Purnendu offer to IOC
CPM rules out truck with Cong at Centre
Somen gets back to business
Tax row hits district tourists
Dunlop worker kills self
Fake CBI officer in police net
PWG keeps Hooghly cops on toes
Joshi ‘finds’ oldest civilisation
Slump sends techies to B-school
Kissinger’s Kashmir tips for Pant

Haldia, Jan. 16: 
Purnendu Chatterjee is still leaving the door open for Indian Oil. The Chatterjee Group will submit an alternative proposal to the oil major giving it the option of joining as an equity partner in Haldia Petrochemicals.

Chatterjee had talks with the IOC top brass on Sunday after he signed an agreement with the state government to raise his stake in the company from 43 per cent to 51 per cent.

Confirming the move, IOC director M.S. Ramchandran said a decision on investment in Haldia Petro would depend on the kind of proposal Chatterjee gave.

However, petroleum minister Ram Naik said there was no question of IOC investing unless it was given complete management control.

“I understand the West Bengal government has signed an agreement with Purnendu Chatterjee by way of which The Chatterjee Group will raise its stake to 51 per cent. I am not very sure whether Chatterjee will agree to provide IOC the management control if it takes 26 per cent stake,” Naik said.

The minister said there was a difference between IOC and a financial institution. If it invested in a company, the IOC would also participate in the management.

Naik said IOC had technological expertise which would help it manage the company more efficiently.

Chatterjee had earlier proposed a split in the company by hiving off the naphtha cracker unit — Haldia Petro’s mother plant — into a new company. Most of the liability of Haldia Petro was also proposed to be transferred to the new company.

IOC, however, turned down the proposal.

The oil major had offered to pick up a 26 per cent stake in the company based on its own valuation.

It had also proposed that the company finalise a financial restructuring package before it made any investment.

While Chatterjee and the Bengal government initiated talks with the financial institutions that were led by the Industrial Development Bank of India, the two promoters could not accept IOC’s proposed restructuring formula for Haldia Petro.

Naik, who had facilitated the talks, said the whole situation has now changed. He said IOC would have a natural synergy with Haldia Petro and it is interested in picking up a stake.

But the matter is now with the Haldia Petro promoters and IOC cannot settle for anything less than management control, he said while sharing the dais with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

IOC chairman M.A. Pathan later said his company would take all decisions based on commercial judgment.

Naik car hits worker

A daily labourer was hit by Naik’s car when the minister was on his way to inaugurate two prestigious IOC projects this morning. Villagers gheraoed the car before police dispersed them. Police said the condition of the 35-year-old labourer, who was admitted in Haldia hospital, is critical.


Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
The stage is all set for a showdown in the CPM camp with a party document ruling out any truck with the Congress to counter the BJP at the national level.

But this view — expressed in a party document — which has the backing of hardliners such as Biman Bose, Nirupam Sen and Benoy Konar, could ruffle many a feather at CPM’s 17th congress scheduled in March at Hyderabad.

It is likely that a number of important central committee members who had been in favour of Jyoti Basu becoming Prime Minister with Congress support in 1996 will raise strong objection to the party’s recent stand at the six-day conclave.

This section feels that CPM is organisationally not very strong in the country, especially in the Hindi heartland which acts as a balancing factor in forming the government in Delhi.

In this situation, it will not be possible for the CPM alone to counter the BJP at the national level.

In its draft political resolution, CPM stated that “the Congress stands for the same economic policies that it initiated in 1991. All its state governments are implementing the same policies. There is no difference with the BJP on basic economic policies. Given its class character, the CPM cannot have an alliance or united front with the Congress. In the present situation where the BJP and its allies are the main target, the party should adopt tactics which will enable all the secular and democratic forces to thwart the gameplan of the BJP-RSS combine”.

The CPM leadership has started distributing the draft political resolution which was prepared during the three-day central committee meeting held in Calcutta from January 4. The resolution will reach all the party units. They will be given two months’ time to hold discussion on it and refer any amendments to the party’s central leadership.

The CPM leadership has also taken a tough stand on regional parties, which, it believes, are shifting their loyalties based on “narrow political considerations”. They said CPM will firmly oppose regional parties that have “opportunistically joined hands with BJP”.

On the other hand, CPM will cooperate with those secular and regional parties that are prepared to fight communal forces.

The resolution has also taken note of the “steady erosion” of public support for BJP and the NDA.

“Of the 18 Assembly and one Union Territory elections held since the 1998 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP and its allies lost in all except four. The NDA is an opportunist combination between BJP and some regional parties and splinter groups with the sole purpose of remaining in power,” the party leaders stated in the resolution.


Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Back home yesterday, Somen Mitra joined work today at the state Congress office, poring over files and catching up with all that had happened while he was away recovering from a heart surgery in New Delhi’s Escorts hospital.

Congress sources said Mitra was closeted with PCC vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya and some other leaders from the districts for over two hours to discuss the on-going party programmes for the panchayat elections slated for 2003.

Later, he called on party MP A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury at his Salt Lake residence and ailing suspended Trinamul Congress MP Ajit Panja, admitted to a city nursing home with jaundice.

Panja’s daughter Mahua Mondal was present with a large number of Trinamul workers at the Rajabazar crossing yesterday to welcome Mitra on his way to the PCC office from the airport.

Khan Chowdhury advised Mitra to take care of his health and go strictly by the doctor’s diet. He also told him not to undertake any tour of the districts at the moment. “Let Somen be perfectly all right and only then will he be able to look into the organisational matter,” he told reporters.

PCC office-bearers also decided that Mitra should function from his Amherst Street residence in the morning, but in the afternoon, he could come to the PCC office for two hours.

“Somen will not participate in organisational programmes until he is declared completely cured. He will have to visit Escorts hospital twice for check-up next month,” said PCC general secretary Kumud Bhattacharya.

Asked if Mitra’s absence would stand in the way of lining up agitational programmes, Bhattacharya said no. “We organised a number of programmes in Bengal when Somen was away for treatment,” he added.

However, several Congress functionaries suggested during the day that the party should not resort to any movements against the ruling CPM until they were sure of Mitra’s active participation. “Our programmes will not only lack much of its lustre in Somenda’s absence but also help Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul corner us on one plea or other,” said a PCC leader.

CPM state secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas today said he was happy Mitra was back. However, he refused comment on yesterday’s widespread traffic snarls in different parts of north Calcutta caused after Congress supporters brought out processions.

In a related development, Mamata today admitted that she had committed a “great mistake” by forging an electoral tie-up with the state Congress for the May polls.


Behrampore, Jan. 16: 
It began as a row between the Murshidabad Municipality and the Murshidabad Nawab Estate. But this has led to a sharp drop in the number of tourists visiting the district heavy with of history.

Murshidabad Estate had been collecting tax from tourists since 1986. Every vehicle carrying tourists in Murshidabad had to pay the tax to Estate officials. They used to even slap taxes on picnic parties in the New Palace areas.

But the municipality also started collecting tax from all kinds of tourists vehicles entering the municipal area from January 26 last year.

Light vehicles entering the municipal area had to pay Rs 20 and heavy vehicles and buses had to fork out Rs 40 to the civic body as tax.

This led to double-taxation and not many tourists liked the idea of paying both the Estate and the municipality.

Trouble started on January 1 this year when a tourist party refused to pay the tax to Estate officials at the fort compound which falls under the Estate’s jurisdiction. The tourist party challenged the Estate officials saying they had no right to collect tax from tourists. They also asked the Estate officials to show the government order empowering them to collect tax.

The Estate, which is controlled by the law department of the state government, failed to show any document to the tourists. Some local youth also joined the tourist party and forced the Estate officials to stop collecting tax from anyone visiting the town.

Angry Estate officials then stopped allowing picnic parties inside their territory from January 2 in protest against the incident. Estate manager Debabrata Das said he had told district magistrate Manoj Panth about the incident who had then ordered an inquiry.

Panth said he had asked additional district magistrate Gurupada Bayen to hold an inquiry into the incident and submit a report to him. Bayen said he had summoned the municipality chairman and the Estate officials on January 11 to hold a discussion on the problem. “I will submit my report to the district magistrate after holding the meeting with the two agencies,” he said.

Municipality chairman Biswajit Dhar, however, alleged that the Estate had been collecting the tax illegally for the past 16 years. “The Estate doesn’t have any property of its own at the moment. Nor do the places for which the Estate was collecting taxes fall under its jurisdiction. Naturally, they have no right to impose and collect tax on the tourists.”

He added: “But we can collect tax from tourists under sections 73 and 74 of the West Bengal Municipal Act in order to earn more revenue. The Estate had collected taxes illegally from the tourists, but had not spent the money for development of the area.”


Chinsurah, Jan. 16: 
Driven by poverty, a Dunlop worker today allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself at his home in Keota near Sahagunj.

Fifty-four-year-old Deepnarayan Ghosal used to work in the personnel department of Dunlop. This morning his family found him hanging from the ceiling of his verandah. He had used his daughter’s dupatta.

