Delhi clasps Hizbul hand of peace
Power shift in blackout
Jaitly jab at taxmen with bribe charge
Showcause to follow raid
Maruti goes swadeshi on Net
Calcutta weather

July 24: 
A Kashmir peace initiative got under way today after militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen announced a ceasefire to be greeted with a surprisingly warm response from New Delhi.

The Vajpayee government reacted to Hizbul’s conditional offer of a three-month cessation of hostilities by saying that “any move which points towards peace is welcome”.

The development signals not only a willingness on the Centre’s part to talk to militant organisations it has so far kept at bay, but also a possible resumption of dialogue with Pakistan. Hizbul is said by New Delhi to be an outfit backed by Pakistan.

Its ceasefire announcement came with an offer to open negotiations with the Centre. Abdul Majid Dar, who claims to be the commander-in-chief (operations) of Hizbul, said the outfit has decided to “halt attacks against security forces from tomorrow”.

“We have announced the ceasefire to facilitate a solution to the (Kashmir) problem and we shall abide by it only if operations against militants are stopped immediately by the security forces,” Dar said.

The Hizbul leader claimed that the militants were willing to “associate themselves with talks for finding a permanent solution to the problem”. He said his outfit would support any party on holding talks so long as they were “unconditional”.

The development follows a two-day visit to Srinagar by home secretary Kamal Pande who, sources said, had long discussions with Hizbul representatives. Pande admitted that the outfit was represented by Dar though other leaders were also present.

Still, taking a cautious approach, the Centre announced that it “will be watching the situation closely and make its assessments later”. With Parliament in session, it cannot be any more forthcoming than issuing a simple, but eloquent, “welcome” statement.

The Hizbul is not as powerful as it used to be in the late eighties and early nineties when militancy was its height. But its importance lies in the fact that it is largely a home-grown organisation and will probably have a bigger say when the political fate of Kashmir is decided.

Today’s reaction from the home ministry is a pointer to the Centre’s willingness to restart the dialogue with Islamabad which had been abruptly brought to an end by Pakistan’s Kargil misadventure. After the hostilities ended, New Delhi has time and again maintained that talks could resume with Pakistan only when it stopped supporting terrorists and pushing mercenaries into India. This stand was reinforced after the Indian Airlines plane hijack last December.

The chain of events since the visit of President Bill Clinton last March has unfolded with the Centre releasing leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference.

This was followed by New Delhi’s rejection of the autonomy resolution adopted by the National Conference-dominated Assembly. Forming the backdrop to these moves is the surprisingly low level of violence since March and through this summer.    

New Delhi, July 24 
Enveloped in darkness, Arun Jaitley took over as law minister from Ram Jethmalani who was sacked for his utterances against the Supreme Court.

The new minister entered his office at Shastri Bhavan, without power following the breakdown in the capital this afternoon and also without Jethmalani to hand him over the reins.

Jethmalani, who arrived here later in the evening from Pune, promised to make a statement in Parliament on his dismissal.

“Ninetynine per cent I will make a statement in Parliament and if in that one per cent I wish not to make the statement, I will speak to the media,” he said.

Jaitley said he would have to “study” the Srikrishna commission report on the Mumbai riots before giving a final shape to the affidavit which the government has to file within six weeks in the Supreme Court. “We have been directed to file a fresh affidavit. We have six weeks’ time and, of course, will file the new affidavit after considering all aspects of the issue,” Jaitley said.

Jethmalani was asked to resign after he sought to “illuminate” apex court judges with his legal wisdom following the court’s criticism of the government for speaking in a number of voices on the Srikrishna report.

The ousted minister sharpened his attack on attorney-general Soli Sorabjee, accusing him of “plotting” his removal.

“I had considered Soli as one of my good friends. But he betrayed my friendship by plotting my ouster,” Jethmalani said.

Jaitley sought to make light of Jethmalani’s absence at his anointment. “It just happened that he (Jethmalani) is out of Delhi. I enjoy a very close relationship with him,” Jaitley said.

The new law minister said he has to “study” various Bills pending to be introduced, including the controversial amendment to the Christian marriage law.

Jaitley said he would “honour” his predecessor’s statement that the legal community would be “consulted” before introducing any amendments to the Civil Procedure Code.

Arun Shourie was the other minister to assume charge of a new portfolio today, taking over the department of disinvestment left vacant by Jaitley’s shift.    

New Delhi, July 24: 
Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly today accused some tax officials of demanding bribe and assailed minister of state for revenue Dhananjaya Kumar and sports minister S.S. Dhindsa for speaking out of turn on the match-fixing probe even before investigations are complete.

Jaitly alleged that a certain income-tax officer had demanded Rs 50,000 while raiding cricketer Ajay Jadeja’s office. She accused a section of income-tax officers and the two ministers of spreading “lies” in the media to denigrate institutions and defame individuals.

Jaitly said the “underlings” among investigators were so greedy that they demanded food while raiding Jadeja’s office (Jadeja Consultants Private Limited) where her daughter Aditi is employed. Aditi is Jadeja’s fiancee. She is authorised to sign his cheque books in his absence.

