Monday, May 30, 2011

Pranab reaches out to Ramdev as Anna rallies activists for a fight

Published: Tuesday, May 31, 2011, 2:33 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

A worried Manmohan Singh government on Monday swung into action to meet the twin challenges of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare on the black-money issue and Lok Pal bill battle. The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, which met here this evening at the 7 Race Course residence of the PM, discussed a series of steps to be taken by the government to reach out to the civil society activist and the yoga guru.
Highly placed sources told DNA that Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has written to Baba Ramdev listing steps taken by the government to bring ill-gotten money stashed abroad. He also replied point-by-point to the yoga guru, assuring him that the government was working hard in this direction. With regard to the demonetization of high value currency notes, Mukherjee was non-committal.
In order to establish the sincerity of the government, Mukherjee informed him that the CCPA has cleared the setting up of a new “Directorate of Criminal Prosecution of Income-Tax violators”. So far, the law was only for imposing financial penalties on IT violators. Now, the Union Finance Minister has promised to treat IT violators as criminals.
The government was also worried about the threat issued by the civil social activists on the Lok Pal bill and the Dr Manmohan Singh made it clear that he would like the office of the PM to be brought under its purview. Law minister M Veerappa Moily will discuss the issue with other political parties too.
Meanwhile, the government also came down from its hardened stand of not disclosing the names of IT defaulters. As the amount of tax-arrears has run into over more than Rs one lakh crore, the Income Tax (I-T) department was working on plans to publish their names in newspapers.

Black money: Baba Ramdev's hunger strike threat has government acting hot and cold

Published: Monday, May 30, 2011, 1:09 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
The Manmohan Singh government is adopting a “carrot and stick” policy to deal with yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s threat to hold an indefinite hunger strike in Delhi, beginning June 4, demanding immediate visible action on black money creators and hoarders.
While Union home minister P Chidambaram directed the Delhi Police to refuse permission to Ramdev to hold any dharna at the Ramlila grounds, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has promised action on his demands. Mukherjee not only met him for more than an hour but also dispatched chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes Sudhir Chandra for further action. Ramdev was reported to be extremely upset with the Income-Tax department for digging up his old house in Narnaul in Haryana in search of black money.
Sudhir Chandra has apologised to the yoga guru.
The government has constituted a committee headed by Sudhir Chandra to examine ways for strengthening laws to curb generation of black money and prevent its transfer abroad, besides recovering such illegal assets. The committee will consult various stakeholders and submit its report within six months, a statement from the finance ministry said.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

News and analysis :The meaning of Seth’s appointment as Cabinet Secretary

Harish Gupta. New Delhi

It seems the Prime Minister decided to play safe and appointed senior-most IAS officer of 1974 batch of the UP cadre was made as the next Cabinet Secretary. Seth will replace K M Chandrashekhar who has a record of serving for four years in a row. He will retire on June 13. Earlier, he was toying with the idea of giving a short extension to Chandrashekhar due to certain exigencies. But he had a change of heart before his departure to Ethiopia and decided to bring in Seth. Indeed, Seth’s name had emerged on top after the PM conducted personal interviews with six senior IAS officers last month for the post.

Surprisingly, Seth was never given any important role as secretary of any key department in the government prior to being elevated as Cabinet Secretary. He served as Resident Commissioner for four years in UP Bhawan here despite being the senior-most officer and when Mayawati shunted him out, the Centre was not equally cool. He was given an insignificant posting as Secretary Coordination. But his rise has surprised many as he will service for two years as stipulated even after superannuation. Since that will be an election year, he may continue if found fit.

There is a strong possibility that R K Singh will replace G K Pillai as home secretary soon and Rajan Mathai may be inducted as the next Foreign Secretary in place of Nirupama Rao. It is also certain that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will have a final word in choosing his finance secretary when Sushma Nath retires this month end. The Defence Ministry will also have a new secretary when Pradeep Kumar retires on July 31.

