Shelter scandal erupts on govt
Top-gun group on summit showcase
Fortune favours the first
Govt holds out 3-day PF hope
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi & Calcutta, June 28: 
Aftershocks of Tuesday night’s arrest of armed criminals from Salt Lake stadium — the lair of sports minister Subhas Chakraborty — rocked the government and the CPM today, and gifted the Trinamul Congress an issue over which it went on the rampage in the Assembly.

Initial reports had said that 16 antisocials, sleeping in a dormitory inside the stadium, were arrested by a team from Howrah police. But Howrah SP Somen Mitra today said that the 16 people had been picked up — 11 of them were arrested later — from the “ramps of the stadium” where they had fled to take shelter after being chased from the nearby Kadapara slum.

Away in Delhi for a check-up, Chakraborty — the fountainhead of rebellion in the CPM — sniffed in the arrests a “conspiracy by the police and my detractors to malign me”. The minister said the raid at Salt Lake stadium, “which is under my control”, could not have occurred without the nod from the “highest quarters of the party and the government”.

The police, however, sought to paper over the controversy and said “no connection had been established between the criminals and Subhas Chakraborty”.

The incident has, nonetheless, the potential of taking the lid off the enmity between factions in the CPM. The issue is likely to rock the party’s two-day state committee meeting beginning Saturday.

The CPM said it was concerned at the revelation that armed criminals had taken shelter in the stadium, but added that it would reserve its comment till the government conducts an inquiry. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will make a statement in the Assembly on Monday.

“I’m not a policeman who can tell you what kind of people were in the stadium that night and why. For a clearer picture, you will have to wait for a statement from the government,” state CPM secretary Anil Biswas said.

On the ropes after the election debacle, Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee pounced on the issue. She said her legislators would boycott the Assembly for three days from tomorrow and take to the streets. “Tomorrow we will observe a statewide protest day and on Sunday evening, we will hold a rally on the issue at Shyambazar five-point crossing,” she added.

Maintaining that the arrests justified her charge of “state-sponsored terrorism in Bengal”, Mamata said: “It is a case of constitutional breakdown in Bengal. This government has no right to be in office. The Centre should come forward and protect the country’s Constitution. I will write to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Union home minister L.K. Advani seeking their intervention.”

The issue has given Mamata an opportunity to interact more with her former allies at a time when a debate is raging in Trinamul on whether to return to the Central coalition or not.

The fissure between the current allies came to the fore in the Assembly with the Congress choosing to remain a silent observer as Trinamul MLAs launched an offensive against the government.

As soon as the House sat at 11 am, Trinamul MLAs demanded a detailed discussion on the issue, but Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim rejected their plea.

Led by Pankaj Banerjee, Trinamul legislators ransacked the Speaker’s podium, overturned desks, yanked off microphones, smashed furniture and destroyed official papers as they pressed for the resignations of Bhattacharjee and Chakraborty. Congress members did not join in the protest.

The Speaker had to call in the Assembly guards to rein in the marauding Trinamul legislators. In the scuffle that followed, a few MLAs tripped.

Mamata, however, claimed at a news conference later that the guards had “mercilessly beaten up my legislators at the ruling party’s behest”.


New Delhi, June 28: 
A provision to discuss the Kashmir issue “in all its totality” under the supervision of the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistan President may be included in the Agra summit statement to sustain the dialogue between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf.

The possibility of a joint working group, which will deal exclusively with Kashmir, is being explored. The progress of the group is expected to be monitored by the “two principals” of the Indian and Pakistani governments.

The two sides already have a joint working group on Kashmir. But the group, headed by the foreign secretaries, also discusses peace and security.

The proposed Kashmir-specific group is being seen as a move to satisfy the domestic audiences, as much of what will be discussed between Vajpayee and Musharraf will not be made public. The discussions might take place behind closed doors or in the presence of a few trusted aides. The arrangement suits both sides as they can interpret the commitments they get from the other side in a favourable light.

If the summit ends on a positive note, Vajpayee and Musharraf can meet in quick succession. A meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September and a revived Saarc summit in Kathmandu within the year or early next year would provide the ideal opportunities to the leaders to monitor the progress of their agreed agenda, including Kashmir.

But South Block is struggling to draw up any agenda or formula that will be acceptable to the Pakistanis. Musharraf has been talking about coming with an “open mind” and showing “flexibility”, but he has not put his cards on the table. “We can’t give him something unless we know what he is looking for,” a Vajpayee aide said.

The Prime Minister, too, has been playing his cards close to his chest. Though Vajpayee has been discussing Kashmir and reading documents and agreements signed by the two sides and papers “some of which never saw the light of day”, he has not yet shared his views. “At the moment, he is just listening to the views of others on how India-Pakistan relations can be improved,” the close aide said.

Though it has not been formally put across by Islamabad, the Pakistani establishment is keen that India shows a little more flexibility while discussing Kashmir. In the past, Indians have heard out the Pakistanis and then made it clear that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of the country. Delhi has also clubbed the dispute with other outstanding issues to ensure that it does not get primacy over the other matters. This, the Pakistanis claim, had made progress on the issue impossible.

