Centre slashes small savings rates
Five die in Sumo bridge crash
Bofors notice reaches happy & hurt Hindujas
CPM begins blunder backtrack
Azhar haunts trio in humiliation hat-trick
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Jan. 14 
The government today announced a one percentage-point interest rate cut across the board on small savings instruments to align them with the overall banking interest structure.

The cut in small savings rates is a signal for a possible bank lending and deposit rate cut in future, though finance ministry officials chose to call it �a correction meant to align small savings rates with bank fixed deposit scheme rates�. Bankers remained non-committal on an immediate cut in interest rates.

The new rates will be effective from January 15. To give post offices and public sector banks time to make necessary changes, the government suspended accepting new deposits from this morning.

Finance ministry officials said acceptance of new deposits would be resumed latest by February 1.

The ministry sent a letter yesterday to post offices and banks to suspend accepting deposits. �You are requested not to accept deposits in accounts of SB, TD, MIS, NSS, PPF, NSC and KVPS with immediate effect. However withdrawals will continue,� it said.

The interest rate on Post Office Time Deposits for one, two, three and five years will be eight per cent, nine per cent, 10 per cent and 10.5 per cent. The rate on Post Office Recurring Deposits will be 10.5 per cent.

Kisan Vikas Patra will double in six-and-a-half years instead of six years. The premature encashment values of KVPs have also been revised correspondingly.

The rate of interest on Post Office Monthly Income Account will be 11 per cent. The 10 per cent bonus on maturity will continue, as will the five per cent discount on deposits in case of premature withdrawal before three years.

The National Savings Certificate-VIII Issue will offer an interest of 11 per cent, while the rate on National Savings Scheme 1992 will be 10.5 per cent.

The interest rate on Public Provident Fund (PPF), income from which is totally exempt from tax, will be 11 per cent.

The rate cut will reduce the interest burden on the Centre, but it is likely to be opposed by the states which benefit from the Rs 3,30,000 crore mopped up.

The Centre has decided to pass on the benefit of the lower interest cost to the states by reducing the interest rate on special securities of state governments, issued against small saving collections, by one per cent. The rate of interest has been revised from 13.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent.

But reduced rates on small savings will mean lower collection for the states. States get about 75 per cent of the funds deposited on soft loans from the Centre.

West Bengal is one of the biggest beneficiaries, with a large chunk of its budgeted expense mobilised through this route. The state ranks first in small savings with Rs 4,000 crore in deposits. Chief minister Jyoti Basu has already written to the Prime Minister protesting against the unilateral decision. He has demanded that the matter be discussed at the chief ministers� meeting.    

Calcutta, Jan. 14 
Five persons were killed and four seriously injured when a speeding Tata Sumo hit a stationary lorry from behind on Vidyasagar Setu around 8 am today.

The Sumo was coming towards Calcutta from Sibpur when the accident occurred. Two of the victims were women. The driver, who had a miraculous escape, is absconding.

Joint police commissioner (traffic) V.V. Thambi said the cause of the accident was reckless driving and not fog, as was being claimed by some people.

�At the time of the accident there was no fog,� the police official said. �The Sumo was coming at breakneck speed and the driver, probably absent-minded, did not see the lorry parked on the bridge.� The lorry was stuck there following a breakdown.

The victims were identified as Sandip Sinha (25), Sadhan Das (27), Sadhana Bagchi (35), Soumit Roy (19) and Rita Bag (17).

They were probably office-goers, preliminary investigations revealed. The Sumo, used for commercial car pool, ferried office-goers from Howrah to Calcutta.

The four injured were admitted to SSKM hospital in a critical condition. The victims were residents of Chatterjee Para and Bangal Para in Shibpur.

Officers who visited the site said three of the victims died on the spot, while two succumbed to their injuries at the hospital.

�We are trying to get more details about the accident from the injured. But they cannot speak yet,� an officer said.

The excuse of poor visibility due to dense fog has been used by several errant drivers in the past few days. There have been at least four accidents in as many days during early morning.

However, the weather office today confirmed that visibility even in early morning fog is at least two kilometres.

The police have told drivers to use fog lights and not to exceed a speed of 25 kmph.    

New Delhi, Jan. 14 
The CBI has sent notices to the Hinduja brothers to �join� the Bofors investigations as part of its efforts to prepare a second chargesheet.

The notices were sent to the NRI industrialists, who are suspected to have played a crucial role in the Bofors payoffs, through the diplomatic missions in London and Geneva.

