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December 20, 2000 - December 21, 2000

Keshubhai sacks minister for calling him a liar Thursday, December 21, 2000

GANDHINAGAR: Chief minister Keshubhai Patel on Wednesday sacked Narmada development and major irrigation projects minister Jaynarayan Vyas after the minister called him a "liar" at a cabinet meeting in the morning.

Vyas was told to send in his resignation after the cabinet meeting, which he did promptly. ``I have asked Vyas to send in his resignation to me as he has lost my confidence,'' Keshubhai told reporters at the post-cabinet meeting briefing. ``Vyas accused me of being a liar during a discussion. When a minister does not have any confidence in me, he has no right to remain in the state's highest decision-making body.''

Keshubhai discussed the issue with industries minister Suresh Mehta for three hours before taking the drastic step. As soon as the cabinet meeting ended, he went to the ailing Mehta's residence along with IT minister Bimal Shah and higher education minister Bharat Barot, to brief Mehta about the step he was planning to take. The CM also apprised BJP president Bangaru Laxman, Union home minister L.K. Advani and BJP general secretary Jana Krishnamurthy about the minister's misconduct and his intention to sack him.

While talking to reporters, Keshubhai dropped hints that he had been probing a contract awarded by the major irrigation department which had received and okayed inflated tenders for lining up the Ukai-Kakrapar canal. But he sought to delink the issue from the sacking of Vyas. The inquiry, he said, had been instituted after he received complaints from 15 BJP legislators.

Vyas told reporters later that the dispute at the cabinet meeting was over a decision taken by the CM to reduce water charges for the industry. Vyas said he was not taken into confidence on the issue and came to know about the decision from newspaper report on Tuesday.

Sources said Keshubhai insisted at the cabinet meeting that he had apprised Vyas of the decision. The minister retaliated calling him a ``liar''. When the CM reiterated that the decision was taken with the minister's knowledge, Vyas challenged him saying: ``If you can prove this, I will not only resign as a minister but also as an MLA.''

Vyas admitted before reporters: ``It was my mistake to have used the word liar for the CM. I expressed my regret at the cabinet and apologised twice. But I have no regrets now. It is his prerogative to keep anyone he wants.''

Meanwhile, BJP dissidents have refused to back Vyas. While Mehta was mollified, at least two other outspoken cabinet ministers, Jaspal Singh and Narottam Patel, said the CM had only exercised his powers.

Singh said that Vyas had called Keshubhai a "liar" twice. "Any CM would feel bad about this."

Relations between Vyas and the CM had deteriorated over the last six months. A couple of months ago, Vyas boycotted two cabinet meetings and important meetings concerning his departments convened by Keshubhai.

North Gujarat farmers split from BKS, form new body Thursday, December 21, 2000

MEHSANA: About 20,000 farmers of North Gujarat recently proclaimed their split from the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, which, they alleged, had failed to address the problems of farmers and announced the formation of a separate organisation to be known as the Mahagujarat Kisan Sena.

Though no political leaders of the farm lobby were present at the rally, farmers gave vent to their distress and anger against the government, forcefully.

Speeches were devoted to hike in power tariff, import of agricultural produce and failure of the BJP government to protect the interests of farmers. Some farmers lambasted the government for its callous attitude and said their status was no better than their brethren in Orissa or AP where many of them were driven to commit suicide because of heavy debts they had accumulated.

The speakers also pointed to the absence of any surface water source for farming in North Gujarat and the fact that the government had done precious little to harness the rain water. They also took strong exception to divert the dam waters from their region to big cities like Ahmedabad and Vadodara.

The rally was addressed among others by Shankerbhai Chaudhary, Rameshbhai Patel, Ramjibhai Chaudhary, Laxmanbhai Chaudhari, Dahyabhai Patel and Bhuraji Thakore. Condemning the BKS as a handman of the BJP, the speakers said that hopes of farmers would not be belied under the banner of Mahagujarat Kisan Sena.

The new organisation would be fully committed to the farmers' cause and would finalise a comprehensive strategy soon. The next rally of the farmers will be held on January 1 in Banaskantha, which will be followed by one in Sabarkantha.

Personal details must to get SIM card Thursday, December 21, 2000

RAJKOT: Rajkot city police commissioner Sudhir Sinha has through a notification on Tuesday asked companies, distributors and dealers of mobile phones, within the commisionerate area, to sell pre-paid SIM card only after obtaining complete information about the buyers.

The notification comes into effect on January 1 next year and will remain in force upto February 28.

The stringent measure was needed after the sensational kidnapping of two youth, Bhaskar Parekh and Paresh Shah, from Rajkot. The kidnappers were reportedly in constant touch with Bhaskar's father, Prabhudas Parekh, though a SIM card that was purchased from a retail outlet.

