Shimla greets Afghan leader
Suicide over chit fund scam
Puja holidays cut to six
Enron pulls plug on Indian employees
Karzai cuisine connection to US
Forester first in fight for tigers
British artists on road to Calcutta
Terror law to suit allies
Tobacco Bill under cloud
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SHIMLA GREETS AFGHAN LEADER 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Shimla, Dec. 6: 
Hamid Karzai may never get this message, but a warm telegram went out of this chilly Himachal Pradesh capital today addressed to him. It said: “Heartiest congratulations”.

Karzai will head the interim government that will kick off Afghanistan’s return to “peace and stability”, a goal the 44-year-old Pashtoon leader has set for himself.

On December 22, he begins this journey with the best wishes of a group of people – his teachers and contemporaries – who knew him two decades ago.

Afghanistan’s new leader studied in Himachal Pradesh University between 1979 and 1981 for masters in political science. In 1979, when Iran was in turmoil and Afghanistan yet to decide whether to turn Red or remain capitalist, 15 students applied for admission to the university. Among them were three Afghans.

“Hamid was forced to come to India for further studies because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,” said Gopal Singh, head of the department of political science, who taught Karzai.

He later joined the fight to drive the Soviet forces out of his country.

“I remember the day he came to me and asked how his own people could allow others to rule over them,” said retired history professor A.R. Khan, who, too, hails from Afghanistan and with whom Hamid used to discuss his country’s future.

After completing his masters, Hamid wanted to study further. “As far as I remember, he had to leave because neither his visa nor those of the others had been extended by the government. I do not know the reasons,” Singh said. The denial had appeared strange because, Singh recalled, Karzai was given admission immediately on the government’s directive.

Narinder Gupta, Karzai’s contemporary, also said his visa was not extended. The two were so close that people around them began to say “Gupta is turning into an Afghan”. “When he left he cried because he had wanted to complete his PhD,” Gupta, who is now teacher, said.

If Karzai had indeed been denied visa extension, Delhi might feel uncomfortable with this thorn from the past as it seeks to rebuild its relations with Kabul where it has high stakes.

Singh, however, is optimistic. “I am sure relations between India and Kabul will again turn better. He loved the life that people lived in India and used to say that, given a chance, he would do whatever he could to replicate India in Afghanistan.”

Karzai kept in touch with Singh till 1985. “When he stopped writing I realised that he had finally decided to give his life to driving away the Soviets,” Singh added.

   

 
 
SUICIDE OVER CHIT FUND SCAM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
Parimal Chatterjee returned home in the afternoon last Monday and hanged himself.

The burden of Rs 25 lakh was too heavy for this 47-year-old man to carry around in life. He is survived by his wife, a 17-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter.

Parimal Chatterjee was one of Citi Securities’ agents who had collected that amount in a year and a half for the chit fund that went bust after a default brought police at its owner Sanjib Kapur’s door. Kapur is now in custody.

Chatterjee had invested about Rs 2 lakh of his own money – some of it possibly coming from the compensation he received on voluntary retirement from a public sector company – but what made him anxious was the ignominy of failing to return the money he had raised from others.

“Some of our family members had put in their money. I had tried to dissuade him as the memory of Sanchayita haunted us,” recounted Pronab Chatterjee, his elder brother.

Until October, Citi was meeting its commitments, high though they were at a monthly rate of return of 10-12 per cent. As Kapur’s cheques started bouncing, which led to him being arrested following a complaint by an investor, Chatterjee’s clients turned on the heat.

He lost hope of recovering the money when a Citi Securities cheque was dishonoured on November 22. The principal of Rs 63,000 he had invested out of his own funds was gone.

“It was a major embarrassment for him and he frequently regretted that he could not write off his moral obligation to those from whom he had collected funds,” his brother said.

On Monday, by when the chit fund scam had burst out in the open, he went to a meeting attended by around 500 investors who had gathered to discuss ways of recovering their money. The meeting ended without an agreement. Before it wound up, Chatterjee had realised the discussions were getting nowhere and left.

