Centre sharpens axe for shutdowns, layoffs
Atal tilts to Mayavati
America accepts ransom
Nobel Naipaul’s ignoble face
Trigger-shy battalion cop shoots guard
Time runs out for tanneries
Khalistan list option
CBI pitch for handover
Mumbai police seek Ansari custody
Calcutta Weather

 
 
CENTRE SHARPENS AXE FOR SHUTDOWNS, LAYOFFS 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY AND MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 21: 
Just days after a round of crucial Assembly polls, the BJP government is set to clear far-reaching changes in the country’s labour laws.

The changes will make it easy for business houses and for Central government-run public sector units (PSUs) to shut down factories or retrench labour and make it tougher for workers in export promotion zones and export-oriented units to go on strike.

The new norms include a controversial provision allowing companies to shut down, lay off or retrench workers without seeking permission from state governments if they employ less than 1,000 workers. At present, only factories employing less than 100 workers can do this.

The note on the new Industrial Relations Act, which will contain these provisions and which replaces the older Industrial Disputes Act, is likely to be cleared by the Cabinet tomorrow.

The controversial proposal had been hanging fire for some time and there had been talk of raising this ceiling to 200 or 500 workers. But few, if any, outside the government realised that the BJP-led Cabinet would take this figure to 1,000.

This means that most factories and establishments in the country will no longer be covered by a legal provision that protects workers’ jobs.

Labour minister Sharad Yadav has put in a note of dissent, suggesting the ceiling be brought down from 1,000 to a more “reasonable” number. But the government has not responded.

The trade unions are livid and will certainly fight the move. “We have calculated that about 11 lakh workers in the organised sector could potentially end up losing their jobs because of various steps being taken by the government. But this new piece of legislation will magnify that figure several times,” said Nilotpal Basu of the CPM.

But what might attract even greater flak as it could be misused with greater impunity is a provision that allows companies to freely retrench workers in the name of rationalisation, standardisation or improvement of the plant or technique of production in any case where a VRS package has been given.

“No notice needs be served even to the workers under such circumstances in the future,” a top official in the PMO said.

Another provision will allow managements to shed up to 2 per cent of the workers at a time in the name of improving labour productivity. All that companies have to do is compute the average productivity of all workers and the 2 per cent who have the lowest productivity and are also below the average rate can be given pink slips.

Possibly to overcome the problems the Centre has been facing in selling off and shutting down PSUs, the new Act will have a provision that Central PSUs need only inform the Centre or seek its permission if they are to be closed down or if they need to retrench or lay off workers. Earlier, Central PSUs, like all other companies, had to report to the state government on this.

The new provisions also redefine public utilities to include all factories in special economic zones, export promotion zones and even those that carry the label of 100 per cent export-oriented units.

The idea seems to have been taken from China where labour laws have been relaxed for similar economic zones, a fact that the government will use to buttress its arguments when attacked by trade unions.

The government is also increasing the notice period for strikes from 15 days to 30 days for normal factories and to 45 days for public utilities, which it has been threatening to do for a long time.

Possibly to sugarcoat the new law which is riddled with measures that the unions are likely to dub as anti-labour, the government will bring in amendments to the Companies Act to install worker directors on the board of companies with more than 500 workers.

It will also set up labour management councils in all establishments with more than 100 workers and set up an internal two-stage redressal system in all factories with more than 20 workers.

Another key pro-worker provision which the government has been bandying around for some time is one which will increase retrenchment pay to 45 days for every year of work, up three times from the existing level of 15 days.

In his speeches at recent labour meets, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has stressed the urgency of upgrading labour laws.

But clearing the amendments in the Cabinet will be easier than getting them through in Parliament, which meets for the budget session on Monday.

The Congress, which has bailed out the government on crucial liberalisation policies, is opposed to the labour law amendments.

“As long as the Congress stands firm with us, there is no way the government can pass the Bill in Parliament,” a Left leader said.

   

 
 
ATAL TILTS TO MAYAVATI 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 21: 
Differences have cropped up in the BJP on striking a post-poll alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh if the results match exit poll projections of a hung Assembly.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is believed to be in favour of experimenting again with a BSP coalition, but BJP chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi and several MPs from the state feel that such an alliance is “not worth it in the long run”.

