President stability stab at PM
Bonus for users, blow to mobile phone operators
No troop withdrawal: Fernandes
Seat-soothed Subhas still sulks
Ranawat scores, Sourav doesn’t
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Jan. 25: 
Discarding the subtlety that usually veils his criticism, President K.R. Narayanan today confronted head on the proposals for “indirect elections” and “fixed tenure for Parliament” and compared those who want them implemented to Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the founder of military rule in Pakistan.

Narayanan stopped short of accusing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — who had recently made a strong case for a fixed tenure for the Lok Sabha to ensure stability — and RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan — who is in favour of indirect polls — of dictatorial tendencies.

In his strongly-worded Republic Day-eve address to the nation, the President took a swipe at the Prime Minister and said the founding fathers of the Constitution had the wisdom and foresight not to over-emphasise the importance of stability and uniformity of the political system and had consciously rejected the system of restricted franchise and indirect elections.

“It required a profound faith in the wisdom of the common man and woman in India. Today it is necessary to look back to this faith when we hear voices pleading for a system of indirect elections,” he said.

“As Dr Ambedkar explained in the Constituent Assembly, they preferred more responsibility to stability.”

Narayanan’s views assume significance following the Constitution Review Commission’s proposal for a system of indirect elections to all people’s bodies, from Zilla Parishads to Parliament .

Also, Vajpayee, at an Election Commission function last week, had argued that a fixed five-year tenure for Parliament would ensure stability and cut down on expenditure. The NDA had promised to bring in a law on fixed tenure of the Lok Sabha and legislatures in its election manifesto.

Criticising the suggestion, the President said: “We may recall that in Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan had introduced an indirect system of elections and experimented with what he called basic democracy or guided democracy. It would be an irony of history if we invoke today, in the name of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, the shades of the political ideas of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the father of military rule in Pakistan.”

By drawing a parallel to the Pakistani dictator, Narayanan made it clear that he felt strongly on the subject and would go ahead and criticise it, even if that meant distancing himself from the Prime Minister.

The President has been extremely critical of the entire process of constitutional review. His critics in the Sangh parivar and the BJP have often accused him of sounding too similar to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s views on similar issues.

This is not the first time that Narayanan has voiced suspicion on the objective of the constitutional review.

The President said it was under the flexible and spacious provisions of “our Constitution that democracy has flourished during the last 50 years and that India has achieved an unprecedented unity and cohesion as a nation and made remarkable progress in the social and economic fields”.

Neither the government nor the BJP was ready to react to the speech. There were chuckles, though, in the Congress camp.

The President also came down heavily on leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav who have been opposing reservation for women in Parliament. “It is only logical to carry forward this process of empowerment of women to the state legislatures and to the Central Parliament,” he said. “The responsibility of the men of India in this matter is clear and unavoidable.”

“The empowerment of women in politics might well be a decisive factor that will purify and save the democratic politics of India from deterioration of standards and values it is experiencing today.”

In a passing reference where he praised the surge of the youth in India, the President lauded world chess champion Viswanathan Anand’s efforts and described him as “an inspiration to all young people in India”.

“In the field of sports, Indian youth are making their mark,” he added.

The President also praised the success of women in sports and international beauty pageants. “Our young women have also come to the fore in international sports and beauty contests, projecting a new image of Indian womanhood of beauty as well as personality and intelligence.”

Expressing concern over inequalities in development, affecting marginalised sections like Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Narayanan said the development path “we have adopted is hurting them and threatening their very existence”.


New Delhi, Jan. 25: 
In a surprise windfall for 31 lakh cell phone users in the country, the telecom watchdog today ordered cellular operators to refund a portion of the money they saved by switching last August from a high-cost licence fee regime to the cheaper revenue-sharing arrangement with the government.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said the refund would have to be paid from the date that the cellular operator opted for the revenue sharing formula.

Trai said the refund would have to be paid to cell phone users under the standard package as well as the alternative packages devised by the cellular operators.

