Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ministry of external affairs fumes as home secretary queers pitch before visit

Published: Friday, Oct 29, 2010, 3:35 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The timing of home secretary GK Pillai’s fulmination against United States authorities over Lashkar-e-Taiba activist David Coleman Headley has left the ministry of external affairs (MEA) fuming.
Top officials in the MEA feel Pillai is raking up uncomfortable issues deliberately to queer the pitch before US president Barack Obama’s visit to India.
Both ministries had been at loggerheads a few months ago over Pillai’s comments on Pakistan’s ISI during foreign minister SM Krishna’s visit to Islamabad. The home secretary was directed by the prime minister’s office not to interact with the media after that episode. But he is back in full steam.
In a spate of interviews to the media during the past two days, Pillai has aired his displeasure over the US’s failure to provide “specific information” on Headley.
The MEA officials, who are baffled by the comments, feel these could not have been made without the tacit support of Union home minister P Chidambaram. Pillai’s diatribe against the US agencies has put the external affairs minister SM Krishna in a spot of bother as the issue is bound to dominate every media and public interaction involving the US president.
On the back foot, deputy national security advisor for strategic communication Ben Rhodes said, “If we had information that could have helped to prevent the attacks and pinpoint specific aspects, we would have certainly shared that too.”
The US authorities tried to douse a potential controversy last night itself by holding a special briefing for reporters in Washington. The report of the internal inquiry will be shared with India when all the facts are put together, said a US spokesman.
The home ministry’s assessment is that the MEA is “weak-kneed under SM Krishna” and unable to assert itself in matters of national security. In respect of stapled visa issue with China, the MEA has been unable to put its case in a tough manner, it feels.
Moreover, the home ministry assesses Obama’s trip as more of a “private visit to Mumbai” and even the official part of the visit does not contain anything that can enthuse Delhi. It’s a business trip for
US companies, who want to bag contracts. “If he wants all this, he should assist India in fighting terror and not help Pakistan,” is the refrain emanating from Chidambaram’s office. Pillai is only broadcasting it in the open.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Offer to quit restores Chidambaram’s halo

Published: Saturday, Apr 10, 2010, 0:54 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Union home minister P Chidambaram played a masterstroke and turned the tables on detractors baying for his blood in the wake of the Maoist massacre at Dantewada. “They were asking me sarcastically, directly or indirectly, where the buck stops now. And I tell them, the buck stops at my desk,” he said on Friday, but refused to disclose any more at the CRPF function in the capital.
The content of his disclosure was as telling of the Harvard lawyer’s political acumen as was the timing. He knew that UPA chairman and Congress president Sonia Gandhi is out of town for a holiday with her family members. He also knew prime minister Manmohan Singh has already advanced his trip to the US, and that he has a date with president Barack Obama in Washington. He was also aware that there is no one in the Congress who can handle the responsibility of internal security affairs at this stage.
Therefore, he planned his timing well. Immediately after returning from Dantewada on Wednesday night, he quietly walked up to the PM’s 7 Race Course residence. Singh had no clue that Chidambaram was carrying a letter of resignation accepting “full responsibility” for the incident and stating that the “buck stops at my desk”.What transpired between the two is not known.
In fact, there was no clue of it until 11am on Friday when Chidambaram made the categorical remarks at the Shourya Diwas (Valour day) CRPF function. What followed later was obvious. The prime minister’s office (PMO) rushed in to say that the PM never sought the home minister’s resignation and that it had been rejected.
As if this was not enough, Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi fully backed Chidambaram and showered praise on him.
In a rare gesture, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left parties, too, gave “PC” their complete support. The BJP said, “We do not want a soldier to be on the backfoot when he is on the battlefield. The FM should not turn his back on the crisis.” Of course, there was some piece of advice, too, when the party said that he is a “victim of his own idiom”. But they made it clear that “we don’t want PC to resign”.
West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was recently targeted by the home minister, said that it was “collective responsibility” of the states and the Centre.
Ironically, more than the Opposition parties, leaders in his own party were waiting to corner him at the first opportunity. When the Dantewada carnage took place, Chidambaram couldn’t have blamed the BJP in Chhattisgarh or chief minister Raman Singh, who virtually handed over to him the entire police command to control, monitor and run the operations, for not cooperating. Even though the RSS had publicly criticised him for only “talking”, the parliamentary wing of the BJP was backing him to the hilt.
Why is Chidambaram feeling cornered within his own party?
Because of resentment over how he had dislodged national security adviser MK Narayanan and bundled him off to West Bengal. Also, he had confined the PMO’s role in the internal security affairs to almost nil by bringing the IB, RAW and other security agencies’ network directly under him. He has, in this scenario, nobody other than himself to blame for the poor planning, operation and ground-level situation. He was also somewhat peeved that the PM reacted differently when he (Chidambaram) had said that air power will be used against the Maoists. The PM had said that “no decision has been taken as yet” and even the air chief went public rejecting the home minister’s view.
But at the same time, he didn’t want to be a LK Advani who projected himself as Sardar Patel-II, or a Shivraj Patil either who refused to quit in the wake of 26/11 in Mumbai.
Instead, by making the right noises about resigning, he raised his own stature.

Shashi Tharoor’s ‘friendly’ stake in Team Kochi may prove costly

Published: Monday, Apr 12, 2010, 18:26 IST | Updated: Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010, 0:53 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor’s flirtation with the Kochi franchise of the Indian Premier League (IPL) can turn out to be the biggest mess of his political career.
Records now prove that 5% free equity was given to Sunanda Pushkar, Tharoor’s woman friend, in the franchise — the figure has been confirmed by IPL sources. DNA had on Monday mentioned Pushkar’s stake in the new team.
Pushkar, who hails from an Indian family with business interests in Dubai, has been seeing Tharoor and has been introduced to political colleagues and social friends as the minister’s future wife. The transfer of equity, valued at nearly Rs100 crore, to a person so close to the minister has raised eyebrows.
Tharoor, all along, was describing himself as a “mentor” of the Kochi franchise without any direct stake whatsoever. More damagingly, he is also being accused of not giving the top leadership of the Congress the full picture on his involvement.
The drama began on March 21, when the Rendezvous consortium (Kochi) and Sahara (Pune) won the bids for the ninth and 10th franchises of the IPL. They were unexpected winners as two other large business groups were hoping to win the rights for Pune and Ahmedabad. Both these losing bids were backed by high-profile politicians from Maharashtra.
Immediately afterwards, a campaign was mounted to pressure the Kochi consortium into withdrawing or selling its controlling stake. The political sources mentioned above spoke to individual members of the consortium.
In turn, the promoters of the Kochi franchise went to Tharoor for political help. It is understood that Tharoor met one of the highest ranked leaders of the ruling party to lobby on their behalf. He told the high command that he was speaking as a Kerala MP, cited regional sentiments and a possible adverse impact in the state assembly elections in 2011 in case the Kochi bid was de-recognised or the consortium was moved out.
He also apparently assured the party leadership that he had no personal holding — but this could not be independently confirmed.
The UPA leadership came to his rescue and those controlling the levers in IPL backed down.
The matter would have rested there had the IPL authorities not asked the Kochi franchise to disclose the complete list of its shareholders. This revealed the identity of Sunanda Pushkar and brought into question Tharoor’s financial interest in the Kerala IPL team. Incidentally, in Dubai, Pushkar was employed by Tecom Investments, the real estate company behind Kochi’s controversial ‘Smart City’ project.
The issue of Tharoor having secured a prize for his help to the Kochi franchise has been doing the rounds for a few days. On Sunday, April 11, Lalit Modi, IPL commissioner, was asked a direct question on Twitter: “Does S[h]ashi Tharoor owns [sic] something [in the Kochi franchise]?
His answer was suggestive: “A big? [question mark]! I was told by him not to get into who owns Rendezvous. Specially Sunanda Pushkar. Why? The same has been minuted in my records.”
Tharoor has been in other controversies in his year as a minister but never one in which his integrity has been put under the scanner.
It was difficult to get through to the minister and a questionnaire sent to him on Sunday remained unanswered. A close aide, however, refuted all charges and said that the Kochi team had nothing to do with Tharoor.
The Congress is expected to ask him for clarifications. It was primarily due to this reason that the party remained tight-lipped on Monday during the official press briefings.

Prime minister makes Chidambaram sole voice on Maoists

Published: Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010, 1:15 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Before his departure to the United States, prime minister Manmohan Singh not only rejected the resignation of P Chidambaram but also promised to silence all his ministerial colleagues and other officials so that they do not air discordant notes on Left-wing extremism.
In order to mollify Chidambaram, Singh summoned cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar and asked him to send a formal letter to all Union ministers asking them not to criticise the handling of the Maoists issue by the home ministry in public.
DNA has accessed a copy of the letter (see box) written by the cabinet secretary to all ministers dated April 10 — the day Singh left on his eight-day trip to the US.
The cabinet secretary made it clear to all Union ministers that “in all matters related to Left-wing extremism, including the recent Dantewada incident, the ministry of home affairs will be the nodal ministry for interaction with media and articulation of government position”.
The need to write this letter arose as not only some of the Union ministers but also the chief of army staff and the air chief had publicly differed with Chidambaram on the issue.
The home minister was already under attack after the massacre of 76 security personnel at Dantewada and this public criticism compromised his position in his fight against Maoists.
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee and Union minister for food processing Subodh Kant Sahay had also commented on the Dantewada massacre.

