Atal admits ceasefire setback
Ghising hitmen trail leads to Naxalite camp
TV producer in CBI net over coal scam
Husband headed for wives’ club
Overkill poser for Crorepati
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL ADMITS CEASEFIRE SETBACK 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi & Calcutta, Feb. 17: 
A day before the Cabinet Committee on Security meeting to decide on further extending the ceasefire in Kashmir, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today acknowledged that the truce had not had its “desired” effect.

“The ceasefire did not have the desired result because terrorist violence did not stop. This was what we had wanted. Instead, some of the recent militant attacks in the Valley are now the cause for real concern,” Vajpayee told reporters here.

He indicated that he would not insist on continuation of the ceasefire and left the decision to the Cabinet Committee on Security. “It will now have to be a collective decision,” he said.

The Prime Minister, however, defended his decision to declare the truce. “It was a right decision as we had wanted to start the peace process. We had expected terrorist attacks to stop, but that did not happen,” Vajpayee said.

He ruled out talks with Pakistan because of its continuing support to militants. “The atmosphere is not conducive to talks. Terrorism and talks do not go together.”

Vajpayee’s tough-talk coincided with muscle-flexing from across the border with the Hizbul Mujahideen threatening to target families of Indian troops in retaliation against the deaths of civilians. “We may take the unpleasant step of targeting the families of Indian troops if they do not stop killing civilians in our homeland,” Hizbul leader Syed Salahuddin said.

He was reacting to the killing of four persons at Hygam when the army fired on demonstrators protesting against the custodial death of a person. Violence continued to rock the Valley today.

The NDA sent out mixed signals on the truce extension. While the BJP counselled caution and hinted that it was not in favour of an extension, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah spoke in favour of renewing the truce. However, he added, the situation in the state should be taken into account.

Pointing to the spate of violence in the Valley, a senior BJP leader asked: “If the ceasefire is extended, will the killings stop? The BJP will be disappointed with its continuance.”

The BJP’s main worry is that if the ceasefire is reinforced, the US could insist on playing a greater role. A source explained: “A chance meeting between Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf may take place around the time the Saarc summit is held. If the ceasefire is extended now, the Bush administration will start pressuring the two countries to hold a dialogue right away.”

The Sangh parivar seems worked up about the possibility of direct US intervention after the change of guard in Washington. As a BJP veteran put it, “Those who are in favour of extending the ceasefire feel it will earn diplomatic points. But on the other hand, can we ignore the ground realities of the disadvantages suffered by our security forces in the Valley?”

A section in the BJP fears that if Vajpayee persists with his unilateral peace gestures without Pakistan reciprocating in kind, the party’s hawkish stand on “national sovereignty and security” would be diluted.

The BJP’s official reaction was one of circumspection. Party vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy advised the Cabinet committee to ask itself whether violence will increase if the ceasefire is not renewed. Conversely, he asked, if it was not extended, would India risk the danger of frittering away the gains?

   

 
 
GHISING HITMEN TRAIL LEADS TO NAXALITE CAMP 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Feb. 17: 
The crack team of investigators, which is in Nepal to hunt down the assailants of Gorkhaland leader Subash Ghising, is closing in on the militants holed up at Chandaguri in Jhapa district.

The mission, codenamed Operation Deer, has zoomed in on a Naxalite Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) hideout in the Terai area where the attackers have taken shelter, an officer of the special investigating team (SIT) said.

“We expect the team to keep a close watch on the militants and at the appropriate moment, we intend to nab them,” he said.

The SIT has set up a “control room” at Matigara police station on the outskirts of Siliguri to monitor Operation Deer. The police station has been turned into an interrogation centre, where officers of the Intelligence Bureau, CID and the Central Subsidiary Intelligence Branch are questioning suspects round the clock.

Four strong rooms on the first floor of the double-storeyed building have been converted into interrogation cells, where prime suspects Dimple Dewan, Om Raj Kothwal, Kumar Chhettri, and Shyam Thapa are being questioned separately. Chhettri and Thapa were arrested on Thursday, three days after the 30-year-old housewife and the carjacker-cum-drug dealer were held.

Only members of the SIT have access to the floor which is being guarded by 10 armed policemen.

Vijay Chhettri, a fifth conspirator arrested along with Kumar Chhettri and Thapa, is being interrogated at an undisclosed location. “Vijay is being used by the SIT to identify and locate other suspects,” an official said.

The hunt for Dimple’s “contractor” husband, Vijay Rai, is on. Vijay is suspected to be the main link between the masterminds and the executors of the ambush.

Investigators have managed to break Dimple and Kothwal and identified the slain militant as Kamal Thapa, a resident of Manakamana in Kalimpong. “We have managed to ascertain the identity of the slain militant, earlier identified as R.B. Singh of Manipur. A relative was brought in from Kalimpong today who identified the slain militant,” the official said.

