Bofors teams on twin trails
Seattle-style cry after insurance Bill passage
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 2 
Launching a double-barrelled attack in the Bofors case, the Centre has got down to collecting information on the Hinduja brothers and simultaneously stepped up the heat on Ottavio Quattrocchi, a family friend of the Gandhis.

A team of investigators is being sent to London to probe the role of the Hinduja brothers ? G.P. Hinduja, Srichand Hinduja and Prakash Hinduja ? in the Rs 64-crore kickbacks case. The team will not question the Hindujas, but has been asked to quietly procure information on the influential UK-based industrialists who have succeeded in blocking the CBI?s access to some Bofors papers in the custody of Swiss authorities.

A CBI team, led by special director P.C. Sharma, will also be sent to Malaysia via Singapore within the next four to five days. This has raised speculation that the investigating agency will, if possible, informally examine Quattrocchi who has so far refused to come to India for interrogation. The CBI team will try and ascertain the political clout the Italian businessman wields in Kuala Lumpur, where he has been residing for the past few years.

Soon after the CBI filed its first chargesheet in the Bofors case in October, Quattrocchi had sent fax messages to newspaper offices here alleging that, by naming Rajiv Gandhi as an accused, the investigating agency had proved it was politically motivated. He also claimed that he would remain a ?friend? of the Gandhi family.

Within days of filing of the chargesheet, the special CBI court issued summons to the five accused, former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, Bofors agent Win Chaddha, former Bofors president Martin Ardbo, M/s Bofors (since rechristened Celsius Corporation) and Quattrocchi.

A non-bailable arrest warrant was issued against Quattrochhi who had earlier this year gone back on his word to appear before the special judge. The summons and the warrant are returnable by December 13.

Sources said the summons, the warrant, copies of the chargesheet and other papers relating to the alleged involvement of Quattrochhi in the scam were sent to the Indian mission in Kuala Lumpur as well as the Malaysian authorities, but there was delay in executing them because of elections in the country.

The sources said the CBI team, which would take up Quattrochhi?s involvement in the case with its Malaysian counterpart, was planning to go to Kuala Lumpur via Singapore to project it as an innocuous trip. ?The target obviously is Quattrocchi,? a senior official said.    

New Delhi, Dec. 2 
The Lok Sabha today voted to open up the insurance sector to private capital after eleventh-hour negotiations between the government and the Opposition Congress.

The Left and other non-Congress parties who were kept out of the parleys walked out to protest the passage of the Bill. The legislation will now go to the Rajya Sabha on Monday and is likely to be taken up for voting on Tuesday.

The late-session of the Lower House also cleared the twin business-friendly legislation, the Foreign Exchange Management Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Most MPs had left by then and many who had moved for amendments were missing.

An early breakfast meet between Pramod Mahajan and Congress leaders Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Murli Deora and Madhavrao Scindia firmed up a tentative agreement reached yesterday on the Congress? amendments to the insurance Bill.

However, bargaining continued even after the south Indian breakfast. The Congress finally agreed to drop the demand for a clause forcing insurance companies to commit 75 per cent of investible funds to the social and infrastructure sectors.

In return, finance minister Yashwant Sinha agreed to scribble the word ?and social? into an official amendment to make insurers commit an unspecified percentage of funds into infrastructure. Though the quantum was not specified, the minister gave a verbal assurance that these companies would be asked to set aside up to 50 per cent of investible funds for the two sectors.

Another official amendment was moved to give preference in registration to those dealing in health insurance ? a demand raised by the Congress.

Following the deal, the Congress withdrew its amendments in the House and backed the ruling coalition to ensure the Bill?s passage by voice vote.

The Left parties tried to delay the Bill by having it referred to a joint select committee, but a ballot saw the move defeated 331 to 82 votes. The only ominous spark came from Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, who wondered whether the government was ready to face a ?Seattle-style? agitation over the Bill.

Yadav?s threat was echoed outside the House by insurance employees. They have lined up a series of demonstrations beginning tomorrow and stretching till the day the Upper House passes the Bill. More action would follow and bank employees have offered to joint the insurance brethren.

?This is the prelude to a bigger movement in the financial sector. We shall now take this issue to the streets,? said the CPI?s Gurudas Dasgupta.

The new companies will have to meet obligations to service the rural sector, workers in the informal sector and economically vulnerable classes. Failure to do so will attract fines of up to Rs 25 lakh and cancellation of licence in case the offence is repeated.    

Temperature: Maximum: 28.8?C (+1) Minimum: 17.5?C (+2) Rainfall: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum: 47% Today: Partly cloudy day. Mainly clear night. Not much change in night temperature. Sunset: 4.47 pm Sunrise: 6.06 am    

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