While Islamabad is not against discussing cross-border terrorism, it wants to highlight the aspirations of the Kashmiris. Musharraf has been focusing on the theme during the discussions in Pakistan to gauge the domestic mood. The Pakistan President today met leaders of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Kashmiri leaders from abroad.

If Delhi can establish that it is serious about discussing the Kashmir problem in its totality, Pakistan is hopeful that the dialogue can be sustained beyond Agra.


Mumbai, June 28: 
The Bade Mian marches on; the Chhote Mian trails behind, panting and tripping. What’s turned STAR’s fortune has failed Sony: a television game show.

After one full year, Amitabh Bachchan’s Kaun Banega Crorepati has turned out to be a “success”. Govinda’s Jeeto Chappar Phaad Ke — half as old — is another story.

With his superstar demeanour, baritone and gray goatee, Bachchan has today made KBC one of STAR’s four top shows, spinning money and fame. Its ratings hover between 6 and 7, almost what it started off with.

With his trademark ear-to-ear grin and a jig, Govinda, a reigning Bollywood star, launched Jeeto Chappar Phaad Ke in January, six months after KBC. Sony designed it as a weekend show, hoping to fill the Friday-Sunday void of KBC.

The actor’s antics and the show’s format worked for the first few months, with its rating zooming to 15.6. But this was too high and often unsustainable. Sony hoped it would soon stabilise at 7 or 8, almost the same as KBC.

This did not happen. The show began to slacken, failing to live up to heightened expectations. Then it plunged, with the current average rating nudging 3 only. As a result, Sony yanked it off the air on Saturdays, reducing it to a two-day show.

“It is not doing well mainly because people are losing interest in game shows,” said Rekha Nigam, Sony’s senior vice-president, who put the show together. “There is no doubt that the ratings are falling, but then all shows go through ups and downs.”

Though the industry is rife with speculation that Jeeto Chappar Phaad Ke is on Sony’s chopping block, Nigam said the company had no immediate plans to wind up the show. “But we are closely watching it and will take a decision in a couple of months,” she said.

Sony refused to shift the blame on to the star host. “He is a fantastic actor and has done his best. We can’t really blame him for the show’s failure,” Nigam said, adding Sony was trying to draw more and more celebrities to salvage the show.

A faltering Chappar Phaad Ke only leaves STAR smirking, a channel that was struggling for a toehold in Hindi entertainment arena until KBC popped in. “STAR has taken a giant leap forward in Hindi entertainment with Kaun Banega Crorepati,” STAR chief executive Peter Mukerjea said.

Last year, STAR had only two of the 50 top Hindi shows. This year, it has 38 of the 50. “Our mission ahead is to bag 45 of the 50 top shows. It is a hard target, but achievable. We are determined to get there,” Mukherjea said.

STAR senior vice-president (corporate communications) Yashpal Khanna said the channel had put its entire marketing muscle and money behind the show. “We are happy it has paid off,” Khanna said.

Refusing to live off KBC as its novelty wears off, STAR launches in July-end another game show — Khul Ja Sim Sim — hosted by small-screen actor Aman Verma, who plays the popular character of Anupam in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, STAR’s top-notch soap. Adopted from Let’s Make A Deal — a popular format in the West — Khul Ja Sim Sim is designed to offer prizes to all participants.

Another ace the channel brought out of its sleeve is Kya Masti Kya Dhoom, a talent show hosted by actress Sonali Bendre. Aimed at the 8-18-year-olds, the show is to go on air on July 27.

After Govinda, Anupam Kher and Manisha Koirala tried their hands unsuccessfully at game shows, Bendre said she was determined to pull it off.

If she does, that would add another feather to STAR’s bowler.


New Delhi, June 28: 
Cut the paperwork and the wait. If the government delivers on its promise, it could take as little as 72 hours, or even less, to get your provident fund money.

“We are going to computerise the Employee’s Provident Fund transactions and this will make it possible for the organisation to disburse the money for final settlement within two or three days of receiving the application,” labour minister Satya Narain Jatiya said here today.

Each EPF subscriber — there are 26 million of them — will be issued a Smart Identity Card with which the person will be able to access any of the fund’s 267 offices. The subscriber has to insert the card in any of the EPF kiosks and find out the account details. He can even get a printout of his account balance for the last completed month by paying a small fee.

The cards will be given out by the EPF after it has fed all the relevant information into computers. To begin with, the facility will be available in six centres — Gurgaon, Patna, Indore, Kota, Bangalore and Hyderabad. These centres will become operational by October while others are expected to start functioning by August 2004.

Employers, too, will now be able to electronically file monthly returns with particulars of employees’ contribution. The number of mandatory annual returns will be slashed from 48 to 12. The EPF will give the employers a business number which will be integrated with the permanent account number.




Maximum: 33.5°C (0)
Minimum: 27.4°C (0)



Relative Humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 69%


One or two spells of light rain in some areas.
Sunrise: 4.57 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm

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