Monday, November 29, 2010

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

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

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Outsmarted Congress redraws strategy in Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

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

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

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

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

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

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

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

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

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

Who’ll dine with President Obama?

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

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

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

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

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

PM handpicks Harishankar Brahma as third election commissioner

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

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

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

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

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

George Fernandes walks into political sunset

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

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

50 get notices for parking black money abroad

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

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

Germany hands over to India names of 50 tax evaders

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

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

Interlocutor okayed Muivah’s visit

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

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

Rajya Sabha elections to be held on June 11

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

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

Finally, jawans in Kargil join telecom revolution

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

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

Shashi Tharoor to wed Kashmiri beautician

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fissures within BJP over IPL-gate

Published: Saturday, Apr 24, 2010, 2:52 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: New Delhi

Differences within the BJP over the handling of the Indian Premier League (IPL) issue surfaced in parliament on Friday.
There were differences over setting up of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe IPL funding and over seeking resignation of two Union ministers — Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel.
While some BJP leaders demanded resignation of the Union ministers belonging to the NCP, the party restrained itself by saying “clinching evidence” was required before seeking any minister’s ouster.
Party’s former Union minister Yashwant Sinha demanded that Pawar and Patel should step down as their kin were alleged IPL beneficiaries.
Leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj reportedly insisted that the party should force abandoning of the question hour on the IPL issue and demand a JPC. This was in contrast to the party’s earlier line when it refused to join hands with the Left on asking for a JPC.
Swaraj wanted to expose the nexus between Congress and NCP. She was reportedly disturbed over leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha and party colleague Arun Jaitley maintaining silence on IPL.
Jaitley is a member of the IPL governing council and a BCCI board member.
The BJP leadership in Rajya Sabha felt that the issue of telephone tapping of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was more serious.
Stage was set to raise the issue both in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and NDA partners were also roped in. But when the BJP core group met on Friday morning, Swaraj punctured this plan.
The BJP walked out of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha over IPL.

Centre has new plan to check cyber terrorism

Published: Thursday, Apr 29, 2010, 2:36 IST Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The Centre has formulated a Crisis Management Plan to counter cyber attacks and cyber terrorism meant for implementation by all ministries and departments of central and state governments.
The government decided to prepare this new plan after being alarmed by a report of the University of Toronto titled ‘Shadows in the Cloud’. The report elucidates a complex ecosystem of cyber espionage that systematically compromised even sophisticated computer network systems in India.
The issue of cyber espionage and crimes is likely to come before Rajya Sabha on Thursday. The ministry of communications is gearing up for the discussion.
Minister of state for communications Sachin Pilot is likely to face the House.
The existing computer security guidelines issued by the government state that no sensitive information is to be stored on the computer systems which are connected to the internet.
Organisations possessing critical information have been advised to implement information security management practices based on ISO 27001. Ministries and departments have been advised to update IT systems and carry out regular audits to ensure an error-free system.
The Computer Emergency Response Team has already empanelled a number of penetration-testing professionals through a stringent mechanism of selection to carry out the audits.
Meanwhile, the government has no proposal yet for establishing a specific police force to deal with cyber crimes in the country.
The Central Bureau of Investigation has a specific unit that deals with cyber crime cases falling under the jurisdiction of the Union territories, minister of state for home affairs Ajay Maken said.

History suggests joint parliamentary committee will be constituted, but may take time

