Delhi will fall in line if 43 others ratify
Centre stings Bengal with 2-page missive
India hits a six at UN summit
Left spanner in telecom accord
Funds lifeline for Haldia Petro
Calcutta weather

New York, Sept. 8: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee last night told the world that if India�s signature and ratification of CTBT was all that was required for the treaty to enter into force, his government would not be found wanting in ensuring the treaty�s implementation.

�Pending the evolution of a national consensus on India signing the CTBT, my government will not prevent the treaty�s entry into force,� Vajpayee told the annual dinner of Asia Society here within hours of arriving from New Delhi to attend the Millennium summit of the UN.

What this means is that if 43 states were to sign and ratify CTBT, India would be the 44th state to do so even if there was no national consensus. Under article 14 of the treaty, 44 states which have nuclear facilities or are nuclear capable have to sign and ratify CTBT before it enters into force.

In the same breath, Vajpayee added: �We also believe that all other countries that must ratify CTBT under article 14 of the treaty should do so without condition.� This calls into question Pakistan�s commitment to disarmament because of Islamabad�s insistence that it will take certain steps towards non-proliferation only if India does so as well. It also implies criticism of America for its failure to ratify CTBT.

The Prime Minister�s statement is a logical, but extremely significant extension of his declaration in the UN General Assembly two years ago that India would not stand in the way of CTBT�s implementation. That statement was interpreted as a sign of the Vajpayee government�s readiness to sign. His speech last night goes one step further and pre-empts the emergence of a national consensus on the CTBT issue.

It also provides a key to the negotiations between India and the nuclear weapons powers, particularly the US, on CTBT and other non-proliferation issues. It is obvious from Vajpayee�s statement that India has told the US and others that New Delhi is willing to sign and ratify CTBT the moment the treaty�s entry into force is imminent.

This explains a steady and gradual softening of attitude on the part of Washington towards a nuclear India, reflected in the continuing talks between external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and the US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott.

The assurance on CTBT implied in the Prime Minister�s speech last night had obviously been given to the US and others during negotiations since the Pokhran test in 1998. But this is the first time that the government is spelling this out in public. In his address to the Millennium Summit of heads of state and government today, Vajpayee reiterated what he told the Asia Society last night.

The Prime Minister did not refer to Pakistan by name in his address to the summit despite Pervez Musharraf�s vicious anti-India campaign both at the UN and outside during the last two days. Without naming Pakistan, he mocked general Musharraf for his high-sounding statements in New York. �Those who have stifled democracy at home speak of freedom from this forum,� he told the largest gathering ever of world leaders.

�Those who have engaged in the clandestine acquisition of nuclear weapons and delivery systems talk of ridding South Asia of these. Those who have repudiated solemn covenants talk of new agreements to prevent war. The authors of a vicious terrorist campaign that has claimed more than 30,000 innocent lives in India, who actively sabotaged a historic peace initiative, are now offering new initiatives for dialogue�.

The Prime Minister was, however, more forthright on Pakistan at the Asia Society and he pulled no punches. He referred to his trip to Lahore last year and the resumption of the dialogue with Islamabad.

�The rulers of Pakistan responded through Kargil in the summer of 1999. Pakistan suffered a military and diplomatic defeat. But instead of heeding international opinion, instead of responding to our offer to normalise relations, Pakistan responded by removing the last vestiges of democracy and embarking upon a yet more adventurous course of stepping up its terrorist campaign.�    

New Delhi, Sept. 8: 
In a stinker of an advisory to the Bengal government, the Union home ministry tonight said it was not satisfied with the reports so far sent to it on the continuing political clashes.

The ministry said it would �not remain a silent spectator� if the violence in some parts of the state went unchecked.

The home ministry has asked the Left Front government that not only should the Centre be �apprised� of developments but the state should make all attempts to bring the situation to normal.

The two-page strongly-worded letter from home secretary Kamal Pande to state chief secretary Manish Gupta has asked the state government to immediately despatch a more detailed and updated report on clashes between CPM and Trinamul Congress-BJP supporters.

The advisory followed an almost hour-long meeting between home minister Lal Krishna Advani and defence minister George Fernandes who was on a whirlwind tour of the troubled areas today. Fernandes called the home minister from the airport and sought a meeting which Advani readily agreed to.

