Dalmiya drives out Denness
Sehwag bomb ticks in Mohali
Here comes the cheapest call of all
Delhi relaunch pad for Benazir
Diplomatic groundbreaker to clear Test path
Fresh fire on Farooq
Pervez & PM on Saarc course
Dacoits on looting spree
Woman BDO harassed
Sen slams Centre over wagon order

Centurion/Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
At the end of a day of stunning developments, the International Cricket Council (ICC) seemed to be heading for a split.

Faced with a pullout threat from the Indians and worried over earning its own government’s displeasure, the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) this evening took the unprecedented step of replacing controversial match referee Mike Denness.

The former England captain’s place has been taken by South African Denis Lindsay, who also is on the ICC’s panel.

Less than an hour after the UCBSA move, a snubbed ICC retaliated by saying that official status to the third and final Test from tomorrow had been withdrawn. This means the one-match suspension of Virender Sehwag carries over beyond this match.

Late tonight, the possibility emerged that the Indians “may” approach Lindsay to “check” whether Sehwag can be fielded.

For Jagmohan Dalmiya, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, it was a stunning turnaround from a situation that had looked fragile after the ICC yesterday rejected his demand to sack Denness.

“I’ve gone through one of the most trying circumstances of my life since the reputation of the country was at stake,” he said.

Basking in the success, Dalmiya held a news conference in Calcutta to announce that the match was on and that it would be an official Test. “Both boards (Indian and South African) feel that the decision has met with all parameters that govern the official status of a Test,” he said.

Derecognising the Test — an act that affects players whose performances won’t be recorded — will have to be ratified by the ICC’s executive board at its meeting next March in Colombo. As things stand, in a showdown, India should have the support of six of the other nine Test-playing nations.

Apparently, Dalmiya has received some assurance from “friends”. Sources said only England, Australia and New Zealand are expected to endorse the derecognition. Dalmiya, by virtue of heading the BCCI, now sits on the ICC executive board.

The day began with Dalmiya speaking to UCBSA president Percy Sonn and unambiguously stating that India would not take the field if Denness remained match referee. An alternative was sought from the UCBSA. The South African government also got into the act through sports minister Ngconde Balfour.

By the UCBSA’s own admission, Balfour “instructed” it to take “whatever action is necessary” to ensure the final Test is not called off. That was when a series of calls were made between Johannesburg and London.

The ICC, though, refused to relent and Denness declined to stand down.

Caught in the BCCI-ICC crossfire and, more important, under pressure from its own government (upset, apparently, by demonstrations in India), the UCBSA replaced Denness.

Its chief executive Gerald Majola said he had informed the ICC that the board had “no alternative but to ask Mr Denness to excuse himself”. If Denness did not agree, the board “was unable to allow his access to the match referee’s position”.

Balfour later described the decision as “pragmatic” and said he had “tremendous respect for the ICC”.

Dalmiya also explained that the decision should not be seen as defiance of the ICC. “We were left with no other alternative. We’re not challenging their authority. We’re only supplementing their efforts.”


London, Nov. 22: 
The International Cricket Council (ICC) adopted a tough line tonight in London against the effective sacking of Mike Denness as match referee and said the third Test between India and South Africa would not be recognised as official.

In another move, which is potentially more controversial, the ICC said Virender Sehwag, who is facing a one-match ban, would not be eligible for selection in the first Test between India and England in Mohali in December. If India insists on picking him, there is a prospect that Nasser Hussain’s side would have to return home.

Malcolm Speed, the ICC’s chief executive who is seen as the architect of the new “get tough” policy, said: “Denness was properly appointed by the ICC for this series and approved by both South Africa and India. No cricket board has the authority to remove him.”

He added: “To remove him under this kind of pressure would be to disregard the rules agreed to by all member countries and set an unacceptable future precedent.”

According to the ICC, a replacement match between India and South Africa “would not be recognised as a Test match. It would not be officiated by an ICC referee or umpire and neither the result nor statistics would be included in Test match records”.

The ICC made it clear that “the disciplinary action taken by Denness in Port Elizabeth will continue to stand. Specifically, this would mean that the one-match ban served to Virender Sehwag would now apply to the first Test match against England in Mohali in December”.

