Panel push to rail fare increase
Mobile mole beep grows louder
Rebuild sequel in Nehru’s name
Net’s music-maker loses free voice
Calcutta Weather

 
 
PANEL PUSH TO RAIL FARE INCREASE 
 
 
FROM M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 13: 
A panel set up by the Railway Board at Mamata Banerjee’s behest is scheduled to recommend an across-the-board increase in railway fares.

The panel is expected to propose a hike of 5 to 7 per cent in second-class fares and 10 to 15 per cent for Rajdhani services.

Sources said the committee was also likely to suggest a 5 to 8 per cent rise in freight rates. The panel is due to file its report at the end of this week.

The panel’s suggestion comes at a time when Mamata has been trying to withstand pressure from within the government to raise fares. She had pledged a hike-free budget in the run-up to the Assembly polls in Bengal, but the Gujarat earthquake derailed her plans, prompting the Prime Minister to hint at a fare revision.

“She was recently asked by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to ‘prepare a practical and realistic railway budget’. Early this month, she told the Railway Board to prepare a tentative tariff proposal for both the passenger and freight services,” a source in the board said.

She had called an all-party meeting last week to discuss the budget and budgetary support to her department. She claimed that 90 per cent of the invitees had favoured a “pro-people” budget.

After the meeting, Vajpayee had sent finance minister Yashwant Sinha to talk Mamata into agreeing to raise fares, but the Trinamul leader had held her ground. In her last budget, Mamata had not touched passenger fares.

She will present her third railway budget on February 26 with a baggage of past projects worth more than Rs 40,000 crore on which work has yet to start.

An official warned that if Mamata overrules the panel’s recommendation and unveils a soft budget, it will cripple railway finances. “Her populist cry of no increase in passenger tariff and promises of new trains are likely to turn the railway into a loss-maker. Indian Railways are now operating at zero level of internal resource generation,” a member of the Railway Board said.

This was largely the result of implementing the recommendations of the Fifth Pay Commission. The huge increase in salaries devoured a big chunk of the railway’s resources. Large borrowings at high interest rates from the market have also hit the utility hard.

Sources said over the last eight years, passenger tariff has increased by 10 per cent annually, while costs have gone up by 15 per cent. Besides, the subsidy component has increased by about 185 per cent in the past decade — from Rs 1,462 crore in 1990 to Rs 4,165 crore in 1999.

   

 
 
MOBILE MOLE BEEP GROWS LOUDER 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Feb. 13: 
The mobile phone found on the Manipuri militant killed during the ambush on Subash Ghising has thrown up several clues that have strengthened suspicion about a mole in the Gorkhaland leader’s coterie.

An officer investigating the case told The Telegraph that the most vital clue on the mastermind of the assassination bid was found from records of calls made to the cellphone found on the body of R.B. Singh, the mercenary from Manipur and a former member of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah).

The police have already arrested two people, Dimple Dewan and O.R. Kothwal, on the basis of records of calls made to the mobile phone. Both have been remanded in police custody for seven days.

“The mobile phone, which was activated in Siliguri a month ago, was registered in the name of one T. Ghosh, which apparently is a false name. It has a number 98320-64227. The phone had a cash card and we have extricated records of calls received on it. The majority of these calls were from land line phones belonging to Dewan and Kothwal.”

However, the most vital clue could come from the identity of the “spotter” who kept the militants informed of Ghising’s convoy from the time it left the Pintail village resort on the outskirts of Siliguri.

Police sources said that between 3.30 pm and the 5.45 pm strike on the steep, winding and narrow stretch of Pankhabari Road, at least five calls were made to the mobile phone found on the militant from another cellphone (No: 98320 65957).

“The spotter could either have been following the motorcade from close quarters or was someone within the convoy,” the investigator said.

The government is not ruling out an insider-job. State home secretary Sourin Roy had hinted at the possibility of some “disgruntled” GNLF leaders having had a hand in the attempt on Ghising.

“We do not rule out the possible involvement of certain disgruntled leaders within the GNLF fold. In fact, nothing can be ruled out at this stage of the investigations,” Roy said yesterday.

Ghising, too, indicated that a mole within his organisation may have planned the attack. Asked why he opted for the route via Pankhabari Road, which he usually avoids, Ghising said: “It is irrelevant which route I had taken. I may have taken any route but when the intentions of those behind the attack were clear, they had every angle covered. Someone may have informed them of the changes. But that’s for the police to investigate.”

The GNLF Kurseong committee chief I.N. Pradhan said: “Neither do we rule out the role of any insider nor do we want to implicate anyone. But if there is any mole within our party, he should be identified and punished.”

   

 
 
REBUILD SEQUEL IN NEHRU’S NAME 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Jawaharnagar (Bhuj), Feb. 13: 
The Nehru name may have stopped working wonders for the Congress, but not for a quake-prone village.

Jawaharnagar, a small Kutch village, would look like the hundred others swallowed by the disaster — if it had not crawled with PWD officials and engineers. The arid village is also overflowing with water and electricity, food and medicine, tents and doctors.

