After majority, Purnendu scouts for strategic partner
Biman in do-it-now sermon to Front
Sen blows investment trumpet
Haldia gears up for VIP visit
Free cure with fake certificate
Cong red mat for cured Somen
George sees no US role in Kashmir
BJP split over Pervez address
Samata tri-axis plan
Wary Sangh spoils Govindacharya lunch

 
 
AFTER MAJORITY, PURNENDU SCOUTS FOR STRATEGIC PARTNER 
 
 
BY SUTANUKA GHOSAL
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
The Chatterjee Group, which is going to own 51 per cent in Haldia Petrochemicals and will hold management control, is bringing in a strategic partner.

An agreement was reached on Saturday to hand management control to Purnendu Chatterjee, ending a long spell of uncertainty for Bengal’s showcase project. Chatterjee will now increase his stake to 51 per cent, possibly in stages, and is likely to rope in a partner as well.

The agreement was brokered by Tarun Das, who joined Haldia Petro as chairman three months ago.

Sources in the group said: “Earlier we had some discussions with them (possible partners). Since the management control issue remained unresolved, the talks did not progress further. Now that this is settled, we will once again initiate talks. We are keen to bring in someone as a strategic partner who will not only come with equity but infuse new technology into the project.”

Commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen said all future negotiations for bringing in a strategic partner would be carried out by Purnendu Chatterjee, and not by the state government. “If HPL needs any strategic partner, the Chatterjee Group will be taking a decision by virtue of having control of the company,” Sen said.

Chatterjee, who holds 43 per cent stake in the company, will have to acquire another eight per cent to become the majority stakeholder. “We will acquire the additional stake at a price fixed by the West Bengal government,” a group source said.

There is speculation over whether Richard B. Saldanha will continue as the managing director. A section of the employees strongly feels that since he has resigned from the company, he should not continue. “He has already expressed his unwillingness to continue,” they said.

But with the situation changing dramatically — Chatterjee getting management control — it’s too early to say if Saldanha will stay or go.

Nirupam Sen today formally announced the decision to hand over 51 per cent stake in the Rs 5,170-crore project to Chatterjee.

With this, the Tata group, which holds 14 per cent, will step out of the company. Sen said: “Ratan Tata has expressed his willingness to exit from the company. The government will now buy the Tata stake. It has not yet been decided at what price we will buy those shares. Negotiation is on with the Tatas.”

The move virtually ends the possibility of Indian Oil joining the company as an equity partner, for which the Bengal government had been lobbying for more than a year. When contacted in Delhi, Indian Oil officials said: “We are not aware of the recent developments.”

Sen said the decision to hand over 51 per cent stake to Chatterjee would in no way affect the commercial ties between Haldia Petro and Indian Oil, which would continue to supply naphtha, the raw material.

Referring to the Rs 107 crore due from Chatterjee as equity, Sen said the money was expected in two weeks.

Chatterjee’s taking a majority will facilitate debt restructuring by the financial institutions, without which the company cannot survive.

Haldia Petro has been seeking rescheduling of loan repayment and an interest rate cut. An official of the Industrial Development Bank of India said from Mumbai that the lenders would immediately start the process of debt restructuring.

To retire high-cost borrowings, the government had earlier asked the promoters to contribute Rs 500 crore in two tranches as advance against equity. The Bengal government and the Tatas, the third and smaller partner, had brought in Rs 143 crore but Chatterjee did not. He said that unless the question of management control was settled, he would not make fresh investments.

“Every issue has been sorted out. There will be no more misunderstanding between the promoters. There will be peace in the company henceforth,” Das said.

   

 
 
BIMAN IN DO-IT-NOW SERMON TO FRONT 
 
 
FROM DEBARATI AGARWALA
 
Malda, Jan. 14: 
First, it was state government employees. But Left Front chairman Biman Bose today expanded the scope of the chief minister’s do-it-now mantra to all members of the nine-party coalition.

Party insiders believe Bose’s call for “better work culture” and “greater transparency’ is essentially a response to the criticism from Front partners who had accused Big Brother CPM of taking “unilateral” decisions.

Addressing a large gathering during an open session of the district conference today in Malda, the CPM politburo member said: “Inculcating better work culture in the government is not enough. We must bring the same discipline within the party also. Party workers must understand that improved work culture alone can bring about discipline, which will result in good governance.”

Bose reminded party workers that “changes in their approach towards work” is the need of the hour.

