Wednesday, December 29, 2010

KC Verma is National Technical Research Organisation chairman

Published: Wednesday, Dec 29, 2010, 3:05 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh has decided to appoint KC Verma chairman of National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), the country’s most powerful hi-tech spy agency.
Verma will have a fixed tenure of three years and is set to take up the new assignment on January 1, one month before he superannuates as head of external spy agency Research & Analysis Wing (RAW).
With his induction in NTRO, the process of filling top positions in all sensitive investigating and intelligence agencies of the country has been completed.
PM is understood to have hand-picked the new heads of CBI, Intelligence Bureau (IB), RAW and NTRO to ensure greater accountability and effectiveness.
DNA was the first to report on November 22 that special director Sanjiv Tripathi would be the new head of RAW, while Verma would be shifted to NTRO. It had also reported that special director Nischal Sandhu would be the new chief of IB after Rajiv Mathur retires and Ashwini Kumar would not be given an extension as CBI director and AP Singh was the frontrunner to replace him.
After several sensitive reports were leaked, an extremely worried PM had shown the door to two top NTRO officers. To avoid further embarrassment to the government, he did not immediately appoint anybody to head NTRO after KVSS Prasada Rao demitted office a couple of months ago.
Since Rao was a scientist, the government felt the need to replace him with an ace cop and administrator in Verma, who had served under Union home minister P Chidambaram before he was appointed to head RAW.
NTRO used to be a part of RAW, but became a separate organisation after the Kargil war. Today, it is more powerful than RAW.
Verma is demitting his RAW office a month in advance to facilitate takeover by Sanjiv Tripathi on January 1. Since Tripathi is retiring on December 31, PM decided to shift Verma early.
Tripathi, a seasoned officer, is number two in RAW. He was recommended to head the wing two years ago also. But somehow, it did not materialise. Now, PM has not only appointed him to the top post but has also granted him tenure of two years. Heads of other investigating agencies have also been given fixed tenures.
PM wants to bring continuity and stability in the government and its key agencies by gradually fixing tenures of top officials. As part of this exercise, secretaries in the ministries of home, defence and external affairs have been granted fixed two-year tenures.

POSCO project gets green signal, but conditions apply

Published: Wednesday, Dec 29, 2010, 0:40 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

After running into several hurdles, the Rs51,000-crore POSCO steel plant project in Orissa has finally received the green signal from environment minister Jairam Ramesh. The decision comes as a big relief for the Indian industry which has been under tremendous pressure due to objections raised by the ministry over environment issues.
The steel project, being promoted by South Korean steel major POSCO in Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa, is the biggest foreign investment in the country. It was put on hold after the ministry cited violations of environment and forest laws by the company. The decision of the expert appraisal committee (EAC) of the ministry followed several public hearings and meetings with officials of POSCO India limited and the state government.
The EAC, however, has imposed tough conditions — running into 80 clauses — on the promoters. The most important of these is that at least 5% of the total cost of the project should be earmarked for corporate social responsibility. This means, POSCO will need to set aside at least Rs2,000 crore for this purpose only.
The committee also announced the resettlement and rehabilitation policy for tribals and fishermen to be affected by the project. Of 4,004 acres of the project area, 3,566 acres is revenue forest land. The company has acquired nearly 100 acres for resettlement of 418 families. The compensation for betel vine growers has been doubled and fishermen would get Rs2,00,000 per acre of prawn pond. Earlier, there was no compensation norm for fishermen.
The committee agreed that the plant area of 4,000 acres is compact for a 12 MTPA integrated steel plant with a captive power generation capacity and a port. It said construction of the port and development of greenery within the plant on 1,000 acres (25% of plant area) should commence simultaneously with the plant’s construction and be completed within eight years.
The project proposes establishing an integrated steel plant which will have an initial capacity of four MTPA and final capacity of 12 MTPA. It will have a captive port and a power plant of 400 MW. The EAC agreed with the seasonal basis on which the clearance was recommended in 2007 but insisted that on the basis of comprehensive environment impact assessment (EIA) report placed before it, aspects set out in subsequent paragraphs of these minutes must be revisited during the implementation of the project and conformity to norms verified and reported to the ministry.
The promoters have been asked to take steps to check vehicular pollution during transportation of raw material and finished products as well as dust emission during loading and unloading.
Raw material shall be stacked at earmarked sites in sheds/stockyards with wind breakers/shields and secure of fire hazard.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Govt likely to set up cell to counter attacks on cyber networks

Published: Monday, Dec 27, 2010, 0:48 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The National Security Council (NSC) is toying with a proposal to set up a cyber command authority (CCA) after concerns were expressed about repeated cyber attacks on government websites, and reports about efforts to break into the country’s sensitive network by what is known as the Sino-Pak Cyber Army.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh summoned a meeting of the NSC last week to discuss the growing cyber threat and asked an action plan to be drawn on a war-footing basis before such an authority was set up. What has caused panic in the Indian security system is a confidential report sent by the USA’s National Security Agency that more than 100 foreign intelligence organisations are trying to break into the country’s cyber networks and some of them have even acquired the capacity to disrupt its information infrastructure.
The US has warned “there is no such thing as secure anymore in the cyber world” and it’s working on the assumption that foes may have pierced even the most sensitive national security computer networks. The note was sent after the fresh WikiLeaks cables.
“We have to build our systems on the assumption that adversaries will get in,” the US’s code-making and code-cracking agency has said.
The plan to set up CCA has been deferred till a thorough review of the threat is done. The prime minister has asked the NSC to work with an approach that there was no such thing as a “static state of security”.
Manmohan reviewed the present level of preparedness to deal with cyber security issues, such as identification of critical information infrastructure, delineation of responsibilities, dissemination of early warning and incidence response.
CCA will work on tackling new generation attacks on the government’s defence, port, airport, pipelines, nuclear installations, water and electricity computer systems and networks.
The prime minister has already ordered to put in place a cyber crisis management plan. The standard operating procedures had already been upgraded last year even before the Wiki cables, when Iranian nuclear facilities in Natanz in Iran were reportedly hit by a computer worm Stunxnet.
The Russians described it as a working and fearsome prototype of a cyber-weapon that will lead to the creation of a new arms race in the world.

Congress set for organisational revamp, UPA readies to shuffle its ministers

Published: Sunday, Dec 26, 2010, 23:35 IST | Updated: Monday, Dec 27, 2010, 1:36 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The All India Congress Committee (AICC) is planning major organisational changes to combat the opposition’s onslaught over several scams. Younger faces are likely to spearhead the government’s counter attack, particularly at the state level.
The UPA leadership is also in the process of reshuffling the Union council of ministers. The new faces in both are likely to be announced between January 14 and January 23.
Highly placed sources close to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh said the two leaders have already had initial consultations with members of the core group comprising Rahul Gandhi, Ahmad Patel and others.
The recently-concluded AICC session also underlined the need to install young teams in states and have younger Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chiefs. The newly-constituted 15-member media team, which includes ministers like Ambika Soni and Ghulam Nabi Azad, points at this line of thinking. Soni’s successful battle with Prasar Bharti CEO BS Lalli indicates her growing prominence in the party.
It is also clear that the party’s youth mascot Rahul Gandhi will confine himself to the organisation for some more time.
The prime minister may have to find some new faces for the government before the next budget session of Parliament in February 2011. Sonia Gandhi also has to reconstitute the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and induct her new team.
There are indications that a couple of general secretaries, including Janardhan Dwivedi, may join the government.
Manmohan Singh is already facing problems running the prime minister’s office after shifting Prithviraj Chavan to Maharashtra as chief minister. Since he holds several portfolios, he needs to have the assistance of a minister of state to answer questions on his behalf.The search for a “new Chavan” has not yielded any result so far. There are already talks of bringing back Suresh Pachauri to fill the vacuum.
Some of the Congress ministers, including surface transport minister Kamal Nath, heavy industries minister Vilasrao Deshmukh,social justice minister Mukul Wasnik, steel minister Virbhadra Singh and a couple of junior ministers, are already facing the heat over one allegation or the other.
The leakage of the Nira Radia tapes to the media has brought out the tug-of-war between Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P Chidambaram. Both are senior ministers and were in a position to have access to the Radia tapes. A close scrutiny of the published versions reveals that the leak could have suited both of them politically though there are many who believe that it’s Chidambaram who could have been the bigger beneficiary. The prime minister will have to work hard to bring about a truce.
There is a talk of external affairs minister SM Krishna being given some other key assignment and commerce minister Anand Sharma being shifted to south block.
The demand to take away the food ministry from Sharad Pawar in the wake of his failure to check prices of food items has surfaced again. The PMO is disturbed over the fact that despite average rate of inflation remaining less than six per cent over the past five years, food and vegetable prices rose by 22%. However, in case Pawar is removed from the food ministry, another member of the NCP may have to be accommodated elsewhere.
Similarly, the DMK is pressing for a portfolio in lieu of telecom which was held by A Raja until recently. The inclusion is necessary as assembly polls are due in the state in April-May next year.