A spokesman for the Hindujas said tonight in London that they were ready to offer any �clarification� to the CBI, but maintained that they had nothing to do with the gun deal.

A CBI official said the agency has given the three Hinduja brothers � Gopichand, Srichand and Prakash � a week to respond to its notices. He added that the officials investigating the 13-year-old case were keen to �examine� the industrialists in India.

The CBI move comes at a time when the investigating officials are studying the final set of papers, received from Berne and Luxembourg in December. These documents have offered the investigators sufficient clues to establish a link between the Hindujas and the Pitco-Moresco-Moineao payments which run up to Rs 16 crore.

The exact role of the Hindujas in the payoffs case has never come to the fore because the industrialists had, for almost 10 years, blocked the transfer of Bofors papers to India through litigation.

Last year, they had approached the Swiss authorities to block the transfer of documents, pleading that the papers might not be used for investigation and could instead end up being used to settle political scores.

Admitting that the CBI had sent notices seeking �certain clarifications�, the Hindujas� spokesman said �we have offered our full cooperation to the agency in the past and to successive governments� in this case.

�We will be happy to offer any further clarifications required. We have consistently maintained that we have nothing to do with the gun deal. We feel aggrieved that the CBI should be leaking information to the media even for seeking clarifications when we have voluntarily offered them full cooperation,� he added.

A CBI official said it will take some time to prepare a second chargesheet, supplementary in nature, which will clarify the role of the Hindujas in the gun deal.

In its first chargesheet, filed in a Delhi court in October, the CBI had listed Rajiv Gandhi and Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrochhi among the accused. The agency had then said it was �continuing investigations� against the Hinduja brothers.

Others named are former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, Bofors agent Win Chaddha, Bofors president Martin Ardbo and Bofors AB, which has since been renamed Celsius. A Delhi court later issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against Quattrochhi, who was examined by the CBI in Kuala Lumpur in December.

Chaddha, who is based in Dubai, applied for an Indian passport so that he could appear in court. He has been given a temporary passport.    

Calcutta, Jan 14 
In a deft balancing act, the CPM politburo today paved the way for modernising the party programme without watering down the principle of democratic centralism.

During the eight-hour discussion on the programme, which had barred the formation of the country�s first communist-led government in 1996, the politburo gave a clear signal that obstacles to the CPM�s participation in a future government would begin to be removed shortly.

On the opening day of the three-day meeting, the CPM�s apex body indicated it was prepared to adapt itself to change without compromising on �democratic centralism�.

The balancing act is expected to defuse the tension generated by a section of party leaders, who are demanding more democracy, a modern attitude and transparent working.

�Ours is the most democratic party in the country and we do not believe in any high command politics,� said Sitaram Yechury, one of the 17 politburo members.

The draft report on updating the party programme, discussed today, was prepared by the five-member programme commission including H.S. Surjeet, Jyoti Basu, Anil Biswas, P. Ramachandran and Yechury.

�We launched our campaign because we felt that some of our leaders were behaving like dictators,� said Samir Putatunda, one of the rebels. �We want the leadership of the people, dictatorship of the people.�

Hardliners Prakash Karat, Yechury, Biman Bose and Biswas were expected to agree to the changes proposed by the commission as they believe that the rebels are aggrieved because of the 1996 episode, which Basu had described as a �historic blunder�.

The hardliners had then rejected the proposal for a coalition government, with Basu as Prime Minister, on the ground that the programme does not provide for such an eventuality.

Apart from clearing participation in a coalition government at the Centre, the programme commission has defined what the CPM�s attitude towards regional parties in the country should be.

The commission is in favour of alliances with regional parties that have a secular background. It is learnt that several state units will be allowed to take independent decisions in this regard.

The CPM leadership has come round to the view that without support from regional parties, the it can neither form a government in Delhi nor expand its organisational base. Though the issue was not discussed today, the politburo is believed to have evolved a formula for truce between the hardliners and moderates.    

Sydney, Jan. 14 
It�s quite an embarrassment being an Indian around here.

If being thrashed 0-3 in the Test series wasn�t humiliating enough, Sachin Tendulkar�s team has now lost the first three Carlton and United Series matches.

Five wins on-the-trot (the league phase has eight games for each side) and India could still make the finals. That�s possible, yes, but few will wager on that.

Today�s match eventually turned out to be somewhat close, but during the Indian innings, a section of fans at the packed SCG had chanted: �Go back, go back� and �hai-hai.� Their roots aren�t difficult to guess.

