Pak incursion cloud over US mission
Hussain rallies behind Sourav
Offer of joint border watch
State’s turn to squeeze oil
Neighbours join Bengal dead line
Sinha nurtures Saarc ties
New role for old aide in Advani team
Sixth sense in Night’s ‘genes’
Tagore in mixed media
Calcutta Weather

 
 
PAK INCURSION CLOUD OVER US MISSION 
 
 
K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Aug. 21: 
Between US secretary of state Colin Powell’s visit to Delhi last month and his deputy Richard Armitage’s arrival in India on Friday, hidden from the rest of the world, India and Pakistan came closest to a war than at any time since General Pervez Musharraf’s invasion of Kargil three years ago.

If Armitage finds New Delhi a distinctly cooler place this week in terms of his reception than on his previous visits, it will be because Washington sat back and did nothing about the biggest military crisis between India and Pakistan since 1999.

The brief but potentially catastrophic crisis ended on August 4 when Indian Air Force Mirages bombed Pakistani intruders at Point 3610 in Kashmir, evicting them from Indian territory, destroying their bunkers and causing heavy casualties to the Pakistani army, according to intelligence sources here.

Since India and Pakistan have both opted to give whitewashed, understated accounts of the incident, officials here are reluctant to discuss its details or implications in public.

But there is puzzlement here that Musharraf attempted to occupy Point 3610, which became famous for battles fought there during the Kargil war.

Unlike three years ago, when there was a mixture of Pakistani regulars and irregulars on Kargil heights, the intrusion last month was by Pakistani armymen in uniform.

The assumption here is that Musharraf, who nearly had his back to the wall with a domestic political crisis, was hoping to divert attention and possibly unite Pakistanis behind him with a rallying call for patriotism.

As in 1999, he may have miscalculated that India would not use its air force against the intruders. There is a secret clause in the Simla Agreement, which prohibits use of air power by either side along the Line of Control (LoC).

Because of this clause, there were heated discussions in the Indian government in 1999 before the Indian Air Force was used in Kargil: for the first time along the LoC in 28 years.

If India had not used air power this month and relied, instead, on ground operations to evict the intruders, it would have served Musharraf’s purpose.

A mini-Kargil crisis would have built up and with the heightened international attention on Kashmir at that time, a halt to hostilities may have been brokered under international pressure.

Musharraf’s calculation appears to have been that this would have helped him domestically: he could have claimed that Nawaz Sharif’s betrayal over Kargil had been avenged and that the Indian Army had been stopped in its tracks.

The Indian Army’s accounts of the entire episode only refers to “intense firing in a northwestern sector of the LoC” where “foreign militants” had collected.

Pakistani statements only referred to Indian violation of “established ground rules”. This is said to be a euphemism for use of air power in violation of the understanding reached in Shimla between Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Armitage will discover on Friday that Indian disenchantment with Washington over its inaction during the latest crisis stems from the Bush administration’s earlier double standards in asking American citizens to leave India when Delhi’s view was that there was no threat of a nuclear war in South Asia.

As Armitage heads for India, the dominant view here is that Musharraf’s statement this week about infiltration into India is aimed at limiting Armitage’s agenda to that issue.

   

 
 
HUSSAIN RALLIES BEHIND SOURAV 
 
 
LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Leeds, Aug. 21: 
Be it on the field or off it, Nasser Hussain doesn’t fit a stereotype. And, so, if one captain had to specifically speak of “expressing solidarity” with the cricketers who aren’t signing the International Cricket Council (ICC)-scripted Player Terms, it probably had to be him.

At Headingley this afternoon, Hussain didn’t disappoint. More to the point, the ICC’s discomfort is going to increase manifold and there will now be a question mark over next month’s ICC Trophy in Colombo.

“Why are we (the England squad) not signing? That’s because we wish to express solidarity with some very fine cricketers. There are times when we must not only think of ourselves.... This is one such moment,” Hussain remarked towards the end of his media conference, ahead of the third Test versus India.

Pressed, Hussain added: “In any case, yesterday we got a call from Richard Bevan (managing director of the Professional Cricketers’ Association) asking us not to sign as the image rights’ issue is yet to be sorted out.... Moreover, the terms won’t just affect us, but even those youngsters who come into the picture between now and 2007...”

For quite some time, there was speculation whether the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) would book Hussain for being so vocal about a sensitive issue but, late in the evening, an ECB spokesman clarified the England cricketers are “free” to make known their views.

Incidentally, Indian captain Sourav Ganguly welcomed Hussain’s gesture. Ricky Ponting, Shaun Pollock and Carl Hooper should react in much the same way.

