Bengal in growth push
Bihar war zone braces for massacre reprisal
Making of Mahatma II
Aggressive anniversary stand by Atal
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, March 19 
As the shadow of shutdown Dunlop worker Prosenjit Sarkar?s death hung ominously over Bengal?s barren industrial land, state finance minister Asim Dasgupta presented a budget that has a single-point agenda: to create jobs.

In the process, he unveiled a package that warmed the cockles of industry and trade with a landmark sales tax reform and sweeping cuts in rates of levy, giving Bengal a structure comparable with such advanced states as Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Dasgupta coupled his sales tax bonanza with a revamped scheme of incentives for industry by reorganising the districts into three (instead of four) groups, simultaneously raising the level of concessions and the duration for which these will be available.

The most important step in the 1999-2000 budget is the proposal to abolish the system under which sales tax is levied on commodities at several points. Dasgupta announced that of the 550 commodities on which sales tax is levied, 530 will be taxed at only one ? the first ? point of sale. The other 20 will be taxed at two points of sale ? the first and second.

Describing the impact of the extent of change this will bring about, the minister gave an illustration. He said the tax incidence on a commodity attracting a sales tax of 7 per cent under the current multi-point system of levy is 14 per cent. With single-point taxation, it will drop to 5.05 per cent.

The minister claimed that as a consequence of his proposal, the tax incidence on more than 400 commodities will fall. Along with this, he slashed sales tax on a wide range of goods, starting from plant and machinery used in manufacturing to medical diagnostic equipment to biscuits and milk powder. He also proposed a scheme to settle tax disputes through a one-time payment.

The budget intends to raise Rs 94 crore in additional resources through higher tax on cars, scooters and mopeds. Besides extending luxury tax to more items, Dasgupta has selectively raised profession tax, hitting those with earnings above Rs 15,000 per month. The largest chunk of his additional revenue is coming from this and revision of the rent raiyats ? holding more than four acres of irrigated land and 6 acres of non-irrigated land ? pay. The two measures will yield Rs 30 crore each.

Taking a risk redolent of P. Chidambaram?s ?dream? budget of 1997-98, Dasgupta has gambled for growth through tax cuts.

The flip side of this gamble is the decision to live with a wide deficit between the government?s expenditure and revenues of Rs 7603.76 crore. The current year?s deficit is Rs 5866.51 crore, having overshot the estimate by three and a half times. If the trend holds in 1999-2000, the deficit could spin out of control, putting a heavy burden of borrowing on the government to bridge the gap. The minister expects to end the year with a budget deficit of Rs 16 crore. Dasgupta has warned trade and industry that if lower rates do not improve compliance, he will come back to the House to raise taxes.

He has upped the stakes in the tax-cut-for-growth gamble with the new incentive package. Under this, sunrise industries, like software and electronics, coming up in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation area, for instance, will be eligible to sales tax waiver for seven years instead of five.

Taking up from where the Raichak Destination Bengal summit left off, he declared that special packages would be worked out for large projects with investments of over Rs 500 crore. Perhaps with the Haldia project in mind, petrochemicals have been given additional sales tax relief.

In the backdrop of the drubbing the CPM received in the 1998 Lok Sabha polls in the industrial deserts that were once throbbing business spots and the Dunlop worker?s suicide last week, Dasgupta offered all the benefits of the new incentive scheme to any industrialist wishing to reopen a closed unit. He announced a Rs 100-crore fund to help reopen such units.

The push for resurgence comes with higher outlays for education and health, giving the budget the Amartya Sen touch. The education outlay has been raised from Rs 208 crore to Rs 296 crore with a commitment to set up 4,000 ?child education centres?. The outlay for health has gone up from Rs 193 crore to Rs 235 crore.    

Senari (Jehanabad), March 19 
A day after Naxalites declared open war on the Ranbir Sena by matching ? almost killing for killing ? the landlord-militia?s massacres at Narayanpur and Shankerbigha, a seething Senari swore revenge.