Nira Radia tried to influence Yashwant Sinha

Published: Saturday, Dec 25, 2010, 2:26 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Investigative agencies who are trying to piece together corporate lobbyist Nira Radia’s meteoritic rise within a short span, have stumbled upon shocking details of how she tried hard to get Rs12 crore waiver for a private airline ModiLuft.
The custom authorities had confiscated ModiLuft’s aircraft as it had failed to deposit Rs12 crore tax. ModiLuft did not deposit Rs12 crores collected from passengers during 1998-99 as inland and foreign travel tax.
The customs seized the aircraft parked at Delhi’s Palam Airport as company didn’t pay heed despite several notices sent to it.
Nira Radia who has been in the news these days due to the second generation mobile spectrum scam, had met several senior officials and some of the NDA ministers on behalf of ModiLuft seeking relief for the company.
Since she had failed to start her own Aviation company- Crown Air — as the government had declined to give her a licence, she was working for ModiLuft.
However, when the then commissioner of customs Krishan Kant refused to release the aircraft without payment, ModiLuft petitioned finance minister Yashwant Sinha claiming that the demand of Rs12 crore is unjustified.
Sinha referred the matter to the then law minister Ram Jethmalani for certain clarifications. But the Customs department maintained that ModiLuft has no merit in its plea and ignored the advice of the law ministry. It was at this juncture thatNira Radia stepped in.
When contacted, Krishan Kant confirmed to the DNA, “she came to see me. But I declinedto meet her and sent a word that she should meet the chief commissioner, customs KL Verma. I learnt later that she met Mr Verma”.
Verma confirmed meeting her. But said that he explained to her the difficulties in releasing the aircraft without payment of duty. It was explained that the government had authorised private airlines to collect this tax from passengers on behalf of the government and they are expected to deposit the same with the commissioner, air cargo customs based in Delhi. But instead of depositing it, the companies resorted to using this money to meet their internal requirements.
However, she refused to give in and fresh representations were made by ModiLuft, which was a joint venture company between the RK Modi group and Lufthansa. The matterwas referred again to the finance ministry as the legal opinion was not explicit.
When contacted Yashwant Sinha affirmed that he had indeed been approached.
“I did not yield even a bit despite tremendous pressure brought on me,” he added, refusing to name colleagues or the kind of pressure brought on him.

Manmohan Singh peeved with ministries for sloppy work, ignoring advice

Published: Saturday, Dec 25, 2010, 2:13 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The prime minister is miffed with some ministries and departments for not complying with rules regarding sending cabinet notes to his office.
A couple of months back, the cabinet secretariat had directed ministries and departments to intimate the prime minister’s office about changes in ministries well in advance so that it gets enough time to consider matters.
However, it appears that the ministries are disregarding the advice, and as a result the prime minister’s office receive such notes at the last minute.
A circular issued to ministries said matters that are to be taken up in the New Year, all inter-ministerial consultations, must be completed in advance and a copy of the final note must be sent to the PMO seven days in advance.
The stern warning by Mrutunjay Sarangi, an additional secretary in the cabinet secretariat, said, “It has been observed that these instructions are not being adhered to strictly. With a view to ensure compliance, notes that do not give confirmation and direction for the cabinet and cabinet committees will not be considered.”
The letter from the PMO makes it clear that notes from ministries that were careless about instructions will not be entertained from January 1, 2011.
Sarangi’s missive gives other suggestions too. About inter-ministerial consultations, the note asked the ministries concerned to take the initiative about consulting each other and in case differences crop up, to mention these in the note to the cabinet secretariat.
On Thursday, the prime minister quietly cancelled a scheduled cabinet meeting because the cabinet secretariat was not able to pull out issues worthwhile to be put on the agenda. Also, many ministers who are out of Delhi now had requested to skip the weekly meeting and some ministries could not send documents on matters that were to be on the agenda on time.
Whatever the reason for the cancellation, it certainly helped the Congress duck uneasy questions from allies angry about the way price rise is being handled.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Karunanidhi kids fly together, like strangers

Published: Friday, Dec 24, 2010, 2:46 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

If there was any doubt that the first family of Tamil Nadu is deeply divided, here’s proof.
Union minister MK Alagiri and sister Kanimozhi flew together from Chennai to New Delhi on Tuesday, but did not speak a word to each other throughout the journey.
Alagiri, the eldest son of Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi, and Kanimozhi, the DMK boss’ daughter from his third wife, were both in the executive class of an Indian Airlines flight but did not even look at each other, much to the surprise of fellow passengers.
After disembarking from the aircraft, they took the same bus to the airport terminal, but chose to ignore each other.
A couple of ADMK MPs who also travelled on the aircraft were baffled at the public display of the cold war in the Karunanidhi family. Senior bureaucrats and police officers at the airport were also equally bemused by the turn of events.
The A Raja episode could have the answer. After the 2G scam surfaced, Alagiri and MK Stalin, another son of Karunanidhi, were gunning for the telecom minister’s head.
Kanimozhi, however, was supporting Raja all through, even after he was forced to resign.
Karunanidhi, too, supported Raja in larger political interest and declared publicly that he had done no wrong, a victory for Kanimozhi in the bitter family dispute.
The result was there to see for all on Tuesday, when she and Alagiri came face-to-face for the first time after the 2G fiasco.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

PAC chief ignores BJP; fast-tracks 2G probe

Published: Wednesday, Dec 22, 2010, 3:58 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Despite the BJP-led opposition’s steadfast refusal of a public accounts committee (PAC) probe into the 2G spectrum scam, the committee has decided to fast-track the ongoing inquiry into the matter.
The PAC, headed by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, has virtually rejected the party’s entreaties to go slow.
Enthused by prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh’s offer to appear before the PAC, Joshi has fixed the next meeting of the 25-member committee on December 27. He has already sent notices to members on the date, sources said.
The PAC may also take into account the offer made by the PM to appear before the committee to come clean. Singhsent a letter expressing his willingness to make good his promise at the AICC plenary session on Monday, sources said.
While the Congress hadcalled the PM’s offer a political masterstroke, the BJP and the Left had rejected it outright.
A fortnight ago, Joshi had come under attack from NDA leaders over the PAC probe into the 2G scam. NDA convener and JD(U) president Sharad Yadav had questioned the BJP’s credentials in continuing the fight for the constitution of a joint parliamentary committee. He had wondered how Joshi could hold regular meetings of the PAC when the party was demanding a JPC.
According to sources, senior party leaders told Joshi to take up other issues of public importance and go slow on the 2G probe. However, this was resented by the Congress and parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who maintained that this was interference in the independent functioning of Parliament and tantamount to breach of privilege.
Sources close to Joshi asserted that he was strictly following parliamentary practices and doing what the PAC should do. He had told DNA that “the PAC had started probing the 2G scam much before the opposition parties raised the JPC demand. So, the committee cannot be expected to abandon its course.”
The PAC has summoned the comptroller & auditor-general Vinod Rai to appear and explain how he arrived at a figure of Rs1.76 lakh crore as loss due to the 2G spectrum allocation scam, sources said. The PAC’s prime task is to scrutinise the CAG report and then summon witnesses. Joshi is keen to complete the task before his current term comes to an end in April 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Central information commission fines Indian Olympic Association for delaying info

Published: Tuesday, Dec 21, 2010, 2:56 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The central information commission (CIC) has slapped a penalty of Rs52,000 on Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for deliberately delaying information by as many as 100 days to an RTI applicant.
Commonwealth Games organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, who is accused of involvement in the Rs70,000-crore Games scam, is president of IOA.
CIC rejected the IOA plea that the delay was inadvertent. The commission said the delay violated the manifest provisions of RTI Act.
Activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal filed an RTI plea on July 12, 2010, to know how much money IOA spent on Kalmadi and other office-bearers’ foreign and domestic tours and hotel stays in the past five years and related issues.
He filed another application on August 3, 2010, seeking information on agreements signed with and contracts given to GL Meroform, Nussli (a Swiss firm), ESG Arena, PICO-Deepali and other companies.
He also wanted to know if the material supplied by the above firms was checked for quality.
After IOA officer-bearers delayed the information by 80 days to 120 days (the specified period is 30 days), Agrawal moved CIC.
Central information commissioner ML Sharma said he carefully went through the explanation given by IOA office-bearers and felt that they violated manifest provisions of RTI Act.
He said the applicant did not insist on exemplary compensation but wanted a “token” punishment for the guilty. CIC decided to impose a fine of Rs2,000 on Kalmadi and another of Rs50,000 for inordinate delay in supply of information.
IOA has to deposit the Rs50,000 with CIC and pay Agrawal Rs2,000 in four weeks from December 16.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pranab Mukherjee upset at posters in capital

