Govt apathy forces out infotech engine chief
Fund’s evidence exposes RBI probe ‘mistake’
State misses Haldia bus with IOC rejection
Buddha, Sushma to share dais
Polyclinics at hospitals to herald year
Sikdar backs Buddha against Mamata
Dacoits turn policemen
CM for Tagore copyright axe
Zhu to plug decade-old gap
Probe into cop’s ‘self-defence’

 
 
GOVT APATHY FORCES OUT INFOTECH ENGINE CHIEF 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
The engine of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s infotech revolution is set to witness an unexpected change of guard with the chairman of the West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation deciding to opt out.

Dr Subroto Ganguly described his resignation as a “personal decision”. But sources suggested that the government’s failure to implement his recommendations to hive off loss-making units could have played a part in forcing his hand.

Alok Mukherjee, former managing director of Fluct India, will replace Ganguly. Mukherjee will take over after the corporation’s board meets in the second week of January. Deepak Chakroborty, joint secretary in the ministry of industry and commerce, confirmed the nomination of Mukherjee.

Ganguly, who declined to elaborate on the reasons behind his departure after a four-year stint, hinted that he was also concerned about the corporation’s inadequate pace.

“My resignation is a personal decision, and I took it on the basis of circumstances prevailing in the company,” Ganguly said.

But he added that the model followed by the corporation was “not sustainable” and “restructuring” was important for its survival.

“Speed is the essence of today’s world and if there isn’t enough speed, there is no point in sticking to an organisation as a figure head,” he said

Ganguly said the corporation was successful in initiating “quality” projects like the West Bengal State Wide Area Network and GIS mapping of municipalities. “The achievements would have been higher had there been enough pace,” he added.

The government tried to portray the change of chairman as “routine” but a section of officials felt otherwise.

“The biggest problem with the corporation is its huge pool of people. Taking all the nine subsidiaries, there are over 1,000 employees but around 60 per cent of the work force is unproductive. It requires budgetary support from government to foot its wage bill,” said a senior government official.

According to him, Ganguly decided to step down as the government ignored his proposals to restructure and hive off the unproductive and loss-making units.

Only three units under the corporation – Webel, Webel Informatics and Webel Mediatronics -- are making profits. Other units like Webel Video, Webel Power, Webel Toolsind and Webel Capacitors have high cumulative losses.

“Right-sizing the work force was Ganguly’s proposal, which was shot down by the government due to political considerations,” the official added.

While the government did not commit itself to the suggestions forwarded by Ganguly, he became unpopular with a union controlled by the Citu. “Yes, I may have taken some unpopular decisions. But I was not there to take populist steps.”

A senior Webel official said the government was under pressure from its constituents to replace him.

“The government had promised to give us 100 acres in Nonadanga and 10 acres in Rajarhat. But that didn’t happen and the corporation failed to provide land to investors, though applications started to pile up,” he said.

Webel insiders said the flow of funds from the government to the corporation had also started to dry up, demoralising key managers.

   

 
 
FUND’S EVIDENCE EXPOSES RBI PROBE ‘MISTAKE’ 
 
 
BY ANIEK PAUL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
The Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) claim that “unincorporated” (unregistered) finance companies did not come under its jurisdiction fell flat as lawyers of Indian Securities today produced evidence of an RBI investigation into the chit fund firm’s “books and accounts”.

The central bank had conducted a similar inspection of the “books and accounts” of Citi Securities – the leading chit fund firm which went bust last month – as early as in August 2000.

However, RBI officials said the “intelligence gathering exercise” was conducted by mistake. “We were not authorised to do it as we did not wield authority on unincorporated bodies (like Citi Securities).”

But it appears that RBI repeated the “mistake” in April this year. The lawyers of Indian Securities – a firm that has been hauled up for complicity with Citi Securities – today produced before the Bankshall Court an RBI memorandum authorising one G.C. Biswal to conduct an inspection of the “books and accounts” of the firm.

