Local call rate, rental shoot up
State government officer battered by staff
Opposition pushes Centre for Bhagwat showdown
Chase for China nuclear trust
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 9 
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) today announced a 31.5 per cent increase in telephone rentals in metros and a 40 per cent hike for subscribers in rural areas.

The regulatory authority also slashed long-distance domestic call rates by 45 per cent and international call charges by over 50 per cent in stages over a three-year period beginning from April 1. In the first year (1999-2000), international call rates will be cut by 18-29 per cent, depending on the country.

Telephone subscribers in urban areas will have to pay a monthly rental of Rs 120 to Rs 250, depending on the type of exchange they are connected to against the existing rental of Rs 50-190. Rural subscribers will have to pay a rental of Rs 70 per month ? a Rs 20 increase over the existing rate.

TRAI also cut the number of bi-monthly free calls to 120 from 150 in cities and to 150 from 250 in rural areas. Further, the first 500 calls will cost Re 1 each in urban centres and 80 paise each in rural areas. Every additional call will cost a uniform Rs 1.20 each in both rural and urban areas.

Those who make 500 calls or less bi-monthly have been classified as low-user subscribers and will be charged 80 paise per call in rural areas and Re 1 in urban centres. TRAI said this specially-designated category accounted for 70 per cent of the subscriber base.

The upshot of the tariff recast and the reduction in the number of free calls is that a telephone subscriber in any of the metros who makes between 500 to 1,000 calls bi-monthly will find his bill escalate by a maximum of Rs 340 ? Rs 120 on account of the increase in the rental, and Rs 220 on account of the enhanced call charges.

Low user subscribers in rural areas with an exchange capacity of 1,000 lines will have to pay a monthly rental of only Rs 70; in urban areas, they will be charged Rs 120 per month ? a 140 per cent increase over the existing Rs 50.

Subscribers connected to small exchanges with 1,001-30,000 connections will be charged a monthly rental of Rs 120, while those subscribers connected to an exchange with one lakh lines will be charged Rs 180. Subscribers connected to exchanges with a capacity of one lakh and more will have to pay Rs 250 per month.

Subscribers who make more than 500 calls bi-monthly ? categorised as general user subscribers ? will have to pay higher rentals in the subsequent two years ? 2000-01 and 2001-02. In the case of exchanges with over 1 lakh lines, the rentals will rise to Rs 280 and Rs 310 respectively.

For rural and urban exchanges with a capacity of 30,000 to 1 lakh lines, the rentals will go up to Rs 200 and Rs 220 in the second and third years. In the case of exchanges with a capacity of 1,000 to 30,000 lines, the rentals will rise to Rs 140 in the 2000-01 and Rs 160 in 2001-02.

The new peak hour pulse rate will be 14 seconds for distances up to 200 km, five seconds up to 500 km and 3.5 seconds up to 1,000 km and 2.5 seconds above 1,000 km.

Deposits sought by service providers will not exceed 12 months? rental, the regulator said.

Pay more for that mobile Monthly rentals for cellular subscribers have been increased from Rs 156 to Rs 600.The air time tariff has been brought down to Rs 6 per minute, a third of the current rate. However, the pulse rate for calculating calls has been fixed at 20 seconds.

For paging service providers, a monthly rental of Rs 300 has been fixed for alpha-numeric pagers and Rs 175 per month for numeric pagers against a current rate of Rs 250 and Rs 150 respectively.

This is the first time the tariff structure is being fixed by TRAI; until now, the rates were set by the Department of Telecom (DoT).

Announcing the new rate structure today, TRAI chairman S.S. Sodhi said, ?We still have a long way to go, but we are confident that we will reach the objective of competitive pricing of telecom services in India.?

While reducing international call rates, TRAI gave telecom operators the freedom to fix the peak hours. At present, DoT has fixed 17 day hours as peak hours in agreement with foreign telecom companies. There is no change in the tariff for Integrated Switched Digital Network and Internet charges. TRAI will conduct a detailed study on these two services later.    

