Soaring stocks smash 6,000 barrier
Delhi alert to US on Pak
Fury after police fire on mourners
Berth pangs for statute review panel
Calcutta weather

Mumbai, Feb 11 
The stock market whooped today as the sensex burst through the 6000-mark on another historic adrenaline-pumping day that saw market players dance like dervishes as they scrambled to scoop up shares across the board.

The hot stocks of the moment — Infosys, ITC, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam, Satyam Computers and BSES — led the rally as the foreign institutional investors funnelled a staggering Rs 76.6 crore into the market and a whole army of day traders came on board for the heady ride. But just when these stocks hit their circuit filters — the price band that freezes trading in a scrip when it gains more than 8 per cent — the raging bulls did the impossible: they hoisted Hindustan Lever to force the Sensex into a never-never land above Point 6000. Lever gained Rs 26.25 at Rs 2345.

“It’s a crazy market out there,” said Ramesh Damani, a BSE broker. “In a bull market, prices go up amazingly. Clearly Infosys led the bull charge, and the infotech major gave the market enough thrust to scale Point 6000.”

The morning had started on a euphoric note when the sensex — the main barometer of the stock market’s sentiment — opened just a tad below 6000, at 5985.05. It remained remained range-bound between 6005.85 and 5917.04 but profit-taking towards the fag end of the session drove it to a close of 5933.56 in a 144.42-point (2.5 per cent) leap over Thursday’s finish of 5789.04. The BSE-100 index also flared up by 75.41 points to 3415.57 from its previous finish of 3340.16.

Zee Telefilms clocked the highest turnover of Rs 655.18 crore of BSE’s total volume of Rs 5450.54 crore, up from Thursday’s Rs 4130.09 crore.

“The markets across the world are extremely bullish”, explained K R Bharat of Credit Suisse First Boston, a foreign institutional investor. Bharat who had predicted the sensex would cross 6000 by early 2000, was more circumspect this time. “It will be foolish to make any predictions now,” he averred.

However, Rajesh Jain, executive director of Pranav Securities was ready to stick his neck out. “After a few hiccups, the market should touch 6600 in the next three months,” he said. “But it will be a function of pre-budget expectations and post-budget reality,” he added.

There would be some selling before the union budget. Tushar Shah of KBS Securities says, “One needs to be liquid before the budget”. But he also adds that any dip in the market is a buying opportunity.

All of them however agree that too much of money is chasing too few stocks. “The rally should spread across sectors. The euphoria should infect the infrastructure and services sectors”. They also expect institutions to book profits in select counters.

What could the spoil the party? There is a long list of spooks for the market: the government backtracking on reforms, tension on the border, a harsh budget without any sops, and the ballooning fiscal deficit.

But the biggest hex for the market in the immediate term is Sebi’s decision to slap additional cash margins — sums that market players will have to stump up as soon as they place buy orders in the market — on the top 25 brokers of BSE, National Stock Exchange, Delhi Stock Exchange (DSE) and the Calcutta Stock Exchange (CSE). The bourse authorities have also been directed to impose ad hoc margins and special margins on volatile scrips.

“These margins have been temporarily imposed for a period of one month,” Sebi chairman D.R Mehta said in Delhi. He dispelled fears of default by brokers and settlement risks. The Sebi chief said bourses have been asked to be vigilant on the volume of trading notched up by big brokers. An inter-exchange meeting on February 14 will review the measures.

However, he said investors must be careful while trading in the stock markets. “It is necessary for them to look through the fundamentals of companies before putting their money into them. One should not only go by trends and hearsay.”

Brokers, however, feel these margins would be an additional burden on them. According to an NSE broker, margins collected from them are sometimes are as high as 46.76 per cent. This includes a base margin cap of 11.76 per cent, gross exposure margins up to 15 per cent and volatility margins up to 20 per cent.    

New Delhi, Feb. 11 
Anticipating criticism at home, a cautious Centre has officially told Washington about the possibility of a negative impact if President Bill Clinton visits Pakistan.

However, New Delhi has also taken care to see that the message is not interpreted as a condition.

“It is for America to decide whether the President visits any other country. However, we thought, as friends, we should bring to their notice that there might be a public reaction,” foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh was quoted by agencies as saying in Washington after his two-day talks.

Though Mansingh’s mission was consultation with his US counterpart Thomas Pickering, he met other senior leaders, including national security adviser Sandy Berger, deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott and influential Congressmen.

To ensure that US statements on Kashmir and the nuclear issue did not send wrong signals in India, Mansingh said “no condition was attached” to Clinton’s visit.

“We are not looking for any favour. There is going to be a partnership and we will discuss matters of mutual interest,” he said.

But the US continued to hammer its role of peacemaker with secretary of state Madeleine Albright seeking Russia’s help in bringing India and Pakistan “back from the nuclear precipice” and making them sign the test ban pact.

In a speech to the diplomatic academy in Moscow, she said: “We both have an interest in bringing the CTBT into force, and in maintaining our respective moratoria on testing.”

“Russia and the US have a host of powerful reasons to work together to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and missiles that carry them.”

South Block maintained that India’s position was well known on Kashmir and disarmament. “While we don’t have any problems about talking on these issues even during the presidential visit, no one should assume that this would mean a shift from our stated position,” said an official.

