Dotcoms to come under licence raj
Shourie stuns sell-off sceptics
Big B fan snapped on hot chase
Mamata menu minus bitters
100-day hero lists hits, flops and a zero
Calcutta Weather

 
 
DOTCOMS TO COME UNDER LICENCE RAJ 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 28: 
Snoopy reporters hounding people in power with hidden cameras and then webcasting the sleaze, watch out for Big Brother. The Communications Convergence Bill 2001, approved by the Union Cabinet on Monday evening, will make it mandatory for dotcoms to have a licence.

But the Convergence Bill is much more than that. It is one of the most dramatic and comprehensive pieces of legislation yet that can, if passed by Parliament, force a restructuring of the Union government itself.

A sneak into the draft of the Bill that has gone through several stages and intense vetting by the Group of Ministers on Telecommunications and Information Technology (GOT-IT), before being presented to the Cabinet by communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan, reveals that the Centre will be confronted with the question of reassigning powers and responsibilities of three crucial ministries — communications, information technology and information and broadcasting.

What will add fat to fire most immediately, however, is a proposal to introduce licensing for Internet-based media — dotcoms like Tehelka — and all other network services. The Bill does not render invalid existing licensees.

The draft Bill says the Communications Commission of India, a quasi-judicial body that will effectively straddle the three ministries, will have the authority to issue licences in five categories. “Content application service providers” — like dotcoms — is only one of the categories.

Once the Communications Commission of India is in place, the ministry of communications will lose effective authority over telecommunications, the ministry of information and broadcasting over broadcasting, and the ministry of information technology over applications.

The draft Bill also makes it clear that the functions of content and carriage — a subject of heated debate and controversy in the draft’s run-up to the Cabinet — will not be separated. Instead, the commission will comprise 11 members five of whom will be from technical services and five from “content”, meaning from the fields of arts and literature, media and entertainment. The chairman of the commission could be either from technical services or from content.

Union minister for law Arun Jaitley said yesterday that the Cabinet will “endeavour to move all Bills approved” in the current session of Parliament. However, the possibility that the Bill will be placed in the Lok Sabha in the three remaining days appears to be slim. The Communications Convergence Bill is likely to be considered a finance Bill because it proposes to form a quasi-judicial body that will impose licensing fees. It will, therefore, need the consent of the President. But President K.R. Narayanan is unwell and has cancelled all official engagements for two weeks. It is not known, however, if the President’s indisposition can be used as an excuse to further delay the Bill’s presentation and, therefore, keep avenues for further discussion and debate on it open.

It is understood that a controversial clause in the Bill — it was chapter 14(63) in the first draft of the Bill prepared by lawyer Fali S Nariman — on holding access providers responsible for content transmitted over networks has been substantially diluted. Specifically, the explanatory memorandum on the Bill does not have a word on a proposal to restrict access to networks to media persons accredited to the Centre’s Press Information Bureau and state governments’ information departments. In the initial stages of the discussions, this point was criticised because it introduced censorship to through the backdoor.

No minister actually raised a question on the Bill in the Cabinet meeting last evening. The Bill was brought to the Cabinet by Paswan but Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took charge and even invited questions. There was none.

   

 
 
SHOURIE STUNS SELL-OFF SCEPTICS 
 
 
FROM DEVLIN ROY
 
New Delhi, Aug. 28: 
Lawmakers from Bengal had come with a virtuous demand — save the 27 Central public sector units in the state from going to the wall, or falling into private hands.

But they were in for a shock when Union minister for divestment Arun Shourie made them a counter-offer: buy the units for one rupee a piece.

The legislators recoiled at the prospect of taking over the hobbled giants of sloth and inefficiency. Red-faced, they scrambled to come up with an excuse to spurn the gift — the state government did not have the cash to support and revive these units.

Shourie chuckled when asked whether he had made such an offer. “It was just a joke. But no, we did not offer the enterprises at Re 1 a piece. In any case, I don’t have the authority to make such an offer. But since they appeared to be so concerned about the fate of the units, I asked them whether they were ready to take over the units.”

The legislators, who came from all parties, had come determined to stop the “closure and indiscriminate disinvestment of these companies”, stating that the Centre should instead initiate steps for their revival.

