Government puts phone rate hike on hold
Atal in cut-subsidy SOS
Bollywood and ballgame for BJP coronation bash
Property rights for Hindu widows
Kapil strikes a blow for Gavaskar
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 10 
The BJP-led government today asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to put on hold the new telecom tariff announced yesterday after Mamata Banerjee walked out of Parliament and threatened an indefinite boycott.

Opposing the proposed increase in phone rentals and local calls, the Trinamul Congress announced a boycott of the Lok Sabha till the tariff hikes were withdrawn. Intervening during a debate on the Patents (Amendment) Bill, Mamata protested the increase and then walked out with her party colleagues.

Attempts by communications minister Jagmohan and parliamentary affairs minister R. Kumaramangalam to get Mamata to change her mind failed. The Telugu Desam Party, too, made it clear that it would not support the ?anti-poor? hike.

Soon after, Jagmohan made a suo motu statement in the Lok Sabha, saying ?the government has decided to issue a policy directive to TRAI to keep yesterday?s order in abeyance till the entire issue is considered by the government?.

A beaming Mamata soon made her way back to the House. ?We are happy that the government has kept this (the tariff proposed by TRAI) in abeyance. We had opposed the increase in tariff because it will hurt the poor, particularly the hike in rentals and cut in number of free calls,? she said.

Earlier in the day, Jagmohan told the Lok Sabha that his government will look into the increase in the rates and take ?an appropriate decision?.

He also assured members the government was aware of members? concern over the hike in telecom rates. ?I respect your sentiments and the government will look into it and take an appropriate decision,? the communications minister said.

The government did not want any section of society ? particularly the rural poor and lower middle class ? to face unnecessary hardship. The Centre would give due respect to the parliamentary standing committee on communications, which had recommended against any increase in telephone call charges, Jagmohan said.

The communications minister called an emergency meeting of the telecom commission tomorrow and directed officials to examine the provision of the TRAI Act, 1997, for possible intervention to reduce rental and local call rates.

?The minister was particularly upset about the hike in rentals and local call rates. He said TRAI?s tariff proposals were going against the policy of the government, which seeks to expand the base of telecom users by making telephone use cheaper,? said a senior DoT official. Only the Cabinet can overrule the decision of the telecom authority.

Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Congress member Rajesh Pilot said the rise in telecom tariff would hit the rural areas, where 80 per cent of the phones did not work.

?The burden should be evenly balanced between the rural and urban areas,? Pilot said.

Attacking the BJP, Congress spokesperson Ajit Jogi said: ?It is a rollback government.?

Opposing the new tariff schedule, the CPM said the government should see to it that the increased rates are not implemented. It also pointed out that the TRAI is acting more as the advocate for business lobbies and demanded the government?s intervention.

The telecom authority had yesterday announced a hike of 40 per cent in phone rentals in the rural and 31.5 per cent in urban areas, a reduction in the number of free calls and an increase in local call charges.

The new rates ? which were to take effect from April 1 ? were widely applauded by telecom companies and industry chambers.

If the BJP government now cuts telecom rates, it may face stiff resistance, including legal action, from private telecom operators. On the other hand, if it tries to retain the hikes, its restive allies may give it more sleepless nights.    

New Delhi, March 10 
On a day his government was forced to keep in abeyance the telecom tariff increase, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee proposed a national debate to reduce subsidies.

Responding to the motion of thanks on the President?s address, Vajpayee told the Rajya Sabha that thorny issues like subsidies, ill health of the public sector, closed industries and accumulating government debt had to be sorted out through consensus and the Opposition should cooperate with the government.

The Prime Minister identified these issues, mostly economic, as ?fundamental? and argued that any postponement of a broad agreement on these issues could only aggravate the situation. He said: ?I am aware that raising the issue of subsidies is like stirring a hornet?s nest.?

Perhaps because of its controversial nature and the known resistance of the BJP?s allies, no effort was made in the recently presented budget to prune subsidies, leaving the government with little option but to step up taxes to narrow the widening gap between its expenditure and income.

The widening deficit ? being bridged with higher and higher borrowings ? is pushing the government towards a debt trap, underlining the urgency of cutting expenditure through a subsidy phaseout.

Ironically, subsidy is the issue lying at the heart of yesterday?s telecom tariff revision followed by the rethink within 24 hours. Local phone services are subsidised by long-distance calls and yesterday?s rationalisation attempted to start the process of ending this distortion.

