Delhi reads lips, watches hands
Cabinet loads war-tax cannon
US emissary turns visitor
Canterbury tales against Pak born
Bengal power rate row heads for court
BJP plays midwife for Uttaranchal polls
Beggars demand value for money
Mission West for Mizoram missionary
It’s a war out there for star bodyguards
Calcutta Weather

 
 
DELHI READS LIPS, WATCHES HANDS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA AND IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
New Delhi/Islamabad Jan. 8: 

Truce hinges on Pervez address and action

Eyes and ears locked to the Pakistan airwaves, the Indian leadership is keenly awaiting Pervez Musharraf’s address to the nation to see whether he makes a public and categorical assurance that his regime would not support terrorists.

Musharraf is expected to go on air in a day or two but the signals emitting from Pakistan today kept alive chances of a breakthrough.

A US Senate delegation that met Musharraf in Islamabad went to the extent of predicting that the measures he is expected to announce shortly would change the “history of Pak-India relations”.

“The steps Musharraf is going to announce, we feel, will change the history of Pak-India relations. This would help reducing tensions between the two countries,” Republican Senator John McCain, the leader of the delegation, told reporters after holding talks with the Pakistan delegation.

“After meeting with President Musharraf, we are convinced that he is committed to eliminate terrorism and establish a tolerant and moderate society in Pakistan,” McCain added.

Democrat and former vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, who is also part of the delegation, said Musharraf’s “bold and principled” speech would “open a new chapter”.

But he added: “I hope that the leadership of India...will listen carefully to President Musharraf’s words in the next few days and I hope they will find something there to lead them to want to at least sit down and begin negotiations.”

Delhi, too, is hoping so. But before rolling back the build-up of troops along the border and the Line of Control, Delhi would see if the Pakistani military ruler’s words are matched by action.

If it is convinced of Musharraf’s seriousness of purpose — and its intelligence agencies bear this out — India is willing to pull back forces.

If the general is able to take the first step towards meeting India’s demand of handing over the 20 offenders it has listed, the process of de-escalation will be given a further push when US secretary of state Colin Powell comes to the region in a week.

Powell, who is due to attend a donors’ meeting in Japan for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, is likely to make a whistle-stop visit to Delhi and Islamabad. Powell could nudge Musharraf into moving faster against the terrorists.

Diplomatic pressure has already mounted on Pakistan overnight. President George W. Bush added his voice to British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s blunt message to Musharraf for more action. China, too, sent Musharraf a disturbing signal, saying its support did not amount to a commitment to back its old ally in case of war.

The significance of what Musharraf said yesterday was not lost on Delhi. “Pakistan rejects terrorism in all its forms,” he had said. This could be the beginning, but is definitely not enough.

Indian officials argued that even a few minutes before the Pakistan President walked up to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Saarc summit in Kathmandu and shook his hand, he made a distinction between terrorists and “freedom fighters”.

Officially, India kept the pressure up. Referring to Musharraf’s statement that he was analysing the cases of 20 people whose extradition is being sought by Delhi, foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said India is yet to see satisfactory and substantive action against terrorists.

South Block feels that Musharraf has not yet launched a decisive crackdown. Rather, he is trying to engage in clever diplomatic manoeuvring to impress world leaders as well as assure hardliners in Pakistan that he is not making any compromise on Kashmir.

The tightrope walk continued today. “Pakistan is a responsible and peace-loving nation but in case of any aggression, we will respond with complete national will and resolve,” Musharraf said at a meeting of his army corps commanders in Rawalpindi. The meeting, which discussed preparations on the frontline, coincided with firing from both sides of the border.

   

 
 
CABINET LOADS WAR-TAX CANNON 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 8: 
If the guns boom, get ready for a sharp rise in excise duties on a wide range of commodities.

The Cabinet today cleared an enabling provision that removes a limit on excise hikes in the case of an emergency, which is currently capped at two times the existing level.

The new change allows the government to hike taxes on almost all goods, except essential commodities.

The provision, which has been approved ahead of the budget, can be implemented at any stage through an Ordinance or later through changes in the finance Bill along with the general budget. “Under the proposed amendment, the government can increase it to any extent it wants,” parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan admitted while briefing reporters about the decision.

