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In the final confirmation � if any was required � that the infotech shakeout is wrenching the guts out of the country�s software companies, Microland Group�s indya.com, India�s most high-profile horizontal portal, has started sacking staffers.
On Monday, the management summoned employees from across the country to the head office in Bangalore and gave them a month to quit. In the first phase of the layoffs, nearly 50 staffers were asked to sign their resignation letters.
Sunil Lulla, chief executive officer of indya.com, said: �The portal has undertaken to restructure its resources within the company to continue to be more competitive in the Indian Internet space and realise its vision and business goals within the planned timeframe.�
�The �right-sizing� exercise affects 20 per cent of current jobs and leaves indya.com with optimal resources to attain its business goals,� Lulla said. �It is a natural evolutionary process within the industry to stay competitive and make the business profitable.�
Twenty staffers of IT Space, Microland�s portal on the infotech industry, were also given the marching orders. Company sources said layoffs will take place across Microland�s non-profitable ventures.
Indya.com was set up with a lot of fanfare. Microland Group chairman and managing director Pradeep Kar pulled off something of a coup when he persuaded Rupert Murdoch and his STAR group to invest in indya.com, which was expected to give other established portals a run for their money.
Lulla claimed that these investors �actively support indya�s business plans and remain committed to indya.com�s growth towards market leadership.�
The $16m Microland, one of the leading information technology groups, has been forced to lay off its employees and hopes to catch the second wind when the much-awaited reversal of the downtrend happens.
The company claimed that employees in ITSpace.com, its IT-specific portal, have resigned. However, sources said, �It was a forced resignation. The employees from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad were summarily called to Bangalore and asked to tender their resignations.� Reports indicate that Planetasia.com Ltd, a software services company, is also planning to lay off staff. Industry source said: �A restructuring is scheduled to be undertaken and a few layoffs should be expected.�
The Microland Group expects to double revenues to $32 million during the current financial year. In 2000-01, 40 per cent of the company�s revenues came from the US market and 35 per cent from India; the rest was generated from other markets.
Kar is confident that business from the US will grow with a spurt after the initial sluggish conditions.
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The move is aimed at legitimising the Line of Control (LoC) on the one hand and assuring the international community on the other that India is making a serious attempt to lower the temperature in South Asia.
Lt. General G.S. Sihota, the DGMO, may travel to Islamabad before next week�s Vajpayee-Musharraf summit. Vajpayee also felt the need for consultations on security concepts and nuclear confidence-building measures. He has issued instructions for proposing to Pakistan an official dialogue at the experts� level.
Under an existing arrangement, the DGMOs of the two countries talk to each other on the hotline every Tuesday, a practice that had continued even during the Kargil conflict. The attempt now is to put in place more confidence-building measures (CBMs).
In the run-up to the summit, Vajpayee has tried to ignore the provocation of Islamabad asking the separatist Hurriyat leaders to tea with President Pervez Musharraf, emphasising instead the need for CBMs.
Though a meeting with the Hurriyat leaders is on the cards, Pakistan does not wish this to sour the atmosphere for the summit either. Islamabad said today it hoped Delhi would recognise the �political and moral imperatives� of involving the Hurriyat in an effort to settle the Kashmir dispute. In the same breath, a spokesman said: �We are looking forward to a positive result of the summit.�
Vajpayee was briefed last night by the three service chiefs about the possible CBMs he could offer. But, while proposing them, Vajpayee also tried to address the domestic audience and the international community.
�The establishment of durable peace and stability between India and Pakistan is vital for both countries. Violence continues to be fomented in Jammu and Kashmir from beyond our borders. This must stop,� a short statement said.
Anticipating criticism at home for talking to Pakistan without mentioning cross-border terrorism, South Block spoke of continued violence, which must cease to build a conducive atmosphere for talks.
Musharraf has recently indicated in interviews that he sees the LoC as the fundamental problem between the two countries. If the Pakistani general is suggesting that the border be redrawn, the Indian leadership is insisting that the only way of normalising relations is to strengthen the existing arrangements on the LoC and the uncharted territory between it and the Siachen glacier.
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The London-based Hinduja group is now out of the running for Indian Airlines, too. The other bidder for the domestic carrier � Videocon � was also disqualified, putting an end to the bidding process for Indian Airlines.
The Hindujas expressed their �extreme disappointment�, saying the decision was �sad� as it had been made at �such a critical stage� in the bid.
The new rules, cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment today, state that if a company is chargesheeted by an agency or convicted by a court of law over issues related to national security and integrity, it and its sister concerns will not be able to bid for any public sector company. This blocked the Hinduja group, which has been chargesheeted for its alleged involvement in the Bofors scam.
Another new rule states that if any company has been indicted or convicted by a regulator or by a court for �a grave offence which outrages (the) moral sense of the community�, it would be barred from participating in the selloff process. However, in such cases, the sister concerns will be spared.
Interpreting this rule, the Cabinet Committee on Security threw out bids by Videocon for Indian Airlines and by Sterlite for Hindustan Zinc Ltd, as the two companies had been indicted by Sebi for manipulating their share prices.
However, bids by BPL Innovation for Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd remained valid, though its sister company had been indicted for an identical offence.
Disinvestment minister Arun Shourie clarified that the government�s controversial sale of Balco to Sterlite would not be affected as the decisions �were with prospective effect and not retrospective effect�.
Disinvestment ministry officials said they could now wrap up the process of selling 40 per cent stake in Air-India by the third week of July. The sale could thus be concluded before the monsoon session of Parliament begins.
