Call US, pay for local call
India to pierce missile market
BJP prays for BSP in make-or-break leg
Delhi, Shimla date for Karzai
Floppy jolt to Enron official
Bofors branch eyes business
Rush for slice of weapons pie
Naxalite rage opens Jharkhand eyes
Plague patients shunned
Calcutta Weather

 
 
CALL US, PAY FOR LOCAL CALL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 20: 
The savage beep-and-bop world of communications is buzzing with excitement over the mother of all battles that will begin on April 1 when you will be able to call a friend in the US for the price of a local call. That’s right — pay just Rs 1.20 a minute for a call to the US against the current rate of Rs 42 a minute.

Welcome to the brave new world of Internet telephony — which is dirt cheap, though call clarity may not equal the normal call networks. However, consumers are unlikely to complain and, in any case, software and hardware are being developed to deal with the problem.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) today announced that it would allow the market to determine cyber telephony call charges — and that spells big competition for Tata-acquired VSNL, whose monopoly on handling international call traffic expires on the same day.

The players who are likely to offer Net telephony include all basic fixed line service providers, national long distance operators (STD operators), international long distance operators (ILD operators) and even Internet service providers (ISPs).

This could also wreck the plans of private players like Reliance, the Bharti Group, Data Access and Pacific Netinvest, all of whom received letters of intent today to establish international long distance services by setting up their own expensive communication gateways.

Trai’s virtually hands-off policy on cyber telephony has upset the telecom operators. Their grouse is over the ISPs’ unfettered entry into the Net telephony business.

“Unlike us, they did not have to pay a licence fee or enter into a revenue sharing arrangement with the government,” sources in Bharti said.

“They have no roll-out obligations like cellular and basic operators, which means they will incur no social costs and will be free to enter one of the most lucrative segments of the market,” said a telecom industry analyst.

Amitabh Singhal, secretary general of the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), says: “The recommendations will in fact boost the revenues of the telecom operators since most Net users will be connected to the Net over fixed-line phones.”

International telephony market is big business: monopolist VSNL had reported call traffic revenues in 2000-01 of over Rs 6,000 crore with 2.6 billion minutes of call traffic.

Internet telephony can be provided in three ways depending on the access devices, which could be a personal computer or a phone.

To provide greater flexibility to operators and more options to customers, Trai has also recommended that in addition to toll-quality telephony service, operators can also offer a lower-than-toll quality telephony service to customers who are ready to accept some degradation in voice quality.

This can be done by providing a separate voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) based backbone which can be accessed by a different service code.

   

 
 
INDIA TO PIERCE MISSILE MARKET 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 20: 
The BrahMos is set to launch India as a player in the global missile market.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has begun marketing the missile — named after the Brahmaputra and Moskva rivers — to representatives of Asian and African countries at Defexpo 2002. Even before the exposition, the DRDO has been sounding out potential buyers, among them the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.

India’s missile think-tank had got the go-ahead last month from the defence ministry to explore possibilities of exporting the projectile. But Delhi is being extra-careful, making it clear that the missile is “for sale only to friendly countries”. The seller is asking for a delivery time of two years.

The BrahMos is an anti-ship supersonic cruise missile built jointly by the Hyderabad-based Defence Research and Development Laboratory — a DRDO outfit — and the Russian federal state unitary enterprise, NPO Mashinostroynia, under a 1998 agreement flowing out of the India-Russia inter-governmental commission on military and technical cooperation. Private Indian companies have also contributed to its development.

Launched from a ship, the BrahMos can fly up to a height of 14 km at 2 mach (twice the speed of sound, making it supersonic). It carries a 200-kg conventional warhead. The solid-propellant charged BrahMos has a pre-set trajectory, but a sensor at its head can detect the target and can change course to strike 20 km from bull’s eye.

It operates on a fire-and-forget principle and can also fly at near-surface levels, but that shortens its range to 120 km (from a maximum 290 km).

The missile is marginally over eight metres in length, 670 mm in diameter and weighs 3,000 kg. It can be fired from multiple platforms (ship, land, submarine and air).

“A salvo of nine missiles can penetrate and destroy a group of three frigates that have modern anti-missile defence capabilities,” goes the DRDO’s spiel. “It would take twice the number of missiles of other subsonic types to destroy the same type of target.”

But the global market for anti-ship cruise missiles is crowded and it will not be easy for the BrahMos to penetrate.

A study by the Paris-based Forecast International, a market intelligence firm, quoted by Jane’s Defence Weekly says the anti-ship cruise missile market will generate more than $7 billion in revenue in the 10-year period, 2001-2010. The market leaders are Boeing and Aerospatiale Matra.