Many saw this as a decision passed in a hurry to allow the government to slap a “war surcharge” if it decides to strike at terrorist bases in Pakistan or a means to pay for the extra costs being incurred for troop mobilisation and hectic purchase of provisions even if peace holds.

However, the government insisted that defence considerations had nothing to do with the change. Finance ministry officials tried to downplay the importance of the decision with revenue secretary S. Narayan stating “it’s just an enabling provision for us. There is no immediate plan to increase excise duty”. But other ministry officials said an estimated Rs 400 crore has been spent on mobilising troops and armour on the border.

Besides this, there were other immediate costs which were being stepped up such as huge orders for MiG, Jaguar and Mirage aircraft spares, a fresh batch of Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), distant night vision glasses for artillery and infantry units (the armoured corps is already equipped with this), sand tyres for vehicles of all units posted along the Sindh border, and snow equipment for troops brought into northern Kashmir.

Mahajan also tried to sell a red herring by saying the Cabinet decision allowing amendment of Section 3(1)B of the Central Excise Tariff Act could be because the finance ministry might be contemplating a hike in excise duty on a few items. He added that no list of items had been prepared for raising excise duty.

The government is, however, not tinkering with another provision of the excise Act which allows it to raise under the duty on essential items from a zero to 50 per cent ad valorem. “This restriction is not being changed and is being left as it is,” he said.

   

 
 
US EMISSARY TURNS VISITOR 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Jan. 8: 
Swiftly responding to Indian sensitivities, the US state department has gone back on the description of an envoy whom the Bush administration is still considering sending to India and Pakistan.

Richard Boucher, spokesman for the department, was asked at his daily briefing yesterday if any decision had been taken on the proposal to send an “emissary” to South Asia.

He replied: “I dispute the use of the word ‘emissary’ or ‘envoy’. Let’s just call it a visit to the region by a senior US official. (It) is still a matter under consideration. It remains a possibility. We do want to continue to find ways to urge a reduction of tensions and improve cooperation against terrorism. At this point, there are no final decisions.”

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh had bristled at the idea of an American envoy shuttling between New Delhi and Islamabad, effectively mediating in the Indo-Pakistan dispute, much like General Anthony Zinni, the US President’s envoy to West Asia.

Singh said in Kathmandu during the weekend that there were US ambassadors in both capitals and that the question of an envoy came only if their embassies were not up to the job.

The BJP had also rebuffed President George W. Bush’s initiative by asking America to send an envoy to Pakistan, not India.

Simultaneously, Bush made it clear that the way to defusing the military situation on the Indo-Pakistan border was for Musharraf to continue to take steps against terrorists within his borders.

“I don’t believe the situation is defused yet. But I do believe there is a way to do so,” the President told reporters on his return to the White House from New Year holiday.

“I think it’s very important for President Musharraf to make a clear statement to the world that he intends to crack down on terror. And I believe if he does that and continues to do what he’s doing, it will provide the — it will provide relief, pressure relief, on a situation that’s still serious. And we’re working hard to convince both the Indians and the Pakis there’s a way to deal with their problems without going to war.”

Boucher said he did not know what India’s criteria were for judging the sincerity or effectiveness of Musharraf’s actions against terrorists.

“We do believe that President Musharraf, the government of Pakistan, has continued to take steps against militant groups over the weekend. We believe that President Musharraf is committed to dismantling these groups which threaten Pakistan as well as its neighbours.”

Boucher confirmed, based on information reaching the state department, what Pakistan has been asserting and India denying. “The summit in Kathmandu over the weekend did provide an opportunity for Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers to have some discussions,” he said.

   

 
 
CANTERBURY TALES AGAINST PAK BORN 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Jan. 8: 
A campaign has started to prevent Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who was born in Pakistan, from succeeding Dr George Carey, who today confirmed months of speculation that he would retire at the end of October as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Right Reverend Nazir-Ali, who fled Karachi to escape persecution of Christians in Pakistan, was made a favourite by bookmakers, but the behind-the-scenes campaign suggests the Church of England is in for an unholy contest.

One of Nazir-Ali’s enemies has already alleged that the Bishop of Rochester in Kent, the post he currently holds, is not 52 but a few years older.

