Indians win freedom to fly the Tricolour
Pak term for instant truce
Hindujas among Haldia favourites
US brake on Israel defence deal
Master versus motor maidens
Bonanza for Bengali babu who runs Britain
Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children to return to roots on stage
US team puts Kashmir under global glare
VRS death knell for sinking giant
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
Freedom came in 1947. And it has taken over 54 years to win the freedom to fly the flag.

From this Republic Day, flag-flying equality will be established with the Cabinet today deciding that any and every Indian can hoist the Tricolour atop his or her house through the year. So far, persons of importance and prisons were among those who had the right. The faceless Indian had the freedom to fly the flag only on three days — January 26, August 15 and October 2.

The government has decided to change the flag code to empower the common people.

“With the amendment, there would be no restrictions on the display of the national flag by members of the public,” a Cabinet note said.

Navin Jindal, who went to court demanding the right, has won his crusade that began after he was prevented from flying the flag at his office in 1993.

Jindal, who is vice-chairman and managing director of Jindal Steel and Power, said the decision would revolutionise the way Indians think about the country and make patriotism fashionable.

Not quite. Malini Ramani still won’t be able to get away with a Tricolour dress. A couple of years ago, the Delhi socialite and designer incurred the wrath of the authorities and was hauled to court for wearing the national flag as a costume at the India Fashion Week in Delhi.

With the Ramani incident in mind, the Cabinet said: “The Centre will amend the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act in order to prevent the flag from being used on costumes.”

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the stars-and-stripes has become ubiquitous in America with the country swept up in an unprecedented wave of patriotism. It so happens that the Indian government decided to, what it calls, “liberalise” the use of the national flag after the December 13 Parliament strike.

Till now, only VVIPs were allowed to fly the national flag on their houses. The others on the permitted list were government offices, buildings housing public sector units and jails. Vehicles belonging to the President, Vice-President, Governors, Lieutenant Governors, ministers, Speakers, chief justices and judges of the Supreme Court could also use it throughout the year.

Now judges of high courts can also do that. “They can use the flag on their vehicles after making an appropriate entry in the flag code,” the Cabinet said.

The exclusive club of year-round Tricolour-users was smashed after Delhi High Court first upheld Jindal’s contention that it was his fundamental right to display the national flag. It also pointed out that the flag code was only an executive order and had no legal feet to stand on.

Still the government was not convinced.

Americans have a flag code, too, and have a list of 21 days in a year when they are “especially” asked to fly the stars-and-stripes. But the code also says: “Display your flag proudly on any day.”

That right is now vested in Indians. But only after the Union government went as far as the Supreme Court to contest Jindal and lost there, too.

Now it declares that the amended flag code will be held up as a symbol of its commitment to take the slogan of nationalism to the masses.

“I firmly believe that the decision will go a long way in raising the patriotic spirit and feeling of all Indians. As and when an Indian displays the Tricolour, he rises above his religious and political affiliations and shows that he is proud to be an Indian,” Jindal said.


Islamabad, Jan. 15: 
As the world began nudging India towards the talks-table, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf promised instant response if Delhi took the initiative for de-escalation.

“India has to start the de-escalation and Pakistan will respond instantly,” Musharraf told a committee on Kashmir. He also sought to address faint signs of a domestic backlash by insisting that the Kashmir cause is a “freedom struggle”.

“There should be no doubt in any mind about our commitment to the Kashmir cause and the people of Kashmir,” Musharraf told the panel on the eve of US secretary of state Colin Powell’s visit. “We will continue to support the just freedom struggle of Kashmiris politically, diplomatically and morally,” he said.

However, Musharraf, in the midst of the biggest-ever crackdown on militant groups, said the committee would work for a “peaceful promotion of the Kashmir cause”. The President had handpicked a moderate to head the panel.

The crackdown has not ignited a backlash so far, barring a demonstration by masked protesters outside the Supreme Court. Musharraf’s seemingly tough stand on Kashmir is being seen as an attempt to prevent the disenchantment from snowballing into a showdown.

Powell, who will reach Islamabad tomorrow and visit India later, said in Washington that “the Indians have to make the judgement as to when they move their forces, and I will point to them what has transpired, and see if we can find ways to go down this de-escalatory ladder.”