Published: Saturday, Dec 18, 2010, 2:00 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi

The power struggle within the UPA, which gained momentum after the Nira Radia tapes became public, has gone intense.
While the government agencies are still struggling to find out how the tapes in possession of government agencies — Income tax, CBI, ED — were leaked, the appearance of certain posters on the walls of the national capital has left the UPA’s prime trouble-shooter and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee fuming.
The posters depict him as the right candidate for the prime minister’s post besides discussing defence minister AK Anthony as the other candidate.
It claims that India will not be safe in the hands of the latter (Antony) as he is an American “agent” and “representative” of the Vatican in India.
Delhi police have swung into action, and removed all posters after Mukherjee’s private secretary registered an FIR with the Parliament Street police a couple of days ago.
Sources said Mukherjee himself got down from his car to read one such poster pasted on the wall of a government building.
He has lodged a protest with prime minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairman Sonia Gandhi over the issue.
Mukherjee suspects the hand of a leader from Andhra Pradesh in the operation. Sonia Gandhi has reportedly asked the Andhra Pradesh chief minister to verify the antecedents of a man from Secunderabad - Ravi Kumar — who allegedly got these posters printed in the name of a city organisation and take action.
The poster carries the print line of a Secunderabad printing press. The Delhi police are in touch with their Andhra counterparts to find out what provoked Ravi Kumar to do so.
But this is not the first time the capital witnessed such incidents. Whenever there is a power struggle within the ruling coalition or a party, such posters, pamphlets and other material appear from nowhere.
This, however, will put a shadow on the two-day AICC session and the CWC meeting on December 18. With AK Antony being made the first speaker at the AICC session to speak on its political resolution, speculation is rife that the wings of Mukherjee have been clipped.
The fact that commerce minister Anand Sharma has been made the chairman of the drafting committee on foreign policy resolution above foreign minister SM Krishna is also an indication of powershift within the Congress.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jairam Ramesh ministry fires salvo at Mundra port

Published: Friday, Dec 17, 2010, 14:23 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh has fired another salvo at the on-going multi-billion dollar private port project being promoted by Mundra Port and SEZ Limited.
In a stunning blow to Adani group promoted project, the Environment & Forests Ministry has issued a show cause notice.
Acting on a complaint of NGO, Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan, the ministry asked the port to reply in 15 days why the clearance accorded to the west port and north port and the environmental clearance accorded to the township project by SEIAA should not be cancelled.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Private hand in phone tapping worries Manmohan Singh; probe ordered

Published: Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010, 11:21 IST | Updated: Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010, 11:48 IST
By Harish Gupta & Nivedita Mookerji | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh on Tuesday cautioned government authorities to exercise their powers to tap phone lines with utmost care and stay within the ambit of well-defined rules.
The PM assured that he would ask cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar to look into the phone tapping issue, including the procedures followed, and give a report to the cabinet within a month. But his directive to Chandrasekhar is aimed more at preventing tapping of telephones by private agencies rather than by the institutional framework of the government, it is learnt.
The PM is understood to be worried about a confidential report submitted by the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), which talks about off-the-air GSM/CDMA monitoring devices that are freely available to private hands in the country.
The device can record the conversations of a person within the range of 2 kilometres; all one has to do is to feed in the particular mobile number.
The Off-The-Air-Monitoring System machines have been procured by many security and intelligence agencies from foreign suppliers over five years. But these suppliers, from countries like Israel, Ukraine and Russia, have also made them available to private persons.
A scrutiny of records reveals that the import of these machines is legal and, until recently, came under the Open General Licence (OGL). The customs authorities could not do anything in this regard because these devices were imported in the name of Critical Information Infrastructure Protection (CIIP) purposes.
Even the Indian Telegraph Act does not make a mention of Off-The-Air tapping, despite the existence of 650 million mobile phones.
The confidential note also points out that there are 21 vendors in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida and Secundarabad, which include six government agencies, selling these machines.
These machines were first introduced in the NTRO, a top government technical surveillance agency directly under the PM, sometime in 2005. Sources say it was a private company’s top executive who told the government about the existence of such a machine.
A number of instances suggest the availability of these devices with private companies, like the tapping of Samajwadi leader Amar Singh’s phone which raised a hue and cry.
Early this year, there was a controversy over the tapping of phones of Sharad Pawar, Nitish Kumar, Digvijay Singh and Prakash Karat; the government had said it was not done by its agencies and nor was anyone authorised.
Private agencies’ involvement becomes obvious as they enable any agency or person to track, hear and record cellphone conversations at will without approaching the telecom companies or any government officer for permission.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Public accounts committee probe ‘punctures’ opposition’s JPC stir

Published: Wednesday, Dec 8, 2010, 12:25 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Leaders of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) attacked on Tuesday senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, who, as public accounts committee (PAC) chief, decided to launch a probe into the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
NDA leaders were furious that the probe was launched while the entire opposition was still fighting a bitter battle with the UPA government for constitution of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC).
As soon as the meeting began on Tuesday, NDA convenor and JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav took serious objection to PAC initiating a probe into the 2G scam, inviting witnesses and cross examining them. This, he said, was puncturing the very cause of the opposition which had been holding up parliament for 18 days. Yadav said that had given a tool to UPA to avoid a JPC and put NDA on backfoot.
This was also the first formal meeting of BJP and its allies to discuss the situation arising out of the logjam in parliament. Senior BJP leaders LK Advani, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Kaur and Shiv Sena leaders were present.
Yashwant Sinha explained at the meeting that PAC had taken up the issue of 2G spectrum allocation issue when Gopinath Munde was its chairman. After Munde, it was Joshi who became chairman of the 22-member body comprising leaders from all political parties. This showed that PAC had taken up the issue much before the opposition decided to stall parliament.
Joshi interjected to say that PAC had taken up even before CAG submitted its report and the committee’s work had been going for more than three months. PAC had held 5 meetings on the issue while parliament was being stalled.
The NDA leaders, however, took respite in the fact that PAC was no match to JPC, which has tremendous powers. PAC cannot summon witnesses unwilling and refuse to cooperate. Secondly, the government can refuse to provide documents in the name of national interest before, which it cannot before JPC.
While Joshi could not be contacted and Advani preferred silence, others supported Sharad Yadav.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Parliament standoff set to continue for 18th straight day

Published: Tuesday, Dec 7, 2010, 2:56 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The government is making a last-ditch effort to end the 17-day standoff in parliament over the issue of constituting a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the second generation mobile telephony spectrum scam. But is does not appear to be succeeding.
A worried Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee tried hard on Monday to persuade UPA allies from joining the opposition chorus on JPC and invited them over for a dinner at his residence. But with allies, such as railway minister Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress, who has a clean image, not game, the dinner had to be called off at the last minute.
Since some Left leaders have been linked to corporate lobbyist Nira Radia, who worked for the Tatas in Singur, Mamata is in no mood to compromise. She is fighting a bitter battle with the Left in West Bengal, where assembly elections are due early next year, and does not want to let go of the advantage merely to stay in Rail Bhavan. Her target is Kolkata’s Writers’ Building, the seat of power in West Bengal.
It’s not DMK or the Sharad Pawar-led NCP that is worrying Congress. It’s Mamata who is giving it the jitters.
Meanwhile, Congress fielded a battery of senior leaders, including several Union ministers, to launch a blistering attack on the opposition. Party president Sonia Gandhi deputed Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Jairam Ramesh, CP Joshi, Sanjay Nirupam and Satyavrat Chaturvedi, among others, to counter the opposition on TV channels and in other media.
Congress also succeeded in keeping some “secular” parties from joining hands with NDA on the JPC issue. Of the 19 non-UPA non-NDA parties, 11 led by the Left met in parliament to discuss the current crisis. Surprisingly, BSP and SP stayed away. The parties sang the same tune as NDA but it was clear they would not join hands with the BJP-led coalition.
The government was firm. Parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said, “As of now, there is no change in our stand on JPC.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nicolas Sarkozy visit: The height of protocol

Published: Sunday, Dec 5, 2010, 1:02 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