Last evening, about 1,000 activists of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) swooped on the Bhumihar-dominated, prosperous village, dragged out 34 men from their homes, took them to the nearby fields in groups of three or four and hacked them to death. Thirty-three Dalits had been killed by the Ranbir Sena in Narayanpur and Shankerbigha on January 25 and February 10.

The victims of last night?s attack today lay outside the village temple. Angry relatives and friends hovered in clusters, sending back the doctor who had come to conduct the autopsy.

The MCC had stuck hand-written posters on the wall of the temple. ?If the poor are killed, the rich will also be annihilated. This carnage is in reply to the massacre of Dalits by the Ranbir Sena,? one of the posters read.

As always, the massacre yesterday had been followed by the mela today. Police reinforcements, paramilitary forces, politicians from across the board, bureaucrats and the media hotfooted it to this remote village at the conjunction of Jehanabad, Gaya and Aurangabad.

Nobody was spared by the villagers. The bureaucrats warily sat in their cars, Congress leader Jagdish Sharma was assaulted, the district magistrate and superintendent of police mocked and heckled. Defence minister George Fernandes, railway minister Nitish Sharma and BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha flew in and ? almost as quickly ? flew out, sensing the mood.

?We will let the bodies rot but we will not allow the administration to touch them,? said a village youth, Vinod Sharma.

His anger was not without reason. The marauders had cordoned off the village yesterday. They had posed as policemen, saying they had come to look for Ranbir Sena men who had taken shelter in the village.

All but two of the victims were between 25 and 40 years old. All were Bhumihars. A Yadav had been picked up but was let off once he had revealed his caste. One of the victims had been married only a week ago. The men were taken to the fields, tied and stabbed repeatedly and finally had their throats slit.

While trying to break open the door of Birender Kumar Singh?s house ? the most fortified in the village ? the Naxalites used dynamite.

Temple priest Mahant Parmanand, who was an eyewitness, said: ?I could hear their screams as they were being stabbed. Then I went inside the temple and put my hands over my ears.? The priest said the attackers also tried to break the lock of the temple, but changed their minds.

Police said another group of extremists attacked the nearby police picket in Saharsa, less than a kilometre away from Senari, at the same time to deflect the attention of the forces and keep them busy there.

But the villagers were not buying this story. ?The picket was not attacked. The police were just scared. They did not come here in the night. They arrived only in the morning,? said Ranbir Sharma, a village youth.

Inspector-general of police (central range) Neelmani said the police were combing villages suspected to be Naxalite strongholds. He said 20 persons, including a self-styled MCC commander, had been arrested.

The villagers, though, are not listening. Instead, they are swearing retaliation. ?We will take up guns. We will take revenge,? said a villager, Mahesh Sharma.    

New Delhi, March 19 
Pramod Mahajan?s carefully selected extracts from Indian history elevated Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to the exalted stature of the second Mahatma this evening.

At the Vajpayee government?s first anniversary bash amidst the Hauz Khas ruins in south Delhi, Mahajan spoke of his political mentor in a son-et-lumiere presentation in which the major omissions were India?s entire Islamic heritage and the nearly five decades of Congress rule.

It was like yesterday?s inauguration of the Doordarshan sports channel: a complete Mahajan show. Had it been a proper anniversary bash organised by the party, there would have been a significant presence of the senior leadership. Among notable absentees were home minister L.K. Advani, who spent the day in Kerala.

There were no speeches and no garlanding as Mahajan welcomed the Prime Minister?s cavalcade and led Vajpayee to his seat at the foot of a hastily constructed wooden gallery on which the 2,000-odd invitees had been patiently waiting.

The programme started 45 minutes behind schedule. Once it began, the Special Protection Group (SPG) in charge of the Prime Minister?s security realised to its horror that the audience would have to stand and crane their necks to be able to see the performance.

The people were allowed to be on their feet through the show as SPG personnel positioned themselves at various vantage points among them.