The same officer had earlier checked the “books and accounts” of Citi Securities.

The lawyers for Ajay Kumar Gupta – the proprietor of Indian Securities – argued that “no complaint was filed with police after the RBI investigation, which by default meant that things were found to be in order by the banking regulator”. They also said that the firm had not defaulted on payments to its investors and, hence, the police action was unwarranted.

Gupta was arrested on December 4 for “misappropriating public money” after the police swooped down on a string of chit fund firms in the wake of the Citi Securities scam.

The police confirmed that RBI had not filed any complaint against Indian Securities and that they had arrested its proprietor because the firm was found to have a nexus with Citi Securities.

Firms that were probed by RBI used the memorandum obtained at the time of the investigation to “induce investors”, the police added. “The fact that these firms were probed by RBI and that no action was initiated after the investigation, helped them build credibility. They would use the RBI memorandum to prove to investors that they complied with its guidelines,” they said.

The police have now obtained from RBI parts of the investigation report, but the contents are unsubstantial.

When contacted in Mumbai, the official RBI spokesperson said: “We did not have authority on firms that were not registered with us, but we could still send decoys to find out what was happening. This would be part of our standard surveillance operations, but the exercise was not directed at any specific firm.”

When told that specific investigations had indeed taken place in certain firms, she admitted that there was a communication gap between RBI’s Calcutta and Mumbai offices.

   

 
 
STATE MISSES HALDIA BUS WITH IOC REJECTION 
 
 
BY SUTANUKA GHOSAL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
Indian Oil Corporation has rejected observations by chartered accountants L.B. Jha & Co on its revised proposal for participating in Haldia Petrochemicals Limited even as the government misses the December 31 deadline for sorting out the imbroglio.

“West Bengal government had appointed L.B. Jha to look into the finer details of our proposal. L.B. Jha has sought some clarifications. The clarifications are not specific in nature. They are more generic. Moreover, their observations do not add value to our proposal,” top-level officials of IOC said.

Following this, IOC got in touch with the state government. “We have written to commerce and industry secretary Jawhar Sircar to convene a meeting where the three promoters, financial institutions, banks and the top brass of IOC will sit together to clear all the doubts regarding our proposal. We have also extended our offer, which expired today, by another one month,” the IOC officials added.

“It is expected that the meeting will take place within the first fortnight of January,” they said.

In the revised proposal, IOC has demanded a majority stake with an investment of Rs 468 crore.

An announcement is expected when Ram Naik, the Union oil and petroleum minister, visits Haldia to inaugurate the secondary cracking unit of IOC’s Haldia refinery on January 16. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will be present at the inauguration.

“Earlier, we had one-on-one discussions with the promoters. Now we feel that the everybody should be involved in the discussion so that we can come to a conclusion,” IOC officials said.

“We are trying to put an end to the HPL issue. But the matter is extremely complicated and it will take time. We expect that things will become more clearer in the next couple of weeks,” state government officials said.

Corporate watchers feel all the three promoters — West Bengal government, The Chatterjee Group and the Tatas — should sit together to bring the debt and equity restructuring of the company to a close. The company has debts running up to Rs 4,000 crore.

“It is regretful that the promoters failed to solve the problem even this year. The interest burden of the company is eating into the profits even though HPL has gained an encouraging market share with its high quality products. We expect that 2002 will bring some good news for us,” HPL officials said. In the eastern region, HPL enjoys a 65 per cent market share.

When contacted, The Chatterjee group officials said: “We are hopeful that the debt restructuring proposal will get a final shape by January 15.” Purnendu Chatterjee, chief of TCG, was in the city last week to meet HPL officials.

   

 
 
BUDDHA, SUSHMA TO SHARE DAIS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
Sushma Swaraj will share the dais with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee when she inaugurates India’s first international students’ film festival on January 9.