Cellular operators, who have been struggling to eke out profits from a business they had grossly overestimated when they bid astronomical sums to bag licences back in 1994, were startled by Trai’s order and quickly went into huddles to discuss the fallout that such a huge payout would have on the viability of their operations.

Top officials of most cellular companies switched off their mobile phones and were unavailable for comment.

“We are completely surprised and are unable to understand the rationale behind such an order. As far as we are concerned, we have refunded the subscribers and nothing is due from us. The refund which we have given to the subscribers is recorded in the Delhi High Court. We are studying the issue. Since the Trai order came late in the evening, we are not in a position to comment any further on this issue,” said T.V. Ramachandran, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India.

The refund will be paid for three periodic slabs: August to October 1999, November 1999 to January 2000, and February 2000 onwards.

Under the payback formula, a low end user in a metro circle — i.e. with a cell phone use of less than 100 minutes a month — would stand to reap a benefit of Rs 2919 for the 18-month period from August 1999 to January 2001. The breakup would be: Rs 939 for August-October 1999 (Rs 178+Rs 1.35 per minute of usage), Rs 564 for November 1999 to January 2000 (Rs 178+ Rs 1.35 per minute of usage), and Rs 1,416 for February 2000 to January 2001 (Rs 53 + 65 paise per minute of usage).

As a general principle, the initial refund from August 1999 for standard tariff subscribers works out to Rs 178 per month on account of rentals and Rs 1.35 per minute on account of air time charges.


New Delhi, Jan. 25: 
Defence minister George Fernandes today hinted that India will not withdraw troops from along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan.

Reacting to reporters’ queries, Fernandes said the army will not be withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir where the unilateral ceasefire was extended for the second time on Tuesday.

In response to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s declaration of the Ramzan ceasefire, Pakistan had agreed to withdraw its troops from certain parts of the LoC in December as part of a confidence-building measure to restart dialogue with New Delhi.

Fernandes’ reaction suggests that whatever Pakistan’s response to the ceasefire, the government is not prepared to lower its guard either along the LoC or the border. The army will continue to lead counter-terrorism operations as well as patrol the LoC at all times of the year.

Fernandes clarified that the Vajpayee-led Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which met on January 23 to extend the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir by another month, had not decided to pull out the army from the state in a phased manner in the next five years.

The army heads the anti-militancy operations with the paramilitary forces functioning under its command.

“No such decision was taken at any meeting of the CCS. It is absolutely wrong to suggest that the government will pull out troops in the next five years,” Fernandes said.


Calcutta, Jan. 25: 
In a belated move, the CPM today sought to mitigate a pre-election headache by offering resident-rebel Subhas Chakraborty a position in the secretariat of the party’s faction-ridden North 24-Parganas unit.

Jyoti Basu, who took the initiative to broker a truce, announced the decision to reinduct Chakraborty into the secretariat from where he was ousted after a 16 year-innings in 1998.

Basu, a one-time mentor of Chakraborty, made the announcement at the party headquarters on Alimuddin Street, rounding off a meeting between a five-member committee and the North 24-Parganas party bosses that spanned over 10 hours.

The committee, which included Basu, party secretary Anil Biswas and Biman Bose, began the meeting with the caveat that reinduction would have to be carried out for the sake of unity.

“We think it is a very positive development which helps to mitigate the differences. Our proposal went down well with the district committee, so we hope he (Chakraborty) will have no problem in accepting it,” Basu said.

However, Chakraborty continued to keep the leadership on tenterhooks, saying the new position did not interest him because it happened late in the day.

“Basu often tells that I am a big leader and I have made a lot of contribution to the party. So, am I fit for just a district secretariat? I deserve to be the member of the state secretariat. Those who took the decision today to reinduct me in the district secretariat should know that I have been a state committee member much earlier than many of them,’’ Chakraborty said.

“Even a child can understand why I have been reinducted to the district secretariat when the Assembly election is knocking on the door. If they think that they can tame me by giving me a plum post, they are mistaken. I do not have any fixation for posts,” he added.

