Vajpayee lines up investment push
Purnendu or us: IOC
Buddha in blockade-bust
Bengal keeper picked for S. Africa
Moulin Rouge sings Indian tune
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
The government and industry today hunkered down to the job of tossing up a salad of strategies to jumpstart a stuttering economy where growth has slumped to 5.2 per cent and is in danger of dipping further.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee unveiled a plan that calls for shovelling funds into large infrastructure projects to stoke recession-roiled demand and asked industry to do its bit to increase productive investment.

Vajpayee told top industrialists who form his advisory council on trade and industry here today that the government intended to mobilise the surplus credit sloshing about in the banking system at �low and declining interest rates� and channel it into public projects.

�We have decided to mobilise large-scale additional resources for investment in development projects and programmes,� said Vajpayee.

�The crisis can be ended only by dramatically stepping up public investment and enabling private investments to ride on the back of higher public investment. Interest rates are softer than ever before. We have reduced taxes and made the tax regime simpler to stimulate growth. I would like industry and trade to make full use of these measures,� he said.

Outlining the plan for large-scale public investment and other legislative and administrative measures to kickstart the economy, Vajpayee announced that 2002 would be observed as the �year of implementation�.

The finance ministry made a detailed presentation of the economic slowdown and outlined the steps the government proposes to take to push reforms.

It said in the next three months, the government would hasten privatisation, reform labour laws, work out a timetable for power reforms and take measures for fiscal consolidation and downsizing of the government workforce.

�The consensus of the meeting was that the privatisation programme must firmly move ahead,� finance minister Yashwant Sinha said, adding that the entire corporate sector emphasised the need to rev up rural demand.

Later in the day, Sinha held a brainstorming session with industry leaders in cement, automobiles and construction. They were asked to present a charter of demands to ratchet up demand in their sectors. They promised to do that in two weeks. Sinha said a decision on their demands would be taken within four weeks of the presentation.

Earlier, the Prime Minister indicated that the government intended to bring in legislation in the winter session to carry forward labour reforms.

Vajpayee outlined a 14-pronged strategy for increased public investment in infrastructure and other development projects, choosing the railways and roads for mention.

In the background of the controversy over alleged starvation deaths, Vajpayee said the government would facilitate public and private investments in agriculture and in all segments of the food economy.

The Prime Minister asked the business community �to clean up its act� and to give a better account of itself, both to the government and to the people.

After the meeting, Ficci president Sanjeev Goenka said industry had made a request for an interest rate cut and a realistic exchange rate for the rupee, which the Reserve Bank deputy governor heard in silence.


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
After offering to bail out Haldia Petrochemicals, Indian Oil Corporation has put the Bengal government in a spot. The oil major has given the state a choice it would hate to make: either us, or Purnendu Chatterjee.

The chief of The Chatterjee Group had also given the state a similar choice earlier. Chatterjee, who holds a 43 per cent stake in the Rs 5,170-crore company, had said he would pull out of the project if it is run like a public sector (read, if Indian Oil gets management control).

The government has yet to respond to Indian Oil, nor has Chatterjee made clear his stand, but the public sector company is turning the heat on the government.

�We had sent the investment proposal to the state government almost a week ago,� a senior Indian Oil official said. �But the government has yet to get back to us. It has not even made a proper offer to us yet. We will get in touch with the state government next week to find out their views. We have come across media reports saying the government has asked financial institutions and banks to work out a debt restructuring proposal. But no formal proposal has come to us from the state government,� the official said.

On Thursday, Chatterjee had met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers� Buildings to express his views on Indian Oil�s participation in the project. Neither the state government nor Chatterjee divulged details of the meeting.

Indian Oil wants to acquire 26 per cent stake at a face value of Rs 10 per share in Haldia Petro.

Asked about state commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen�s talks with petroleum minister Ram Naik early this week, the official said: �We are not aware what sort of discussion they had. But there is no feedback from the state government�s side yet.�

Both The Chatterjee Group and the state hold 43 per cent stake in the Rs 1,010-crore paid-up equity of the project. The Tatas hold the remaining 14 per cent.


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
After having invented the concept of state-sponsored bandhs, the Left Front government now believes actions that disrupt normal life are bad for Bengal�s image.

In his effort to showcase Calcutta and Bengal as the investor�s first choice, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is convening an all-party meeting to discuss the problem.

After the chief minister disclosed this at a Left Front meeting, its chairman Biman Bose said: �Buddhababu is worried over the way people are squatting on roads and railway tracks and resorting to agitation on flimsy grounds,� Bose said.

On a journey from Siliguri, Bhattacharjee was held up on Darjeeling Mail for nearly two hours as the CPM�s students� wing, the SFI, blocked tracks in protest against the fare increase. The main Opposition party, Trinamul Congress, yesterday threatened to call a bandh if electricity tariff was raised.

