Sunday, June 25, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E



Improving Public Governance
Massive deregulation & simple rules needed 

by Tejendra Khanna
IT is commonly acknowledged that countries of the South Asian region, barring the Royal Nepalese Kingdom and Bhutan, share an identical historical experience of a prolonged period of colonial rule.

We are becoming a lawless state
by K. F. Rustamji

THERE seems to be something very wrong with us Indians in that we cannot see the damage that is being done to us by laxity in law enforcement.
I wonder if it started during the freedom movement when law-breaking came to be considered a sacred duty. Or is it the formal structure of the Constitution and our laws, and the way in which separation has developed, that makes it difficult to organise a change?


by Harihar Swarup
Career cut short by match-fixing
THE “gentleman’s game”, which breaks for lunch and tea is undergoing a crisis of confidence; pricks of conscience have been making cricket-lovers restless. Since expose of Hansie Cronje’s role in match-fixing and implication of top cricketers in wheeling-dealing came to the fore, the “gentleman’s game” appears to be losing its mass appeal.



Kanwaljit Singh sets power record straight
PUNJAB Ministers visiting the Capital are often taunted for their Government’s policy on supplying free electricity to farmers. Irritated by this constant taunt, the Punjab Finance Minister, Capt Kanwaljit Singh, during his recent visit to New Delhi decided to set the record straight.



Improving Public Governance
Massive deregulation & simple rules needed 
by Tejendra Khanna

IT is commonly acknowledged that countries of the South Asian region, barring the Royal Nepalese Kingdom and Bhutan, share an identical historical experience of a prolonged period of colonial rule.

The colonial rule was itself, preceded by the existence of several kingdoms, large and small, and agglomeration of villages under feudal control of local chieftains. People were expected to silently comply with the demands and dictates of their rulers and hardly had recourse to any forum for redressal of their grievances.

The panchayat system in villages was almost invariably dominated by the ruling feudal elite and whenever the interests of the elite clashed with those of tillers and peasants, the verdict would go in favour of the former. It was virtually a case of the plaintiff, prosecutor and the judge being the same person. People got into the habit of suffering inequity and injustice in silence and their morale and spirits sagged.

The extent of fair play and justice prevailing in particular areas varied depending on the ethical and moral credentials of individual feudal chiefs and their administrative acumen and degree of effective control over their subordinates. The dictum “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” was demonstrated amply at many a time and place.

When the British colonisers succeeded in extending their control over most of the Indian subcontinent within 150 years of the arrival of the East India Company, they enacted special parliamentary statutes and appointed Warren Hastings as the first Governor General of India in 1774. Land settlements were undertaken under two basic systems. Under zamindari, a feudal intermediary entered into a covenant to pay a fixed amount of land revenue twice a year to the government in exchange for the title of the land being vested in the zamindar. Under ryotwari or peasant-proprietorship, the title of the land was vested in the individual peasant who was separately assessed for paying a certain amount of land revenue to government twice a year, after each principal harvest.

British colonial rule: Civil and criminal laws were introduced, patterned on the British legal system, to adjudicate on rights and liabilities both as between individuals and between the State and the people. Policing and security arrangements were put in place to maintain law and order and quell popular dissent or opposition, which could pose a threat to government’s authority. Thus, the basic functions of keeping the public peace through effective law and order maintenance and collection of government revenues were, by and large, well served during the period of colonial rule.

The notable British intellectual ability to draw up elaborate laws, rules and regulations, operating manuals and codes, etc, for virtually all types of government activities led to a high degree of systematisation of government functioning.

The British undertook country-wide physical infrastructure development programmes involving the establishment of a network of railways, roads, seaports, airports, irrigation tanks and canals and social infrastructure facilities such as schools, hospitals, public parks, etc. Personnel deployed on such projects were very largely drawn from the host countries, with some broad inputs being provided by British superiors.