Enforcement Directorate sniffs a rat in IPL Kochi deal

Published: Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010, 1:02 IST
By Baljeet Parmar & Harish Gupta | Place: Mumbai, New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has launched discreet inquiries into the inflow of funds from Dubai to finance the over-Rs1,500-crore IPL Kochi deal.
Reliable sources told DNA that transactions of over Rs400 crore were under the ED’s scanner and some Dubai-based businessmen of Indian origin were being probed for their role in bankrolling the Kerala cricket venture. “We are checking if black money is being brought back through fraudulent means to finance the venture. We are keeping an eye on money transfer channels,” said a senior ED official. All but one of the partners in the Rendezvous Sports World-led consortium which won the Kochi franchise are either based in Dubai or have business interests in the UAE.
Anchor Earth, a 27% stakeholder, is part of the diversified Anchor Group, which is represented by Atul Shah and Mehul Shah. Film Waves (12%) is promoted by Dubai-based Harshad Mehta, who also owns the Rosy Blue Diamonds Group and is represented by Keshav T and Kailash Singhal.
Mumbai-based entrepreneurs Vipul Shah and Bhavya Patel are the promoters of Parinee Developers (26%). Anand Shah Estates (8%) is headed by Saket Mehta, who also owns Sur Gems Group.
The lone Keralite investor (with 1% stake) in the pack is Vivek Venugopal, who runs the Elite and Cholayil group with headquarters at Thrissur.
The now famous Rendezvous Sports World Group with a 25% “free” stake is 75% owned by the Solapur-based Gaikwad family which has been in the cricket promotion business for the last 12 years in Maharashtra.
The Dubai connection runs further with some of the promoters, including Harshad Mehta, publicly saying that they invested the money after being asked to by Shashi Tharoor. In a statement to a leading Dubai newspaper, Mehta stated that his stake in IPL’s Kochi franchise was personal and cannot be associated with the diamond company. He, however, refused to divulge the amount of his investment.
Tharoor’s friend Sunanda Pushkar, who owns 18% in Rendezvous (and thus 4.5% indirectly in Team Kochi) too stayed in Dubai for over eight years with her husband Sujit Menon, a Keralite.
She worked for TECOM Investments, a Dubai-centred entity that has been trying to promote the embattled ‘Smart City’ project in Kochi. The project has been under discussion for nearly a decade but has been controversial, as TECOM was accused of land grab. A cynical Kerala Congressmen said, “After the Kochi IPL franchise, will Tharoor now offer to mentor the ‘Smart City’ too?” Sunanda’s first husband ran a spa in Dubai and was an executive with an infrastructure company. Earlier, she had worked with advertising firm Bozell as well as a travel agency in Dubai.
Her husband ran an event management company and suffered huge losses from a failed mega Malayalam film event. Menon later returned to India and died in a road accident.
The minister in the dock, Shashi Tharoor, too has a Dubai link. He became the chairman of Dubai-based Afras Ventures in 2007 but left the job when he contested the parliamentary election in 2009. Afras Ventures is the company which set up the Afras Academy for Business Communication (AABC) in Trivandrum, the sources added.

Shashi Tharoor gets a breather, for now

Published: Thursday, Apr 15, 2010, 18:54 IST | Updated: Friday, Apr 16, 2010, 0:54 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi

Union minister Shashi Tharoor, who’s under fire for his role in the Kochi IPL bid and for allegedly helping his friend Sunanda Pushkar, seems to have survived once again.
On Thursday, he got a dressing down for his conduct from Congress president Sonia Gandhi. She directed him not to speak to the media until he makes his position clear in parliament.
Sonia was reported to be so angry with Tharoor that she had declined to meet him. But she relented only after senior ministers (Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony) conveyed that he could be a ‘victim’. Despite that, Sonia ticked him off within five minutes of summoning him to her 10 Janpath residence.
Mukherjee and Antony had been asked by the prime minister to inquire into the facts and circumstances of the Tharoor saga and prevent a likely crisis in parliament on Friday.
Both ministers had grilled Tharoor thrice, called for records of the case and even talked to some of the leaders in the opposition to cool tempers.
A cat may have nine lives. But in the Congress, you can’t have this luxury. Tharoor has already exhausted three — staying in a 5-star hotel for months, saying all sorts of things on Twitter, criticising the government’s visa policy and helping his friend get equity.
However, sources in the Congress say the reprieve to Tharoor may only be temporary, since it (using his ministerial position to help a friend) is a fit case under the Prevention of Corruption Act. It has been alleged that he misused his authority to help his friend Sunanda Pushkar get “free equity” valued at Rs70 crore in the Kochi franchise.
Section 13-1 (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act says that a public servant (in this case the minister) is said to commit criminal misconduct if he (i) by corrupt or illegal means, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage; or (ii) by abusing his position as a public servant, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage; or (iii) while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without public interest.
Since Tharoor and Sunanda have acknowledged their friendship, the party will examine whether the minister did anything illegal.
But the Congress is aware that Tharoor has a different style of working, which may have landed him in a soup, so it wants to give him a benefit of doubt for now.
Secondly, the Congress wants all its MPs to face the opposition unitedly when the finance bill comes up for passing in parliament. So, this seems to be a temporary truce.
Perhaps, as a counter-strategy to get Tharoor’s detractors off his back, the income tax department landed at the doors of Lalit Modi and the IPL on Thursday.
Clearly, the last word is yet to be written on the saga.

Rahul Gandhi soothes mum with ‘cool’ message

Published: Friday, Apr 16, 2010, 2:30 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

“Keep cool’’. That was son Rahul Gandhi’s discreet message to a tense Sonia Gandhi in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. And it had a soothing effect on the UPA chairperson facing the heat of the Dantewada debate in the house.
In a rare occasion when she was not flanked by either prime minister Manmohan Singh or leader of the house Pranab Mukherjee, Sonia was palpably uncomfortable as the opposition unleashed a barrage of criticism over the Dantewada massacre.
She sat red-faced and turned fidgety as Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yashwant Sinha launched an attack on the Congress, saying it won the elections in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere by going with the Maoists.
Noticeably angry, she turned to Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. As he was not quick in his response, she tried to draw the attention of parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal. He sensed her displeasure and tried to signal to party MPs to raise their voices in protest. The MPs were on their feet soon and the house plunged into din.
Interestingly, none of the UPA allies like the DMK and the NCP tried to bail her out.
Old ally Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference was also silent.
Rahul, seated in the last row of the treasury bench, noticed something amiss as she was turning left and right too many times.
He felt his mother was losing her temper and immediately wrote a note, and quietly passed it on to her. After receiving it, she turned to Rahul, nodded her head and smiled.
The tension on her face evaporated soon. Later it transpired that he simply wrote: “Keep cool”.

After bitter wrangle, truce may be on cards

Published: Saturday, Apr 17, 2010, 2:10 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

A temporary truce may be on the cards after five days of no-holds-barred war of words between Indian Premier League (IPL) commissioner Lalit Modi and minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor.
A peace formula is expected to be worked out at Dharamshala, where all top personalities of the cricketing world and IPL governing council members have gathered to watch the match on Friday night.
All of them travelled in a private aircraft and Modi will explain his side of the story to them. The outcome of this meeting will be known only when they return to the capital on Saturday.
However, all confess that indiscreet tweeting has caused immense damage to both Tharoor and Modi, who were “good friends” till the other day. It is now clear that Modi’s unfettered powers to award contracts running into crores of rupees without the prior approval of the IPL council will be withdrawn.
However, those gunning for him in the BCCI will be disappointed as Sharad Pawar is backing him to the hilt.
The connection between both runs deep.
It was Modi who ensured Pawar’s victory in a bitterly fought election for the BCCI chairman’s post against Jagmohan Dalmiya.
He is also the man who has brought the Rs15,000 crore cricket league to where it is today. Sharad Pawar cannot afford to change course mid-way.
It was against this backdrop that he issued a strong statement in support of Modi and sent a clear signal to the UPA government that it should not go beyond income tax raids.
It is believed that the income tax raids on Modi’s IPL offices were conducted at the behest of Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
The raid was a signal to all to “back-off”. After Pawar’s warning, the I-T teams were quietly withdrawn and now it is being explained that it was not a raid but a survey.
It is also becoming clear that the Congress will not sacrifice Tharoor on the issue of alleged impropriety. It has put the Tharoor issue in the prime minister’s hands.
He will face the parliament when he returns from abroad. But the opposition’s onslaught in the parliament is likely to continue for some time.

