Atal puts letter, agenda on table
Monsoon hope for parched industry
New Left, old lesson
Wage ceiling for PF raised
Big draw: The China fair that never was
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL PUTS LETTER, AGENDA ON TABLE 
 
 
BY PRANAY SHARMA AND IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
New Delhi and Islamabad, May 25: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today wrote to Pervez Musharraf assuring him that “a secure, stable and prosperous Pakistan” was in India’s interests and seeking a commitment from the military ruler that the spirit of the Lahore Declaration would be revived.

Vajpayee told Pakistan’s chief executive that he was willing to discuss all outstanding issues, including Kashmir.

He drew up these broad parameters for talks in the letter inviting Musharraf to Delhi. The letter was handed over this afternoon to Pakistan’s foreign secretary Inamul Haq by the acting high commissioner in Islamabad, Sudhir Vyas.

Musharraf will shortly send a reply to the invitation, the Pakistan foreign ministry said in a statement.

No dates have been suggested in the letter, which leaves it to the “earliest convenience” of Pakistan’s chief executive to decide when he will visit India.

Pakistanis have welcomed the invitation and, despite all the cautious statements, people are looking forward to the outcome of the meeting. Several religious parties, including the hardline Jamat-e-Islami which staged a violent protest during Vajpayee’s Lahore bus yatra two years ago, want Musharraf to accept the offer for talks.

The most interesting part of Vajpayee’s letter comes in the middle. “When I visited Lahore in February 1999... I had recorded at the Minar-e-Pakistan that a stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s interest, that remains our conviction.”

The significance of the words lies in the fact that he wants to make it clear that his visit to Minar-e-Pakistan was not an impulsive decision but a well-thought-out move. The tomb symbolises not only the formation of Pakistan, but also the two-nation theory.

Some of the Prime Minister’s advisers had argued against his visit to the Minar. But Vajpayee went there anyway and said that whether one liked it or not, the existence of Pakistan was a reality and the sooner Indians accepted this, the better.

The Prime Minister had also argued that Pakistan did not require India’s approval for its existence and that Delhi had to accept that a stable and prosperous Islamabad was in its interest.

In his letter today, he has tried to reassure the military ruler that India continues to hold this view.

While Vajpayee made it clear that India was not shying away from discussing the Kashmir issue, he also pointed out that it would not get primacy and would be discussed along with the seven other issues identified earlier by the two sides. People in Pakistan, however, want Kashmir to be on top of Musharraf’s agenda.

Musharraf will be the first Pakistani leader to visit India since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto arrived to seal the Simla Agreement in 1972. General Zia-ul Haq had visited the country as part of his cricket diplomacy but that was an unofficial trip.

Vajpayee has laid stress on reviving the spirit of the Lahore Declaration. Musharraf, who was credited with masterminding the Kargil intrusion, has been held responsible by India for scuttling the peace process. By seeking a commitment from him on reviving the Lahore spirit, Vajpayee is hinting that the military ruler should also display his seriousness about normalising relations.

   

 
 
MONSOON HOPE FOR PARCHED INDUSTRY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 25: 
Beleaguered by industrial slowdown, the economy received a revival dose from the Met office, which predicted a normal monsoon for the 13th consecutive year.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast says the country will have a fairly good monsoon, taking into consideration the drought condition that occurs even in a normal-rain year. “This year, 10 of the 16 model parameters are favourable and indications are that the south-west monsoon rainfall for 2001 is likely to be normal,” director-general of IMD R.R. Kelkar said, adding that this would make it the 13th normal monsoon year in succession.

Quantitatively, the rainfall over the entire country during the monsoon season (June to September) is likely to be 98 per cent of the long-period average, Kelkar said.

According to the department, the south-west monsoon has already broken over south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu after covering the Maldives and Lakshadweep Islands in the south-west, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and east-central Bay of Bengal.

Over the three broad homogenous regions of India, the rainfall for the season is likely to be 100 per cent of its long-period average over north-west India, 96 per cent over the peninsula and 100 per cent over north-east India.

