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Crucial Assembly Polls:CONGRESS FIGHTS TWO HANDICAPS, by Insaf,24 January 2007 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 24 January 2007

Crucial Assembly Polls


By Insaf

The Assembly polls next month in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur are crucial for all and more so for the Sonia Congress, presently ruling the three States. The party is fighting two major handicaps: anti-incumbency and intense infighting in the State units over ticket distribution. Ticket-seekers are up in arms against ticket-distributors. Punjab is worse hit. The Amarinder Singh-led Government, which is fighting a tough battle against a resurgent Akali Dal (Badal) in alliance with the BJP, is facing protests and alienation by those denied party nominations. Allegations of denial of tickets to some long-time party workers even forced the High Command to re-consider the list and make some changes. Despite this, resentment continues among the party workers. 

Some State Congress leaders and workers have even come out publicly against the Amarinder Singh Government to state that not enough has been done for development during its first four years in office. The critics of the Government in the party however concede that the Chief Minister has tried to make up for the lapse during the last one year and enabled the Congress to retrieve the lost ground. Amarinder Singh, on his part, has claimed that the Congress was “very sure of winning atleast 70 seats in the 117-member Assembly.” The party’s task has been made easier on two counts. First, Uma Bhart is fielding her candidates in all the constituencies which the BJP is fighting. Second, Mayawati’s BSP has failed to consolidate its Dalit votes in Punjab, following Kanshi Ram’s death. Meanwhile, the Congress has drawn up hectic election campaign schedules ahead of the February 13 Assembly poll.

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Infighting In Uttarakhand Congress

Infighting in the State Congress over the ticket distribution for the Assembly poll in Uttarakhand on February 21 has affected the prospects of the Congress retaining power in the hill State.  A major problem has been created by some 300 “lal batti wallah” State leaders with flashing red sirens on their “official” cars and holding ranks equivalent to Ministers of State or heads of various State Boards and Corporations. The Congress’ return to power is also threatened by intense factional fight between Chief Minister N.D. Tiwari and State chief Harish Rawat. All the “lal-batti-wallahs denied tickets are expected to further spoil the party’s chances.  Added to this is N.D. Tiwari’s decision not to contest the election. His absence from the scene may cost the Congress a large part of the Brahmin votes in the Kumaon region. The support of K.C. Pant and his wife is already with the BJP.

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Maulana & Mahant Mulayam

Even as the main Opposition parties in U.P., the BJP, BSP and the Congress, have stepped up their offensive against the Mulayam Singh Government, the Chief Minister is making stout efforts to gain popularity and retain power. Hitherto identified with the epithet of “Maulana”, he has now tried to don a new hat, that of a “Mahant”. He took a dip in the Ganga at the Sangam during the Ardh Kumbh last week and paid an obeisance to the saints. The latter, showered blessings on the Chief Minister and wished him another full term on U.P.’s throne.  They even called him “mahant and protector” of the saints and sadhus. At the same time, Mulayam Singh has been using every opportunity to appease the Muslims.  A day after the Union Minority Affairs Minister, A.R. Antulay blamed his own Congress for the plight of the Muslims at a convention in Aligarh, Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party pounced on the statement to accuse the Congress of anti-Muslim bias. 

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ULFA Continues To Strike

Unconcerned by the intensified Army action in Assam against the underground United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the dreaded militant group continues to strike. After killing about 75 Hindi-speaking people, mostly from Bihar, the militants have issued a warning to the non-Assamese, who comprise three per cent of the Assam’s 2.6 crore population, to leave the State immediately.  Two days after this warning, the militant outfit triggered a power bomb blast in Tinsukia, killing two and injuring eight Hindi-speaking persons. They have now taken on the Congress leaders in the State.  A Congress worker was gunned down by the ULFA in Digboi over the week-end.  In another incident around the same time, the militants shot dead a Congress Panchayat Secretary at Betami village under the Digboi police station.  The group has threatened to continue killings of the Congress leaders if any of its cadres was killed by the security forces.

