Print media thrown open to foreign capital
Ambani on life support
Raj relic buried after brawl
Powell to walk on Silk Road of South Asian unity
Grade lesson for teachers
‘High’ fliers behind Kalam chopper crash
Muslim leaders look up to Kanchi seer
Shuffle talks focus on BJP transfers
Everyone begins to look like a Maoist
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 25: 
The Centre today lifted a 47-year bar on foreign investment in newspaper and magazine publishing companies.

Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj was congratulated by media houses despite contradictory public postures, but murmurs of protest did the rounds of political parties with even the BJP refusing to comment immediately.

Sushma pushed through her proposal — the Cabinet accepted it in full — that allows foreign direct investment (FDI) of up to 26 per cent in print media companies running news and current affairs publications.

In a separate category called “non-news and non-current affairs”, the Cabinet has allowed foreign investment — which means foreign institutional investors, apart from companies and/or individuals, can also acquire stock — of up to 74 per cent.

The “non-news and non-current affairs” category has not been defined in writing. Ministry sources said “we will apply our common sense and decide on a case-by-case basis” whether a proposal falls in the news or the non-news category.

A set of guidelines will be issued shortly. While Sushma said business publications will fall in the “news and current affairs” category, there is an ambiguity as to where periodicals such as those dealing with fashion (like Vogue) or nature (National Geographic, Discovery) or housing (Home and Decor), will be slotted.

Today’s decision by the Cabinet — the meeting was presided over by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — comes after years of deliberation during which media lobbies have campaigned intensively for and against the move.

But since the opening up of broadcasting and the arrival of the Internet, the prising open of the print media was only a matter of time.

During Narasimha Rao’s Congress regime, a move was initiated but was stymied. In April this year, the parliamentary standing committee on information technology chaired by the CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee, rejected the idea, but a large number of its members were not in agreement with the majority decision of the panel.

“It is natural that liberalisation must take this route. First, the manufacturing sector was liberalised; then it was services, followed by the electronic media. We had to come to print,” said Sushma.

At least one media company’s immediate response to the decision was the announcement that a British investor was eager to pick up a stake. London’s Financial Times, which has an editorial arrangement with Business Standard, is likely to buy into the company.

“It is a very well-thought-out decision,” Business Standard editor T.N. Ninan said. “The fact that some people did not want it should not have stopped it for so long. The safeguards she has laid down will address all concerns. The step will help publications challenge market leaders and encourage competition.”

“In taking the decision, the Cabinet is ensuring that editorial and managerial control remains in Indian hands,” said Sushma. “Worries that we are allowing a takeover of our media by foreign companies are unfounded.”

In news and current affairs, the minister has made foreign direct investment conditional. Companies will have to seek prior permission of the ministry and ensure that control remains with resident Indians.

“I think the decision will be very good for competition. In due course, companies will also be able to raise funds from the market,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of the Indian Express. He said the Express group itself was not hurrying into a foreign partnership.

“Our support was on a matter of principle. Basically, the argument is what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander — you cannot have one set of rules for news on television and another for news in print,” Gupta said.

The Indian Newspaper Society opposed the decision, describing it as a “compromise of national interests”.

Its president Pratap G. Pawar told PTI: “It does not matter whether the permission is for 26 per cent or 74 per cent. The foreign investor can always control policies and content.”


Mumbai, June 25: 
Dhirubhai Ambani, patriarch of the country’s largest corporate group, has been admitted to a hospital after suffering a stroke.

The 69-year-old first-generation industrialist, who built the Rs 65,000-crore Reliance group from scratch, was rushed to Breach Candy Hospital last night. His condition was said to be critical.

“He is under observation and on life support systems. We will know the exact situation after 48 hours,” Vijay Krishna, the chief executive officer of the hospital, said.

News of Ambani’s illness spread like wildfire, with panicky investors driving down prices of two group company shares — Reliance Industries and Reliance Petrochemicals.

