Cry for CBI at cricket soulsearch
Concern over Atal’s recurring throat infection
Stanchart buys ANZ Grindlays
Advani returns fire with Pak attack
Springs of survival in drought deathbed
Calcutta weather

 
 
CRY FOR CBI AT CRICKET SOULSEARCH 
 
 
FROM LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
New Delhi, April 27 
The Union government is set to order a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into allegations of match-fixing against Indian cricketers.

It will, of course, be a significant first.

The option of constituting an inquiry commission (with a sitting Supreme Court judge in the chair) is certainly there, but the government is expected to respect the “wishes” of a majority of the Parliamentarians, who are inclined towards the CBI.

That most of the cricket-fraternity invitees to sports minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa’s meeting today, also favoured a CBI inquiry should help the government reach a quick decision.

It’s another matter that the CBI is already overburdened, with resources stretched to the limit.

“The government will, within the next few days, announce how the allegations will be investigated. People have spoken about the CBI, while some simply feel an appropriate authority should step in. As Parliament is in session, the announcement will be made there,” explained Dhindsa.

It is understood Dhindsa himself favours a CBI probe. Amending the Indian Penal Code (IPC), as well.

Speaking to the media after chairing a star-spangled meeting, which lasted close to three hours at the National Stadium, Dhindsa added: “The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has already promised to support whatever action the government may initiate.”

The BCCI, which thus far wasn’t terribly keen on the CBI’s involvement, has had a dramatic re-think. “Horses for courses,” somebody quipped.

It’s a development which will delight former BCCI president Inderjit Singh Bindra, who has been rooting for the CBI from Day-I itself.

International Cricket Council (ICC) president Jagmohan Dalmiya, who attended the meeting as a former BCCI secretary, sought to put things in perspective: “Last week’s announcement that the BCCI will cooperate with Delhi police appears to have been misunderstood. Today, if people feel the need for a more transparent inquiry, specifically by the CBI, that’s fine.”

Dalmiya added: “In fact, I’ve suggested it myself. Now the ball is in the government’s court. If, for some reason, it wishes to exercise some other option, the government should say so. Further, the inquiry must have a time-frame (ideally, to be completed within 60 days) and nobody must be harassed.”

A.C. Muthiah, the BCCI president, said much the same thing.

Another former BCCI president Madhavrao Scindia, stumped by the jumbo contingent of lensmen on his arrival (“Is it a Cabinet swearing-in?”), later insisted “an agency with credibility” should be entrusted with the probe.

An enigmatic observation that.

According to The Telegraph’s sources, only one of the 30 invitees, former opener and twice MP Chetan Chauhan, argued that the Delhi police be allowed to expand their on-going investigation in the Hansie Cronje affair.

However, it’s not that all invitees could speak. “My turn didn’t come,” remarked a smiling Madanlal, current selector and former coach. Even Aunshuman Gaekwad didn’t say anything.

Significantly, three of the four most high-profile invitees — Sunil Gavaskar, Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar — steered clear of the latest crisis. Only coach Kapil Dev didn’t duck. He was, typically, emotional.

Those expecting fireworks, as both Dalmiya and Bindra were present, faced disappointment: they ignored each other, even as both were much sought-after by the media.

While it would, perhaps, be premature to read too much straightaway, that the BCCI “will discuss” a five-year “vision document” with Dhindsa’s ministry (within three months), suggests the BCCI, which is an autonomous body, isn’t on as strong a wicket it was before the Cronje-triggered crisis.    


 
 
CONCERN OVER ATAL’S RECURRING THROAT INFECTION 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 27 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s recurring illnesses are causing concern within the BJP and the government.

Vajpayee yesterday took ill with a throat infection for the second time this month and could not attend Rajya Sabha today to reply to the motion of thanks on the President’s address. He also skipped the BJP parliamentary party meet, which was chaired by home minister L.K. Advani in his absence. Vajpayee has attended Parliament on only four of the eight working days since it convened after recess.

This is the third time in a month that Vajpayee has taken off from work: the first was a brief holiday in Manali, and the second was when he came down with a throat and upper respiratory tract infection. Two crucial addresses in the Lok Sabha —- one by him and the other by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi —- had to be deferred by almost a week when he first fell ill.

This time, his reply to the Rajya Sabha had to be put off. Though it was announced yesterday that Vajpayee would reply in the Rajya Sabha at 4.30 pm, BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu suddenly declared that it had been put off till noon today as there were “too many speakers” and the session would carry on late into the night. The House agenda was rescheduled to accommodate Vajpayee’s speech immediately after Question Hour.