Thus, by the time countries in South Asia secured their independence from British colonial rule, they had in place well-functioning systems of public governance accompanied by functional diversification and the broad separation of legislative, executive and judicial functions. People had a feeling that the system was reasonably efficient and fair play and justice were meted out to common citizens.

I have made a brief reference to the administrative position obtaining during the period of British colonial rule only to contrast it with the situation currently prevailing in the area of public administration in South Asian countries.

Some salient features of the present administrative situation can be listed, in my view, as under:

(a) Deterioration in the maintenance of law and order.

(b) Decline in work culture and internal discipline in public organisations.

(c) Low productivity in the use of financial resources.

(d) High level of corruption and dishonesty.

(e) Poor accountability of public functionaries and decline in service-ethic in public organisations.

(f) Lack of serious political focus and intent aimed at effecting meaningful administrative reforms.

Law & order: The effective maintenance of law and order requires the existence of a motivated, alert and trained professional police force which is allowed to perform its tasks without external interference and pressure. In all civilised societies, citizens are meant to be subjected to the laws of the land in an equitable and non-discriminatory manner.

It is often cited as an example that Princess Anne, the daughter of the ruling monarch of Great Britain, was made to pay a fine for a traffic violation some years ago, just as any ordinary British citizen would have been asked to do for a similar violation. Yet, in practically all South Asian countries, the popular perception is that laws exist only for the less well-connected and less affluent people, while persons enjoying the privileges of wealth and political clout can take liberties with the law and get away with it, with impunity.

Stories appear in the media from time to time about a well connected person using the police to exert pressure, through threats and intimidation, on the other party in a civil dispute, to force the latter to agree to the terms being set unilaterally by the former. Where protectors turn into exploiters, how can ordinary people experience a sense of security of life and property?

Within the police force itself, there has been a serious decline in ethical values, spirit of service, leadership and disciplinary control. Lower levels of staff have not been encouraged to think for themselves and act in the defence of public order and security, but to await instructions and orders from higher quarters.

The desire to “play safe” and to remain in the “good books” of superiors, both political and professional, has weakened the capacity of police officials to act in a timely and decisive manner to deal effectively with local law and order and crime-control problems. Widespread corruption within the police force has made the situation worse.

It is argued at times that since police officials do not get paid enough to support themselves and their families, they are compelled to resort to collecting bribes or extortion money on the side to make ends meet.

While police officials should undoubtedly be paid reasonable wages with which they can support themselves and their families adequately, the real overhaul of the law and order system will begin when political leaders publicly renounce their intention to use the police force for advancing their partisan ends and give a strong signal that they expect the police machinery to enforce the laws affecting public order and security and crime control, totally without discrimination, fear or favour, irrespective of any person’s political affiliation, income level or social standing.

In course of my 36-year career in the Indian Administrative Service followed by the appointment in January 1997 as Lt. Governor and Administrator of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, I did not come across a single public statement by any important political leader that the police must act with total independence and non-discrimination while carrying out its duties and not fall prey to external inducements or pressures from whichever quarter they may emanate.

During my tenure as Lt Governor of Delhi, my clear instructions to the Police Commissioner and his staff were to act with total independence and action was taken, whenever called for by the circumstances of the case, even against representatives of the ruling political parties at the state and local government levels.

Police organisations in South Asia have also to make a determined attempt to improve their public image and raise the people’s level of confidence in their impartiality, objectivity, alertness and effectiveness.

It will take a sustained effort for a considerable period of time before people begin to regard the policemen manning police stations or going about their patrol duty, as friends and protectors rather than as arrogant, vicious, dishonest and partisan exploiters waiting for the hapless citizens to fall into their trap.

An important aspect of effective police management is its dependence on the quality of leadership at various levels of the hierarchy. The outstanding leadership provided to the Punjab Police by Mr Julio Ribiero from the Maharashtra cadre and later by Mr K.P.S. Gill, from the Assam cadre of the Indian Police Service, when Punjab was passing through a phase of serious violence perpetrated by militants during the 1980s and early ’90s, played a very important part in the eventual normalisation of conditions in the state.

