Industry sees way forward & way back
Vajpayee cuts short US trip
Swadeshi Zee worth 10 crorepatis
Bengal in ranks of Bigrao states
Calcutta weather

 
 
INDUSTRY SEES WAY FORWARD & WAY BACK 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 30: 
Two episodes at the Indian Chamber of Commerce’s annual session in Calcutta on Wednesday could well be clubbed under the title: Past and Future. Or, lamentations of an outgoing chief minister and resolutions of an aspiring one.

Jyoti Basu should have first read the speech he delivered at the chamber’s 73rd annual session. It was marked in red letters: Decline and Fall of the Marxist Empire. Before a who’s who of local industry, all the chief minister had to say was a narration of the history of denial Bengal has suffered at the hands of Delhi.

Bengal, it was evident from his speech, was living in the rhetoric of eighties. For instance, he said how the freight equalisation policy had discriminated against the state, how industrial licensing was used by Delhi to deny Bengal, ... the list is long. And it has been said a hundred times before.

If the last 10 years have been a time of opportunity — opened up by the abolition of all the harmful things he talked about — and whether Bengal made the most of it were questions that went unanswered. Haldia Petrochemicals was possibly the only feather in the cap Basu could display at a rakish angle.

There were the odd references to the number of industrial proposals that had actually been implemented — and that Bengal’s implementation rate was higher than the national average — and to fashionable IT.

But if industrialists were looking to the great helmsman to show the way forward, they were shown the way back. Outgoing ICC president K.K. Bangur did want to see the way forward. He drew to the attention of the three chief ministers present, Orissa’s Naveen Patnaik and Assam’s Prafulla Mahanta were the others, the need to prepare a strategy for integrated development of the eastern region. What he received in return was a promise and not a definite pointer to the future.

Mamata Banerjee’s biggest advantage is she doesn’t employ a speechwriter. After her address, industrialists were saying: “She is outspoken. Her reaction is spontaneous. She understands what we want.”

She said, for example, that she opposed bandhs and that she would hold rallies only on holidays. The decision is belated and comes too close before the elections to escape the populist slur, but still it’s not bad for starters.

If the Trinamul Congress came to power, the party would offer investors a “comprehensive” package, words that have been reduced to nothing through overuse. Explaining, though not very much, she said investors would not have to run from one department to another for approvals.

“The package will take care of all these things. If Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra can attract investors, why can’t we? We want to revamp the image of Bengal by any means,” she said.

If Basu took a dig at her earlier by referring to the railway ministry’s “vacillating policies” that had caused disaster to the state’s wagon units, Mamata responded in kind.

“If the captain works for one hour, why should the common people work for 24 hours? I’m confident the people of Bengal can work 18 hours provided they have a good captain.”    


 
 
VAJPAYEE CUTS SHORT US TRIP 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
Plagued by his knee problem, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has deferred by two days his visit to the US and dropped San Francisco from his tour plan.

The foreign office said Vajpayee will now leave for New York on the night of September 7, but the change “would have no bearing on the major elements of his programme”.

He is scheduled to address the UN Millennium Summit the next day. He will be in the Big Apple from September 8 to 13 before leaving for Washington for his meeting with President Bill Clinton.

Agreeing with his doctors’ advice, the Prime Minister has decided to skip San Francisco, where he was to have stayed for four days from September 10 and met, among others, Indian software professionals and barons.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said the Prime Minister’s programme in New York would remain unchanged. “No changes are envisaged in his programme in Washington either in the context of his official visit to the US,” he added.

But despite the assurance, the change in the tour programme indicates that the Prime Minister has decided to do away with most of the bilateral meetings that were planned on the sidelines of the UN summit with various heads of governments.

If he had stuck to his original programme, he would have had more than two days for meeting the world leaders. By the time Vajpayee arrives in New York, most of the other leaders would be on their way out.

Though the Prime Minister’s Office insisted that apart from his knee ailment, Vajpayee was all right, the changes in his schedule have strengthened speculation about his health.

Signals emerged today that Vajpayee will attend the VHP meet in Staaten Island on September 9. But the Prime Minister, who is not very keen to go there, could cite his knee problem as an excuse for staying there for a short time.    


 
 
SWADESHI ZEE WORTH 10 CROREPATIS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
After stuttering with Malamaal, Zee believes it now has the ace to trump STAR in the prime-time poker. Worth all of, hold your breath, Rs 10 crore per day, Zee has devised a gameshow that it claims is totally swadeshi, unlike its rival’s borrowed-from-the West Crorepati.

Zee Telefilms CEO R.K. Singh refused to say who would counter STAR’s biggest draw Amitabh Bachchan. But he was emphatic that the new show, to go on air from October, will not have a host from Bollywood. He pointed out that Zee had made stars out of Anu Kapoor (Antakshari) and Sonu Nigam (Sa-re-ga-ma).

Without naming STAR’s 9 pm jackpot, Singh acknowledged that the concept of prime time entertainment has been redefined. The lure of lucre and the greater degree of audience participation has led to higher expectations and aspirations.

“Zee, being the vanguard of the industry, will try to deliver the aspirations and expectations of the viewers,” he said.

But, Singh added, the expectations will become “passé, commonplace and mundane” and, therefore, channels would have to reinvent themselves frequently.