The kidnappers had also asked the Parekh family to purchase a new SIM card through which they would remain in touch.

The notification calls for providing all information, including buyer's proof of identity, address, a copy of ration card, telephone and electricity bills, driving licence if available and schools leaving certificate.

The police commissioner has instructed the dealers and companies to keep a separate register for selling the SIM card in which all the details of purchasers should be mentioned and also obtain a signature of them in the register.

Besides, the in-charge police officer of the respective police stations in the city will inspect the centres which are dealing in such cards and will send his inspection note to the Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) office of the city police.

Sinha has also sought the co-operation of the companies, distributors and dealers of mobile phone during surprise checking.

The commissioner said that a criminal offence would be registered against those who violated the notification.

Vaghela losing ground in GPCC race? Wednesday, December 20, 2000

AHMEDABAD: He may have caste and charisma on his side, but former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela seems to have been eased out of the race for the post of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee president.

A front-runner so far, Vaghela's name has been shot down by a coterie of state leaders eyeing the top job in the state Congress which may well be decided this week.

A high-ranking central party leader, currently involved in hectic negotiations over the issue in New Delhi, told 'The Times of India' on Monday that "a leader who has spent just over a year in the Congress cannot be given the reins of the party. This will send a wrong message to old timers who have a much better claim".

Several state leaders who have visited New Delhi over the last week - some of them are camping in the Capital - have lobbied hard to get the coveted post.

A three-member Congress team comprising A K Antony, Prabha Rao and Kamalnath are conducting the negotiations with various party factions to evolve a consensus.

"It does not appear there is going to be a consensus because the divisions between them run too deep", remarked one of these leaders, adding that the three-member team would give its recommendation to Congress president Sonia Gandhi later this week.

In Vaghela's case, the leader said, the issue was his inexperience within the party. Besides, other sources said, the bogey of his RSS association was also raised by rival factions to nudge him out of the race.

However, former president of Vaghela's Rashtriya Janata Party, Madhusudan Mistry, does not believe his leader has been eliminated from the race and says "opinion is split on the issue".

He, however. said it would be unfair if the Congress post is denied to Vaghela because of his alleged RSS links. "I have told the Congress leadership that Shankersinhji does not have any RSS links any more. Had it been so I would not have remained with him for so long."

Vaghela's aides feel that as a former BJP man, he knows best where to hit the BJP and how. This view, according to the Vaghela camp, is shared by Prabha Rao.

Party sources further said former chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki is currently tipped to be the hot favourite for the post though his nomination is being opposed by a rival claimant, Urmilaben Patel, who has backing of the former Janata Dal (Gujarat) faction. Party sources said caste may play a crucial role in the final selection, given the animosity between the Patels and Kshatriyas in the state.

Even the dominant group of the Congress comprising Ahmed Patel, C D Patel and Amarsinh Choudhary are opposing Solanki's candidature, but has not been able to throw up the name of a credible leader from within for the post.

The names of a few dark horses, mostly youngsters like Naresh Raval and Shaktisinh Gohil, are also being tossed around.

RMC considering proposal to hike water tax Wednesday, December 20, 2000

RAJKOT: The Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) authorities are seriously considering plans for a fourfold hike in the water tax in its budget for the year 2001-02 to meet the heavy expenses to be incurred on distribution of water in the city.

The authorities are considering the proposal after some top officials strongly felt the need to hike the water tax. They also believe that any service rendered to the people should be paid by them and water is no exception.

According to civic body sources, the expenses for providing water to the city has increased by Rs 11 crore for the current financial year and the figure would go up to Rs 25 crore as against Rs 14 crore which has been allotted in the current year's budget.

Similarly, the expenses on the water supply to the city would be Rs 30 crore during the next year. The corporation is getting only Rs 3 crore in water tax as a result of which it has to suffer a loss of 85 per cent as subsidy provided to the people for distribution of water during the current financial year and it may go upto 90 per cent in next financial year, the sources said.

In view of this, it is necessary to hike the water tax from the present Rs 250 to Rs 1,000 per year, the officials suggested. It would be an additional burden of Rs 7 crore on the people if the proposal is accepted.

It is, however, unlikely that the Congress, which has just won the civic body elections, would go in for such a steep hike. The party would rather prefer "small dose of tax hike", top sources told this correspondent.

In view of opposition from the ruling party and possibly from the people, about the proposed hike in water tax, the civic authorities are also planning to raise people's share of 10 per cent to 40 per cent in constructing drainage and making a carpet of asphalt on main roads except those shown in the town planning scheme, under Section 205 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act.

Accordingly, the people will have to pay Rs 2 crore and Rs 5 crore respectively if the drainage and road construction works have to be done. Not only that people residing on a street having only 50 houses will have to pay Rs 8,000 per house for such works.

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