February 15, 2009 12:56:23 am
HRD Minister Arjun Singh may be the sharpest critic in the Cabinet of anyone espousing a remotely Hindutva line,but that does not mean that he is not a believer. Last week,the HRDs National Mission on Education,through information and communication technology in higher education (ICT),was inaugurated at Tirupati. The venue seems to have been chosen deliberately so that the minister could pay a visit to the famed temple. Singh,unlike the rest of the HRD delegation,who stayed at a hotel,was put up at the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam guest house. In fact,the launch of the ICT was delayed till the afternoon so that the minister could receive the blessings of the deity,Lord Venkateswara,in the morning.
So anxious was Congress secretary Tom Vadakkan to launch his campaign for the Trichur parliamentary constituency in Kerala that on his website he pasted a slogan asking for votes,as well as an appeal for donations for the campaign. The problem is that Vadakkan has still not been officially nominated by his party. He has now removed references to an election or to donations,after his detractors were quick to point out the inappropriateness of the web campaign.
No welcome mat
The SP offensive against the Congress was stepped up after Amar Singh learnt that Mayawatis aide Satish Mishra had met Pranab Mukherjee. Furious that the Congress was hobnobbing with his arch rival,Singh wanted to make it clear that the SP has other fish to fry. He visited the CPIs Bardhan and A Raja,whose doors are open to all. But Singhs attempts to flirt with the Left received a rebuff from CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat,who sent word that there was no point meeting him as it would be a waste of time. Sharad Pawar also backed out of a meeting after Singh told the media that he had an appointment with the NCP leader.
Sealing PMs office
With Manmohan Singh still recuperating from his bypass surgery,none of his staff is allowed to sit in the PMs secretariat in Parliament House. For security reasons,the SPG has locked rooms 9,10 and 11 and put a big wax seal on the door to make sure no one could enter.
Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat wants to lead a delegation from his state to the Philippines and Thailand to study rice cultivation,but the MEA is sitting on the request. The mandarins in South Block point out that very little rice is grown in Goa. An annoyed chief minister has sought an appointment with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to push his case.
On the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission,the government has agreed to a major pay hike for the members of five regulatory bodies,including SEBI and the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority. The revised pay packet now works out to Rs 3 lakh a month for the chairperson,and Rs 2 lakh for other members. Curiously,most members of regulatory bodies are not interested in the enhanced salaries,since it comes with a rider. They have to give up their government bungalows and government cars,often fitted with a red light. If the chairpersons are unwilling to forgo these perks,they have to agree to salary of a secretary to the GoI,which is a mere Rs 80,000 a month. Members salaries are pegged even lower at the level of additional secretary. Incidentally,another recommendation,that the salary hikes should come into effect only if the regulatory bodies are set up under a statute and the process of selection of members is transparent,has not been followed up.
There was pandemonium at the PMO on Wednesday afternoon,with several high-powered visitors forced to cool their heels in the waiting room for some 45 minutes,even though they had prior appointments. The confusion arose because the computer system at the National Informatics Centre (NIC),which is fed the data for entry passes,crashed. The reception office took a long time to issue entry passes manually.
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