Business pilgrimage to red sanctum
Nirupam forces Somnath rethink
Damper on Atal grand alliance
Botham drops billion-dollar bombshell
Fusion for Met office in the sky
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, May 20: 
History was made today when a delegation of the country’s leading business lobby walked into the den of the CPM here for discussions with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and industry minister Nirupam Sen.

Never before has an official team of an industry association as big as the Confederation of Indian Industry stepped thus into the office of a political party that has just assumed power.

CII president Sanjiv Goenka and eastern region chief Harsh Neotia, both based in Calcutta, were part of the team, but the presence of Tarun Das, CII director-general, gave it a national character.

By way of results there was little other than an expression of charitable work CII wishes to do. The association, however, is returning to Calcutta after a long gap with a big show in an ICE (information, communication and entertainment) summit in November to highlight Bengal’s infotech potential.

The dust kicked up by the visit to Alimuddin Street will take some settling, though. “Never before in 24 years did we have to go to party headquarters to convince the government that we would supplement its initiatives for industrialisation. If we ever did, we did it at Writers’ Buildings or at Jyoti Basu’s residence. A party office cannot be the venue for such an interface,” a leading industrialist said.

Tarun Das admitted that the visit was unprecedented. “But, come to think of it, what is the harm if a delegation goes over and meets political leaders in their offices?” he said.

Even CPM leaders were a tad surprised when they learnt about the CII team’s visit. They feared that the sight of businessmen sitting down with party leaders for a comfortable chat at the headquarters would send wrong signals to supporters and give the Opposition ideas. It would be seen as demonstration of what CPM detractors allege: that there is a cozy relationship between the party and local business.

Trinamul leaders Sudip Bandopadhyay and Pankaj Banerjee said the visit was “another proof of how big business is bending to the Left... We did not imagine that industry would surrender in such a pathetic manner to the party.”

Sources said the CPM leadership was not fully aware of the shape of the team because of a communication gap with the chief minister. Bhattacharjee said: “Today is Sunday. I am not going to Writers’. Moreover, Sanjiv and Harsh have no problem visiting our party office.”

Many critics of the visit also found the topics of discussion — urban poverty reduction and spread of computer literacy — strange for a business team to be talking about. They saw in it an eagerness to conform to the party’s political programme.

In private, the industrialists said the CII decision would not have faced criticism had a similar team been sent to the BJP office after the NDA government took charge. When these sentiments were conveyed to him, Harsh Neotia, in the middle of hosting a dinner, said: “I am busy, you see, guests have started coming in... I think I’ll be able to address the issue better tomorrow.”


Calcutta, May 20: 
Somnath Chatterjee is likely to stay on as chairman of the industrial development corporation on industry minister Nirupam Sen’s request.

After portfolios were announced, Sen did not waste time and visited the senior leader at his residence today to plead with him, following reports that Chatterjee wants to quit the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation post. Chatterjee is believed to have agreed to continue after expressing his desire to leave on grounds of poor health.

“I am a newcomer in the government. Moreover, I want to work with you as your experience is very wide and you are very familiar with industrial issues. I will be in trouble if you quit immediately. I know your health is not permitting you to continue as chairman, still I request you to stay with us,” Sen told Chatterjee.

CPM politburo members Biman Bose, Anil Biswas and state secretariat members Sen and Mohammad Amin discussed Chatterjee’s move to quit this morning. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was also present during the discussion at the party headquarters. Later, party leaders advised the industry minister to meet Chatterjee and request him not to leave now.

Sen told Chatterjee that it would be difficult to run an important portfolio like industry without his advice. Moreover, the sixth Left Front government has put industrialisation at the top of its agenda, infusing greater significance to Sen’s job.

Chatterjee had first wished to step down after Jyoti Basu bowed out last year. At the time, Bhattacharjee persuaded him to stay on.

After Bhattacharjee took over this time, Chatterjee again said he did not want to continue because of poor health and his responsibilities as an MP. He also wished to give the new chief minister a free hand in putting a person of his choice at the head of the corporation.