   

 
 
BJP PRAYS FOR BSP IN MAKE-OR-BREAK LEG 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 20: 
Eastern Uttar Pradesh’s 166 constituencies go to polls tomorrow in the crucial, last phase of elections against the backdrop of the political wisdom that who wins the east — home to five Prime Ministers — rides to Lucknow.

With the bulk of the 403 constituencies in the state, the east is vital to all the three big players – the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

BJP stalwarts like Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi and ministers Harish Chandra Shrivastava and Om Prakash Singh are fighting with their backs to the wall against the strong anti-incumbency undercurrent, which observers in Allahabad and Varanasi say could turn into a “tidal wave” on polling day.

Chief minister Rajnath Singh’s slogan of “stability through a coalition” has fallen flat. Not because voters expect a clear mandate but because, by popular reckoning, the BJP-led coalition with its 100 ministers is rated the “most corrupt and inefficient” government in the state in living memory.

Resigned to power cuts, erratic water supply, bad roads and choked sewers, residents have faulted the government not on development but for sponging off a meagre state exchequer and often depriving salaried classes of their monthly income.

Teachers, clerks, revenue-record keepers and others from the provincial civil services — once the BJP’s captive votebank besides traders — speak of how they felt “utterly cheated” by its hardsell of being a “party with a difference”. “Yes, it is a party with a difference,” is the common refrain. “But the difference has left us worse off.”

If the disillusioned business class is looking for alternatives, the clerks and teachers chorus: “The BJP would lose this time.”

For the BJP, the split in “secular and liberal” votes may not work this time as the issue at stake is the return of a semblance of normality to the Gangetic belt.

Though officially the BJP maintains it would form the government with its existing allies, party leaders in private are hoping the BSP substantially improves on its previous tally of 67 so that the two could again forge an alliance.

However, another view in the party is that it is better to sit in the Opposition and recover its base than back Mayavati. The BJP’s only solace is that no clear alternative is in sight.

In the east, the Samajwadi has emerged as the main challenger with the BSP in tow. The party has as much stake here as the BJP, if not more.

With hardly any presence in the Jat belt of the west and having to contend with the BSP in central Uttar Pradesh, it has to put up a significant show to come within striking range of power.

   

 
 
DELHI, SHIMLA DATE FOR KARZAI 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 20: 
Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan’s interim government, will reach India on Monday for a three-day official visit.

Karzai will also visit Shimla, where he had studied for a few years in the early eighties. He is expected to leave for Shimla on February 27 in a helicopter. The college where he studied is likely to organise a function to honour Karzai.

Keen to retain the toehold it has gained in Afghanistan after a long interlude, the Indian leadership will treat Karzai as a head of state, though he is heading only an interim regime.

Karzai’s proposed tour had its share of diplomatic manoeuvres, too, with India going out of its way to ensure that he did not club it along with a visit to Pakistan. The Afghan ruler had visited Islamabad a few weeks ago.

But India accepted the Afghan request of making Karzai’s visit possible before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee leaves for Australia for eight days at the end of the month.

During his stay here, Karzai will hold talks with Vajpayee and other senior members of the Indian government. One of the thrust areas of the discussions will be the future of war-ravaged Afghanistan and the reconstruction role India can play.

Besides, Karzai’s visit will help create the framework within which the two countries can work as they renew ties after a six-year hiatus. India’s new ambassador Vivek Katju is scheduled to take charge of the Indian embassy in Kabul by the middle of next month.

Freight fight

The war of postures between Pakistan and India entered another phase today with Islamabad claiming that Delhi has asked for resumption of freight traffic between the two countries.

Pakistan, smarting under India’s decision to halt the cross-border Samjhauta Express, said it would reject the request to resume the freight services, suspended two months ago.

Pakistan’s railway minister Javed Ashraf told AFP that Indian officials asked the Pakistani high commission in Delhi to start preparations for resumption of the freight trains.

However, a senior diplomat in the Indian high commission in Islamabad said he was not aware of any such proposal by Delhi.

Ashraf said Pakistan finds it more important to resume passenger train services, which have also been at a standstill since January 1. “If they do not allow Samjhauta Express, we will not allow freight,” the news agency quoted Ashraf as saying.

“Hundreds of thousands of families are divided between the two countries. It’s more important to restore people traffic than goods traffic,” he said.

   

 
 
FLOPPY JOLT TO ENRON OFFICIAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Feb. 20: 
A senior Enron official bound for London was stopped at the Chhatrapati Shivaji international airport here last night by customs officers, who seized floppies he was carrying in his suitcases.

Customs sources said the floppies contained information on the stalled Dabhol power project.

Ken Lambert, who was once project manager at Dabhol, was allowed to board his aircraft after the seizure.

The seizure came after the state government accused the company of removing crucial documents from the plant in a petition with Bombay High Court. Customs sources said they had acted on a tip-off.

An Enron spokesman said tonight that Lambert was carrying documents to London, where Enron was setting up a data room for “voluminous documentation in preparation for the due diligence process initiated by the IDBI”.