Decline in work culture: In many public organisations in South Asian countries, there has been a conspicuous deterioration in work culture in the recent decades. Persons working in public offices have a tendency to take their appointments and their continuance on the government’s payroll for granted, irrespective of their application to their duties and performance at work.

In many local government organisations, high levels of absenteeism and malingering have been noticed, particularly among field staff connected with a supply of a variety of civic services including sanitation, water supply, maintenance of public parks and gardens, etc.

Internal supervision and control mechanisms in government organisations have also got rusted. Slackness and ineffectiveness of internal control have become commonplace in public organisations in our region, barring, no doubt, honourable exceptions.

The remedy for such a situation would appear to be in government’s withdrawal from certain activities, particularly, now that the free-market philosophy has been, by and large, accepted globally as well as in the massive deregulation and simplification of rules and procedures.

Low productivity: Downsizing of governments by trimming the number of departments and agencies, reducing the number of hierarchical levels which have to process a proposal and making merit rather than seniority the main criterion for promoting personnel in government offices, ought to be assigned priority in any programme of administrative reform aimed at enhancing productivity and cost-effectiveness.

It is the common experience of most countries in our region that productivity in the use of public financial resources is low. Apart from the burgeoning of revenue expenditures on financing on-going non-developmental activities which has resulted in large fiscal deficits and cumulative build up of public debt to finance government spending, the money spent on the capital account does not yield expected benefits. The incremental capital: output ratio (ICOR) is much higher than it should be. A principal reason for the low productivity of resource use is that functionaries look askance at the “padding” of project estimates at the initial stage itself, so that scope is created for the contractor to give “kick-backs” to the functionaries. Besides, available funds are often spread too thinly over a large number of projects with the result that no project is fully funded from the standpoint of its earliest possible completion and a large number of partially funded projects go forward in parallel over a much longer period than technically justified.

A third factor which contributes to low productivity is the lack of compliance with agreed technical specifications by the project execution agency, thanks to weak supervision and monitoring by the government departments which have awarded the contract.

The main reason for the low productivity in the use of public financial resources by Government agencies, apart from the increase in internal house-keeping costs, is, in my view, a rather widespread tendency among public functionaries, both political and non-political, to siphon off public funds into private coffers by one means or another. This unfortunate state of affairs can be remedied by bringing about much greater transparency at the stage of award of contracts itself.

Corruption & dishonesty: It is self-evident that the public service system is meant to render an honest, courteous and efficient service to all citizens. It is not intended to be a trade-mart where public services are to be bartered for personal pecuniary gains of the public functionaries. Yet, in many public organisations in South Asia, the service-ethic has declined very significantly and extraction of bribes for rendering even routine services has become commonplace.

To curb this phenomenon, a strong political will is needed and clear directions have to be sent down from the highest seat of the political executive that functionaries who are found to be dishonest in their public dealings would not be permitted to continue in office.

Feedback can be elicited from people who come to public offices regarding the way the functionary has dealt with them and if the feedback reveals a persistent pattern of dishonesty, discourtesy and deliberate inefficiency, the functionary in question should be proceeded against decisively, after, of course, giving him a fair opportunity to defend himself.

Civil Service regulations should be amended suitably to allow severance of the official from the public service cadre, when justified, on the basis “user feedback.”

The question also arises as to who should be assigned the responsibility for carrying out user-exit-polls to ascertain user views about the conduct of public functionaries that they have dealt with while seeking a service from a government office. This work can be entrusted to an independent agency manned by persons of unimpeachable credentials.

In Delhi, I had asked the Chairman of the National Productivity Council to get exit-polls conducted in respect of some government organisations under my control and very useful feedback was received, on the basis of which certain remedial actions were taken.

