Subhas stings & sighs at party trial
Mamata bounces back on her feet
Knockout tax punch on perks
Big boys eye cell pie in Calcutta
Busy road between Sonia and Gandhi
Vajpayee, Sonia in patch-up drive
Shivaji kin shakes off murder charge
Women find voice at phone-in with MPs
India, Israel cement ties with celluloid love story
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SUBHAS STINGS & SIGHS AT PARTY TRIAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 29: 
Summoned for a court-martial over the stadium arrests, a beleaguered Subhas Chakraborty sought to ride out the storm by accusing his comrades of conspiring to damage him and sparked fresh speculation about his relationship with the CPM.

Appearing before the state secretariat, transport and sports minister Chakraborty made an impassioned plea for close to an hour for the appointment of a truth committee to investigate the role of his detractors in the police raid on the stadium where the armed criminals had taken shelter.

“You just have to say, if you do not want me to continue either in the government or the party,” CPM officials quoted Chakraborty as saying.

“I will not hang around if you think I have nothing further to contribute... but please do not fabricate things to give me a bad name and hang me,” Chakraborty told the meeting, one of the lengthiest in recent times.

The minister’s cathartic outburst immediately revived the question whether he would now seriously consider life outside the government and the CPM.

The CPM’s growing concern at the public outrage following the stadium drama was evident from the haste at which it forced Chakraborty to cancel his engagements in Delhi and appear before the state secretariat here.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, however, said Chakraborty appeared before the secretariat on his own, but declined comment on whether the minister, a state committee member, could have attended the meeting of the higher policy-making body unless summoned. The secretariat meeting, Biswas claimed, was called to fix the agenda for the state committee session beginning tomorrow.

Officials said Chakraborty’s lengthy defence was punctuated with a mix of passionate appeals and veiled-to-open criticism of his colleagues, including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who, he felt, were aware of the circumstances leading to Tuesday night’s raid. Dasgupta, one of Chakraborty’s known detractors, was present at the secretariat meeting despite not being a member.

“District police officials would not have dared enter the stadium premises without first obtaining clearance from the top-most level of the government,” Chakraborty said.

The angry swipe at the police, CPM observers said, was actually a jab at the chief minister, who looks after the department. A police officer involved in the raid, who was once close to Chakraborty, is since believed to have switched sides and is now loyal to the minister’s rival camp in North 24-Parganas spearheaded by Dasgupta and the troika of Amitava Nandy, Amitava Bose and Manas Mukherjee.

Sources said Chakraborty singled out Dasgupta and his followers for “their active role in weaving the conspiracy with help from a section of the police”.

Immediately after reaching Calcutta, Chakraborty spoke to mentor Jyoti Basu. “I have been working silently as advised by you. I do not know whether it will be prudent for me to be silent any longer. If you do not ensure justice is done to me, I will do what I feel is in my best interest,” sources close to Chakraborty quoted him as telling Basu.

The majority of secretariat members are not convinced with Chakraborty’s argument. At the same time, they believe the issue will ignite the latent rivalry.

Already a section of leaders in North 24-Parganas has blamed Chakraborty for “using the police to heckle a senior Citu leader in the district, Lakshmi Chatterjee”. Chatterjee was arrested from a restaurant on Central Avenue while accepting a bribe of Rs 1 lakh from an official of Beni Engineering. “If the party can expel Chatterjee, why should steps not be taken against Chakraborty?” asked district leaders.

   

 
 
MAMATA BOUNCES BACK ON HER FEET 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 29: 
Much like Tehelka which breathed life into a dormant Congress in Delhi, the stadium scandal has given a fresh lease of life to Mamata Banerjee who was nursing the wounds and wiping the tears of defeat a few days ago.

A pro-active Mamata also managed to jerk back into life a slumbering state Congress that was dubbed the CPM’s B-team. The party, which dozed through a topsy-turvy Assembly session yesterday when the Trinamul members went on the rampage over the arrest of criminals from Subhas Chakraborty’s backyard — the Salt Lake stadium — today vouched to take a hard line against the Marxists.