   

 
 
BOFORS BRANCH EYES BUSINESS 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 20: 
After the South Africans yesterday, it was the turn of the Swedes today, with a company fronting for Bofors at the helm. SWS Defence Systems, whose raison d’ętre is to market and promote Bofors-built artillery systems in India, has announced it was in the race, too, to help India set up an ordnance factory in Nalanda.

The proposal to set up a factory in Nalanda to manufacture “modular charges” that will fire the projectiles for 155-mm howitzers and, possibly even the gun itself, has been in the works for some time now. Nalanda is defence minister George Fernandes’ Lok Sabha constituency.

The situation is fuzzy, confounding even defence ministry officials. One said both Denel and SWS were in the race. Another said the factory would be built for the Ordnance Factory Board and can have both Denel and SWS as technological collaborators, depending on negotiations. Yet another said there was absolutely no possibility that Bofors would be associated in a major project right now.

SWS Defence chairman Haken Kangert claimed today that his company had offered to set up the plant on a “turnkey” basis, meaning it was ready to construct the factory and make it fully operational.

Yesterday, the CEO of Denel, the huge South African government enterprise, had said that the company’s ordnance group had offered to do the same under an India-South Africa artillery partnership proposed by Pretoria.

SWS was formed after Bofors AB, stigmatised in India since the allegation of a Rs 64-crore kickback in 1986, transferred first to the Celsius group and subsequently to United Defense, a US conglomerate in 1998. This was part of a series of mergers and acquisitions through the 1980s and the 1990s in the global, particularly, European arms industry. Since the 1999 Kargil war, in which the Bofors FH 77b 155-mm towed howitzer is acknowledged to have fared very well, SWS has been enthused to probe deeper.

“We are looking for joint production, joint ventures and partnerships in artillery guns as well as production of new generation of ammunition and charges,” Kangert said.

SWS has offered to upgrade the howitzers delivered to India under the 1986 agreement. Kangert said a request for proposal was received from India in December and the company was read to give field trials in April.

Upgradation and building of 155-mm cannons and developing ammunition for them is probably the stiffest area of competition for several arms makers keen on dealing with India. At Defexpo 2002 itself, Israel’s Soltam Systems is exhibiting prominently its own cannon of the category mounted on a Tatra truck built by the public sector Bharat Earth Movers Limited. The Polish company is also chancing its luck for the same product. Each of the players is offering variants that are towed, mounted (on tanks) and self-propelled.

This in itself is not a surprise because it is widely known that the 155-mm cannon is the weapon of choice for the army’s artillery units. Right now, a program to upgrade 130-mm guns to 155-mm is being implemented.

India is also looking for the Carl Gustaf 84-mm shoulder-fired light anti-armour weapon. FFV Ordnance, the Swedish company marketing the equipment, has offered its Mark III version. The earlier version has been indigenised and is produced by an ordnance factory in Calcutta.

The Carl Gustaf, often referred to as “the infantry man’s artillery”, is a battle proven system currently in use in 40 countries.

   

 
 
RUSH FOR SLICE OF WEAPONS PIE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 20: 
Amid signals that a whopping hike in defence allocations is to follow in next week’s budget, arms majors from the US and Russia, France, Sweden, Israel and South Africa have stepped up the lobbying and jostling for lucrative contracts.

Almost every company represented at the CII-hosted Defexpo 2002, the second land and naval systems exhibition here, has either offered equipment or is in negotiation with the Union defence ministry.

It is possible that before Defexpo concludes, India will sign a deal for Scorpene submarines manufactured in a joint venture of the French DCN and the Spanish Izar companies.

US Ambassador Robert Blackwill, visiting a stall of Raytheon Company, the American firm that makes the weapon-locating radars for which Washington and New Delhi have begun talks, said: “India holds out great promises and possibilities to the American corporates”.

The Russian delegation, by far the largest, said it was unfazed by the competition for the Indian market with which it had historical ties.

“We have had the best of relations with India and have been suppliers at all times,” said Viktor Komardin, director general of the Russian government trading house, Rosoboronexport. The Russians are looking to immediately supply the Smerch multiple rocket launch system to the Indian army.

India’s defence procurement, according to industry estimates, is set to go up by a billion dollars a year over the next 10 years. The defence budget this year has been Rs 62,000 crore and conservative estimates project a hike of 15 to 20 per cent. However, procurements have been tardy. But the defence ministry has been told that in the forthcoming budget, defence acquisitions would be a priority area.

It does not immediately follow that acquisitions will be swift. On an average, it takes at least two years for the delivery of a weapon system after the contract is signed.

Historically, negotiations for major procurements have been long and bureaucratic. Talks over the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov have been on for more than a decade; likewise with the acquisition of the British advanced jet trainer Hawk, which, George Fernandes insinuated, was being dragged down by vested interests.