A strange request from the external affairs ministry’s protocol office has stumped Delhi police and security agencies.
The ministry has asked the agencies to look for personnel within 24 hours who are of short stature for the security of visiting French president Nicolas Sarkozy here on Sunday.
A desperate hunt began after this last-minute request from the protocol division of the MEA.
Since the security agencies do not maintain record of its staff members’ heights, they were in a flap because at least half a dozen security personnel who are both highly efficient and no taller than 5 feet 4 inches had to be located forthwith.
This they found is not as easy as it sounds because most of the VVIP security personnel in the capital are tall, well-built men groomed for the job over a long period of time. They mostly hail from the Jat and Gurjar communities of neighbouring Haryana, Rajasthan and UP.
The protocol office went into overdrive after a tip-off from the French embassy that their president, who is 5 feet 5 inches, is sensitive about his height and may not like being surrounded by tall security personnel when he meets Indian leaders on Monday.
Another request that went out from the French embassy to the Uttar Pradesh chief secretary was to ensure that photo journalists do not trail Sarkozy in Agra as he wished to enjoy some private moments with his wife Carla Bruni at the Taj Mahal.
A directive was duly despatched to the authorities in Agra that there would be only one photo opportunity when the French president and his wife visit the Taj, and that also to only two lensmen, one Indian and one French.
Sarkozy, who began his India trip in Bangalore, flew into Delhi on Saturday and then left for Agra to enjoy the Taj Mahal in the moonlight.
This is something Carla Bruni had apparently looked forward to for months, to get a feel of the beautiful structure built by Mughal emperor Shah Jehan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Sarkozy returns to Delhi on Sunday and meets the prime minister and a host of other leaders only on Monday as he wants to keep Sunday also free for his family.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ministers, babus expect no deal from US president

| DNA : Daily News & Analysis; Mumbai, Nov 04, 2010 


US president Barack Obama has gone to town saying he would make several announcements in India, but central ministers and top bureaucrats think otherwise.
No doubt, there could be some symbolic agreements, but no "big-ticket" decision is likely, they said.
They may be right, particularly since Obama once again asserted on Wednesday, after his Democratic Party's defeat in elections to the House of Representatives, that it was his responsibility to support jobs and opportunities for the American people.
DNA puts together for you the views ministers and bureaucrats have expressed in the run-up to the US president's November 6-8 visit.

Nirupama Rao, foreign secretary: Dramatic breakthroughs and big bangs are not expected during the Obama visit. But it will reflect the continuity in bilateral ties. It will be an opportunity to consolidate all that we have built in the past decade. We will see concrete and significant steps in a wide range of areas that will expand the long-term strategic framework of the relationship [between India and the US].
Kamal Nath, roads and highway minister: We already have a memorandum of understanding with the US on highway infrastructure development. We do not have any plans to sign any further pact or deal during US president Barack Obama's visit. However, there are a lot of things that can be shared with the US on tolling technologies and the structural and engineering aspects of highway construction, among others.
Murli Deora, petroleum minister: A memorandum of understanding is likely on technology transfer on shale gas with the US. The agreement will cover technical assistance for exploration as well as the procedure for putting shale gas blocks for auction. The agreement is likely to be signed between directorate general of hydrocarbons and United States Geological Survey.
Ashok Chawla, finance secretary: No big-ticket financial deals are expected to be signed during the US president's visit. Rather, the visit will have a political focus.
P Chidam-baram, home minister: My ministry has no issues pending to be discussed at the level of the US president.
GK Pillai, home secretary: As far as deals and agreements are concerned, there is nothing on the agenda related to cross-border or internal security issues.
A railway ministry top official: No signing of pact on railway manufacturing unit, or any other infrastructure project with the US is in sight during the Obama visit. Also, no interaction has been planned between railway ministry officials and the Obama entourage.
A senior civil aviation ministry official: No major deals are in the offing.
AK Antony, defence minister: Deals are not linked to visits. Although the C-17 transport aircraft deal is in its final stages, I'm not sure whether it will be signed during the visit of the American president.
Credit:Team DNA


Law ministry had told CAG not to intervene

Published: Friday, Nov 12, 2010, 2:00 IST
By Team DNA | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The law ministry had said three months ago that the comptroller and auditor general did not have the authority to examine whether any government policy has caused loss of revenue to the exchequer.
“[The] CAG Act 1971 nowhere provides that he [CAG] has any duty or power to question the wisdom of the policy/lawmaker...[they] cannot exceed the role assigned to them under the constitution/law. The CAG has no duty or power to challenge the policy decisions taken by the government,” the letter dated August 13, 2010, signed by Santok Singh, joint secretary with the law ministry, reads. The letter is in possession of DNA.
The alleged loss of revenue is part of the barrage of charges leveled by the CAG against telecom minister A Raja in its final report on 2G spectrum that has been sent to the finance ministry.
The report is likely to be tabled in parliament during the current winter session. Apart from stating that Raja’s spectrum allocation policy caused a loss of Rs1.7 lakh crore to the exchequer, the CAG also found Raja guilty of violating normal procedures of granting telecom licences, such as imposing arbitrary deadlines and procedures that kept many of the applicants out of the process.
Interestingly, the ministry had upheld the department of telecom (DoT) contention that the licences were issued at a fraction of their market value to enable winners offer cheap services.
The licences were later ‘resold’ by new entrants to foreign companies at 4-5 times the value at which the government had issued them. Pan-India licences were issued to firms at Rs1,651 crore on a first-come-first-served basis.
The law ministry’s opinion cushions the DMK leader from the most damaging charge against him — causing a loss to the state.
The DoT had sought the law ministry’s opinion when the CAG sent its interim findings to it and asked for comments.
Since the CAG had gone into the policy decisions of the government, the DoT felt it had no business to do it.
The CAG’s charter is to audit the accounts and ensure that policy so created had been properly implemented or not.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

UPA in a tangle: Allies ask questions, opposition ups heat

Published: Thursday, Dec 2, 2010, 0:50 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

So far unfazed in the face of the blistering opposition attack over the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into different issues, the Congress-led UPA seems to be taking some serious knocking from its constituents with the alliance partners challenging Congress’s stand on many prickly subjects.
A couple of days after NCP chief Sharad Pawar threw his weight behind the developers of the Lavasa project near Pune and endorsed Ratan Tata’s views on Nira Radia tapes, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah on Wednesday criticised his own government on tapping of phones, selective leaks and related issues.
To compound the troubles for the Congress, the NCP on Wednesday suggested that central vigilance commissioner PJ Thomas should quit in the wake of the controversy over his continuance in the post after the Supreme Court’s observations against him. Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyaya said that the issue should be discussed among Congress allies.
The opposition, led by the BJP, has been insisting on the removal of Thomas.
Farooq’s comments came at a public function. “We are a free country. Why are you tapping phones? If you tap mine, I could be talking to my girlfriend. How does it help tapping phones?” he asked. He refused to accept the government’s defence that sporadic tapping was necessary to track money launderers.
“Hawala operators are all over the country. I don’t think you have caught them by tapping,” he said.
Pawar had also taken exception to the way the CBI is being “over-used” in the 2G spectrum and companies were being harassed to vitiate the investment climate at a meeting held with UPA’s trouble-shooter Pranab Mukherjee on Monday.
The DMK seems to have broken ranks by pleading with the government to at least concede the demand to “consider forming a JPC even if it doesn’t want to on the 2G issue”.
The Trinamool Congress has already made its dissent clear over the ruling party’s stubborn attitude not to accept the opposition’s demand for a JPC and allow Parliament to function.
“Parliament is paralysed. How can I make a statement and clarify my position? Now I will knock the door of the Supreme Court for redressal,” former telecom minister A Raja told DNA.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Govt agrees to Supreme Court-monitored probe in 2G spectrum scam

Published: Tuesday, Nov 30, 2010, 0:27 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

To blunt the opposition, which continued to stall parliament for the third successive week demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the 2G spectrum scam, the government took three major steps on Monday.
It issued notices to cancel 85 licences of telecom companies, tried to woo estranged allies such as Trinamool Congress, DMK and NCP and agreed to a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the scam.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee invited UPA allies and “shared” seriousness of the situation at a two-hour meeting, after which agriculture minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar said UPA constituents had decided on a “collective approach” to the issue. National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah said, “We will remain united in our stand against JPC.”
As if this was not enough, the government tried to soothe the corporate world by ordering a high-level inquiry into the leakage of the Nira Radia tapes — conversations between the corporate lobbyist, her clients and certain journalists. Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Group of companies, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court (SC) saying release of the tapes in the media was violation of the fundamental right to privacy.
Home ministry sources said the probe would be conducted by Intelligence Bureau and Central Board of Direct Taxes.
The government action came after sustained pressure by the opposition, SC’s reprimand and the comptroller and auditor general’s report on the Rs1.76 lakh-crore 2G scam.
Meanwhile, the Centre also launched an offensive, with telecom, HRD and science and technology minister Kapil Sibal saying, “We will show the opposition its face if they allow a debate on 2G”. He was hinting at the various policy changes that were made and violations allowed in the telecom sector in the NDA regime.
Sources said the government was opposing a JPC probe not because prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi may be summoned for “assistance”, but because the Radia tapes could become a huge embarrassment for politicians.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lavasa gets Jairam Ramesh blow: All work in lake city illegal

