Wipro announces debut for third time
Garden firing unfair: CM
Provision to punish babus
Ghani to thank Nitish with tea
Lychees, coconuts draw Pepsi
Tehelka counsel accuses CBI of assault
No politics in expose: Tejpal
Central-rule push for clean Kashmir polls
Spare cows, starve cats
Sonia on heartland hunt

 
 
WIPRO ANNOUNCES DEBUT FOR THIRD TIME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
Wipro chief Azim Premji today announced a fresh — the third — date to begin constructing the software development centre in the city.

“We will start work on the facility this September. The centre is expected to be operational within 15 months of commencement of the project. To begin with, we will invest around Rs 50 crore in the venture,” said the chairman and managing director of the Rs 34,926-crore company.

The centre at Salt Lake Electronics Complex (Saltlec) will develop applications and services in the areas of telecom, embedded systems, data warehousing and e-commerce. The IT services and products company has development centres in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Pune and Secunderabad.

According to Premji, the Calcutta centre will initially create employment opportunity for “around 1000 techies”, of which 900 will be fresh recruits and the rest relocated from other Wipro centres. The company had earlier committed to “absorb around 2,500 employees” within three years.

But uncertainty still shrouds the project, which was billed as a badge of honour for the state. The Bangalore-headquartered Indian multinational was scheduled to kick off construction of its software development centre in September last year. The government had allotted land for the purpose in January 2001.

However, the infotech slump and September 11 terror attack in the US postponed the flagging off by six months and a new starting date— March 2002 — was announced by the company. Reiterating his commitment to the city, Premji declared the third start date for the state’s “dream” project.

The delay in the showcase project has raised doubts about Wipro’s future plans in the state. A worried government had expressed its concern to senior Wipro officials.

“The chief minister had taken personal interest in bringing Wipro to Bengal, but there was hardly any sign of activity from their end. Such delay by a company, which has more than Rs 1,400 crore as investible surplus, was really embarrassing for the government. Two months ago we had even asked Wipro officials to come up with a concrete deadline for the project,” said a senior government official.

Wipro’s refusal to enter into a joint venture with Webel Technologies Ltd for a personal computer assembling unit in Calcutta also caught the government on the wrong foot. “Since the deal with Wipro hasn’t yielded any result, Webel is now trying to rope in HCL for the assembling unit,” he added.

Today’s announcement has, however, brought a sigh of relief to the government. “They couldn’t start it earlier because of the IT slowdown. Last year saw Wipro deferring the employment of campus recruits by more than six to eight months. Besides, drying up of project flows from the US forced the company to bench hundreds of its employees. Following signs of recovery in the IT industry, the company is back on the expansion track once again,” said a Webel official.

But reaction from the industry has been cautious. For many, the IT scene will not permit Wipro to pump in money in new projects and the new deadline doesn’t seem achievable.

“Following the slump, there is a downward pressure on prices. And for a public company like Wipro, which is accountable to shareholders for return on investment, the scope for price-cutting is limited. Under these circumstances, fresh investment on a huge infrastructure doesn’t seem viable. They may rethink and the project may get further delayed,” said a Saltlec-based IT-preneur.

   

 
 
GARDEN FIRING UNFAIR: CM 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Siliguri/Calcutta, June 27: 
The chief minister today termed the police firing on workers at Chandmoni tea estate “unfortunate” even as life came to a standstill in Siliguri in response to a 12-hour bandh called by two Naxalite groups.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said in the Assembly that the police firing, in which one tea garden worker died, was “not fair”.

Another worker, Ranjit Jaswal, succumbed to injuries today, said Darjeeling district magistrate H. Mohan.

Saying a high-level inquiry would be made into the incident, the chief minister said: “The police authorities should have taken more precaution and deployed adequate forces considering the tense situation there. Or, at best, the police could have deserted the place when they found that they were outnumbered by the protesters.”

Bhattacharjee added that he had asked urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya, who hails from Siliguri, to talk to union leaders and settle the dispute.

Though Opposition members protested against the police “highhandedness” and the government’s attempt to deprive the tea garden workers of jobs, the chief minister maintained: “Once the satellite township comes up, significant economic activity will start in the area,”

In Siliguri, some tea garden workers had planned to take out a procession today with the body of Ram Bhakat, who had died in the firing. However, police officials said the move was shelved.