Fire engulfed a huge government building that houses the record-keeping section of the interior ministry of Pakistan. The top eight floors of the 16-storey building in Islamabad were gutted. Officials have not ascertained the cause. A fire had broken out in the army headquarters in Rawalpindi soon after Pakistan dumped the Taliban, fuelling speculation that it was meant to destroy sensitive documents.


Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
After having decided, with the consent of the Bengal government, to bring a strategic partner into Haldia Petrochemicals, Purnendu Chatterjee has opened talks with possible allies.

The non-resident Indian Hinduja group figures at the top of the list of companies Chatterjee, who will now have management control in Haldia Petro, is sounding out. Some of the others are Shell, TotalFina and Mitsui.

Chatterjee is now in London where the Hindujas are based. Efforts to contact him there failed, but Chatterjee group sources confirmed that talks were under way with various companies.

The sources said the strategic partner will be offered a stake in Haldia Petro from the Bengal government’s portion of the equity, which will rise from 43 to 49 per cent as Chatterjee’s holding goes up from 43 to 51 and the Tatas sell their 14 per cent.

“Purnendu will have the controlling (51 per cent) stake in the company. The strategic partner will acquire the Bengal government’s stake,” the sources said.

But observers did not rule out the possibility of the strategic partner acquiring its share from Chatterjee’s part of the equity because the US-based non-resident Indian will need cash to meet his commitments to Haldia Petro following the settlement of who will hold management control.

The Bengal government, however, will be only too eager to sell to the strategic partner since it wants to eventually get out of the company.

Whether or not the Hindujas come aboard as the strategic partner, the group is seen by industry watchers as suitable for such a role because of its trading interests in petroleum products.

Gulf Oil International is the vehicle for this business. The group is involved in every stage of the commercial cycle — from assisting producers in getting the raw material and providing finance to arranging sale of the finished product, including transport and delivery.

If the Hindujas do come in, they can supply naphtha, the raw material, to Haldia Petro as well as sell the polymers the company produces. Indian Oil, which was to take 26 per cent stake in the company, now supplies naphtha to Haldia Petro, an arrangement that might come up for review once a strategic partner steps in.

Although Sen had said that it was entirely up to Chatterjee to select the strategic partner, the Bengal government has been kept abreast of the talks.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
The US has asked Israel to put on hold a deal to sell three Phalcon early warning systems to the Indian Air Force.

The US decision, taken in view of the standoff with Pakistan and disclosed a day before Union defence minister George Fernandes left for Washington, goes to show just how fragile the nature of the military-to-military cooperation that India has been hoping for still is.

The deal, estimated at $500 million, was all but clinched in November when the director general of the Israeli defence ministry, Amos Yaron, and Major General Yossi Ben-Hanan, head of Sibat, the defence ministry’s foreign wing, visited Delhi. India had asked for a guarantee that the deal would not be subject to pressure from the US.

Fernandes will be in Washington as the head of a high-power delegation and talks to let Israel and India go ahead with the Phalcon deal will no doubt top its list of priorities. Before leaving for America, Fernandes told PTI that “as far as I know, we are getting them”.

Even so, the American decision is a snub to the Indian side. “We cannot comment on developments right now. The matter is still under discussion. A full delegation will be in the US,” the defence ministry’s spokesman said.

India had urged Israel not to subject the deal to American pressure because of the experience with China. This is the second time that the US has asked Israel to put the deal on hold.

Originally, the Phalcon systems were being built by Israel Aircraft Industries for Beijing but Washington forced the deal to be called-off.

This time round, the perception in New Delhi is that an active Pakistani lobby working in the US has influenced the American decision.

“Frankly, I am not too surprised. It is more or less along expected lines,” says analyst and deputy director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar.

“But I don’t think we should get too shirty about it in the long haul. Right now, India’s fight against terrorism is tangential to American interests. Pakistan is more important to them. Had Osama bin Laden been caught, things might have been different. In any case, we do not need the Phalcons immediately in the India-Pakistan context,” he added.

According to the preliminary agreement, Israel’s Elta Electronics Industries, prime contractor in the deal, was to facilitate the supply of the Phalcon phased-array radar with the Russian IL-76 airframe chosen by India as the platform.

Air force sources in Delhi said Phalcon will give India the edge in airborne electronic intelligence.

