Great wall of Bengal to check cheap goods flood
Train death trap on bridge
Partition plan pops up again
Cricket rocks Sib’s cradle
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, June 22: 
Bengal is building its own Great Wall. On Friday, Asim Dasgupta became the country’s first state finance minister to erect a tariff wall — a 20 per cent luxury tax — to stem the swelling tide of cheap imported products that have threatened to drown local producers.

While presenting a Rs 8-crore deficit budget for 2001-02 laden with new imposts that will net Rs 142 crore, Dasgupta announced that the luxury tax would cover a range of products.

This is the first time that any state has imposed a luxury tax on such a wide range of cheap imports. The tax is open to challenge before the disputes tribunal of the World Trade Organisation.

Until now, only Maharashtra has imposed such a tax — but only on imported liquor. This had triggered howls of protest from the Scotch Whisky Association, which has urged the UK government to take up the issue at the appropriate WTO forum.

Dasgupta may, however, be on stronger ground — toys, garments and silk yarn mostly come from China, which isn’t a member of the WTO as yet. The tax addresses concerns of local retailers and trade, who were sandbagged last month by the sudden harum-scarum charge for a non-existent “grand sale” of Chinese goods at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.

But Pritimoy Chakraborty, director of Zenith Finesse, the largest importer of Chinese gift items in the country, told The Telegraph from Fujian province in China that the tax would not hamper his business. “My clients are big companies. They have offices all over the country. They can buy the stuff anywhere in India and send it to Bengal,” he said.

Asked to comment on Bengal’s new tax tack to stem the tide of imports, commerce ministry officials in Delhi said the states have the right to impose any taxes of their own.

“However, the sum total of taxes on imports — both at the Central and state levels — should not exceed the bound rates prescribed by the WTO. Luckily for us, our taxes are way below the prescribed bound rates in most cases.” Bound rates are tariff ceilings mandated by the WTO and all member-nations are expected to stay within them.

Following Maharashtra’s lead, Dasgupta also imposed a 10 per cent excise duty on India-made foreign liquor and imported foreign liquor bottled in India.

Dasgupta tried to plug another major loophole by introducing an anti-evasion tax for some selected goods that are brought into the state through inter-state purchases to avoid payment of tax. Basically, the government wants to stop the flow of plastic goods from western India, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar so that the interests of the downstream projects of Haldia Petrochemicals, which are mainly into plastic manufacture, aren’t compromised.

But the finance minister also came up with a lot of tax relief — most significantly in the area of information technology which the state government is keen to promote. He reduced the rate of tax on sale of all IT products from 5 per cent to 4 per cent.

In a major sop to the crisis-ridden jute industry, Dasgupta announced that 50 per cent of the tax paid on raw jute would be given a set-off from the tax payable on the sale of finished jute goods. Agricultural income tax on tea has also been reduced from 50 per cent to 45 per cent. The luxury tax on hotels outside the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) area has been abolished to give a boost to tourism.

The finance minister reduced entertainment tax on films but increased the tax on lottery tickets. He also raised professional tax. Dasgupta declared a 3 per cent dearness allowance for state government employees from July 1.

To spur the pace of industrialisation, the budget has given an additional 10 per cent interest subsidy for two years and full exemption from stamp duty and registration fees to industries relating to biotechnology, jute diversification, agricultural implements, tourism and hosiery.

The total plan expenditure has risen from Rs 5,768 crore in 2000-01 to Rs 7,111 crore in 2001-02, a growth of 23 per cent. The state’s revenue deficit has been brought down from Rs 7,411 crore in 2000-01 to Rs 6,748 crore in 2001-02.


Kochi, June 22: 
Black Friday returned to haunt Kerala as four coaches of a Chennai-bound train careened off a bridge that may have given way and plunged into a river near Kozhikode this evening, killing at least 43 people and injuring 230.

Eight bogies of the Mangalore-Chennai Mail derailed as it was crossing — in blinding rain — the 12-span bridge at the confluence of the Arabian Sea and the Kadalundi river. Four of them fell into it, but were partially submerged because the river was shallow. One of the coaches that toppled into the river was reserved for women.