Published: Wednesday, Nov 17, 2010, 2:21 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Prime minister Manmohan Singh may finally buckle under opposition pressure and agree to a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum, CWG and Adarsh housing scams to end the stalemate in parliament, but it may take time.
Veterans told DNA that both Houses of Parliament had remained paralysed for 45 days before the government agreed for a JPC probe into the Bofors scandal.
Similarly, parliament did not function for 17 days before a JPC was constituted to investigate bribery charges against then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao in the Harshad Mehta scam.
It witnessed another 15-day logjam after Ketan Parekh’s role in rigging the share market was exposed, and the NDA regime was forced to constitute a JPC.
In the present case, parliament has witnessed disruption only for a week. The government may want to test the opposition mood for some more time. But the indictment by CAG of former telecom minister A Raja, the companies involved in the spectrum scam and the government, the Supreme Court’s stinging criticism of the prime minister’s office for its 16-month silence on allegations against Raja and several UPA allies joining the opposition in demanding a JPC may force it to change tack.
In a last-ditch effort on Tuesday, UPA’s troubleshooter and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee explained to opposition leaders at an all-party meeting the difficulties in instituting an inquiry into three scams by one JPC. But BJP did not budge and may continue to stall parliament.
Its leaders indicated that they may look into the allegations of corruption in Karnataka, which means BJP is willing to pay the price, but will not allow parliament to function unless a JPC is constituted. The BJP stand was largely because Mukherjee did not reject a JPC outright.
He told opposition leaders that he would get back to them after taking up the matter with the prime minister.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Manmohan Singh hands telecom to Kapil Sibal; DMK mum for now

Published:  Tuesday, Nov 16, 2010, 0:12 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Even as the government held out an olive branch to an aggressive opposition by promising to place the CAG report on the 2G spectrum scam in Parliament on Tuesday, it seems to have gained a tactical upper hand over its ally DMK by handing over the telecom ministry to human resources development minister Kapil Sibal.
While it is being projected as a temporary arrangement, sources believe it is a deliberate ploy by the Congress to cut the DMK down to size.
After the resignation of A Raja on Sunday following a veiled threat from prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh, the DMK had asserted that it would retain the ministry and party chief M Karunanidhi would announce the new incumbent.
The DMK was unusually docile after the PM put Sibal in charge of the ministry. It could be a “stop-gap arrangement,’’ a DMK spokesperson said.
“It is 100% the prerogative of the PM to allot vacant portfolios. DMK has three cabinet slots in the UPA government and, with the exit of Raja, one slot is vacant,” DMK leader TR Baalu said.
Political observers believe the party is worried after AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa offered to support the UPA government if Raja was sacked. While officially the DMK and the Congress have been denying any strain in their relationship, it was apparent during Karunanidhi’s stout defence of Raja prior to his resignation.
Telecom industry sources feel that the die had been cast for Raja’s ouster long ago when former IT secretary, R Chandrasekhar, who is reputed for his honesty, was appointed as telecom secretary two months ago despite Raja’s protests.
Meanwhile, Sibal has emerged asthe PM’s Man Friday. When Prithviraj Chavan was shifted to Maharashtra as chief minister, he was given additional charge of science & technology and earth sciences as well. Monday’s announcement took everybody by surprise as the PM was expected to retain the portfolio with himself.
Sibal is seen as the ‘clean up’ man by many and the telecom ministry is unlikely to be misused for private agendas, said an industry official.
Earlier in the day, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had said that the demand for a JPC probe was“unacceptable’’. “How many JPCs did the BJP agree to during their tenure?’’ he asked. He added that there is a “permanent JPC in the form of the public accounts committee. It is chaired by a member of the opposition party.’’
Mukherjee also rejected the demand for a statement from the PM. The Congress also kept up its defence of Raja. “The resignation is not an acceptance of guilt. This isto emphasise the Congress’ sensitivities towards public perception,’’ it said.

