Vajpayee rushes telecom corporatisation to Cabinet
Long-distance phone rates cut
Veerappan demand met
Delhi digs up Pakistan ‘atrocities’
IT industry on educating-Laloo mission
Home or abroad, cows are with Atal
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 28: 
The Cabinet will take up the issue of corporatising the newly-created department of telecom operation and department of telecom services under the single head of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) tomorrow.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had dropped such hints after consultation with communication minister Ram Vilas Paswan about corporatising the telecom sector by October 1. The decision to corporatise and pave the way for privatisation was taken a few months ago after Paswan announced free phones for telecom employees.

But Cabinet ministers who have received the four-page note on telecom corporatisation as part of tomorrow’s agenda are viewing the move with some scepticism.

BSNL — as conceived in the note — has an authorised share capital of Rs 10,000 crore and a paid-up capital of Rs 5,000 crore. Critics are asking why the government is hurrying the process when the consultants, A.F. Ferguson, had submitted only its interim report on July 31 and the first volume of the final report is expected on August 31.

The proposal is also yet to get many clearances. Though the new corporation will be set up under the Companies’ Act, it has not received approval of the ministry of law and company affairs. The finance ministry has not given its nod either.

Many in the Cabinet suspect that the Prime Minister wants to rush Cabinet approval because he is leaving for the US next week.

The note has been found to be “unclear” on many counts. It does not say what will be the fate of employees who will be automatically absorbed into the new corporation. It also says nothing on pension and other liabilities of the employees and their promotional avenues in the new corporation. The note does not spell out the details of a probable voluntary retirement scheme.

A group of ministers under Paswan had been set up to look into the corporatisation issue. The note is silent on whether that report is ready or not.

Once the first volume of the consultancy firm’s final report comes, the government will be in a better position to argue its case. The volume is expected to contain detailed assessment of the net worth of the new corporation and a proper valuation of its assets.

Sources say Vajpayee, who has won a turf war in Nagpur where he had his partymen toeing his line on reforms, does not want to slow down the pace of liberalisation. He is aware that since he will be away for the most part of September, the corporatisation process in the telecom sector will be stuck without Cabinet approval.

There are also a few critics of bringing DTS and DTO under a single corporation. They point out that DTO, which is virtually a one-man body, came into existence only a few months ago and that now stands to be reversed. DTS too was formed only last year.

However, the case being made by the government is that all these steps were taken to slowly but surely achieve the final goal of corporatisation.

The note says the headquarters of BSNL will be in New Delhi. But many ministers have objections to this and are insisting that it be based in a city other than Delhi and Mumbai.    

New Delhi, Aug. 28: 
The rates for STD and overseas calls have been slashed by 15-17 per cent. The new rates will come into effect from October 1 and remain valid till March 2002.

Under the new tariff rates announced today by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the maximum relief of Rs 4.80 per minute was extended to STD calls for a radial distance of over 1000 kms with a pulse rate of Rs 1.20. Calls will now cost Rs 30 per minute against Rs 25.20 earlier.

As a result, people who make the most calls — that is, those who make more than 1000 calls in a bi-monthly billing cycle — will get the maximum benefit with a tariff cut of Rs 14.40 for a 3-minute call from Calcutta to Delhi during the peak rate period between 8 a.m and 7 p.m.

Subscribers who make less than 500 calls bi-monthly (Slab I) will benefit to the extent of Rs 9.60 paise for a 3-minute call from Calcutta to Delhi; the corresponding benefit for customers who make between 500 and 1000 calls bi-monthly (Slab II) will be Rs 11.

The cuts are part of the second phase of tariff rate re-balancing initiated by the telecom watchdog that fixes phone tariffs and regulates the sector that is increasingly being opened to the private sector.

Trai also reduced overseas call rates by 17 per cent. A 3-minute call to the US, by a subscriber who makes more than 1000 calls bi-monthly, will now cost Rs 147.60 per three minutes as against Rs 183.60 at present.

Subscribers in Slab III making calls to Europe, Africa, Gulf and Oceania will have to pay Rs 122.40 for a 3-minute call as against Rs 144.60 now.

A three-minute call made from India to SAARC or other neighbouring countries will cost Rs 50.40 as against Rs 60 for Slab I subscribers. Subscribers in Slab II will now have to pay Rs 66 for a 3-minute call as against Rs 75 at present. Subscribers in Slab III (who make more than a 1000 calls bi-monthly) will have to pay Rs 75.60 for a 3-minute call against the current rate of Rs 90.

