Centre unveils old schemes in saffron bottle
Bihar militia keep finger on trigger
Trai brake on Singh�s Geneva trip
Delhi seeks chunk of Iraq pie
Kalyan puts parallel police on mafia trail
Rare birds served for Andhra feast
Sacked Pune civic chief moves court

New Delhi, March 23 
The Vajpayee government today did away with large chunks of the Congress-United Front rural employment and poverty alleviation policies and launched its own integrated schemes. Minister of state for rural areas and employment Babugouda Patil today formally announced the government�s launch of the Swarna Jayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY).

Patil said different self-employment programmes are now being merged to avoid �overlapping and cumbersome procedures�. It also means bidding adieu to schemes with familiar abbreviations like IRDP (Integrated Rural Development Programme) and TRYSEM (Training of Rural Youth in Self Employment).

Apart from IRDP and TRYSEM, other schemes being done away with or being brought under SGSY are Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWRCA), Supply of Improved Toolkits to Rural Areas (SITRA), Ganga Kalyan Yojana (GKY) and Million Wells Scheme (MWS).

The BJP-led government appears to have simply followed what bureaucrats � since the time of Narasimha Rao � had been insisting on; about clubbing and rationalising these existing schemes. �The components will all remain,� the minister said. The SGSY will concentrate on organisation of beneficiaries, training, infrastructure-building, credit and marketing.

There is some confusion over the renaming of Jawahar Rozgar Yojana. Finance minister Yashwant Sinha had said in his budget speech that JRY will henceforth be known as Gram Samriddhi Yojana (GSY). Patil said a rethink was on about the name of the scheme following questions raised by the Opposition.

The new GSY will be confined to the creation of rural infrastructure only at the village level. Therefore, the entire fund will be released to gram panchayats. It has also been decided to empower panchayats to take up work costing up to Rs 20,000.

Other technical changes have been introduced in the Employment Assurance Scheme, Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programmes and also in guidelines for functioning of the District Rural Development Agencies (DRDAs).

Kerala, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh continue to be the three states which oppose direct passage of funds to the districts. At present, the Centre is encouraging direct flow of funds to the DRDAs. These states prefer to receive the funds themselves and then pass on the money to the districts.

But a number of safeguards are being introduced to prevent recurrence of diversion of rural development funds, as was seen during the alleged personal ledger scam in West Bengal. �We are releasing the next tranche of funds only on receipt of non-diversion utilisation certificates,� said rural employment secretary P.L.S. Reddy.

The Centre has also written to the Karnataka, Pondicherry and Assam governments and urged them to hold their panchayat elections without delay. The ruling Janata Dal has been postponing these grassroots polls in Karnataka for quite a few months to avoid embarrassing defeats.

In Bihar, elections have not been held and the issue is pending before the Supreme Court. As long as the matter is sub judice, it is impossible for the Centre to intervene in Bihar.

The minister agreed that gradually, the government would have to think in terms of handing over authority to panchayat members to sign cheques. If that happens, gram panchayat or panchayat samiti politicians would become the first politicians to have the authority to sign government cheques.

In India, as in other democracies, only bureaucrats can sign cheques. In the sub-district level, only block-level officials are empowered to sign cheques.    

Patna, March 23 
The Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and Ranbir Sena in Bihar have accused each other of killing innocent bystanders, but no letup in violence is expected as both have vowed to fight to the end.

The ultra-Left MCC, claiming responsibility for Thursday�s massacre of 35 Bhumihars at Senari, said in a statement the victims patronised the Sena and had taken part in its terror campaigns.

The statement, signed by MCC central zone committee secretary Badal, said: �We are committed to wiping out the landlords� private army. The Senari exercise was executed to check the killing of innocent, poor people.�

Denying the perception that the Senari victims were innocent, Badal said: �They were reactionaries and staunch supporters of the Ranbir Sena. They have been giving shelter to Sena killers and helping it financially.� Badal warned upper-caste Bhumihars to break away from the Sena or face a fate similar to Senari.

