Jail term for match-fix in new law
Bookies escape as cops crow
Ghani keeps Sonia waiting
Crossed wires at Sanchar Bhavan
Crash fear hangs over London hit parade
Calcutta weather

 
 
JAIL TERM FOR MATCH-FIX IN NEW LAW 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, April 20 
The Centre is planning to treat “match-fixing” as a separate crime other than cheating, fraud or criminal conspiracy and proposes to categorise it as a serious offence, punishable with imprisonment not less than seven years.

Government sources said after Hansie Cronje’s confession to taking money from bookmakers and allegations that Indian cricket, too, has skeletons in its cupboard, the Centre began to consider putting in place a legal deterrent.

The sources said officials of the law and home ministries will shortly convene a meeting to thrash out details of the proposed law which will have severe punishment provisions for match-fixers and cricketers caught indulging in either deliberate poor performances or in throwing away matches for monetary considerations. The punishment will entail imprisonment for not less than seven years and may also include a hefty fine.

“We are seized of the fact that a stringent law is required to curb malpractices on and off the pitch. We believe that match-fixing or throwing matches away is simply another form of cheating the entire nation, given the popularity of the game in this country,’“ a senior official said.

Sports minister Sukhbir Singh Dhindsa today dropped broad hints in Parliament that the “government will in all seriousness initiate necessary legal measures against practices of match-fixing on the basis of specific complaints that may be received, after appropriate inquiry and necessary investigation”.

In the backdrop of allegations that certain Indian cricketers are involved in throwing matches and are in league with bookies, Dhindsa said the government “‘will take recourse to all legal measures to ensure that this menace is not only curbed but eliminated. It will not hesitate to order detailed investigation by any agency of the government, depending upon the gravity of the charges and allegations”.

The minister was echoing the thoughts of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who had, a few days ago, shot down Dhindsa’s proposal to make betting legal. He urged “persons having specific information regarding malpractices to come forward” to disclose facts and assured them “adequate protection”.

Specific cases of cheating and committing fraud and conspiring to cheat are dealt with under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Sections, like 420 (cheating), are toothless and the accused, if found guilty, serve a prison sentence for a maximum period of one year.

In the circumstances, the likes of Kishen Kumar, Sanjeev Chawla and Rajesh Kalra can get away easily. They can even pay a hefty fine and have their sentences commuted.

Provisions for the “match-fixing” offence will be stringent enough to ensure bail is not given to the perpetrators easily. Kumar and Kalra can try and obtain bail within the next few months. The crimes they have committed are not as “serious” under existing laws. The new law will also be such that even players can be sentenced for participating in the deals. At present, they can only be accused of “illegal gratification”. These provisions can be strengthened under the special match-fixing regulations.

Since deterrence is the aim, a stringent law will make a player think twice before entering into such deals.    


 
 
BOOKIES ESCAPE AS COPS CROW 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, April 20 
There is the smell of a scam within the still-unfolding cricket betting scam. Two match-fixers, Sanjeev Chawla and Kishen Kumar, have been identified and one is already behind bars. Their errand boy, Rajesh Kalra, is also in jail. But the bookies in the thick of things have disappeared without trace.

Chawla and Kumar may have been the masterminds or they could have been taking orders from a yet-unknown boss. But the match-fixers needed a core group of bookies to play the heavy odds.

In betting, it is possible to make a fortune only if there are upsets. Like South Africa losing to a battered Indian XI that had just come back after a drubbing in Australia or Derek Crookes opening the bowling for the Proteas.

Hundreds of bookies operate in the country. Most punters would have put their money on South Africa, placing the relatively modest odds with their bookies. Then the Kumar-Chawla-Kalra gang stepped in. They negotiated a deal with Cronje and about 15-20 bookies they trusted. A maximum of 25 people would benefit from the deal — Cronje and his four teammates, the match-fixers and the bookies who knew where to put their money. The losers would be the majority of ordinary punters and the larger network of bookies.

Delhi police began tapping the cellphones of Cronje (98102 94943) and the match-fixers (Chawla used 98110 59142) in the second week of March. The tournament ended in the third week. The police claimed they waited for a fortnight to tie up the loose ends and decide whether they could go public on such a sensitive issue involving a friendly nation.

The Telegraph has learnt that conversations recorded from the tapped phones revealed a direct link to several bookies who were calling Chawla, Kumar and Kalra to check if the deal was on.

Kalra was arrested and Kumar taken into custody. But the police, busy taking credit for the expose, forgot about the bookies. Even as the press conference that rocked the cricket world was being held here on April 7, if not earlier, crime branch teams could have fanned out in the capital and picked up at least five or six “insider” bookies.