However, Trai has decided against increasing the rentals in the second phase for subscribers making more than 500 metered calls per month of the billing cycle. An increase in rentals for this slab would have resulted in additional revenue of Rs 200 crore annually for the government.

TRAI said in a statement that domestic long distance (STD) rates would continue to fall.    

Bangalore, Aug. 28: 
The Karnataka government today agreed to drop all criminal cases against 121 associates of Veerappan in an attempt to get superstar Rajkumar back from his clutches.

The decision came shortly after a sessions court in Mysore granted conditional bail to 51 of them who are behind bars under Tada charges. The remaining 70 are already out on bail.

Nakkeeran editor R. Gopal was expected to leave for the bandit’s hideout later tonight.

Chief minister S.M. Krishna announced after a meeting of the crisis management committee that a government order had been issued dropping charges in five major cases against the forest fiend. Bowing to Veerappan’s diktat, the Karnataka government today agreed to drop all criminal cases against 121 associates of the bandit in an attempt to get superstar Rajkumar back from his clutches.

The decision came shortly after a sessions court in Mysore granted conditional bail to 51 of them who are behind bars under Tada charges. The remaining 70 are already out on bail.

Chief minister S.M. Krishna announced after a meeting of the crisis management committee that a government order had been issued dropping charges in five major cases, including the murder of superintendent of police Harikrishna and sub-inspector Sakeel Ahmed.

The other cases dropped include the killing of 22 policemen at the Palar bridge in a bomb blast in 1993 and the murder of five policemen in an ambush on Rampura police station in 1992.

The release of all 121 men was one of 14 demands made by Veerappan for the release of Rajkumar and three others who are in the bandit’s custody since July 30.

Krishna said Nakkeeran editor R. Gopal was expected to proceed to the forests later tonight to convince Veerappan that the two governments were serious about meeting his demands and he should release the hostages at the earliest.

Earlier, sessions judge Rajendra Prasad granted conditional bail to 51 detainees against whom the government has withdrawn cases under Tada.

The judge ordered their release after obtaining personal bonds of Rs 10,000 and surety of Rs 20,000 each. Law minister Chandre Gowda said the government lawyers will arrange for their surety and they could be set free “any moment”.

The M. Karunanidhi government has also dropped cases against five activists of the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army, which was another of Veerappan’s demands.    

New Delhi, Aug. 28: 
After keeping mum for over a month, India today decided to go vocal on Pakistan’s violation of “humanitarian and diplomatic” obligation for allegedly detaining crew members of an Indian vessel which sunk in its waters in June and denying consular access to the victims.

The move appears to have been sparked off by the tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats last week.

South Block’s decision to talk about the atrocities on its diplomats and officials, apart from the crew members of the Indian vessel, may be aimed at laying the groundwork for the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly, where the two neighbours are likely to cross-swords over human rights violation.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said in the past five years, Islamabad has sought to recall 17 members of the Indian High Commission on “completely baseless and untenable charges”.

There had been 89 cases of “intimidation, harassment, abduction and physical torture” to Indian officials serving in Pakistan, he alleged.

Jassal explained he was responding to a question on the issue. But it failed to justify the delayed reaction by the foreign ministry to the alleged confinement of the Indian crew members.

The foreign ministry spokesman pointed out that the torture and harassment of the Indian staff and diplomats were in “gross violation” of the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and the India-Pakistan Code of Conduct for the treatment of diplomatic personnel, signed between the two countries in 1992.

“Personnel of our high commission and their family members are routinely subjected to intensive and intrusive surveillance and harassment by the Pakistani agencies,” Jassal said.

According to the spokesman, an Indian vessel, Jan Kalyan, on its way from the United Arab Emirates to India, caught fire and sank in the Arabian Sea on June 25 this year.

Pakistani fishermen rescued 11 crew members of the ship after they spent nine days in the sea without food or water. The Indian authorities were informed by Pakistan about the rescue after a few days. Islamabad also told Delhi that some of them had been admitted to the government hospital in Pasni.

India expressed its “deep appreciation to the Pakistani government and, through it, to the crew members of the Pakistani fishing boat involved in the rescue”.

“In keeping with international practice, the Indian High Commission sought immediate consular access to the crew members in order to ascertain their welfare and to arrange for their repatriation to India,” Jassal added.

But though it has been more than a month, Pakistani authorities have not yet allowed consular access.

“The agony and suffering of the crew members as well as that of their families in India is, therefore, being inexplicably prolonged. The continued detention of the crew members in Pakistani custody and the denial of consular access displays an inhuman attitude,” the spokesman added.