Published: Saturday, Nov 27, 2010, 1:18 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

In a major blow to the ambitious Lavasa lake city project near Pune, the Union environment ministry headed by Jairam Ramesh has termed all construction activities in the 25,000-hectare project illegal.
A show cause notice from the ministry deems all structures so far unauthorised as they have been built without any environment clearance under its notifications of 2004 and 2006.
The notice requires that the “status quo ante for construction and development as on date should be maintained” pending decision on the notice. It simply means that no further construction can be undertaken.
The Lavasa Corporation, a group company of Hindustan Construction Corporation (HCC), has also been asked why the unauthorised structures should not be demolished “in entirety”. It means that all big bungalows, villas and farm houses may face action now.
Ramesh told DNA that he had given 15 days to the state government and the promoters to respond, and halt all activity until a decision was taken in the matter.
Many influential politicians, bureaucrats and others have villas and plots in the Lavasa lake city. No action has yet been taken. Former revenue minister Narayan Rane had gone on record a few weeks ago saying that it was too late in the day to initiate any move since it had already come up.
He has suggested that the state should impose only compounding fee on the developers.
Of late, there has been a flood of petitions to prime minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi complaining about how the entire forest land had been encroached upon, acquired and developed in violation of rules. Ramesh decided to act swiftly as the Maharashtra government had been dragging its feet.
The ministry’s notice has put the fate of the real estate firm’s proposed Rs2000-crore IPO in jeopardy. It was recently cleared by the Sebi. The notice came at a time when Lavasa Corporation is already in the thick of a bribery scam, and its offices have been raided by CBI.
A spokesperson of the Lavasa corporation said, “We are still to receive the notice. As and when such a notice is received we will respond after studying it.”
When asked why the firm figures on the list of recipients of loans from banks which have been under the CBI scanner in the loans kickback scam recently, and there’s a fear in the market that banks may review all the loans given to several companies, Ajit Gulabchand, chairman of HCC & Lavasa, defended the project.
“Lavasa is a project of great importance to the Maharashtra government’s policy of building a hill station. In this context, we had to raise money with the banks and all transactions have been very clear and syndicated without any special favours or anything at all.”
The show cause notice asks the developers to provide the status of the project “with photographs/satellite maps indicating the constructions as on 18.3.2004, 7.7.2004, 14.9.2006 and up to date”. It says that the developers had built over 1,000 metres above sea level on 47.3 hectares of land without obtaining prior clearance.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Outsmarted Congress redraws strategy in Parliament

Published: Wednesday, Nov 24, 2010, 2:54 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Did the Congress leadership commit a tactical blunder by sacking Maharashtra’s former chief minister Ashok Chavan over the Adarsh housing society scandal and seeking the resignation of A Raja in the 2G spectrum scam? A section in the UPA government believes so. The move in both cases has been perceived as an admission of guilt and it has emboldened the BJP-led opposition to launch a direct attack on the prime minister’s office itself, it feels.
The recommendation of the two-member committee of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and defence minister AK Antony to replace Chavan should not have been accepted before a debate in Parliament on the issue, neither should have Raja been dumped in a hurry. That’s the growing sentiment in the party now as it redraws its strategy to combat the opposition onslaught over the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the 2G scam and the Supreme Court’s (SC) adverse observations in the recent past.
Even UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was of the view that if at all Raja has to be sacrificed, the spectrum issue should be discussed in Parliament threadbare. But prime minister Manmohan Singh insisted on dismissing Raja, thinking that the buck will stop there. His strategy, obviously, didn’t pay any dividends to the party. Rather it strained the ties with trusted allies like the Trinamool Congress and the DMK. The Congress top leadership is now making amends.
It has conveyed to the SC that it is not keen on a court-monitored probe into the 2G spectrum and Nira Radia tapes. It also made it clear to the opposition on Tuesday that it won’t succumb to its demand for a JPC inquiry.
It is becoming clear that the court may not resort to monitoring the 2G probe at this stage as the CBI gave a detailed account of the progress it is making in the Radia’s tapes running into nearly 2,000 hours. The attorney general of India, GE Vahanvati has taken a rather unusually strong stand in the SC in the past two days and it indicates a change in the government’s strategy.
Also, the government seems to have put the aggressive media on the back foot by selectively releasing the Radia tapes. A fair number of media personalities were found willing to help the controversial lobbyist in ensuring that Raja became the telecom minister in the UPA-II in June 2009. The tapes that have appeared in the media so far run into merely 10 hours.

Manmohan Singh pats ousted Raja’s back, BJP cries foul

Published: Wednesday, Nov 24, 2010, 2:50 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

After ruffling the feathers of ally DMK by making former telecom minister A Raja resign over the 2G spectrum allocation scam, prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh seems to be in a hurry to mend fences with the party.
Singh went to the extent of patting Raja on his back at a function in the DMK’s office in Parliament on Tuesday, eliciting disapproval from the BJP and some bafflement in the Congress.
The PM’s move on Raja, considered hasty in a section of the UPA, has irked some of the allies, including the Trinamool Congress, besides the DMK. There is a feeling in these parties that the Congress is “untrustworthy”. On Monday, both had embarrassed the Congress by supporting the opposition’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the 2G scam at an all-party meet.
Taking the hint, the PM is walking the extra mile to build bridges with them. While some in the Congress were surprised at his friendly gesture towards Raja, who had dragged the PMO into the whole controversy, the BJP said it sends a wrong signal when the Supreme Court is hearing the scam.
“At such a time, the PM patting Raja’s back at a public event would appear like a message in itself to the people and does not look good,” said the BJP.
The Congress rebutted it, saying, “Personal relationships and emotions do not work on switch-off, switch-on mode. Raja has worked under the PM for six years. I do not think, he (PM) has done anything wrong,” party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed told reporters.
With PTI inputs

Monday, November 22, 2010

Joint parliamentary committe probe concern grows for Congress as allies back opposition

Published: Tuesday, Nov 23, 2010, 2:16 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Desperate to break the logjam in Parliament over the joint parliamentary committe probe (JPC) demand by the opposition, the government found itself in deeper trouble on Monday when two of its key allies — the DMK and the Trinamool Congress — broke ranks and sought a JPC probe into the 2G spectrum scam.
The Congress’s position weakened considerably when DMK’s TR Baalu and Trinamool’s Sudeep Bandhopadhyay supported a JPC probe openly at an all-party meeting called by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. The government had offered an expanded probe into the scam by the public accounts committee (PAC) headed by a BJP leader.
Highly placed sources told DNA that there are several reasons why the government is resisting the JPC. It will be in a minority when the committee is constituted. The strength of the JPC is decided on the basis of numbers each party has in both houses of Parliament.
The Congress will have only 11 members in the 30-member body. Under rules, the chairman will be from the ruling party. But then nobody is confident which ally will remain with the Congress at the crucial time of voting. In any case, the UPA cannot have more than 15 members under any circumstances. That makes the government’s position vulnerable.
Moreover, the probe will not remain confined to the 2G issue. It will spill over to corporate lobbyist Nira Radia, industrial houses and the prime minister’s office’s role. The JPC can summon any person, including the PM, and call for any file. “We cannot risk such a probe,” said a Congress functionary.
Another reason for the Congress to get worried about is, the opposition will not be contended with one JPC. If the 2G JPC is accepted, it will rake up the Commonwealth Games issue and demand a separate JPC and also another for the Adarsh Housing Society scam.
The Congress is delaying its response in Parliament hoping that the Supreme Court will give direction for the court-monitored inquiry into the scam. Once the court orders an inquiry, the government will say that it cannot have a JPC as another is going on.Therefore, it will not allow the parliament to adjourn sine-die.
While most of the senior Congress leaders are in favour of the JPC, it now transpires that the PM is personally against it as it will put him under the scanner of the parliamentary body.
The shadow of political uncertainty was felt in the Lok Sabha today when Congress president Sonia Gandhi walked up to Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav to congratulate him on his 71st birthday. The fact that the two are at loggerheads and hardly even on talking terms, is a thing of the past. Mulayam Singh was totally taken back to see Gandhi walking up to him. He thanked her with folded hands while others watched.
Political observers do not give too much credence to the DMK-Trinamool support to the JPC, saying they were just doing it for their own political ends in their respective states and will stay put with the Congress.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Manmohan Singh seeks change of guard in CBI, RAW, IB, NTRO