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Investment Climate In Bihar

Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has generated a lot of goodwill and hope for a great future for the State’s development at a three-day “Global Meet for a Resurgent Bihar” at Patna last week. The meet was at once successful and holds out promise for the future. The Chief Minister claimed in the presence of a large number of NRIs: “Now the people are working. They are not making excuses. On the law and order front, fear has disappeared.” This has created an atmosphere for investment in the State by the NRIs and the multi-national companies, some of which were represented at the global meet.  Bihar has a significant and flourishing non-resident community in the US, UK, Mauritius and the Caribbean. From this point of view, the Global Meet marks a new beginning for the State under the youthful leadership of Nitish Kumar. 

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Modi’s Achievements In Gujarat

Politics in Gujarat is hotting up, thanks to Narendra Modi and his Government’s achievements on the development front. Modi’s determined efforts led to the completion of the prolonged and controversial Sardar Sarovar Narmada project, which was dedicated to the Nation last week. It will generate 1450 MW power and would provide massive irrigation facilities to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. This achievement of the Hindu icon Modi and the BJP has led the Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi to visit the State and fire her first salvo for the Assembly poll later in the year.  She addressed a massive rally at Devgadhbaria (Dahod) last week, targeting the tribals and their 26 reserved seats in the Assembly and 20 other constituencies which they dominate. Emboldened by the success of the rally, Sonia Gandhi is now planning three other rallies across the State in the next few weeks.

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States Favour Pension Reforms

As many as 19 States, except those ruled by the Left parties in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, have agreed to the provisions of the proposed Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority Bill (PFRDA).  In fact, most of them, including those ruled by the BJP, are getting impatient to get the Bill passed quickly.  Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje even gave an ultimatum to the Centre at a meeting in New Delhi on Monday, that if the Centre was unable to have a legislation on pension reforms before March 31 this year, the State would enact its own law. Prime Minister Manmohan has, however, advised the Chief Ministers to look at the other dimension of the pension reforms---the unavailability of pension instruments for the common man at large. One major objective of the PFRDA Bill is to put in place the delivery mechanism for various pension schemes.

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Civic Polls Make Vilasrao Miss Davos

Politics prevails over economics. This is the message coming once more from Maharashtra. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has missed the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting at Davos from January 24 to 28 because of the civic elections in the State and more especially the Bombay Municipal Corporation poll on February 1.  Maharashtra was the only State this year to  be invited to the WEF meet. The Chief Minister’s last-minute withdrawal is all the more unfortunate as the State had waited 12 years to get a call from the WEF. Riding on the recent economic boom that has brought in more than Rs.40,000 crore of investment to the State, Deshmukh was looking forward to generating more at the Davos meet. His hopes were dashed when he was advised by the party leaders not to leave station on the eve of the crucial civic polls.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Governor-CM Tiff:BIZARRE DEVELOPMENT IN U.P., by Insaf,18 January 2007 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 18 January 2007

Governor-CM Tiff



Uttar Pradesh, increasingly called “ulta Pradesh”, has thrown up a bizarre constitutional situation.  Thanks to the continuing confrontation between Governor T.V. Rajeshwar and Chief Minister Mulayam Singh, a basic question mark has gone up over the powers of the Governor: does the Constitution permit him to govern his State, like under the British raj? The interesting debate was triggered on January 9 when Mulayam Singh’s Cabinet called for a special two-day session of the Assembly on January 15 to seek a vote of confidence,  following the decision of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) of Ajit Singh to  pull out of the Government.  Rajeshwar refused to accept the Cabinet’s decision on the ground that he had already prorogued the Assembly on the basis of the Cabinet’s recommendation of January 3 after the Speaker had adjourned the winter session of the Assembly sine die.

It is another matter that Mulayam Singh avoided a Constitutional crisis by choosing to go by the old adage that discretion is often the better part of valair. He dropped the idea of holding the session on January 15 and instead opted for the session on January 18.  But the Governor’s role in refusing to go by the Cabinet’s earlier recommendation has raised many expert eye brows. The Raj Bhawan’s decision is viewed as unconstitutional and a bad precedent as it could create avoidable problem in various States and at the Centre. In a democracy, the will of the people is supreme. This is reflected in the legislatures at the State level and in the Lok Sabha at the national level.  The Governor has no power to become a dictator or act as one. The ultimate power rests with the legislatures and its Council of Ministers, appointed by the Governor in accordance with the composition of the Assembly or the Lok Sabha. When Ajit Singh’s RLD pulled out of the State Government on January 9, Mulayam Singh had every right to summon the House and seek a vote of confidence on the floor of the House on January 15, prorogation or no prorogation.

