ITC stubs out sports sponsorship
Surging water throws up miracle
Friends and foes wary of Mamata budget meet
Parent today, master tomorrow
Houses crash in fresh tremor
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ITC STUBS OUT SPORTS SPONSORSHIP 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi & Calcutta, Feb. 8: 
Two days after the government said it would introduce a Bill to ban tobacco advertisements, the cigarettes-to-hotels conglomerate ITC sent shock waves through the world of sports when it announced that it would pull out of all forms of sports sponsorship from April 1.

“In a constructive spirit and to avoid any ongoing controversy, ITC has decided to voluntarily withdraw from all sponsorship of sporting activities irrespective of the legal position on the subject,” said a statement from Virginia House, the headquarters of the Calcutta-based company.

ITC said it had already initiated action to withdraw from the long-term sponsorship arrangements it has with various sports.

Cricket is the biggest beneficiary of ITC funding — the company is the main sponsor of the Indian team. In golf, the country’s highest prize-money tournament — the $300,000 Indian Open — is sponsored by ITC. It used to sponsor horse racing but withdrew last year.

However, a Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) source said ITC’s contract stipulates that if the sponsorship was stopped by legislation, the company was obliged to pay the regular fee till a new sponsor was found. The series with Australia is scheduled to begin on February 27 in Mumbai.

ITC gives the BCCI around Rs 35 lakh for each Test and Rs 32 lakh for each one-dayer. Sixty per cent of these amounts is given to the players by the board. ITC spends annually around Rs 13 crore on an average on the team assuming India plays six to eight Tests and 30 to 32 one-dayers a year.

ITC’s withdrawal immediately stoked the interest of other big-ticket sponsors like Coke and Pepsi. Coke spokesman Irfan Khan said: “We are exploring the possibility of enhancing our sports sponsorship. It has always been associated with sports and young people. We are already sponsoring the cricket tournament in Sharjah.”

Coke has been a big sponsor of cricket and was the official sponsor of the World Cup held in Britain in 1999.

“Everything will, however, depend on the level of funding required to fill the breach created by the exit of the present sponsors and who bid for the rights. We will first have to see how much money we will have to stump up and what sort of mileage we can get from it,” said Khan.

The Pepsi spokesman was more reticent. “It will all depend on my ad budget,” he said.

Independent advertising consultant Arunabha Dasgupta said: “There are a lot of people ready to put up the cash in sports, which is a credible medium for advertisers.”

ITC said it would also progressively scale down its cigarette advertising, pending the passage of the legislation. The company spends about Rs 200 crore every year on advertisements through the media (print and television) and hoardings. Figures are difficult to come by, but industry estimates put the level of its sports-related ads and sponsorships at about Rs 100 crore. It spends another Rs 200 crore on a mix of gifts and commissions to dealers and consumers.

ITC hoped that today’s action would create the right climate for a constructive dialogue that will help develop appropriate content, rules and regulations to make the intended legislation equitable and implementable.

Ad industry blues

Today’s decision will shake the foundations of the advertising industry in Calcutta, which has been hurt by the flight of companies to the other regions and has been heavily dependent on ITC.

The cigarette giant uses three top-flight ad agencies — Hindustan Thomson Associates, Bates and Lintas — for its advertising campaign. Lintas is likely to be the worst hit, industry sources said. Lintas handles the media buying for ITC through its subsidiary Interactive Media; it also handles the account for cigarette brands like India Kings, Berkeley and Wills Sport apparel.

HTA is the creative agency for the ads featuring brands like Classic, Wills Flake and Bristol. Bates handles the accounts for 555, Benson & Hedges and Gold Flake.

   

 
 
SURGING WATER THROWS UP MIRACLE 
 
 
BY SALMAN RAVI
 
Bagdigi, Dhanbad, Feb. 8: 
Coal worker Saleem Ansari was rescued this morning from the flooded Bagdigi mine. In this first-person account, he narrates his 138-hour nightmare. Ansari is the only one to be rescued so far.