“The party workers must learn that every job must be finished on time. If you are scheduled to finish something in 12 months, complete it within the stipulated period and please don’t drag it to 18 months,” Bose urged.

His observation comes in the wake of almost all the Front partners like the Forward Bloc, CPI and the RSP criticising CPM for not convening the meeting of the Front regularly. Forward Bloc, in its recently concluded state conference, had accused the CPM of taking unilateral decisions on certain important issues. The party’s state secretary, Ashok Ghosh, had said the CPM had taken many decisions in the past unilaterally and later convened a meeting of the Front to ratify the decisions taken by the party.

It now appears that the CPM has taken the criticisms against it by the Front partners seriously and is trying to rectify itself. Bose’s address during the open session of the district conference here is a pointer to this.

Pointing to the failure of the party in influencing supporters of the Trinamul Congress, BJP and the Congress to join the Left Front, Bose said: “They (supporters of Opposition parties) too are poor and hard-working, but we have failed to drive the ideals of the Left parties home. One must continue to popularise the party’s ideals through mass media and activities”.

Referring to the unity among the Left parties, Bose said that the nine-party coalition — the Left Front — is “still going strong” and there was no alternative to the Front in Bengal. “However, I feel there has been loopholes in the panchayat system. Some people are grossly misusing their powers at the panchayat level. I am aware of it. We must overcome all these obstacles in order to emerge a stronger party,” he added.

Present among a host of senior Left Front members was food processing minister Sailen Sarkar, district CPM secretary Jiban Maitra and CPM’s women’s wing leader Shyamali Gupta. Taking a dig at school and college teachers, Bose said the government has rightly banned private tuition.

   

 
 
SEN BLOWS INVESTMENT TRUMPET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
It’s boomtime folks. That’s the message commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen sent out today when he reeled out some comforting statistics on investment in Bengal.

In calendar year 2001, Bengal received investments worth Rs 2194.54 crore in 86 projects – a 126 per cent jump compared with the previous year.

Net investment in 2000 was Rs 970 crore, if the investments in Haldia Petrochemicals and the Mitsubishi Chemicals’ PTA plant is excluded.

Sen told a news conference today that the average annual investment in large and medium industrial projects in the state from 1991 to 2000 had been about Rs 600 crore. This, however, excludes the huge investments made in Durgapur Steel Plant, Haldia Petro and the Mitsubishi plant.

“Considering the fact that 2001 has been a very bad year because of recession and deceleration of industrial growth, an investment of Rs 2194.54 crore is quite significant,” Sen said.

The government attributes this success to four factors — perceptible change in the image of the state, attractive incentive package for industries, continuous monitoring and promotion of the state as an attractive investment destination.

   

 
 
HALDIA GEARS UP FOR VIP VISIT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Haldia (Purba Midnapore), Jan. 14: 
Haldia industrial area is gearing up to welcome what will be a string of VIPs to inaugurate the Indian Oil Corporation’s Rs 507-crore Fluid Catalytic racking Unit here on January 16.

The guest list includes petroleum minister Ram Naik and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The district authorities have made elaborate security arrangements for the VIPs’ visit. Apart from Naik and Bhattacharjee, minister of state for petroleum, Santosh Gangoarand minister of state for communications, Tapan Sikdar, are also expected to be present on the occasion.

IOC sources said the project, which took 31 months to complete, would increase IOC’s production by about 7 million metric tonnes annually.

Naik will also inaugurate a LPG plant being set up jointly by the IOC and the Petronus of Malayasia.

Supriyo Dhar, a Petronuas spokesman, said the Rs 260-crore company would produce 6 million tonnes of LPG per year. The plant would startcommercial production soon. In the afternoon, the chief minister will inaugurate the academic and administrative building of the Haldia Institute of Technology .

   

 
 
FREE CURE WITH FAKE CERTIFICATE 
 
 
BY MADHUSHREE C. BHOWMIK
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
Some foreigners spotted the loopholes before the state government could plug them.

A few of them were quick to take advantage of “ambiguities in the Health Act” and “poor nationality checks” to avail of free and subsidised treatment at Central and state government hospitals in Bengal by furnishing “fake” below-poverty-line certificates.

A nexus of elected representatives and touts in border areas issues these certificates.

A patient whose monthly income is less than Rs 2,000 is eligible for a BPL certificate from the local “elected representative’’ at the village, block or district level for free treatment at government hospitals.