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Scandalous Poll Campaign

The pre-poll scene in Punjab is getting murkier and murkier, setting a scandalous trend. The main contestants for power, the ruling Congress and the Akali Dal (Badal), are not only attacking each other personally but are now indulging in a highly libellous advertisement war through the State’s leading newspapers. Although these advertisements have been inserted by groups or individuals who are not covered by the moral code of conduct, they are at once highly defamatory. The ruling Congress, on its part, is trying hard to retain power. In an attempt to win over the Sikh votes, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and other State Congress leaders have even approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to contest the Lok Sabha byelection for the Amritsar seat which fell vacant following Navjot Singh Sidhu’s resignation. Manmohan Singh is disinclined to oblige. But the last word has not been said on the subject. Manmohan Singh’s term in the Rajya Sabha ends in June this year. 

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Congress Plans For Uttarakhand

Next month’s Assembly elections in Uttarakhand and Manipur are also crucial for the Congress party, which is ruling both the States and is facing strong anti-incumbency factor. Additionally, the already-divided State Congress in Uttarakhand has received another jolt. Chief Minister Narain Dutt Tiwari has conveyed to the Central leadership that he would not contest the upcoming Assembly elections and would like to give an upper hand to the State party Chief, Harish Rawat, in future sweepstakes if the party is able to beat anti-incumbency and returns to power. Meanwhile, the Central Committee for finalizing the party’s manifestos for the poll-bound States, has decided to stay committed to the aam aadmi.  In its manifesto for Uttarakhand, the Committee has identified housing, roads and employment as the key issues. It intends promising a special package for the State’s faster growth.

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AFSP Act Main Issue In Manipur

The ruling Congress in Manipur, as also the party High Command are concentrating on the major grievances of the people. The Manipur unit has already proposed to the AICC’s Manifesto Committee that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act be adequately amended to assuage the hurt and resentment of the people in the State. Union Labour Minister, Oscar Fernandes, who heads the Group of Ministers to negotiate peace with the NSCN(IM), has visited Manipur and has had wide-ranging consultations with partymen there.  Fernandes has found that within the State party the issue has triggered a popular movement in the north-eastern State which needs to be addressed. He is now having consultations with the Union Home Ministry on how best an amendment to the AFSP Act could be promised in the party’s manifesto for the upcoming poll.

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PM’s Tough Talk On ULFA

The Prime Minister’s visit to Assam earlier this week came not a day too soon against the backdrop of increasing ULFA violence and chilling attacks on defenceless migrant workers.  He visited the affected areas on Tuesday and stated in no uncertain terms that “there will be no compromise with such groups if they resort to violence.” Much now depends upon how far the ULFA can be cajoled to come to the negotiating table. Of interest was the PM’s reference to recent public survey over the ULFA’s demand for sovereignty. This shows that no one in Assam supports ULFA’s acts of violence and terror. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has been trying hard to have a peace settlement with the ULFA. But the militant group has so far spurned all gestures. Gogoi has now decided to act tough. He has constituted a Unified Command under himself on the lines of the one in J&K to deal with the militancy in the State.

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Naxals Reach Bhopal

Madhya Pradesh, considered immune to the spreading Naxalite menace is now beginning to face the heat. Left-wing extremists have appeared in Bhopal out of the blue, making the State Government sit up. Five suspected Naxalites were arrested last week from a residential colony in Bhopal. Some weapons and ideological literature were also seized.  Searchers in several other colonies in Bhopal and elsewhere in the State were conducted. No further arrests were made, but the Police seized another cache of parts of weapons and literature. This has been taken as a warning signal and the Government has sounded a red alert across the State. Four districts, Balaghat, Madle and Dindori have already been declared as Naxal-affected. The State Police has also got in touch with its counterparts in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, to which the five suspected Naxals belong.