Shashi Tharoor may make statement in Lok Sabha

Published: Monday, Apr 19, 2010, 20:39 IST | Updated: Tuesday, Apr 20, 2010, 0:59 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi

Shashi Tharoor, who was forced to quit his ministerial position on Sunday, is determined to clarify his position on the issue by exercising his right to make a statement in the Lok Sabha despite the efforts of senior Congress leaders to dissuade him.
The party, in no mood to rub Sharad Pawar the wrong way beyond a point, is wary of what Tharoor will say.
Reliable sources in the government told DNA that there is no thought of scrapping the IPL or superseding the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) either.
The government is fully aware of the wafer thin majority it has in the Lok Sabha. In fact, it is happy that Sharad Pawar will take over as the chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s declaration that all aspects of the IPL would be probed is not aimed at the BCCI or even the IPL, the sources said.
It is a different matter that the finance ministry gave a jolt to Pawar in November 2009 when it withdrew all tax exemptions enjoyed by the BCCI for decades as a charitable trust.
BCCI is fighting tooth and nail with the government to get these benefits restored. Though the cricket board had paid part of the demand, it challenged the order in the I-T Appellate Tribunal, Mumbai. I-T authorities had raised a demand of Rs117.50 crore.
The BCCI has not paid any advance tax this year and the IPL is also bogged down in several service tax and other issues.
Senior Congress leader and BCCI spokesman Rajiv Shukla on Monday had a long meeting with prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Shukla refused to divulge what transpired but it is learnt it had more to do with apprising the prime minister of goings on in the BCCI and IPL rather than Congress politics.

Big guns focus on wheat, touch on Lalit Modi

Published: Wednesday, Apr 21, 2010, 2:26 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Lalit Modi was not the main focus of the meeting which Sharad Pawar had with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday morning.
The three are members of the empowered group of ministers (eGoM) on food; Pawar wanted the eGoM to find increased storage capacity for wheat as a bumper crop is coming.
However, the Modi issue inevitably cropped up at the end of the meeting. Nothing is known of what Pawar told them but it is clear that the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are keen to close this controversial chapter at the earliest as there is urgent business pending in the parliament.
The BCCI will set up a committee to investigate the charges against Modi even as a similar probe is being conducted by the government agencies.
Pawar, on his part, will continue to persuade Modi to quit the game and promise to rehabilitate him later as he will continue as vice-president of the BCCI.
This will put the lid on the internal goings on in the cricket board and nobody would know what the government found in the “missing” files.
The Congress, on its part, doesn’t want to settle scores with Pawar on the Tharoor issue. In fact, Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state in the prime minister’s office and a Sonia loyalist, gave clear indications that the NCP is a partner in Maharashtra and the Centre, and no one wants to rock that boat.
Another party general secretary said, “When we did nothing in the Telgi matter, why shall we do anything to hurt this alliance over Tharoor?”

No ‘noise’ from netas on Lalit Modi row

Published: Thursday, Apr 22, 2010, 1:58 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The Indian Premier League (IPL) row seems to have given the leaders of the United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance a common ground.
They are in regular parleys to avert any further embarrassment involving the IPL.
However, as far as the noise factor is concerned, the political establishment seemed to have washed its hands of the controversy, with none of the major political parties, including the Congress and the BJP, raising the issue in parliament on Wednesday even as country-wide income tax raids were conducted on IPL franchises.
While Congress leaders close to the cricketing establishment, including IPL governing council member Rajiv Shukla, promised tough measures in the interest of the game of cricket, BJP leader Arun Jaitley remained tight-lipped. Farooq Abdullah, who tillTuesday was batting strongly for IPL commissioner Modi, looked to have sensed the mood across party lines and gave up on him.
The only movement on the political front on the issue was finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s briefing to the prime minister on the “survey” conducted by various agencies, including the income tax department, directorate of revenue intelligence and the enforcement directorate, to find out instances of tax evasion by IPL franchises.
The high-profile league was virtually out of bounds for these agencies till the Kochi franchise dispute spilled over to the political and public domain.
Sharad Pawar, Modi’s strongest backer, has already left the IPL commissioner to fend for himself. He made no further statement on the issue on Wednesday. The Congress is not keen on pushing Pawar to the corner at the moment. But by conducting nation-wide raids and probing the money channelised into the cricketing event from tax havens, it is sending out a clear signal to people close to the NCP leader that all is not well.

Astrologer advice kept Chennai Super Kings owner away

Published: Thursday, Apr 29, 2010, 23:07 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Why would N Srinivasan, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary and owner of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK), deny himself the thrill of watching his team play Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League final? Worse, go into a self-exile in a five-star hotel when he might as well been cheering from the VIP enclosure at the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai on Sunday?
Srinivasan travelled all the way to Mumbai, checked into ITC’s 5-star hotel and sat inside his cozy suite with his wife in front of the television, which wasn’t turned on. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side went on to win the final.
Why did he do so?
Srinivasan, is it learnt, is a strong believer in astrology. His astrologer had predicted that Dhoni’s boys would win the final. The only condition he put before the owner was that he should abstain from watching the match. The Chennai-based astrologer, Venktesan, and his deputy travelled to all the places where CSK played its matches, including Dharamsala, Delhi and finally Mumbai.
Efforts to elicit a response from Srinivasan fell flat. But highly placed sources in the BCCI say that president Shashank Manohar, Srinivasan and Arun Jaitley — all IPL governing council members, stayed in ITC, Parel. Manohar and Jaitley watched the match together.
Niranjan Shah, another IPL governing council member, was keeping Srinivasan up-to-date with the score.
It was the same astrologer who conceived the CSK’s strategy, something skipper Dhoni wasn’t comfortable about. While it is claimed that even the batting order of the team was changed on the advice of the astrologer, sources close to Srinivasan deny this.
Srinivasan, however, watched the last four balls. Why? The astrologer called up and said “the winning team is a foregone conclusion. Use your remote control now.”

So what if Kasab is given the death penalty?

Published: Tuesday, May 4, 2010, 1:38 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

President Pratibha Patil is unlikely to fast-track the Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab hanging, should he get capital punishment by the trial court, and which is then upheld by superior courts.
According to sources, the president has 29 mercy petitions pending for disposal and she is unlikely to deviate from the procedures and norms set to deal with such cases.
When the issue of parliament attack accused Afzal Guru’s hanging was raised by the BJP, the government had asserted that it could not be ‘fast-tracked’. Union home minister P Chidambaram said on May 25, 2009, that Afzal Guru’s mercy petition was at number 22 among the pending pleas with the government.
“A decision in respect of Afzal Guru will be taken only after the fate of 21 mercy petitions is decided,” he had said, rejecting the Opposition’s demand for his immediate hanging.
As per information available with DNA, president Pratibha Patil has not taken a decision on any of the mercy petitions pending with her secretariat during her two-and-a-half-year tenure.
The president was somewhat upset that her office was unnecessarily being dragged into the controversy. It was pointed out that her predecessor, APJ Abdul Kalam, had cleared only two such files in five years and the late KR Narayanan did not clear a single mercy petition during his tenure.
Therefore, it would be wrong to expect her secretariat to clear the entire backlog. It is also explained that deciding a mercy petition is a painful and cumbersome process. A mercy petition is not a legal decision and a number of other factors are also taken into consideration when the matter is finally decided.
According to the National Crime Bureau records, there are over 1,150 persons including 330 women who were awarded death sentences by trial courts in the country. Their mercy petitions are under consideration at various stages in respective states. Of them, only 29 mercy petitions have finally come to the president for clemency.
As per the procedure prescribed for dealing with mercy petitions, a petition can be filed by a condemned prisoner or on his behalf to the president or governor.
Sources in the government said that it might take the extraordinary step of fast-tracking the hanging of Kasab once the highest court gives its verdict, to set an example.But, no one is sure when Kasab’s mercy petition will reach Rashtrapati Bhavan.

No thanks: Enraged sports chiefs refuse financial aid

Published: Wednesday, May 5, 2010, 2:15 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Minister for youth affairs and sports MS Gill seems to have bitten off more than he can chew.
After deciding to truncate the careers of the chiefs of sports federations — all belonging to various political parties — at one go, he now finds himself pushed into a corner and being made, in a sense, redundant.
Highly placed sources told DNA that most of the federations, have decided not to accept any financial aid from the sports ministry — two have even written to the ministry in this regard. They have also decided to return any financial aid that was received during the current financial year that is not related to the Commonwealth Games.
Sources say the All India Tennis Association (AITA) headed by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha was the first to shoot off such a letter. It is also learnt that the Badminton Association of India and the National Rifle Association of India are preparing to forgo financial aid.
Not that the amount of aid is significant, said the sources, pointing out that the sports bodies have not directly received much money from the ministry.
The budgetary allocation over the past three years shows a decline in direct grants to federations from Rs30 crore in 2007-08 to less than Rs20 crore in 2009-10 after Gill assumed office even as the ministry’s budget grew from Rs3,076 crore in 2009-10 to Rs3,565 crore in 2010-11.
On its part, the sports ministry maintains control over the players by directly spending the money on, among other things, the coaching of players, organising training camps, and arranging travel within and outside India through its agents and officials.
The federations have no role to play except as facilitators. Even in the selection of players, the Sports Authority of India plays a significant part.
Enraged federation bosses have decided to follow the example of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The BCCI does not take any financial assistance from the government and is free from any government control.
Once these federations refuse financial assistance, Gill’s diktat won’t apply to them either, they feel. In fact, the BCCI has been funding some of the federations, including the Football Federation of India, headed by civil aviation minister Praful Patel.
While some of the other federation chiefs are in touch with the BCCI for financial support, others claim to have generated funds on their own.
For example, Abhay Chautala, president of the Indian Boxing Federation, raised money to encourage boxers who eventually won gold medals in the world championships; AITA created world-class stadiums using its own funds. These federations have sought an appointment with the prime minister in this regard.