India realises that Clinton will have to keep talking about both issues to justify a visit to Pakistan. But, instead of shying away, Delhi wants “a free and frank” dialogue in which it will bring up Pakistan’s terrorism and the active help it had been receiving from China and North Korea in developing its nuclear programme. “We are looking forward to this visit,” Mansingh said.

“Our focus will not be on the transient issues. We expect it to reflect the new friendship, the new situation,” he said.    

Lucknow, Feb. 11 
The Provincial Armed Constabulary today opened fire on a condolence meeting for a student killed by a policeman in Ballia, 250 km from here, sending the town on the rampage.

Residents, seething after yesterday’s shootout in which a college student was killed, torched three police outposts and attacked police personnel and vehicles at random. The car of the additional superintendent of police and two other police jeeps were set on fire.

The principal secretary, home, V.K. Mittal, accepted that the firing was unprovoked. “As of now, I am more prone to believe that the firing was unprovoked. Moreover, with ministers and MLAs present in the condolence meeting, there is no way they would have allowed the crowd to turn violent,” he added. Eight persons were injured in the firing, of whom three are in serious condition.

State Cabinet minister Bachha Pathak and local MLA Manju Singh were present at the condolence meeting, along with members of the Samajwadi Party and the Samajwadi Janata Party. Manju Singh’s car was among those burnt by the angry crowd.

Naveen Kumar Pandey, a student of Satish Chandra College, was shot dead by sub-inspector Vishwajit Rai after an altercation at the Satni Police Chowki yesterday. As news of Pandey’s death spread, a mob set the Satnisarai Police Chowki on fire and then targeted the Joplinganj police outpost. The sub-inspector was arrested this morning and charged with murder.

Matters, however, took a serious turn when the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) contingent posted at Ballia fired on the condolence meeting.

A worried state government rushed additional contingents of police to Ballia after receiving an SOS from the local administration that the situation was slipping out of control. Six companies of the PAC and two of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) have been rushed to Ballia along with 50 police sub-inspectors, 200 constables, three additional superintendents and five deputy superintendents.

Mittal said Ballia was “very tense”. A spokesman at the district police chief’s office added that constables in some police stations have refused to turn up for duty because residents were attacking “anybody in uniform”.

The law and order top brass, including home secretary Anuj Bishnoi, additional director-general (law and order) Gyaneshwar Jha, additional director general (PAC) R.K. Pandit, and Inspector General (Special Task Force) Vikram Singh, have been flown to the town.

The officers were attending a seminar on community policing and better relations with the public, part of the ongoing Police Week engagements, here when they were asked to rush to Ballia.

The PAC has a history of unprovoked violence and has been described as “trigger-happy” by several inquiry panels. On August 13, 1980, the force had opened fire on 40,000 people in Moradabad while they were praying.    

New Delhi, Feb. 11 
The formation of the Constitution review commission has run into rough weather with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, law minister Ram Jethmalani and panel chairman M. Venkatachalaiah failing to agree on its members.

Though Venkatachalaiah has arrived in the capital from Bangalore, the names of members were not announced today as scheduled.

Jethmalani met Vajpayee this morning but could not reach a decision. Law ministry sources said “it was left to the Prime Minister to decide the other members of the commission”. “The ball is now in the Prime Minister’s court,” a Jethmalani aide stressed.

With Vajpayee unable to make up his mind, the announcement of the commission looks set to be delayed by a few days. Venkatachalaiah spent his second day in the capital without meeting either the Prime Minister or the law minister.

The former Chief Justice had made it clear at the outset that no member should be “imposed” on the commission without consulting him and no person with any “political-ideological” leanings should be included on it.

Vajpayee was, therefore, “hesitant” to immediately announce the names of the members and invite the “wrath” of Venkatachalaiah, law ministry officials said.

Venkatachalaiah had set two conditions before he agreed to head the panel: that the basic structure of the Constitution and parliamentary democracy would not be reviewed and members would not be chosen without his consent.

The terms of reference of the panel make it clear that the review will be held “within the framework of parliamentary democracy” and that changes will be recommended “without interfering with its (Constitution) basic structure or feature”.

Justice R.S. Sarkaria, who headed the commission on Centre-state relations, is believed to have expressed inability to join the panel due to “old age”. “Sarkaria’s name is the only one Jethmalani disclosed as a possible member of the panel,” the law ministry spokesman said. “Twenty-five letters were sent to different people for consent,” he added.

Former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash Kashyap’s name is doing the rounds for member-secretary. “Kashyap’s participation as a member cannot be ruled out, although he may not become the member-secretary,” the law ministry spokesman said.

He confirmed that the names “doing the rounds” are very much under consideration. The names of former attorneys-general K. Parasaran and Ashok Desai are being circulated.

Attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee, jurist Fali Nariman and former law minister Shanti Bhushan, who now practises in the Supreme Court, are also being mentioned.    

Today’s forecast: Mainly cloudy sky. Possibility of light rain. Rise in minimum night temperature. Max. temperature: 27.6°C (1° below normal) Min. temperature: 16.8°C (1° above normal) Maximum humidity: 94% Minimum humidity: 52% Rainfall: Nil Sunset: 5.25 pm Sunrise: 6.18 am    

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