Quick to capitalise on a situation that she believes lends credence to her CPM’s criminal nexus theory, Mamata has lined up a rally tomorrow to expose Chakraborty.

The rally also came in handy for Mamata to pull the carpet from under rebel MP Ajit Panja’s feet who had planned a convention coincidentally on the day of the rally. Even Panja is now certain that few from his party would attend his convention at Mahajati Sadan.

Mamata instructed leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Pankaj Banerjee, to send letters to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President K.R. Narayanan. He urged Vajpayee to take steps to “relieve this particular minister (Chakraborty) of his ministerial charge”.

At a public meeting in Howrah this evening, Mamata reiterated that the state government had no moral right to rule. She said the arrest of armed criminals from inside the Salt Lake Stadium clearly reflected the CPM’s inner-party squabbles.

The stadium showdown also managed to bring the Congress and the Trinamul closer at a juncture when the two allies appeared to be pulling apart. Only a couple of days back, Mamata described the Congress as “more of a burden than asset”.

The Congress, on its part, made all the conciliatory noises a day after it failed to take the initiative when the Trinamul raised Cain in the Assembly.

PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee tried to explain that away as a “communication gap”. The two parties have now decided to keep in “constant touch” to ensure perfect floor coordination in the Assembly and put up a united fight against the Marxists outside the House.

Though scandals are nothing new to the Left Front, for the first time since 1977 it will have to reckon with an Opposition that is led by a party other than the Congress, though the numbers essentially remain the same.

Mukherjee also echoed Mamata’s charges about poll rigging in the wake of the stadium arrests. “We had earlier complained about poll rigging by CPM workers.... We want a thorough probe into the incident,” he said.

   

 
 
KNOCKOUT TAX PUNCH ON PERKS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 29: 
The taxman’s axe is poised to fall on corporate executives. Signalling the virtual end of tax-free perks, income-tax authorities today issued draft guidelines that set taxable values to rent-free flats, chauffeur-driven cars, interest-free loans, incentive holidays, and even free lunches.

The guidelines, which are set to attract flak from powerful industry chambers, provide that employees getting rent-free accommodation will be taxed on deemed income which will be calculated at 10 per cent of salary which will include monthly bonuses and commissions.

If a car is provided to an employee for personal use, the perquisite will be valued at actual expenses incurred on running and maintaining the car and on hiring a chauffeur. To make this clause stringent, tax authorities have ruled that if an employee is given more than one car, the second and third cars will be considered to have been given exclusively for personal use.

However, if the car is used partly for personal use and partly for official use, the perk would be valued on a graded scale, depending upon the size of the car, from Rs 1,200 to 1,600 a month. Valuation for chauffeur-driven cars will have an addition of Rs 600 for taxation.

In what could turn out to be the clause most difficult to interpret, the draft provides that in case an employer reimburses an employee for running and maintaining his own car, the income tax officer can decide on his own how much of the reimbursement was justified for official work and how much should be assessed as a perk.

This clause has a major irritant: the draft rules state that employees have to provide complete details of official travel in these cars. The failure to provide this record would mean the tax authorities would take it that 50 per cent of the expenses on these cars were for personal use, which will be accordingly taxed.

Perks such as sweepers, gardeners, watchmen, personal attendants, free gas and power will be valued at actual costs. The draft guidelines also provide for taxing interest-free or concessional loans which many companies give to their employees.

It will be assumed that loans for buying professional tools such as computers were given at a six per cent interest subsidy and taxed accordingly. Similarly, interest subsidy on housing loans will be taken to be at 10 per cent, on motor car loans at 12 per cent and on other kinds of loans at 15 per cent.

