Bengal baits and bandh for business
Trinamul wields stick of strike
Missile mistake at cost of life
Nitish plays out quit charade
BJP hits back after Jain jolt
Calcutta Weather

 
 
BENGAL BAITS AND BANDH FOR BUSINESS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Jan 4: 

Buddha govt offers carrots

The Bengal government today unfurled a new package of incentives for industry that will cost the exchequer Rs 100 crore a year.

But the first reactions from businessmen were less than effusive with several saying it was too little, too late.

The scheme, taking effect from January 1 last year, provides a capital investment subsidy, interest subsidy, employment generation subsidy, remission of stamp duty and registration fee, waiver of electricity duty, subsidy for use of piped gas and for quality improvement in the small-scale sector.

It signals government emphasis on four areas — information technology, electronics, agro and food processing and creation of downstream units linked to Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd.

With an eye on polls, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government introduced provident fund for nearly three million unorganised labourers from January 1 this year. This will cost about Rs 60 crore a year.

The government also proposed incentives for revival of sick units and provided capital investment subsidy to leather units relocating to the Bantala complex.

As in the previous scheme, the government has divided the districts into three groups. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta said an industrial unit would be entitled to capital investment subsidy depending on location . This subsidy is higher than that in Andhra, Karnataka and Gujarat. The package also scores over the other states with its interest subsidy of 50 per cent of the liability up to a maximum of Rs 1 crore for five years in Group B and seven years in C.

Indian Chamber of Commerce president C.K. Dhanuka said the calculation of interest subsidy could be quite cumbersome, defeating the good intentions.

Large and medium-scale units will be entitled to reimbursement up to 50 per cent of the expenditure under Employees State Insurance and Employees Provident Fund schemes for the first five years in Group B and seven years in C. The limit for small units is 75 per cent.

Industry felt the state ought to have been more innovative with this employment generation scheme. Dhanuka said: “A more direct approach of giving subsidy to create larger employment, together with greater flexibility to re-size the labour force, could have had a much bigger impact.”

Units in any of the three groups will also be entitled to exemption of 50 per cent of stamp duty and registration fee. Electricity duty — now 7.5 per cent of the total energy consumed — will also be waived for five years from the date of commercial production.

Dasgupta said new units in infotech, electronics and agro and food processing and HPL downstream projects in Group A would be eligible for the same incentives as are offered in Group B.

Infotech entrepreneurs were not impressed. An official of Manjushree Infotech, a B.K. Birla group company, said: “The sops cover only a minuscule of our investment. Most IT units are export-oriented and registered with the software technology park. All of them enjoy sales tax waiver. What we need is an improvement in infrastructure.”

“The state government should ease the cumbersome process of collecting road tax and granting road permits for bringing our goods from other states,” he said.

Karnataka — New Economy leader — has waived entry tax and purchase tax on IT-related equipment for infotech units.

   

 
 
TRINAMUL WIELDS STICK OF STRIKE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has called the first bandh of 2001, but is calling it hartal. Bengal will be strike-bound for 12 hours, starting at 6 am tomorrow, as Trinamul protests against “CPM-unleashed violence” in Keshpur yesterday.

The Congress has extended “moral support” to the bandh, which also has the backing of the trade union, Intuc.

Mamata was nursing a possible fracture in her foot today, according to a member of her party’s doctors’ cell. She suffered the injury allegedly at the hands of stone-throwing CPM supporters after her Keshpur rally.

Pankaj Banerjee, chairman of the party’s policy-making body, said though Trinamul was opposed to bandhs, it did not have an option this time.

“CPM cadre had resorted to violence without provocation,” he said, referring to the Keshpur incidents.

Demanding President’s rule, Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay said in Midnapore that a party delegation would meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to inform him of the violence in Keshpur. Bandopadhyay said Sudheendra Kulkarni, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office, had called to enquire after Mamata and had been told of the “lawlessness” in Bengal where even Union ministers were not safe.