Alone, Jawaharnagar is receiving the attention of 20 other villages put together, thanks to its connection with the heritage family of the nation.

Huge cranes are clearing the debris at a surprising pace in the village that has always been loyal to the Nehru family. Civil engineers are telling gaping villagers that now their houses would have two bedrooms, a dining room, a kitchen and a pucca toilet.

It is earthquakes that forged the link between the Nehrus and Jawaharnagar. A quake had brought Jawaharlal Nehru here 55 years ago. The recent one brought Sonia Gandhi.

After the 1956 tremors which ravaged the village then known as Juran, Pandit Nehru had laid the foundation of a new village, to be known by his name. History was repeated today when Sonia laid the foundation stone of yet another new village to be rebuilt from the ruins.

Dhanabhai Patel, the only villager who survived both the disasters, remembers Nehru. Putting his arms round the 15-year-old boy, Nehru had assured: “Sab theek ho jayega. Main tumlogon ki khushi wapas karoonga. (Everything will be all right. I’ll return your happiness back to you.)”

Today, arriving at the village, it was Dhanabhai’s tent that Sonia first stepped into. After consoling Dhanabhai, who has lost his 55-year-old wife and his 32-year-old son in the calamity, Sonia also promised to rebuild everything.

“It was so strange. She told me exactly what Nehruji had told me 56 years ago,” Dhanabhai said. The Congress president shared a bajre ka roti with him and had some black tea.

It made the old man’s day. “I am sad but I am also happy. I met Nehruji’s bahu today and she ate rotis with me. I don’t know how, but she knows me,” he said.

As she sat eating in his tent, he made an appeal. “Shrimatiji, the earthquake has destroyed everything here. We have become beggars overnight. Please help us.”

The entire village is as taken up with Sonia. Before Dhanabhai finishes off, Laxmibhai Laljibhai Shah, deputy sarpanch, breaks in. “She said she will do all she can and monitor the development personally. She has even promised to come here once again for the inauguration of the new village.”

The villagers are as happy with Sonia as their ancestors seemed to have been with Nehru. All 340 houses in the village have been razed and 31 people have died, but Jawaharnagar is dreaming of new life again, having pinned all their hopes on the current Congress chief.

Sonia has vowed to resurrect the whole village in a year and see to it that the compensations reach as soon as possible.

Water, one of the most precious commodities in the region, is flowing abundantly in the village. A generator is whirring constantly. “We have been promised more generators before we get permanent power supply,” says sarpanch Ranibhen Bhurabhai.

“Our loyalty has not gone to waste,” he adds.

   

 
 
NET’S MUSIC-MAKER LOSES FREE VOICE 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Feb. 13: 
The world’s biggest club of music-lovers with more than 50 million members across the globe is to be shut down.

A US federal appeals court ruled yesterday that Napster, the wildly popular Internet music-swapping service founded by two college students in Silicon Valley about two years ago, must stop dealing in music which is copyrighted.

Anticipating the ruling ordering an immediate shutdown of the free music sharing experiment, an incredible 250 million songs were downloaded free by music fans all over the world during the weekend.

The court did not immediately close down Napster. The three appeals judges sent the case back to district judge Marilyn Hall Patel and asked her to “retool” her decision in July last year ordering Napster to cease its activities.

The court said record companies must supply Napster with a list of all recordings on which they have copyright. After this, if Napster allows this copyright material to be swapped online, then it could be held guilty of copyright violation.

Recording companies, which feared that no one would buy a Madonna CD for $15 if Napster continued its activities, rejoiced at yesterday’s decision.

Their spokeswoman, Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), described Napster’s activities as “electronic shoplifting”.

“You can hear shouts of joy from the Sony building,” Bruce Forest, vice-president of Sapient, a firm of entertainment consultants, said about the latest court ruling.

Acquiring music through Napster has been easy.

Internet users logged on to the service merely type the name of a song or a singer into Napster’s search engine and the service identifies the location of the song.

With one click, the song is then transferred over the Internet to the user’s computer to be played online or recorded on a blank CD. The technology was developed by two college students, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, in May 1999.

It has become such a rage among teenagers — and others — in less than two years that over 100 colleges in the US have banned its use on their premises.

Lawyers for the music-swapping service argued in court that Napster does not possess any copies of songs; nor does it transfer any material among its 50 million plus users.

All it does, lawyers argued, is to allow the use of its website as a central directory to find music among Internet users so that they can swap it among themselves for copying. They said punishing Napster is like holding VCR manufacturers and video libraries or shops responsible for people who copy movies.

The appeals court rejected this argument on the ground that Napster knew its users were exchanging copyrighted songs unlike VCR makers or video library owners.

The case is expected to go up to the US Supreme Court, but legal circles believe the chances of success for Napster are small.

The only slim hope for Napster now is that the German media giant, Bertelsmann, has offered to invest $ 50 million in the service to turn it into a legitimate pay-for-play service. But the deal will have to cross many legal and technical hurdles.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 30°C (+1)
Minimum: 14.8°C (-1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Max: 100%
Min: 30%

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 16°C.
Sunrise: 6.14 am
Sunset: 5.27 pm
   
 

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