Once in his Golf Green home, he saved himself from the “disgrace of default”.

Hundreds of investors assembled again today at Bankshall Court where Kapur was produced and remanded in police custody till December 9. P.D. Chomal, a stockbroker arrested last night for links with Kapur, was remanded till December 11.

The police are looking for three other brokers who are suspected to have assisted the chit fund in running its operations.

But the scam has already claimed its first victim. Chit funds had targeted employees of public sector units looking for high rates of return from their VRS package. Chatterjee was one such. He took voluntary retirement from what is now Bharat Processing five years ago.

He found a job after over six months of hunting in a private security agency. But in two years that company folded up.

   

 
 
PUJA HOLIDAYS CUT TO SIX 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
Delivering on his work-culture promise, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today slashed Puja holidays from nine to six days from next year.

According to a government notification today, state government employees will have to go back to work on the second day after Bijoya Dashami. Till this year, the holidays extended till Lakshmi Puja.

But as bonus, they will get a public holiday on Bhai Phota. This, however, failed to cheer employees.

State government employees’ coordination committee secretary Smarajit Roy Chowdhury, however, said: “We are even prepared to work on holidays if that helps.”

   

 
 
ENRON PULLS PLUG ON INDIAN EMPLOYEES 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 6: 
The inevitable has happened. Beleaguered Enron Corporation, seeking bankruptcy protection in the US, today axed all but a handful of its employees in the country.

More than 200 employees who got their pink slips were with Dabhol Power Corporation (DPC), the $3-billion jinxed subsidiary of Enron.

DPC managing director K. Wade Cline, based in Mumbai, was spared. So was a handful of senior officials, who had formed the core group of the company’s India operations buffeted by controversies. But those retained would be on contract from now on.

An Enron spokesman said the “small core group” was retained “on a contract basis to undertake certain essential activities related to site security, pursuing legal claims and asset preservation”.

The Enron officials who managed to hold on to their jobs included chief financial officer S. Mohan Gurunath, senior vice-presidents Mukesh Tyagi and Sanjeev Khandekar, legal officer Paul Krasky and corporate communications director Jimmy Mogal.

Employees were dropped from the payroll barely two days after Enron declared DPC a separate entity, which, it had said, had nothing to do with its bankrupt parent in the US.

Enron refused to acknowledge that the sacking was a fallout of the parent company’s bankruptcy. Instead, it blamed the decision on the continuing defaults running into crores by the Maharashtra State Electricity Board and non-disbursement by lenders.

“This had led to a severe funds crunch in the company, which in turn had made it impossible for the company to keep its employees on,” the Enron spokesman said.

The Houston-based company claimed it has offered a “substantive” exit package to all the laid-off employees in India. The claim, however, could not be verified independently.

Enron Corporation filed for bankruptcy in US courts last Sunday, a move followed by the layoff of its 5,600 employees in Europe and the US.

The construction in Dabhol came to a halt in June after the company’s stand-off with the state government over the high price of its electricity. Soon after, Enron fired the employees of the now-defunct Metropolitan Gas Company and Enron Broadband, along with some 15,000 contract workers.

   

 
 
KARZAI CUISINE CONNECTION TO US 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Dec. 6: 
The only certainty about the new power sharing agreement hammered out among the four Afghan factions in Bonn yesterday is that it will restore custom and respectability to Afghan cuisine in the US.

The family of Hamid Karzai, who will take over the reins of the interim Afghan government on December 22, owns a network of Afghan restaurants in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Baltimore. For those Indians like this correspondent, who saw their favourite Afghan restaurants here close down because of an American reluctance to patronise them after September 11, the elevation of Karzai with US backing is, therefore, welcome.

In this country, where marketing is the essence of succesful business, the Karzai family of entrepreneurs is certain to spread the word that Afghan cuisine, especially in the Karzai food chain, is not to be equated any longer with the distasteful menu which the Taliban has served the world.

But there is more to Karzai’s surprising choice than food. Sources familiar with the UN-brokered peace process in Bonn say the US and Pakistan worked secretly together to elevate Karzai to the top of the interim administration in Kabul.