But officials are in a quandary as no one has claimed the body of Ram Bhakat. “In a case like this, we preserve the body for seven days and then dispose it off,” an official said.

Siliguri town wore a deserted look with private offices, schools and banks remaining closed. Shops at Bidhan market, Hill Cart Road and Sevoke Road also had their shutters down. Attendance at the headquarters of Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority and at other government offices was thin.

Tourists — most bound for Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong or Gangtok — were stranded at the main bus terminus on Hill Cart Road as there were no city buses or auto rickshaws.

   

 
 
PROVISION TO PUNISH BABUS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
The chief minister today announced a change in the promotion policy of state employees, empowering the government to punish errant workers.

According to the new rules, the government will introduce the annual confidential report to replace the open performance report on the basis of which promotion and punishment will be granted.

Replying to a debate on the home (personnel) budget in the Assembly, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “The annual confidential report will help the government to determine promotion or punishment for any state employee.

Elaborating the concept of annual confidential report, Bhattacharjee said all government employees would have to fill up a form that would be referred to higher authorities for their opinion.

However, the chief minister said: “Remarks by higher authorities on the performance of any government employee will be kept secret and promotion or punishment of any employee will depend on the report.”

Bhattacharjee said US-based consultancy agency McKinsey was preparing reports on the functioning of several government departments, including health, finance, land and land reforms, water resources development and the police.

“Our government is the first in the country to engage a consultancy agency,” the chief minister said.

Bhattacharjee claimed that his government had taken special measures to redress the grievances of common people. “During 2000-2001, the government received 3,866 grievances from the people. Of these, we have disposed off 3,373 cases, which is a record in the recent past,” he said.

He informed the Assembly that the government had set up booths at Writers’ Buildings, New Secretariat Buildings, Bikash Bhavan and other important government offices to allow people to lodge their complaints or grievances against any department. Such booths are also available in all district headquarters.

   

 
 
GHANI TO THANK NITISH WITH TEA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, June 27: 
Railway minister Nitish Kumar, locked in a standoff with Bengal on the bifurcation of Eastern Railway, will hold talks over tea with A.B.A Ghani Khan Chowdhury at his Kotwali residence here.

The former railway minister has invited Kumar for talks when he arrives here to flag off a new train, the Malda-Howrah Jan Shatabdi Express, and inaugurate a computerised reservation terminal at Pakur railway station. The Malda division of Eastern Railway is not to be included in the proposed East Central Railway after bifurcation of Eastern Railway.

The Congress MP from Malda, Chowdhury, had tried to contact Kumar over phone several times but had not succeeded. He wanted to take up the matter of the new train’s timings and the reduction of stoppages as well as to express his unhappiness that Howrah was made the destination instead of Sealdah.

Chowdhury then faxed the minister, requesting less stoppages en route so that the train could reach Calcutta faster. In response, the railway ministry has provided only four halts during the journey. The train will leave Malda at 6.15 am and reach Howrah at 12.40 pm, stopping at New Farakka, Jangipur and Khagraghat on the way.

Besides advising the minister against the division of Eastern Railway, Chowdhury will seek improvements in train services in the region.

Some of the other suggestions the Malda MP is likely to make include providing a chair car and a two-tier bogie in Gour Express, a new train to south India and to increase the number of seats in existing trains.

At a party meeting here today, Left Front chairman Biman Bose said the railway ministry should have consulted the governments of states that would be affected by the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway. “The division of a zone should not be according to political boundaries of states but according to economic considerations,” he said.

The CPM leader said he was happy that all parties had united to go as a team to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister on the issue. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya will lead the delegation.

   

 
 
LYCHEES, COCONUTS DRAW PEPSI 
 
 
BY SUTANUKA GHOSHAL
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
Pepsi’s India chief today called on the chief minister to discuss the multinational’s participation in food processing in the state.

Perked up by the recent McKinsey presentation on the emerging field in the state, Pepsi’s India chief Rajiv Bakshi arrived in the city for talks on possibilities to source green coconuts from Murshidabad and semi-processed pineapples and lychees from North Bengal.

