Fifty-year fetters taken off insurance
CPM stoic in somersault
Boys blinded for fishing in caste-poisoned pond
Wright answers impress board
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Oct. 23: 
Nearly half a century after the first batch of insurance companies was nationalised, the government today opened up the sector to private entry.

Licences were issued to three companies and three others were given in-principle clearance by the watchdog for the sector, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA).

“This is truly a momentous day for the Indian insurance sector,” said the head of one company that received clearance today after the IRDA came good on its promise of gifting a Diwali bonanza.

Reliance General Insurance, HDFC Standard Life Insurance and Royal Sundaram Alliance Insurance are the companies that were registered today. They will be the first private sector entities to get a foothold in insurance since 1956 when 245 Indian and foreign insurers and provident societies were nationalised. In 1971, the government took over the management of non-life insurance firms followed by nationalisation two years later.

ICICI-Prudential Life Insurance, Max-New York Life Insurance and Iffco-Tokio General Insurance Company are the three which received in-principle approval for registration.

So far, about 10 companies have applied for licence, the Tatas and Birlas among them. Reliance received registration for non-life insurance business and will have to wait for the licence for life insurance. Among the six companies that received clearance in one form or other today, only Reliance is starting business without foreign tieup.

Reacting to the opening up of the sector, a beaming HDFC chief Deepak Parekh said: “We are very happy. We are delighted to be among the first.” It will be some time before the first private insurance policy is sold, and industry watchers see HDFC Standard Life as having warmed up enough to get off the block ahead of others.

Reliance and ICICI Prudential, which has to fulfil some conditions before registration, are expected to start early next year, while HDFC plans a soft launch in December. Most of the private insurance companies have foreign associates with equity participation and these alliances are expected to introduce innovative products in the underexploited Indian market. Only 18 per cent of the population is estimated to have been covered by insurance.

Royal Sundaram managing director Micky Brigg said: “We are eager to share our international expertise and experience.” Sundaram’s partner, Royal Sun Alliance, operates in over 50 countries.

Banks have been left out of the first lot of registrations. SBI was keen on being the first bank to get a licence, but has not finalised a joint venture partner.

Years of political debate preceded today’s grant of licences, the proposal for dismantling the monopoly of government-owned agencies — Life Insurance Corporation and General Insurance Corporation — having first come up for discussion during Narasimha Rao’s regime.

The Bill to grant statutory powers to the regulatory authority had a tortuous journey through Parliament. After two abortive attempts, a fresh Bill was introduced in December 1999 and was passed after amendments — incorporating social sector commitments — to overcome opposition.    

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 23: 
The CPM special conference ended today on a self-congratulatory note with the leadership patting itself on the back for checkmating dissidence, correcting the “historic blunder” and keeping intact the essential format of the party programme drafted 36 years ago.

“We are confident the revised programme will enable us to march ahead,” CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet said.

Victory must have been sweet for Surjeet, who had tried desperately to push his party into joining the United Front government. His comrades in the central committee, who had then rejected the proposal, today sealed the amendment in favour of participation.

The new document will add that the CPM can participate in a government at the Centre as well. To pacify the hardliners, the leadership said the decision will be taken “after examining the concrete situation”.

Surjeet denied it was a victory for those who had been demanding a change. “It is neither victory nor defeat for us,” he said. For the pro-changers, however, it was a step forward towards gearing the CPM into playing a more forceful role in national politics.

Dissidence seems to have been quelled for the time being. Saifuddin Chowdhury’s exit has had little impact — the leadership dismissed him as a “single individual” who did not like the party.

“If some individual does not like the party, he is free to go,” Surjeet said. His confidence stemmed from the volte-face by Saifuddin’s friends like Subhas Chakraborty who applauded the conference for having done a satisfactory job. Saifuddin today postponed the launch of his forum.

Surjeet said the delegates moved 239 amendments, of which 28 were accepted. But he refused to confirm reports that several amendments had to be put to vote following sharp divisions. According to reports, the contentious amendments pertain to compensation to landlords for plots taken by the state for distribution among the landless and role of the state in the new economic age.

Confronted by sweeping political and economic changes, the leaders tried to work out a strategy that would take care of its two most important objectives: to fight the BJP and check the unbridled globalisation.The result is a mixed strategy where the CPM will cosy up to parties which are fighting the BJP, but attack them when they support liberalisation.    

Lucknow, Oct. 23: 
All that 12-year-old Budhai wanted was a piece of action in the fishing pond.

Today, he lies in a cramped hospital ward trying hard to come to terms with th shed a contingent of police personnel to Matila, Hadouri and other adjoining villages.