He is the best bet they had. Karzai’s connections with the CIA go back to the time he met the agency’s director William Casey in Pakistan to fashion the Afghan resistance to Soviet forces in Kabul. The US ambassador to Pakistan during those eventful years, Robert Oakley, who functioned like a Viceroy in Islamabad when the Soviets were in Kabul, is known to have been one of Karzai’s mentors.

Akhtar Abdul Rahman Khan, director of Pakistan’s ISI during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, was also one of Karzai’s early patrons. Khan spotted the young Pushtoon, then in his twenties, and groomed him into a leadership position within the anti-Soviet resistance.

Karzai’s brothers and several of his family members are permanent residents of the US.

Now that he has been elevated to leadership in Kabul, it is unlikely that anyone will know for sure if Karzai is himself a green card holder. What is known, however, is that the Karzai family owns houses in Quetta, Islamabad and Peshawar in Pakistan.

Clues to the new leader’s mindset can probably found in the fact he has spent more years in Pakistan than in Kandahar, where he comes from.

Karzai is fluent in both Urdu and English, the languages of two powers seeking to influence post-Talibaan politics in Afghanistan. Intelligence sources who have been tracking Karzai say he is not obsessed with the Muslim custom of offering prayers five times a day. Nor does he fast year after year during Ramazan.

For many Americans in the decision-making process here, whose view of Afghanistan is simplistic, this made Karzai a better choice than others who were seen as more dogmatic.

Islamabad, which would have undermined anyone else in the top job in Kabul, is happy with the choice of the new leader.

If Pakistan too had joined Dostum and Gailani in rejecting the Bonn accord, it would have been a non-starter.

The friendship between Karzai and the ISI was, however, strained two years ago when the Taliban’s assassins killed Karzai’s father, a leader in his own right, outside the family’s home in Quetta.

In the complex world of Afghanistan’s blood feud, Karzai is said to harbour the belief that the ISI, to say the least, did nothing to stop the Taliban from killing his father.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf has done everything possible since September 11 to allay such fears within the Karzai clan and has thrown his full weight behind the Pashtoon leader whose support has been crucial in the US-led military campaign against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

   

 
 
FORESTER FIRST IN FIGHT FOR TIGERS 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 6: 
What Qasim Wani, a retired forester from Kashmir in a baggy salwar suit and fez cap, did yesterday, conservationists are thinking about today.

In his 40-year tenure as a forester in strife-torn Kashmir, Wani, in his eighties, fought almost single-handedly to save the endangered deer species Hangul. Wani succeeded. The number of Hanguls had almost doubled during his tenure at the Dachigam National Park. Last evening, Wani bagged the Sanctuary-ABN Amro Wildlife Award given in recognition of his work.

Wildlife conservationists are now calling for precisely what he did all his life: help save wildlife through the efforts of foresters. Leaving foresters out of the conservation effort is one of the main reasons it has not taken off in the country in a big way, wildlife experts said, pointing to the “failure” of Project Tiger.

“The success in saving tigers depends on the forest staff. This has been my assessment since 1992,” said tiger expert and noted wildlife writer and documentary maker, Valmik Thapar.

Thapar, who helps run Tiger Link, a network of conservationist trying to save the big cats, said non-governmental organisations working on wildlife conservation needed to redraw their strategy. “We need to focus our attention on the forest staff. They can only save the species including tiger,” Thapar said.

Environmentalist Bittu Sehgal, who is the editor of the sanctuary magazine, agreed. “No matter what we say or do, it is the forest staff who matter at the end of the day. Unless you get them to take up your cause, you cannot save wildlife.”

Thapar called for a national wildlife service split out of the Indian Forest Service (IFS). “You need a cadre of people dedicated to wildlife. There are IFS officers keen to save wildlife, but never get a chance to do so,” he said.

Wildlife expert Ranjit Singh, however, said splitting the IFS was not possible. “For one,the IFS lobby will never let it happen.”

