UNION finance minister Yashwant Sinha on Thursday revealed that it was during the five years of Manmohan Singh’s stewardship of the finance ministry that the arrested chairman of the CBEC, B P Verma was awarded glowing confidential reports on his performance without a single reference to his corrupt antecedents.
Rounding up a debate in Rajya Sabha on corruption by excise and customs officials, Sinha promised to “wage a war against corruption without mercy against wrong-doers. We are acting decisively and severely.”
However, the government, already under attack on the tehelka issue, found itself the recurrent target once against of administrative and moral laxity in the face of corruption in public life.
The finance minister’s telling blow to the opposition charge of corruption was delivered to the retreating back of Manmohan Singh who led the walkout after the Rajya Sabha debate on the subject on Thursday.
Singh had earlier reacted to the finance minister’s reply by saying that as finance minister in the 1990s he had refused to let Verma become a member of the Board of Customs, but the BJP government had gone ahead with it, disregarding his record of corruption.
“I entirely endorse the finance minister observations that we must work together to root out corruption from our administration. But when he talked about it he did not mention about the effective mechanism in this regard”.
Reacting sharply, Sinha said there had been nothing in writing against the suspended CBEC that would indicate that this man had corrupt antecedents.
Successive governments gave him clean chits, even labelled him ‘honest’ and ‘very good’ in his annual reports which at his level went through the office of the finance minister.
As a matter of fact between 1989 and 1996, years in which verma was as corrupt as he was when he was arrested, his CRs, which were written on Manmohan Singh’s watch as finance minister, the adjectives were thus: “honest”, “very good”, etc.
As late as 1996, Verma’s CR said “I believe him to be honest”, when the first questions had been raised in 1995.
Shocked at the activities of Verma and other top officials in the Customs department, Sinha said the CBI had intensified their investigations at airports, seaports and land borders throughout the country.
Labelling the activities of the arrested Customs officials as “absolutely indefensible”, Sinha said in his earlier statement that “the CBI had registered a case against 48 officers and 4 private persons on 30.3.2001 and conducted searches on the premises on the premises of these officer on 31.3.2001.
During raids, some cash, investments and property documents were recovered. None of the officers have been arrested by the CBI. The matter is under investigation by the CBI”, he said.
Raising the issue of the arrest of the customs commissioner at Vishakhapatnam, Sinha said the person had been absconding, but he has been apprehended as arrested.
The alleged complicity of the custom officials posted at the Indira Gandhi International Airport under the directions of their dismissed chief B.P. Verma turned into a wordy duel between the two finance ministers on either side of the floor.
Singh raised the subject of the nexus between smugglers, customs officials, middlemen and others like Afghan nationals which had national security implications, since they were apparently bringing in not only narcotics and fake currency but sensitive defence equipment as well.
He posed certain questions for yashwant Sinha — when was verma appointed CBEC chief? were there question marks about his integrity earlier? was he, as CBEC chief, in charge of budget operations, which would have serious implications since customs revenue accounts for 60 per cent of India’s budgetary earnings?
Why were the CVC objections disregarded? was the ACC aware of the CVC’s point of view? and why was no notice paid to the warnings from the Indian embassy in Tashkent?
On the subject of the Uzbek national Olga Kozireva who was caught on 28 August 2000, Manmohan Singh wondered how customs and immigration officials could gloss over her apparently 54 visits in one year to this country, or even the fact that she had been repeatedly travelling on to Karachi and Lahore, sometimes on the same day.
Krishna govt shifts focus from IT to farmers – Banglore
IN A sharp deviation from its overemphasis on IT during its first year in office, the S M Krishna ministry has sought to refocus its attention to farmers with a promise to come out with new initiatives for the welfare and well-being of farmers and their families in the state’s forthcoming budget.
Making use of the opportunity of the customary governor’s address to the joint session of state legislature, the Krishna ministry has tried to reach out the farmers by addressing their concerns on the sudden crash in prices of various agicultural commodities and the post-WTO uncertainties.
In tune with the Congress party’s recent attempts to woo the farming community, the government has also urged the Centre to bring a white paper on various issues pertaining to agriculture and convene a national development council meeting to enable the chief ministers to discuss and help formulate a comprehensive farm policy with emphasis on marketing agricutlural produce.
Karnataka governor V S Rama Devi, in her 31-page address to the state legislature, narrated the steps taken by the Krishna ministry to help the growers of maize, ragi, bajra, jowar and jowar by launching massive procurementss under the market intervention scheme following sudden fall in prices due to suplus production on account of a good khariff crop. She also voiced concern over the dumping of several commodities in the country at cheap rates and consequently harming domestic growers.