At the moment, it is possible that Pakistan has an edge in this segment with about seven different types of unmanned aerial vehicles.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
How do you steal the scene when Sachin Tendulkar is putting his seal on India’s first signature car? By rolling out six swinging sizzlers and making a song

and dance a few feet away?

But it did not work this morning at Pragati Maidan where the master blaster received the key for Fiat’s first Palio S-10 — S for Sachin and 10 the magic number he sports during one-dayers.

Nearby, Hyundai was unveiling its Terracan, a sports utility vehicle, and souping up with half-a-dozen girls dancing to a deafening beat.

No prizes, however, for guessing where the motoring mobs were. They stayed with the “heart-throb of India” — a label slapped on Sachin by model Meher Bhasin, who was compering the show. “It is a great car from a famous company, who would not like to be associated with it, particularly since it is the first signature car in India,” said Sachin, fielding questions from Meher.

Fiat India plans to make 500 limited edition Sachin Palios. The company has not announced the price but it is expected to cost around Rs 25,000 to 50,000 more than the regular rate of Rs 3.5-4.5 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi).


London, Jan. 15: 
A 42-year-old Bengali has made civil service history in Britain by becoming the £100,000-a-year permanent secretary of the Department of International Development.

Suma Chakrabarti, who is the first Asian to head a Whitehall department, is also by five years the youngest of the 22 permanent secretaries who, if the caricatures in the TV comedy series, Yes, Minister, are to be believed, run Britain.

It is understood Chakrabarti has shortened his first name from Sumantra — not that his staff would address him as anything other than “Sir” or “Permanent Secretary” — but, in his absence today, on duty abroad, there was no one to confirm the abbreviation.

In looks, the balding Chakrabarti is the archetypal Bengali. If he could be encouraged to slip into dhoti and panjabi and acquire just a trace of the laid back babu culture, he could easily pass unnoticed at Writers’ Buildings.

But that is perhaps being unfair to the three-piece suited Chakrabarti, who was picked out in 1999 by a weekly Gujarati newspaper in London, Garavi Gujarat, for a special cultural diversity award it gives to high-flying Asians.

“He got our public sector diversity award,” the paper’s executive editor, Shailesh Solanki, told The Telegraph today. “He was the outstanding candidate.”

One man who has attended all of Garavi Gujarat’s cultural awards ceremonies since then is Sir Richard Wilson, the head of the Cabinet Office — he is the overall head of the civil service and is the figure represented by the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne in Yes, Minister.

Sir Richard in all his public utterances has signalled his determination to promote talented Asians to high positions in the civil service and ensure it reflects the ethnic composition of the population it serves.

Chakrabarti was born in Jalpaiguri in 1959 and moved with his parents to England in 1974. His father, an academic, returned to India to take his PhD but the boy won a scholarship to study at the City of London, a famous public school, which has something of a history as a hothouse for bright Bengalis.

At New College, Oxford, Chakrabarti, read PPE (politics, philosophy and economics), and then took an MA in development economics at Sussex University.

In 1984, he joined the Overseas Development Agency, now called the Department of International Development, as an economist. He rose through the ranks of the civil service, and was the director of the performance and innovation unit at the Cabinet office from 1998-2000. He has also worked for the Treasury.

He was marked out for promotion after Tony Blair’s election victory in 1997. His present job is director-general, regional programmes, at the Department for International Development.

His political boss, Clare Short, has agreed to some of Chakrabarti’s working arrangements. In order to spend more time with his young daughter, Maya, with whom he has breakfast at home in Oxford, Chakrabarti does not have to start work until 9.30 am.

When he takes up his new job on February 18, he will keep the same hours and also work from home every other Friday so the dutiful father can attend morning assembly at Maya’s school.

“It is the part of the understanding of my new job,” Chakrabarti has explained. “I want to maintain that. The Secretary of State (Clare Short) is happy with that so we will give it a go."


London, Jan. 15: 
Salman Rushdie’s most famous work, Midnight’s Children, which could not be filmed on location in India for fear the author’s past record might upset community relations, is set to return to the land of its setting — but as a stage play.

This was confirmed today in Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, where the Royal Shakespeare Company is planning to stage Midnight’s Children later this year, before hopefully taking the play on tour in Britain, then in India and, very bravely, in Pakistan.