Though Naidu sought to put a spin on why the Prime Minister’s reply had been put off, Parliament soon rang with stories of his indisposition and possible “hospitalisation”. But Naidu waved them away as “rumour”.

The first hints that the Prime Minister would not make it to the House even today were dropped by BJP sources.

“He did not get the time to draft his reply properly because every time he sits down to do it in his Parliament office he is interrupted by visitors,” they said. Asked why the reply had to be prepared afresh since he had already addressed the Lok Sabha, there was no answer.

When the House convened today after lunch, foreign minister Jaswant Singh stood up to reply on Vajpayee’s behalf. But CPM MP Jibon Roy objected, saying that Vajpayee had not replied last time also. “Can his reply not be deferred? The House should not be devalued,” he said.

Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, however, said the House had several businesses to transact before it was adjourned sine die, and there was no need to postpone the reply. “The Prime Minister can make his observations at the earliest opportunity,” he said.

Jaswant made a brief statement on Vajpayee’s illness before beginning his speech. He said the Prime Minister was unable to attend because his throat and upper respiratory tract infection had recurred. He had been advised complete rest for 48 hours, and asked to avoid air-conditioned surroundings, Jaswant said.

A communiqué issued by the Prime Minister’s press adviser, HK Dua, confirmed the information.

But it added that Vajpayee had kept his appointments with Russian security council adviser Sergei Ivanov and the Oman commerce and industry minister.

The Prime Minister’s frequent breaks from work and his age have triggered speculation on the nature of his illness. Party sources said he is likely to take another break in Manali after the Parliament session is over.    


 
 
STANCHART BUYS ANZ GRINDLAYS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Mumbai, April 27 
Standard Chartered has bought Grindlays’ Middle East and South Asian operations for $1.34 billion in cash from Australia and New Zealand banking group (ANZ).

The merger will make Standard Chartered the leading foreign bank in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The deal is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2000.

The total cost, to be established by an audit, includes goodwill of $750 million. The price, excluding dividends, represents a multiple of 2.3 times Grindlays’ book value of $590 million.

The merger follows Standard Chartered’s recent acquisitions of UBS International Trade Finance Business and Nakornthon Bank in Thailand.

Stanchart sources here said Grindlays will feature in the new name of the merged entity because of the tremendous brand equity in the country. Grindlays, a former British colonial bank that was set up in 1850, has very strong links with Calcutta where it set up its first branch in 1854.

The main offices of the bank — an imposing colonial structure — was set up on Clive Row (now Netaji Subhas Road) in 1863 and the logo of the prancing elephant was an enduring symbol of solidity and old-style British values. Even after the merger with ANZ in the late eighties, it continued to sport the Grindlays name in its India operations because of the strong values that the brand represented.

In London, Stanchart chief executive Rana Talwar said: “This acquisition is completely in line with our stated strategy and is a significant step towards our objective in becoming the world’s leading emerging markets bank..”

Describing the merger as a “win-win” for both groups, ANZ boss John McFarlane said: “The sale is a good outcome for shareholders, customers and staff of both banks.”

“For ANZ, the sale generates immediate value for our shareholders and enables us to simplify and focus our international operations in one move. For Standard Chartered, it creates the leading international bank in the Middle East and South Asia, and it will benefit from the growth and synergies the integrated platform will bring,” he added.

In India, ANZ Grindlays’ strength is corporate and investment banking while Stanchart has a headway in retail banking and treasury business. Stanchart has about 1,700 staff spread over 19 branches in eight cities while Grindlays employs over 3,000 across 19 branches in 15 cities.

But there is a potential wrinkle in the fabric because of the huge unresolved liability of over Rs 900 crore arising from the securities scandal involving Harshad Mehta.

Grindlays offers a wide range of services through 116 branches in 13 countries across the Middle East and South Asia, focusing on retail banking and cash management for major local corporates and multinationals. The combined business will have around 9,000 employees and 116 branches in 17 countries with over 2.2 million customers.    


 
 
ADVANI RETURNS FIRE WITH PAK ATTACK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 27 
India today broadbased its threat perception from Islamabad with home minister L. K. Advani saying Islambad’s objective was not limited to grabbing Jammu and Kashmir but “strike at the country’s integrity”.

An aggressive Advani, speaking at the Confederation of Indian Industry’s annual session this afternoon, ridiculed the Opposition, which had poured scorn on his Sardar Patel image yesterday.

Advani also admonished the Opposition for “besmirching” India’s image abroad by spreading lies on attacks on Christians and Muslims in the country.    