The police went a day later. Then, again, two days later. But by that time, the bookies were missing. Mohan Khattar, a big shark, was not to be found at his Defence Colony address. He had left for the US. Hans, another key player, had disappeared from his Model Town home.

Unless the bookies are interrogated, a lot of “facts” cannot be corroborated. It will also be difficult to uncover the hawala route and confirm allegations of possible involvement of Indian cricketers.

Apart from the inaction on bookies, eyebrows are being raised over the police reluctance to hand over documents and transcripts to the Enforcement Directorate.

The Directorate has to trace the hawala route and establish the foreign exchange violations. It sent six letters to the police, including one to commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma, seeking possession of the papers.

With no response forthcoming, the court today ordered the police to transfer all documents by evening.

Delhi police had promised to be the chroniclers of a game foretold. They seem to prefer one hundred years of solitude.    


 
 
GHANI KEEPS SONIA WAITING 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 20 
Faced with a defiant A.B.A Ghani Khan Chowdhury, the Congress high command has tentatively decided to “experiment” with mahajot during the civic polls on condition that there will be no direct truck with the BJP.

The prime task before the Congress team visiting Calcutta over the weekend is not to probe the cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha polls but to gauge the mood of the party rank and file on mahajot.

Ghani avoided visiting Delhi despite being summoned, making the leadership uncomfortable. Sonia has now decided to send either Ghulam Nabi Azad or Prabha Rau to Calcutta to “extract” an anti-BJP statement from the state Congress chief. In return, the high command will accept mahajot on a trial basis for the civic polls provided the BJP is kept out.

While the Congress will publicly declare its opposition to the BJP, party affiliations would blur at the grassroots level in the civic polls and help narrow differences between Trinamul and the Congress for the Assembly elections next year.

The proposed three-way alliance for civic polls, reluctantly accepted by Sonia Gandhi and a section of the state Congress, envisages an understanding with Trinamul even as Mamata Banerjee continues to be part of the Vajpayee government. The Congress will, however, field candidates and campaign against the BJP.

Ghani has assured the high command that Mamata will accept the proposal. “It may pave the way for a new beginning in West Bengal,” he told party general secretary Prabha Rau on phone. She, in turn, informed Sonia and the team of observers leaving for Calcutta.

Kamal Nath, R.D. Dhawan and Vayalar Ravi, who will be part of the team, have been briefed by Rau, Pranab Mukherjee and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

Officially, the Congress leadership will maintain that it has “nothing to do” with civic polls as they are not contested on party lines.

This will help ward off criticism from the Left, the Samajwadi Party and others itching to “expose” the Congress’ “tie-up” with communal forces.

As for the Assembly elections, senior Congress leaders said a “holistic” view would be taken after the civic polls as the results would indicate the strengths and weaknesses of various parties.

“The Congress leadership cannot turn a blind eye to the sentiments of local workers who are determined to end the CPM misrule at any cost,” a source said.

Senior Congress leaders said they were still hopeful that Mamata would quit the National Democratic Alliance once she is sure of wresting West Bengal.    


 
 
CROSSED WIRES AT SANCHAR BHAVAN 
 
 
FROM M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, April, 20 
Sanchar Bhawan is tied in knots with a serious power struggle breaking out between communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan and his deputy Tapan Sikdar.

Paswan’s office has instructed all officials not to clear any files signed by Sikdar without the senior minister’s approval even if they pertain to areas that have been clearly earmarked as the minister of state’s bailiwick.

Immediately after last week’s meeting of heads of secondary switching areas held in the capital, deputy directors-general were called by Paswan’s office and directed to submit all files that had been cleared by Sikdar.

Sources said the files the communciations minister had called for included those relating to village public telephones and a few others related to the technology cleared by Sikdar.

Sources said Paswan wanted to have a major say in rollout of village phones. However, Sikdar was not willing to brook any interference, leading to a grim stand-off between the two ministers.

Officials in Paswan’s office claimed the “minister is unhappy with the progress made in rural telephony. That is why he had called for the files. He had asked the secretary in the department of telecom services to take necessary action.”

Sikdar headed the committee which picked wireless in local loop — the poor cousin of mobile telephony — as the technology best suited for the development and operation of rural telecom services especially village public telephones.

The deputy directors-general, materials and management, transmission and value added services have been specifically directed by Paswan’s office not to implement any instructions given by the minister of state.

“Paswan’s private secretary called a meeting on April 12 where the officers were asked to hold the files cleared by the minister of state. They were also asked to send the files on policy issues to the communications minister’s offices,” said DoT sources.