He said the MCC could not remain silent on the killing of poor people by �upper-caste goons�. �Eight hundred comrades executed this peoples� action,� he claimed. His statement contained no reference to the MCC�s attack on the Saharsha police picket as alleged by the authorities. Police said the picket was attacked to prevent deployment of forces to Senari.

Threatening more massacres, the statement said: �If the Ranbir Sena continues its anti-people operations, we will be forced to enact more Senaris.�

However, refusing to be cowed down by the MCC threat, Ranbir Sena spokesman Shamsher Bahadur Singh said the landlords� army was firm on �eliminating extremism. �We are firm on liquidating all ultra-Left extremist groups even though we have no animosity against the poor or Dalit farm labourers,� he said in a statement issued from the Sena�s �new police lines� office.

The Ranbir Sena, for the first time, attacked state BJP chief Sushil Kumar Modi for saying his party would extend support to the government to eliminate the private landlords� army.

Singh said the Senari carnage was executed by the MCC at the behest of a particular political party, meaning the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal. �The Sena will soon avenge the Senari carnage,� he warned.

Jehanabad, scene of much bloodshed recently, got a new district magistrate. R.K. Shrivastava, IAS and managing director of the Bihar marketing board, was sent to replace Arunish Chawla, sent on deputation abroad.    

New Delhi, March 23 
Foreign minister Jaswant Singh�s proposed trip to Geneva, where he was to address a conference on disarmament and deliver a lecture at the UN Commission for Human Rights, has run into rough weather due to the telephone tariff impasse.

Singh was to leave for Geneva today. But this morning, he received urgent summons from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, asking him to cancel his trip and instead, sort out the national telecom policy, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and telephone tariff issues with telecommunications minister Jagmohan. Singh is also the chairman of the Group on Telecom.

The Indian foreign ministry is yet to say whether Singh�s visit to Geneva has been called off or it is being rescheduled. Some officials hope the minister will still be in a position to address the two important meets by the end of the week. But realists in South Block said such a possibility seems remote.

If Singh cannot make it to the disarmament conference, an attempt will be made to send him to Geneva some time in May, when the conference resumes.

The occasion is being viewed with special significance by Indian officials, as this will be the first time a minister from Delhi will be addressing the high-profile forum as a representative of nuclear India.    

New Delhi, March 23 
In a clear indication of growing Indo-Iraqi closeness, Union petroleum minister V. Ramamurthy will visit Baghdad in mid-April. He will be the first Indian minister of Cabinet rank to visit the country in 10 years.

The visit, dates for which are being worked out, is likely to help establish Delhi as a firm friend of Baghdad at a time when it is under military and diplomatic assault from the West, especially the US and the UK, over its alleged retention of weapons of mass destruction.

This could also help Delhi secure a greater share of orders from Iraq�s $10-billion a year oil-for-food programme. India�s current trade with Iraq is not worth more than $100 million.

Indo-Iraqi relations have seen many ups and downs over the past decade, suffering a major setback when Iraq invaded Kuwait triggering the Gulf War. In the intervening period, Iraq despatched regular visitors to Delhi � a gesture not reciprocated by India.

There seems to have been a change of stance, however, since the BJP-led coalition came to power last March.

Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi led a parliamentary delegation to Iraq, which was followed by a visit to Baghdad by minister of state for agriculture Sompal. Last September, the two sides also held a joint commission meeting in New Delhi after a gap of 10 years and signed an MoU on oil and natural gas exploration.

India is keen to bag a major part of the massive rehabilitation and construction work required in war-ravaged Iraq.

In South Block�s assessment, Iraq no longer poses a threat to its neighbours, and to promote security and stability in the region, Baghdad should be brought back into the mainstream of regional and international affairs.