Holidays abroad paid for by employers will also be fully taxable from now on. However, if an employee normally stays abroad for at least 60 days a year on official work, his holidays at foreign destinations will not be taxed. Holidays abroad given to foreign nationals employed in India will not be taxed either.

Free meals given during working hours will be valued at actuals up to a ceiling of Rs 50 a meal. However, tea and snacks will be exempt. Even free education given to employees’ children or wards at schools or colleges, including those run by the employer, shall be taxed at actuals.

Any expenses incurred by an employee on his credit card which his company reimburses shall be taken to be income, unless the employee can prove that the expense was on official entertainment. Annual or periodic fees paid for any club membership held by an employee will also be taken to be a taxable perk.

   

 
 
BIG BOYS EYE CELL PIE IN CALCUTTA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 29: 
Big Telecom is coming to connect Calcutta, but the biggest of them all has found the city not spicy enough.

Reliance and Bharti have bid for the fourth cellular licence in Calcutta, switching on a high-stakes battle of beeps that makes the two the hottest contenders in 17 telecom circles.

But Birla AT&T, which has sewn up India’s largest cellular consortium through planned mergers with Tata Cellular and BPL Communications, skipped Calcutta and bid for just three circles this time — Delhi, Chennai and Karnataka.

Reliance Communications and its virtually unknown group stablemate — Reliable Internet Services — bid for all the 17 circles, including the four metros of Calcutta, Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai .

Reliance, which already holds the licences for West Bengal and six other circles, including Orissa, Bihar and the Northeast, signalled that it no longer wanted to play on the fringes of the cellular turf.

The Mittals-owned Bharti Cellular, which runs the hugely successful Airtel service in Delhi, bid for 11 circles, including Mumbai and Calcutta. The Mittals, who operate in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka through JT Mobile (which they acquired last year) and in Chennai through Skycell (in which they have a 64 per cent stake), aggressively stated their intention to trample competition by widening their footprint.

The two Reliance companies and Bharti were the only bidders for the Calcutta licence. There were no bidders for the vacant slot in the West Bengal circle where Reliance already provides its cellular service.

Calcutta already has two cellular services, Command and Spice, and BSNL is on its way. A brawny fourth player, either Reliance or Bharti, will churn the market.

The bidding for the cellular circles is taking place again after a gap of almost seven years. In the first round, a number of little-known companies had bid outrageous sums and snapped up the licences which they later sold at a huge profit.

In 1999, the government had to bail the companies out by allowing them to switch to a less stressful revenue-sharing scheme. This time round no one expects fantastic sums for the same circles. In fact, one analyst said the government could count itself lucky if it got 50 per cent of the licence fee for the same circles that were awarded in the first round in 1994. That probably explains why Birla AT&T limited its bid to three circles.

The stage is now set for a bruising battle between Reliance and Bharti, provided both companies emerge successful after the submission of the financial bids.

   

 
 
BUSY ROAD BETWEEN SONIA AND GANDHI 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, June 29: 
When members of Parliament enacted a law to create a Special Protection Group (SPG) following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, it would never have crossed their mind that the legislation could one day be used by overzealous officers of the VIP protection unit to dishonour the Father of the Nation.

Sonia Gandhi, Congress president and leader of Opposition, wanted to garland the Gandhi statue in the heart of the US capital yesterday, but SPG personnel accompanying her vetoed it, citing security considerations.

Paying tributes at the eight feet-plus bronze statue, the only national memorial for India in the US, has become a high point for visiting leaders from India ever since it was unveiled jointly last September by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then US President Bill Clinton.

Taking visiting dignitaries to the Gandhi memorial has also become a point of privilege for the Indian-American community here whose contribution of over $200,000 paid for the ruby granite pedestal on which the statue — a gift from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations — rests.

The statue is revered by Indian Americans and Indophiles in the US also because it was the product of 51 years of efforts by them to have the national memorial for India in the US capital.

When Sonia expressed her wish to pay tributes at the feet of the Mahatma, SPG personnel accompanying her went into their usual frenzy.