Meanwhile, though Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Jagmohan Dalmiya has been told that the terms will be effective for the Colombo meet only — and won’t bind the signatories till 2007 — that hasn’t been formally conveyed to the cricketers here.

In Bangalore, of course, the national selectors today picked 25 probables for the Champions Trophy. While no announcement was made, The Telegraph understands that the list includes India U-19 coach Robin Singh! The 38-year-old Robin’s last India appearance was during the ODIs against Australia at home, in early 2001.

Apparently, Jawagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad have also made the shortlist. Deep Dasgupta and Rohan Gavaskar, too. The selectors, however, ignored Yuvraj Singh as he hasn’t signed the terms. As with the other Indians, the document was handed to him after the NatWest Trophy.

Sources said task No.1 for the BCCI will now be to offer the same terms to the Srinaths and Prasads. At this point, it’s not known how many will sign.

   

 
 
OFFER OF JOINT BORDER WATCH 
 
 
PRANAY SHARMA
 
Kathmandu, Aug. 21: 
Hopes of a breakthrough in the South Asian standoff appeared today after India said it could work out a system with Pakistan to fight cross-border infiltration if its neighbour admitted it had failed to check the menace.

Pakistan, on its part, maintained that it was not “sponsoring, encouraging or allowing any movement” across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, but admitted that individuals and some “rogue elements and renegades” might still be sneaking across.

It stressed its readiness for talks but made it clear pre-conditions were unacceptable and that negotiations could not be resumed by one country alone.

At the Saarc ministerial meeting, external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha and Pakistan’s minister of state for foreign affairs Inamul Haq shook hands and posed for photographs, but did not have an exclusive session on the sidelines. Instead, both used the media to convey their position to each other on what they felt could lead to lowering of tension in the region and normalisation of ties.

Earlier this year, at the Almaty summit in Kazakhstan, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had proposed joint patrolling of the LoC by Indian and Pakistani forces.

Sinha today went a step further. He stressed the lack of trust between the two sides, hinting clearly that if Islamabad takes Delhi into confidence, the neighbours could work out a way to solve the problem of cross-border terrorism and normalise their strained relations.

“The level of infiltration may have come down, but there is no doubt that it is continuing,” Sinha said.

   

 
 
STATE’S TURN TO SQUEEZE OIL 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 21: 
The government is expected to announce levying of a cess on petrol and diesel tomorrow to raise funds for developing Bengal’s transport infrastructure.

Officials said this afternoon that finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who is in Delhi now, would formally announce the imposition of the Re 1 cess on a litre of petrol and diesel on his return.

According to the proposal, the tax, to be in force for four years, will raise Rs 2,400 crore. After it takes effect, a litre of petrol and diesel will cost Rs 30.44 and 19.43, respectively. A finance department official, however, said the cess on diesel will not be applicable to poor and marginal farmers who usually use the fuel for running small pumps.

“I have been insisting on the imposition of cess for over five years for the sake of the state’s development. I also explained to senior CPM leaders, including Jyoti Basu, numerous times and I feel happy that the government has woken up to my suggestion,” transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said.

He argued that the proposed cess would “only for the time being” put a burden on the people, particularly car users. “But I want them to bear with us so that the government can carry out some development projects for the benefit of the common people,” he said.

Irked by the government’s move, members of the West Bengal Petroleum Dealers’ Association today threatened to go on a strike. Association secretary Joydeb Sarkar said they would decide on their future course of action on Friday.

Chakraborty had placed the proposal at a Left Front meeting last month. He had suggested that the government could raise substantial funds in four years to implement transport infrastructure development projects. Front partners had initially protested but were later convinced by chairman Biman Bose.

   

 
 
NEIGHBOURS JOIN BENGAL DEAD LINE 
 
 
M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
Twenty years after some people got together to perform the “shraddh” of Calcutta Telephones with much fanfare, using a “dead” instrument, it is time for Jharkhand, Bihar and Assam to join Bengal in mourning.

An Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB) study says Jharkhand, Assam, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh (West) are the stragglers in the nationwide quality of service sweepstakes.

The study reveals that most fixed-line and cellular operators have failed to meet the quality standards set by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) — the corporatised entity formed two years ago that took over all the telephone circles in the country barring Delhi and Mumbai — got the rap for being the worst performer in the four eastern states. Reliance and AirTel were the worst cellular performers in West Bengal and Calcutta, respectively.

The operators argue that the data released today relates to performance during October-December 2001 and that things have improved since. “Yes, many improvements would have taken place after the study period. We will also release those statistics soon and will complete all the pending quarters so that the latest quarterly survey is made public,” Trai chairman M.S. Verma said.