Even the negotiations on the Scorpene submarines, possibly closer than ever to the deal being clinched, have been on for five years.

Despite these, arms makers are optimistic because they sense opportunities in South Asia that are probably unmatched elsewhere. Raytheon Company, for instance, that makes the weapon locating radars that India could buy, has already sold the same equipment to Pakistan.

   

 
 
NAXALITE RAGE OPENS JHARKHAND EYES 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Feb. 20: 
Naxalite fury swept the state on a day the government acknowledged that the rebel outfits had “established” themselves in Jharkhand.

Three persons were killed and a passenger train derailed in sporadic incidents of violence that marked the 24-hour bandh called by the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and supported by other Naxalite outfits to protest the promulgation of the anti-terror Ordinance by the Centre.

Normal life was thrown out of gear as the rebels disrupted road and rail traffic all over Jharkhand.

In the Assembly, Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari sprang a surprise by stating that “the MCC has established itself in the state” and such “sporadic incidents” were “expected” during a bandh. This is the first time the House has admitted that extremists pose a problem.

Suspected MCC men opened fire at several places injuring a police sub-inspector and also set ablaze a passenger jeep, carrying a marriage party, and a scooter near Kanda Ghaati in Daltonganj. Blockades were set up on highways of sensitive districts.

MCC cadre opened fire on Hazaribagh-Barhi Road near National Park around 5 am, killing two truck drivers and a helper and injuring six persons.

Describing the bandh response as “mixed”, director-general of police R.R. Prasad said the impact was confined to Hazaribagh, Giridih and parts of Ranchi while sensitive areas like Latehar, Chatra, Garhwa, Palamau, Koderma, Dhanbad and Bokaro were not affected.

Railway officials said MCC activists removed fishplates and blew up the tracks after midnight in Giridih.

“Around 2.53 am, the Patna-Hatia Express, approaching Parasnath station, jumped tracks and 12 bogies were derailed. There were, however, no casualties. Movement of trains in the Grand Chord section came to a grinding halt,” the official said.

Assistant station manager of Mahadevsal station under Chakradharpur railway division of West Singhbhum, Janak Pradhan, and a token collector were kidnapped by suspected MCC activists in the morning and later released.

The two employees were taken into Saranda forest and threatened with dire consequences in case they ignored future bandh calls .

“They looked like ordinary villagers and spoke in Hindi. One of them was a bit rough and abused me before talking about the bandh. He repeatedly asked us why we were on duty on bandh day,” Pradhan told The Telegraph.

   

 
 
PLAGUE PATIENTS SHUNNED 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Feb. 20: 
It has been a harrowing month for Sudhir Sauhata, 28, a beekeeper from Rohru in Shimla district. With three members of his family dead and six others admitted at the PGIMER here with a disease that took the Union health ministry 12 days to diagnose as plague, Sudhir has no clue why the disease struck only his household.

Nor is he able to understand the manner in which doctors and attendants at the hospital have been treating him and his surviving family members.

“When I first took my brother, Randhir, his wife Sulochana and sister Anu (all dead) to the doctors at Jubbal and Rohru, I was told to go back as there was nothing wrong with them. They said dard aur bukhar to sab ko hota hai (everyone suffers from pain and fever) and sent us home. At Shimla’s Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital, too, the treatment was the same. Despite suffering from respiratory problems, we were turned back because of non-availability of oxygen,” Sudhir said.

A visit to the PGI isolation ward revealed that the Sauhatas indeed were being treated as “untouchables”. Doctors, nurses and hospital attendants, despite wearing masks, refused to mingle with them because they were afraid of contracting the plague.

Sudhir’s uncle, Jangveer, too, had nothing complimentary to say about the treatment meted out to his family members ever since doctors at the PGI said tests had proved their relatives were suffering from plague.

“We were asked to immediately leave the hotel where we were staying. We have not been provided any bedsheet by the hospital authorities here. Taking Anu’s body to the crematorium on Monday was an event in itself. No one was willing to tow her body to the cremation site, not even rickshawpullers. When we managed to get a taxi we had to pay an exorbitant amount. Even at the crematorium, we were asked to take her body to the farthest corner lest we disturbed others who had come to cremate their near and dear ones,” Jangveer said.

For Sudhir, however, the nightmare has just begun. His sister Anu had two children, a three-year-old daughter, Malvika, and an 18-month-old son, Joney. Plague has also orphaned Randhir and Sulochna’s son, six-year-old Varun.

“What will I tell the children when they ask me where their parents are?” Sudhir asked with tears running down his cheeks.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.0°C (+3)
Minimum: 18.1°C (+1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 86%,
Minimum: 27%

Sunrise: 6.10 am

Sunset: 5.31 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C
   
 

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