Telecom Regulatory Authority of India takes on gov
BJP chases unity in adversity
Basu denial rings hollow
Kiss of life from mute lips
Home loans cheaper
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 12 
In a test case for the fledgling regulatory system for different sectors of the economy, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) today took on the government over its decision to put on hold tariff revisions.

By asking the government to explain under what powers it had kept the rate increase in abeyance, Trai has swung the focus away from the relatively minor question of whether there should be a tariff rollback to the fundamental issue of autonomy of a regulator.

In a letter to Anil Kumar, secretary in the Department of Telecommunication (DoT), the regulator sought to know under which of the two clauses ? that allow the government to issue policy directions ? it has been decided to hold back the revision.

Trai is a statutory body, but its powers are circumscribed. The Trai Act allows the government to issue policy directions to the regulator. This power is available to the government under sub-section (1) and (2) of section 25 of the Act.

The regulator has pointed out that if the decision has been taken under clause 2, it should have been consulted beforehand. If clause 1 has been exercised, the government should explain how the rate increase amounts to a threat to the nation?s ?sovereignty and integrity, state security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality.? These are the conditions under which this clause can be applied.

?We have requested the government to share its reasons in view of the non-speaking (explanatory) nature of the directive. The order of the government has undermined the credibility of Trai. It will bring down investor confidence, both domestic and foreign,? said S.S.Sodhi, Trai chairman.

More than that, the decision has brought into question the entire basis of setting up a regulatory mechanism if the political leadership is to butt in at every step. The move to set up regulatory bodies was initiated in the post-reforms era to, first, separate the roles of the government as a service operator ? which DoT is in telecom ? and a rule-maker.

Second, it was felt that without independent regulators in place, the government?s efforts to pull investments into sectors like infrastructure, power and insurance would be defeated.

How the government reacts to the question posed by Trai will be watched by investors closely since regulatory bodies have just been set up for power and insurance.

Having buckled under pressure from allies like the Trinamul Congress and Telugu Desam, it will be difficult for the government to come up with a plausible answer. Tariff revision cannot be held to be a threat to sovereignty. Nor does the government have the defence of having consulted the regulator before deciding to put it on hold.

A meeting between the minister for communications, Jagmohan, and DoT officials on the issue remained inconclusive today. ?We have received the letter and a decision will be made whether we have to reply or not. There is nothing which can be told, unless Trai wishes to tell the press,? said a senior DoT official.

Trai members plan to wait till the reply comes before taking any decision. They also explained that ?the tariff estimates (revisions announced earlier this week) have flexibility for the operator to fix any tariff within the level set by Trai. We have calculated the rentals and local charges based on figures provided by DoT. Further, these tariffs are applicable for only one year and will be reviewed and processed, based on the findings for the last one year.,? said N.S. Ramachandran, Trai member.

In defence of the revision, Trai vice-chairman B.K. Zutshi said: ?We raised phone rental only by 33 per cent against the recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee to increase it by 35 per cent.?    

New Delhi, March 12 
The BJP government is bracing for battle on the floor of the House on corruption charges levelled by finance minister Yashwant Sinha?s former adviser Mohan Guruswa-my and irregularities in deals struck by the defence ministry.

A debate on Guruswamy?s allegations against the top brass in the government, including Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani, will begin in the Rajya Sabha tomorrow. Though there will be no voting, the Opposition is determined on a no-holds-barred attack on the ?sanctimonious? BJP and its claims of a ?scam-free? regime.

Though BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu called the char-ges a ?load of rubbish?, Vajpayee went into a huddle this evening with Advani, Sinha and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh. Government sources confirmed they discussed floor strategy.

Sources said the strategy would aim to bring around allies on both issues. The BJP will try to ensure there are no discordant voices as in the past, when ADMK leader Jayalalitha had demanded a CBI probe into circumstances leading to former navy chief Vishnu Bhagwat?s dismissal.

