Push to telecom reform
Jaya unleashes Bhagwat probe bogey on govt
Third day of pounding in Kosovo
Trinamul attacks Chandan home
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 26 
The Cabinet today cleared a new telecom policy, lifting some of the existing barriers to competition and changing the ground rules for private operators.

The policy draws the road map for pushing forward reforms by committing to allow private telecom operators to offer long-distance services within the country at the start of the next millennium.

In a radical departure from the existing policy, under which private companies were allowed to enter telecom by paying a licence fee ? a system that has proved unworkable ? the government decided that in the future new operators will pay an entry fee to get a licence. Thereafter, they will share the revenue they earn from operations with the government.

The huge licence fees telecom operators agreed to pay under an auction system in the first flush of reforms have proved to be an unbearable burden as business has not been as heavy as estimated.

Even though the industry welcomed the new payment mechanism, telecom companies already in operation were resentful of not having been given the benefit of revenue-sharing, which they have been demanding for long.

Suresh Sachdev, vice-president of Koshika Telecom, said: ?The government could have taken care of the existing operators by offering the same terms to us, too.?

Communications minister Jagmohan, however, held out some hope when he said: ?We will make a reference on this issue to the attorney-general.?

The attorney-general will decide whether existing operators will be permitted to move to the revenue-sharing regime, ministry officials explained.

The policy, which comes into effect from April 1, throws open each circle in cellular telephone services to more than two operators. The Department of Telecom or Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd ? both government-run ? can enter as the third operator in each circle.

They will pay the same fees as other operators. Jagmohan said: ?This money will be reimbursed by the government as these two will be fulfilling social obligations, too.? A fourth operator will also be allowed on the ?basis of recommendations? by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

In basic telephone services also, the two-operator-per-circle system will end. The number of operators to be allowed will be decided by the regulatory authority.

Cellular operators are being permitted to also set up public call booths.

The new policy opens up long-distance domestic telephone services to private operators from January 1. The conditions under which this will be allowed will be worked out in consultation with the regulator, Jagmohan said.

The question of opening up international services will be examined by 2004, until when Videsh Sanchar Nigam will continue to be the monopoly service provider.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who heads the group on telecom, explained that telephone calls using the Internet will not be allowed. But he could not explain how the government will halt this practice which is quite popular in metropolitan India.

The policy has also decided to allocate airwaves frequency spectrum to private companies which can use the same band width for telecom, television and Internet services. This will be done in a phased manner as the government has to work out the modalities allocating frequencies.

Recognising the business potential of allowing the convergence of information technology, telecom and television, the policy allows cable service providers to offer voice and data communication after obtaining a basic telecom licence.

The policy commits the government to turning the Department of Telecom into a company in two years. Kicking off the process, the government will separate the service provider operation of DoT from the policy-making wing. The operator?s role will be vested in a new set-up called the Department of Telecom Services.

?The government will be treated on a par with other service providers,? the policy says.

Most industry organisations welcomed the policy. Confederation of Indian Industry president Rajesh Shah said: ?Introduction of the concept of one-time entry fee and revenue-sharing regime was a long-standing demand.? The confederation, however, expressed disappointment that the telecom regulator has been given arbitration powers to resolve disputes between the government and private operators and yet its recommendations are not to be binding.    

March 26 
Jayalalitha today set the cat among the pigeons by indicating that she will seek a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the dismissal of former navy chief Vishnu Bhagwat when the BJP and its allies meet in Delhi tomorrow.

A worried BJP leadership is trying to persuade her not to raise the issue at the meeting as it will embarrass the government, which has been stonewalling Congress? demand for a JPC probe. The Centre is ready to concede her request for a debate, but not a JPC.

Jayalalitha, who arrived in Delhi today, told journalists that the sacking of the navy chief ought to be debated in Parliament. Asked if she favoured a JPC, Jayalalitha said there was no harm in having one, lending support to the Congress. The Congress had stalled Rajya Sabha proceedings for four days to press its demand.