Decline in service ethic: Public functionaries generally regard themselves as “rulers” in their respective jurisdictions rather than as “public servants”. A former Chief Justice of India and Chairman of the Indian National Human Rights Commission lashed out at the country’s bureaucracy for its lack of a genuine service orientation and its desire to rule rather than to serve. A leading national English daily in its October 8, 1999 issue captioned this report in the words: “Mend your ways or face people’s wrath: bureaucracy warned”.

For enforcing a positive work culture and ethical value system in public organisations hierarchical and intra-organisational evaluation must be supplemented by obtaining independent feedback from the people who visit the organisation for obtaining a service and who interact with specific individuals manning the organisation.

If the people are encouraged to give their feedback and proper follow up action is taken thereon, good performers will be encouraged and indifferent and dishonest ones identified for appropriate disciplinary actions which should include removal from the public service.

Lack of political focus: Over the past decades political leaders have announced the setting up of administrative reforms commissions with great fanfare. But, in most cases, after the reports of these commissions have been received, the actual implementation of the recommendations has been sluggish and has, if at all, only made a marginal difference to the situation.

A resolute political will needed to carry out significant changes in the face of system inertia, has been notably lacking.

To give a recent example, when the Fifth Central Pay Commission submitted its report to the Government of India in 1997, recommending both pay rationalisation and pay increase as well as the downsizing of departments whose functions had been pruned due to economic deregulation, the recommendations regarding pay increase were accepted but those relating to improving staff accountability and downsizing were put on the back-burner.

South Asian countries are in one of the most densely populated regions of the world. They have low per capita incomes and high levels of poverty. Lack of sufficient avenues of gainful employment, small landholdings, large incidence of landless labour in villages, unplanned growth of urban settlements as people migrate into cities in search of livelihood, gaps in the educational and basic healthcare infrastructure, including sanitation and drinking water, health morbidity, housing shortages, etc, pose an almost overwhelming and highly complex developmental challenge for the public authorities.

Rising expectations: The widening gulf between rising expectations of the people in times of almost universal satellite television coverage, when visual images of affluence are seen by the rich and poor alike, and the reality of what they actually receive and can afford, leads to frustration and anti-social behaviour, which makes governance more difficult. Scarcity of public financial resources also makes it imperative that available moneys are spent most cost-effectively by public organisations.

Political leaders in these countries cannot afford the luxury of ignoring the serious deficiencies in the system of governance that exist presently, and revamping of its orientation and way of working should engage their urgent attention.

If “people-first” becomes the guiding motto of every public organisation, many things will begin to fall into place and improved performance will be perceived.

As Lt Governor of Delhi, I had made it my highest priority to make the administration people-friendly and to elicit people’s co-operation in doing so.

Grievance redressal: Firstly, a 24-hour Control Room and Public Grievance Redressal Unit was established where people could send in their grievances relating to civic services, law and order, electricity supply, etc by phone, fax, letter or personal visits.

Concerned government agencies were given 72 hours to respond to the grievances and asked to explain non-compliance if the matter was not resolved. During March 1997 to March 1998, 64,403 grievances were received and 71 per cent were resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction through rigorous follow up.

Secondly, over 600 non-political citizen volunteers were enlisted as citizen wardens, to exercise surveillance over the functioning of public agencies in the National Capital Territory and to report serious shortcomings. They were encouraged to take up the problems at their level with local functionaries for resolution. Failing that, they could report it to the LG’s Control Room.

Thirdly, as a mechanism for consulting non-government experts on public policy issues, eight resource persons groups were set up to share their views and insights into matters like law and order, public health, urban planning and housing, preservation of environment, conservation of historical monuments, etc.

Fourthly, exit-polls were undertaken to get feedback on how people were being treated when visiting government offices.