Family sources say Ambani suffered a stroke around 8.30 pm yesterday and the doctors who were in attendance round the clock at “Seawind”, the family’s home, took charge.

Within half-an-hour, his two sons, Mukesh and Anil, took him to Breach Candy, where Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was admitted twice for knee replacement surgeries.

Ambani has a history of heart ailments and had suffered a stroke in 1986, which paralysed the right side of his body.

Celebrities who visited the hospital to enquire about his health said Ambani was in coma, but this could not be confirmed officially.

Krishna explained that he had been advised by the family to only give the bare details. Asked if Ambani was conscious, he said the question should be posed to his doctors or the family.

Company officials, including Anil, the managing director of Reliance Industries, said there has been no significant change in his condition. The statement at 1.30 pm settled stock-market nerves to an extent.

Earlier, an ashen-faced Anil came down from the third floor intensive care unit and told reporters: “He is making progress. His situation is being monitored. The Ambani family is overwhelmed by the concern shown by well-wishers.”

“Thank you for being here. Please allow the hospital authorities to function in the normal course and as and when the situation changes we will issue a statement.”


Calcutta, June 25: 
After surviving for 68 years, the Speaker’s mace, one of the remaining relics of the British period in the history of legislative politics, today disappeared from the Bengal Assembly for good.

Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim announced the decision to put away the mace, the symbol of his authority, because it was repeatedly coming under Opposition attack.

“Opposition party MLAs often try to snatch the mace and carry it outside the House. Yesterday also, some Trinamul Congress MLAs tried to take it away and, in the process, several Assembly staff, including our marshal, sustained injuries as they put up resistance. I have, therefore, decided to remove it from the House,” Halim said.

For the first time since 1934, the Assembly sat without the mace, which was taken away in the second half of the day’s session.

The 14-kg mace will be kept in the Assembly building and will ultimately find a home in the House museum, which will be constructed at a new complex, Halim told reporters.

He said the mace was introduced on January 31, 1934, when Manmatha Nath Roy was the president of the then Bengal Legislative Council.

The ceremonial staff is carried into the chamber everyday, not in the Bengal Assembly alone, but in the British Parliament and parliaments all across the Commonwealth. In all these Houses, business cannot be conducted unless the mace is around.

“The mace has no constitutional sanctity. Since 1934, the proceedings of the Assembly have started after the staff carried the mace and placed it on a table in front of the Speaker’s chair. It became a custom and there is no rule in the Constitution to conduct the proceedings of our Assembly in the presence of the mace.”

The original mace, introduced during British rule, was stolen. Later, the P.C. Chandra group of jewellers made the mace that was being used until today. “In the original mace, there was a crown on top. But the Ashok Chakra was engraved on it by the P.C. Chandra group when they recreated it,” Halim said.

Historically, the practice of using a mace dates back to medieval England where the bishops carried it with the royal crest of arms engraved at the bottom of the shaft when they accompanied soldiers to the field of battle.

Which is why, the taking away of the mace is seen as a loss of authority. Speaker Halim will, however, hope not.

After the question-answer session was over in the first half today, he informed the MLAs of his decision to remove the mace following yesterday’s incident and sought their opinion.

Not a single MLA opposed his proposal.


Washington, June 25: 
US Secretary of State Colin Powell may not have had as much success as he would have wished for in bringing India and Pakistan together, but he will have an altogether different experience tomorrow.

When Powell opens “Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust”, a $6-million extravaganza on Washington’s National Mall which is expected to attract 1.2 million visitors in 10 days, he will find Indian and Pakistani artists, artisans and others cooperating on a level that is often unprecedented even within the West’s Nato military alliance.

The exhibition, which has been in the making for over three years, is the idea of Yo-Yo Ma, a Chinese American cellist who set up The Silk Road Project Inc. in 1998 to compare the historical and present-day flow of culture and ideas along the fabled trade route from Kyoto in Japan to Venice in Italy through Bodh Gaya, Delhi and Lahore. Ma calls the Silk Road “the mediaeval precursor to the Internet”.