We had reported for duty as usual for the morning shift. Turn by turn, we went down the trolley of the colliery.

In the morning, I had a premonition. Something was wrong and I was feeling uneasy from the time I woke up to offer the fajr namaz. I prayed to Allah, then went ahead with the day’s work, my mind dogged by apprehensions about the working conditions inside the mine.

Water had been seeping in from the first, second and third phases for the past 10 days. We had told the ‘babus’ about it, but no one paid heed. Upar waale ke bharose chal raha hai sab kuch. (Everything out there is at the mercy of the Almighty.)

It was Friday morning. My colleagues Ghura Singh, Brij Mohan Singh and Zainul Abedin were discussing the seepage. Colliery manager babu Upadhyayji (A.K. Upadhyay), too, was unhappy with the safety of the mine. He used to admit the risks involved in excavating coal from the seventh seam, but would always say: ‘We are workers and have to abide by the orders of the sahibs.’

Fastening our cap-lamp batteries, we descended. We first reached the eighth seam. Upadhyayji had the map and, along with the senior assistant colliery manager, gave out directions. It was the sixth phase where excavation work began. Then a powerful explosive device was planted to blow up the hard rocks.

I was repairing a pump when a sudden explosion shook the colliery and a gust of air blew in. Then the water surged inside.

The water carried us with its current. Some of us were screaming for help... some had drowned. I remember at least six miners being carried by the current.

I shouted, but there was nobody to save me. I tried to catch hold of the coal rocks but the strong current prevented me. I was suffocating, then the force of the water landed me somewhere near the first level which is quite far from where we were working.

I tried to grab the rocks to climb on to an elevated platform there, but every time the current pulled me down. Time was running out. I had been struggling for more than an hour and had swallowed so much water that I was vomiting.

Then I decided to make one last try to climb the platform. If I failed I was a dead man. My legs slipped and I was about to fall when my hand touched a hard rock of coal. I grasped it.

The next few hours I lay on the rock. I don’t know how many days had passed. It was dark inside. I looked for my colleagues, but they were nowhere to be seen. But I was confident. When Allah had made me land in this air pocket, he would surely help me get out.

I was weak with hunger and thirst. I knew mine water was not meant for drinking, but at least it could keep me alive for some time. I was more worried now because it was only a small place on the platform and there was water all over.

Then I found a tin lying around. I banged it hard and kept on banging. But a time came when I did not even have the energy to move.

Everything started becoming faint and hazy as I lay on the rock hoping someone would rescue me. I tried to count how many days had passed. It could have been Saturday, Sunday or Monday... I didn’t have a watch. There was only God in whom I had faith.

Suddenly, I heard someone wading in the water. Who could it be? A trapped fellow worker or a rescuer. The sound drew closer. Before I realised it, there were more voices. I tried to shout but my throat was choked.

The sound of wading increased. I screamed again, but my voice was only a moan. Luckily, someone heard me. “There is somebody... I can hear him call...” It was Prakash babu’s voice. I had worked with him many years.

I thanked Allah that I was alive. Maine Allah ka shukr ada kiya.

   

 
 
FRIENDS AND FOES WARY OF MAMATA BUDGET MEET 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 8: 
Indifferent allies and suspicious Opposition groups today questioned the motive behind Mamata Banerjee’s all-party meeting tomorrow to discuss the railway budget and budgetary support.

Both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and finance minister Yashwant Sinha have made it clear that, unlike last year, railway fares have to be raised this time to meet the ballooning budgetary deficit and also to generate additional revenue to rebuild Gujarat.

With the West Bengal polls round the corner, Mamata’s attempt is to get an all-party endorsement to pressure Vajpayee to allow her to present a populist budget.

While the Vajpayee establishment is learnt to have set the condition that she cannot share details of revenue with the Opposition, the Left parties, which dismissed the meeting as a “face-saving” exercise, pilloried Mamata for attempting to pass on to them the “responsibility” of resolving her differences within the NDA.

The BJP said it had no idea about the meeting, though sources said Lok Sabha chief whip V.K. Malhotra will attend. The Telugu Desam and the Janata Dal (United) are unlikely to be represented.