India has also rejected suggestions for changes affecting Iraq�s territorial integrity, which include the enforcement of the two no-fly zones and creation of a Kurdish enclave in Iraq.

Delhi supports lifting of sanctions on Iraq if it is linked to Baghdad�s compliance with the UN resolution. But it is aware that ground realities in Iraq are more complex than this.

The Saddam Hussein regime has claimed that it no longer has any weapons of mass destruction. India feels the burden of proof lies with the United Nations, and not with Iraq.

However, it feels Unscom, which has been highly discredited with its proven espionage links, cannot be the instrument for carrying out this difficult job.

India has also voiced its concern over the massive military build-up in the Gulf against Iraq, which it feels, has only contributed to heightened insecurity and instability in the region.

Senior officials in the Indian foreign ministry underline the need to develop fresh ideas to deal with the situation in Iraq and feel new institutions should be established to serve the UN objective rather than the interests of any individual country.

To bring Iraq back into the mainstream, they favour the French suggestions, which talk about lifting of sanctions side by side with effective control on the use of the oil revenues to make sure they are not channelled by Baghdad to military uses.

Delhi also feels military action against Iraq should be resorted to only if the Saddam Hussein regime appears in UN assessment to be a threat to its neighbours.

During Ramamurthy�s visit to Iraq, all these issues are likely to be raised and discussed.    

Lucknow, March 23 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh has decided to set up a parallel police force in the districts to cope with the rising power of the mafia.

Announcing this in the Assembly this evening, Kalyan Singh said a Special Operations Group (SOG) , along the lines of the Special Task Force posted at headquarters here, would be set up. The SOG will be exclusively involved in gathering intelligence and tracking down the mafia. This group will act as the local wing of the Special Task Force headed by the additional director-general of police.

The chief minister was speaking on the home department�s budget in the Assembly. He sought to stave off growing criticism on the law and order in the state, especially the nexus between lower-level jail staff and criminals in the jails. The SOG in the districts would be controlled by a deputy inspector-general at range headquarters and an inspector-general at the zonal headquarters, he said.

However, the top brass of the state police appeared sceptical of the move.

�It will completely undermine the role of the district police which is already demoralised. Instead of providing increased training and weapons to the district police, the government has sought to spend money on creating a parallel force,� a senior police officer said.

Thus far, the Special Task Force, while tracking down the mafia in districts, used to coordinate with the district police to gather intelligence and prepare for encounters.

Kalyan Singh has agreed that major changes are needed in the state jails manual to check criminals like Mukhtar Ansari, Abhay Singh and former Dawood Ibrahim aide Babloo Srivastava from masterminding killings and kidnappings through cell phones from jail.

Srivastava had planned the kidnapping of a prominent Calcutta-based hotelier from Naini jail. The Special Task Force gunned down three members of his team in the city the day the kidnapping was supposed to have been carried out.

Kalyan Singh lauded the efforts of the Special Task Force and said �the force has become a terror for the state mafia�.

A committee headed by the chief secretary has been set up to suggest changes in the Uttar Pradesh jails manual.

Justifying statistics that showed a rise in crime in the state, the chief minister said: �We have not concealed cases of heinous crime and asked police stations to register all cases, something which my predecessors did not do.�

He said Uttar Pradesh was a riot-free state. �In 1991, after I became chief minister there was just one incident and in 1998 there was just one riot-like incident in Moradabad,� he said, adding that the inquiry into the incident was complete.

�The findings will embarrass the Opposition. Hence I shall not make them public,� he said. Four hundred and seventy five mafia dons have been arrested. Action has also been taken against 1240 policemen found conniving with gangsters at various levels, he added. The Opposition has, however, dismissed the chief minister�s figures as �hogwash�.

�Jail staff are crying for security, a jail superintendent is killed in broad daylight and gangsters are found to possess cell phones even after their transfer to other jails. Kalyan Singh�s claims are pure hogwash,� said Congress Legislature Party chief Pramod Tiwari.    