Then, without a warning, the Pokhran blast was simulated. It was a poor recreation, more like a fire-cracker going off with a decibel level that would have satisfied green judges. There were no mushroom clouds and the unimpressed audience forgot to applaud.

However, officials later claimed the blast had no link with Pokhran.

Once narrator Om Puri took over and the episodes from history began to be enacted, the presentation became smarter. With popular patriotic songs from the film Roja and one by the late Mohammed Rafi among the fare, the audience became more and more engrossed.

It was only then that the discerning few in the audience were able to analyse how carefully the team hired by Pramod Mahajan had played around with the history of this country.

From Pokhran, the focus moved on to a dialogue between Yudhisthira and Krishna towards the end of the battle of Kurukshetra. The logic for this shift from Pokhran to the Mahabharata was to extol India?s anti-war heritage.

A broken Yudhisthira was lamenting the death of his kinsmen and commenting on the futility of war. As an obvious corollary, the next episode dealt with Lord Buddha and his preaching of ahimsa.

From Buddha, Mahajan?s performers moved on to a dialogue between Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya on statecraft and the need for the ruler to be accountable to his subjects.

Mahajan?s history then flew across several significant centuries, negating India?s medieval and Islamic dynasties to land directly on the arrival of the British. Jehangir was mentioned only in passing with reference to his granting of permission to the British to set up a factory in Surat. There was no reference to the Sepoy Mutiny. The narrator recited a Mirza Ghalib couplet to rue the arrest of the last of the Mughals.

Bhagat Singh was given almost a 50-minute slot in the one-hour-and-50-minute show. Mahatma Gandhi came as the last two paragraphs. He was depicted fasting during Partition riots and wondering if he could travel to Pakistan.

The Mahatma could not go to Pakistan. But another son of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, did. The Wagah outpost scene was enacted. A beaming Mahajan was leading the Prime Minister out as securitymen took over, urging the audience to wait till Vajpayee left.

The Congress? contribution to the freedom struggle and to independent India?s governance had been blacked out by Mahajan. Only once, to suggest India?s gaining of freedom, the first few lines of Nehru?s oft-repeated ?Tryst with Destiny? speech was played out. But Nehru?s name was not uttered even once. Others like Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi were even less fortunate. They did not even find mention in passing.    

New Delhi, March 19 
Adding an aggressive edge to his new-found assertive streak, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today insisted he would complete his term despite the Opposition?s best efforts to bring him down.

Launching insurance schemes for women on his first anniversary in power, Vajpayee said: ?My government is more stable now and that is why the Opposition is increasingly frustrated.?

Possibly responding to criticism that his party and government were overdoing celebrations, Vajpayee said even a year in office looked a big achievement compared to governments that enjoyed shorter tenures. But he added: ?Governments should not be measured by the number of years they remain in power, but by achievements during their tenure.?

To a quip by finance minister Yashwant Sinha that the government felt secure even though it had no insurance, the Prime Minister said: ?And though some people have that insurance, they are feeling insecure.?

Later, addressing a meeting at a village near Ghaziabad, Vajpayee charged the Opposition with creating hurdles for the government to further its votebank politics.

Castigating the Opposition for stalling Parliament proceedings over frivolous matters, Vajpayee scoffed at its demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the allegations of sacked navy chief Vishnu Bhagwat and former adviser to the finance ministry Mohan Guruswamy. ?There has to be some prima facie evidence. Inquiry for inquiry?s sake cannot resolve any issue,? he said.

He asked states to ensure the success of the Bhagyashree Child Welfare policy and Rajarajeshwari Mahila Kalyan Bima Yojna. The first will provide girls funds to complete their education if they lose either parent. The second will provide income to widows and disabled women. For the first time, these insurance policies provide cover against rape and post-maternity death.    


Today?s forecast: Cloudy sky. Not much change in day and night temperature.

Temperature:Maximum 36.2?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 25.4?C (3?C above normal)

Relative humidity:Maximum 93%
Minimum 24%


Sunrise:5.46 am
Sunset:5.43 pm

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