Vajpayee pointed out that a large segment of the government?s economic policy was based upon the process initiated by parties now in the Opposition.

The Prime Minister was categorical about the need for ?urgent? unanimity on the removal of some subsidy components.

Looking at the Left benches whose occupants have most stridently opposed any subsidy phaseout move, he appealed to political parties to rise above partisan interests and have a candid discussion on the problem. ?Subsidies pose a great burden on the economy,? he said.

Vajpayee?s appeal comes at a time when one ally after another has been objecting to any talk of removal of subsidies. The Prime Minister said he was aware of the problem of political parties in supporting an unpopular move like slashing subsidies.

But he cautioned opponents against the long-term dangers of not tackling the issue now. ?Let us not be rigid,? he pleaded.

The Prime Minister hinted how he, too, had moved away from his stand on economic issues from his Jan Sangh days.

Vajpayee reminded the House that he had expressed his opposition to persisting with subsidies on higher education. He said the additional amount collected from higher tuition fees paid by affluent students could be used for universalising primary education.    

New Delhi, March 10 
The Prime Minister?s Office (PMO) is in a flap, with Atal Behari Vajpayee?s Special Protection Group (SPG) objecting to his attendance at the March 19 BJP extravaganza to celebrate the first anniversary of his government.

The BJP plans to stage the event with much fanfare and pomp, but the venue is a most curious one: the Hauz Khas Village, an upmarket food-and-fashion complex fancied by South Delhi?s nouveau riche, instead of the usually-favoured Talkatora Stadium or Siri Fort.

Information and broadcasting minister Pramod Mahajan is believed to be overseeing preparations for the bash, the highlight of which is a stage show by Rani Mukherjee, Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan.

A.R. Rehman is expected to provide the background score. Mahajan has roped in Bollywood?s top-notch producer Pahlaj Nihalani and art director Bijon Dasgupta to design the stage.

Lest the function be dubbed the replica of a film on stage, Mahajan has included on the agenda performances by classical dancers and singers like Shobha Mudgal.

But the SPG?s assessment that the venue may pose a ?security? risk to the Prime Minister has threatened to put a spoke in the wheels, PMO sources said.

The SPG has raised three main objections: one, the Hauz Khas Village is situated on uneven terrain dotted with too many shrubs and trees, which could make it difficult for securitymen to ensure the area is free of snipers; two, it is full of shops; and three, it is a ?dead-end? venue with a narrow single-point entry and exit.

Mahajan went into a huddle with PMO officials after the SPG report came in.

PMO sources said as of now the government was not planning any change in venue, but would ?concentrate its energies on making it as sanitised as possible?.

A final decision is expected to be taken by this weekend, sources said. ?It will be sorted out. The SPG is probably being extra careful, it is their job,? said a PMO official.

The Delhi administration has been put on the job of readying the area for the BJP?s super bash.

The celebrations will be flagged off on March 18 with a one-day cricket match between Kapil Dev?s XI and Sunil Gavaskar?s XI, and will include the team tentatively lined up for the World Cup. The match will be played at the Ferozeshah Kotla and will be telecast live to formally launch Doordarshan?s exclusive sports channel.

The information and broadcasting ministry has swung into action to ensure the success of the event.

The visual propaganda package includes short films to project the government?s ?achievements?. These films may be telecast on Doordarshan.    

New Delhi, March 10 
Months before he died, Beni Bai?s husband willed his property to her on the condition that it would be inherited by their son after her death.

But Beni Bai was determined to gift the property ? a house ? to her daughter. So far, this was not allowed because the interpretation of law did not recognise that a Hindu widow enjoyed absolute rights over property left behind by her deceased husband.

Now, with the Supreme Court acknowledging that she is indeed sole owner of the property, Beni Bai is free to will the house to her daughter if she so wishes.

A division bench of the Supreme Court today ruled that Hindu widows are absolute owners of property even if their husbands had willed only ?limited ownership? rights to them.

Justices V.N. Khare and Syed Shah Mohammed Quadri struck down all restrictions imposed on Hindu widows? rights to property that is left to them in lieu of maintenance.

The judges said the right to maintenance is transformed into a full-fledged right under section 14 of the Hindu Women?s Rights to Property Act and provisions of the Hindu Succession Act.

