PM power drive in shock zone
Cong on brink after Mamata pact
Jogi joins Balco legal battle
Here comes Digen Verma, fresh ’n’ juicy
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 3: 
Propelling power reforms to a high-risk terrain, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today asked states to raise the tariff for farmers.

Carrying forward the power policy thrust signalled in this week’s general budget, the Centre said it would extend a one-time package to clear dues owed by state electricity boards, if the respective governments accepted a time-bound reforms programme . The budget had linked allocation of Central power funds to the states’ record on enforcing reforms.

The Prime Minister told a conference of state ministers on power reforms that the tariff should be increased in three years to ensure that farms bear half the average cost of production of the units they consume.

He also appealed to the states to enforce a five-year-old decision to raise the common minimum farm power tariff to 50 paise from the current 29 paise per unit. Bengal already charges 50 paise for metered agriculture consumers.

As the sensitive issue could trigger an outcry, the conference agreed to convene an all-party meeting to work out a consensus on the tariff increase. Bengal and Kerala, both ruled by the Left, initially had reservations on power reforms but they gave “in-principle” commitment to the reforms package.

Bengal struck a cordial note after the Centre agreed to consider a proposal to give incentives for non-conventional energy projects in the Sunderbans, where the state government is finding it hard to lay transmission lines because of high costs.

Successive governments at the Centre as well in the states had fought shy of tapping agriculture, fearing a backlash from pressure groups that claim to have a stranglehold on the voting preferences of farmers.

The conference passed a resolution to set up a group of some chief ministers and the Union power minister to coordinate, monitor and review the implementation of reforms.

A comprehensive Electricity Bill is also likely to be introduced in Parliament this session. The legislation will provide the state governments with a legal framework to enforce reforms.

Vajpayee regretted that some states are yet to charge 50 paise per unit for power used for agriculture though chief ministers had agreed to do so in 1996.

He stressed the need for an appropriate pricing policy in the power sector. “Inability of implementing the principle of ‘he who uses electricity pays for it’ has allowed many other categories of users to get electricity either free or at highly subsidised rates in the name of agriculture,” Vajpayee said. “I would urge all states to make electricity regulatory commissions functional in six months and abide by their tariff.”


Calcutta, March 3: 
Raising prospects of a split in the Congress, Mamata Banerjee today sealed a seat-sharing deal with the BJP and said that those who wished to join her in the battle against the CPM should “make up their minds right now”.

“We have achieved complete unanimity over seat adjustment and decided to fight the Assembly polls together under a joint manifesto,” Mamata said at Nizam Palace after the agreement with state BJP president Asim Ghosh.

The Trinamul Congress leader set the stage for a minor mahajot by disclosing that she has agreed to an electoral pact with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), which is in the Opposition in Parliament, and the Kamtapur People’s Party in north Bengal.

Mamata left the door open for the Congress to join her and fight the Left Front under the banner of the Bangla Bachao (Save Bengal) Committee. But she made it clear that she cannot give them too much time to take a decision.

“We are for one-to-one contests against the Left Front but we cannot wait indefinitely. Those who wish to join hands with us to fight the CPM must make up their minds right now,” the Trinamul leader said.

The deal with the BJP has widened the cracks in the Congress. State unit president Pranab Mukherjee said Mamata’s decision has virtually closed the possibility of any further talks with Trinamul on seat-sharing.

“We have our political compulsion at the national level and cannot sacrifice the party’s interest simply to reap electoral benefit in one state,” he said.

Dismayed over Mukherjee’s apparent failure to work out a seat adjustment with Mamata, a dozen Congress legislators have decided to join Trinamul. The MLAs are set to formally announce their decision tomorrow at a convention at the Calcutta University Institute.

“We are thoroughly dissatisfied at the manner in which Mukherjee soft-pedalled the unity move at his meeting with Mamata last night. We had expected from him serious efforts for a seat adjustment with Trinamul, but he did not do anything. Instead, he seemed to have a design to scuttle our bid to join forces with Mamata. We will go ahead with our programme, come what may,” said Sougata Roy, PCC vice-president, who is organising the convention.

Mukherjee met senior leader A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury to find out a way out of the impending crisis. Chowdhury, however, bluntly asserted the state Congress leadership was toeing a “wrong line as far as Mamata is concerned”.