The two were closeted in Advani�s North Block chamber for close to an hour, raising speculation that Fernandes was none too happy with the law and order in Bengal. Fernandes is believed to have told Advani that the political clashes were worse than what he has seen or experienced in Bihar.

The defence minister, who toured some of the affected areas, reported that, according to some of the affected families, only those who had voted for Opposition candidates in the last elections were being targeted by CPM cadre. Fernandes will submit his report to Advani tomorrow.

Home ministry officials said all through this year the response of the state administration to the Centre�s advisories has been �at best lukewarm�.

While the state government had been sending �cursory� reports on the worst affected districts of Midnapore, Bankura, Birbhum, Burdwan and Hooghly, available intelligence inputs provide a grim picture of the �dimensions� the continuing clashes could assume, especially before the Assembly elections due early next year. Even Governor Viren Shah�s latest report has described the situation as �grim�.

The advisory says Bengal had not only failed to provide a �comprehensive� account of the ground situation but also defaulted in giving an �objective� view of �deteriorating� law and order, which, in the words of the advisory, is �unprecedented�. It pointed out that there was a �perceptible upswing� in political violence which �should not need any emphasis�.

According to intelligence reports, there were 57 incidents of political violence involving the CPM and the Trinamul-BJP combine in August. The clashes resulted in nine deaths (CPM 3, Trinamul 5, BJP 1) and 107 injuries. During the course of the year, as many as 151 people died and 1,296 were injured in political clashes.

Still, the government finds no reason for imposing President�s rule a few months before polls. Mamata Banerjee�s strident approach has added to the problems. Banerjee wants nothing short of President�s rule or, at least, declaration of the five districts as �disturbed� areas, neither of which the BJP government is willing to concede.

n Another report on Page 10

From what transpired today, it was apparent that there would be �no summoning of state-level officials� and a clear diktat from the Centre on how the situation should be dealt with. The government believes that under the CPM regime, the bureaucracy and the police force are compelled to be over-politicised and there is little that can be done to escape the situation.    

New York, Sept. 8: 
Atal Behari Vajpayee may have missed the party in New York, but he certainly has reason to party. At least six issues on India�s �wish list� for the Millennium Summit are being adopted by heads of state and government who are concluding their biggest conclave in history here today.

The three-day summit�s final declaration, an advance copy of which has been obtained by The Telegraph calls upon heads of state and government �to strive for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons and to keep all options open for achieving this aim, including the possibility of convening an international conference to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers�.

It calls upon the summiteers �to intensify our efforts to achieve a comprehensive reform of the Security Council in all its aspects�. It further urges all countries �to take concerted action against international terrorism and to accede as soon as possible to all the relevant international conventions�.

Another issue on which India�s interests have been protected is the summit�s resolve to uphold the principle of �sovereign equality of all states, respect for their territorial integrity� and �non-interference in the internal affairs of states�. These principles are vital for India in view of pressure abroad on the Kashmir issue.

The declaration, which will be released tonight, stresses the need for tolerance, an issue of high priority for India in view of its plurality now under threat from several quarters.

The Indian delegation led by foreign minister Jaswant Singh and permanent representative to the UN, Kamalesh Sharma, which attended the summit during its first two days in the absence of the Prime Minister, is satisfied that Vajpayee�s absence did not seriously damage Indian interests.

The delegation, which burned midnight oil and fought hard for India�s �wish list� could not, however, win support for New Delhi�s positions on environment, trade issues and guaranteed access to markets for products of developing countries.

Vajpayee�s absence also resulted in lost opportunities for bilateral meetings with world leaders, several of them having left New York by the time the Prime Minister landed here.

But this is not worrying the Indian delegation. Jaswant Singh told The Telegraph on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of the leaders whom Vajpayee could have met in New York, will be in New Delhi in a matter of days.

Singh met British Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as foreign secretary Robin Cook.

With Vajpayee�s arrival on Thursday afternoon and his straight plunge into a crowded programme, speculation about the Prime Minister�s health appears to have abated, at least for the moment.

Vajpayee spoke at the Asia Society�s annual dinner last night, seated at his table. He was slow and halting in making the unusually long speech, but his spin doctors had prepared the audience for this by spreading the word about his mastery in Hindi oratory and the fact he makes his speeches in Hindi even in the General Assembly.

In any case, the 500 or so guests at last night�s dinner, who paid $1,000 for a plate, did not spend that much on a dinner to hear an Oxbridge accent. They came to hear the Prime Minister talk on policy issues and were amply rewarded.