P Chidambaram, file-clearing champ; Sharad Pawar, slow coach

Published: Monday, Nov 15, 2010, 2:23 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Cabinet ministers are hard pressed for time because they are too busy clearing files. This is the general impression about ministers, and one which they would like to pass around.
But the file reality could be much different as DNA’s RTI queries have revealed.
Take the case of Sharad Pawar, who holds five crucial ministries and departments.
An RTI query has revealed that 1,814 files were put up to him by the food and consumer affairs department during the last one year. Of these, 703 were submitted to the minister of state.
All this works out to merely five files a day for the senior minister in the cabinet and two files for the minister of state. The response from the department of agriculture is still awaited.
DNA had filed RTI queries with some of the ministers of the Union government asking them how many files were put up to them during the past year, how many of such files are pending and how many were cleared in a day.
DNA wanted to ascertain the time the ministers devote in office attending files, many of which have implications on policy matters.
Replies from a majority of the ministers are yet to come in, but whatever has come in provides an insight into how the ministries function.
The most forthright response came from the office of the Union home minister P Chidambaram. It sent a consolidated reply from its various wings and departments within the stipulated time-frame of 30 days. It also revealed that Chidambaram handled more files compared to his other cabinet colleagues.
According to SK Bhatnagar, chief principal information officer at the home ministry, “As many as 7,044 files were put up to the minister during the past one year. On an average, 29 files go the minister every day. No file is pending with him.”
Chidamabaram’s office informed that the minister of state cleared 1980 files during the last one year and there is no file pending.
The other ministers were not as efficient in clearing files. Minister for textile Dayanidhi Maran handled 268 files during the past one year, not even one file a day. The jute division’s reply was interesting, “Files were submitted to the minister of textiles as and when required and there is no policy (in this regard)”.
Kamal Nath, the flamboyant minister of road transport & highways, who has set an ambitious target in road construction, was somewhat cagey. The reply received from various departments under Kamal Nath revealed that he was a shade better than Maran because he handled 291 files.
The ministry claimed that there are no files pending with the minister and all files are promptly cleared. Interestingly, Kamal Nath’s junior minister handled more files during the past one year i.e. 368 files.
The Commonwealth Games and sports minister MS Gill were in the news over the last few months. Interestingly, one department revealed that no files were sent to the minister during the last one year, another said just 10 files went up to the minister’s level.

A Raja resigns after PM Manmohan Singh’s veiled threat

Published: Sunday, Nov 14, 2010, 23:07 IST | Updated: Monday, Nov 15, 2010, 1:03 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Embattled Union telecom minister A Raja resigned on Sunday night after putting up an obstinate fight to stay put despite the mounting pressure from the opposition and the Congress to quit over the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
The resignation comes ahead of today’s Supreme Court hearing of two petitions alleging his involvement in the spectrum scam and the growing view in the UPA that his continuance was getting untenable.
What seems to have prompted his decision is the veiled threat to the DMK issued by prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh after the Congress core committee meet at noon.
The party’s leadership, which had so far been standing solidly behind Raja, seems to have given up after Singh’s stern message that the minister must quit tonight. Raja, who had maintained that he won’t resign till a few hours ago, rushed to a meeting with the PM late in the evening and handed over the letter.
The PM has decided to retain the telecom portfolio until further orders.
This brings to an end the months of bitter battle between an isolated Raja and the 18-member DMK in the Lok Sabha on one hand and the entire opposition, comptroller & auditor general of India (CAG), Telecom Regulatory Authorities of India (TRAI) and the “corporate lobbyists” on the other.
Since the matter is coming up for hearing in the Supreme Courtand the signal emanating the apex court was serious enough, the PM wanted Raja resignation’s on his table before the hearing began. He didn’t want to be seen acting in the matter only after a stinging comment from the bench.
Though Raja put up a brave face by claiming that he had resigned “in order to avoid embarrassment to the government and maintain peace in Parliament and also on the advice of DMK chief M Karunanidhi,” sources in the government say that the PM had sent out clear signals that “enough is enough”.
The core committee meet, attended by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and Ahmad Patel, political secretary to the AICC president, discussed at length the consequences of Raja refusal to resign.
The PM is reported to have made it clear that he will be left with no option but to sack him irrespective of political consequences. He conveyed in no uncertain terms that even if this leads to a fall of his government and country going in for a mid-term polls, he won’t bother.
The stern warning was conveyed to the M Karunanidhi by key Congress functionaries. Realising that if he insisted on retaining Raja, the DMK-Congress alliance will be threatened and it may affect the party in the next April assembly polls, the DMK chief settled for the head of his staunch loyalists.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Raja to slug it out despite attacks

