Monday, July 25, 2011

PM turns agriculturist, shifts gear

Harish Gupta. NEW DELHI

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh seem to have shifted gear and the focus of the economy is shifting to agriculture. In a major development which raised eyebrows, the Prime Minister has directed Union Agriculture and Food processing Minister Sharad Pawar to present a comprehensive report card on the “State of Indian Agriculture” in Parliament.

The “State of Indian Agriculture” will be an annual feature like the Economic Survey, Railway Budget and the Union Budget during the 12-week long Budget session  in February. This will be first time when status paper on agriculture will be presented.

Highly placed sources in the Prime Minister’s office confirmed that the step has been taken to focus on the rural India where more than 70% population is dependent on agriculture. Though Economic Survey of India presented by the Union Finance Minister every February does a chapter on agriculture and also Annual Reports of the departments
Concerned, it was felt that there had hardly been any serious discussion and debate in the house on the agriculture.

The decision also stems from the fact that despite falling investments in the agriculture and allied sectors to the total of the GDP over the past ten years and agriculture land shrinking at a faster pace, the sector has shown resilience. The review undertaken by the Prime Minister with Sharad Pawar and concerned ministries revealed that investments in agriculture has fallen in real terms. If it was 24% of the GDP in 2001-02, the investments went down to 14.62% during 2009-10. Yet, the foodgrain production jumped to a record 242 million tonnes – almost 11% more than last year. With food security bill becoming a reality sometime next year, the country’s needs would jump to 300 million tonnes. This will be possible only when huge investments are made in the agriculture and allied sectors.

Thus, Dr Manmohan Singh decided to focus on the agriculture for the growth story keep going in a big way as manufacturing, mining, electricity, gas and power sectors have slowed down. The state of agriculture report will contain inputs from all the allied sectors such as  Ministries and departments of fertiliser, water resources, power, rural development, science and technology, harvest management and food processing etc.

It has been admitted by government’s policy makers that if the target of 9% plus GDP growth is to be achieved, the focus has to be on the agriculture sector. Even in the present 8.5% GDP growth achieved this year, the contribution of agriculture sector had been 6.6%. With the current monsoon season on track and satisfactory so far, the agriculture ministry expects that the crop will be all time high and agriculture growth would touch 7% mark.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The promotion of Jayanthi Natarajan  as Union Minister has created a piquant situation for the Congress as the UPA will lose a majority in the crucial Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Jayanthi quit from the PAC and now a fresh election has to be held for the body whose report on 2G has been held up due to proper voting and passage.  Her resignation should gladden the hearts of the NDA and the Opposition which will join hands to ensure that the UPA loses in the election.  It was her one vote that had ensured that the Murli Manohar Joshi's report got got rejected and created a political crisis in the body.  

The Congress will have to seek the support of the SP, BSP or the AIADMK and other such allies who have been unhappy with it for some time.
The Congress is likely to propose the name of Oscar Fernandes. But it does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha where the UPA is hopelessly short of 30 in a house of 240. The Congress leadership did not realise this when it picked up Jayanthi Natrajan for the ministry.
The Left parties, the SP and AIADMK are allies and even if the Congress gets the BSP on its side, it won't be able to win the PAC seat in the contest.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Send your resignation right away, Kapil Sibal told solicitor general

Published: Tuesday, Jul 12, 2011, 0:40 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The prospects of solicitor-general Gopal Subramanium’s continuation in the government are uncertain as prime minister Manmohan Singh has declined to intervene in the controversy and left it to the wisdom of the administrative ministries concerned.

It also transpires that when law minister M Veerappa Moily met the PM, the issue was not confined to the resignation of solicitor general. The two discussed the over-activism of the judiciary and the way some of the orders have been passed by the highest court of the country.
Whether it was the duty of the law officers of the country to put the government’s view point forcefully or and whether they did so, should be assessed by the law ministry.

There have been reports that it was HRD and telecom minister Kapil Sibal who curtly told the SG to “send in the resignation right now if you so desire” when he protested against the appointment of senior advocate Rohington Nariman in the 2G case. Sibal refused to budge and made it clear that he would have law officer of his choice to defend his department.

