Monopoly big brother casts merger net wide
Mamata, Cong trade punches
Delhi sop to first babu and CM Babu
Chance for unusual Pak business
Homecoming to mini-Kashmir
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 26: 
One step forward or two paces back: it’s a question that was being tossed around today after the Cabinet cleared the competition Bill that frames a new set of Queensberry Rules for conducting business in the country.

The Bill, which will be introduced in the monsoon session, is designed to deter large companies from abusing their dominance or resorting to anti-competitive practices, and lays down a set of procedures for acquisition and mergers.

The biggest beef is over the ceilings that have been set for mergers and acquisitions which, if breached, will immediately attract scrutiny by a new 10-member commission.

For instance, any merger or acquisition that leads to the creation of an entity with assets of more than Rs 1,000 crore and a turnover of over Rs 3,000 crore will automatically come under the commission’s scanner.

“The competition Bill has been necessitated to deal with the changed and liberalised economic scenario,” law minister Arun Jaitley said.

But there were howls of protest from industry. “This piece of legislation, which supposedly replaces the now-irrelevant 32-year-old Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission Act, is not in sync with the times or the changed business environment. On the one hand, we allow the multinationals unfettered entry into the country, but on the other, we trammel local businesses by setting ridiculously low ceilings for mergers. How on earth does anyone expect to stand up to competition from the MNCs if we do not have economies of scale,” said one industrialist.

To be fair, the government appears to have raised the trigger points for the scrutiny of mergers. The Raghavan Committee, which had framed the draft competition Bill, had set even lower ceilings for the merged entity.

The Raghavan Committee had also suggested two other trigger points for automatic scrutiny of a merger by the commission: group assets in excess of Rs 2,500 crore or group turnover in excess of Rs 6,000 crore and worldwide assets in excess of $1 billion or turnover in excess of $3 billion.

It is not known whether these clauses have been modified. If they haven’t, any merger planned by large outfits like Reliance Industries (assets: Rs 29,875 crore; turnover: Rs 28,008 crore) will automatically come under the scanner.

Details about the provisions of the competition Bill were sketchy. But Jaitley said the Bill “seeks to replace 14 restrictive trade practices provided in the MRTP Act with just four”.

The creation of the competition commission is modelled on similar regulatory commissions in the US and the UK. The US regulator can ask companies which cross the limit to sell some assets before a merger is cleared.

It is not known whether the Indian competition commission will be similarly empowered. Jaitley said the “Bill will make it optional for corporates to seek the advice from the commission before mergers and acquisitions”.


New Delhi and Calcutta, June 26: 
The Bengal alliance came under strain today as the Congress leaned towards the Left in Punjab and Mamata Banerjee dubbed her ally “a burden rather than an asset”.

Provoked by the Congress’ Punjab plan ahead of elections there and Bengal party leader Somen Mitra’s recent barbs, Mamata said she had neither closed her option to return to the NDA nor given up plans to go it alone in future.

“We cannot support any kind of entente with the CPM or other Left parties in any state. We cannot maintain our alliance with the Congress, if it decides to fight the elections with the CPM’s help. If the alliance is broken, we should not be held responsible,” she said.

Buckling under a similar threat two months ago, the Congress had overruled then Assam party chief Tarun Gogoi’s suggestion of a deal with the Left. But today, the Congress looked unfazed. General secretary Motilal Vora said in New Delhi: “The Punjab party chief has been authorised to hold talks with the Left parties. We have no qualms about a tie-up.”

This added fuel to the spark lit by Mitra last Sunday, when he said the “Bangla Bachao Front” led by Mamata, of which his party was a component during the election, had disintegrated for all practical purposes.

In response, Mamata said: “If the alliance collapses, the state Congress will be solely responsible. It will not pose any problem for us. We will go alone and continue our fight against the CPM.”

Mamata, however, made it clear that she would not take the initiative to snap the ties. “If the state Congress leaders do not feel the need for going along with us now, we will find our own way,” she asserted.

The sentiments were reciprocated in the Congress headquarters. Most of the Congress Working Committee members said they were “psychologically” prepared to part ways. “We had made it clear before and we are saying it now — the Congress would not take the lead in snapping ties. However, if she wants to pull out, we cannot help it,” a party leader said.

Party sources said Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, now in the US, has adopted a “neutral stand”.

