Content police in regulator garb
Big heads secure in PM chop and change
Sir, I will pick up the tab: Basu
State stake dilution in Haldia pipeline
Swati ready to confess
Calcutta Weather

 
 
CONTENT POLICE IN REGULATOR GARB 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
The Communication Convergence Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha today vests sweeping powers in a super-regulatory body that will govern the technology of communication, as well as the news, views, opinion and entertainment transmitted over television, radio, Internet and other electronic media.

The Bill can revive a licence raj reigning over wireless communication items of daily use such as mobile handsets.

“The Communication Convergence Bill proposes to establish a structured mechanism to promote, facilitate and develop in an orderly manner the carriage and content of communications (including broadcasting, telecommunications and multimedia),” the text says.

At one level, the formation of the Communications Commission of India can put India ahead in the administration of converging technologies — Malaysia is the only other country to have a comparable law. At another, the Bill arms the commission with enormous powers. The administration and use of these powers will depend vastly on the capabilities and the integrity of the 11 members and the chairman (plus an ex-officio spectrum manager) who will make up the commission.

“The Bill says that any wireless equipment will have to be licensed. This can be interpreted to include mobile phones and radios. Obviously, the government will have to redraft these portions,” said Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court advocate specialising in cyber laws.

The Bill has a provision — in Chapter XV — that empowers the government to intercept any communication on any network facility or service “on the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of public safety”.

A service provider can be jailed for two to seven years for not abiding by the commission’s directions.

“It is a Draconian piece of legislation because the government and the commission can come down with a heavy hand on just about anybody since news is a matter of interpretation,” said Duggal. “There is a distinct effort to go for as much regulation of content as possible. For the first time, we are coming across a content censor in the country.”

In the sectors the Bill affects, the first murmurs have come from people in the media and entertainment. The reason lies not only in the licensing regime for Internet services but also in the provisions that allow the commission to dictate quality of content .

The commission will also have powers to “take steps to regulate or curtail the harmful and illegal content on the Internet and other communication services”.

The Bill proposes to replace a large number of categories of licences with the following five broad categories: To provide or own network infrastructure facilities; to provide networking services; to provide network application services; to provide content application services; and to provide value-added network application services.

The Bill clarifies that licensing for IT-enabled services will not be governed by the commission. These include services such as call centres, electronic-commerce, tele-banking, tele-education, tele-trading, tele-medicine, videotext and video-conferencing.

“We are glad that the Bill has exempted IT-enabled services and e-commerce, identified as sunrise sectors, from licensing,” said Nasscom chairman Phiroz Vandrevala.

New entrants in mobile telephony, cable television networking, broadcasting and multimedia, including Internet services and unified messaging services, will need licences. Already, the Bill and the commission are being criticised for being a puppet in the hands of the government. “It will be a glorified mouthpiece for government policies,” said Duggal. Section 22 empowers the Centre to issue wide-ranging directives to the commission.

   

 
 
BIG HEADS SECURE IN PM CHOP AND CHANGE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will expand and shuffle his council of ministers tomorrow but limit the exercise to the BJP.

Indications are that most BJP ministers, including beleaguered Yashwant Sinha (finance) and Venkaiah Naidu (rural development), will be able to breathe freely. Vajpayee has so far asked only one Cabinet member — mines minister Sunderlal Patwa — to go. Patwa put in his papers today, citing ill-health.

Four ministers of state may, however, be dropped for alleged incompetence.

Though the expansion was billed as a “major exercise” to strengthen Vajpayee’s hands in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh polls, it seems to have petered out into an end-of-session ritual. It is learnt that the key portfolios would be left untouched despite intense speculation that Sinha was on his way out, having been embroiled in a slew of controversies.

Among the likely new entrants to the Cabinet are Ved Prakash Goyal and Karia Munda. Goyal, a Mumbai-based industrialist, has been the BJP’s treasurer for decades and is a Rajya Sabha member. Government sources said he was likely to get the shipping portfolio, now held by law minister Arun Jaitley.