Seeking feedback: If people’s feedback is earnestly elicited while developing policies, programmes and projects and, thereafter, at the stage of implementation; if transparency is ensured by providing cost-estimates of works for people’s scrutiny; if public surveillance during project execution is encouraged; if an effective and time-bound public grievance redressal machinery is put in place and accountability of public functionaries is sharpened by asking people to give their feedback on how public functionaries conduct themselves and then taking firm and exemplary action against defaulting functionaries while encouraging the ones showing positive performance in short, if the entire mode of functioning can be made people-friendly, the governance system in our region which has been on the downward slope for many years can be gradually geared up to become a vehicle for rendering genuine, cost effective and courteous services to the people and helping them to realise their aspirations for a better quality of life with dignity and a sense of well-deserved liberation from the yoke of an overbearing and unresponsive system which they have lived with for long.

An outstanding civil servant, the writer has served with distinction in several areas of administration as Chief Secretary of Punjab and Lt-Governor of Delhi. His administrative responses always reflected public concerns. As the Lt-Governor of Delhi, he created a citizens' watchdog system to keep a check on the administrative apparatus, and this movement of citizens' participation in the Delhi administration won him much applause.Top



We are becoming a lawless state
by K. F. Rustamji

THERE seems to be something very wrong with us Indians in that we cannot see the damage that is being done to us by laxity in law enforcement.

I wonder if it started during the freedom movement when law-breaking came to be considered a sacred duty. Or is it the formal structure of the Constitution and our laws, and the way in which separation has developed, that makes it difficult to organise a change?

Perhaps it is centuries of decay in our culture that makes every man in power a hero who has established the right to dominate and defraud. And lately we seem to have decided that it is the media rather than the law that will keep us on a straight course.

We refuse to see that authority is breaking down, that people are demanding firm justice, and if democracy cannot provide it, the trend would be to move towards a dictatorship of some sort.

We see signs of our inability to focus on good governance at every turn. There is the disturbing shape of corruption for instance, which Vittal has been making valiant efforts to tackle. He can never succeed as long as prosecutions languish in court for years, and end in acquittals, and it is difficult to confiscate ill-gotten wealth.

The state of crime in many states in chaotic, Bihar, for instance, and it is a sign of real danger that the best police forces are becoming corrupt and riven with disputes.

Nobody obeys laws as a duty. A demolition man has to be sent out to bring down illegal constructions, not noticed for years. Youngsters are going wild in many States, notably in Punjab, with guns. The toll in road accidents is serious, but does the law create the fear that pervades western nations regarding drinking and speeding?

The only thing that we love to do is to suspect one cricketer after another with disgusting regularity. The fact that nobody will be convicted, that most of it is pure speculation, and will damage the game for ever, does not bother us.

Our media has made cricket a sump of dirty water. The sooner the CBI moves out of it the better.

We seem to have forgotten Delhi in 1984 when the Sikhs were attacked, or Bombay 1992-93 when Muslims became the targets. The bungle that led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the rioting that followed is a blot on our history.

Worst of all, we fail to see that our burgeoning population, unemployment, our total dependence on the monsoon, could, indirectly, lead to serious law and order problems. In addition there is the instability in our neighbourhood. We will end up in confusion if we lose the sense of national discipline and firm authority which strict law enforcement can provide.

There is a sense of insecurity among many in the land. What do the state governments and the Centre do about it? They take men from the reserve or from police stations and post them as security guards. As a result we protect individuals, and damage policing for the rest of the population. How can we make our leaders realise that the real strength of a police force is its uncommitted reserve?

What do we do to stop the rot in law enforcement? We have to think of something quick. We cannot wait for 10 years till a commission advises us on what to do.

We have to fall back on the district officers. We must empower the district team of district judge, district magistrate and the superintendent of police to take all the decisions that are required to speed up justice. They may have to withdraw a large number of old cases, they may have to reduce the institution of new cases.

We have to empower them with the powers and the responsibility of improving the quality of justice in the land, under the watchful eyes of the high courts, and the state governments.

The writer, a former member of the National Police Commission, is a well-known commentator.