Published: Saturday, Nov 13, 2010, 2:04 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Fending off a concerted attack by the opposition on telecom minister A Raja, the Union government stood by him firmly on Friday and said that the negative report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) was not an ‘indictment’.
Raja, who was stoutly backed by DMK chief M Karunanidhi, also made it clear that he won’t resign “since everything was done according to the law’’.
The Congress, according to sources, may take a final call on the issue during the party’s core committee meeting over the next two days. It will also wait for the outcome of the Supreme Court(SC) hearing on the issue scheduled for Monday. For now, it has decided to defend him in the 2G spectrum allocation scam. The CAG had computed losses from the arbitrary allocation of spectrum in 2008 at over Rs1,76,000 crore.
Law minister Veerappa Moily sought to explain the statutory status of the CAG report, stating: “You cannot call it an indictment. It is not a final report.” He added that the report had “weightage” as it was prepared by a constitutional body. The report is actually a query raised by the institution on a particular ministry, the minister stressed.
He said the CAG had raised similar queries when the late Pramod Mahajan was communications minister. “The NDA did not volunteer to make him resign,” Moily said.
Making a rare appearance in Chennai, Tamil Nadu CM M Karunanidhi said Raja had done nothing wrong and there was no need for him to quit. “He only went by the rules…No auction (of spectrum) was made during the tenure of Mahajan and Arun Shourie.
"They followed the first-come, first-served policy. The same method was adopted in the allotment of 2G spectrum,” he said.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh, said the Congress’s ties with the DMK will continue.
Raja himself launched a counter-offensive, bolstered by the fact that the affidavit submitted by the government in the SC gives an indication that there was no direction from any quarter to Raja to change the spectrum allocation policy.
He was only told to be transparent and advised to take the matter to the group of ministers. He decided not to do to since there was no inter-ministerial issue involved.
``The question (of resignation) does not arise at all. We will prove that everything has been done according to the law,” he told reporters. The DMK minister maintained that he will not comment on the spectrum allocation issue as it is “sub-judice” and said the affidavit submitted by the telecom department “says it all”.
The BJP, meanwhile, shifted gears to launch a direct attack on prime minister Manmohan Singh. BJP spokesman Prakash Javdekar sought an explanation from Singh on his role in approving the controversial 2G spectrum allocations, as claimed by Raja in his press statements.
However, it is also not likely to intensify its demand, pending the apex court hearing. The tone of senior BJP leader MM Joshi, who hosted a Diwali party at his residence on Friday, was not aggressive.
He said he was willing to probe the 2G spectrum case as chairman of the public accounts committee, “but the report is yet to come to me.”