An alarmed Union health ministry has decided to probe the malpractice and impose stringent checks to prevent the drain on “resources” meant for the poor.

Foreigners are being given preference over bona fide Indian citizens at a reputed city-based cancer referral centre governed by the Union health ministry. Bulk of the “foreign” patients is from Bangladesh.

Records at the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI) show that more than 500 Bangladeshi patients have undergone “long-term” treatment since 1999. A senior oncologist said a 12-year-old patient from Bangladesh had availed of “free treatment” facilities by registering herself under the “BPL” category last month (December 18, 2001).

The 12-year-old, travelling on a Bangladeshi tourist visa, however, listed her address as “Village: Jarapatti, Post and Police station: Karimganj, Dhaka, Bangladesh,’’ in the hospital register. The girl was referred by a Barrackpore-based private clinic, Disha.

But law stipulates that no foreigner can be issued a “below-poverty-line certificate” by an “elected representative” in the country.

Speaking to The Telegraph over the telephone from Delhi, Union health minister Dr C.P. Thakur said: “I know that the practice is rampant at the border but I did not know that foreigners are illegally seeking concessional treatment at Central hospitals in Calcutta as well. I will order a probe into the malpractice.’’ He said India had no bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in “sharing of clinical expertise”.

Clinicial “directories” of 13 such Bangladeshi patients at CNCI revealed that most of them were from Dhaka, Chittagong and Faridpur districts. Though hospital authorities refused to divulge whether all these patients were treated free of cost, sources said most of them took full advantage of the “concessions”.

“We have no screening facilities and so there is no way to detect illegal patients,” said Dr Joydeep Biswas, officer-in-charge of CNCI.

However, Biswas admitted that though it is mandatory for foreigners to pay for treatment, anomalies abound. Bangladeshis often procure forged “nationality and poverty” certificates from the border “gram panchayats” for free advance treatment, he added.

Sources say a well-organised racket of touts in the Bongaon-Barrackpore stretch along the Indo-Bangla border issues fake BPL and nationality certificates for a tidy sum.

A reputed private hospital in the city, which has a separate foreigners’ treatment cell, even has “agents” on its payroll at Bangaon to cater to “foreigners”.

   

 
 
CONG RED MAT FOR CURED SOMEN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
Former state Congress chief Somen Mitra will arrive here tomorrow after recuperating for nearly one-and-a-half months from a bypass surgery at New Delhi’s Escort Hospital.

Mitra was first admitted to a city nursing home following a massive heart attack on the night of November 12 and later shifted to Escort Hospital on November 27 for a bypass surgery.

Congress Seva Dal workers with party flags will line up both sides of the stretch from the airport to the state Congress office near Moulali to receive Mitra.

A large number of makeshift pandals have also been erected at different road crossings from where Mitra might address the gathering. This apart, banners and festoons will adorn the roadsides.

“Somen is perfectly all right and his return to active politics will help rejuvenate the Bengal Congress. We are confident that he will once again take up the reins of the organisation,” said PCC vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya. He said Mitra will be accorded reception at the airport and the PCC office as well after his arrival.

Party managers later said Mitra will also meet Congress workers at Bidhan Bhavan where the state Congress office is housed. PCC president Pranab Mukherjee will be there to receive Mitra. He will start interacting with party functionaries from the districts from early next week. Trinamul Congress circles said party leader Mamata Banerjee might make a courtesy call at Mitra’s Amherst residence sometime next week.

She sent a bouquet to Mitra in New Delhi and later met him.

Admitting that Mitra’s long absence has hampered the organisation, PCC leaders said during the day that a move is afoot to saddle former Pradesh Congress president with organsational responsibilities.

According to them, Mitra may be entrusted with the job of overseeing the preparations for the coming Panchayat elections slated for 2003. “We have been organising workers’ meetings at the block and sub-divisional levels across the state for the last two months and now we want Somenda to oversee the last leg of the programme,” said Pradyut Guha, a key PCC functionary.

He claimed that those who are still with Mamata’s Trinamul Congress will return to the mainstream if Somenda once again steers the organisation as he had been doing earlier.

A section of PCC officials later said Mitra will function from his home instead of regularly attending the PCC office.

   

 
 
GEORGE SEES NO US ROLE IN KASHMIR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 14: 

Minister set for America trip

Defence minister George Fernandes leaves for the US tomorrow, a little stiff with Washington because it did not give India the blank-cheque of support in its fight against cross-border terrorism.