Bengal minister for parliamentary affairs Probodh Chandra Sinha said Shourie had assured them he would look into the matter in greater detail. Sinha said 22 of the 27 companies have been referred to the BIFR. Six have been shortlisted for closure.

With the cash-strapped Centre reluctant to carry the burden of loss-making enterprises, closure of the units has become the bullet that has to be bitten, especially at a time when private-sector players are reluctant to take over these “once-upon-a-time” enterprises. Last week, the Hindujas announced they were dropping out of the fray for Jessop, the troubled Dum Dum-based engineering giant in which the Centre is keen to sell a 72-per cent stake.

   

 
 
BIG B FAN SNAPPED ON HOT CHASE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 28: 
S.P. Kamat, the Amitabh Bachchan fan linked to the murder of Dum Dum municipality chairman Sailen Das, today broke down in the face of sustained interrogation and reconstructed a chain of events that could have acted as the flashpoint for the crime, investigators said.

Kamat, a civic hospital employee who wielded considerable clout, was at loggerheads with Das for the past one year, police quoted him as saying.

The various favours Kamat was used to during the reign of Sudhir Bhattacharya, the alleged mastermind, as civic chief were being withdrawn under Das’ chairmanship and the consequent humiliation was preying on him for some time, the investigators said.

Matters came to a head in July, about a month before the murder, when Das directed Kamat, secretary of the Amitabh Bachchan Fans’ Association, to vacate the municipal quarters he was staying in with his family for the past few years.

Kamat was asked to “immediately” move out of the quarters, meant for employees of the municipality’s pumping station on Mall Road. Bhattacharya, during his tenure, had made “special arrangements” for Kamat to stay there. The double-room establishment came free for Kamat, the police said.

Das, Kamat said the interrogators, also started “niggling” him about the legal status of the office from where the fans’ association worked. The office, also on Mall Road, belonged to the Dum Dum municipality and was “arranged” by Bhattacharya.

A few months ago, Kamat was transferred to the municipal hospital’s emergency ward, a busy department. Kamat had reason to believe that the transfer was engineered by Das.

All these “problems at work” led to the souring of relations between Das and Kamat, feel the investigators. The murder plan began taking shape after Kamat started seeing Das’ hand in every adverse move at office, the police added.

However, unlike Kamat, Bhattacharya is proving to be difficult to crack. The 82-year-old often complains of chest pain during questioning, forcing the sleuths to go soft on him.

“The last thing we want is any worsening in Bhattacharya’s condition, especially after the allegations about him being framed by the police,” an officer said.

Bhattacharya has reasoned that he paid Kamat Rs 1.10 lakh — the cornerstone of the police case — not for the murder, but to buy a Tata Sumo. “He didn’t have the money to buy the vehicle and I tried to help him out after he promised to pay me back,” the former civic chief told the police.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty will address a condolence meeting of Das organised by the South Dum Dum municipality tomorrow. No CPM leader other than Chakraborty will attend the meeting.

   

 
 
MAMATA MENU MINUS BITTERS 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 28: 
Eager to forgive and forget, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mamata Banerjee stuck to post-reunion smiles and kept politics out of a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister for his coalition legislators.

A cloud of discomfiture that could have crept up on the photo-op drifted away — either by design or accident. Ajit Panja, who has been punished by Trinamul for suggesting three months earlier that the party should return, turned up for the dinner late.

Panja had to rush straight from the airport to make it to the gathering, but the delay ensured that he did not have to come eye to eye with Mamata, who had left by then.

If Trinamul MPs had stayed back, what followed would not have been easy for them to digest. Home minister L.K. Advani, who had yesterday reportedly expressed reservations on Mamata’s re-entry without an apology, struck up a long conversation with Panja.

However, BJP sources were quick to clarify that the two were busy discussing theatre. Advani, impressed with Panja’s role as Ramakrishna Paramhansa, wanted the play to be staged for MPs during the winter session in November, the sources added.

Trinamul sources were also keen to drive home the message that only food, not politics, was on the dinner table and held forth on the spread. The 300-odd guests could choose from sambar, uttapam and dahi vada to biryani and mutton, chicken and fish dishes.