Sources said keeping in mind that Patwa belongs to the Vaish community, he will be replaced by Goyal, who belongs to the same caste, a decision prompted by caste compulsions of the heartland. The BJP has evidently alienated a large section of its traditional Bania supporters in Uttar Pradesh by first removing Ram Prakash Gupta as chief minister and then sacking power minister Naresh Aggarwal. Patwa’s ouster, sources feared, could have further alienated the community.

Two ministers of state, Arun Shourie and Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, are likely to be promoted to Cabinet rank. Hussain is the BJP’s lone Muslim representative in the Cabinet.

Amid speculation that was rife till last night that Sinha had put in his papers, government sources indicated that the finance minister’s job was safe. According to the sources, what tilted the balance in his favour was a spirited defence by home minister L.K. Advani at a meeting last night at the Prime Minister’s residence at which foreign minister Jaswant Singh was also present.

Sources said Advani made two points: first, after Vajpayee had defended Sinha in Parliament, it would appear “odd” if he was sacked just a day after the House was adjourned, thus, vindicating the Opposition’s charge about the economy being in a mess. Second, Advani asked Vajpayee if there was a consensus on who would succeed Sinha.

The sources said while Advani pitched for Jaitley, a section of the RSS favoured M.M. Joshi. Vajpayee, “convinced” there was no unanimity, is believed to have given up the idea of dropping him. Sinha later had a 40-minute-long meeting with Vajpayee and was assured his job is secure.

Among those whose portfolios may be changed is Satya Narayan Jatiya, who could be shifted from labour to social justice and empowerment, now held by Maneka Gandhi. There is a question mark on which ministry she would get.

   

 
 
SIR, I WILL PICK UP THE TAB: BASU 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31: 
For the first time since the controversy erupted, former chief minister Jyoti Basu broke his silence, offering to foot the bill for board and lodging at Indira Bhavan in Salt Lake which the government has allotted to him on security grounds.

Basu, who ruled Bengal for over 23 years, wrote a 17-line letter to chief secretary Manish Gupta, whom he had appointed to the post, addressing him as “Sir”.

“I don’t want the government or my party to incur any expenditure on my account. I am in a position to bear my own cost,” Basu told The Telegraph tonight.

“It is true I have no job now, but please do keep in mind I have no expensive habits like smoking or going to clubs. My needs are modest... It must be said in all fairness to my party that they want to pay the rent every month for the ground floor space I have occupied.”

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas tonight said the party was keen on picking up the tabs in appreciation of Basu’s long public service but would not press the point if the former chief minister did not agree. “We are very keen... his needs are very small, he does not wear costly clothes, nor does he have an expensive lifestyle,” Biswas said. “But we will do as he wishes us to.”

In his letter, Basu said he would not avail of any facilities granted to him under the West Bengal Ex-Chief Ministers and Ex-Speakers (grant of facilities and privileges) Rules, 2000, except the services of two Group-D staff and a confidential assistant.

He added that his confidential assistant Joy Krishna Ghosh would work at a token salary of Re 1 a month. A former chief minister’s confidential assistant is entitled to a monthly salary of Rs 6,600 under the rule.

State advocate-general N.N. Gooptu submitted a copy of the letter in Calcutta High Court during the hearing of a case relating to the issue. Gooptu appeared on behalf of the chief secretary in the public interest litigation filed by Trinamul Congress leader Tarak Singh challenging the validity of the rule.

Singh’s counsel Arunava Ghosh, also a Trinamul MLA, argued that the government had framed the rule to provide extra facilities to Basu.

There was a furore across the state on the eve of the Assembly polls over the government’s decision to implement the rule.

The state Congress joined forces with Trinamul to step up a tenacious campaign against the ruling CPM. Gooptu also submitted a letter from Anil Biswas, saying that barring the expenditure incurred on security, the CPM would pay for all of Basu’s expenses, including the salary of a confidential assistant, a personal assistant and two Group D staff.

Basu, who enjoys Z-plus security, said he is required to stay at Indira Bhavan for security reasons based on the threat perception to his life, as evaluated by the appropriate authority.