Trai had asked IMRB to first make an objective assessment of the quality of service provided and then make a subjective survey of the level of consumer satisfaction. The regulator paid IMRB Rs 1 crore for the survey, carried out over a 14-month period.

The survey covered 22 BSNL circles, two MTNL circles and six private operators in the basic telephony segment. In the cellular segment, it covered 17 private cellular operators and two MTNL circles. The survey measured responses from 32,845 fixed-line subscribers and 4,724 cellular subscribers.

In the case of basic operators, Bihar (61.1), Delhi (55.5) and Calcutta (27.8) were the three worst operators when measured against the yardstick of customer complaints (number of faults per 100 subscribers per month). That compares with a Trai benchmark of seven faults per 100 subscribers.

In terms of the average time taken to attend to customer complaints, Andhra Pradesh (37.5 hours), Chattisgarh (34.8), Delhi (33) and Calcutta (32.1) were the worst performers. The Trai benchmark was less than 12 hours. Kerala had the best record with prompt attendance (less than 1 hour) to complaints.

In the case of cellular operators, the worst performers measured against the yardstick of billing complaints were MTNL in Delhi (15.1 per cent per 100 bills) followed by the two Chennai service providers — RPG Cellular (1.60 per cent) and Bharti Mobilenet (1.40 per cent).

One of the key parameters to measure cellular services is percentage of call drops during conversation. The Trai benchmark was less than 3.5 per cent and all service providers met the target.

Measured against the benchmark of good voice quality, Bharti in Delhi (85 per cent) and Escotel (also 85 per cent) failed to make the grade, which Trai set at more than 92 per cent.

The survey also took into account parameters like redress of customer complaints on faults, shifting of telephones, and accumulated network downtime.

“The quality of telecom service in the country is fairly unsatisfactory and needs an overall improvement in all aspects,” said Verma. The survey said that while the overall quality of fixed line service was poor, the private operators were comparatively better than the incumbents.

Cellular operators have been pulled up for their poor billing and call drops and accumulated network downtime. It suggested that the cellular operators needed to focus on improving performance in these two areas. Telecom operators have questioned the rationale of the regulator undertaking such a study. Worldwide, market forces determine the attainment of the standards.

“We are not going to be present here always to undertake this work. In India, the regulator has to play a surrogate role till the market can regulate itself. With an incumbent present in most parts of the country and with a possibility of a few cellular operators threatening to emerge as a monopoly operator, we have a role to play,” said Trai member R.R.N. Prasad.

Verma added: “Trai has no powers to enforce penalty but we will ask the operators to give us a plan to achieve standards and we will monitor them against those standards. It has to be a cooperative effort.” Trai has allowed fixed-line operators four years and cellular operators three years, starting from July 2000, to meet its quality standards.

   

 
 
SINHA NURTURES SAARC TIES 
 
 
PRANAY SHARMA
 
Kathmandu, Aug. 21: 
Having ruled out meeting Pakistan on the sidelines of the Saarc foreign ministers’ meet, India today underlined its commitment to the grouping’s smooth progress with exclusive tête-à-têtes with three of its other South Asian neighbours.

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha met his counterparts from Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh this afternoon soon after the first day’s session of the ministerial meet ended. At all the meetings, he emphasised Delhi was committed to ensure that “the complications” in its relations with Islamabad do not cast their shadow on the regional forum.

Hours before, however, India had worked closely with Pakistan and the other members in suggesting ways to strengthen the existing Saarc convention on terrorism.

Pakistan foreign minister Inamul Haq proposed that legal experts should aid senior officials of Saarc countries to improve on the existing laws on terrorism and draw up the agenda for a ministerial meeting on the subject at a later date.

India was one of the first countries to support the proposal while emphasising that the Saarc convention should be improved in a manner compatible with the UN convention on terrorism and recent changes brought about in existing laws in the West. It stressed that South Asian nations should also give due importance to the financing of terrorist outfits and pointed out the need to break the nexus between terrorism and drug trafficking.

Nepal health minister Sharad Singh Bhandari, the chairman of the Saarc council of ministers, argued that the growing menace of terrorism had added new problems to the region and said the Saarc convention on terrorism should be implemented as soon as possible by all the member nations.

Apart from terrorism, stress was laid on poverty alleviation programmes, welfare of girl children and steps to check trafficking in women. The meeting also agreed on completing the framework for the South Asian free trade area by the year-end.

Sinha’s first bilateral meeting today was with his counterpart from Maldives, Fathulla Jameel. This was their first interaction.

   

 
 
NEW ROLE FOR OLD AIDE IN ADVANI TEAM 
 
 
SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
The stage is set for a functioning secretariat for deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

Ajay Prasad, a Himachal Pradesh cadre IAS officer of the 1969 batch, is tipped to head the secretariat.