“This isn’t the first time this has happened,” said an officer. “It also happened when Sushma Swaraj was the communications minister and Kabindra Purukaystha was her deputy.”

“This is not a healthy trend. It puts additional pressure on officials because they have to be more careful,” the official added.    


 
 
CRASH FEAR HANGS OVER LONDON HIT PARADE 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, April 20 
Organisers of a $2 million Indian film awards ceremony here say they are finding it difficult to charter a single aircraft to fly 300 of the biggest names in Bollywood to Britain because of fears that “the entire industry would be wiped out” if an accident occurs.

“These things do happen,” said Mambo Sharma, whose company, Wizcraft International Entertainment, will stage the event inside Skyscape adjacent the Millennium Dome on June 24.

“It happened with Manchester United,” he said, referring to the aircrash in February 1958, in which seven of the top footballers of Manchester United died in Munich.

Details of the International Indian Film Awards (IIFA) will be released at a press conference at the Dome on April 25 by Amitabh Bachchan and Yukta Mookhey.

The reigning Miss World will be one of the comperes on the big night. Her co-compere might be Shah Rukh Khan.

Sharma, who is known in the business as “Mambo”, has spent weeks in Bombay, finalising an event intended to place Bollywood on par with Hollywood. Negotiations are also on to rope in some stars from Hollywood for the ceremony.

“In terms of annual turnover estimated to be $200 million, we are the second biggest film industry in the world and the highest for the number of films made,” Sharma said.

The list of names Sharma is approaching includes Dustin Hoffman, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Gere, Robert de Niro, Sylvester Stallone and Will Smith. He will be lucky if any them is willing, and indeed, free to come.

The exercise will not be cheap, either.

“We are inviting Kevin Spacey and Pierce Brosnan as well,” Sharma said. “With air fares, chauffeurs and other things, it will cost us $30,000 for each person, so we can have only three or four stars from Hollywood.”

Those being approached in Britain include Ben Kingsley, Dame Judi Dench, Ewan McGregor, Hugh Grant, Kenneth Branagh, Liz Hurley, Robert Carlisle, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cliff Richard.

From India, the list includes Alka Yagnik, Amrish Puri, Anil Kapoor, Anu Malik, Anupam Kher, Dimple Kapadia, Jackie Shroff, J.P. Dutta, Kabir Bedi, Kamal Hassan, Kumar Sanu, Mahesh Bhatt, Mahima Chowdhury, Om Puri, Pooja Bhatt, Poonam Dhillon, Rahul Rawail, Rakesh Roshan, Santosh Sivan, Satish Kaushik, Sharmila Tagore, Shatrugan Sinha, Sunil Shetty, Udit Narayan, Veeru Devgan, Yash Chopra, Yash Johar, Zeenat Aman and Salman Khan.

A total of 16 awards will be announced before 3,300 guests. The categories are the usual best picture, director, actor, actress, playback singers and lifetime achievement awards. There will also be awards for technical excellence, but they will not be presented at the ceremony.

In addition, new categories are being created to recognise Asian filmmaking talent overseas.

“There is East is East, Shekhar Kapur and M. Night Shyamalan,” Sharma said. Last year, Wizcraft put together a polished spectacular here to celebrate Raj Kapoor’s achievements. Sharma feels that it is time to establish Bollywood’s credentials beyond the Indian diaspora.

According to Wizcraft’s standards, the films eligible for awards “should be full length Hindi feature films that have been released in India and in one theatre abroad between January and December 1999”.

To lend credibility to the voting through Internet and the jury panel, Price Waterhouse Coopers Ltd has been taken on to oversee the process. The India-based firm is an associate of Price Waterhouse Coopers LLP, US, auditors to the Oscars.

The top 16 grossers of 1999, whittled down from a field of 100 releases, up for the awards are Anari No 1, Arjun Pandit, Biwi No 1, Daag-The Fire, Haseena Maan Jayegi, Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehetein Hai, Hum Dil De Chuke Hai Sanam, Jaanwar, Kachche Dhaage, Kartoos, Khoobsoorat, Sirf Tum, Taal and Vaastav.

London is considered an ideal venue to hold what Sharma hopes will be an annual event rotating between major entertainment centres. Britain, with an Asian population of two million, is now an important territory for Bollywood releases.

“One day we hope to take the ceremony to Hollywood itself,” Sharma said. For now, he is promising a “slick and classy presentation” on the biggest set erected in Britain.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 35.6°C (normal) Minimum: 27°C (+2) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum: 59% Today: Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of development of thunderclouds in the afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature will be around 36°C. Sunset: 5.56 pm Sunrise: 5.14 am    
 

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