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Tamil Nadu Reacts Sharply

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi has reacted strongly to the Supreme Court ruling on the scope of judicial review of laws under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.  In fact, he has warned that the supporters of social justice were prepared “to even shed blood” to protect the reservation quota in the State.  He has been quoted as stating that “the death knell would be sounded for quota rights, which were won by shedding blood and tears.”  The Tamil Nadu Reservation Act of 1993, which provides for 69 per cent quota for the SCs/STs/OBCs was included in the Ninth Schedule in 1994 when the AIADMK Government was in power. Karunanidhi’s sharp reaction follows the AIADMK supreme Jayalalitha’s statement that her regime had striven hard to provide constitutional protection to reservations. She has blamed the DMK Government for its failure to defend the position before the Supreme Court.

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Mulayam’s Pre-Poll Gift!

The just-concluded Ardh Kumbh in Allahabad turned out to be a great opportunity for Chief Minister Mulayam Singh to project himself and his party Government before millions of people at the Mela, spread over an area of 42 km along the banks of the Yamuna. The Mela draws a massive crowd of Hindu devotees and saints from far and near. Huge hoardings were put up at different places of the Mela, carrying pictures of Mulayam Singh welcoming the gathering: “Sadi Ke Sabse bare samagam mein apka swagat hai” (welcome to the country’s biggest gathering). The message said it all in the run-up to the crucial Assembly poll, whose outcome is anybody’s guess. This may hit the BJP hardest, since the party is hoping to regain power in the State on the Hindutva plank. 

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Panic Exodus Of Biharis:ULFA POGROM AGAINST NON-ASSAMESE, by Insaf,10 January 2007 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 10 January 2007

Panic Exodus Of Biharis


By Insaf

The ULFA pogrom in Assam last week-end against the non-Assamese workforce is causing grave concern to both the Centre and the State Government. The latest round of killings in the three days of violence left more than 75 dead and scores of persons injured in northern Assam. The militants fired repeatedly for three days on houses belonging to the Hindi-speaking people. This was preceded by an encounter between motorcycle-borne militants and the police in Dibrugarh. The attacks should not have come as a surprise because the militants had more than once stated their plans to strike at the hapless migrant labourers to press for their demand: “Asom for Assamese” and “freedom”.  The latest carnage has led the State Government and the Centre to take stern and effective steps against the militants. The Army has been re-deployed and 20 additional Companies of the Central security forces have been moved to the affected areas.

The eruption of the violence by ULFA against the non-Assamese workers from Bihar and eastern U.P., as also the exodus of a large number of Hindi-speaking people from the State, has exposed once again the pitfalls in the blow-hot-blow-cold policies of the Governments at the Centre and in the State. In fact, major political parties have justifiably attacked the internal security management of the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre. The BJP has lashed out at the Union Government for its handling of the internal security, an important national issue, which surprisingly, does not find any mention in the UPA’s 57-page Common Minimum Programme. The Samajwadi Party has accused the Centre for being insensitive to the problems created by ULFA. Astonishingly, the Indira Goswami Committee has not been able to meet the underground and jailed rebel leaders.  The Committee, remember, was constituted to facilitate peace talks between the Centre and the ULFA.

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Red Alert In Bihar

The Bihar Government has appropriately issued a red alert across the State in the wake of the killings of the Bihari labourers in Assam, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar held an emergency meeting of his Cabinet to discuss the exodus of Biharis from Assam, most of whom have been living there for long. A five-member team has been sent to Assam to study the situation. The CM has also directed the State’s Police Chief to monitor the situation and keep the force in readiness to meet any retaliatory attacks in the State.  He has been directed to coordinate with the railway authorities to ensure security in the northeast-bound trains. Over a dozen long-distance Assam-bound trains either originate from Bihar or pass through the State. The CM has also written to his counterpart in Guwahati to provide protection to the Biharis in Assam, which Tarun Gogoi has assured.