The drought-hit regions of Saurashtra, Kutch and West Rajasthan could expect relief as pre-monsoon rainfall has been good over most parts of the country, Kelkar said.

“The probability of deficient rainfall over a third successive monsoon in the chronically drought-prone districts of the country is low,” he added.

Normally, the monsoon advances to Mumbai and Calcutta by June 10 and arrives in Delhi by June 29. It covers the bulk of the country’s geographical area by July 1. Last year, the monsoon set over Kerala on schedule. Although there was a break, it covered all of India around July 2.

The cumulative rainfall for the period March 1 to May 16 has been normal or excess over 27 meteorological sub-divisions of the country, including West Rajasthan, East Rajasthan, West Madhya Pradesh, East Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, though the Gujarat region and Saurashtra and Kutch remained highly deficient.

Cyclone track

The cyclonic storm moving towards the Gujarat coast has weakened slightly and is stationary 450 km south of Veraval. It is expected to hit the coast tomorrow night. Its direction has changed, again not much, westward and is likely to miss south Gujarat.

   

 
 
NEW LEFT, OLD LESSON 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, May 25: 
The party that swears by Marx still rules Bengal’s universities, marks don’t.

So, what’s new? Nothing. Except that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took over with the slogan of setting things right where they weren’t. In education, for instance.

But one of the first things his party has done even before he has spent the first month in power is to select for the Jadavpur University engineer’s post — equivalent to that of a reader — a candidate with inferior academic records to at least seven other applicants’. There were 16 applicants and the selected person was the only one who had second-division marks in every examination he wrote.

The selection has created a controversy in the university, recently given a star-grading by the National Assessment Accreditation Council. Despite having a better academic record than most other state-controlled universities in Bengal, Jadavpur, admit officials and teachers, has had a poor record when it comes to “inappropriate selection of candidates”.

The selected person is believed to be close to a powerful CPM minister who was elected from a Calcutta constituency and the vice-chancellor of a university who taught previously at Jadavpur.

The person who landed the job passed his class XII with second-division marks in 1972 before passing his graduation — in civil engineering — in 1977, also with a second class. University officials say a person getting a second class in engineering is quite rare. He was working as the university engineer in the Midnapore-based Vidyasagar University and this job now gives him the opportunity to stay in Calcutta.

One of the seven better-qualified candidates whose application was rejected is working in the same university and was even officiating in the post for which applications were invited. He had a first class in his graduation.

Here is a comparison of the qualifications of the candidates.

Selected person: second class in HS and BE. No post-graduation

Rejected persons:

First class in BE and post-graduation;

First class in B.Sc (engineering) and in post-graduation from Colombia University;

First class in graduation and post-graduation;

First class in BE, MBA;

First class in graduation and post-graduation;

First class in graduation and post-graduation;

First-class graduate, officiating in same post.

The university’s standing committee — comprising the vice-chancellor, registrar and experts — met 15 of the applicants on April 20 and its recommendation came up before the executive council on Wednesday.

The council meeting, on seeing the recommendation, turned stormy. But it was passed by a vote — most council members are also members of various CPM-controlled teachers’ and non-teaching staff fronts — despite several notes of dissent.

Higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty refused comment, referring the matter to vice-chancellor Ashok Nath Basu. But Basu said: “I don’t comment on these issues. Please ask the university registrar.” Registrar Rajat Bandyopadhyay was not available.

   

 
 
WAGE CEILING FOR PF RAISED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 25: 
The Centre has increased the wage ceiling under the employees’ provident fund scheme from Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,500 per month. This will be applicable to industries where the government pays a 1.66 per cent subsidy towards a pension scheme. The new ceiling comes into effect on June 1. The scheme covers 3.26 lakh establishments with 24.53 million subscribers.

The Employees Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act is currently applicable to 177 industries/classes of establishments employing 20 or more workers. In 172 categories of establishments, the minimum rate of contribution to the provident fund by employees and employers is 12 per cent.

   

 
 
BIG DRAW: THE CHINA FAIR THAT NEVER WAS 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 25: 
The time: 1.45 pm.

