South Africa queers Dalmiya pitch
Delhis ends Benazir reminder to Pervez
Greed fund goes under
Indian bus burns in Nepal rebel rage
Family at war: whose baby is it?
Twin states in power tussle
VIP student makes little progess in Oriya
Sonia revives Rajiv’s Benazir ties
Pushkar pointer to terror toll in foreign tourist arrival
Calcutta Weather

Centurion, Nov. 25: 
In a dramatic development this evening, United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) president Percy Sonn announced his mind was not made up on moving the International Cricket Council (ICC) to restore Test status to the on-going India vs South Africa match at SuperSport Park here.

“The status will definitely come up for discussion at the Executive Board meeting in Colombo, next March, but our stand hasn’t been decided... Options are open... In fact, I may go with an open mind... There’s much time between now and then,” Sonn declared, much to the surprise of everyone present.

Sonn’s comments are at variance with the position made known by chief executive Gerald Majola on the eve of the game. More important, it contradicts Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Jagmohan Dalmiya.

Dalmiya, after all, had announced “both” India and South Africa remain convinced the match “meets all the parameters of a Test” and, for the two countries, “it’s a proper Test.”

As a communication gap is unlikely, there has been a distinct shift in South Africa’s stand. This, at the very least, is disappointing news for Dalmiya and the BCCI. According to The Telegraph’s sources, the UCBSA is “concerned” about the February-March 2003 World Cup being affected. And, so, “options” are being kept open.

Clearly, the concerns are heavily misplaced as the ICC can’t now allot the tournament to another country. Moreover, in the immediate context, Sonn’s remarks will weaken Dalmiya’s efforts to garner formal support among Executive Board members.

Dalmiya, in New Delhi for tomorrow’s working committee meeting, declined to comment on Sonn. Understandably, he was also non-committal on the exceptionally strong words attributed to ICC president Malcolm Gray in London’s Sunday Times.

Gray, firm in not allowing an aggressive challenge to the ICC’s authority to go unpunished, has actually threatened India with expulsion. The paper quotes him as saying: “We have the power to expel a member country. It is in our articles of association and is the only power available in disciplinary terms.”

Speaking exclusively, Dalmiya said: “Why react now? We will cross the bridge when we reach it...” If anything, Gray’s views will harden Dalmiya’s position. Intriguingly, the other day, the ICC had talked of being “determined to resolve the current issue in the best interests of cricket around the world.”

In the present context, two and two doesn’t add to four.

Meanwhile, the working committee is expected to endorse Dalmiya’s actions in the stunning week just ended. One learns there won’t be a directive to the national selectors, who meet on Wednesday, to exclude Virender Sehwag from the first Test squad against England.

By not fielding him in the on-going ‘Test’, the BCCI maintains it has respected the one-Test suspension slapped by Mike Denness. The ICC’s opinion is very different and Gray has already “instructed” Denis Lindsay, Match Referee for the India-England series, to “ensure” Sehwag doesn’t play in Mohali.

It shouldn’t surprise if Lindsay chooses to opt out of his first assignment in India.


New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has welcomed the proposed talks between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf in Kathmandu, but said any agreement with a military ruler will lack the credibility a democratic government offers.

“It is always a good thing when people meet. I am a firm believer in communication. My only concern is that Gen. Musharraf is an unelected leader in Islamabad and it is important for the relationship between India and Pakistan that they (talks) be conducted at a level where the people of Pakistan are carried along,” Benazir told reporters.

The leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) arrived in India today on a three-day private visit. Ostensibly, she is here to attend a seminar, but is using the opportunity to meet the Indian leadership.

She called on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee this evening and spent nearly 40 minutes at 7 Race Course Road. Earlier, Benazir met home minister L.K. Advani and discussed Kashmir with him.

At the meeting with Vajpayee, the former Pakistani Prime Minister admitted that though India had taken several initiatives to normalise relations with Pakistan, successive regimes in Islamabad, including the one she headed, had “missed the opportunity” to reciprocate.

Benazir’s visit is not as innocent as it looks. The message that goes to Musharraf from India is that a large political space exists beyond him and New Delhi will not hesitate to use it. It is also a signal to the West, which has stumbled upon the virtues of the military dictator after the September 11 attacks, that Musharraf is not the only answer to Pakistan’s problems.