The senior figure in the Church claimed Nazir-Ali falsified his year of birth to 1949 to enable him to push back his retirement age. However, Nazir-Ali’s friends have said that such baseless stories, planted in newspapers, were part of a plot to stop him from becoming the Archbishop.

Nazir-Ali is seen as a conservative but was young enough to be able to identify all the members of the Spice Girls, the all-girl pop band, in a survey conducted four years ago by the Church of England newspaper.

The office of Archbishop of Canterbury has been in existence for more than 1,400 years. The first to hold the post was St Augustine who was dispatched by Pope Gregory the Great in 596 AD to re-establish the Church of England.

Of the 102 Archbishops of Canterbury who have followed him, the man who holds the most prominent place in history is Thomas Beckett.

Beckett was murdered on the orders of King Henry on December 29, 1170, inside Canterbury Cathedral.

During the 1936 abdication crisis the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Lang, played an important role in axdvising the monarch. Both he and Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin advised Edward that marriage to a divorcee Wallis Simpson, would be inconceivable, leading to his decision to renounce the throne.

The new Archbishop may be called on by the Crown Appointments Commission, made up of archbishops, lay and elected members as well as government appointees. The names, probably two will be passed to Prime Minister Tony Blair who will convey his choice to the Queen for her formal approval.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes made the Bishop of St Albans favourite to succeed Dr Carey at odds of 5-2, closely followed by the Bishop of Liverpool at 3-1.

Other leading contenders include the Archbishop of Wales, the 11-8 favourite to the Bishop of London (5-1).

Bookmaker Victor Chandler made the Archbishop of Wales the 11-8 favourite to succeed Dr Carey, with Nazir-Ali on 9-4.

Paying tribute to the man he would no doubt like to succeed Nazir-Ali said: “The Archbishop of Canterbury has worked to encourage greater confidence in the Church of England. He has taken every opportunity to make its mission open minded in its engagement with contemporary culture. In his worldwide role, his appreciatior of the importance of Islam must be, in the light of recent events, seen as prophetic. The establishment of dialogue with different traditions in Islam is nothing short of pioneering.”

Nazir-Ali, who holds dual British-Pakistani nationality, is no friend of military rulers in Pakistan. He believes the persecution of Christians in Pakistan started with General Zia-ul-Haq’s process of Islamication.

   

 
 
BENGAL POWER RATE ROW HEADS FOR COURT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
After CESC, it is now the turn of the West Bengal State Electricity Board to go to court against the tariff recommendations of the West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission (WBERC).

“Within a week’s time we will be filing our petition at the Calcutta High Court,” said the chairman of the power board, G.D. Gautama. The board had demanded a 97 paise hike per unit of power, but the regulatory commission allowed a hike of only 11 paise per unit.

The CESC had moved court on January 7 challenging the tariff recommendations.

“WBERC has said that it becomes expensive for us to buy power from Damodar Valley Corporation. But the regulatory commission has failed to understand that we do not have requisite infrastructure in certain areas like Burdwan for supplying power. If we stop buying power from DVC now, then these areas will not get power any more. In a phased manner we can do that,” Gautama said.

The state power board buys about 60 MW from the DVC.

Similarly, the observations made by the regulatory panel on the board’s move to buy power from the National Thermal Power Corporation are not acceptable to the board.

“WBERC has commented that the power becomes expensive for us. They have failed to understand that to maintain peak and off-peak level of power supply, we have to source from NTPC. There is an imbalance between the peak and off-peak demand in West Bengal. And that cannot be solved overnight. So we have to buy from NTPC,” Gautama said.

The power board currently buys 550 MW of power from the NTPC.

   

 
 
BJP PLAYS MIDWIFE FOR UTTARANCHAL POLLS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 8: 
The BJP, which is struggling hard to retain its hold in Uttar Pradesh, is hoping to return to power in neighbouring Uttaranchal with the slogan that the party has fulfilled its promise of carving out a separate hill state.

Uttaranchal chief minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari today said the BJP’s decade-long struggle for a separate hill state would be one of the major planks on which the party would contest the forthcoming Assembly elections.

Koshiyari, who was here to meet central party leaders to shortlist candidates, however, said there may be a sense of disillusionment in Uttaranchal with the BJP-led government, but the party would focus on the difficulties that it had to face to realise the demand for a separate state.