Former chief minister Jyoti Basu, during whose tenure state-sponsored bandhs gained currency, endorsed Bhattacharjee�s proposal to put an end to sudden road and rail blockades �in the name of democratic agitation��.

Bhattacharjee�s proposal is unlikely to have safe passage in the Front, not to speak of the response it will evoke in Trinamul.

Veteran RSP trade union leader Sunil Sengupta said: �Blocking railway tracks and roads is a democratic way of protest and it cannot be stopped without discussions with trade unions.� He was supported by CPI state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar.

Bhattacharjee promised to talk to trade unions, student and youth wings of the Front before reaching a final decision. In the same breath, the Front announced protests from September 26 to 28 when, according to Bose, the WTO is meeting in Washington. It seems to be making a distinction between announced and unannounced disruptions.


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
It�s one thing waiting for the India call-up. Quite another to actually get it.

It was soon after lunch that Deep Dasgupta�s New Delhi-based father, Biplab, called him in Hyderabad to convey the �best news� of his life: Being selected for the October 5-26 tri-series in South Africa.

The next call was from The Telegraph and, for more than a few moments, 24-year-old Deep didn�t quite react.

�I�m at a loss for words� Really, being picked for India is overwhelming,� is what the newest wicketkeeper (fifth in the past year) struggled to say.

Pleasantly surprised, like the rest of the cricket fraternity, Deep quickly regained composure: �Actually, it�s not a bolt from the blue as I was among the probables at the start of the season. So, in that sense��

In Hyderabad with the Bengal outfit for the Moin-ud Dowla, Deep went for �a run and a workout� to allow the India call-up to �fully register�.

A call from his London-based elder brother Jeet also calmed him, Deep revealed during a one-on-one in the evening.

Incidentally, there was a wicketkeeper from Bengal (Syed Saba Karim) on India�s last trip to South Africa, in 1996-97. Saba Karim went as Nayan Mongia�s deputy and then, too, his had been a surprise selection.

During an informal chat a few days ago, captain Sourav Ganguly made a passing mention about �consciously� not rooting for Deep at selection meetings. A top reason, apparently, being his experience with Saba Karim, who had problems sighting the ball during his only Test (Dhaka, last season).

As Saba Karim had been the captain�s choice, all the criticism went his way and not the selectors�. It was, perhaps, an eye-opener for Sourav.

In Mumbai today, though, Sourav couldn�t have been unhappy the choice fell on Deep, a second-batch National Cricket Academy trainee. That East�s Ashok Malhotra has a good �network� within the selection committee obviously came in handy.

One learns much of the early discussion centred around Vikram Rathore. After that, Deep and Ajay Ratra came into the picture. As it turned out, Deep beat the Haryana lad (who kept wickets in the last U-19 World Cup) by a whisker.

Two factors helped Deep: Samir Dighe�s appalling �keeping in the recent series-deciding Test at the SSC and Rodney Marsh�s strong endorsement during his last trip to the Academy.

Though the selectors didn�t directly interact with the legend, he is understood to have told Balwinder Singh Sandhu (Academy head coach) and Roger Binny (India colts coach) that Deep was �right up there� technically.

Sandhu and Binny promptly conveyed that to the selectors.

In fact, had Dighe not had a decent Test series in Zimbabwe, Deep would probably have replaced him for the tri-series there. Had a second wicketkeeper gone to Sri Lanka, it�s Deep who would surely have made it.

A plus for Deep is that he is a dependable bat (century on Ranji debut, versus Baroda, 1998-99). This did tilt scales in his favour, vis-�-vis Ratra.

Incidentally, till recently, Deep had �one leg in New Delhi and one in Calcutta.� Though he has been wearing the Bengal colours from the U-19 stage, Deep�s initiation was in New Delhi.

�I learnt much from Sunita Sharma, coach at the National Stadium�� Deep, who did his schooling at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya and graduated from Hindu College, recalled.

An Ian Healy-worshipper, Deep remarked he was �confident� about his first big assignment. �I�m not thinking about the tour being tough. Rather, I�m seeing it as a fantastic opportunity to make a tidy impression and, then, establish myself.�

Somewhat hesitatingly, Deep sought a confirmation on whether the call-up was for the tri-series only. The Tests, after all, are later and a fresh selection will be made. A handsome start, however, will ensure Deep doesn�t return early.

That Sourav is captain should take some of the pressure off Deep. Sharing the dressing room with one of his heroes, Sachin Tendulkar, will also make it easy. Sachin is known to make rookies feel comfortable.