For Benazir, who has been out of the political process for a while and lives mainly outside the country in self-imposed exile, the trip to New Delhi can provide the ideal launch pad for her re-entry into politics. The timing of the visit is significant as Musharraf has promised to restore the democratic process in the country within a year’s time.

At the meetings with Vajpayee and Advani, Benazir tried to project herself as a mature leader who has learnt from past mistakes and is keen to improve relations with India. She said by visiting India, she was trying to create a precedent of promoting people-to-people contact even at times when relations at the official level were at a low ebb.

In an interview to a private TV channel, Benazir said she would urge Islamabad to respond substantially to India’s initiative in normalising ties. She also wholeheartedly supported India’s proposal for creating “safe and open borders” between the two countries to facilitate easier and freer movement of people of the two countries.

Benazir agreed with Advani’s view that the Kashmir problem could be resolved only through negotiations and not by an open or a covert war. She spoke of India’s efforts to get the process of arriving at a solution going by its unilateral declaration of ceasefire, release of some Kashmiri leaders and invitation to All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders for talks.

Benazir said: “These are initiatives that give the people of India and Pakistan an opportunity to work towards substantive peace.”


Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
A scam running into several hundred crores may begin to unfold, hitting thousands of investors, with the arrest of Sanjeev Kapoor.

Kapoor was held last night on the charge of swindling investors of Rs 20 crore. The deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, said Kapoor ran what he described as a “share investment firm” called City Securities.

“He would advertise in newspapers with an offer to pay 10 per cent monthly interest,” Hasan said. Even annual interest rates are now running below 10 per cent.

Kapoor was caught when an investor, Subrata Sinha, went to police after a cheque issued by City Securities bounced.

Although City Securities claimed to investors that it played the stock market with their money, Kapoor or his firm is not a registered broker.

City Securities is not the only company luring investors with offers of 120-130 per cent rate of return in a throwback to the heydays of Sanchayita in the eighties. When Sanchayita went down, it took thousands, if not lakhs, of investors with it.

Saturday’s bust of City Securities could lead to such a situation since at least four others — described as chit funds for lack of a better label — are operating in Bengal with agents all over the state. They are known to be present in Purulia town, Durgapur, Asansol, Burdwan town, Siliguri and Chandernagore.

These funds are connected to each other. It is possible that Kapoor’s arrest will lead the police on to others, triggering a widespread crackdown.

A senior officer in the detective department said: “They are like terrorist organisations. You ban one and they start operating under a different name.”

A police swoop may lead to the frauds getting caught, but investors would still lose their money.

Subrata Sinha, of Baharampore, had invested Rs 20 lakh with Kapoor. As is the practice with such funds, City Securities handed him a post-dated cheque of Rs 2 lakh as the first month’s interest payment.

A few days after Sinha deposited the cheque, the bank told him it had bounced. When Sinha rushed to Kapoor, he was told business was bad, but he could still go and collect his interest in cash from the City Securities office.

Sinha visited the office, failing to recover the money but meeting several others whose cheques, like his, had bounced.


Kathmandu, Nov. 25: 
As Nepal stood on the edge of a state of emergency, Maoists set ablaze an Indian school’s bus in the continuing spiral of violence in the kingdom.

The Maoists targeted the bus belonging to the Delhi Public School to protest the singing of the Indian national anthem at the institution.

This is the first sign of a backlash against India, which has often been the target of resentment in the kingdom, in the latest wave of Maoist attacks. The Maoists had killed at least 45 people in weekend attacks that ended a four-month-old truce.

A PTI report said activists of the students’ wing of the Maoists attacked the bus at a village near Dharan, around 500 km from here, when it was returning to the school after dropping the children. Sunday is a working day for students and officials outside Kathmandu.

Another report said Nepalese police seized a bus carrying explosives in Kapilvastu, 300 km west of here, which bore an Indian number plate and came from across the border. Police sources said the bus contained a large quantity of gelatin, detonators and safety fuse wires. Two persons have been arrested.

Kathmandu was rife with speculation today that the government might declare a state of emergency tomorrow.

A minister who took part in a Cabinet meeting today said an Ordinance has been prepared and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is likely to recommend to King Gyanendra to impose emergency despite deep divisions within the ruling Nepali Congress.

The murmurs of dissent in the ruling party came amid reports of a fresh ambush by Maoist rebels. The extremists killed five policemen in an ambush today.