New Delhi, March 3: 
As workers hit the streets this morning, the Balco standoff snowballed into a formal confrontation between the Centre and Chhattisgarh with Ajit Jogi saying his government would join the batch of petitioners who have moved court against the selloff.

“We will soon move the Supreme Court,” Jogi, who was here for a conference on power, said.

The apex court, at the Centre’s request, had yesterday stayed hearing on all petitions regarding the selloff and transferred the cases to itself as a single batch.

Another twist to the controversy was added when a Chhattisgarh revenue court served notices on disinvestment secretary Pradeep Baijal, Balco managing-director S.C. Tripathy and Sterlite chief Anil Agarwal, whose company was yesterday given a 51 per cent stake in the aluminium firm for Rs 551.5 crore.

The court asked them to appear before it on March 15 for violating land acquisition laws.

“It is very odd that Chhattisgarh is doing such things when the matter is before the Supreme Court,” disinvestment minister Arun Shourie said today.

The chief minister said he was willing to name those he thought were behind clearing the sale deal when he had made the charge of a Rs 100-crore payoff. “Let the Centre constitute a joint parliamentary committee and I undertake to disclose the names of the kickback beneficiaries before it. I accept the challenge of disinvestment minister Arun Shourie,” Jogi said.

Shourie had said in Parliament that Jogi should name names and not take recourse to the legal immunity that a politician enjoys when he speaks within the four walls of a legislature.

According to Jogi, the sale violated an earlier Supreme Court verdict which had said tribal land could not be allocated to a private entity. Besides, he pointed out, under local laws, too, no private entity could be given tribal land for industrial use.

With the issue turning into a legal standoff in Delhi, Central officials today held emergency meetings to tackle the situation at Korba, the epicentre of the controversy, where striking Balco workers paralysed the company’s plants since morning.

About 2,000 employees blocked the entrance of the Korba unit to launch an indefinite strike, bringing work to a standstill.

“The strike is on. We have not been called to the negotiating table as yet,” Balco union general secretary P.N. Sharma said.

The strike, which began at six this morning at all the five plants, is being spearheaded by the joint front of different unions under the banner of Balco Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, Sharma said.


Calcutta, March 3: 
Q: Who is Digen Verma?

A: He’s a smart, young man studying in a Mumbai college.

Q: Why are girls crazy about Digen Verma?

A: ‘Cos he’s ‘cool’ — good in studies, great on the sports field. He’s won a Mr Personality contest, too.

Q: Why is he popping up here, there, everywhere — on TV screens, on the Net, at street-corners?

A: He’s the ‘hidden hero’ of a mega advertising campaign to relaunch Frooti.

This, then, is the truth behind the teaser. Young Digen Verma is Frooti’s answer to Hrithik ‘Coca-Cola’ Roshan and Shah Rukh ‘Pepsi’ Khan.

“Digen is the pet-name of a bright student and a good sportsman in a Mumbai college... He is the real representative of the young and the restless in India, who reflects their taste, their mood,” confirmed a senior official of Parle Agro from Mumbai on Saturday.

Launched on February 15, the Digen Verma campaign run by Everest, is being discussed at boardrooms and railway stations. The guesses doing the rounds range from “a new car” to “a new condom”.

But it’s all part of a Rs 20-crore ad blitz to create a huge hype over ‘the natural mango drink’ in 200 ml and 250 ml tetrapacks, to hit the market soon with a brand-new look and image. The fact that it’s all for Frooti, will be announced either on Sunday, or Monday.

To keep the suspense going, Digen, “Diggu” to his parents, will be kept under wraps for some time to come. “Maybe towards the end of this year, we will introduce Digen to the people,” the official said.

The mango-juice major has roped in Digen for 15 years to spearhead its drive to target the teens, now hooked on to the colas. Though the official was tight-lipped about the details of the contract, he did mention that it “runs into lakhs”.

But why Digen? “You can’t predict the fate of a film star and after all the sad things that happened in the world of cricket, we wanted to pit a common young man to build empathy and identification of our product with our consumers,” explained the official.

Parle, which corners “85 per cent” of the tetrapak market in the country, is banking on “the Digen factor, a smart new look, and the increased health awareness among GeneratioNext” to re-position Frooti.




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Min: 20.9°C (+1)

Relative humidity

Maximum: 91%
Minimum: 28%




Mainly clear sky. Maximum and minimum temperatures likely to be around 32°C and 20°C
Sunset: 5.36 pm
Sunrise: 6 am

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