Militants take death into army homes
Modi under siege
Pullout from Maruti
Go-ahead for power tariff hike
Unique EPF numbers from July
Sinha gets a chance to defend
Govt hands Maruti control to Suzuki
Delhi dangles arms carrot before US
Laloo lines up starry night for daughter No. II
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MILITANTS TAKE DEATH INTO ARMY HOMES 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD AND OUR DELHI BUREAU
 
Srinagar and New Delhi, May 14: 
Kashmir militants took the battle with the Indian army to the families of soldiers, storming a camp near Jammu this morning and killing 10 children and eight women. Most of the children were between four and 10.

Thirty-three people were killed, including three members of the suicide squad that attacked the army camp after opening fire inside a bus where seven passengers, among them three women, died.

The bloodiest strike in the area in eight months coincided with the visit of Christina Rocca, US assistant secretary of state, who arrived in Delhi last night. “It’s just the type of barbarism that the war on terrorism is determined to stop,” she said.

This is the second time a massacre has taken place in Jammu and Kashmir, coinciding with the visit of a US leader. The first was in March 2000 during then President Bill Clinton’s trip.

Indian leaders told Rocca that the ostensible purpose of her visit — to wind down tension — would not be served unless Pakistan was persuaded to restrain militants. They also said the massing of troops along the border was done with an objective in mind, which was to pressure Pakistan into stopping infiltration. That had not been met yet and, therefore, there will not be any de-escalation.

Rocca leaves for Islamabad tomorrow.

Today’s cruel strike would only have steeled Indian resolve because the attack strikes a highly emotional chord, with soldiers having lost their wives and children while they were away on the border.

A little known militant outfit, al-Mansooran, believed to be a shadow group of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba, and Jamiat-ul Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attack. A caller identifying himself as Irfan Kashmiri told a Srinagar-based news agency that the militants — Abu Majid, Abu Zaffar and Abu Shel — belonging to his outfit, had carried out the strike.

Three fidayeens (suicide attackers) in army fatigues boarded a Jammu-bound Himachal Roadways bus near Vijaypur on the Jammu-Pathankot highway around 5.30-6 this morning.

As the bus neared the Ratnachak army camp in Kaluchak, one of the militants asked driver Prem Singh to stop. They then got off and asked the passengers to disembark. Believing that the three were armymen making searches, the passengers began alighting when the militants opened fire and lobbed a grenade. Singh died on the spot.

The militants then turned their guns on the sentry manning a post at the main entrance to the camp, killing him on the spot, and burst inside.

“They (then) ran towards the family quarters,” a police spokesman said. The army base is only 10 km south of Jammu.

“They had AK-47s, they were firing all around, they had hand grenades, explosives. Once they reached inside… they wired the houses with explosives,” Maj. Gen. Mohan Pandey said.

Senior army officers rushed to the spot with troops, surrounded the area and, after a fierce gunbattle for four long hours, killed the militants. The heavy exchange of fire prevented the forces from shifting the injured in the camp to a hospital.

Police said five soldiers and 18 family members died in the attack on the camp and 48 were injured, with the condition of 18 said to be critical.

A passenger of the attacked bus, which had shattered windows, gaping holes in the side, and blood and broken glass on the floor, lost his wife. “We were asked to get off the bus and as we were getting down they started firing,” he said.

“It is not a coincidence that the incident has occurred at a time when a senior US state department official is visiting the country,” home minister L.K. Advani said in Parliament.

“The incident also appears to have been timed to demonstrate that despite the ‘global coalition against terrorism’, the terrorists are not likely to be cowed down.”

   

 
 
MODI UNDER SIEGE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, May 14: 
Is the tide of popular mood in Gujarat turning?

If the wind blowing in the mind of politicians draws its strength from a groundswell of opinion, it is.

Signs of a rebellion against Narendra Modi, that first reared its head at a Cabinet meeting last Wednesday, are getting stronger with the majority in his 40-member ministry as well as a section of the state party leadership turning against the chief minister.