Coordination between the Opposition and the ADMK on the Bhagwat issue is something the BJP had not bargained for. But the saffron leadership perhaps overlooked Jayalalitha?s antipathy for the LTTE. The navy chief?s dismissal is allegedly linked to defence minister George Fernandes? sympathy for the Tamil Tigers.

This is exactly what the Congress is banking on in its hope that Jayalalitha will raise the demand for a JPC probe at the meeting. ?Our information is that she will distance herself from the ruling coalition,? a CWC member said.

The Centre had not anticipated that the Bhagwat debate would figure in tomorrow?s meeting. In fact, the sudden decision to hold the meeting was taken to project a united front, following speculation that Jayalalitha?s Delhi mission had a hidden agenda.

BJP strategists thought up a coordination committee meet to counter Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy?s tea party, where Jayalalitha is likely to rub shoulders with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other Opposition leaders.

Speaking at a seminar organised by Women?s Political Watch today, Jayalalitha embarrassed Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee when she praised her own party and the Congress for reserving seats for women.

?I am happy to see that ...the Indian National Congress, has followed our lead. I hope that all recognised political parties in India will follow the example,? she said as Vajpayee sat glum-faced.

The Prime Minister, anxious about the next move of Jayalalitha and another difficult ally, Mamata Banerjee, showered praise on them in his inaugural address.

?You are aware that two of our alliance parties ? the ADMK and the Trinamul Congress ? are headed by women. Both Dr Jayalalitha and Sushree Mamata Banerjee are leaders with exceptional mass appeal. Today, they are playing an important role in national politics,? he said.

If Jayalalitha pushed Vajpayee on the backfoot immediately on her arrival in Delhi, signals coming from the eastern stormy petrel were encouraging.

After her overtures to the Congress earlier in the week, Mamata soothed frayed BJP nerves today, saying that she would act as the government?s trouble-shooter in the capital. Mamata, who will meet Jayalalitha on Monday, expressed confidence none of the allies will ditch Vajpayee.    

Washington, March 26 
Ignoring dissent in the NATO alliance, allied bombers continued to pound Yugoslavia for the third straight day amid reports that President Slobodan Mislosevic?s forces were abducting, arresting and executing dissidents in Kosovo.

Greek foreign minister George Papandreou called for an end to the air assault against Yugoslavia and Italy?s Prime Minister Massimo D?Alema suggested renewing diplomacy with Milosevic whom the west blames for lighting fires in Europe.

But their complaints were dismissed by US and NATO officials with the plea that now was not the time to back off and abandon the Kosovars.

Criticism of the US-led intervention began to rise even at home as senior columnists questioned the Clinton Administration?s policy.

Ridiculing President Bill Clinton?s characterisation of Milosevic as Adolf Hitler, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer asked: ?But if Serbia?s Milosevic is Hitler, how come this Hitler has been our peace partner in the Dayton Accords these past three years?? Serbia has no ambition to rule the continent, nor the power to do so, he pointed out.

Liberal voices rose against the demonisation of the Serbs by US officials, reminding the people that until a few years ago it was the Albanians in Kosovo who were repressing the Serbs in the province.

Protests against NATO were staged in Russia and Macedonia, with demonstrators burning American flags and cars. Relations between Moscow and Washington reached a new low with the expulsion of the Russian representatives in NATO headquarters.

Russia introduced a resolution in the United Nations Security Council, expected to be taken up today, calling for an immediate end to the bombing. The sharply-worded statement says the NATO air attacks are a ?flagrant violation? of international law and UN norms. The resolution, however, is unlikely to go anywhere but into the dustbin of history since three of the five veto powers ? US, Britain and France ? are leading the NATO air raids.

But the three-day air campaign against Milosevic?s army has not prevented the one thing it was supposed to prevent ? repression of Kosovo Albanians. Yugoslav troops have stepped up efforts to crush the resistance movement even as NATO planes bombard military targets across Yugoslavia.