Trinamul has alleged that when party supporters were returning after attending Mamata’s rally, they were attacked by the CPM. “At least 500 of them were injured, many others had to leave homes once again,” Bandopadhyay said on return to Calcutta with Mamata tonight.

The party claimed that the attack on Mamata was “pre-planned” with the intention of “killing her”.

“This resurgence of clashes and tension in Keshpur has forced us to call the bandh,” he said.

For people not connected with essential services, it means an extended weekend. Weathermen have predicted that — at around 12 degrees Celsius — Friday will be the coldest of the season, but the political forecast is a possibility of violence with the CPM-led Left Front government determined to foil the bandh.

The CPM said it would deploy its cadre and organise rallies during bandh hours in every corner of Calcutta.

At Writers’ Buildings, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee accused Mamata and her party of pursuing the politics of violence to create lawlessness. He appealed to people to ignore the bandh call.

   

 
 
MISSILE MISTAKE AT COST OF LIFE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, Jan. 4: 
A misdirected missile struck dead a quality inspector at Bharat Dynamics Ltd this afternoon after he inadvertently punched the wrong button during a demo for defence secretary Yogendra Narayan.

Waves of shock spread across the Milan missile complex of the defence undertaking as K.N. Chary was spotted dead in a pool of blood, a burning projectile having pierced through his abdomen. Narayan, on an inspection tour of the facility, escaped unhurt.

The anti-tank missile sparked a fire in the northern hall, landing on a rubber mat on the floor. About 30 people, already stunned by the freak mishap, ran helter-skelter in panic, jostling others in their way and trampling on those who had been knocked down. In the mini-stampede, five persons suffered injuries.

The incident also sent all 1,200 employees scampering out of the premises in fear of a chain blast reaction on 150 missiles stacked in the complex. Fifty fire-tenders were sent for to grapple with any further emergency. BDL’s complex also houses the Prithvi, Akash and Trishul projects.

Defence establishments on the outskirts of the city reacted with shock as the story broke. The defence ministry and army headquarters were immediately intimated.

Army corps were asked to remove the missiles to other facilities. But this was not required as the blaze was put out soon.

Among those injured was Bharat Dynamics deputy general manager Soundarajan.

   

 
 
NITISH PLAYS OUT QUIT CHARADE 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, Jan. 4: 
Hoping to extract as much sympathy as he can from the Samata rank and file, agriculture minister Nitish Kumar today resigned, but sent his papers to party leader George Fernandes and not to the Prime Minister.

Nitish reached Patna this afternoon, apparently to attend a party meeting in Nalanda, and caught his rivals off-guard when he announced at the airport that he had sent in his papers to Fernandes.

“I would now work wholeheartedly for the party as an ordinary representative,” he said, and added that he had asked Fernandes to hand over his resignation to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

The trigger for the resignation was attack on him by a group of 6-7 MPs, who, he suspected, were acting as a front for Fernandes and Samata president Jaya Jaitley.

Fernandes and Jaya downplayed the resignation, saying it was a domestic problem which would be amicably resolved, but the drama has exposed the deep division in the party.

From the airport, Nitish drove straight to his native place, Harnaut, near Barh, his constituency from where he was supposed to go to Nalanda to address a rally.

The resignation came less than 24 hours after a rival faction led by Raghunath Jha announced that it would launch a separate outfit. If Nitish had hoped to disarm his detractors with his resignation, there were no outward signs of the rival camp backing off. On the eve of Samata’s Bihar unit polls tomorrow, the rival group declared it would hold a parallel convention in Patna and elect the new leader.

“Nitish’s move is clearly intended to blackmail us. We are not convinced,” said Raghunath Jha, Bihar Samata chief.

Samata sources said that after the dissidents announced they would float a new party, senior leaders met yesterday in Delhi in Fernandes’ presence. According to them, Fernandes assured the rebels that they need not get worked up over any proposed merger with the Janata Dal (U) as there was no such move.