Sources say that the Prime Minister is very careful in selecting the new Central Vigilance

Commissioner (CVC) as he has badly burnt his fingers in the P J Thomas case. The new guidelines for the selection of CVC are being finalized and the PM would like to seek the concurrence rather than merely consulting the Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj. She is a member of the selection committee and had given her written dissent in the P J Thomas case. The new guidelines stipulate that apart from a bureaucrat, any member of the public or judiciary can become a CVC if he fits into the criterion. The PM wants to send a right signal by appointing a new CVC at a time when public attention is focused on war against corruption.

The Prime Minister is also aware that the ensuing Monsoon session is going to be tough one as the role of his own office in the 2G spectrum, ISRO-Devas deal, Commonweath Games will come under attack. The Opposition is gearing up to launch a full offensive against the UPA and set to bring fresh cases of corruption. The BJP has already signaled that it has documents relating to Coal scam while the Left is gunning for cases in the National Highways.

Farmers to get 80% profit in land

Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 0:05 IST
By DNA Correspondent Place: New Delhi  Agency: DNA

Populism is the buzzword these days in the government and it seems ministries are competing with each other to win the race in UPA. While the mining ministry had proposed that companies will have to share a part of their profits with the people whose land is acquired for mining purposes, rural development minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has proposed a moon to farmers.

 Coming as it does in the backdrop of agitation by farmers of Bhatta Parasul in UP whose land is acquired by the Mayawati government, former Maharashtra chief minister is set to win Rahul Gandhi’s heart.

Deshmukh has proposed a new clause in the Land Acquisition bill which is set to be introduced in the coming monsoon session of parliament. He has proposed to raise the compensation to farmers whose land is acquired for commercial purposes to the tune of 80% of profits in the venture.

Since UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh have assured agitators that the new Land Acquisition bill will protect the interests of the farmers, Deshmukh has said land developers will have to give 80% of their profits to the person whose land is acquired. This would ensure that farmers don’t end up selling land at a bargain, which is then exploited by commercial developers.

Deshmukh explained in an interview that he had proposed that 80% of profits be given to those whose land is acquired in addition to the cash compensation given at the time of the acquisition of the land. He said if a farmer is given Rs1 lakh for his one acre of land and later, the same land is sold for Rs30 lakh after development, he or she be given 80% of profits after deducting the development cost and taxes.

It may be mentioned that Haryana was the first state under the Congress chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda which provided for Rs10,000 per year per acre for 30 years to farmers whose land was acquired for any purpose. The land compensation per acre was raised to Rs20 lakh per acre. Mayawati went a step further and raised it to Rs15,000 per acre per year for 33 years.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A bend in the African river gives Indian sails a friendly push

Harish Gupta | Monday, May 23, 2011

India’s “look Africa” policy has started paying rich dividends and the second India-Africa Forum Summit, beginning in Addis Ababa, is a major milestone.
With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelling to Addis Ababa on May 23, offering $5.50 billion for the African continent’s development and rolling out free-trade agreements, a new chapter is being written. China’s aggressive investments in Africa, pegged at nearly $50-60 billion over the next ten years, have however caused some jitters.
But a trip to Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria recently has left me in no doubt that India still has the edge over China. Even Indian private entrepreneurs who made deep inroads in London, Washington and other European capitals and had failed to look towards this under-developed, untapped, mineral-rich continent, have started making a bee-line with investment proposals. Airtel’s aggressive entry into 16 African countries and efforts to takeover MTN has changed the entire perspective.

