Tuesday, August 6, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

PM cancels petrol station allotments
Kin of Kargil martyrs remain unaffected
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 5
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today cancelled allotments of more than 3,000 petrol stations, cooking gas and kerosene agencies made after January 2000 to pre-empt the Opposition from cornering the government over the issue in Parliament.

It was however, clarified that the allotments of such agencies made to families of Kargil martyrs would stay.

Reacting to the cancellation, the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas, Mr Ram Naik, said he would not bow to the Opposition demand for his resignation as he had not done any wrong and all the allotments were made by the Dealer Selection Board, which were headed by retired judges.

Reviewing the allotments with his senior ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Ram Naik, Mr Vajpayee directed that concerned petrol stations and LPG and kerosene agencies would be auctioned on the basis of competitive bidding.

“Since a controversy has arisen with regard to these allotments, the Prime Minister has directed the Ministry to initiate steps to cancel all allotments made with effect from January 2000 till date,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The government’s decision followed allegations that several allotments were made to the kith and kin or associates of the BJP leaders across the country.

The reports prompted the Opposition to demand the resignation of the Petroleum Minister, cancellation of the allotments and an inquiry into the controversy.

A PMO press note said the Prime Minister reviewed the allotment of petrol pump and LPG gas and kerosene agencies by public sector oil companies.

It was emphasised that all allotments had been made on the recommendations of the Dealership Selection Board which are headed by retired judges.

“All petrol stations, LPG and kerosene agencies will be auctioned on the basis of competitive bidding. Modalities for the reallotment on competitive bidding shall be finalised by the ministry concerned,” it said.

However, the allotments made to the families of Kargil martyrs shall remain unaffected by this, the press note said.

Addressing a press conference after the decision was taken, Mr Ram Naik ruled out his resignation saying the meeting called by the Prime Minister, which was also attended by Mr Jaswant Singh, Mr Pramod Mahajan and Ms Sushma Swaraj among other, was appreciative of the system of allotments by the Dealer Selection Board (DSB).

Stating that he had not allotted a single station through his discretionary quota unlike what was done during the Congress rule, he said “I had just evolved a system for allotment.”

Asked about the Opposition demand for a judicial probe under a Supreme Court Judge or a CBI enquiry, Mr Naik said there was no reason for it.

Giving details of the allotment, he said since January 2000, 1134 retail outlets, 1788 LPG distributorship and 236 kerosene dealers had been appointed by the DSBs headed by retired judges.

Meanwhile, over 1,500 petrol stations and LPG gas agencies all over the country will go dry from tomorrow as a result of the government decision to scrap their allotment following allegations of favouritism.

Petroleum Minister Ram Naik, however, said the supply of petrol, diesel, kerosene and LPG would not be affected.

“I will ensure that oil companies implement the decision in such a way that there is no discontinuation of supplies”, Mr Naik told reporters.


PM puts Oppn on backfoot
T. R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 5
In an effort to stem public opinion going against the BJP-led NDA government in the petrol station scam, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee decided to scrap all allotments made since January 2000.

Considering the public outcry at doling out favours to all and sundry in the Sangh Parivar, Mr Vajpayee firmly held that it was best to cancel all allotments in one go.

The decision is meant to put the Opposition on the backfoot and ring the curtain down on the attack against the NDA government. Even though the BJP hailed Mr Vajpayee’s decision, the Opposition maintained that it was an admission of guilt.

“Public opinion has instantly welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to cancel all petrol station allotments,” according to authoritative sources. “Mr Vajpayee felt instead of waiting and taking the decision a few days later thereby allowing the Opposition to disturb the proceedings of Parliament, it was best to deal with the controversial issue expeditiously,” sources observed.

Mr Vajpayee remains convinced that there is no need for Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Ram Naik to resign as the fault for any act of omission or commission did not lie at his door. Mr Naik emphasised at a press conference here this afternoon that he is not going to put in his papers.

Clearly, the Prime Minister is concerned about another scam rocking his government having the portends of countrywide ramifications which is avoidable at this juncture. That is why with one stroke, Mr Vajpayee has endeavoured to take the wind out of the Opposition sails.