The exhibition, organised by the Smithsonian Institution, will immensely heighten American awareness of India at a time when South Asia is increasingly on the US radar screen. For instance, it will tell the story of how tar, a one-stringed musical instrument in Central Asia, became dutar with two strings in Persia, the sitar in India, the quintara with five strings in Arabia and finally the guitar in America. All because of the Silk Road.

India’s place in the exhibition is larger than life because Smithsonian picked an Indian, Rajeev Sethi, as the scenographer for the entire project. A scenographer for an exhibition is what a cinematographer is to a film production.

Smithsonian’s original idea was to procure items from all the countries on the Silk Road for the exhibition to depict life and trade as it was in the mediaeval times. But then, the terrorist attacks took place on September 11 in New York and Washington, creating huge logistical problems, a wave of restrictions and some budgetary constraints.

Sethi, well known for his involvement in the “Festival of India” during Rajiv Gandhi’s time and two other India-related shows in the US, turned the challenge into an opportunity. He decided that as far as possible, everything needed for the Silk Road exhibition would be made in India, instead of in the countries scattered along the route.

As a result, over 400 artisans burnt midnight oil near Delhi for the past six months. Consequently, Ikat fabrics from Andhra Pradesh have been displayed at the National Mall along with Japanese, Persian and Turkish versions of the fabric that was traded during the Silk Road days and has now been made in India in their respective national colours for the exhibition.

Much of it has been done under the auspices of the Asian Heritage Foundation, a non-government organisation which Sethi founded to support traditional folk arts and crafts. For artisans, the exhibition is a tremendous financial opportunity.

On the eve of the exhibition’s inauguration, 35 of these artisans, most of them speaking not a word of English, were seen eating daal-roti in the shade of trees and working late into the evening to create a bit of ancient Asia at the foot of Washington’s imposing Capitol building.

In addition to these 35 men, there are 20 performers from India and six other artists, who will be at the Lotus Bazaar selling products made by craftsmen from the Silk Road countries.

SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association of Gujarat, has a stall at the bazaar.

But for Powell, the highlight tomorrow will be a lunch after the inauguration under a canopied tent with paintings of the astronomy in Indian, Chinese and Timurid (Central Asia) styles done by miniature painters from Bhilwara in Rajasthan.


New Delhi, June 25: 
The National Council of Educational Research and Training is planning to train schoolteachers on how to convert marks to grades.

The institution proposes to bring out a training manual to help teachers familiarise themselves with grade evaluation as part of its efforts to lessen the pressure of examinations on students and parents alike.

The council has sent notes to state school examination boards, explaining the grades system. “The teachers will have to learn how to convert marks into grades,” says council director J.S. Rajput.

The proposal to convert from the marks system to grades has been on the council’s agenda for some time. Delhi University had tried it out for a short time but eventually discontinued giving grades. By and large, few institutions of higher education have been receptive to the grades system.

The council, however, has renewed its efforts to push through the proposal with the help of the Central Board of Secondary Education. “The CBSE is working on it,” said a council official.

To initiate a discussion on grade evaluation, the council is planning to talk to school and college principals. “Finally, we will have to begin a dialogue with colleges, universities and their apex body, the University Grants Commission,” said Rajput.

While colleges and universities seem to have a closed mind, schools appear much more receptive to the idea because parents and students have, by and large, welcomed it. “There are, of course, some sections which feel (the) grades system will place their children with the not-so-meritorious,” said a council official.

This is the same argument given by institutions of higher education opposed to the grades system. Their high cut-off marks block entry for most students, barring a handful at the top.

“College authorities feel that by grouping the extra-meritorious with the meritorious, they will be doing injustice to the former,” said the official, stressing it was basically an elitist bias that was coming in the way of grade evaluation. Grade evaluation will give more students the opportunity to get admission in top colleges, he said.