The scepticism stems from the possibility that a coalition would see BSP leader Mayavati becoming chief minister and the BJP being reduced to a “junior partner”. However, BJP sources said, Vajpayee did not want to risk having a “hostile” dispensation in Lucknow as he felt it would tell on the viability and stability of the coalition government at the Centre.

The sources said a government headed by the Samajwadi Party — tipped by most pollsters to emerge as the single largest party — would serve as a “red rag” to the Sangh parivar hardliners who might take up the Ayodhya issue with greater gusto. “If this happens, the more secular NDA constituents may become restive,” a BJP leader said.

The Prime Minister, the sources claimed, was also of the view that a strong Mulayam Singh Yadav might become a focal point for the resurrection of a third front which could have the potential of weaning away some allies of the BJP.

Another factor in favour of a BSP alliance is the party’s capability to add to the NDA’s numbers. The BSP has 14 Lok Sabha and four Rajya Sabha MPs. “This will come in useful in the presidential and vice-presidential elections,” a source said.

BJP strategists are working on a formula which envisages giving a Cabinet berth in the Centre to Mayavati and another BSP nominee and allowing her the prerogative of naming a chief minister from the BJP.

The sources claimed she had an “excellent” equation with two Uttar Pradesh leaders, Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon, and would have “no problem” working with either of them.

But it is learnt that Krishnamurthi and MPs from Uttar Pradesh feel that if the BJP could not form a government in an “honourable” way, it was better to sit in the Opposition. While Vajpayee has given an inkling of his views, all eyes are on home minister L.K. Advani, who has not spoken his mind so far.

   

 
 
AMERICA ACCEPTS RANSOM 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Feb. 21: 
With little progress in the efforts to free kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan and two American missionaries in the Philippines, the US government has signalled a change in Washington’s long-standing policy of not paying ransom to kidnappers.

Missing from the new policy statement issued by the state department is a crucial and unequivocal assertion in the old policy that when hostages are taken, the US government “will not pay ransom, release prisoners, change its policies, or agree to other acts that might encourage additional terrorism”.

The new policy replaces that crucial sentence with a pregnant statement that “it is US government policy to deny hostage-takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes or other acts of concession”.

Announcing the new policy, state department spokesman Richard Boucher laboured hard to convince reporters that the Bush administration was uncompromising in its treatment of hostage-takers. In fact, he sought to impress that, if anything, the US would be tougher on such criminal acts.

Both the new policy and the earlier one, which went into force seven years ago, state that the US government will make no concessions to hostage-takers. The old policy said “the US strongly urges American companies and private citizens not to pay terrorist ransom demands”. The new announcement replaces that sentence with the following: “The US strongly urges American companies and private citizens not to accede to hostage-taker demands.” It no longer refers specifically to ransom demands as taboo.

The new policy, according to reports in American media, was fiercely opposed by the Pentagon. Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon officials argued that the changes would provide incentives to kidnap more Americans and have an effect that would be the exact opposite of what was intended. These reports said the state department, on the other hand, argued that the changes give the government greater flexibility to save lives and deter kidnappings.

The policy change does not mean that any ransom is about to be paid to secure freedom for Pearl or the Christian missionaries being held hostage in the Philippines.

But it represents a more realistic assessment of a global environment in which it is becoming a common terrorist or criminal strategy to kidnap Americans either for ransom or to advance a political platform.

A review which produced the new policy was started in the final year of the Clinton administration in the light of rising incidents of kidnappings of US citizens.

But it became urgent when the Bush administration, which likes to advertise its Reganesque toughness, was rattled in its very first month in office by the murder of Ronald Sander, one of four American oil company staffers kidnapped by leftist guerillas in Ecuador. After Sander’s murder, the employers of the hostages paid a $13 million ransom to secure freedom for the remaining Americans.

The reference in the new policy to denying hostage-takers the “benefits of ransom” is a reference to how the US government subsequently worked with Colombian and Ecuadorean officials, traced the kidnappers with the help of the ransom money and brought 57 of them to justice.

Reinforcing this new line, yesterday’s statement said that “in the event a hostage-taking incident is resolved through concessions”, the US would try to apprehend and prosecute the hostage-takers.

This runs counter to the unequivocal assertion in the old policy that “the US government cannot participate in developing and implementing a ransom strategy”.

In another crucial change, the new policy has dropped a sentence which said US diplomatic missions “will limit their participation” to enabling contacts with foreign governments in cases where private organisations or other negotiate ransoms with hostage-takers.