Fans in Sydney, specially, have been cheated twice in a fortnight: The third Test, which ended within three days, and this evening�s defeat.

Moreover, just about everybody has that question of the millennium on his/her lips: Why wasn�t Mohammed Azharuddin, the most experienced and successful one-day batsman, picked?

Captain Sachin Tendulkar and coach Kapil Dev have some answering to do. The selectors headed by Chandu Borde, too.

Equally, Board president A.C. Muthiah and secretary Jaywant Lele must explain how they decided Ajay Jadeja wouldn�t be fit.

To return to today�s game, the Indian innings lasted a mere 36.3 overs with sundries, totalling 32, emerging top-scorer! Worse, the essay ended well before the scheduled break.

Only three batsmen reached double-figures as Sachin�s move to bat first on a lively wicket, with conditions slightly overcast, worked wholly to Australia�s advantage.

Sadly, a wicket with reasonable life � bounce and allowing movement after pitching � sees the Indians drop dead. It�s happened in the past as well, and, the tradition is set to continue.

That the white Kookaburra is doing quite a bit, particularly early on, is adding to India�s misery. Here at least.

As for the Australians, they turned on the heat � positioning as many as nine men in the �circle� for umpteen overs. Local lad Brett Lee, for instance, hurled grenades with a slips-gully cordon rarely seen after the early Jeff Thomson days, in the mid-Seventies.

Clearly, Steve Waugh rubbed it in � employing a field hardly engaged by the most aggressive of Test captains. He�d done something similar in the second one-dayer versus Zimbabwe, in Harare, earlier this season.

Australia did have hiccups: First came a 24-minute rain-forced break and, then, Jawagal Srinath�s do-or-die burst. However, the ask for getting 101 could never be terribly stiff.

Initially, Adam Gilchrist did the needful and later, after Srinath�s stunning effort, MoM Andrew Symonds ensured the hiccups didn�t become a major headache.

Of course a couple of half-chances weren�t converted, but even if they would have been, it�s debatable whether the bottomline would have been different.

That rain was forecast for the evening probably tempted Sachin.

And while few could have envisaged the ball seaming wildly, the Indians got their XI wrong � baffling, really, was Debashish Mohanty�s exclusion.

It would be an understatement to say Mohanty was missed once Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad�s spells (ten overs at one go) ended. Conditions, then, were tailormade for Mohanty to cause havoc. Some people need to be reminded he can get the ball to talk both ways.

To his credit, Sachin acknowledged the Indians misread the wicket, indirectly admitting Mohanty and not Nikhil Chopra should have played. Kapil, too, accepted the wicket was misread totally.

Symonds, saluted as �sensational� by his captain, got the Man of the Match award for an all-round show, but most of the damage was caused by the brilliant Glenn McGrath, who is familiar with each blade of grass at the SCG.

Indeed, McGrath not only stands tall among today�s quicks, he�ll figure at the very top in the all-time fast bowlers� Hall of Fame. McGrath evicted both openers, Sachin and Sourav Ganguly, within five overs and Australia straightaway had India by the jugular.

Sachin was done in by the movement, though he himself handsomely contributed to the dismissal; Sourav was beaten by the bounce. Few openers relish the McGrath-juicy wicket combination, and it couldn�t have been any different for the Indians.

The captain�s decision to open, for the first time this tournament, was taken only late this morning. It didn�t work. Instead, Sachin�s early exit added to the pressures of an already fragile middleorder.

McGrath had another wicket before his sensational first spell (7-3-5-3) ended, that of V.V.S. Laxman. His last innings at the SCG produced all off 167 runs, and was an absolute gem. Today, McGrath gave Laxman a rude reminder that cricket is probably the biggest of all levellers.

Samir Dighe�s wicket, towards the end of the innings, gave McGrath a haul of four.

Symonds, too, picked up as many and will take to Sunday�s match against Pakistan, at the MCG, on a split hattrick. Wickets one and two as also three and four came in successive deliveries.

The Indians have a long break before their next game, in Hobart exactly a week from now. They remain in Sydney till Monday.    

Today�s forecast: Mainly clear sky with mist in the morning. Fall in night temp. Max. temperature: 30.3�C (3� above normal) Min. temperature: 18.8�C (5� above normal) Maximum humidity: 96% Minimum humidity: 52% Rainfall: Nil Sunset: 5.07 pm Sunrise: 6.24 am    

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