Singh said Zee’s concern for the average Indian had led it to develop a home-grown gameshow unlike other channels borrowing models from the West.

Zee is developing the show within the network. It promises greater interactivity, a higher degree of suspense and a faster pace. Audience participation will be more transparent and simpler. Asked whether he implied that Crorepati was not transparent, Singh said he was not comparing with any other channel.

But the Malamaal contest has been a learning process and hence the decision to evolve a more audience-friendly process. Malamaal straddles two hours of prime time and requires mandatory viewing of Zee programmes.

Singh stressed that Zee will go in for holistic programming from September/October. It will step up the Antakshari programme, which has been going strong for seven years, with the introduction of a prize of Rs 1 crore each week. There will be several soaps including Sansaar, a story of Indian enterprise and initiative in the global scene. There will be a fantasy, Thief of Baghdad, a theatre-based programme called Rangshala which will debut with Mr Beghar, directed by Raman Kumar of IPTA.

Zee will also screen high-profile films beginning with M.F. Husain’s Gajagamini. Next on schedule is the Salman Khan-Karisma Kapoor starrer Dulhan Hum le Jayenge which hit the silver screen only six months ago.

And surprise, surprise! Zee will debut the mytho Jai Ganesha while Sony will launch Shree Ganesh.

“We have been carrying promos for three weeks now while Sony made its announcement only a couple of days ago. You can judge for yourself who was first,” Singh said.    


 
 
BENGAL IN RANKS OF BIGRAO STATES 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
Move over Bimaru, Bigrao is here... with Bengal in tow.

Ever since the 11th Finance Commission’s report was published, economists here have been falling over themselves to change the acronym Bimaru — short for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — that was first used in a population study but later came to be used to describe India’s “sick” cowbelt.

The reason for the search is simple.

“Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are out, but Bengal is in (in the poor and sick category),” explains D.K. Srivastava, professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy and principal consultant to the commission.

Ashis Bose, the economist-demographer who first coined the phrase Bimaru, has come up with a variation: Bigrao, for Bihar, Bengal and Orissa.

“It means spoilt, delinquent,” says Bose, now honorary professor at the Institute of Economic Growth. “Bengal’s is a riches to rags story.”

The commission report is one of the most embarrassing so far for Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta. It is also a document that can be used by the Left’s opponents to berate the policies which have pushed the state government into penury.

Bengal’s fiscal deficit is 9.3 per cent of its gross state domestic product (GSDP). Among general category states, only Orissa has a larger fiscal deficit.

In the index of fiscal discipline, West Bengal (88) has the lowest rank among general category states.

In the 10th Finance Commission study, Bengal was in the middle income group. In the 11th report, Bengal is 5th from the bottom in terms of comparable per capita GSDP. Only Bihar, UP, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh have a lower per capita GSDP. Rajasthan has gone one notch above Bengal.

Against this background, the 11th Finance Commission has fixed Bengal’s share of Central taxes at 8.116 per cent (which roughly corresponds to Bengal’s share in India’s total population), slightly larger than the recommended figure by the 10th Finance Commission.

But where West Bengal gets really more is in the “revenue deficit” grants. “This is not a prize. It is a survival kit so that Bengal can breathe and restructure,” says Srivastava.

Bengal did not get anything under this head in the 10th Finance Commission recommendations. A total of Rs 3,246 crore as revenue deficit grants will be given for the first three years.

But the finance commission is likely to employ a carrot-and-stick policy here. The amount will be disbursed on condition that the state government discipline its finances. The instruments/methods through which the Centre will ask the state to go about this task will be known only after the finance commission submits its report on this term of reference shortly.

Srivastava says during its deliberations, the Commission tried to apply certain norms to restrict the flow of funds to Bengal. “Even so, Bengal gets the money because its revenue deficit is the largest among the general category states.”

Bengal’s total entitlement under the 11th Commission for five years is Rs 35,219 crore.

Studies by the Commission have also indicated where Bengal has gone wrong and hint how it might seek to alter its ways. “However,” says a source involved with the studies, “there is no way the Centre can function like the World Bank and insist that Bengal carries out reforms if it wants the funds it is entitled to.”

Broadly, the Commission is advising the state to shift its focus from agriculture to industry and services sectors. “In a successful year, agriculture can at best give a growth rate of 4 per cent; industry 12 per cent and services 20 per cent,” says the source. “By ignoring sectors which have a larger growth potential, Bengal’s GSDP has got depressed. This calls for structural changes in the economy.”

The scenario the source paints if Bengal does not get the money promised to it by the Commission is frightening. “In two months, state employees will stop getting salaries. In three months, state transport services will come to a halt. In five months, it will be difficult to pay even policemen.

The “comic strip” economist, Ashis Bose, says Orissa actually got into the “super-poor” category before Bengal, particularly because its child mortality rate is the highest. “At that time I classified these states as Ati-Bimaru (chronically sick). But now that Bengal has got in, I cannot but help using Bigrao.”    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.5°C (-l)
Minimum: 27.3°C (+1)

Rainfall:

3 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 83%

Today

A few spells of light rain with one or two heavy showers or thundershowers under the influence of a low pressure area over north Bay of Bengal and adjoining coastal Bangladesh
Sunset: 5.54 pm
Sunrise: 5.21 am
   
 

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