The Place: Netaji Indoor Stadium

The scene: Thousands of people waiting outside with the hope of buying cheap Chinese goods. “Sab Chinese khabar ache, kheye jaan.” Hawkers were peddling locally-made bakery products as Chinese.

Fake they were, as was the rumour of a grand China sale at Netaji Indoor Stadium. Thousands of people started trooping towards the stadium from Friday morning, but their hope of picking up Chinese products on the cheap was locked inside.

As the numbers swelled as the day drew into afternoon, the crowd grew restive, demanding that the gates be opened.

“Despite our repeated announcements that there was no fair, people hung around,” said a stadium official.

“To avoid a possible gatecrashing, Subhas Chakraborty (sports minister), who was present at the stadium, instructed us to open the gates,” added the official.

People rushed in and tried to sneak through the glass doors to check the exhibition arena. It was empty. Some still refused to believe that it was all a fraud. “I was told that the ship from China has arrived. Now, how can they say that it was all hoax?” asked Raju Sau of Kakdwip who came to buy two fans.

He can’t afford the fans sold by domestic manufacturers, but the Chinese were going to sell them for Rs 75 each, at least that’s what the so-called price list of products that have appeared mysteriously in Calcutta and elsewhere promised.

Raju Sau held a lesson for Indian companies, though: in some markets, price is everything. It’s a lesson most of them have taken already, but here was confirmation of the price elasticity of the Calcutta market.

“The marketing campaign has been successful in exploiting the psyche of Indian customers. People want goods at low prices,” said an official at a chamber of commerce.

Shiloo Chattopadhyay of TNS Mode, which does market surveys, spoke of a new concept in the marketing game. “Here, the pride of short-term possession of a product far outweighs the gains from its long-term durability.”

Rahul Khanna, a 22-year-old from Burrabazar, was terribly upset as his dream of buying a DVD at Rs 850 was shattered. It was the price, not the quality, that was important.

Not all had been lured by the mirage of a dream sale. Snehasish Banerjee, a state government employee, said: “From newspaper reports, I got to know that the fair was all hoax. But I wanted to check it out myself as I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of buying a Pentium III computer at Rs 12,000.”

The Chinese dragon has already sent trade fingers reaching for the panic button — from Calcutta to Delhi. The Consumer Electronics and TV Manufacturers’ Association said in Delhi that it would approach the government if the rising tide of imports from China continued.

Much of the imports are clandestine — official trade figures do not show much of a change.

“If reports of Chinese goods available at throwaway prices are true, it amounts to a clear case of dumping. We will wait for another week before we go to the government,” said the association’s secretary-general Suresh Khanna.

The industry has been besieged by enquiries from Bihar and Orissa about bargain-basement sale of Chinese electronic goods at a Calcutta fair.

“The effect on the brands is really terrible because of these rumours,” said Rajeev Karwal, a senior executive at Philips.

Among traders, the majority are convinced that the prices circulated through pamphlets and e-mails are absurd, but many are booking tickets to China hoping to grab dealerships.

Assocham is taking a 25-member delegation to China tomorrow to explore trade possibilities. Some city-based chambers are also planning to send teams. Confirmed Nazeeb Arif, secretary-general, Indian Chamber of Commerce: “Some of our members have already expressed their desire to visit China.”

Ravi Todi, president of he Merchants Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Assocham delegation, feels the prices can’t be so low. But, he added: “There is an increased interest in China both in industry and trade these days.”

Pradeep Keyal, a trader in electronic goods who visited China early this month, endorsed Todi’s assessment. “I met Chinese manufacturers and worked out that after paying all the duties and transport charges, the price difference was minimum.”

But a textile trader, who is in the business for 30 years and has sole distributorship of a leading brand, said: “In our product segment, securing the dealership of a Chinese company is a great option. I have already sent my men to work out deals.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 36.4°C (0)
Minimum: 26°C (0)

Railfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 94%
Min: 62%

Today:

Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain accompanied by thunder towards evening.
Sunrise: 4.55 am
Sunset: 6.11 pm
   
 

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