The ICC spokesman, Mark Harrison, said the game of cricket had now entered “uncharted territory”. He added that the decision by the South African board to ask Denness to excuse himself was “unprecedented”.

By saying that the one-match ban on Sehwag will be carried over to Mohali, the ICC has laid a trap for the BCCI. It has left it to the Indian board to decide if it wants another confrontation with the ICC by selecting Sehwag for the Mohali tie or wants to leave the Johannesburg standoff behind.

The ICC, however, tried to sound reasonable and said it understood the compulsions of India and South Africa. If it was public pressure in India that forced its board to take the stand it did, its South African counterpart would have lost around $3.5 million if the match did not take place.

Asked if India and South Africa could be censured by the ICC, Speed said: “There’s no direct provision.”

But there was speculation over the venue of the 2003 World Cup, scheduled to be hosted by South Africa. Ali Bacher, executive director of the 2003 World Cup, told Reuters: “Nobody should assume that that right is automatic. The World Cup — the event — is owned by the ICC.”


New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
It’s an ugly acronym — VoIP, or voice over Internet telephony — but when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India unveils a consultation paper on the subject tomorrow, get ready for an acrimonious debate over plans to free the airwaves.

VoIP enables you to call friends and acquaintances anywhere in the world bypassing the traditional phone lines. It uses cyber space to route your call and the beauty of it is that it will cost you a fraction of the price you pay for a normal phone call.

The telecom regulator is expected to set the cat among the pigeons by suggesting for discussion a VoIP tariff slab that will be as low as 50 per cent of a normal international call charge.

A phone call from the US to Mumbai over the telephone network would cost you $1 a minute; the VoIP call would cost about 10 cents a minute. No one is looking at such wide disparities in India, which plans to launch VoIP sometime next year. But it has the potential of knocking the bottom out of fixed line telephone and cellular service providers.

Earlier, Trai had suggested a differential tariff structure for STD calls and international calls using VoIP.

Besides the tariff structure, the paper will also lob a question on whether to allow Internet service providers — that’s VSNL, Satyam, Caltiger and the rest of the ilk — to provide this new service.

The debate will clarify some of the confusion over terms and technology that surrounds VoIP. “Internet telephony, Internet protocol telephony and VoIP are confusing terms. We will try to address this in the paper so that the general public will be able to participate in a more informed manner,” said a senior Trai official.

VoIP is the technology. Internet telephony and IP telephony are two different services using the same technology. Internet telephony depends on the public Internet (World Wide Web) to route telephone calls. IP telephony uses a dedicated Internet protocol network — for instance, a network connecting a corporate head office to its regional offices — to provide communications.

Trai is expected to throw open the debate about the tariff to be fixed for offering STD and local calls using VoIP.

The VoIP market in the Asia-Pacific region is small at the moment with a Cisco study putting revenues at around $1 billion. But it is projected to go up to $17.9 billion by 2005 and India is expected to account for $1.6 billion.

When the VoIP technology was launched a few years ago, it received bad press because the quality of the call was bad — about as good as ham radio. But since then it has improved considerably and, while it still might not match the clarity of the traditional phone call, it’s almost there.

VoIP has been used illegally in India by a lot of individuals and small companies and has proved to be popular because of the low costs. But once it is officially introduced, your fixed line phone may seldom ring.


Washington, Nov. 22: 
The Confederation of Indian Industry’s announcement that former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto will arrive in New Delhi on Monday to speak on empowerment of women and social development is the mother of all understatements.

Benazir’s carefully constructed Indian itinerary masks a trans-continental effort to relaunch herself internationally: it spanned planning for the trip in Dubai, London and Washington.

Not since the trip by Bill Clinton to New Delhi last year has any visit by a foreign leader involved meticulous planning across continents, but in scale and paraphernalia, there will be no comparison between a US presidential visit and that by a leader of the opposition in Pakistan.

The international projection of Benazir’s activities in India is being coordinated by a leading lobbying firm in Washington, which has been engaged by the Pakistani leader-in-exile to project her case in America. This explains her keenness to address the Foreign Correspondents Club in New Delhi, a programme on which her aides are working on.