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Violent Land Tussle In W. Bengal

The political backlash over farmland acquisition in West Bengal is set to flare up again, even as Singur’s aftershocks echo in distant Nandigram in Midnapore District. The land tussle in Nandiram, the site for the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) being developed by the Indonesian group, Salim, turned violent over the week-end.  Six people were killed and many more injured when the farmers, whose land is being acquired, and the CPM cadres were engaged in a pitched battle. The two sides lobbed crude bombs at each other and exchanged gunfire for nearly four hours. This constrained Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to come out in sack cloth and ashes. He admitted having acted hastily and also that notices had been sent to farmers whose land was to be acquired and stated on Tuesday: “We will talk to all the political parties and elected Panchayats before acquiring land at Nandigram.”

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UP Towards Central Rule?

Five weeks ago, this column predicted: “Uttar Pradesh appears to be drifting towards Central rule before the State goes to the poll next year… the UPA Government’s mind seems made and according to some, it is only a matter of time…” Today, the Centre’s mind appears more firmly made on promulgation of the President’s rule in the State. But the question remains: when and how? A final decision will be taken before the upcoming Assembly polls in March-April, if not earlier. The three major parties in the fray, the BJP, BSP and the Congress have demanded Central rule on the ground of deteriorating law and order situation in the State, especially after the horrible and disgusting serial killings of children in Noida. But can this honestly justify the use of Article 356 to dismiss the Mulayam Singh Government?  It could set an unfortunate precedent, raising a basic issue: does a deterioration in the law and order situation amount to a  breakdown of the constitutional machinery?

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EC Guidelines For Punjab Poll

Even as north-India freezes in cold, activity in Punjab and Uttarakhand is hotting up in the run-up to the Assembly elections on 13 February.  In a bid to ensure free and fair poll, the Election Commission has issued detailed guidelines for the transfer of officials of the rank of Sub-Inspector and above and for the use of the official machinery by the Ministers and officials. The Chief Minister has been allowed four cars for security cover and the Leader of the Opposition two. With the imposition of the model code of conduct, the State Government, on its part, has issued separate instructions to stop cheques already issued for grants and financial assistances from being encashed and limited use of official cars. An immediate stop has been put on recently-transferred teachers from joining at their new places of posting. A reshuffle in the Punjab Police is also on the cards in line with the Election Commission guidelines.

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Uttaranchal Or Uttarakhand?

An interesting and ticklish issue has come up in Uttaranchal prior to the Assembly poll on February 21.  At the time when the poll schedule was announced, the new hill State was called Uttaranchal. But on January 1, an extraordinary gazette notification of the Central Government changed the named of the State to Uttarakhand, as per the Uttaranchal (Alternation of Name) Act, passed by Parliament and assented to by the President of India. The BJP, which is hoping to wrest power from the Congress in the State has now written to the Election Commission to stop the name change, since this has been notified by the Centre after the model code of conduct came into force. It has charged the Congress, presently ruling the State, of indulging in avoidable politics by changing the name just before the Assembly poll.

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Happy Progress In Naga Peace Talks

Speculation is rife about the future of the ongoing talks for peace in Nagaland between the Centre and the NSCN(IM).  Following a surprise meeting between Sonia Gandhi and the NSCN(IM) General Secretary T. Muivah in New Delhi last week, many Nagaland watchers are wondering if the decks have been cleared for a settlement of the long-drawn Naga issue. At the end of the 30-minute meeting with Sonia Gandhi, Muivah requested Union Minister Oscar Fernandes, the Centre’s pointsman for the Naga talks, for a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This has yet to materialize. But the positive development between the Naga leaders’ meeting with Fernandes-led group of Union Ministers last year at Bangkok and last week’s meeting with Sonia Gandhi could have an impact on the Manipur Assembly poll next month. Naga tribes dominate four hill districts of the State and the NSCN(IM) continues to demand greater Nagaland, which includes large parts of Manipur.