The argument put forward by the other side draws its logic from the severe stress the present examination system is putting on students and parents alike. Examinations are synonymous with suicide by students unable to cope with the shame of failure. “We can definitely say that the grades system will reduce this tremendous pressure on students and parents,” says Rajput.

“Since we are accustomed to using marks, it will take time to adopt an alternative system,” says a council manual on grading. It also clearly says that the acceptance of the grades system will depend upon the tertiary sector of education.

“The UGC, therefore, may be persuaded to work out a strategy for removing the bottlenecks to introduce grades in the university system,” the manual adds.


Ranchi, June 25: 
A helicopter carrying President-in-waiting A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had crashed at the Bokaro airstrip in September 2001 because both its pilots “were in a drunken state”, says the report submitted by a government investigation committee.

“The report of the medical tests carried out on the pilot and the co-pilot by the Bokaro civil surgeon revealed that they were drunk. The crew members’ blood and urine samples were clinically examined,” said director-general of police R.R. Prasad.

Police have filed a criminal case against the crew and are awaiting for a report from the directorate-general of civil aviation (DGCA) to prosecute them for the September 30 accident in which Kalam, Jharkhand science and technology minister Samresh Singh and a senior bureaucrat had a miraculous escape.

The DGCA, which is responsible for air traffic in the country, has so far filed only an interim report on the crash of the BEL 407 chopper belonging to Pawan Hans and commissioned by the Jharkhand government.

Sources said the DGCA “had been sleeping” over the incident but swung into action soon after Kalam surged ahead in the race to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

“They were going slow with the matter, never expecting that Kalam would become the presidential candidate. Now that his name has been formally announced, the DGCA has swung into action,” civil aviation ministry sources said.

Union civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain admitted “unprecedented” delay in the inquiry. “There has been a delay since the engine of the chopper has been sent to the US for further technical examination. We are serious about finding out the reasons leading to the crash-landing of Kalam’s helicopter,” Hussain told The Telegraph from Delhi.

The minister said no action has yet been taken against the pilot, Prem Prakash Sharma, and co-pilot Anuj Bhatia. “We are waiting for the technical report to be submitted. Once the report is tabled, action will be taken against all those responsible,” he added.

According to an interim report submitted by the DGCA to the ministry, Kalam had boarded the helicopter from Ranchi on September 30 on his way to Bokaro to attend a function along with Samresh Singh and Jharkhand science and technology secretary J.B. Tubid. Around 4.30 pm, as the helicopter was about to land at Bokaro, it developed a snag and “fell from a few metres”.

Though all those aboard escaped unhurt, “the co-pilot’s seat and the left portion of the chopper were badly damaged,” says the report.

Airport authorities in Ranchi and Bokaro said “the escape was miraculous”. The land below had turned soft after a downpour, else the “damage” could have been substantial. “We have sent several reminders to the DGCA through the state government for the technical inquiry report. But nine months have passed after the incident and we are still waiting for it,” said inspector-general of police (special branch) G.S. Rath.

But Hussain claimed the matter was being expedited from his end. He denied that his ministry had swung into action only after Kalam’s name was declared as the NDA’s presidential candidate. “The delay, as the DGCA officials have informed me today, was only due to the fact that the engine has been sent to a foreign country for examination,” the minister said.


New Delhi, June 25: 
Muslim organisations are ready to restart negotiations with the government and the Sankaracharya of Kanchi for an out-of-court settlement of the Ayodhya issue, if the talks are held in a “conducive atmosphere”.

Representatives of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Babri masjid action committee leaders said the talks doors are open if the VHP stops making threatening noises and setting deadlines for temple construction.

They also wanted the VHP to commit that it will abide by a court verdict in case both communities failed to arrive at a settlement.