The lobbying firm is credited with a spate of articles which have appeared in American newspapers — including The New York Times — in the last few days pointing out that Muslims in countries which have democracy, such as India and Bangladesh, are less troublesome than Saudis and Egyptians who organised the September 11 attacks on the US.

Notwithstanding her public pronouncements on the war in Afghanistan, Benazir shares New Delhi’s classified view that with each passing day, General Pervez Musharraf is getting into hotter and hotter waters in his professed role as a coalition partner against terrorism.

What better way to put herself in the reckoning of Pakistan’s political future than a trip to the biggest democracy in the world — that too with a promise of peace between New Delhi and Islamabad implicit in her visit.

For the Vajpayee government, it is an opportunity to pay Musharraf back in his own coin after the way he usurped the summit agenda in Agra and addressed the Indian nation through a televised breakfast for Indian editors.

The meeting between Benazir and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was negotiated between her and a non-official emissary of the Prime Minister who met her in Dubai. It is a reflection of Benazir’s canny understanding of the wheels of Indian politics that she first asked for a meeting with home minister L.K. Advani, who agreed to it without a moment’s hesitation.

The confirmation of her meeting with Vajpayee came several weeks later. Benazir, it is clear, weighed in the possibility that the Prime Minister’s Office would consider the implications of such a meeting on India’s on-again off-again engagement with Musharraf.


New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
In an attempt to stay clear of the line of fire and ensure that the Test tour is not aborted, South Africa today took the unusual step of clarifying that it had nothing to do with Michael Denness’ decision to punish six Indian players.

“South Africa and India have a strong historical bond and a close bilateral relationship, embodied in the Strategic Partnership between our countries,” said a statement issued by the South African High Commission this evening.

The statement made it clear that neither the United Cricket Board of South Africa nor the South African team had objected to the conduct or play of the Indian team.

“The decisions taken against members of the Indian team were entirely those of the match referee, Mr Denness, who is appointed by the International Cricket Council. Responsibility for the matter rests, therefore, with Mr Denness and the ICC.”

The high commission iterated the “importance of the warm and friendly relationship between the governments and the peoples of India and South Africa” and pointed out that it was symbolic that following its return to international cricket, the first tour undertaken by the South African team was to India.

“It is our belief that sports provide an important channel of promoting good relations between countries and people and we reaffirm the importance and value we attach to the presence of the Indian cricket team in South Africa,” the statement said.

Two reasons could have prompted the South African government to take this unusual step to clear the air.

Aware that Denness’ ruling had triggered an outcry in India and that demand for the team to be recalled was growing, it wanted to ensure that the Test tour was not affected. Also, it did not want relations between India and South Africa to be upset.

Some media commentators had suggested that the match referee’s decision to penalise the Indians, particularly star batsman Sachin Tendulkar, might have been instigated by South Africans who wanted to get even with India for having exposed their star, Hansie Cronje, in the match-fixing case.

Apart from the huge financial losses that South Africa would have to incur if the Indian team left mid-way in the series, Pretoria was also worried that the interests of the nation as a whole might be hurt.

India’s relations with South Africa have gone through ups and downs in the recent past. Nelson Mandela’s decision in the 1998 Nam Summit to bring up the issue of the twin nuclear tests in India and Pakistan had led to angry protests from the Indian leadership. New Delhi had strongly objected to Mandela’s move to drag a bilateral issue into the Nam forum and described it as an unprecedented step.

Apologies from other senior South African leaders later might have helped mend relations between the two sides, but the incident left a bad taste in the mouth.

Realising that the cricket row could throw relations between the two countries into a tizzy, the South African government decided to assure the Indian government and people that it was not party to Denness’ ruling.


New Delhi, Nov. 22: 
After slamming the Farooq Abdullah government for demanding a special autonomy package for Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP has opened a new front against the chief minister.

The party said Abdullah should repeal the J&K Grant of Permit for Resettlement (or Permanent Return to) in the State Act of 1980.

According to the Act, those who had left the state to settle in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) or in Pakistan can return and reclaim their properties. It was pending in the form of a Bill before the Supreme Court for 19 years.

Last week, the apex court returned it to the President for his assent, saying the Bill could not be struck down as it had already been passed by the legislature and had, therefore, become an Act. The Bill was enacted by the National Conference, which was in power in the state in 1980.

