Delhi pins hope on US promise
Nation safe: she calls, he melts
Corporate profits to fund polls
IOC gives some, keeps more
Single doctrine, double standards
Fera returns from grave to haunt hundreds
Army waits & watches
MP panel for House security push
Plea to ease smoke rules
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
The Bush administration has assured New Delhi that it is trying to persuade President Pervez Musharraf to act against leaders of the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Toiba — the two terrorist outfits India accuses of being behind last week’s attack on Parliament.

As Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee indicated in Parliament today, Delhi is exhausting diplomatic options before considering harsher steps. Its wish list consists of Pakistan handing over Jaish leader Masood Azhar. Home minister L.K. Advani added two more names — Dawood Ibrahim, accused in the Mumbai blasts, and Ghazi Baba, supreme commander of Indian operations of the Jaish.

But, realising how slim the possibility is of Musharraf agreeing to this, India is ready to settle for their being rounded up as a sign of Islamabad cracking down on terrorist outfits. Arrests of these high-profile wanted men could then be showcased by the government before the home audience, impatient for punishment of those responsible for the December 13 attack.

Having ended Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation by joining the global coalition against terrorism, it will be hard for Mush-arraf to ignore US demands for acting against terrorists operating from Pakistani soil. But the military ruler will choose his course of action carefully since he would not want to appear to be betraying the Kashmir cause.

India kept up the pressure today and kept alive the possibility of military action, with Vajpayee asserting that his government was looking at diplomatic as well as “other options”.

The Prime Minister reminded the US what India expects from it. “They are asking us to show restraint. When have we not shown restraint?” he asked. “They should advise our neighbours, too.”

That appeared to be happening, too. US secretary of state Colin Powell has talked with Musharraf. Gen. Tommy Franks, in charge of America’s war in Afghanistan, also called the President.

Powell assured foreign minister Jaswant Singh that steps were being taken by Washington to strengthen the war against global terrorism in the immediate context of the attack on Parliament. He said some leaders of the Jaish and Lashkar would figure on America’s most-wanted criminal list.

Officials here said India would wait for “positive movement” on the part of Pakistan. This wait is expected to continue at least until Christmas. “We will surely pursue the diplomatic option and try and see if it works. If it doesn’t, we will have to pursue other options,” a senior South Block official said. Asked what these options are, he replied: “If we talk about the options, it is the surest way of killing them.”

Armed action targeted at terrorist infrastructure and camps in Pakistan is one of them.

India is not quite sure how Pakistan will react. “Pakistan has never distinguished itself by a predictable response,” a senior foreign ministry official said. Today, for instance, it officially requested India to agree to a joint probe into the alleged involvement of the ISI and the two Pakistan-based militant outfits in the attack.

A PTI report from Islamabad said the Pakistan foreign office informed the Indian high commission of Pakistan’s desire to take part in the investigation for an “impartial determination” of evidence. India had earlier rejected the offer. Singh told Powell such a move would be counterproductive.

Delhi’s assessment of the US’ attitude is that it would be keen on getting Musharraf to do something because of its overwhelming consideration to avoid a conflict in the region with its terror war far from over.

“They are much more serious in ensuring that India and Pakistan do not have an armed conflict than they did during Kargil,” an official said.

But the chairman of the US military’s joint chiefs of staff, Richard Myers, said in Brussels there was only “a low risk of conflict” between India and Pakistab as both countries were handling the situation well.


New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
It took just one phone call from Sonia Gandhi — within minutes of the terrorist attack on Parliament — to melt the Prime Minister’s heart.

Intervening in a discussion on the December 13 strike in the Rajya Sabha, Atal Bihari Vajpayee today paid a glowing compliment to the leader of the Opposition, which left some of his party colleagues nonplussed.

“I heard about the attack and within minutes, the Opposition leader called me up. She asked me, ‘How are you?’ Sonia Gandhi was concerned. If the leader of the Opposition shows such concern about the safety of the Prime Minister, then democracy in this land is safe,” Vajpayee said.

“It was an incident which influenced me deeply,” he added.

Vajpayee is not the first BJP leader to praise the Congress president. Before him, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, a known hardliner, had appreciated her support in Parliament.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister was to be in the Rajya Sabha by 11 am — minutes before the terrorists mounted the attack. “But I was delayed by a party MP who kept pleading for a hearing from me,” he said.

Sonia had returned home after attending Lok Sabha — both Houses of Parliament were adjourned within 10 minutes of meeting. Barring these two leaders, almost all bigwigs were inside Parliament when the terrorists struck.

Since the attack, treasury benches have been singing the “unity” refrain. Sonia’s gesture strengthened that sentiment, signalling that the Congress — the main Opposition party — was with the government at this critical hour.

The hawks in the ruling party, baying for blood and war in Parliament yesterday, were silenced as the Prime Minister played the dove — even the recriminations against the Opposition were gentle.

