Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rajya Sabha to go paperless

Published: Friday, Apr 15, 2011, 3:00 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA


A high-powered committee set up by vice-president and Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari has said the upper house can go completely paperless if efforts are made in right earnest.
The committee comprising Rajya Sabha secretary-general NC Joshi and senior secretaries of various ministries and departments have recommended incentives in form of financial entitlement for MPs who opt for digital supply of documents.
It has also been decided that Rajya Sabha will give journalists digital copies of all documents and MPs will be persuaded to learn usage of computer faster.

2G probe: PAC chief in dilemma

Published: Thursday, Apr 14, 2011, 23:22 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

It’s Hobson’s choice for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) whether to summon prime minister Manmohan Singh in the second generation mobile telephony spectrum scam or submit its report without the his testimony.
Singh a few months ago had offered to appear before the PAC. However, rules and procedures prohibit the panel to summon even a deputy minister or minister of state to appear as a witness without the permission of the Lok Sabha speaker.
PAC chairperson Murli Manohar Joshi is in a dilemma whether to seek speaker’s permission or wind up proceedings on April 16 after recording testimonies of officials.
The panel will quiz attorney general Goolam Vahanvati, law secretary DR Meena and CBI director AP Singh on Friday and prime minister’s principal secretary TKA Nair and cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar on April 16.
PAC sources say Dr Joshi is in the process of finding a middle path and doesn’t want the opportunity given by the PM himself to appear before him to go waste. The PAC members may informally discuss the issue after completing the current round of depositions.

Anna Hazare drives Manmohan Singh to meet President

Published: Saturday, Apr 9, 2011, 3:00 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Even as the Centre is struggling to evolve a consensus on the Lokpal Bill, prime minister Manmohan Singh has called on president Pratibha Patil to brief her on the initiatives taken by his government in the wake of Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death.
Singh has apprised the president of the steps taken by the government to take action against the corrupt and evolve a consensus on the bill.
The PM drove to Rashtrapati Bhawan after holding parleys with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and some of his cabinet colleagues at 7, Race Course Road, on Friday.
Sources say that there are many in the government who feel that heavens will not fall if a social activist like Anna Hazare is made chairman of the government committee to draft the bill. “If Ratan
Tata can head a government committee and many other industrialists, who face one case or the other, can be part of several government top committees, what’s wrong in Hazare or a civil society member heading a committee to draft the bill. Let the bill be drafted, let it come before the nation, let there be a debate and then it will finally go through the motions in parliament, the president and even scrutinized by the judiciary,” said another source, who participated in the strategy session at the prime minister’s residence.
Even Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was of the view that this was an avoidable crisis and should have been handled politically rather than on technical grounds. Several meetings have taken place at the PM’s official residence in the past two days to evolve a consensus. Mukherjee maintained the government and civil society should seem to be on the same page.
Since the PM appointed HRD minister Kapil Sibal as the chief negotiator, none of the ministers were willing to say much.

PV Kumar named NTRO chief

Published: Friday, Apr 1, 2011, 0:27 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Prime minister Manmohan Singh has ended speculations and appointed PV Kumar as chairman of National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), country’s top intelligence and surveillance agency.
Kumar has been appointed the chairman for a period of two years in place of KVSS Prasada Rao, who had retired in October. He will directly report to the prime minister.
While the PM-appointed heads in three major intelligence, security and investigation agencies last year, there was considerable delay in picking the right person for the NTRO.

Lavasa: Expert appraisal committee okays partial clearance

Published: Sunday, Mar 20, 2011, 23:33 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

In good news for Lavasa Corporation, which is promoting the controversial hill station project in Pune, the expert appraisal committee (EAC) of the Union environment ministry has cleared construction and development activities that have already taken place on 700 hectares out of the total project area of 5,000 hectares.
While the environment ministry is likely to accept the EAC’s recommendation, the final call rests with the Bombay high court, which will hear the matter at the end of this month.
At its meeting last week, the EAC observed that since substantial development had already taken place in about 700 hectares, it is left with no other alternative but to appraise the project ex-post-facto.
It took into consideration the investments made by third parties, infrastructure already created and the hardship faced by workers while allowing construction work of 257 buildings, which have been constructed up to the plinth level.
However, the committee made it clear that for the remaining area where construction is yet to take place, the entire model of development must be examined and corrected. Imposing stiff conditions, it said there would be no hill cutting, digging, excavation, or any other activity involving generation of soil, its use or its transportation.
It could mean permitting only limited low-intensity environment-friendly development to ensure that all issues are appropriately addressed. The EAC also recommended a well-structured environment monitoring mechanism at the project site.
Deliberating upon the submissions made by the Lavasa Corporation, the committee made some harsh observations. The site was selected without examining the environmental issues — slope analysis, soil investigation etc; non-examination of cumulative environmental impacts likely to be caused due to development of the hill station township in the environmentally fragile Western Ghats.
The EAC also pointed out that the approval of the Maharashtra government to the proposed development control regulations for Lavasa was not made available to it.