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M.P. Follows Pak Model

The BJP Government in Madhya Pradesh, led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan has taken inspiration from Islamabad to devise a family planning programme for the Muslims of the State. It is based on the “Pakistan model” which advocates use of religious texts and clerics for awareness campaigns and of mosques to distribute contraceptives. The State Government is of the view, like the Pakistan administration, that “what comes in the way of family planning is ignorance and not religion and that the Muslim community should come out of darkness…”  The State’s Ministry of Health has thus decided to distribute as many as 10,000 copies of the book, “Census, Islam and Family Planning” free of cost, so that the message of family planning reaches the people.  The book has been written by the BJP’s National Executive member, Muzaffar Hussain.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)




Despite Apex Court’s Order….:STATES EVADE POLICE REFORMS, by Insaf, 4 January 2007 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 4 January 2007

Despite Apex Court’s Order….


By Insaf

The State Governments seem determined to have their way on the crucial subject of police reforms. These have been recommended by various commissions and committees over the past two decades but have been successfully evaded. The States are, indeed, not willing even to implement the Supreme Court order of September last for overdue reforms. At a Chief Ministers meet, convened by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil in New Delhi over the week-end to discuss the issue, they unanimously decided to individually inform the Court about their practical difficulties in implementing the order.  The Court had directed all the States to set up a State Security Commissions each, a police establishment board to decide all postings, transfers and promotions and a police complaint authority at the district and State levels.  It also stipulated that the DGPs at the State headquarters should be selected from a panel of three officers finalized by the UPSC and should have a fixed tenure of two years like the officers under him.

Most Chief Ministers voiced strong reservations about the fixed-tenure proposal. Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, for example, apprehended that fixed tenures could create “monsters” in each police station. He argued that it was simplistic to blame political interference and asked: “What about interference from the superiors as also corruption and bribery?”  The States are particularly opposed to the Security Commissions on the plea that these would encroach upon their jurisdiction as did the selection of the DGPs by a panel set up by the UPSC.  That, they insisted, was their prerogative. Even Shivraj Patil  conceded that the Centre was not in favour of the DGPs being selected from a UPSC panel. Opinion was, however, divided on the establishment of a Police Complaint Authority. Karnataka opposed it on the ground that such an authority at the State and district levels would cost nearly 40 crore, which it could ill-afford.

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Assembly Polls In Three States

Crucial Assembly elections are slated during the year in six States and, possibly, in seven.  The Election Commission has announced polls in Punjab, Uttaranchal and Manipur next month, leaving out Uttar Pradesh for March-April. Gujarat and Goa are scheduled to go for the Assembly polls in the second half of the year. Karnataka too may face an election, given its unending political developments. The first round of polls in February are crucial for the Congress. The party is ruling in all the three States and has completed full five-year tenures in Punjab and Uttaranchal. Confident of a peaceful poll in these two States, the Election Commission has announced one-day poll--on February 13 in the Punjab and February 21 in Uttaranchal.  In the insurgency-hit Manipur, it will be a three-day poll---on February 2, 15 and 23.

The stage is set in the Punjab for a fierce contest between the ruling Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal)-BJP combine, as indicated by the tendency on both sides to hit each other below the belt.  Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who is leading the Congress campaign, has claimed that his party will win around 70-75 seats in the 117-member Assembly.  The party has 66 MLAs in the present House. The Leader of the Opposition, and former Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal has reacted sharply to Amarinder Singh’s claim and thinks that the Congress would struggle to get even 30 seats.  For his own party, he has predicted a three-fourth majority in the next Assembly.  The party had won 40 seats in the last Assembly poll. Badal has also dismissed as false propaganda Amarinder Government’s claim that it has brought a lot of positive changes in Punjab. A lot more is sure to follow.

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Ensuring Peaceful Poll In Manipur

The ruling Congress in Uttaranchal faces a challenging task, where the main Opposition, the BJP, is hoping to win a comfortable majority. The State Congress continues to be a divided house, causing anxiety to the Congress High Command. In Manipur, meanwhile, the law and order situation is receiving special attention of both the Election Commission and the Union Government. Election Commissioner Navin Chawla has already visited the State and worked out details with the State Government about the deployment of security forces for the three-phase poll.  A Central team, headed by Home Secretary V.K. Duggal, has visited Assam and Manipur to work out deployment of security forces, keeping in mind that the National Games at Guwahati from February 9 to 24 coincide with the Manipur poll. ULFA continues to oppose the Games and is even threatening to go physical.