Officials mounting Clapstick 2002, a show organised by the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), said the Union information and broadcasting minister has agreed to inaugurate the festival, while the Bengal chief minister has given a tentative assurance that he will be present.

On till January 13, Clapstick -- billed as South Asia’s first international students’ film festival -- will screen films by students graduating from institutes across the world. The festival is a “non-competitive and non-commercial” venture.

The main section of the festival will screen about 50 graduation films -- or first cinematic work of a student while graduating from a film school -- from various countries.

Graduation films completed on or after January 1, 1999 will be featured in the main section under three sub-sections -- fiction, documentary and animation and experimental.

“These films have been made by all would-be Spielbergs,” a senior SRFTI official said. “Even though they are graduation films, some of them are real good. We are bringing in many award-winning films and even the work of a student who later became an Oscar winner.”

The University of South California is sending nine films, sources said. Another 10 are coming from the University of Colorado. Besides, there is also a package from Germany.

The official said those interested in watching the films will not have to buy tickets. “Those who are interested only need to get in touch with the SRFTI and become delegates,” he said.

Most of the films will be screened at the SRFTI’s main theatre, which can seat around 400. “We will also screen many short films of 15 to 20 minutes duration,” the official added.

Apart from the main section, the festival will have another called “Focus”, which would highlight a selected package from the National Film and Television Institute, London.

There will also be a panel discussion in which people involved with film education like Reinhard Hauff from Germany, Jose Michel Buhler from Switzerland and Israel’s Dubby Rubenstein would participate.

   

 
 
POLYCLINICS AT HOSPITALS TO HERALD YEAR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
Polyclinics will start functioning at government hospitals beginning this new year as a new chapter in the health reforms promised by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government.

These clinics will offer various services such as diagnostics, including pathological and radiological tests which till now were unavailable in the hospitals. Charges at these polyclinics would be cheaper than in the private sector, health department officials said.

The polyclinics are expected to hasten diagnostic procedures required by patients, especially those attending the outdoor departments of hospitals.

The government will also begin grading all its hospitals, starting from primary and block health centres to tertiary-level medical colleges. The grading will be done by the Health Management Improvement System, a wing of the Health Systems Development Project funded by the World Bank.

“The computer-aided ranking will be done on a scientific basis,” said health minister Suryakanta Misra. Several criteria would be considered, including emergency admission rates, the number of small/big operations, infant mortality, hospital hygiene and waste disposal systems, he added.

All government hospitals will receive rankings based on these parameters. The rankings will reveal at a glance whether a particular hospital has improved or continues to provide sub-standard services, an HSDP official said.

   

 
 
SIKDAR BACKS BUDDHA AGAINST MAMATA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, Dec. 31: 
BJP leader Tapan Sikdar today supported chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s ban on rail and road blockades even as ally Mamata Banerjee vowed to resist the move at any cost.

“The state government has acted rightly by banning rail and road blockades because such things put thousands of people to hardship. There are many other avenues to launch a democratic movement,” the Union minister of state for communications said at a news conference in Malda this morning.

Going a step further, the BJP leader blasted Mamata for her “illogical” stand. “I strongly differ with those who have mounted a protest against government’s decision on the plea that it infringes upon democratic rights,” he said, without naming the Trinamul Congress chief.

On her return to Calcutta from Delhi this morning, Mamata iterated her opposition to the ban. “I stick to my decision to oppose the state government’s undemocratic move to ban processions and blockades,” she said.

Sikdar, who was here on a day’s visit, said it was unbecoming of the Opposition party to criticise the government all the time on one plea or the other. “We should hail a government decision if it serves people’s interests,” he added.

Asked about Mamata’s political line, Sikdar flared up and alleged that she had indirectly helped the communists’ return to power in Bengal by teaming up with the Congress.

“If she (Mamata) had not left the National Democratic Alliance and had agreed to contest the Assembly elections jointly with the BJP, the picture would have been different today,” he said.