Congress in fix as opposition turns up heat on A Raja

Published: Friday, Nov 12, 2010, 2:34 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The clamour for telecom minister A Raja’s head intensified on Thursday, a day after the contents of the damning Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report over the 2G spectrum allocations became public.
The report had estimated the loss to the government from the allocations of 2008 at Rs1.76 lakh crore and held that the precious national asset was pawned away at much less than its market value.
The BJP-led opposition stalled Parliament for the second consecutive day even as AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa offered support to the Congress at the Centre if it dumped the DMK leader.
The telecom ministry, meanwhile, defended Raja in the Supreme Court, maintaining the CAG did not have the authority to question the policy decision as per which 2G licences were issued.
Despite being on the defensive after the spirited attack from the opposition and under pressure from the DMK not to relent, the government struck an aggressive note, saying Raja won’t be removed anytime soon. It also rejected the demand for a joint parliamentary probe (JPC), stating any decision on the issue could be taken after the report of the CAG, which has “indicted” Raja, is discussed in Parliament.
“The CAG has already given its report. The public accounts committee (PAC), which is a mini JPC, will go into the issue and report to Parliament. It will again be debated. Why is there a demand for a JPC?” home minister P Chidambaram told reporters.
He said if at all a JPC is to be constituted, it will have to look into the entire gamut of decisions taken since the days of the NDA in the telecom sector.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal said, “Corruption is a serious issue... CAG (report) is yet to be finalised.” He added that after the PAC submits its report to Parliament, “it is the right of Parliament to go for a structured discussion. That is what Parliament is meant for.”
He said Raja may have been “indicted by one organisation (CAG), (but) that is not the end of the matter... the matter is before the Sup-reme Court... we should not make a final decision on anything only after listening to one point and then inflate the issue.”
To forestall action against Raja, DMK leader and party chief M Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi met finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi.
She is understood to have told him that he should not be removed from the Union cabinet.
“Why should he (Raja) resign,” asked DMK spokesperson and Lok Sabha member TKS Elangovan, saying that everyone should wait for the CBI probe to end.
“Whatever the minister did was based on the norms set by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Let the CBI inquiry into the issue end first,” he said.
J Jayalalithaa, meanwhile, offered unconditional support of 18 MPs, including nine from like-minded parties to the government if it dropped Raja. The Congress, however, was dismissive about the offer.
“My priority is that probity should be restored and perpetrator of such a massive scam should not go scot-free simply because of coalition political compulsions,” the former Tamil Nadu chief minister told a news channel.
Commenting on the offer, Union minister and AICC in-charge of Tamil Nadu Ghulam Nabi Azad said “there is no vacancy in Tamil Nadu” as the party already has an alliance with the DMK. AICC media department chairman Janardhan Dwivedi said “at the moment, it is very clear that the DMK is our very important alliance partner.”
The Congress realises that Jayalalithaa will be a bigger problem than the DMK. Moreover, the Trinamul Congress with 19 MPs is not exactly cosy with the party at the moment. Party chief Mamata Bannerjee is upset at not being invited for the Obama dinner on November 7. Given the difficulty to handle her, the Congress cannot afford to dump DMK.
Nirmala Sitharaman, BJP spokesperson
“The BJP stand is that A Raja should be sacked immediately and a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe should be ordered into the 2-G Spectrum allocation scam.”
P Chidambaram, Union home minister
“The CAG has already given its report. The public accounts committee (PAC), which is a mini JPC, will go into the issue and report to Parliament. It will again be debated. Why is there a demand for JPC?”
J Jayalalithaa, AIADMK chief
“My priority is that probity should be restored and perpetrator of such a massive scam should not go scot-free simply because of coalition political compulsions… I have the numbers to replace the 18 DMK members.”
TKS Elangovan, DMK spokesperson
“Why should he (Raja) resign?...Whatever the minister did was based on the norms set by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Let the CBI inquiry into the issue end first.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hunt for successor to PM’s Man Friday

Published: Thursday, Nov 11, 2010, 2:59 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Prithviraj Chavan’s move to Maharashtra has saddled Manmohan Singh with the task of choosing his replacement in the ministries and more importantly, in the prime minister’s office (PMO).
After all, Chavan was Singh’s most trusted minister and was in charge of several important ministries and departments. He had been handpicked by the prime minister and had been working directly under him for more than six years.
The prime minister had so much faith in Chavan that when Suresh Pachauri was sent to Bhopal, he was given the portfolio of department of personnel, handling CBI and the bureaucracy.
Before this, Chavan was minister of state for parliamentary affairs and ocean and earth sciences. When Kapil Sibal was made human resource minister in UPA’s second term, the science and technology ministry was given to Chavan.
As if this was not enough, Manmohan Singh set a new precedent — Chavan became the first minister to hold the rank of minister of state and minister of state with independent charge. He was minister of state in the PMO and held independent charge of others.
The PM shared an excellent chemistry with Chavan, largely because of his educational background. Chavan had done his M.Tech from Pilani in Rajasthan and his MBA from Berkeley. His honesty and integrity was impeccable and quickly rose in Singh’s esteem.
It will be difficult to find a man as capable as Chavan, but at least three names are being talked about as his replacements in the PMO.
There are the young turks — Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia, and the highly-respected Salman Khurshid. All are ministers in UPA-II, highly-educated and have done well in their jobs.
All three are squeaky clean and at least two are very young. However, no one is sure who will answer questions on behalf of the prime minister in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha after Chavan goes.
The disruption of parliament may, in a way, suit the prime minister as he would not be in a hurry to pick a successor to Chavan.
Once Chavan goes, others will be given charge of ministries and departments he held.
Kapil Sibal might be given science and technology and the prime minister might look after the department of personnel. However, the task of replying to questions in parliament may fall on a more seasoned minister.
There is unlikely to be any cabinet reshuffle until December 13. Changes in the composition of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and Congress working committee will take place before December 18.
Once the new AICC is in place, ministerial level changes will take place sometime from December 21-28 or in the second week of January depending upon the visits of various foreign leaders and other key engagements. But the die has been cast, and the process has begun.