A state of emergency will help the government mobilise the army to crush the guerrillas, who launched their rebellion five years ago and want to topple the constitutional monarchy and set up a republic. Nepal has so far used mainly police to fight the rebellion, which has claimed more than 1,850 lives.

A top government official said police in Kathmandu had detained a senior leader and some followers of the Maoists, who are led by underground leader Prachanda. They take their inspiration from Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas and are active mainly in large but remote western areas.


Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
For 11-year-old physically-disabled Sumana, life has begun to resemble fiction.

Eleven years after being born, the man, who is — till date — her father in the eyes of the law, believes she is not his daughter and has asked the Calcutta High Court to determine her parenthood.

The story started when Sumana was born in 1989. Since then, her father, Paritosh Biswas, has suspected his wife — Sunita — of switching his daughter with the daughter of her sister, Shikha. Since then, he has been fighting a battle in the lower courts.

And, since then, he has believed he has been denied justice, paving the way for one more battle to be fought in another room in a different court.

Sumana was born at the Barasat Sadar Hospital in December 1989. During the same time, Shikha (Sunita’s sister) gave birth to another girl at the same hospital.

No inkling of any courtroom battles till then, but things suddenly changed after both sisters — Sunita and Shikha — went to their parents’ house in Baduria after being released from hospital.

When Sunita returned home, Paritosh — a doctor and resident of the Dakshindari Railway Quarters at Patipukur — found that she had brought back a girl who looked “suspiciously different”. Her head was abnormally swollen and the mouth pointed awkwardly askance.

He charged his wife with switching babies to help her sister and filed a case with the sub-divisional judicial magistrate of Barasat, demanding a Criminal Investigation Department probe.

After a prolonged hearing of six years, the magistrate directed the CID to conduct a DNA test of the handicapped child, Sunita and Paritosh at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory as well as at the Centre for Cellular and Microbiology at Hyderabad.

Not pleased with the CID’s handling of the case, Paritosh again went to the magistrate. “The CID has been influenced by my in-laws,” he said. The magistrate took note of Paritosh’s plea and passed a strict directive to the CID to conduct the DNA tests of Paritosh and five others.

Sunita, Sumana, her cousin (also 11 years old and central to the drama) Mahua, Shikha and Shikha’s husband, Mrinal, were asked to undergo the test to be conducted at Chittaranjan Hospital in Calcutta on August 28. The CID deputy director in charge of Barasat was asked to be present as well.

“But the CID violated the order of the court and conducted a test much before the date stipulated by the court,” Paritosh has claimed in his petition to the high court.

“The report of the test has been manipulated as well,” he has added in his petition. The DNA test confirmed that Paritosh is, indeed, the father of Sumana.

Paritosh has involved the forensic lab in the legal battle, claiming it has acted in a partisan manner and pleaded with the court to direct the Central Bureau of Investigation to find out his “real daughter”.

Justice Ashok Ganguly will hear the case.


Nov. 25: 
The rivalry and one-upmanship between Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, particularly its two chief ministers, have taken on the intensity of an older conflict. It looks like a replay of the chequered relations between India and Pakistan.

Digvijay Singh and Ajit Jogi, who grew up together in Indore and played hockey for the same club, now refuse to share power. They have moved court to settle assets and liabilities following the state’s bifurcation and ignored repeated calls from Sonia Gandhi for an amicable settlement.

A year after Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh, relations between the two Congress-ruled states have hit rock bottom. Fed up with their constant bickering, Sonia and the Congress high command have stopped intervening.

The Chhattisgarh chief minister has refused to accept part of the coal royalty going to Madhya Pradesh, saying it’s a pittance, and approached the Centre to settle the issue.

Officials from Chhattisgarh stayed away when Madhya Pradesh celebrated its state day on Friday at Delhi’s international trade fair. When Chhattisgarh celebrated its day at Pragati Maidan last week, the officers from its parent cadre were not invited. Senior IAS officers who served Chhattisgarh in undivided Madhya Pradesh were upset over the “breach of protocol”.

Digvijay too kept away from Chhattisgarh’s first anniversary celebrations and sent his deputy, Subash Yadav. This was in sharp contrast to last year when Jogi was seen profusely thanking Diggy Raja for keeping his Congress flock together during testing times in Raipur. Digvijay, in fact, had paid a price for his intervention. He incurred the wrath of Jogi’s rivals, the Shukla brothers, and Vidya Charan Shukla set his supporters to physically assault him.