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EC Plans For U.P.

The Election Commission is making all-out efforts to ensure a free and fair poll for the 403-member Assembly in U.P.  That is why the U.P. poll has been delinked from the three other States.  The crucial election is likely to get the attention of the kind received by Bihar in 2005 and West Bengal last year. A four-phase poll is expected to be announced. Even as the warning bells are beginning to worry Chief Minister Mulayam Singh and his party, following the increasing reports of the law and order problems in the State, the Election Commission has been quietly going about its job of cleansing the electoral rolls. So far, as many as 25 lakh names of “dead voters” have been struck off the voters’ list.  Incidentally, the already detected number relates to only dead persons. The Commission would also be striking off the names of duplicate voters, for which purpose booth level officers have also been appointed.

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Singur Troubles Chhatisgarh

West Bengal’s land deal with the Tatas for their Rs.1 lakh car project is beginning to create controversial waves elsewhere. What is considered by the BJP to be poison in Singur is, in fact, viewed as manna by the same party in Chhatisgarh..  Even as the BJP supports Trinamool Congress against the Tata deal in West Bengal, its own Government in Chhatisgarh is busy earmarking over 6000 acres of agricultural land for the Tatas, who want to invest Rs.10,000 crore in a steel plant with a capacity of 5 million tonnes per annum.  The State’s Raman Government claims that the villagers have passed a gram sabha resolution accepting the land acquisition. But the tribals in the Lohandiguda block of Bastar say they do not want to part with their land. In fact, they want the State Government to accept 13 demands in lieu of their land. Heading the list is their demand of “land for land”. This cannot be met easily.

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Rewriting Rajathan’s History

Vasundhara Raje’s Rajasthan Government has launched on a bizarre project. She wants the State’s history written afresh to make it more authentic. About 175 years ago, Col. James Todd had written a book entitled: Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan. This was considered the most authentic work on the State’s 41,000 villages and 186 cities and towns. But the State Government and its Education Minister, Ghanshyam Tiwari does not think so and regard it as highly controversial. It has, therefore, decided to seek the assistance of 50,000 teachers to write their own version of Rajasthan’s history under a one-year project entitled: Aapno Dharti, Aapno Log.  (Our Land, Our People).  Will the end product be authentic history or will it be folk lore laced with highly subjective romanticism?  The State’s historians have their doubts, grave doubts. They would prefer to have well-known historians to do the job.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


Sustaining High Growth Rate…:BUT WHERE IS THE INFRASTRUCTURE?, by Dr. Vinod Mehta,26 December 200 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 26 December 2007

Sustaining High Growth Rate…


By Dr. Vinod Mehta

(Former Director, Research, ICSSR)

If anything that might hold back India from sustaining a high growth rate of around 9 to 10 per cent is the slow development of its infrastructure. In spite of the fact that the problem has been well identified. 

Development of infrastructure like roads, rail network, waterways, seaports, airports, communications, electricity etc., is the basic pre-condition for any economy to achieve and sustain a high rate of economic growth. Thus, if the country has to maintain and sustain an over nine per cent growth rate it is essential to speed up the development of infrastructure.

Almost all the developed countries have a well developed infrastructure which enables them to maintain a relatively high growth rate. Take for instance, the Netherlands. The size of the Netherlands is almost equal to that of Haryana.  It has one port at Rotterdam compared to four major ports in India, but that one port in Rotterdam handles more shipments than all the four major ports in India taken together.

Similarly, Schipol Airport in Amsterdam handles more aircrafts than the four major airports in India taken together. Even in the City State of Singapore its port and airport handle more ships and airplanes than handled by all the major Indian ports and airports.           

Compared to these countries, even after 15 years of economic reforms, India’s infrastructure is still not in a good shape. This has been recognized by all the Governments in power.

Besides, the importance of infrastructure has been underlined in the India Infrastructure Report and various Governments have also made some moves like the development of the highways and the privatization of the Delhi and Bombay airports, but these do not add too much. Given that the availability of electricity in abundance, modern transport and communication systems, good roads, trained manpower etc. would form the backbone for the success of any economic reforms. 