Hyderabad, March 23 
The Andhra Pradesh government, already facing a Supreme Court notice on last year�s deer-dinner hosted by irrigation minister T. Nageswar Rao, might be in for fresh trouble over the killing of thousands of Siberian migratory birds, this time for a religious bash.

Four persons, including a member of Telugu Desam minister K. Vidyadhar Rao�s camp, M. Balram, were taken into custody today by forest officials here and produced in court for killing migratory birds like cranes, coots, whistling teals and spotted ducks.

Booked under several sections of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the four have been handed over to the police for further interrogation. Apart from Balram, others arrested were his father Ramdas, school teacher U. Venkateswar Rao and the head master of the zilla parishad school K. Subba Rao. The feast was held on Sunday in honour of the local deity of Kolletikota village, Peddintlaammavaru.

Balram, a liquor baron and an aspirant for a Desam ticket, had thrown the party for 1,400 invitees at Kolletikota village in the heart of the Kolleru wild life sanctuary in West Godavari district. The revellers used the zilla parishad school building for the bash which went on for about 24 hours.

�Forty-eight cases of hard liquor and beer were consumed,� said a police officer, who attended the party as a courtesy gesture to the Desam leader. While conservator of forests Ramesh Kalghatigi headed the operation, district forest officer K.V. Subramaniam supervised the investigation.

The officers said the villagers claimed they had foiled attempts by followers of the Desam leader to destroy evidence of feathers and dead animals. Empty liquor bottles and cases were strewn all around the school premises. Carcass of rare Indian and migratory birds were recovered by the forest officials, much to the discomfiture of Desam leaders.

Over 60 kg of bird meat was served to the VIPs after prayers were offered to Peddintlaammavaru, worshipped as a protector of birds at the village�s centuries-old lake. Headmaster K. Subba Rao told the police the revellers broke open the locks of the school and gained entry on Saturday.

The villagers said about 3,000 birds were killed for Sunday�s bash. �Huge quantities of chicken, pork and mutton were served, but bird meat was the speciality,� says Govinda Rao, one of the 25 cooks hired for the feast. The forest officers said local bird poachers had hunted the birds for the last one week after receiving Rs 3,000 as advance from Ramdas.

The Congress raised the issue in the Assembly today, but chief minister Chandrababu Naidu feigned ignorance about the matter.    

Mumbai, March 23 
Senior IAS officer Arun Bhatia, who was forcibly transferred as Pune municipal commissioner, today filed an affidavit in Bombay High Court, stating the state government�s decision to transfer him was a punitive measure to serve vested interests.

Bhatia was directed by a division bench to file an affidavit in response to a public interest litigation by Pune citizens� groups. Although he appeared in court today, he refused to speak to journalists.

In his affidavit, the IAS officer, known for standing up to the establishment, stated �the transfer order is in all intent and purpose a punitive removal in the guise of a transfer and the same was actuated by malafide at the instance of vested interests�.

An officer of 1967 cadre, support for Bhatia has been snowballing in Pune ever since he was served the transfer order within a week of taking up the post of Pune municipal commissioner. Famous for his honesty, Bhatia�s appointment as Pune municipal commissioner was a demotion as he was previously a divisional commissioner with four districts under him.

It was his demolition drive to clear Pune�s arterial roads of illegal structures that ruffled feathers in high places. Among the structures demolished were properties owned by Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Kalmadi and those by builder Girish Vyas, son-in-law of former chief minister Manohar Joshi.

It was while he was on holiday at his home that he was suddenly served the transfer order by a police constable. Another officer took over as commissioner in his absence.

Support for Bhatia has come from some very strong votaries in the state, including literary icon P.L. Deshpande and social crusader Anna Hazare. A citizen�s group and three others filed a public interest litigation, seeking Bhatia�s reinstatement. The high court is currently hearing the case.    


Maintained by Web Development Company