Fernandes, convener of the coalition?s coordination committee, and parliamentary affairs minister P.R. Kumaramangalam are said to be in touch with allies to ensure floor coordination.

BJP sources said the Opposition?s attacks on Guruswamy?s allegations ?- which include facilitating the takeover of ITC by UK-based BAT, ?proximity? of BJP leaders to top business conglomerates and increase in steel prices to benefit certain industrial houses ?- will be countered by the argument that ?these were the outpourings of a frustrated person?.

Guruswamy was a primary member of the BJP and a resource person in its economic cell. He used to draft the party?s election manifestos. He was reportedly recommended for the adviser?s job by Advani, but was dropped for ?overstepping his mandate in dealing with foreign investors?.

Sources admitted the Opposition would score brownie points by stressing the charges came from a person who was a BJP member till last month. They added the BJP could not rake up dirt against Guruswamy beyond a point because it would show the leadership in a bad light.

Former Comptroller and Auditor-General T.N. Chaturvedi and former high commissioner to the UK, L.M. Singhvi, are likely to speak for the ruling coalition.

On the defence deals, the BJP gave the impression that it has left it almost entirely to Fernandes to marshal his defences. ?He may brief a few key persons in the government and the party on how he plans to go about it,? said a BJP leader. ?The allegations are rubbish. The dismissal (of Bhagwat) was done as per the law of the land and the Constitution,? an apparently nonchalant Fernandes said.

BJP sources, however, conceded that Fernandes was on ?shaky? ground on the appointment of Harinder Singh as deputy chief of naval staff.    

March 12 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu today denied to the National Commission for Minorities that a ?census? of minority outfits was carried out in Bengal, but evidence of such a survey piled up with the imam of a central Calcutta mosque coming out with his account of questioning by police.

?There is no reason for us to disbelieve the categorical denial that any Gujarat-like exercise is taking place in West Bengal,? said Tahir Mahmood, NCM chairman, after meeting Basu and the state minorities welfare minister, Mohammad Amin, in Delhi today. He said he had not yet received any evidence of the ?census?.

The ?evidence? of the ?census? ? recorded in state director-general of police Deepak Sanyal?s admission that inquiries had been made in mosques and madrasas and confirmation from the West Bengal Madrasa Board ? gained in strength today. Imam Ghaus Siwani of Lal Masjid, 42 Ismail Street, Entally, said he was questioned by policemen in mufti.

Siwani is on record, but he said his fellow imams were not because they were scared. ?Imams of so many mosques are complaining about it,? said Siwani. ?But they are afraid to speak out.?

Siwani?s remarks are buttressed by Muslim leaders. Secretary-general of the West Bengal unit of the All-India Milli Council, Mufti Abdul Hannan, said: ?It is common knowledge that such an investigation has been carried out. Community journals in Urdu and Bengali have been writing about it. People are still afraid to speak out but we, too, have received several complaints. One of our central leaders, Maulana Ashrarul Haque, has also got in touch with the NCM over the issue.?

The NCM chairman said he had sought the state government?s reaction to The Telegraph?s report on the ?census? on March 7. He was told: ?The government of West Bengal formulates its own policies and does not take ?cue? from Gujarat.?

Contacted after his meeting with Basu, Mahmood said: ?The chief minister has said there is no census. I am yet to see a questionnaire based on which such a survey has been carried out. I think there is some hanky-panky. Somebody is trying to prove that it is not only BJP-ruled states that do such things.? Mahmood said he can probe only if there are specific complaints.

A source close to Mahmood, however, said the NCM chairman had reacted strongly to the report that the Intelligence Branch was carrying out a community-specific study particularly in mosques and madrasas.

It was later brought to his notice that similar inquiries have been carried out in the past, but not on such a large scale. ?There are problems in administering a border state,? said the source.