Moily did request Subramanium to reconsider his decision. But sources close to him confided that Moily himself is under attack due to a series of adverse SC orders. Secondly, the relief to Sibal in the SC on Monday established that the minister’s decision was right.

It is also learnt that attorney general GE Vahnvati is also uncomfortable with the present SG and would like to have a new face. Therefore, the departure of Subramanium seems certain in the current political scenario.
Agency reports suggested that the government would decide on the SG’s resignation in the next “two to three days”.

Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA)

Harish Gupta. New Delhi

What happens when the director of  Indira Gandhi National centre for the Arts (IGNCA) once headed by Sonia Gandhi herself engaged in the pursuit of knowledge on arts and culture chooses to ignore a Right To information query?

The director is asked to appear before the Central Information Commission and personally explain the delay in furnishing information under the RTI application. The CIC was extremely up set that Prof S. Settar of the INGCA was responsible for denying the information when it was readily available.  What shocked the RTI activists was the fact that IGNAC was once headed by Sonia Gandhi who had brought the transparency law into the country in 2005. Therefore, how could her successors violate the very law and spirit of the act.

The problem occurred when Ms P Lochan from Bengaluru sought information relating to the sacking of some of the employees of the Southern Regional Centre, IGNCA, since April 2005. She filed the application in May 2010 but got no response within the stipulated period. The hapless applicant knocked at the door of the CIC in February this year.

When the CIC asked the IGNCA for the reasons for the delay, the PIO stated that he had sought the assistance of  Prof. S. Settar who is an Honorary Director having the required information. But the same was not provided by him and led to the delay.

The Information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, in his order held PIO V. P. Sharma guilty of not furnishing information within the time specified under sub-section (1) of Section 7 by not replying within 30 days. “As per the requirement of the RTI Act, it appears that the PIO’s actions attract the penal provisions of Section 20.

As if this was not enough, the CIC ordered that Prof. S. Settar will present himself before the Commission either through Video Conference or by personal presence on 05 August 2011 at 4.30pm along with his written submissions showing cause why penalty should not be imposed on him as mandated under the law. “He may go to the NIC-Studio at Bangaluru at 04.30PM on 05 August 2011 if he wishes to attend the show cause through Video Conference. He may also send written submissions if he wishes to the Commission before 20 July 2011” said the CIC.

 Chinmaya R. Gharekhan is the chairman of IGNAC and board of trustees include Kanti Bajpai, Kapila Vatsyayan,  Anil Baijal,  Jawahar Sarkar, Dr Swati Piramal
Salman Haider and others.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Supreme Court on the question of setting up a Special Investigation Team

Harish Gupta. New Delhi

The Manmohan Singh government is in a serious dilemma whether to file a review petition in the Supreme Court on the question of setting up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by a retired Supreme Court judge with 10 top government officers and agencies reporting to him on Black Money.

Highly placed sources told the DNA late today that the Congress Core Committee held an unscheduled meeting to discuss the issue of go in for a review of the SC judgment and also on crisis in Telengana among other things.

When contacted, a senior official in the Prime Minister’s office said, “the matter is engaging the attention.”

While the union finance minister pranab mukherjee is extremely upset with the SC order as he had himself set up the high-powered committee comprising of heads of the RBI, CBDT, Revenue secretary, Enforcement director and other agencies on black money. The committee had been meeting regularly and making recommendations as well.
But the SC went ahead to set up SIT under its command and control under Justice B P Jeevan Reddy and M K Shah. However, another view in the government is that if it went ahead with the review petition, it will be construed of  government’s insincerity  in bringing black money stashed abroad. It may send a wrong signal  too and give the Opposition a handle to launch another attack at a time when it is facing problem on various fronts.

Sources close to the Congress president Sonia Gandhi say that if the SC-monitored SIT is handling the issue, the Opposition won’t be able to attack the government and the party for not doing enough on the issue. It will be the responsibility of the Supreme Court now to do it. Secondly, the government accepted several SITs in the past – whether on Gujarat or demolitions in Delhi and for other issues. So why shall the government challenge this SIT merely because its on black money.