Published: Monday, Nov 22, 2010, 2:50 IST | Updated: Monday, Nov 22, 2010, 0:39 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Don’t assume that prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh’s silence on some recent political upheavals is an indication that he wants to sit on the fence. The PM is acting swiftly to send out a message that he is not buckling under political pressure.
According to highly placed sources in the prime minister’s office, the country’s top four investigating agencies — Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) — will have new chiefs in two to four weeks. With this move, the PM has indirectly asserted that he does not play favourites.
Apart from not granting an extension to CBI director Ashwani Kumar, who retires at the end of this month, the PM has cracked the whip on the chief of the country’s most powerful spy agency, the NTRO.
The prime minister was adamant on getting rid of errant officers after DNA reported in September that two NTRO officers allegedly leaked sensitive information.
It is almost certain that Sanjeev Tripathi will be the new director of RAW. Tripathi is a seasoned officer and is number two in RAW at present. He will join a month before the retirement of incumbent KC Verma. The PM has decided to appoint Verma as chairman of the NTRO, which has been headless for a few months. The NTRO was part of RAW earlier, but was hived after the Kargil war. Today, it is more powerful than RAW.
Verma was scheduled to retire as RAW chief next month.
However, considering his vast experience in intelligence gathering and the home ministry where he worked under P Chidambaram, the PM has decided to give him a full three-year tenure.
Upright IPS officer Nischal Sandhu, who has a reputation of being a very competent worker, will replace Rajiv Mathur as IB chief. Three IPS officers, including AP Singh, special director, CBI, Sharad Sinha, chief of the National Investigation Agency, are in the fray for the post of CBI chief.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

PM Manmohan Singh won’t give in; snap poll an option

Published: Saturday, Nov 20, 2010, 2:05 IST By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Pounded with the severe opposition onslaught on his image and the continuing disruption of parliamentary proceedings, prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh seems to have hardened himself against any pressure tactic.
If the situation of confrontation comes to the worst, he might go for a snap poll, according to sources close to the UPA top brass.
The indication that the government is not going to give in was clear on Friday when party general secretary Rahul Gandhi and senior minister Kapil Sibal batted for Singh. By holding fast on not speaking out on the controversy, Singh himself has made it fairly clear that he won’t surrender.
“I don’t think he is in an embarrassing position at all,” Gandhi said when asked about the Supreme Court’s observations on the PM. Sibal, who now holds the telecom portfolio after the resignation of A Raja, said as far as the prime minister’s office (PMO) is concerned, “we are absolutely clear that we have done no wrong”.
“In fact, I do believe that the prime minister is a man of integrity. I don’t think that anybody in this country believes that he was trying to circumvent the law,” he said. AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi had made it clear that the party “had stood, is standing and will stand” by Singh.
The PM is deeply hurt that the opposition is targeting him personally. He told some of the leaders who met him that he would not have buckled under opposition pressure to sack Raja. But the former minister committed a blunder by saying that whatever he did was in the knowledge of the PM.
The PM was also willing to constitute a JPC if it is for the telecom sector in a composite manner rather than the mega one involving Commonwealth Games (CWG) and Adarsh housing scam too. The opposition had also indicated that the Adarsh issue could be dropped as it was a state subject. For the CWG, talks were under way. But suddenly the opposition hardened its stand, leading to a breakdown of the negotiations.
The Congress establishment is not keen on a snap poll for a variety of reasons, but with the political stalemate continuing, it is certainly pondering over the consequences of such an exercise.
The PM can turn the table on the opposition by seeking a clean mandate. He can put it across that if he is expected to run an honest and clean government, then he has to so it without allies.
They should vote for a single party government led by the Congress.
The opposition is not in a safe position on the corruption issue too. There are enough skeleton in its cupboard. The fact that it does not want a JPC on the entire telecom sector and seeks to focus on 2G and Raja period alone is an indicator.
The government has already let loose investigating agencies against some of the BJP leaders, including those close to party president Nitin Gadkari. Sudhanshu Mittal and his relatives are already under scanner.
Knowledgeable sources in the Congress, however, do not visualise a possibility of Singh resigning following some adverse comments from the Supreme Court.
“Assuming he resigns, the party will elect a new leader. After all, UPA has a majority in the house and there are no claimants in the opposition for the post”, said a close confidante of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

India issues demarche to Iran over Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s remarks on J&K

Published: Friday, Nov 19, 2010, 21:31 IST | Updated: Saturday, Nov 20, 2010, 1:23 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

India has issued a demarche to Iran following its leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s remarks supporting the “struggle” in Kashmir.
Iran’s charge de affairs Reza Alaei was summoned and handed over the demarche.
India as an answer to the “disappointing” remarks abstained from voting in the UN resolution on human rights violations in Iran, which it has done in the past.
The ministry of external affairs said, “Our decision on the vote was made after due deliberation.” Eighty countries voted in favour, 44 voted against and 57 abstained.
Former Indian ambassador to the US Lalit Mansingh told ‘DNA’, “The issue of Kashmir has been important for Iran for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference [OIC] and they’ve always regarded it a traditional Muslim issue.
“They have made remarks about Kashmir earlier but this time the timing is surprising and also the language is offensive, India has done the right thing by issuing a demarche.”
According to official sources even many countries who are part of the OIC lack consensus on the resolution and Saudi Arabia earlier has voted in its favour.
Former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan G Parthasarthy told DNA, “Iranians are quite concerned with India’s closeness to the US after Obama’s visit and his veiled support for India’s permanent seat in UNSC, and this is a reaction to the same.
Iran has always been more radical than other Islamic countries and they want to prove more loyalty than other Islamic nations towards freedom causes, which explains their support towards Hezbollah and Hamas.”
Security analyst Uday Bhaskar said, “On one level this support can be seen at a bilateral level, which has come as a reaction after Obama’s visit as India and US coming closer, but the larger issue is of Iran-Shia and other Islamic-Sunni countries, both of whom are positioning themselves in what they call freedom struggle, which are Palestine and Kashmir.”
President Pratibha Patil will be meeting the royalty, the ruling leadership and the armed forces leadership in both countries, make an address and meet Indian expatriates.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Obama backs India's quest for permanent UN Security Council seat

Published: Monday, Nov 8, 2010, 19:57 IST | Updated: Monday, Nov 8, 2010, 21:56 IST
Place: New Delhi | Agency: PTI

President Barack Obama today wound up his visit with the announcement of broad support to India's bid for permanent seat in the UN Security Council and offering to play "any role" in reducing Indo-Pak tensions, an euphemism for Kashmir which has been a sensitive issue here.
Indo-Pak tensions came up during talks Obama had with Prime MinisterManmohan Singh who expresseed readiness to engage with Pakistan but made it clear that there can be no dialogue till Islamabad ends "terror-induced coercion".
During the 75-minute meeting in the Hyderabad House on packed day of events,Singh and Obama agreed on a number of new initiatives, including cooperation on internal security, removal of Indian companies from the US sanctions' list and setting up of a research centre in India in civil nuclear field.
Obama, who struck the right chord with the Indian political and business leaders, made the most-awaited announcement when he spoke to MPs backing India's quest for permanentmembership of a "reformed" UNSC in the "years ahead".
The announcement, which was greeted by thunderous applause by the gathering, was tempered with his suggestions for what India should do to fulfill its increased responsibility that comes with increased power.
His message was clear that India should speak up on issues like human rights violations in Myanmar and implement sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.
"Indeed, the just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate.
"That is why I can say today in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member," he said in his speech in Parliament.
Recalling the terror attack on Parliament in 2001 and Mumbai attacks in 2008, Obama said the US would continue to insist to Pakistan's leaders that "terrorist safe heavens within their borders are unacceptable and that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attck should be brought to justice."
Earlier, addressing a joint press conference with Singh, Obama said Kashmir was a "longstanding dispute" between the two countries and that he believed both have interest in reducing tensions.
Emphasising that the US "cannot impose" solution to this problem, he said he has "indicated" to Singh that "we are happy to play any role the parties think is appropriate to reducing these tensions that is in interest of the region, the two countries and the United States."
Hoping that "coversations" between India and Pakistan would start over the "next several months and years", Obama said the dialogue may not start on that "particular flash point" [of Kashmir] but other issues like confidence-building measures to enable the two countries to focus on range of their challenges and opportunities.

Who’ll dine with President Obama?