Mamata hinted that she was not in a hurry to re-enter the NDA. “We will consult every MP, MLA and party leader before taking a decision, which will be a collective one,” she said.

But eyebrows were raised when Mayor and Trinamul legislator Subrata Mukherjee demanded in the Assembly a censure motion against the Prime Minister for acknowledging in haste Pervez Musharraf’s presidential status.


New Delhi, June 26: 
The Centre today had good news for only two babus — the Cabinet secretary and Andhra chief minister Chandrababu.

The government introduced a dual retirement policy today but limited its reach to the Cabinet secretary, the senior-most bureaucrat, alone.

The immediate beneficiary of the change is the current Cabinet secretary, T.R. Prasad. He would have retired by the end of next month, but now he can stay on till October 31, 2002.

“The Cabinet has decided to amend the appropriate rules to enable the government to grant an extension of service for the Cabinet secretary in public interest for a period the government thinks appropriate,” announced law minister Arun Jaitley after the meeting.

To keep Prasad in office, the government has taken an extraordinary step — that of amending the Fundamental Rule 56, which deals with service tenure.

In another unusual move, all the bureaucrats present at the Cabinet meeting were asked to leave when the matter of extending the first bureaucrat’s tenure came up.

The government is falling back on the plea that the decision was prompted by the consideration of continuity rather than change.

When the Cabinet secretary was appointed, he had nine months to go and the government had then not made any move to extend his term in office.

The clearance of the tenure of Prasad, an Andhra cadre officer, is being seen as a sop to chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. The chief minister has also been pitching for Andhra Pradesh director-general of police H.J. Dora as the next CBI head.

The decision to limit the extension to the Cabinet secretary is being viewed as a possible facilitator for the installation of Dora as CBI chief. If Dora makes it, it will be a double bonus for Naidu, who holds the key to the NDA government’s stability.

But murmurs of disapproval have already started doing the rounds in bureaucratic circles over the decision to limit the change in service rules to just one official.

Till yesterday, it was expected that the extended service tenure would also cover officials like the foreign secretary and the heads of the Research and Analysis Wing, the Intelligence Bureau and the CBI.

The decision is expected to spark another round of demands from sections of bureaucracy, like the IPS, which have been left out. The issue of fixed service tenure for state police chiefs is hanging fire, particularly after a Supreme Court directive in the hawala case fixed the tenures of chiefs of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.


New Delhi, June 26: 
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) has requested Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s intervention in ensuring that President Pervez Musharraf speaks at a business meeting during his visit next month.

The Ficci request has given the government an opportunity to wean Musharraf away from Kashmir and concentrate on areas where the two countries can have meaningful engagement.

Musharraf, who arrives here on July 14 for three days, has a packed programme, but it has not deterred various organisations from coming up with invitations to their functions. Musharraf, however, will spend only one day in Delhi and has said his thrust will be on holding substantial discussions with Vajpayee.

A month ago, Ficci delegates had visited Pakistan and held discussions with their counterparts on paving the way for economic cooperation.

Ficci is an influential business grouping and has been active for the past several years in promoting India as an investment destination. It can also play a crucial role in improving India-Pakistan relations. If Musharraf agrees to address the captains of Indian industry at the meeting proposed by Ficci, it could add a positive dimension to the strained relations between Delhi and Islamabad.

At present, two-way trade between India and Pakistan stands at around $300 million, though the unofficial figure and trade through third countries pegs it at over $1 billion. Both sides agree that these figures are far below the potential of what Delhi and Islamabad can achieve if they set aside differences and concentrate on closer economic cooperation.

It is not clear yet how Pakistan will react to Ficci’s suggestion. Islamabad has so far refused to grant Delhi even the most-favoured nation status, which it is bound to since it is also a signatory to the World Trade Organisation agreement. But by using the national security clause, the Pakistani leadership has made it clear that unless there is “forward movement” on Kashmir, it will not do anything to improve trade ties with India.

India’s high commissioner in Islamabad, Vijay Nambiar, met Pakistan’s commerce and industries minister Dawood recently and both spoke about “enhancing trade and economic” cooperation. Talks are being held on expanding the list of 600-odd items that Pakistan can import from India.

Ficci has picked up the threads from these positive signals and identified areas where India can benefit from Pakistan — leather, cotton yarn and power. Pakistan has more than 10,000 MW excess power for which India can be a ready market.