The Trinamul MPs had congregated at Mamata’s Delhi residence before proceeding to 7 Race Course Road together. In Delhi’s curious protocol of dinner politics, the march to the dining table represented a gastronomical stamp on Trinamul’s re-entry into the NDA fold. The Trinamul members had kept away from Vajpayee’s dinner at the end of the budget session after quitting the coalition over Tehelka.

Though the Telugu Desam is not part of the ruling coalition, the Prime Minister invited its members as well to the dinner.

   

 
 
100-DAY HERO LISTS HITS, FLOPS AND A ZERO 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 28: 
No marks to himself — and to taxi-drivers as well. The first was in jest, the second was not.

“Zero,” chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee replied when asked to grade his 103-day-old New Left government on a scale of 10. “Only nirbodhs (fools) make their self-assessment public,” he said, but was quick to add that his rating was not to be taken seriously. But, the chief minister said, he would prefer to keep the score to himself.

“Why don’t you mark us instead?” he asked the press corps, willingly becoming an “examinee”. He exposed himself to an hour’s assessment and largely kept to his examinee’s brief, save once when he could not help question the veracity of a section of the media’s coverage especially when the battle for Keshpur was at its peak.

The chief minister’s unwillingness to mark himself stretched to a reluctance to trumpet his government’s successes or admit failures. But despite claiming that a 100-day period was too short to judge a government, Bhattacharjee took pains to go into a detailed assessment of his government’s performance.

The chief minister accepted a reporter’s contention that there was one problem, in the form of errant taxi-drivers, who had contributed to a negative perception of the state outside. “Though I myself have intervened on occasion to bring to book taxi-drivers refusing passengers, police can’t always enforce the law because of the unions’ penchant for calling strikes,” Bhattacharjee said. “But there’s need for some discipline and I know this problem is tarnishing the state’s reputation,” he admitted.

The cabbies, however, denied that they refused passengers willingly. “Why should we refuse passengers? The more we work, the more we earn. We normally refuse passengers only when we are too tired after a hard day’s work,” said taxi-driver Rakhal Kayal.

Bhattacharjee largely agreed with The Telegraph’s assessment of his team’s performance published on Saturday when the government completed its hundredth day in office. There were important initiatives taken in the health, education and information technology sectors, he claimed, but admitted that the state was a late-starter, particularly in IT.

He acknowledged that his “do-it-now” slogan was not “magic”. There had been an improvement in punctuality and attendance, he claimed, but said he was not happy with the speed of work.

Even less satisfactory was his administration’s response to his appeal to be “sympathetic” to the public. “The least people of an independent country can expect is good behaviour from officials, an honest effort to help them and an explanation when they can’t be helped,” Bhattacharjee said, but admitted “old habits died hard”.

The kidnapping of Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman had given him anxious moments, Bhattacharjee admitted. He, however, reiterated that his state was better than most others in the law-and-order department. “We live in India, not Bengal, and crime committed here often has its origin outside the state,” he said.

There was some Centre-bashing for “closing down PSUs indiscriminately” but there was a new pragmatism as well. Bhattacharjee acknowledged that some of the state-owned PSUs — around 14 — would have to be closed down. The private sector could be involved in some of the others to rescue them while some restructuring and pumping in of funds would be enough to keep the remaining within the public sector.

Bhattacharjee deftly side-stepped some queries and there were diplomatic answers to some others: “The word ‘promoter’ is not a nasty word per se. Some criminals masquerade as promoters and we are trying to nab them.”

But there were some things he was more candid about; his feelings about Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, for example. “Let us ignore that party,” he said.

Trinamul may be the new enemy but the chief minister of the New Left has not forgotten the pet hates of the Old Left either. “I hate that organisation,” he said, referring to Amnesty International which took Bengal’s human rights record to task recently.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.1°C (+1)
Minimum: 25.9°C (0)

Rainfall

6.7 mm;

Relative Humidity

Max: 97%
Min: 76%

Today:

Light to moderate rain in some areas.
Sinrise: 5.20 am
Sunset: 5.56 pm
   
 

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