But the foreign ministry’s charges against Pakistan only serve Islamabad’s purpose. Attempts in the past had been made by South Block to ignore Pakistani charges and refrain from reacting to allegations.    

New Delhi, Aug. 28: 
After Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, it is Nasscom’s turn to preach digital socialism.

The software association wants to try and help bridge the digital divide between the rich and the poor and bring infotech light into the lives of cyber-unenlightened leaders like Bihar’s Laloo Prasad Yadav.

Nasscom says it will initiate a special campaign on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on October 2 with special programmes to educate political leaders on IT. “We will launch a series of programmes, which include educating all influential people like political leaders about the benefits and necessity of bringing in IT at all levels. We feel there is a digital divide and this needs to be bridged at all levels,” said Dewang Mehta, Nasscom president.

Infosys chairman and chief executive officer N.R. Narayanamurthy today called on the industry to take upon itself the task of educating political leaders who ask: “Yeh IT, YT kya hai.”

“It is the responsibility of the IT industry to educate political leaders about the benefits. This will help bridge the digital divide. Its use in health and education should be higlighted,” said Narayanamurthy.

It seems IT education for political leaders will not be a purely swadeshi effort, but the entire industry, including multinationals, will take part.

Nasscom plans to use a part of the $15-billion fund offered by the Japanese Prime Minister to developing countries to educate those who have doubts about the benefits of IT, industry sources said.

“We are not clear what percentage India will get out of the $15-billion IT fund. But we are likely to use a substantial part of it to bridge the digital divide through seminars, symposia and special presentations,” said Mehta.

Narayanamurthy’s emphasis on the need to develop and propagate software in all Indian languages should also help close the digital divide. Currently, only about two-three per cent English-speaking population has access to computers and the Internet.

“Laloo Prasad and Kanshi Ram’s distrust or dislike for IT has strong reasons, which we should realise and try to solve. There is no use making fun of such political leaders who have a mass base, instead we should channelise it for educating the people about IT and its inevitability. We are developing language software and would soon roll out software for Indian languages,” said a senior industry executive.    

New York, Aug. 28 
If Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was planning to get away from the Ananth Kumars and the Mahesh Sharmas for a few days by going to New York, he will be disappointed to find himself haunted by images of swadeshiwallahs and the promoters of Hindutva from the moment he arrives in the Big Apple next month.

Driving in a motorcade from New York’s John F. Kennedy airport to his Manhattan hotel, Vajpayee will be bewildered to see as many as 500 life-size cows standing at vantage points throughout the city.

These cows are not a tribute to the man the American public still refers to as the “nationalist Hindu” leader of India. They have been placed all along this megapolis as part of “Cow Parade New York 2000”, an art exhibition commissioned by the New York city administration to celebrate the millennium. Each cow, made of about 200 kg of fibreglass, can be seen standing or grazing all over the Big Apple. But that is not all. In the run-up to Vajpayee’s arrival, cows have become the talking point in this city what with a two-year-old cow escaping from a slaughterhouse, terrifying pedestrians and confusing motorists.

The cow, which walked the footpaths and stepped into traffic, so terrified New Yorkers — many of whom had not seen a live bovine — that the police emergency number 911 was jammed for several hours. The city’s Emergency Services Unit eventually sedated the animal, tied it up and took it off the streets.

But, if Vajpayee is seeking a temporary escape from Hindutva in New York, for him the worst is yet to come. In advance of the Prime Minister’s arrival, 108 religious leaders from India, most of them sadhus and sanyasis, are descending on New York for a Millennium World Peace Summit, part of the millennium celebrations at the UN.

The summit, opening on Monday, is being financed by media mogul Ted Turner and a number of philanthropic bodies, but among its chief organisers are the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America Inc. and Overseas Friends of the BJP.

K.R. Malkani, the party’s MP, has already been here to oversee the arrangements and, appropriately, human resources development minister M.M. Joshi will be a key participant.

The New York part of the summit, which will be attended by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, will end on August 31. While Vajpayee attends the UN’s Millennium Summit of heads of state and government, the Indian religious contingent will embark on a dharma prasaar yatra across the US.

The sadhus and sanyasis will return here to besiege Vajpayee at a public reception at Staaten Island off New York on September 9.



Maximum: 33.4°C (+1)

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RAINFALL: 0.4 mm

Relative humidity:

Maximum: 98%, Minimum: 70%


Possibility of light rain in some parts of the city and its suburbs

Sunset: 5.56 pm Sunrise: 5.20 am    


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