Broom to pearls in one sweep
Talks snub to Musharraf
Sonia summons Ghani, Somen
Hrithik coming to make music
Fly free, but don�t dress freely
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 31 
Union commerce minister Murasoli Maran today pulled out a broom to peel back a massive chunk of the cobweb of regulations that have restricted choice for Indian consumers to a narrow range of shoddy locally-made products displayed on tacky shop shelves.

Unveiling the export-import policy for 2000-01 here today, Maran lifted quantitative restrictions on the import of 714 items ranging from essential items like milk, common salt, rice and wheat flour to exotic stuff like caviar, cod, halibut and haddock.

For women, the new exim policy holds out the tantalising prospect of being able to rummage through a razzle-dazzle range of imported diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires; and the GeneratioNext can now hope to keep pace with the latest fashion trends in sports apparel and footwear.

The list was drawn up to comply with the commitments the country has made to the World Trade Organisation under which it is required to remove all restrictions on imports by April next year. However, the list is certain to raise more than a few swadeshi hackles because it permits the import of some pretty fundamental stuff like toilet paper, brooms and brushes, and bidis. Critics are almost certain to blast the government for trying to curry favour with the WTO by permitting the free import of a wide range of spices, pickles, chutneys and squashes.

Among other meat and fish products, the new policy permits the import of ham (fresh and chilled), meat of sheep and lamb (frozen), hilsa (frozen fillet), and the famous Bombay Duck.

�Although it has removed all restrictions, the prices on these items are not likely to be low because the government will impose high import duties on these products,� said an industry analyst. A maximum cumulative duty of 44 per cent would be levied.

The new exim policy has also lifted the bar on items like unroasted and decaffeinated coffee, instant tea, paper, woven fabrics, readymade garments, and fruits like promegranate, lichies and apricots.

One of the biggest shocks in the policy is the decision to permit the import of second-hand lorries and trucks. The mavens in the automobile industry were befuddled by what they termed a �hazy and vague� decision, especially at a time when the government has been tightening fuel emission standards and trying to push 15-year-old vehicles off the roads. It is even more ironic that the decision was announced the day before a large fleet of eight-year-old buses were set to go off the roads in Delhi following a Supreme Court order. Several auto industry honchos were unable to accept that Maran had committed a volte face after having promised them at the auto expo in Delhi earlier this year that second-hand imports of vehicles would not be allowed.

Justifying the new policy with regard to eliminating the curbs on imports, Maran said India was obliged to withdraw the restrictions after it lost its appeal before the appellate body of the WTO against the findings of the dispute settlement panel of the trade forum. The panel had earlier ruled against India on a dispute filed by the US against New Delhi.

Special economic zones

In a major move to ratchet up exports by over 20 per cent next year, the government announced the formation of two special economic zones at Positra in Gujarat and Nangunery near Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu which will be modelled on the special enclaves that China has built at Shenzhen and Hainan.    

New Delhi, March 31 
Emboldened by President Bill Clinton�s new-found India tilt, Delhi today spurned Pervez Musharraf�s first formal offer for talks, refusing to relent until Islamabad stops the export of cross-border terror.

Delhi is aware that Musharraf is under severe diplomatic pressure to reopen dialogue and faces the threat of global isolation. At the same time, it knows that the more it delays the resumption of talks, the greater will be its bargaining power.

Unwilling to lose the upper hand and enjoying Musharraf�s discomfiture at having to renew his talks offer, India today stuck to its stand. It also drove home the message that in spite of the bonhomie with Clinton, it will not cave in to any kind of US pressure on Kashmir.

Pakistan foreign secretary Inam-ul Haq yesterday proposed the talks in a meeting with India�s high commissioner to Pakistan G. Parthasarathy. This is the first time that the military regime has not made the offer through the media.

Reports from Islamabad also suggest that Pakistan high commissioner in Delhi Jehangir Ashraf Qazi may meet foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh in the next few days to renew the offer.

But foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal made India�s stand very clear. �The cessation of Pakistan�s cross-border terrorism and the abandonment of its vicious propaganda are essential ingredients for any meaningful dialogue. We once again call upon Pakistan to look to the ... welfares of our peoples and ... give up the path of conflict and senseless violence,� he said.

Jassal added that though India had no aggressive design against Pakistan, it would not hesitate to safeguard its border. �While we will continue to scrupulously maintain our policy of restraint, we will effectively respond ... to any threat to our territorial integrity,� he said.

An on-the-backfoot Musharraf last week toured South-east Asian countries, particularly those with Muslim majority, to garner support for his regime.

But he was given a lukewarm reception, and categorically told to take positive steps to restore democracy.

Having watched the developments closely, India realises that one sure way for the junta to gain acceptability is by resuming talks with Delhi. This will also lower international pressure to restore democracy in Pakistan.

Besides, it knows that merely getting back to the talks table will not guarantee a change in the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir. On the other hand, it might be seen as a step taken on Washington�s insistence.

Delhi is not likely to make any move that will rub the gloss off Clinton�s India visit, which it is showcasing as a major foreign policy achievement. It runs the risk of losing this advantage if it resumes dialogue immediately.    

Calcutta, March 31 
Stunned by the humiliation in the West Bengal Rajya Sabha polls, Sonia Gandhi today summoned senior state Congress leaders A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Somen Mitra amid growing demands for the resignation of working president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi who is already camping in the capital.

The defeat of Congress candidate D.P. Roy at the hands of Trinamul nominee Jayanta Bhattacharya spurred Mamata Banerjee to invite leaders of her parent party to join her grand alliance against the CPM. The victory was made possible by the Congress, a number of whose legislators cross-voted for Bhattacharya.