According to sources familiar with her itinerary, the SPG made unreasonable demands from their American hosts although US officials had made elaborate arrangements for Sonia’s protection.

If she was to visit the Gandhi memorial, the busy roads surrounding it in the heart of Washington would have to be closed for traffic for an extended period of time, the SPG demanded.

This was despite the fact that the statue is on a US National Park reservation directly across the Indian embassy, which already enjoys the usual, but rigorous diplomatic protection.

The US Secret Service, which has been working with the SPG throughout Sonia’s visit, was incensed at the Indian suggestion. They told the SPG that it was impossible to honour their request. The Secret Service could not have sought the closure of the busy Washington roads without creating a local scandal. In this city, thoroughfares are closed, that too very briefly, only when the US President’s motorcade passes through them.

The SPG’s request also brought back memories of how its personnel protecting Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao during an official visit to the US asked a hotel to give holidays to Black, Hispanic and Asian employees during Rao’s stay there.

After Rao’s departure, the employees threatened to sue the Indian government for racial discrimination. The Indian embassy here had to settle the case out of court by paying a huge compensation to the hotel staff, who were forcibly sent on leave.

Yesterday, after the Americans refused to close the roads for Sonia, the SPG advised her to drop plans for visiting the Gandhi statue.

The SPG personnel were also pulled up by the security staff of a hotel here where Sonia was attending a function for talking loudly on their mobile phones in a corridor and disturbing hotel guests.

Ironically, the SPG men were not talking on the phone about security matters, but giving instructions to off-duty colleagues on a shopping spree in Washington before flying back to India.

These incidents marred Sonia’s otherwise successful visit to Washington, during which she met Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage.

She also attended luncheon meetings by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Congressional Caucus on India.

Cheney and her other American interlocutors raised the Enron issue, which is seen here as a problem for the Congress-led Maharashtra government to resolve.

Sonia fielded Manmohan Singh to answer questions on Enron. Singh assured Americans that “it will be our effort to find an amicable and mutually satisfactory solution on purely economic and business considerations”.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE, SONIA IN PATCH-UP DRIVE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, June 29: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi seem to have decided to buy peace, heightening the prospects of the smooth functioning of Parliament during the monsoon session.

Congress sources said K. Natwar Singh and Jairam Ramesh acted as mediators to bring about the Vajpayee-Sonia rapprochement, which is significant in the context of the Agra summit where the government is desperately soliciting the main Opposition party’s co-operation.

The restoration of a “functional relationship” between the ruling party and the Congress was evident in the manner in which the Vajpayee regime agreed to Sonia speaking at the UN General Assembly session on HIV\AIDS. The ministry of external affairs, too, chipped in, upgrading her US visit, which saw an unprecedented reception for the Opposition leader and meetings with Vice-President Dick Cheney and US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage.

The Congress leadership was quick to reciprocate the gesture. In the memorandum submitted to President K.R. Narayanan seeking action on the Tehelka scandal, the key part of the Congress campaign — demanding Vajpayee’s exit — was dropped without assigning any reason.

The omission was glaring as the party had collected 6.25 crore signatures on that plank. While the demand for Vajpayee’s head remained on the draft signed by citizens, it was missing in the memorandum submitted to Narayanan. The memorandum, instead, placed the ball in the President’s court, seeking his intervention. “Under these circumstances, as protector of the Constitution, it is for you, Sir, to decide how to save the people of India from this impervious government,” the memorandum said.

The Sonia camp tried to underplay the truce. “We are committed to act like a responsible Opposition. Therefore, we have welcomed the Vajpayee-Musharraf talks,” a Congress Working Committee member said, alleging that the Vajpayee regime had vitiated the atmosphere. “They were not according due importance to the leader of Opposition. Now that her status has been restored, we have no grudge,” he said.