The defence minister today said categorically that there was no room for the US to act either as a “mediator” on Kashmir — because India believed it was a bilateral issue — nor as a “facilitator” of talks because Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf have talked.

The defence minister was at pains to dismiss a report that US Ambassador Blackwill had been visiting the defence ministry in South Block frequently in recent weeks to de-escalate tension on the border.

“The US ambassador expresses his country’s point of view. Over a period of several months I have had just five or six meetings with him.”

In the weeks leading to Musharraf’s speech Saturday evening, Fernandes had at least twice expressed his displeasure over a perceived chink in the armour of the “global coalition against terrorism” — that terrorism to Pakistan’s west was more targeted than terrorism in Pakistan’s east.

On the eve of his visit, Fernandes was more circumspect, confining himself to the task that the coalition must set for itself rather than be critical of the US.

“The global coalition must look at not just Afghanistan but all other areas where terror has become a matter of concern for the people at large,” he told a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia.

“You would appreciate that this assumes significance particularly when the terror happens to be perpetrated and/or supported by another country in the neighbourhood. It is the constant effort of India at highlighting these concerns at a global level, that have led finally to not only the admission of cross-border terrorism but also to a though process in the direction of stopping such mindless terrorism,” Fernandes said.

But his wariness on appearing too close to the Americans will not deter him from picking up the threads from US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to India in November and seek to widen and deepen military-to-military cooperation.

During his visit, the Fernandes-led delegation will follow up on the revived India-US Defence Policy Group and the executive steering groups on military equipment, sales and supplies. A number of joint exercises by the Indian and US navies are also on the cards. It is possible the two sides might clear the decks for the General Security of Military Information Agreement.

Fernandes said relations with China are “very correct and friendly”. “We are on threshold of giving new impetus to these relations during the ongoing visit of China’s Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.”

Fernandes also expressed the hope that relations with Pakistan can reach the point that New Delhi and Beijing have reached in sorting out mutual disputes, such as those on the border.

   

 
 
BJP SPLIT OVER PERVEZ ADDRESS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan.14: 
The BJP appeared divided and confused over its reaction to General Pervez Musharraf’s address to his nation on Saturday. While the party central leadership hardened its stand, the Jammu and Kashmir unit of the BJP termed the address as “courageous and revolutionary” and said India should “reciprocate the hand of friendship”.

Forty-eight hours after Musharraf’s address, BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy said: “When Musharraf was expected and required to walk a metre towards India, he has chosen to walk a kilometre length for America and other Western countries. India is not going to be convinced by talks bereft of action.”

“The BJP is of the firm view that Pakistan must take positive action towards normalising its relationship with India and only then it can expect India to reciprocate it,” Krishnamurthy said.

He said the steps Musharraf spelt out to put down terrorist outfits and activities appeared to be intended for consumption by those countries that had been exerting pressure on Pakistan to renounce terrorism.

On Musharaff’s stand on Kashmir, Krishnamurthy said, “It is nothing but a repetition of (the) old stand of Pakistan.”

On the other hand, the BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir unit termed Musharraf’s address as “courageous and revolutionary,” and said India should reciprocate the “hand of friendship” extended by him, according to an agency report from Srinagar.

“Musharraf’s announcement to root out external and internal extremism from Pakistan and his preparedness to resolve all issues, including Kashmir, with India through peaceful dialogue should be encouraged,” said state BJP senior vice-president Abdul Rashid Kabuli. “The hand of friendship extended by the Pakistan President towards Prime Minister Vajpayee should be reciprocated.”

Kabuli urged the heads of the two countries to adopt a realistic and far-sighted strategy to defuse tension on the border and save the people from war.

Supporting home minister L.K. Advani’s statement that Pakistan must act sincerely, decisively, demonstrably and speedily, Krishnamurthy said, “The entire political spectrum of our country has come to the conclusion that it will await Pakistan’s action.”

Pakistan must realise that India’s clear-cut stand on Kashmir has been spelt out in the unanimous resolution passed by Parliament in 1994, he said.

Musharraf must also remember the categorical statement made by Prime Minister Vajpayee that “our war is not against Pakistan and only against terrorism,” he said. “A reciprocatory statement that Pakistan will not wage war against India is conspicuously missing in (the) President’s address.”

   

 
 
SAMATA TRI-AXIS PLAN 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 14: 
Defence minister George Fernandes’ Samata Party has proposed a strategic alliance between India, Russia and China to counter the US, which, the party feels, has gained a toehold in Kyrgyztan and Uzbekistan using the global coalition against terrorism.