Calcutta, March 9 
Jyoti Basu?s promise of restoring work culture to Bengal had its nose rubbed in the dirt twice today as government staff battered a senior officer and policemen abused their superiors.

Around 2 pm, a group of about 10 employees entered the Stephen House office of T.R. Bose, a deputy secretary with the municipal affairs department. They said they were from the CPM?s Samannay Committee, a breakaway group of the main employees? unions.

They began arguing about allocation of duty and other demands. Municipal officials said Bose was wrenched out of his chair. The employees pummelled him as he hit the floor. They overturned chairs and threw away files and documents from his table.

One of the employees took the broken arm of a chair and hit Bose on the back of his head. He was nearly senseless by the time the attackers finished with him.

People rushed to the scene. Bose was given first aid and the police summoned. He was taken to Writers? Buildings, where he met municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya.

Bose also filed a complaint with the police in Ashok Bhattacharya?s presence. His shirtfront was splattered with blood and a deep gash behind the ear, Bose was escorted out of Writers? Buildings by senior officials and policemen. He was then admitted to hospital.

?This is an abominable incident. We will not tolerate this kind of behaviour and vandalism,?? Ashok Bhattacharya said. He said all nine persons have been identified and named in the FIR. ?They will be sacked,?? the minister said. ?If they do not surrender before the police by tomorrow, arrest warrants will be put out against them,?? a police official said.

Police minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya asked the administration to arrest the culprits immediately. ?The punishment they will now get will be an example for those who think they can resort to violence,?? he said.

But, mocking the administration, a group of Buddhadev Bhattacharya?s own men ? owing allegiance to the CPM-run Calcutta Police Association (CPA) ? held a rally at the Alipore Body Guard Lines, violating rules. They openly accused their superiors of what they described as ?indifference? to long-standing demands.

The two incidents highlighted that the appeals of Basu and Buddhadev Bhattacharya to unionised government employees have been falling on deaf ears. Both have urged unions to respond to the state?s efforts to restore work culture to woo industry.

After the assault of Bata managing director Keith Weston by unionised factory workers a few months ago, Basu and Buddhadev Bhattacharya had reprimanded trade unions and asked them to ensure that employees did not resort to violence to realise demands.    

New Delhi, March 9 
Buoyed by the Bihar rollback, a rejuvenated Opposition today spelt fresh trouble for the BJP-led government, demanding a House debate into the sacking of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat and a joint parliamentary committee probe into the matter.

There were heated exchanges in the Lok Sabha as Opposition MPs sought a ?threadbare? discussion into Bhagwat?s ?unprecedented? ouster as navy chief and tabled censure notices under rule 184 and 193 against the government. Any discussion under rule 184 will entail voting in the House and is likely to be seen as another no-confidence motion against the government.

Faced with the spectre of a concerted Opposition offensive, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee asked BJP MPs not to panic but, instead, remain alert to the Opposition?s ?designs?. ?We are prepared for any eventuality and on Bihar, the public is with us,? he told a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party. (Full report on Page 6)

PMO sources said the government is willing to show Opposition leaders all classified documents on Bhagwat?s ouster to avoid a discussion in the House. But if Congress leaders do not budge, the Centre will be forced to embarrass that party by widening the scope of the debate ?beyond Bhagwat?, they warned.

In the Lok Sabha, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda scoffed at the government?s argument that the ouster was related to ?national security? and could not be discussed openly. He said neither RAW nor the Intelligence Bureau had ever reported against Bhagwat, and only defence minister George Fernandes considered him a security risk.

When the chaos in the House showed no signs of abating, Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi met Vajpayee, leader of Opposition Sharad Pawar, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and parliamentary affairs minister P. R. Kumaramangalam to discuss the admissibility of notices seeking open discussion on the ouster.

The Speaker will give his final verdict on Thursday after further consultations with Opposition leaders. Vajpayee is expected to make a statement in the House.