Congress acted against tainted leaders to take steam out of opposition

Published: Wednesday, Nov 10, 2010, 2:36 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

With swift action against Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan and Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, the Congress has managed to take the steam out of the opposition’s aggressive intent in Parliament. What was expected to be a stormy session may turn out to bedocile, at least temporarily, after the party’s tough decision on the two scandal-tainted leaders.
The BJP-led opposition had enough ammunition to put the government on the defensive, in the form of issues like the Adarsh housing society scandal, Commonwealth Games (CWG) corruption and the 2G spectrum scam. The government has managed to nullify it for the moment.
It has conveyed to the opposition that it is ready for any form of inquiry, discussion or debate in Parliament on the CWG and the 2G spectrum allocation. Union telecom minister A Raja could not be sacked at this juncture as the Supreme Court is seized of the matter. The CAG had already sent its report to the finance ministry for its views on the spectrum scam.
On the CWG scandals, it conveyed that it has ordered a probe at various levels and is keen on cleaning up the sports bodies. It might even flaunt the Delhi high court ruling which upheld the notification curtailing the tenure of office-bearers to three terms or 12 years, whichever is lower.
What might trouble the BJP a bit is the alleged involvement of some of its leaders in the CWG scam.“We are not running away from debate and action. But do not hold the house to ransom on the basis of conjecture,” was the refrain of the government.
The BJP, on its part, may not go hammer and tongs at the government given the bonhomie between the parties in recent times. It was evident on Monday when Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi were invited for tea by senior BJP leader LK Advani at his chamber in the parliament house.
The 15-minute meeting established a good rapport between the leaders and it was evident in BJP’s lack of aggression in the Lok Sabha today.
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, has decided that the Lok Sabha should function as per schedule and the question hour be held. Observers feel the main opposition is taking its time as the Union government is basking in the success of US president Barack Obama’s visit to the country. Moreover, since the prime minister is leaving for the G-20 summit tomorrow, it is not the opportune time to launch an attack.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

City’s youth gives Obama a taste of what’s next: The Pakistan question

Published: Monday, Nov 8, 2010, 2:30 IST
By Mihika Basu & Harish Gupta | Place: Mumbai, New Delhi | Agency: DNA

US president Barack Obama had to summon all his fabled oratorical skills when a 19-year-old girl from a Mumbai college shot point blank the question he had been able to evade since his arrival in the country.
“Why is Pakistan so important an ally that America has never called it a terrorist state so far?” asked Afsheen Irani, a second year student from HR College, during Obama’s interaction with students at St Xavier’s college on Sunday.
As the US president stitched together an answer, it left nobody convinced, least of all the political leadership in India. While parties have held back official comments for the moment, their disappointment was palpable.
Obama ended up almost reiterating what Pakistan has been stating in its defence all along. “There are more Pakistanis who have been killed by terrorists inside Pakistan than probably anywhere else,” he said, adding the Pakistan government understands the potential threat that exists within its own borders.
He said India had “the biggest stake” in a successful and stable Pakistan.
“The history between India and Pakistan is incredibly complex and born out of much tragedy and violence. So, it may be surprising, but I am absolutely convinced that the country that has the biggest stake in Pakistan’s success is India. If Pakistan is unstable, that’s bad for India. If Pakistan is stable and prosperous, that’s good for India,” he said.
The president was at his diplomatic best when he said Pakistan is an enormous country which is strategically important not just for the US, but for the world. It has some extremist elements, but they are not unique to Pakistan, he added.
“The Pakistan government is aware of it. We have been engaging aggressively with them to communicate that we want nothing more than a stable, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan,” said Obama.
He added that “we will work with the Pakistani government in order to eradicate this extremism that we consider a cancer within the country that can potentially engulf it.” Obama, however, admitted that the “progress (by Islamabad) is not as quick as we would like it to be”.
While nudging India to begin a dialogue with Pakistan, first on less controversial issues and then on larger ones, Obama, however, ruled out US becoming part of India-Pakistan bilateral talks. “The US stands to be a partner and friend, but cannot impose the process,” he said.
He was quick to add that he would “discuss counter-terrorism and other issues in greater detail when I meet with the prime minister (Manmohan Singh)” giving hope that the joint statement may make some suitable amends to the stated position.
Neither the ministry of external affairs nor the home ministry nor the prime minister’s office was ready give a response to Obama’s comment. Minister of state Jyotiraditya Scindia told a TV channel that “we should wait for some more time before forming any opinion”.
The Congress, too, maintained a studied silence and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) issued a virtual gag order on its leaders, prohibiting them from making any comments on Obama and Pakistan.
While Prakash Javdekar, BJP spokesman, said that ahead of Sushma Swaraj’s meeting with Obama, the party would not make any comments, it was clear that the leader would raise the issue in a big way in her 20-minute scheduled meeting.
A large number of defence and security experts denounced Obama’s views on Pakistan and terrorism. Ajeet Doval, a former Intelligence Bureau chief who handled Pakistan, former army chief VP Malik and defence expert Maroof Raza made clear their disapproval.
As for Irani, she seemed to be sympathetic to the compulsions of Obama. “He was very diplomatic in his reply, but understandably he had a lot of limitations as he is the president of US. He couldn’t possibly take a stand,” she said.