Hemmed in as he is with the problem of drought and floods, Mr Vajpayee is trying hard to consolidate the disparate NDA grouping coupled with finding ways and means of providing increased spending capacity to the people at large.

Even though the Vajpayee government has been bumbling along from one controversy to another, it cannot afford to sully its image especially when the BJP insists of being a party with a difference. This assumes importance with the Assembly elections due in J and K in September-October and the poll in Gujarat not far away.


Naik must quit, says Congress
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 5
The Congress today said Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s decision to cancel allotments of all petrol pumps, LPG and kerosene agencies made after January 2000 was an admission of guilt by the government and demanded the resignation of Petroleum Minister Ram Naik. Calling it the biggest scam of independent India, the Congress sought an inquiry into the allotments by a sitting Supreme Court judge, assisted by the CBI.

Welcoming the decision of the government to cancel the allotments made from January 2000 as a “glorious achievement for the vibrancy of the Indian democracy,” Congress chief spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the decision was tantamount to an admission of guilt by all those concerned, particularly Mr Naik.

Mr Naik cannot escape the responsibility for the irregularities in allotments as the Chairmen of the Dealership Selection Board were appointed by him and the retired judges selected for the post yielded to political recommendations, Mr Reddy told mediapersons here.

“We, therefore, demand the resignation of Mr Naik,” he said, adding that there must be an inquiry by a sitting Supreme Court Judge, assisted by the CBI to unearth the “grave irregularities’’ committed in the allotment.


Opposition forces adjournment
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 5
The allotment of petrol stations, allegedly to functionaries of the BJP and their relatives, rocked Parliament today as a sloganeering Opposition forced adjournment of both Houses, demanding the resignation of Petroleum Minister Ram Naik and a CBI probe into the issue.

While the Congress-led Opposition members trooped into the Well of the House in the Lok Sabha, seeking the resignation of the Petroleum Minister, the Opposition members in the Rajya Sabha showed copies of a national daily and an audio cassette while raising slogans against the minister.

Mr Naik was present in the Lok Sabha during question hour when the entire Opposition trooped into the well shouting, “we want resignation”, and accusing the ruling BJP of “looting” the nation.

After repeated pleas to restore order proved futile, Speaker Manohar Joshi went through the listed questions. Members from the NDA fielded their queries and ministers gave brief responses but nothing much could be heard in the din.

Congress Chief Whip P.R. Dasmunsi said the Speaker could not run the House in this manner when there was “complete disorder.” But Mr Joshi was in no mood to relent.

Midway through question hour, when the decibel level went up, Mr Joshi adjourned the House for 15 minutes, mainly to confabulate with leaders of political parties to find a way to end the impasse.

But in an unusual protest, a determined Opposition refused to go to the Speaker’s chamber for discussions. The Speaker’s emissary was seen going to the leaders to persuade them but his efforts did not succeed. Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi was seen shaking her head, apparently indicating that there was no question of yielding.

In the Rajya Sabha, Deputy Chairperson Najma Heptullah adjourned the House amidst Opposition uproar over the issue shortly after it assembled, with members shouting “Isteefa do, Isteefa do, loot liya, loot liya (resign, they have looted the country)”. 


Mamata’s plea to PM

Kolkata, August 5
Apparently encouraged by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee cancelling the allotment of petrol stations and LPG and kerosene agencies after a newspaper expose, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee today sought his immediate intervention to resolve the problem arising out of the bifurcation of the Eastern Railway.

“The Prime Minister took the right step on allotment of petrol stations. Stringent action should be taken in this regard without giving indulgence to corruption,” Mr Banerjee told mediapersons here. PTI


Cancellations on moral ground: BJP
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 5
The BJP today claimed that the Centre’s order to cancel allotments of Petrol stations and LPG agencies was done on “high moral grounds” as the decision was taken despite no irregularity could be detected in the allotment.

The BJP-led NDA government at the Centre ordered the cancellation keeping in view the public perception over the issue and to further its image as a “party with a difference,” BJP Parliamentary Party spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra said here. 

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