The president of the West Bengal Pradesh Qaumi Tanzeem, Sultan Ahmed, alleged a ?census? had been on the ?hidden agenda? of the state police.    

Bangalore, March 12 
Medical history was created in Bangalore today when a deaf, mute and mentally handicapped person donated a kidney to save his chronically ill brother.

The doctors? fears on how to go about the transplant without the consent of donor V.N. Prakash ? neither the doctors nor family members had been able to communicate to him the implications of the operation ? were allayed by the way he cooperated with them.

?He was simply wonderful. It was as if he knew what he was in for and what was expected of him,? said Karunagaran, the doctor who removed Prakash?s kidney. Ajit Huilgol, who did the transplant on Prakash?s brother, V.N. Subramanyam, said ?the operation went off very well?.

Subramanyam, the sole bread-winner in the family, was diagnosed with chronic renal failure last December and has been on dialysis twice a week since then. He supported his mother Annapoornamma, Prakash as well as his wife and child on Rs 3200 a month. But with kidney failure, he was out of a job, and the lives of his dependents were in jeopardy.

An angiogram revealed that Prakash?s tissues matched perfectly with his brother?s ? according to the doctors, even better than a twin?s ? but his disability prevented them from obtaining his ?informed consent? for operation as required by law.

S. Sundar, director and chief nephrologist at Karnataka Nephrology and Transplant Institute and Huilgol put Prakash?s case on the Internet and sought worldwide opinion.

It was also debated in the media and the overwhelming view was that the mother?s consent was sufficient. Most people felt that since without dialysis, Subramanyam?s chances of survival were nil and without him, the whole family would starve, the doctors should go ahead with the operation.

Sundar said today that whatever lingering doubts he had were removed when Joga Rao of the National Law School and sitting high court judge Justice M.F. Saldanha ruled in favour of the transplant.

Giving his ?professional opinion? in writing, though the matter was not referred to him, Justice Saldanha said since on many occasions the consent of the next of kin was taken when a patient was seriously injured or unconscious, in Prakash?s case, the mother?s consent was sufficient as she was his natural guardian.

The doctors waived their professional fee of around Rs 40,000 and the hospital charged only Rs 65,000 as against the normal Rs 1 lakh. Ever since the news broke, donations have been pouring in with unknown donors sending cheques of Rs 25 to Rs 200. The state government has given Rs 15,000 and a Star News viewer sent a similar sum. Today, an NRI called up from Calcutta and said he wanted to send his donation in dollars.

Huilgol, who has conducted more than 1,000 transplant operations, said though the operation was a little complicated as Subramanyam had a ?tortuous artery?, he had responded well and the new kidney had started functioning.

He said Subramanyam would be able to resume normal work in about two months, though he would have to be under medication for the next two to three years.

As far as Prakash was concerned, ?there is absolutely no danger to his life as one kidney is more than adequate to carry on normal activities?.    

Mumbai, March 12 
HDFC, the country?s premier housing finance company, today slashed interest rates on its loans to an 18-year low, heralding a rate-war which prom-ises to favour borrowers and stimulate construction-led growth. Home loans turned cheaper by 0.5 to 1 percentage point as LIC, banks and private housing firms scrambled to revise their rates.

HDFC pared rates on loans ranging from Rs 10,001 to Rs 15 lakh and reduced interest on NRI loans and home improvement/extension loans to 11-14 per cent. But the interest on finance up to Rs 10,000 will remain unchanged at 12.50 per cent. The new rates will be effective from March 15.

The company also reduced the categories of loans from four to three by clubbing the low and middle-income groups. The move was prompted by the budget impetus to the housing sector and the subsequent cut in the Bank Rate.    

Today?s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Little change in day and night temperature.
Temperature:Maximum 34.1?C (Normal)
Minimum 25.3 ?C (4?C above normal)
Relative humidity:Maximum 92%
Minimum 41%
Sunrise:5.52 am
Sunset:5.40 pm

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