Three other coaches were hanging from the short bridge 10 km from Kozhikode. Another bogie had jumped off the track but was still on the bridge.

Officials fear the toll could rise because many people were believed to be still trapped inside the wreckage. About 300 passengers were travelling in the four coaches when the mishap occurred between Parappanangadi and Kozhikode around 5.30 pm.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known but Kozhikode district collector Vishwanath Sinha said it could be due to one of the pillars of the bridge collapsing. Heavy monsoon showers in the area have hampered rescue operations.

The accident brought back memories of Kerala’s worst train tragedy on another wet Friday 13 years ago. At least 105 people were killed when four coaches of the Island Express had plunged into a lake near Kollam in July 1988. That train, too, was passing over a bridge when 11 bogies veered off.

Police said many of the deaths today took place because of the head injuries suffered by victims due to the impact of the fall.

Unending cries for help were heard for at least two hours from the waters of the Kadalundi. “It was with a thundering noise that the bogies derailed and plunged into the river. In the next few seconds, all that we could see was several passengers submerged in the river,” said an eyewitness.

Local people braved the downpour to fish out the dead and those who had survived. Officials admitted that the toll could have been higher but for the timely intervention of the villagers.

Navy personnel, including 50 divers, have rushed to the site from a base at Kochi to assist the district administration and railway officials in relief work.

The traumatised survivors were at a loss for words. “The train jerked just before it entered the Kadalundi bridge. There was a big noise. Everyone was thrown out of their seats and the next minute, before I could realise anything, I was neck-deep in mud. Somebody pulled me out breaking open the window after half-an-hour,” Gopinathan from Vadakara said.


New Delhi, June 22: 
The controversial “Chenub Formula” which proposes to divide Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of Hindu- and Muslim-majority areas, has once again started doing the rounds in diplomatic circles as a possible solution to the vexed Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.

The formula was first mooted as part of Track II diplomacy between India and Pakistan a few years back. But the Indian delegation had shot down the proposal.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif’s brother, Shabaz Sharif, who was also the chief minister of Punjab in Pakistan, had tried to float the idea but in the face of a major controversy in the country had quickly withdrawn it.

Diplomatic circles say it is interesting that the formula has resurfaced in Pakistan at a time when an Indo-Pak summit will take place after two years.

The Indian leadership had been stressing that Pakistan should stop treating the Kashmir problem as an extension of the “two-nation” theory and should instead try to concentrate on steps to maintain restraint along the Line of Control and strengthen peace between the two countries. But the hype over Kashmir refuses to die down and there are expectations that during talks between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf, a solution to the decades-old problem between the two south Asian neighbours would be found.

Though nobody is talking about the Chenub formula here, it is being discussed in Islamabad. “The pressure has increased substantially in the past one year or so and now the idea to divide Kashmir between Indian and Pakistan on the basis of Hindu-majority and Muslim-majority districts is being considered even at the highest level,” The Nation newspaper of Pakistan quoted a top foreign ministry official as saying.

This formula is being linked to Musharraf’s recent remarks about showing “flexibility” and having an “open mind” on the Kashmir issue. It is not clear yet whether this is the Pakistan government’s position or is only a trial balloon floated by the establishment in Islamabad to feel the public pulse.

The Chenub Formula talks about Doaba — a narrow stretch of land between the rivers Chenub and Ravi in the suburbs of Shakargarh, which stretches up to Chhamb, Dhodha and Rajwar districts of Jammu and Kashmir — which can be considered by Pakistan as the international border.

The Nation has argued that most of the districts in Jammu and on the left bank of Chenub river are Hindu-majority areas, while those on the western bank are Muslim-majority areas. Making a virtue out of a necessity, it also argues that Pakistan may have to give up its claim over Buddhist-majority areas in the Ladakh region. But it makes it clear that Pakistan will not compromise on the Valley.

“The Muslim majority Valley is the main area of concern for Pakistan as Islamabad wants to control it,” the newspaper said, quoting the official.