US intelligence officials were quoted as saying that unconfirmed reports from Kosovo talked of burning of villages, widespread arrests of dissidents and execution of supporters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the rebel organisation fighting for independence.

A local rebel organisation said 20,000 ethnic Albanians were rounded up and forced to march by Yugoslav troops near the town of Srbica. Most independent aid workers and journalists have left Kosovo and these reports can not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile, American public opinion on military action was almost evenly split. According to a poll conducted by Fox television, 41 percent supported military action while 46 percent were opposed. When asked if the intervention was worth any American lives, 56 percent said ?no.?    

Calcutta, March 26 
A few hundred slogan-chanting Trinamul Congress supporters, armed with sticks, stones and other missiles, today went on the rampage at the Salt Lake residence of Chandan Basu, son of chief minister Jyoti Basu, demanding a probe into their charges of corruption against him.

The Trinamul cadre reached the newly-built house in FD block in a Matador van at 11.45 am. They began to shout provocative slogans and hurl abuses against Basu and his son.They also burnt effigies of the two.

Finding the gates unlocked and without the usual police guards, the Trinamul supporters barged into the house.

They threw missiles on window panes and door panels, yanked out telephone wires from their casing and damaged bric-a-brac.

Chandan and wife Rekha, who were preparing to go out, managed to escape the attackers by staying behind a locked iron-grilled gate. ?We were providentially behind the grille, otherwise they would have injured us,? Chandan told The Telegraph.

Outside, another group damaged two imported cars owned by Chandan. The cars? windscreens were smashed and their doors jerked out of their panels.

?They may have an axe to grind against my father because of his politics, but why take it out on me and my family? I shudder to think of what they must be doing to other apolitical people,? Chandan said.

An upset Jyoti Basu said he had been apprehending ?a vicious attack? on Chandan and his family for quite some time, going by the way Trinamul and a section of the media were jointly conducting what he described a ?vitriolic campaign? against his son.

?I told him three days ago to get security cover for himself and his family, because I was concerned at the way the baseless and vicious campaign was being conducted, thanks to these forces. But he did not listen to me,? Basu added.

The orgy of violence continued for nearly half an hour, till a large posse of policemen arrived from Bidhannagar thana. The frenzied Trinamul supporters turned their wrath on the police party, freely using the missiles and the rods. They gave up after 20 minutes and began to disperse only when reinforcements were rushed from the police station.

At a press conference later at Writers? Building, home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said the van used by the Trinamul cadre had been impounded, 16 persons arrested and a hunt was on for more.

Tension was evident at Writers?, where home department officials and police officers met and tried to figure out why the police had been caught unprepared and no guards were posted at Chandan?s house, despite being aware of Trinamul?s agitation plan.

A few days ago, Trinamul had officially announced its supporters would agitate outside Chandan?s house till the government ordered a probe into his business activity.

According to Chandan, despite repeated telephone calls made by his household members, the Salt Lake police did not come to their rescue. ?This incident, in broad daylight, speaks volumes for law and order in Bengal,? he said.

It is learnt that Chandan, unable to muster police assistance, tried to contact his father at Writers?, and subsequently at the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street. Basu was beginning a party secretariat meeting when the call came through.

Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee put up only a weak defence for the violence at Chandan?s house. ?I do not approve of this kind of demonstration against individuals,? she said, ?but I think it would have taken place anyway, in reaction to the CPM?s persistent attacks on me and my partymen.?

Basu said he found Mamata?s explanation unacceptable because ?she is an insincere politician who believes in violence. Besides, she cannot be taken seriously because she is known to be a liar too. I hope the police will take necessary steps,? he added.    


Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of light rain accompanied by thunder towards afternoon or evening. Not much change in day and night temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 36.6?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 25?C (5?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 86%
Minimum 49%

Rainfall: Nil

Sunset: 5.45 pm
Sunrise: 5.39 am

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