   

 
 
NOBEL NAIPAUL’S IGNOBLE FACE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Neemrana, Feb. 21: 
Chewing up fellow writers and spitting out the refuse comes easy to Vidiadhar S. Naipaul. But going to work on two authors — both women — with knife and fork at breakfast after having made a meal of the US ambassador’s wife at a dinner was memorable even by his standards.

At this morning’s session of the writers’ conclave at Neemrana, some 90 km from Delhi, Naipaul’s famous rapier-tongue sank into novelists Nayantara Sehgal and Shashi Deshpande. In the full glare of the media’s eyes, he shut Sehgal up. Called Deshpande banal.

And threatened to walk out.

A million mutinies would have erupted at Neemrana Fort Palace Hotel had some of the other authors, like Ruchir Joshi, not stopped after telling the Nobel laureate what they thought of him: obnoxious.

Midnight’s Children: The Weight of History was the only open session at the three-day writers’ retreat. Naipaul passed up the honour of speaking first, complaining about the “general” nature of the theme.

So Deshpande, author of Roots and Shadows and A Matter of Time, it was who began to speak of her struggle against the oppression of history to establish herself in a male-dominated system.

At the high table, flanked by an array of writers, Naipaul — in a grey suit — was getting restive.

When Sehgal, Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece, began to talk of the colonial experience, Naipaul cut in brusquely. “Talking about colonising is too much. After 50 years of Independence, what is the point? When did colonialism take place? Give a date. Without a date it is like dancing on air.”

Sehgal turned to moderator Amitav Ghosh and said: “I will not speak another word.” A section of the audience felt Ghosh should have dealt with Naipaul firmly, which he did not. The moderator simply moved on, not even asking Sehgal to continue.

That was not all. Naipaul went after Deshpande, saying he found her talk of oppression of history and gender “banal”. “I have a short time to live. I have no time for such banalities. I find them irritants.”

Wife Nadira passed on a slip of paper, requesting him to keep calm. Author Vikram Seth implored him not to make a scene.

But the young — Ruchir Joshi and Amitava Kumar — protested loudly. “You are obnoxious,” Joshi shouted.

Naipaul regained his composure, regretting that the final session had ended on such an unpleasant note. “There were two good sessions,” he said, adding that “it is least fortunate” the third shaped up as it did.

When he spoke himself, Naipaul merely quoted Khushwant Singh to say three things were missing in Indian writing — nature, humour and biography. The epitome of magnanimity now, he rounded off his speech by saying: “I have seldom met such nice people together.”

Sehgal and Deshpande — both pictures of restraint — were lucky to be counted among the “nice” people because Naipaul is usually not so nice.

He has dumped E.M. Forster as rubbish. Called R.K. Narayan’s India a “ruin”. Said of James Joyce’s works: “I can’t read it.” Described Dickens as having “died from the self-parody”.

Naipaul is not known to have apologised to all these dead people, which he did to Sehgal, and didn’t to American ambassador Robert Blackwill’s wife.

At a dinner at Neemrana, Naipaul worked up a lather over an argument with her, used abusive words and ordered her off the table. Mrs Blackwill gave as good as she got.

   

 
 
TRIGGER-SHY BATTALION COP SHOOTS GUARD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 21: 
A Calcutta police armed force constable shot dead a telecom security guard — with whom he was on duty to protect the BSNL building at Tiretta Bazar — late this evening, allegedly after a drunken brawl over a plate of rice.

The constable, Biswajit Mondal, who shot Pratyush Karmakar in the head, belonged to the second battalion, the same force that took in 54 rounds of ammo without reply when confronted by two AK-47-wielding assailants a month ago in front of the American Center.

Mondal walked away with a colleague after the shooting, but the two gave themselves over some minutes later.

Deputy commissioner (central) Zulfiquar Hasan, who visited the spot, had a tough time pacifying Karmakar’s angry colleagues who did not give up the body for post-mortem for almost two hours.

Hasan did not confirm allegations that the rogue cop was drunk. But central division officials refused to believe that the constable was “in his senses” when he pulled the trigger, confirming allegations from local people that the armed constables used to drink every night they were on duty.

A third constable, who was outside the building and entered it after hearing the shot, stayed back and was being interrogated, Hasan said.

Besides Karmakar, another BSNL chowkidar — Shanti Konar — was on duty on the 2-10-pm shift and was the only person to have seen the shooting, officials said. “We are asking him what he saw but he is still in a state of shock,” they added.