Aggrieved MLAs close to Mitra have accused Das Munshi of engineering Roy�s nomination at a time when the former state Congress chief was unanimously chosen by the legislature party.

Saugata Roy, who resigned as deputy leader of the legislature party yesterday, said tonight that he, along with 11 other legislators, had written to Sonia, demanding disciplinary action against those betraying the Congress nominee.

�We also call upon the high command to remove the present CLP chief, Atish Sinha, from his post,� said Saugata Roy.

Caught unawares by the growing dissent, Das Munshi, who left for Delhi this morning, said he was being unnecessarily blamed for the party�s debacle.

�I have nothing to do with Roy�s nomination for the Rajya Sabha polls. Instead, the high command took the decision in consultation with the CLP leadership,� he said over phone from Delhi.

Das Munshi said he met Sonia tonight to covey his feelings. However, sources close to Das Munshi said he had offered to step down.

His detractors scoffed at Das Munshi�s attempt to wash his hands of the nomination row.

�Das Munshi is responsible for the party�s debacle in the Rajya Sabha polls and he should not be spared,� said Bengal Youth Congress president Paresh Pal.

Still celebrating the victory, Mamata today said efforts were on to forge the mahajot grand alliance against the communists.

�The mahajot will take shape within the next few days,� she said, adding that she had held discussions with Chowdhury.

Though the state party chief has indicated he was not averse to an alliance even if the BJP is a part of it, the Congress high command ridiculed the proposal.

�Let it be 100 per cent clear that the Congress will never have an alliance with the BJP either directly or indirectly,� spokesman Ajit Jogi said in Delhi.    

Calcutta, March 31 
Moved by the appeal by principals of five schools to drill sense into his fanatical admirers, actor Hrithik Roshan has promised to make a visit �at the first opportunity�.

Sorry, Hrithik Roshan isn�t coming on Sunday to play football in the April heat at Salt Lake Stadium. But he�s coming later in the week to raise a song and dance at MusicWorld, Calcutta�s first mega music store.

In a fax from London, where he is shooting a commercial, he told Mithun Chakraborty, who has organised Sunday�s football match between Mithun XI and Sourav (Ganguly) XI, that because of �prior commitments� he can�t visit Calcutta on April 2.

�I believe that some girls are planning to run away from school to meet me in Mumbai. Please convey my apologies to all those nice girls for not being able to attend,�� Hrithik wrote to his Mithun chacha.

School principals had wanted to set up a meeting with the filmstar when he visits the city to issue a joint appeal to students concentrate on their studies instead of indulging in starry-eyed Bollywood dreams. Mithun said if he is in Calcutta when Hrithik comes, he will arrange a meeting. That is unlikely since Mithun is leaving on April 2.

Raghu Pillai, chief executive officer of MusicWorld Entertainment, would not disclose the date Hrithik is visiting the city. �The idea is to add some excitement and let fans have a whale of time,� he said. The �excitement� isn�t ending with Hrithik either. Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Karishma Kapoor will follow.    

Mumbai, March 31 
If you are an Air-India employee�s wife, daughter or relation travelling on a free ticket, choose your clothes before you decide your travel plans. A circular from Air-India�s personnel department issued 10 days ago asks employees to watch their hem-lines and not wear revealing clothes while travelling on holiday on a free ticket issued by other airlines that have a tie-up with Air-India.

The circular issued by the airlines personnel manager, A.P. Sangi, mentions that a spouse of a retired Air-India employee who was travelling on another foreign airline on a free ticket (one of the entitlements given to serving and retired employees of the corporation) was refused a boarding card because she was not suitably dressed. The circular did not mention the name of the lady or the airline she was travelling in but it did list 16 items of clothing which Air-India employees and their relatives �must not� wear.

These include tank tops, figure-hugging mini skirts, see-through T-shirts, low cut blouses, shorts (unless you are less than six years old), shabby shirts, bermudas, beach wear, swimming suits, etc. Air-India�s director, inflight services, Jitendra Bhargava said, �The list is so detailed as to cover all eventualities.�

�There are short ten to fifteen minute flights between two destinations in exotic locales all over the world and passengers often like to travel in beach wear and loose clothes. We cannot permit our employees and their relatives to travel like that because the image of the airline is at stake.�

The moot question is why is Air-India playing chastity aunt?. Senior employees in the corporation say that �it reflects badly on the organisation if those travelling on a free ticket are not dressed properly.�

While an ordinary passenger can dress however he likes, an employee�s kin cannot�, said Bhargava.

Not many employees, specially pilots and air hostesses are happy with this circular though. An air hostess of the corporation, who requested anonymity, said, �Actually, very few of us wear completely revealing clothes. But there is a border line between exposing and just wearing feel-good clothes specially when your are on a holiday. The airline must understand this�.

Bhargava, however, said that this circular wasn�t a new one but only a reiteration of existing rules. �But since this unfortunate incident (of an ex-employee�s spouse being denied a boarding card) happened, we decided to reiterate the rules.�

While Air-India has used its discipline wand against employees, it has extended an olive branch to first class and executive travellers. In a series of sops, it has promised all expenses paid holidays to domestic and foreign locales to those travelling to New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo and Osaka.

Depending on the number of tickets you buy you could get a holiday for two to Goa, Bangalore and Hyderabad or take a pick between Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok or London and Paris.    

Temperature Maximum: 34.1� (1� below normal) Minimum: 24.4� (1� above normal) Humidity, Maximum: 93% Minimum: 53% Sunset: 5.47 pm, Sunrise: 5.33 am Today: Partly cloudy sky. Little change in temperature.    

Maintained by Web Development Company