Congress leaders said if the party had insisted on Vajpayee’s exit on Tehelka, it would have caused acute embarrassment to the government even if it had not posed any serious threat. “It would have sounded as if we are using the right to recall. After all, 6.25 crore signatures is an awesome figure,” a party leader said.

Not everyone is happy with the Vajpayee-Sonia rapprochement. Apart from Union health minister C.P. Thakur, who felt he was edged out at the UN meet, some BJP hardliners are also upset over Sonia “hogging the limelight” at international fora.

Cynics in the Congress, too, view the truce as a negative trend. “We cannot be seen as closing deals with the NDA. It will harm us politically,” an MP from Madhya Pradesh said.

The last day of the budget session of Parliament had witnessed unprecedented scenes when Sonia lashed out at home minister L.K. Advani, accusing him of carrying on a vendetta. Both the Congress and the BJP now seem to be keen to avoid a repeat of that during the monsoon session beginning July 23.

   

 
 
SHIVAJI KIN SHAKES OFF MURDER CHARGE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, June 29: 
It was a battle royal fought on the turf of Chhatrapati Shivaji, but it ended anticlimactically in a courtroom.

Udayan Raje Bhosale, 13th descendant of the Maratha warrior, was acquitted of a murder charge today by the Satara district court, as were 15 other co-accused.

Additional sessions judge G.J. Kulkarni put down the acquittal to lack of evidence, which he said had prompted him to give the accused the “benefit of doubt”.

The case had turned into a family battle after Bhosale, 34, a BJP leader and a minister in the previous Shiv Sena-BJP government, had accused his uncle Abhaysinh, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA from Satara, of framing him.

Abhaysinh was out to destroy his political career as he had defeated his cousin, Abhaysinh’s son, in the 1998 bypolls to the Assembly, Bhosale had alleged.

Police said the BJP leader was named as an accused on the basis of its investigations into the Sharad Levhe murder case. Levhe, an NCP activist, was murdered on September 11, 1999.

The CBI had later taken over the case from the police. It is the agency which filed the chargesheet against Bhosale.

Satara, the home of the Bhosales, had braced for a violent fallout of the high-profile case, which had riveted the state’s attention over the past year.

The district administration had virtually cordoned off the town ahead of the ruling, which many feared might go against Bhosale and lead to violence. Officials at the state secretariat sighed with relief when they heard today’s verdict.

A police officer said it was an emotive case in Satara, where Bhosale commanded respect from people despite losing the last elections to his uncle.

Tension broke out at the district headquarters when Bhosale was arrested in connection with the case in 1999. “There would have been trouble this time, if Bhosale was sentenced,” the officer said.

Abhaysinh countered his nephew’s allegations against him, saying he had nothing to do with the case. Udayan was named as an accused by the police who had arrested him, he said.

Sources said all was not well in the Bhosale family, which has been dogged by disputes over their vast property in Satara. “They are fighting not because they belong to rival political parties, but beneath the surface, there is a long-standing family feud,” they said.

A BJP leader said today’s ruling only vindicated Bhosale. “Now it is clear that he was falsely implicated for political reasons,” he said.

   

 
 
WOMEN FIND VOICE AT PHONE-IN WITH MPS 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, June 29: 
Jamuna Devi lives in Allahabad. She’s 25, the mother of three — three daughters. Her husband wants a son. And if she can’t give her a male child, she has to compensate with dowry.

She told this over the phone to MPs in Delhi who had gathered at a studio for the first-ever teleconference between women at the grassroots level and parliamentarians.

The two-and-a-half-hour teleconference was jointly organised by the Department of Women and Child Development, the National Commission for Women, the Central Social Welfare Board and Ignou. Participants included women beneficiaries from nine states.

The objective was to inform these women about their rights and about the policies and programmes of the government. It used a satellite-based interactive communication network.

Present at the conference was human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi. He pointed out that the recent Census report reveals the disturbing trend of adverse male-female ratio, particularly in the age group of 0-6.