A party source said: “Several ministers and party leaders who are against Modi’s continuation are making a cost-benefit analysis. A balance sheet is being prepared which will be submitted to the high command to demand Modi’s removal.”

The dissident camp is led by the troika of Suresh Mehta, the industry minister, Keshubhai Patel, the former chief minister, and Narottam Patel, the water supplies minister.

State BJP president Rajendra Sinh Rana, who recently contradicted Modi in public over the chief minister’s invitation to a breakaway group to return to the party, is also believed to have joined the ranks of leaders that are questioning his “intention and competence” and want him to go.

The turnaround of opinion in the party is a result of concerns about law and order taking a bigger place on the public stage than the initial euphoria in the Sangh parivar over a Hindu “resurgence”.

A minister said hectic lobbying had already started. Disgruntled ministers are regularly holding secret meetings and the senior among them are briefing the top leadership about the ground situation which, they now feel, “is no longer favourable for the BJP with Modi as chief minister”.

Asked how Modi’s continuation is affecting the party, a senior minister said not only Muslims and Christians, but also a large section of Hindus has turned against the BJP.

That is not the only reason. The chief minister is also accused — by the party as well as the bureaucracy — of being highly individualistic in his approach.

“Modi does not seek advice from his senior Cabinet colleagues or party leaders. As a result, there is a visible rift between the state party unit and the government, which is unprecedented,’’ the minister said.

Ministerial colleagues, who had accosted the chief minister at last week’s meeting, questioning how K.P.S. Gill came to be appointed security adviser and why the violence could not be contained, were later called by Modi to his residence to cool tempers, but without success.

Gill was simply the flint stone. Fuel for the fire lay in a growing realisation in the party that “Chhote Sardar”, as the chief minister had been named — after Sardar Patel — was becoming, if not the “monster” some of his critics outside the party see him as, then certainly a long-term liability.

Modi has not only annoyed party leaders, ministers and top officials, but people in large swathes of the state are unhappy, some because of the continued violence that has disrupted their lives, others because of the suffering caused by more mundane problems like lack of water and power.

Saurashstra, Kutch and South Gujarat have remained largely peaceful — and unaffected by the perceived communal “polarisation”. The BJP fears that votes from these regions will go against the party since their dissatisfaction with the quality of life has gone unattended for these past two-and-a-half months when north and central Gujarat have been burning.

   

 
 
PULLOUT FROM MARUTI 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 14: 
The countdown to the government’s exit from arguably its most successful industrial enterprise has started with a Cabinet committee today deciding to pull out of carmaker Maruti.

The process of withdrawal will be kicked off with the divestment of 4 per cent to Japanese partner Suzuki, culminating in total retreat by March 31, 2004. With Suzuki picking up the 4 per cent stake, the government will relinquish majority control, for which it is charging a premium of Rs 1,000 crore.

Maruti will make a rights issue of Rs 400 crore and the government will forfeit its claim in favour of Suzuki, taking the Japanese stake up to 54 per cent.

Stage II of the divestment will take place on March 31 next year, when the government will dispose of 25 per cent.

The decision to sell 26 per cent in IPCL was kept in abeyance. “It will be taken up at the next meeting” of the committee, disinvestment minister Arun Shourie said.

   

 
 
GO-AHEAD FOR POWER TARIFF HIKE 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Calcuttans will have to start paying more for electricity from next month following a high court judgment today allowing the R.P. Goenka-owned CESC Ltd to increase tariff from Rs 3.36 to Rs 4 per unit — a hike of 64 paise, the highest in recent memory.

In passing the judgment, a division bench of Calcutta High Court, comprising judges Ajoy Nath Roy and Maharaja Sinha, also shot down the recommendations of the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC).

The judges also ruled that the private power utility would now have the liberty to increase tariff without prior permission of any agency, including the SERC.