At the same time, Ficci has suggested that India should insist on involving an international moratorium comprising the European Union, International Monetary Fund and the Japanese financial institutions for the pipeline which is supposed to bring Iranian gas to India through the overland route in Pakistan.


New Delhi, June 26: 
It’s a fight not as serious as the Kashmir conflict but as bitter. And, only Pervez Musharraf can settle it.

The Jains, Golas and the Dhalls, who occupy portions of Musharraf’s ancestral haveli, are all claiming territorial rights to prized parts of what was once the Pakistan President’s home.

As the neighbourhood around the rundown building at Kucha Sadaullah Khan in Old Delhi gets a facelift, the Golas are saying they have possession of a groundfloor room where Musharraf’s grandfather, Qazi Muhtashmuddin, used to pray.

No big deal — the Jains claim they have the room where Musharraf had spent his childhood. Maybe, but could he have survived to become what he is today had not the hamam, where the family’s water was stored and boiled, been there. And that room, say the Dhalls, belongs to them. Shweta, the married daughter of the Dhall family now on a visit to Neherwali Haveli, pointed at the stains on the wall, claiming that these were left by water of Musharraf vintage.

Territorial disputes never come without their fair share of exchange of allegations. Ask Musharraf.

Shweta accuses the Jains of ornamenting their portion of the house with antiques purchased from the market and then claiming that these were left behind by the Musharraf family when the property was sold in 1946.

The Jains will not condescend to answering this allegation. They simply raise a finger at the ceiling — high and made of wood with a beam running through the middle and apparently untouched.

Where is the proof that the Jains got the property from the Musharraf family? Ask the Golas with a sneer and a flourish of the documents, purportedly the original sale deed, in Persian. “The haveli belonged to Qazi Muhtashmuddin, the President’s grandfather. Qazi saheb divided the property among three sons and two daughters,” said Rakesh Gola. The Golas claim that a part of the property was purchased by them from Musharraf’s aunt, Husna Begum, for Rs 562.50.

The part of the haveli owned by the Golas is now a multi-storeyed building. The only remnant of the past is the prayer room whose walls are now covered by white tiles. A picture of a mosque hangs in the room, lit up by a red lamp.

The Gola family of three brothers has written a letter to the deputy high commissioner of Pakistan, Jalil Abbas Jilani, extending an invitation to Musharraf to visit the haveli. Jilani has promised to make a reconnaissance himself.

They are not the only ones seeking the honour of Musharraf’s presence. Shoaib Iqbal, Independent MLA from the area, has routed an invitation through the foreign ministry and, not taking any chances, has sent another to the Pakistan high commission.

Into the ring of invitation competition, Vijay Goel, BJP member of Parliament from Chandni Chowk, has thrown his hat, too.

All three are living with the suspense of not having received any confirmation of Musharraf’s visit to the haveli either from the foreign ministry or the Pakistan high commission.

The preparations are on, nonetheless. Labourers have begun levelling the narrow undulated lane leading to Neherwali Haveli. Cement is piled up in one corner of what was once a palatial building sprawled over 24,817 sq ft.

“We have spent Rs 12 lakh from the MLA’s fund on development work in this area. We have ordered sodium and high-mast lamps,” Shoaib Iqbal said.

The Iqbal camp accuses Vijay Goel of supreme indifference. Goel does not bite the bait. He is organising a gathering of elderly people “who have seen history (presumably, he means partition)”. Delicacies from Chandni Chowk will be served to the guests.

“We are organising a cultural evening on July 14 and plan calling it Ek Sham Musharraf Kae Naam, with the President opening the ceremony. We also plan organising a mushaira, by shayrs from India and Pakistan. We have sent invitations to Qateel Shafai and Ahmad Faraz from Pakistan,” said Iqbal.

Cousin invitation to Lucknow

A second-generation cousin of the first couple of Pakistan has extended an invitation, asking them to visit Lucknow. Sidrat Ansari, the son of former parliamentarian Hayat Ullah Ansari, has requested them to include Lucknow in their itinerary and renew the old bonds of friendship.




Maximum: 32.1°C (-1)
Minimum: 27°C (0)



Relative humidity

Max: 92%
Min: 71%


One or two spells of light to moderate rain in some areas.
Sunrise: 4.56 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm

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