“I am the head of a democracy, not an army,” Vajpayee said. But he could not resist a dig at former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, likening him to Arjun in Mahabharata, standing on the battlefield reluctant to fight. Referring to his remark that he did not favour a war with Pakistan, Vajpayee said: “War or no war... this is not the question. In what circumstances a war should be fought and whether it is needed or not, is the issue being debated.” Nobody wanted a war, he added.

During the discussion, almost all Opposition leaders had advised restraint. To that, the Prime Minister said: “The advice of Opposition leaders for more restraint shall be given due respect.” Then came a gentle reminder. “But we must also respect public opinion.”

Taking an oblique snipe at his own partymen, the Prime Minister said: “It is not a problem if anybody is calling for peace. Nationalism cannot be equated with jingoism.”

The acrimony receded with every sentence the Prime Minister uttered. “We will make every effort to prevent war. Every option will be explored to see how such a confrontation can be avoided,” Vajpayee promised.


New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
The government has decided to tap corporate houses to bankroll elections, injecting an element of controversy in an otherwise consensual legislation.

The Bill on state funding of elections, cleared yesterday by the Cabinet and scheduled to be moved in the budget session, asks companies to set aside a share of their profit as poll donation.

The Bill requires corporate houses to spend 5 per cent of their profit on funding elections. The reward will come in the form of tax exemption.

“At present, the Companies Act allows donations to political parties. But there is no transparency in these transactions,” a law ministry official said.

The Act allows political contribution up to 5 per cent of the average profits of the previous three years.

All political parties agree on the need for state funding, but differences have cropped up on corporate donations. Left leaders said they are against corporate funding of any kind.

“As a matter of principle, we are against corporate funding,” CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee said, raising barely muffled mirth in other camps.

The Tatas, who pioneered the concept of above-the-board political donations by setting up a trust, had to suffer the ignominy of a cheque being returned by the Communists. The idea, followed by the equally prominent AV Birla group, never caught on because of political parties’ reluctance to keep these transactions transparent.

The Congress does not see anything amiss in accepting corporate donations.

“If there is an incentive of tax exemption, companies may come forward. In any case, corporate houses are paying a certain amount of tax to the government. Now they will pay this amount to political parties,” said Pranab Mukherjee.

The Bill had earlier suggested the Centre and states share poll expenses equally. “But the states pleaded insolvency and the Centre decided to reformulate this provision,” an official said.

According to the revised provisions, states will fully fund Assembly elections, while parliamentary polls will be financed through corporate donations and the Centre’s contribution “in kind”.

“This means that the Centre will foot the bill for posters, vehicles and fuel,” the law ministry official said.

However, Chatterjee maintained that the Centre should fund all elections, Assembly and parliamentary. Chatterjee and several other MPs said this could be done if parties scale down their expenses. A contest for a Lok Sabha seat in Andhra Pradesh is estimated to cost each candidate Rs 5 crore.

The Cabinet yesterday said the Bill was based on the recommendations of the Indrajit Gupta committee, which examined the issue of state funding of elections.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has addressed two major concerns of the Bengal government in its fresh proposal for investment in Haldia Petrochemicals, but the basic contours of its role as fourth promoter in the company remain the same.

Indian Oil is still insisting on management control with a 26 per cent stake it will acquire with an investment of Rs 468 crore.

It has, however, agreed to revise the equity base of Haldia Petro from Rs 1,480 crore — proposed in its earlier scheme — to Rs 1,800 crore. In the new structure, there is also a proposal to raise capital from the public.

As sought by the Bengal government, which holds 43 per cent in the company, Indian Oil has also revised the project cost to Rs 5,300 crore from Rs 4,800 crore in its previous scheme. “All these changes have been brought about based on international consultant KPMG Pete Marwick’s suggestions,” an Indian Oil official said.

Bengal commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen and industry secretary Jawhar Sircar will meet Indian Oil chairman M.A. Pathan tomorrow, when an agreement is expected.

Sen said: “We have reached the final stage and are hopeful of putting an end to HPL’s problems by December 31.” The minister refused to discuss Indian Oil’s new proposal.

If this scheme were to be accepted, the public sector oil company would get most of what it wanted. The new proposal includes Haldia Petro buying all of its raw material requirement of 150,000 tonnes of naphtha a month from Indian Oil.

Purnendu Chatterjee, who owns another 43 per cent in the company, is known to have opposed this condition in the past.

Chatterjee group sources said when Jyoti Basu was chief minister they had offered to bring in Rs 300 crore, but the state government had put aside the proposal. They said they were prepared to invest the Rs 107 crore outstanding from them as contribution to equity once the issue of who would hold management control was settled. Chatterjee was against Indian Oil being handed management control with a shareholding of only 26 per cent.

He is expected to meet state officials next week.