But the court said that CESC would have to follow the provisions of the rule framed under the Electricity Act, 1910, while increasing tariff.

The SERC is a quasi-judicial body set up by the state government. Headed by Justice S.K. Fauzdar, the commission has been given the responsibility to fix power tariff in Bengal under the provisions of a Central legislation of 1998.

Senior lawyers said that Tuesday’s verdict virtually declared the SERC null and void. Justice Fauzdar, however, declined to make any comment as he said he had not yet seen a copy of the judgment.

Power minister Mrinal Banerjee said: “It is the matter between a judicial body and a quasi-judicial body. The government does not have any role to play.”

The court asked CESC to collect its increased tariff from June, this year, in 36 instalments with retrospective effective from April 1, 2000.

The SERC’s counsel, Pratik Dhar, said that after a scrutiny of the judgment, the commission is likely to move the Supreme Court. Appearing for the CESC were counsel Samaraditya Pal and Bikash Bhattacharya.

In 2000, the CESC had approached the SERC demanding a 24 per cent hike. The SERC, after hearing different consumers’ bodies and other agencies linked with power production, allowed CESC to increase its tariff by only 1.9 per cent.

Against the SERC’s ruling, the CESC moved the high court and prayed for an order to allow it to increase its tariff by at least 16.5 per cent for 2000-2001. While the court agreed to CESC’s demand for a 16.5 per cent hike, it allowed only a one per cent increase for 2001-2002 against a demand of four per cent.

For the current financial year, the CESC wanted a further hike of 4 per cent but the court declined on the ground that it was not in possession of the relevant documents. The judges gave CESC full liberty to fix its revised tariff for the current financial year but ordered that the hike should not come into effect before October.

The high court also observed that CESC’s contention that it spent Rs 2,295.97 crore to set up the Budge Budge thermal power plant was justified. It criticised the SERC for fixing the cost of setting up the Budge Budge plant at Rs 2,075 crore.

“The SERC has no jurisdiction to ascertain the cost of the Budge Budge plant,” the order said. The issue of the Budge Budge plant’s cost is important as it was being taken into account by the SERC while fixing the tariff of CESC.

   

 
 
UNIQUE EPF NUMBERS FROM JULY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Fifty years after the employees’ provident fund scheme was introduced, the government will issue unique identification numbers to the contributors from July.

They would be similar to the social security number issued in the US, or the national insurance number in the UK.

Beginning with a pilot project in six towns — Mangalore, Hyderabad, Kota, Gurgaon, Indore and Patna — the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation will issue the numbers to all contributors in less than six years.

The state-run provident fund will issue a card — a first of its kind — which would bear the thumb impression of the contributor, besides the identification number, signature and picture.

This would make duplication of the certificate virtually impossible, and it would rank among the statutory certificates of identity like the passport and the Pan (permanent account number) card issued by the income tax department.

There are about three crore contributors to the Central provident fund, which manages a kitty of over Rs 100,000 crore. The government wants the contributor base to grow by 20-25 per cent every year, as against the current growth of 4-5 per cent.

At the present rate of growth, the government would have to issue identity cards to about four crore contributors in six years.

Central provident fund commissioner Ajai Singh said: “Allotment of the number would enable contributors to access their accounts and make withdrawals from anywhere in the country.”

Singh was formerly with the income tax department and was one of the officers who monitored the introduction of the Pan card. He joined the provident fund department in September 1999.

The government is also trying to expedite the settlement of claims, which takes more than a month now. “The norms require us to disburse payment within a month, but in 60 per cent cases we miss the deadline. We are trying to reduce the processing time to 2-3 days,” Singh said.

The board of the Central Provident Fund Organisation is also considering the introduction of a scheme for insurance of the contributors against loss of jobs, for which employers will have to pay a bit more. Most contributors are insured against death now.