The first round of interrogation of Mondal, his colleagues and the witness, however, gave officials some clues to work on. “It appears that Karmakar and one of the constables had an altercation over a plate of rice that one of them had cooked,” an official said. The BSNL guards and the constables had separate rooms for themselves and used to cook their own food every night, he added.

Karmakar, who worked for 10 years as a casual staff before being given formal appointment six months ago, was to have taken a late train to his home at Bansberia in Hooghly. Regarded an honest and sincere worker, he received a good-conduct certificate about a month ago, a BSNL official said.

   

 
 
TIME RUNS OUT FOR TANNERIES 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 21: 
The city’s leather trade today received a severe blow with the Supreme Court refusing to extend the February 28 deadline for tanneries to shift to the new 500-acre industrial facility at Bantala.

As a result, 532 tanneries in the city face closure. This would affect some seven lakh people in the leather trade.

A division bench of Justice M.B. Shah and Justice B.N. Agarwal said “all of you have to be closed down”, when various counsel for the Calcutta Leather Manufacturers Association, Ambedkat Tanneries Association and others pleaded for extension of the deadline.

The state government has said that an industrial plot with modern effluent treatment plants had already been readied for these tanneries.

However, the leather industry and tannery owners told the apex court that though they were ready to relocate, the state government had not provided any infrastructure facilities in the new facility.

The tanneries are currently situated in the eastern fringes of the city at Tiljala, Tangra, Topsia and Pagla Danga.

On a public interest litigation filed by Magsaysay Award-winning lawyer M.C. Mehta, a division bench of Justice Kuldip Singh and Justice S. Saghir Ahmed had issued directions to the Bengal government in 1996 to shift the tanneries to the new leather complex or to close them down.

Today, counsel Somnath Mukherjee, appearing for the Ambedkat Tanneries Association, told the court that the state government’s statement that a 500-acre industrial plot was developed was a farce as it had yet to ready infrastructure facilities.

Appearing for Calcutta Leather Manufacturer’s Association, counsel Deba Prasada Mukherjee said the tanneries should be given time to shift.

He said it was a “human problem” because if the tanneries closed down some seven lakh people would lose their livelihoods. “In Indian conditions, such developments do take time and one should not be technical and ultra-legal in approaching such problems,” Mukherjee said.

However, the Supreme Court was not willing to make concessions. It has fixed February 27 for further hearings. In 1997, the apex court had ruled that “no tannery should be allowed to function in the current location after September 30, 1997”.

The judges had then directed the police to ensure that the tanneries refusing to shift were closed down and also spelt out the procedure for relocation of tanneries. Police were also asked to snap electricity and water supplies.

The state government was ordered to set up a nodal agency on or before January 31, 1997, with representations from all the departments concerned to facilitate shifting.

The tanneries were asked to deposit 25 per cent of the cost of land they would occupy in various sizes in the new industrial area on or before February 28, 1997.

Mukherjee told the court today that over 231 units had already paid the money, but the state government did not develop an inch of the land.

On August 16, 2001, the present bench said in a proceeding order: “We are prima facie satisfied that there has been no effort on the part of the West Bengal government to comply with the directions given by this court. Despite our finding, we restrain ourselves and refrain from issuing contempt notice to the minister and the joint secretary at this stage.”

   

 
 
KHALISTAN LIST OPTION 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 21: 
An influential section in the Indian establishment is advocating that, for the time being, Delhi should accept the handing over of only Khalistani terrorists on the list of 20 most-wanted criminals given to Pakistan to reduce rising tension in South Asia.

If the section manages to convince the Prime Minister, India will start de-escalating its diplomatic offensive within the next few weeks while maintaining troops at an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Pakistani forces.

Hardliners in South Block are convinced pressure should be kept up on both the diplomatic and military fronts till Pervez Musharraf shows “positive movement” on its demands: handing over most of the terrorists on the list and stopping cross-border terrorism.

But some senior advisers of A.B. Vajpayee are coming around to the view that international opinion may start going against India if it remains inflexible. They feel it would be better for Delhi to accept Sikh terrorists from Pakistan at present while keeping up pressure for the others.

The Vajpayee government is optimistic of “positive developments” across the border in the next 10 days.

India’s first step towards a diplomatic de-escalation might be the return of the high commissioner to Islamabad. The resumption of flights and freeing of air space could be the next, followed by resumption of road and rail links.