At the meeting today, Chatterjee explained to Sen his problems in continuing. “I have to work in Parliament, too. Besides, my health is not well. Still I will try to continue.”


New Delhi, May 20: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s efforts to bolster the National Democratic Alliance after the Assembly poll setbacks seem to be coming unstuck.

After the Samata Party’s threat to quit the alliance on the Manipur leadership issue, it was Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala’s turn to put the screws on the government. Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal, an ally of the BJP, said it would pull out of the coalition if Ajit Singh was inducted into the Cabinet.

Sources said that faced with such ultimatums the Prime Minister has deferred the proposed shuffle and expansion of his council of ministers to the third week of June. Vajpayee is leaving for a brief holiday at a Manali resort on May 26 and, thereafter, will undergo a surgery on his right knee in the first week of June.

The Prime Minister has convened a meeting of the coalition’s coordination committee at his residence tomorrow to review the post-poll political situation.

Vajpayee was planning to expand the depleted NDA and his council of ministers after the Assembly elections in five states. Efforts were on to rope in the Trinamul flock, Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the four-member group of Independents led by Pappu Yadav.

The move to induct Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party was also shelved, following stiff opposition from Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray.

The belligerent Samata Party has at least two ministerial aspirants. If Vajpayee inducted any of the RJD rebels from Bihar, the Samata MPs would not take it lying down. Similarly, induction of the two-member Ajit Singh group runs the risk of driving away the four-member Lok Dal.

Chautala does not want Ajit Singh, whom the BJP is wooing with an eye on the Jat votes in western Uttar Pradesh, to be a rival power centre. Ajit Singh, much to Chautala’s consternation, is also keen on the agriculture ministry.

“It is for the Prime Minister to decide who should join the government. But if Ajit Singh is inducted into the Cabinet, we will be forced to rethink our support to the government,” Chautala told reporters in Haryana.

Rattled by the 12-member Samata Party threat last night, Vajpayee today invited George Fernandes to his residence for talks. The Prime Minister is learnt to have assured Fernandes that he would try to defuse the leadership crisis in Manipur, ruled by the country’s lone Samata-led government. Samata suspects that the BJP is hand-in-glove with the Speaker, who is spearheading the campaign against chief minister Radhabinod Koijam.

Koijam is facing a trust vote tomorrow but the BJP, which has 26 MLAs in the House of 60, has not issued any whip to its members. BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi said the party would support the chief minister in the confidence motion, but the Samata is not convinced because of its reluctance in issuing the whip.


London, May 20: 
The inquiry into cricket match-fixing ordered by the International Cricket Conference in London has merely “touched the tip of the iceberg”, it was alleged tonight by Ian Botham, generally considered the greatest all-rounder England has produced.

Botham’s allegations made in a BBC TV Panorama programme, “Not Cricket”, come three days before the interim report by the ICC’s anti-corruption unit is released on Wednesday.

The report, to be posted on the ICC’s website at 10.30 am IST on Wednesday, will be accompanied by a comment from Lord Griffths, the chairman of the code of conduct committee. The unit is headed by Lord Condon, the former head of Scotland Yard.

Botham told Panorama that match-fixing “goes a lot deeper. It’s not just the players that are involved, it’s a much wider network. I’ve heard figures of as much as $1 billion changing hands in a Test match, one Test match result, so to offer someone $50,000 is small fry”.

Another player, Adam Hollioake, of Surrey, revealed how he had been approached before his first game as England captain. “Basically I arrived in my hotel room to be greeted after four or five minutes by a phone call from an anonymous caller asking me for information about what my batting line-up was going to be, who I was going to bowl first and what I was going to do if I won the toss. Five minutes later I received another phone call. This time from someone different saying that I’d spoken to his colleague a few minutes earlier and saying that, if I wanted to become very wealthy, I should basically speak to him and arrange to meet with him. I hadn’t played my first game as England captain. It was disturbing to say the least.”