“An actuarial study reveals that if the employers pay 1.25 per cent of the salary to the kitty for insurance, we can offer coverage for loss of employment as well. Employers pay 0.5 per cent every month for the insurance scheme covering death of the contributors. There is willingness among the employers, and we hope to introduce it soon,” Singh said.

If the employers agree to increase their contribution by the proposed 0.75 per cent, a contributor who loses job can be paid half of his last salary for the first six months and a quarter of it, for the next six. “We can also offer support to the contributors to seek alternative employment or start his own business,” he added.

The Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme, 1952 is being amended. Parliament has yet to consider the proposals, but the board of the provident fund organisation has recommended making the legislation more stringent against defaulters.

   

 
 
SINHA GETS A CHANCE TO DEFEND 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, May 14: 
The BJP today allowed Yashwant Sinha to defend himself in the Flex Industries controversy before the leadership decided whether to retain him as the finance minister or not.

Sinha will make a statement in the Lok Sabha.

In the BJP’s parliamentary party meeting today, Sinha was asked what his defence would be. Sources said his answer was since Flex was a well-known packaging company, he had ordered the banners, calendars and posters for his 1999 Lok Sabha election campaign from them and duly paid for the lot. Sinha said he filed copies of the bills to the Election Commission with his statement of expenses.

His plea was that at the time of the purchase the image of Flex Industries was untarnished. The company was later investigated for allegedly bribing top government officials. “How can anyone guarantee who will become corrupt in future?” Sinha was quoted as saying.

The members reportedly clapped after Sinha finished arguing his case. He maintained there was absolutely no conflict of interest between him and the company when the transaction was made and, therefore, he was under no moral or ethical compulsion to admit this. “Somebody may give a vehicle to a candidate fighting an election. But can he look to the future and say the supplier will become a smuggler?” he reportedly asked.

But BJP sources said the response of the members could not necessarily be construed as unambiguous support. They pointed out that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was also present, said nothing in the finance minister’s defence.

Sinha said: “I am sure of what I have not done. I will tell the truth to Parliament.”

In the past, whenever a senior minister has been in trouble and seemed as though he was on his way out, the BJP’s practice was to help him hold his own brief in an attempt to appear fair. It allowed two former Uttar Pradesh chief ministers, Kalyan Singh and Ram Prakash Gupta, to have their full say before they were asked to quit. The gesture gave the impression as though the BJP had decided to give them another chance to redeem themselves when in fact their fate had already been decided.

Senior party sources said the leadership did not want the impression to gain currency that Sinha was dropped because of the recent controversies he was enmeshed in, but would like his exit to be “honourable”.

“Rather we would like the perception to gain ground that he has already presented five budgets so a change is called for to boost the government’s image. We need a person with a fresh outlook and approach. Sinha has run out of ideas,” the sources said.

The leadership, they said, was also keen to scotch speculation that “powerful” business lobbies were gunning for Sinha. Though the RSS — which was his patron-saint — was disenchanted with his spell as finance minister, BJP sources said its leadership was making a last-dicth effort to salvage his position.

   

 
 
GOVT HANDS MARUTI CONTROL TO SUZUKI 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 14: 
The government today decided to hand over control of the country’s largest carmaker — Maruti Udyog Ltd — to Suzuki Motor Corporation of Japan for which it is charging a premium of Rs 1,000 crore.

The Cabinet Committee on Divestment (CCD) cleared the agreement that was reached between the government and Suzuki Motor early last month. The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The government, which has a 49.7 per cent stake in the Gurgaon-based carmaker, will be divesting a small 4 per cent stake in the company which will come out with a Rs 400-crore rights issue to be fully subscribed by Suzuki Motor.

The government will forfeit its claim to the rights issue in favour of Suzuki Motor whose stake will rise to 54 per cent from 50 per cent at present. The government approved a rights issue price of Rs 3,280 per share which has a face value of Rs 100.

“The government which owns 66 lakh shares in Maruti Udyog will be divesting 12,19,000 shares through the rights issue in favour of Suzuki Motor,” disinvestment minister Arun Shourie told reporters after the meeting. “We will continue to have two directors on the board.”

