent to and incapable of assessing serious national issues. Some of them suddenly wake up only when pressures build up in their respective ranks or demands come up from interest groups. Despite this, coalitional politics always limits the scope for building up an all-powerful supremo. As for Vajpayee, the Cauvery issue has been the one occasion when he could really prove his acceptability as an arbiter. His image builders should have taken a cue from this.
A simultaneous process has been the return to politicise regime of central aid. This has been the stock-in-trade at the peak of single-party hegemony. The National Thermal Power Corporations recent decision to selectivity cut off power supply to West Bengal and Bihar has been the worst case of political discrimination. The NTPC has every reason to take the extreme step due to the accumulation of huge arrears from the two state electricity boards. However, it has failed to counter the charge of partisan politics against the two Opposition-ruled states. Why were they singled out for action when some BJP-ruled states have far higher outstanding dues?
In the case of West Bengal, the dues have been to the tune of Rs 715 crore. However, the Delhi Vidyut Board under the BJP-ruled state has a staggering figure of Rs 1,719 crore, including a surcharge of Rs 544 crore. The figure for UP, another BJP-ruled state, is Rs 1,802 crore. Both these states were let off with a warning. Apparently, political considerations worked in Delhi, where the BJP is facing a tough electoral challenge this month. Such outright political discrimination apart, the selective use of central powers can have embarrassing twists and turns.
In West Bengal, which has nearly achieved self-sufficiency in power, an NTPC power station was to be shut down causing huge losses to the corporation. The Bihar electricity board has retaliated with cutting power supply to central organisations like Coal India, which owed a huge amount to it. No doubt, the NTPC has to recover its dues at a time when it has to find resources for its ambitious projects. However, instead of indulging in partisan politics, it should have drawn up norms for punitive action and their uniform enforcement.
Similarly, the present government is yet to prove its impartiality in disbursing financial assistance to states to meet natural calamities. During Congress rule, states under the Opposition had often suffered discrimination. The PCCs had then used this to ask the people to vote the same party at the Centre and in states to get full benefits. In the past one month, dispersal of Central assistance to the states has put the Prime Minister to the charge of playing politics in flood aid. Vajpayees quick announcement of Rs 200 crore grant to Andhra Pradesh is being viewed as his compulsions to keep Chandrababu Naidu, on whose support the BJP government survives, in good humour.
As against this, Kerala and Karnataka, the two Opposition-ruled states, got only Rs 50 crore each. The ad hoc aid came after both E.K. Nayanar and A.K. Antony charged the Centre with playing politics with relief fund dispersal. The power of lobbying is all the more apparent in the case of Gujarat which has reeled under two successive calamities first a devastating cyclone in Kutch and then floods in south Gujarat. The state had sought a total of Rs 1,200 crore as aid from the national calamity relief fund. The cyclone loss alone to property was estimated at Rs 2,200 crore as against an estimated loss of Rs 2,235 crore in Andhra Pradesh which was granted Rs 200 crore.
At least 3,000 people had died in Kandla alone. All that the Gujarat Government got so far was a loan of Rs 150 crore and Rs 60.75 crore from the Prime Ministers Relief Fund. Nothing has been given as flood aid. Gujarat leaders say that the Centre had taken the state government as a captive supporter. The Prime Ministers direct involvement in assistance has already led to competitive biddings by states for aid. Andhra Pradesh has hiked its demand to Rs 2,525 crore. Now Karnataka and Haryana have come out with an enhanced bill of Rs 797 crore and Rs 739.92 crore respectively. All this calls for not only depoliticisation of aid for natural calamities but evolving norms for the dispersal of interim aid.
The Centres recent
decision to relax the maximum acceptable limit of damage
to the rice crop from 3 per cent to 8 per cent falls in
the same category. Vajpayee had personally dealt with the
request from the Akali ally. The humane aspect of the
problem part, this political decision is bound to
accentuate the FCIs problems at a time when it is
burdened with at least 2.5 million tonnes of unsold
damaged rice stocks. The state governments have refused
to lift them. Now Haryana has also made similar requests.
States will eventually make it a precedent to force the
FCI to defy the market forces. In such
matters, ad-hocism and politicisation cannot substitute
adherence to universal norms.
The onion that did not soar
WITH onions becoming a topical issue these days, the bulbous vegetable is increasingly being used as a publicity tool. One now comes to hear about a cable television operator offering 250 gm of free onions for subscribers paying their subscription on time or, for that matter, an enterprising electoral candidate supplying the common mans vegetable at cheaper rates to woo the electorate.