Nachiketa Kapur’s checkered and controversial career graph

Published: Friday, Mar 18, 2011, 1:24 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Nachiketa Kapur, who is in the eye of controversy following a WikiLeaks expose, is used to wearing many hats and is no stranger to controversies.
Starting as research personnel with the National Security Council in 2004-05 to being a political observer for the US, Nachiketa Kapur has come a long way.
However, what has been constant all along is his ties with top Congress leaders. Also, he has been a regular at American embassy parties flaunting his Congress connections.
US diplomatic cables leaked on WikiLeaks purportedly say that payoffs were made to MPs to ensure majority for the Congress-led government in the confidence vote over the Indo-US nuclear deal 2008. The cables quoted Kapur as saying that a fund of Rs50 crore has been formed to bribe MPs.
In UPA-I, he worked as officer on special duty (OSD) to Renuka Chaudhary when she was a minister of state for tourism holding independent charge. However, he ran out of luck when she was shifted to woman & child development ministry. She sent a letter to the prime minister requesting for his services in the new ministry. As per government rules, the department of personnel ordered a routine inquiry and subsequently rejected his appointment.
He surfaced again in 2009 when Suresh Kalmadi appointed him deputy director general (media & protocol) for the Commonwealth Games. This caused alarm within the corridors of power and the prime minister’s office was flooded with complaints. Soon, Nachiketa was shown the door.
Earlier, he was selected as an observer by the US for the presidential polls. Also, documents, in possession of the DNA, suggest his qualifications too are controversial.

Will BJP tweet ‘stop’ to its senior leaders?

Published: Wednesday, Mar 9, 2011, 0:16 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Rattled by the recent tweeting episode, the BJP is contemplating to draw a ‘lakshman rekha’ for its senior leaders who are active on social networking sites such as ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’.
Since a large number of party leaders including LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Narendra Modi, Smriti Irani, Rajeev Pratap Rudy, Shah Nawaz Hussain are using the new media to interact instantly with the people, it was encouraged too.
Among the BJP leaders, Sushma Swaraj, party’s leader in the Lok Sabha, has mobilized a fan following of over 20,000 in a short span of time.
Recently while she had expressed satisfaction over prime minister Manmohan Singh publicly accepting responsibility for the CVC episode, Arun Jaitely had said they would insist for a statement in parliament.
Later, when questioned on difference of opinion on the issue, Sushma had blamed space constraints on Twitter for the confusion.
But the episode has made senior leaders re-think about using Twitter. It is felt that senior leaders particularly, who are members of the party’s parliamentary board and in the policy making bodies, should avoid such forums.
Though no senior leader was willing to comment on record about the re-think on Twitter usage, sources said the party would certainly take a view on it soon.
Incidentally, there are not many takers for such fora in Congress. “The Shashi Tharoor episode made them realise that if Twitter can connect you to the world, it can lead you to the garden path too”, said a member of the Congress working committee on the condition of anonymity.
While leaders like SM Krishna, Suresh Kalamadi and Ajay Maken are on social networking websites, except for one general secretary, Digvijay Singh, there is none who interacts on Twitter.
But even Singh has not used the medium, for a long time now. The websites of these leaders too have not been updated for months.
Rahul Gandhi, the youth icon of the party, himself is not on Twitter though there are several fake accounts running in his name.

Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train hits Mamata road block

Published: Monday, Mar 7, 2011, 3:30 IST | Updated: Monday, Mar 7, 2011, 0:16 IST By Harish Gupta | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

An ambitious plan to start Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train has run into rough weather with railway minister Mamata Banerjee dragging feet in providing funds.
After conducting pre-feasibility study of the Bullet Train project, the railway minister has declined to give any commitment to take the project further.
Though the UPA government had taken a decision to construct this most-crowded and revenue generating corridor connecting Maharashtra and Gujrat, the ministry is still examining the report submitted by a committee which submitted pre-feasibility report long ago.
Banerjee avoided a direct reply in the Rajya Sabha when Shantaram Laxman Naik sought a commitment on time-frame to launch this bullet train at this stage.
She merely said that report was under examination of the railways and the two state governments.
This internationally funded project will need funds from railways in addition to the governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat respectively. However, she assured the member that the proposal will be considered further on receipt of reports.