At present, the government has four directors on the board.

“The Rs 400 crore raised through the rights issue will probably be used to retire a part of the long-term debt which amounts to Rs 440 crore,” said Maruti’s managing director Jagdish Khattar.

The government will sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Suzuki Motor within 30 days to ratify the deal. Before that there will be a board meeting of the company which is expected to re-elect Khattar as the managing director and set the date for the rights issue.

The government plans to totally exit the venture through a two-stage public issue. By March 2003, the company will come out with a public issue which will lower the government’s stake to 25 per cent. Later, there will be another flotation to enable the government to pull out of the carmaker which started operations in 1983.

While assuming majority control of Maruti Udyog, Suzuki Motor has made four commitments:

it will continue to source models for its global operations from the Maruti plant;

it will provide a discount on the cost of imported components that are now used in the cars;

it will set up a task force to trim operational costs;

it will enhance Maruti’s technical and manufacturing capabilities.

   

 
 
DELHI DANGLES ARMS CARROT BEFORE US 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, May 14: 
India is dangling the carrot of $4.3 billion in weapon purchases before America’s arms industry and its promoters in the Pentagon and elsewhere in the Bush administration.

At the first-ever meeting between defence-related industries in the two countries here yesterday, Om Prakash, joint secretary in the ministry of defence, told US arms manufacturers anxious to tap into Indian order books that India was one of the biggest purchasers of defence equipment in the world.

With an annual defence budget of over $13 billion, about a third of that amount would be spent on acquiring new technology and equipment for India’s armed forces.

Prakash was supplemented in his exhaustive presentation on the scope of Indo-US defence cooperation by Prodipto Ghosh, additional secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office. Ghosh outlined opportunities for the US in India.

The coming together of defence industrialists in the two countries took place ahead of a meeting of the Indo-US Defence Policy Group, to be held here next week.

The group, headed by defence secretary Yogendra Narain and Douglas Feith, the US under-secretary for defence, was revived after a four-year gap following the visit of Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary for defence, to India in November last year.

Its meeting here comes after a visit to New Delhi by Lincoln Bloomfield, the assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs, to launch an Indo-US politico-military dialogue, which is to serve as a forum to work out the modalities of US defence supplies to India.

The commercial aspect of Indo-US defence cooperation has acquired a new life with the signing of a $146-million deal last month by New Delhi to purchase eight weapon-locating radars and accessories from the US.

India is now looking to the US for the purchase of Patriot missiles, submersible dive units and military transport helicopters. Air Force Lieutenant General Tome Walters, who is in charge of US arms sales abroad at the Defence Security Cooperation Agency here, has just returned from a trip to India to discuss further sales.

A major problem facing the Pentagon in these efforts to promote arms sales to India is opposition from the US Congress and requirements on Capitol Hill, which require clearances.

The Pentagon is, therefore, reviewing export licence procedures so that supplies to India could be allowed at a faster pace. It is also engaged in an effort to convince the Congress that military sales to India would be part of an overall US defensive military strategy for Asia.

Notwithstanding the interest on Capitol Hill in promoting US arms sales, there are worries among Congressmen and Senators about arming India as long as the potential for conflict with Pakistan continues.

These worries are fuelled by Pakistan’s supporters and lobbyists and act as a damper to the Pentagon’s efforts. All US foreign military sales have to be notified to the Congress.

US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca’s current peace efforts in the subcontinent are motivated, in part, by the need to successfully negotiate clearances for US arms sales to India.

Underlining the priority which the Bush administration has attached to such sales, yesterday’s meeting of industrialists was attended by Feith, Bloomfield, representatives of the US army and navy, officials in charge of non-proliferation control, department of commerce and congressional aides.

It was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, the US-India Business Council and the National Defence Industrial Association here.