A strategic India-Russia-China alliance is the need of the hour not only for fighting Islamic fundamentalists but also to counter the “dominance of a single power”, the Samata feels.

All the three countries, especially China, are worried over the American presence at their doorstep. The US has set its eye on the oil reserves in the region as the situation in West Asia may not serve their interest for long, analysts felt.

“India should develop closer ties with Russia and China so that the region (the Central Asian republics) does not become a future place of single-power dominance,” said Samata spokesperson and chairman of the party’s international department Shambhu Shrivastwa, without naming the US.

“We should not lose sight of the fact that the former Soviet republics — Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyztan and Uzbekistan — are strategically placed global players,” he said. The region has the second largest oil and gas reserve after West Asia.

Way back in 1999, Fernandes had realised the importance of the region and had asked Shrivastwa to prepare a note for the external affairs ministry, the spokesman said.

The note had warned that if India did not take interest in the region, the US and Pakistan will and that is what has happened. It was easy handling them as barring Tajikistan all the other states are secular and literate being formerly under Communist rule, Shrivastwa said.

The US was allowed to set up base in Uzbekistan on October 2 in return for funds and a promise to fight the Taliban-backed fundamentalists who were trying to destabilise the regime there. Subsequently, the US was allowed a base in Kyrgyztan.

Party sources said Fernandes has met the ambassadors of some of these republics to sew up strategic tie-ups but did not pursue the matter as eyebrows were raised in the foreign ministry which felt their domain was being encroached upon.

The party sources, however, rubbished reports that Fernandes had differences with foreign minister Jaswant Singh on the handling of the situation in the wake of the terrorist attack on Parliament.

The Samata note had in 1999 suggested setting up an Indo-Central Asia Forum to promote understanding between India and the former Soviet republics. These countries share their international border with China, Afghanistan and PoK.

   

 
 
WARY SANGH SPOILS GOVINDACHARYA LUNCH 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 14: 
The much-awaited luncheon to herald K.N. Govindacharya’s return to politics today was abruptly cancelled after the RSS intervened.

BJP sources said the lunch — which was to have been hosted by Khadi and Village Industries Commission chairman Mahesh Sharma — was called off because RSS joint general secretary Madan Das Devi, one of the main guests, did not want to be embroiled in a “controversy”.

Devi is the main link between the Sangh and the BJP as well as the Vajpayee government. Given the “sensitive” nature of his mandate, sources said it was decided he should stay away from an occasion which would have acquired a political colour.

BJP sources said Devi’s “personnel management” brought about the thaw in Sangh-Centre relations that hit a rough patch after ideologue Dattopant Thengadi kept slamming the government for “straying” from the swadeshi path and often became personal in his attacks. Devi managed to straighten things out between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Thengadi.

Govindacharya and Devi’s relationship goes back several years when they were leaders of the Sangh’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarti Parishad. So a social reunion was seen as perfectly normal.

But the former’s none-too-good equation with Vajpayee and BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi clinched the issue.

“With the media hype preceding the luncheon and the likely presence of television channels, the RSS thought that one of its most important members should not be at the centre of the storm,” sources said.

Last week, before he surfaced in Delhi after a six-month-long agyaatvas (renunciation), Govindacharya unwittingly found himself in the middle of a controversy after RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya told reporters that he had ceased to be a pracharak (wholetimer). Devi had rushed to Govindacharya’s rescue, clarifying that he continued to be a member of the Sangh, forcing Vaidya to virtually retract.

The differences embarrassed the RSS brass. Sources said the general feeling was Devi should keep a low profile and the lunch was called off. “If the function was on and Devi kept away, it would have created another controversy,” they said.

BJP sources said another reason for not going ahead with the lunch was because Uma Bharti was also an invitee. A section of the RSS had reportedly disapproved of an interview Govindacharya gave while in agyaatvas last August in which he said he was once in love with Bharti and had wanted to marry her.

Govindacharya said he was no longer a pracharak because he needed a “greater deal of flexibility and being there or not there makes no difference to my goals”. But he said the only change was while earlier the Sangh took care of his material needs, his friends now filled in.

Govindacharya also declared he was “proud” of his friendship with Bharti. “When women enter politics, they often become victims of controversy and gossip. She became a sant in 1990 and I respect her as a sant. She is a good friend, nothing more and nothing less,” he said.

   
 

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