Maharashtra fails to use 50% of funds for rural job

Published: Thursday, Mar 3, 2011, 2:08 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

It appears there are few rural poor left in Maharashtra. How else would one explain that while the central government’s flagship rural employment initiative, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), is a big hit across the country with states utilising more than 80% of funds allocated by the Centre, state spent only 50% of its share last year. The Union ministry of rural development is headed by a former chief minister of the state, Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Of the Rs638 crore provided to the state under the scheme in 2009-10, it was able to utilise only 50% — Rs321 crore. In 2008-09, the unutilised funds stood at 42%, while in 2007-08, the funds returned to the Centre were a whopping 61% of the allocation. Official sources in the ministry of rural development were unable to explain the high level of unutilised funds. “Our task is to provide funds and monitoring. We have no role in their disbursement,” said an official.
The scheme provides a legal guarantee for up to 100 days of wage employment a year to every rural household for doing unskilled manual work on demand. In 2009-10, the Centre pumped around Rs49,579 crore, while Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has allocated nearly Rs60,000 crore for the next fiscal. Even the number of people provided jobs dwindled in state. About 5.91 lakh people were employed under the scheme in 2009-10, as against 9.06 lakh in 2008-09. The number is also dismal during 2010-11 (upto January) with 3.30 lakh people employed under the scheme.
The man-days employed during 2009-10 inMaharashtra were 419 lakh, they fell sharply this year up to January to 127 lakh.

Govt gets cracking on phone-taps

Published: Monday, Feb 28, 2011, 3:15 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The government appears to have finally woken up to the danger posed by private companies and individuals tapping millions of phones without authorisation and has decided to clamp down.
In a belated attempt at damage control, it has directed such persons and firms to submit details of equipment used for interception and surveillance of communications to the telecom enforcement wing immediately.
By doing this, the government has admitted that it allowed private companies and individuals to import such equipment under open general licence (OGL).
DNA was the first to report last December that National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), a secret agency under the prime minister (PM), had submitted a report on the existence of a large number of off-the-air GSM/CDMA monitoring devices.
Various private companies and individuals had imported off-the-air-monitoring systems (OTAMS) under OGL without check or record, the report said. The devices, which enable monitoring of any mobile telephone in a 5-km radius, were imported on the pretext of critical information infrastructure protection, it said.
The confidential report also stated that 21 vendors, including six official agencies in New Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida, were selling these machines, introduced in NTRO in 2005.
The matter surfaced when former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh’s phone was tapped by a private company “without authorisation”. With the surfacing of the Niira Radia tapes and NTRO’s confidential report, a worried PM ordered that “telephone conversation to systems outside the institutional framework of government must be prevented”.
While the government discontinued import of OTAMS under OGL last year, it has now asked all existing owners to get their machines registered.

CBI readies to strike at the root, may quiz M Karunanidhi

Published: Friday, Feb 18, 2011, 23:58 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

After raiding the offices of Kalaignar TV, which is closely linked to the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu, CBI is gearing up to question party president and chief minister M Karunanidhi.
While reports of possible questioning of his daughter Kanimozhi have already come out, sources said CBI was not far away from Karunanidhi. Cornering the patriarch will, however, take time since the agency is still to collate information gathered from former telecom minister and DMK leader A Raja, his aides in the bureaucracy and arrested executives of companies that benefited from 2G spectrum allocation.
Evidence linking bribe money to Raja is being traced and the line of questioning for Kanimozhi and Karunanidhi on basis of the Niira Radia tapes is being prepared.
DMK, however, is unfazed. Sources close to Karunanidhi said he had decided to express full solidarity with Raja and may even visit Tihar Jail, where the former telecom minister is in judicial custody till March 3, during his Delhi trip for seat-sharing talks with Congress for the April-May Tamil Nadu assembly polls.
Congress is wary of the CM’s visit to Tihar because SC is monitoring the probe, but, sources said, Karunanidhi may still go ahead. He wants to send a strong signal to DMK workers that he won’t dump his trusted lieutenant.
The only problem for Karunanidhi is the long Chennai-Delhi flight. He is not keeping well and could not even get up from his chair to welcome the prime minister when the latter visited Chennai recently.
Meanwhile, a word has been sent to Delhi that Raja be treated as a political detainee. Sources in DMK said the former telecom minister was getting VIP treatment in Tihar because of his political clout in Tamil Nadu and since he still enjoys the confidence of Karunanidhi and can get things done in the state.