Jane Ellis, spokeswoman for the RSC, described the prospect of touring India and Pakistan with Midnight’s Children as “very exciting”. She said the production would provide work for many of Britain’s Asian actors. “It would be an all Asian cast,” she emphasised.

Though Rushdie has kissed and made up with India, ending his exile, accompanied by his son, Zafar, with a visit in April, 2000, a British Council-sponsored tour of Pakistan would present a major security problem.

Though Rajiv Gandhi was the first person to ban The Satanic Verses shortly after its appearance in the autumn of 1988, the riots in Islamabad, in which protesters were killed, alerted the late Ayatollah Khomeini to the allegedly blasphemous novel and provoked the notorious fatwa against the author.

BBC TV wanted to dramatise Midnight’s Children in 1997 as its multi-million showpiece offering to mark 50 years of Indian Independence. But I K Gujral’s coalition government decided not to risk offending minority sentiment and pulled out of the project at the last minute after earlier indicating that the BBC would be given permission to shoot on location in India.

The Cabinet minister in charge of the ministry of information and broadcasting at the time, Jaipal Reddy, was not against the project but consulted other ministries before formally informing the BBC that permission would not be granted. It is known that the file went up to Gujral himself.

In Mumbai, the BBC producer, Chris Hall, son of the distinguished director, Sir Peter Hall, had seen 300 actors and lined up a likely cast.

The BBC then almost reached an agreement with Sri Lanka but there, too, the project collapsed in the final stages, again because of minority opposition to Rushdie himself.

The Indian government made it clear, however, there was no objection to Midnight’s Children as such. The book won the Booker Prize in 1981.

Reviewing Midnight’s Children, V.S. Pritchett wrote: “In Salman Rushdie, India has produced a great novelist, one with startling imaginative and intellectual resources, a master of perpetual story-telling.”

In 1994, the novel won the Booker of Bookers for the “best” of the winners during the previous 25 years.

The screenplay went through several versions but the final one was written by Rushdie himself. It is this last version that is being adapted for the stage jointly by Rushdie, Simon Reed, until last year a dramaturge with the RSC, and Tim Supple, a freelance director who has toured India and Pakistan with a RSC production of Comedy of Errors.

Rushdie said he was both pained and angered by the Indian refusal to allow the filming of Midnight’s Children, which he saw as his labour of love.

When he edited the Vintage Book of Indian Writing (1947-1997) with his former wife, Elizabeth West, he explained his decision to include an extract from the novel in the collection.

He wrote: “As to the inclusion of my own work, the decision was taken with some unease; but Midnight’s Children is undeniably a part of the story of these fifty years.”


Islamabad/Dubai, Jan. 15: 
Kashmir today slipped back under international glare after a visiting US delegation said it had become a prominent issue, particularly in America, and called for its resolution through peaceful means.

Islamabad also turned on the heat asking Gulf countries to put pressure on New Delhi to pull back troops from the border and resume bilateral talks even as a top Chinese general warned Delhi not to practise hegemony in the name of anti-terrorism.

“There is a new opportunity for dialogue among the Kashmiris, people of India and certainly the people of Pakistan,” Senator Tom Daschle, leader of the Senate delegation told reporters soon after meeting President Pervez Musharraf.

Daschle lauded the speech Musharraf made on Saturday, describing it as the most meaningful, powerful and consequential by any leader of the region in a long time and appreciated the general’s declaration of rooting out terrorism.

The senator called for a need to capitalise on the “opportunity” and find ways to spur the peace process along. “It must happen through dialogue,” he said.

Daschle said Americans want their government to be more specific about support to Pakistan. He said there was a desire to find ways to assist in solving the Kashmir problem. “There are ways the US can continue to show its gratitude, be the player that needs to be in the region,” he added.

Senator Smith said Musharraf told them that Pakistanis want to see a more prominent American involvement in Kashmir. “This is certainly an issue we will be discussing when we return to Washington next week,” he said.

“The administration and the Congress needs to find ways to articulate our recognition to the importance of this issue,” he added. “…This is an opportunity to do it more successfully in the months ahead.”