But the selloff is likely to raise a storm in Parliament. Last week, even without knowing the price at which the shares would be sold, Congress chief whip in Parliament Priya Ranjan Das Munshi lashed out at the BJP for trying to sell the airline at an �absurdly low price�. The two Left parties also protested against the sale. Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party issued statements against what he claimed was a conspiracy to sell �a national treasure� for a song.
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Asked whether the NDA government was thinking of evolving a mechanism to deal with such situations in the future, a senior Cabinet minister said, �The proper forum would be the Inter-State Council.�
Describing the situation that arose in Chennai last week as �unexpected and unprecedented�, he said there was no convention and procedure, either in the Constitution or law, to turn to if a Union minister was arrested in a state.
The DMK and the BJP drew flak from certain quarters for questioning the decision of the Tamil Nadu police to take action against the two Central ministers for allegedly not allowing the police to perform their duties.
�Nobody is suggesting that they are above law. But a procedure needs to be in place. For example, if a lower court judge has to be arrested by the police, the high court chief justice�s permission would have to be sought. And if a bureaucrat has to be arrested, the government�s permission is needed. This is what we are asking for,� the minister said.
A statement issued by the Tamil Nadu government, after it agreed to drop the charges against Maran and Baalu, made it clear that this was done only to �maintain cordial relations with the Government of India and out of deference to the views expressed by the Centre and, more specifically, by the Prime Minister and not because the charges against them did not hold.�
It further said: �The government of Tamil Nadu reiterates that the charges against the Central ministers were framed for explicit offences committed by them.�
Despite a subsequent denial from the PMO that no pressure was put to let Maran and Baalu off the hook, government sources admitted that the Centre was in a bind after their arrest and had no legal or constitutional power to secure their unconditional release.
There is concern that such incidents may recur and the Centre would, therefore, have to devise a mechanism to cope with them.
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav has warned Union ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar that they may meet Maran�s fate if they �meddled� in the affairs of Bihar.
Government sources said it was in no hurry to secure a response from the Tamil Nadu government on the home ministry�s directive.
�We will give them two weeks but we hope before that the chief secretary will reply. And if he doesn�t, we can ask what happened to the reply?� said the sources.
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Imran, a Kapil contemporary, has been invited by a high-profile TV channel to offer his own perspective on Musharraf�s July 14-16 visit � the first by a Pakistani head of state after General Zia-ul Haq�s trip 14 years ago � on a daily basis.
Owing to prior commitments in England, however, Imran is �undecided� on whether or not to accept the TV channel�s offer � �part of the hype,� as he himself put it, laughing.
�I�ve got to be in Birmingham by this Sunday afternoon and, thereafter, am committed to attend a couple of charity functions elsewhere in England. I would like to come over but, first, I�ll have to re-schedule appearances elsewhere,� Imran told The Telegraph this morning.
Contacted on an associate�s cellphone in Karachi, where he will be attending a wedding, Imran added: �I suppose things will be clear by Monday.� Imran�s last visit to India was during the 1996 World Cup India-Pakistan quarter final, in Bangalore. Then, too, it was a media-assignment � commentary for WorldTel.
Much, of course, has happened since and Imran is now a full-time politician heading Tehrik-e-Insaaf or the justice party. In fact, he was one of the politicians invited by Musharraf for the recent five-hour meeting on Kashmir.
Commenting on the up-coming Vajpayee-Musharraf summit (in Agra), Imran said: �I�m cautiously optimistic. After all, I don�t expect a major breakthrough at the very first meeting between the two leaders.�
He added: �My understanding is that there�s no set agenda, as yet, and so there could be a breakdown if Pakistan insists Kashmir is the one core issue... Still, talking by itself is much better than not talking at all. Also, Vajpayee probably expects something, otherwise he wouldn�t have invited Musharraf.
�Indeed, if a breakthrough is actually achieved, it will be a resounding victory for the people of both our countries. We can all do with peace and the better channelling of our resources.�
According to Imran, who insisted he�s not a hardliner on Kashmir, the issue no longer is one of a territorial dispute. �Today, Kashmir is a human rights problem... With six-seven lakh Indian troops there, can you even imagine the Kashmiris� feelings?�
He added: �As was recently done in East Timor, let the people of Kashmir � including those on this (Pakistani) side of the border � decide their own future. They must have a say in their own destiny. Kashmiris aren�t sheep and can�t be herded here and there.�
Asked what had he himself suggested during Musharraf�s meeting with politicians, Imran replied: �I made two points. Firstly, as the international media would be present in strength, Musharraf should utilise what is an historic opportunity to firmly put Pakistan�s views across.
�And, secondly, in presenting Pakistan�s views, to drive home the point that Kashmir isn�t any longer a territorial dispute. Today, the issue there has changed...�
Expectedly, Imran hoped the summit would facilitate the �immediate resumption� of Indo-Pak cricket ties. That, too, on each other�s soil and not in a third country.
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The suggestion which has been made by five editors marks a substantive change from the earlier approach where clearance was sought for foreign direct investment in media companies, which would have enabled foreign media giants to control Indian newspapers and magazines.
�What we are seeking is meant to strengthen the Indian print media companies. We want to be permitted to enter the capital market without restrictions. The only restriction that is needed is that control should be in Indian hands,� Narendra Mohan of Dainik Jagaran, one of the five, explained. At the same time, it will mean allowing foreign investment in the sector.
Union information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj said today that she had asked the law ministry for a definition of �foreign ownership and control� as mentioned in a 1955 Cabinet resolution. That resolution barred foreigners from owning Indian print media companies.
Swaraj wrote to the law ministry after receiving a letter from the five editors which wanted Indian print industry companies to be allowed to raise capital like corporations in other sectors.
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