Now, blame the dead PV Narasimha Rao, NDA

Published: Monday, Feb 14, 2011, 1:05 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Like 2G, the blame for the multi-lakh-crore S-band airwaves scam is also being laid at the doorstep of prime minister Manmohan Singh’s predecessors PV Narasimha Rao and AB Vajpayee.
According to details of the February 10 cabinet meeting, where K Radhakrishnan, Isro chairman and department of space secretary, was called for a briefing, Antrix Corporation signed an agreement with Devas Multimedia Private Limited on January 28, 2005, without inviting bids as its services were far better than those offered by Space Imaging Corporation of the US.
Antrix, under the department of space, had signed an exclusive agreement with Space Imaging in 1994 for marketing airwaves and other services worldwide, also without inviting bids. The late Rao was the prime minister then and Manmohan the finance minister.
It also surfaced during the meeting that the then Space Imaging CEO Robert Dalal succeeded in getting the agreement extended on January 27, 2004, from the Vajpayee-led NDA regime, so that the company could continue selling remote-sensing data from the country’s latest satellite to be put in orbit, Resourcesat-1, as well.
Antrix decided to market its own products after terminating contract with Space Imaging. Why the contract was terminated and how Devas was brought in quietly continues to be a mystery, however.
Strangely, no member of the cabinet grilled Isro and most of the presentation was related to how the deal was being cancelled and delay caused.
Radhakrishnan tried to explain that there was nothing unusual or wrong in Antrix signing the deal with Devas, which is owned and controlled by top retired Indian scientists and technocrats, as the contract with Space Imaging had been terminated.
The government is putting up a brave front saying no S-band scam has taken place as no spectrum was allocated to Devas. But sources said if Devas had no spectrum, how and why the foreign investment promotion board cleared the sale of its more than 40% shares to Columbia Capital, Telecom Ventures and Deutsche Telekom. In fact, Deutsche Telekom picked up 17% stake in Devas at a very high price expecting it will get S-band spectrum through GSAT-6 & GSAT-6A satellites.

UPA, opposition battle it out on JPC issue

Published: Monday, Feb 7, 2011, 1:51 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

UPA’s trouble-shooter and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is making a last ditch effort to break the logjam in Parliament on the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) issue to probe the 2G spectrum issue when he meets with the leaders of political parties on Tuesday.
Since the government’s strategy to divide the opposition parties into secular and non-secular fronts is not working, Pranab Mukherjee is working over-time to find alternatives to ensure that thebudget session beginning February 21 is not a wash out. One such suggestion is to allow the Lok Sabha to discuss the NDA’s demand to set up the JPC for even three days and it would be a nationally televised one.
Later, the house should vote on the JPC resolution and the opposition should accept the verdict of the Lok Sabha. When Mukherjee sounded the Left, SP and other like-minded parties, they gave the go-ahead. But there was a rider; the principal opposition party BJP has to accept this formula asthey would not like to be seen as saboteurs of the opposition unity on JPC.
The government had expected that the BJP would see reason in the wake of some of the recent adverse developments in Karnataka and also serious disclosures in ‘Saffron terror’ cases. But the BJP refused to relent.
It is learnt that the Congress leadership has declined to play any role in the on-going battle between the government and the opposition on the JPC issue.
It has lent its unstinted support to the prime minister to deal with it. In fact, at the fag end of the winter session the government was about to concede the demand of the JPC as NCP leader Sharad Pawar and Pranab Mukherjee had signaled. But HRD and telecom minister Kapil Sibal is reported to have prevailed upon the government to defer the decision as most part of the winter session had already been a wash-out. He argued that that the government must make efforts to resolve the tangle during the intervening period.
Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar has also convened a meeting of leaders of some of the political parties on Monday.