Reacting to Mamata’s re-entry into the NDA, Sikdar said the BJP was ready to cooperate with her if she remained consistent. “Mamata has to sit with BJP leaders on a regular basis and discuss a common strategy on how to work together to fight the ruling CPM. She will have to change her mindset vis-à-vis the BJP,” he said. “If she does not do so, then we are left no option but to go alone in Bengal.”

The Union minister applauded suspended Trinamul Congress MP Ajit Panja for his consistent stand on supporting the NDA. “I must appreciate Panja for calling a spade a spade. I feel that he (Panja) has rightly assessed that Mamata had indirectly helped the CPM. Panja may not be important to the Trinamul. But as far as our party is concerned, he has been playing a significant role,” he observed.

   

 
 
DACOITS TURN POLICEMEN 
 
 
FROM ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
 
Farakka, Dec. 31: 
Abdul Khabir was a dreaded criminal till a few months ago. Khabir, wanted by the police for several bus dacoities on NH 34, is now a member of the area protection committee and wields a stick and a torch to shield bus passengers from dacoits.

Wasen Seikh and Gabbar Seikh of Gharaipara village gave nightmares to residents of the area. Traders, transporters, and householders feared them because their armed gang carried out dacoities on buses and trains. Now the Seikhs guard stranded goods vehicles.

Khabir and the Seikhs are among the 60 wanted criminals from 10 Farakka villages who have returned to the mainstream. “All the 60 criminals were known to the police. We arrested them several times and sent them to jail. But after being released from jail, they used to go back to their old ways,” said Murshidabad superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar.

“We then changed our strategy. Instead of sending them to jail, we tried to convince the criminals to give up crime. We assured them of protection and employment if they came back to the mainstream.”

The police officer said some of those who chose to reform have been engaged in development activities. Some have been employed as night guards. An area protection committee of 15 members has also been formed.

“Those who were once dacoits are now guards. Since this was started, there has been no dacoity either in long-distance buses or goods vehicles,” said Farakka police station officer in-charge Prabhakar Bhattacharjee.

He said the committee raised funds to pay the night watchmen by collecting money from residents of the area, traders and transporters.

“What was once a terror zone is now the safest area. We have not received any complaint of truck dacoity in the last two months,” said Swadhin Ghosh, secretary of the Farakka Truck Owners Association.

   

 
 
CM FOR TAGORE COPYRIGHT AXE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee favours withdrawal of the copyright on the works of Rabindranath Tagore which expires at midnight tonight.

“No one could pull down Shakespeare and Tolstoy and I firmly believe that the same will be true for our Kabiguru,” Bhattacharjee said. He said he had spoken to several scholars and they all agreed with him.

A funds crunch before the elections had prevented the state-run Saraswati Press from publishing the 16th volume of Tagore’s collected works, he said. “We will soon publish the 16th and final volume.”

   

 
 
ZHU TO PLUG DECADE-OLD GAP 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 31: 
Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji will arrive in New Delhi on a five-day official visit to India on January 13. Zhu’s visit is the first by any Chinese Prime Minster in more than a decade.

The last time a Chinese Premier came to New Delhi was Li Peng in 1991. From the Indian side too, a Prime Ministerial visit to Beijing has not taken place since P.V. Narasimha Rao’s tour in 1993. An entourage of 50 journalists will accompany Zhu to India, indicating the importance the Chinese have attached to this visit.

The Chinese Prime Minister is scheduled to arrive here from Dhaka on the afternoon of January 13. He will leave for Agra to see the Taj Mahal the same day. His main official engagements, which include a delegation level talk with his Indian counterpart and host, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, will take place on January 14.

Zhu is also likely to interact with other key members of the Vajpayee government during his stay in New Delhi. He will leave on January 15 for Mumbai where he will have detailed interactions with the captains of Indian business and industry.

