For the last year, unlikely allies of religious groups, scientists, economists and environmentalists have protested against the Sethusamudram project, which envisages dredging the coral walkway between India and Sri Lanka to reduce sailing time for ships.
Now, concerns about the project are being expressed by some of the top officials in the Indian Navy.
Vice-Admiral Rustam F. Contractor , director general of the Indian Coast Guard, said the Sethusamudram channel was a “security risk” to the country. This is the first time such a top defence official has gone on record against the project. Contractor said there are chances of militants using this channel. “Security issues are bound to arise. It’s a sea, its waters are shared, the maritime area is common by virtue of the close boundary lines between Sri Lanka and us, so obviously the implications are more there.”
Naval experts agree that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) terrorists can attack passing ships, and the shallow seabed of the gulf also makes it easier to place sea mines.
In addition, maritime piracy has become a lucrative alternative for terrorist groups to find funding. “They capture ships and hold them to ransom. The going rate right now is about $100,000 (Rs39.4 lakh) per ship,” said former Capt. H. Balakrishnan. The proceeds are used to procure weapons of destruction. “The threat of maritime terrorism is being recognized world-wide and British security adviser Admiral Sir Alan West, had said terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda have realized how important maritime is and how sea-borne terrorism could cripple global trade,” Balakrishnan said.
Last February, Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta had warned that the Indian Ocean region had emerged as a hub of global terrorism and the risk from LTTE was real.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has given the government five more weeks to draft an affidavit to explain the cultural significance of the coral walkway —the Adam’s Bridge—also known as Ram Sethu. The court has also asked the government to explain why this particular channel alignment was chosen out of the six alternatives, and what studies have been conducted to verify the historicity of the bridge, believed by Hindu organizations to have been built by the Hindu god Ram. Priyanka P. Narain
Government defers fuel price hike decision again
The fuel price hike along with a duty re-jig exercise may be announced next week with the group of ministers (GoM) on fuel prices deciding to leave the final decision to the Union cabinet.
“We discussed the issue and the GoM has decided to leave it to the cabinet. It could meet as early as 4 or 5 February,” petroleum and natural gas minister Murli Deora, said after the meeting. “The GoM may meet again just before the cabinet to make a firm suggestion. The cabinet will take a view on the issue in its next week’s meeting,” he added.
The seven-member group comprises Murli Deora, defence minister A. K. Antony, finance minister P. Chidambaram, railway minister Lalu Prasad, road transport, highways and shipping minister T. R. Baalu, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, and is headed by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Prasad, Baalu and Antony did not attend the meeting. Prasad, who is a member of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, and Baalu of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, are part of the coalition that makes up the ruling United Progressive Alliance.
Senior government officials, who did not wish to be identified, said there may be differences within the GoM, which could have prompted the the three ministers not to attend Thursday’s meeting.
However, Deora denied any difference. “The meeting was inconclusive because all the members were not present. There is no difference of opinion within the GoM. This is absolutely wrong. This question does not arise,” he said.
When asked about the railway minister’s absence, his media adviser said: “The minister has gone to Patna to attend party functions in Bihar and Jharkhand.” Utpal Bhaskar
Foreign broadcasters meet I&B deadline
New Delhi: In a development that will likely have revenue implications to the tune of around Rs2,500 crore for the government, all foreign broadcasters beaming to India have submitted the necessary documents to comply with the downlinking guidelines notified by the ministry of information and broadcasting in November 2005, a person familiar with the situation said. 31 January was set as the deadline.
Different clauses in the guidelines meant that any channel wanting to broadcast to India, should have a registered entity in India, which should have “exclusive marketing/distribution rights” for the channel and “the authority to conclude contracts on behalf of the channel for advertisements, subscription and programming content”.
This meant that the government could hold a legal entity in the country responsible in the event of a violation of the content or advertising code that govern all broadcasters.
However, many foreign broadcasters resisted the move, as this would have meant setting up a permanent establishment in India, a necessary condition to come under the tax net of India. Indian broadcasters have argued for the move, saying that many foreign broadcasters are registered in tax havens abroad, while they had to pay taxes applicable to Indian corporates, which skewed the playing field. Sruthijith K.K.
Shipping ministry fires 4 Kandla Port officials
Ahmedabad: Four senior officials of Kandla Port, including chairman of Kandla Port Trust (KPT) Ambati Janardana Rao, have been been relieved of their responsibilities with immediate effect by the shipping ministry.
According to officials familiar with the development, deputy chairman Manorjan Kumar has been asked to proceed on leave for two months, while financial adviser and chief accounts officer A. Krishnan has been demoted as deputy financial adviser and asked to go on leave for two months. The chief mechanical engineer of the port has been transferred to Chennai.
The head of Vadinar terminal, G.S. Rao , has been given the charge of the Kandla Port Trust for the time being. Officials said the action followed a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry, which found irregularities in the functioning of these officers. Sunil Raghu
Govt appoints two law officers for tax issues
New Delhi: The Union government has appointed two additional solicitors general to handle legal matters relating exclusively to taxes.
“We need someone who’s familiar across courts so that he’s got control over what’s going on,” said finance minister P. Chidambaram on Thursday at a media briefing.
The two additional solicitors general, M. Chandrasekharan for indirect taxes, and Parag Tripathi for direct taxes, will handle the government’s cases in the Supreme Court and high courts.
Different courts simultaneously handle cases relating to taxes, which require the government’s lawyers to approach the issue in an integrated way, said Chidambaram.
An additional solicitor general is the Union government’s law officer who deals with its legal matters. Sanjiv Shankaran
Hindustan Unilever closes share buyback
Mumbai: The country’s largest fast moving consumer goods company, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), in a communication to the stock exchanges on Thursday informed them that as per the resolution passed by the board committee for buyback of shares, the scheme of buyback ended with the close of working hours of 31 January.
HUL has a presence in more than 20 distinct categories in home and personal care products, food and beverages. Staff Writer
Aviva India gets capital infusion of Rs246 crore
Mumbai: Aviva Life Insurance Co. India Pvt. Ltd said on Thursday its founders have infused fresh capital to the extent of Rs246 crore in order to help boost its growth plans for 2008.
The total capital base of the firm had gone up to Rs1, 004 crore after this infusion, it said in a statement.
The money will be used to expand the presence, scale up the number of advisors and introduce new products, the company said.
Aviva India is 26% held by British insurer, Aviva Plc., the maximum permissible foreign stake in insurance firms under Indian law, while the balance is held by Indian consumer goods maker, Dabur. Reuters