CAG may say whatever, he’ll have to help VK Shunglu

Published: Wednesday, Nov 3, 2010, 2:44 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Prime minister Manmohan Singh has given a free hand to the VK Shunglu committee to probe alleged corruption in organisation of the Delhi Commonwealth Games (CWG).
He has also made it clear that the cabinet secretariat would provide special funds for the investigation. The committee can decide its own procedures and appoint as many advisors and consultants as required.
In a fresh notification, after the one issued a fortnight ago, the cabinet secretariat gave more powers to Shunglu. The two-page notification makes it clear that all agencies of the state, including comptroller and auditor general (CAG), central vigilance commission (CVC) and the CWG organising committee, will cooperate with him.
The fact that copies of the notification have been marked to CAG and CVC makes it clear that even if these bodies are autonomous, they ought to cooperate. This deflates CAG Vinod Rai’s claim that he is not to share anything with anybody as he reports only to parliament.
The notification, however, does not give any clue under which law the Shunglu committee with the status of a Supreme Court judge has been constituted.
Such committees have been constituted before — Manmohan Singh had earlier formed the Justice RS Pathak Committee to probe the oil-for-food scam in which then external affairs minister Natwar Singh was an accused and former prime minister the late Rajiv Gandhi had set up a similar committee to probe allegations against then Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal. But the Shunglu committee’s mandate is much bigger considering its 10-point inquiry.
As if this was not enough, the committee has been
given the power to look into “any other areas considered relevant”.
Surprisingly, sports will be the nodal ministry to provide all the assistance it needs in terms of administrative and manpower requirements. But necessary “budget provisions for the expenditure relating to the committee will be provided by the cabinet secretariat.”

Work quietly, Chidambaram advises interlocutors

Published: Tuesday, Nov 2, 2010, 2:03 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Union home minister P Chidambaram has cautioned the interlocutors not to give a “ball-by-ball commentary about their dialogue” with various sections of society.
The remarks came a day after Dileep Padgaonkar, one of the three interlocutors, announced on television that some militants may present a peace plan to them on their next visit to the state.
Perhaps Chidambaram’s patience ran out when reports came in that the trio was not working in harmony with each other. All three — Padgaonkar, Ansari and Kumar — are moving in different directions after they failed to evolve a common strategy and methods on the dialogue process.
But even before they could achieve anything, the three started sharing with the media details about their activities. It was clear from day one that Padgaonkar and academician Radha Kumar are not working in harmony.
MM Ansari, a retired information commissioner, had virtually been made redundant. However, the trio put up a brave face when they appeared in a TV show together. Dilip Padgaonkar even gave a detailed account of his talks with separatists groups in jail.
It is no secret that the interlocutors had been appointed at the behest of the prime minister.
Chidambaram did not have much of a role in their selection. While Padgaonkar and Ansari enjoy the confidence of the UPA, Radha Kumar has the added advantage of being close to the prime minister. It is a different matter that controversies seem to follow Kumar, mostly due to her strong views.
Recently, her employment was terminated by Jamia Milia University. After 10 days, she got the interlocutor’s job.
Clearly, the panel had no clue they will be put under Chidambaram, which is probably why they went to TV channels even before briefing Chidambaram.
Finally, Chidambaram flew to the Valley, took stock of the situation and cautioned the interlocutors to “work quietly”.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Adarsh Society scam: Ashok Chavan battles for survival