But the Congress is unlikely to go back on its demand. In the House, Congress leaders, backed by Opposition MPs, said Bhagwat had made serious allegations of a nexus between arms dealers and services personnel, and had also cast aspersions on Fernandes. This called for a JPC probe, they added.

Indrajit Gupta (CPI) said it was strange the Centre had not bothered to take the House into confidence on this ?sensitive? issue.

Kamal Nath (Congress) said said he was not questioning Bhagwat?s ouster as such, but felt the matter reeked of corruption and involvement of the bureaucracy.

CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee said conflicting versions had appeared in newspapers on the nature of the ?security risk? posed by Bhagwat.

?The House has been kept totally in the dark on the real reasons for his dismissal,? he said.    

New Delhi, March 9 
India and China may take up confidence-building measures on the nuclear and missile issues when the joint working group (JWG) meeting between the two sides resumes. No dates are fixed yet but the meeting is likely to take place in a few months.

Sino-Indian relations, shoved into the freezer after the Pokhran nuclear tests and defence minister George Fernandes? noises about China being India?s chief security threat, began to improve with the foreign office consultations between the neighbours in Beijing last month. The JWG meeting is the next big leap in normalisation of relations.

The confidence-building measures are at present limited to the conventional area and deal mainly with reduction of troops along the Line of Actual Control. But after Pokhran, there is a feeling that the time is ripe for extending these measures to the nuclear and missile fields as well.

One of India?s main grouses against China had been the ?surreptitious? help it gave to Islamabad in developing Pakistan?s nuclear and missile programmes.

In the past, whenever the issue has been raised by Delhi it has been denied by Beijing. But India believes that in the post-Pokhran period, a detailed discussion on this contentious issue, which is very important for maintaining the security balance in the region, needs to be discussed.

India and Pakistan have already expressed their desire to discuss confidence-building measures in the nuclear and missiles areas through the Lahore Declaration announced last month.

But with the Chinese shadow looming large, there are worries whether any progress can be made on these issues unless Beijing comes into the talks.

Indian officials feel a beginning could be made with China in the nuclear field since the two already have some common points. Both countries have unilaterally announced a no-first-use policy.

Though China wants it to be limited among the Big Five and India insists on an international treaty on the issue, it could still be seen as a good beginning.

On the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, the neighbours differ. China is the only member of the P-5 which has not yet declared a moratorium on production of fissile material. Despite insistence from the US and other western countries, neither India nor Pakistan have declared a moratorium on the fissile material so far.

If India could agree upon proper confidence-building measures with Pakistan and China on the nuclear and missile fields, it could also lead to a moratorium on production of fissile material.

Speaking at a seminar here this afternoon on a possible axis between Russia, China and India, Chinese ambassador Zhou Gang said the foreign office consultations ?provided a new starting point for resumption and improvement? of bilateral ties.

?We are confident, as long as the two sides trust each other, do not view one side as a threat to the other side, and strictly adhere to the Five Principles of peaceful co-existence in practice, a credible foundation will be laid for the improvement and healthy development of Sino-Indian ties,? he said.

In a related development, US deputy assistant secretary of state Susan Shirke, who is in charge of the department?s East Asia desk, has held talks with Indian officials on Sino-Indian relations and Washington?s policy towards Beijing.

Shirke was also present in China during US secretary of State Madeleine Albright?s visit there. Her interactions with South Block, therefore, has evoked keen interest in the diplomatic circles here.

During the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks here in January this year, India impressed upon the US that Delhi?s security concerns went beyond South Asia ? a clear hint at China. This seems to have yielded results.

President Clinton?s visit to China and his joint statements with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, calling for a rollback of India?s nuclear programme, had led to confusion in the foreign ministry here.    

Today?s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Little change in day and night temperature.
Temperature:Maximum 39.2?C (6?C above normal)
Minimum 24?C (4?C above normal)
Relative humidity:Maximum 90%
Minimum 20%
Sunrise:5.55 am
Sunset:5.39 pm

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