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Curious case of missing ministers
Published on 18 Oct. 2009 10:41 PM IST
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It is no secret that union ministers Mamata Banerjee and M.K. Alagiri are habitual absentees from union cabinet meetings, with concerns in their respective states keeping them away from Delhi for considerable periods of time. Insiders point out that Didi - as Railway Minister Banerjee is popularly called - has attended just a handful of meetings since the United Progressive Alliance came to power, and this has even earned the displeasure of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Besides, important files have also been piling up at Rail Bhavan as she is preoccupied with engagements in Kolkata. On the other hand, Chemicals and Fertiliser Minister Alagiri - upset not only at the Lok Sabha secretariat’s refusal to let him speak in Tamil but also after being compelled by the government to drop his Officer on Special Duty A.K. Viswanathan - has been playing truant for a while now. In the last cabinet meeting as many as nine ministers were absent! No more cattle class? It was a homecoming of sorts for Union Minister Shashi Tharoor who visited the United Nations headquarters in New York last week and was given a warm welcome by many, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Tharoor, who spent over two decades working for the world body, tweeted that he was “struck” by the welcome from everyone, right from the security guards to the secretary general. “Struck by how many at UN, from security guards to SG (Ban ki-Moon), say welcome home”. But any guesses how he travelled to the Big Apple? First Class Air India. So much for travelling “cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!” Sheila’s power woes Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit wants to show that real power rests with her - quite literally. Ever since she took over the power portfolio, the Congress leader who is mindful of her image as a performer has been unhappy over the functioning of the private discom, BSES. First, it was public outrage against long hours of blackouts during summer, then against faulty meters and now inflated bills. Things finally came to a head when Dikshit warned the power distribution company against disconnecting electricity of those consumers who had refused to pay the inflated bills issued by the company. “You cannot do this to consumers in the festive season,” Dikshit told BSES CEO Arun Kanchan at a recent function. Such has been the pressure that the power distributor has recently replaced its CEO in the name of promoting him to the post of director in the company hierarchy. Sweet revenge for Supreme Court The Supreme Court extracted sweet revenge but at a nominal price from its tormentor who has been demanding the disclosure of judges’ assets since he filed his plea in 2007. The court raised the demand of a sum of Rs.8 from Subhash Chandra Agrawal, who ran a successful campaign for transparency on judges’ assets utilising the Right to Information Act. Despite Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan expressing his approval for disclosure of the apex court judges’ assets, Agrawal officially sought confirmation of the former’s statement and also sought detailed file notings to ascertain how his plea was processed at various levels by the apex court registry. The registry, in turn, has now demanded Rs.8 from Agrawal saying the file notings ran into four pages and according to RTI provisions, he would be charged Rs.2 per page. Considering that photocopying rates in the market are a meagre 50 paise per page, Agrawal is contemplating if it’s time to file another RTI plea to know why the court was demanding an enhanced fee! The minister’s great escape News television crews were out in full force at the capital’s Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) office waiting patiently while Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh expounded on natural resource economics. But all hell broke loose as he started to move out after his speech. Reporters chased him, microphones in hand, burly men with shoulder-borne cameras bringing up the rear of the scrum. Ramesh was getting late for another meeting and was clearly in no mood to answer the barrage of questions, especially on India’s negotiating strategies ahead of the Copenhagen summit. He ran down one flight of stairs, then another flight, only to find himself trapped in the basement. Finally, a WWF staffer came running to Ramesh’s rescue, escorting him through a painting exhibition even as a determined press corps continued to pursue him. He was finally led through another flight of stairs, leading up and out to his freedom. Once inside his car, Ramesh made quick his escape. Bouquet bloomer escapes Dikshit’s notice Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who has much on her plate, especially to see that everything goes on with clockwork precision for the Commonwealth Games, was caught off-guard at a recent ayurveda conference. As soon as the function got under way, Dikshit was to be felicitated with a bouquet of flowers. But a gentleman who was also on the dais decided to accept the bunch of roses instead and quietly proceeded to his seat, leaving the chief minister still standing. Unmindful of the faux pas, Diskshit was still immersed in her thoughts. It was finally left to the organisers to remind the gentleman in question that the bunch of flowers was meant for Dikshit and he had to quickly do a double take. But Dikshit hardly noticed the goof-up. Commentators-turned-experts Former foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon, who left in June in a blaze of controversy over Sharm-el-Sheikh, is becoming increasingly visible in the capital’s strategic affairs community. He was one of the guests of honour at the launch of a book on India and China where he wondered how commentators, especially those who were not in the government, were pontificating on ties between the countries when they had little access to privileged information. “If you look at recent comments on China, they (commentators) have been even more alarmist and uninformed,” he said, adding self-deprecatingly: “Even from me, I am amazed at the confidence at which assertions are made about the border situation even though they are out of government and do not have access to privileged information”. Now just whom was Menon referring to?

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