Jawaharlal Nehru did not want caste-based census

Published: Thursday, May 6, 2010, 2:02 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

As parliament debates inclusion of caste data in the 2011 census, it has come to light that the issue was first informally discussed in 1951 when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister.
There were no agenda papers, but Nehru took the view that the first census of independent India should not be caste-based.
This was revealed when a massive search was carried out in the cabinet secretariat archives after law minister Veerappa Moily wrote to Registrar General of India, asking whether there was a policy decision involved in not conducting a caste-based census.
Other than this informal meet of the cabinet, there are no records in the archives.
Union home minister P Chidambaram is reported to have apprised Moily of Nehru’s stand. Accordingly, C Chandramouli, registrar general and national census commissioner who is in charge of the 2011 census, is reported to have stated that “caste census is a matter of policy. Since 1951, the government’s policy decision is not to do a caste census. Unless the government changes its stand it won’t happen”.
Chidambaram brought the matter to the notice of prime minister Manmohan Singh as well. But PM decided to talk to his cabinet when it met to discuss the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council Creation Bill. Chidambaram, being the home minister, did not express any view, but offered to assure members that caste could still be included in the census as its first phase will only include house listing, which precedes population enumeration.
The first phase of the census began on April 1 and would last for 6-8 months. In the phase, number of households, locations and other data will be gathered.
The second phase starting February-March 2011 will include population enumeration and gathering data on various socio-economic and demographic parameters.

Govt in no hurry; process may take up to two years

Published: Friday, May 7, 2010, 0:59 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

A quick death for Ajmal Kasab may be the overwhelming public sentiment, but the Centre is in no hurry to send the Pakistani gunman to the gallows.
By all indications, the government is not likely to interfere with the due process of law in the Bombay high court, and subsequently in the Supreme Court.
It does not want to create any impression that it is fast-tracking Kasab’s hanging or doing anything out of turn.
The statements made by Union ministers P Chidambaram, SM Krishna and Veerappa Moily and spokespersons of the ruling Congress hinted at fast-tracking the case, but left many crucial questions hanging.
“We did not create a Guantanamo Bay (referring to the facility created by the US to try terrorists). We did not create a military court. Kasab was tried in a normal civil court, except that the judge was designated a special judge,” said Union home minister Chidambaram in the Rajya Sabha.
He made no mention of hanging him early or strengthening the law to ensure that those involved in terror activities were not let
off easily.
Even if Kasab’s hanging is upheld by the Supreme Court, which will be at least a year-long process, the mercy petition is going to be a long-drawn affair.
There are 29 mercy petitions pending with the president.
Eight of them are related to terrorism and waging war against the country.
Even if the eight cases are clubbed with Kasab’s and given priority, the Mumbai terror convict cannot be hanged in the next two years.
Interestingly, the mercy petition of Afzal Guru, who has received the death sentence for attacking parliament in 2001, has not even reached the president for clemency.
Similar is the case of Nalini, who is guilty of killing late Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
The mercy petitions of three others in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case are still pending with the president.
Law minister Veerappa Moily, too, left the crucial question unanswered.
``The victims’ families want swift action and Kasab deserves more than that. If something more can be done it would be welcome,” he said.
External affairs minister SK Krishna was more guarded. ``The verdict could send the message to anyone wanting to wage a war against India that justice would be meted out him, after a fair trial.”
The stand of the ruling Congress was equally unclear when Manish Tiwari and Jayanti Natarajan said the verdict in the 26/11 case was a message to Pakistan that it cannot meddle in India’s affairs. It was also a message to the terrorists that they will face the same fate as Ajmal Kasab.
Beyond this, the ruling establishment was not keen to let out its position on how to pursue the issue of Kasab’s hanging. The BJP leaders have already demanded fast-tracking the judicial and mercy petition process to hang Kasab.

Pranab Mukherjee puts off pay-and-perks hike to MPs

Published: Saturday, May 8, 2010, 2:09 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Parliamentarians will have to wait for some more time for a pay-and-perks hike.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee torpedoed on Friday, the last day of the budget session, their effort to get the MPs Salaries and Allowances Bill passed.
The bill proposes a five-fold rise, to Rs1.6 lakh a month, in pay and perks for MPs.
A joint committee of parliament had proposed that MPs be given a salary of Rs80,000 per month, instead of the Rs16,000 they get at present. It also suggested a 100% rise in their perks — Rs80,000 a month as constituency and secretariat services allowance instead of the Rs40,000 they get at present.
A Rs2,000 a day, instead of Rs1,000 at present, allowance to attend parliament sessions and meetings of various parliamentary committees was also proposed. Effectively, an increase of Rs5 lakh per MP per year.
Sources told DNA the hike would have put an additional burden of Rs170 crore on the exchequer, since the benefits are to be given with retrospective effect.
The argument is that MPs should get the pay-and-perks hike from the date the recommendations of the 6th Pay Commission were implemented in 2006.
The report of the joint committee of parliament headed by Congress MP Charan Das Mahant was hurriedly processed and sent to the finance ministry, so that it could be cleared by the cabinet. MPs belonging to all parties called on Pranab and pleaded with him to clear the MPs Salaries and Allowances Bill and ensure its passage in the current session.
They argued if the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council Bill could be passed in a single day, why not the MPs bill?
The MPs haven’t got a hike for years and are finding it difficult to discharge their official duties for lack of funds.
However, Pranab gave them the cold shoulder. He told them this was not the right time to push the bill. But given the complex political situation in both Houses of parliament, where the UPA is banking on outside support, Pranab made a promise to clear the proposal before the monsoon session.

P Chidambaram: UPA's own Iron Man

Published: Sunday, May 9, 2010, 0:46 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

The babus in the North Block knew they were in for hard times when news of P Chidambaram's move from the finance ministry to the home ministry was confirmed in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. His reputation preceded him. This was a minister who read his own files, and didn't sign as his aides told him to. He knew the system, having been an old hand in the internal security ministry under the late Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. Back then, he had handled even the all-powerful department of personnel, controlling appointments and postings of bureaucrats.
Soon after taking over in November 2008, he introduced the biometric attendance control system and ensured that he himself reached the office at 9 am and was the first man to put his finger on the machine.
He asked all department and agency chiefs to prepare a daily progress report (DPR) and send it to him directly. He made them accountable by actually calling for surprise checks on the movement of their official cars. He would even call for the drivers' registers! One day he smilingly asked the chief of a paramilitary force why the stomachs of people in his force were sticking out. The message was loud and clear.
Narayanan's sideliningThe biggest indication of his success was the sidelining of MK Narayanan as national security adviser (NSA). Everybody had paid the price for the Mumbai terror attack, except Narayanan. The chief minister of Maharashtra had been removed, the state and city police chiefs were gone, Shivraj Patil was shown the door. But Narayanan had remained. Rather, his stature had grown with every failure on the security front.
Instead of focusing on the external security aspects, the NSA had gradually encroached on the powers of the Union home ministry, and Shivraj Patil had allowed this. So much so that even the Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief, who used to report to the home minister, started taking orders from the NSA. The Research & Analysis Wing (RAW)reported directly to the NSA. In fact, Narayanan created a situation where the chiefs of IB and RAW would not be able to meet the PM on a daily basis without his
Chidambaram prevailed upon 10 Janpath to end this anomaly. Narayanan was packed off to the Kolkata Raj Bhavan. The new NSA, Shiv Shanker Menon, has a mandate limited to foreign policy.
Chidambaram has not only outshone Patil, he has shown up a number of his predecessors. None of Chidambaram's predecessors in the hot seat of North Block, except for LK Advani, tried to create a 'hard man' brand image. Since Sardar Patel was Advani's role model, he loved being called Sardar Patel-II. But luck never favoured him and perhaps, he was too scared to implement his own "pro-active" policy in Jammu & Kashmir policy. The finale came when the Parliament House building was attacked directly under his nose in 2001.
Ups and downsBut Chidambaram's new reputation has its pitfalls. There are many who say he is arrogant, including the Raja of Raghogarh, Digvijay Singh.
Chidambaram doesn't suffer fools. He has degrees in statistics and law,and an MBA from Harvard. He showed his mettle in 1968 when he gave up the family business to marry the woman he loved even though his family was opposed to it.
Chidambaram had put in his papers in 1992 as minister of state for commerce after it became known that he and his wife Nalini had invested in a scam-tainted company.Nobody had sought his resignation then. But the then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao quietly accepted it, leaving him angry. He was rehabilitated in 1995 as Rao wanted to placate Sonia Gandhi. Chidambaram lost 3 years in the process.
Chidambaram, though, is no political rookie. He has an uncanny sense of political survival. In 1996, he dumped the Congress, realising that Rao would lose and joined the Tamil Maanila Congress of GK Moopanar, becoming finance minister in the government that followed. He got the same job in 2004, when the Congress returned to office.
This budget session in 2010 saw him emerging as a new troubleshooter, one who does not lose his temper like Pranab Mukherjee. He played the role of a Parliamentary affairs minister when it was needed most. It's brave to make this claim but, within the Congress, Chidambaram has narrowed the power gap between him and Pranab Mukherjee. As one of his supporters says, "He is approaching 70 and no novice. He was a minister with independent charge in the Rajiv Gandhi government at a time when Dr Manmohan Singh was a just bureaucrat."
Clearly, the gods are smiling on Chidambaram. Manmohan Singh didn't dare accept it when he handed him his resignation letter in the wake of the Dantewada massacre of 76 CRPF men by Maoists. This was not 1992. The times had changed, and so had Chidambaram's importance.
He is India's new internal security czar and the face of its war against terror. No home minister in recent history has acquired such an aura. If his predecessors enjoyed Z-plus security cover even after demitting office, he shunned it after taking over as
Home Minister.