“The possibility of the situation deteriorating with revenge attacks cannot be underestimated,” said R.N. Singh, DIG, Faizabad, adding that there was “palpable tension” in the region.

Though the government has announced that the guilty will not be spared, neither the victims nor their families are convinced. “Unka koi kuch nahi bigad sakta hai (They can’t be touched),” rued Gunudevi, the mother of Kamlesh, a young man who has been disfigured forever.

“As long as there are Dalits and upper castes, these things will continue to happen: only it will be a different village and a different set of people,” added Ramkrishna, brother of one of the victims.

Dalits claim that the Thakurs from Hadouri had been periodically harassing and beating them into relinquishing their fishing rights to the pond. They said their problems increased after three Dalit youths bidded successfully on a tender floated by the administration for the pond.

The Dalit villagers alleged that the Deva police had always ignored their complaints and had even refused to file an FIR on the night of the attack. “In fact, we were beaten by the police and sent back,” Ramkrishna said.

From his hospital bed, Budhai, who is most worried about his studies, vowed never to go fishing again. “Saheb, doctor log meri aakhen waapas kar sakte hain? Mujhe padna hai. (Can the doctors give back my eyes? I want to study).”    

Calcutta, Oct.23: 
Former New Zealand captain John Wright landed in Chennai late last night as frontrunner for the India coach’s job.

According to well-placed sources of The Telegraph, Wright “consolidated” his position during the 80-minute interview with the board today, at Chennai’s Radisson Hotel.

Wright and former Australian captain Greg Chappell were interviewed by a five-member panel: board president A.C. Muthiah, secretary Jaywant Lele, former president Raj Singh Dungarpur, National Cricket Academy director Hanumant Singh and former captain Srinivas Venkatraghavan.

Respecting Chappell’s seniority, the panel first interacted with him before calling Wright.

Chappell’s interview was also for 80 minutes and while his record as an icon-batsman speaks for itself, one learns Wright made a “somewhat better impression” when up against coach-specific questions.

Generally, Chappell’s presentation was “excellent,” but the powers-that-be remain convinced (particularly after interviewing Wright) that a focussed, low-profile coach is what Indian cricket needs.

Intriguingly, while Chappell and Wright arrived assuming they were the only candidates, Geoff Marsh’s volte-face has made it a three-way affair.

Last week, Australia’s 1999 World Cup-winning coach pulled out (citing family reasons) but, in a turnaround, faxed his availability to Muthiah’s office yesterday. The Board president got to see the fax this morning.

While Marsh isn’t short on support, this indecisiveness couldn’t exactly have endeared him to all within the Board. It’s been an unprofessional move.

Marsh’s yes-no-yes notwithstanding, the Board will invite him for an interview “in early November.” Who succeeds Kapil Dev full-time will be on hold, till then at least, and Aunshuman Gaekwad should remain stand-in coach at the one-off Test in Dhaka (from November 10).

Perhaps, even during the home series against Zimbabwe, which gets underway November 18. One understands Muthiah and Lele asked general (“administrative-type”) questions, while a bulk of the technical ones were fired by the venerable Raj Singh and wily Venkat.

Apparently, one specific question was: How would you respond to an on-field situation (X) which was appreciably different from what was discussed and planned for (Y) at the team meeting?

It would seem Wright, who has been coaching Kent for four years, had the more easier-to-implement response. Chappell, incidentally, is in his third year as South Australia’s coach.

Speaking exclusively, late this evening, Wright remarked he was “happy” with his interview. And, when his attention was drawn to his being the favourite, laughed and said: “I hope so, too.”

Wright flies to England (not New Zealand) tomorrow and will “talk at length” only after hearing from the Board. “As soon as possible, is what I’ve been informed,” he signed off.

Chappell, who leaves for Australia tonight itself (“South Australia play Western Australia, in Adelaide from Thursday”), declined to comment.

“Not till the appropriate moment,” Chappell pointed out, though a confidant did observe he (Chappell) “was reasonably satisfied.”

Asked whether he had a one-to-one with Wright, Chappell replied: “No... There wasn’t any time. But, yes, both of us lunched together with the Board officials...”

From the Board, that was a nice gesture. As was the move to interview Chappell first.

Meanwhile, one gathers Wright and Chappell formally spelt out their monetary “expectations,” but both insisted the figures were “negotiable.”

It shouldn’t surprise if Chappell quoted a higher figure.    



Maximum: 34.1°C (+3)
Minimum: 25.1°C (+2)



Relative Humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 54%


Partly cloudy sky. Mainly clear night. Maximum temperature likely to be 34°C.


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