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Congress chief steps in as home, S&T ministers lock horns

Rakesh Sood

Posted: Jan 03, 2005 at 0347 hrs IST

Congress president Sonia Gandhi had called science & technology (S&T) minister Kapil Sibal on Friday to express concern on his public declaration that the warning of a fresh tidal wave issued by the home ministry on Thursday was “hogwash,” party sources told FE.

The fresh tsunami warning issued by the home ministry based on research sparked off a controversy between Mr Sibal and home minister Shivraj Patil.

The former publicly charged the home minister with utter irresponsibility, compelling Mr Patil to approach the party high command on the issue.

Mr Patil is learnt to have told Ms Gandhi that his ministry had issued a warning based on inputs received from the S&T ministry. Mr Sibal has admitted passing on the information, without adding any comments.

Mr Patil also said that Indian Space Research Organisation had received similar information from the US of a prediction made by a private firm, Terra Research System, that an earthquake of between 7.9 and 8.1 intensity on the Richter scale would occur between Indonesia and Australia within the next 12 hours, which could trigger off another tsunami in the direction of the Indian coastline.

On Thursday, after the home ministry issued a fresh tsunami warning, there was panic in coastal areas in southern India and Andaman & Nicobar islands. Relief workers complained that their work was hampered by the warning, broadcast widely by the media.

Following this, Mr Sibal called a press conference late on Thursday evening, admitting that the warning was issued by the home ministry without consulting his ministry. He described the advisory as ‘unscientific’ and ‘hogwash’, adding that it should be discarded immediately. Although Mr Sibal has not made any direct comment on Mr Patil, he did say that the advisory was baseless.

Sources said that Mr Patil has raised serious objections over Mr Sibal’s attitude. He told Ms Gandhi that his ministry had no option but to issue the warning asking people to stay away from coastal areas. Party sources also confirmed that the party leadership supported his stand.

Mr Sibal is also believed to have clarified his stand, but has been advised to be careful about making such statements publicly, keeping in view the principle of collective responsibility of the Cabinet, party sources said.

When contacted, Mr Sibal said that his meeting with Ms Gandhi was already fixed and this had nothing to do with the tsunami episode.

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