After the international consultant’s report was announced, the company had carried out an independent survey about the productivity of agro-products in the state.

The survey revealed that Murshidabad district produced 21,000 green coconuts per hectare while Kerala and Maharashtra produced only 15,000 per hectare.

Pepsi also found the quality of pineapples and lychees of North Bengal acceptable.

Though chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee asked Pepsi’s India chief to expand the capacity of its factory at Sonarpur, Bakshi remained non-committal.

Bakshi asked the chief minister to invite primary processors who could do the initial processing of agro-products for Pepsi. Bhattacharjee informed Pepsi’s India chief that an Italian firm had evinced interest to become a primary processor and that a deal would be clinched shortly.

Today’s meeting between the chief minister and Pepsi’s India chief was held at the Assembly at 7 pm.

Principal secretary to chief minister Arun Bhattacharya and commerce and industry secretary Jawhar Sircar also attended the meeting.

Pepsi does contract farming for tomatoes in Punjab. The multinational procures lychees from Muzaffar Nagar for the Slice brand. Similarly, mangoes (Alfanso variety) are obtained from Maharashtra by the company.

   

 
 
TEHELKA COUNSEL ACCUSES CBI OF ASSAULT 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, June 27: 
Counsel for Tehelka Siddharth Luthra has accused CBI officials of beating up his secretary.

In a complaint submitted to Union home minister L.K. Advani, copies of which were released at the Venkataswami Commission proceedings today, Luthra said his secretary C. Vinod Varghese, on his way home from Luthra’s office, was “confronted by some CBI officials in plain clothes” who assaulted him and threatened to shoot him with a pistol.

Varghese had been “confronted” by CBI officials in plain clothes, “driving a white Maruti Gypsy bearing two stars” near the Moolchand flyover in south Delhi, Luthra said in the complaint, which was also sent to the CBI director, presidents of the Supreme Court Bar Association and the New Delhi Bar Association, besides the National Human Rights Commission.

“He (Varghese) was allowed to proceed and later he was confronted and then assaulted again at the Chittaranjan Park turning after Savitri Cinema flyover (another south Delhi area) by the CBI officials. On this second occasion, they (CBI officials) threatened to shoot him as they claimed to have a license to kill,” the counsel said.

After manhandling Varghese, they (CBI officials) inquired from him “as to who all were sitting in my office”, alleged the Tehelka counsel.

“When he told them that he was not aware of who all were in office, they held him by his collar, pushed him and threatened to kill him. When he did not answer their questions, they threw his driving license on the road and abused, threatened and criminally intimidated him,” Luthra said.

The complaint added: “Subsequent to this incident, my office-cum-residence was kept under surveillance by some suspicious looking men till into the early morning hours of 27th June on account of which all my staff members, including and, in particular, lady lawyers associated with my office, had to be escorted back to their respective residences.”

“I and my staff are being victimised on account of my professional commitment to my client tehelka.com and an attempt is being made to intimidate and put pressure on myself and my office colleagues,” claimed the Tehelka counsel.

   

 
 
NO POLITICS IN EXPOSE: TEJPAL 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 27: 
Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal today said the only “motive” behind Operation West End was to expose corruption in defence deals, involving middlemen.

Deposing before the one-man Venkataswami Commission for the first time, Tejpal stated that the “idea” of exposing corruption at high places, particularly defence deals, had been relevant ever since the Bofors scandal became public and that his portal’s “sting operation” was nothing more than a journalistic endeavour in “public interest”.

“The exercise, Operation West End, was purely journalistic, to expose corruption in (the) highest places in the system. It was not against any political party or individual,” Tejpal said, a day after the CBI raided his office premises in a poaching case under the Wild Life Protection Act.

Tejpal was grilled by various defence counsels, including those of the accused defence personnel who were caught on camera in compromising positions with prostitutes supplied by the Tehelka reporters.

Tejpal said he was not aware that “prostitutes were to be involved” by his reporters (Aniruddha Bahal and Samuel Mathews) as the decision was not communicated to him.

But “my reporters had taken the decision so that the progress in the investigative journalism of such a nature was not derailed”, he said.