“Let it be a test case for the SC SIT. The government should seek certain clarifications and it should be a time-bound SIT and not unlimited and continueous body,” said a source.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rajya Sabha biennial poll for 12 seats: Race begins

Harish Gupta. New Delhi

Sitaram Yetchury, senior CPM leader, is likely to get the re-nomination to the Rajya Sabha in the biennial polls slated to take place on July 22 in West Bengal and couple of other states.

Highly placed sources in the CPM say that CPM general secretary Prakash Karat has sent word that he would like to re-nominate Sitaram Yetchury. There is consideration speculation in the Left parties as to who will be nominated to the lone seat the CPM is going to get from West Bengal. Sitaram Yetchury and Brinda Karat are retiring this month and both were first timers and have a claim for the seat. But Yetchury has been a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on 2G spectrum scam and also chairman of the parliament’s standing committee on Tourism. Besides, Prakash Karat who has been on the back-foot would not take the trouble of  re-nominating his wife ignoring the claim of Yetchury.

In all, there are five vacancies in Rajya Sabha from West Bengal. The Trinamool Congress will win three, one by the Congress and one by the Left Front combine. July 12 is the last date of filing nomination papers and there is considerable activity within the BJP, Congress and other parties to  fill 10 regular Rajya Sabha seats and two other casual vacancies (One in Maharashtra due to the resignation of Prithviraj Chavan and another in Tamil Nadu as  K V ramalingam was elected to the state Assembly).

The BJP high command is understood to have indicated its desire to nominate Nirmala Sitaraman, a telugu speaking BJP national spokesman for the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. BJP Parliamentary board is meeting next to select three candidates while the Congress will win the fourth seat. Since Assembly elections are due in Gujrat next year, the preferences of Chief Minister Narendra Modi have to be taken into consideration. Ahmad Patel, political secretary to the Congress president Sonia Gandhi is set to be re-nominated from Gujrat, party sources say.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Enemies property bill Jinxed, future of 2200 property hangs

Harish Gupta. New Delhi
The fate of 2,186 'enemy properties' will hang in the balance as the bill relating to such properties is set to lapse again.  
The reason; the Standing Committee of  the Parliament relating to Home Ministry could not take up  the bill for a discussion so far. It won't be able to discuss the controvertial bill either this month either. Ttherefore, the Parliament will not be able to discuss and pass the same during the ensuing Monsoon session beginning August 1. It is mandatory for the standing committee to discuss the bill without which it doesn't go back to the parliament.
When contacted, M Venkiah Naidu, chairman of the standing committee  confirmed it. He told the DNA, "the committee won’t be able to take up the bill in July."  
The bill is considered jinxed from the beginning. This is the third time the Bill is set to lapse. The bill is to replace the old law which said 'no India-born legal heirs to properties, left behind by those who migrated to Pakistan after Partition, can approach the courts. The new version, permits them to claim ownership to such properties, if they prove their status to the government.
It's a high profile - big stake battle. A stellar cast of Congress and BJP politician-lawyers have represented different parties to the wider dispute over the years.
Home Minister Chidambaram appeared in the Supreme Court against the Raja of Mehmoodabad in 2002. Five years later, it was Arun Jaitley, now the leader of the Opposition the Rajya Sabha and in 2009, Ram Jethmalani who appeared against the Raja.
Raja Mohammed Amir Ahmad Khan's legal counsels have included Salman Khurshid, now a Union minister and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress Party spokesperson and a Rajya Sabha MP.
 Now the claimants and those occupying the properties and others - including wealthy businessmen including the Raja of Mehmoodabad (UP) - granted user rights to 2200 odd properties over the years by the Custodian, often at throw away rates - await the Parliament's decision.
The  UPA government has been trying hard to pass this bill due to its political interest for the past two years. It failed to pass the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill in Parliament last year and promulgate fresh Ordinance incorporating the fresh amendments bestowing rights to the families of those who had migrated to Pakistan after the partition.  
The bill is controversial in the sense that it includes all the three amendments —allows enemy property to be claimed by legal heir of the original owner, puts limitations on the courts in the divestment of the properties, allowing the custodian to control it, and the third ensures that the legal right of current tenants/occupants of enemy properties remains unaffected by the Bill.
 The NDA and the BJP too seem to have two views of the bill and a deferment will come as a relief to all. Since many of their leaders from Uttar Pradesh, not saying no to the bill, just as yet. Former Party president, Rajnath Singh maintains that the party is yet to decide its stand. Another senior BJP leader, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi says, "People cannot be deprived of what is rightfully theirs."
 Even the JD(U) is also in support of the bill. The Congress, however, doesn’t have numbers in the Rajya Sabha and would like to have a consensus and even incorporated a few suggestions.