Washington, Dec. 19: 
And now, the Bush doctrine. The White House has conceded under increasing pressure from the US and the international media that as long as India does not “retaliate harshly” for the attack on Parliament, the Americans would look the other way.

As part of daily briefings here, which are becoming increasingly fractious on Indo-Pakistan relations, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked the following question:

Q: You folks have been urging them (Indians) not to retaliate harshly, but said they had a right to self-defence. Is it a fair indication of the Bush doctrine in this case?

Fleischer: Well, as you stated correctly, India has a legitimate right to self-defence. And at the same time, the President counsels that this is a very difficult situation in the region and one that could spiral out of control.

Simultaneously, state department spokesman Richard Boucher was asked at his briefing.

Q: Richard, just as you held Yasser Arafat responsible for closing down Hamas and PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) in the (Israeli-occupied) territories, are you also holding General Musharraf responsible for closing down these terrorist camps? And do you think that it is his responsibility to do so?

Boucher: As I think the secretary (of state) made clear over the weekend, you can’t apply one scenario to another just simply back and forth. But we have, I think, made quite clear as we have in our talks with the government of Pakistan our concerns about the activities of these militant groups and the need for the government to take action against terrorism within its own borders.

Q: Why can’t you apply the same standard?

Boucher: Because things are different, places are different.

Q: How is it different in Pakistan?

Boucher (increasingly irritated): I don’t think we can spend every day here comparing and contrasting in seven different ways every situation in the world. I just think it is fairly obvious that situations can be different from place to place.

Q: You said things are different. Why different? I mean, the question is, like Arafat…

Boucher: That’s what she just asked me. And I will stand by the answer I just gave her.

Q: No, but let me ask you one more thing. Like Arafat, General Musharraf, he has a revolving door in Pakistan for terrorists. They enter from the front and then he lets them out from the back door. Now, and the question is, why India cannot attack Pakistan’s occupied Kashmiri terrorist camps when Israel can attack and US gave the green light for Israel to attack the Palestinian…

Boucher (angry): All right, can we stop there? If you put too many wrong things in your question, there is no way I can give you any answer... We are fighting terrorism. We will continue to do so. I am going to stop right there and hope you will as well.

Yesterday Boucher revealed that Colin Powell had spoken once again on the phone on Monday to Jaswant Singh.

He said: “Our basic view has not changed... The Indians need to conduct their investigation, need to consider what the appropriate action might be to help protect their people against terrorism, to help protect their democracy against terrorism... We have made it quite clear in our discussions with the Pakistani government that as we pursue terrorism next door, that all countries have an obligation to work against terrorism within their own borders, and that we look to the Pakistani government to work against extremist groups that operate out of Pakistan.”

Boucher also revealed that Powell had talked to Musharraf “at least once... it might have been more than that. The President (Bush) has been in touch with them... We are looking for them to take action against extremist groups that might be operating from there, in Pakistan”.

Earlier, the spokesman said the Americans had talked to Pakistan “about Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad as organisations that have participated in terrorist activities...We have conveyed our concerns about the situation to the government of Pakistan at the highest levels. We have talked to them about the activities of militant groups, several of which are based in Pakistan. We made clear that we believe that all countries are responsible for addressing terrorist activities within their borders, and we will continue our discussions with Pakistan in that context as well”.


New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
The Enforcement Directorate has issued criminal prosecution notices in a number of cases under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, although Fera has been replaced by the Foreign Exchange Management Act. The new Act came into effect from June 1, 2000.

“A two-year window was created for Fera and all the existing cases will continue to be under Fera,” official sources said. “Fema effectively comes into force only from May 1, 2002.”

The sources said “a few hundred notices have so far been issued to various parties, individuals and companies” but could not reveal the “exact” number of notices or cases the directorate has initiated.

The arrest of First Global chief S. Sharma for “custodial interrogation” by directorate officials brought to light the fact that several hundred criminal notices were issued. Sharma, who was picked up on Monday for alleged foreign-exchange violations, was produced before a local court in New Delhi, which ordered his custodial interrogation.

The sources said Sharma’s arrest was “due to political reasons” as he is a share-holder and the main source of funds for Tehelka, the news portal which exposed the defence scam. But they pointed out that Fera, like the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, would be kept alive.

Under Section 14 of the lapsed Tada, all existing cases have to be tried under the old Act. The most visible example is film star Sanjay Dutt’s repeated appearances in Tada special courts in Mumbai.

The directorate, say sources, has launched the criminal notices so that all these cases would continue to be heard under the “draconian” provisions of Fera.

However, queries regarding Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav’s alleged Fera violations in the fodder scam case did not yield any tangible answers.

The Bihar unit of the BJP had claimed there was documentary evidence to prove Fera violations in the case. Although it was expected that the directorate would send notices to Laloo, sources here said the “so called documents” had to be first “looked into”.