Singh, who was once forest secretary of Madhya Pradesh, said, there was scope for specialisation within the IFS. He said the government should ensure a fixed tenure of forest officials and stop dumping “unwanted” staff on the wildlife divisions.

Thapar echoed: “To save a park and its species, you need good officers around. How can you expect forest officers to deliver when they get transferred at the drop of hat.” He urged NGOs to lobby against the transfers of good officers for refusing to toe the political line.

Sehgal said NGOs should build up a lobby to fight for the forest and its species.

“It’s necessary to lobby the government against anti-environment policies. We need to protect the foresters against rampant transfers and harassment if we want them to do a good job.”

Retired forester Wani was overwhelmed last evening by the award he had never expected to receive.

He realised his work was recognised and so were his colleagues, who staked their lives on the forest and its inhabitants.

   

 
 
BRITISH ARTISTS ON ROAD TO CALCUTTA 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Dec. 6: 
In what is seen as a unique cultural experiment, some of Britain’s most distinguished artists will be coming to India shortly to hold exhibitions, seminars and hopefully have an “abrasive” encounter with fellow Indian practitioners and students of arts.

The British team is being led by Gerard Hemsworth, 56, the prize-winning professor of fine arts at Goldsmith’s College, London, where there are 50 applications from all over the world for every one of its 85 £ 9,500-a-year post-graduate places.

There will be an exhibition in Calcutta from January 15-February 9 at the Centre for International Modern Arts (CIMA), which is partly sponsoring the experiment along with the British Council. The exhibition will travel to Delhi (Habitat Centre) in March and to Mumbai (Prince of Wales Museum) in April.

The exhibition title is “Sidewinder”, which, according to the catalogue, is a term used by boxers and denotes “an unexpected blow from the side, a blow that is outside the expected rules of engagement, a shock that needs to be accounted for”.

Hemsworth said he went to India a year ago and helped select the Indian artists “appropriate to this project” who will join their British colleagues for over a month of stimulating exchanges. The Indians include some well-known names: Jogen Chowdhury, based at Santiniketan, Atul Dodiya, Subodh Gupta, Suhasini Kejriwal, Bharti Kher, Kabir Mohanty and Ravinder Reddy.

Hemsworth said: “The project is one of discovery; not separating the two groups but bringing them together, regardless of their origin, so as to make sense of each other’s ideas. How can we incite a dialogue?”

The British team will arrive in Delhi, where it will hold a seminar on December 17-18. It will move on to Orissa where it will be joined by the Indian artists.

The artists expect to celebrate New Year in Calcutta after arriving in the city on December 29. There will be also be seminars in Calcutta, as well as exchanges at “open sessions” with art students in schools and colleges.

Hemsworth hopes these will be “abrasive” and that the Indians will not sit back and gawp at their British visitors. “I hope they will make a contribution,” said Hemsworth. “What this is not about is visiting artists going there to show off.”

At the same time, in keeping with the spirit of the new multi-cultural, multi-ethnic Britain of today, he wanted to celebrate cultural differences. “You don’t want everything to end up like an airport lounge. You don’t know what country it is till you read the sign. When people go to other countries what they pick up is exotica. We want to get beyond that.”

It may be that contact with westerners will help Indians to understand why their art has yet to make the impact in the West that everyone desires. “The answer is hard and complex,” said Hemsworth. “There has been a tradition of Indian art existing for hundreds of years. There has been a confusion between art and craft. There was a whole period when India was looking to the West — it was Eurocentric. Post-Indpendence, it was asserting its own identity. Now, there is a whole generation of Indian artists who don’t feel obliged to fight the battles fought 40 years ago. It is hard to make a comparison with Britain. Perhaps India is not quite as cosmopolitan.”

Hemsworth got the top prize worth £ 25,000. at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, the biggest exhibition of its kind in the world.

   

 
 
TERROR LAW TO SUIT ALLIES 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 6: 
The Vajpayee government today decided to water down three clauses in the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance to make it more acceptable -- to both friends and foes – and ensure its safe passage in Parliament.