After the Revolution in Russia in 1917, Lenin emphasized the importance of electricity without which, he observed, new Russia could never think of becoming an industrial power. This observation is as valid today for India as it was valid for Russia then.

Even after six decades of planned development we are not producing enough of electricity to meet our growing domestic demand. Every day there are power-cuts coupled with voltage fluctuations which are not only resulting in production losses and damaged equipments but also blocking potential fresh investments. It has become a ritual every year to divert electricity from the industry to agriculture during the summer months. 

Bringing things to such a pass today that the demand for electricity exceeds the supply of electricity. Moreover, the electricity transmission losses are high because of obsolete technology, the State electricity boards are perpetually in losses and foreign investments are limited to promises only. 

True, nuclear power may go a long way in relieving the power shortage in the country but that depends on the successful conclusion of the Indo-American nuclear deal which is being opposed both by the Left and the BJP.

Whether the deal finally sees the light of day or not, the Government's first task should be to pay attention to attracting foreign and domestic investment, on a very big scale, in electricity generation; it must encourage introduction of new technology and to the extent possible revamping and privatization of the State electricity boards so as to make them earn reasonable profit. 

Learning from the Enron experience, the foreign investment and contracts in this sector must be made not only transparent but also with a rider that once approved the project would be completed within the agreed time framework.

The second important infrastructure problem relates to the development of roads. There are very few fast roads for the high speed movement of goods. The roads all over the country are in a bad shape. 

Shockingly, only 20 per cent of the paved roads are said to be in good condition (roads substantially free of defects and requiring only routine maintenance) as against 30 per cent in Indonesia, 31 per cent in Philippines, 50 per cent in Thailand and 70 per cent in South Korea. Such roads not only slow down the movement of traffic but result in the excessive wear and tear of vehicles and excess consumption of petrol and diesel. 

Sadly, even in this sector, the country has not been able to attract private domestic and foreign investment. Needless to say the Government will have to provide clear-cut guidelines including tax incentives if any to attract investors in this field also.

Related to the development of roads is the question of changing the technological base of our big vehicles especially the buses, bulk carriers, specialized bulk carriers, as for frozen foods and so on. There has been large scale foreign investment in the car manufacturing sector but no significant foreign investment in the production of heavy vehicles to take care of the mass transportation needs.

The buses are rickety and uncomfortable, their designs old and outdated and they consume more energy per kilometre than required.  So is true of our bulk carriers. This is very important from the point of view of integrating all the domestic markets as well as exploiting the export market.

Similarly, the development of railways, aviation and river transport is very important for the success of economic reforms. The railways technology likewise is relatively outdated which accounts for a high rate of railway accidents in the country. Again, compared to other countries we have very few high speed trains. Since our ports are quite far away from the hinterland, it would difficult for the interior of the country to integrate with the world markets in the absence of a high speed railway network.

The demand for international air travel has gone up manifold. But Air India (after merging Indian Airlines with it) is unable to meet the demand because of the limited number of aircrafts. As a result foreign airlines have come in to India in a big way and Air India is left with only code-sharing by giving away her right to fly to these countries.

The third important area of infrastructure is communication. It is common knowledge that our basic telephones services are in a bad shape even though the availability of the telephone service is perhaps the lowest in India. Data shows there are only two telephones per 100 residents as against 7 in Brazil, 9 in Mexico and 16 in Russia. 

As for other services like voice and non-voice mail, data transfer, e-mail etc. the less said the better. The powers-that-be seem to forget that the growth of modern business depends upon the efficient communication system which is definitely lacking in India.

The introduction of cellular phones does not amount to modernization of the communication system. What the country needs is a very large expansion of basic telephone services followed by value-added services. The demand for the mobile phone services has been going up by leaps and bounds but the quality of service provided by the private players and others is still very poor. The question of the distribution of frequencies among the mobile players is yet to be satisfactorily settled.

In short, the country cannot now afford to ignore the development of all kinds of infrastructure. As the India Infrastructure Report states, the country would be needing between $150 to $200 billion in the next five years for infrastructure development in order to achieve an annual growth rate of 7 per cent.  We shall have to find the resources of this magnitude. ---- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)







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