On the afternoon of January 16, Zhu will leave for Bangalore to try and explore how the two countries could work closely with each other in the area of information technology. China is a leader in computer hardware, while India’s strength lies in software development.

During Zhu’s visit, India and China are likely to sign a number of agreements, including one on business and investment protection. The Chinese Prime Minister will stress mainly on enhancing economic cooperation between the two Asian giants during his stay in India. However, given the timing of his visit, Zhu would also have to stress on the prevailing tension in South Asia and clarify China’s stand on terrorism.

A close ally of Pakistan, China is on way to mending relations with India and has joined the international chorus in asking the estranged neighbours to show restraint. Zhu, known better as a technocrat than a politician, will take this opportunity to ascertain the mood of the Indian leadership and try and convince New Delhi to settle its outstanding disputes with Islamabad at the negotiating table, rather than on the battlefield.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf recently visited China to enlist Beijing’s support in its current brinkmanship with India. Though China asked both sides to show restraint, Beijing had almost echoed the Pakistani line, describing Kashmir as the core issue between Islamabad and New Delhi during Musharraf’s stay in China.

Not amused by the statement, India took up the matter with the Chinese leadership. Eventually, Beijing assured the Indian leadership that there had been no shift In China’s stand on Kashmir: that India and Pakistan should sort out the dispute through peaceful negotiations.

China has opposed terrorism since, over the past decade, Beijing has had to tackle this menace in its fight against the Islamist Uighurs in the Sinkiang province bordering on Afghanistan. During his talks with the Indian leadership, Zhu will have to clarify how Beijing regards the issue of cross-border terrorism. Zhu would also be asked whether, as a close ally of Pakistan, Beijing has advised the military rulers of Pakistan to desist from using terrorism as a tool against India.

   

 
 
PROBE INTO COP’S ‘SELF-DEFENCE’ 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, Dec. 31: 
Karnataka home minister M. Kharge has ordered an inquiry into the allegation that a senior state police official had shot an intruder but made it look like an act of self-defence by his sentry guard.

Kharge had little choice but to ask his home secretary M.B. Prakash to look into the charge after C. Dinakar, the former director-general of police, sought an inquiry into the incident.

In a letter to Kharge, Dinakar sought a CBI probe into what he called was the murder of a slum-dweller, Murugan. He charged that S. Krishnamurthy, the director-general of police, had killed Murugan. He added that Krishnamurthy had allegedly tried to cover up the death, saying it was an act of self-defence by his constable Purshotham Rao.

Dinakar’s charge raised eyebrows as the gun used was a pistol normally given to police officials and not security constables. “It is a mere cover-up story for the cold-blooded murder committed without any justifiable reason whatsoever,” said Dinakar, known to be a stickler to the rulebook.

As director-general of police, Dinakar has been embroiled in controversies. During the hostage crisis involving Tamil film icon Rajkumar by sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, Dinakar had opposed the state government’s decision to release associates of the brigand in return for the safe passage of the actor. The former DGP also had stirred a row by threatening to reveal all in his forthcoming book on the hostage drama that rocked Karnataka last year.

After quitting service, Dinakar has donned the advocate’s garb to fight public interest cases. He has taken up Murugan’s case, saying Krishnamurthy had opened fire without any provocation and he needed to be brought to justice.

The police, however, maintain that Murugan was part of a three-member gang that tried to break into Krishnamurthy’s home and was killed when the security guard opened fire. “He was not trained in firing pistol,” said Dinakar, questioning the police version that Purushotham had been given a pistol for security duty. Dinakar added that he was working as an orderely at Krishnamurthy’s residence and was not a security guard. Krishnamurthy has denied the charge and said he was asleep when the shooting took place.

Police started profiling slum-dwellers on the orders of police commissioner H.T. Sangliana after the attack on Krishnamurthy. The profiling, however, could not be implemented following an outcry by NGOs and Opposition parties.

   
 

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