Wednesday, December 29, 2010

KC Verma is National Technical Research Organisation chairman

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

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

POSCO project gets green signal, but conditions apply

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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nira Radia tried to influence Yashwant Sinha

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

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

Manmohan Singh peeved with ministries for sloppy work, ignoring advice

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

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Karunanidhi kids fly together, like strangers

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

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

PAC chief ignores BJP; fast-tracks 2G probe

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

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

Monday, December 20, 2010

Central information commission fines Indian Olympic Association for delaying info

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

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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pranab Mukherjee upset at posters in capital

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

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jairam Ramesh ministry fires salvo at Mundra port

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

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Private hand in phone tapping worries Manmohan Singh; probe ordered

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

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Parliament standoff set to continue for 18th straight day

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

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nicolas Sarkozy visit: The height of protocol

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

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ministers, babus expect no deal from US president

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


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

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


Law ministry had told CAG not to intervene

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

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

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

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

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