“It was the BJP which had successfully led the struggle for the formation of Uttaranchal,” he said.

Addressing a press conference, Koshiyari said his government has set the target of creating 15,000 jobs in the current year and several measures for setting up industries in the state. In the course of the one year since the formation of the state, the government has taken several steps, including the sanction of funds for three power projects. The Tehri dam will be operational by March 2003, he said.

Koshiyari, who took over the chief ministership from Nityanand Swamy in November, said: “We would appeal to the electorate to vote (the) BJP back to office so that we are able to make Uttaranchal the first self-sufficient state of the country.” The state had earned Rs 550 crore as revenue from sales tax, he said.

To a question that his predecessor, Swamy, proposed to contest the forthcoming Assembly elections two months after announcing his retirement from electoral politics, Koshiyari said, “If he wants to contest, what is there? If the party high command wants him to contest, he can do so.”

Sources said the BJP state election committee is likely to finalise the list of candidates for the 70-member Assembly by January 14 and the party’s central parliamentary committee will scrutinise and approve the list the following day.

Despite Koshiyari’s bravado, the picture is not that rosy for the BJP in Uttaranchal. The Congress is banking on the anti-incumbency factor and the government’s lacklustre performance in the last one year. In Uttranchal it will be a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress.

   

 
 
BEGGARS DEMAND VALUE FOR MONEY 
 
 
FROM SUDHIR KUMAR MISHRA
 
Dhanbad, Jan. 8: 
Think again before you say that beggars cannot be choosers.

Pavement dwellers of the city today gheraoed the official residence of the deputy commissioner of Giridih demanding blankets to shield themselves from the biting cold and an assurance from law-keepers that their collections in the begging bowl will be honoured by shopkeepers.

The beggars complained that nowadays mostly 25 paisa coins fall into their bowls, but when they go to buy something with these coins, the shopkeepers turn them away arguing that 25 paisa coins are no longer in circulation.

Since the government has not yet declared the 25 paisa coins “obsolete”, the beggars feel it is the duty of the local administration to ensure smooth transaction.

The protesters also complained that this year the state government has provided blankets to a “select few”. Since chief minister Babulal Marandi belongs to this place, expectations run high among the pavement dwellers of Giridih.

Earlier, the district administration in association with the Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) used to arrange for fires to keep footpath dwellers warm during chilly nights. But this winter, only a few voluntary organisations have cared to do so.

Recently the deputy commissioner had reportedly distributed blankets among the poor and those left out decided to voice their protests. They blocked the entrance to the deputy commissioner’s official residence for nearly two hours. When they were chased away by the security guards, the beggars “camped” at the entrance gate of the collectorate. But here, too, no one was ready to listen to them.

   

 
 
MISSION WEST FOR MIZORAM MISSIONARY 
 
 
FROM SANTANU GHOSH
 
Silchar, Jan. 8: 
“The nearer the church, the farther you are from religion,” goes the old English saying. So, in an unusual reversal of roles, the West is now looking to the East for Christian inspiration.

The Mizoram Presbyterian Synod Mission (MPSM), the largest Christian denomination in the state, has sent its senior pastor, H. Sangkhuma, to Swansea in Wales on a mission to revive the “waning faith” of the Welsh. The pastor’s task can be called “reverse evangelism”, given the fact that it was Welsh missionaries who propagated Christianity in Mizoram over a century ago.

J.H. Lorrain and F.W. Savidge of the Calvinist Methodist Church of Wales visited Mizoram 107 years ago to spread the message of Christ among Mizo tribesmen, who were then head-hunters. In 1900, there were only 19 Christian Mizos in the erstwhile Lushai Hills. Today, 95 per cent of the state’s population is Christian, thanks to the pioneering mission of the two Welsh clergymen.

Mizo Presbyterian missionaries have now returned the favour by launching a mission to “re-evangelise” the Welsh. Sangkhuma has set up residence at Swansea near Cardiff City as the chief representative of the Mizoram Presbyterian Church. Vanlalchhunga, the secretary of the MPSM’s Barak Mission, recently visited Swansea and found Sangkhuma “engrossed” in preaching the Gospel.

He quoted the pastor as saying that the Welsh had become “alarmingly irregular” in attending Church services.