Friday, July 1, 2011

MoEF - Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh has gone soft again

Harish Gupta. New Delhi

Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh has gone soft again. After bowing to the pressures in “go and no go areas” in the coal belt, several hydro projects, he has virtually issued a blank cheque to all solar thermal power projects saying these are not required to obtain environmental clearance from his ministry.

In late evening notification issued by his ministry, up it was stated that State Pollution control boards are not required to take prior clearance from either the Environment Impact Committee or any other central authority under his ministry. However, they are expected to follow certain guidelines and the same had been issued in the past.

It may be mentioned that Dr Farooq Abdullah had bitterly complained to the Prime Minister that most of the solar power projects in the country had been held for want of environmental clearances and his ministry won’t be able to achieve targets of producing power. Earlier, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had complained to the PM in this regard.  

While Ramesh’s ministry has been on a giving one clearance certificate after the other in the recent past, today it issued a virtual blank certificate to all solar power projects. The Ministry of new and renewable energy had pleaded with the environment ministry that in view of the stringent targets set by the government under the solar mission, urgent action was needed to be taken. It was also pointed out that Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission project launched in January last year had been way behind schedule due to these hurdles and the same may be cleared.

After a series of deliberations and Prime Minister’s observations yesterday with the editors where he made it clear that development cannot be compromised, the MoEF took the unusual step and said these need not come to it for clearances.

Moily to bring down one crore pending court cases in six months

Harish Gupta. New Delhi

Struggling to bring down the whopping over 3 crore pending court cases in the country, Union Law Minister is embarking on a Mission Impossible. 

Come July 1 and he is determined to bring down the figure by one crore within six months. "The new policy is expected to reduce average pending time of cases from 15 years to 3 years and reduce number of cases by one crores within six months, " Moily said while talking to the DNA.

He said that the process of digitization of courts in the country was on a fast-track and this itself will bring down the number of cases. The government would set up commercial divisions in High Courts to settle high value litigation. This move received a setback in July when a parliamentary select committee recommended several changes in the proposed Bill, including reducing the threshold limit from Rs five crore to one crore.  However, these issues have been cleared and the Bill will be brought before the Parliament in the Monsoon session.  
Moily was unruffled by reports of impending Cabinet reshuffle and said, “ I am doing my job. I do not talk. I work quietly and you will see the result of these silent works by December 2011.”
He said that the Commercial Division of High Courts Bill, 2009 was passed in the Lok Sabha without discussion. But when the Bill was tabled in the Rajya Sabha, it was referred to a select committee in December last year for further examination. 

He said his mission would be successful if the number of cases were brought down and fast-track courts set up and time of pendency was brought to three years. A new Law is being enacted for all cases- be it civil, criminal or otherwise. He said, country’s biggest High Court -- the Allahabad High Court -- nearly 9.68 lakh cases are pending and in subordinate courts over 34 lakh cases are pending trial.

A provision of a grant of Rs. 5,000 crore had been cleared by the 13th Finance Commission relating to the method and technology, and an additional provision of Rs. 935 crore for the E-Courts (computerization of courts) which will include the Paperless Courts and the Technological Courts.