Tuesday, July 17, 2001,
 Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

CM calls top officials to Delhi
To return from USA on July 20
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, July 16
The Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, who will return to New Delhi from the USA late in the evening on July 20, has summoned his top officials there for taking up pending issues pertaining to the state with the Union Ministries concerned.

Informed sources said that Mr Badal was fully satisfied with his eye treatment in the USA. The eye ailment from which he was suffering had been almost cured and the Chief Minister was happy, said the sources.

Mr Badal has summoned the Chief Secretary, Mr N.K. Arora, and almost all Financial Commissioners and Principal Secretaries to pursue the stateís demands at the Union Government level. Mr Badal will stay in Delhi on July 21 and 22.

The sources said that Mr Badal had sought an appointment with the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, on July 21. Mr Badal is expected to request Mr Vajpayee to announce the minimum support price of paddy (MSP) at the earliest . Earlier, the Haryana Chief Minister, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, had called on the Prime Minister in this connection. Both Mr Badal and Mr Chautala wanted that the Union Government should announce a substantial increase in the MSP of paddy, ignoring the recommendations of the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices, which favoured an increase of Rs 10 per quintal over the MSP given to farmers last year.

Mr Badal will also meet the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission to urge him to release all pending instalments of grants to the state. According to sources, the commission had withheld some grants pertaining to various departments as the state government had not submitted the requisite documents like utilisation certificates to it in certain cases. By making the commission release the pending grants, the government can have substantial funds from the Union Government to spend on various development projects. The availability of funds to the state government matters the most this year as it is going to face the assembly elections within the next six months.

However, Mr Badalís meeting with the Finance Minister will be the most significant. Mr Badal will urge him to settle the previous food account and also direct the RBI to arrange adequate funds for the state for the procurement of paddy. The assessment made at this stage by the authorities concerned is that the state will have another bumper paddy crop this year. Moreover, as the movement of foodgrains, especially wheat and rice, is very slow from Punjab, the procurement agencies have not got payment from the FCI against the pending procured stocks of wheat and rice. Payment to the state procurement agencies will be made by the FCI only after the foodgrain stocks are transferred to that agency ( FCI).

After receiving the payment from the FCI, the state procurement agencies will be in a position to return the loan taken from a consortium of banks through the RBI in the previous years for the procurement of paddy and wheat. Informed sources said that the outstanding amount against Punjab was substantial.

Besides, there are issues pertaining to irrigation, public health water schemes, power and coal, which will be taken up by Mr Badal with the authorities.

He may also call on the Union Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Sharad Yadav, who is scheduled to visit Amritsar in July to inaugurate the upgraded airport at Rajasansi, near Amritsar.


Top US General heads for India

Washington, July 16
Army General Henry Shelton, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, departs today on a trip to South West Asia, including the highest-level US military visit to India since it conducted an underground nuclear test in 1998.

General Shelton will make stops in Qatar and Oman before flying to New Delhi for a visit hosted by Admiral Sushil Kumar, Chief of the Indian Navy and Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The visit, which follows a landmark summit between the leaders of India and Pakistan, comes amid a US push to develop closer military ties with New Delhi.

Longer-term, some strategists in the administration of President George W. Bush view India, a growing regional power in its own right, as a possible counterweight to China.

The USA slapped sanctions on India and Pakistan for their tit-for-tat underground nuclear tests in 1998. AFP


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