Career cut short by match-fixing
by Harihar Swarup

THE “gentleman’s game”, which breaks for lunch and tea is undergoing a crisis of confidence; pricks of conscience have been making cricket-lovers restless. Since expose of Hansie Cronje’s role in match-fixing and implication of top cricketers in wheeling-dealing came to the fore, the “gentleman’s game” appears to be losing its mass appeal. The crowds that generally throng the stadiums and gather round television sets are conspicuously missing and no longer victories are marked by gala celebrations. The fans go to the arena with lurking suspicion, wondering if the umpire’s decision — run out, catch and LBW — are true to the spirit of the game? History’s biggest scandal in the sphere of sport has cut short many promising careers as the judicial commission hearing into corruption in South African cricket makes sensational headlines every day and the CBI in India broadens its inquiry into accusations of match-fixing. Cricket stars in the two countries and those who manage the show — heading the powerful cricket boards — face an uncertain future and the one who may ruin his career is Ali Bacher, Managing Director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa.

He was to relinquish his present job and take over as head of the World Cup Organising Committee which is entrusted with the task of preparing for the 2003 World Cup. This was a life-time chance for Bacher and he was quoted as saying: “This is a unique opportunity for UCBSA to put together a global event with great distinction to our country. It is a great opportunity and a unique occasion for South African cricket and I will do my best to make it a great success”.

He must be cursing Hansie Cronje, his protege, or the cops of Delhi police who, by sheer coincidence, bumped upon what was a conversation between Cronje and a London-based Indian bookie. The deal was, apparently, clinched when the South African team was staying at a Delhi hotel and preparing for a one-day international of the five-match series against India at Faridabad.

The high-profile Bacher held the post of Managing Director of UCBSA for over a decade and is currently Chairman of the International Cricket Council’s International Development Committee. He was credited with masterminding South Africa’s development campaign and was pivotal in talks to unite the country’s cricket sector, previously divided along racial lines, resulting in the formation of the United Cricket Board in 1991.

Fiftysix-year-old Bacher is a qualified medical doctor and is known as “Dr Ali Bacher”. It is not known how he developed love for the “gentleman’s game” but he came to the limelight in the late sixties. He captained the South African team in 1969 and 1970 in what were the last four matches before South Africa’s international isolation sparked by apartheid. Bacher’s team won all the four matches.

Another charge against Bacher is that he knew all along about Cronje’s attempts to fix a one-day international in Mumbai in 1996. A former South African coach, Bob Woolmer, who is now a regular columnist on sports says: “I did pass on the information to Ali Bacher. He has denied it, but I shared the fact with him during a conversation that was only part of a longer discussion. Dr Bacher, a busy man, must have forgotten”.

Charges of match-fixing have been made against Bacher too in a match during the West Indies tour in 1980. The allegations are contained in a statement submitted by a Johannesburg lawyer before the inquiry commission. The lawyer implicated Bacher in alleged arrangements to fix a limited overs match between the South African team and a rebel West Indies side at Johannesburg in the mid-eighties. Bacher, however, rejected the charge as unfounded.

Lately, Bacher had also developed differences with Cronje, considered as the key to South Africa’s cricket. Cronje kept a closely guarded secret his decision to accept a coaching offer, known as a prestige assignment with good monetary returns. He even kept Bacher in the dark till the story was broken by the Daily Telegraph. Deeply embarrassed Bacher was, evidently, hurt by this secretiveness, seen as duplicity in the cricket world. Authorities, however, persuaded Cronje to have the assignment cancelled. Seeds of discord between them were sown a year back when Cronje walked out of a team meeting, threatening to resign as captain even as Bacher was trying to explain what was known to be a discriminatory selection policy.

Only the com-mission, currently probing the charge of match-fixing, is in a position to judge if Bacher is guilty or not but his promising career in management of the “gentleman’s game” appears to have come to an end. It is unfortunate because Bacher gave up his medical career to seek a future in the unpredictable game of cricket.



Kanwaljit Singh sets power record straight

PUNJAB Ministers visiting the Capital are often taunted for their Government’s policy on supplying free electricity to farmers. Irritated by this constant taunt, the Punjab Finance Minister, Capt Kanwaljit Singh, during his recent visit to New Delhi decided to set the record straight.