But the changes won’t alter the overall emphasis to arm the security forces with extraordinary powers to tackle the growing threat of terrorism.

The Cabinet which met at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 7 Race Course Road residence this evening, decided to reduce the validity of the proposed legislation from five to three years. Home Minister L.K. Advani, who had faced a barrage of criticism ever since the decree was planned, was also present at the meeting.

The Cabinet also agreed to whittle down the clause on press freedom. In its present form, it would be possible to put journalists behind bars for withholding information on terrorists. This is proposed to be scrapped.

The third change planned is to empower the judiciary, not the executive, on attachment of property of suspected terrorists.

By accommodating certain “legitimate concerns” while at the same time refusing to dilute the overall impact of the anti-terror decree, the government has placed the ball in the Opposition’s court.

But none of the mainstream political parties reacted to the suggested changes.

Advani is likely to move the proposed legislation in both Houses of Parliament on December 13. The planned changes indicate that Vajpayee’s main concern was to address the concerns of the NDA partners who had been opposed to some provisions of the anti-terror law.

It was Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu – leader of BJP’s ally Telugu Desam – who had suggested that the validity of the Ordinance be reduced to three years.

Naidu had also said that media should not be alienated if the government were to win its fight against terrorism.

By extending the reach of the proposed legislation to journalists, there was every danger that the Fourth Estate could have become one of the most vocal critics of the government’s move. Exempting journalists from the purview of the proposed Act is basically aimed at gaining their confidence.

The suggestion for the third amendment, empowering the judiciary and not the executive, apparently came from National Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar.

The government had suggested a judicial mechanism to decide on the issue of forfeiture of properties of suspected terrorists.

The amended version of the proposed legislation was likely to be circulated to the MPs by Sunday so that the law could be introduced in the Lok Sabha early next week.

The government has, however, made it clear that other provisions relating to bail and the one-year period for which an accused can be kept in custody, are not likely to be changed.

   

 
 
TOBACCO BILL UNDER CLOUD 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 6: 
A legislation regulating the sale and distribution of tobacco products is under threat of being spiked under pressure from the tobacco lobby.

“There is strong apprehension that the Bill might get scuttled one more time, with the tobacco lobby mounting pressure on the government,” an official said.

This is the second time the Centre is trying to bring a legislation to regulate the sale and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products such as beedi, gutka and paan masala.

The tobacco lobby had scuttled the previous attempt.

The just-published report of a Parliamentary Standing Committee, headed by former home minister S.B. Chavan, has widened the scope of the Bill to include all tobacco products, not just cigarettes. The panel felt that restricting the legislation to cigarettes would amount to discrimination between smokers and users of other tobacco products.

Tabled in the Rajya Sabha, the Bill was sent to the standing committee for further examination. The 45-member committee took almost a year to come to a decision, summoning witnesses from all walks of life.

Seventy per cent of the witnesses represented the tobacco lobby that opposed the Bill. Most of them spoke against the committee’s recommendation banning the sale of tobacco products near educational institutions. However, the committee has retained the recommendation in its final report.

Non-governmental organisations that have been trying to push the legislation through see a glimmer of hope in the recent Supreme Court judgment banning smoking in public places.

Trade unions have opposed the Bill as it would deprive millions of their livelihood. “But the health concerns are too enormous to ignore the issue,” stressed a WHO representative.

Eight lakh people die from tobacco-related diseases every year. A whopping Rs 13,500 crore is spent every year on medical treatment. Smoking accounts for the highest number of deaths in the 35-64 age group, 30 per cent men and 20 per cent women.

The anti-tobacco Bill had suggested harsher warnings on cigarette packets. The standing committee advised that besides the written warning, there should be some pictoral symbols such as the skull and crossbones that will communicate to the unlettered the hazards of smoking and using tobacco.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 29.8°C (+2)
Minimum: 15.3°C (0)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 92%
Min: 40%

Sunrise: 6.08 am

Sunset: 4.48 pm

Today:

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be 15°C
   
 

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