On a more serious note, Jogi told the Congress high command that Madhya Pradesh had “consciously” neglected the Chhattisgarh region. He rubbished Digvijay Singh’s much-appreciated district government scheme when Sonia Gandhi asked Congress-ruled states to follow the Madhya Pradesh model.

Madhya Pradesh’s bid to buy power from neighbouring Chattisgarh has proved futile. Following bifurcation, most power plants have gone to Chattisgarh, leading to an acute shortage in the parent state.

Jogi insists on selling power to Madhya Pradesh at “market price”. Short of cash, Digvijay wants power on “cost basis”, a proposal that has been rejected by Jogi.

As a result, power plants set up by erstwhile Madhya Pradesh are churning out surplus power that is sold to Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Delhi, but remains out of bounds for Madhya Pradesh.

Both Jogi and Digvijay have been accused of keeping an eagle’s eye on political developments in the neighbouring state. When an MPCC general secretary shot at another party functionary in Bhopal, Jogi was said to be in touch with many leaders hostile to the chief minister. Similarly, Jogi’s supporters accuse Digvijay of encouraging rebels who have questioned Jogi’s tribal status.


Bhubaneswar, Nov. 25: 
He may be pledging to uphold the pride of Orissa in each and every meeting he attends. He may have graduated from the nervous tikke-tikkes (little, little in Oriya) to the more confident “Maa o bhaunimananku mora namaskar” (my regards for the mothers and sisters) over the past four years that he has been in Orissa.

But for Naveen Patnaik, the most famous student of Oriya in the state, the language lessons seem to have come to a grinding halt. With the anglicised 56-year-old chief minister making little progress with the language, the much-trumpeted language lessons from 8 am to 9 am have become an exercise in futility.

According to sources, the chief minister stopped taking Oriya lessons from Prof. Rajkishore Mishra in August. Mishra, who got the tutor’s job by virtue of his close relationship with the late Biju Patnaik, was editor of Orissa Review, the state government’s mouthpiece.

While the official version is that the 61-year-old tutor, a retired professor of English and a self-confessed admirer of his father, is ailing and cannot come to Naveen Niwas to teach his VIP student, the real reason seems to be something else.

Sources said Mishra, whom the chief minister addresses as “professor”, is not very satisfied with his student’s progress.

Apart from mouthing a few words in Oriya, the chief minister has not been able to read or write Oriya since he started learning the language in April last year. The tutor had set April 1, 2001, Orissa’s foundation day, as the deadline for Patnaik to learn functional Oriya. But progress was hampered after the tutor took a break due to health problems.

The biggest impediment seems to be Patnaik’s lack of interest in learning the language. With age not on his side, Patnaik’s learning curve is making tortuous progress. Besides, he was born and brought up in an anglicised environment, away from the heat and dust of the state. “The language is alien to him. But nonetheless, he is making efforts,” insiders said.

Though a year-and-a-half has passed since the art-loving chief minister became a student of Oriya, all his speeches are still written in the Roman script. At public meetings, Patnaik reads from the Roman script to an amused audience, which is tickled pink by his lack of command over the language and his accent.

When Patnaik stands up to deliver his address in Oriya at meetings, the words simply go haywire. At a recent weavers’ meeting in Bhubaneswar, the chief minister almost caused a commotion when he said their work was “bikhyata” (bruised) instead of “bikhyaata” (famous). The gaffe almost spoiled his speechwriter’s day.

Patnaik’s lack of knowledge of Oriya has spawned several critics, who seem to be more from his own party, the Biju Janata Dal. A few months ago, state minister for information and public relations, Duryodhan Majhi, told a stunned audience that Patnaik was being taken for a ride by bureaucratic coterie because of his ignorance of the language.

Orissa Gana Parishad president Bijoy Mohapatra misses no opportunity to make fun of Patnaik over his ignorance of Oriya.

But to Patnaik’s credit, the language handicap has not become a barrier in communicating with the masses.

People in the rural areas still see him as their saviour. His grip over the party could not have been firmer with party activists, including MLAs, gushing about his political acumen. So what if his Oriya is bad?


New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
The Congress will revive its party-to-party contact with the Pakistan Peoples’ Party headed by Benazir Bhutto.

This was among some of the topics discussed when the former Pakistan prime minister met Sonia Gandhi after a gap of ten years.

Benazir fondly remembered Rajiv Gandhi, who enjoyed a personal rapport with her.