Police said after the closure of the company, Ghosal used to run a teashop at the Chinsurah bus-stand along with son Sandipan to support his family of seven and bear the expenses of his daughter Atreyi’s education. Atreyi is a Class VIII student of nearby Shyamaprasad Girls’ School.

Manjurani, widow of Ghosal, flanked by Sandipan and Atreyi, wept inconsolably. “The reopening of Dunlop about eight months ago had kindled our faith and hopes as we thought that it would help us in a big way, but we lost all hope after it closed again. When we decided to run the teashop once more, we found that it had been forcibly occupied by some goons in the area. So we decided to explore other options to make a living,” she said.

Police said the suicide had sent shock waves in the area. Hundreds of local people came to console the bereaved family. The body was sent for post-mortem.

Ghosal’s colleagues said the suicide should act as an eye-opener to the government which has done “precious little”. “It is high time to take some concrete measures to reopen the factory and save thousands of families,” one of his colleagues said.

Additional district magistrate Khalil Ahmed said: “ We are determined to reopen it (Dunlop) as we cannot push hundreds of families to face a bleak future. I think it is our moral duty to bring smiles back to their faces and prevent the recurrence of this kind of incidents.”


Burdwan, Jan. 16: 
The Durgapur police today arrested a person impersonating as a CBI officer and demanding hush-money from big businessmen.

According to the police, Debasish Mukherjee, a 30-year-old youth, had checked in at a posh hotel in Durgapur two days back. He had identified himself as a “senior CBI official”.

He had been contacting big businessmen and asking them to meet him at the hotel to avoid raids on their companies.

Mukherjee was to get Rs 20,000 from Paresh Banerjee, a local businessman and CPM councillor of Sonamukhi Municipality of Bankura district. Mukherjee told him that he had “gathered sufficient document to nail him”.

The meeting was scheduled for last night. A suspicious Banerjee got in touch with Durgapur police. The police laid a trap.

As Banerjee arrived at the hotel at the scheduled time and Mukherjee was about to take the money from him, plainclothesmen surrounded him.

Mukherjee immediately flashed an identity card and claimed that he was a senior CBI official. He even threatened the policemen of “serious consequences”. But they took him from the hotel to Durgapur police station.

Mukherjee was later produced before a court here which remanded him in seven days’ police custody.


Jangipara (Hooghly), Jan. 16: 
Alarmed at the People’s War Group running an almost parallel administration, Hooghly district officials are at their wit’s end on how to tackle the Naxalite outfit.

They said the district intelligence branch had been alerted. A blueprint on requisitioning additional forces from neighbouring districts have also been prepared.

“The members of the group have already procured sophisticated weapons from their counterparts in other districts,” a senior police officer said.

“We are on the lookout for the militants who are intimidating people. We have already arrested some of them.”

Villagers in the area said they could not disobey these militants for fear of reprisal.

“We are also forced to give them money and buy peace. How long will the police provide us security? The single police camp is not enough to thwart any move on part of the Naxalites who have a good network to collect information,” a villager said.

The police officer said adequate measures were being taken to curb the activities of these militants and district police were working in tandem with their counterparts in other districts.

Police sources said they did not have any plan to use the commando force to smoke out outlawed PWG members and take help from their Andhra counterparts.


New Delhi, Jan. 16: 
Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi today announced that a recent marine archaeological find in the Gulf of Cambay had uncovered a “civilisation” dating back to 7500 BC, 5,000 years before Indus Valley.

Archaeological excavations have so far held that the earliest cities appeared in Sumer around 3500 BC, in Egypt around 3000 BC and at Harappa in 2500 BC. At a news conference today, Joshi claimed the Gulf of Cambay find had changed this.

But archaeologists and geological experts refused to commit themselves. “The marine archaeological discoveries show the evidence of human activity as early as 7000 BC. But it is too early to characterise them as civilisation,” said Prof. S.N. Rajguru, former joint director and head of the archaeology department in the Deccan College of Pune.

The marine excavations have uncovered wall-like structures jutting out from the ocean bed. The only artefact that has been tested by the carbon 14 method is a piece of wood that seems to have been cut by humans.

The remaining artefacts, including beads and objects with holes drilled into them, are still to be scientifically dated. Experts believe the settlement could turn out to be the oldest neolithic site in India. But they were cautious about reading too much as a lot of work remains to be done.

Joshi, however, threw caution to the winds. “These discoveries will have far reaching implications for Indian history,” he declared. There was a panel of experts at the conference, but Joshi fielded all questions himself.