Prasad, now serving as additional secretary in the defence ministry, had worked with Advani when he was information and broadcasting minister in the Janata Party coalition government right after the Emergency. He was personal secretary to Advani.

Initially, Prasad is likely to be designated as officer on special duty. With Advani’s increasing responsibilities, sources say his current staff are finding it difficult to handle the workload.

A man from the service, who understands the workings of the bureaucracy, is expected to be in a better position to handle the job.

There is also increasing awareness in the home ministry about the need to have a senior official to deal with the press. Retired Doordarshan chief Harish Avasthi is said to be lobbying hard for the job. However, it may be sometime before a functioning spokesperson takes over.

Unlike the foreign ministry, which has a well-organised external publicity division, the home ministry has never been media savvy. Officials have always hidden behind the excuse of national security. But the situation is different now because of the growing menace of terrorism.

Perhaps, more than ever, the government now needs to take people into confidence and explain why certain hard decisions may sometimes have to be taken for reasons of security.

Unless the National Democratic Alliance government keeps its lines open to the public, its image is unlikely to improve.

   

 
 
SIXTH SENSE IN NIGHT’S ‘GENES’ 
 
 
CHANDRIMA S. BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, Aug. 21: 
Is it genetic memory that has led Manoj Night Shyamalan to the other world?

Speaking to mediapersons during a phone-in from Philadelphia, the director of the supernatural box-office wonder Signs said his Indian roots could be blamed for his pre-occupation with “the undefinable and the unexplainable” in his movies.

“I was not raised (the Indian) way,” said Shyamalan, who was brought up in the US. “Others around me were not brought up that way. So it must be something in my genetics.”

Shyamalan, who burst into Hollywood with The Sixth Sense and followed it up with Unbreakable, said it was probably because of India and its spirituality that “something spiritual comes out of somewhere”.

The 32-old-year director said with Signs — which collected $60.8 million in the first weekend in the US early this month and is still at Number 2 — he had toyed with the idea of opening with a scene from India.

The film is about crop circles — an intricate pattern of circles and lines — that appear carved into the crops of Graham Hess (Mel Gibson). As he looks into the phenomenon, what he finds changes forever the lives of his brother and his two children.

There are several supernatural theories, including UFOs, to explain crop circles. Shyamalan said he was not very eager to put in an explanation — he leaves the story “open-ended” — but added that he was staggered to find reports of hundreds of similar instances from India.

He said at one stage he had thought the opening scene would be with an Indian family looking at a crop circle, which would eventually dissolve into Mel Gibson looking at the same phenomenon in his backyard somewhere in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Then the idea was abandoned.

   

 
 
TAGORE IN MIXED MEDIA 
 
 
SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 21: 
Come September, Calcutta can look forward to its first film that is expected to look beyond the silver screen as far as the medium of presentation is concerned. It is also expected to be a path-breaker in the world of Bengali movies by being the first Bengali venture to exist in the “grey area” between stage and cinema.

Sandip Ray has taken up Tagore — the author whose works his father Satyajit Ray used in his films Tin Kanya, Charulata and Ghare Baire — and is looking forward to release the film, based “strictly” on the musical, Mayar Khela, either on CD-ROM or VCD.

“There’s a more than distinct possibility that the film is going to be released either on CD-ROM or VCD first,” Ray told The Telegraph today. He, however, added that he hadn’t “yet closed” the option of releasing it on an audio-visual channel as well, simultaneously with the new forms of presentation.

Members of his unit explained that the decision to go in for “new-age” media was based on their growing popularity. “Throughout the world, this is one medium that is easily available and is, therefore, the easiest route to reach out to a global audience,” explained Hirak Sen, handling the stills during shooting.

The entire action was being shot on stage, Ray said. “The characteristics of the stage are, therefore, bound to come across very strongly, though the action is being shot by a movie camera,” he added. The stylised performance of a musical being enacted on stage would also come across very strongly, Ray felt.

Besides, the very concept of a musical — replete with a form of dance and music typically Tagore’s — being represented through the movie camera was missing till date in Bengali films.

If you think that Mayar Khela has exhausted its list of ‘firsts’, you are wrong. This film — shooting started on Monday and the director looked set to wrap everything up by Friday — is quicker than the fastest ‘quickie’ made in the language.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.2°C (+1);
Minimum: 26.6°C (+1)

Rainfall

Trace

Relative Humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 68%

Sunrise: 5.18 am

Sunset: 6.02 pm

Today

One or two spells of rain or thundershowers
   
 

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