Published: Wednesday, Nov 3, 2010, 4:51 IST
By Team DNA | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The guest list for dinners hosted by prime minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday and the State banquet by President Pratibha Patil the next day, in honour of the Obamas, is still being finalised.
Since Singh’s dinner for US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will be a private affair at his 7 Race Course Road residence, the list is unlikely to cross 100. Apart from UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and key Cabinet members, the national security adviser and the deputy chairman of the planning commission, Singh will invite top political and social personalities, academicians and celebrities.
Sources said drawing up of a list was cumbersome. “It keeps growing until the last day,” a senior official confided. But it has been confirmed that Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah will be among the select few attending the private dinner. Lyricist Javed Akhtar and his wife Shabana Azmi will also be present, as per her tweet.
A decision to invite film celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan has yet to be taken. The state banquet will have 200-plus guests, though efforts are being made to accommodate more from the Indian side.

Obama set to get honour not given to ‘India friend’ George Bush

Published: Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010, 1:15 IST
By Team DNA | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

While it is still unclear whether US president Barack Obama’s November 8 visit to India will translate into concrete deliverables on the bilateral front, it’s certain to be marked by glowing references to India’s growing status as a global powerhouse.
Timothy Roemer, the US ambassador to India, made clear as much during an interview to a TV channel. He said: “India is stepping up on the world stage. It’s a rising power with increased influence and impact, and that’s something the president of the United States is going to address.”
New Delhi, meanwhile, is sparing no effort to make Obama’s visit a memorable one. He will address a joint session of both the houses of Parliament in the historic Central Hall, where Jawaharlal Nehru delivered the famous midnight Independence Day speech. Obama will be the second US president after Bill Clinton to address lawmakers at the Hall. The same honour was not granted to his predecessor George W Bush when he visited India in 2006.
Speaker of the Lok Sabha Meira Kumar has called a meeting of all political parties on Wednesday to discuss the modalities. To ensure full attendance of the lawmakers, the month-long winter sessionhas been advanced and will be held from
November 9.
The US embassy has suggested that Obama’s address be scheduled late in the evening, when it is daytime in the US. The Central Hall has been closed down for a fortnight for spruce-up operations.
The huge blue dome is being repainted and additional lights are being fitted in. The giant fans, which rotate in the reverse direction, are also getting a fresh coat. The services of 50 artists of the Archaeological Survey of India have been requisitioned to do a touch-up job on the century-old paintings in the corridors of the parliament.
Over 200 top US secret service agents have already landed in Delhi and started taking positions in the national capital as well as in Mumbai. Highly placed sources say that a US ship will be positioned near the Chennai port. National security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has been briefing the prime minister on the arrangements on a daily basis.
US undersecretary of state William Burns and chief point person for South Asia Robert Blake will hold talks with foreign secretary Nirupama Rao over two days to thrash out outstanding issues between the countries.

PM handpicks Harishankar Brahma as third election commissioner

Published: Thursday, Aug 19, 2010, 0:08 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Harishankar Brahma has been appointed the third election commissioner. The former power secretary, who is a 1975-batch IAS of the Andhra cadre, is a personal choice of prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh.
It was initially rumoured that a person from the legal service may be brought in as the third election commissioner since chief election commissioner (CEC) SY Qureshi and election commissioner VS Sampath both are IAS, but Brahma bagged the honour.
As secretary power, Brahma had done a commendable job and drew PM’s attention.
Hailing from Bodoland, he is the second election commissioner from the northeast after JM Lyngdoh. Brahma will serve for five years or until he attains the age of 65, whichever is earlier.
Therefore, he may end up becoming CEC. Even Sampath was handpicked by PM.
With Brahma’s appointment, PM, it seems, has decided to set in motion the process of filling crucial vacancies. The next in line is the post of chief vigilance commissioner since Pratyush Sinha is retiring.
PM has already held one round of talks with opposition leaders who are members of the high-powered panel that selects candidates for crucial offices.

Centre clips CBI’s wings, NIA gets shot in the arm

Published: Tuesday, Aug 10, 2010, 2:28 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The government has decided to set up a special wing under the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to keep a close watch on terror funding. This wing will also investigate cases relating to fake currency notes.
So far, CBI had been investigating such cases. The government decided to divest the agency of the responsibility since terror funding and fake currency cases have attained alarming proportions and need special attention.
But this also means that the government has decided to clip CBI’s wings and give a boost to NIA, which functions directly under the Union home ministry.
While CBI will continue to look into cases of corruption and have an economic offences wing, any case relating to terror funding and fake notes will be taken up by NIA.
Since Pakistan has been flooding the Indian market with fake currency notes, the government has decided to strengthen its intelligence and investigation wings.
In a confidential report, New Delhi had recently told the world body on money laundering, of which it is a member, that high quality counterfeit Indian currency notes were being printed in Pakistan and smuggled through transit nodes in various countries.
Reserve Bank of India has recognised a sharp increase in the number of fakes and the authorities are concerned that this may have a debilitating effect on the Indian economy.
The number of counterfeit notes detected at various bank branches and Reserve Bank offices increased from 1,02,687 during 2000-2001 to 3,98,111 during 2008- 2009. According to law enforcement agencies, fake notes principally originate from Pakistan, but are smuggled through various routes. From Dubai, they are transported by air with the help of bona fide passengers or couriers.
Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka are also used as transit points. International airports in Bangalore, Chennai, Kozhikode, Kochi, Hyderabad, Mangalore, Mumbai and New Delhi have been identified as the main landing points.

George Fernandes walks into political sunset

Published: Tuesday, Jun 1, 2010, 1:24 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

George Fernandes, the man who as a trade unionist brought Mumbai to a halt in the 60s, bid adieu to politics on Monday.
The once firebrand but now highly incapacitated leader moved from his official residence at Krishna Menon Marg in the capital to his own house at Panchsheel Park.
His party, the Janata Dal (United), did not re-nominate him for a Rajya Sabha seat from Bihar, which he had represented in his last term.
However, a senior JD(U) leader told DNA that Fernandes was not in a position to speak, hear, sign or remember anything or even walk. Neither he nor any member of his family sought a nomination either.
Therefore, it would be wrong to say the party denied him ticket, the JD(U) leader said.
Fernandes was reportedly hanging on to his Krishna Menon Marg residence hoping to get a re-nomination.
But once the party indicated this was not going to happen because of his failing health and political compulsions faced by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar ahead of the upcoming assembly polls, Fernandes decided to call it a day.
His move brought to an end a political career spanning nearly six decades. The ailing leader’s wife, Laila Fernandes, took him to his Panchsheel Park home.
JD(U) is set to win two of five Rajya Sabha seats from Bihar. It is, however, yet to select the candidates. BJP has already re-nominated Rajiv Pratap Rudy and RJD has decided to send Ram Kripal Yadav to the Upper House.
RJD, Congress or Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP may get one more seat. Though Paswan’s party has an edge, outgoing member RK Dhawan of the Congress is trying hard to get RJD support.
JD(U) president Sharad Yadav, the Bihar chief minister and other senior leaders are likely to decide party nominees soon.

50 get notices for parking black money abroad

Published: Friday, May 28, 2010, 1:53 IST
Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

It’s official. The government has served notices to nearly 50 people for stashing black money in German banks and evading tax.
After DNA first reported issuance of the notices on Thursday, an official in the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) confirmed to the media that such notices had been indeed served, based on information received from German authorities.
The official, however, did not reveal the exact number of people who have been served notices, their names or the quantum of black money in foreign banks due to a secrecy clause in the double taxation avoidance agreement (DTAA) with Germany.
But questions are being raised because one of the banks mentioned by the Germans is in Liechtenstein (a German-speaking alpine microstate in West Europe) and is not covered by any treaty.
The German government had sent a list of Indian tax evaders two months ago. The list had people who have stashed black money in Liechtenstein’s LGT Bank and other tax havens, following which the Indian government issued the notices. Retrieving tax, however, may take some time.
Meanwhile, New Delhi is engaged in a dialogue with Switzerland for getting information on illegal funds parked by Indians in Swiss banks.
Switzerland had shared information with the US on more than 4,000 people with account in its banks, after which it recovered more than Rs1,000 crore from tax evaders and penalised them.
India is seeking similar details. New Delhi has sought such information from nine other tax havens as well. They include Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar, Macau, Bahrain, Seychelles and Congo. It has also notified Hong Kong, which is administered by China, for entering into a DTAA as large amounts of money are routed to India from there.
The notices are being seen as a turning point in the government effort to clamp down on black money.
After BJP leader LK Advani pointed out that the Manmohan Singh regime had not taken action against “corrupt Indians” stashing black money in foreign banks, the UPA government had listed tracking down black money on foreign shores as a priority.
Singh had, after returning to power in July 2009, said the government had initiated action to get black money belonging to Indians from Swiss banks. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said in parliament the government had concluded tax treaty negotiations with Switzerland.