Sheikh Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, the organiser of the annual Sharjah tournaments, told Panorama: “I am not saying that there is no match-fixing. But one thing I can say is that the Sharjah matches are of such high profile that they are watched so closely by so many people and watched on television so closely, it would be very difficult for a player to be fixing matches because it’s so obvious people are watching every move, every stroke, every ball.”

Suspicions surrounding the Sharjah tournament were reinforced by Inspector K.K. Paul, a prominent figure behind the Indian police’s investigation of cricket corruption. Asked if he believed that some matches in Sharjah had been fixed, he told the BBC: “Definitely. There does appear to be very strong suspicion that some results may have been manipulated.”

Paul believed there was involvement by organised criminal gangs. “It is widely known that certain mafia gangs based in the Gulf countries have been heavily betting on cricket and manipulating the results.”

Malcolm Gray, the ICC president, said the problem of match-fixing had been underestimated.

“I think the ICC, the same as the public generally, and the media, did not realise that the matter was as bad or as genuine as it obviously was. In the last 18 months it’s been said many times, including by me, that the cricket officials were slow to act and did not react quickly enough. We did not realise that it was as deep or as widespread as it has proved to be.”

The Observer newspaper’s cricket correspondent, Scyld Berry, wrote today: “The anti-corruption unit’s report will consist of strong recommendations, like more pay and prize-money for players, and sensible preventative measures so they aren’t as readily accessible to bookmakers and fixers in future. Some ICC administrators will get fleas in their ears, as will the boards of most Test countries who have been equally — and deliberately — slow in investigating what has been going on under their noses for the past decade or two.”

He added: “The report will not be naming and shaming anyone, for various reasons. One of them is the UK libel laws, which will not allow such a refreshing document as India’s CBI report, which included the testimony of the bookmaker, Mukesh Gupte, to be published in full here. Another is the possibility that a criminal investigation, which might otherwise come to court one day, would be prejudiced if someone were named now.”

Scyld commented: “Call me cynical if you like, neither document will be worth losing any sleep over or getting out of bed for.”


Bangalore, May 20: 
For the first time India and France have teamed up to build a satellite to study tropical climate and forecast weather changes across the world.

Aptly named Megha Tropiques (Megha for clouds in Sanskrit and Tropiques for tropics in French), the satellite will be the first dedicated payload in the world for atmospheric research on the tropics. The satellite’s mission is to improve models for accurate weather forecasting.

The memorandum of understanding, signed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chairman K. Kasturirangan and president of the French space agency, CNES, Bensoussan last week, envisages the launch of the satellite through India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle by 2005. The satellite is estimated to cost between Rs 30 crore and Rs 40 crore. The mission statement for the project was approved on May 17 and international scientists working on global climate studies have also expressed interest in the project.

The satellite is the result of a new understanding of global weather, which highlights the critical role played by the tropics on extreme climatic changes even in the northern hemisphere. Scientists believe that variations in tropical climate can trigger off hurricanes or wreak droughts in different parts of the world.

The satellite could well be a harbinger for more such global missions as Europe and the US show growing interest in understanding the tropics.

“Tropical changes have a bearing on the weather in the northern hemisphere. If something happens here, it will have its affect there. There is a connectivity. Hence their interest in studying tropics,” said Roddam Narasimha, Indian Space Commission member and the force behind Megha Tropiques. “It is an exclusive research satellite to study the tropics. Never before has the tropical weather been explored in detail,” he said.

Isro and the French CNES will jointly design the 500 kg satellite to be built at the Isro satellite centre here. The Indian Institute of Science, the IITs and several education institutes across the country will be involved in the project. The Indian Meteorological Department will also participate in the mission.

The satellite will observe one designated spot two to six times a day. It will orbit over a band along the equator at 867 km above the earth. “This close monitoring is very important. Changes in energy and water budget of the land-ocean-atmosphere system in the tropics influence the global climate to a great extent,” said Narasimha. The information will supplement the data received from geo-stationary and polar orbit satellites of the country.




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Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in the evening.
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