CBI drags fair name of prime minister's office into 2G scam

Published: Saturday, May 21, 2011, 3:08 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
There is no stopping the CBI. It has dragged the prime minister's office into the second generation mobile telephony spectrum allocation scam supplementary charge sheet involving Kanimozhi.
The 48-page supplementary charge sheet filed by the CBI on April 26 accusing her of involvement in the scam contains a paragraph which has the prime minister seething with anger and disbelief.
The CBI functions directly under the prime minister's and charge sheets in sensitive cases are vetted by top legal officers but the prime minister's officeperhaps did not do so in the instant case and hence this acute embarrassment. While the main focus of the charge sheet was that Kanimozhi connived with A Raja and took a Rs209-crore bribe in the name of Kalaingnar TV where she holds 20% stake and another 60% is in the name of Karunanidhi’s second wife Dayalu Amma, it also charged her of actively lobbying to get Raja reappointed as telecom minister in 2009 for such gains.
DNA has a copy of the 48-page charge sheet in which the CBI not only dragged the prime minister's office but indirectly leading TV and print journalists and also other intermediaries (?) who helped Raja get re-appointed as telecom minister.
The crucial paragraph at page number 22 of the charge sheet reads: “She also actively pursued with intermediaries and DMK Hqrs the matter regarding reappointment of accused A Raja (A-1) as minister of communications & information technology in 2009 which clearly establishes the strong association of accused Ms Kanimozhi (A-17) and accused A Raja (A-1) in the official/political matters”.
What is surprising is that neither the names of the intermediaries have been mentioned in the charge sheet nor that of any others with whom Kanimozhi lobbied with to make Raja telecom minister second time.
Officials in the prime minister's office are wonder-struck as to why the lobbying part was incorporated in the supplementary charge sheet as it had to do with the bribery part and the lobbying part was not even relevant to the case.
When contacted, CBI director AP Singh brushed the question aside, saying nothing much should be read into this as it established the proximity between the two. When asked why the names of intermediaries and the lobbyists who helped Raja become a minister were not mentioned in the supplementary charge sheet, he said, “They should be there.” When told that the supplementary charge sheet list of witnesses contained no names, he said, “I will look into it.”
Singh has already ruffled many feathers by his straightforward and no-nonsense approach. However, he has caused jitters this time round as a number of top Congress functionaries may be dragged into the case.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Kanimozhi vacates room in Tamil Nadu guesthouse

Published: Monday, May 16, 2011, 1:06 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP and daughter DMK chief M Karunanidhi vacated her room in Tamil Nadu guesthouse in Delhi on Saturday.
The state government had made a special provision and allotted her a room.
As a first-term MP, she was entitled to an MPs flat which was allotted to her in a multi-storeyed building. The 43-year-old DMK MP took her luggage and drove to her Swarnajayanthi apartment meant for MPs.
Since she got a temporary reprieve from court on Saturday and the case is listed for judgment on May 20, she may have been apprehensive about a possible ransack of her room by the new government in Tamil Nadu.
She was seen walking alone as no state government employee assisted her. Earlier, at least eight to 10 officials rendered all support. Those courtesies were missing.

As cyber attacks rise, India sets up central command to fight back

Published: Sunday, May 15, 2011, 0:15 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Alarmed over rising cyber attacks from “White hats” in Pakistan and the Chinese “Honker Union” on Indian websites and computer networks, the Manmohan Singh government is in the process of establishing a Cyber Command & Control Authority.
The recent efforts of hackers from mafia groups in erstwhile Soviet Union countries to penetrate even the well-protected defence network prompted the government to set up a central command rather than leave it to each ministry and department to handle the problem.
A senior official involved with the cyber command programme told DNA that despite intelligence agencies issuing “regular warnings against possible hacking”, there had been little success in countering the attacks, forcing the change in approach from the government. However, the minister for communications and IT, Sachin Pilot, won’t go beyond saying that “the government has formulated a crisis management plan for countering cyber attacks and cyber terrorism”.
A crucial aspect of fighting a cyber attack is to launch a counter-attack, with the help of private IT experts if required. These experts are known as “white hats” if they work for state agencies. For example, when Delhi police recently arrested a software engineer Bhupinder Singh in a hacking case, it discovered that the person had once hacked some key computer networks in Pakistan. Bhupinder Singh is in fact considered amongst theworld’s ace cyber hackers and worked for a fee.
The white hats may work for the government without being directly on the rolls. The “black hats”, on the other hand, are hackers who obtain sensitive data for criminal activities. The Chinese hackers, known as Honker Union, who succeeded in penetrating Google servers last year and even broke the source code of Microsoft, are believed to have state patronage.
The need to establish a unified cyber Command is considered vital because cyber attacks are going to be part of future warfare.
There was some debate over whether this command should be under one of the ministries or directly under the prime minister, but now it has been placed under the National Security Adviser who reports to the PM.
It is learnt that officials in the national security apparatus have already interacted with the US, whose CYBYERCOMM works as a central command. The need for it was felt when websites of NASA, the state department and commerce department were hacked in 2007. The hackers disabled 2000 computers of theUS Army and also penetrated the networks of VISA, MasterCard and Paypal. In Britain, the parliament’s website faced the same fate, following which a cyber command on the lines of the US system was established at a cost of 650 million pounds. The US is also believed to have carried out cyber warfare by infecting the Iranian nuclear network with the Stuxnet computer worm.
In a confidential dossier, the US informed India that more than 100 attacks take place every day from all over the world to break its security network. It is in this backdrop that India is now establishing its own central cyber command authority under the PMO.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Assam win a personal triumph for the PM