Published: Saturday, Oct 30, 2010, 12:25 IST | Updated: Sunday, Oct 31, 2010, 1:05 IST
By Harish Gupta & Shubhangi Khapre | Place: New Delhi, Mumbai | Agency: DNA

The writing seems to be on the wall for Ashok Chavan. It appears that he will not be let off without punishment for his alleged role in ‘depriving’ Kargil war heroes and war widows of their rightful allotment of flats in the Colaba property meant for them.
The Centre’s hand has been forced by the Congressman’s involvement in a matter compromising a nationally sensitive issue, and it has taken a tough stand against their one-time blue-eyed boy.
Barely a year after Chavan was reinstated as chief minister of Maharashtra, he finds himself politically isolated. A beleaguered Chavan offered to resign after an hour-long gruelling session with party supremo Sonia Gandhi over his role as beneficiary of the controversial Adarsh Housing Society project in Mumbai in which several politicians, former defence services chiefs and other influential people have been allotted flats.
“I have offered to resign and now it is up to Congress president Sonia Gandhi to take a decision,” a visibly tense Chavan told reporters on emerging from 10 Janpath on Saturday.
He was revenue minister at the time the decision to give the land to the society was taken, in 2003; a 31-storey building was later built on this land, said to have been meant for Kargil war heroes and widows.
Sonia Gandhi has constituted a panel comprising finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and defence minister AK Antony to look into Chavan’s role. Sources say this gives the Maharashtra chief minister a temporary breather, at least of 10 days.
However, he has been asked to stay put in the capital to facilitate completion of inquiry.
Even though an inquiry panel has been formed to ascertain Chavan’s exact role in the scam, initial investigations have revealed that the chief minister could not convincingly explain why only three applicants connected to the Kargil war were allotted flats, and why three flats were given to members of his extended family.
Further, the Congress believes it cannot have a tainted chief minister in an important state like Maharashtra. Most significantly, they feel Chavan has compromised the Congress’s image by triggering a ‘war’ between the navy and army personnel over the housing scam.
The inquiry could be a long process because Antony will have to find out whether the land was actually meant for the Kargil martyrs and whether it belonged to the defence ministry in the first place.
That is the only factor that can possibly save Chavan as Kargil is an emotive issue for Sonia Gandhi. Also, since the Congress had exposed the role of NDA defence minister George Fernandes in the ‘coffingate’ and other scandals, the party cannot be seen as protecting Chavan.
However, the changes in Maharashtra will not take place in isolation whatever the pressures. Even if Chavan has to be sacrificed, he won’t be shown the door like former chief minister AR Antulay. The focus will then shift to other top Congress leaders and military generals who have also cornered flats.
The party has fixed no time-frame for completing the probe. “The Congress has appointed a two-member committee and any development in this matter will take place only when they submit their report. No timeline has been set to submit this report,” the chief spokesperson of the party, Janardan Dwivedi, said.
Chavan spent the last Diwali wondering whether he would be re-nominated as chief minister though the party had returned to power. This Diwali too, he is expected to spend his time wondering if he would survive after Diwali as the chief minister.
Paid news hearing looms
Since the assembly elections in 2009, chief minister Ashok Chavan has been dogged by a controversy over ‘paid news’. A complaint to the election commission of India was that identical news praising the chief minister and his government were flashed across several newspapers during the election period. The paid news hearing, which was scheduled for this week, has been postponed to next month.