“Some even lease out churches to people of other faiths to convert these into pubs or nightclubs or theatres,” he said.

The MPSM has established “ecumenical relations” with the Union of Welsh Independence Church under the guidelines of the London-based Council for World Mission, the apex Church organisation. It is keen on social work and reviving Christianity among the Welsh.

Presbyterians constitute about 60 per cent of the Mizo Christian population. The MPSM, established in 1934, has a network of churches, hospitals, schools and orphanages. It has 12 missions in India and abroad, employing 897 field workers.

Its moderator is S. Lalrauma, who is assisted by a panel of three executive secretaries.

Vanlalchhunga said the idea of setting up a mission in Wales was sparked by a desire to draw the “cynical Welsh” back to the path chosen by the Church.

The MPSM already has missions in Nepal, Taiwan and the Solomon Islands. Zaidarhzauva, another MPSM envoy, is in Taiwan to propagate the faith.

   

 
 
IT’S A WAR OUT THERE FOR STAR BODYGUARDS 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Jan. 8: 
Armoured vehicles with global positioning systems, ultra-high frequency wireless networks with round-the-clock control rooms, undercover agents and sniffer dogs to protect clients like Bill Clinton, Steven Segal and Shah Rukh Khan.

These all but define the private security agencies in the commercial capital — a Rs 1,500 crore business, booming even when most other businesses are going bust.

In the post-December 13 scenario, demands for private security have grown with growing threats to VIPs. And the agencies expect a sharp rise in revenue.

Gone are the days when securitymen from private agencies were sitting ducks, armed with nothing but batons. The private agents rely today as much on technology as human intelligence to protect their burgeoning list of clients, many of them from the corporate and entertainment worlds.

“Our business is no longer based on the old chowkidar concepts. We have come a long way,” said Vikash Verma, managing director of property guards, which had helped police with the security of Clinton during his last visit to the city.

The agencies now had a “trained and motivated manpower backed with sophisticated communications and security systems”, Verma said.

As crime and its modes became more and more brazen over the past decade, private security service went high-tech. As a result, some of these agencies are “the envy of” the police when it comes to modern technology.

With its ultra-high frequency radio network, Property Guards, which among its clients count Hollywood stars Segal and Richard Gere and Shah Rukh, boasts a 24-hour control room, with base stations across the city.

“Our wireless network is much more superior to the police’s. In fact, we help them out whenever they ask for our service,” Verma said.

Topsgrup, a Rs 65 crore agency, recently launched a fleet of armoured trucks equipped with global positioning system to carry cash. The bullet-resistant vehicles, fitted with closed circuit television cameras, can be stopped by a remote-controlled device in the event of hijacking.

“These armoured vehicles have added a new dimension to the private security business. It is so important these days to transfer huge cash safely from banks to ATM centres, from shopping malls to the bank,” Topsgrup chief Diwan Rahul Nanda said.

Verma said the agencies often put a stress on technology because “you can bribe people, but you cannot bribe machines”.

But at the same time, the agencies are bolstering their “human intelligence” networks, a security concept the private agencies ignored earlier.

Trig Guard Force uses undercover agents routinely for the protection of visiting VVIPs. “Our boys did such a good job during Clinton’s visit to Bombay Stock Exchange that not even a fly escaped our attention,” an official said.

The business has grown steadily over the past decade, with the number of private security personnel nearly touching 2,00,000, five times as many the number of Mumbai police personnel. Analysts said the business is poised for a quantum growth in the years ahead because of new security concerns following the Parliament attack.

“The VIPs and celebrities are turning more and more to private agencies because they have now realised police alone cannot provide them with security,” said an office-bearer of the Security Association of India, a body of some 200 private security agencies.

A police officer said they routinely called the top-notch private agencies for help because they were “better equipped than us and provide us with the manpower we lack”.

The private agencies, however, have one grouse: unlike the police, they are not allowed to use sophisticated weapons. “We hope this will change when everything else is changing in matters of security,” an agency owner said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 26.4°C (-1)
Minimum: 15.9°C (+3)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 91%,
Minimum: 45%

Sunrise: 6.24 am

Sunset: 5.03 pm

Today

Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain in some areas. Minimum temperature likely to be around 15°C
   
 

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