At its general body meeting in Hyderabad, the law board members were unanimous that an out-of-court settlement should be in the “spirit of give and take”.

There was also an overwhelming desire that the VHP should allow the construction of a mosque on or around the disputed site as a “symbolic” memorial to the 16th century mosque that was pulled down on December 6, 1992.

However, the law board was divided on whether a judicial ruling would serve as the “only solution” to the dispute. A section in the board also felt that in case the court favours reconstruction of the mosque, the executive might express its inability to enforce it. Such a scenario would heighten tension and pose a threat to law and order.

The law board members constantly referred to the Gujarat carnage saying a “confrontationist” course is best if avoided.

There was also a general agreement that the board, now handling all cases pertaining to the temple-mosque dispute, should not be seen as giving in to the VHP’s strong arms tactics.

“We should appear flexible and keep the greater good in mind. If the government, the Sankaracharya and the VHP move one step forward, we should take two steps,” a board member said while regretting that the Centre and the VHP did not seem sincere.

There was, however, praise for the Kanchi seer. Speaker after speaker at the Hyderabad meet said that the law board could not afford to lose out on a mediator like him.

Board members like Kamal Farooqui want the Centre to create a conducive atmosphere and stop making concessions to the VHP. The law board expects the Kanchi seer to bring the VHP to the talks table without any condition.

The two sides can then explore the possibility of a temple and a mosque on or around the disputed site.

All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee convener Zafaryab Jeelani today urged the Kanchi Sankaracharya to declare publicly that the court verdict would be binding on all.

Jeelani, who is considered a hardliner, said: “Swami Jayendra Saraswathi has rightly disagreed with the VHP’s proposal to divide Jammu and Kashmir, but has not given any indication that in the event of a failure of his efforts on the Ayodhya dispute, the parties will have to abide by the court verdict as there is no other way to solve the issue.”

“The seer should not presume that the Muslims can be persuaded to surrender their claim over the mosque,” he added.


New Delhi, June 25: 
The confabulations for the proposed Cabinet shuffle started today with three rounds of meetings at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence. According to BJP sources, the consultations remained inconclusive.

The first meeting was described by sources as the “most crucial” given the backdrop of the “Kamraj plan” which proposed to send some senior ministers to the party to give it a face-lift before the next Lok Sabha elections.

The meeting was held between Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi. The trio was joined by external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, with defence minister and NDA convener George Fernandes later joining in.

Sources said four ministers — Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and M. Venkaiah Naidu — were being considered but of them, only Jaitley was reportedly willing to work “under” Krishnamurthi. The rest had made it clear that if they returned, it would be as party chief.

If law minister Jaitley was brought back, sources said he would be made the chief spokesman of the BJP to project the party “favourably” and “restore its earlier primacy” before the 2004 elections. His persuasive style of articulation on any subject was regarded as a “great asset” in helping the BJP “sell” even hardline Hindutva to the liberal constituency.

The “Kamraj plan” was formally mooted by Advani in the Panaji executive held last April but its execution has run into problems with Krishnamurthi insisting that he should be allowed to complete his term as the party president.

The BJP chief has resisted the offer of a ministerial post. He reportedly made it clear that he was interested in leaving his “mark” on the organisation and should be given the chance to oversee at least the Gujarat election. Krishnamurthi had earlier turned down an offer to become a Governor on the plea that he would work for the party.

Given his stated indifference to positions of power and pelf, the leadership is believed to be apprehensive of the possibility that if pushed too hard to give up party the president’s post, Krishnamurthi may end up doing something “dramatic”.

The BJP chief had earlier offered to resign his membership when Bangaru Laxman was made the BJP president in 2000 after Krishnamurthi was led to believe he would become one.

However, Krishnamurthi was persuaded by the RSS and BJP brass not to do so. However, once he changed his mind, Krishnamurthi continued to work without fuss under Laxman.

The RSS has reportedly declined to intervene too “actively” to make Krishnamurthi change his mind.