The investigators suspect that MCC rebels were part of the team that ambushed Ghising’s convoy.

“The operation was divided into three wings — planners, spotters and executioners. We still have to piece together some vital missing links about the identity of the masterminds. Apart from that, we are on the right track.

“The strike force may have had some logistics support from across the border, where they are now hiding. Though Chandaguri is a hub of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), we are not certain if they were involved,” the official said.

   

 
 
TV PRODUCER IN CBI NET OVER COAL SCAM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 17: 
City-based businessman and television producer Ramesh Gandhi was arrested by CBI officers from his Middleton Row residence this morning.

The four-member team from Ranchi arrested him in connection with an allegedly irregular coal sale-deal with Central Coalfields Limited. The case, number RC/13(A)/2000, was started last year.

Gandhi, whose Rainbow Productions beams Khas Khabor on Doordarshan, has been admitted to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital after he complained of chest pains shortly after he was informed about his arrest.

CBI additional director Upen Biswas said Gandhi was wanted by the bureau’s Ranchi branch. He said CBI sleuths had kept a watch on Gandhi’s residence throughout Friday night.

Early today, they entered his residence and asked him to accompany them to the CBI office in the city. However, Biswas said Gandhi kept the CBI officials waiting for over two hours “complaining of chest pains”.

Finally, the officials took Gandhi to Sambhunath Pandit Hospital, where he was checked by cardiologists. But as Gandhi persisted that he was feeling unwell, the investigators took him to SSKM Hospital, where he could not be admitted as there was no bed available.

At SSKM Hospital, doctors checked his blood pressure and heart. “His blood pressure is normal and there is nothing amiss in the ECG report,” said a doctor who attended on Gandhi.

In the end, he was taken to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, where he was admitted to the cardiology department after a wait of about 40 minutes.

   

 
 
HUSBAND HEADED FOR WIVES’ CLUB 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 17: 
If Chokila Iyer made it to where no woman had, her husband may set foot in territory uncharted by man.

G.C. Iyer, husband of the first woman foreign secretary-designate, is likely to be the first male member and the head of the organisation of the so far exclusive women-only club, the External Affairs Wives Association. With a husband in a wives’ club, the association is also thinking of sprouting a new, gender-friendly name.

As tradition, the foreign secretary’s wife becomes the ex-officio head of the association. But with Chokila’s appointment as the next head of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), her husband will be in line to head the association.

The wives’ club is, therefore, contemplating changing its name to External Affairs Spouses’ Association to marry its position with the change about to take place in South Block in a few weeks. The members have been sounded informally and none seemed to have raised any objection. A formal announcement will be made at the meeting of the association on February 22.

It is not known what the views of G.C. Iyer, a retired senior officer from the Audit and Accounts Service — “Giri” to his close friends — are.

Indira Mansingh is the president of the association, while Hema Devare and Rita Gooptu-Sen are its vice-president and secretary respectively. But Mansingh and Devare are likely to give up their posts in the next few weeks since their husbands are retiring, leaving the offices of the president and vice-president empty.

So even if G.C. Iyer turns down the honour, though the chances of this are not very high, members may be forced to elect the wife of the second-most senior secretary in the ministry to head the organisation. Either way, Shri Iyer will set a precedent.

Since it was established in 1971, the organisation has enrolled hundreds of members, with the wife — from now, a husband too — of any gazetted officer in the Indian Foreign Service eligible.

The association aims to promote close ties among its members and engage in cultural and humanitarian work. It has provided educational and medicinal aid to widows and family members of deceased persons in the ministry and donates regularly to “recognised, charitable organisations”.

The members meet once a month. But the high point of its activities falls in October every year when it organises “The Global Gourmet Gala” — a charity dinner at which various heads of missions based in Delhi and their wives participate. The funds raised at this event are used by the association for pursuing its aims and objectives — that now seem to include gender justice.

“It’s important for the association to be headed by the foreign secretary’s wife,” a member said. She argued that the initiative taken by the wife of the foreign secretary has a much greater impact while interacting with the wives of ambassadors of important embassies and sponsors and to make them interested in the association’s activities.

“The response surely will not be the same if the wife of a junior officer takes that initiative,” she added.

   

 
 
OVERKILL POSER FOR CROREPATI 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 17: 
Does Indian television’s dream show need a lifeline?

Plateauing ratings and fluctuating advertisement revenues have raised questions on whether viewer fatigue has set into Kaun Banega Crorepati?, STAR’s prime time jackpot.

Figures rolled out by media firms show that three weeks after its debut, Jeeto Chappar Phaad Ke, Sony’s zippy answer to STAR’s sizzling property, has bagged a chunk of the ad pie.