Sonia said Rajiv greatly appreciated Benazir’s gestures, particularly the one when she sent him the choicest of chausa mangoes from Pakistan.

Benazir, on a private visit to India, recalled family ties between the Nehru-Gandhis and the Bhuttos and expressed desire to stay in touch. During an hour-long meeting at Sonia’s 10, Janpath residence, the AICC chief and Benazir discussed a range of subjects such as the Afghan situation and Indo-Pak relations.

Sources said Benazir was keen to know about the political situation in India and the future of the Congress party.

The Pakistan Peoples’ Party chief was also keen to know about a legislation that would reserve a third of the seats in Parliament for women.

The Women’s Reservation Bill is pending in the Lok Sabha following a lack of consensus among the various political parties.

On Indo-Pak ties, Sonia and Benazir were unanimous that all outstanding issues should be settled in the spirit of the Simla Agreement, signed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi.

The two leaders agreed that the Simla Agreement was the bedrock of relations between India and Pakistan.

Congress party sources said Sonia gave Benazir a brief analysis of the political situation in India and expressed confidence that her party was gaining ground.

The AICC’s foreign affairs department chairman Natwar Singh and Bhutto’s press spokesman Bashir Riaz were present during the meeting, in which high tea was served.

Benazir had expressed her desire to meet Sonia when she recently met senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid in Dubai. She wanted to know from Khurshid how Sonia was shaping up as a politician and about the Congress president’s prospects of becoming Prime Minister of India.

Earlier, Benazir had said in a lighter vein, that the women leaders of the Indian subcontinent, namely Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka, Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh, Sonia and herself, were better equipped to solve the problems facing the region.


Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
Confirming the worst fears of the hospitality and tourism industry, the first big event that kicks off the peak season is seeing the number of foreign visitors drop by half.

North India’s most famous cattle fair at Pushkar in Rajasthan, starting November 27, is estimated to have around 2,000 foreign tourists, down from 4,000 last year, tour operators said.

Since the September 11 attacks in the US, occupancy in five-star hotels has fallen by anywhere between 15 and 30 per cent. A spokesman for EIH Ltd, which runs the Oberoi chain of hotels, reported a decline of 25-30 per cent in average occupancy.

Indian Hotels director Deepa Misra Harris said occupancy in the Taj group is 15-20 per cent lower.

Although both the leading hotel chains claimed tourist flow is picking up, if Pushkar is any indicator, recovery is a long way off.

At Pushkar, three top tour operators offer accommodation in luxury tents – Welcome Heritage, Sita Worldwide and Rajasthan Tourism. There are some private properties as well, but tourists prefer tents because of the ambience of open living with all the luxuries that brick-and-mortar establishments offer.

A sales official of Welcome Heritage said: “We normally put up some 100 tents every year. These can accommodate roughly 200 people. Normally, we get bookings for no less than 150- 160 tents. But this year, we have got bookings for only 80-85 tents, of which about 20 have been reserved by Indian tourists.”

Usually, tourists start arriving a week before the four-day annual fair starts, booking tents for 10 days or more. This time, apart from slack demand, the length of stay is shorter, mostly four days.

Hoping to make up, at least partly, for the drop in the number of foreign visitors, Welcome Heritage is offering fabulous discounts to Indian tourists. A twin-share tent costs Rs 7,000 for two nights, which includes all meals and taxes, against the normal rate of Rs 7,999 per night.

The Welcome Heritage official said: “The discount has evoked interest among Indian tourists, and we are hopeful that the remaining 15-odd tents would be sold.”

No discounts for international tourists, though. They will pay $275 per tent per night, including meals and taxes. The official explained that the company offers a 10 per cent commission to the agent selling the package abroad and could not reduce the tariff.

A Sita Worldwide official said cancellations have been received mostly from Western Europe and the US, pulling occupancy down by 50 per cent. Sita is hosting some 600-700 tourists this year.

A Rajasthan tourism official said: “It is not only the tents that have sold 50 per cent less, but also locally-owned properties.”

Around 20,000 Indian tourists will visit Pushkar this time. “There is no significant growth in tourism from within the country, and hence it is not compensating for the loss of foreign tourists,” he said.




Maximum: 28.9°C (0)
Minimum: 19.3°C (+2)



Relative humidity

Max: 92%
Min: 44%

Sunrise: 6.02 am

Sunset: 4.46 pm


Mainly clear sky

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