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JANUARY 28, 2007
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Taxing Times
The phase-out of central sales tax is yet another move towards ushering in the national goods and services tax (GST). The compensation to the states, in lieu of CST phase-out, will include revenue proceeds from 33 services currently being taxed by the Centre as well as 44 new services of an intra-state nature that will be traded by the states. However, VAT is the way forward, though much needs to be done to iron out the anomalies in the current VAT regime.

India, Ahoy!
Indian investments overseas are growing and how. For instance, total Indian investment in Latin America and the Caribbean has topped $3 billion (Rs 13,500 crore) so far. The latest investment is by ONGC Videsh, which acquired an oilfield in Colombia for $425 million (Rs 1,912.5 crore). Earlier, ONGC bought an offshore oilfield in Brazil for $410 million (Rs 1,845 crore).
More Net Specials
Business Today,  January 14, 2007
The Leader And The Damned
BT's spent a day tracking Mamata Banerjee's fast. Here's a first person account of what he saw.
Hello, can you hear me? Banerjee might have lacked in energy but not on rhetoric

DECEMBER 27, 2006
Esplanade Crossing, Kolkata 8.30 A.M.

The cold winter air cuts through my woollens and chills me to the bones. I'm standing in front of the city's historic Metro Cinema Hall, keeping watch on the podium across the street (Jawaharlal Nehru Road). Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee's fast, in protest against the acquisition of agricultural land by the West Bengal government for the Tata Group's Rs 1-lakh car project in Singur, is into its 24th day and there's still no resolution in sight.

Banerjee lies on the make-shift dais, or dharna mancha, as it has been dubbed by the Bengali media, wrapped in a blanket. Keeping vigil around her are TMC leaders Sobhan Deb Chattopadhyay, Madan Mitra and sundry Naxalite leaders. Hundreds of tmc workers are milling around, discussing the state of their "Didi's" health and indulging in idle chatter to while away the time. Adding to the crowd are curious office-goers who politely enquire about Banerjee's health and move on. And not everyone is impressed. This correspondent overheard at least a dozen passers-by utter words like "nautanki" (histrionics) and "irresponsible". And, there are also murmurs from a section of the party's rank and file about the effectiveness, or lack of it, of their leader's agitation. Almost a month into the fast, the contrived euphoria is beginning to wear thin.

12.00 noon: The faithful have gathered (been gathered up?) in fairly large numbers to pay homage to their leader. The long and serpentine queue leading up to the dharna mancha is somewhat reminiscent of the Income-Tax office on the last day of filing returns or the advance booking counter before the release of a Bollywood blockbuster. "If something happens to Didi, we'll set Writers' Buildings on fire," shouts a mid-level TMC leader in an effort to whip up a frenzy, but saner voices tell him to pipe down. "Please, please... Didi wants us to keep patience," someone bellows from within the crowd.

Checking on Didi: BJP's Singh

Her followers aren't the only ones who have come calling. A galaxy of political stalwarts have visited Banerjee-some to show solidarity, others to extend sympathy and yet others to try and persuade her to call off her dharna. West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi has come and gone three times. BJP President Rajnath Singh (twice), former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, former Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Union Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi (as a special emissary of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) have come, seen, been seen and gone away. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattarcharjee has written to her, promising to discuss the Singur issue with her, but Banerjee has refused to end her hunger strike.

Suddenly, there's a buzz among the party workers. Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata's allegation that his business rivals could be fuelling the Singur agitation has filtered down to them. Madan Mitra angrily denies the charge and denounces Tata. "How can he question Didi's personal honesty and integrity? She has an unblemished track record in this regard," he says, and threatens to drag Tata to court for libel.

Not everyone's fasting: Large crowds meant big business for food vendors

6.00 pm: There's a melee about 50 metres away from the podium and I suddenly realise that my colleague from BT Photo is at the centre of it-he's being roughed up by some TMC party workers. "I'm only doing my job," he screams vainly as he's pushed around. "You people are out to give Didi and our party a bad name," the chief heckler retorts. It takes me a few minutes to grasp what's going on-he had been shooting TMC workers buying food from street vendors, who, typically, make an additional buck or two during political rallies. The economic rationale: more footfalls translate into higher sales. It's no different this time. But the prospect of the national media highlighting the irony of party workers generating higher food sales around the podium on which their leader is undertaking a hunger strike, is, apparently, too much for some overenthusiastic TMC strongmen to digest. Somehow, we manage to extricate ourselves from this sticky situation and head away.

Banerjee calls off her fast the following day "in response to requests from the President and the Prime Minister". But, she declares, her agitation will continue. Bhattacharjee's government, on its part, has ruled out the possibility of relocating the project. Meanwhile, the people of Singur, the car project that's at the centre of all this-and the cm's grand project to reindustrialise the state-find themselves caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.




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