Pointing out that the state government has identified several areas for urgent action in the postWTO scenario pertaining to agriculture, she wanted the Centre to take steps to raise import duty on agricultural commodities to provide a levelplaying field to farmers introduction of automatic trigger mechanism in adjusting import duties in tune with international prices of agricultural commodities, formulation of adequate and appropriate subsidy strategy and put international trade in concurrent list to provide consutation with state governments in WTO policy formulation.
The governor said Karnataka’s ambitious target of producing 100.08 lakh tonnes of foodgrains, 17.62 lakh tonnes of oilseeds, 10.03 lakh bales of cotton and 315 lakh tonnes of tobacco.
The other measures pertaining to agriculture listed by the governor are: setting up of raitha mitra kendras or farmers contact centres in all the 745 hoblis to provide inforamtion and advice on matters relating to inputs, agricultural prices etc; establishment of a modern horticulture farm at a cost of Rs 150 crore at Kannamangala off Bangalore and state-of-the-art tissue culture laboratory at Hulimavu near Bangalore besides distribution of Kisan credit cards to all farmers.
The government will also be coming out with a comprehensive health and population policy shortly. Also on the anvil is a governance strategy and action plan as part of the plans to promote good governance.
All In A Day / Panel formed for a recast Constitution – Bharatiya Janata Party
Disregarding the reservations expressed by President KR Narayanan, the Union cabinet today approved the formation of a multi-member national commission to review the Constitution. The government said the members will be appointed within a week.
“The proposed commission would review the Constitution within the framework of parliamentary democracy,”
Union infotech minister Pramod Mahajan said while elaborating on the terms of reference of the panel. According to the terms of reference, the commission would examine “in the light of the experience of the last 50 years, as to how best the Constitution can respond to the changing needs of efficient, smooth, effective system of governance and socio-economic developments of modern India within the framework of parliamentary democracy”.
BJP, allies sort out differences in Bihar
New Delhi: The anti-Laloo Prasad Yadav line-up led by the BJP today finally managed to iron out differences when the Bihar People’s Party (BPP), which had threatened to walk out of the alliance agreed to fight the 20 seats allotted to it. The NDA leaders, who announced the truce pact in Patna, said that the parties of the alliance will fight unitedly and according to the arrangement worked out in Delhi. “We have now agreed to the agreement and we will contest only the 20 seats earmarked for BPP,” Anand Mohan said.
Govt accepts Uma Bharati’s resignation
New Delhi: Finally accepting Union minister Uma Bharati’s resignation, who put in her papers about a month ago protesting against the alleged assault on BJP corporators during elections to the Bhopal civic body, PM Atal Behari Vajpayee forwarded it to Rashtrapati Bhavan today.
Former AG convicted in Anjana case
Bhubaneshwar: Former advocate generalof Orissa Indrajit Ray was convicted on Tuesday by a sessions court here in the sensational Anjana Mishra molestation case.
Mr Ray has been sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment (RI) and fined Rs 5,000 under Sections 376/511 (attempt to rape) and 354 (outraging modesty) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The former AG has however been enlarged on bail on production of a bail bond of Rs 40,000 along with two sureties.
The judgement came as a boon for the opposition as Mr Ray is widely known as a close confidante of former chief minister, JB Patnaik, who is now heading the ruling Congress party.
Gamang airdashes to Delhi with fate hanging in balance – Orissa
BELEAGUERED Orissa chief minister Giridhar Gamang flew in here tonight for an audience with Congress president Sonia Gandhi with his fate hanging in balance over the dissidents’ demand for a change of leadership for his alleged failure to tackle the post-cyclone situation.
AICC observers — Madhavrao Scindia and Vayalar Ravi — who met a large number of party MLAs at Bhubaneshwar since yesterday, also flew for Delhi separately and Mr Scindia told reporters they will apprise Ms Gandhi of the sentiments of the party MLAs.
He said the sentiments could not be ignored. But when asked whether Mr Gamang would be replaced, he said “I don’t know.’’
Earlier in a dramatic development, governor M M Rajendran, in the wee hours today, ordered postponement of the winter session of the state legislature beginning from tomorrow to December 10 on the advice of the state cabinet. He was apprised of the cabinet decision by Mr Gamang late last night. A CLP meeting scheduled for the day also did not take place with Mr Gamang leaving for Delhi. Mr Scindia said Mr Gamang has sought an appointment with Ms Gandhi to apprise her of the latest developments.
A Bhubaneshwar report quoting party sources said the dissident camp was divided with supporters of senior leader Basanta Kumar Biswal backing out of joint campaign with former chief minister J B Patnaik for removal of Mr Gamang and joining hands with the chief minister’s supporters to promote claim of Biswal himself in the event of a change in leadership.
However, none in the Gamang or Biswal camp was willing to go on record on such a new alignment of forces.
Soon after arrival in the Capital, Mr Gamang left for All India Institute for Medical Sciences to see his ailing son. The AICC observers were expected to reach here later tonight
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