Pravin Kumar of COFT (Current Opinion Future Trends), an independent agency monitoring ad spends on television for various brands, says that KBC’s ad revenue has been declining from November 2000.

Compared to Rs 16.7 crore it got in November, the programme’s earnings slipped 25 per cent in December and even further, to almost Rs 8 crore, in January 2001.

Kumar says that on week one after Chappar’s release, Crorepati earned close to Rs 2 crore while the Govinda show generated ads worth Rs 5.5 crore. On week two, KBC’s earnings rose to Rs 2 crore while Chappar’s came down to Rs 5.4 crore. On week three, KBC’s income jumped to Rs 3.2 crore while the Sony show’s dipped to Rs 4.5 crore.

STAR shrugged away the figures. Sumantra Datta, head of marketing, STAR Plus, pointed out that companies usually cut down on their ad spend during this time of the year.

Both channels, however, emphatically denied that they had cut down their stratospheric ad rates to woo corporates. The buzz in the market is that KBC has reduced its rates from Rs 3.3 lakh for a 10-second slot to Rs 1.6 lakh and Sony has brought down its from Rs 2.35 lakh to Rs 2 lakh and below. Both Datta and Sony’s Kacon Sethi, however, insist they are sticking to their rate cards.

Though STAR claims that Crorepati continues to be the numero uno with a television viewer rating (TVR) of 7.2 points for the week ending February 3, figures suggest that viewers are gradually straying from Amitabh Bachchan’s quiz show.

TVR points are calculated as a percentage of the cable and satellite audience watching a programme. STAR gets to the figure after studying data collected from 22 cities across the country for prime time (8 pm-11 pm) programmes.

After climbing the ratings chart the quickest following its July 2000 debut, Crorepati’s TVR fell to between 8 and 9 points in December and slipped further to between 6 and 7 points in January.

Media specialists say that viewer fatigue setting in after three to four months is quite common. Bashab Sarkar, managing consultant of Media Network, a division of O&M, says every programme has its life-cycle after which it loses its initial charm. “KBC is stagnating,” agrees Mona Jain of Mudra, Delhi.

The analysts, however, were quick to point out that the fluctuating ratings should not be seen as the fading of the Bachchan magic.

Says Sushil Pandit of The Hive, an advertising agency: “Of course, audience fatigue has set in. This is inevitable. There is a cyclical quality about every programme genre and KBC is not immune from it.”

STAR remains convinced about Crorepati’s invincibility. Says Datta: “KBC is the Harley-Davidson of entertainment programmes. We are the kings of prime time.”

Datta brushed aside talk of the programme losing viewers. The TVR, he argues, has declined gradually over a period of 30 weeks. On week 35, KBC remains the leader, says Datta. He also insisted that Crorepati sticks to 10 minutes of commercial time in each episode.

According to COFT, Sony has sold more than 10 minutes of commercial time per episode. Chappar clocked 2200 seconds of ad time for three episodes on week one. That worked out to an average of 12 minutes of commercial time per day. Sony has put out data, collected on the basis of the AC Nielson TAM ratings, which say that Chappar had an average TVR of 11 points and a channel share of 46.5 per cent for five episodes up to February 3.

Channel share is the percentage of viewers that a channel has at a specific time. Sony, however, bases its figures on data gathered for the 8pm to 9 pm slot for 11 cities only in the north and west.

Despite the brave talk, STAR has started tinkering. It has organised successful celebrity shows — the latest being the one for the earthquake victims that had Sachin Tendulkar and Madhuri Dixit. The channel is also planning a junior KBC. Bachchan told The Telegraph that he is committed to hosting the show, which will probably begin in May. STAR is also considering extending KBC to weekends.

In doing so, KBC is only following its original version. After most of its young viewers started deserting the show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire organised celebrity contests followed by other “stunt” contestant episodes featuring college students, families, couples and rock musicians.

Media watchers, while maintaining that KBC is still doing big numbers, appreciated Sony’s strategy of not trying to become Crorepati’s clone. Nitin Jain of HTA, Delhi, says KBC’s ratings had to come down as it is difficult to sustain such high figures after three or four months. According to Jain, the expectations from Chappar were high but Sony’s show has not lived up to them. Jain pointed out that the programme is different in treatment and style but not as a concept.

Sarkar of Media Network, however, says that the Govinda-hosted show has a distinct mass appeal, especially in the north.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Max: 31.8°C (+2)
Min: 18.7°C (+2)

Relative humidity

Maximum: 94%
Minimum: 49%

Rainfall

Nil

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be 18°C
Sunset: 5.29 pm
Sunrise: 6.12 am
   
 

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