Setting aside the verdicts of the first and second courts of appeal, the apex court ruled that Beni Bai was ?legally competent to gift the property in favour of her daughter? and upheld the gift deed executed by the widow.

?According to the old Shastric Hindu law,? the judges observed while passing the order, ?marriage between two Hindus is not a contract but a sacrament and after marriage it is a pious obligation on the part of the husband to maintain his wife during lifetime and after his death the widow is to be maintained out of the party.?

This principle has been statutorily recognised by various legislations like the Hindu Women?s Rights to Property Act, Hindu Married Women?s Rights to Separate Residence and Maintenance Act and the Hindu Succession Act, the apex court judges said.

?Right to maintenance,? the judges observed, ?was preserved as a pre-existing right.?

The judges pointed out: ?After Independence, it was felt necessary to assure the equality of right in property to a Hindu female and to remove the artificial disparity in the right where a male was entitled to obtain full ownership and the female would only be contained by limited ownership because of the restrictions imposed.?

The judges said that the ?pre-existing? right of maintenance ?crystallise? into ?full-fledged rights? under the laws.    

Calcutta, March 10 
As teammates Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev may not have shared an entirely love-only relationship but today, Kapil sprang to Gavaskar?s defence in his war of words with Sarfraz Nawaz.

Kapil, it should be noted, is the first teammate to come out in Gavaskar?s support. Sadly, even the Board had not reacted till this afternoon ? belatedly, Board president Raj Singh Dungarpur issued a strong statement in Mumbai.

?Sarfraz may have played some cricket, but that doesn?t give him the right to run down an idol. Moreover, Sarfraz has no business dragging India?s name in the dirt,? an infuriated Kapil told The Telegraph this morning.

During a TV interview with Tony Greig on Sunday afternoon (Day-IV of the Gaddafi Test), Sarfraz alleged that Gavaskar and Asif Iqbal, the two captains, had ?fixed? the Mumbai (then Bombay) Test in the 1979-80 series.

Speaking during the high-profile Pro-Am meet, at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, Kapil added: ?Anybody who makes match-fixing allegations ? in fact, any allegation at all ? should only do so with evidence. Otherwise, keep shut and don?t soil reputations that take years to build.?

Kapil, however, felt Gavaskar shouldn?t have retaliated on TV itself, that afternoon. ?I?ve been told he simply exploded. Well, I don?t quite agree with that. After all, Gavaskar has only ended up giving Sarfraz and the allegations so much more importance. Had I been in Gavaskar?s shoes, I would have ignored Sarfraz.?

And to drive that point home, Kapil talked about the time (mid-1997) when Rashid Latif alleged (in a weekly) that he (Kapil) was gambler No.1.

?As far as I remember, I didn?t make a public comment. But, yes, if those close to me wanted a reaction, I just said I would never gamble with my bread-and-butter. More to the point, am I the sort to compromise India?s interests? Bottomline is why should one respond to the Latifs and Sarfrazs??

Tearing into Sarfraz yet again, Kapil, who played that so-called ?fixed? Test, said: ?The wicket may not have been a featherbed, but I can?t recall anybody having reservations about batting. Indeed, I myself got 69 (top score) in the first innings and, really, I batted like a champion.

?May be, I was out to prove a point because, on the eve of that Test, the local media had quoted Gavaskar as saying I ?wasn?t good enough to get a Test fifty?. But whatever the case ? incidentally, later, Gavaskar confessed he was only giving me some chabhi ? I scored at will and wasn?t in any discomfort.

?Also, we won by a huge margin (131 runs with a day to spare). So, how was the Test rigged? Let me add that not for a moment did one get the impression something was amiss. Forget what Sarfraz would like the world to believe.?

But with there being no end to allegations, isn?t it possible that some cricketers could be involved with match-fixing?

Kapil paused for just a moment, and then answered: ?Can?t say. But, yes, Shane Warne and Mark Waugh?s confessions (briefly, having been on the payroll of an Indian bookie) have been disturbing...?

His body-language suggested big disillusionment.    

Today?s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Little change in day and night temperature.
Temperature:Maximum 38?C (5?C above normal)
Minimum 24.6?C (5?C above normal)
Relative humidity:Maximum 92%
Minimum 29%
Sunrise:5.54 am
Sunset:5.40 pm

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