Samata Party president Jaya Jaitley said: “We will see what her proposal is. Finally, it is the government that will have to decide.”

Officially, the government described the all-party meet as a “good exercise” and pointed out that the finance minister also sought the opinion of chambers of commerce and states before giving final touches to his budget.

However, government sources hoped that Mamata’s meeting will not come out with any unreasonable demands.

Last year too, Mamata had organised a similar meeting at which a resolution demanding more budgetary support to her ministry was adopted. Subsequently, the finance ministry had made some minor concessions.

Vajpayee today mounted a counter offensive on Mamata, over-ruling her decision not to fork out money for relocation of slum-dwellers on railway land. He assured a delegation of Opposition leaders that he would take up the matter with her.

CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee, who has been invited to tomorrow’s meet, has opted out and said he will depute another MP. Chatterjee said while his party will support Mamata’s efforts to present a fare-hike-free budget, he claimed that the minister’s move was aimed at covering her own inadequacies. “The railways are in the doldrums because of mismanagement. She cannot solve internal problems within the NDA. Why is she passing the responsibility to us?” he asked.

The CPI echoed its senior partner. The party’s leader in Parliament, Indrajit Gupta, is ill and will not be able to attend.

   

 
 
PARENT TODAY, MASTER TOMORROW 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 8: 
Twelve-year-old Shikha ran away from the family that “adopted” her on January 29 to land at an NGO’s doorstep just two days after she was promised to be looked after “like our own daughter”.

Still in a state of shock, Shikha says: “A day after I was taken in by this family I was asked to do the household chores. I decided to run away. But ‘Babuji’ threatened to hit me if I didn’t work.”

Gujarat has turned into a huge pool of domestic help. With thousands of children rendered orphans by the earthquake, a deluge of applications for adoption has descended on NGOs working with children. But most of the applications, the NGOs feel, are “opportunistic attempts”. Many people, cashing in on the vulnerability of poor families who find it hard to look after the orphaned children of their relatives, are “adopting” children as servants who wouldn’t even require payment.

A senior official said: “We have reports from Bhuj that poor people who looked after their orphaned relatives in the first flush of emotion are scouting for sponsors and orphanages. Many have sent their cousins away God knows to whom or where. It will be impossible to locate them.”

It’s a tough job screening applications for adoption, said Chhaya, an employee of Childline, an NGO. “We have to be extremely careful in deciding who we give the orphans to. Most of the time it is people who want to take advantage of their plight.”

Though Childline has received as many as 150 applications for adoption from places as far as Germany, Greece, Netherlands, London, Muscat and Dubai, most of them are “questionable”.

Some demand orphans wholesale. A “party” in Pune wanted 200 children and another from Hyderabad 50. Another caller, who said she was a retired school teacher, asked for “an orphan about 14 years old and able to work”. A man with four children wanted to adopt another three.

“It is very clear why these people want to adopt orphans,” says a Childline employee. “Right now we are only registering calls, but the way things are going very few will be shortlisted.”

Childline says it will be alert even while sending children to orphanages because for many homes the motive is purely financial — more children mean more aid.

The government’s sluggishness in starting work on identifying orphans and taking them under its wings has made the future of the children more insecure.

   

 
 
HOUSES CRASH IN FRESH TREMOR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 8: 
Four houses that had developed cracks in the killer earthquake collapsed as another tremor, measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale, shook Ahmedabad late tonight.

Two double-storeyed buildings came crashing down in Maninagar, the locality worst affected in the January 26 earthquake. The two other houses, one of them a three-storeyed one, were in Bapunagar.

Though it was yet unclear whether the buildings were inhabited, residents in Maninagar said they had seen a durwan in one of the houses that collapsed. Fire brigade officials had reached the spot and were rummaging through the debris.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:29.4°C (0)
Minimum: 13.5°C (-3)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 93%
Minimum: 32%

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 14°C.
Sunrise: 6.17 am
Sunset: 5.24 pm
   
 

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