Joshi asked Prof Rajguru if the piece of wood could be certified the oldest in the world. But the eminent archaeologist reserved his opinion, saying such generalisations were out of place.

Later, Rajguru said: “There are many questions that remain unanswered. For example, the style of the structure is much more sophisticated than the evidence found of human activity which seems to have been of a very simple form.”

Since Joshi took charge of the ministry, he has been trying to “Indianise” all aspects of ancient civilisation and culture to prove that India has given more to the world than it has taken from it. A recent subject of contention was the Aryan invasion theory, which Joshi and his acolytes in the NCERT rejected on grounds that Aryans were not outsiders.

Today’s inferences were along the same lines. “We have decided to form a group of experts to work on the site as a national project,” Joshi said. The group will include people from specialised organisations like the National Institute of Ocean Technology, the National Institute of Oceanography, the Archaeological Survey of India and the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad.


Jamshedpur, Jan. 16: 
The ripple effects of the slump in the information technology sector and the aftermath of the September 11 strikes on the United States are being felt in XLRI.

A record number of students have applied for admission to the institute this year. XLRI authorities believe that the number has increased because many engineers have not been able to get lucrative jobs in the infotech sector.

Also, many students have failed to go to the US because of the stringent visa rules that have come into place after the terror strikes in Washington and New York.

“Last year, our institute had about 16,000 applicants. This year, the number has increased to 22,000. A major chunk of them is from the IITs and other technical institutes,” says E.M. Rao, dean academics, XLRI.

“Last year, XLRI had 36 students from an engineering background out of a total strength of 65. This year, we will definitely see a 30-40 per cent rise in the numbers,” he added.

Though the trend among engineers to get a management degree is not new, more and more techies are willing to take admission in a premier B-school and wait for the situation to improve in the IT sector.

“What could be a better option than studying at a business school for two years while waiting for things to look up?” says Avinash Kumar, a first-year personnel management and industrial relations student at XLRI who has an engineering degree under his belt.

“The placement scenario at most engineering institutes is worsening by the day. Jobs available in the market today offer packages nowhere close to their expectations,” adds Ashish Kumar Pani, a professor of information technology at XLRI.

“The best way to tackle the recession for those on the lookout for favourable jobs is to get a management degree from a premier business school,” agrees C. Kalyan, a PMIR student.

Moreover, the US is also not as welcoming as it was before the terrorist strikes.

“Not many take the GRE now or even if they have taken it already, they are unable to go abroad because of the restrictions imposed by the US,” points out Faroukh Siddiqui, another XLRI student.

Rao offered other reasons for the increased interest among engineers to be a part of business schools.

“Stability has given way to mobility and the emphasis of the industry on technicians with managerial skills has met the aspirations of the students for fast-track jobs,” says Rao.

“Everyone looks for an attractive pay packet and, more important, upward mobility in a job,” says Abhijit Deb, an engineer who opted for management after working with Tata Consultancy Services for two years.


New Delhi, Jan. 16: 
US ambassador in India Robert Blackwill and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger will meet K.C. Pant tomorrow.

Pant, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, is the chief pointman of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government on Kashmir.

Kissinger and Blackwill will provide him valuable inputs on the Bush administration’s thinking on Kashmir.

The interaction comes at a time the US is stepping up pressure on India to resume talks with Pakistan.

Last year, Pant had begun preliminary talks with different sections of people in Kashmir. The exercise failed to make much headway because the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders refused to talk.

The US ambassador has been in touch with Pant and met him at least three times since the September 11 attacks. The British high commissioner is also scheduled to meet Pant before the week ends.

With Kashmir taking centrestage again, India needs to rethink its strategy, which has so far been confined to fighting terrorism. The Farooq Abdullah government’s demand for an autonomy package for Kashmiris has remained in cold storage and is unlikely to be revived in the near future.

“An economic package for Jammu and Kashmir has already been approved, but an autonomy package is out for now,” a top government official said.

Policy-planners at the Centre are now confining themselves to a simple agenda: free, fair and credible elections in Kashmir scheduled later this year. The people of Kashmir have long complained of rigged elections. New Delhi feels a fair poll will reassure them that the Centre is not interested in imposing its favourites on the state.

The planners are trying to wean away some of the Hurriyat leaders to join the democratic process to lend credibility to the elections.

India believes Pakistan had played a major role in ensuring that the people of Kashmir boycott the elections. India is bent on breaking the pattern and getting a decent turnout this time around. A fair election with maximum participation would give India’s image a boost internationally.


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