He added that the government was re-examining all laws concerning women. The objective is to provide better safeguards through legal provisions. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, the Dowry (Prohibition) Act, 1961, and the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, are among the legislations being amended. A new legislation on the prevention of domestic violence on women is in the pipeline.

Three women MPs — Selvi Das, Jayashree Banerjee and Jayaben Thakker — were also present. Chairperson of the Central Social Welfare Board Mridula Sinha and chairperson of National Women’s Commission Vibha Parthasarthi chaired the session.

“Although women are aware of their problems and are on the lookout for solutions, they are not aware of the policies and projects that the government has made available to them,” said Das.

As phone calls and faxes poured in, many women did get an opportunity to voice their problems and find solutions. But for some, their queries remained unanswered.

Sapna Chakrabarty called from Guwahati to relate the harrowing experience of hundreds of women affected by the floods in Assam. “During the floods, women had little choice but to bathe in public. In the rehabilitation camps, they were tortured and raped by men, while infants died due to shortage of food.”

   

 
 
INDIA, ISRAEL CEMENT TIES WITH CELLULOID LOVE STORY 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, June 29: 
Call it film diplomacy.

Just as Vajpayee and Musharraf are inching towards each other via Agra, bilateral relations between Delhi and Jerusalem are unfolding on different tracks. The Israeli consulate in Mumbai is trying to cement good relations between the two countries — by filming a love story.

The movie is the brainchild of consul general Dov Segev-Steinberg, chief mediator between the two sides; two production houses in Jerusalem and Mumbai. Based on a well-known Israeli novel, The Return from India, it is the story, set in India, of an Israeli man who falls in love with an older woman. The film, to be announced shortly, will be shot in India and Israel with a mixed cast.

With the consulate being the catalyst, it will be the coming together of “the biggest and the smallest democracies in Asia”, says Segev-Steinberg.

Cinema, he feels, is a common language between the two countries. Indian cinema — from Raj Kapoor’s Sangam to the Shahrukh Khan starrer Dil To Pagal Hai — has always been popular in Israel. On the other hand, Israel’s indigenous film industry, though tiny compared to Bollywood, churns out very high quality films every year and plays a role similar to that of Indian films in the popular mind, the consul says.

The Return from India is only the icing on the cake. Doing the rounds as part of cinema diplomacy is the Israeli film festival, starting here tomorrow. The festival, which is an annual feature now, is touring all major cities in the country.

The package of 10 films do not have anything in common, except that they are meant to hold up modern Israel before the Indian eye.

“There is not any one theme. The films show what contemporary Israel is — a vibrant country trying to look at itself,” says Segev-Steinberg.

Sh’Hur is the story of 13-year-old Rachel, a thoroughly westernised teenager who tries to come to terms with the white magic (Sh’Hur) practised by her family, part of the Moroccan community in Israel.

Life According to Agfa is about two young Tel-Avivian women who own and run a successful pub. Terrorism, a fact of Israeli life, comes to the fore in Cup Final, in which an Israeli reserve soldier, on his way to watch to Spain to watch the World Cup soccer games, is captured by a retreating PLO unit. But war seems an absurd thing when the enemies start looking at each other with humour and pity.

The holocaust is often at the background, even if it is not the immediate theme. If the directors were born in Israel, many of their secondary characters tend to be holocaust survivors.

“It is a state of being Indians can relate to. India has also gone through so many upheavals in ancient and modern times,” says Segev-Steinberg.

He says he also looks forward to Indian films being shot in Israel as it is a beautiful country blessed with nature’s bounty — mountains and seas.

But the jewel in the crown is the forthcoming movie. “At the end of my tenure, it will be something to say we achieved this,” the consul adds.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.3°C (-2)
Minimum: 26.3°C (-1

Rainfall:

36.9 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 74%

Today

A few spells of light to moderate rain in some areas.
Sunrise: 4.58 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm
   
 

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