POSCO gets Jairam Ramesh nod for $12 billion Orissa plant

Published: Tuesday, Feb 1, 2011, 1:07 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Pohang Steel Company (POSCO), the world’s third largest steelmaker, has received the environment and forests ministry’s approval for its $12 billion (Rs51,000 crore) integrated steel plant in India, paving the way for the country's single biggest foreign direct investment project six years after it was proposed.
The Union environment and forests ministry has, however, granted conditional clearance to the project, which involves setting up a steel plant, a captive power plant, and a captive port.
It has imposed 28 additional conditions while giving environmental clearance for the steel-cum-captive power plant over and above those stipulated in the original environmental clearance of July 19, 2007.
It has also imposed 32 additional conditions while according permission to Posco port spreading in the coastal zone of 3.48 km on the basis of a report by the Institute of Ocean Management, Chennai.
The ministry has sought Orissa Government’s “pointed” assurances before giving final approval for diversion of 1,253 hectares of forest land for the project.
Going by the ministry, the forest clearance has been given as there is no tribal residing in the Posco project area and no claims were received by the ministry from a single dweller.
The ministry had sought a categorical assurance from the Orissa government that those claiming to be dependent on or cultivating the land in the Posco project area do not belong to the other traditional forest dwellers category under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
DNA was the first to report on December 28 that the joint venture project of Posco and Orissa government has been given clearance by the environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee.
Work on the project had come to a grinding halt in August last year after the ministry withheld permission to the project. Based on a ground report submitted by a three-member committee, the ministry had directed the Orissa government to stop land acquisition for Korean steel giant Posco because it violates the Forest Rights Act.
The formal go-ahead, though conditional, comes as a big relief to the industry, which has been deeply concerned over the dip in foreign direct investment on account of such delays. The South Korean leadership had also raised the issue when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the country last year. In view of all this, the environment and forest minister Jairam Ramesh was signalled to fast-track his review of the project.
The state government and Posco signed an MoU on June 22, 2005 for setting up an integrated steel plant of a total capacity of 12 million tonnes per annum at Paradeep in Jagatsinghpur district. The plant would be located on the northwestern bank of the Jatadhari river creek, 12 km south of the Paradeep Port, requiring a total of 1620.496 hectares of land of which 1253.225 hectares is forest land and would affect eight villages in Erasama block of Kujang Tehsil.
While the Orissa government hailed the clearance and industry bodies also welcomed it, there were reports of protests. The farmers will hold rallies at the site starting tomorrow, Prasanth Paikare, a spokesman for opposition group Posco Prathirodh Sangram Samiti, said by phone from Bhubaneswar. “How can the minister overrule the panel’s recommendation?” Paikare said.
The clearance brings back focus on other steel projects facing delays.
ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, is also facing delays for two $10 billion mills, one each in Orissa and in neighboring Jharkhand state. Projects by Tata Steel Ltd, India’s biggest maker of the metal, in the two states and in Chhattisgarh, and by JSW Steel Ltd in Jharkhand have also been delayed on land issues. (With Bloomberg)

Maharashtra, not UP, leads country in crime: NCRB

Published: Sunday, Jan 30, 2011, 2:54 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

If you thought Uttar Pradesh is the most criminal state of India, you may be in for a surprise. Whether it is robbery, dacoity, burglary, riots, arson and theft of vehicles, Maharashtra tops the chart, according to the statistics for 2009 released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Even residential premises are most unsafe in Maharashtra compared to other states.
However, there is one consolation — it does not top the chart in rapes and murders — the dubious distinction for the former goes to Madhya Pradesh, to UP for the latter. That said, Maharashtra had the highest number of unidentified dead bodies (6,895) in 2009, followed by West Bengal (4,017) and UP (3,297).
There is another race Mumbai would be happy to lose to Delhi — that of incidence of rapes and kidnappings. If 444 rape cases were registered in Delhi in 2009, the number was less than half (217) in Mumbai. In kidnapping and abductions, Delhi topped with 2,149 cases while Mumbai reported only 149 cases.
Maharashtra stood at the top in dacoity (780), robbery (3,314), burglaries (15,841) and thefts (50,930) during 2009, while Nitish Kumar’s Bihar was second in dacoity with 654 cases and Mayawati’s UP was way behind with 365 cases. Madhya Pradesh was second in the country in burglaries (10,661), followed by Andhra Pradesh (7,772) and UP (5,260). In thefts, UP was second with 29,226 cases.
Maharashtra also witnessed most incidents of riots and arson (9,135), while the number was 4,517 in UP and 7,044 in West Bengal. It may be a matter of satisfaction that Nagaland was the most peaceful state with just 8 such cases in 2009.
What is most disappointing is the pathetic conviction rate of those arrested and charge-sheeted. NCRB statisticsreveal it is just 9.6% in the state, while Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and UP have very high conviction rate — 62%, 60.7% and 54% respectively. Records reveal that 12.86 lakh cases were pending trial in the state at the end of 2009, the highest in the country, while the number is 4.23 lakh in UP and 6.02 lakh in Madhya Pradesh.
A home ministry official told DNA that the crime situation was the worst during 2009 and a number of steps have been taken by state governments at various levels during the past two years and is bound to improve.