Deep, who has a fascination for music (�anything that suits my ears�), is expected back Wednesday. His first stop will be an uncle�s residence in Rashbehari and, then, will be a trip to New Delhi to seek his parents� blessings.

The South Africa-bound squad leaves September 24. Deep�s debut will be against South Africa, at the Wanderers (October 5).


London, Sept. 7: 
Baz Luhrmann, director of the musical Moulin Rouge, gave a huge plug to India and to Indian cinema when he addressed a packed audience at the National Film Theatre in London yesterday.

�I was directly influenced by Bollywood and I am very, very happy about it,� he said. �I owe much to my experiences in India.�

Moulin Rouge, one of the biggest films of the year, has already been seen in India, but it goes on general release in Britain only today.

�Indian films have had a direct, direct influence on me � the cultural mix is clear,� said Luhrmann, who is also known for two other hits, Strictly Ballroom and William Shakespeare�s Romeo & Juliet.

He repeated himself to emphasise what he clearly feels is his debt to India: �I don�t want to be seen as stealing someone else�s culture but I owe much to my experiences in India and was directly influenced by them. The influence is clear in Moulin Rouge,� he went on.

The NFT has just about the most discriminating film audience in Britain, and so Luhrmann�s words will have some influence on opinion-formers in the world of cinema.

Since the film opened the Cannes film festival in May, the Australian-born director has been travelling the world with his leading lady, Nicole Kidman, also an Australian, promoting the $50-million movie.

The break-up of her marriage to the actor, Tom Cruise, has focussed attention on her � and indirectly on the film which has earned back its costs.

After a preview last night of Moulin Rouge at the NFT, Luhrmann did a 90-minute question-and-answer session under the auspices of what is called �The Guardian Interview�. By now a veteran and entertaining performer on the subject of Moulin Rouge, the 39-year-old director was emotional only once, when he was asked about his links with India.

�Forget Cannes,� he said, when asked to comment on the film�s release in India ahead of the bigger markets in the west. �Nothing can match the magic of the Indian premiere.�

In particular, he remembered being heavily garlanded, including once by an elephant, which also happens to be a running motif in his film.

The story is about a courtesan in the Moulin Rouge, a Paris night club, at the end of the 19th century, and her love for a poor writer in preference to a rich financier. The writer produces an Indian plot for a musical in which a courtesan spurns an �evil Maharajah� for a �penniless sitar player�.

The film was shot almost entirely on a set in Sydney which recreated the Bohemian quality of Montmarte in Paris. Luhrmann said he was once �seconded� to Peter Brook�s production in France of the Mahabharata. He disclosed his first brush with Indian cinema occurred a few years ago in Rajasthan. He could not name the movie he saw but it involved two brothers in love with the same girl. Though he did not understand Hindi, he had no difficulty in following the story. What impressed him most was the infectious audience enthusiasm, which was unlike anything he had witnessed anywhere else in the world.

�I went to see the film in an icecream picture palace,� he recalled. He also remembered the huge audience. �How involved the audience was and the movie was three and a half hours long. Could we get to do that in the west?�

He reminded the NFT audience: �India has the biggest film industry in the world, bigger even than Hollywood. The great thing about India is that western movies do not do that well in India.�

He had obviously studied the Bollywood genre, which he said was obvious when anyone saw Moulin Rouge, with its song and dance routines, fantasy sequences and lush settings.

�I have also used a Bollywood hit song called Chhumma Chhumma,� he emphasised.

At a more personal level, he owed another debt to India, which he visited when nothing seemed to be going right in his life. �Many, many years ago, when I had lost interest in work and life, India restored my spirit. It brought about a real change. It was a big chapter in my life.�

Luhrmann now gives himself another seven years of active movie-making. �I want to return to India to work with Indian musical producers. I would like to work with Hindi pop.�

Like Andrew Lloyd Webber, he, too, has discovered the world of catchy filmi numbers. �They are great,� he enthused.

At Glasgow airport yesterday, he was warmly greeted by an Indian girl, who had come to study computer science in Scotland. �She said, �I have come from Delhi. I loved Moulin Rouge�.�

In relation to nothing, Luhrmann suddenly asked the almost exclusively white NFT audience: �Anyone here seen Lagaan?� �Yes,� shouted a lone Indian woman. �We�re showing the film in December,� he was assured by Geoff Andrew, the NFT programmer who was doing the interview with Luhrmann on stage.

Luhrmann intended to see the film, which had won over his co-producer in Moulin Rouge. For the benefit of the NFT audience, he enacted the scene in which a low-caste youth discovers his withered hand could be used to turn the ball. �Spin bowler,� a delighted Indian audience had applauded, according to his co-producer.

�The Indians beat the English at cricket,� exulted Luhrmann. For once, it was the Australian in him gloating.




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