The latest was the effort by the Ballooning Club of India to float a balloon shaped like an onion. Launched amidst much fanfare at an international ballooning mela in the Capital last week, the bloated onion-shaped balloon caught the attention of the assembled.
But there was a snag. The balloon simply refused to get off in the air and all efforts by the crew to send it floating failed!
At this stage an invitee to the mela told the president of the Ballooning Club of India, veteran Congressman Vishwabandhu Gupta, that it was price of onions rather than the vegetable which should have soared. Mr Gupta quipped: You did not tell me about this before. Otherwise I would have written the onion price on the balloon. Then probably it would not have required even hot air to float. It would have soared on its own. That was not the end of it. After several attempts the organisers finally gave up and allowed the onion-shaped balloon to deflate and it finally disappeared from the scene. This is more like the onion. These are not visible any more commented a wag.
While most people must have heard of the fine relationship that the Prime Minister says he has with the Home Minister, L.K. Advani, few would have noticed it.
Recently, a senior Home Ministry official was in a tizzy when he learnt that the Home Minister had to call on the Prime Minister at a time when he was scheduled to meet another group which had already arrived at the North Bloc office for the meeting.
Worried as to how to come out of the catch-22 situation and avoid embarrassment, the official rushed into the Home Ministers chamber and informed him about the dilemma he was in. The usually stern Home Minister, just smiled and asked the official to relax even as he put a call through to the Prime Minister and sought a rescheduling of his meeting, which was promptly accepted. So Mr Advani kept up his prior appointment without causing any inconvenience to his staff.
No wonder, Mr Vajpayee had been quoted recently as saying that he and Mr Advani had worked together as team mates for the past four decades. It proved that irrespective of the offices, the relationship goes on.
No leaving Kaurs out
Senior leaders of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), headed by Mr Simranjit Singh Mann, were cornered recently over non-inclusion of women candidates for the forthcoming Delhi Assembly polls.
After they announced at a press conference that the party had finalised the names of four candidates from Vishnu Garden, Hari Nagar, Moti Nagar and Tilak Nagar, they were asked why they had not fielded any Sikh women candidates.
Surprisingly, the question was posed by a male scribe in a gun-shot manner: You have taken four Singhs but no Kaur?
To this, the president of the Delhi State Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), Mr Virk replied, We are yet to finalise names of candidates from Kalkaji and Gandhi Nagar. We are looking for Kaurs, he said in an assuring tone.
Dieting to raise funds
He is known as the Delhi dieter. For Kevin Steele, General Manager for South Asia of the British Airways, there is more to dieting than just losing weight.
At a programme in Mumbai, when each British Airways manager made a certain commitment to themselves, Steele committed himself to shed excess weight: losing 42 pounds in six months.
He sought the help of British Airways employees and friends across the world to sponsor the weight loss. Please pledge any amount per pound of weight lost. In return I pledge to lose the minimum weight mentioned... was his appeal.
Six months later, Steele lost 44 pounds, two more than he had pledged. His endeavour was supported by 500 people in 23 countries whose contributions amounted to Rs 12 lakh. All for a good cause. Steele donated the entire amount to the Indian Council of Mental Health which has built a school for the hearing impaired at Nerul in Navi Mumbai. The primary purpose of this school is to make the children self-sufficient and self-reliant. After the notorious Delhi belly, a stomach disorder that strikes most visitors on their first arrival, maybe Delhi dieter has a novel way out.
The MTNL way
If one goes by the advertisements inserted in newspapers by Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited, which provides telecom services in metros, it is clear the organisation is yet to wake up to the way many cities are spelt.
A recent announcement proclaiming single code connection to demand trunk stations shows that for MTNL, Vadodara is still Baroda, Chennai is Madras, Shimla is Simla, Shillong is Shilong and Thiruvananthapuram is Trivandrum (sic). In addition, Bangalore is spelt without the second a. While the spellings will put a primary class student to shame, perhaps MTNL can take refuge that is has more to do with phonetics and not putting it in letters.
MADRAS: A drowning fatality occurred this morning, the victim being Mr G. Brigg of Messrs Brigg and Company, tailors and outfitters, Mount Road. As usual the deceased went this morning in company with his friend, Mr G. Glory of Messrs Lawrence and Mayo, for bath in the sea. While in water, Mr Brigg was carried away beyond his depth by a strong under current.
Mr Briggs body was
afterwards picked up by some fishermen and brought
ashore, where the police tried artificial respiration but
life was found extinct. The body was removed to the
General Hospital mortuary, where an inquest was held, the
jury returning the verdict of death due to accidental
drowning. The deceased leaves a widow and two sons.
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