Tejpal appeared before the commission today after he was “prevented” from doing so yesterday due to the CBI raid.

He alleged that such raids on his organisation were meant to “prevent” him from being present during cross-examination of persons, such as former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly. The Samata president was present in the commission’s high security room in Vigyan Bhavan throughout Tejpal’s cross-examination.

He denied that there was any political motive behind Operation West End.

Tejpal also categorically denied even “a bit of tampering” in the videotapes but said “there might be glitches due to (the) nature of recording”.

He denied any affiliation with any political party and stated that he had never believed the establishment, “which includes the government”. Tejpal stated during his five-hour deposition that his experience with the establishment over the last one-and-a-half years had been “very bad”.

He flatly denied a suggestion by various counsels that the Tehelka tapes had been tampered and even offered to get all the tapes examined if “there is honest examination”.

Counsel for Tehelka Siddharth Luthra objected to the CBI raids in the poaching case at the residential premises of Tehelka stringer Kumar Badal “in his absence”.

The counsel said his client was always available for any inquiry but the investigating agency had not sent him any notice under Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code nor was he ever called to visit the CBI office for inquiry. Whereas the agency has been spreading rumours that Badal is absconding, the counsel said.

   

 
 
CENTRAL-RULE PUSH FOR CLEAN KASHMIR POLLS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, June 27: 
The Vajpayee government is hoping to persuade Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar to hold elections in the state under President’s rule to deny critics a scope to gripe about a rigged victory.

Kashmiris are cynical about getting a fair deal under a National Conference administration. The party had earlier rejected the idea, with Omar questioning whether any other elected state government would agree to President’s rule ahead of polls.

But top government leaders are hoping to persuade the National Conference leaders. Sources said there is a perceptible softening of stand but all the loose ends have not yet been tied up.

The argument being put before the Abdullahs is that the ruling party is certain to win the elections. No other party in the state can boast of the kind of grassroots-level organisation the National Conference has, and it is likely to win hands down.

The credibility of the party’s victory will be greatly enhanced by holding elections under President’s rule, the father-son duo is being told.

Government sources said the point seems to have been hammered home and Farooq is expected to get back on the proposal in a day or two. Officials are keeping their fingers crossed.

Whatever the decision Farooq finally takes, he is expected to step down as chief minister. Though he has agreed to take a Cabinet post, he will not be inducted in the July 1 reshuffle. He is expected to go out of the country and will return in time for the Assembly session around July 15.

Omar will continue as junior foreign minister till his father is ready to take up his new assignment.

If the party decides to go against the Centre’s wishes, Omar will take over as chief minister as soon as his father quits. Otherwise, he will take over the reins after the elections, which his party is expected to win. Delhi feels Omar can then begin on a fresh wicket.

“We believe that credible elections leading to a change at the helm could be the starting point for a new chapter in Kashmir,” a senior government official said. “This is our firm belief and the current military standoff and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan is aimed at achieving this breakthrough,” he added.

The Vajpayee government has implicit trust in the Abdullahs, but realise that the chief minister is unpopular with certain sections of Kashmiris. Officials say Omar will not carry his father’s “political baggage”. Moreover, there is the hope that the hard-working junior minister can provide a clean and better administration.

The Centre aims to get a broad-based representation of political opinion in the state. Delhi’s efforts to woo the moderate groups suffered a severe setback with the assassination of Abdul Gani Lone.

But PMO officials, like Kashmir pointman A.S. Dulat, are working overtime to get the smaller Hurriyat leaders to participate in the polls.

A proper representation of various moderate political groups can also trigger enthusiasm among the electorate.

Officials believe some militant groups as well as the Hurriyat Conference may field a number of dummy candidates.

   

 
 
SPARE COWS, STARVE CATS 
 
 
FROM DEBABRATA MOHANTY
 
Bhubaneswar, June 27: 
If the Bajrang Dal and the VHP have their way, the big cats of Orissa’s Nandankanan Zoological Park will be in for a grim, hungry future.

The plight of the carnivores stems from the determined effort of the two organisations to oppose any attempt to legalise cow slaughter in the state.