“But in all the other cases the ED notices issued now will keep Fera alive,” they said, pointing out the irony that the very law sought to be done away with to help India integrate with the global business environment was being “kept artificially alive…”

Sources said the government had replaced Fera as foreign direct and indirect investments were not coming in. “Realising this, the government replaced the law with Fema to be in tune with the globalisation and the economic liberalisation.”

“The apparent move of the ED seems to be that the directorate should also be kept alive, even if Fema comes to operate effectively from May 2002,” the sources said. With the death of Fera, the directorate, too, would have no function and die a natural death.

The government has already spoken of “dismantling” the directorate. Law minister Arun Jaitley had announced that offences under Fema would be “civil” in nature and that criminal prosecution powers have been done away with in the new Act.

RBI move

Under the instruction of the Reserve Bank of India, action has been taken against some foreign institutional investors, which bought shares of Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd from Sharma.    

New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
Indian army chief General S. Padmanabhan today said he was not deploying forces to match the reported massing of troops by Pakistan along the border and the Line of Control.

“We are watching everything across the border with a great deal of interest and will round off our knowledge-base accordingly. Certain forces, which should have gone back, have not gone back,” he said.

In October, Pakistan deployed troops, including armoured units, ostensibly for exercises. Since then, the directors-general of military operations have talked but in more than a month since the alarm was raised, Indian intelligence intercepts have not shown signs of a pullback.

But Pakistan this afternoon denied it was massing troops.

The Indian army’s presence in Jammu and Kashmir is considerably high even otherwise and it is unlikely that reinforcements will be called for easily.

General Padmanabhan said the army was continuing with its plans as usual and was not altering its schedule of exercises. Both Indian and Pakistani armies hold exercises annually around this time of the year. Another Indian army exercise, a part of the annual routine, say official sources, is likely in Rajasthan next week.

“We have a very clear idea of where we are going, what we are doing. We are not a flappy army. Our plans are perfectly laid out. We are not going to make rapid changes in our plans. The Indian army will not be stampeded into anything. We know our strengths and we know our objectives,” the army chief said.

His reaction to persistent demands from hawks to strike across the LoC: “Even if I was going to do that, I was not going to tell you. In any case, it is a political decision.”

Defence sources said forces were not being mobilised because of the tension on the border. However, some officers had been asked not to go on leave.

Pak troop build-up

Indian military intelligence sources have recorded the movements of the Pakistani army along with armour over the past three to four days.

At the Shakargarh bulge in the Chenab-Jhelum corridor in the northern sector, holding formations of the 30 Corps and 4 Corps have moved close to the LoC. The 30 Corps is normally based at Gujranwala and the 4 Corps at Lahore.

In the western sector, 4 infantry brigades of the 31 Corps have moved opposite the Punjab-Rajasthan border in the semi-desert area. The 31 Corps is normally based at Bahawalpur.

Four more infantry brigades of the 5 Corps, usually based in Karachi, have moved from peacetime locations to positions opposite Jodhpur Jaisalmer.

The infantry units have moved with a complement of armour. But the armour (tanks) are not on the border but close to it. According to military intelligence sources, the Pakistani army is taking “aggressive defensive” positions. “We have taken precautionary steps,” the sources said.


New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi has decided to set up a steering committee of officials and an advisory group of MPs for the quick implementation of stepped up security measures at Parliament House.

Announcing this a few minutes before the House was adjourned sine die, Balayogi said in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on October 1, a five-member expert group on security was set up on October 10. The group has presented its report.

The group comprised representatives from the Special Protection Group (SPG), the Intelligence Bureau, Delhi Police, the CRPF and the Parliament security. “I have discussed the report with the Lt Governor of Delhi, the secretary (internal security), the commissioner of police, Delhi, the director, IB, and the inspector-general of the SPG,” the Speaker said.

Balayogi said during the past two months, he along with his officials had made field inspections of the Parliament complex. Arrangements for strengthening security were being taken from time to time, he added.


New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
The Federation of Andhra Tobacco Growers’ Forum is lobbying in Delhi for some modifications in the Cigarettes and Other Products Bill, 2001.

The federation, in its recommendations to the Union health ministry, has stated that while it supports smoking restrictions in identified areas, no radius criterion should be added as it will leave vendors with practically no areas to sell cigarettes.

It has also pleaded against the suggestion that cigarette companies be required to print a skull-and-cross bones motif on the packet to alert smokers to the risks they run. The federation has said such a move kill sales of domestic products in favour of smuggled goods.

The association argues that farmers producing flue-cured Virginia (FCV) tobacco are more discriminated against than other growers. The excise duty for cigarettes works out to Rs 680 per kg for FCV tobacco growers as against Rs 40 per kg for others. Andhra is the largest producer of FCV tobacco, producing 100 million of the 150 million kg.




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