“I am ready to pay such reasonable rent in respect of the space occupied by me as may be determined in accordance with the government rules,” he said.

Basu also referred to his party’s offer to bear his expenses and said “it should be viewed in the light of what I have stated”.

Biswas, former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Roy, the chief secretary and the home secretary have been made parties to the case. The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice G. Gupta said the registrar would serve notices to the respondents and fixed the matter for hearing after two weeks.

   

 
 
STATE STAKE DILUTION IN HALDIA PIPELINE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31: 
The Haldia Petrochemical Ltd board today decided to put together a restructuring plan that may see the state government’s stake coming down from the present 43 per cent.

The board, after a four-hour meeting with financial institutions, set a one-month deadline to finalise its restructuring plan.

But before it gives a final shape to its proposal, the company will have to decide whether to invite Indian Oil Corporation to participate in the state’s showcase project.

“We will work out a total package to bring the company out of crisis,” Haldia Petro managing director Richard B. Saldanha said after the meeting.

“The package will be worked out by the usual players (the state, Tatas and The Chatterjee Group). However, I cannot comment on who will dilute the stake and who will emerge as the single largest shareholder. The promoters will have to do it.”

Sources said there are three options before the Haldia Petro board.

First, it can let Indian Oil join as a majority partner. But if that happens, Purnendu Chatterjee will pull out as he does not want the company to be turned into a public sector unit.

Second, Indian Oil can join as a minority partner. This would mean some of the partners would have to dilute their stake.

The third choice is to let the state government dilute its stake in the project and let Chatterjee acquire it and emerge the single largest shareholder.

But Chatterjee refused to divulge details. “The three promoters are working together to work out a possible solution. The matter will be solved within 45 days as I had said earlier.”

A senior official in the state finance department did not rule out a dilution of the state’s stake in the project, but was quick to point out this was not the same as a pullout.

“But in the long run, the government has to come out of the project. Maybe not now,” the official said.

At present, Haldia Petro has a debt component of Rs 4,000 crore and an equity part of Rs 1,010 crore. The Bengal government and The Chatterjee Group hold a 43 per cent stake each in the project while the Tatas control the remaining 14 per cent.

With the government keen that the Tatas do not pull out of the project, it appears that their stake will remain unchanged.

Burdened by its debt burden, the company now wants an interest waiver to stay afloat.

“We are considering Haldia Petro’s case. We have asked them to submit a debt restructuring proposal as soon as possible,” H.K. Khan, the IDBI nominee on the company’s board, said.

   

 
 
SWATI READY TO CONFESS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31: 
Bar singer Swati Pal, an accused in the Khadim’s kidnapping case, today said she is ready to confess.

Swati also dispensed with her lawyer and said she would argue her own case. She would co-operate with police in the investigation of the abduction, which involved gangs spread across India and in Dubai, the bar girl from Mumbai added.

“I do not require any counsel because I am cooperating with the police in their investigation,” Swati said, appearing before the sub-divisional judicial magistrate at the crowded Alipore court.

Suranjan Kundu, the judicial magistrate, asked Swati to record her confession tomorrow. He also ordered the authorities at Alipore jail, where the accused is being held, to keep her in isolation to help her concentrate.

Swati and five others, who were produced before the magistrate, were remanded in jail custody till September 14. A seventh accused was sent to police custody for a day. He will appear before the judicial magistrate tomorrow.

In a written submission to the court, Swati said she had signed a piece of paper on the day of her arrest without realising that she was engaging a lawyer. “I was in a traumatised condition at that point so I did not know what it was all about. However, I want to state that I don’t need any help from a lawyer because I am willing to co-operate with the police.”

Swati’s father-in-law and two wives of Mohammed Isaque, one of the accused, were present in court today.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:32.5°C (+1)
Minimum: 27.1°C (+1)

Rainfall:

5.2 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 75%

Today

Possibility of light to moderate rain in some areas.
Sunrise: 5.21 am
Sunset: 5.53 pm
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company