The Alimuddin Street gesture came amid unconfirmed reports that Samir Putatunda, secretary of the CPM’s South 24-Parganas district and his wife Anuradha, Chakraborty’s perceived partners in the programmed rebellion, were all set to quit the party.

Speculation is rife that they would join hands with Saifuddin Chowdhury, the expelled CPM leader who has floated a group of his own.

In an under-publicised meeting with his associates late in the evening, Putatunda indicated that Chakraborty would soon follow suit because of the fact that his grievances were not taken up for redress earlier.

At the Alimuddin Street meeting, Basu pressed the district leadership to bring back Chakraborty to the secretariat since the Assembly election was round the corner. “We have got to present a united front,” he said.

The buzz in the CPM grapevine is that at least two of Chakraborty’s old associates — Tarit Topdar, MP from Barrackpore, and Kanti Ganguly, leader of the CPM-led Opposition in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation — have distanced themselves from the former’s campaign.


New Delhi, Jan. 25: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s wonder surgeon Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat got it. But Prince of Calcutta Sourav Ganguly didn’t.

Musicians, however, are thronging this year’s national honours list. The Bharat Ratnas have gone to “nightingale” Lata Mangeshkar and shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan.

The Padma Vibhushan has gone to sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and veteran film director Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Former US ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith, santoor player Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, conductor of Indian origin Zubin Mehta, former United Nations under secretary-general C.V. Narasimhan, US politician Benjamin Arthur Gilman and public affairs expert Hosei Norota of Japan received the same award.

Also on the Padma Vibhushan list are writer from Andhra Pradesh Kota Satchidananda Murty, scientist Man Mohan Sharma from Mumbai and US-based scientist Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao. Dr Ranawat, who operated on Vajpayee’s knee in October, was awarded the Padma Bhushan. On the list he would be rubbing shoulders with Amitabh Bachchan and Dev Anand, who accompanied the Prime Minister on his Lahore bus trip in January 1999 and music composer Bhupen Hazarika.

Among the Padma Bhushan awardees are chess world champion Viswanathan Anand, India Today editor-in-chief Aroon Purie, film director B.R. Chopra, cardiologist at Escorts Heart Institute Dr Naresh Trehan, industrialist Rahul Bajaj, hotelier Mohan Singh Oberoi and dancers Yamini Krishnamurthi and Uma Sharma.

Former Attorney-General Ashok H. Desai, dairy development expert Dr Amrita Patel, violinist L. Subramaniam and ghatam exponent Lalgudi G. Jayaraman have also been awarded the Padma Bhushan.

The match-fixing controversy, which ensured that no one from cricket was on the honours list, ruined Ganguly’s chances. However, it bestowed the President’s police medal to R.N. Sawani, the CBI joint-director who led the team looking into the cricket scam.

Sawani’s colleague, joint-director J.C. Dabas, who is heading the probe into the television rights case allegedly involving former ICC chairman Jagmohan Dalmiya, was also awarded the medal for unearthing bank frauds.

Leading tennis doubles pair Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, hockey player Dhanraj Pillay, former squash champion Bhuvaneshwari Kumari, athlete Sunita Rani and sports writer Khalid Ansari have been honoured with the Padma Shri.

Singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, Dogri poet Padma Sachdev and vocalist Padmaja Phenany Joglekar, who had brought out an audio cassette of poems penned by Vajpayee, are also among the 66 Padma Shri awardees.

Others who have been given the award are plastic surgeon Dr Sharadkumar Diksheet, editor of Marathi daily Maharasthra Times Kumar Ketkar, scientist S.P. Sukhatme, former adviser to Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant-General (retd) Mohammed Ahmad Zaki and E. Sridharan, who played a key role in the construction of Konkan Railway.




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Minimum:11.1°C (-3)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 90%,
Minimum: 32%


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 11°C
Sunrise: 6.23 am
Sunset: 5.15 pm

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