Fernandes, the sources said, also assured Raghunath Jha — faced with threat from Nitish’s candidate Shyam Sunder Dheeraj — that he would not be removed as state party chief.

On Fernandes’ instructions, Digvijay Singh, another Samata minister, carried the message to Nitish around 1 at night. Sources said Nitish appeared convinced and even sent a message to Fernandes suggesting so. A meeting was scheduled to be held in Patna to mollify the rebels. Nitish and Raghunath Jha then boarded the morning flight from Delhi.

So, when he dropped the bombshell at Patna airport, the rebels were caught off-balance. “I don’t think my friends in the party who were shouting themselves hoarse against me are bothered about anything except ministry berths. They were after portfolios and I hope my resignation would help them,” Nitish said.

   

 
 
BJP HITS BACK AFTER JAIN JOLT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 4: 
The two-day BJP national executive began here today under the shadow of a legal notice served on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his principal secretary Brajesh Mishra by the party’s former Rajya Sabha MP, J.K. Jain.

The BJP struck back by dropping Jain from its national executive. In a curt letter to the owner of Jain TV, party president Bangaru Laxman directed him not to attend the meeting.

Party leaders decided yesterday to drop him after Jain served a legal notice on Vajpayee and Mishra under Section 80 of the CrPC, seeking an apology for branding him an ISI agent. The notice also sought the dismissal of Mishra and the RAW director for “tarnishing his reputation”.

The other provocation for taking pre-emptive action against Jain was a possibility that a handful of national executive members — allegedly put up by former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre — might raise the issue of why Jain was being “hounded” by RAW and, by implication, Mishra and the Prime Minister’s Office. These members hailing from Madhya Pradesh are not just Thakre loyalists, but also owe their political careers to party veteran Vijaya Raje Scindia, Jain’s now-estranged mentor. The two fell out over a dispute over prime property in central Delhi which houses Jain’s TV studio.

“Once the leadership got wind of this plan, they decided to scuttle it by removing Jain. They also feared he might have talked to the media, so they wanted to avert an embarrassment,” BJP sources said.

Asked if Jain would be expelled from primary membership, party spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy said: “It has come to the ears of the leadership that something was told through Jain TV. At an appropriate time, appropriate action will be taken.”

Jain has threatened to expose the “black deeds” of Mishra through a “landmark in investigative journalism”. Asked if this constituted anti-party activity, Krishnamurthy said: “The party will watch how he proceeds. If the situation reaches a stage for action to be taken, the leadership will take it.” Jain has called a news conference tomorrow.

BJP sources, however, said Jain’s expulsion was inevitable ever since he trained his guns on Vajpayee.

The sources said as late as yesterday, when he had called on Laxman, the BJP chief “advised” him to either withdraw his legal notice or reword it in more general terms against the Indian Union rather than name specific persons. However, Jain is believed to have told Laxman that the notice was against the “office of the PM” and not Vajpayee per se, and if the PM withdrew the ISI charge against him, he would also retract the notice.

The Jain controversy started when, in trying to find out why his proposal to set up a teleport at Greater Noida and government accreditation to his TV agency were not being cleared, he learnt that there was a RAW report linking him to Pakistan’s ISI.

Later, he realised the home ministry was unaware of the report. Shortly thereafter, he met Vajpayee and L.K. Advani to seek a clarification. The legal notice says that at the meeting, “the ministers could not justify the false and scandalous label of ISI agent stuck by RAW on our client”.

Fifteen days ago, the information and broadcasting ministry cleared his accreditation on the basis of a no-objection certificate from the home ministry, I&B minister Sushma Swaraj said.

Jain has alleged that he suspects Mishra to be the prime motivator of the campaign against him. Asked if the action against Jain vindicated RAW’s allegation, Krishnamurthy said: “I do not agree with this.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 23.1°C (-4)
Minimum: 14.5°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 89%
Min: 47%

Today:

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 12°C

Sunrise: 6.23 am
Sunset: 5.01 pm
   
 

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