   

 
 
LALOO LINES UP STARRY NIGHT FOR DAUGHTER NO. II 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY AND JAYESH THAKER
 
Patna/Jamshedpur, May 14: 
When you are close to “stardom”, the guest list for your daughter’s wedding should glitter.

So if politicians and bureaucrats had clinked glasses at Misa’s wedding, her younger sister Rohini can probably boast of a more astral presence on May 24. All because their father, Bihar supremo Laloo Prasad Yadav, seems to have decided to turn the marriage of his second daughter into a more star-studded affair.

Laloo left for Mumbai yesterday, heavier by about 50 invitation cards, most of them meant to be distributed among leading stars of Bollywood.

Family sources said he would be attending the marriage of Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chaggan Bhujbal’s daughter and has taken the opportunity to invite the stars to the 1 Anne Marg residence of his chief minister wife Rabri Devi, where Rohini will tie the knot with computer engineer Samresh Singh.

The invitation list includes top draws like Shah Rukh Khan, Sunjay Dutt, Govinda, Mahesh Bhatt, his daughter Pooja, and Sekhar Suman, among others. Only two stars had come to Misa’s wedding in 1999 — actor-turned-BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha and Samajwadi Party MP Raj Babbar.

Aware of his growing popularity among film stars, specially after a television show in which his entire family was in the limelight, Laloo has lost no opportunity to use his second daughter’s marriage for another starry get-together.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal chief himself seems close to “stardom” — with offers of anchoring a celebrity talk-show, recordings of some of his peppy slogans for commercial release and frequent appearances in television programmes all coming in a rush.

Accolades have also flown in. Sekhar Suman called Laloo a talented actor, while Pooja Bhatt finds him a “natural”. Misa and Rohini, too, have developed rapport with stars like Pooja Bhatt and Nagma. Both are effusive in their praise for the RJD boss and his daughters.

“I came to attend a programme here but one of the main reasons for me to visit Patna was to meet Laloo Yadav and his family. And I am impressed,” Nagma told reporters in Patna, where she had come for an anti-AIDS campaign.

One reason why he is keen on inviting the cream of Bollywood is that both Samresh and his father are based in Mumbai and Laloo would like to give the groom’s family a taste of his popularity among film stars.

“Laloo Yadav himself is a star politician and that he would be popular among the film stars is but natural,” said Shyam Razak, a minister in the Rabri Devi Cabinet who recently got married to a woman from Mumbai.

It was during Razak’s marriage in Mumbai last year that Laloo was introduced to Shah Rukh and Sunjay.

Laloo’s invitees also include politicians like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Ministers H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral.

“It (the list) cuts across political hues. But the chances of arrival look brighter from RJD allies like the Congress and the former Janata Dal leaders,” a minister in charge of inviting VIPs said.

Sources said the state government is making elaborate security arrangements to keep unwanted people away. They said party sympathisers will be accommodated at a pandal away from the venue of the marriage. Party workers will be allowed into the compound of Laloo’s bungalow, which is just behind and connected to 1 Anne Marg by a passage. The VIP guests will traipse in through the main gate under heavy security.

Another surprise on the guest list is the sprinkling of cricket officials. Laloo has sent invitation cards to Indian cricket board chief Jagmohan Dalmiya and the top brass of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Sources close to Laloo, who is also the president of the Bihar Cricket Association, said top officials of all state cricket boards have been invited.

Though Laloo was not available for comment, the invitations, they said, were necessitated because of his “failed” attempt to get BCCI affiliation for the Bihar association.

After Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2000, the Indian cricket board appointed special committees to look after the cricket administration in the two states till affiliation was granted. Annoyed by the decision, the Bihar association has filed a case against the BCCI, making Dalmiya a respondent.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 36.1°C (0)
Minimum: 27.9°C (+2)

Rainfall

22.6 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 60%

Sunrise: 6.06 pm

Sunset: 6.16 pm

Today

Generally cloudy sky with possibility of rain accompanied by thunder in some parts
   
 

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