The Congress may be rejoicing UPA’s win in Assembly polls in three out of five states. But it was a matter of rather personal triumph for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when Tarun Gogoi returned to power third time in a row.

The hat-trick to Gogoi in crucial polls gladdened Prime Minister’s heart as he represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha. He had been representing Assam ever since he came into politics and takes personal interest in its affairs with regard to development and related issues. He has a personal rapport with the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi as well.  The third significant factor in Assam was that he had actively campaigned in the state during the Assembly polls. He participated in both the phases of campaign and went out of his way to appeal to the people to defeat the divisive BJP style of campaigning.

The Prime Minister was in Kabul when the counting of votes was underway and the moment it surfaced that Congress is nearing two-third majority in the state, he rang up Tarun Gogoi to congratulated him. Of course, he congratulated TMC chief Mamata Bannerjee also who dislodged the Left from West Bengal after 34 years.

The Assam victory is also a message to those who think that Dr manmohan Singh is no star campaigner. In fact, the campaigning style of Tarun Gogoi was in such a low-key that almost all pre-poll surveys had predicted that the Congress is on a weak wicket. But it was the development plank of the Congress, liberal aid from the UPA government and failure of almost all groupings to connect with the masses that led to this massive mandate.

Meanwhile, speculation is on about who will replace Mamata Bannerjee in the Railway Ministry. Since there is no Cabinet Minister or Minister of State with Independent charge belonging to the TMC is in the Union Cabinet, it would impossible for the PM to give this portfolio to a Minister of State. A reshuffle of the Union Council of Minister is on the cards within the next fortnight will enable the TMC to induct new faces.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Do we need Navy SEALs type commandos ?

It seems we are becoming wiser after what happened in Abbotabad where Osama was bumped off and buried in the sea by the US Navy SEALs. There is a clamour why India can't undertake similar operations against those operating from Pakistan's soil. Good Question. None has answered except Union Home Secretary G K Pillai who explained that India is a neighbour of Pakistan and will have to see the consequences of such an adventure. He seems to be right. After all, Pakistan's non-state actors raided Kargil and country lost hundreds of our Jawans in 1999, then the same non-state actors hijacked Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandhar in and succeeded in getting dreaded militants released, in 2001 they raided Indian Parliament and in 2008 what happened in Mumbai is known to all. Don't we have non-state actors who can do the same in Pakistan ? Perhaps no. The top IB, RAW and other intelligence agencies tell us that I K Gujral ordered the destruction of all such modules working in Pakistan for India when he was PM and Vajpayee was busy hugging Pakis for a Nobel prize. So, the big question is - Do we need Navy SEALs commandos to kill Dawood or other 50 dreaded terrorists wanted by India. The government is singing in three different tunes -- Home Minister P Chidambaram talks something, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna speaks something else and the PM singing the Vajpayee tune. Of course, Advani may blame UPA without realsing what happened when he was Home Minister in the NDA regime for 6 years himself. The pro-active policy was buried deep under.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why so much noise over Osama ?

I was in Africa for more than a week and the news of Osama bin laden's killing by the US Navy SEALs broke when in Nigeria. Africa's 53 countries have around 45% of Muslim population and they are gradually returning to stable political regime, coming of the shell, emerging from the wood. I interacted with the foreign ministry officials and a whole lot of people there, got a sense of what's happening in the African continent. But the news was taken as if nothing had happened. While the world will keep debating the definition of terror and religion, the issue that baffles me most is the reaction of certain elements in Jammu and Kashmir. Why should Indian citizens, belonging to any community and religion, react differently. If Pakistan is a victim of terrorism too like India, as it claims, surely both should join hands to eliminate "this terror". Will somebody answer this question ?