Jairam adds chapter to Congress’s ‘sorry’ season

Published: Tuesday, May 11, 2010, 2:21 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh is the fifth Congress leader in recent memory to face the wrath of the high command and the third minister to get a dressing down from the prime minister (PM).
The first was food processing minister Subodh Kant Sahay, who took on home minister P Chidambaram for his anti-Maoist policy in the wake of the Dantewada massacre of 76 CRPF jawans.
An enraged Chidambaram protested to the PM and Sahay got a warning the next moment. When other ministers tried to join the issue, a gag order was issued by the cabinet secretary, KM Chandrashekhar.
But no lessons were learnt. The next in the line of fire was minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor. He had to quit the government over a row involving his friend Sunanda Pushkar and her sweat equity in the IPL Kochi franchise. This was first reported by DNA.
But the Congress’s season of apologies did not end. It was the turn of another 10 Janpath loyalist to eat humble pie. AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh burnt his fingers by criticising Chidambaram for his “anti-people policies”. Sonia Gandhi refused to meet him.
He was told to apologise to Chidambaram and withdraw the remark. He did so, but it took 10 days to put the lid on the controversy, which brought to the fore sharp differences within the party and the government.
As if this was not enough, another Congress leader, Mani Shankar Aiyar, had to bite the dust. In a Rajya Sabha debate, he called leader of opposition Arun Jaitley “fascist”. Parliament was paralysed and Aiyar was forced to read a written apology in the House.
If one assumed this would be the last episode of an apology by a ruling party member, Jairam Ramesh proved it wrong once again. Though this was not the first time he got into a soup for shooting his mouth off. The previous occasions include the PM overruling him for stopping work on the Maheshwar dam.
But what the Beijing episode has highlighted is that Manmohan Singh has to walk the extra mile to discipline his young team, which often catches itself on the wrong foot in its eagerness to make a mark.

Chidambaram has his way as National Intelligence Grid gets PM’s okay

Published: Wednesday, May 12, 2010, 1:46 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

India will soon have an umbrella organisation of investigating agencies to provide quick-time response to the demand for information on suspected terrorists and offenders of the law. The National Intelligence Grid (NatGrid), a centralised data system, according to sources, has received the green signal from prime minister Manmohan Singh. The official announcement on its formation is expected in a couple of days.
NatGrid, brain-child of Union home minister P Chidambaram, will help cut down time consumed in collating data — it takes months normally — from several agencies of the government. After the creation of the National Investigating Agency (NIA) to coordinate and act on intelligence inputs on terror, this is Chidambaram’s second significant step towards an organised approach to deal with terrorist activities.
According to informed sources, the data with 21 agencies and departments of government will now be forwarded to the NatGrid for integration. The data will include Pan card, voter ID card and ration card details, income tax returns, degrees obtained from schools and colleges, bank account numbers, financial transactions, travel documents, passport details, police stations and jails across the country among others.
The cabinet committee on security (CCS) headed by the prime minister is understood to have cleared the proposal despite serious reservations expressed by the ministries of finance and defence.
Sources say finance minister Pranab Mukherjee objected to the proposal of NatGrid on the grounds that it will violate the privacy law. Defence minister AK Antony reportedly expressed reservations contending that the system of Joint Intelligence Committee, where all top notch intelligence agencies share information, was working satisfactorily; hence there was no need for a new body.
Chidambaram has been insisting on the creation of NatGrid on the grounds that a centralised data system is essential to fight terrorism and crimes in the country. A large number of investigating agencies, including Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Investigation, Military, Air & Naval Intelligence, Customs, Directorate of Income Tax (investigation), and state police agencies have loads of information with them. However, there is no umbrella organisation to maintain centralised data. It takes weeks, if not months, to cull information.
“The NatGrid will provide a system of information to all the agencies about any person the moment a button is pressed,” he argued at the CCS meeting. Chidambaram managed to convince his cabinet colleagues that creation of NatGrid will go a long way in fighting terrorism. He argued that the country cannot pay the price in the name of privacy.
According to sources, the prime minister was convinced that such an agency will help security and intelligence agency in achieving the goals set to fight terror and reduce time taken to track criminals.
After NatGrid, Chidambaram’s next mission is to create the National Counter Terrorism Council (NCTC), an umbrella body to fight terror.

Telecom war set to explode, PMO may have to step in

Published: Friday, May 14, 2010, 0:22 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Prime minister Manmohan Singh may have to step in to resolve the no-holds-barred war between telecommunications minister A Raja and some of the leading telecom operators. The latter have been asked by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to pay a one-time fee for excess 2G spectrum held by them.
The Trai recommendation, which has to be ratified by the department of telecom (DoT), will deliver a multi-thousand crore blow to major players like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular and state-run companies like MTNL and BSNL. Trai says these companies have been using extra airwaves without paying extra fee but thegovernment itself had allowed the higher spectrum based on subscriber numbers. The report is now with Raja, who is widely expected to accept it after seeking legal opinion.
But the industry is up in arms against the minister. While some of the companies have termed the Trai order as “arbitrary and shocking”, Idea Cellular has gone a step further and said that the telecom policies smack of “crony capitalism”. It has asked the government to “seize the moment” and give the sector a “new deal.”
Relations between the telecom industry and the ministry nosedived when taped conversations between Raja and industry lobbyists were leaked, leading to heated discussions in Parliament. The leaked conversations showed Vaishnavi Communications chief Niira Radia as a prime mover and shaker in telecom deals on behalf of several companies.
The war is now out in the open, and Raja, who feels he has been targeted by sections of the industry, is reportedly happy to use the Trai report to put the industry under pressure. Sources in the telecom ministry say that Raja has been angry with these companies as he feels some of them are behind the media campaign against him.
Sources say the tussle between Raja and telecom operators is not over spectrum. Rather, he is using spectrum to turn the tables on his detractors since he has been blamed for selling 2G spectrum cheap to some new entrants in league with lobbyists. The loss is computed at tens of thousands of crores, as the companies which got the spectrum sold it to others at huge
Some of the big players, including Sunil Bharti Mittal and Anil Ambani of Reliance Communications, have called on the prime minister in the recent past. On Thursday, Idea Cellular joined the war of words launched by Bharti and Vodafone against the Trai recommendations. Though Reliance Communications is not affected badly in this turf war and Anil Ambani is reported to have met the prime minister to discuss other issues, telecom sources say the battle is about to get bitter.
With over Rs 55,000 crore of future spectrum revenues at stake in the ongoing 3G auction, the government cannot afford a major mess-up where everything lands up in court. This is why the prime minister may have to step in to untangle the mess, probably by constituting another group of ministers to make recommendations.
The prime minister did not want Raja in the cabinet after the last general election, but DMK strongman M Karunanidhi put his foot down and Raja was in.

Only fat purses can ensure victory in 3 Rajya Sabha seats

Published: Wednesday, May 19, 2010, 1:28 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

With T20 and Indian Premier League (IPL) frenzy over, the country is all set to witness an Indian Parliamentary League — a number of high and mighty have thrown their hat in the ring for the 55 Rajya Sabha seats that will go for polls next month.
Of these 55 seats, 52 are sure to go to political parties as per their respective strength in 13 state assemblies. But, hectic lobbying just short of IPL-type bidding is on for the three open seats. Only people with bags full of money are likely to win those seats.
All eyes are on Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Jharkhand where one seat each is available for hard bargain due to the complex political situations in those states. If Ajit Singh of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) holds the key in UP, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren and Janata Dal (S) leader HD Deve Gowda are the kingmakers in Jharkhand and Karnataka.
In UP, one out of 11 Rajya Sabha seats will go to Congress if it joins hand with RLD and wins surplus votes of BJP and independents. A winner needs 37 plus votes. Congress and RLD have a combined strength of just 30 in the 403-member UP House. If Congress joins hands with RLD, it will still need 7 more votes.
Unless the candidate has bags full of money, he or she cannot hope to win. The Congress is wooing Ajit Singh to bag the RS seat for its candidate. Singh has just 10 MLAs in the UP House. A leading industrialist, who has interests in UP, has thrown his hat in the ring, assuring that he can be the consensus candidate.
Shibu Soren holds the key for one RS seat as the BJP has been given the chief minister’s post in Jharkhand. While one RS seat will go to the alliance led by the Congress in the 81-member Jharkhand assembly, BJP-JMM-AJSU will win another. If sources are to be believed, a real estate tycoon from Mumbai is in touch with Soren for a ticket. A senior NCP leader is reportedly mediating.
To win a seat from Karnataka, an RS candidate needs 56 votes. BJP will win two seats and Congress one. The fourth will go to a consensus candidate who can mop up surplus votes of Deve Gowda’s 27 MLAs and another 29. Vijay Mallya, who had represented the state in RS from 2002 to 2008 with the blessings of Gowda, is keen for a ticket.
A prominent industrialist from Andhra Pradesh, who has risen fast by developing airports, is also working hard to get into the upper house from his home state or any other state.
Mumbai industrialist Rahul Bajaj, an Independent member, is keen to be re-nominated to Rajya Sabha. Considering his close association with NCP chief and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, he is expected to get a re-nomination on an NCP ticket.