The BJP, which was quick to oppose the Act, said it would trigger “civil war” if implemented. Party MLA Ashok Khajuria was quoted by agencies as saying in Jammu that the Act would result in “civil war and bloodshed”.

“When the National Conference government reserved property rights for those who migrated to PoK and Pakistan after 1947, what steps did they take to safeguard the property rights of refugees from PoK who now live here?” he reportedly asked.

Assembly Speaker Abdul Ahad Vakil, however, justified the Act and was quoted as saying that it was “in order and within the ambit of the Constitution”.

But the state BJP maintained that in 1982, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as BJP chief, had written to the President asking him to “undo what the party regarded as a grievous wrong to the nation”.

BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra, in a press briefing here, alleged that the Act would encourage a large number of people, who did not belong to the state, to buy property. This, he added, could lead to a “dangerous situation”.

“We suggest to the state government to repeal the Act as a large number of Pakistanis claiming to be former residents of Jammu and Kashmir are buying property and settling down there,” he said. Malhotra claimed many of them had served in the Pakistan army and had fought against India and many were also in the employ of the Inter-Services Intelligence.


Kathmandu, Nov. 22: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee may have avoided meeting Pervez Musharraf in New York earlier this month by skipping the lunch hosted for leaders attending the UN General Assembly, but Kathmandu in January may be another story.

Nihal Rodrigo, the outgoing secretary-general of the South Asian grouping, Saarc, said today the summit of regional leaders would be held as scheduled from January 4-6. Both the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistan President will attend it. It’s difficult to see how Vajpayee can avoid meeting Musharraf for three days.

Local media reports had suggested that the two leaders and their Sri Lankan and Bangladesh counterparts face terrorist threats in Kathmandu.

“We have heard about that and we are sure the government of Nepal will take all possible measures to address the security concerns,” Rodrigo said.

The 11th Saarc summit will take up the issue of regional terrorism in the changed regional and global context. The Sri Lankan admitted that the current convention on terrorism is “not very effective”. “The convention... has certain shortcomings; we are trying to remove the shortcomings.”


Burdwan, Nov. 22: 
Dacoits looted members of a marriage party at Jeler Bandh near Memari, 45 km from Burdwan town, after blocking the road with boulders to stop their bus. The gang then targeted four trucks. The looting spree continued uninterrupted for four hours from 1 am.

Three persons were injured when they tried to resist. Agitated victims and residents blocked the Memari-Kalna road for eight hours demanding the dacoits’ arrest. Police superintendent B.N. Ramesh rushed to the spot.

Villagers alleged that even though there were two police camps nearby and a round-the-clock mobile patrol, the dacoits went on the looting spree. Ramesh said a massive hunt has been launched to nab the culprits.

Food poison: Over 80 people fell ill after a wedding dinner at Sheoraphuli in Hooghly. The victims were rushed to the Serampore Walsh hospital with complaints of diarrhoea.


Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
The block divisional officer of Habra-II, Sushmita Mukherjee, was heckled by members of an organisation claiming support of Scheduled-Caste and Scheduled-Tribe villagers.

The organisation was demanding the inclusion of people living along state highways and railway tracks. The demonstration turned violent after officials told them that they could not give any assurance.

Office furniture was damaged as the crowd tried to get its hands on officials. The situation was brought under control after police intervened. Nine persons were arrested.

Airport arrest

A person travelling with his cousin’s passport was arrested from the airport this afternoon. Police said Rajinder Singh arrived at the city airport from Bangkok on an Indian Airlines flight. Singh was initially detained and then arrested.


Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
Industry minister Nirupam Sen today came down heavily on the Centre’s decision to slash orders of railway wagons from the state.

Sen expressed unhappiness over the way he was “misguided and misinformed” by railway minister Nitish Kumar during a recent meeting in Delhi.

“I will write to Nitish Kumar questioning on what ground his department had slashed orders of railway wagons from the state. I was told by him that the orders were slashed because the manufacturers had used inferior quality steel,” the minister said.

Sen, who met representatives of leading wagon manufacturers in the state today, was told that the steel was supplied by the railways. “The manufacturers were forced to accept the steel supplied by the railways,” he said.


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