 
 
SPRINGS OF SURVIVAL IN DROUGHT DEATHBED 
 
 
FROM SUJAY GUPTA
 
Jasdan (Saurashtra), April 27 
Valaben, a local sweeper, doesn’t tire of asking the rhetorical question. Guess who he brushed shoulders with in the queue for water? The prince, replies the pauper, his eyes twinkling with glee.

Water, says Valaben sagely, is a great leveller in the small town known for its diamond-cutting factories, threshing machines and its local raja, Satyajit Kachar.

The embarrassed prince refuses to admit that he stood in queue. He says he had sent his servants to his farm 10 km away to fetch water when a tanker arrived near his palace. Unwilling to “risk it”, the prince says, he bought two buckets of water.

While the wait for the liquid that is fast disappearing from these parched parts has torn down social barriers, it has also helped join broken hearts.

Varshaben Patel was devastated when her marriage was called off because her family could not afford to buy water for the wedding. But if the rain god had turned away, Cupid smiled.

Varsha has fallen in love, with her neighbour Bholu who she had “hardly looked at earlier”. For the past month, the two have met regularly twice a week as they waited for the tanker arranged by a charitable organisation. The wait lasts the whole day since they are not sure when the truck will arrive.

But Varsha and Bholu are not complaining. The endless wait has turned into endless love.

Their tale has brought hopes for Kanji Jhagaria and Haresh Vyas, two young men whose marriages were put off because of the drought.

Haresh, engaged for two years to Sonal, was to have tied the knot in end-March.

But Sonal’s family, who live in south Gujarat — where water is aplenty — refused to let their daughter move to Saurashtra, unkindly referred to as the state’s “deathbed”.

Haresh, who has heard of Varsha and Bholu’s love story, is confident he will get Sonal. “There is always hope,” he says.

His friend Kanji, who works in Surat and is engaged to a girl from Amreli, is waiting for the drought to disappear. “If Bholu can get lucky, so can I,” says Kanji.

The stretch from Rajkot to Bhavnagar — where dams have dried up and reservoirs are empty — is replete with these little tales of survival. Amid reports of starvation deaths in north Gujarat and the government’s failure to provide quick relief, Saurashtra, officially the worst hit with all seven districts declared drought affected, is showing rare grit.

Says Maganbhai Rathore, a trader in Jasdan: “This is the worst drought we have faced. And this is only the beginning. So we cannot give up. We have accepted this and are finding ways to make our lives a little more liveable.”

Maganbhai and his friend Jagdishbhai Bhadallia, have identified 500 families of Jasdan who are financially weak after a month’s door-to-door survey. Each family is given 130 litres of water free, twice a week..

Says Jagdishbhai: “A rich lady of Jasdan, Jhuluben who now lives in Vapi (South Gujarat), donates Rs 15,000 a week with which we buy water from farmers.”

Jagdishbhai’s charitable organisation, Hariram Bapa Satsang Mandal, has printed water ration cards with supply schedule details. Each of the 500 has been given these cards. After each filling, the card is punched.

Compare this with the government’s effort. Supply, if any at all, comes once in five days and that, too, for only 20 minutes.

Says local municipal officer N.M. Desai: “There is no source of water. This is the best we can do. We are supplying once in five days and that is better than most other places.”

As government relief sources are reduced to a trickle, good samaritans have sprouted almost by magic. For instance in Rajkot, 60 km from here, Gangadas Jograna, president of the private bus owners’ association, has started his “mobile water scheme for cattle”.

Gangadas has built water troughs at different places in the town for people to bring their cattle for a drink. These troughs are periodically replenished with water bought from farms 20 km away. The moment the level in any of the troughs goes down, Gangadas can be called on his cellphone, whose number has been advertised in local dailies, for fresh supplies. All this for free.

“I found that cattle are the most ignored though they are the most crucial during the ploughing season. So I decided to supply water to them,” Gangadas says.

Another do-gooder is builder Labubhai Ahir. He has dug a bore costing Rs 2 lakh in his own compound. Using a submersible pipe, he got a 2,000-feet pipeline laid. This private pipeline provides water to the villages of Ganchiwad, Kumbarwada and Sorthiyawadi.

It is still a long summer ahead. And at the rate wells and taps are drying up, Saurashtra needs its steady supply of good samaritans.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 32.4°C (-4) Minimum: 26.5°C (+1) RAINFALL: 7 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 89%, Minimum: 62% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds in the afternoon or evening. Rise in maximum temperature, which will be around 34°C. Sunset: 5.59 pm Sunrise: 5.09 am    
 

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