P Chidambaram changes tack on ultras

Published: Thursday, May 20, 2010, 1:36 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

After leading the war against the Maoists from the front, Union home minister P Chidambaram has taken a step back. Sensing that the mood in the Congress establishment and the government is turning against his hawkish approach, he has decided to function within a “limited mandate”.
The cabinet committee on security (CCS) which met on Wednesday evening did not even take up the issue of providing “air support” to troops battling the Maoists in the affected states. Chidambaram had been batting for quite sometime for limited air-strikes against Maoists since they are heavily armed and operate in difficult terrain.
He clarified later that he never meant conventional air-strikes and had simply pleaded for “air-support” to paramilitary and police forces for troop movement and air-surveillance. He then said the “limited mandate” of his ministry is to provide only support to the state governments — Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa — since law and order is a state subject.
This was similar to his predecessor Shivraj Patil’s line that the home ministry’s task is to provide logistics, manpower and other assistance to fight the Maoist menace and that the Centre cannot assume the power of a state government.
At the CCS meeting, AICC general secretary and Rahul Gandhi’s Man Friday Digvijay Singh punctured the “strike first, development later” line of Chidambaram.
But finance minister Pranab Mukherjee joined the debate on procedural issues. Though Singh had to eat humble pie for terming Chidambaram “very rigid” and intellectually arrogant, Mukherjee articulated his views with finesse.

Praful Patel to PM: No tyre burst, human error caused plane crash

Published: Monday, May 24, 2010, 1:52 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh is understood to have been informed that the Mangalore air crash was due to “human error” and there was “no tyre burst” at touchdown.
Civil aviation minister Praful Patel, who is keeping PM posted on the progress of the investigation into the tragedy, is reported to have also told him that not a single piece of tyre was found on the runway.
Z Glusica, the British pilot of Serbian origin, was capable of landing the Boeing 737-800 on an airstrip of even 4,000 feet. He had done it before. The pilot and co-pilot were so experienced that they could have landed easily even if they had jumped more than 3,000 feet while landing.
However, a team of Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) officials camping in Mangalore informed the government that the pilot not only overshot the runway but also made fatal split-second errors while trying to take off again after realising that he won’t be able to control the aircraft after applying brakes. The senior pilot was “disoriented while landing” because in touchdown conditions a split second can cause havoc, the officials said.
Patel met PM on Saturday evening after visiting the crash site and set up a monitoring room to keep the prime minister’s office (PMO) posted on the progress of the probe. He spoke to PM again on Sunday morning before leaving for Mumbai.
PM is holding a press conference on Monday morning and is sure to face disturbing questions on the Mangalore air crash, particularly after reports that Indian air space remained a dangerous place for air travellers.
DGCA, which regulates the aviation sector, has shared its initial findings with the government. It has said that neither air traffic control (ATC) nor the length of the Mangalore airstrip or weather conditions could be the cause of the crash.
A DGCA team led by its chief is camping in Mangalore to piece together every bit of information. The cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder have already been recovered.
DGCA officials extensively questioned the ATC and fire safety staff (which moves along a aircraft when it lands) at the airport on Saturday morning and prepared a chronological account of what happened. It was on the basis of these findings that Patel rushed to Delhi and handed over a four-page report to PM.
When contacted, the civil aviation minister declined comment on the probable cause of the crash and his report to PMO, saying an inquiry was on and it would be premature on his part to say anything.
Considering the rising number of human errors in air crashes, DGCA has been revising its guidelines regularly.
But after more than a dozen near-misses and accidents in the recent past, the government may have to tighten regulations further and insist on more training to even expert pilots on split-second reactions.

I have no plans to retire but Rahul Gandhi is welcome: PM Manmohan Singh

Published: Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 1:39 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The big message from prime minister Manmohan Singh’s marathon press conference on Monday — his first in UPA-II — was that he has no plans to retire or make room for anybody; he has an unfinished task on hand.
Singh made it clear that young leaders were more than welcome, adding that he would like Rahul Gandhi to join the cabinet as he is “very qualified”.
He said he had talked to him several times in this regard “but he wanted to focus more on the (Congress) party”.
“I sometimes feel younger people should take over as and when the Congress makes that judgment, I will be very happy to make place for anybody the party may choose,” he said, in a carefully crafted response.
But this much was clear — he won’t quit on his own. “I have been given this task (of prime ministership). Woh kaam abhi adhoora hai — the task is only half-done. Till I finish the task, there is no question of retirement,” he said emphatically.
Into his seventh year in office, Singh also firmly scotched speculation of “mistrust and distrust” between him and party president Sonia Gandhi, saying there was “not an iota of truth and there is no gap in thinking”.
“Invariably, we meet every week… there is no gap between me and the Congress president when it comes to doing things which our government should do,” he added.
And when a scribe wanted to know how he managed the two women - Sonia Gandhi and Gursharan Kaur (his wife) - in his life, the PM quipped: “I have the benefit of advice by both. Both deal with different subjects. Both have a role and there is no problem.”
This was his third media interaction and first on the completion of his first year in office of the UPA-II. He dealt with a range of issues and assured countrymen that prices would come down by December this year and that economy will maintain its growth path.
However, he remained largely non-committal on ministers speaking in different voices. At one point, he said ministers should express their views inside the cabinet which meets every week rather than airing them in public. At the same time, he also left no one in doubt that he was firmly with home minister P Chidambaram on the Maoist issue, saying that it was the single biggest threat to the internal security of the nation.
The PM emphatically denied any commitment or decision to carry out caste-based census saying all he had committed in the Lok Sabha was to take into account the views expressed in Parliament and that the process is still going on.
The issue will be discussed in the cabinet and only then would any decision be taken, he said.
Meanwhile, while the prime minister was addressing his press conference, Sonia Gandhi was busy meeting a delegation of Congress leaders from Maharashtra at 10 Janpath, her residence. Her meeting began at 10.30am and ended at 11.45am, which coincided with the time Singh’s press conference began and ended.

Balakrishnan will be new NHRC chairman

Published: Thursday, Jun 3, 2010, 1:12 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Retired Chief Justice of India (CJI) KG Balakrishnan will be the new chairman of the national human rights commission (NHRC).
A meeting of the selection committee chaired by prime minister Manmohan Singh cleared his name on Tuesday night.
But the appointment came with a rider for the government.
BJP’s Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, who are members of the selection panel being opposition leaders in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, are reported to have expressed concern that they did not have much choice since the government proposed only Balakrishnan’s name.
They consented only when the government agreed to consider amending the NHRC Act to include persons other former CJIs.
BJP is of the view that the Act should be amended as it limits the scope of selection and does not provide many options to selectors.
It provides that a former CJI alone is entitled to become NHRC chairman for five years, or till s/he retires at 70, whichever is less.
The Act says if a retiring chief justice is not immediately appointed NHRC chairman, s/he will never have a full tenure of five years.
It is because of these flaws in the Act that NHRC was without a chairman for more than a year. The government was opposed to the appointment of former CJI YK Sabharwal, who retired three years ago.
Sources told DNA the government had sent Balakrishnan’s file for presidential approval. He will perhaps be the first chairman to hold the post for full five years. He retired as CJI on May 12.

West Bengal in sight, Mamata Banerjee may give up railways

Published: Friday, Jun 4, 2010, 2:19 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

After battering the Left in the West Bengal civic body elections, railway minister Mamata Banerjee is preparing to deliver it the knock-out punch. She is learnt to be contemplating stationing herself in the state to consolidate the gains of the civic polls and get the momentum going till the assembly elections next year.
“She does not want to leave anything to chance. She thinks it’s time to take the Leftists head-on,” a highly placed party source told DNA. Mamata plans to travel extensively through West Bengal for the next 12 months to build a connect with people, the source said.
The issue was discussed threadbare within the Trinamool Congress (TC), another party source said, adding there was a suggestion that she should retain the portfolio as there was no statutory requirement for her to stay in Delhi as railway minister. Alternatively, she can remain a minister without portfolio. The charge of the ministry could be given to any of her trusted political lieutenants, he said.
In such a scenario, Dinesh Trivedi, Union minister of state for health, could emerge as the favourite. Barring Mamata, all six TC ministers at the Centre are first-timers, most of them first-term MPs. It is also learnt that Digvijay Singh, an independent Lok Sabha member from Bihar and close associate of the TC chief, could be given charge of the ministry.
He was a deputy minister of the railways in the Chandra Shekhar government and held the finance portfolio at some point as well.
Mamata is expected to return to New Delhi sometime next week and apprise United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh of her strategy.
Given its political status in West Bengal, the Congress is not likely to overrule her proposal. The party fought the civic polls alone and cut a sorry figure.