Instead of going on the defensive, the Minister retorted that there was a general impression that the “Centre was the repository of all wisdom”. He pointed out that while the Union Government was criticising the Punjab Government for supplying free electricity to farmers in the State, it had no answer for its latest decision on supplying free phones and calls to the employees of the Telecom Department. “This big brother attitude is not correct” he lamented.

Capt Kanwaljit Singh went on further to explain that the subsidy on agriculture electricity amounted to only around Rs 250 crore which was compensated to the State Electricity Board by the Punjab Government. Apart from providing the cheapest electricity in the country, the Minister also pointed out that except for heavy industries, even medium and small scale industries received subsidised electricity. Is the Centre listening?

Is Mulayam losing his grip

Samajwadi Party Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav seems to be losing his charisma since a large number of his party members want to leave the outfit.

Although Mr Yadav proved the prophets of doom wrong by increasing the tally in the Lok Sabha at the last general elections that has not dissuaded many of his lieutenants from deciding to part ways.

While some big names have left the party in the past, the latest is Kiranmoy Nanda, the lone Samajwadi fighting the left in West Bengal.

Apparently upset over the ‘damage’ which the Samajwadi Party chief did to his image this lone Samajwadi in Bengal quit the party.

Although Mr Nanda is yet to announce his plans, the buzz is that he would prefer to be his own boss and float a party in Mulayam’s backyard — Uttar Pradesh. With Assembly elections due next year in UP, the electoral battle may just have begun.

The Minister who does not shy away

The high-profile Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Information Technology makes no bones about his limitations with English. Unlike many in public life who struggle to hide their inadequacy over the usage of the language, Mr Mahajan is candid in stating that since English is not his mother tongue, he is not comfortable with it.

Recently, while briefing correspondents on the decisions taken by the Union Cabinet the Minister paused before pronouncing a tongue-twister “Securitisation” and told scribes not to insist on repeating what he said. He added helpfully, that he told the Cabinet Secretariat in a lighter vein that the document dealing with the subject be introduced only once. Yet that did not prevent a cheeky pen-pusher to say the word all over again much to the amusement of Mr Mahajan himself.

Sonia feels ignored

Congress President Sonia Gandhi is understood to be sore with the Vajpayee government for the manner in which the establishment is treating the Leader of the Opposition. Although it has been nearly eight months that the 13th Lok Sabha has been constituted, the Leader of the Opposition has yet to be invited to be part of any official delegation of Parliamentarians. So far communication to the Congress chief from the Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr G.M.C. Balayogi, has been to ask her to nominate party representatives to parliamentary delegations. The Speaker himself has led several delegations and even for the Beijing plus five at New York recently the delegation included MPs Ms Mayawati and Ms Phoolan Devi.

Party members are of the opinion that during Narasimha Rao’s regime the Prime Minister made a special effort in persuading Mr Vajpayee, the then Leader of the Opposition, to head a delegation to a session on human rights and Kashmir in Geneva and the then Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr Shivraj Patil, also used to request Mr Vajpayee to accompany delegations led by him. Sources close to the Congress chief feel that the entire exercise is aimed to show her in poor light.

Online pooja

The new millennium is clearly the era of the Internet. And, it has not spared the religious minded too. Capitalising on the new trend has been a leading private Indian bank, the ICICI Bank, which has tied up with a popular temple in Mumbai to offer its customers online pooja.

The bank has tied up with the Siddhivinayak temple to enable its customers to order and pay for pooja online. The scheme would allow the customers to order a pooja directly on the Siddhivinayak website and make payments through the bank’s internet banking service. The devotee would have to enter a few details like name, address etc as required by the temple. The temple would perform the pooja and a confirmation of the same would be sent to the customer by the temple trust.

(Contributed by T.V. Lakshminarayan, K.V. Prasad, Girja Shankar Kaura and P.N. Andley)Top

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