Thursday, August 30, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Sinha may be dropped
Jaswant may get Finance in reshuffle
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 29
A major reshuffle of the Union Cabinet is on the cards on September 18 or 19 as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is under immense pressure to drop Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha from the Cabinet.

Well-placed sources said tonight that Mr Jaswant Singh, who is already the Union Minister of two key ministries of External Affairs and Defence, is likely to be made the new Finance Minister.

This means Mr Vajpayee will have to allocate the ministries of External Affairs and Defence to someone else.

Sources said the Prime Minister is likely to make major changes among Ministers of State as well.

The Vajpayee Government is said to be averse to reinducting Trinamool Congress nominees into the Union Cabinet for the time being which would mean that Trinamool supremo Mamata Bannerjee will be out.

It is understood that the Prime Minister has been under pressure from within the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, particularly the RSS, to completely revamp his Council of Ministers immediately after the Monsoon Session of Parliament concludes this month-end.

But the Cabinet reshuffle has been delayed on two counts: the illness of President K.R. Narayanan and the advice of astrologers who have warned against the move during ‘pitra paksha’. ‘Pitra paksha’, sources said, is coming to an end on September 17.

On September 20, the Prime Minister is to leave for his nine-day tour of Cyprus, United Nations and Tunisia and is scheduled to come back only on September 28. This leaves only September 18 or 19 for the Cabinet reshuffle, sources said.

Sources said the Sangh Parivar, particularly the RSS, was hell bent upon the ouster of Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha in the wake of the Unit Trust of India (UTI) fiasco, the sluggish economic growth and all-round dismal picture of economy in trade, business and industry.

The candidature of Mr Jaswant Singh for the Finance portfolio gains further ground because of his good performance as a key minister so far and his excellent equation with world’s major powers, particularly the USA, sources said. Incidentally, Mr Jaswant Singh was the Finance Minister in the first government of Mr Vajpayee which fell after 13 days.


Rail travel to cost more
Safety surcharge to net 5,000 cr
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 29
Train passengers will have to pay a safety surcharge ranging from Re one to Rs 100 on every ticket and seasonal pass from October 1, to help the Indian Railways raise Rs 5,000 crore in the next six years for a newly created Non-lapsable Special Railway Safety Fund.

Announcing the decision to levy the surcharge, Railways Minister Nitish Kumar told the Lok Sabha in a suo motu statement that the special surcharge would not be applicable on freight rates.

While the lowest surcharge of Re 1 and Rs 2 respectively would be levied on second class (ordinary) and second class (mail/express) passengers irrespective of the distance of journey, the highest surcharge is for AC-1 class passengers who would have to pay Rs 50 up to Rs 500 km and Rs 100 beyond 500 km.

In the sleeper class, the levy would be Rs 10 for distances up to 500 km and Rs 20 for beyond 500 km. For passengers travelling by the AC chair car and first class, the surcharge would be Rs 20 up to 500 km and Rs 40 beyond 500 km. In AC 3 tier, it would be Rs 30 up to 500 km and Rs 60 beyond 500 km, in AC 2 tier, Rs 40 up to 500 km and Rs 80 beyond 500 km and for monthly season tickets it would be Rs 10 for second class travel and Rs 20 for first class travel.

Mr Kumar informed the House that the Union Cabinet at its meeting on Monday had decided to set up a Rs 17,000 crore fund to wipe out the arrears of replacement of old assets in a fixed time schedule to promote safety in a big way.

Of the Rs 17,000 crore, the Finance Ministry would provide an assistance of Rs 12,000 crore. It would provide Rs 1,000 crore this year and the balance amount in the next five years.

The identification of the arrears was in an advanced stage, Mr Kumar said, adding that only the replacement arrears, as approved by the Expanded Railway Board, would be charged to this fund and would be incorporated in a separate book of sanctioned projects called the Green Book.

The minister said the Fund had been set up as safety had been a growing concern.

The Railway Safety Review Committee headed by Justice H. R. Khanna in its report had recommended that in the interest of safety, the Centre should provide one-time grant to the Railways so that arrears in the renewal of vital equipment were wiped out within a fixed time-frame of five to seven years.

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