BJP nominates Ram Jethmalani for Rajya Sabha polls from Rajasthan

Published: Sunday, Jun 6, 2010, 17:55 IST | Updated: Monday, Jun 7, 2010, 0:06 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Monday being the last day for filing Rajya Sabha (RS) nominations, a bitter struggle was on in Karnataka and Jharkhand — where money seems to be playing a bigger role than merit — on Sunday to grab the one seat each left in these states.
No single party is in a position to win the seats on its own. Top industrialists Vijay Mallya and Vinod Goenka are among the aspirants.
JD(S) leader and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda had kept Mallya and two others waiting in Bangalore at the time of going to press.
In an arrangement between Congress and JD(S), the seat has gone to Gowda. However, Congress does not want Mallya in the Upper House as he is considered close to agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.
BJP can win two seats from Karnataka and will still be left with some votes, which Mallya is seeking. Congress can get one candidate elected and has nominated Oscar Fernandes.
In Jharkhand, Shibu Soren lived up to expectations and nominated Chandigarh billionaire KD Singh. He had earlier announced the candidature of Supreme Court lawyer Sanjiv Kumar from Giridh.
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief had come to the capital on Saturday to hold secret parleys with BJP and Congress to garner support for KD Singh. He met BJP’s Rajnath Singh and some Congress leaders, but both showed him the door and announced their own candidates.
There are 81 seats in the Jharkhand assembly, which is in suspended animation, and two Rajya Sabha seats from the state are to be filled. A winner needs 40.5 votes. The BJP-JD(U) alliance has 20 votes and Congress-JVM 25.
A candidate can be elected on the strength of around 28 first-preference votes and the remaining second-preference votes.
Congress candidate Dheeraj Sahu will win if all goes well, while BJP’s Ajay Maru will have to fight KD Singh’s moneybags.
Meanwhile, BJP finally announced the candidature of Ram Jethmalani from Rajasthan, causing many a heartburn.
Leading businessman Rajesh Shah was in the reckoning for the second seat, but veteran LK Advani prevailed over the BJP leadership to ensure a ticket for Jethmalani.
The eminent lawyer, who is camping in Jaipur, will file his papers on Monday.

Bhopal verdict dims chances of N-bill passage

Published: Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010, 0:22 IST | Updated: Tuesday, Jun 8, 2010, 23:24 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The Bhopal gas tragedy judgment, which has outraged the nation, has claimed its first victim: The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s favourite civil nuclear liability bill.
South Block sources conceded that the judgment had buried chances of the bill being passed in the monsoon session of Parliament. Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state for science and technology and the prime minister’s office (PMO) said the government would look into all aspects of the bill. “Bhopal has taught us that we are unprepared,” he said, and clearly sent out the message that the country needs a law on public liability for radiological accidents.
The core discord between the government and the opposition over the civil nuclear liability bill is on the amount of compensation and capping the liability of the operator, in case of an accident. The amount is pegged at Rs500 crore for the operator of the nuclear plant, while the total liability will be Rs2,087 cr.
Opposition members said the amount was grossly insufficient as the compensation in the United States for similar accidents is Rs45,000 crore (see box). Former finance minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yashwant Sinha opposed the bill and forced his party to take a firm stand on the issue, when the bill was introduced in Parliament in May.
Chavan had then said that if such high compensation was sought, no foreign investor would invest and India would be deprived of clean energy. The bill was then referred to Parliament’s standing committee on science and technology under the chairmanship of T Subbiram Reddy. Incidentally, the 31-member standing committee has not met even once since the bill was referred to it for consideration.
Apart from financial compensation and the cap on such compensation, there were areas of discord such as limiting the period for demanding relief to 10 years and that civil courts would have no authority to try the accused (operator) in case of a mishap.

India will request US to extradite Anderson: Pranab Mukherjee

Published: Saturday, Jun 12, 2010, 19:11 IST | Updated: Sunday, Jun 13, 2010, 0:40 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Worried over the adverse political fall-out of the controversies in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy verdict, the Manmohan Singh government has expanded the ambit and scope of the Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Union home minister P Chidambaram and asked him to look into “all aspects” of the
Bhopal gas leak issue.
While the mandate of the Arjun Singh-led GoM constituted in 2004 and 2006 was confined to relief and rehabilitation, Chidambaram has been mandated to look into legal proceedings against former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, and negotiations with related companies for enhanced compensation.
Also, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee confirmed on Saturday that “India will request the US government for the extradition of Warren Anderson.”
In order to clear the air around allegations that former PM Rajiv Gandhi had a hand in the escape of Anderson within 24 hours of his arriving in Bhopal in December 1984, as also in the state settling for an inadequate compensation from the Union Carbide Corporation in 1989, the government wants Chidambaram, law minister Veerappa Moily and minister of state in the PMO, Prithviraj Chavan, among others, to re-look at all these issues. It will seriously explore the possibility of bringing Anderson to India for trial.
The party and the government are also worried over the political fall-out of the AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh’s comment that there could have been “American pressure” in Anderson’s dramatic release. Singh is currently in the US and will be returning to the country only in the first week of July. The silence of the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh has made life more difficult for the UPA government.
As part of the damage control exercise, it was decided that the GoM should have the power to decide on all issues pertaining to relief and rehabilitation, fast-tracking court cases pending in Jabalpur and other courts in India, disposal of the chemical waste at the plant site in Bhopal, and the extradition of Anderson from the US.
The UPA regime is hopeful that the Obama administration will be favourably inclined to assist India in this regard, considering the magnitude of the disaster and the miniscule relief that the victims have received. The US government may device ways and means to enhance the one-time settlement amount for compensation (amounting to Rs715 crore) as a gesture of goodwill between the two countries.
However, Anderson’s direct complicity in the disaster has to be proved in US courts for there to be a water-tight case for extradition.
Meanwhile, the process of cleaning-up the killer Union Carbide plant at Bhopal has begun, albeit slowly. A senior law officer associated with the litigation related to the clean-up told DNA that “a site for incineration has been located near Bhopal and the process has begun.” He added that trial runs for disposing of the lethal waste that has been lying at the site for the last 26 years have been completed, and the process would be carried forward.

Buck stops with CBI over Warren Anderson’s escape

Published: Monday, Jun 14, 2010, 0:27 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Amid the blame game in the Congress over letting Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson out of the country, it is emerging that the CBI was ultimately responsible for the situation.
While Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, the UPA government’s trouble-shooter, on Sunday tried to defend Arjun Singh by saying that he must have taken the decision (to move Anderson out of Bhopal) keeping in mind the law and order situation, former CBI director Joginder Singh told DNA that once a case is taken over by the CBI, nobody else has authority over it.
“It is a fit case to probe how bail was granted to Anderson at the behest of Bhopal superintendent of police Swaraj Puri on December 7, when the case was handed over to the CBI on December 6,” said Joginder Singh, who handled the case in the wake of the Supreme Court’s watering down the charges against the gas tragedy accused in 1996.
Anderson flew out of the country on December 7, 1984. Documents show that senior CBI officials descended on Bhopal from Delhi on December 5 and a fresh FIR was registered on December 6 at 10am against certain Carbide officials. Since the Madhya Pradesh government had issued a notification to hand over the case to the CBI on December 4, and the agency took over the case on December 6, it was the job of the CBI to interrogate or detain Anderson, who landed in Bhopal by an Indian Airlines flight around 9.35am on December 7. By evening, he boarded a state government plane to Delhi, from where he flew back to the US.
When DNA contacted the then CBI director JS Bawa on phone, he tried to evade the issue by saying the CBI took over the case in earnest on December 9 or 10 because of paperwork. But how could the state machinery grant bail to Anderson on December 7 when the CBI registered an FIR on December 6? “It’s an old case. I do not remember the exact dates,” Bawa said. Did the CBI question Anderson before filing the charge-sheet against him in 1987? Bawa said he retired in February 1985 and hung up.
A top CBI official posed the questions to DNA: if Anderson was not an accused in the gas tragedy case, why was he arrested in the first place and then given bail within a couple of hours? And, why was the CBI never allowed to question him either in writing or through other legal methods?
He said it feels like a “scam” that the CBI filed a charge-sheet against Anderson on November 30, 1987, without once being allowed to question him.
Sources say Arun Nehru, as internal security minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre, handled the Bhopal case. PV Narasimha Rao was home minister, but not in charge of the department of personnel under which the CBI functions. Nehru refused to comment.