Daschle expressed gratitude to both Pakistan and its President for their support in the fight against terrorism, saying: “We are not going to be a fair-weather friend but a country indebted and grateful to the people of Pakistan for their extraordinary support.”

“We will return this gratitude in years to come,” Smith added.

America’s assurance coincided with Islamabad’s move to send two special envoys to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to brief the three countries on the India-Pakistan standoff.

“We expect our brothers and friends in the Middle-East to put pressure on the other side to enter into negotiations to resolve the problem peacefully and avoid war in the region,” minister for communications and railways Lt-Gen. (retd) Javed Ashraf said.

Ashraf, an ISI director during the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan, is accompanied by former minister Ejaz-ul-Haq.

The Pakistani media today termed India’s response to Musharraf’s pledge against terrorism “positive” but urged the US to impress upon Delhi to resume normal diplomatic relations with Islamabad.

“Washington should urge New Delhi to waste no time to resume normal diplomatic relations, call off other measures it has taken in the meantime, and quickly thin out the troops on the border,” The Nation said in its editorial.

The US should not disengage itself after the cooling down of tensions and should seriously address its attention to resolving the Kashmir issue, it added.

The Dawn said India seems to have been put on the defensive by Musharraf’s address and will need a face-saving breathing space before it can begin to react positively.

“There is also hope that the positive response to the address may help dissipate the ominous war clouds that have gathered over the subcontinent,” it said.

In Beijing, the chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, General Fu Quanyou, told Pakistan’s General Muhammad Aziz Khan that China hoped the neighbours would ease the current tension and seek solution through dialogue, the official Xinhua news agency reported.


Ranchi, Jan. 15: 
Dubbed “the mother of all industries” when it was set up in 1958, the once-giant Heavy Engineering Corporation now appears to be on the verge of closure. Sources said till the close of business today, the last date for filing of applications for voluntary retirement, 1,300 officers and workers had put in their papers.

The figures are still trickling in from the various branch offices at Calcutta, Nagpur, Delhi, Vizag, Bina, Rourkela, Bilaspur and other places. Sources said the dismal staff strength, which stands at around 6,500 now, is expected to go down by at least 20 per cent. The corporation had a workforce of 22,000 when it was set up.

Sources said as per the Centre’s guidelines, the total workforce has to be reduced to below 4,000 to cut down on the wage bill of the ailing corporation.

In May last year, HEC reduced its retirement age from 60 to 58, which, in effect, meant that 1,053 employees found themselves out of the payrolls overnight. The sources added that though the staff strength had been brought down to 6,500, HEC had approached the Centre to come to its aid with a more lucrative VRS package.

While the corporation has been steadily incurring losses every year over the past decade, things had come to such a pass that in 2000-2001, losses stood at Rs 151 crore against production of Rs 150 crore. Accordingly, HEC came out with a lucrative VRS package that was effective from January 1 this year.

According to the package, workers were entitled to 45 days’ salary for every completed year of service or one month’s salary for the remaining period of service left, whichever was lower. The package, however, provided that a bonus of 50 per cent would be payable over and above the total emolument worked out for all those opting for the VRS scheme latest by January 15.

Sources said with the numbers still trickling in, the ailing corporation was on the verge of being completely rudderless in the days ahead with at least 13 senior deputy general managers deciding to put in their papers.

The sources pointed out that HEC had just a chairman-cum-managing director with no other directors on its Board. There are no general managers either. The entire corporation is virtually headed by senior DGMs.

Officers have not been paid their salaries for the past two-and-a-half months while HEC owes its workers at least one-and-a-half months’ wages. Sources added that while HEC did not have any funds to pay its energy bills, it does not have the money to buy basic raw material for its work orders, now estimated at below Rs 100 crore.

HEC is acquiring raw material from Coal India, SAIL and others under agreement that the costs would be set off against supplies of finished products.

Confederation of HEC Associations’ spokesman N.P. Singh admitted that the corporation was doomed. Singh said even the government had failed to live up to its expectation following its failure to pay HEC for all the land, buildings and other infrastructure leased out to the state.




Maximum: 28.8°C (+1)
Minimum: 17.9°C (+4)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 100%,
Minimum: 58%

Sunrise: 6.25 am

Sunset: 5.08 pm


Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of morning mist/fog in some areas. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C

Maintained by Web Development Company