Germany hands over to India names of 50 tax evaders

Published: Thursday, May 27, 2010, 1:37 IST
Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The government has served notices on 50 people for stashing black money abroad and evading taxes. Sources told DNA the government is proceeding against the 50 on the basis of documents received from Germany in April last year.
The Germans supplied details of money parked illegally with the LGT Bank in Liechtenstein — a tax haven — and elsewhere. The US was the first to procure such a list from Germany; it recovered more than Rs1,000 crore from tax evaders and penalised them.
India’s move comes a year after prime minister Manmohan Singh’s promise that his government would take action against black money stashers if it returns to power.
It gave an assurance when Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani raised a hue and cry alleging that the Singh government had not proceeded against the guilty despite an offer being made by Germany. Advani alleged that hundreds of billions of dollars were stashed abroad by corrupt Indians, including politicians.
Officials declined to reveal their names due to a secrecy clause in the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with Germany.
However, questions are being raised on the stated reasons for the non-disclosure of names of the persons or amount involved since that treaty is with Germany. In this instance, the bank is in Liechtenstein and is not covered by any treaty.
It is learnt that the Germans had bought the information from a former employee of the bank and sold it to the US. It is still not clear whether the Indian government paid for the information because the Germans were not obliged to give it.
India has DTAAs with other countries as well, among them Mauritius. The government is in touch with the island to renegotiate the DTAA signed in 1984 and remove certain clauses.
A large number of Indians have set up companies that exist only on paper in Mauritius to launder money to fund businesses in India. They take advantage of the island not having any capital gain tax provision.
Officials say the regular inflow of money into Indian share markets from Mauritius has been a matter of concern, more so because Mauritian authorities block efforts to reveal the names of the companies or individuals because of the secrecy clause in the DTAA.
More than 15% of the money pumped in the share market is routed through Mauritius and a large chunk of FDI and FII investments come through the same route.
Other tax havens harbouring such activities are the Cayman Islands and the Isle of Man.
India has written to nine other tax havens for divulging information on tax evaders. The havens include Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar, Macau, Bahrain, Seychelles and Congo. India has also notified Hong Kong, which is administered by China, for entering into a DTAA as increasing amounts of money are routed to India from there.

Interlocutor okayed Muivah’s visit

Published: Monday, May 17, 2010, 0:40 IST
Place: New Delhi

Union home minister P Chidambaram is deeply worried about the situation developing on the Nagaland-Manipur border where Naga leader, Thuingaleng Muivah, president of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) [NSCN(I-M)], is staging a protest sit-in, demanding entry into Manipur.
Muivah is insisting that he be allowed to visit his native village Somdal in Manipur to pay homage to his late parents. The Okram Ibobi Singh government of Manipur, fearing an outbreak of violence in the state, has refused him permission. The NSCN(I-M) is demanding a ‘greater Nagaland’, which includes areas that currently lie in Manipur.
Security and intelligence agencies are aghast at how such a sensitive visit was allowed without consulting the respective state governments. While the home minister agreed that such visits need permissions, Manipur says it was never consulted.
Ironically, Muivah’s visit to Manipur was cleared by RS Pandey, who was appointed interlocutor for the Naga talks earlier this year by Chidambaram. Pandey had released a detailed itinerary of Muivah’s trip and asked the governments of West Bengal, Manipur, and Nagaland to make the necessary arrangements. Muivah reached Kolkata on May 2 and was provided Z-plus security cover. He was due to visit Somdal on May 8.
Incidentally, former union secretary and the previous interlocutor for Naga talks, K Padmanabhaiah, said that in the decade he interacted with Muivah, the latter never sought permission to visit Manipur. Padmanabhaiah refused to comment further.
Sources say the visit has allowed Muivah an excellent opportunity to unify various Naga factions. In fact, for years, the Nagas of Nagaland never acknowledged Muivah as their leader since he hailed from Manipur. Now, they are compelled to support him.
The Centre is concerned and the situation was discussed at a recent core committee meeting attended by prime minister Manmohan Singh and other ministers.

Rajya Sabha elections to be held on June 11

Published: Friday, May 7, 2010, 1:45 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The Election Commission (EC) will hold polls on June 11 to fill 57 Rajya Sabha seats from 14 states.
The seats, including those held by Union ministers Ambika Soni and Jairam Ramesh and Congress general secretaries BK Hariprasad, Mohsina Kidwai and Oscar Fernandes, are falling vacant in June and July.
Those retiring, mostly on July 4, include Jaya Bachchan (UP), RK Dhawan (Bihar), M Venkaiah Naidu (Karnataka), Satish Chandra Misra (UP), Kaptan Singh Solanki (MP) and Janardhan
The term of former defence minister George Fernandes, who was elected in a byelection from Bihar, is expiring on July 7.
Gireesh Sanghi, the newspaper magnate and Congress MP from Andhra Pradesh, is retiring in June.
The Congress will have to ensure the election of commerce minister Anand Sharma, whose term has already expired, from outside Himachal Pradesh, a state which he represented till last month.
The elections will be held in Maharashtra for six seats and those retiring include Rahul Bajaj, Sanjay Raut, Vijay Darda, Anwar Tariq (NCP) and Sharad Joshi.
The four seats falling vacant in Rajasthan are those of former Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Najma Heptulla (BJP), Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi, Narendra Budana and Santosh Bagrodia.
Uttar Pradesh will see elections to 11 seats, Andhra six seats, Bihar five, Karnataka four, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa three, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Jharkhand and Haryana two and Uttarakhand one seat.
June 1 is the last date for filing nominations. Scrutiny will be held the next day and withdrawals will be allowed up to June 4.
Polling will be held on June 11 from 9 am to 4 pm and counting will be done the same day from 5 pm.
Results will be also declared the same day, EC sources said.

Finally, jawans in Kargil join telecom revolution

Published: Sunday, May 2, 2010, 2:13 IST
Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Ashok Pratap (name changed), a subedar stationed at a BSF outpost in Kargil, has a 11-year-old son at home in Rajasthan who is suffering from leukemia. From Kargil, he cannot help but phone his wife twice daily to enquire about his son’s health, and how she is coping. And he runs up a hefty monthly bill of Rs1,200, as he pays for the calls at Rs5 per minute. Month after month, this burns a big hole in his modest pay packet.
While the vast majority of India’s 550 million mobile users have been enjoying the benefits of the telecom revolution, paying around 1 paise per second or less, the jawans of India’s paramilitary forces posted in the far reaches of Kashmir have been largely left out.
For quite some time, they have been writing letters to New Delhi, pleading for more ‘considerate’ rates. But the only response they received was that the home ministry could not subsidise satellite telephony further.
Now, finally, the jawans have got some relief. The minister of state for communications, Sachin Pilot, recently visited a border area, where he got to see the plight of the jawans firsthand. On his return, he raised the issue with his own senior communications minister, A Raja, and also with the Union home minister, P Chidambaram.
After much back-and-forth, the Department of Telecommunications has decided to reduce call charges from Rs5 per minute to Rs1 per minute for satellite phones. Pilot also ensured that the central paramilitary forces, which till now had only 200 satellite phones, get another 200 sets. When contacted, Pilot told DNA, “This was the least we could do to boost their morale and show our respect to the brave jawans.”

Shashi Tharoor to wed Kashmiri beautician

Published: Sunday, Apr 11, 2010, 0:37 IST
By Team DNA | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Her name is Sunanda. She’s from a Kashmiri family, has trained as a beautician, and runs a spa. She’s lived in Dubai but is keen to come back ‘home’ to India. When she does, she could be the next ‘daughter-in-law’ of the UPA government. Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for external affairs, is likely to be the next minister to get married while in office, after Jitin Prasada, minister of state for petroleum, whose nuptials took place in February.
The new lady in Tharoor’s life has been seen with him at social functions. The minister’s confidants have confirmed that a wedding is set to take place after Tharoor and his current wife, Christa Giles, complete their divorce. Giles, a Canadian civil servant who works with the United States on disarmament issues, is said to be undergoing a messy legal separation from Tharoor. She is Tharoor’s second wife; he was earlier married
to academic Tilottama Mukherji, whom he knew from his school days in Kolkata.
Interestingly, Tharoor isn’t the only minister in South Block to be in the midst of a marital crisis. Perneet Kaur, the other minister of state working under foreign minister SM Krishna, is estranged from her husband Amarinder Singh, former Punjab CM. Singh is in a very public relationship with Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam. The upshot of all this is that neither minister of state in the MEA can attend official functions accompanied by a spouse!