Kathmandu, June 25: 
Where the motor road ends at Sulichaur, a foot-trail strikes out northward along the Lungri Khola.

This path is a lifeline for the upper parts of Rolpa and Rukum districts — names that have become synonymous with the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army.

But for all its significance as a major supply route, there is hardly anybody walking on the road. The only indication of life is a mule train tethered outside the town limits.

The villages along the way seem equally deserted though the fields are well cultivated. The few people one sees working in the fields are well past their prime while the houses are tended by children.

The absence of the young is very striking in Rolpa. The youths, people say, have all left to escape forced enrollment into the Maoist army and also because of regular harassment from security forces.

Thus, one cannot help but suspect that the few able-bodied young men and women striding along could be Maoist fighters on their way home or their unit.

One also begins to get an idea why there are reports of so many innocent people getting killed by the security forces. In the classic guerilla setting that Rolpa is, every villager begins to look like a Maoist.

Walking throughout the day, there is only one cheerful-looking young man we come across. He has time to pause and ask where we are from. His handshake is firm — we’ve been told this is a trademark Maoist clasp. But his Bahun (hill Brahmin) features show he is an outsider in this region that is predominantly Magar, the largest Tibetan-Burman ethnic group in Nepal. The man is a teacher on his way to the district headquarters.

It is a pleasant surprise to learn that despite the emergency and the fighting that flares up now and then, schools are still running. In fact, apart from a rather irregular postal service, these schools are the state’s only link to the villages nestled deep inside Maoist territory.

We spend the night with schoolteachers in Pobang village. They point out the ridgeline, Gam, two valleys further to the west.

Gam is the site where the army suffered a major setback in early May. Coming just days after a Maoist training camp in the same area was besieged by the army, the attack on Gam revealed how vulnerable the army was, stationed in the middle of nowhere.

Support can only come from air. On foot, it takes at least three days to reach here from the army garrison in Libang.

The teachers tell us how five soldiers had managed to escape the Maoist assault in Gam and having made their way for three days along the river bed, they ran into a Maoist patrol, a short distance away from Pobang.

Fortunately, they succeeded in outrunning their pursuers. When one is running for his life, nothing can catch him, the teachers conclude.

Soon a crowd has gathered around us and people begin to talk. There has been no government for the past three years, they rue. The Maoists carry out all administrative work such as collection of land revenue and land transfers.

A local shopkeeper is back after a three-year stint in Malaysia as an electrician. Wrong timing to open a shop, he agrees — he has nothing much to sell.

We are lucky to find a pensioner from the irrigation department of Himachal Pradesh who is willing to talk. Kumbha Singh Pun tells us how development was slowly reaching the remote parts of Rolpa, but everything has now come to a halt.

Pun recalls how the distance he had to walk to go to India had gradually shortened over time as the roads penetrated deeper into the hills.

He also tells us that the talks between the government and the Maoist leaders last year had raised a lot of hopes.

The Maoists went around assuring people that the worst was over. But after the resumption of hostilities in November, the hopes died out.

The people have no illusions about the elections scheduled for November. It might be held in Libang, but in villages, people will be too scared of the Maoists to vote. Unless, of course, the army comes out and forces people into the booths.

However, the people choose to remain silent on the Maoists. Not much is said against them. Just a hint here and there, but it is clear they are holding back and we do not press them. The general consensus is that no matter who gains ascendancy in the fighting, the talks should bring peace.

When the conversation is over, the people strain their ears to catch the sound of gunfire beyond the high mountain that towers over us.

We can’t hear a thing, just as in Kathmandu we could not hear the cries of desperation ringing through these beautiful mountains of Rolpa.




Maximum: 30.6°C (-2)
Minimum:26.0°C (-1)


23.6 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 77%


Sunrise: 6.22 pm
Sunset: 6.16 pm
Occasional rain, with one or two rather heavy showers    

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