All that the raiding party could lay its hands on was Rs 1,115 in cash and some change, Jaitly said, adding that 14 of them demanded that they be treated to pizzas. They ate up 60 rotis, she said.

“The tax authorities should see to it that they (search parties) carry their own food,” Jaitly added. “They asked my daughter personal questions: whether she travelled abroad with Jadeja... is it for IT men to ask questions like this?”

The investigators tried unsuccessfully to search Jaitly’s house in Khirki village, south Delhi, last week. She was, however, questioned and her statement recorded. Jaitly said later she met finance minister Yashwant Sinha and complained to him that the taxmen sought bribe and tried to shoot her dog. Sinha promised to look into the matter.

She appealed to Kumar and Dhindsa to refrain from making public statements which could derail the investigation.

Jaitly pointed out that Kumar’s comment “within 24 hours” of the raids that he had “clinching evidence” to prove the nexus between bookies and cricketers was contradicted by a tax officer who said it would take at least two months to finish the probe.

She also objected to Dhindsa’s statement that minor players were worth Rs 10 crore while the stars were valued at Rs 200 crore each. “How can a sports minister make such a statement? Will not it derail a fair investigation?” she asked.

The Samata chief said she had no interest in cricket. But she felt compelled to express her views as she wanted “to ensure that government agencies work honestly and do not exceed their brief”.

Facing a volley of questions on whether she was trying to exert pressure on tax officials as Jadeja was closely linked to her daughter, Jaitly denied all the insinuations.    

New Delhi, July 24: 
Income-tax authorities have decided to ask some cricketers to show cause why last week’s raids reveal that they have assets disproportionate to their known sources of income.

Investigations appeared to have reached a crucial stage with the sleuths being summoned for frequent meetings to North Block. Reporters were barred from the income-tax offices today after the investigators came under pressure for having been open with the media on the raids.

Sources said the raiding parties have found a large volume of property and bank-related documents which throw up “glaring discrepancies”. Every discrepancy would be probed, they asserted, adding that old income-tax returns files have been dug out.

“We are comparing these returns with the assets, both declared and undeclared, that we have been able to unearth. It gives us a fair idea of the volume of the concealed incomes of these cricketers and cricket administrators,” a source said.

Once the questionnaires are ready, the players will be summoned for “one-to-one” interrogation. This could begin later this week or, at the most, by next week. Before that, the authorities will open all the 50 bank lockers that have been sealed. This would help them draw up a foolproof questionnaire, sources said.

The income-tax authorities have also found evidence of some cricketers possessing foreign exchange. They did not say if this was stored in bank accounts abroad or stacked up in hard currency notes at home.

Several players who are abroad have called up the sleuths after the raids. Ajay Jadeja, Ajay Sharma, Mohammed Azharuddin and his wife Sangeeta Bijlani, who is also being investigated, are out of the country. Clerks in the income-tax office say they are tired of receiving overseas calls.

Some diaries of players and bookies have also been seized. One prominent cricketer reportedly maintained a diary in which he had listed the properties he owns at home and abroad.

The diary was seized from his residence during the I-T operation. For the property abroad, the player is said to have had allegedly routed money through a tax haven. A register and betting sheets are believed to have been recovered from the business establishment of a bookie in the capital.    

From M. Rajendran 
Alarmed by the steady fall in market share, Maruti Udyog Limited has brought together eight Indian automobile companies under one portal to take on foreign giants like General Motors, Ford and Hyundai.

Ashok Leyland, Bajaj Automobiles, Hero Group, Hindustan Motors, Mahindra and Mahindra, Telco and TVS have joined hands with Maruti to develop a vertical portal (vortal). The vortal will be created with the aim of maximising their business and improve market share.

Maruti appears to have taken a leaf out of the Bombay Club and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s exhortation to use “swadeshi power” to take on the multinationals. Maruti’s market share has been steadily falling and slumped to around 47 per cent in June 2000 from more than 75 per cent two years ago. Officials in Maruti confirmed the move but were tightlipped about the project.

The vortal has been designed to help component vendors to have direct access to the engineering and procurement departments of each company. It will also help the vendors to adjust their component roll-out depending on the demand of the automobile company.

“It is a great opportunity for all of us to work together to enhance our market share as well as improve drawbacks. This vortal will also help the vendors in particular to maintain a balance between demand and supply. It will help them achieve economies of scale. The customers, too, will benefit a lot from this effort,” he said.

“The customers will no longer have to wait for the component or a vehicle at the workshops, since all vendors would be integrated in the portal. This will bring down the waiting period by more than 80 per cent. We also plan to bring in all dealers of each automobile company in the portal,” the sources added.

Sources in a leading Indian automobile company said this vortal would not be a competitor to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (SIAM), but would be complementary to it. SIAM has all automobile manufacturers, both foreign and Indian, as its members.

“This has brought even competitors together. Telco’s Indica and Maruti’s Zen would be available side by side. With growth of e-commerce and electronic business, this was inevitable,” said an executive of an automobile company.

The foreign companies scoffed at the proposal. A senior officer said this was is a desperate move by the Japanese to stop their market share from shrinking further.    



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