A foreign policy expert in India who had been taking part in the Track II diplomacy with Pakistan, however, made it clear that the Chenub Formula was not being considered seriously by anyone in India.


Banamalipur, June 22: 
Cricket’s discovery of India is complete — from the big city to the backwaters. Imagine this: a kid of 11 comes charging in, hurls in a quickie at the little boy standing upright, who moves back and swishes his bat in a movement resembling the square cut. “Well played Sib,” cheer his mates; even a year ago, they would have tagged their friend Sachin. But in cricket, as in politics, a year, in fact, a few months, is an eternity: at least it’s enough for the world’s greatest batsman to be dislodged from his pedestal in favour of a pint-sized youngster who has broken through the barriers of class and culture to put an anonymous village on the international cricket map.

“I like Sachin, but Sib has a unique style. He can better even Gavaskar,” says Suresh Naik, a Class VIII student in Banamalipur, a hamlet of 15,000 around 25 km from Bhubaneswar, which is Orissa’s new cricketing mecca. It was here that Sib Sundar Das took the first steps in his tenuous journey to stardom.

The village has no playground to boast of, it doesn’t even have a cricket field, but who the hell cares. The football ground, with its slush and puddles, is the budding cricketer’s Lord’s. Suddenly everyone wants to wield a willow, Sib’s success has seemingly touched off a revolution of the mind among the boys: if he can, so can we.

Sib hardly played cricket here; he was born in Banamalipur 24 years ago and stayed here until he was five.

He also had a brush with providence; his father Uttam Das describes it as a “rebirth”.

When Sib was five, he almost drowned in a pond. The toddler was holding a chocolate in his hand when another boy demanded a slice. Sib refused — he was as adamant then about not parting with something dear as he is now about not giving away his wicket easily — and was pushed into a nearby pond.

“He would have died if two passers-by had not helped him out. It was destiny that saved him. Though I don’t go to temples and hardly believe in God, I think Budha (Sib’s petname) had a rebirth,” says his father, a retired schoolteacher.

The elder Das shifted to Bhubaneswar with his family soon after and it was there that Sib grew up. But for Banamalipur, he remains their son, the gaanra chhua (local boy) who has done the country — and them — proud.

Mention Sib’s name and elders can’t stop gushing, though the cricketer visits his native village only once in a while.

Childhood friends like Chakradhar Ray remember Sib as a quiet boy who preferred playing football. “We used to play together and cricket was never a rage. But I liked him very much. I’m surely very proud of him,” says Ray, who now runs a small shop in the village.

Sweetmeat seller Benudhar Sahoo cannot tell a square cut from a straight-drive. But there is a glint in his eye when he is asked about Sib. “Oh, he is doing a great job. I watch India’s cricket matches just to see Budha.”

Sukanta Kuanra, the physical education teacher of Banamalipur Boys’ High School, is also effusive in his praise of India’s opener. Kuanra, who was a student of Uttam Das in the high school, has a soft corner for Sib and had prayed for his success in international cricket: years ago, Sib had presented him with a “Made in Canada” whistle when he had gone to England as captain of the India Under-16 team.

At the Banamalipur local haat (market), it’s Sib’s exploits in far-away Zimbabwe that is the talking point. “His defence is so good. If he had stayed on, India could have saved the match,” says a trader, one among many of self-professed cricket pundits, of the Harare Test that India lost.

Not many got to see their boy-hero perform; few houses have cable connections. But there is a rush now to get at least Star Sports and ESPN in their homes before the Sri Lanka tour in August.

The villagers are a trifle upset, though, that Banamalipur hasn’t been written about even after Sib’s success. “Please write about the village where Budha was born,” pleads an extremely modest Uttam Das.

That, they feel, is the only way some funds will be pumped in to improve the primitive facilities. And help budding Sibs carve out their destinies.




Maximum: 31.6°C (-2)
Minimum: 25.7°C (-1)


37.9 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 98%
Min: 79%


A few spells of light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder.
Sunrise: 4.55 am
Sunset: 6.23 pm

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