Upset Sonia Gandhi forces 18th group of ministers meet on Bhopal

Published: Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010, 0:11 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

With the political storm over the Bhopal gas tragedy verdict intensifying, Union home minister P Chidambaram has announced a group of ministres (GoM) meet on Friday, June 18.
These include thThe date was set after prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh directed Chidambaram to give a report to the cabinet after assessing the options and remedies available to the government on the issue. en Union Carbide (UC) chairman Warren Anderson’s extradition, relief for victims, and who shall bear the cost of cleaning up the still-contaminated premises and surroundings of the UC plant. At least Rs100 crore is required for the operation, but Dow Chemicals, the new owners of Union Carbide, are not willing to shell out the amount.
Two factors made the PM institute the GoM. First, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was reportedly upset that neither the Centre nor the Madhya Pradesh government took effective steps to resolve the legal tangle. Second, the BJP continues its vicious attack on the government.
A cabinet secretariat source told DNA that since 1992, GoMs on the gas tragedy have met 17 times. The main issues have been medical check-up and rehabilitation of survivors, cleanup of the factory site, provision of clean drinking water, and Anderson’s extradition. But no issue has been resolved.
The last GoM met on June 11, 2008, under then human resource development minister Arjun Singh’s leadership. In this meeting, the state government submitted an action plan, the implementation of which was to cost Rs980 crore. The GoM forwarded the plan to the Planning Commission, its fate hidden in dusty files. The 18th GoM, however, may reach far-reaching decisions, obviously under intense public pressure.

Nuclear liability bill set for re-look after Bhopal blunder

Published: Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010, 0:29 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Tough lessons learnt from the lapses in the Bhopal gas tragedy, the parliament’s standing committee on science and technology is treading cautiously on the Nuclear Liability Bill.
The proposed provision in the bill to cap the liability at Rs500 crore in the event of a nuclear disaster has been at the centre of an acrimonious political debate for sometime now.
Opposition parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have been opposing this bill, citing that the quantum of liability is low. After the Bhopal issue, where the Union Carbide Corporation, escaped with a light penalty after causing the death of 15,000 people in 1984, the debate has assumed some urgency.
Speaking to DNA after a marathon six-hour meeting on Tuesday, chairman of the committee Subbirami Reddy said: “We have been discussing the responsibility of the operator, in this case, it is the government. The issue of the responsibility of the supplier of nuclear equipment has not come before the committee so far.”
A number of chamber of commerce and industry bodies such as Confederation of Indian Industry, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and those connected with nuclear technology, secretaries to the ministries of law, home, science and technology and others made their presentations before the committee and explained their positions.
Reddy informed that the committee’s meeting would continue on Wednesday as well and another sitting would be held on June 23. Former Union external affairs minister and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, a strong critic of the government’s policy on the nuclear issues, is expected to present his views before the committee.
The issue has generated a lot of interest among MPs cutting across party lines and more than 20 of the 30-member committee participated in the meeting on Tuesday. Srikumar Banerjee, secretary in the department of atomic energy, expressed regrets before the standing committee for circulating a note at the last meeting which contained a proposal for amending clause 17 (b).
This clause proposes that the operator would have legal recourse if a nuclear accident results from the “wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee.”

Centre wants stiffer penalty in Bhopal-type crimes

Published: Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010, 0:52 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

With blunders in the Bhopal gas tragedy tumbling out with embarrassing frequency, the government is working overtime to address the lapses. The group of ministers (GoM) looking into the options and remedies in the case is keen on sending the right signals about the sensitivity of the Manmohan Singh government towards the victims. The GoM meets on June 18.
The meeting, besides considering a wide range of issues concerning the tragedy, will also take a hard look at the legal lacunae that allowed Warren Anderson, the chief of Union Carbide Corporation, to escape scot-free.
It is learnt that law minister Veerappa Moily, who is a key member of the GoM, wants tightening of the law dealing with “causing death by negligence” governed under section 304A of the CrPC. He has already consulted leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley on the issue of amendment in the CrPC. Under the existing law, the punishment for death due to negligence is two years’ imprisonment, with or without fine, irrespective of the number of dead.
One important suggestion is to add sub-sections to 304A defining the quantum of punishment on the basis of number of victims. The period of imprisonment may be pushed up to 10 years if the toll due to the act of negligence is high. A road accident due to rash and negligent driving, which causes the death of a few persons, cannot be compared to the negligent act like that in the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, a source in the law ministry told DNA.
They may not be guilty of culpable homicide but the difference and magnitude of negligence must be elaborated in the CrPC, the source added.
Meanwhile, the ministry of chemicals & fertilisers is now getting ready to provide Rs982.75 crore for the rehabilitation of the gas victims. Health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad wants a probe into the circumstances under which Anderson left Bhopal. He also wants fresh investigations into the circumstances of inaction in previous leaks at the plant site.
Tourism minister Kumari Selja is likely to come forward with a proposal to sanction Rs100 crore for the long-awaited memorial for the victims and urban development minister S Jaipal Reddy may dole out another Rs100 crore to clear the waste lying in Bhopal for 26 years.
The Madhya Pradesh government’s minister for relief and rehabilitation Babu Lal Gaur wants the government to take over the Rs600-crore hospital run by a trust under the chairmanship of retired chief justice AH Ahmadi.
However, home minister P Chidambaram, who heads this committee, was guarded in his response when asked about the issues before the GoM. Asked whether Anderson’s extradition will be part of the GoM discussion, he said he had no idea about the nature of the deliberations.

Cap on nuclear liability might be jacked up to $1 billion

Published: Wednesday, Jun 23, 2010, 1:44 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

With the liability of Bhopal gas tragedy victims behind it, the government is bracing up to deal with another liability — the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh is keen that the bill crosses the first major hurdle at the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology. Committee chairman T Subbarami Reddy is working overtime to complete the task before the monsoon session of parliament begins, on July 26.
Singh is leaving for the G20 Summit in Canada on June 25, where he is expected to have one-on-ones with top leaders including US president Barack Obama. This is probably the reason he wants to ensure there is no any ambiguity on
the bill.
The N-liability bill tackles the key questions of fixing financial liability on the supplier of the plant and operator of the reactor, in the event of a nuclear disaster.
At present, clause 6 proposes an amount of $450 million dollars (Rs2,087-crore) as liability. However, the opposition and UPA allies have opposed the meagre compensation amount.
Though government officials who appeared before the standing committee last week withdrew the compensation clauses saying the Union Cabinet had not discussed it yet, there is a strong possibility that the cap on liability may be raised to somewhere between $750 million to $1 billion.
In any case, government is the sole operator of the existing 18 nuclear plants in the country. There are five plants under the consideration and as per government data, it plans to set up 23 more.
While the UPA government is expecting the bill to be passed in the monsoon session, some of the standing committee members want to visit nuclear plants to get a first-hand experience before making any recommendation. There is a possibility that the standing committee will make its report final before the monsoon session.
Sources in the government, however, dispel that there is any connection with the prime minister’s eagerness for the passage of the bill and his meeting with the US president. Obama will visit India in November and it is expected that government will sort out the nuclear liability issue by then.

26/11 case on slow track as government in no hurry

Published: Saturday, Jun 26, 2010, 0:34 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

It’s official now. There will be no fast-tracking of the case relating to Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the convict in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.
If the response of the ministry of home affairs to a query on hangings and mercy petitions of convicts is any indication, it will be several years before Kasab is sent to the gallows. It stands in contrast to law minister Veerappa Moily’s assertion two months ago that “it’s the rarest of rare case and the time has come we can’t delay the process of the mercy petition”.
“Is the home ministry considering dealing with terrorist-related mercy petitions separately from that of other convicts?” was the specific question posed by DNA to the ministry. The answer was categorical: “There is no such proposal.”
Thus, even if Kasab is held guilty by the Bombay high court and the Supreme Court, and loses all legal avenues available to him, his mercy petition will come at the bottom in the home ministry’s books. And even if the ministry clears his case for hanging, the president’s office will deal with the dozens of cases already pending for a decision first.
The ministry, perhaps for the first time, also disclosed that there were 29 mercy petitions pending before the government for disposal under Article 72 of the constitution. Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru figures among the 29. There are seven other terrorists facing the death sentence.
The home ministry’s response also revealed that out of 29 awaiting gallows, only six are under the consideration of the ministry while the cases of the remaining have been pending with president Pratibha Patil. Patil has been in office close to three years and she has not sent anybody to the gallows yet. In fact, she commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence of R Govindasamy on November 23, 2009.

President Patil set to commute third death sentence

Published: Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010, 1:43 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Cases of mercy petitions of condemned prisoners, gathering dust for years, are finally seeing some movement.
After clearing two files involving eight convicts and commuting their death sentence, president Pratibha Patil is in the process of clearing a third long-pending case as well.
It is authoritatively learnt that in the third case too, the president has commuted the death sentence. In fact, she will become the first Indian head of the state in 15 years to clear three files of condemned prisoners.
Her immediate predecessor APJ Abdul Kalam cleared two files during his five-year term while the late KR Narayanan kept all such cases pending during his time in office.
An official spokesperson of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and officer on special duty to the president, Archana Datta, denied reports that Patil’s religious beliefs were coming in the way of taking decisions in such cases.
She also clarified that the file relating to Afzal Guru had not come to the president so far; she also said it is not mandatory that such decisions are taken in chronological order.
However, she maintained that “the president is guided by the aid and advice of the government”.
With the file clearances gathering speed, it is clear that process may be put on the fast track. There are 21 files pending with the president and six with the Union home ministry.
Though no one in the government was willing to confirm this, but it is said that in commuting the death of eight persons in two murder cases, the decision was guided by compassion rather than by religious beliefs.
All the eight members facing death by hanging were involved in the murder of their immediate family members and were in jail for more than 20 years.
Their clemency petitions were pending for nearly ten years. Secondly, the family members of even those who were killed by the convicts had jointly sought clemency for them.