Operation Cleanup        Virendra Kapoor
   October 21, 2002

Jaswant Singh, when he took over as finance minister, was keen to clean up the mess his predecessor left behind.

Yashwant Sinha, who made way for Singh, had appointed quite a few joint secretaries at the finance ministry on extraneous grounds. Singh wanted to replace them with officers of merit. So he ordered three joint secretaries transferred out.

Three months on, the bureaucrats continue where they were.

What Singh had not reckoned with is the clout they swung. Not without knowing anyone had they managed the cushy postings in the finance ministry!

Singh, however, has succeeded in clearing the literal kind of mess. The dirty corridors, stained walls, and stinking toilets hadn't bothered Sinha much. But Singh, a retired army major, is finicky about orderliness.

He entrusted Operation Cleanup to Additional Secretary (Expenditure) B P Mishra.

Now, the part of the North Block the finance ministry occupies is neat. Even the encroachments into the corridors, which served as offices of junior staff, have been removed.

Singh has also made it clear that liaison men and their flunkeys in babudom better not use the reception area for their wheeler-dealings.

Monkey business

Monkeys and ministers had always lived together peacefully at the external affairs ministry --- till Singh took over.

One of the first things he did was hire a langoorwala at Rs 5,000 a month. Sensing a tormentor in the ministry, the monkeys chose to stay within the confines of North Block, away from Singh's fiefdom.

But a great misfortune hit them when Singh moved to finance. Now, the old langoorwala's area of operations has been extended to the finance ministry as well.

Chicken curry in Copenhagen

Journalist Swapan Dasgupta was mighty miffed at what he called the 'oddity of eating bad chicken curry in Copenhagen'.

It is rare for journalists to be so unsparing in their criticism of their hosts. But the managing editor of India Today magazine had solid grounds to say what he did about the Danish leg of the prime minister's three-nation tour.

Dasgupta was most caustic about the Indian mission in the Danish capital, headed by former journalist H K Dua.

'For the media entourage, the trip has been marked by a series of disasters,' Dasgupta wrote. 'Upon landing in Copenhagen the media was lectured to by a gentleman who was a potential recruit to the Gestapo.

'The mess was compounded by his instruction that the India-European Union business summit was out of bounds for hacks... It could have been resolved if the local Indian embassy had any meaningful contact with any section of Danish society.

'It is, however, on the best of terms with the management of the Taj restaurant (no relation to the real thing) in downtown Copenhagen.... Many slept that cold Copenhagen night hungry... others boycotted the dinner, muttering profanities...

'If it had not been for the alert MEA spokesman, Vajpayee would have been relegated to the corner seat at the press conference. Speaks volumes of local arrangements.'

And also, about Dua's foray into the rarefied world of diplomacy.

Cat and dog problem

What is a pet?

How do you figure out what a particular specimen costs?

How many pets should a person be allowed to bring into the country?

A recent inter-ministerial meeting in New Delhi discussed these and other weighty questions.

The department of animal husbandry insists on regulating the import of pets, giving much headache to the hard-pressed customs officers.

The existing stipulation for a prior licence from the directorate general of foreign trade leads to much confusion. Even the price of the pet being imported needs to be disclosed before the permission is granted.

(Guess what price US Ambassador Robert Blackwill paid for his dog? $48!)

How and where do you quarantine the pets coming in without proper permission? How reliable are the health certificates produced by the owners of these pets? And, above all, what is covered under the title 'pet'?

The Department of Animal Husbandry says pets mean only dogs and cats. So what do you do with those who bring in birds, for instance?

Given the intricacies involved, it was not surprising the meeting reached no conclusion.

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

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