The most difficult part for the Vajpayee government would be appeasing the domestic audience on its climbdown after insisting that Pakistan hand over as many criminals as possible. “We can always say this is just the beginning and we will keep putting pressure on Pakistan to act on the others in the list,” a senior official in the foreign ministry said.

He argued that if diplomatic de-escalation began and both sides were willing to accommodate each other’s wishes, there was always a possibility of getting more.

A big question mark, however, remains on how India will get the rest on the list, particularly those involved in the Mumbai blasts like Dawood Ibrahim.

But the establishment is clear that this exercise would definitely not lead to the immediate resumption of talks.

   

 
 
CBI PITCH FOR HANDOVER 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 21: 
CBI chief P.C. Sharma took India’s fight against terrorism to the global police forum yesterday evening.

At the Interpol conference in Colombo, Sharma urged attending police chiefs of other countries, including Pakistan and the UAE, to deport terrorists wanted for militant activities in India without going through the cumbersome process of extradition.

Speaking to The Telegraph from Colombo, Sharma said Indian terrorists have managed to obtain passports and citizenship documents of certain foreign countries.

“I have indicated that Pakistan is aiding and abetting the terrorists. They are helping militants obtain fake passports and visas and sneak into our country to foment trouble. The ISI is providing all kind of logistic support to the terrorists,’’ he said.

“The attack on Parliament and the American Center in Calcutta, hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar are enough to point fingures at our neighbour,’’ he said.

CBI sources said Sharma made a strong cause for deportation of 17 wanted terrorists from Pakistan. “They shuttle between Dubai and Pakistani cities,” Sharma said.

While lauding UAE authorities for deporting Aftab Ansari, wanted for organising the attack on the American Center, Sharma said there are many more Indian terrorists hiding in foreign soil.

“Deportation should be a rule while extradition an exception,’’ he said. CBI sources in Delhi said the agency’s co-ordinator with the Interpol, DIG Arun Gupta, is expected to open a dialogue with Dubai police to begin efforts to track down and arrest Amir Reza Khan.

Amir is the brother of slain militant, Asif Reza Khan, and is wanted for his role in the attack on the American Center and Khadim vice-chairman kidnap case. The CBI said they have information that he is holed up in Dubai.

Sharma said countries should stop sponsoring terrorism to further political interests.

“Narrow commercial interests of nations have given easy access to deadly arsenals which are then transported by terrorists to the targeted countries for weakening them,’’ he said in the conference.

“A number of terrorist groups in India like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Toiba are encouraged by hostile countries,’’ Sharma said.

The CBI chief also emphasised on sharing of information on movements and activities of terrorists. He proposed that attending countries create an Information Exchange System that will collect, collate and disseminate information on trans-border terrorism.

   

 
 
MUMBAI POLICE SEEK ANSARI CUSTODY 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 21: 
Back from Melbourne in Australia after digging out facts about the al Qaida network and its arrested operative Md Afroz’s connections, the Mumbai police now wants Aftab Ansari in their custody — the man on whom investigating agencies all over the world are focussing at present.

“We are also in the queue to take Ansari into our custody for shedding more light on the al Qaida network,” joint commissioner of police (crime) B.S. Mohite told The Telegraph over telephone from Mumbai today.

“Afroz, who was supposed to dash an aircraft into the British Parliament, while four of his associates were assigned to attack the Realto Towers in Melbourne, Australia on September 11, was also aware about the American Center attack. Both these individuals have a common link which needs a thorough probe,” Mohite added.

The CBI would take Ansari, whose remand ends tomorrow, to Radhanpur in Gujarat to appear before a court in connection with an arms seizure case, says a PTI report. The judicial magistrate in Radhanpur, who had sent Ansari to CBI custody for seven days on February 16, would hear the remand petitions moved by the Calcutta police, the Rajkot police and the Gandhinagar police, the report adds.

Investigations have so far revealed that on September 11, Afroz, along with eight of his associates, escaped from London and slipped into Mumbai — after attempts to hijack flights from Heathrow airport and head straight for the British Parliament and the Realto Towers failed — following cancellation of all flights from Heathrow immediately after the attack on the World Trade Center.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.1°C (+2)
Minimum: 19.5°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 33%

Sunrise: 6.09 am

Sunset: 5.31 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 19°C
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company