Vajpayee delivered his speech at the UN summit standing, but with only five minutes allotted to each head of state or government, this was a strain he could well take.    

New Delhi, Sept. 8: 
Three of the four major telecom unions tonight agreed to call off the three-day-old strike that has crippled services across the country.

But the CPM-affiliated National Action Committee, comprising seven unions with about 70,000 employees, has decided to continue with the stir and demanded an end to moves to corporatise the department of telecom services.

Till late this evening, representatives from the three unions and the government were busy giving final touches to a charter of agreement.

The unions have agreed to end the strike and the government has decided to appoint yet another committee within 14 days to look into demands on pension from the Consolidated Fund of India, pay scales and steps to ensure financial viability of the new corporate entity.

Hectic negotiations were on since morning between junior communications minister Tapan Sikdar, who was aided by labour minister Satyanarayan Jatiya, and the unions.

The BMS-controlled Bharatiya Telecom Employees Federation had pulled out from the strike on Wednesday. Today, the Congress-affiliated Federation of National Telecom Organisations and the largest telecom union, National Federation of Telecom Employees, led by O.P. Gupta, agreed to sit at the table.

But CPM member of Parliament Nilotpal Basu said: �Financial security is only one part of the problem. After the corporatisation, DoT itself may become unviable.�

Telecom officials fear that if the communist-controlled unions intensify their agitation, the strike-off deal with the rest will not help.

Officials said network problems have been reported from many regions. The eastern region was worst hit.


Calcutta, Sept 8: 
The financial crisis that has plagued Haldia Petrochemicals � the talisman of Bengal�s industrial renaissance � appears to have blown over, at least for the moment.

The three promoters of the Rs 5,170-crore petrochemicals project � WBIDC, The Chatterjee Group and the Tatas � have agreed to pitch in with additional funding of Rs 500 crore which will be treated as �an advance against fresh equity�.

The promoters decided on the fresh fund infusion at a meeting of the company�s board of directors on Wednesday. The three promoters will extend the loan in proportion to their equity holding. WBIDC and the Chatterjee Group hold 22 per cent each while the Tatas hold 7 per cent. The first two promoters will make an investment of Rs 215 crore each and the Tatas will invest around Rs 70 crore.

The remaining 49 per cent of the proposed equity capital of Rs 1,969 crore has not been issued yet.

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta told reporters here today that the funds would be provided to the company soon. The loan will be adjusted against the funds that will be mopped up through a public issue slated for the end of this year, he added.

Dasgupta also announced the formation of a committee to work out the best possible manner to bring Indian Oil Corporation, the Rs 94,264 crore state-owned oil giant, on board as the fourth equity partner. The finance minister held talks in Mumbai yesterday with the top brass of IOC and other HPL promoters in this regard.

The committee, which has members from the HPL, IOC and the Industrial Development Bank of India, will submit its report within a month.

The finance minister said the company needed around Rs 200 crore from the IOC immediately to bridge the Rs 969 crore gap in equity financing; the three promoters have together invested Rs 1,010 crore in the project.

Dasgupta, who also held a meeting with IDBI G.P. Gupta on Thursday, has persuaded the financial institution to reduce the interest rate on loans by 1.5 percentage points from the current level of 18 per cent and grant a two-year moratorium on the repayment of the principal amount.

�The IDBI has shown a very positive gesture by reducing the interest rate which will lead to a saving of around Rs 110 crore a year,� Dasgupta said. The company has also decided to save Rs 150 crore through stringent cost-cutting measures.

�The combined effect of the promoters� loan, savings on interest and cost-cutting exercise will be over Rs 750 crore. The financial engineering will raise the company�s debt-equity ratio from the current level of 4:1 level to 3:2,� Dasgupta explained.

This means three parts of debt (roughly Rs 3191 crore) and two parts of equity (Rs 1969 crore).

Dasgupta has also pointed out that the government is not in favour of splitting HPL into two companies, as proposed by one of the promoters, to rope in IOC.

�We are very eager to get IOC, which is the strongest oil company, as a partner in HPL but certainly not at the cost of breaking up the project,� he said.

The finance minister was confident that the petrochemicals project, which has a 15-year chequered history, will start making profits from of the third year of operations. The project, which was conceived in 1985, was formally commissioned on April 2 this year.    



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