The zoo, dogged by misfortune and official ineptitude, has been straining its resources to get the daily ration of about 800 kg of meat for its big cats and other carnivores after its only supplier was put behind bars for violating the Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960.

The beef supplier was arrested early this month following the intervention of the chairman of the National Commission for Cattle, Justice Guman Mal Lodha.

While zoo authorities and Orissa government officials were mulling an amendment in the Cow Slaughter Act to legalise killing of cows, the Bajrang Dal stepped in, demanding that the Act be made more stringent so that cow slaughter is stopped in the state. It even demanded the arrest of the zoo’s director for having violated the law all these days.

The Cow Slaughter Act prohibits killing of cows in the state. It only allows slaughter of bulls and invalid bullocks, certified by veterinary doctors. However, it is difficult for the authorities to slaughter bulls as it is considered a sacrilege.

“Cow is not just a sacred animal for Hindus. It has a lot of other uses in fields as well as in villages. Orissa can provide pork and buffalo meat to the carnivores as practised in states like Bihar, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh,” said Pratap Sarangi, a senior Bajrang leader. The Bajrang Dal leader even suggested that the big cats be sent to the jungles to sharpen their hunting skills.

Although BJP state unit chief Manmohan Samal supported the Bajrang Dal, the proposal to amend the Act came from senior BJP leader and animal husbandry minister Biswabhusan Harichandan.

With the Bajrang Dal hardening its stand on the Act, the zoo’s shoestring budget has gone haywire. Till the food crisis broke, the carnivores were being given beef procured at about Rs 8 a kg.

In the changed scenario, the zoo would have to spend about Rs 1 crore a year on feeding the carnivores against its earlier budget of Rs 25 lakh. Chicken, mutton and pork now being given to the 65 big cats do not come cheap.

A few days ago, the zoo authorities had floated tenders for supply of beef from outside Orissa. But it would take a month before the process is finalised, said zoo director S.K. Sinha.

Wildlife activists in the state say that the latest problem in the zoo is self-inflicted. “Despite several missives by the Central Zoo Authority to keep a check on the population of big cats, the Nandankanan high-ups went for cross-breeding of tigers mindlessly.

“Despite the tiger deaths in 2000, the number of big cats in the zoo is still very high. It’s criminal wastage of resources,” said Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the wildlife Society of Orissa.

   

 
 
SONIA ON HEARTLAND HUNT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 27: 
A search is on for a new chief for the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, reeling under the hopeless performance in the Assembly polls, is taking “personal care” to find a suitable candidate. Two of her earlier nominees, Sriprakash Jaiswal and Salman Khurshid, had to resign before completing their three-year tenures in the faction-ridden committee.

Sources close to Sonia said her biggest challenge was to identify the Congress’ number one enemy. The state leadership is packed with leaders who want to target Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. Their rationale is that as long as Mulayam continues to be a formidable force, the Congress will not regain primacy in heartland politics.

However, some working committee members are pressuring Sonia against this. They feel that in the era of coalition politics, the Congress should not burn bridges with a “secular formation” like the Samajwadi.

Mulayam’s opponents have told her that the fight against the BJP should not be her first priority. Leaders, such as Rajeshpati Tripathi, argued that the BJP was already losing ground in the state whereas Mualyam was gaining. In such a scenario, the Congress should oppose the “rising force” rather than chase a “spent force.”

State Congress leaders feel Sonia should look for an upper caste Brahmin or Thakur leader to neutralise BJP firebrand Vinay Katiyar. “Now that the BJP and the BSP have come together and the People’s Front has collapsed, the Muslims would vote for the Congress during the general elections,” a CWC member said.

Motilal Vora, the AICC general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, is keen on Pramod Tiwari, leader of Congress Legislative Party. Arjun Singh is pushing for Jagdambika Pal and Arun Singh Munna. Another section is lobbying for Salman Khurshid.

Sources said she would pick the chief only after weighing all her options. She does not want to be seen floundering in a state with immense political importance. Moreover, she represents Uttar Pradesh in Parliament and has a long-term interest in reviving the party there. The state sends 81 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Unless the Congress succeeds in winning a large chunk of that, it cannot get a decisive mandate.

   
 

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